Wednesday, September 27, 2006

paradigms, principles, practices

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


People are our only remaining source of competitive advantage as a country. Most of our other natural resources—forests, marine life, minerals, etc.—are either gone or are seriously imperiled due to years, nay, centuries of abuse and neglect. Not only are people our last hope for deliverance, people are also the key to ensuring that our other sources of national competitiveness are regained, nurtured, and restored to tip-top shape, if not for ourselves, then for the sake of the future generations.

Anyone who needs further convincing about the critical and central role of people in the country’s long-term viability need only to picture in his mind a doomsday scenario: Imagine what will happen if all Filipino workers overseas are sent home. They are the so-called new heroes because, to be candid about it, they are the ones propping up the economy and without them this whole country could have gone belly up a long time ago. It is not technology or financial capital that is keeping bankruptcy at bay, it is people— and most of them are underemployed, underpaid and poorly managed.

We’ve known for quite some time now that people will continue to be our main “export,” and yet isn’t it tragic that we still have to come up with an integrated national manpower development plan for our country and our people? One would have thought that a strategic blueprint on how we intend to leverage and harness our seeming inherent gifts as a people should have been implemented by now. But, nope, we insist on focusing our energies and spending more money on projects with dubious significance and value mainly because they enhance the image of the powers-that-be in this country.

For sometime now, people managers in this country, through the Personnel Management Association of the Philippines, have been advocating the need to craft a human resource agenda for the Philippines. It has been a lonely uphill struggle. But some legislators have finally gotten the message and there are now pending bills in both Houses that support the creation of an integrated strategic development plan for the country’s human resources. It’s about time.

This is a relief because the truth is, most of our leaders merely pay lip service to the phrase “people are our best asset.” It sounds good and makes them look good. Unfortunately, we need more than empty statements and false promises. What we need are deliberate and earnest efforts to invest in people management and development, not out of social guilt or for public relations purposes, but because it makes for good business.

There are many successful stories about people management and development practices that have produced certain desired outcomes such as profitability, growth, sustainability and even enhanced image. The problem is that there has been little effort to document these stories in the past.

Well, not anymore. This year, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, PMAP has put together a book featuring 14 success stories in people management and development. The book is entitled People Management in the Philippines: Real Stories of Excellence. The book will be officially launched today, 4 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza, Ortigas Center, immediately after the opening ceremonies of PMAP’s annual conference.

The 14 stories of excellence that are showcased in the book are arranged according to three levels: paradigms, principles and practices.

The first level, paradigms, features three stories, each one anchored on a unique model in people management. All three stories are heartwarming because they prove that putting people at the center of the enterprise works. Bangko Kabayan, a rural bank in Pampanga, validates that spirituality, business objectives, and people management and development can be mutually inclusive concepts. Moog, a multiawarded manufacturing company based in Baguio (they manufacture highly sensitive aviation parts), uses a humanistic model. At Moog, pagkamakatao (value for people) defines the essence of their existence and their business is thus integrated into their employee’s pagkatao or personhood. On the other hand, Pfizer Philippines entrusts the future of their company fully in the hands of their employees, who are empowered to strive for excellence. For Pfizer, being known as an employer of choice, is a critical business strategy.

The stories in the second level, principles, represent a wide range of beliefs and frameworks that drive people management and development in the featured organizations. The stories in this level provide a rich tapestry of experiences, each one bringing a special color, a unique touch, a distinctive philosophy. Together, they prove that engaging hearts and minds of employees is a daunting but truly rewarding passion. And what is more, it produces wonderful results, as the stories show.

The collection of stories include those of De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde (Community of Learners Brings Success), Del Monte Philippines (Prioritizing Employee Welfare), eTelecare (MbO: Management by Ownership), Globe Telecoms (Empowering Employees), Lafarge (People as Drivers of Performance), Smart Telecommunications (People as Business Partners) and Unilab (Bayanihan).

The third level, practices, showcase four specific examples of successful implementation of human resource technologies. The stories in this section highlight the convergence of both the heart and mind of the human resource management function—that HRM is a science, but in its essence, it is still about people. The success stories of Amkor, Manila Water, Petron and Philips illustrate that successful HRM programs are those that recognize the primacy of people as drivers of business and not the other way around. It is human talent that creates and nurtures the business.

An article by renowned HRM guru Sonny Coloma caps the stories. The book was edited by Gerardo Cabochan Jr. and is a project of PMAP’s 50th anniversary committee chaired by Grace Abella-Zata. The book is available through PMAP.

And while we are talking about people management and development, PMAP’s annual conference opens today and will culminate on Friday with a black-tie gala night to celebrate the association’s golden anniversary.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Killer Lifestyle

The following is my column today, September 25, 2006 at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

In a span of three weeks, four people I know underwent a heart bypass surgery. Two of the four were close family members—my eldest brother and an aunt. A fifth person, a distant cousin, was also scheduled to undergo a bypass, but the family decided to seek a second opinion and this doctor thankfully recommended a cheaper procedure—an angioplasty— instead. And what do you know, a third opinion from the country’s busiest heart surgeon (an appointment scheduled for 6 p.m. meant an audience with him at 11 p.m.; time management truly needs to be included in the medical school curriculum) ruled out both bypass and angioplasty. It turns out, medication and a stringent regimen of dieting and exercise was enough, thank you very much.

Nevertheless, our gene pool became the object of unwanted bashing and we are still trying to shift from denial to acceptance to action. However, we have also realized that a heart bypass is no longer the “last recourse” method of medical intervention that it was once touted to be.

It appears that there are now more hospitals in the Philippines that are equipped to conduct this very delicate medical procedure and that the number of surgeons who are qualified to do bypass surgery has quadrupled. Unlike in the past when doctors had to go abroad to acquire the specialization, I am told that this is not the case anymore today as the specialization can be acquired here. This is definitely good news. Thus, a bypass is now considered almost like a regular medical procedure, almost like a tonsillectomy. But then again, it is double-edged sword.

On one hand, it is heartening to note (pun intended) that we have in our country the capability to perform this life-saving procedure. On the other hand, it does seem that the accessibility of the procedure has also made it too convenient for many doctors and hospitals to prescribe it and I am told that very often, it really is not that absolutely necessary.

Proof of that is what happened to the distant cousin I mentioned earlier. The first doctor the family consulted immediately recommended a bypass and presented a rather gloomy prognosis for the patient unless his recommendation was heeded. The family prepared to raise the huge amount required (at least half a million pesos, if there were no complications involved) and was bracing for the procedure. But then a second opinion was sought and this doctor admitted that while a bypass would be ideal, an angioplasty was still a possible solution. Emboldened by the development, an appointment with the country’s supposed top cardiologist was made and he ruled out both bypass and angioplasty and instead prescribed medication and a strict diet and exercise regimen. The patient is now doing well, largely aided by the lifting of the threat of financial bankruptcy, and his prognosis looks good.

I am not knocking the procedure and accusing doctors of making a cottage industry out of it. I will state for the record that I believe that a bypass is a necessary last recourse and we must be grateful the procedure is now available in the Philippines for those who need it. But we must also be realistic and admit that doctors and hospitals need to recoup investments. Sadly, a heart bypass costs an enormous amount of money and is still beyond the means of the average Filipino who can’t even afford basic medication.

Incidentally, my eldest brother works in Bangkok as a musician and underwent bypass there. His hospital bill came to around P200,000, almost a third of what the procedure would ordinarily cost here. This comparison is appalling. Add to this the fact that medicine costs so much cheaper in Bangkok, believe me. The last time I was in Bangkok, I stocked up on medicines and I was on pins and needles when I faced the local customs officials wondering what justification I could give if I were nabbed for drug trafficking. Fortunately, the customs officials were probably having a good day so I escaped a potentially harrowing ordeal.

At the same time, I really wonder if the accessibility and seeming convenience of the procedure is creating a false sense of security. I wonder how many people out there are clogging up their arteries with cholesterol, nicotine, and whatever else causes blockages of the veins in the heart because the procedure is available, anyway. A heart bypass is truly a paradox.

My doctor friends tell me that lifestyle diseases, mostly cardiovascular ailments, are now the number one cause of death in the country. Aside from heart problems, more and more people are getting diabetic and hypertensive at an early age. It does not take a genius to figure this out, given the lethal things we ingest everyday. I did a quick survey of friends my age who also live stressful lives and was shocked to discover that many among us are already hypertensive. Even my best friend who is a total health freak and who goes to the gym everyday and eats wisely is hypertensive! As in my case, the usual culprits were cited: Stress and genes, which are sadly two things we have very little control of.

I wonder when our leaders will sit up and read the urgent writing on the wall. People are dying every day due to clogged arteries! This is a major cause for alarm and it is about time that more deliberate steps are taken to warn people about the dangers that lurk behind the pervading lifestyle of ordinary Filipinos. Unfortunately, many of our business organizations still have to grow a conscience—they not only gloss over the harmful effects of their products, they actually spend huge amounts of money to encourage us to patronize them. They bombard us with all these advertisements enticing us to stuff ourselves to the gills with all the cholesterol, the toxins, the nicotine, the alcohol, etc., that will eventually kill us. Hurray to television ads, kids today actually think that soft drinks are a substitute for water and that burgers, French fries, ice cream and chocolates are the four basic food groups.

In other countries for example, cigarettes are not sold openly, unlike here where one cannot go 20 meters in our streets without encountering a cigarette vendor. At a 7-eleven store in Bangkok, we had to ask where the cigarettes were as these were not displayed in their counters. And when we actually were able to buy some, we were horrified to see pictures of sick people prominently displayed in the cigarette cases and the warning “smoking can kill” in really bold letters— not the subtle “smoking is dangerous to your health, mind.”

This is wishful thinking, but perhaps our legislators can put their energies into crafting and passing legislation that will squarely address the rise of lifestyle diseases instead of squabbling over things the public hardly cares about anyway. It will be a tough job as the business sector will expectedly put up a good fight. Of course, it is naive to think that business and politics are separate to begin with. But it has to be done because the country’s health system does not have the resources to pay for the huge bill attached to cardiovascular diseases. Heck, we do not even have the money to pay for the most basic health services.

Prevention is still the best cure and the sooner we do this, the better. Fortunately, the other medicine—laughter—is still readily available courtesy of the funny antics of our leaders; but that kind of comedy is sadly becoming less and less funny every day.

Erratum: In my column last week, I inadvertently attributed the legal opinion I cited to a fictitious person. The reader of my blog who deserves the credit is Domingo Arong, not Rayon. My apologies to Mr. Arong.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Barred on Taft Avenue

It is four in the morning and I just got home from a rare night out with friends. On my way home, I passed by Taft Avenue in front of De La Salle University Manila and was amazed at the level of preparations underway for the last leg of the bar exams. I know that the so-called bar ops has become one of the hallowed traditions of the bar exams but I never realized until now just how seriously these people take that tradition.

When I passed by Taft Avenue, they were already setting up the tents along the sidewalks and some tents were already abuzz with activity. In fact, as a fitting portent of things to come, some were already drinking beer - at 4 am; perhaps they just came from a long night out and decided to cap the night with more beer at the site of the bar ops.

Anyway, those of you who are going somewhere near Manila today, skip Taft Avenue between Quirino and Vito Cruz unless you have lotsa time on your hands to spend getting stuck in traffic.

Well, one of the very earliest posts I made in this blog was about last year's bar exams and I thought it was opportune to rehash the post given the possibility that the same thing will actually happen today.

This post was dated September 25, 2005

The Bar Exams On Taft Avenue

I got down from the LRT Station on Vito Cruz Avenue last Sunday to witness an orgy right smack on Taft Avenue. No, it wasnt the sexual type, although it very well could have been, or should have been. There were wet bodies all right. There were gyrating people on makeshift stages. There were drums and ati-atihan. And there were people, lots and lots of people all jostling for space on that tiny strip of road half of which were already crammed with cars.

The right side of Taft Avenue, from Vito Cruz to Quirino Avenue was transformed into a parking area while the other side was site of the circus (pardon the mixed metaphors - I really could not find one word to describe all that hoopla).Every once in a while, some groups would launch into cheers and slogans complete with fists on air and chest beating, somehow reminiscent of gorillas staking their territories. And maybe they really were, I mean stalking their territories on that narrow road.

The bar examinees were walking out of La Salle, site of the bar exams, and were being "greeted" by their frats, schoolmates, parents, lovers, etc, with bouquets of roses, balloons, champagne, drizzles of water, beer, dancing, chanting, etc. There was food on the sidewalk. There were streamers professing support to their BAR examinees (there were streamers for specific individual BAR examinees too!), streamers bragging about BAR records (100% passing rate again! Ten topnotchers in x years!). There was hugging and jumping up and down.

What the heck was that all about???As I snaked my way out of the orgy to get home to my place on Leon Guinto, I had to restrain myself many times from shouting "what the fuck are you doing?!!"

To begin with, what is so special about the bar exams- say, from the medical board exams or the CPA board exams that merits that kind of attention? What is so special about being a lawyer in this country where justice is hard to come by and most of the problems are caused by lawyers anyway?

Okay, okay, I am not exactly a fan of lawyers, but do't get me wrong - I don't hate lawyers; they may be up there on the food chain as predators, but to my mind, it is just another profession.That whole Sunday bash got me really thinking about the sad state of society.

If you wonder how lawmaking in this country has reached an all-time low, you just had to be there on Taft Avenue to find some of the answers.On the last day of the bar examinations, with results a good five months away, the examinees were already being welcomed into the fold with hoopla, booze, and lots and lots of self-serving posturing. It was one big fraternity of bullies out there claiming a major thoroughfare for themselves, spilling beer on the sidewalk and shouting themselves hoarse with silly slogans about loyalty and solidarity.

In the meantime, right on Leon Guinto, traffic was hopelessly snarled with sielined commuters trying to inch their way across a street meant, appropriately, as a side road. I reached home to find some relatives trying to find solace in our house from the bedlam a few blocks away. And there was a townmate from Leyte. She just took the bar exams. There were no bar ops for her, no bouquets, no confetti, no hugs and rejoicing offered. She was from an unheard of law school in the province.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

One year and counting...

This blog officially turned one year old yesterday, September 21.

This blog was created with the simplest of reasons - as a bulletin board of sorts where my friends and I could update each other on what was happening in our lives without having to do the often tedious job of exchanging emails. Before then, I was a happy kibitzer in some blogs, leaving comments here and there and generally just content with being a "lurker."

Along the way, this blog became an outlet for my rants and raves. One thing led to another, and well, after one year, here I am - a little bruised but generally wiser - but still trying to get used to the "attention."

The last 12 months have been truly exciting for me. Sure, it was also exasperating and frustrating at times, but overall, I would say it was a good year for me as a blogger. I realize that not many bloggers get noticed at such a short time (yes, I repeat - I have only been blogging for a year) and many of them certainly deserve it - so I know I should be grateful. And I am.

And so, I would like to officially thank all of you who have made visiting this blog a daily or weekly habit. I apologize for not being more diligent in updating this blog; the spirit is always willing but there are only 24 hours in a day and I only have so much energy in my body. But thanks for continuing to drop by even if it means reading the same posts every single time.

I would like to thank Manila Standard Today for the respect they give to bloggers - unlike other papers who think blogging and bloggers exist in a parallel universe- MST editors believe in the power of this new media.

And finally, I salute all bloggers out there. The great thing about bloggers is that regardless of the diversity there is a strong sense of community. Thanks guys for creating space for me.

It's been a great year. Blogging rocks!

(And now, perhaps it is time to give in to many offers to redesign this blog and to make some money! hahaha)

Prosecutong the prosecutors

The following appears as an op-ed column at the Manila Standard Today. I was in a real hurry to get this column to press, I sent the wrong file, the one with a missing paragraph. The missing paragraph is: "To begin with, the career path of government workers are now limited as rooms at the top have been appropriated as political largasse by powers-that-be. It does not help of course that the chief executive seems bent on turning the whole government bureaucracy as her personal kingdom. "

Given the way things are in our country today, one who has talent has to be desperate, clueless, or a total masochist to consider a career in government. The aggravations that government employees have to contend with every day are simply enormous it appears being a government employee will soon be enough qualification for sainthood. It is not surprising that a government career is not anymore something that any bright young graduate aspires for.

The economic deprivation, I think, is bearable and is partly compensated by the psychological rewards that come out of serving people and knowing that one contributes to nation-building. But how does one cope with humiliation? How does one deal with public denunciation of one’s supposed incompetence? How does one live down accusations of corruption, with allegations of selling out a cause?

One can rage at the unfairness of it all. Or engage accusers in a tit for tat, calling them ingrates. Or one can simply take it all in stride as yet another hazard of the profession, another addition to the long list of things that just do not make sense but we have to accept because certain sacrifices must be made for the greater good.

I am glad that I am not any one of the government prosecutors assigned to the Subic rape case. Not only have they been accused of incompetence, selling out, insincerity, etc., they also have to contend with a boss who is apparently sabotaging their own case with his reckless and counterproductive statements.

This is truly one of the most mind-boggling paradoxes ever: We have a justice secretary who does not believe that the complainant was raped and accuses her of imagining things, and in the same breath, claims to be supporting her cause for justice. The logic just does not compute. How can you fight for something you do not believe in? But let’s not waste column space anymore on the justice secretary’s latest verbal hara kiri. I have this feeling he just does not care anymore what other people think or say of him anyway.

I know that the legal profession is a veritable snake pit but I also know that within the ranks of the profession are some of the most brilliant, most dedicated, and most upright individuals. I know a number of public prosecutors at the Department of Justice. I know for a fact that many of them are among the most dedicated, the most incorruptible, and the most competent people on Earth. Some of them are my coprofessors at the college where I teach. Another one sits in the board of the nongovernment organization I am associated with.

I am aware that they may not be representative of all prosecutors out there, but it is important to point out that sweeping generalizations are dangerous especially if these cast aspersion on the dignity and competence of the persons concerned.

Thus, I am alarmed at the way the victim in the Subic rape case, her family, and their supporters have turned the new twist in the whole imbroglio into a media event. The problem with this kind of media stunt—when accusations fly unrestrained and when reputations are soiled beyond repair—is that it invites more of the same. It deflects focus on the more important aspects of the case. It polarizes people and erodes support bases. More importantly, it desensitizes people slowly and somehow conditions them into accepting possible outrageous outcomes.

It has now become a battle of at least two versions of the truth.
If we are to believe the victim and her family, the government prosecutors are selling out the case. The government prosecutors are also being accused of incompetence. The victim’s main beef is the alleged sloppy way a government prosecutor conducted the cross-examination of the accused US serviceman.

If we are to believe the government prosecutors, the rape victim is lying about the alleged offer to settle the case, is an ingrate, and is being influenced by a private prosecutor whose militant orientation (anti-Visiting Forces Agreement) casts political color into the case.

A government prosecutor friend of mine thinks that the perception of incompetence is still borne out of the classic stereotype of how a brilliant lawyer is supposed to behave, usually a composite of Dustin Hoffman in And Justice For All and the lawyers in The Practice. There is still this view that a competent lawyer is one who spews fire and brimstone, able to bully witnesses and draw out dramatic confessions and admissions under heavy cross-examination, and enthralls the audience with his flamboyance and bravado. Thus, many lawyers actually feel compelled to do theatrics if only to impress their clients.

I am not sure if this stereotype is exactly what the rape victim expected, but I think that one cross-examination is not enough to merit a walkout and a mass denunciation. Unless the rape victim and her family are suffering from nerves that are already stretched taut to the limits, it is possible that there are other mitigating circumstances present that resulted in that unfortunate public tantrum. However, it is irresponsible to automatically jump the gun and make accusations particularly those that impugn another person’s competence.

It has become easy for anyone to attack government workers for incompetence, corruption, etc. Government workers have become easy targets for anyone with a criticism. Note how AM radio announcers, civic leaders, and most specifically, investigative broadcast journalists from some TV shows that enjoy ridiculing people, pounce on some hapless government worker accused of the simplest infraction. It is amazing that we expect our civil servants to behave with courtesy and dignity when these things are not afforded them in the first place.

It is possible that the rape victim and her family are telling the truth on this one (just as it is entirely possible that the government prosecutors are the ones that are correct). But as individuals who have been through the pain of being the object of ridicule and humiliation, is it asking too much that they can spare a little empathy for others, particularly those they work with in the pursuit of their cause? Surely they know what it is like to be at the receiving end of unsavory accusations.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Trial by legislation

The following is my column today at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today. Unforgivable mistake: I do not know how I got the names mixed up. But it happened and I apologize profusely. The name of the blog reader that I quoted in this piece is Domingo T. Arong, not Rayon. My apologies to Mr. Arong. So sorry. I have made the necessary changes in this post. I will do an erratum in my column on Monday.

It is very ironic that for an institution that is under siege and desperately trying to earn points in the bar of public opinion, the Senate just shot itself in the foot last week with the way it conducted its hearing on the alleged “anomalous losses” of the Philippine Communications Satellite Corp. and the Philcomsat Holdings Corp. It was a classic lesson on how not to conduct public hearings. Put more bluntly, it was an arrant and brazen display of power.

It was very disconcerting to watch supposed paragons of virtue publicly humiliating a public official who was, in the first place, virtually dragged into the room kicking and screaming. That the subject of the senatorial ire was a 70-year-old head of a government commission suffering from hypertension made the senators look even more menacing and cruel. It is possible that he is guilty of incompetence or corruption, but that doesn’t strip him of his right to be treated with courtesy.

We all know that the showdown was actually a proxy confrontation between the legislative and the executive branches of government. It was long overdue, although despite my inherent cynicism even I was not prepared at the level of animosity present. Why, Senator Richard Gordon was not only shouting at the top of his voice and wagging a threatening finger, he was spewing all kinds of angry denunciations including a direct accusation that the hapless Presidential Commission on Good Government chair was lying about his medical condition! (I pray that the good senator is spared the tribulations of an erratic blood pressure especially since I know for a fact that many Filipinos are becoming hypertensive at a very young age. I am already hypertensive at 42.)

After watching the television newscast which featured embarrassing snippets of the shouting match, I posted a quick rant in my blog, decrying not only the utter lack of civility of the senators but also the Senate’s seeming abrogation of the power to judge. As I wrote in my blog, I have no love lost for the PCGG, which still has to show concrete results after almost a score’s worth of public spending. But the hearing was supposed to be an inquiry, not a court of justice. And for crying out loud, no one, especially a 70-year-old public servant, deserves that kind of public humiliation. Sadly, what most people will remember about that hearing is how an old man was bullied, not the purpose for which it was called. This is very tragic because it is about time the PCGG is actually made to account for its dreadful performance.

Domingo Arong, a regular reader of my blog, posted a lengthy riposte to my rant, which provides an important context to the whole imbroglio. He said that Sabio’s arrest and detention was eerily reminiscent of the McCarthy era in the United States and quoted Edward Murrow’s famous warning: “We must remember always that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.”

This reminder is very timely because if there is one thing that the Senate is becoming notorious for, it is precisely for upbraiding, accusing and castigating people, sometimes, ordinary citizens, during hearings or in media statements that the senators claim to do as part of their oversight role. “In aid of legislation” is a suitable justification for Senate hearings under conditions when legislation is actually being passed. But given the dismal record of the Senate as a legislative body—its sorry output last year was a handful of bills—this justification is difficult to swallow.
Arong asks uncomfortable questions: “Is the power to inquire the power to disregard the command in the Bill of Rights that no person shall be deprived of ‘liberty’ without due process of law?” “Does due process of law allow indefinite detention and warrantless arrests?” “Does the power to inquire include all the powers the Constitution already grants to the constitutional Office of the Ombudsman?”

He continued by noting that: “The US Congress, in fact, has ‘practically abandoned’ its practice of detaining a recalcitrant witness as noted in Watkins vs United States, 354 US 178 [1957] handed down at the height of the McCarthy-era paranoia.”

Considering that Philippine jurisprudence takes heavily after that of the United States, Arong notes that: “Since World War II, the [US] Congress has practically abandoned its original practice of utilizing the coercive sanction of contempt proceedings at the bar of the house. The sanction there imposed is imprisonment by the house until the recalcitrant witness agrees to testify or disclose the matters sought, provided that the incarceration does not extend beyond adjournment. Congress has instead invoked the aid of the federal judicial system in protecting itself against contumacious conduct. It has become customary to refer these matters to the United States Attorneys for prosecution under criminal law.”

This bit of wisdom is seemingly alien to our senators who had Sabio arrested under circumstances that were described as “overkill.” To date, Sabio is still under detention at the Senate where he is expected to languish until the Supreme Court decides on his fate.

My astute reader continued by pointing out that: “The US Supreme Court reiterated this view in Groppi vs Leslie, 404 US 496 [1972],” from which he quotes: “Legislatures are not constituted to conduct full-scale trials or quasi-judicial proceedings and we should not demand that they do so although they possess inherent power to protect their own processes and existence by way of contempt proceedings. The Congress of the United States, for example, no longer undertakes to exercise its contempt powers in all cases but elects to delegate that function to federal courts.”

Finally, Arong recommends that members of Congress read of Irving Brant’s landmark book The Bill of Rights, Its Origin and Meaning, in particular Chapter 37 of the book aptly entitled “Attainder by Congressional Committees.” He ends by appealing that: “To thwart any attempt in the future to transform congressional inquiry ‘in aid of legislation’ into ‘congressional attainder,’ our own Congress should be respectfully petitioned to let the separate, coequal court try, decide and punish after a ‘judicial’ [not ‘legislative’] inquiry has been concluded. This way, the rights of persons appearing in or affected by such legislative inquiries the Constitution commands Congress to respect are upheld [particularly the privilege against self-incrimination].”

The legal gobbledygook notwithstanding, the basic question is: Are the actions of our senators tenable and relevant today? I do not agree with many of the points of the ongoing people’s initiative, but I think the senators are digging the Senate’s own grave.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Mixed Results

There is truly no accounting for taste. People make choices based on their heart's desires - and who can fathom the innermost workings of the heart?

The last four singers to get into the magic 12 was a mixed bag:

Stef and Ken were not among the best performers last Saturday. Ken delivered a very tortured rendition of that classic Dionne Warwick song "A House In Not A Home." It turns out he was very sick but he went on with the show. I guess he got in through a sympathy vote.

But the two others, Gian and Mau, were the two top performers last Saturday. So their selection was proof that Filipinos know talent when they see it.

It helped also that finally, the judges were helpful. Because I dissed them in this space and in my column for their earlier performance, I would like to put it on record that I was happy with the changes I saw last Saturday.

So hopefully, ABC 5 will do a better job of making all of us proud of Filipino talent.

On with the first Philippine Idol!

Friday, September 15, 2006

How not to conduct a hearing

What a spectacle!

Drama unfolded at the Senate yesterday as the senators tried to conduct a hearing (in aid of legislation they say, although exactly what kind of legislation is being aided remains to be seen since the senate’s record as a legislative body is, quite frankly, dismal). The senate is an institution that is fast degenerating in the public eye. Our senators seem to be tripping all over themselves in their desperate efforts to justify their existence. As an institution that is fighting tooth and nail to gain public sympathy to maintain its existence, I am afraid that it is losing heavily in the bar of public opinion.

I have no love lost for the PCGG. I think that the commission has failed to live up to its mandate. It has been almost a score since it was established and yet it still has nothing to show for its efforts. I think that even the current pragmatic stance for compromise settlements is doomed simply because the cases have become hopelessly mired in legal entanglements that now require a miracle to sort out.

But bullying a commissioner, engaging him in a shouting match and calling him all kinds of unsavory names during a hearing is definitely not the way to go. As they say, ang pikon talo. Thus, PCGG Commissioner Sabio may be bluffing and all the accusations against him may be true, but he has suddenly become the underdog in this whole spectacle. He has suddenly and officially assumed the status of a martyr.

Thanks to the emotional tantrums of Senators Gordon and Enrile, I have no doubt that there are many out there who are buying this emotional yarn of Sabio being a humble public servant simply doing his job and who is now suffering at the hands of bullies. It was a good thing a cooler and more sensible Senator Osmena eventually interfered to restore some semblance of civility into the whole proceedings– but sadly, all that was not enough to overshadow the earlier drama. Expectedly, all the newscasts last night focused more on the shouting match, showing a very livid Senator Gordon spewing fire and brimstone while on the other side of the room, a seemingly meek and harmless PCGG Commissioner sat trying to get a word in.

PCGG Commissioner Sabio may have provoked the outburst with his dogged insistence to interrupt, but there is absolutely no justification for Gordon’s hysterics. Sadly, the gravity of the whole purpose of the hearing is now lost and all people will remember about the senate hearing is that unfortunate power tripping.

That was definitely a powerful lesson on how not to conduct a public hearing.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Panacea

Since I posted that advise on how to remove gallbladder stones, I have received emails from well-meaning friends and acquintances who sent in other similar cure-alls. I didn't realize there were so many of them.

One sent me an article on "how to kill cancer cells." The article essentially makes a pitch for eating fruits and vegetables. Having an appetite for fruits and veggies is not a problem for me, I can consume tons of them; my problem is that I can not eat certain fruits because of my acute hyperacidity and I can only eat certain vegetables because of high uric acid levels. Sigh. The article actually makes a lot of claims that, if proven true, should qualify whoever thought them up for the Nobel. But again, I have always believed that if the advise is not harmful and does not cost an arm and a leg, why not?

And then there was another email about how to cure dengue fever. Dengue fever is a scary thing to have and I am aware that many hospitals are overflowing with dengue cases. The proposed cure involves the use of the juice of papaya leaves. I don't know if papaya leaves are edible - but I can imagine what they taste like (ugh). The papaya leaves are supposed to increase blood platelets and the email included some testimonies from people who knows someone who knows someone whose son was miraculously healed by papaya leaves.

Yet another email detailed the list of leaves and fruits and plants found in the Philippines and their medicinal values. Some of those I already know. (I had a granduncle who was a quack doctor in my hometown when I was growing up but that is another interesting long story).

And in my inbox today was yet another email - this time about turmeric as a cure for certain skin and intestinal problems. Turmeric? Hmmmm. This reminds me of something an Indian friend of mine told me - Indian women rub on their skin what they put in their cooking. Turmeric of course is one of the most common ingredients in preparing curry. So perhaps there is some wisdom in there.

And yes, I did try that gallbladder stone advise. I drank gallons (or what seemed like gallons anyway, even apple juice leaves a bad taste in the mouth after the fourth glass on the second day) of apple juice everyday f0r five days. I can write about my experience (I think successful, although I still have to undergo an ultrasound next week), but I think certain indelicate stuff need not be discussed in this blog.

Judging the judges

The following was my column yesterday at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today. I was so busy the whole day I forgot to post the column in this blog. But then again, the column was actually a rewrite of my post last Sunday regarding Philippine Idol. So those of you who read this blog regularly didn't really miss that much.

Last Sunday, I ranted in my Web log about the disservice being done by the judges of “Philippine Idol” to Filipino audiences and to the contestants of that singing contest. I am told that that particular post has been going around as an e-mail. So it seems that there is a sizable number of Filipinos out there who share my rage at the way the local franchise of the global phenomenon is being staged. I can understand why.

If there is something that we crow about more often than anything else, it is our supposed singing talent as a people. And indeed, we do have many great singers. Many of them have dominated international singing competitions, have played roles in Broadway musicals, are members of world-famous bands, etc. There are just too many singing success stories being bandied about that it is now difficult to separate fact from fiction. There are those who claim that any five-star hotel (anywhere in the world) worth its name cannot afford not to have Filipino musicians on board. There are even rumors about this and that singing celebrity having Filipino blood, as if genes are the best indicator of singing talent.

It is no cause for wonder then than we are a country obsessed with singing competitions. And speaking of singing competitions, the “Idol” franchise is probably the most popular in the world today. Thus, the expectations for Philippine Idol were quite high. We expected the show to be a showcase of the best of the Philippines.

Unfortunately, Philippine Idol is turning out to be such a huge disappointment. It is such a shame because the problems of the show have nothing to do with the quality of the contestants—some of the best Filipino singers I have ever seen are in that show. The disappointment has to do with the way the contest is being staged.

A number of people have already ranted about the awful quality of the technical aspects of the show. The lighting is bad, the audio is terrible, the stage design looks very cramped and many of the performers end up performing with the audience, etc. The emceeing is spotty and Ryan Agoncillo ends up saying the same things over and over again (to be fair, he is making an effort and is showing some improvement).

But the one aspect of the show that really irks me is something that is totally within human control—the judging. Ryan Cayabyab, Pilita Corrales, and Francis Magalona were supposedly handpicked to make critical judgments on the contestants’ musical performance. Their comments are supposed to guide viewers out there in terms of who to vote for. It seems however that the judges are more interested in trying to be witty or in trying to be popular than in making analytical observations on the various performances.

In the semifinals for the male contestants held the other week, only one contestant out of the judges’ top four picks were voted in by the audience. The divergence in taste seemed to have riled Ryan Cayabyab, who made snide comments last Saturday about the supposed “incorrect choices” of Filipino voters. The comments were uncalled for because, as they kept on insisting to the contestants, the top 12 already represent the best among the crop, anyone among them can become the first Philippine Idol. But more importantly, how can Filipino voters make enlightened choices if the judges do not make sensible comments to begin with? The judges are supposed to help the audience make enlightened choices, but their comments last Saturday were simply neither here nor there. So rather than blame Filipinos, they can and should actually teach Filipinos.

As I maintained in my blog, Ryan Cayabyab did try to act like a real judge. He did try to be objective and to make intelligent and sensible comments on the singing and the overall performance of the performers. Unfortunately, even the great maestro could not sustain it.
I actually took note in my blog of the specific and individual comments made by the judges last Saturday. But due to space constraints, I will just pick on some of the more interesting comments so that you can see for yourself just how analytical and “helpful” the judges of Philippine Idol are.

I do not question Francis Magalona’s musical talent. I truly believe that he is a gifted musician. However, it seems like making analytical or intelligent comments is not one of his strongest suits. First of all, this guy is forgetting that he is not on “Eat Bulaga” where irreverence is the norm. He actually made a number of truly outrageous comments. For example, he picked on the gender of one of the semifinalists asking when she would wear a skirt. (The actual comment was more embarrassing because he began by accusing the performer of being manloloko—of putting one over them).

Later on the show, he commented on the performance of the semifinalist from Australia: I think in spite of the fact that you are from Australia, you did good! I do not know how Australians feel about that comment; but I hope he does not get banned from entering that country. And then there were the vague comments such as “Basta OPM, okay sa akin [As long as it is original Filipino music, it gets my vote].” “Kinareer nya” [she sang it in earnest].” “Nasakyan ko [I was able to get it].”

Pilita Corrales is known as Asia’s Queen of Songs, which should be more than enough validation of her qualification to sit as judge. Unfortunately, she seems more interested in trying to lighten up the show with her funny antics than in making sensible comments.

“You look like a contestant in the Miss Universe pageant” was meant to be a positive comment, believe it or not. “Iba talaga ang Bisaya [the Visayans truly have the edge].” “You are sexy and I like you.” “I like you because you are taller than Ryan Agoncillo.” There are just some of Pilita’s comments. As you can see, they added nothing to the show except airtime filler. And of course, she did more of the old stuff that she used to do with the late Bert “Tawa” Marcelo in “Ang Bagong Kampeon”—she flirted shamelessly with Ryan Agoncillo! And it worked, the audience was in stitches while the two kept at it. It could have been a good thing if only Pilita was there not as a judge but as comic relief.

Being the last judge, it was then left to Ryan Cayabyab to dish the sensible comments. And he tried. But I guess there are limits to what one man can do, even if the man is a genius. The problem with Ryan Cayabyab is that he is makes terse and pithy remarks. He does not elaborate. He does not explain.

“The song ate you.” “Not enough.” “You have class.” “Nothing new.” “Good enough, nothing spectacular.” “Very solid performance.” Were some of his comments.

And yet these judges blame the Filipino audience for not making the enlightened choices.

The author blogs at http://bongaustero.blogspot.com

Monday, September 11, 2006

A world without NGOs

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

DEVelopment is such a complicated issue, to say the least. There are “hard” indicators of development manifested in the numbers and figures that government agencies churn out and bandy about to justify and glorify their existence. And then there are the “soft” measures reflected in the joys and pains of ordinary people, particularly those who exist in the margins of society. For many years now, the latter has been the domain of nongovernment organizations—nonprofit institutions that carry on the arduous task of addressing gaps in the system. The relationship between government and NGOs used to be adversarial in the past but has thankfully evolved into some kind of collaborative partnership in recent years.

NGOs in our country have been doing an exemplary and yet often thankless job of raising awareness on critical issues and in providing the necessary services that are often neglected by government. Such services run the whole gamut of development issues and concerns, mostly of marginalized and stigmatized communities and people that desperately and rightfully need to be championed because they reflect on the state of a country’s collective soul. Very often, these causes tend to be unpopular and controversial and therefore require a particular expertise and commitment. But NGOs have proven invaluable in mobilizing communities, engendering grassroots participation in development issues and programs, and in acting as watchdogs of government and private institutions and as humanity’s collective conscience. There is therefore an imperative need to ensure that NGOs, notably those that embrace critical mandates are nurtured.

It is therefore sad that many nongovernment organizations in this country are now in the throes of death. The cause of the massacre: funds for development programs, particularly those that address controversial causes, have become more and more scarce each year. Thus, funds for HIV/AIDS prevention, reproductive health, water and sanitation, malaria, tuberculosis, etc., are now very hard to come by and the many NGOs that address these concerns are gasping for dear life.

Before I go any further, I would like to make a full disclosure for the sake of transparency. I am president of the board of trustees of a nongovernment organization providing care and support for people living with HIV/AIDS and working on HIV/AIDS prevention. This disclosure is meant to highlight two things. First, I am basing my observations on first-hand information. Second, I am speaking from an admittedly subjective perspective —that of NGOs suffering from the shift in the priorities of donors. The latter is important to point out because it must be noted that, in contrast, other NGOs, specifically those that are working on “popular” and “generally safe” advocacies such as housing for the poor, are generally enjoying a surfeit of grants both from international as well as local donors.

It is both ironic and alarming that the sources of funds for unpopular causes such as HIV/AIDS prevention are drying up at a time when indications point to a resurgence of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS cases in the country. Without trying to be alarmist about it, the national registry for HIV/AIDS cases in the country has been reporting a three-fold increase in new reported incidences of HIV/AIDS infections in the last three months.

In the last 10 years, the country has seen a rather slow progression in the number of infections, hovering around 10 reported infections each month. Thus, the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country has been described as “low and slow” in the past. Studies, however, have pointed out that the infection rates do not reflect the real picture. It was hypothesized that for every reported infection, there are hundreds of other cases that are not detected. Thus, the description has since then been changed to “hidden and growing.” However, since May of this year, the national registry has been reporting at least 30 cases of new infections each month, representing a sudden upsurge in new HIV/AIDS cases. Clearly, hidden and growing just does not capture the urgency and the real extent of the problem anymore.

To be fair, our statistics still pale in comparison with those of our neighboring countries. HIV/AIDS cases in Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, to cite a few, are in the millions. The attention being given to these countries by international donor agencies may be understandable given this context. However, the resulting laxity towards countries like the Philippines is a serious cause for alarm because the vectors that have been empirically proven to contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS are also found in our country. These include active migration (we have millions of overseas Filipino workers), increasing incidence of injecting drug use, and rising occurrence of unsafe sexual practices.

The dearth of funding for development programs such as those for HIV/AIDS prevention is attributed to many factors. First, funding for development programs to Third World countries has been diverted to programs aimed at counterterrorism. Thus, even funding that has already been previously committed towards social programs (such those that target children and families) has been significantly cut.

Second, our supposed economic recovery has resulted in the exclusion of the country from the priority list of the major donor agencies. For example, Ford Foundation has already closed its operations in the Philippines. It is ironic that this supposed (and misleading) bit of good news has dampened parallel development efforts. Thus, many international donor agencies have shifted their attention to other countries that are supposedly more deserving of the assistance.

The government’s efforts to empower local government units have also inadvertently added layers to the bureaucratic red tape. And as we all know, bureaucracy does tangle up efforts and resources. Today, many NGOs are forced to deal with LGUs, resulting not only in frayed nerves but significant delays in the delivery of needed services. Let’s call a spade a dirty shovel and admit that more bureaucratic layers require higher administrative costs. Even granting that there is no direct corruption in the form of commissions and kickbacks, the sheer number of people who need to be wined and dined increases. This spells trouble with a capital T.

Of course, it can not be discounted that given the current political problems, there is a pervading climate of mistrust towards NGOs, reinforced by public criticism of government particularly by advocacy NGOs. But such is precisely the role of NGOs and government should not lose sight of the larger value that NGOs contribute to development. It would be such a waste if NGOs in the Philippines are left to fend for themselves and suffer a slow death. Already, many local social development experts connected with local NGOs are being enticed by other countries. In fact, the reality is that any regional gathering of social development experts inevitably becomes a reunion of erstwhile Filipino NGO workers.

A world without NGOs is unthinkable. It is tantamount to committing national suicide. Government and the private sector must save Philippine NGOs before it is too late.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Wanted: Better judges

Despite my earlier misgivings about the way Philippine Idol is being staged, I made it a point to watch the show tonight, hoping against hope that the show would finally do justice to our collective crowing and chest-thumping about our being the world's greatest singers. I am beginning to think that Philippine Idol is becoming a classic case of good intentions gone to waste. Yes, we have great singers and many of them are in Philippine Idol. But the show is becoming more of a showcase of large-scale ineptness. The production values are horrible. The emceeing is ghastly. And to make matters worst, the judging is simply asinine, ludicrous, and generally tasteless. And these people are supposed to represent our best?

To be fair, Ryan Cayabyab did try to act like a judge. He tried to be objective and to make sensible comments. In fact, many times during the show, he could not help but take a swipe at the supposed poor taste of the Filipinos who cast their votes last week (the better performers among the male semi-finalists did not make the cut). But how can Filipino voters make an enlightened choice if the judges do not make sensible comments to begin with? The judges are supposed to help the audience make enlightened choices, but their comments tonight were simply neither here nor there.

Tonight, the 12 female semi-finalists competed for four of the final six slots. It was a great showcase of sheer talent, lung power, emoting, and well, fashion hits and misses. It could have been a great opportunity to educate Filipino audiences on the subtle differences between vocal quality, tonal quality, etc., but...well, please, take a look at what these people tried to pass off as sensible comments and you be the judge.

(Okay, okay, I know that my side comments are nasty and literal; those who need to take supplements of irony need not lose sleep over these comments, I admit I was pissed off when I wrote this piece)

1. First performer was Gail who performed Tina Turner's What's Love Got To Do With It.

Francis Magalona: (Said something nonsensical and that made me decide to write down the rest of the comments of the judges).
Pilita Corrales: You look like a contestant for the Miss Universe contest! (what's that got to do with the singing?)
Ryan Cayabyab: The song ate you out. (That's it?)

2. Second performer was Ting Otero. She performed Diana Ross' Come In From The Rain (I remember this song as the theme song of James Bond movie when I was in high school)

Francis Magalona: Papirmahin na yan ng kontrata! (That is a critique?)
Pilita Corrales: Iba talaga ang bisaya! (She won points simply because she was born in the Visayas?)
Ryan Cayabyab: I suggest a makeover para mas bumata ang hitsura mo kasi ang ganda ng boses mo (where's the logic? Ahhh...pag bumata na ang hitsura nya, magiging mas maganda ba ang boses nya? Duh!)

3. Ynah Pangan, performed Aegis' sore throat-inducing Halik

Francis Magalona: Courageus effort, basta OPM okay sa akin, plus factor. (Duh! OPM music is great, but such reverse discrimination is a disservice. Ibig sabihin kahit kumanta ng Pamela One, pwede kasi OPM?)
Pilita Corrales: I liked the choice of song. (And then she started flirting with Ryan Agoncillo).
Ryan Cayabyab: Sugal ang ginawa mo sa pagpili ng kanta at nanalo ka. (Pwede na, pero ganun na lang ba yun? Boboto kami dahil nanalo sa sugal?)

4. Apple Chiu, Rhythm of the Street (I remember this girl from the auditions because she sang that Spaghetti song by the Sexbomb girls with such aplomb. It turns out she was a strong contender for the Korean staging of Miss Saigon).

Francis Magalona: Kinareer nya! (How very insightful!)
Pilita Corrales: You are very sexy and I like you. (This is a singing contest, po!)
Ryan Cayabyab: Di ko matake ang kanta, buti na lang maganda ang boses mo. (Pwede na sana ang comment, pero sana mas intelligent pa ng kahit konti na lang - para naman di namin makalimutan na music expert ka, in fact you are the country's foremost musical expert!)

5. Jeli Mateo, Bridges

Francis Magalona: Sugal ang pagpili ng kanta. Nasakyan ko. (Huh? Ahh...sasakyan kita, sa lahat ng gusto mo...)
Pilita Corrales: I like you, you are taller than Ryan Agoncillo (and flirted again with Ryan Agoncillo; this time Ryan went along and the two made shameless repartee reminiscent of what Pilita and the late Bert Tawa Marcelo used to do on Ang Baking Kampeon eons ago).
Ryan Cayabyab: You are tall and beautiful. (Remind ko lang po na singing contest ito!)

6. Ira Marasigan, Mr. Melody. (This girl is the daughter of prominent stage and film actress Irma Adlawan and theatre stalwart Dennis Marasigan, and Irma was prominently focused - was even made to stand up after she sang. So much for fairness).

Francis Magalona: You had lots of energy. (Yeah, she took lots of Enervon C and Lipovitan, you should too!)
Pilita Corrales: You have blossomed, I hope you make it. (Banana blossoms ba ito? Why do you like her singing? Why? Why?)
Ryan Cayabyab: You have class (may caste system ba dito?)

7. Pow, OPM Song Ikaw Lamang

Francis Magalona: Manloloko ka, mahusay ka na mang-aawit. Kelan ka magpapalda? (He thought his political incorrectness was cute and funny)
Pilita Corrales: Whatever you wear, whatever you say, I love you. (Followed up on Francis M's gender insensitive ribbing about Pow's gender, but mercifully decided to spend more time flirting with Ryan Agoncillo again, this time comparing the contestant's and Ryan's shoes).
Ryan Cayabyab: Boses mo punong puno ng emotion, kung tama bumoto ang mga tao, papasok ka sa top four! (Anak ng tipaklong naman eh...Kung matino at helpful sana ang comments nyo, matututo bumoto ng tama ang mga tao! Kaya nga kayo judges eh! )

8. Steff Lazaro, Home (From The Wiz)

Francis Magalona: I think inspite of the fact that you are from Australia, you did good! (Australians should ban him from their country! What the heck was that supposed to mean!)
Pilita Corrales: I've watched you doing (and she gestured incoherently with both arms - like sparring with someone). (Ano yun?)
Ryan Cayabyab: Nothing new. (He prefaced his critique by commenting on the song as national song for singing contests). (Pwede na, Simon Cowell copy cat, pero pwede na).

9. Mau Marcelo, Sweet Love by Anita Baker

Francis Magalona: Kahit si Fantasia (Barrino, American Idol champ) titiklop kay Mau. (I agree, but I wish he explained why)
Pilita Corrales: I really like the way you've changed. Sexy ka na ngayon. (Again, singing contest po ito, Mamita!)
Ryan Cayabyab: With a performance like that, I don't understand why you are not yet an international singer. (Finally, something that came close to a sensible comment. And as if to acknowledge the fact that finally a judge made a sensible comment for a change, Mau promptly broke down. I would have, too, if I were in her shoes).

10. EJ Bautista, Paalam Na by Rachel Alejandro. (This girl is partially deaf and supplied the emotional quotient in the first round of auditions. But since she did not make such a big deal of her disability, they called in her mother into the room to provide the emotional hara kiri).

Francis Magalona: Malinis ang pagkakainterpret (Finally! A sensible comment)
Pilita Corrales: Despite your disability, you are always nasa tono, always in the right key.
Ryan Cayabyab: Good enough, not exciting, nothing spectacular. (Ryan makes better comments when he is bored)

11. Suey Medina, Almost Over You

Francis Magalona: Beautiful! You killed it! (Killed? Did he just say killed? Homicide ba ito?)
Pilita Corrales: (Flirted with Ryan Agoncillo again) You like her? Very Good!
Ryan Cayabyab: I was ready to diss you (talked about his observations during rehearsals)...but your performance was better, congratulations! (Again, no specifics)

12. Arms Cruz, Superwoman

Francis Magalona: Best performance tonight. (Pwede na, except that this was a standard comment in American Idol)
Pilita Corrales: It's strange that this is the first time you did not cry, etc. (talked about how contestant was always crying for other contestants who did not make it during the auditions). You are my superwoman!
Ryan Cayabyab: Very solid performance. Very, very professional!

And they blame the Filipino audience for not making the enlightened choices? Duh!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Where's the singing?

In an earlier post, my friend Jher weighed in with his rants about the way Philippine Idol is being managed by ABC 5. I also made it a point to watch Philippine Idol last Saturday to see just exactly how the competition is going to shape up. I agreed with most of Jher's comments - the technicals were really bad, and the audio actually went kaput during one of the performances - but I think there is hope for the show. However, it looks like the people at ABC 5 really need to get their acts together once and for all.

My main question is: what exactly is their schedule? When exactly will the singing commence? They launched the show many months ago and they succeeded in creating a huge buzz . Unfortunately, they seemed to have squandered the opportunity by taking their own sweet time. Instead of doing a daily show, they compressed everything to an every-Sunday thing. In this day and age of instant gratification, who has the patience to wait up that long? They could have gained a more solid and loyal following if they showed more footage of the auditions every night. Some of those clips were truly hilarious and beats Bitoy's Funniest Videos, even Wow Mali! anytime.

And just when you thought the real singing would finally commence, just when you begin anticipating some excitement, they spend one whole week introducing the male semi-finalists. Aaarggh! So those looking forward to Philippine Idol becoming a singing contest will just have to wait. Of course, there is the showdown of the 12 female semi-finalists on Saturday. But after that, Philipine Idol will be reduced to Eye To Eye, one whole week of putting up with Heart Evangelista make small giggly talk with the semi-finalists.

It is a singing contest, darn it.

If the show last Saturday is harbinger of sorts, boy, we are in for some really lame judging. Ryan Cayabyab tried to live up to his name as the country's foremost music expert - but his attempts at objectivity was no match to his co-jurors' exuberance and fanatacism. Francis M's worst comment was: "I hope you get in so you can do better next time." What kind of comment is that? And Pilita Corrales seemed more interested in flirting with Ryan Agoncillo (I do not think that is necessarily bad, but I would wanted more analysis from her end).

It does not help of course that they are taping the show inside a venue that was meant to be, and really is, a moviehouse! No wonder they are having problems with their audio and lighting.

ABC 5 wake up!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Digging In

The scene was eerily reminiscent of something we have seen many times before in local movies. There was a "hero" holding fort inside a city hall, proclaiming his innocence to the world and harping against the monumental injustice being committed to him, his supporters, his city, his country, humanity, the universe, etc. The periphery was full of extras - wearing similar shirts at that - supporters who have come together to make up the first line of defense, people who were willing to rish life and limbs for their hero.

And then the shoving started. There was the obligatory cursing, crying, screaming, flailing. But as in the movies, the one with more gunpowder wins. The door was broken down and the hunt for the hero was started.

Only to discover that the hero has fled since early morning and had already abandoned his supporters. But he made himself available through his cellphone - and all the television stations had a live interview with the hero, who, as usual, proclaimed his innocence and came very short to elevating himself to sainthood.

It could have been hilarious had it not been for the fact that the scene was a brazen defiance of duly constituted authorities. This has happened many times in the past - when elected local officials would defy authorities, even a judicial court out to impose an order.

In this case, it was a suspension. One would think that the good mayor of Pasay City was being led to face a firing squad or that he was being replaced as Mayor forever, or that there were no other remedies available to him.

Of course it is possible that he is right, that a grave injustice has been done to him. But what kind of message is he sending to his constituents out there? That when you disagree with constituted authorities, you can dig in, defy the orders, and mount your own revolt?

I truly mourn the days when elected officials where real role models - they behaved responsibly, they fought their battles at the right fora - instead of acting like some gangster character from some Western movie.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Irony

(The following is my column today, September 6, 2006 at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.)


I was conducting a training program Monday afternoon when one participant announced during a lull that Steve Irwin has just been killed by a stingray. Some participants looked up with question marks etched on their brows and someone hastened to add “the crocodile hunter on Discovery Channel” and most everyone’s faces lit up with recognition.

Perhaps I was simply in a room with fellow geeks who all had cable television at home, and who shared a common fascination with animal shows that show excruciating details of how a three-toed sloth climbs a tree. But it is also validation of the power of information technology today. Someone who lives and produces a television show Down Under and the tragic incident involving him is immediately known to many others across the globe within a couple of hours.

Discovery is my default television channel at home. When there is absolutely nothing interesting on (which is sad to say often), say at two in the morning on a weekend and one has just finished reading a book and the mind is still wide awake, one can pass time watching some frisky and audacious guy with tousled hair wrestling with crocodiles or taunting venomous snakes. Of course one also feels like screaming at the guy “what the heck are you doing, put that animal down!” But one can take comfort in the thought that there is some sensible reason for the guy’s audacity, compared to, say, the nonsensical rabble-rousing of the justice secretary or the senator-aspirant congressman.

I still do not know what to make of the statement of Steve Irwin’s friends that “he died doing what he liked best.” I have no doubt about the value of what guys like Steve Irwin or Jeff Corwin do towards furthering environmental and educational causes. (Kim Atienza is trying to project himself as their local counterpart, and tries to dress up for the part; sadly, he only succeeds in looking silly, which is probably why he has shifted to doing the weather report.)

At the same time, though, the cause of Irwin’s death also illustrates that we really are skating on very thin ice here. It is ironic that Irwin has come out unscathed from handling very dangerous and deadly creatures like huge crocodiles and venomous snakes but was killed by a stingray, which is supposed to be a gentle creature. Yeah, he died illustrating that some creatures truly deserve to be left alone even by environmentalists.

Those of us who grew up watching Animal Planet and Discovery Channel will miss the frisky blonde guy who would shout “Crikey!” and speak with a very animated expression on his face. Farewell, Steve!

* * *

In the course of surfing TV channels to get some more information on Steve Irwin’s death, I came across the President’s televised press conference where she lambasted Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano and challenged him “to be man enough to admit his mistake.” The President was referring to Cayetano’s accusations that the First Couple had a huge nest egg in a bank in Munich, Germany. If we are to believe Malacañang, Cayetano is the one who laid an egg and he should apologize. Fine with me. I think anyone who thinks he has been accused wrongly has the right to refute the accusation, or demand a retraction or apology. If all else fails, they can also file libel suits all over town if they wish to. It is their right. They can swap suits to their heart’s content for all I care.

But the President did not stop there. And this is when the excrement hit the ventilation, as far as I am concerned.

In making the statement today, I wish to share the indignation of honest, trustworthy and hardworking Filipinos who are smeared and libeled, and whose dignity is assaulted by gossip and intrigue,” the President intoned. Whoever wrote that little speech must have been living under a rock in the last two years or must be suffering from a severe case of amnesia. Hello!

This is a President that has just escaped a second impeachment. This is a President who is being hounded by accusations of cheating, corruption, etc., and who apologized on public television for a monumental “lapse in judgment.” The fact that she was able to deflect the charges does not mean total vindication or exculpation from the charges. It only means people are willing to cut her some slack for the moment. But as they say, people who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others.

The President and all her lackeys should spare us the sanctimonious speeches. They can expose Cayetano for the monumental foul-up if they want, gloat about the faux pas and accuse him of incompetence. But save the big lectures on indignation, honesty, trustworthiness, dignity, etc., please.

* * *

David Ulrich, the leading management guru in the world today, will be addressing the participants of the 2006 Annual Conference of the Personnel Management Association of the Philippines scheduled Sept. 27-29 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Ortigas. He will be delivering his talk live from the United States through remote telecast. Other renowned speakers who will be sharing insights on how to create more value include a number of CEOs of top 100 companies, international human resource management professionals, and civic leaders. The conference coincides with PMAP’s golden anniversary celebration. All people managers are invited to attend the conference.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A fetish for scandals

The following is my column for today, September 4, 2006 at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

The raging scandal over the nursing board examinations has become a convoluted national soap opera with more than enough subplots to put our regular run-of-the-mill teleseryes to shame. It is another one of those things that boggles the mind and gets everyone worked up into a frenzy of blaming and counterblaming. In short, it brings to the surface our seeming fixation for scandals.

There is truly nothing quite riveting like a scandal, particularly one brimming with salacious and sordid details. There’s hysterics, masked faces, safe houses, musical chairs, a cameo role for the NBI and the senators. And I don’t know exactly how the question of sexual orientation became relevant in the melee, but it is suddenly just there. It is now, for all intents and purposes, a real scandal—it is outrageous, disgraceful, and a cause for shame.

What should have been a case of pinpointing who were responsible for a dastardly act, filing a case against them in court, and making sure that they are made to pay for the crime has now become a very complicated and delicate process similar to unraveling a spider’s web.

Naturally, the scandal has become heaven-sent opportunity for those who desperately need to make an imprint in the national consciousness to get into the fray. So what if the issues only get more tangled? Who cares if they do not contribute anything to resolve the mess? What does it matter if nothing actually gets resolved in the end? What is important is that those who are muddied in the process get to have their share of throwing mud at everyone else. What is important is that those who need media mileage have their share of the limelight. It doesn’t matter if there is no resolution of the problem as long as everyone is able to exercise his or her democratic right to speak out, be heard, and muddle the issue some more. What is important is the exercise of democracy.

So here we are again with the fact-finding investigations, the Senate hearings, the public washing of hands, the exchange of accusations and counteraccusations and the public relations stunts. Here come some citizens of supposed higher moral order taking turns at flagellating our collective psyche in the public eye. One board exams out of perhaps a hundred being held annually in our country, and it is being made as representative of our supposedly damaged culture. Suddenly, the little league baseball scandals and everything else are being surfaced to remind us of our supposed shameful character.

Thank you, guys, but I think there is no need to intellectualize and moralize. These things happen because there are perpetrators who think nothing of screwing hundreds to advance a personal vested interest. These things happen because the safeguards are not airtight, because punishing the guilty is not exactly one of our best suits as a people. There is no need to scold everyone.

I also do not wish for the issues to just be shoved under the rug. I think we need to ferret out the truth and punish the guilty. We need to craft better safeguards that these things do not recur. But there must be a better way to do all these other than through a screaming contest that magnifies the sordid details. Surely, there is a way to do these in a more honorable, professional manner.

Given the way scandals like these have turned out in the past, it does not take a genius to figure how all these will end. Been there, done that. When everyone’s throats have run dry, when all the juicy bits have been wrung out, when everyone’s patience has been worn thin, and when the issues have become hopelessly tangled —the whole convoluted mess will be dropped on some bureaucrat’s hands where it will lie dormant forever. And we shall move on to the next filth that can be stoked into becoming yet another scandal worthy of our collective preoccupation. After all, there’s always one just waiting for the right investigative reporter/politician/advocate to uncover and package as another earthshaking exposé.

A discreet test to validate the effectiveness of security measures at airports should have been just that. But no, we have to get everyone’s hysterical reactions. Oil spills, mass graves, etc.
It is a sad commentary of our times that our problems as a nation are first packaged as media exposés before they are brought up to the appropriate regulatory bodies for action or resolution.

When someone has a complaint to make, he or she runs off to some television shows, newspapers or some prominent rights advocate/elected official, who, understandably, put their own spin to the whole thing for the sake of ratings or similar considerations. It seems even scandals will become copyrighted in the near future.

I understand that this illustrates the role of certain institutions as fiscalizers, but it also feeds this unhealthy fascination, perhaps even fixation with scandals. When something is packaged as an exposé rather than as a problem that requires a solution, there is an automatic presumption—an accusation in fact—that certain people were up to no good, a sinister conspiracy was in the works, and that dishonoring certain people is inevitable collateral damage.

And we all know that when emotions and “honor” get into the picture, all the filters in communication go up. When this happens, any subsequent fact-finding or investigation is severely compromised because everyone has already been conditioned and primed to make a judgment and take sides. The whole focus then shifts from finding solutions and resolving problems into a free-for-all blamestorming.

There is actually a simple more dignified solution to problems like these. It so simple and maybe that is the reason people do not like it. Everyone—or their rightful representatives—should simply come together to collaborate on resolving the problems swiftly and impartially instead of having each one, i.e., media, regulatory bodies, the NBI, the Senate, the professional organizations, going their own separate ways. And while they are doing it, we should give these people the benefit of the doubt that they will do their job. And if we have suggestions to make, we submit them in an effort to improve the process and help these people get the task done rather than to point out just how intellectually superior we all are compared to them. If we have certain information, we submit it rather than use it as some currency, bargaining chip or ammunition to be released when it suits our purposes. We discuss and debate not to dispute or prove a particular position or stand wrong, but to help search for the right solution.

And when a solution is arrived at, we support it even if it does not meet our own desires because we recognize that no one in this country has a monopoly of brilliance or citizenship or good intentions.

Simply put, we focus on solving problems. It is very sad that in our country, problems become blown out scandals before they merit the kind of attention that they deserve. The problem is, when they have become so, they are usually beyond resolution.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Child Superstar

This is a cliche, but it is one that is relevant in this context. They say there is a child within each one of us. I suspect that this "child within" is getting more and more dominant among our leaders today - particularly in the case of Justice Secretary Gonzalez who has been throwing absurdly childish behavior and statements lately. Is he suffering from second childhood already or are these merely pathetic attempts to be cute?

Anyway. I was trying to finish checking and grading tests and papers the other night (it is the end of the first term at the College) when I got distracted by shrieking and giggling of the kind I haven't heard of in a long while, you know, the kind that smacks of pure unadultered "gigil." The whole household was gathered in front of the television set watching Kapitan Inggo, ABS-CBN's latest fantaserye (that is what it is called nowadays if I am not mistaken). The object of their "pang-gigigil" was Makisig Morales, 10-year old star of the the show.

It has been quite sometime since this country had a child superstar. The last real child superstar I think was Nino Muhlach, although Aiza Seguerra did come close to Nino Muhlach's popularity. Since then, a number of child stars have been launched to stardom, but with very little success. Boyong and Tolits, both of Eat Bulaga, almost made it; but I think they lacked that certain trait that many Filipinos find endearing in child stars.

That trait is best described as "bibong bibo," smart-alecky, precocious and almost bordering on irreverence. Nino and Aiza certainly became popular for being irreverent, particularly to adults. For the most part, they talked and acted like adults. Nino would call someone "tanga" or "tarantado," even slap someone hard on the head, and everyone would burst laughing. Aiza would talk like a grown up, painfully stretching her speech capabilities and people thought she was adorable.

This is not exactly a pretty picture, but that's the formula that worked so well in the past.

And ABS-CBN is rehashing that formula. Makisig Morales talks like an adult, to be more specific, like a kanto boy. He uses words like "tol" and "pare," is smart-alecky, and yes, he has a lovelife at 10. And he is such a delight to watch - if we suspend judgment for a while and forget about the kind of role model he is being made to become, or the kind of messages being sent out there.

I think Makisig will make it. I will wager that he will become such a huge child star. Unfortunately, like Nino and Aiza, when he begins looking like the characters he is being made to portray as a child (as an adult in a child's body!), that is when people will lose interest in him.