Monday, January 29, 2007

A matter of pride and honor

This is my column today, January 29, 2007 at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

I have no love lost for the Estradas and Ejercitos of this world. Truth to tell, I consider them a bigger menace to this country than say, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Go ahead, label me as a pro-Arroyo if that makes you feel you are a better Filipino. Unlike others, though, I don’t think that being rabidly anti-Estrada automatically translates into being pro-Arroyo.

But at least there are moments with this current President when people can actually still bask in some deflected glimmer of pride of being a Filipino, such as when one reads about her performance at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland. That does not erase many grievous mistakes, but it does account for something.

In contrast, what have the Estradas done for this country aside from trying to project themselves as the symbol of the suffering Filipino masses and as their last mythical hope for redemption?

Nevertheless, the sight of an irate Ilocos Sur Gov. Chavit Singson barging into the halls of the Senate with bodyguards in tow purportedly to confront Senator Jinggoy Estrada over some allegedly reckless remarks the “honorable” senator made to media sent shivers down my spine. What in the world was that?

My friends and I were in some diner idly watching our local newscasters make frenzied attempts to try to put an exciting spin to the day’s events when that news clip was shown. Let me digress a bit here to ask something that I have meaning to ask for the longest time—why oh why do our newscasters report the day’s news like they are on a treadmill or on a middle of the last two minutes of a hotly contested basketball championship?

But there we were, simply using the newscast as ambience for our get together when that clip of Singson and his bodyguards storming into the Senate was shown. At that moment the cliche “you could hear a pin drop” came to life as we sat there mouths agape, completely taken aback by the utter brazenness of the act.

It was a good thing that Senator Estrada was not in the Senate at that time. Otherwise, what else would have happened in a scenario where tempers were running high, pride and honor were supposedly at stake, and bodyguards were in tow?

What did Singson hope to accomplish with that act of bravado? Like I said, I don’t have any love lost for the senator who makes no apologies and in fact states matter-of-factly that he is ramming a wage hike bill through the Senate purely to gain pogi points with the country’s labor force even if he knows that the measure is potentially disastrous.

This is a senator you feel like strangling with your bare hands every time he utters those now standard dramatic lines about how api (downtrodden) his family has become (yeah, and yet they can afford to finance elections and live like royalty) and how his father is a long-suffering hero. Ugh.

Surely, though, no one wants to actually see him being literally clobbered in the Senate (or anywhere else for that matter!). Quite frankly, Singson just fortified the Estradas’ straight-from-the-movies iconic status in this country.

In those moments, images from some grainy black and white Filipino movies automatically came to mind. You know those hackneyed celluloid scenes that were the staple of Joseph Estrada and Fernando Poe movies that many Filipinos have difficulty dissociating from reality? That’s the image that came to mind: A band of contrabidas, usually scions of rich families swaggering into the frame to confront and beat up the poor suffering bida.

If there is anything that Governor Singson’s audacity achieved, it is to remind ourselves that these kinds of behavior are still very much present in our society; that even in the halls of power in this country, there are still people who think nothing of settling scores in that way. Crap, let’s drop this pretense of being politically correct and call the act by its real name: the kanto boy way. Guess who emerged as the hero by default in that incident?

* * *

Ordinary mortals like you and me who were not in that formal dinner hosted by the Philippine government for the heads of states of the recent Asean summit at Cebu did not get to witness live the much-vaunted multi-million cultural show that highlighted Filipino talent. But thanks to the wonders of media technology, I recently caught a taped broadcast of the show. Friends told me it was actually shown live on the government station on the same night, but I guess many people don’t really tune in to that station all that often, if at all. (I am tempted to digress a bit here and talk about how serendipitously “entertaining” Manoling Morato and Maggie de la Riva are in their show in that channel. I watched that show twice because someone told me the duo sometimes read my column in that show, but maybe some other time).

Anyway. That cultural show gained media mileage due to a human-interest angle: Most of the performers were victims of food poisoning on the day of the performance. But as they say in showbusiness, the show had to go on. I did think that it was a great showcase of Filipino talent, but sadly, not of the television director’s competence. It was annoying how the TV cameras would constantly zoom in and out behind the chandeliers on the hall! Only the desire to watch Lea Salonga perform kept me from switching the darn thing off thanks to the director’s absurd insistence on showcasing those blasted chandeliers!

For those who did not get to catch the telecast, or did not have the patience to view a show as if being perilously perched behind a chandelier, let me summarize the highlights of that show. The show started off with performances from the Mandaue Children’s Choir (these were allegedly streetchildren who were trained to learn how to sing) and a sampling of Philippine dances from the Bayanihan Dance Company. The Bayanihan, as usual, took everyone’s breath away with their astounding finale of Mindanao sketches, most notably the way they wove together the Pangalay, the Malong, and the Singkil dances in about five minutes.

Then there was the showcase of Pitoy Moreno’s Asean creations. All right, I know that fashion and modeling are art forms. But still, one cannot help but think that that showcase was not really about clothes, but more of our women. It featured the country’s winners in international beauty contests—Gemma Cruz Araneta, Gloria Diaz, Margie Moran Floirendo, Melanie Marquez, Precious Lara Quigaman, among others. I will leave you to debate on the social ramifications of the presentation.

And then there was Lea Salonga of course. Why Salonga has not yet been honored as a National Artist is beyond me. Of course people argue that the title is bestowed in recognition of a lifelong body of works, but who else in this country has given us more honor than this woman? As can be expected, Salonga wowed the audience.

And to cap the show, RJ Jacinto performed the song commissioned for the event—the lyrics of which are best relegated to the trash bin. Fortunately, simultaneous performances from the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group and other dance troupes overshadowed that horrible song. And our supremacy in the performing arts was once again validated.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The best "turon" ever

I am not a food blogger. I like visiting food blogs though and I am always awed and amazed at the exquisite pictures of food that invariably come with the posts. I have a cellphone with a camera that can take fairly passable pictures. I can appreciate good food presentation - specially if it's made for the appreciation of my various senses. But somehow, I always forget to take pictures of whatever it is I am having before I actually attack it!!! Di naman ako ganun katakaw (konti lang). I guess I just need to make a mental effort to remind myself to take pictures of whatever it is I am eating, or doing, or seeing.


Anyway.


I was having lunch with a group of mature "geeks" at one of the restaurants at the Asian Institute of Management (the group included a professor of the institute) and upon the prodding of the professor, we ordered the famous dessert of that restaurant - Turon. Yup, that's right. Turon - as in fried bananas. But this one was different. It was... orgasmic. I never thought there would be a time when I would use that term to describe food, but well, it's the best I could come up with.


The turon, which was served with Vanilla ice cream and strawberry syrup, had ube halaya and langka strips inside. And the combination really worked. By the time I regained full control of my mental faculties and thought of taking pictures of the wonderful concoction, the turon and ice cream on my plate already resembled halo-halo. It was a good thing there was one serving on the table that was still "presentable." Thus the pictures below.


It's the best turon I have ever tasted! Honest!
















Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What third force?

This is my column today at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

IF we are to go by the almost insane media attention being devoted to the ongoing political version of the game musical chairs among our senator-wannabes, one would think that the only elective posts at stake in the May 2007 elections are those for senators. That’s all we’ve been reading and hearing about in the last few weeks.

I don’t blame media, though, particularly those that have thrived on blowing up political scandals and intrigues into national crises. The relative calm on the political front in the last few weeks has yielded very slim pickings for screaming front-page material. Why, some even tried, although unsuccessfully, to put a spin to the alleged booing that the President supposedly got at a weekend concert, which did not really happen after all. On the other hand, the mad scramble to finalize the Senate slates of both the opposition and the administration has been one replete with all the juicy stuff that has made Boy Abunda and Cristy Fermin household names. There are the convoluted twists and turns, the continuing stories of treachery and betrayal, the lame attempts at comedy. At the rate we are going, soap operas will soon become unnecessary.

After all that huffing and puffing, the opposition finally announced the first installment of its magic 12: Nine names whose only commonality seems to be the fact that they are all anti-Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (or at least as of this writing; this can change in the next few days given that in politics, there are no permanent enemies). It is interesting, though, that the opposition has not made any attempt to hide and has in fact made a big to do with the fact that its senatorial lineup is personally being handpicked by former President Joseph Estrada.

Is it far-fetched to assume that loyalty to Estrada is a major consideration for one to become part of the opposition ticket? Most of the names in that ticket are already known Estrada loyalists (Tito Sotto, John Osmeña, Francis Escudero, Ping Lacson, JV Ejercito) and some possibly recent converts (Loren Legarda, Koko Pimentel, Peter Cayetano).

The other names being bandied about are supposedly “independent-minded”(i.e., they haven’t made up their minds yet), the likes of Senators Franklin Drilon, Manny Villar, Francis Pangilinan, as well as Benigno Aquino. These people used to be anti-Estrada. I wonder what medication they are taking to quell the tsunamis building in their stomachs.

But such is the nature of politics in our country. I have said this before and I will say it again. In our country, political parties are nothing more than mere launching pads for political careers. Political coalitions are really nothing more than loose groupings of the disgruntled, the outcasts, and the turncoats. Ideologies, principles, philosophies—all these have nothing to do with political parties in this country; or for that matter, with Philippine elections.
Of course, there is this attempt to forge a so-called third force.

Under a mature democracy, a third alternative is definitely a good idea. But let’s do a quick reality check once again: The May elections are not just about the Senate and any third force needs to have effective machinery that has presence nationwide and impact on the grassroots level. And in a setup where votes can be bought, where political dynasties and patronage are a shameful reality for which politicians do not even bother making even half-hearted apologies for, a third force can be likened to the futile efforts of Don Quixote battling the windmills.

This is not to say of course that the idea is doomed or that it should not be pursued. But it will be difficult given the current capabilities and financial largesse of both the administration and the opposition (which unfortunately may have come from the same sources anyway), but it can be done. That is if such a third force is grounded on a more concrete and more laudable platform.

By connotation, any reference to a “third force” today would mean being an alternative to both Arroyo and Estrada. Necessarily, any candidate who champions the movement needs to dissociate himself or herself from either camps and needs to go on record as being critical of both camps as well. What is the point of being a “third force” if it cannot be distinguished from the first and second forces anyway? So, the expectation is that the third force being bandied about is a breakaway faction that shuns both Arroyo and Estrada.

I believe there is a sizable percentage of Filipinos who are disenchanted with both GMA and Erap and would welcome the formation of such a third force. It should have a following. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that we are assuming that an anti-GMA and anti-Erap platform is the whole essence of this so-called third force. The emergence of Sonia Roco’s name as a possible convenor of this third force was taken as a strong indication in this direction. But then again, Senator Villar recently floated the idea that the third force would include Senator Loi Ejercito (Estrada’s legal wife) and other Estrada and Arroyo supporters. And to complicate things even further, the guy who fancies himself as the all-around broker and mediator in this country, presidential chief-of-staff Michael Defensor, recently floated the idea of a third force being a “unification ticket.”

So who knows what the third force is really about especially since no one has come forward to actually claim leadership of this force? The scuttlebutt is that it’s all speculative at this point, a trial balloon so to speak. I think we’re being generous with our critique. I think that this third force idea is really a fallback option for those who for one reason or another, will not make the cut of either the opposition’s or the administration’s respective tickets. Being excluded is a real possibility since there are only 12 slots in each ticket and the number of interested people exceeds that number.

When push comes to shove and some people find themselves out in the lurch, expect these people to go to town claiming ownership of the idea and declaring the wisdom and brilliance of the third force. But until then, I don’t expect anyone to come forward to claim leadership for practical reasons: They don’t want to kill their chances of still being included in the opposition or administration lineup just yet.

It’s all about getting elected.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Parteeh

I am not even sure I will be back in Manila on the 27th in time for the party. Am not even sure I will get an invite because obviously I dont have technorati tags in this blog (one at a time, please; those clickable logos will appear as soon as I find the time to learn how to do those). But it sounds like a great idea, so I am promoting the event in this blog.

There's a bloggers' party being organized by some bloggers. It sounds like a cool idea - so why not.

Go, guys!

Monday, January 22, 2007

"Devotion"

This is my column today at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

THERE are legions of Filipinos who swear by the miraculous powers of the infant Jesus, locally known as the Santo Niño. In Cebu, for example, faith in the Santo Niño is so absolute that every thing that happens in the province—even the success of the recent Asean summit—is attributed to the benevolence of the little child in princely robes.

The last two weekends of January are frenzied months for Santo Niño devotees as the major festivities that pay homage to the Santo Niño are held one after the other—from the fiesta at Tondo, the Sinulog in Cebu, the Ati-atihan in Kalibo and of course to the annual exhibit and procession of Santo Niño images spearheaded by the group of fashion designers who go by the rather archaic name Congregacion del Santisimo Nombre del Niño Jesus. All these events attract droves of devotees.

The Santo Niño figures heavily in local history as in the case of the Santo Niño de Cebu (a gift to Queen Juana, wife of Rajah Humabon of Cebu when Spain started the colonization of the Philippines through the cross and the sword). In Tacloban City, where I spent most of my growing-up years, the Santo Niño, which is also the city’s patron saint, is a much-revered figure. It also figures quite prominently in the history of the city and the province.

The Santo Niño de Leyte is known in the province as Teniente. For a bit of trivia, this was the image that the former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos was seen desperately clinging to when they were kicked out of Malacañang at the height of Edsa-1. She smuggled the image out of the country! In fact, it took a number of years and a lot of pleading and begging before she finally agreed to return the “borrowed” image to the people of Tacloban. A small delegation, led by a bishop, had to go all the way to Hawaii to fetch the Teniente.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me also state that there are images of the Santo Niño in my house. Thus, I can relate with devotees of the Santo Niño on several levels. No offense meant to the devotees of the Nazarene, but I think that the image of a child Jesus is a much more empowering representation of the Catholic faith compared to the image of a suffering Christ. The myths and stories around the Santo Niño also have a distinct human interest angle in them as they usually involve some mischief (He is a child after all) and unconditional love (He is supposed to be innocent). In Tacloban, there are stories about the Teniente having been seen walking the streets of the city at night. Urban legend has it that there are days when bits of sand can be found at the image’s feet. The Santo Niño is a lovable, likeable and delightful religious icon.

This probably explains why many devotees have transformed the Santo Niño into a veritable doll, something they play around with to serve as the hapless victim of their fashion inspirations and what can only be surmised as overflowing creativity.

If there are people out there who need further proof, I encourage them to visit the annual exhibit of Santo Niño images at the PNB Financial Center along Macapagal Avenue. I visited the exhibit last Friday and I must admit that the experience was quite unsettling.

First, it was a visual overload. I have never seen so many Santo Niño images in one place. Second, some of the images were truly priceless—I am talking of images that are obviously more than a hundred years old. Some were truly exquisite works of art. And then there were the images that were bedecked with precious jewels (obviously, these were under lock and key).
But over and above the quantity and quality of the images on display, what was unsettling was the way many of the images have become victims of one or all of the following: awful fashion sense, terrible aesthetics, or unbridled enthusiasm on the part of devotees.

I am sure you have seen Santo Niño images dressed as policemen complete with nameplates (the nameplate always says Santo Niño, not Jesus Christ; which seems to indicate that some people do not seem to be aware that the image is a representation of Jesus Christ). Everytime I come across these images, I tend to check the rank they have been assigned to and always get dismayed to find a lower rank. It seems even the Santo Niño is no match to the ego of some generals who cannot be outranked. But do you know that there is a Santo Niño dressed as a NBI agent (black pants, long-sleeved shirt, baseball cap with giant NBI written on them)? Or a Santo Niño dressed as a ship captain? I am not kidding.

There were Santo Niño images made to look like a baker, carpenter, farmer, motorcycle daredevil, fireman, showman, dancer and gym instructor. It seems that while other saints have specializations, the poor child is a jack of all trades. There even was a Santo Niño dressed in a judge’s black robes, sitting next to a scale with the admonition “Tinimbang ka ngunit kulang (you’ve been weighed and found wanting).” The message could have been ominous had it not been for the fact that it is ripped off from a classic Filipino movie.

If you think the above are unusual, be warned that I haven’t gotten to the weird stuff yet. Ordinarily, a Santo Niño image would be carrying a globe on one hand and a scepter on the other. In the exhibit, some of the images carry all kinds of stuff imaginable—flowers (yes, flowers!), a bunch of grapes, a basket of fish, a lobster, a rolling pin, a farm implement, etc. I half expected to see a Santo Niño carrying a hair dryer or a grenade. Ordinarily too, a Santo Niño image would be standing upright. In the exhibit, there are Santo Niño images on a swing, on a see-saw, astride a motorcycle, reclining languorously on a sofa, etc. There is even a fully buffed (and almost nude) Santo Niño showing off those abs!

And then there were the horrendous fashion statements. Santo Niño images known as Santo Niño de Palaboy (a streetchild infant Jesus) are pretty common—they are dressed in ordinary house clothes such as shorts and tank tops. I think these images make sense.

A Santo Niño clad in ordinary clothes is more politically correct than a Santo Niño dressed in princely robes wearing a crown of jewels. I have been to homes where there is a Santo Niño de Palaboy and I’ve always wondered if the Santo Niño shares clothes with the little tykes in the house. But I wish people would simply stop there.

The occupational Santo Niños I can take, but the images dressed in Kuya Germs’ castaways are another thing. I don’t mean to be sexist, but the Santo Niño is male. Surely, dressing him up in a lime green chiffon floor-length ensemble complete with a train and a shawl, or in white lace gown with ribbons, or in flammable fabrics in the deepest lilac is over the top. Ano ba naman! The other flammable materials and outfits requiring audiences to wear sunglasses to view them are best described as fashion runway massacre. I pray that the Santo Niño has a great sense of humor and looks at this fashion sacrilege more kindly than I do.

I know that all these are reflective of the devotion for the Santo Niño and that there is no accounting for piety and for that matter, fashion sense. But perhaps it is good idea to remind people that the Santo Niño is not a doll that you can play around with. There is a thin line between devotion in the religious sense and devotion in the movie celebrity sense. It seems many people have problems making that distinction.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Sharing and caring

This is my column today at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

There is an interesting phenomenon happening at the call center industry that highlights exactly how unprepared industry is to deal with the increasing complexities of the workplace, particularly diversity issues. Sure, management people in this country including my fellow human resource practitioners try to be hip and cool, mouthing buzzwords like “respect for diversity,” “compassion and acceptance” and even “empowering people.” In reality, it is a different story altogether. Very, very few companies actually understand what diversity means. Fewer still are companies who have programs to address diversity issues in the workplace.

There are companies which hire minorities such as the Deaf (they prefer to be addressed that way—with an upper case letter “d”—to denote their uniqueness and to say there is nothing wrong with them but that they are simply different). Companies like these, however, are very few and quite frankly, there are fewer success stories. Of course, there are companies that hire minorities such as physically challenged individuals to gain public relations mileage—simply for the purpose of showing them off as proof of the company’s conscience.

For quite some time now, I have been trying to document best practices in managing diversity in the Philippines. Sadly, there aren’t a lot to document. Indications seem to say that despite our rhetoric about how caring and nurturing Philippine society is, the fact is that there is very low tolerance in the workplace for people who are “different,” particularly toward minorities.

On the surface, it does look like we are more tolerant and accepting particularly of the physically challenged; but sadly, it is really often pakitang tao (for show) or out of compassion and a sense of kindness rather than genuine appreciation for the uniqueness of each individual.

Take the case of the Deaf. There is a program for the Deaf at the College where I teach and it is very evident based on their behaviors inside the campus that there is nothing wrong with them. They just speak another language, that’s all. They are a linguistic minority—it is like having an encounter with people from an African country who speak a completely different language. But sadly, many prefer to see the Deaf as dumb and mentally infirm. Consequently, they get treated that way.

If appreciating the issues around the physically challenged is already problematic despite the presence of factors that work in their favor such as social responsibility, compassion, etc, just imagine what the situation is in the case of sexual minorities in the workplace.

The pervading view is that physically challenged people do not have a choice about what makes them different, many of them were born that way; or to toe the line of the religious people, God made them that way.

The case of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders, however, is another thing because many people see it as an aberration that the particular person chose. Again, to toe the line of the religious, God did not make them that way, God only created Adam and Eve.

The issue becomes psychological, religious and moral as well. And in this country, all hell breaks loose the moment issues begin to acquire a moral dimension. That’s when hypocrisy gets into the picture.

Because client interaction in the call center industry is limited to a telephone conversation (or in other cases, online chat which requires exchange of messages in text form), a number of call center companies have started to open their recruitment and selection processes to the so-called minorities.

These include older people (yes, most companies in this country still impose age limits for applicants and it is a complicated issue that also requires legislation, but that is another column) and yes, sexual minorities including transgender people who are joining the workplace as “themselves.”

Let me explain. Transgenders are people who self-identify as being of another gender, for example, men who self-identify as women, and therefore dress, behave and live their lives as women. In the past, transgenders who chose to go to school and join the workplace had to adjust to strict norms about dressing up which expectedly posed serious emotional problems (imagine denying and suppressing who you are and pretending to be someone else every day of your life and seeing how difficult that could be).

This eventually led to productivity problems. Of course, those who could not cope drop out of school early on and become outcasts in our society.

But because the call center industry does not require physical interface with clients, the norms about corporate attire have become relatively unimportant. Also, probably due to years of practice and experience in coping with objections and verbal abuse, transgenders have been found to be more patient and generally better at managing difficult clients. Thus, more call centers have been hiring transgenders.

However, what should be a mutually beneficial arrangement is now imperiled due to seeming inadequacy of industry to manage the social issues that come with the territory.

In a number of call centers today, there is a raging issue on whether transgenders should be allowed to use bathrooms assigned for women.

The transgenders were hired as transgenders and come to work dressed and behaving like women. So why shouldn’t they be allowed to use the bathrooms for females?

Apparently, a number of women in these companies have mixed feelings about having to share bathrooms with people who look like women but in their minds are still men.

This is a natural reaction I think—and ideally, the natural response should be to help these women deal with the mixed feelings through an enlightened and open discussion of the issues.
Let me state for the record: I am not unilaterally advocating that transgenders should be allowed to use bathrooms for women. I am saying that the issue deserves a more enlightened and open-minded discussion.

Unfortunately, what happens is that very often there is too much focus on the “static” around the issues such as personal biases, unfounded generalizations, unscientific analyses, etc., and these get in the way of more proactive responses to the problem.

For example, in one of my professional e-mail groups, a recent discussion on the issue tended to focus on moralizing and much to my chagrin, even surfaced sexist and uncalled for side comments that tended to make fun or ridicule transgenders, even from the otherwise erudite senior members of the profession! The discussion thread eventually found its way into becoming a rowdy discussion on bathroom habits.

There are companies where this issue of sharing bathrooms is not a problem at all. This is because they put in place programs to address gender issues and they strive hard to maintain a gender-sensitive and empowering workplace. Heck, many establishments have unisex bathrooms (Starbucks for example) and we do not have problems with that.

In most houses, bathrooms are also unisex—we don’t make distinctions about gender in our homes.

The key is to help people deal with their own preconceived notions about sexual minorities, many of which are borne out of misguided fears or out of plain ignorance. But it is a long way to go. More on this at a later time.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The circus comes to town

Six early cuckoos trooped to the Comelec offices today to file their respective candidacies for the May 2007 elections and media was there to document the whole crazy spectacle.

I have no doubt that all the six aspiring senatoriables will eventually get disaqualified for the usual reason: They do not have the capacity to mount a national campaign. I am sure that is a perfectly valid reason. But it doesn't put a stop to the cycle.

One of the six candidates said he was running because God told him to. In fact, he said God assured him that he will emerge sixth in the senatorial elections. Perhaps he is truly a virtuous man because I think a more logical question to ask God would be "what are the lucky numbers in the next Lotto draw?"

Another one announced his platform: to make the Philippines a state of the United States. This is actually not new as we've had a number of these loonies advocating the same thing before. And as if to prove that he is the right person to make the pitch, he spoke in what he thought was American English. Oh sure, he got the accent down pat. Too bad his grammar really sucked.

The others displayed similar symptoms of insanity. Either they were in speaking terms with God or they claimed to be direct descendants of this or that national hero.

I don't think it is fair to begrudge anyone the right to run for elective posts, particularly since it does seem that given the current crop of leaders in our country, the current standards are undoubtedly dismal. But having a crop of unqualified candidates is one thing, having a roost of certified cuckoos is another.

And these are the amateurs. Hang on for the professionals.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Like dumb driven cattle

This is my column today, January 15, 2007 at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

This is a long shot, but if and when our legislators find the time and the will to actually craft much-needed laws, I have one suggestion. Perhaps they can pass a law that makes it compulsory for producers and organizers of major public events, particularly those that attract droves of people, to ensure public safety and to manage traffic in and out of the venue.

How many more tragedies similar to the Wowowee incident do we have to witness before something is finally done to address this perennial problem? Maybe I am just paranoid, but every time I find myself in a major public event such as television specials, concerts, rallies, midnight madness sales, etc., I get this sense of foreboding that the measures to avert grand-scale tragedy are tragically inadequate.

Take the case of the bedlam that happened last Saturday evening around the streets leading to the Mall of Asia, venue of the finale of the 2007 World Pyro Olympics. It was a situation that had disaster clearly written all over it as hundreds of thousands of people trooped to the area to witness the fireworks display of China and the Philippines.

Fortunately, nothing untoward happened aside from the monstrous traffic jam around the area. The jam took hours and hours.

As early as 6 p.m., the venue was already jammed; all roads leading to the mall was blocked with vehicles being forced to park right where the dead end reached them.

There simply was no more space ahead. As can be expected in a situation where people are left to their own devices, enterprising Filipinos transformed the exit roads into parking spaces as well.

By 7 p.m., there was no way in and out of the venue, giving a whole new dimension to the term “gridlocked.” Even Macapagal Avenue became inaccessible as vehicles were double parked on both sides.

Why cars were still allowed into the venue when there was no more space around the area illustrated the utter lack of foresight and preparation of the organizers.

Why they did not provide enough traffic enforcers to ensure that exits were not blocked and that traffic would continue to flow was an even more disturbing question as this smacked of the absence of contingency measures in the case of an emergency. Imagine the kind of tragedy if something untoward happened: Hundreds of thousands of people, all crammed into an area where all exit roads were blocked.

A friend and his family had the misfortune of being stuck right in the middle of the side street beside the Manila Doctors College, with absolutely no way out.

Unfortunately for them, one of their kids had an asthma attack and had to be rushed to a hospital.

They had to leave their car and run all the way to Buendia (quite a distance) to catch a cab.
I anticipated the traffic so I made it to the venue quite early.

But I already figured out that getting out would be a major nightmare. I had thought of parking as close as possible to Macapagal Avenue.

Like hundreds of other people, we had to contend with watching the fireworks extravaganza from a distance. Still, even with a clear exit plan mapped out, it still took us almost two hours to get to Roxas Boulevard. My friend, the one whose car was stuck right in the middle of a sidestreet, was able to get home at dawn.

We Filipinos must really be the most patient and forgiving people in the world because there is no other plausible reason for putting up with such aggravation. It really is time to put a stop to this madness.

It is time to make organizers of these public gatherings, particularly business entities who stand to make gigantic profits from such events, accountable.

We cannot continue being treated like dumb driven cattle herded into potentially catastrophic stampedes.

Every single time a similar event takes place, we simply take it as a matter of course that a monstrous traffic jam will occur around the area. For instance, when Megamall or Robinsons Galleria does a regular midnight madness sale, we simply accept that Edsa would be virtually impassable, heave a sigh, and go on with our lives as if being made to suffer by big business is a blessing.

Media, who by the way is also guilty of similar inconsiderateness when they put up shows that assert their superiority in the ratings game, simply give advice for people to stay away from the venues.

If organizers are not responsible enough to plan way ahead and put in place mechanisms to ensure public safety and convenience, then it is time to make them. It is time to compel them to grow a conscience.

I do not expect that potential harm would be totally eradicated or that people would not be inconvenienced, but some efforts have to be put in place to reduce these. Putting in place ambulances, first aid stations and other provisions for all kinds of emergencies, hiring more people to enforce traffic rules, rerouting, assigning speed lanes for those who are just passing through, even providing alternative parking areas are just some ideas that could be implemented.

To be fair, there are some public events, mostly those organized by local governments that try to address these concerns. For instance, the City of Manila seems more proactive in this area. When it had that New Year’s Eve countdown at Baywalk, it put up more first aid stations, rerouted traffic, and put in place more crowd control and traffic enforcers. Another example was the annual Feast of the Nazarene in Quiapo, which, despite being virtually impossible to manage, was relatively better managed this year in terms of crowd and traffic control.

Having said that, let me now talk about the World Pyro Olympics. As most everyone knows by now, the United Kingdom won the grand prize although I personally thought Australia’s output was better. It is my opinion that our own fireworks display was nothing to scoff at as well. I think that the reason many trooped to the area last Saturday was a sense of nationalism. Many were there to support the Philippines and waited up for our own fireworks display despite the interminably long lull (almost two hours!) in between the time the fireworks from China and the time our own fireworks lit up the skies.

Those among us who were not privy to what was happening in the venue came up with our own conclusions as to what was causing the delay (they awarded the winners and some people presumably made long speeches). Someone quipped that “Filipino time” was the culprit. Another one hypothesized that the local ferry carrying our own fireworks display must have run out of gas or encountered the usual mechanical trouble.

And what got all of us laughing was someone else’s guess that the Philippines’ fireworks display was “na-traffic (got caught up on the traffic jam).”

If those fireworks were really manufactured in Bocaue, Bulacan, then there’s an argument for sustaining and growing the local industry in that town. We just need to make sure that the manufacturing processes are made safer.

Were the fireworks well worth it? I don’t know. I got the sense that the exhilaration and the oohhs and ahhhs and all that applause that accompanied each burst of colors were all soon forgotten the moment people realized that getting out of the venue was pure hell.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Remembering

In a few days, we will mark the 10th death anniversary of my best friend Abes. I wrote this piece in 1996, a few weeks after his tragic death. It’s been ten years but there are still times when I would still catch myself whenever I would find myself in a fix wondering what Abes would say or do in that situation.

In remembrance of his 10th death anniversary, I am posting this ten-year old piece.

Abes, wherever you are, I do miss you my dear friend.

We can all feel bad about losing money to a pickpocket, or belongings to a fire. We can all feel bad about losing a bet or an election. Losing is always a painful experience no matter what, perhaps because it makes us come to terms with the fact that nothing in this world is ours forever. Nothing in this world is finite. Eventually, everything comes to an end whether we like it or not. Losing jolts us to the painful reality that everything we hold dear is borrowed and therefore cannot be ours forever.

The painful thing about losing is that most often it comes unexpectedly, suddenly. Unless one is a born loser, losing is not something one wants to aspire or prepare for so that when it happens, one feels that wrenching pain in the gut as if something that has been a large part of ourselves has just been ripped out. And in its place, there is nothing now but a big gnawing hole that makes us feel incomplete.

We feel bad about losing because in a real sense, we just do not lose material things or warm bodies, but a large part of ourselves. Every single possession, every experience, every feeling, every single person we love, all these occupy a space in our lives.

I lost someone very dear to me recently. His name was Abes and he was my best friend. He was one of the those people who was a born "giver." You know, the type who would give away the shirt on his back to someone who needs it more. He was always giving something away – shirts, favors, his time and energy. I am not exaggerating.

The most painful thing about losing Abes is that we lost him quite suddenly and unexpectedly; and under very tragic circumstances. He was a victim of man’s inhumanity, of extreme cruelty. He was a victim of a foul play. Perhaps a frustrated hold-up attempt. Perhaps a vendetta. Perhaps. Nobody knows for sure what really happened. His wounded body was simply found one morning in a grassy knoll in the heart of Quezon City. No leads, no witnesses, nothing.

One day he was a warm affable person. The next day he was cold body inside a box. Just like that. It did not matter that the man was barely 30, that he had a bright future ahead of him at PAL, that he had just bought a house for himself and his family, that he had parents and siblings and friends whose lives would never ever be the same again without him.

The questions scream for answers. How could anyone snuff out someone else’s life in just a few slashes of a knife? What kind of a person offers a deaf ear to someone’s plea for life? Why would anyone want to hurt someone who did not have within himself the ability to inflict harm on another human being? What kind of a society it is that breeds criminals, that allows killers to hunt the streets at night and stalk victims?

As in the movies, the questions merely shatter the stillness of the night. There are no answers forthcoming. At least not yet. His death is being investigated by the NBI. I do not want to think that my best friend would end up as just another statistic in the police files.

But frankly, there is not much to go by. He had no known enemies. There was simply no reason for him to get killed other than the fact that he was on the same road that night when someone with unspeakable evil in his heart. In the end it is simply between him and God.

In the meantime, we grope in the dark trying to find our way around this world without Abes. It is like waking up the day after the dentist pulled a tooth – you go through the day trying to find the tooth where it used to be and feeling very uncomfortable in the process. In time you get used to it. The loneliness becomes a part of ourselves.

In the meantime, we grieve not just for a dear friend, but for everything that could have been.
Goodbye Abes. Rest well, my friend.

Update:

Serendipity? While surfing the net I came across a tribute written by Celine Lopez for her best friend Joel Tantoco who passed away recently.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Har har har

There are funny text messages and there are funnier text messages. This one belongs to the latter category, sent to me by a friend of mine, which I promptly forwarded to my closest friends:

"Dare what it takes to be. Then we shall because it is. To do or not, now or what else to be without." Words of wisdom from Senator Lito Lapid, bahala ka na umintindi."

Of course I know that the attribution to Senator Lapid is also meant as a joke. But who knows, like the Eraption book which was a carefully crafted and orchestrated PR stunt by Reli German, text jokes like this may actually be a creative campaign propaganda. Up until now, Lito Lapid's carabao English has not been an issue at all. Is he really running for Mayor of Makati?

May elections as referendum

This is my column today at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

WE know that the election season is definitely here because the level of duplicity, froth, and hysterics in the political front is reaching absurd proportions. One does not know whether to laugh, cry or do both at the antics of our politicians. I have said this before and I will say it again, elections really bring out the worst and the best in people.

The horsetrading, backroom wheeling and dealing, and what can only be surmised as the grand scale auction of souls and principles, also euphemistically known as “coalition building” is reaching fever pitch. Why our politicians insist on putting up their own political parties that supposedly articulate their distinct ideologies, philosophies and platforms when they have no qualms about running for elections under the wings of another party with a set of ideologies and platforms diametrically opposed to the original party, is deeply disturbing.

This only validates the long-standing view that despite their verbose vision and mission statements and their grand claims to be the long-awaited messiahs of this country, political parties in the Philippines are really nothing but makeshift structures used for launching political careers. (I am being generous here because the prevailing view is that political parties are really nothing but a social club of the controlling bullies on one hand, and the various factions of the rejected, the outcasts and the disgruntled on the other hand.)

In the last few weeks, there have been frantic speculations as to who shall become part of the administration and the opposition slates for the May elections. Ordinarily, the selection process should not be such a big deal. What makes the current process highly irregular is that the mad scramble to complete slates seems to hinge mainly on two factors: winnability and attitude toward President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. All other considerations are currently out of the question.

Let’s talk about chances of winning first.

It is very sad that the prevailing point of view about this is that popularity and consequently, the winnability of individual candidates strengthens a whole slate. Thus, this whole mad scramble to pick candidates that have been anointed by Social Weather Stations, Pulse Asia and the other purveyors of prophecy in this country regardless of political persuasion, competency, political ideology, etc. And because the prophets have divined that the opposition will win the elections, the queue at the resthouse in Tanay Rizal has become unusually longer.

On the other hand, the administration has tried to downplay the role of popularity in elections by trundling out arguments such as “elections are won at the local level” or that “it is political machinery that counts.” It is actually a long shot, but one that was worth the risk if only this administration had worthy candidates to begin with. If it was able to get people of unquestioned competence and integrity to run, say, for the senate, then political machinery would have done the magic. Too bad it seems that the search was limited to within 100 meters of Malacañan Palace. So it appears that the chest thumping has been all for show—now it seems the administration camp is now moving heaven and earth to get first dibs at the more popular candidates.

This is sad because if our political parties continue fielding candidates who are already popular (or notorious, I am told there is no difference when it comes to elections), instead of throwing a whole machinery behind relatively unknown candidates but who are truly competent and deserving, then we shall be forever stuck with celebrities who already have built-in advantage over others in terms of exposure in media and name recall.

This is sad because politicians will have to be more imaginative and creative to ensure their continued visibility in the public eye. This will translate into more populist but unprincipled actions, more grandstanding and verbal swashbuckling over nothing, and in general, increase the phenomenon of politicians dabbling as celebrities and celebrities going into politics. I think we have to pay dearly for this development in the near future.

It has been said that the May elections is mainly about one issue: the legitimacy of President Arroyo. It has been said that this election will be a referendum on GMA.

The dangerous implication of this in terms of the selection of candidates is that as far as the opposition is concerned, anyone is welcome into their fold provided he or she is anti-Arroyo (or at least commits to being one henceforth). And as far as the administration is concerned, anyone is welcome to join the administration slate provided they are prepared to pledge loyalty to the President, or at least commit to become “neutral.” I think these are troubling developments.

Making this election an indirect referendum on the legitimacy of the Arroyo administration is a double-edged sword because the legitimacy of former President Joseph Estrada’s claims to innocence and to being a victim of injustice and persecution are also riding on the same vehicle.
And God knows Estrada is itching to be exonerated through public approbation where his charm and iconic status can be put to better use rather than through the justice system where reason and evidence hold sway.

Despite the grand claims of the opposition, I also have reason to believe that electing representatives to the House is really a function of political machinery and the candidates’ clout in their respective localities. National issues have very little influence in the towns and barrios where the main consideration is where the food for the morrow will come from. Thus, I think that the administration will continue to enjoy a majority in the House of Representatives after the May elections.

This is why the emergence of the so-called third force is ordinarily a welcome development, if only it does not increase the possibility of neutralizing the two opposing camps. In such a situation, the administration wins by default.

Monday, January 08, 2007

An unprincipled bill

This is my column today, January 8, 2007, at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

I wrote about this madness six months ago when the House of Representatives stunned the country by passing on second reading a bill mandating a P125 across-the-board wage increase.

Immediately after that foolish move of the House, the country’s foremost economists, various employer groups, and even the government sounded the alarm: A legislated wage increase, particularly one that mandated an unreasonably high amount, was counterproductive, disastrous, discriminatory, etc.

Various reasons were cited: most small and medium enterprises (which comprise 99 percent of employers in this country) would be unable to pay the mandated wages and would either go underground, forced to reduce or lay off workers, or totally close shop.

The statistics were trundled out about how a significant number of these enterprises were already unable to pay the then current minimum wages. How much more a P125 increase?
Many, including this writer, argued for more effective mechanisms to determine and grant wage increases such as empowering the various regional wage boards, providing for more state-sponsored social security programs, and putting in place equity-sensitive salary structures that link wages to productivity, industry performance, company productivity and worker capability.

Perhaps in an effort to quell the increasing agitation, some regional wage boards granted wage increases a few weeks after. Thus, in Metro Manila, minimum daily wages were raised by P25 effective July 11 last year. All’s well that ends well? Not!

The Senate has just resurrected the issue from the grave. It has started deliberations on its counterpart bill last week. Senate Bill 2030, authored by Senator Jinggoy Estrada, is proposing a P100 nationwide across-the-board wage increase. The senator declared that the proposed wage increase is "lower and more reasonable" compared to what the House mandated last year. What he and his cohorts conveniently forget is that the reduction in the amount in the proposed Senate bill simply took into account the P25 wage increase granted between the time the House passed its bill and the present. So in the final analysis, it is the same banana as the House bill.

So we’re all back to square one.

I have not made up my mind on the issue of shifting to a parliamentary system of government, but what is happening today offers tempting arguments to support it. It is as if the whole debate that happened six months ago over the same issue did not take place at all! It is as if our senators were in a parallel universe six months ago when the same arguments, the same statistics, the same dire warnings were made.

So, once again, with more feeling: Legislating wage increases, especially one that prescribes a nationwide uniform wage increase, is a foolish idea.

It runs counter to the basic tenets of a free market economy where industry competitiveness, company performance, and worker competence are supposed to be the main determinants of wage increases. It is counterproductive because a nationwide one-size-fits-all shotgun approach to increasing workers’ wages grossly penalizes small and medium enterprises in less competitive regions.

Paradoxically, it gives license to highly profitable companies particularly those in more competitive regions to limit wages to what is prescribed by law. Why give more when the law already specifies how much should be given? Why bother with the headaches of determining equitable salary structures when Congress has made it easy and convenient?

In effect, Congress is taking away from regional wage boards, employers, and even collective bargaining units the right and the responsibility to determine wages appropriate to situations that are unique and particular to specific regions, industries, and companies.

To be fair, it must be acknowledged that there are companies that are highly profitable and are therefore in a better position to grant wage increases, perhaps even more than what the Senate is prescribing.

There are also capitalists who are amassing huge profits from their various enterprises, with personal assets running into the billions of pesos. Some of them ended up in the recent Forbes list of the country’s richest. But lest we forget, these people comprise a miniscule percentage of the population. So yes, we should make sure that those who are able to pay their workers more should be compelled to do so. Congress is welcome to pass laws that mandates compulsory profit sharing if it wants and let’s see how many among them would balk at the prospect of earning the ire of their peers who own very profitable enterprises.

What is infuriating is that Estrada has publicly acknowledged that the measure is flawed and self-defeating. The prevailing belief is that the House passed the bill last June simply to appease workers and did a Pontius Pilate, i.e., passed on the dirty job of killing the measure to the Senate. The senator is on record as saying that he would prefer to have the bill passed in the Senate to avoid blame and would rather that the President be the bad person who will do the unpopular task of finally doing what is right. I guess it really is unreasonable for us to expect some semblance of principled stand from our legislators. One simply cannot squeeze blood from turnips.

As a human resource management practitioner, I do empathize with the situation of the labor sector. I really do believe that it is time for all of us to recognize the primacy of putting people at the center of all our economic efforts. After all, people are our only remaining source of national competitiveness. It is time for us to seriously rethink the traditional business paradigm that puts financial resources, technology, or equipment as the main drivers of economic growth. It is people that deliver results. Filipino workers, and in this context, the wages that they receive, should not be the end-result or mere by-product of the business chain, but the impetus or driving force of the whole equation. So yes, giving decent wages and benefits should be a top priority.

But legislating a nationwide across-the-board one-size-fits-all wage increase is just way too simplistic a solution. At the very least, the move smacks of the absence of intelligent analysis. It is as if the last 50 years wherein a wealth of scientific tools in salary determination have been invented and where human resources management has evolved into a science, have not happened at all. It begs the question, where the heck is the science in all this?

This is indicative of how common sense is truly uncommon today, particularly in Congress.
Senators, there are many other more proactive and effective options that are available to us to arrive at a win-win solution to the problem of uplifting the plight of our workers. Rather than taking the simplistic and populist but unprincipled way out by legislating that P100 wage increase, you can actually make a major difference by thinking out of the box and exploring other more effective and strategically viable options.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Walang...

I was supposed to go out with some friends a few hours ago (technically last night), but I overslept. Long story. Anyway. I woke up hungry and decided to take a late dinner (or early breakfast), tried to read, and decided to check out what was on the idiot box. I caught the last few minutes of that Lou Diamond Philips movie (Bats) on HBO (whew! aside from technology, has anything really changed in cinema? The premise, the plot, the action sequences are essentially the same; it's like the template for the average American movie has remained the same all through these years). I surfed channels... and at 1:00 am, what else is on local TV but walangggggggggg...tulugan! (Sorry, I just needed to provide a context for what I am going to write about for obviously embarrasing reasons).

As I write this, the 21st reunion of That's Entertainment is playing out on Master Showman. If you are between 30 and 50 years old, I am sure you went through a "dats" phase in your life. There was just no frigging way you could have missed out on that late afternoon phenomenon on local TV. To be honest, I wasn't really into "dats" but like I said, it wasn't something you could be totally oblivious to. Not when most everyone among your friends was into it; with some friends rooting for certain "days."

So what has happened to the mainstays of that show? I never realized just how many among our current celebrities trained on "dats." I guess that explains why many among them are awful performers or why the showbiz careers of many others did not prosper. But to be fair, that show did produce Lea Salonga, Donita Rose, Piolo Pascual, Ruffa Mae Quinto, and of course, Billy Joe Crawford (who it turns out flew all the way from Europe to grace the reunion). So I guess despite the baduy factor of the show, it cannot be denied that it did some people some good.

Seeing how those kids blossomed into adults today and still being able to recognize those who are no longer active in showbiz was surprisingly fun... the likes of Brylle Mondejar, Manolet Ripol, Mutya Crisostomo, Ricky Rivero (oh my god, this guy lost so much weight, I wanna know what he did to shed off what must have been 200 lbs), the Alejar brothers, etc.

And of course, it wouldn't be a Dats reunion without those production numbers (snicker, snicker). The difference is that the performances are more, how shall I say this, mature (as expected) and I guess more polished.

Friday, January 05, 2007

No deal

We knew the picture was grim; in the last few months we've been fervently hoping that a miracle would happen, that funds would finally start trickling in. But no cigar. So what else was there to do but sit down, come to terms with the bleak reality, and wrestle with the ugly job of putting in place cost-minimization programs to help stave off extinction. (Sheesh, I know these sentences are ridden with hackneyed cliches, I am just too tired today to even think).

Anyway. Our problem in our NGO is simple: money for development work in the Philippines is helplessly tied up in bureaucratic red tape, most NGOs particularly those involved in reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, women's issues, etc., are not only feeling the pinch - they are gasping for dear breath. A number of NGOs have started to lay off employees and some have actually closed shop. It is sad because there is so much money available out there for development work. One problem is that at some point in the last few years, the NGO community in the country fell into this trap of creating coalitions and mechanisms supposedly designed to help ensure a more equitable and more effective distribution and mobilization of resources so that we now have several layers between the source of funding and the NGOs.

The other problem is that on the surface, it looked like NGOs have been doing such a great job that the sense of urgency around the issues has dissipated. Now everyone seems to be taking their own sweet time - except of course the NGO workers who are not only faced with the bleak prospects of being jobless soon but also of losing the momentum that they have built up in the implementation of their respective projects.

It seems only Gawad Kalinga is the only viable social development program today. I will not argue with the noble objectives of the program - one has to be a real cynic not to acknowledge the value of providing houses to the homeless. But must all our resources go to building houses?

It's a good thing we Filipinos have a great sense of humor that we can still find something to amuse ourselves with even in the face of terrible news. So when someone, in what could only be surmised as a moment of inspired madness, suggested joining "Deal Or No Deal" as a fund raising venture, we all latched on to the idea. Oh, the possibilities; imagine what 4 million pesos could do to save our programs! So we spent considerable time turning the idea around and around - and the more we talked about it, the more the idea became attractive. Truly, there is no better motivation than desperation. Unfortunately, the discussion soon resembled a modern version of that story about mice who have decided to put on a bell on the cat - the problem is, who would do it? No one among us was willing to face Kris Aquino. And so the idea fizzled out.

Any better ideas?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A new page

Thank you to those who emailed me privately commenting on the new look of this blog. It is something that I have always wanted to do - change the overall packaging.

The New Year was an opportune time to do it in keeping with my resolve to make some drastic changes. So I hope you like the new look. I hope to add more features - perhaps use more pictures (as soon as I learn how to upload pictures from my cellphone, there goes another resolution), perhaps showcase what am currently reading (am currently struggling through Life of Pi by Yann Martel and The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq; did I tell you about my weird habit of starting three to four books at any given time?) and even perhaps feature my newest discovery in the blogosphere (and there are hundreds of thousands of other blogs out there that I am sure I can add to my list of favorites).

Thanks to google, blogspot has become easier to manage. Changing layout and adding features have become easier and more user friendly - it's now a basic click and drag operation, which is really a major boost for non-techies like me.

So there. I really do resolve to find more time for this blog this year. Who knows I might actually start earning from it (hahaha, tough chance).

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The nightmare begins

Senator Richard Gomez. I don't know about you, but the thought sends shivers down my spine. Reports have it that the actor slash television gossip host slash underwear model visited former President Erap Estrada at his posh Taytay hideaway (also knows as his "prison") purportedly to ask for his blessings to be allowed to run for the Senate under the banner of the opposition.

If he wins (and I think he has a good chance of winning given his popularity), he will be the fourth "actor" in the Senate -after Lito Lapid, Bong Revilla, and Jinggoy Estrada. In terms of connection to local showbiz, we should add to the list Francis Pangilinan (married to the mega star Sharon Cuneta), Ralph Recto (married to star for all seasons Vilma Santos), Loi Ejercito (married to former President and actor/producer/director Joseph Estrada), Pia Cayetano (daughter of former topnotch lawyer but more popularly known as television personality Rene Cayetano). And if fate decides to play a cruel joke on us, JV Ejercito and Alan Peter Cayetano(siblings of Jinggoy and Pia, respectively) and Robert Jaworski (brother-in-law of Bong Revilla and in his own right a celebrity who also dabbled in local films and television shows) might just end up at the Senate as well.

Add to the lot the possibility of Korina Sanchez (TV personality, girlfriend of current senator Mar Roxas) running and winning a seat in the new Senate as well.

That's easily half of the senate. Good grief.

I am not knocking the capabilities of celebrities and relatives of incumbent senators. But please, this transforms the Senate into one giant family affair cum showbiz studio.

(Picture filched from iGMA website)

The sorry state of public markets

This is my column today, January 3, 2007, at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

Now that we’re done with the holidays, it is time to go back to official business. In this country, this could mean trying to put some sense into the heads of some of our leaders.

I found myself on Quiapo thrice during the holidays. When I mentioned this to some friends, the most common reaction I got was “you must have been crazy!” All through these years, Quiapo has acquired a bad reputation for supposedly being the haven of all kinds of unsavory characters so that only the bravest, the most obstinate, and perhaps the most stupid are supposed to go there. It truly is a sad reflection of our times that when something onerous happens to a person at some place, the blame is automatically placed on him simply for committing the mistake of being in that place to begin with.

So you got swindled in Quiapo; what were you doing there in the first place?

Anyway.

I had to be in Quiapo for various reasons. Okay, if you insist, we had to buy ham at Excellente (sure, there are other branches but we’ve always bought ham from that particular store). We also had to buy some parts for a camera, as well as fruit and other foodstuff, all of which are ideally bought on Echague Street in Quiapo. (A whole bag of imported frozen french fries in Echague costs half of that available at the ordinary supermarket.)

On ordinary days, the part of Echague that is bordered by Avenida, Rizal and Quezon Boulevard is already a major test of a driver’s patience. Vendors, buyers, promenaders, tricycles, people pushing carts and trucks and other people, transform the street into an exciting giant obstacle course.

But one learns to live with that kind of aggravation because as the twisted logical deduction says, he who chooses to go to that place deserves torture. After all, nobody pointed a gun at me to say “do your shopping at Echague.” Sigh.

During the holidays, Echague Street, totally impassable, becomes a hellish nightmare.
The reason became obvious when we finally found ourselves at the foot of Quezon Bridge two hours after we started our arduous 500-meter journey: Someone at the Manila City Hall had this insipid idea of extending Quinta Market right into Echague Street.

No sir, they did not just allow vendors to display their wares right on Echague Street; this already happens on ordinary days. What they have done is physically extend the market by building semi-permanent stalls right on Echague Street. By doing this, they easily reduced the width of Echague that is available to pedestrians and motorists by more than half.

What used to be a four-lane street has now become a battlefield of a trail where everyone fights tooth and nail for space, inch by precious inch.

The state of Echague Street is very symptomatic of the state of our public markets.
Similarly, when I casually mentioned to some people last December that I intended to go to Divisoria for some Christmas shopping, the reaction I got was quite vociferous. I was as if I had just declared I was carrying a grenade in my pocket. Everyone discouraged me from going, citing all kinds of potential harm to life and limb.

It seems the same cautionary warning is being made about going to other public wet markets. The conventional wisdom seems to be: If you can afford shelling a few extra bucks, then it is best to go to tiangges, or to buy meat, fish and vegetables from the supermarket. Or put another way, only the poor, the kuripot, and the foolhardy go to Divisoria, Quiapo, Libertad, etc. where one can expect to get crushed, dirtied, swindled, or get stuck forever.

Those who want bargains must suffer in the process.

Those who choose to save a few bucks do not have the right to complain about the heat, the dirt, the odor, the chaos, the traffic, the utter lack of order. Anyone who wants convenience must pay for it.

If people choose to go to Divisoria or Quiapo then they must be prepared and willing to pay for the consequences. It serves people right for choosing to go to these places when they could go to Greenhills or some airconditioned supermarket where the meat and fish glow under special lamps.

If people suffer, it is their fault because they chose to go to these places to begin with.
I think there is something horribly wrong with this line of reasoning. It is like saying the poor and those who choose to be with the poor do not deserve to demand good governance.

Now, you might be thinking, that’s quite a stretch; the state of our public markets is one thing while good governance is another. But if we come to think about it, what other public facility do people frequent the most other than wet markets? Who in this country does not eat and therefore has no need for products from wet markets?

Don’t you think there is something wrong in a setup where local governments spend gazillions of public money on parks and on beautification drives while ignoring the bedlam occurring inside public markets?

I do not buy the reasoning that says it’s the sheer volume of people that makes Divisoria, Quiapo, or the other public markets unmanageable.

They are public markets, for crying out loud. They exist to attract people. Besides I have been to public markets in other countries, for instance India and Thailand, where some system and order are clearly in place one can even find tourists mingling with the mass of humanity.

I also do not agree that it is the absence of discipline among shoppers that cause the chaos in our public markets. God knows how people wait in line ever so patiently even to simply traverse a path to another store.

I think the root of the problem is the lack of political will among our leaders to impose order and system in our public markets. Very often, we get the sense that they have simply accepted the mess as inevitable.

Perhaps they just haven’t set foot inside public markets and are blissfully unaware of the real state of our public markets. Or God forbid, they also subscribe to the reasoning that if people want convenience and comfort, they shouldn’t go to public markets. That’s like admitting there’s a caste system in our country.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Wish list

I've never been big on making resolutions for the New Year.

But my friends and I had one of those verrrry serious end-of-the-year talk over bottles of red wine recently and the conversation eventually became a sort-of inventory of the pluses and minuses in our respective lives, or to be more specific, our lifestyles.

A quick survey around the table revealed just how the years are finally catching up on us. It must have been the red wine, or the fact that we were in the company of friends; but well, there we were letting it all hang loose as we talked about our fears and our concerns about our own mortality. We were all hypertensive and that was the "simpler" medical problem. I personally am still reeling from this darn pain in my right ear (am on second generation antibiotics already and the infection is still festering...darn it). It struck us that most of us were already caught up doing the dreaded numbers game ... you know, counting creatinin, cholesterol, sgpt, sugar, uric acid levels, etc. So we figured it is time for some serious resolutions after all.

So here goes. I figured making this list public forces me to commit to them.

1. I will lose weight this year; in fact, I will lose a lot of weight this year. The reason is not just aesthetics - I've gotten used to having people I haven't seen in ages walk up to me to tell me that they didn't recognize me because I have doubled in size since the last time they saw me - but more out of concern for my...feet(!) not to mention my heart and liver and kidneys and God knows what other organ is at risk. Exactly how, I don't know yet since I have this aversion to any kind of exercise. But I resolve to lose weight this year. I swear.

2. I will update this blog more often and more regularly. I know, I know...most of the posts in this blog since June 2006 were my columns in the Manila Standard Today. Mea culpa. I know that this wouldn't be a legitimate blog if it does not feature anything original (and I mean stuff written primarily for this blog).

3. I will catch up on my reading. The number of books gathering dust on my headboard has accumulated in the last year and I swear I will stop thinking of them as "retirement books." I am embarrassed to admit that I only read less than half of the books I bought last year; all of which I fully intended to read, by the way.

4. I will allot more time for personal relaxation this year. Enough of the back-breaking schedule and attempts at self-annihilation by saying yes and committing to a lot of activities. So forgive me if I have to say no to invitations to speak at this or that forum, or to sit at this or that panel at school. I will learn to limit committee work with the professional organizations I am part of. I will refrain from stretching myself too thinly.

5. I will try to be more patient and tolerant and nurturing when dealing with my aging parents. Sigh. I will try to spend more time listening to my parents' concerns and try not to be too hard on them.

6. I will listen to my body more and avoid postponing medical check-ups until certain leaks and creaks become unbearable. I will get more regular massage (preferably legitimate, grin) and in general will try not to overtax my body.

7. I will try to make more money and save up more.

8. I will try to attend to my non-existent love life this year (yes, Jerome and Aldy, I will try to become more emotionally vulnerable this year).

There. My list of eight resolutions. The very first time I actually tried to draw up a list. If anyone out there has suggestions on how I can attain these the easy way, feel free to leave a comment.

And what is your New Year resolution?

Monday, January 01, 2007

Wishful thinking amid jubilation

This is my column today, January 1, 2007, at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

Euphoria was in the air at the Philippine Stock Exchange last Friday during the last trading day for 2006. Photos of exhilarated stockbrokers raising their hands in jubilation even made it to the papers over the weekend. Having spent almost 10 years in the local capital market, from 1997 to April of last year, I was witness to the daily bloodbath as local stocks invariably took a beating during that long period. Thus, I could empathize with the jubilation of the stockbrokers. It is really about time for a bull run at the stock market.

The Phisix hit 2,982.54, just a few points shy of breaching 2,990.96, the market’s best finish in 10 years attained way back in April 1997 when Fidel Ramos was still president. The local bourse is expected to breach 3,000 points very soon. This is definitely very good news. The stock market is one of the best indicators of investor confidence in the country.

The yearend economic reports yielded generally decent figures across all macro indicators. The peso is doing well. For the first time, the country has been able to pre-pay its foreign debts and it looks like the country will be out of the clutches of the World Bank pretty soon. Of course some of our neighbors performed better. Vietnam, for example, posted better results. But then again, except for Thailand which had to deal with a coup d’etat in 2006, our neighbors did not have the kind of political problems that we had. We could have done better had it not been for our penchant for shooting ourselves in the foot just when things start making a turn for the good.

Of course so many things still remains to be done. It’s a long way to go before the economic gains will trickle down to the masses. The main vector of the economy, which is Filipino workers overseas’ money, comes with a great social cost; we just have too many children growing up with absentee parents and we know that we will have to pay for this phenomenon dearly in the years to come. Unemployment remains high and we missed our targets in terms of job creation. Majority of the foreign investments coming into the country is in the form of portfolio investments (e.g., investments in the local stock market, which are highly mobile) instead of direct investments (e.g., factories) which are more desirable as these translate into jobs and stay in the country longer.

Still, one has to be a real spoilsport not to acknowledge that the economy is doing better particularly given the kind of aggravation that we had to contend with in 2006, most specifically those coming from the political front. So clearly, despite the rabble-rousing of traditional politicians who perennially make hay of the supposed shortcomings of the economy, our main problem in this country is not economic. It is political.

Put another way, Sirs and Madams at Malacañan Palace, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and of the local governments, you are this country’s main problem. I say main problem because I do acknowledge that there are many others who are also responsible for the mess we find ourselves today.

But there is a time for finding faults and searching for someone to blame; we’ve been indulging in that exercise for the longest time and look where that got us. It’s time to be a little more proactive and focus on solutions.

So today being the start of a New Year, allow me to share my hopes and wishes for the country and for our fellow Filipinos. I know that many of these qualify as wishful thinking and may in fact border on hallucination, but I hope that people can find it in their hearts to still believe in the power of possibilities.

I wish for the President to see the abundance of goodwill in the hearts of many Filipinos that is enough to allow her to steer the country to a better place. Despite the fact that her trust ratings continue to plunge, she continues to be President because there are still many Filipinos who persistently cling to the belief that despite her many political faux pas, she has the country’s best interest at heart. It is my fondest hope that the President realizes that the people’s patience has been worn threadbare and that the prospect of holding on to power beyond 2010 is very remote. But she may just be allowed to finish her term provided she puts a stop to the devious political machinations clearly meant more to fortify her stronghold on power. Instead, she can focus on more sincere efforts to build a better legacy of her presidency. I hope the President realizes that it is better leadership and good governance that will redeem herself in the eyes of the Filipinos and reward her with a better place in history.

I wish that the First Gentleman will fade into the woodwork this year and not do anything remotely deserving of the slightest media attention. I pray that he will call a press conference soon announcing that he has found it in his heart to forgive all the imagined wrongs that have been done to his honor and subsequently drop all the libel cases he has filed against journalists. These cases only clog up the justice system and reflect badly on the administration and on his character. It’s a lose-lose proposition for him and the sooner he realizes this the better for all.

I hope that our senators and congressmen spend the next few months doing what they should really be doing: legislating much needed laws. With elections in the offing, I hope that they all grow a conscience and wake up to realize that there are many pending laws that need to be passed and time is running out. I also hope they realize that better performance as a legislator is a more honorable way to get media attention and make a more lasting imprint in the public consciousness than rabble-rousing.

I wish for media people to take serious steps to reclaim what it has lost in the din and dynamics of the ratings war: responsibility and ethics. I wish that media learns to balance good news with the bad, stop confusing celebrity status with human interest, and in general, do away with glorifying violence and sleaze to attract an audience. At the same time, I wish media will stop abrogating too much power into itself, playing prosecutor, judge and chronicler all rolled into one.

I hope that all of us Filipinos will become more responsible citizens this year. Since it is elections year, I hope we will exercise our solemn duty as voters and choose candidates on the basis of merits rather than mere popularity.

I wish that extra-judicial killings will finally come to a halt and that violence and lawlessness will abate. I hope more Filipinos will find jobs this year and that more will have food at their tables. I wish everyone happiness and peace.

A happy and prosperous new year to all!