Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Oscars Show

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

Let’s take a break today from politics and the usual social issues and talk about what was the biggest event last Monday—the Oscars.

The big stories at this year’s Oscars were that Martin Scorsese finally won as Best Director for “The Departed” and Al Gore made a political comeback via Hollywood.

I am not sure if many Filipinos still watch the annual Academy Awards. But if advertising load is any indicator, it seems it is still one of RPN-9’s biggest moneymakers (I guess second only to the annual Miss Universe pageant, which has always been an exclusive franchise of the station). Since watching the live telecast at 9 in the morning was out of the question for work drones like me, I got to watch the primetime telecast of the Oscars last Monday. It still was overloaded with advertisements although the people at my house said the advertising load was already much lighter compared to the morning telecast. What can we do, as the running joke says, RPN-9 must be forgiven for overloading specials like the Oscars with commercials since it is probably the only time they get some share of the ratings.

While watching the show, I couldn’t help asking why our local movie industry can’t put up shows similar to the Academy Awards. Not that I go out of my way to watch the telecast of our local awards. First, there are just too many of them. The Famas, Star Awards, Empress Awards, Luna Awards, Urian Awards, and the Metro Manila Filmfest are the established ones, but practically every other university and cause-oriented group give out their own awards, too. It is another illustration of our inability as a people to manage differences. As in politics, whenever showbiz people disagree or get disenchanted with each other, they don’t work out their problems, they just go ahead and put up their own award-giving organization.

Second, it is extreme torture to watch our local awards shows. I often get to catch these shows because I have this habit of staying up late on weekends and these shows usually drag on until early morning when there is nothing else to watch on local TV.

Anyway. Let’s go back to the Oscars. I really have to hand it to the people who are part of the American film industry— they sure love what they do and they go out of their way to show it. If there is anything that is so remarkable about the Oscars, it is the fact that every single year, the respect and affection that people have for their industry and for each other is so palpable you can almost touch it.

What is so admirable is the way Hollywood people behave in such a professional way—everyone from the presenters, to the nominees and winners, even the audience. They stick to the rules, they put on their best manners, they listen attentively to the speeches of the winners, they laugh at the jokes and try not to put up a bored expression on their faces. Let’s not even attempt to compare the behaviors of our local industry people during similar occasions.

I am so happy that Martin Scorsese finally won as Best Director. He had been nominated five times in the past. I have been a Scorsese fan since I watched “Taxi Driver” back in high school. There are movies and songs and all right—moments —that will always stand out in one’s memories because they represent an important part of one’s growing-up process.

“Taxi Driver” was the film that made me a movie fan. It’s a film that is unflinchingly honest in its depiction of helplessness, isolation, corruption, obsession, etc. In short, it’s a really disturbing film, one that makes you sit up and smell the decay. I think it was the very first movie that made me appreciate films as art. I remember sitting through the end credits of that film in that dark cinema in Tacloban City shaking my head and wondering if I simply imagined the whole thing or if others saw what I just did.

I think the best Scorsese film is “Good Fellas,” although “Gangs of New York,” “Raging Bull,” and “The Last Temptation of Christ” are also testaments to the man’s genius. Scorsese’s films are intense, edgy and tend to focus on individual scenes rather than on the “total picture.” But that is exactly what I like about this guy—he puts personal expression before commercial considerations.

I was also thrilled that they gave musical genius Ennio Morricone an honorary Oscar. Whew. Believe it or not, this guy who composed that glorious score for “The Mission” (if I remember correctly, that movie was dedicated to Ninoy Aquino and a premiere was actually held at the Philippine International Convention Center in the eighties) had not won an Oscar yet although he had been nominated five times. If he were a Filipino, he would have said a mouthful already, probably organizing a boycott of all award-giving bodies. About time Morricone was honored.

An interesting sidebar was that Morricone delivered his acceptance speech in Italian and Clint Eastwood (who presented the award and bungled the introduction) tried to translate for the audience. I read somewhere that the translation was hardly accurate, but then again, it’s not every day that you get to see Clint Eastwood as an interpreter, so I guess no one’s complaining.

Helen Mirren (“The Queen”) won as Best Actress as expected. Forest Whitaker’s (“The Last King of Scotland”) victory as Best Actor was also expected. So the top acting plums this year went to actors portraying heads of state. The Best Picture award went to “The Departed.” In the Oscars, the most-anticipated award is for Best Picture—it is given last. This is logical because the whole essence of the awards is to celebrate films. In our country, the most-awaited and the last award to be given is that for Best Actress. Go figure.

The person who stole the show was Al Gore—yes, the former vice president who actually won the US presidential elections but lost the recount. Gore won an Oscar for his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and allowed himself to be used as comic relief by pretending to re-launch his presidential campaign at the Oscars.

Earlier in this column, I wondered why we couldn’t mount awards shows that come close to the way the Oscars is presented. We are not lacking in talent or creativity, that’s for sure, so why?
Our local awards shows continue to stick to the same format: Production numbers that feature dancers who do the same leg and head-throwing routines, singers who either sing out of tune or lip-sync their numbers, a pack of celebrities who think reading cue cards and regurgitating words someone else wrote already qualify them as hosts, and of course, a parade of celebrities who simply dress to be noticed.

On the other hand, the Oscars always come up with something novel and exciting—this year they had a sound choir which was a group of performers doing live sound effects to film clips, dancers behind a screen who formed their bodies into shapes associated with the nominated films, and of course, Ellen DeGeneres who was funny and came across as more genial as host of the show.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Forsaking the spirit of EDSA

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

Yesterday was the 21st anniversary of Edsa 1.

I was fresh out of college during those fateful events of February 1986 when Filipinos linked arms and stood up together in a proud moment of national unity. In those few glorious days, we showed the world the real stuff that Filipinos were made of.

For a few years after 1986, Edsa 1 was a beacon that guided us in charting our path toward building a better nation. I remember volunteering for many causes including conducting training programs to professionalize government institutions. I was, like many, only too willing to do all these things for free. For a few years, it seemed there was nothing we could not do.

The spirit resurfaced briefly in Edsa 2 when people took to the streets once again to denounce another corrupt president.

Eventually, though, that beacon dimmed. Or perhaps we simply lost sight of it. Whatever the reason, we have not since been able to re-claim that spirit that brought Filipinos together in a shining moment of unity.

Thus, former President Fidel Ramos, perhaps in a fit of exasperation, castigated practically everyone last week for already forgetting the spirit of Edsa. Unfortunately, his message has been lost in the din and dynamics of the current political discourse, which is one of divisiveness and therefore farthest from what the spirit of Edsa was about.

Today, we are stuck in this “we are right, they are wrong” paradigm, with practically everyone claiming a patent to the real spirit of Edsa. Even former President Joseph Estrada, who was the subject of the uprising in Edsa 2, has his own version of what that event was about. Naturally, it is a self-serving version that paints him as a victim and hero.

Aside from being a former President of this country who actually did well, Ramos was a key player in Edsa 1. This alone should earn him some respect regardless of where his current political affiliation lies. But sadly, such is not the case—most of our current political leaders are pre-occupied with mudslinging. Anyone who is not on their side is simply wrong. They prefer to focus on their differences as a way of distinguishing themselves from everyone else out there. It is tragic because our current leaders prefer to demonize others, particularly those who happen to be on the other side of the political fence, in an effort to project themselves as the better leaders.

Except for a few, notably, senatorial candidates Sonia Roco, Nikki Coseteng, Noynoy Aquino and some candidates from Team Unity, hardly anyone else is talking goals and platforms. Most others are still stuck in demagoguery and rabble-rousing.

I am not saying that our leaders should set aside their political differences. I am not even saying that they should forgive and forget, that they should simply close their eyes to the anomalies that hound this current administration. By all means, they should stand their ground, lambast all the wrongdoing of this government, even submit to the people better alternatives. But there are larger goals that can still serve as rallying points for unity. And there are moments when they should temporarily take the higher ground.

I prefer to remember Edsa 1 not so much as a revolt against a dictator, although I agree that animosity toward the Marcos dictatorship was a major factor that brought Filipinos together during those momentous days. I prefer to see Edsa as a proud testament to what Filipinos can do together when they put their hearts and minds into the pursuit of nobler goals.

Edsa 1 was about unity. It was about putting personal interests and misgivings aside for the sake of a nobler goal. It is a shame that even former presidents and the supposed senior statesmen of this country cannot even make that token gesture to show Filipinos out there that regardless of political differences, the spirit of Edsa still lives.

***

Tomorrow, Feb. 27, it will be exactly one year since I wrote that open letter that got forwarded to the world and created a maelstrom of reactions and counter-reactions. That letter was actually written on a Sunday evening (Feb. 26) immediately after the standoff at Fort Bonifacio involving Col. Ariel Querubin. But I posted it in my blog at a little past midnight (Feb. 27).

That open letter earned for me many appellations—from unsavory ones such as being a mouthpiece and apologist for Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to titles which I couldn’t figure out such as being the supposed Prophet of the Thinking Filipino (bestowed by Star columnist Alex Magno) and Poster Boy of the Middle Class (given by Ricky Carandang of ABS-CBN News Channel).

Along the way, I got invited to write columns (I accepted the offer from this paper mainly because this paper was the only one that offered absolutely no other conditions except meeting deadlines), got invited to speak at this and that forum, and the number of hits in my blog (www.bongaustero.blogspot.com) shot up from less than a thousand to about 30,000 all in a month’s time.

It’s only been a year since those tumultuous events of February 2006 that featured an unsuccessful coup d’etat, a series of protest actions and dramatic calls for resignations. But it could very well have been a decade since it seems nobody remembers anymore what we had to go through as a nation around this time last year.

Oh sure, the militants are still screaming the same slogans and singing the same old refrains, but then again, they’ve been at it for almost half a century. They have allied themselves with the so-called opposition today but we all know that any coalition entered into by the militants with any group will purely be for the sake of expediency. They have done it before with every administration after Marcos. But as in the past, it will only be a matter of time before they are back on the streets lambasting whoever is in power.

That’s because our problems are structural and systemic; our problems are complex. Our problems as a nation are not just Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her administration. That was what that letter was about.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

vanity

For quite sometime now, well-meaning friends have been egging me no end to go see a dermatologist to have the "unsightly" fat deposits on my countenance removed. I finally run out of excuses last week when a dear friend gave me a "gift certificate" and booked the appointment. Contrary to what many think, I am not a vain person. Really. If someone were to come up with words to describe me, "metrosexual" will not be one of them.

But since I did not want to disappoint my friend who seemed pretty much convinced that he was doing humanity a great favor (I never realized my mug is really worth all that trouble), I relented and went off for my session with this doctor who, I realized later when it was too late to back out, must have trained at one of the Nazi camps during the Holocaust.

She took one look at my mug. Took out a magnifying glass (at least that is what it looked like) and promptly began applying some ointment on the fat deposits in question. She said they were technically called "milla" (again, that what was it sounded like, I could be mistaken because I was so focused on figuring out what the ointment was going to do to my face) and that the painless way to remove them was to lose weight. Ha! I nearly laughed hysterically upon hearing the word "painless" because since when was losing weight ever painless? Obviously, losing weight was not going to be an easy option so we proceeded with the "procedure."

It involved electrocution and some "extraction."

And boy, was it painful! Even with the topical anaesthesia (it turned out that was what the ointment was, silly me, I thought they were some magic potion that would make those blasted fat deposits evaporate) the procedure was excruciatingly, awfully, horribly, terribly painful! I am not being a baby here, I actually take pride in having a high threshold for pain (I am a "political" blogger for crying out loud, I am used to being attacked and bludgeoned to death).

As I lay there silently whimpering and plotting all kinds of vengeful acts I would subject my well-meaning friend to as soon as I got out of that concentration camp, I couldnt help but wonder whatever torture vain people have to put up with regularly. I actually was not alone in that clinic at that time, there were at least four other people who were receiving "treatment." One hapless guy was having injections on his face - apparently, the easiest way to remove stubborn pimples. I cringed at the thought of having my face pierced with needles a number of times. Someone else was having the same procedure I was undergoing, except that in his case, the fat deposits were minor (the doctor said I should have visited sooner when the fat deposits in my face were still smaller; yeah, I thought, like I would willingly submit myself to this torture). Someone else was having a facial. This is indicative of my ignorance about such things because I really thought a facial was something that simply involved applying some gooey stuff on one's face. I am now wiser and more wordly, I know that a facial involves some instruments that dermatologists or their assistants use to prick, pry, press whatever unsightly blemishes are on one's face.

And so, after two hours that seemed like forever, the doctor pronounced the procedure done. I took a quick look at my face and almost screamed. I looked like I had the worst case of chicken pox! The doctor prescribed antibiotics (I have to take a whole dosage and further pickle my liver for the sake of vanity, there's a convincing argument), some more ointments, and told me not to wash my face for three days (I nearly choked on that one; but perhaps to assuage me, she plied me with more products that I can use instead to cleanse my face. Whoever said it wasn't a money making venture anyway, sigh).

And here I am stuck inside my house wondering what I am going to tell my officemates and my students tomorrow when they see my pockmarked face. I just hope they don't run away screaming.

Ah, the price we have to pay for vanity.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tales from the idiot box

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

Television enables people— particularly candidates during an election—to reach more people faster and more efficiently. However, it also magnifies defects and can produce mixed results. Television can be a cruel medium.

Because most households in this country own a television set, we already expected candidates for national positions to take their cause to the people via the idiot box. I guess what we did not expect was the level of gimmickry and absurdity that would be used in this effort. In an ideal world, our politicians should be harnessing the awesome power of this medium to convey their platforms and define who they are.

Too bad our politicians seem more bent on entertaining us and showing off whatever miniscule talent they have in comedy, dancing, or acting.

Thus, watching the first cuts of our politicians’ television ads is really anything but enlightening or educational. The current campaign ads are, at best, entertaining. At worst, they are plain and downright annoying.

Topping my list of most annoying television campaign advertisement is that of senatorial candidate Prospero Pichay. I am sure that Representative Pichay is a competent person and I am even willing to grant that there is something slightly admirable about his dogged and steadfast loyalty to the President. We may not agree with his politics, but at least the guy is consistent. But for crying out loud, “Pangarap kong tuparin ang pangarap mo” (translated, “I wish to make your wishes come true”) has got to be the most vacuous and most ambiguous campaign promise ever made. Dude, wishes are for free and one has to be real spoilsport not to wish that someone else’s wishes come true.

Pichay’s ad features ordinary people talking about their dreams and aspirations. And like a genie, Pichay appears and utters those immortal lines. I think the reaction of my aging nanny sums up people’s natural reaction to the ad “puro na lang pangarap, gawin mo!” (don’t just wish for it, do it!). In real life, if my friends and I find ourselves talking about our dreams and aspirations and someone in the likeness of Pichay were to appear in front of us to intone “I wish to make your dreams come true,” you can bet your last penny that voting for that person into office would be farthest from our minds. We would probably run from the room screaming, or worse, laugh hysterically at the person.

And then there’s Senate President Manny Villar’s current ad, which features that ghastly ditty “Sasakyan Kita” (translated, I’ll go along with what you want, but it is actually one of those songs with sexual overtones and suggests a sexual position) is less annoying. But I think that letting people know that he cannot dance even if his whole life depended on it is not a good packaging strategy. It can be argued that the intent of that ad is precisely to break Villar’s serious demeanor. Well, he sure looks like a dork in that dance number!

And, speaking of dancing, Senator Ralph Recto’s television ad features two groups of dancers competing against each other. The idea is to convey the impression that the two groups are warring factions, reminiscent of West Side Story with Recto as Officer Krupke trying to mediate between the Jets and the Sharks. Fortunately, Recto has resisted the temptation to display his terpsichorean skills in that ad. Too bad the unity message is lost in the choreography. Recto’s resemblance to Ponce Quirino (oh god, I can’t believe I remember that guy from the seventies) makes him appear as a dance show host rather than as a serious politician.

This whole idea that successful campaigns need to be anchored on jingles and dance routines really deserves a closer scrutiny. I have this feeling that this scheme was hatched and is perpetuated by some enterprising people and groups who stand to earn millions from the whole silly idea. I think people want to know what the candidates stand for in clear and plain language. Sure, some artistic and creative flourishes will enhance the presentation, but they must not take away focus from the message. But then again, maybe that is the whole point. There really is nothing much in terms of platform and substance to talk about, thus, we are stuck with the song and dance routines.

So I guess this means we just have to bear with Zubiri’s Boom Tarat Tarat, Loren Legarda’s Ikaw ang Tunay na Pag-asa, and Kiko Pangilinan’s Andito na si Kiko, to name just a few, in the next few months. I can’t wait for elections to be over.

***

Speaking of more inanities on television, anyone who claims to be unaware about the latest wrinkle on Kris Aquino’s lovelife is either a complete recluse or is someone with pretensions of being above it all. Not that Kris Aquino or the latest ruckus in her life is really that important in our lives; just that we seem to have this propensity to turn whatever happens to this woman into a matter of national significance and sadly (or perhaps propitiously for many), she seems more than happy to oblige.

So last Sunday, the ever-irrepressible Kris dished it all out—all the sordid details about the state of her marriage, the financial arrangements in their union, etc. And in true Kris Aquino fashion, she gave more information that what was necessary.

At the college where I teach, it was the main topic of conversation among the faculty members last Monday night. It would be simpler to just attribute the choice of subject matter to inherent proclivity for gossip. But modesty aside, the IQ level in that small room was probably more than the collective IQ in the House of Representatives and the people involved in the discussion were professionals with sterling credentials. What I am trying to say is that the issue may strike people as cheap and just another one of those inane stuff that local show business regularly churns out. But if we come to think about it, the whole thing also has social implications. Really.

Married couples fight. We know that kids in this country know that their parents fight. Sociologists and anthropologists can correct me on this one, but I think that the norm is still that kids are not supposed to know the gory details of what their parents fight about.
When I was growing up, I knew that my parents fought and I could hear them argue every now and then. But they never discussed with us children whatever it was that they were fighting about. And now, our kids watch in public television a supposed role model talks about the unsavory details of her marriage. While I admire Aquino’s courage in telling the truth and her generosity in sharing with the Filipino people her emotional turmoil, I wish that she really learns to keep certain things to herself, particularly when it comes to details about her marriage.

So when she made that appeal for people not to judge her marriage and her decision to make it work, many among us can be forgiven for wanting to tell her “girl, you’re the one who is putting it all out there for everyone to judge.”

I don’t particularly blame Kris Aquino for getting the idea that her honesty is what people like about her. Truth is, the Filipino people have been very tolerant and lenient towards her. We’ve always made allowances for Kris Aquino probably because of the circumstances around her growing-up years.

But it is time she is allowed to grow up. And it is time for her to do so as well.

Monday, February 19, 2007

killing the movie industry

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

‘Please patronize pirated Filipino DVDs and VCDs so that the Philippine movie industry will die and we will no longer have actors and actresses and their spouses running for public office. Please pass.”

This is a text message that has been going around since Thursday last week. I do not know what to make of the fact that this message was forwarded to me at least seven times. It is possible that the reason why people sent the text message to me is because I have been very vocal about my reservations regarding celebrities who throw their hats into the political ring armed with nothing else but their showbiz popularity. It is also possible that the text message is really going around in certain circles because there are many people out there who believe that it is high time for some drastic measures.

There is a part of me that wants to endorse this recommendation. As I wrote in my blog (www.bongaustero.blogspot.com), this text message is a perfect example of what mixed feelings is about.

It is a tempting proposition. Very, very tempting.

I know that in a democracy, celebrities have as much right as anyone else to seek public office. But this notion that the essence of democracy is absolute freedom for people to make utter fools of themselves and to make a mockery of the same democratic processes that they claim to uphold is exactly what I find objectionable to begin with. To my mind, the essence of public service is social responsibility. And that means those who have access to a platform, such as the popularity that our movie celebrities have, should use that platform responsibly.

I am a fan of Filipino movies. I believe that films play an important part in strengthening our soul as a nation. I do think that filmmaking is a craft and that acting is a distinct art form. Although I must admit that I have also been guilty of sometimes projecting a patronizing attitude toward movie stars, I do acknowledge that the popularity that comes with being a movie star is also earned and that it requires a particular expertise. I disagree with the notion that a pretty face is all it takes to make it in show business. I, for one, can’t imagine having a showbiz career (not that I have the qualifications for it; just that it requires a different set of competencies which I do not have). I wish celebrities would also see that distinction. I know that building and nurturing an image requires a certain level of intelligence.

So yes, I empathize with many celebrities who complain of intellectual marginalization. I think that celebrities have as much right as anyone to participate in the task of building a nation. They also have something important to say and that very often, they are not taken seriously, precisely because in the minds of many, they are just pretty faces.

Our movie stars should be given the respect that they rightfully deserve. But they should, in turn, behave responsibly and begin to acknowledge that, to borrow a dialog from the movie Spider-Man, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Popularity should not be used to advance personal interests. The adulation of the fans should not be used as a launching pad for a political career that they have not had any preparation or aptitude for. Popularity should be used more responsibly.

We have many sterling examples that serve as perfect case studies. Rosa Rosal and her work at the Philippine National Red Cross. Chin-Chin Gutierrez and her environmental causes. Joey Ayala, Gerard Salonga and Ryan Cayabyab and their efforts to preserve our musical heritage.

So I think that the current sorry state of the Philippine movie industry is also a sad consequence of the irresponsible behavior of celebrities who have abused their popularity by turning it into a quick ticket to an elective position. This insidious form of selling out has contributed to the misplaced perception that celebrities are opportunists, that the movie industry serves no significant role in Philippine society.

The sad reality is that we’ve had far too many celebrities who have been given the opportunity and the privilege to win public offices on the strength of their showbiz persona alone and they have failed dismally. Many of them have served no other purpose than to serve as expensive decorations in various public institutions. They have even failed to use their elective positions to help the local movie industry. Can we blame people for being contemptuous of celebrities who become politicians?

To be fair, the local movie industry is not solely to blame for this debacle. We are in this sorry state also because our politicians have had this penchant for recruiting celebrities to serve as ornaments in their respective tickets. The inclusion of actor/director Cesar Montano in the administration’s senatorial lineup is a good example. Although it can be argued that Montano is a competent person, there are others who are more competent and more qualified. His inclusion in the lineup, therefore, is purely for expediency.

My beef, therefore, is not that celebrities run for public office because like I said they have as much right as anyone else, but that the whole phenomenon is not doing the cause of democracy, or the cause of the Philippine movie industry for that matter, any good. The specter of having more and more celebrities running for public office, particularly by those who have absolutely no preparation for it, is contributing to the growing demise of both democracy and the Philippine movie industry. If we are to save the Philippine movie industry, the people in the industry has to act more responsibly. Allowing themselves to be used as token ornaments does not serve the cause.

So in the end, there seems to be no need to kill the local movie industry by patronizing pirated DVDs or VCDs of Filipino movies after all. Our local celebrities are already doing a good job at it anyway.

* * *

Although I was initially surprised that he threw his hat into the senatorial contest considering the absence of a pre-campaign buzz, I must admit that I was beginning to warm up to the idea. I really believe that Jericho Petilla would have made a great senator. And I am not only saying this because he and I come from the same province (Leyte) although I admit that that is a major factor why I would have campaigned for him, at least among my friends and relatives. But Petilla has bowed out of the race for senator and I cannot totally blame him.

The current contest for a senate seat is going to be really brutal and those with a built-in advantage in terms of name recall already has a distinct advantage. It is another sad reflection of our times that competent people with good track records as public servants have no chance of winning elections compared to clowns who have earned national prominence through embarrassing song or dance routines.

Petilla’s chances of getting into the top 12 were quite slim given the fact that the race is dominated by more popular, and we have to add, more determined candidates. By determined, I mean people who are willing to do anything and spend any amount to get into the senate.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

More than what I needed to know

I came to know about the latest wrinkle on Kris Aquino's life last Friday at the birthday party of my best friend. I was amazed to discover that on something so private, there was just so much that was known to people outside of showbiz. From the snippets that I got last Friday, the marriage is allegedly going through a major crisis supposedly because James had an affair with someone who works at this business chain known for cosmetic enhancements.

I've written about Kris Aquino in this blog before. Actually, the post was really more about that magazine (K) that is a copycat of Oprah's O magazine. Along the way, people got the impression that I am rabidly anti-Kris. There's this Kris Aquino fan that continues to leave messages in this blog accusing me of being envious and jealous of her (or his) idol. I normally wouldn't mind publishing the comments if only this fan does not have this notorious habit of repeating the comments - as in this fan repeats the same comment 5 or 6 times at any given time.

Just to set the record straight: I do not hate Kris Aquino. I think that she has a lot of growing up to do and that she has serious issues - but I do not hate her. In fact, I have a secret fascination with "the Kris Aquino phenomenon" - she has become hugely successful simply by being herself, no apologies, no excuses. She is what she is and that's the secret of her success.

And so because today is one of the rare times I was home on a Sunday afternoon, I decided to tune in to The Buzz to see what the fuss was all about. So just a few minutes ago, I caught Kris Aquino's heart wrenching attempt to explain her side and to justify "why she is still in the marriage."

In summary, this was what Kris said:

1. She felt compelled to tell the truth about the state of her marriage because her credibility as a gossip show host would be put in great doubt if she herself does not come out with the truth.

2. James did something (he later appeared on the show, apologized publicly and swore that he will not do "it" again) - apparently, he did have an affair with someone. He has ended it and that the couple has decided to forgive each other and try to make things work.

3. The Aquinos have also forgiven James.

4. The Filipino people have no right to judge their marriage because the only opinions that truly count in the marriage was theirs - hers and James's.

Okay. So that's it.

Kris is correct in saying that people should not judge her or James or their marriage, or how they intend to fix their union. Her marriage is a private matter and quite frankly, it is no one's business but theirs.

Unfortunately, her message is lost in translation. For someone who does not want others to make a judgment, her actions and the mouthful she revealed today just gave license for people not only to speculate further, but to judge.

She's the one who spewed all the gory and unnecessary details. She's the one who indicated where the fault was. What's more, she is the one who tried to justify why she is still in the marriage.

Still, it would be really really mean not to wish her well in her marriage. But if she really wants her marriage to work, there's actually a better way: she simply has to stop making it a public issue.

I sincerely wish James, Kris, Joshua and Baby James well. May they find the happiness that they crave for.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Tempting...

If anyone out there is looking for a perfect example to illustrate "mixed feelings" here's a text message that does just that:

"PLEASE PATRONIZE PIRATED FILIPINO DVDs and VCDs so that the Philippine movie industry will DIE and we will no longer have ACTORS and ACTRESSES or their spouses running for public office. Please pass."

Really, really tempting.

Motivation and rewards

I spent yesterday afternoon in the company of fellow HR practitioners. It was a "fast track" forum on Cashless Rewards and Motivation which surprisingly attracted quite a sizable number of participants - more than 70, which is not so bad considering that participants had to shell out a few thousand bucks for the event. Some of the participants were even CEOs. There were five speakers - I was the third.

I talked about myths and metaphors in rewards and motivation and tried to link theory and application. It was fun although I got the feeling that many people still do not get their science right.

This really makes me wonder - what is it that people get from all those years in school if they don't get the theories right? Is it a problem of teachers' dismal failure in "selling" the value of the theories? Are teachers simply asking students to memorize "theories" without making any attempt to link these theories to actual real-life applications? It seems people forget theories, principles, philosophies as soon as they pass an exam.

People like to assert that "there is no need to reinvent the wheel." In reality, they actually do.
There's still a lot of trial and error being done in the area of human resources, a lot of practices that are based mainly on gut feel and intuition. It is enough to make one ask - where's the science behind all that?

The thing is that everything about human behavior has been studied and analyzed many times over by many behavior scientists. There's a wealth of theory that can support many of the things we do in leadership, management, even in politics actually.

Things would be a lot simpler if we learn more science even in the area of human behavior.

La lang. Just thinking aloud.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The season of madness

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

The campaign period for the senatorial elections has officially started. Very, very soon, the campaign floodgates will be wide open. All hell will break loose as candidates for various elective posts join the fray and make a mad scramble to make an imprint on the consciousness of the electorate.

What this means is that the season for tall tales and preposterous claims of valor and heroism, of make-believe accomplishments and expertise, of empty promises and assurances, and outlandish declarations of love for country has come.

Whether we like it or not, billboards of all shape and sizes showing our candidates in various stages of repose will dominate our thoroughfares pretty soon. All available walls will be plastered with all kinds of posters and stickers showing prettified mugs all of which will bear little or no resemblance to the candidates. Electric posts and whatever few trees still standing will groan with the weight of all those streamers and whatever else our candidates will be able to come up with to hang on them. Asinine jingles that will be a rip-off of whatever popular tunes are in vogue will begin to assault us everywhere we go. Just thinking about the inevitable variations of “Boom Tarat Tarat” and “Itaktak Mo” is already giving me a migraine.

All our senses will be battered and assailed. If there were only a way to invade and intrude into our dreams, I am sure candidates will do that, too.

Separating the truth from fiction will be a difficult task, particularly since the ingenuity of public relations experts is now readily available. This early, the handiwork of geniuses in packaging image is already evident in the sleek campaigns that are beginning to take shape.

Senate President Manny Villar and former presidential chief-of-staff Michael Defensor have already pulled the rug under their opponents by being the first ones to come up with television spots. Who is behind Villar’s campaign is not yet publicly known. We all know that television host and talent manager Boy Abunda is behind Defensor’s.

What is very apparent, based on what we have seen so far, is that both candidates are willing to stake a fortune on their respective candidacies. That’s hundreds of millions of pesos for each one.

Villar’s first television spot alone features five women celebrities (guess how much they were paid for the endorsement?) making a pitch for women’s rights. I think it is a brilliant idea, particularly since Villar has been and will presumably continue to make mincemeat of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. So hopefully, that’s enough to get women who empathize with Arroyo’s situation into his side.

Of course, Senator Kiko Pangilinan did one better by appearing in that advertisement for this brand of noodles that has become the staple food for most people in this country. I have to hand it to this guy and his handlers. Not only is he guaranteed round-the-clock television exposure for free (appearing with his celebrity wife at that, reinforcing the powerful association), he got paid to do it, too.

Current estimates of the amount required to mount an effective campaign for a Senate seat is placed at a minimum of P150 million per candidate. If we have at least 30 serious candidates running for the Senate (as of this writing, 79 individuals filed their certificates of candidacies although many of them are certified loonies), the tab comes up to a mind-boggling P5 billion! Whew. If we factor in the number of candidates running for the House of Representatives and for the various other elective posts in the hundreds, nay, thousands of provinces, cities and towns in this country, the total costs involved in this elections is truly staggering.

Is all that expense really worth it? It really does seem like an utter waste of money which is better spent somewhere else. More importantly, where will all this money come from? Your guess is as good as mine.

***

I can’t fathom the reasoning behind the Commission on Election’s refusal to grant accreditation to Ang Ladlad for party-list representation. And Ladlad is the party-list of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders.

The whole point of having a party-list system is to grant representation to marginalized sectors of society. One has to be totally insensate not to recognize that sexual minorities are a marginalized lot in this country. LGBTs are heavily discriminated against in practically every aspect of social life in this country— employment, social welfare, even in terms of basic legal protection. To this day, there is a vagrancy law that is still being wantonly used by policemen to apprehend gay men and transgenders who happen to be walking the streets at night. The sector continues to be the object of harassment, ridicule, and persecution.

What other proof of marginalization does the Comelec need? The very act of not recognizing Ang Ladlad as a party-list is clear proof that this sector is indeed marginalized. The attitude of the Comelec toward the sector illustrates the psychological context that gives rise to marginalization.

It is a shame that the Comelec has given accreditation to groups whose claim to marginalization is obviously bogus. Among them is a group that claims to represent the educational sector but is actually a lobby group for a powerful business interest. There are party-lists that represent regional, industry, occupational, and political interests. The Comelec considers these sectors marginalized but it refuses to see the sorry plight of LGBTs. In effect, the Comelec marginalizes a marginalized group and claims that it cannot claim marginalization. Go figure.

It is enough to believe the scuttlebutt that some machinations by the powers-that-be are involved. Ang Ladlad happens to be pro-impeachment and fiercely anti-ChaCha and has been a vociferous critic of this administration.

***

The Government Service Insurance System, through its vice president for public relations, immediately responded to my column (A heartless GSIS) last week. I appreciate the quick response, although I wish the same speed also marks the standard of service of the agency. Like I said, I have no doubt that the agency has valid reasons for requiring the physical appearance of their pensioners. I do not question why they have such rules. If GSIS wants to convey the impression that the service they extend to the public is already superb, then it is entitled to believe its own press releases.

Unfortunately for it, a man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.

What I ranted about was that it seemed to me that there wasn’t—and there still isn’t—a solution regarding cases of pensioners who cannot make a physical appearance because they happen to be out of the country. My beef was that no one, as in not a single one among those we talked to in the agency could give us a solution regarding my aunt’s predicament. And, believe me, we talked to several GSIS people including a division chief, a lawyer in the Legal Department, etc. I do have my contacts in the agency as well. Now it is saying it has plans of putting up GSIS centers abroad. Plans do not solve needs.

I am tempted to continue my rant, but I am out of space and it is Valentine’s Day. So in the spirit of the occasion, I will give GSIS some peace. Temporarily.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Happy Valentines

Sometimes you just have to let the child within us go out and play.

Some romantic souls at the office decided to make a big deal out of Valentines Day this year so they took it upon themselves to hang hearts all over our office and paste cutouts of cupid (am sure you remember those cutouts from grade school days).
Initially, we felt it was...well, mushy.

But looks like those hanging red hearts have created a positive effect on people at work. Everyone seems to be more fun-loving lately and generally more tolerant and accepting.

I know Valentines is a commercial holiday. It's a ploy created by the people who stand to make a profit from it and designed to appeal to the little child within each one of us who just wants to be loved (all together now... awwwwww!).

Well, if you don't have a date tomorrow (I have classes until 9:15pm and I have decided to let out the little child in me as well, the one that likes to annoy everyone else, teehee. I have decided to give out loonnngg unit tests in both classes. Bwahahaha), take comfort in the fact that you are not alone.
I don't, as well. But hey, it's by choice.

But Happy Valentines Day everyone, whether you believe in it or not, whether you feel like celebrating or kicking me in the shin.
Special mention to my parents who are celebrating their 40th year wedding anniversary tomorrow as well.
And to friends who are celebrating valentines day together despite the odds. You know who you are. Happy valentines!

Monday, February 12, 2007

lesser evils and dubious records

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

Today is the deadline for the filing of candidacies for senators. The guessing game and the attendant speculations as to who will jump fences, stick to principles, or do a Judas Escariot and sell his or her soul to the highest bidder will finally be over. Frankly, it’s a wonder why we even bother with the whole rigodon when we know that it’s a farce. We all know that any alignment or realignment that is going to happen will be purely for convenience purposes and not grounded on principles or ideologies.

What makes the whole thing confounding is the fact that both the administration and the opposition are led by individuals with tarnished reputations. So in the end, it’s a choice between two evils. It is really sad that our choices have boiled down to a question of who is the lesser evil. I know that choosing between two evils is the supreme test of democracy, but surely we deserve better.

Nevertheless, the question that has been foremost in people’s minds in the last few days has been which side will finally emerge victorious in wooing the so-called Wednesday Group. Will Senators Joker Arroyo, Kiko Pangilinan, Ralph Recto and Manny Villar run with the administration, stick it out with the opposition, or go their separate ways? We all know that the four re-electionists are prize catches. They are sure winners, not only because of name recall, but more because Recto and Pangilinan happen to be married to two of the most popular actresses in the country. If the senatorial elections are really a referendum on the Arroyo presidency, then it makes sense for both the opposition and the administration to move heaven and earth to get the four senators to run under their respective tickets. The question is, at what cost?

If we really come to think about it, these four senators did run under the administration six years ago and that fact did not stop them from being vociferous Arroyo critics in the last two years. And even if they do decide to break up the group during the campaign, they are bound to regroup once elected.

So even if the administration does succeed in getting the Wednesday Group to run as administration senators, it will not guarantee loyalty beyond the honeymoon period. So getting all four or three or two of the senators under its ticket is a stopgap measure. The administration is really simply buying off whatever little time it can get. Having the four administration candidates in the administration ticket is simply for cosmetic purposes.

***

Hanggang ganyan na lang ba tayo? Is breaking world records in matters of dubious significance the whole extent of our collective goals and ambition as a people?

Last Saturday, thousands of couples were lured to the grounds of the Mall of Asia so that the country can “reclaim” the world record for the most number of people kissing at the same time in the same place. From what I gathered from the hourly updates that ABS-CBN kept on issuing last Saturday night—as if the event was a matter of life and death—the Philippines achieved the world record three years ago. Apparently, though, Hungary upped the ante in 2005. Thus, the millions of pesos spent last Saturday so that the country could once again lay claim to the record. Let it not be said that Filipinos are a poor second to any other country in the kissing department.

Spending millions of pesos to get people to kiss. Now there’s something for the record under the entry “most wasteful use of money in a country where millions go to bed hungry.”

As if to assure couples that nothing can possibly get in the way of their need to publicly express their affection for each other and their supposed willingness to contribute to the task of regaining national pride, the organizers put out ads that inventoried the number of security forces contracted for the event. The total number of policemen, security guards, and private security forces totaled close to a thousand. For an event that was held purportedly to promote peace and love, they sure sent the right message with all that security.

The organizers likewise announced that there were five ambulances, onsite clinics and first aid stations readily available as if they were expecting people to hyperventilate and suffer cardiac arrest while kissing.

Let’s cut this crap about that Lovapalooza event being about national pride. Except probably when it would involve First Gentleman Mike Arroyo and Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano or perhaps Vice President Noli de Castro and former Senator Loren Legarda, I really have no idea how kissing in public could be an occasion of national significance.

The truth is that mass-kissing event was nothing but a major publicity stunt designed to sell more toothpaste by the makers of the toothpaste brand that shelled out the millions required to put up that extravaganza. Yes, all those who went to the event were simply suckered by corporate greed. So excuse me if I don’t feel like rejoicing at this yarn about how we have regained our status as the most romantic people in the world. Oh please, our population growth rate is a better indicator of our dominance in that field.

But corporate greed aside, what is it about this preoccupation with breaking world records anyway? It seems every town and city in this country has made it a goal to get a spot in the Guinness’ list of world records! It has become embarrassing to read about this or that town or city gunning for a record with the longest longanisa, the biggest strawberry cake, the largest bilao, etc.

If it is any consolation, attempts to break individual Guinness records have not started yet although I think it is just a matter of time before individual Filipinos start getting into the act. At the rate our government and business leaders seem to be encouraging this madness, some Filipinos will soon jump into the fray with their own crazy stunts. And the Guinness book is full of these ridiculous and stupid records!

Apparently, many people are willing to do anything to get into the Guinness books. Some eat cockroaches, sleep with scorpions, or collect ear wax (gross!).

There are bizarre record-breaking feats including the loudest burp (118.1 decibels —comparable to a plane taking off), most worms eaten (62 in 30 seconds), the greatest distance spaghetti was shot through a nose (7.5 inches). Whew!

That’s the kind of distinction we are aiming for. But then again, we seem to be doing a really good job of earning dubious distinctions without really trying. We probably hold the record as the country with the most expensive lawmaking process—I understand Congress went into recess with only a couple of bills passed. Of course we probably already hold the record as the country with the most number of celebrities in elective positions.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Heartless GSIS

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

I have an aunt who retired from government service a few years back after many years of slaving it out as a public school teacher in Malabon. Just like most other retirees, she is entitled to a pension from the Government Service Insurance System. She started receiving her monthly pension a couple of years ago.

As fate would have it, her petition to migrate to the United States got approved the other year so she has been residing in the US since then. She has petitioned the US government to have her children granted emigrant status as well. The catch is that while the papers are being worked out, she cannot leave the US.

In the meantime, the family needs her monthly pension. Unfortunately, that source of money has been cut off because the GSIS has now decreed that all pensioners, regardless of physical or medical condition, must go to a GSIS office personally to prove that they are still alive and breathing. On the day I accompanied my cousin to the GSIS office to try to find a way to get the monthly pension reinstated (by the way, lest you think that we are talking about a huge amount here, let me caution you that the amount of pension involved is a paltry sum; but then again, these are difficult times so any amount helps) I came face to face with old folks many of whom have crossed seas, traversed mountains and endured Edsa’s toxic gases just so they could prove their existence to GSIS.

One old lady who was barely walking and looked like she needed to be hooked up to a respirator told me that the costs involved for transportation, alalay, food, and other arrangements just so they can make a “physical appearance” was easily equivalent to six times her monthly pension. And, in her own words: “I am not sure I will live that long.”

I don’t mean to sound unreasonable because I am sure the GSIS people have valid reasons for requiring pensioners to make a personal appearance to prove that they are still alive. (The official line from the GSIS is coached in more humane rhetoric, something along the lines of documenting thumb marks and taking pictures for posterity). I have heard of ghastly stories about pensioners who have been dead for decades but remain unreported by relatives just so they can continue to receive the monthly pension. There’s even this utterly macabre story, which many allege to be true, where a grandchild was supposed to have cut off the thumb of his dead grandmother, placed it in a jar of preservative liquid, and used it monthly to claim the pension.

Once the GSIS has verified that the pensioner is still breathing, it will issue an electronic card which supposedly makes life easier for the retirees.

I am sure that the GSIS means well. But what about retirees who can’t physically leave their sick beds, or are abroad and can’t leave? The people at GSIS we talked to offered various theories and remedies, all of which, it turns out, have been tried by my cousins. For example, someone advised my cousins that my aunt should go to the Philippine embassy, get a certification that she is alive and that she still has two legs and two eyes (just kidding about the legs and eyes), have it authenticated, etc. They did. When they showed it to the GSIS people, they were told the documents were fine, but they would still require a personal appearance. Tough luck.

I am sure the GSIS does not really expect all their pensioners to have amazing capabilities to perform miracles just so they can comply with their requirements. Until my aunt acquires the powers of being in two places at the same time, I am afraid the family will just have to wait until my aunt can leave the US (which can take forever and which will cost five years worth of monthly pensions), or until someone at GSIS grows a heart. I am hoping for the latter.

***

In last Monday’s column, I said that since our leaders insist on foisting on the electorate candidates with dubious qualifications or motivations, we just have to keep thumbing down the idea. If it is true that there are no tyrants where there are no slaves, then there will be no incompetent elected officials where there are no gullible voters.

In that piece, I dissed Lito Lapid, Richard Gomez, Tessie Aquino Oreta and Koko Pimentel. I got around 10 text messages from well-meaning friends and relatives telling me to go easy with the critique for my own personal safety and well-being. You can figure out the context of the friendly reminder. It’s another sad reflection of the times we live in where media people have become easy targets for criminals. Thanks, dear friends and relatives. I appreciate your concern, but I am still pissed off so let’s continue where we left off last Monday.

I have this strong gut feel that JV Ejercito is the better politician and would perhaps make a better senator than his brother (and it is not just because he looks better or speaks more coherently). But for crying out loud, one Estrada in the Senate is more than enough. Actually, that statement is not accurate—the incumbent Senator Estrada’s performance is dismal enough and cannot be corrected or redeemed by adding another sibling into the Senate.

If not for the political dynasty issue, I would have nothing against JV Ejercito’s misty eye on a Senate seat. I still don’t agree with his politics and I still will not vote for him. But I will not stand in the way of his lofty ambitions. At least he has proven his mettle as mayor of San Juan. He already has experience in governance. The issue, however, is political dynasty.
Koko Pimentel disgorged a whole load of gobbledygook about why having a father and son or having siblings sitting as senators at the same time in the Senate cannot be construed as promoting political dynasty.

Nice try, Koko, but no cigar.

Pimentel can twist and turn, do amazing logical acrobatics, and pull all kinds of legal arguments out of a bottomless magic hat. The bottomline remains: he and his father will be sitting next to each other in the Senate Hall and everyone knows they are a father-and-son team. Everyone knows Jinggoy and JV and Pia and Allan Peter Cayetano are siblings. That’s three pairs of senators who are very closely related to each other. If that is not political dynasty, I don’t know what is.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Going progressive

My image as a geek was sealed the moment my doctors insisted that I wear eyeglasses. This was back in third year high school. Unlike others I never really wanted to wear eyeglasses, specially since my very first pair made look like a dork. Had I kept that pair, it would have been quite handy today since the design (rectangular with a thick black plastic frame) is now back in fashion. Anyway.

For some strange reason, I can't wear contact lenses. I tried. I more than tried, I suffered for weeks in the vain hope that my eyes would be able to adjust to those blasted contraptions that felt like sandpaper rubbing on my eyes. For weeks, I looked like the classic illustration of someone perennially high on weeds - bloodshot eyes, unsteady walk, etc. So I went back to wearing glasses.

Now that I need reading glasses as well, I have gotten used to carrying two pairs: one for reading and the other for, well, driving and walking. It's been such a hassle having to change glasses every single time. Someone adviced laser surgery. Unfortunately, it looks like I don't trust science all that much after all. I just cant' imagine risking my eyes to a potential disaster. I know that the percentage for errors is quite minimal if not totally zilch, but I am a magnet for all kinds of ailments. If it can happen to anyone, it can happen to me (of course, my doctor friends think I am just extremely paranoid and psychosomatic and they are also quite right). Anyway (again).

I finally decided to get progressive glasses. You know, those glasses with two types of lenses - one for reading (lower half) and the other for everything else (upper half). And the lenses automatically turn into a dark shade of gray when exposed to sunlight. Cool huh. Not!

The thing about progressive glasses is that you need to get used to it. And before then, I have to suffer at least a month's worth of headaches. Sigh. You need to get used to walking with your head up (not necessarily a bad idea if you are snooty) and reading with your eyeballs looking down. You also need to train your eyeballs to do the adjusting - say, if you are reading, rather than moving your whole head and straining your whole face just to be able to read. And that's the easy part.

Well, I'll let you know how this experience is coming along. Meantime, I need to go relax my eyes.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The taste of vomit

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

I still have to meet someone, anyone, who has something nice to say about it. Everyone I know only bears repulsion to the idea. The vitriol being spewed by pundits in both the mainstream media as well as in blogosphere has reached unprecedented levels. And yet, amazingly enough, our leaders are still bent on drafting celebrities, has-been politicians, or relatives of incumbent politicians as candidates for the May elections. It is annoying, exasperating, and insulting.

My initial reaction to our leaders’ obstinacy was to heave a sigh of resignation and to mutter “wala, lokohan na talaga ito” [there’s nothing we can do, we’re simply being taken for fools]. But on second thought, why should we allow our leaders to screw us? Just because our leaders are already deaf and numb to the revulsion that we are feeling doesn’t mean we simply capitulate. We just have to keep on hammering away until the electorate gets the message: We deserve better, we do not have to take the crap being dished to us. And so, I will keep on writing about it.

In this column I will pick on the candidates that have already thrown their hats into the political circus.

Senator Lito Lapid is running for mayor of Makati City. This idea is so ludicrous that incumbent Mayor Jejomar Binay must be rolling on the floor, laughing his heart out. If he is the best this administration can offer, then boy oh boy, this administration must be suffering the worst case of dementia. The fact that the senator is on record as saying that he has nothing to lose since he can easily retake his post at the Senate in case of a defeat—which, by the way is an absolute possibility—is already proof that he should not be taken seriously. But then again, who in this country, aside from the desperate people in Malacañang, takes Lito Lapid seriously?

This is an actor who has no weight even in his own circle of influence, which is show business. He has not been cited for any acting award; not even any a sincere token of recognition from his peers. And local show business dishes out these achievement awards like they are free for the taking, practically everyone else has been honored. His recent movie was trounced in the box office. Kulelat (bottom dweller). He distinguished himself in the Senate as an expensive piece of furniture, someone who simply filled space.

Drafting Lito Lapid for mayor of Makati is a sick joke. In fact, a friend of mine who was in the vicinity of the area where the Senator launched his candidacy over the weekend reported that even the people in the neighborhood did not bother to kibitz at the political ruckus that was happening nearby. It was a non-event. He will lose and his defeat will only validate this administration’s desperation.

At least Richard Gomez is an accomplished actor (with a clutch of acting plums to his name), sportsman, model, and television talk show host. I will even grudgingly concede that he has also distinguished himself as a civic leader courtesy of his anti-drugs campaign in the ’90s known as Mamamayan Ayaw sa Droga (citizenry against drugs). I will even turn a blind eye to his opportunist stance manifested by his sudden change of heart. Up until last year, he was spewing invectives at this administration. Now he is singing paeans. At a meeting last Saturday, my friend, Inquirer columnist Rina Jimenez David couldn’t resist noting her alarm that the more Gomez’s political ambitions get frustrated, the loftier they become. When he got trounced as party- list representative, he set his sights on becoming governor. That didn’t work either.

And now, Richard Gomez as senator? Oh please. I hate being mean, but a friend of mine who was his classmate and friend (past tense because when he got famous the actor didn’t seem to know him anymore) cannot vouch for his “academic performance” (the more astute reader will know that I am being kind here). Okay, maybe academic prowess or at the very least some proof of thinking process is not necessary in the Senate today given our current crap, I mean crop of Senators. But the fact is that Gomez has not shown any competence in analysis, nay, comprehension of the complexities of national issues at all. Something else between the ears other than a cute face is required of a senator.

In the many times that he appeared on television to take a position on a raging national issue his opinions clearly lacked depth. It is difficult to argue with popularity, but Gomez and his fans are forgetting that good looks are simply not enough.

And then there is his legendary temper and ego. Many friends in show business claim that Gomez is second only to Robin Padilla, the so-called Bad Boy of Philippine movies, in terms of number of skirmishes in the industry. He has repeatedly shown a propensity for losing his cool in heated situations. In other words, pikon na mayabang pa (hot- tempered and full of himself). What, he will challenge Senator Richard Gordon to fisticuffs during Senate hearings?

As if it is not enough that we already have actors Bong Revilla, Lito Lapid and Jinggoy Estrada as senators, Malacañang seems bent on further beautifying the Senate by trying to add more pretty faces—Richard Gomez, Cesar Montano, and Edu Manzano. This is insane! Lokohan na talaga ito!

To complete the cast of characters that will transform the Senate into today’s version of “That’s Entertainment” Malacañang has announced the impending return engagement of the dancing queen herself, the former Senator Tessie Aquino Oreta. I am sure her lackeys will assert that Oreta has other qualifications. Yup, as youngest sister of Ninoy Aquino and as look-alike of Tessie Tomas (remember she actually capitalized on her resemblance and on the fact that she had the dumb luck of sharing the same name with another celebrity).

Just like Gomez, Oreta was also an erstwhile vociferous critic of this administration. Fortunately pride is non-fattening.

I am sure that Koko Pimentel is a competent person. The little that I know of him seems to indicate that he is a prime candidate for the Senate. He is a Bar topnotcher. He is articulate and he talks sense. But his father is an incumbent senator whose term ends in 2010, which means that if he wins, there will be a father and son tandem at the Senate.

Can’t he wait?

Despite my misgivings about Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr.’s alliance with the Erap forces, I must admit that I have affection for this man despite the fact that I have called him “bitter” in the past. The truth is, I used to think the world of Senator Pimentel. As an activist in college, I would have followed him to the ends of the world. Which is why I am really sad that he is capping his political career with the mark of a traditional politician, one who forsakes principles for the sake of ensuring his family’s continued hold on power.

It is not too late yet, Senator Pimentel. Please allow us to cling to that shining moment during the height of the Erap impeachment when you made us very proud when you stuck to principle by resigning as Senate president rather than accept the results of that doomed voting.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Dealing with the water crisis

This was my column yesterday, January 31, 2007 at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today. Sorry for the late post. I was in meetings the whole day and got home dead tired.

NOW that Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes has officially sounded the alarm, I hope that most Filipinos, particularly those who are in a position to do something about it, will finally sit up and acknowledge the urgency and gravity of the water crisis that is about to hit us. The water crisis is a global phenomenon, but one that hits third world countries like the Philippines more brutally. In reality, the water crisis is already being experienced daily by many sectors of Philippine society, particularly by those in the slum areas. The major impact on the country, according to Reyes, will be felt starting 2010. That’s barely three years from now.

A water crisis is an unimaginable catastrophe. Forget about not having crude oil, or about not having electricity or telephone. But not having water? Arrrgh.

Next to air, water is probably the most basic of all resources in this world. Thus it is not an exaggeration to claim that water is life; that water is everyone’s business. Water means health, hygiene, sanitation, farming, cleanliness, refreshment, recreation, etc. The World Health Organization estimates that at least 3,900 children die every day due to water- borne diseases or to lack of access to safe and clean water. One in every six people in the world does not have access to safe drinking water. The statistics are grim, but sadly, they are numbers that are difficult to trundle out to produce action because we happen to be a country surrounded by water and our streets do get flooded every so often.

There is water everywhere, so what water crisis are we talking about?

Whether we recognize them or not, the warning signs are all over. In fact, they have been there for quite some time. In Metro Manila and in various urban centers, safe drinking water has not been readily available since five or six years ago. Do you know anyone who still drinks water straight from the faucet? I don’t. Everyone I know buys bottled filtered water. And one has to be blind not to notice that filtered drinking water has become a cottage industry in our country—there’s a water-filtering machine every other two blocks. (Thought balloon: Is the government monitoring the product of these business enterprises? I hope this is just misplaced paranoia on my part, but I do have this sneaking suspicion that many of the so-called filtered water that are being peddled actually came straight from Maynilad’s rusty pipes and faucets.)

Non-government organizations in this country have already sounded the alarm as early as 10 years ago and have in fact already started a number of education and advocacy programs at the grassroots level. I am personally familiar with the work of one such group, the Molave Development Foundation, which has done remarkable community-based educational campaigns on water and sanitation. Their advocacy has been primarily on water and sanitation, with particular focus on prevention of water-borne diseases. There are other organizations that are addressing the water problem, but it is a predicament that will require everyone’s—as in everyone’s —help. Non-government organizations alone can’t do it. The government alone can’t do it.

The water crisis is caused by two factors: Increasing scarcity of the supply and mismanagement of both the supply and the delivery of the resource.

The increasing scarcity is obviously caused by unchecked population growth aggravated by breakneck urbanization and industrialization. It looks like the basic law of supply and demand with the demand briskly overtaking the supply. It gets complicated, however, when we factor in the fact that the increasing demand for water, and the ineffective management of both the water supply and the delivery of water to those who need it, are also causing serious damage to the environment, particularly aquatic ecosystems. The domino effect begins. A damaged aquatic ecosytem adversely affects the species that depend on the system. Eventually, it goes full cycle and inevitably affects us, homo sapiens, directly.

The ineffective management of our water resource is illustrated in many problematic situations.
Just a few months back, Gina Lopez of ABS-CBN Foundation was knocking on the door of every organization—civic, professional, educational, etc.—to enlist support for saving the La Mesa Watershed. The La Mesa dam is the source of drinking water for Metro Manila.

The reason for the necessity of preserving the watershed and opposition to urbanization along its banks is sheer common sense. Then again, we all know that common sense is not common. So millions of signatures have to be gathered, petitions addressed to everyone had to be made, etc., etc., before the campaign started gaining some support. Hopefully, the La Mesa Watershed will be spared from man’s greed and folly. But that’s because ABS-CBN threw the whole weight of its media empire behind the campaign.

Elsewhere in this country, however, rivers and lakes are gasping for life, and many are dead beyond any possible hope of being nurtured back to life. Our forest cover is disappearing fast. The number of golf courses (which consume millions of liters of water every day) continue to increase. People are eating more meat (to grow a kilogram of beef requires at least 13,000 liters of water compared to the 100 liters of water it requires to grow a kilogram of cabbage). Everyone is wasting water unmindful of the fact that there is no such thing as a limitless and infinite reservoir of water under this planet.

Meanwhile, people in slums and squatter areas continue to lack access to safe water. The poor in this country spend more for water than say, those millionaires in Forbes Park who have swimming pools and jacuzzis. In the slums, water is sold by the container at a going rate of P20-P30 each depending on the distance between the house and nearest source. A household with three children would consume at least four containers a day for their household needs. That’s easily P100 a day—and that still excludes drinking water, for which they will have to shell out another 30 pesos per container. That comes to about 3,500 pesos a month just for water! And that’s not even running water yet. Water and sanitation are inseparable concepts, which is why water-borne diseases claim millions of lives every year.

Some people have brought up the Singapore model as a possible solution. Singapore processes seawater and recycles the water used in households and factories back into fresh drinking water. Yes, there is technology out there that is available but it comes at a great cost. It is a technology that is not applicable to a country of 7,000 islands. We just cannot build 7,000 water processing plants—one for every island; nor can we lay hundreds of thousands of kilometers of water pipes to crisscross the archipelago.

We need more realistic and feasible solutions. And we need them now. As one song goes, “You don’t miss your water until the well runs dry.”