Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Mad about beauty

This is my column today.

Since I am still recovering from surgery, I was able to watch the live telecast of the 2007 Miss Universe pageant from Mexico City yesterday. I think the last time I actually sat through a whole Miss Universe pageant—and it was the primetime telecast that I caught—was when Miriam Quiambao won as first runner-up. It was the last time the Philippines came close to winning the international beauty contest.

Crowned Miss Universe was 20-year- old Riyo Mori from Japan.

And no, Binibining Pilipinas Anna Theresa Licaros did not make it. Four Asians were among the 15 semifinalists: Thailand, Korea, Japan, and India. The two other candidates with Filipino blood in them, Miss Germany (whose father is 100 percent Filipino) and Miss Finland (whose mother is Filipino), did not make it too. Why do I know these obscure facts about Mesdames Germany and Finland? Because ABS-CBN, the station that bagged the franchise to telecast this year’s Miss Universe pageant, went to town with that information, as if their victory, if ever, would be credited to the Philippines.

In fairness to ABS-CBN, the telecast was mercifully short. I think the telecast was done in two hours and the advertisement load was not very heavy. I remember how RPN’s telecast of the pageant would often last four or five hours in the past.

A number of things struck me while watching the 2007 Miss Universe pageant yesterday.

First, either there is some cloning factory somewhere in the world that we haven’t heard about yet or the standards for beauty has really become global. I wonder what happened to celebrating diversity and natural beauty?

The five finalists, regardless of race and skin color, looked the same. The final five included an African-American (Miss USA), two Latin Americans (Brazil and Venezuela), and two Asians (Japan and Korea) but except for a slight difference in the shape of their eyes, they could come from the same super human gene pool. They had the same body and facial structure, the same gait and bearing, even the same way of smiling and waving. In short, these people did not fit the common and ordinary definition of what comprises beauty.

Perhaps it is really true: Beauty contests do represent a kind of beauty trap. More and more today, it promotes a specific standard of beauty, one that is heavily biased in favor of the Western or Caucasian model. One has to have flawless skin, a well-sculpted nose, a perfect chin, a wide forehead, luscious hair, and a whistle-bait figure. For a while there, I thought Miss Tanzania, the only finalist who was from an African country and the only one who challenged the generic definition of beauty (she was bald to begin with) would get into the magic five, but alas, she did not make the final cut. So much for appreciating diversity.

If the finalists were made to wear the same gowns, it would have been really difficult distinguishing one from the other.

So this we know: There is a specific requirement, a specific set of criteria used to choose winners of international beauty titles. I am not saying winning international beauty titles is that important, but if we join these contests we might as well do so with the expressed intent to win.

Let’s stop this crap about joining these contests to promote world peace and international unity and friendship. Let’s please stop this nonsense about how the results are secondary, that win or lose, the candidates are already winners in their own right. We know these are wimpy excuses for losers.

Let’s join these contests to win! And the best way is to pick contestants who fit the global standard of beauty. The other countries who always land in the magic five (Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia, etc.) make no bones about the fact that they re-sculpt the faces and bodies of their contestants through cosmetic surgery to fit the global standards. If we have qualms about using science to enhance our chances of winning, if we want to take the higher moral ground and insist on competing using high ethical standards, then let’s stop joining these contests altogether. There is simply no point in joining a contest if we do not want to win.

I was once asked what I thought of the country’s bid to bag certain titles such as this or that capital of the world. I remember what I said, and I still hold the same opinion. I think there is nothing inherently wrong with being called Call Center Capital of the World, or Entertainment Capital of the World, or even Beauty Capital of the World as long as we don’t stop there. We must seek to be renowned for a number of distinctions, the more the better. Of course I am against titles that paint a derogatory image of the country; I do not write for newspapers that make a fortune doing that every day.

Anyway. Going back to the Miss Universe pageant. Since beauty contests are popular and no amount of pointing out how socially irrelevant they are seem successful in making them obsolete, I hope that organizers of these contests really make an effort to make these contests more politically correct. I have always wondered why these beauty contests insist on asking the candidates the same trite and staid questions. Variations of the same questions were asked this year: What powerful lesson can you share with the world, what kind of man will you choose, what superpower will you pick, etc. Yawn.

I wish they would ask real, controversial questions such as: “Why is USA having difficulty electing a black or a woman president?” Or “Should there be a separate contest for those who have had surgical enhancements to distinguish those who are natural and artificial?” Or perhaps even “What can you say about atrocities against women in Afghanistan or Pakistan?”

Another observation I made was that Mexicans take losing in beauty contests more seriously than they do in boxing. Their bet got into the final 10, but failed to make it to the final five. Thereupon, the audience chanted “Me-hi-co!, Me-hi-co!” almost all throughout the pageant, their chanting almost drowned out the questions and answers during the interview portion.

But then, I know a number of countries are crazy over beauty contests, they are not just as rabidly fanatical as Mexico. Let’s face it, even the Philippines is crazy over beauty contests—our candidate, Anna Theresa Licaros, won as Miss Photogenic once again. And in case you still do not know, the selection for this particular award is done through voting in the Internet. So once again, Filipinos from all over the world seemed to have rallied behind Miss Philippines. If only we can generate the same level of support for other causes.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Classroom shortage

This was my column yesterday. Sorry for the late post.

The opening of the school year happens in two weeks’ time. We all know this because the department stores and everyone else who stand to profit from this annual event have been reminding us in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Not that we need reminding; it is an annual event that comes regularly, pretty much like clockwork. Whether we like it or not, kids need to go back to school. The only thing that is variable is the specific date in June when it happens. This year it falls on June 11.

I do not mean to sound callous but the opening of the school year and the expenses that come with it are expected. It is not an emergency. It is not something that happens unexpectedly.

Thus, just like child delivery, parents have had time to prepare for it. I don’t understand parents, who whine on public television about how unprepared they are to deal with the financial requirements that go into paying tuition, uniforms, school supplies, and other miscellaneous expenses.

I can understand the occasional uproar over tuition increases although running to the media to complain is hardly the solution. Schools are required to consult parents before imposing any tuition hike and I know that most schools do conduct meetings with parents or their representatives before they implement any adjustment. The problem is, not many parents actually bother to attend Parents-Teachers Association meetings, or get involved in school activities. If parents want to have a say on the issue of fee increases, there is a more logical and more productive way of doing it. They can form stronger lobby groups and in general foster more collaborative relationships with school authorities.

Unfortunately, educating our children is very often a task that many think is the exclusive domain and responsibility of government and the school authorities. Parents, media, and other social organizations forget that it is supposed to be a collaborative effort. And this problem is very painfully brought to the fore every single time the opening of classes comes around, which is when the annual blamestorming, the traditional fingerpointing and caterwauling happen.

So next week, let’s all brace ourselves for the annual national torture of being told just how inadequately unprepared we are as a country to provide quality education to our kids. The sad part is that once classes have started, the furor eventually dies down and all the problems seem to simply disappear as if they never existed in the first place. Until the next opening of the school year happens, in which case, we go full circle and go through the same exercise all over again.

It is almost enough to make one wonder if we truly are serious about solving the perennial problems plaguing the educational system.
There are many problems that beset our educational system, but three easily come to mind during this time of the year, mainly because these are the ones that are given more media mileage. These are the shortages in classrooms, teachers, and textbooks. In this column we will discuss the most controversial which is the classroom shortage.

Every June, the media, the politicians, the civic leaders, the parents and the school children caterwaul about it. In fact last year, there was this whole ludicrous public discourse over the President’s display of her legendary temper over then Department of Education officer-in-charge Fe Hidalgo’s supposed fudging of the numbers. If we recall, the President gave Hidalgo a public dressing down for not sticking to the Malacañang formula which supposedly licked the problem of classroom shortage by applying a 100- students-per-classroom ratio instead of the usual 50 students per classroom.

That particular incident struck me as not only counterproductive, but really tragic because it could have been a great springboard for a more enlightened discussion of more creative approaches to solving the problem of classroom shortages. But as usual, we got engrossed on the drama and the controversy.

Of course, we have a shortage of classrooms in this country! We have a high population growth and our social infrastructure can’t cope with the population growth. (An interesting digression: Since the rich Catholic Church also happens to be in the education business—many Catholic schools are ran by dioceses—one would think that they would go the extra mile by offering free or at least greatly subsidized quality education since they are the ones who are adamantly against population control in the first place. But no, the Catholic Church is in denial about the incumbent accountabilities attached to its various advocacies.)

Anyway. As I was saying, we all know we have a shortage of classroom. But then again, since we seem to make do with whatever classrooms we have during the whole year, one wonders if the problem is really that significant in terms of its impact on learning and the educational system. I don’t think so.

As a teacher, I do conduct my classes inside a classroom but I do so only because my classes happen at night. Can I conduct my classes just as effectively—or perhaps even more productively—outside of a classroom? Of course. I conduct a lot of high impact outward bound training programs outside of training rooms. But even while holding classes inside classrooms, we try so hard to bring the discussion and the content outside of the four walls of the classroom. We make sure that the cultural, social, even anthropological context are right. In other words, the learning objective is always to extend the walls of the classroom outside to the real world, to establish a balance between theory and application.

Looking back, my most powerful learning experiences as a student involved teachers who prepared us for lifelong learning, teachers who had a knack for applying theoretical concepts to the real world. I remember a biology teacher in high school, who would regularly bring us outside to study real plants and animals, who would give us assignments that allowed us to regularly explore, apply, implement.

Today, one of the most successful high schools in the country (located in Bohol) employs a different educational system— one that encourages their high school students to spend no more than a few hours each day inside a classroom. Instead, they are taught to conduct studies, perform experiments, read, interact—all of which happen outside the classroom.

I am not saying all these as a means of justifying the classroom shortage. Nor am I saying that we should not fix the problem. We should build more classrooms. And it should be a task that should be shared by everyone.

But there are many ways to address the problem and having a shortage of classrooms is not and should not be a hindrance to learning. In fact, it can be a blessing in disguise if only teachers and parents are creative enough.

But I guess that is really where the problem is. Our problem is that we don’t have enough teachers who are competent enough to go beyond the traditional methods of teaching. It is easier to just complain and whine and cast the blame somewhere else instead of being part of the solutions.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Torture, sheer emotional torture

Why do we put up with it?

Because reading is not prescribed and other forms of strenuous effort is disallowed (including sex, hehe), my choices of recreation and diversion has been limited to sitting up in bed (or in a couch) in front of the television set. Believe me it is difficult to spend more than 12 hours a day sleeping. I used to think that being able to catch up on my 40-year backlog in sleep would be bliss. But after more than a week of forced rest, sleeping has become such a bore.

Anyway. Back to television. We do have cable TV at home, but I like to surf channels and sometimes curiousity just gets the better of me - I like finding out what our local creative people are up to lately. I am afraid there's really bad news.

In the last week, I have been following some local teleseryes and boy, oh boy, are they just so.... stupid. Watching them is pure, unadultered torture.

Since last week, I tried (yes, that is the operative term - tried, as in unsuccessfully) to watch the last week of Maging Sino Ka Man. I know it is a soap opera, or to be more accurate, a Pinoy soap opera and therefore expectations of a believable or at least logical storyline is unreasonable. Hey, in our soap operas people die, there is a wake, and a funeral shows the person inside a coffin... but that doesnt stop them from resurrecting the character later in the soap.

But that has got to be the worst way to end a soap.

Instead of providing cliff hangers and exciting scenes that would keep people's pulses racing and sending the hopelessly romantics into orbit... we had looonnnngg ponderous, pretentious, boring, and quite frankly, awfully-written homilies disguised as reflections on life, love, the other world, sacrifice, etc. I couldnt stand it. I just checked on the soap every five minutes and it would be as if nothing happened. It was still the same scene. Either someone was crying buckets, or trying to put on a morose face, or someone was reciting some awful lines.

The reaction of my yaya, who has been an avid fan of the soap, pretty much summed it up. "Kaylan ka pa ba mamamatay, Elie?" And when the few people left in the Philippines who were still interested in the last few minutes of the soap were ready to click the remote control, they finally killed the main character (there was this whole metaphor about his soul jumping off into a waterfall..hahaha)..and then promptly resurrected him! The people in the house, instead of erupting into applause, groaned "di ba patay na sha!"

Talk about eliciting sympathy for your main character.

Tomorrow: the insanity that is Pinoy Big Brother 2. It is absolute madness.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Feedback

The following is a comment made by Domingo, a fellow bisdak.

Bong,

In 1978, a catholic priest, Fr. Jorge M. Kintanar of Cebu, was among the candidates under Pusyon Bisaya that swept, 13-0, the regional (and block voting) elections for the Interim Batasang Pambansa assemblymen, representing Region VII (Cebu, Bohol, Negros Oriental and Siquijor).

Together with the lone winner from Mindanao, Cagayan de Oro Assemblyman Reuben R. Canoy of the Mindanao Alliance, the Pusyon Bisaya became the opposition voice in the interim Batasang Pambansa from 1978-1984.

Among the 13 elected was Atty. (later Supreme Court Chief Justice) Hilario G. Davide, Jr., and among those defeated, running under Marcos’ KBL, were the Cebu dynasties of Osmena, Gullas and Cuenco.

I remember this first election held after martial law was declared in 1972 very well, Bong, since I was then serving my third 4-year term as councilor of Lapu-Lapu City (a member of the Liberal Party and, allow me to add, one of only 3 incumbent city councilors in all of Region VII during martial law who did not join the KBL). The Oponganons (Opon was the name of the former municipality) I headed--Ang Mga Kaliwat Ni Lapu-Lapu (The Heirs of Lapu-Lapu)--linked with Pusyon Bisaya. My area of responsibility during the 1978 election was Lapu-Lapu City, including the 4 other smaller islands that comprise it, particularly Olango where I was born and where my forebears (relatives of Lapu-Lapu?) came from. But very few now recall the massive protest (and this was at the height of martial law) Cebuanos held for several days at the Fuente Osmena circle all the way to the Cebu provincial capitol after COMELEC proclaimed the KBL candidates the winners. I was there.

Note that votes were canvassed by regions. Ballot boxes from Bohol and Siquijor were delivered to Cebu; but those from Negros Oriental, upon arriving at the wharf, were brought (the term then was “hijacked”) instead to the Durano enclave (another dynasty) in the north of Cebu. It was this hijacking of ballot boxes that infuriated the Cebuanos, since Pusyon Bisaya was already leading by a mile in the votes already tallied from Cebu, Bohol and Siquijor. In our city where I was in charge of listing the precinct results, if I remember right, it was 70-30 in Pusyon’s favor. I retired from politics after Marcos was ousted.

But, had Marcos not caved in and declared a 13-0 win for Pusyon Bisaya, the Cebuano protest would have escalated and turned into EDSA 8 years earlier (that was 1978). In fact, talk of seceding from imperial Manila was ripe then.

Bong, our Constitution and laws allow the “person having the highest number of votes” to be proclaimed elected. So, where is the majoritarian popular sovereignty rule there? Arroyo needed only 39%, Estrada 40%, Ramos 21% of votes cast to assume the office of President.

How can a mere plurality in these instances be regarded as the expression of the majority, of the “voice of the people”? In fact, for that matter, recent opinion polls (2007) showing that 60% want to kick Arroyo out is merely reiterating what the election results were in 2004--that 61% prefer other candidates instead and that only 39% are in favor of allowing Arroyo to stay 6 years more.

Similarly, since the 12 Senators are to be elected “at large by the qualified voters of the Philippines” with no provision specifying that each candidate should receive at least 50% of votes cast, how can Senators claim to represent the majority of the national constituency (or even regional constituency, if Senators are to be chosen by region)?

As regards Fr. Ed Panlillio, following is the obituary of Fr. Robert F. Drinan, SJ, the first priest elected as voting member of the U.S. Congress (Boston Globe, 28 Jan 2007): “In 1980, Pope John Paul II ordered Father Drinan either to forgo reelection or leave the priesthood. Father Drinan had relished holding office, but there was no doubt in his mind over what to do.

With "regret and pain," he announced he would not be running for reelection."’It is just unthinkable,’ he said of the idea of renouncing the priesthood to stay in office. ‘I am proud and honored to be a priest and a Jesuit. As a person of faith I must believe that there is work for me to do which somehow will be more important than the work I am required to leave.’"

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Making sense of it all

Now that the elections have come to pass, it is time for anyone with an access to media to come forward and offer his or her two cents’ worth on the outcome of the elections.

Brother Mike Velarde of the El Shaddai religious community has offered advice to the President to listen to the voice of the people as expressed in the results of the mid-term elections.

I think the results are mixed, and in a number of cases, expected.

I am not quite sure that the results categorically say that people are tired of the political system or political leadership in the country. The senatorial elections do show that the same old faces are leading the tally. The frontrunners are either re-electionist candidates or traditional politicians from the House of Representatives. The same can be said of the race for seats at the House of Representatives, or even for local government posts. Even the choices for party-list representation generally indicate that except for a token few the same groups are returning to Congress.

Some political clans have suffered losses, but a number of family dynasties have been fortified in the last elections as well. So the results are mixed on that one —I think that people voted for individual candidates rather than a leadership brand.

It’s just another sad reflection of our political system that we do not have as yet leadership brands. When we talk of leadership in our country we do not talk about values or principles, we talk about individuals instead. So quite frankly, those pompous statements about how the results indicate repudiation of the political system are really stretched. No sir, we are not there yet. We’re not yet talking leadership brands today; we’re still stuck with personalities.

So are the results of the elections a repudiation of the President as many pundits are claiming? I wish I could be as categorical as the others and make egotistical statements like “the people have spoken and they say Gloria Macapagal Arroyo must go!” I wish I knew God’s cellphone number so I can also speak with the conviction of the morally suffused.

But we all know that unless divine intervention happens (which, we must acknowledge, is rare nowadays) the opposition failed to muster enough numbers in the House of Representatives to impeach the President. They’ve known this for sometime now. So any talk about impeaching the President as a platform for office was just that—talk. And I doubt if a people power type of uprising will occur. So they can hem and haw and make all kinds of noise. But in the end, we know unseating Macapagal Arroyo as President is a distant possibility.

We can look at the victory of Catholic priest Fr. Ed Panlilio as governor of Pampanga as a protest vote—but I think it is first of all a protest against the Pinedas and the Lapids. I know that I will get flak again and be accused of being a rabid GMA supporter, but for crying out loud, the priest won by a mere thousand votes and the votes of the three candidates were quite close.

My own take on the Panlilio phenomenon is simple: For once, an alternative was offered and the people grabbed it. That’s it. And I wish the same situation prevailed in the national political landscape.

I personally believe that we will all suffer for this Panlilio phenomenon in the future, but then again, we have to live with the choices that we make. I have nothing against Panlilio personally. I just do not think that electing a priest is a sign of maturity in our political processes and systems. When we have to resort to extreme measures, when our alternatives become so limited that we have to turn to our religious leaders for secular needs, then we are seriously in trouble. There are more issues, but hey, I am willing to cut the reverend some slack. I wish him luck, and I pray that he learns how to survive in the swampland where various kinds of political reptiles and creatures inhabit.

However, I will not argue with everyone else who has been saying that there is a message in the results of the elections that the President needs to listen to. It seems she will lose the Senate, although with only three more years before the presidential elections in 2010, who actually knows how the political divide will be shaping up in the next few months? As has been said many times, politicians do not have permanent enemies or friends, just permanent interests.

Put another way, if Noli de Castro intends to make a go for the Presidency in 2010, we all know it is impossible for him to become the opposition’s standard bearer. He will probably be the administration candidate. And he will probably start to consolidate his hold on the Wednesday group, which of course includes Senators Manny Villar, Joker Arroyo, and Kiko Pangilinan.

But it is clear that the people want the Senate to continue being a fiscalizer of sorts. In other words, people don’t want the President’s last three years in office to be a walk in the park, or to be crude about it, an opportunity to amass more fortune through graft and corruption. I think people are resigned to a Macapagal Arroyo presidency until 2010, but people want her to do well and work hard.

The other people who wanted to say something about the results of the elections but had no easy access to media addressed the problem with a simple solution—they bought media space or airtime.

Thus, in some newspapers yesterday, representatives of the business community bought full-page advertisements saying it is time to “move forward.” The ad cited the way the market has been reacting positively to the elections. Actually, the market’s reaction is not just positive—it has been quite stupendous. The Philippine stock market has breached all-time records. On the other hand, the Philippine peso rallied to its strongest finish within a six-and-a-half year period.

Of course, there are still people out there who continue to insist that there is no relationship between what is happening in the economic front and the country’s political situation—that the continuing bull run is a fluke. But as I have already pointed out many times, economic forces are not like forces of nature. Investors do not bring in their money unless they have faith in the strength of the systems.

I wish we listen to our economic managers more often instead of to our political leaders.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Brush with mortality

This is my column today. I am still at home trying to hasten the recovery.


I was wheeled in promptly at 8 a.m., the appointed hour. Getting to the assigned operating room (I think it is officially called a theater, but let’s not complicate things here) involved a quick, unintended, but definitely anxiety-inducing tour of the other operating rooms along the way, which, to my utter surprise, didn’t have closed doors. So theoretically, if I were so inclined, I could have walked in on any of the ongoing surgical procedures and engaged the doctors and nurses on a spirited debate on the ethical implications of the so-called God complex among surgeons.

I really didn’t know what I expected, but whatever it was, I guess it’s irrelevant in the Philippine setting. Watching too many episodes of “ER” and “Grey’s Anatomy” has warped my sense of reality. I probably expected an environment that was more antiseptic for self-preservation reasons. I am not saying the operating rooms were not sterile. I was probably breathing anti-bacterial agents as I lay on that narrow bed (it was so narrow, I had to make a mental effort to rearrange my internal organs and the excess poundage that threatened to spill over). All I am saying is that I felt it wasn’t sterile enough for my own comfort. But then again, patients are a picky lot particularly since it is their lives that are laid on the operating table.

Let me digress a bit here and explain what I was doing inside the surgical rooms of the Makati Medical Center last week. I underwent two surgical procedures that required general anesthesia. That meant they had to put me to sleep while they tinkered with my anatomy, in this particular case, my skull. I had a mastoidectomy and a tympanoplasty. The two procedures are connected. The former involved cleaning up an infection in my mastoid (the bone behind the ear) that proved stubbornly resistant to antibiotics (what can I say, even microbacterial organisms imbibe the personality of their hosts). The latter involved repairing a perforated eardrum caused by the infection.

If you are squeamish and can’t stand any discussion involving blood, body parts, and pain, lots and lots of pain, please do not read further. However, if you are squeamish but prone to ear infection that, like me, you tend to ignore until the pain becomes unbearable, you might want to reconsider.

I am told that ear infections are actually a common problem in this country. I’ve had ear infections for as long as I can remember and yes, mostly from overuse of those blasted cotton buds (which are unnecessary, doctors say; earwax need not be removed manually as the body has a natural way of expelling them from the ears). From hereon, I shall make it my personal mission to expose the pernicious effects of using cotton buds on the ears. Repeat after me, please: Cotton buds are dangerous to one’s ears.

So here is what happened to me. I was experiencing my annual bout with colds last October. I had the whole works—clogged nose, headaches, watery eyes, stuffed ears, hoarse throat. Unfortunately, I had to fly to Leyte for the wedding of my youngest brother. Flying is bad news to those with a bad case of colds: The altitude—exposes your eardrums to unbearable pressure. That particular flight was hell. I felt unbearable pain in both my ears. I actually entertained thoughts of hijacking the plane and forcing it to land anywhere, or at least forcing the crew to put me on a parachute and drop me off anywhere just to relive the pressure from my ears.

The cabin crew tried to help with this and that technique, all of which proved futile. One bad advice probably made the situation worse. I was told to pinch my nose and force air out of my ears, which of course, on hindsight, only added more pressure to my eardrums and channeled the infection from my nose and throat to my ears.

But the pain disappeared when we landed so, of course, I forgot about it. I went swimming, exposed myself to direct sunlight for extended periods of time, and in general aggravated the infection. To give credit where it is due, I did consult a doctor before flying back to Manila. He prescribed a nasal spray that cost an arm and a leg, and some pain-killers.

Halfway through the flight, I felt a sensation in my right ear, heard a tiny sound, and then felt some liquid dripping out of my right ear. To cut a long story short, my right eardrum was shattered somewhere around the vicinity of the Mayon Volcano while flying back to Manila. But since it wasn’t as painful as the one I experienced a few days earlier, I ignored it.

Two weeks after, the pain started and the tiny sound grew into a persistent buzz. That’s when I went to see ear specialists. Yes, plural. I went to five specialists in a span of three months. They all suspected that my eardrum was perforated and promptly prescribed anti-biotics. But the pain would not go away and my ear was beginning to resemble an endless reservoir of liquid.

Finally, a visit to a sixth doctor produced a more definitive diagnosis and a clearer prognosis.
After two more rounds of antibiotics and other forms of treatment, my doctor and I decided on surgery. The reasons were more compelling. I was beginning to have dizzy spells and starting to have visions believing that a 12-0 win for Team Unity was possible (just kidding about the latter, but that’s how serious it was). A CT scan revealed that the infection was in my mastoid bone. At the same time, the pain in my ear was getting more and more intense. The options were getting more and more limited. Either I pickle my liver with the few remaining antibiotics that I have not tried yet (I was already on second generation antibiotics) or undergo surgery.

Sometime during the heat of the election, hearing on my right ear was down to 20 percent and going fast. I could have lived with just my left ear to perform auditory functions, after all, as some bloggers have pointed out to me, a number of famous people apparently suffer from the same condition. They even have a term for it, monoaural hearing. The likes of Halle Berry have been mentioned. But then again, I was informed that my eardrum can be repaired surgically so we opted to do that as well.

Unfortunately, the procedure required some drilling on my skull to expose the mastoid bone, thus the need for general anesthesia. A number of risks were also present such as a facial nerve getting accidentally severed, or well, my heart just deciding to stop beating right there on the table. But I am not sure I would have relished the idea of being conscious of the medical procedure the whole time anyway, so being put to sleep was a much better option.
What we did not adequately prepare for was the amount of time it would take to do both surgical procedures. My surgeon initially estimated that the whole thing would last four hours.

They started at 8:15 a.m. They finally wheeled me into the recovery room at… hold your breath, 4:30 p.m. It took them more than eight hours to do both procedures.
But I am home now and writing about the whole experience despite strict orders from my doctor not to engage in anything strenuous to stop the endless bleeding in my ear. If I want to, I can now make pompous statements about my brush with my own mortality, but maybe another time.

In the meantime, I want to say thank you to my ENT doctor/surgeon Maria Theresa Marta Lagos who have shown great fortitude and competence in dealing with a patient as impossibly stubborn, opinionated, and cranky as I was. Anyone out there who needs an ENT specialist should check her out. She holds clinic at Suite 1409 of the Medical Plaza Makati (right next to the Makati Medical Center).

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Back home and recuperating

I got home today from the hospital after undergoing two surgical procedures immediately after the elections. I am okay and hopefully on the way to recovery. No complications so far, thank you God.

I will write about the experience as a column on Monday - I have to shoot several birds with one stone - my way of updating my friends, colleagues and students; ensuring that I don't miss out on my column, and updating this blog.

Will be back soon. Promise.

Election report

My column last Wednesday, May 16, 2007.

While preparing to leave the house last Monday to go to Palma Gil Elementary School in Vito Cruz where I had been voting in the last 12 years, I tuned in to a local television station, which expectedly, had been doing a spirited update on the conduct of the elections.

If we were to go by the reports, the threat of total anarchy was hanging in the air and was about to break loose any moment. All reports from the field hewed closely to this spiel: “The conduct of the elections in this area has been peaceful so far, but there is fear that something sinister will happen soon.” Later in the day, this spiel would continue to be used but with a minor revision “The conduct of the elections was generally orderly and peaceful, but people fear that the canvassing will be marred by irregularity and chaos.”

I know that the media are simply performing their social role, but the preoccupation with the exceptions rather than the norm, the tendency to highlight the unusual and the sordid is getting to be tiring. It strikes me sometimes that media, particularly certain television personalities, deliberately search for these things. We’re just so absorbed with bad news and we like to flagellate ourselves every single opportunity we get. We like to point out just how corrupt, how disorderly, how awfully hopeless we are as a people.

One report said that throngs of voters at Palma Gil were experiencing difficulties finding their names on the voters’ list and their respective precincts. Thus, I braced for the worst and expected mayhem at my precinct.

What I did not expect was a fiesta. Outside Palma Gil, entire streets were festooned with all kinds of banners and posters hanging on every possible space. There was no need for voters to bring an umbrella, the decors were more than enough protection from the scorching sun. Even the streets were carpeted with posters and these were not simply strewn but painstakingly glued on the pavement. It was the perfect finale to the madcap campaign: Voters stepping on the grinning faces of candidates. And it felt good.

Why we insist that it is illegal to distribute sample ballots is beyond me since we seem helpless in preventing it anyway. As I walked to the gate of the school, I received at least 18 sample ballots. Perhaps the rumors were true after all. There was junking of candidates as many of the sample ballots contained a hodgepodge of candidates from across the political divide. The street was ankle deep with discarded sample ballots so if the Commission on Elections really wanted proof that these sample ballots existed, truckloads of proof was readily available for the taking.

I was prepared for the worst and half-expected pandemonium at my precinct. I figured I could take a leaf from the television people and write about how everything that could go wrong went wrong. To my surprise (and disappointment), voting was a breeze. I easily found my assigned precinct. There was no queue. There was no need to search for my name. The teachers were courteous, competent, and very efficient although I noted that more indelible ink than necessary was used on my finger. Did the teacher suspect me for a flying voter?

I was done in less than 10 minutes so I decided to hang around and observe the overall conduct of the elections. Yes, there were a number of people who had difficulty finding their names and their precincts but upon closer observation, these were mostly people who didn’t know their barangay numbers, or believe it or not, their addresses, to begin with. A few were people who haven’t voted in the last two elections and therefore were not familiar with the process.

Nevertheless, it is safe to say that contrary to what we have been conditioned to believe, this election was generally peaceful and orderly. Still, some improvements can be made among them:

First, a master list of all voters arranged alphabetically and posted in one location would have made the process a lot simpler for those who needed help finding their precincts. Unfortunately, the voters’ assistance helpdesks only had folders of voters classified according to precincts and these were not very helpful as manually searching for a name often involved going through several folders. Moreover, a single computer with a database would have speeded up the search process. It is so frustrating that in this day and age of computerization, we still haven’t found a way to harness the most basic use of technology to our advantage.

Second, despite our avowed claims to being a country that values democratic processes, it is frustrating to note that many voters simply lack knowledge about voting procedures. I noted that many voters were simply unaware of the procedures and the responsibilities incumbent on exercising this sacred right. There were voters who argued with the election registrars about the procedures, questioning the steps in the voting. I noted a few voters who insisted on being accompanied inside the precincts or who were obviously still being coached a few seconds before entering the precinct.

Third, it is very obvious that elections are a source of livelihood for a number of our fellow Filipinos. I do not begrudge them the opportunity of earning a few bucks during elections, but these so-called watchers clog the election processes. A few watchers during the casting of votes may be necessary, and definitely during the canvassing, but surely we don’t need hundreds of them swarming around the precincts.

At Palma Gil, the whole place looked like an infestation of ticks as a third of the people in the place were wearing red; they were obviously supporters and watchers of the Atienzas. These watchers impeded the process rather than aided it. They blocked the hallways and doors and contributed to the overall congestion. At the slightest provocation, such as when a voter complained that someone had already voted for him (it turned out he was mistaken, he was looking at another name) a whole caboodle immediately descended on the scene prompting the harassed teachers to give an impromptu lecture on the value of exercising restraint.

Fourth, if we want people to respect and put more value into the voting process, we have to create the conditions that make it so. In addition to the Jurassic procedures and processes, which is costly and clearly anti-environment (lots and lots of paper wasted) some of the precincts were clearly not conducive to voting. While going around Palma Gil, I noted that some precincts were located in places that belied the importance of the process. Some precincts were located under stairways and passageways or near a stinking public toilet.

In times like these, I wonder why we can’t use the facilities of the major colleges and universities. Imagine elections being conducted at the classrooms of De La Salle University, the University of the Philippines or the other major universities that have better facilities. Using the facilities of major colleges and universities would simplify the election process as the elections would be conducted at a few locations and supervision by the Commission on Elections would be a lot easier. These colleges make a big to-do about being socially responsible anyway so I might as well take them up on the challenge.

And finally, we can all make elections in this country more orderly and efficient if we all simply practice more responsibility. There is no substitute for preparation. With all the tools available such as a text messaging service which enabled people to be advised of their assigned precincts beforehand; and with all that heated discussion about the value of elections, one would think that people would be more prepared. Unfortunately, it does look like we treat elections the way we do fiestas. It’s anything goes.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Music Meme

It's been sometime since I did a meme. But I had some time in my hands today so I bloghopped and came upon this interesting meme from one of my favorite bloggers, Gigi. It required taking out my ipod and doing a shuffle for each question. Here are the results of my efforts:

Opening credits?
Time in a Bottle - Bo Bice, American Idol

Waking up?
Time After Time - Tuck & Patti

First Day of School?
When She Loved Me - Sara Mclachlan

Falling in love?
Won't You Be My Number Two - Paolo Santos

First song?
I Am Changing - Jennifer Hudson

Breaking up?
Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 - Johann Sebastian Bach

Prom?
Making Love Out of Nothing At All - Carrie Underwood American Idol

Life?
Everytime I See You - BLT

Mental breakdown?
Purple Rain - Prince

Driving?
If I Loved You - Charlotte Church

Flashback?
After The Love Has Gone -Earth, Wind and Fire

Getting back together?
Hyperballad - Bjork

Wedding?
Got To Believe In Magic - Christian Bautista

Birth of a child?
China - Tori Amos

Final battle?
I Cried For You - Ella Fitzgerald

Death scene?
Gabriel's Oboe -Ennio Morricone

Funeral song?
Out Of My League - Stephen Speaks

End credits?
Fields of Gold - Sting


Okay, I tag you. Yes, you. Just go ahead and do it.

Subliminal messages

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

Elections should be about issues. It’s about personalities, yes; but ultimately, it should be about the issues behind the personalities. It should be about platforms, ideologies, principles, etc. Thus, in an ideal world, an election campaign is meant to bring about an enlightened discussion of issues, highlight what the candidates stand for, and in general aim at helping the electorate see beyond the fluff and static that inevitably surround candidates.

When I was growing up, the electorate would troop to public plazas to listen to candidates make long and often exuberant discourses about their platforms. People got the real thing—no fuzz, no sleek packaging, no subliminal messages—direct from the candidates themselves.

Technology, specifically, media technology, has changed all these. Thus, today’s election is significant for a number of reasons. The pundits have already gone to town with their lectures on the implications of this election on the state of the country’s democracy, so I won’t go there anymore.

But there is another thing about this particular election that we must take note of. In this election, the contest to engage the hearts and minds of the electorate was mainly conducted through the media. For the very first time, we have seen how media technology can be fully harnessed or conversely, wantonly exploited, to advance or retard candidacies and causes. I am not sure we were prepared for this development, nor for the repercussions.

The Commission on Elections has stringent rules about campaign spending limits, and to a certain extent, the length of media exposures of candidates. But I doubt if we have clear guidelines on the substance and content of the media campaigns. And clearly, a number of candidates pushed the limits in terms of what is fair, ethical and politically legitimate.

We delude ourselves in thinking that media organizations impose their own ethical standards. But we forget that media in this country, as in anywhere else, are primarily a business enterprise and media are the main beneficiaries of the windfall from the campaign. What’s more, we forget that more and more today, media are hardly an objective participant in the political intramurals in this country.

So we have witnessed for ourselves how media have become a powerful force in politics in our country, particularly in elections. And certain media organizations have been more than willing to oblige their new role of not just being a mouthpiece, of being the messenger; but of being an arbiter or worse, as agitator.

Of all the psychological techniques engendered in this new political milieu, the most nefarious but least obvious—at least to non-psychologists—is the conditioning and programming of minds through repeated media exposures of certain messages including subliminal messages.

Subliminal messages are messages we do not actively perceive, but receive just the same. This can be done using many different techniques, such as flashing words, phrases, or even pictures somewhere in the frame of an ad. The human brain does not consciously perceive these messages, and yet the message is registered. Other techniques could include a subtle mention of, or reference to certain issues.

What is detestable and therefore unethical about the use of subliminal messages in campaigns is that the technique bypasses rational thought processes. We do not consciously question these messages precisely because they are subliminal. We just accept them.

In this campaign, these messages continue to be relentlessly dished out by candidates through media, and by media organizations themselves, in order to condition the electorate into forming a particular opinion or state of mind that forward a specific agenda.

In more advanced countries, this kind of political advertising is considered unethical and therefore disallowed. Sadly, it is only in this particular election that we’ve started to witness this kind of conditioning in our country so there are no helpful guidelines yet. So not only have we witnessed all possible variants of subliminal messages, we’ve actually seen many forms of in-your-face conditioning that forwarded a particular agenda.

Let’s not nitpick on this: There are people and organizations out there with illegitimate political agenda. We’ve seen these throughout the campaign and we will continue to see this even in the next few days of the canvassing. The sad part is that we are all handicapped by the fact that it is almost impossible to notice how we are being conditioned and therefore brainwashed.

Let’s take a look at some of these political agenda that we’ve been conditioned to accept.

First, that there will be cheating in the elections and that the administration will be the only perpetrator of such atrocities. The canvassing has not commenced yet, but some candidates and certain media organizations have already started conditioning our minds that massive cheating will happen, and worse, there is nothing we can do about it. Various subliminal messages that accused certain candidates and personages as perpetrators of cheating were the order of the day. It’s clearly unethical because the attack is done subliminally and results in conditioning.

I am not saying that cheating will not happen and that we should not do anything about it; all I am saying is that there is a difference between raising issues in a valid and ethical way and in a hit-and-run and therefore irresponsible way. Unfortunately, the distinction between these has been blurred under the guise of vigilance. And let’s not even go into the anatomy of cheating and how everyone, regardless of political affiliation, is guilty of it anyway.

Second, that corruption is a partisan issue. I am all for eradicating corruption in this country, but the subliminal messages in the campaign is that corruption is the sole domain of one political party. It is extremely hypocritical to make generalizations about corruption based on party lines because if we come down to it, all candidates particularly those running for re-election regardless of party affiliation are theoretically guilty of corruption courtesy of the pork barrel funds and other political largesse. But no, we are being conditioned to think that electing certain candidates would eradicate corruption in this country. Such conditioning is not only simplistic and fallacious, it absolves the equally guilty.

Corruption is a valid issue in this election, but let’s discuss it rationally. But because most of the messages along this line have been delivered subliminally, it’s not open to rational discussion. We’re just conditioned to accept without question. And that does not address the problem.

Third, that only the administration is interested in moving this country forward, the opposition is focused on destructive politics. We all know this is not true because the administration cannot do anything without legislative support. And no one, absolutely no one has a monopoly of good intentions for this country.

There are more examples—but you get the drift. Again, subliminal conditioning is dangerous because of a number of reasons, but mostly because it bypasses rational thought. It also makes a mockery of the very same democratic processes that is supposedly being fought for because clearly the agenda is not to inform but to judge, the intent is not to discuss issues in a rational way but to malign and earn points in an illegitimate way.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

How not to get votes

This was my column yesterday at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today. Again, sorry for the late post. It's a long story.

Many people were late for work yesterday, thanks to the monstrous traffic jam created by party-list hopeful Batas. One of the campaign strategies I hoped would not happen has come to pass. Not only do we have vehicles aimlessly driving around the country to parade the faces of candidates and annoy people with blaring jingles and litanies of the candidates’ supposed virtues, we now have organized caravans going around the country with thousands of vehicles participating.

Yesterday’s caravan was purportedly designed to bring honor to the country as it sought to earn a spot in the Guinness Book of Records for longest caravan of vehicles. The objective, we were told, was to get 5,000 vehicles to participate. I don’t know if they achieved it, and quite frankly I don’t think many among us care. Out of exasperation, I refused to listen to the running updates about that darned caravan that stranded people on the road seething under the extreme summer heat.

I tell you, this preoccupation with getting into that book of lists is one of the worst fads to hit this country. It is now even used as a justification to commandeer Edsa—the country’s busiest thoroughfare—and victimize tens of thousands of hapless commuters. It is also used as a campaign gimmick.

Isn’t there a law regulating campaign activities, especially those that clearly obstruct traffic and inconvenience people unnecessarily? In many places in Metro Manila, motorists and commuters often find themselves in situations where they have to find alternative roads simply because their paths have suddenly and magically sprouted makeshift stages for a political rally.

I know that there are certain sacrifices that must be made for the sake of democracy, but I wonder if it has crossed the candidates’ minds that elections are about trying to get voters on their side, not against them. I think the Batas party- list has just alienated more voters with those caravans that obstruct roads and victimize commuters and motorists. That’s a classic example of campaigning to lose.

***
Senator Jinggoy Estrada as Senate president preparatory to becoming the 15th President of the Republic of the Philippines is a thought that’s scary and hilarious at the same time. It’s so grotesque. Imagine addressing him as “Your Excellency” and picture him in state banquets and see if you can keep a straight face.

This rumor was circulating like crazy last Monday. A friend texted to alert me about the “discovery” of the plan called “Oplan Jingle Bells.” The name or metaphor they assigned to the plan is appropriate and I don’t just refer to the fact that bells are vacuous and hollow inside and often produce annoying sounds. But I ignored the information precisely because I figured one has to be a rabid Estrada loyalist to be excited about such a plan.

But apparently, there was something to the rumor because there it was on the evening news. ABS-CBN even used it as the banner story for Bandila, its late-night news program. Okay, hold those nasty reactions. I know that the fact that media picked up the story does not validate the veracity of the information. All I am saying is that there was smoke, lots of it, and media noticed, so it wasn’t a bum steer after all.

Estrada expectedly denied the existence of the plan saying he has no interest in the Senate presidency nor in becoming President of this country. But his supporters reacted with another spin: Jinggoy has the right to seek any elective position. The plot thickens.

If the information is true, then we are in serious trouble. According to the scuttlebutt, the Estradas are itching to get back at anyone and everyone who has crossed them or contributed to their continuing persecution and oppression. Not that Jinggoy Estrada’s victory as President in 2010 is a certainty—but it can happen. Believe me it can happen. We’ve seen worse things happen in this country.

If the information is baseless, then this kind of muck is indicative of how low we have sunk in the way we conduct election campaigns. Obviously, it is the administration candidates that stand to benefit from the scare. But then again, perhaps not. The thought of a Jinggoy Estrada presidency is enough to send most people packing to migrate to another country, but I doubt if it will translate into more votes for the Sultan of Sulu, Prospero Pichay, or Tessie Aquino Oreta.

Anyway, the conspiracy theory that reached me is that for Estrada to become Senate president, the two frontrunners for the seat (Manny Villar and Loren Legarda) need to be junked from the slate. That won’t make them lose the elections since the two are already way ahead of the pack, but if they finish with less stellar rankings, then their claim to the Senate presidency may be questioned. Estrada then swaggers into the frame. Scary.

***
Last Monday, I wrote about my incomplete slate for the Senate. I wrote that I was two names short. I immediately got all kinds of reactions from friends and hecklers alike.
Some e-mailed to make recommendations regarding which candidates I should pick to complete the slate. Naturally, they made a pitch for their own bets. Thank you, for taking the trouble to send me information that I already know. Yes, I am aware that Tessie Aquino-Oreta has apologized for performing that gig at the height of the Estrada impeachment. I am not aware that she has had a religious conversion but I do not think that this bit of information is relevant to the elections. I am not voting for her simply because I do not like her. And that’s all there is to it.

A certain J. Aguda e-mailed to heckle me about my choices. He (or she?) labeled me a TUTA (lapdog), which I think is also what they are calling the Team Unity candidates, for having more administration candidates in my slate. Duh! Party affiliation was farthest from my mind when I made my choices. I picked them for their individual qualifications, not because of their party affiliation. Besides, if one needs to be so snippy about it, my slate is actually 5-5 as Kiko Pangilinan and Martin Bautista are technically with the opposition.

I have written about this in the past but I will say it again just the same. I do not think that making choices based on political parties alone is judicious because, outside of certain party-list groups, our current political parties actually do not stand for anything distinct. What they are trying to pass off as platforms are motherhood statements about lofty aspirations and fuzzy short-term ideas that are not grounded on anything strategic or ideological.

Anyone out there who still believes that our candidates are capable of standing firmly behind a party must have been living under a rock since the time Ferdinand Marcos fled the country. Wake up, please. The Marcoses are back in power and our politicians have jumped political parties at a dizzying rate the whole political landscape resembles the most complicated Gorgian Knot ever. With everyone playing a political version of the party game musical chairs, it is almost impossible to trace political affiliations. And we can all be sure that in a few months, erstwhile enemies will once again be on the same side, or conversely, those who are running today on the same slate will find themselves on opposite sides of the political fence.

As they say, in politics there are no permanent enemies, only permanent friends.


Monday, May 07, 2007

Two names short

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

There’s only six days left before the mid-term elections and I still don’t have a complete lineup for senators. What I have in my list, so far, are 10 candidates; two names short of the total number I am supposed to write on the ballot.

I wanted to finalize my list and post it in my Web blog before the elections because I committed to do so a few months back to promote a more enlightened discussion about the elections, at least among those who visit my blog.

There are at least 36 senator wannabes to pick from, how can choosing a mere 12 be that difficult? But, sigh, completing the list of 12 is so much more difficult than I had initially thought.

The sad—nay, tragic—part is that my inability to complete my senatorial slate is not because I have difficulty choosing one candidate for the other. It’s not a case of the classic walang itulak-kabigin (each one is a good choice). Such would have been a more desirable dilemma because even if I were to decide by simply wearing a blindfold and throwing darts at the collage of pictures of the candidates, at least my choice would still be motivated by some desire to elect the person into office.

Unfortunately, this is not the case here. I cannot complete my slate simply because outside of the 10 that I have chosen, there is simply no one else among the current crap, I mean crop, of senatorial candidates that I find worthy of my vote.

The various candidates and their supporters have already bombarded me with all kinds of persuasive arguments as to why they deserve my vote. I have read the letters and scrolled through the e-mails many of them have sent me. I have browsed through their Web sites in the hope of finding something—anything—that would help me arrive at a decision.

Unfortunately, many of the candidates that actually bothered to establish some presence in the information superhighway seemed to have this idea that a Web site is a personal shrine where people go to venerate them. Thus, many of these sites contain nothing else but a photoshopped picture and a resumé. I am surprised they have not included a novena in their honor.

In the past month, I have not been able to read Philippine newspapers or drive through the streets of this country without coming face to face with the smiling mugs and populist slogans of some candidates. I empathize with the Boy Scouts of the Philippines. At the rate candidates are abusing the virtues in the Scout’s Pledge (Trustworthy! Loyal! Helpful! Industrious!), it would take years to get the kids to unlearn the new connotations of these virtues.

My senses have been assaulted by idiotic jingles, fantastic claims of heroism and martyrdom, even egotistical and self-indulgent television ads of this or that candidate. If these people’s claims are true, one wonders why they have not been nominated for sainthood yet.

Many of these candidates have spent hundreds of millions of pesos in the name of supposed “genuine desire to be service to the Filipino people.” If these people truly want to serve the Filipino people, donating that kind of money to charity would have accomplished the deed far beyond what they could possibly achieve if elected. But I guess that kind of “service to the Filipino people” does not pose the same ego boost as being called “the honorable senator from wherever” inside the august halls of the Senate.

Of course, there’s a more logical reason why these people are running for senator, or the House of Representatives for that matter, and the irrepressible Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has already done a better job of articulating them. Let’s face it, for all her idiosyncrasies, who in this country is more articulate than she is? Simply put, many of them are in for the money. Lots and lots of money, if we are to believe the lady Senator.

So instead of convincing me of their virtues, the antics of many of our candidates have only fueled my loathing and abhorrence for them. I initially considered voting for Loren Legarda and Manny Villar until their shamelessly conceited ads became so sickening. And, okay, I will admit that my decision not to vote for them is my way of frustrating their unnatural fixation to be number one or nothing. These two candidates have become so full of themselves, they think settling for anything else other than being number one is beneath them. Both are known to have a moist eye on the presidency so I can understand how winning the topmost slot translates into validation of their worth as presidential timber, but for crying out loud, do they really need to be so brazen about it? Being ambitious is one thing, being obsessed is another.

There are times when I wish I could agree with those whose only idea of what is good for this country is kicking Gloria Macapagal Arroyo out of Malacañan Palace. Such a suggestion necessitates voting for the whole Genuine Opposition ticket regardless of how one disdains the likes of political has-been Sonny Osmeña, the renegade Antonio Trillanes IV, or the poster boys of political dynasty Alan Peter Cayetano and Koko Pimentel; or the fact that the victory of the whole Genuine Opposition ticket legitimizes Joseph Estrada’s continued insistence that he is victim of political persecution.

Or, conversely, I wish I could agree with the suggestion that the opposition represents nothing else but destructive politics and consequently, one should vote for the whole Team Unity ticket. Oh please, I may not like Joseph Estrada, but I am not that dense nor am I that gullible to believe that this administration and its senatorial candidates represent nothing but honesty, good intentions, and the true, the good and the beautiful. It is difficult to keep an open mind while desperately trying to fend off in one’s consciousness the images of political turncoats, the empty posturings of Singson and Magsaysay, the political naivete of the Sultan of Jolo or the hugely talented Montano.

I’ve tried, I’ve really tried; but I think I am ready to concede that one can’t truly make lemonade out of bad lemons. So I think I will have to settle for just these 10: Joker Arroyo, Noynoy Aquino, Edgardo Angara, Martin Bautista, Chiz Escudero, Mike Defensor, Kiko Pangilinan, Ralph Recto, Sonia Roco, and Miguel Zubiri.

***

For a number of weeks now, I have been campaigning for Dr. Martin Bautista among my friends and acquaintances. I’ve even made it one of my talking points in my lectures. But unfortunately, it seems he is not going to make it. There simply has not been enough time for him to make an imprint in the national consciousness.

It’s really too bad that not a lot of people even know about Bautista. If there is someone among the current candidates who truly deserves to win, it’s this guy.

Bautista is running for a Senate seat under the Kapatiran Party. He gave up a lucrative career in the United States as a topnotch doctor to be able to run for senator and make a difference in the local political arena.

So please vote for Dr. Martin Bautista. We need a new Juan Flavier in the Senate —not necessarily a doctor, but someone who embodies integrity and genuine talent.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

It's not just about language

This was my column last Wednesday, May 2. I was out of town starting last Tuesday and just got back to Manila today.

A group of concerned educators and some parents filed a petition last week requesting the Supreme Court to stop Malacañang and the Department of Education from implementing a policy designed to strengthen English as a second language in the Philippine educational system.

The group is of the strong opinion that Malacañan’s Executive Order 210 and Department of Education’s EO 36 do not merely promote the use of English as a second language, but actually strengthens the use of English as the main medium of instruction in the country’s educational system.

According to the group’s petition, both executive orders patently violate the Constitution, specifically, Article 14 Section VI which, they say, expressly prescribes that “the Government shall take steps to initiate and sustain the use of Filipino as a medium of official communication and as language of instruction in the educational system.”

The petition specifically points to three provisions in the executive orders that they say run counter to the constitutional mandate to propagate the use of Filipino as the main medium of instruction in the Philippine educational system. First, the mandate to use English as the primary medium of instruction for English, mathematics and science from at least the third grade level. Second, the use of the English language as the primary medium of instruction in all public and private institutions of learning in the secondary level. Third, encouraging the use of English as the primary medium of instruction in the tertiary level.

The petition cites a number of arguments that draw heavily from various empirical studies conducted locally and abroad. The gist of the argument is that most studies already validate that students do learn faster and better if they are taught using their mother tongue. In effect what our educators are saying is that the government is wrong: Using English as a medium of instruction does not promote learning at all, nor does it result in English proficiency. On the contrary, the move puts Filipino learners at a disadvantage.

The filing of the petition is just the most recent development in a long-drawn out debate that has been taking place in various fora as well as in cyberspace for sometime now. I first took note of the discussion when a paper written by Dr. Patricia Licuanan of Miriam College began making the rounds of various e-mail groups (Licuanan is one of the petitioners).

Unfortunately, the rhetoric of both Licuanan’s earlier paper and that of the current petition before the Supreme Court has been gleefully shot down by many pundits and hecklers with a rather simplistic, but persuasive rebuttal: Both are written in perfect English. If it is unconstitutional to promote English as a medium of instruction, what does that make of the Supreme Court, the legislative bodies, and all other institutions in this country including many academic institutions (and the petitioners themselves!) who use English as the main medium of communication?

Although the petitioners do not claim to speak for the whole Philippine academic community, it is safe to assume that academe is supportive of the perspective being forwarded by the group since no one from the community has come forward to present a contrary point of view. The petitioners anchor their arguments on pedagogical grounds, which implies that their position is fully supported by science.

On the other side of the debate are those who believe that the current (dismal) level of proficiency in English among graduates already requires drastic measures. It might also be important to note that no one in the business community has come forward to categorically express unqualified support for EO 210. Even my own professional organization, the People Management Association of the Philippines which, by virtue of its stature as the national organization of human resource management practitioners in the country should be a key participant in the discussion, still has to come up with an official position on the matter.

However, insinuations that the business community prompted this latest wrinkle are running thick. In particular, some fingers are pointing at the call center industry which has been experiencing difficulty in finding graduates that meet its English proficiency requirements.

GMA-7’s morning show Unang Hirit sought me out for an interview last week and while the feature was more about the call center industry, it was evident that the ongoing debate on the use of English as medium of instruction was part of the context. In that interview, I tried to clarify some misconceptions about the needs of the business sector in general, and about the call center industry, in particular.

Among other things, I clarified that while there are call centers that specifically require high levels of English proficiency as a pre-condition for hiring, this has never been a stand-alone dimension in the hiring process. Call centers or business in general, simply do not hire applicants on the basis of their ability to regurgitate grammatically correct and perfectly enunciated sentences.

English proficiency is important. But analytical thinking, problem solving, and interpersonal effectiveness skills are more important. And more often than not, the absence of these skills automatically translates into deficiency in English rather than the other way around. In short, someone who lacks analytical thinking skills or interpersonal effectiveness automatically flunks in the area of fluency. We find that the ability to articulate ideas is a function of poor thinking skills to begin with, and not necessarily due to lack of familiarity with English words and phrases.
In other words, it is wrong to assume that the business community is simply complaining about English deficiency. Yes, we bewail the generally declining levels of English proficiency, but we also rile against the generally dismal levels in other competency areas. So as far as we are concerned, the issue is not just about language, but about overall competitiveness of the output of academe.

If we are to address the mismatch between the needs of industry and the output of academe, we must get the context right. But as can be expected in a situation where emotions are running high, the tendency to polarize perspectives and categorize them into an either/or proposition becomes pre-dominant. This is self-defeating, particularly when the tendency to assert intellectual supremacy becomes the order of the day. What saddens me about the whole debate is that people seem to be forgetting that this is not just about who is right or wrong, this is about what is good for the country in the short and long-term.

Let me illustrate with a real story. At a tripartite forum held last year that sought to bring academe, industry, and government together to come to an agreement on how best to address the problem of the mismatch, many among us from industry were quite floored down by the scolding we got from a noted academic who accused industry of “dictating on academe” without considering pedagogical, social, cultural, even economic factors. The academic could have spared us the patronizing lecture if he kept an open mind and listened to where we were coming from, because clearly, we were not necessarily at opposite ends of an argument.

The current debate clearly needs to be situated within a wider context and requires a more enlightened and consultative approach. It is truly strange that while the main issue appears to be about language, we are forgetting that language is primarily a tool for communication. And on that aspect, we’re all failing. Dismally.