Wednesday, October 31, 2007

are you a meta-friend?

In the Oct. 29 issue of Time magazine, there’s an essay by Joel Stein entitled “You Are Not My Friend.”

It is a piece, written tongue-in-cheek, about how the Internet—in particular, social networking Web sites such as Friendster, Multiply, MySpace, and similar Web sites—are redefining the concepts of friendships and social relationships. It’s a topic that I have been meaning to write about for quite some time but never got around to doing until now. Since I have decided to take a break from anything political today in deference to readers who admonished me to write about something else other than the squabbles of our leaders, I have decided to follow Stein’s lead and write about the ways in which people are navigating the new and tricky pathways of intimacy and interpersonal connections.

Okay. Let’s begin with a confession. I hereby state for the record that I do have a Friendster account. I also have a Multiply account and before that, a Flicker account. When I created these accounts, they seemed like a good idea because most of my friends and students were into it.

There is a limit to how much social isolation one can suffer. When most everyone you care about has taken to announcing the state of his emotional entanglements (single, married, or it’s complicated) at Friendster rather than convening a caucus of shoulders to cry on; when most everyone has taken to sharing embarrassing pictures of your last drunken revelry at Multiply (making them readily available for “grabbing” by anyone), it’s definitely time to get out of the Stone Age and join the current version of a soiree.

And while we are at it, let me go all out and admit that I too have a yahoo messaging account, a yahoo mail account, and a hotmail account. These, on top of various e-mail and yahoo groups that serve as a broker house for all kinds of information; most of which I do not need. I would have taken a gmail account too but I balked at the rather elitist recruitment strategy of requiring a personal endorsement from a current account holder. Why bother when there are other free e-mail services available?

If it accounts for anything, I have drawn the line at getting a Flicker account or accepting invites to Hi5, Facebook, Faceparty, Twitter, or MySpace. I have also, so far, been successful in fending off invitations to check out Web sites that puts one in touch with high school classmates, or online directories of friends, or online dating sites. So far.

Go ahead and snicker all you want; God knows I also ask myself a number of times why I bother with these modern-day aggravations which, like those now obsolete virtual pets, demand attention and takes up so much cyberspace time. Trying to resist the temptation to check out these sites is a major test of one’s resolve and determination. It’s difficult because, darn it, people with obsessive-compulsive tendencies like me just aren’t wired to ignore these things.

You say no one is pointing a gun at my head compelling me to find out who has checked out my friendster account, added a new friend, left a message, posted a new picture, or answered yet another survey that is actually nothing but the current reincarnation of the slum book from our elementary days? I tell you why. Because these sites have built in mechanisms to remind, cajole, wheedle, and nag you into doing so.

Friendship has indeed become so demanding. What Stein calls meta-friends (to differentiate them from the friends we actually know in person) send smiles, rate your pictures, post bulletins and shout-outs, and do many other things that pop up on your e-mail account in the form of reminders or updates as if the fact that someone has given you a virtual hug is a matter of life and death.

I log in to cyberspace with the intent to simply check e-mails. But since computers and multi-tasking have become practically synonymous, I inevitably find myself logging on to Friendster, Multiply, and eventually, Yahoo Messenger as well, purportedly just to while away the time waiting for a file to download.

Before I know it, the minutes extend to an hour as I get lost in the minutiae of my meta-friends’ lives. Browsing leads to chatting. And the hour extends to hours.

When people discover that I have Friendster and Multiply accounts, the reactions vary. There are those who look at me with ill-disguised condescension. These are people who think having meta-friends is juvenile. On the other hand, there are people who think that my having these accounts elevate me to the level of being “cool,” whatever that means.

Friend-based Web sites do offer distinct advantages. Obviously, the opportunity to connect and become part of your friends’—and that of their extended networks of friends—loop comes up on top of the list. Of course, it is embarrassing that one is able to interact with these people on a more regular basis than one does with a sibling or a long-time friend who lives next door. It is a sad reflection of the nature of this new type of social interaction that we now know more about our meta-friends than we actually do our real friends.

But there’s more. The basic component of friend-based Web sites is messaging service. By just clicking on their avatars, one can immediately send a message—or if one so chooses, a simple emotion to convey a smile, a grin, or a hug. No more inputting addresses. In fact, one does not even have to send a message. One can simply update one’s account and the change is announced to all of one’s friends.

One get free reminders when someone’s birthday comes up. This is a major help for people like me who tend to forget even his mom’s birthday. It has also become helpful in tracking the whereabouts of my students (80 percent of my friends in Friendster are former students). Thanks to Friendster, I know exactly where in the world a favorite student from six years ago is at the moment, or who is currently nursing a broken heart, or pining for someone new.

Perhaps because most cellular phones are now equipped with cameras, people can take pictures anytime anywhere and the results of these efforts are easily gleaned in the pictures that they post in their accounts. Some are inspired works of art; others simply reinforce the cliché that there is truly no accounting for taste.

There are downsides to it, of course. Unfortunately, being part of these social networks is probably the cyber version of being in a single’s bar. You get the cyber equivalent of being hit on by complete and total strangers with requests to be added on as a “friend.”

Friend-based Web sites have clearly redefined constructs of social space and privacy. For a while there, I actually balked at the kind and amount of information people share out there. Now I have become immune and tend to look at the unabashed baring of one’s self as simply another kind of advertising.

As Tevye, the lead character in “Fiddle On The Roof” said, “It’s a new world out there, a new world!” Excuse me, I need to return a cyber hug.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Agreeing to disagree

There is very little else that can be said about the executive clemency granted to Former President Joseph Estrada that hasn’t already been said by everyone else who had an access to media in the last three days.

Many people have already weighed in with their own opinions on the issue. Some have gone to great lengths condemning, lambasting, even demonizing (again) the decision to grant clemency and as can be expected, the people who had a hand in it including those who expressed support for it.

On the other hand, there are those who find occasion for jubilation and vindication in the granting of the executive clemency. These are the people who believe that setting Estrada free is long overdue. They also count among their rank arpeople who, under other circumstances, can be held up as fine specimens of nationalism, even intellectual probity.

Once again, we stumble into a contentious issue that has further polarized our already fractious state as a nation.

This is expected because in our country, we simply don’t disagree; we feel compelled to annihilate and demolish the other points of view as if our opinions are the only correct ones. We are not content with just expressing outrage, we want things to turn out the way we want them to, on our terms and our specifications.

Even the process in which the decision was arrived at has already been heavily chronicled.

Some accounts say the President agonized over the decision. Others claim the decision has been a foregone conclusion already evident from the time Estrada stepped down from Malacañang Palace six years ago, when offers to send him on exile were allegedly repeatedly made.

The real motivations behind the granting of the executive clemency have also been the subject of heavy theorizing and analyzing.

There are those who insist that the haste that attended the granting of the clemency is indicative of the desperation of this administration. It needs something—anything—to deflect attention from the series of scandals that have bedeviled it lately. Hence it pounced on the Estrada pardon in a reckless manner. On the other hand, there are those who believe that granting clemency at this time is the right thing to do, given the condition of Estrada’s ailing mother.

Whether the granting of the executive clemency was simply an act of political survival characteristic of the sorry lack of moral compunction of this administration or a noble gesture that tests the strength of our humanity—our capacity to see through our repulsion and our hatred— cannot be divined at this point when there is still too much static in the air.

There is no doubt that this administration is short in the area of moral ascendancy.

The litany of scandals and unethical actions has become simply unbelievably and incredulously too long for comfort. We have every right to be cynical and we can all be forgiven for giving way to generalizations. However, this should still not preclude our ability to examine certain issues and acts within the specific context that surrounds them, particularly those that involve a man’s right to begin a new life.

I have always been vocal about how where I stand insofar as Joseph Estrada is concerned. Like many others, I continue to be bothered by the absence of remorse or the continuing disdainful and contemptuous attitude being displayed by the former President and his family and friends. Like I said before, I have no love lost for the Estradas of this world.

I believe Joseph Estrada should be in jail. Or at least until he shows remorse and asks for forgiveness. I must admit that there is a part of me that wants to forgive.

The guy is 70 years old and I know I will get some flak for saying this, but he is also a product of our collective mistakes. To a large extent, the Joseph Estrada myth and icon is our creation. He rose to power despite dubious competence on the wings of empty promises and rhetoric that the common people found inspiring precisely because of the large-scale inequities in our society.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that he is a victim of circumstance because he definitely is not; he had more choices than the average person. There is some basis for empathy towards the man.

I also know that there are many others presumably older that Estrada and who are probably guilty of lesser crimes and they are spending the last years of their lives behind bars crying for the same consideration and compassion. But that is exactly the point. They also deserve the break. And if it cannot be done for someone powerful and influential like Estrada, what chance does an ordinary nameless and faceless aging inmate in Bilibid have?

We are a people that love to trundle out interpretations of how democracy should work. And yet, it strikes me that very often we tend to gloss over one very basic principle about democracy. It is a system that stands and thrives on a healthy respect for diversity and divergence of opinions.

We can debate and disagree. We can nitpick and hairsplit as much as we want. But no one has an exclusive franchise to what is right, and by extension, to what is moral. These are concepts that I think are still largely contextual in nature. And yes, these are my opinions and you have every right to disagree.

Which is not to say of course that we should not take things beyond the confines of healthy discourse. There are other valid and legal avenues and alternatives available for those who wish to push the envelope further, for those who wish to take their advocacies and their fight to a higher level. Democracy allows a number of valid and legal options and alternatives.

But in the meantime, I think that we can do away with the threats and the provocation of social unrest. We can definitely do away with the exhortation to government officials to indulge in massive thievery and corruption just because Estrada has been pardoned. We can do away with the rabble rousing and the demagoguery.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sifting through the debris

This is my column today.

An explosion rocked Glorietta 2 five days ago, killing at least 11 people and injuring more than a hundred. The explosion was so powerful it tore off a whole section of the complex, creating a gaping hole from the basement up to the roof of the multi-story structure. The explosion blasted to smithereens practically everything along its path.

As a result, the Philippine stock market took a nosedive, the Philippine peso faltered, and in general, business activity slowed down.

Obviously, a tragic incident such as the Glorietta explosion deserves answers and a resolution. Not only because lives and property were lost, but more because such tragedies cannot be allowed to happen again.

It is important that we find out what caused the explosion. Was it a bomb or an accidental leak? If it was a bomb, we need to pinpoint the perpetrators of the dastardly act and make them pay. If it was an accidental leak, and we know there is nothing in this world that is accidental, then we need to find out what happened exactly so that we can all learn from the experience and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Of course, we also need to make the people behind the accident accountable.

And hopefully we do all these in the most sober and professional manner without the screaming, the swaggering, the grandstanding, and the mudslinging.

It’s been five days and so far, there have been no concrete leads although a billion theories have already been floated. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t expect the incident to be solved within five days. Heck, I don’t think it is going to be solved anytime soon.

My reservations have nothing to do with the competence of our investigators. I am sure we have very competent people in the National Bureau of Investigation or in the other agencies that are responsible for ferreting out the truth in cases like this. My reservations are borne out of the fact that there are just too many people interfering in the investigation and getting in the way of efforts to solve the case. Practically everybody has weighed in with his or her own take on who did it and, strangely, even why it was supposedly done. There are now turf issues involved, allegations of attempts to plant evidence, even vigils for justice for the victims.

It begs the question: Why do we bother with these investigations if people are already certain about what it was, who did it, and why? Barely have the debris and the dust from the explosion settled and already a number of our leaders were already scrambling all over themselves to be the first to have something—anything—to say about the matter that would land them in the public consciousness.

There is now a Tower of Babel where Glorietta 2 used to be. Everyone else has gotten into the act offering his own analyses and counter analyses. Accusations and counter accusations are flying left and right. As usual, we have turned a tragedy into a large-scale debate, an occasion for mudslinging.

As a result, many people have already started to tune off from the discussion. And it is difficult to blame them. Of course, they get castigated for their supposed apathy and their failure to get roused up by all these attempts to link everything that happens in this country as part of one grand evil design. It is really very interesting; but there’s a limit to how much nagging one can take.

There’s a limit to how much discourse one is willing to participate in especially when the discourse begins to take on the form of a homily.

So in case you’ve shut off early on, here are some of the things about the incident that you may have missed.

Within a few hours, Senator Antonio Trillanes was quick on the draw. He directly accused the government of being behind the explosion, which he categorically said was a bomb. I am aware that Trillanes has the expertise in so far as putting bombs in Glorietta is concerned. He tried it before so he should know what he is talking about. But for crying out loud, he is now a senator, not a renegade military officer. Making accusations without offering proof is not only irresponsible, as others have already pointed out, but it smacks of immaturity and short-sightedness.

The other senators would not dream of being upstaged, of course. More senators joined the fray basically parroting the clichés and platitudes about how their hearts bled for the victims, blah blah blah. Senator Panfilo Lacson asked for the resignation of National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales and later on offered his own “theory.”

Thereupon, another senator, this time Senator Gringo Honasan, joined the fray and chided Lacson and Trillanes for jumping the gun.

Honasan urged his two other mistahs not to mix “speculation with politics.” He asked that government authorities “be allowed the time to do their jobs before anyone makes hasty judgments and conclusions.” Honasan asked people to respect our authorities. He is right of course, except that, well, who in this country doesn’t know of Senator Honasan’s previous capers that indicate wanton disrespect for authorities?

There is this ongoing turf issue between Ayala Land, which owns Glorietta 2, the military authorities, and the City of Makati. To complicate things, “observers” from the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Australian Federal Police are also on site. Because Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay is in Japan attending a scouting event, Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado and Councilor Erwin Binay are jostling for media attention. Of course, everyone wants to project that they are all working as a team, but sources say otherwise.

Not to be outdone, barangay officials from San Lorenzo Village threw a wrench into the discussion by coming up with their own interpretation of things focusing on how barangay tanods reacted faster than the military and then segued into how barangay tanods should be given better equipment to deal with similar crises.

The confusion over whether or not RDX, a component used in high explosives including C4, was found on the blast site continued to be a source of wonder and heated discussion. It turns out the US experts did not find any traces of RDX in the samples they found from the site after all. Why was this information going around and given prominence in media?

As the investigation began to veer away from the “bomb theory,” professors from the chemical engineering department of the University of the Philippines got into the act by debunking the methane-and-diesel-caused-the-explosion theory. The professors were never at ground zero, nor did they have access to the evidence, but they were absolutely convinced of their conclusion, based on academic theory of course.

The Muslim community is up in arms over fears of a witch-hunt directed at their communities once again. It turns out the Rajah Solaiman group, which earlier claimed responsibility for the explosion is already inactive and does not have the means to carry out any bombing.

In the meantime, certain political groups are milking every bit of this tragedy. One group has been conducting vigils near the explosion site supposedly to demand justice for the victims. Their banners and placards, however, expressed the usual political slogans.

With what our investigators have to put up with, it is a wonder they haven’t given up on the task yet.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The "balato" mentality

(This is my column today)

Someone finally won the pot money of P2 million at last Saturday’s episode of “One versus One Hundred.” In case you have been living under a rock, One versus One Hundred is ABS-CBN’s latest game show. It pits a contestant (so far, all celebrities) against a “mob” of 100.

I caught the tail end of the show last Saturday while surfing television channels and got glued to the show because of two things.

First, because it is always interesting to watch someone win in a game show where millions are at stake. The penultimate question (the location of the Philippines in relation to the equator) was, at least as far as I am concerned, a giveaway. When the contestant keyed in his answer, I knew he was going to win. As we all know, our TV stations have this habit of milking every ounce of drama it could every single time someone wins a major prize in their game shows.

The second reason I was glued to the television set was because of the reaction of the 100 kids that comprised last Saturday’s “mob.” When the contestant won, the kids began chanting “Ba-la-to!” The chanting, which lasted all throughout the last few minutes of the show, almost drowned out the chatter between the host (Edu Manzano) and the winner.

What made the incident even more disturbing was that the kids on that episode of the show were supposedly comprised of some of the “brightest” hope of this country—some were scholars, young chess masters, etc.

I am sure that there are people out there who will insist that there is nothing unusual about asking for “balato” probably insisting on the literal meaning of the word, which is “a share of the winnings.” I am neither a sociologist nor an anthropologist, so I will not attempt a discourse on the many permutations of the concept.

However, I don’t think people can deny that balato does have negative implications. Very often, a balato can refer to a share of the booty, of the take on something illegal. Many people use the concept interchangeably with the word “commission” the other word that has acquired a negative connotation as well. We may recall that the whole stink around the national broadband network deal started off with allegations of bribery, euphemistically called “commission.”

Kids demanding balato on public television as if it is the most natural thing in the world is a deeply disturbing sight. Need we ask where they got the idea that asking for a share of the loot is a normal thing?

***

Speaker Jose de Venecia says he now wants to spend the last years of his life building his legacy to the Filipino people.

All throughout his various TV appearances last week, he kept on referring to a letter that he said he had been writing in the last few days. On Manolo Quezon’s “The Explainer” on ANC, he brandished a one-page draft. That was Tuesday. A few days later, that letter had grown to four pages. It’s a letter that he says he wants to personally hand over to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo this week.

It remains to be seen what exactly that letter contains, but based on De Venecia’s pronouncements on television, it would focus on the imperative of addressing the widespread corruption in government today. It’s a letter that supposedly contains an aging man’s dreams and aspirations for his country.

The speaker is 70 years old. He is the longest-serving speaker of the House of Representatives. He could have been president of this country had it not been for the fact that someone more popular and more in touch with the common man was also running for the post in that particular election. He lost to Joseph Estrada, the actor. His running mate, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, however, won the vice presidency. Estrada would eventually get booted out of office, tried, and convicted for plunder. And as fate would have it, De Venecia’s running mate became President.

For quite sometime, De Venecia’s political fortunes were in limbo. But he eventually bounced back from the pits and reclaimed his seat as speaker of the House of Representatives, proof of the man’s resilience and tenacity as a political animal.

This is a man who has fought many battles; a man who speaks with the wisdom of not only the aged, but of someone who has been a constant fixture in the political scene in the last four or five decades.

In another time and place, when someone of De Venecia’s stature and experience speaks of moral regeneration and of the urgency of reclaiming the country’s pride and honor, we should be compelled to sit up and listen.

Sadly, this does not seem to be the case today. It has become difficult to empathize with the man. Not only because in all his TV appearances last week the speaker came across as a forlorn figure, of someone betrayed and on the brink of defeat. There was no fire in his eyes and his rhetoric lacked conviction.

This is sad because what De Venecia is saying is true. This country needs moral regeneration. But corruption has not only become systemic and widespread, brazen and so unspeakably scandalous. We also know theoretical solutions and intellectual discussions won’t be enough. What we need are drastic and more effective courses of action.

It is difficult to empathize with De Venecia and his cause because despite the grand pronouncements, it is clear that the man is simply fighting for political survival.

This is evident in the way De Venecia continues to hem and haw about where his political loyalties now reside. Despite thinly veiled threats about possible courses of actions that he might take if the current dispensation continues to marginalize him, we know that his main motivation is self-preservation. He wants to retire as speaker and this is only possible if he plays his cards right. It’s a political zarzuela.

De Venecia is saying all the right things but unfortunately fails to buttress his rhetoric with the necessary actions indicative of moral courage. Thus, we can be forgiven for not trusting him at this point.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Political patronage

(This was my column yesterday, October 17)

The congressmen, governors, and other local executives who made a beeline to Malacañang last week could not agree on what it was. Nor could they come to an agreement on what it was for.

The very few who still take seriously the sanctity of their oath of office admitted receiving the money. Many others spoke to the media under various pretenses and conditions, some refused to be named or didn’t want their pretty faces recorded on camera; others hemmed and hawed and in general made fools of themselves trying to obfuscate the issue instead of simply confirming or denying the payola.

Most of the more than 190 congressmen and the rest of the governors simply disappeared from media’s radar and have since then been making a good impression of the proverbial three monkeys who saw nothing, heard nothing, and therefore spoke nothing.

So was it a bribe or an allowance?

Actually, it really doesn’t make a difference either way since both could mean the same thing. But since our political leaders have spent gargantuan efforts trying to make the distinction, we are tempted to indulge them.

Was it meant to buy their support at a time when a new impeachment process is being pursued against the President? Or was it simply spending money meant to cover expenses for the barangay elections?

Perhaps it was the Palace’s way of reminding our local executives in a not-so-subtle way just what exactly they stand to lose, or conversely, what they stand to gain if they continue to be loyal to the President? Or do we buy this yarn about how the money was meant as a bonus and therefore did not come with strings attached?

Our leaders may not come to an agreement about what it was or what it was for, but is not disputed anymore is that money did change hands. Lots and lots of money! And as trite as this may sound, we all know that money is the root of all evil; particularly money that comes from questionable sources and intended for dubious purposes.

Even if the timing of the whole thing stank to high heavens and hands were practically caught inside the cookie jar, Malacañang initially went into full denial mode. Someone even went berserk trying to project this holier-than-thou demeanor, as usual blaming everyone else for the supposed smear campaign against the President and her administration. As usual, it is everyone else that is at fault.

Unfortunately for them, the details of the payola have remained consistent and are quite difficult to obfuscate. The money came in bundles of crisp 1,000 peso bills, stuffed into a brown paper bag (how very clandestine indeed). Pampanga’s priest-governor, Among Ed Panlilio, even brandished to the media the exact bundle he received—all P500,000 in cold cash. Even worse, Panlilio is someone who remains credible even if he did eventually accept the money and meant to put it to good use.

That’s half a million pesos, distributed freely without vouchers or other obvious means of control or documentation, to each of the people present in that meeting. And just as a gift—no strings attached—to be spent as the lawmaker or local government executive pleases. It is entirely possible that despite my professional background as a banker, my standards in gift-giving remain dismally low, but surely, no one distributes that kind of money without strings attached.

A third question has just been added into the whole mess. Where did that all that money come from? The scuttlebutt is that at least P200 million in cold cash, all contained in supposedly nondescript brown bags, were being passed around in that place on that fateful day.

It appears now that the cash bonanza that happened last week was not unusual after all. At least not when our legislators and local executives are concerned. A number of our congressmen and even some Cabinet secretaries practically admitted that the practice of distributing cash gifts has been going on for quite sometime now.

One congressman admitted on public television that it has become customary for the speaker of the House or the President to give congressmen cash gifts before a recess or during occasions such as elections and Christmas.

The justification is that our congressmen need to have baon for their visitation to their respective districts. In other words, the munificence is trickled down and our congressmen and governors do their own versions of the cash bonanza at Malacañang last week. I guess this is what they referred to as “putting the money to good use,” or “sharing the money with our constituents.”

These things do happen. This kind of political patronage is deeply imbedded in our political system and no amount of riling about it can stop the practice unless we strike at the roots of the problem. So aside from the opportunity it gives to certain politicians to lengthen their media exposures, the current hullabaloo only serves limited purposes.

At most, it will make our politicians become more discreet next time around. Chances are, it will drive the practice underground—or to be more apt, under the table. But the practice will continue because it is the currency that drives our political system. Our congressmen and governors need to give mayors cash gifts when they meet them during their sorties. Mayors need to share the booty with their barangay captains who in turn need to be generous to their kagawads and the tanods, who in turn…

I am not talking yet about the kind of generosity our politicians are expected to display when they are asked to stand as sponsors to weddings, baptisms, confirmations of various relatives, acquaintances and constituents. When they attend a fiesta, get invited to judge a Miss Gay Universe contest, or inaugurate a water pump in some neighborhood, they are also expected to donate money or projects. And then there are the long lines outside their official residences— people needing medicines, transportation tickets, etc.

The salaries of our congressmen, governors, and mayors cannot cover all these representation expenses. They have to rely on political largesse and the President and her cohorts who are in deep trouble again because of this administration’s intrinsic corruptness are just too happy to throw money at them. No wonder most of them dropped everything to troop to the Palace last week.

I am not saying that what happened last week was justifiable. I am not saying we should condone it. All I am saying is that there is context around it. This culture of political patronage has been around for quite some time and will continue to be around for as long as voters continue to hound their elected leaders for all kinds of assistance.

What made what happened last week galling was the brazenness and shamelessness of it all. In short, bastusan at garapalan na talaga.

Monday, October 15, 2007

In the middle of nowhere

My initial reaction when the explanation was offered to me was open-mouthed wonder and amazement. Eventually, incredulity led to amusement, and finally, hilarity. It is truly one for the books. The kind of story that makes you shake your head and exclaim “Only in the Philippines!”
I am talking about the reason for the swank and brand new P4.3 billion Bacolod Silay Airport’s not being opened to the public yet despite the fact that construction of the airport has already been completed early this year.

What’s more, the airport has already been inaugurated a couple of months back by no less than the President of the Republic who has, expectedly, been more than eager to trumpet the new facility as one more proof of this administration’s much-vaunted accomplishments.
I even remember reading about the inauguration and watching the event on the late night news. It was heavily played up courtesy of the political intramurals— in plain and simple talk, elected officials jostled for media attention—that marred the event.

I was only in Bacolod for a day last Saturday to consult with Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation, one of the largest and most successful non-government organizations in the country doing micro-finance work for the poor. Hence I did not have the time nor the opportunity to see the wonders of this new airport that supposedly met international standards, up close.

I did get a brief but panoramic view of the structure from the window of the Philippine Airlines plane I was riding in which hovered over the place as it prepared to land at the old Bacolod airport. I was made to understand that the new airport was not really along the flight path from Manila to Bacolod, but most planes nevertheless took the short detour as a sort of practice for the pilots who would eventually have to use the runway of the new airport. Eventually, that is, when the new airport is finally opened to the general public.

Why isn’t this new and much-awaited airport open and operational yet? I’ll get to the ironic, almost idiotic reason in a short while. But bear with a litter digression please.

Those who have flown to Bacolod are familiar with the hair-raising experience that accompanies each time the plane one is riding on lands in the short runway (900 meters long) that has gained some measure of fame for Bacolod. It’s a totally exhilarating albeit horrendous experience as one literally feels the whole might and power of the plane’s pneumatic brakes as it hurtles and then abruptly screeches to a halt. One is physically propelled forward, holding on to the seats for deal life. It’s a crash course on physics as one gets to experience the interplay of force, momentum, energy, etc.

My friends who are residents of this city have all learned to take the experience in stride. True to the inimitable Pinoy spirit that sees the light side of every adversity, they have turned the whole thing into a joke: “When a plane lands in Bacolod, all passengers help in stepping on the brakes!”

It’s a really short runway. I come from Tacloban City, which unfortunately is another city that competes for the distinction of having the shortest runway in the world, so I am quite familiar with the aggravation of having your life flash before your eyes each time your plane lands on our runways. I’ve also been to Cagayan de Oro City several times, another city with yet another short runway.

Yes, we have so many of these airports in our country with runways designed by people who clearly lacked foresight; people with little faith in man’s ability to design bigger and more powerful planes. Sadly, the absence of foresight is not limited to people who lived several decades ago. It’s a malady that continues to haunt us to this day.

If there is a contest as to which city has the shortest runway, Bacolod probably wins it hands down. Although, thankfully, there has not been an accident in recent years, at least two planes have already overshot the runway in the last two decades. That’s how short it is. One plane overshot the runway, crossed a stream, and leveled several houses before crashing right smack into a bar as if the pilot could not wait anymore for a beer.

Obviously then, building a new airport for Bacolod City is a necessity. They did build a new and modern airport at Silay City, 30 minutes away from Bacolod. It goes without saying that airport facilities are the first things that travelers to any city lay their eyes on.

Believe me, it makes a lasting impression.

So here is the punch line then, the twist in this story. The new Bacolod Silay Airport, although it has been fully completed and ready for use since early this year, cannot be operational yet because, believe it or not, the diversion roads leading to the airport are still to be completed. Apparently, building alternative roads leading to the new airport was an afterthought, an idea that struck our leaders belatedly. It will take a couple of months more before the roads are finally built since some lands have still to be bought.

The official yarn of course is that they are building an extension of the current runway, which is already almost twice as long as the runway of the old airport.

One can conjure in one’s mind the funny scenario. Leaders gloating and getting drunk on a self-congratulatory mood and even squabbling over who takes the credit for this wondrous and marvelous new facility until someone points out the obvious question—pray tell, how will this facility be of any use to us if we can’t get to it? Surely, they did not expect people to have powers of apparition or teleportation!

There are other interesting sidebars to this main story. A friend narrated that there was actually a serviceable road leading to this new airport today, but this is an old road that is congested and passes through two cemeteries. I am not superstitious either, but having to pass two cemeteries and being stuck in funeral processions along a 30-minute journey is a bit disconcerting, I agree.

Another side story has to do with the name of the new airport—Bacolod Silay. It begs the question, how can an airport be in two cities 20 km apart?

But the more important question is: Didn’t anyone have foresight, enough to actually recognize that an airport needs to have viable roads leading to it?

My friends in Bacolod joke that by the time their new airport is finally opened, it won’t be brand new anymore. It will probably be time to build a new one. This reminds me of another long running joke about Terminal-3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport—that huge expensive structure that’s just sitting there in Pasay City, gathering dust and getting corroded. The good news, they say, is that we finally have a new airport that is comparable to the best in the world. The bad news is that it can’t be operational in our lifetime.

Fortunately, we Filipinos can still find amusement in misfortunes brought about by the lack of foresight of our leaders. But then again, that’s also probably one trait that we need to seriously reconsider. If we come to think about it, it’s not really funny.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Street food

While driving home from work one night last week, I came across a somewhat unusual but welcome sight on Bautista Street in Makati.

On the sidewalk was a well-lit makeshift food stall selling Thai noodles that were steaming in a big vat. Beside the stall were a monobloc table and some chairs. The food stall had a Thai name and offered standard Thai fare—noodles, some meat, and vegetables. Yes, very reminiscent of Thailand at nighttime, if you have been there.

Is street food Thailand style invading the country? I hope so. I really hope so.

The Thai food stall on Bautista was clearly put up only at nighttime since I don’t remember seeing it during daytime when I would pass by the area on my way to work. Because the food stall was well lighted and food was prepared in front of the customers, one could witness the sanitary precautions used in preparing the simple meal. Obviously, whoever is behind that particular food stall must be Thai or at least someone who has spent considerable time in Thailand.

Those who have been to Thailand know that makeshift food stalls are a very common sight in that country. In fact, street food is common fare in Thailand. Very few Thais cook dinner in their households and prefer to eat or buy food from street food vendors.

I have a number of Thai friends and I have been to Thailand a number of times, but I still have to eat dinner cooked by my Thai friends in their own homes. It is possible that I simply have friends who are too lazy or just spoiled rotten, but I have been told it’s just not practical to cook food in Thailand, or at least not in the highly urbanized cities of Bangkok and Chiang Mai where I’ve spent considerable time.

The two or three times I did get to visit friends in their homes in Thailand, I was also served food that was also obviously bought off the street. Even the fruits I was served were bought off the street, already peeled and sliced.

There’s rhyme and reason why Thais prefer to eat or buy food from street vendors. It is really more practical.

First of all, the food is nutritious. No, they don’t have any of the suspicious-looking and cardiac arrest-inducing stuff floating in vats of liquid that is being passed off as cooking oil which we have come to associate with street food in the Philippines.

Food stalls in Thailand usually offer variations of the same fare: noodles dipped in a steaming vat of broth (usually chicken stock), slices of some meat (usually duck or chicken), topped with fresh vegetables and herbs. Some stalls offer fresh seafood, and these are truly fresh and are laid on ice. Others offer all kinds of processed food such as squid or fish balls, but these are also generally boiled and mixed with the broth rather than fried, which is the common way they are served in our country.

Street food in Thailand is sanitary. These food stalls are usually put up only at night when there are less noxious gases and other toxic elements floating around. The preparation of the food is pretty much simple and reduces the possibility of dirt contamination. The vendor simply picks some noodles with tongs, dunks the noodles in the steaming chicken broth until done, puts these in a bowl, pours in some of the broth, tops the whole steaming serving with slices of meat, fresh vegetables, and herbs and presto, dinner is served.

If one so wishes, one eats using disposable chopsticks. Chopsticks and a soup spoon is really all that is necessary. And if one wishes to use a spoon and fork, one can ask the vendor to dip these into the steaming broth for sterilization purposes.

The flavors in Thai street food come from the fresh herbs and the broth, not from some sachet.
Because the stall is well lighted and the vendor prepares the food right there and then, one can also witness exactly how the food is prepared and can presumably raise a howl if the preparation does not meet one’s sanitary standards.

And of course, because the food is served “al fresco” which in this case, means literally in open air—to be specific, right on the street—the overhead cost is reduced significantly and the price of the food becomes affordable.

So I really hope that that particular Thai food stall on Bautista Street becomes a harbinger of sorts. I think nutritious, healthy, and reasonably priced street food is something that we should encourage instead of those carinderias that offer the same tired variations of cholesterol-laden foodstuff such as pares, crispy pata, and sisig. In fact, just a block away from that food stall in Bautista is a row of food stalls whose number keeps growing each day. These food stalls are patronized by taxi drivers and offer the usual greasy unhealthy stuff.

I hope this does not make me some kind of a snob, but really, it does strike me that eating street food in our country today is something that requires tremendous peer pressure, a major leap of faith, coupled probably with desperation and extreme hunger. I have problems eating street food in our country but I would sit down with nary a thought in front of a makeshift food stall in Bangkok and gobble down servings of street food.

We Filipinos like to eat. Our street food fare is interesting, exciting even. The whole buffet include adidas (chicken feet), rambo (curdled blood), IUD (chicken intestines), helmet (chicken head), tokneneng (quail egg), etc.

The question is, why can’t we make street food healthy or at the very least, clean?

I’m talking about those makeshift carinderias and jollijeeps (jeepneys transformed into mini-restaurants) where the buffet abounds with flies and where one is served food on plates inserted into flimsy plastic bags. One literally eats from plastic bags and saves the vendor from having to wash plates and utensils. When one is done, the vendor simply takes off the plastic bag from the plate, throws this into the trash bin, and reuses the plate by inserting it into another plastic bag.

I’m talking about corn or even peanuts that have been boiled using water sourced from questionable sources and hawked to the general populace. I once saw a street vendor scoop water out of a public fountain to use in boiling the corn he was peddling.

I’m talking about ice products such as ice scramble and ice shakes that are produced under the most unsanitary conditions possible.

Food is basic. We must make it clean and safe and healthy.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Cheering violence

A friend who was desperately —and I must add, unsuccessfully—trying to get everyone to come to a lunch party yesterday pretty much summed it up when in a fit of exasperation, she exclaimed: “This country has become crazy over a sport where one wins by deliberately injuring another.”

Almost everyone I know stayed home to watch the pambansang kamao battle it out with Marco Antonio Barrera yesterday. Pacquiao won, of course. I can’t imagine the kind of pressure that must have been weighing heavily on the poor guy. Somewhere along the way, Pacquiao’s fights have stopped being simply a boxing match—it has become a matter of national honor.

Yesterday’s papers were full of speculations about the state of Pacquiao’s readiness for the fight. His overall appearance during the weigh in was subjected to so much theorizing, some people began to worry about the fact that he looked gaunt and ghostly.

That’s all water under the bridge now as Pacquiao prevailed and won by unanimous decision.
There is no doubt about it. Pacquiao has made boxing very popular in the Philippines and has made most of us instant followers, if not fans, of the sport. As a result, boxing gyms have sprouted all over the country. I know a number of very young people who have taken up boxing as their sport of choice.

It is difficult to make an issue out of boxing as a sport at a time when we are all basking under the glow of Pacquiao’s latest triumph. Pacquiao won again, hurray!

But really, do we want to encourage boxing as a sport in our country? Put another way, is boxing something that we want our children to take up as a sport?

Don’t get me wrong. As a firm believer of the multiple intelligence theory, I do believe that boxing in general is an activity that requires a lot of talent and competencies. I have very high respect for boxers and athletes in general. It is important to point this out because a lot of people still cling to this belief that sports (yes, including boxing) does not require thinking skills; that these are activities that people lacking in intelligence go into.

Many academics and behavior experts have already submitted proof that sports require a high level of intelligence. Gardner calls this kinesthetic intelligence. One noted expert has even gone to the extent of analyzing, for example, the kind of thinking skills that accompany each game that Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods plays.

So for the record, I do believe that boxing requires more than just physical strength, grit and gumption. It is a sport that requires analysis and mind-body coordination. Boxers do not just go into the ring, exchange blows and pummel the hell out of each other for the sake of proving physical superiority.

I am also convinced that boxing is a great form of exercise. There is no doubt that all that running around, trashing, and pummeling are great ways to work out a sweat and shed extra poundage.

My reservations about boxing is that all the science and safety regulations that has gone into professionalizing the sport does not take negate one basic fact: It is a sport that is built on one of the most inhuman intent of all—the intent to hurt another person.

Oh sure, people also get hurt in other sports. The casualties in other sports such as rugby or even basketball probably outnumber those in boxing, mainly because these sports require more players, are held more often and are probably more popular. But it all boils down to intent. These sports do not pit athletes against each other for the purpose of physically demolishing or annihilating each other.

Boxing is one sport that makes violence and physical aggression look cool; perhaps even glamorous and financially rewarding. Pray tell, how can hitting someone else and reducing him to a bloody pulp qualify as a competitive sport in a supposedly civilized world?

A number of medical associations such as British Medical Association have been calling for the total banning of the sport. These doctors oppose boxing because of the serious damage the sport brings to the boxers. One Filipino boxer recently lost his life in Thailand after a boxing match. At least 10 boxers die due to boxing-related injuries every year.

Boxers became rich and famous and bring honor to a country for hitting and hurting other people. Is this the message that we want our children to get?

We rile against wrestling. We rant against hazing. We rage against violence.

But we bask in the glory of Manny Pacquiao’s successful bid to pummel Barrera into a bloody pulp. We cheered each blow Pacquiao sent into Barrera’s body. We screamed in jubilation when Pacquiao sent Barrera crashing against the ropes.
Something is wrong with this picture.

***

And just as Filipinos have become boxing fans by happenstance courtesy of the deflected glow of Pacquiao’s triumph in the ring, so have we become instant critics of the various ways in which the Philippine National Anthem can be performed. Because boxing matches begin with the singing of the national anthems of the countries where the boxers come from, intense attention has been focused on who gets to sing “Lupang Hinirang” in Pacquiao’s matches.

This honor has been bestowed on local celebrities or singers. It has been reported that singer Kyla, who sang the national anthem at yesterday’s match, was Pacquiao’s personal choice. Other celebrities who have sung the national anthem in Pacquiao’s matches in the past include Lani Misalucha, Geneva Cruz and Sarah Geronimo. All three singers’ renditions of the national anthem were heavily panned by critics because they deviated from the prescribed manner in which Lupang Hinirang was supposed to be sung.

It is a little exasperating that something so basic as how the national anthem should be sung is still a subject of a contentious debate. For crying out loud, it is our national anthem, we are supposed to know how it is supposed to be sung. Of course there is a standard way in which the national anthem should be sung.

Misalucha, Cruz and Geronimo (and even that other singer whose name escapes me at the moment and who unfortunately sang the last note of the national anthem off key) interpreted the national anthem their way, i.e., they put in their personal touches to the anthem. There’s a better and more proactive way to address this problem rather than simply going into an uproar after the performance. There is no need to file bills, take out ads in the papers, or even accuse people of being unpatriotic.

The singer may be the person onstage, but he or she is not the sole person responsible for the performance. The television network sponsoring the performance, the managers, the coaches, and the singer should be mentored on the right way to sing the national anthem. It’s as simple as that.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Theatre of the absurd

Let’s just assume, for the sake of argument, that former National Economic and Development Authority director general Romulo Neri did squeal on his boss, the President of the Republic of the Philippines, during the Senate hearing last week. Let’s imagine the worst-, or, paradoxically, the best-case scenario, depending on where one stands in this whole scheme of things. Let’s presume that Neri did say that the President is involved in the anomalous national broadband network deal.

Of course, in reality, the President may or may not be involved. We don’t really know and now that Neri has clammed up, we won’t know for sure unless someone else comes out with another damning testimony. But unlike others who have been quick to jump on Neri, I refuse to pin the blame on the former Neda chief alone for the bungled opportunity.

There was just no way that that particular hearing could have been productive. Not even despite the fact that at least 18 senators—practically the whole Senate!—took turns grilling then Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos, Neri, Jose de Venecia III, Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza and other government officials.

The simple fact was that the witnesses, particularly Neri, did not get 18 independent and incisive cross-examinations. What they got was 17 repetitions of the same questions, asked in a variety of ways and in as many emotional subtexts as possible.

The simple fact was that except in the case of two or three senators, the rest obviously came to that hearing completely unprepared and seemed intent on simply groping their way around until they stumbled on something. The hearing meandered along aimlessly.

What was more infuriating was that if only the senators listened while other senators were asking questions and paid attention to the answers of the witnesses, they could have built on each other’s questions and did not have to repeat the same line of questioning, or cover aspects of the deal that had already been discussed by other senators.

Thus, if Neri did squeal on the President and let loose a whole can of worms, here’s what I reckoned would have happened. Except for the first exchange, what follows is fictional meant to illustrate just how inept, childish, selfish, and disorganized our senators can be.

Senator 1: So you were offered P200 million as bribe. Did you discuss the bribe with the President?

Neri: I did. I told the President.

Senator 1: (Visibly elated, while other senators immediately wake up and begin to tune in to the discussion). So, what did the President tell you to do?

Neri: She told me to forget about the bribe.

Senator 1: (Grandstanding) Did the President follow it up?

Neri: Yes. We had several discussions concerning ZTE-NBN with the President.

Senator 1: (Looking really pleased with himself) So the President had full knowledge about the deal and was aware that bribes were being offered all around and yet did not do anything to stop the deal?

Senator 2: (Interrupting) Mr. Chairman, I think that this witness is not in a position to provide information on the President’s actions since he is not with the President 24/7.

Senator 1: (Taking offense) Mr. Chairman, I still have the floor. I think that the testimony of the witness should first be heard. We have to remember that Secretary Neri is a respected technocrat, Cabinet secretary, a person of integrity and is a responsible person, blah, blah, blah.

(Other senators join in the fray and the heated discussion goes on for two hours. Someone makes an observation about the admissibility of hearsay information; someone makes an appeal for sobriety and caution supposedly on behalf of the Filipino people. Finally, Neri is allowed to answer the question provided… and there’s another spirited discussion on the qualifying criterion until the qualifying criterion is lost in translation).

Neri: I had many conversations with the President about it so I can say that she was aware.

Senator 3: Mr. Neri, (dramatically) is -it-your-testimony—that-the-President, the highest official of this land, is guilty (bangs fist on table) of graft and corruption, perhaps plunder even, and knowingly abetted the consummation of an anomalous contract?

Neri: As I said, I had discussions with the President about the ZTE-NBN deal insofar as areas that had to do with Neda’s involvement in the deal. I am not privy to the other aspects of the deal.

Senator 4: Mr. Chairman, we are dealing here with inchoate conclusions and character assassination. I would like to state for the record that I resent being made a party to this charade. It is a shame that we have degenerated to such abysmally low levels (walks out).

Senator 3: Mr. Neri, is it your testimony that the President told you to favor ZTE rather than Amsterdam Holdings?

Neri: (Evasive) The President indicated that ZTE would be in a position to provide the requirements of the national broadband network.

Senator 5: Let me repeat for the record (playing to the gallery), is it your testimony that the President ordered that the multi-million dollar deal be awarded to ZTE despite the fact that it was an anomalous transaction?

Neri: Your honor, what I said was…

Senator 5: (Going for the kill) Mr. Neri, we remind you that you are under oath and that you have come here to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So do you think that the President has committed plunder by knowingly…

Senator 6: (Interrupting) Your honor, I think this line of questioning is out of line. We are already making accusations…

(At which point, tempers flare again and another heated discussion ensues which lasts for another hour. It is now almost 8 p.m. and in the interest of time, senators agree to limit their questions to three minutes each).

Senator 7: (Begins with another tack) Mr. Neri, how old are you? At your age, do you think that we have solemn responsibility as elders of this nation to do what is morally right?

Senator 8: Mr. Neri, you said that (repeats his understanding of the testimony). So it is your opinion that the President is culpable of gross violations of her oath of office.

Neri: Your honor, my opinion is irrelevant. I am here to present facts.

Senator 9: Mr. Neri, did you not graduate from the University of the Philippines and therefore aware of your solemn responsibility as “iskolar ng bayan” to…

Senator 10: Mr. Neri, do you know a certain (name of person)? Are you aware that he received a text message this morning saying that if you incriminate the President, all the bones in your body will be broken?

Senator 11: Mr. Neri, are you aware of the relationship between the President and the First Gentleman? They share a common bedroom…

You get the drift.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Disappointing, futile, absurd

The biggest story last week was former National Economic Development Authority Secretary Romulo Neri’s appearance at the Senate investigation on the national broadband network deal.

Neri’s appearance was preceded by a lot of speculation and wild theorizing, all of which fed on each other to produce a state of heightened anticipation. The question that was foremost on people’s mind was: Will Neri implicate President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and provide damning testimony that would spell doom for this administration?

There were those who (citing supposedly very reliable sources, in this case, a friend of a friend of friend to whom Neri—again, supposedly— unburdened himself to) were certain that Neri would spill the beans on the President allegedly because Neri was sick and tired of having to compromise his principles under this administration. The theories that were circulating were replete with details such as dates, verbatim statements, etc., no wonder a number of people were already salivating and quivering at the prospects of being able to finally kick someone’s butt out of Malacañang.

And so despite my misgivings about the way our senators had conducted hearings in the past, I made it a point to follow the proceedings last Wednesday, precisely because I wanted to find out firsthand what kind of explosive information Neri would let loose. As I said, Neri had been depicted as this person of integrity who had had it with the shenanigans of this administration. Some people even showed up at the gate of his residence in Sta. Mesa to provide moral support on the eve of his appearance at the Senate. The scuttlebutt was that if the senators asked the right questions, he would sing like a lovelorn canary.

As we all know by now, Neri did not snitch on his boss and chose to invoke executive privilege. He claimed that conversations between Cabinet secretaries and the President of the Republic of the Philippines are privileged information.

What went wrong? Why the turnaround?

Some people immediately came up with theories to explain Neri’s supposed change of heart. He was supposed to have been threatened not only by people from Malacañang but also by very powerful friends of the administration. Some directly attacked him and called him a lot of names that ranged from “coward” to “spineless.”

I don’t quite agree with all the gobbledygook about how national security can be imperiled if government officials choose to squeal on the tomfoolery of their colleagues or their superiors. I happen to think that the people’s right to know, particularly about the culpability of our leaders on certain anomalous transactions, precedes other considerations.

The critical component, however, is that such revelations are made at the right forum and to individuals who know what to do with that kind of information.

As such, I fully empathize with Neri’s decision not to squeal on the President before a Senate hearing. If I were in Neri’s shoes, I wouldn’t do so as well. I think that the current Philippine Senate is simply incapable of being entrusted with information that has grave implications on the nation.

Last Wednesday’s hearing illustrated this fact clearly.

It was plainly obvious that that particular hearing did not have a clear purpose other than to fish out information. If Neri did squeal, I doubt if the Senate would have had a strategic action plan that would put Neri’s revelations to better use. I am sure that the senators would simply have taken turns trying to extract juicier, more lurid details, or correspondingly, attacking Neri’s credibility. It would have been a free-for-all melee. And after the bloodbath, Neri would have been left to fend for himself. This Senate has a sorry record both in terms of legislation and in their oversight function.

Let’s make a quick reality check: What has happened to all the other previous investigations of the Senate? Did anything come out of them? You know what the answers are. Zilch. Nada. Nothing.

***

We all know that a Senate hearing on any controversial issue in this country is potentially an explosive event of staggering proportions. Words fail to describe the spectacle. Some writers have described it as something akin to an orgy. Others have referred to it as a cross between a neighborhood brawl and an inquisition during the Middle Ages.

As a result, Senate hearings, such as the one last Wednesday, are riveting. They keep people glued to their television sets. People watch the whole proceedings with bated breath, eagerly anticipating the next tantrum, the next preposterous question, or the next shocking revelation. Senate hearings have become a sordid form of entertainment.

One wishes that given the inordinate media attention and the colossal amount of public money spent on these hearings, our senators would transform these events into lessons in civics. One wishes that these hearings were turned into a platform to educate people on the proper way to conduct a debate as a healthy form of discourse. One wishes that these hearings become truly productive and actually result in something more tangible other than inflating egos (the senators’) and assassinating reputations (usually the witnesses’ or those of the subjects of the investigation).

Unfortunately, the potential and opportunity are wasted because our senators have this proclivity to engage in a contest to determine who among them is the better bully. They turn these hearings into a pissing contest. They swagger around and pretend that they are prosecutors and high-profile lawyers cross-examining witnesses in a criminal trial.

Our senators don’t simply ask questions. They intimidate invited witnesses. They make insinuations. And when insinuations do not work, they make brazen accusations. They fish for information. They trundle out unverified text messages. They have no compunctions about mentioning names of private individuals. They make racist statements. They swagger around and make pompous statements that only complicate issues and draw in more people into the fray.

And when their energies are spent and their egos have already been fully inflated, they move on to the next investigation without even providing closure to the previous issue. The cycle goes on and on.

Last Wednesday’s Senate hearing was no exception. Boy oh boy, was that hearing a complete blast. Not even Neri’s disappointing testimony could diminish the impact of the event as the classic example of an expensive exercise in absurdity. My friends and I were in Cebu on that fateful Wednesday to attend the 44th Annual Conference of the People Management Association of the Philippines. Since the conference was scheduled to open at 3 p.m. yet, we decided to converge in one of the hotel rooms to watch the proceedings instead of joining a city tour.

As we watched the proceedings on television, we didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or to do both at the same time. There really is no need to shift to a parliamentary form of government to make the Senate obsolete. Our senators are already doing an excellent job of killing the institution on their own.