Monday, December 31, 2007

Hope amid despair

This is my column today.

A New Year begins tomorrow.

There is something about New Year’s Eve that tug at the proverbial heartstrings of our lives. It’s a bittersweet occasion as we take stock of everything that happened in the year that’s about to end, perhaps draw lessons from them, or at least celebrate—perhaps even mourn—all the big and little things that came to pass and brought us to the present.

And there were many things that happened in 2007 that we can or should draw lessons from. After all, the changing of the year is not just a bookmark of passing time. It’s an occasion for reflection and an opportunity to make resolutions. Theoretically, at least, since we know that keeping resolutions has become harder and harder each year for many among us, most especially our leaders who seem to be getting more and more inept and corrupt each year.

Allow me to wallow a little bit in sentimental drivel and express the same wistful observation that was verbalized by a number of my friends in the pre-New Year parties that I went to: Time flew fast, but boy, aren’t we glad 2007 is going to be over soon.

It seemed it was only last week when 2006 was drawing to a close and we were all looking forward to a better 2007, politically, economically, and perhaps, even in our own professional and personal lives. After all, 2006, lest we forget, was an even more heartbreaking year characterized by an impeachment drive that went really ugly and a coup d’etat that mercifully didn’t get through the gates of Fort Bonifacio.

We had high hopes for 2007. I personally expressed optimism that things would be better and different.

But we know that 2007 was not the banner year that we hoped—and wished— it was going to be. We were plagued by the same catastrophes of our own making. The year-that-was was another year of embarrassment; another annus horibilis, as we watched with mouths agape the many scandals that rocked our fragile democracy and the very messy ways in which we dealt with them.

We do know that the economy performed better in 2007, posting the highest growth rate since 1986. Of course, most of us did not feel the growth because it wasn’t spectacular regardless of what official drumbeaters say.

The Philippine stock market did perform better, although it could have done so much better if we didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot many times in 2007. The Philippine peso did quite well even if its rebound also hurt local exporters and overseas Filipino workers.

But even these pieces of good news have not been enough to salve the general pessimism that continues to hang in the air even in this season of goodwill and cheer.

First, because the gains are sadly not enough to keep pace with our neighboring countries who are rebounding faster. Let’s save ourselves the heartache by not making the obvious comparisons.

Second, because the gains are still not fueled by direct investments that are more sustainable. Even the robust growth in the business process outsourcing industry (such as call centers), while admittedly is something to crow about, remains tentative in the light of one very real stumbling block: We’re running out of the necessary talent required to prop the industry up. Obviously, the benefits being offered by the outsourcing industry is beyond the reach of ordinary people who simply don’t have the competencies required by the industry.

Third, and more importantly, economic growth is also a function of perception. It’s really difficult to be enthused by rosy economic figures when those figures are obliterated by other news stories that make one’s heart sink and send one’s blood pressure into the stratosphere.

To be fair, this administration did try to put in place a number of initiatives designed to sustain whatever little momentum was being induced by external forces. The efforts proved puny amidst the onslaught of scandals and the usual destructive politicking that have seemingly become normal occurrences in our country.

In the end, I believe that this administration’s best contribution to the task of buttressing the economy was simply its relative success in keeping itself in power, perpetuating the status quo, and providing a semblance of stability in the country. It has not been easy, but I am not sure the efforts deserve plaudits.

The ones who really deserve the commendation, in addition to migrant workers, are the men and women of the business community. I am not simply referring to the taipans and the owners of big business who provide the face to the community. I mean the whole business community and that includes the many entrepreneurs of small and medium enterprises, the laborers at the factories, and everyone else who make the wheels of the economy turn.

I racked my brains trying to recall positive stories that deserve special mention as we try to give closure to 2007. Aside from Manny Pacquiao’s triumphs in the boxing ring—and as I have written in the past I am ambivalent about the strategic value of these triumphs—and the dominance of the peso, there seemed very little else.

For this column, I tried to make a list of the top stories of 2007 based purely on top of mind recall, without doing any research. Unless we include the sordid but entertaining events in the lives of Ruffa and Kris, the other stories I came up with were all depressing.

My list: The Manila Peninsula caper of renegade Senator Antonio Trillanes, the ZTE scandal and the subsequent Senate hearings, the conviction and eventual pardon of former President Joseph Estrada, the midterm elections, the hazing-related death of UP student Cris Mendez, the suicide of 12-year-old Marianette Amper, the explosion at the Glorietta Mall, the bombing at the Batasang Pambansa which claimed the life of Rep. Wahab Akbar, and the road accident which claimed the life of former Social Welfare Secretary Dulce Saguisag.

I know. These are not exactly the kind of stories that warm the heart. What we had to contend with in 2007 gave new dimension to the expression “scraping the bottom.” But then again, we’re still here. We’re still able to insult our leaders and make jokes about them. We’ve survived 2007. Some people will scoff at these and consider them paltry dividends. Most Filipinos, however, will count their blessings and be grateful for them.

Tomorrow is another New Year. This is a cliché, but I will say it just the same. A New Year always brings with it the promise of new opportunities for redemption. Someone once said that everything that’s great in this world were accomplished by people who simply kept on trying even when there seemed to be no hope at all. Happy New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

An SMS Christmas to All!

This is my column today.

Academic integrity is a big deal at the college where I teach, which is what it should really be. An academic institution that turns a blind eye to plagiarism has no business conferring academic degrees and distributing diplomas.

This, of course, means hard—very, verrrry hard—work for professors, particularly thesis advisers who not only need to brush off on practically every empirical work produced on the subject of the theses one’s advisees are working on. Fortunately, there are all kinds of databases available nowadays. It makes the job more convenient, although still not easier. Kids today are just so much more creative and resourceful particularly when it comes to “improving” on others’ works.

My co-professors and I have turned to making jokes about the whole thing. One of our running jokes is that we know if the work is original if the grammar is awful and the whole thing just does not make sense regardless of the amount of deciphering one has already invested on it. When we encounter writing that’s simply beyond comprehension, we’ve turned to telling students, in an exasperated manner of course, “at least we know you wrote it yourselves because there is no way that a published work could mangle the English language in such wanton abandon.”

Gobbledygook, of course, is not a scientific or reliable measure of probity and originality, as we do know that this penchant, nay, obsession, for making the simple complicated is a widespread malady in present society. People do seem to have this profound respect for things they do not understand. Thus, there are people who deliberately write in very heavy style thinking that that is the mark of a thinking person.

Anyway. What got me thinking about plagiarism and heavy writing are the many Christmas greetings that have been going around and around, being passed off from one mobile phone to another. As I am writing this column at lunch time on Christmas day, my mobile phone is still buzzing intermittently as kith and kin continue to wish me every possible variation of the same message, which really boils down to the same thing: “Holiday Greetings!”

Don’t get me wrong please. Being the Grinch or a disciple of dear old Uncle Scrooge is the last thing that I want to be known for. To be fair, I do think that there’s no shame in being recognized as such considering that both characters did redeem themselves and provide valuable fodder for the much-needed reflection of the season.

But for the record, I do cherish the sincere greetings. To all those who sent SMS greetings, thank you very much. I wish you and your loved ones all the same things that you wished for my family and me.

I appreciate the effort people make in order to reach out and spread the Christmas cheer and whatever reflection, admonition, counsel, exhortation, or inspiration related to the season. I think that any effort to provide meaning to the celebration is most welcome. We do attach our own personal significance to Christmas and who can say which one is wiser, more profound, than the other? Oh sure, the telecom companies are making a killing and laughing all the way to the bank— but that’s another story altogether.

But who actually reads all those SMS messages all the way to the end?

Because most everyone today owns a mobile phone, sending and receiving SMS messages have become quite commonplace. This means that unless one is terminally anti-social, one is bound to receive as many of these SMS messages as the number of one’s friends, or at least as many as the service can accommodate. Which is not to say that these messages are taken for granted. No, no, that’s not my point.

To many among us, simply receiving the message is enough validation, inspiration or consolation. As Marshall Macluhan once said “the medium is the message.” Acknowledging the sender and the effort are more than enough, one does not have to read the whole message. So by all means, go ahead and keep on sending those greetings all the way to the New Year.

One even learns to take it in stride when one receives a Christmas greeting that is a duplication of the same message that’s already in your inbox from 81 other friends and relatives. One notices this because some of these SMS messages are truly—for lack of a more appropriate term—gems. Some take your breath away because of their profundity, others warm the heart by their mushiness and unabashed sentimentalism, and still others tickle one’s funny bones either because they are hilarious by design or by accident.

Did you get that SMS that said “Lechon man ang nais kong ipadala, at may hamon pang kasama, pero diet mo ang aking inaalala. Kaya text na lang, zero cholesterol pa.”

From my friends in the Visayas, a message written in Cebuano sent me ROFL (that’s cybertalk for rolling on the floor laughing): “My prayer: Lord, hapit na baya ang pasko, hikapa intawon ang kasingkasing sa nagbasa aron ang akong pinaskohan maputos na.” The flavor is lost in translation, but the message implores the Lord to touch the heart of the reader so that the Christmas present intended for the sender of the greeting finally gets wrapped and sent.

One also learns to shrug off the absence of any effort to acknowledge the source of the quotation or to provide the correct citation. I received this greeting which was admirable because it tried to provide a Filipino context to the season: “Ang gabing payapa (sic), lahat ay tahimik, pati mga tala sa bughaw na langit. Kay hinhin ng hangin, waring (sic) umiibig sa kapayapaan ng buong daigdig. Levi Celerio (sic) wrote the first Christmas carol (sic) after he saw the bombs leveled (sic) the City of Manila in 1948 (sic). Amid the chaos and darkness we face today, may the light of Christmas shine on you. Maligayang Pasko!” Being familiar with the story behind Felipe de Leon’s “Payapang Daigdig”, I noted the liberties taken with the facts.

But a friend, who knows his Philippine history, sent a corrected version of the SMS, which provided the correct facts and citations, so I guess all’s well that ends well.

Some SMS messages likewise got the citations from the Bible all wrong, or the attributed some quotations to the wrong author. And don’t you just get a bit disconcerted when you receive SMS messages that simply say “Meri Xmas?” It’s not so much the brevity, but the fact that the whole essence of Christmas has been reduced to the letter X.

I composed my own personal SMS greeting last year and spent quite some time crafting it because it contained some personal political reflection. I sent it to some of my friends. Imagine my amazement when the same SMS message got back to me as the Christmas message from other people from as far away as Davao.

But like I said, I guess the actual message isn’t the whole point of this new phenomenon that has replaced traditional Christmas cards. What is noteworthy is that people still care to greet and wish each other all the great things that is associated with this season of caring and loving. This is what counts. This is what Christmas is all about.

As for me, I sent out the same Christmas message to everyone: “Merry Christmas!” But I bothered to personalize my message by writing the name of the person and, in cases where I actually knew them, the names of their spouses and children in each of these messages. It complicated it quite a bit, but I thought that’s the least I could do since I didn’t come up with something else inspiring, amusing, or profound.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Finding meaning in the season

This is my column today. Merry Christmas everyone!

When did it all get so complicated?

I don’t claim to speak for all work drones and harassed parents out there, but this was an observation that has been top of mind in the last few days as I valiantly struggled to catch up with the Christmas rush.

I know, I know. This person who had been harping about how some strategic thinking on the part of our leaders could have saved this country from the many tragic events that had become a natural part of our existence waited until the last minute to do his Christmas shopping and organize his Christmas schedule. What can I say, whoever was responsible for spreading the proverbial Christmas cheer must have dropped me from the list this year. I just woke up one morning last week and realized Christmas was barely a few days away, I had to catch up or there would be hell to pay from kith and kin.

In the middle of the shopping, the gift-wrapping, the pigging out, the partying, and the million and one things that needed to be done all in the spirit of the season, it finally hit me. I’m now seeing Christmas from a different light. I am afraid I have stopped seeing the holiday season from the proverbial “eyes of a child.” Christmas is still fun; but it has become difficult to ignore the expense, the traffic, the harmful effects of cholesterol and alcohol, and the other aggravations that this season inevitably brings.

I grew up in a clan that was really big on Christmas. Celebrating the holiday season had always been a gigantic production in my family; one that involved mass-scale massacre of pigs and chickens and the preparation of an endless assortment of kakanin all of which required days of arduous manual labor. One such delicacy, a constant fixture on the Christmas buffet, was a chocolate suman called muron. It required at least a whole day to prepare and the assistance of at least five able-bodied individuals.

Christmas involved some work, but it had always been a wondrous occasion for celebration. Christmas used to be simply about basking in the warmth of the affection that family and friends bring; about celebrating someone’s birthday in simple, traditional but meaningful ways.
Now, it has become quite complicated. It’s become quite a chore. In fact, it can be a major headache as one struggles to balance various paradoxical situations.

Take the case of Christmas parties. These used to be simple straightforward affairs: People ate, exchanged gifts, played games, danced, and caught up on each other’s lives. Christmas parties used to be simply about spending time with kith and kin and having fun with them, preferably over a feast and bottles of alcohol of course. The feast is meant to provide energy for the merrymaking and the alcohol to loosen tongues and inhibitions and other things not fit to mention in this column.

Sadly, this isn’t the case anymore today. People still pig out and get drunk, but they have to do it in style. I went to a total of nine parties (with two more to go today before the big day tomorrow) in the last few days. All, as in every single one of them, prescribed a theme. This meant making sure that one arrived at the venue in the right attire, with the right props, and wearing the right character. Here’s a rundown on the themes of the parties I went to: A glitter party, a gypsy party, a military ball, an Oscar’s Awards party, a children’s party, a colors-of-Christmas party, a cowboy party, and, thankfully, a come-as-you-are party. Whew!

One is tempted to ask what cowboys and gypsies have to do with Christmas, but one learns not to argue with the people in charge of the food and the booze. Being a person who does not want to create adverse conditions for himself (such as having to explain to everyone why he is not wearing the prescribed attire), I have always made it a point to try—try being the operative term—to follow the prescribed theme. Unfortunately, this often meant extra preparation and expense. I sometimes get the feeling that many among us are confusing Christmas with Halloween.

And then there’s this matter of gift giving. This used to be simple then. One simply bought presents, wrapped them in Christmas wrappers, tied a ribbon on it and presto, a Christmas present! Today, wrapping Christmas presents has been elevated to the status of advanced art form. It doesn’t help when everyone seems to have latched into this idea that how a gift is given is just as important as the gift itself. Unfortunately, we can’t all be Rachy Cuna who can transform yesterday’s newspaper, some twigs, and a handkerchief into a wonderful Christmas present so we have to struggle with wrappers, ribbons, and scotch tape.

Unless, of course, one is giving a gift that comes straight from a designer boutique, in which case, the store’s packaging is more than enough to convey the value of the gift. It is truly a sad reflection of the times we live in when a paper bag, all right, a pouch carrying the name of some snotty Italian designer or an expensive brand can overshadow an artistically-wrapped gift anytime. Anyone who wants to argue with me on this one deserves that beautifully crafted gift that came in a bayong with sinamay and anahaw leaves instead of that ordinary supot that carries a Tag Hueur logo and the real thing inside it too.

When I was a child, a Kris Kringle system of gift giving was already in place. The system was meant to highlight the value of gift giving—one picks a name from a box and that person becomes the recipient of your generosity. It was supposed to be about, well, giving.

Today, the system has become quite complicated with specific themes for specific days; each year the themes become more and more perverse and astounding if not migraine-inducing. Forget about giving gifts that are green and round and slimy. A nephew who is in high school called me up for ideas over what gift to give to his “baby” that was “inspiring but perplexing.”
And whoever started this practice of posting “wish lists” on bulletin boards deserve to be condemned to years in purgatory waiting for gifts that wouldn’t come.

Someone once wrote this admonition: Don’t worry about the height and the ornaments in your Christmas tree because in the eyes of children they are all the same, they are all 30 feet high. At some point in the recent past, Christmas trees have stopped being about children. They have become designer items as well, caught up in the web of commerce and pretentious image building. Today, people go to such great lengths decorating their trees in the most unique way possible, following motifs and themes. A friend has gotten into this habit of decorating her Christmas tree differently every year.

And what about this matter of giving away cash gifts in crisp peso bills and in special envelopes with Chinese characters in them? At the bank where I work for, tellers had major difficulties trying to address the distinct needs of clients in terms of currency requirements for Christmas. Really, does it really matter if the bills are crisp or not? And does the color of the envelope really matter?

There are other aggravations that have made Christmas become complicated, stressful and expensive. But as usual, I am running out of column space. In a world that has become extremely materialistic, we really need to dig deeper into our hearts to surface the real meaning of Christmas. It’s not really about the trimmings and the glitter and the ribbons and the fuzz. We just need to relearn how to see Christmas with the eyes of a child.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Becoming the change we want to see

This was my column yesterday. Sorry for the late post; am in the middle of the Christmas rush, which has been compounded by yearend reports at work and the usual end-of-term requirements at school. Sigh. Immediately after the column came out, I got a text message from a friend who put me to task for not pointing out something else which she thinks the Brothers should focus on if they intend to live up to their role as formators and educators: Call on their alumni to pay the right taxes and to pay the legal minimum wages.

There are many reasons, both spiritual and traditional, why Christmas should be a welcome respite. At the very least, the spirit of goodwill should be enough reason for people to be generally nicer, kinder and perhaps more tolerant of other people’s shortcomings, both perceived and real. It should be enough reason to allow some people some slack, even for just a short spell.

Unfortunately, the proverbial Christmas cheer seems to be running late this year. I don’t know about you, but I personally still have to imbibe the much-vaunted spirit of the season. Judging by the mad rush at the department stores during the weekend where the queues were unusually long (I was told it was sheer bedlam at Divisoria and 168), it seems I am not the only person who is running behind the Christmas bandwagon.

But I do note that we seem to be going through some kind of hiatus from the usual political turbulence that has become a regular fixture in our lives in the last three years. The last two weeks have been generally uneventful, which is why media entities that thrive on negative news and political sleaze are obviously having a difficult time mining the dregs and trying to come up with something, anything, to spice up their reportage.

I figured this is a good time to lend space to the De La Salle Brothers of the Philippines who, very recently, came out with a thought-provoking statement expressing concern over what they referred to as “continued moral degeneration affecting the government, [and] which has spawned widespread despair and numerous social and political problems.”

In writing the statement, the Brothers invoked their role in Philippine society as “educators and formators.”

I am aware that a lot of people question the social relevance of the Brothers’ role in Philippine society considering that De La Salle schools in the Philippines, unlike those in other countries, cater to the rich and are hardly within the means of even the middle class. One e-mail I received from a noted businessman (who is obviously not a La Salle alumnus) labeled the Brothers’ statement as hypocritical since in his words, “if the Brothers really want to walk the talk, they can give up the huge profits that their institutions rake up every year to subsidize public institutions.”

However, this is a phenomenon that is not limited to the De La Salle Brothers. Practically all religious orders in the Philippines that have abrogated unto themselves the role of Christian formators and educators do not serve the poor, or at least directly. My take on the matter is that these factors should not deflect from the message that they want to make. In short, let’s not shoot the messenger.

In their statement, the Brothers said they were alarmed and ashamed that the situation in the country had worsened from July 2006 when they first issued a public statement regarding the political situation in the country. The Brothers cited the following “signs of moral disintegration:”
• The escalating number of acts of violence against journalists, leftists and members of the legal opposition which, according to a report of the UN Human Rights Council representative, have been perpetrated by some elements in the military;

• Unresolved anomalies in government, including the aborted ZTE-NBN deal and the fertilizer scam, which involve billions of pesos in public funds;

• The large amounts of cash distributed in brown bags to some lawmakers at Malacañang just as impeachment moves were being initiated and firmed up in Congress and the facile efforts to hide the truth about their origins and purpose;

• Concerted efforts among some lawmakers and government officials to block attempts at establishing truth and securing accountability;

• The corruption of the electoral system as manifested in various anomalies related to the last national election.

It is difficult to nitpick with these signs because they are facts. However, and this is my main beef with the statement of the Brothers, these are not the only major “signs of moral disintegration” in the country. My problem with the statement is that it lays the blame squarely on the government alone and in so doing, exculpates others who are just as guilty. I know that some narrow-minded people would interpret this as efforts to obfuscate accountability. I insist that any attempts to criticize must be accompanied with self-criticism as well. So, sadly, the general tone of the statement—sharing accountability and—falls a little flat.

However, the Brothers did make an unequivocal stand against unconstitutional means of fixing the problems of this country by asserting that “we do not condone military adventurism for it is inconsistent with the basic democratic values we hold dear.”

The Brothers lamented the “degree to which many Filipinos have become desensitized to the stench of corruption because of the unending stream of government-related scams, coverups and scandals. The unwillingness of the public to engage in peaceful public exercises of moral outrage and to support calls for government accountability bespeak a weary cynicism and loss of hope in all possibility of meaningful change that is especially alarming for us as educators.”

“This retreat from civic responsibility bodes ill for the future,” the statement warned. The Brothers asserted what they thought was the current generation’s greatest crime: “Rob[bing] our people, especially our youth, of the conviction that noble ideals are worth every sacrifice and that moral principles must prevail in public life.”

What makes the Brothers’ statement worthy of consideration is that while it also hues very closely to the usual anti-GMA advocacy without being very explicit about it (some wags claim this kind of advocacy does not sit well with certain alumni groups), the general tone of the call for action is something a little more realistic: Beginning the change within us.

The statement made specific appeals to sectors of society, essentially urging them to live up to certain social expectations. It appealed to teachers and parents to do their parenting jobs better. It appealed to government employees to resist corruption. It appealed to artists, members of the media, military, etc., “to act now to make real the change they want to see.”

We should become the change that we want to see in this country rather than just expect others to do it for us. The logical place where the necessary changes can happen is within each one of us. If we come to think about it, isn’t that what the message of Christmas is really about?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Don't be victimized by e-mail scams

This is my column today.

I am sure everyone with an e-mail account, which I suppose covers more than half of the population, has received one of those urgent e-mails from some beleaguered heir to a fortune, in some exotic country in the African continent. These scam messages flood inboxes every day.

The general drift of these e-mails is the same. The sender has access to millions of dollars festering in some back account and tied up in legal gobbledygook. The sender begs for your cooperation—actually, for your complicity—in having the money wired to your personal back account, which you are asked to provide. In exchange, the sender promises part of the loot as reward for your assistance.

These e-mails were usually crafted in terribly fractured English, which ordinarily was enough reason to ignore them. After all, one has to be utterly naïve to send an e-mail with an absurd topic like “your kindly assistance” even a cursory once over.

The scam used to be about some unheard and usually ludicrous-sounding name of a prince or former government functionary who died without leaving a will.

And the scam used to be easy to detect because the circumstances described were preposterous. I once received one of these that referred to millions of dollars of American aid, supposedly siphoned off by a South African dictator. The scam offered an equally preposterous subterfuge that was supposed to elude the sophisticated monitoring devices of the combined forces of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. By simply providing your personal bank account, or by transferring money to fund another account, one was supposed to unlock a chain of events that would culminate in a windfall.

One has to be unbelievably naïve or incorrigibly greedy to fall for these scams.

I have bad news. The perpetrators of these scams have now become wiser. Not only are these scam e-mails now about people that one knows personally, they describe situations that now sound credible enough.

I don’t know how many among us human resource management professionals were duped by the scam last week and actually forked over money supposedly to help a highly respected and well-loved colleague in the profession. But going by the profusion of e-mails that was generated, it seemed the scam worked.

The e-mail that many HRM professionals received last week seemed real enough. The return address was a yahoo mail account that carried the name of management consultant Sonny Coloma, professor at the Asian Institute of Management and former president of the People Management Association of the Philippines.

Because Coloma happened to be a consultant of international repute, the situation described sounded credible. Below is the unedited full text of the e-mail which many HRM professionals received last week:

“How are you doing today? I am sorry I didn’t inform you about my traveling to Africa for a program called “Empowering Youth to Fight Racism, HIV/AIDS, Poverty and Lack of Education, the program is taking place in three major countries in Africa which is Ghana, South Africa and Nigeria.

“It has been a very sad and bad moment for me, the present condition that I found myself is very hard for me to explain. I am really stranded in Nigeria because I forgot my little bag in the taxi where my money, passport, documents and other valuable things were kept on my way to the Hotel am staying, I am facing a hard time here because I have no money on me. I am now owning a hotel bill of $600 and they wanted me to pay the bill soon or else they will have to seize my bag and hand me over to the Hotel Management.

“I need this help from you urgently to help me back home, I need you to help me with the hotel bill and I will also need $1,800 to feed and help myself back home. All I have remaining in my pocket at the time I lost my bag was $1,200 but some one has assisted me with $500.

“I will therefore want you to help me with $650 so I can sort out my problems here. I need this help so much and on time because I am in a terrible and tight situation here, I don’t even have money to feed myself for a day which means I had been starving, so please understand how urgent I need your help.

“I am sending you this e-mail from the city library, I will appreciate whatsoever you can afford to send me for now and I promise to pay back your money as soon as I return home so please let me know on time so that I can forward you the details you need to transfer the money through Money Gram or Western Union.”

Because the situation described sounded feasible (being stranded in some forsaken country because one lost travel documents and money has happened to two of my friends before) and precisely because it involved someone held in high regard, the e-mail immediately got forwarded to the rest of the HRM community. By noon of the same day, people were already putting together a rescue plan that involved pooling together the money requested and sending it over pronto. I personally received a number of e-mails expressing alarm over Coloma’s alleged dire situation and asking how they can help.

My first reaction was to check the veracity of the e-mail. Because I couldn’t contact Coloma by phone, I asked the professional staff of PMAP to verify if Coloma was indeed in Africa. The response was as I expected. He was in the Philippines and the e-mail was a scam. Another profusion of e-mail warning everyone that the original e-mail was a scam ensued, but who knows who was actually victimized and immediately sent money as requested?

Someone suspected that a virus attached to the E-mail enabled it to steal the addresses and perpetuate itself. I doubt it. The E-mail got forwarded because of the very real human element described. People took it upon themselves to forward it to everyone else fueled by a genuine desire to come to the aid of someone they actually know.

It is heartwarming to note of course, as Coloma himself noted, that people could be roused to come together to help someone in dire need. It’s good to recognize that despite these uncertain times, our ability to care, to provide comfort, to empathize with our fellowmen has remained undiminished. It’s just too bad that there are unscrupulous people out there who capitalize on this positive trait to enrich themselves through some nefarious scheme.

How do we protect ourselves from similar scams? Someone suggested protecting ourselves from identity theft by taking out public e-mail accounts in our names. Unfortunately, this is not foolproof as e-mail accounts can be hijacked. It is also probably too late for some people as the probability that you are the only person in the world with the same name is quite remote. Still the surest way not to be victimized by similar scams is by practicing vigilance. This means not forwarding e-mails without verifying its authenticity first. Check first before doing anything rash, especially parting with hard-earned money.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

When copycats do better

This is my column today.


We are a country that takes immense pride in the innate musicality of our people. We supply singers and dancers to the rest of the world; our reservoir of talent seems bottomless. It is surprising that we don’t take efforts to hone skills in this area more seriously. Is it because we don’t see performing arts as serious business?

If rumors are true, the new seasons of the hit television shows “Philippine Idol” and “Pinoy Dream Academy” will begin in a few weeks’ time. Philippine Idol will be aired on GMA-7 while Pinoy Dream Academy will be on ABS-CBN. Both shows are singing competitions that are also supposedly, if we are to believe the press release of the networks, educational platforms designed to help instruct viewers on the finer points of performing.

The shows will be on competing networks so we expect fireworks to erupt as they assert dominance in the ratings game. Under ordinary circumstances, competition should be a good thing and should redound to the benefit of consumers. It should hypothetically result in better production values, perhaps even better staging and directing. Unfortunately, this is not always the case in our country. Very often, competition among our television networks exacerbate the tendency to highlight the lurid, the salacious, and the scandalous as these prove most effective in drawing viewers in. So what was originally intended as a singing contest eventually becomes a telenovela featuring people strutting around in their underwear.

The first seasons of the two shows left too much to be desired in terms of striking a balance between entertainment and education. The focus was more on entertainment, which was quite unfortunate since these shows could really serve as medium that can educate people on the performing arts. Like I said, this is important because we are in a country that takes immense pride in our vast reservoir of singers and dancers and we cannot always rely on innate talent.

But hopefully, the people behind the shows have learned from their previous mistakes. Better still, they can learn from the experiences of others, particularly copycats that do a better job.

I was in Tacloban over the weekend and had the opportunity to watch Leyte IDOL, the province’s version of Philippine Idol. If you are wondering why IDOL is written in uppercase, that’s really because it’s an acronym. It stands for Icot’s Dream for the youth Of Leyte. Icot is the nickname of Jericho Petilla, the provincial governor of Leyte. Many might remember him as the administration senatorial candidate in the last election, picked to represent local governments but who unfortunately backed out of the race and was promptly replaced by actor Cesar Montano.

I know. Having a singing contest named after the politician that provided the money for it and using his mug as backdrop for the extravaganza hark back to a bygone era when someone fancied herself as some imperial patroness of the arts. It is possible of course that the whole homage thing is simply the handiwork of the organizers of Leyte IDOL who probably thought they were doing everyone a huge favor with their obsequiousness. This kind of adulation happens a lot particularly in provinces where local officials are treated like royalty.

Nevertheless, I am sure that the governor has other dreams for the youth of Leyte other than to turn all of them into performing artists. I am a fierce advocate of the performing arts, but I don’t advocate that the economy be hinged on the fortunes of our singers and dancers.

Leyte IDOL is not in any way connected with Philippine Idol but pretty much follows the format of the franchise. However, certain deviations from the original format augur well for the copycat. In particular, the decision as to who advances into the succeeding rounds and who gets eliminated is left to the discretion of the judges rather than subjected to the vagaries of a fickle and often misinformed general public. It actually makes sense to do it this way since popularity is not always the better determinant or judge of talent. God knows how many extremely popular “singers” we have in this country—“singers” who actually can’t carry a tune.

Watching Leyte IDOL once again validated the observation that if we have an abundance of singing talents in this country, Leyte seems to have been particularly blessed 10 times over in this aspect. The Leyte IDOL show I watched last Sunday night was designed to trim down the number of finalists from 12 to 11. But all 12 were proverbial diamonds in the rough.
Unfortunately, and I guess this is true anywhere else in this country, the talents were very raw.

It was a bit painful watching talented kids perform below potential, or worse, perform in ways that magnified their weaknesses rather than showcase their capabilities.

I’ve watched many singing contests in many parts of this country and I have noted the same thing: contestants aping, or worse, magnifying the singing styles of established singers including awful mannerisms such as doing vocal acrobatics and passing off gasping sounds as emoting. The problem is that the supposed singers they are aping are not exactly great singers—they are simply celebrities who have successfully parlayed fame into singing careers. Thanks to the perverted star system in our country, many people are misled into thinking talent exists where there really is none.

Or worse, we come across contestants who damage their voices and come up with ludicrous and often hilarious performances because they think hitting high notes is the ultimate measure of a great singer. What happens is that one comes across singers that begin to sound like cats in heat.
This is why Philippine Idol or Pinoy Dream Academy should really make an effort to use the show to bring home the message that singing is not just about having raw talent or having voice quality. There is a science around it and it’s not just a science that helps people perform better, it is also a science that helps the singer preserve his or her talent or further develop his or her craft.

Unfortunately, Philippine Idol, and to a certain extent, even Pinoy Dream Academy didn’t always hit the mark on this aspect. The judges they picked may be celebrated musicians with sterling credentials. The problem was that being a good musician does not automatically translate into being a good judge—or for that matter, being a good teacher.

I have no doubt that Ryan Cayabyab, Pilita Corales, and Francis Magalona, the judges of the first edition of Philippine Idol, are extremely talented as musicians. The problem was that they failed as “educators” simply because of their penchant for playing to the crowd, for making cryptic and sometimes senseless commentary. Pinoy Dream Academy did try to live up to its name as an “academy” but as usual, the programs often got sidetracked by hysterics.

This is where local spin-offs and copycats have done better. Because they are freed from the pressures of commercial considerations, they have been successful in turning singing contests into not just entertainment, but a real venue for learning and teaching.

Leyte IDOL is doing well in this area. The judges of the show I caught last Sunday were music professors and performers who knew music theory, were articulate, and most importantly, who genuinely wanted to help improve the performance of the contestants rather than simply passing off judgment and making vicious comments.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Saving private high schools

This is my column today.

High school can be the most exciting or the most trying period in one’s life. It’s around then when everything seems to happen, and worse, seemingly all at the same time.

To begin with, one has to contend with the many physical changes happening to one’s body. I was barely 11 when I became a frosh so my growth spurt, including an embarrassing bout with acne, all happened when I was in high school. Then there are the emotional challenges and entanglements magnified by inexperience and confusion such as falling in love for the first time, or (arrgh!) having one’s young heart broken. It’s the time when hormones are going haywire; the time when parents become such a royal pain in the posterior with their restrictions and their seeming insensitivity to the needs and concerns of adolescents grappling with growing up issues.
And as if these weren’t enough, there are the serious athletic and academic requirements that one has to hurdle as well. It’s in high school when one comes face to face with the mind-boggling equations in chemistry, or the migraine-inducing dilemmas in trigonometry or physics.

Martial Law was in effect all throughout the time I was in high school and this meant serious military training that involved bivouacs and marching under the intense heat of the sun while lugging around a heavy wooden rifle. Marcos and his much-ballyhooed New Society movement imposed more requirements such as mandatory tree planting and a specified number of hours spent in community service under the Youth Community Action Program. I understand high school kids today have it easier insofar as the physical challenges are concerned although I have no doubt that the pressures on their generation are just as overwhelming, probably even more.

It’s in high school when one learns the fundamental skills that would eventually come in handy in dealing with life’s major challenges. It’s also in high school when lifetime friendships are formed. The common experience of going through the same torment is powerful glue that binds people for life.

High school can be tough; but it can be fun and empowering as well. It’s a critical period in anyone’s life. It’s a laboratory that can make or unmake a person. Thus, a secondary learning institution must be more than just a collection of classrooms and facilities. It must be an environment that empowers, enables, and ennobles.

This is why I have great admiration for parents who take pains in choosing the learning institution where they send their kids to for high school. They are aware of the strategic value that an empowering high school experience has in their children’s lives. This is why I have even greater respect for academic institutions, particularly private high schools in third-class municipalities that valiantly try to stay alive and operational despite year-on-year losses.

The sad reality is that while we have a wide network of public schools all over the country, there are very few municipalities where there is a national high school run by the government. Elementary pupils are assured of free education. It’s a different story altogether for high school students. And in places where there is a national high school, these are often pitifully unable to meet the demand. Thus, providing the backbone of the secondary educational system are learning institutions run by private individuals and religious communities such as the Oblates of Notre Dame.

Usually run by families, these institutions perpetually teeter on the edge of bankruptcy earning barely enough to pay the salaries of their teaching staff. Forget about upgrading facilities or acquiring academic technology. Increasing tuition is not an option as most of the students don’t even have lunch money and many walk kilometers just to come to school. The sorry lack of facilities has never been a hindrance in delivering quality education though. The classrooms may be basic and spartan but the lack in facilities is made up for with old-fashioned selfless dedication and commitment on the part of the owners and teachers. Perhaps because there is very little else to get distracted with, teachers and students spend most time on productive learning activities. Necessity is truly the mother of invention.

Anyway. What got me writing about the sorry state of private high schools in our towns were two incidents that happened recently.

I was invited to give a talk on “opinion writing” in a journalism seminar for high school students conducted at an exclusive school in Manila the other weekend. It was a task I readily accepted and actually looked forward to because interacting with high school students has always given me a different kind of high. The seminar went well and I guess my session went just as well, too, given the very animated discussion that happened during and after my talk. We broke off for lunch and a workshop. I came back after a couple of hours to help critique the output. That’s when the experience became a nightmare. Sitting on the panel were four “advisers” whose critique tossed me off the wall.

At the risk of being called an ungrateful guest, let me summarize by saying that most of the critique focused on content and bordered on censorship of ideas rather than on form and style.

The advisers seemed stuck in some paradigm on what high school students should be writing about and generally pooh-poohed attempts to dissect national events and issues outside the students’ academic environment.

Having profound respect for the minds of young people, I was aghast to find out that there are high school teachers and consequently, high school institutions, whose idea of “nurturing minds” and “protecting students” translate into suppressing their students’ ability to think for themselves. I expressed the opinion that students should be allowed to write about whatever they wanted to write about and that advisers should focus on helping students keep within the bounds of ethics and the law, i.e., provide advise on how students can assert themselves without committing libel or getting expelled. It looked like I was talking to a wall because the advisers were utterly convinced that their primary role was to serve as some moral compass. I left the venue wondering what kind of grown ups those students would turn out to be given the kind of environment they had to contend with as high school journalists. These kids had access to state-of-the-art learning technology, carried laptops and I-pods, and held classes in air-conditioned classrooms but I wonder if their learning environment produces real learning, the kind that helps students think for themselves and prepare them for life.

I couldn’t help reminiscing about how my high school teachers actually encouraged us to think for ourselves, even going as far as to organize symposia that featured a wide range of points of views on the raging issues of the day.

This brings me to the second reason that got me thinking about high school life. I had the occasion to be home during the weekend to attend to a family matter. The alumni association of my high school (Abuyog Academy) sought me out to invite me to this year’s grand alumni homecoming on the 21st of this month, at which (ahem!) I would be receiving an award for distinction in the field of banking and finance. (It’s an honor I accept, even if I am not really a banker, strictly speaking).

During our very brief conversation, the alumni association president talked about the difficulties of getting other alumni to “care” about our high school alma mater. Abuyog Academy is a private institution that’s run by a family whose main motivation in sustaining the school is to keep alive the vision of its founder who happens to be their clan’s patriarch. The alumni association wants to “save” the great institution that is part of our town’s history and which has made many individuals successful. I will save you the sob story about the state of the school’s facilities. I am sure though that the current condition of the Abuyog Academy is not altogether unique as it probably is reflective of many other private learning institutions in the country, institutions that are caught up in the moral dilemma between selling out and being completely commercial in the process being out of the reach of poor students or keeping its traditions intact but remaining poor.

If anyone out there can point the alumni association to generous benefactors, I’d be grateful for the help. In the meantime, alumni of the school are invited to come home for the grand alumni homecoming on Dec. 21 and to be part of the efforts to bring the Abuyog Academy back to its old glory.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Dealing with shakedown cops

This is my column today.

Now that the threat has dissipated—or at least we think so—and we are finally allowed to bask in anticipation of the holiday season, it seems people have moved on to other things.

I originally meant to continue where I left off last Monday and write about the implications of last Thursday’s failed efforts to wrestle control of Malacañang via the posh confines of the Peninsula Manila. Quite incongruous, I know. Street parliamentarians battle Manila’s noxious gases, play patintero with jeepneys and buses, expose themselves to the scorching heat of the sun and depend on the kindness of strangers for sustenance. The members of the New People Army survive on kamote and suffer the harshest living conditions possible.

Trillanes and Company do it in style. They simply take a whole five-star hotel hostage. Why suffer the elements when one can swagger around in air-conditioned surroundings, commandeer function rooms, order room service, and enjoy world-class amenities?

Others give up their lives for their causes. Trillanes and company began by making bold pronouncements about how they were willing to give up their lives for their cause. When push came to shove, they surrendered with nary a whimper. Of course, they claimed to have done so to avoid bloodshed. People who were expecting heroism were sorely disappointed. My neighborhood tanod said it best “Naging Mr. Pogi ang labanan!”

I also meant to weigh in on the latest brouhaha involving military officials, ABS-CBN, and Ces Drilon’s high heels and animal-print headband. To dispel widespread suspicion that ABS-CBN was in on the plans to takeover the Peninsula Manila, Drilon offered this excuse: Had she known, she shouldn’t have worn high-heels. Or that particular headband, Pinky Webb added. I don’t know what the standard attire for covering coups and attempted rebellion is; or for that matter how fashion sense is relevant to the issue. But, only in the Philippines do we have journalists citing fashion sense as an alibi.

And then it struck me. It seems broadcast journalists, radio commentators, and columnists whose job descriptions require that they formulate and peddle opinions to get people worked up emotionally, are the only ones stuck in this time warp dated Nov. 29, 2007. Most everyone, it seems, has moved on to other more interesting and exciting issues. If media does not make it a point to remind us constantly, in the process even making itself an inserting itself squarely in the middle of the issues, it would seem as if that whole caper did not happen at all. Trillanes and company has been displaced as headline material by more recent events.
The shelf life of even the most shocking events has become shorter.

I am sure that there are many out there who will bewail this development and label it “collective apathy,” “condoning immorality,” and “unprincipled citizenship.” I prefer to see it differently.
I think that people have moved on to other things precisely because they have made up their minds on the guilt and culpability of Trillanes and company. Having made that conclusion, what else can be said and done but to leave the matter in the hands of the authorities? I think that most everyone has moved on with their lives, not because they don’t care about what is happening in this country, but precisely because they feel that there are other things that are more important than the sourgrapings of disgruntled has-beens. The best way to show scorn for Trillanes and company is to ignore them. Yup, revenge is a dish best served cold.

Of course it is also possible that the reason why the shelf life of even the most shocking controversies has become so short is because we’ve become immune and desensitized to all kinds of political disturbance. We’ve seen them all. Another coup? Been there, done that. Another bribe-taking story? What else is new? Hardly surprising when we consider that scandals and controversies have become some kind of a cottage industry in this country and certain quarters have become experts on creating, amplifying, and sustaining scandals to suit their own purposes.

***

Taking my cue, I will move on to a different matter. Because the Christmas rush has descended upon us, we expect traffic to become worse in Metro Manila. Christmas and traffic make a fatal combination particularly to those who are magnets for shakedown cops.

I received an e-mail entitled “What to do about abusive Metro Manila Development Authority officers.” The identity of the “original” source of the e-mail has unfortunately been taken off from the e-mail path when it got to me so I don’t know who actually wrote the lament. If he or she is reading this, I would be happy to acknowledge his or her identity as the author of the e-mail.

I checked with the offices of the MMDA to verify the information in the e-mail. I was met with a blank wall as everyone I talked to on the phone refused to comment on the contents of the e-mail. Apparently, there is a standing gag order not to confirm or deny the advice given in the e-mail. Someone finally referred me to the Traffic Management Office where I was met by another round of buck passing.

Here is what I know so far. Mr. Antonio Pagulayan was indeed interviewed by the author of the e-mail. The advice given is valid and legal. My source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, revealed however that Mr. Pagulayan was not aware that his “advice” would be written up as an e-mail that would get forwarded to the world. Mr. Pagulayan is now on leave, and MMDA officials who seem to prefer keeping people in the dark about their rights, are in a bind. I am reprinting the e-mail below:

“I just reached my limit last weekend, and decided to take action against the abusive MMDA enforcers. I basically called up the MMDA head office and inquired from the personnel officer, Antonio Pagulayan, to clarify their policies. Here is what I got.

If any of these abuses seem familiar to you, Mr. Pagulayan has asked that you call either the MMDA hotline (136) or call the METRO BASE at 0920-938-9861 or 0920-938-9875 and ask for an inspectorate. They will send inspectors to the place where these MMDA officers are extorting, even while you are arguing out of your apprehension.

1. MMDA officers are not allowed to group together in order to apprehend. They are not even allowed to stand together in groups of two or more. The only time they are allowed to work together is for special operations (probably when they apprehend groups of buses for smoke belching).

2. Swerving IS NOT a traffic violation. Moving one lane to the left or right is not swerving, no matter where on the road you do it. And it is even less of a violation when you do it with a signal. Swerving is defined as shifting two or more lanes very quickly. So you can argue your way out of this, and call the Metro Base for help.

3. Sadly, using the yellow lane is a traffic violation and will get you a ticket. However, buses are really not allowed to go out of the yellow lane, so if you see selective apprehension of private cars only, you may complain.

4. MMDA has confirmed that YOUR LICENSE MAY NOT BE CONFISCATED at a traffic apprehension. The only time they can do so is if you are part of an accident, or it is your third violation and you have not settled your fines yet. They are only allowed to give you a ticket, which you can contest. He recommends actually receiving the ticket in some instances, so that you can report the officer who did it.

5. Also, you are free to ask any of these officers for their “mission order,” which is written by their supervisor. If they apprehend you for a violation that is not in their mission order for the day, you can report them and they will receive disciplinary action.”


Monday, December 03, 2007

Inflated egos

This is my column today.

It’s a wonder the Manila Peninsula did not blow up on account of the massive concentration of highly inflated egos that converged there last Thursday.

When we come down to it, that whole caper was propped up primarily by—in fact probably by nothing else but—a fallacious sense of self-importance so tremendous to the point of being delusional. Consider the events.

A military general and a renegade senator, both already on trial for rebellion, walked out of a courtroom in the middle of a hearing, marched to the Makati commercial district, forcibly took over a five-star hotel, and all throughout the whole surreal chain of events actually proclaimed moral superiority and righteousness.

Heck, forget about breaking laws. Antonio Trillanes IV, Danilo Lim, and their cohorts broke laws, yes; but that’s the least of the problem. What was worse —what was grossly unsettling to the point of absurdity—was that they did so wantonly, brazenly, and in the most arrogant manner possible. They taunted, derided, and spat on the same system that they, ironically, claimed to be fighting for and would eventually seek protection from. And to add further insult, they actually expected people to rally to their side and be a party to the farce.

Their faces suffused with the grim conviction of the morally right, they presented themselves as the long-awaited messiahs of this country, the shining knights in armor that would liberate us from the evils of this administration.

It is difficult to argue with the cause.

But it is even more difficult, almost impossible in fact, to agree with the means.

Since when did taking hostage a five-star hotel, a legitimate private business enterprise, qualify as a valid means of protest? Since when did brandishing guns and threatening people while in full military regalia count as a political act? Since when was rebellion and a coup d-etat by a faction of the military permissible—or in fact, successful—as a means of overthrowing a government? Since when was using media people as human shield considered honorable?
Such audacity has been resorted to many times in the past. All failed. Everyone knows that any rebellion will not succeed unless backed by the people. And the people, as we all know by now, remain deeply distrustful of anyone who fancies himself or herself as a more “moral” alternative. The issue is not morality anymore; we’ve already sunk rock bottom in that department. The issue is competence.

As the events of that fateful day unraveled, it became even more and more difficult to even empathize with Trillanes and company.

Not only because it became evident that the renegade senator had hallucinations of being installed as President of the country. Not only because it became apparent that the whole operation had ineptitude clearly written all over it. Not only because the expected allies turned their backs and deserted them at the crucial hour. And not only because it became clear that the government had the upper hand and was intent on crushing the rebellion quickly.

It became difficult and practically impossible to empathize with Trillanes and company because the events of the day finally enabled us to have a glimpse of the stuff they were made of: desperate people with inflated egos.

In the circle where I move around, reactions to Trillanes and company ranged from the livid (one senior officer of the bank I work for seethed and wished she could strangle the senator with her bare hands), to mockery (someone expressed dismay at the kind of planning or absence thereof), to extreme amusement (that was all renowned scriptwriter Bibeth Orteza could come up with?), to apathy (is it over? Can we do our Christmas shopping already?).

As for me, I can only see in Trillanes the behavior of a spoiled brat whose success has gone to his head, of someone who interprets his victory in the last senatorial election as license to do whatever he pleases. This was pathetically made evident when he sullenly proclaimed that he should have been allowed to perform his duties as senator because millions Filipinos voted for him in the last elections, as if the justice system in this country were a popularity contest.

Like I said, it is difficult to argue with the cause. Unfortunately, what Trillanes and company did last Thursday only fortified this administration’s hold on power. All those sanctimonious speeches and those big lectures about morality fell flat simply because what they were doing hardly qualified as moral. In fact, not only were they indulging in the same immorality; they were doing worse because they were openly flaunting it—with cocked guns and while holding a major hotel hostage.

What Trillanes and company set back the anti-GMA campaign in a major way. It reinforced public perception that people who are against this administration are up to no good as well. It added to the “political fatigue” that people are already feeling. It alienated the business community once again. I doubt if any businessman in Makati feels any affinity with Trillanes, or his supporters, after what he and his group did last Thursday.

And as can be expected, the swaggering continued even after the foolhardy was crushed. Media footages of Trillanes and his cohorts after the Peninsula fiasco reveal the same unrepentant and pretentious posturing. They had the nerve to declare that they did not do anything illegal and immoral. One can only shake heads at the sheer arrogance.

Trillanes and company however were not the only ones present at the Manila Peninsula last Thursday. Easily comprising one-third of the people inside that hotel were media people, some of whom were surprisingly present from the time Trillanes and Lim walked out of the Regional Trial Court at the Makati City Hall up to the time the rebellion was crushed.

A foreigner friend once told me that the Philippines is really a country run by the media. His observation was that affairs in this country are really controlled and directed by media. Many media people act like celebrities and get confused on the reasons behind their popularity, and grossly ignorant about their responsibilities. I tend to agree with him and the events last Thursday highlighted this observation.

I agree that handcuffing media people and herding them to Camp Bagong Diwa was an overkill. If the military authorities simply wanted to “identify” legitimate media people from anyone pretending to be so, that could have been done in a more organized and sensible manner such as setting up a “processing area” within the premises. God knows the Peninsula did not lack for rooms for the purpose. But then again, the oversight is more logically attributed to lack of foresight or just plain unadulterated stupidity.

But given the inflated egos of certain media people and organizations who fancy themselves as ultimate power in this country, it is expected that the whole thing was instead interpreted as part of a larger conspiracy to suppress press freedom.

There is a lot that can be said about this issue. But as usual, I am running out of space so I am going to end this piece by just giving voice to a friend who asked me to convey her reaction to the pronouncements and actions of Trillanes and company, the government, and the media: OA! As in overacting!