Monday, October 27, 2008

Shortchanged by loose change

This is my column today.

I don’t know when the practice started; I just know that it has become the norm in most commercial establishments when one is paying for a purchase at the checkout counter.
What happens is that whenever one pays for a purchase—let’s say French fries and a burger at Jollibee or a pair of socks at Shoemart—the cashier first asks for a smaller bill. Say your total purchase is P144.75 and you hand over a five-hundred peso bill—the cashier first asks if you have bills in smaller denominations. And then she asks for loose change—“Sir, do you have 75 cents?” before she goes through the motions of scrambling around to come up with the required smaller bills and coins as change. Before one knows it, the transaction has been elevated to a complicated negotiation and settlement process involving the exchange of loose change.

It as if one is expected to carry around wads of bills in various denominations as well as the contents of one’s piggy bank in a large bayong, and pay for purchases with the exact amount down to the last centavo.

Some customers put up a blank facial expression and project this “it’s not my problem” attitude—and sometimes not too subtly. I’ve personally witnessed irate customers expressing annoyance and giving cashiers a tongue-lashing in the process. Non-confrontational people like me oblige, albeit sheepishly, because I am not the type who carries around coins in my pocket in the first place and is therefore hard put to fork over loose change. In case no one has noticed, coin purses went out of style a long time ago.

One wonders if establishments are really hard put coming up with loose change or it’s a mechanism to simplify their lives—you know, like training customers to pay for their purchases with the exact amount so their staff does not have to do too much arithmetic. A friend of mine who sees conspiracy theories in most anything suspects the worse. He sees this trend as another way to fleece money from customers.

You see, there’s this other thing that has become almost a norm as well: Sales clerk not anymore giving out the exact change and instead apologizing to customers for being short of a few cents, so technically, one ends up paying more for purchases than the actual cost. It’s not fair to customers. But who wants to create a scene especially when there is a long line of customers giving you dagger looks for being difficult and for being a tightwad?

Other establishments have come up with their own solution to the problem. They give out candies instead of loose change. I know. That doesn’t really strike many people as a solution because not everyone likes candies—and even if one does, there is still the problem of personal preferences for candy brands and flavors. My friend—the paranoid one, sees this as yet another mechanism to swindle customers as the cost of the candies are most often less than the actual amount owed to the customer, and then there is the other matter of deriving profits from each bag of candies “sold” to customers.

Other coping mechanisms, usually employed in smaller establishments such as in neighborhood groceries and sari-sari stores have shopkeepers asking customers to buy more to bring the cost of the total purchase to a round number effectively doing away with the need to give out small change. One ends up with more purchases than originally intended. Sigh.

We are told, unofficially of course, that all these are happening because there is a shortage of coins in this country. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, has time and again, issued the usual denials insisting that they mint more than enough coins to sustain commerce in this country.
One reason for the perceived—I think artificial is the more accurate term— shortage of coins in this country is the fact that a large percentage of small change end up being stored in the variety of cans and plastic bottles for various charitable causes. We find these cans everywhere—right beside cashiers at major stores, gasoline stations, even at tellers’ cages in most banks. These cans take some time, perhaps months, to fill up. The coins end up being stored for a long time.

And of course, there’s the very popular Pondo Ng Pinoy project of the Catholic Church which encourages everyone to fill up empty plastic bottles with loose change specifically 25-centavo coins. It seems like a noble cause and the parable of the mumo (food scraps from the dinner table) that inspired the whole cause teaches a powerful lesson about sharing and charity. The problem is that many people take the cause very literally. I know many people who deliberately exchange thousands of pesos for 25-centavo coins in order to fill up several Pondo bottles instead of simply writing a check or donating the large bills directly to the Church. The practice creates several cumbersome steps that create more work for people out of what should have been a simple and straightforward affair.

I am tempted to go into a discourse on how these projects inadvertently lull many people into thinking that giving loose change to charity already constitutes full compliance to their moral responsibility as Catholics, but that’s really another column.

I agree that projects such as the Pondo Ng Pinoy do contribute to the whole new phenomenon I described at the beginning of this column. But it’s more complicated than just having a lot of loose change being inadvertently hoarded in some parishes and rectories nationwide. The problem of disappearing coins has more to do with the fact that inflation has practically rendered lower denomination coins worthless—in most cases, not even equal to the worth of the metal content that goes into each coin.

At least we don’t have the problems in other countries such as India where truckloads of rupee coins end up being smuggled to neighboring countries to be manufactured into razor blades. Some people did try to smuggle coins out of the country several times, but the attempts were foiled by authorities. As a result, many central banks, including our very own, have reduced the metal content in some coins, which unfortunately, further fortified the perception that the coins are worthless because they do look and feel like plastic playthings.

No wonder many of these coins end up being stuck in drawers or just anywhere instead of being used as instruments of commerce. Can anyone actually describe what’s in a 10-centavo coin, or even what it looks like today? It’s a sad reflection of our times that very, very few will pick up a ten-centavo coin that’s been dropped on the street today. The joke is that even beggars won’t accept them.

Major establishments continue to hoodwink us into thinking that their products are more consumer-friendly because they are priced a few centavos short of a round figure—for example, pricing a jacket at P1,999 instead of P2,000. But they don’t have one centavo coins in their cash registers. Or 10-centavo coins. Or 25-centavo coins. And so we go through the whole complication of coming to a settlement agreement on the butal and in the end paying more than the advertised price instead.

The buying power of coins with low denominations is practically zero, which begs the question: Shouldn’t we already put in place a more systemic rationalization of the real relevance of lower denomination coins?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Coconut trees and showbiz scandals

This was my column last Wednesday, October 22.

Finding a topic that can be expounded into a full column is not always easy. Sure, there are topics that are just so complicated and rich that they tend to unfold on their own into full-length columns. There are, however, a number of materials that offer lots of promise, but just can’t be mined into full-length columns without the author coming across as someone who is obviously just filling in space. I’ve collected a number of them in a journal that I keep with me all the time and I’d like to share some of them in this space today.

* * *

If you’ve been to the Mall of Asia, you would have noticed the failed attempts at landscaping the reclaimed area. The streets leading to the mall are planted with coconut trees. I suppose that the administrators of the mall were trying for a tropical look. It is also possible that there is scientific basis for the choice of coconut trees—they’re probably best suited for the kind of soil present in the area.

The problem is that on any given day the coconut trees look like they’ve just barely managed to survive a major tornado. These trees were planted a couple of years back and yet up to this day still look scraggly—their fronds are threadbare and windswept. Each tree is still supported by what looks like makeshift scaffolding. It’s a really pitiful sight because the area is buffeted by strong winds day in and day out, which is to be expected given that the area happens to face the Manila Bay. Manila is also visited by at least half a dozen typhoons every year and those trees suffer the brunt of nature’s force. Why those poor trees are still there is indicative of man’s folly. Those trees are clearly better off somewhere else.

* * *

Let’s face it, we’re a country that is gaga over the shenanigans of our local celebrities. Of course we try not to be too obvious about it and most of us project this impression that we’re above it all. But truth to tell, we secretly lap up the scandals, the foibles, and the latest juicy tidbits on the lives of our local stars.

I’m not really sure how the much ballyhooed supposed separation of megastar Sharon Cuneta and Senator Francis Pangilinan is relevant in the life of the nation—but given the tons of newsprint and the inordinate amount of primetime television hours spent on it, it does look like the state of their marriage is a matter of national import. The couple, their relatives and friends, and their respective publicists have already denied the supposed rift but everyone is still speculating about it. Are they supposed to display intimacy in public to finally put the matter to rest?

And while we are at it, we might as well discuss the implications of Cristy Fermin’s lurid exposé on Nadia Montenegro’s supposed indiscretions involving an alleged secret pregnancy and the alleged abandonment of her alleged lovechild. One has to be completely desensitized to the lowest and most extreme levels of depravity not to be shocked that something so damaging, so private, and so malicious could be revealed on public television on a Sunday afternoon.

Fermin was suspended from her television and radio programs, but if we really come to think about it, ABS-CBN’s reaction smacks of hypocrisy. Oh please, our networks thrive on that kind of muckraking because these are exactly the stuff that propels ratings up to the stratosphere. Fermin’s latest breach of ethics was not exactly out of the ordinary —such has been the norm for as long as I can remember, long tolerated if not encouraged by the network and by the local movie industry.

* * *

While in Baguio recently with a number of students for a conference, we had to deal with an emergency when one of the students had to be hospitalized. This required a major sacrifice on the part of one of my fellow professors who had to forego personal needs and comfort in order to care for the student. She dismissed our expressions of sympathy for her situation by telling us that she was doing it in the hope that if ever something similar were to happen to one of her children, somebody else would do exactly what she did for our student. It’s a variation of the “pay it forward” concept that was popularized in a movie; which of course turned the whole idea into a cliché.

One wishes that this idea of canceling debts of gratitude and asking the people who owe us favors to “pay it forward” instead of repaying us is something that becomes part of our culture. Recognizing utang na loob is something that is inherent in our culture. Out of a sense of gratitude, we all try to repay the debt of gratitude but wouldn’t it be really great if instead of accepting “payment” we ask that the people we help pass on the favor to others?

Well, what do you know, there is actually a movement called “Tulong Ko, Pasa Mo” that aims to spread the habit of “paying it forward.” If you are interested in learning more about it, please text 0917-UICTKPM.

* * *

My 7-year-old nephew couldn’t help exclaiming “Wow, Christmas na Christmas na!” when we got to the third level parking of the Mall of Asia over the weekend. His excitement was prompted by the rows of green and red lights that dominated the ceiling of the parking areas of the mall.

No, the lights were not Christmas lights although the colors did remind us strongly of the season that is—gasp!—just around the corner. They were actually overhead sensor devices that indicated if a parking space was occupied or not. If a parking space was occupied, the sensor turned red. When a car vacated the space, the sensor turned green.

It’s an inspired idea, one that offers motorists the convenience of finding out if there is available parking space in the mall without having to drive around and around; in the process wasting gas and contributing to the buildup of toxic carbon monoxide in the area. I’m sure most of you are personally acquainted with the kind of frustration one feels at being allowed entry into a pay parking area only to discover that it is full. When one really comes to think about it, the parking space should be free to begin with since one is already bringing business into the establishment. Or at the very least, the search for precious parking space should be made easier and more convenient.

The sensors are a fine example of how the wonders of technology can be implemented to benefit customers. One can only wish that our malls put in place more of these types of devices that make the lives of their customers less complicated and more hassle-free.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Drinking unsafe water

This is my column today.

I am glad that this paper carried on its front page last Saturday a disturbing news story that I first came across in the Net on Friday: Tests conducted on leading brands of bottled water turned up a variety of contaminants that were often found in tap water.

The Associated Press report contained the usual back and forth between environment advocacy and industry groups, the former insisting on more regulatory oversight over the production and sale of bottled water and the latter asserting that the tests were non-conclusive. But the debate only served to highlight an alarming observation, which is that bottled water may not be as safe as we wish to think it is.

The two-year study was conducted across nine states in the United States and in Washington, D.C. “In some cases, it appears bottled water is no less polluted than tap water and, at 1,900 times the cost, consumers should expect better,” said Jane Houlihan, an environmental engineer who co-authored the study.

I already see producers of local bottled water scoffing at the results of the study calling it irrelevant because the bottled water that are sold here are produced locally. I want to give our local businessmen the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the bottled water that they produce and sell do pass the standards. Perhaps we are more conscientious about these things. Perhaps our production processes are more advanced and our businessmen more conscious of the social and ethical implications of selling bottled water that are not fit for drinking. Perhaps.

Okay, enough of the wishful thinking. Who are we fooling? We are a people renowned for taking short cuts and taking a lot of risks in our production processes. Our regulatory oversight functions are painfully inadequate we can’t even run after producers of fake medicines, traders of expired canned goods, and all kinds of bootleg merchandise from soap to DVDs.

My particular interest in this issue was particularly triggered by a discussion I had with a friend of mine who responded to an earlier column I wrote on dirty street food. In that column, I wrote about a harrowing experience I had when we visited the factories of the dirty ice cream and taho sold in our streets. I wrote about the unsanitary conditions in the factories, in particular about the general unfitness of the water they used in the production of dirty ice cream, which came straight from a well dug in the middle of a squatter colony and a few meters away from toilets.
In that column, I also wondered if the water purifying stations that had sprouted around our neighborhoods and from which most of us buy drinking water from really did produce water that was safer than tap water. I had the sneaking suspicion that most of these business enterprises simply filled water containers straight from the tap. And for 30 bucks per container (some water purifying enterprises even sell at much lower prices), one really wonders if the price even defrays the electricity costs for operating their purifying machines.

My friend wanted “to push the idea further” and raised the possibility of getting our health officials to look into the matter. Like me, he thought it was an idea that was worth pursuing given the fact that majority of those who live in Metro Manila now buy drinking water from these water purifying establishments.

Another friend who is an executive of one of the two water utility companies that supply water to Metro Manila has assured me that tap water is generally safe for drinking. He sent me reading materials that detailed the results of the tests they conduct regularly on the quality of the water that came out of their pipes. The gist of the reading materials was that certain “contaminants” may be present in the water that came out of our taps, but these did not exceed levels that would cause health concerns. I asked him if he and his family drank water straight from the tap. His answer did not make me discontinue my patronage of my neighborhood water purifying business.

The recommendation posed by the researchers of the study conducted in the United States for people who are worried about water contaminants was simple: Drink tap water filtered by carbon.

I see the return to business of those who used to peddle water filtering devices —you know, those strange looking contraptions that had stones, charcoal, and God-knows-what-else submerged inside plastic water containers that were supposed to filter out all the impurities from tap water.

I was once coerced into sitting through a live demonstration of how such a contraption worked. They poured what looked like water scooped out from the neighborhood canal into the contraption. The water that passed through the filtering device was indeed clear, smelled clean, and looked fit enough to drink. Except that I couldn’t drink it. I held the glass of water in my hand and forced myself—literally used my other hand to force the hand that was holding the glass of water to bring it to my mouth—but couldn’t. I saw the purifying process with my own two eyes, but just couldn’t trust it enough.

Truth to tell, these contraptions probably produce safer drinking water. At least we get to see how the impurities are filtered out. But I guess that is where the problem lies. The problem is that these contraptions bring us face to face with the dirt and contaminants that are filtered out. The sight of all that murky stuff is more than enough to make people swear off drinking water at all. So most of us just buy our drinking water from people who we presume are doing their jobs. Except that we don’t really know if they are indeed doing their jobs and giving us what we are paying for.

And so end with the usual question: Is anyone among our regulators doing something to assuage our fears?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Two Filipino Artists

That's the great Kidlat Tahimik (born Eric de Guia but he doesn't respond to his Western name anymore) in the pic. That's not me beside him. Truth to tell, I have no idea who that guy is. I just filched the pic from the multiply site of a student who was with me at Baguio City a couple of weeks back for a conference.

I did have some pictures taken with Kidlat, taken by other people using their own cameras. I have no idea how I am going to have access to those pics. I am the kind of person who never remembers to lug a camera around in my travels and even when I do, I always forget to take pictures anyway. For example, I was in Berlin in the nineties and only have a couple of pics to show as proof that I was ever there. And the pics that I do have don't even show any of the famous landmarks that firmly establish the locale. Anyway, I digress as usual.

I had the rare privilege of interacting with Kidlat Tahimik at the conference. I was chair of the Program of the conference and we had him as one of the two keynote performers at the opening ceremonies. It was my idea to get artists for the opening ceremonies instead of featuring yet another CEO or management guru that would have bored us stiff with management concepts that were best read direct from bestseller books anyway. It was a tough call. I had to fight tooth and nail to have my idea accepted by everyone else in the conference committee. But in the end, I won. And we had Kidlat and... Joanna Ampil.

Call me conceited, but it was an inspired idea. Two great Filipino artists representing the two ends of a spectrum. One educated at a famous business school in the West (MBA at Wharton) but who eschewed his Western education to come back to the country to rediscover his roots. The other, born in the Philippines but eventually found fame as celebrated stage actress at West End in London. The idea was to get each to showcase the two ways in which Filipino artists can compete and be known in the global stage. Kidlat as someone who competes out there with a distinct identity as Filipino, Joanna as a Filipino talent who has found renown for measuring up to distinctly Western standards. (I also had some pictures taken with Joanna, but, well, you know where they are...).

Both actually did wonderfully well. Kidlat opened by introducing himself, what he does, and then introduced a 20-minute cut of a film he has been trying to finish in the last 25 years or so. And then he came back wearing his graduation toga, which he took off while performing a profound theatre piece about his decision to go back to his roots. He pranced around in his g-string. This naturally produced a variety of reactions.

Joanna opened with a really powerful rendition of I'll Give My Life For You from Miss Saigon. She then traced her life story and talked about how she got into Miss Saigon, and then eventually on to play the lead of several musicals - Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, Fantaine in Les Miz, among others. Then she sang I Dont Know How To Love Him from JC Superstar and I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miz. She then talked about her struggles, how she works hard to improve her craft, and her identity as a Filipino. She sang Gaano Ko Ikaw Kamahal. She closed with Somewhere from West Side Story.

Like I said, both delivered astounding performances. Both proved how great the Filipino artist really is.

Both Kidlat and Joanna were also fun and easy to work with. Both left me starstruck during the few times that I interacted with them to discuss their talking points and during rehearsals. I had more interactions with Kidlat because he stayed throughout the conference and was genuinely touched that, in his own words, "a crazy artist was even considered as keynote speaker at a national conference."

And this is the point that I am trying to drive at in this rambling piece.

Joanna, of course, turned in a really splendid, breathtaking performance that merited a standing ovation in the end. People were able to relate with her and her art.

People were appreciative of Kidlat Tahimik's performance, but the truth is, not everyone understood it. And not everyone actually could relate it to it even at the emotional level.

It does seem that our appreciation for the arts has really been heavily influenced and biased towards the western form.

La lang. Just thinking aloud and rambling on...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Missing the point about emos

This is my column today.

It is natural for every generation to have its own distinguishing characteristics, its own sub-culture movement. We are all conditioned by the environment we grow up in and this includes whatever phenomenon the prevailing cultural genre is. This is indulging in stereotypes but teenagers, with their inherent need for self-identification and self-expression are most susceptible to embracing fads, trends, and lifestyles.

I will not go into the anthropological and sociological gibberish because we’ve all been there, haven’t we? It was largely about the music at first. Then as now, music has always been the social glue that helps define and bind generations and movements. Eventually, it stops just being about the music. It becomes about fashion, emotions, and lifestyles. My parents were hippies. I was into rock. My younger siblings were into new wave and grunge. My kids were into goth at one point. Many kids today are into emo.

And as always, we’re all helplessly grappling with the social phenomena that come with each generational sub-culture, magnified by our sheer inability to accept, much less comprehend, cross-generational issues. Every generation seems to have this built-in contempt and intolerance for the lifestyles of the generation that succeeds them.

For example, my colleagues and I in the human resource management profession has been struggling for quite sometime now to “bridge” cross-generational issues in the workplace. It’s a problem that is particularly vexing to many managers.

This is because we are seeing today a workplace that’s pulsating with the urgent need to manage diversity issues. From the standpoint of organizational behavior, the current workplace is unique as we’re finally seeing four generational cohorts actively asserting their own lifestyles, work ethics, and preferences. A few of the so-called veterans are still in the workplace sitting in the top echelons of business organizations as board of directors or chief executive officers. Most senior executives are baby boomers. Middle management layers are peopled by those belonging to Generation X. And of course, members of Generation Y are now entering the workplace and rising very, very swiftly to leadership positions. It’s a potent brew because each generation happens to look at things from a different perspective and display their own management styles.
Incidentally, the veterans and the baby boomers will be retiring in a few years’ time. Many experts peg the date to 2010. This means a huge shortfall of potential leaders as there are obviously fewer people belonging to Generation X.

Indulging in generalizations is always a dangerous thing, of course. But managing diversity has not always been our best suit as a people. We do try to put up this front of being a very tolerant people, but most of our actions are really borne out of denial rather than clear understanding or acceptance of the differences. For the most part, we think that that avoiding potential or real conflicts already constitutes a solution. Thus, we seem forever stuck in limbo, haunted by a long, very long list of unresolved issues that demand closure. This is the case in politics, as it is clearly the norm in business and in society.

What prompted this column was a discussion with two very alarmed colleagues. They felt the need to bring to everyone’s attention this new teen culture phenomenon that is apparently sweeping the country today: It’s called emo culture.

If you haven’t heard about what emo is about, here’s a quick summary. It started out as a musical genre—some kind of a sub-classification of rock and grunge music —that effectively captured teen angst because of its extreme emphasis on melodrama, self-expression, sadness and emotion. In short, something kids with raging hormones and struggling with feelings of alienation and rebellion can relate with. Opinion editor Adelle Chua Tulagan has written about this topic in her column Chasing Happy in the past. If we go by its etymology, emo is actually not short for emotional, although that seems to be the general perception nowadays, but stands for “emotive hardcore” a phrase coined to describe a type of hard-core rock music.

How the emo sub-culture has evolved through the years is less important than its current social implications. The stereotyped emo today is someone who is chronically depressed, marginalized, has long bangs, and wears black clothes, tight pants, and black eyeliners. It is a stereotype and my kids’ friends who also self-identify as emo are upset with the generalization. They say they don’t always wear black clothes, they just like the music genre. Of course they also identify with the whole spirit of the sub-culture movement which is that they are misunderstood and that their lives suck, bigtime.

The angst is pretty much understandable. These are kids who have parents who work full time, most of them abroad. Heck, the current situation in the world is depressing even for adults; how much more for kids?

My colleagues shared with me the disturbing news. In the schools where their kids go to, a number of pupils (yes, they are in the elementary grades) are into emo at a very young age. In this exclusive school in Navotas, a number of kids were suspended because they were discovered to have scars on their wrists. This phenomenon of kids slashing their wrists and wearing the scars as some kind of a badge of self-expression is something that has become widespread. Both colleagues shared that in the schools that their kids attend, the practice is quite common and their kids report having classmates who are into it.

Some proud emos counter that self-mutilation is not exactly something that they invented—previous generations were into body piercing and tattoos, a number of gangs and fraternities were and are still into branding their members with burns on their bodies. I came across blogs and friendster accounts in the internet where some emos proudly display bleeding wrists as their symbol.

As someone who fancies himself to have an open mind and a high level of tolerance for diversity issues, I must admit that I myself am quite alarmed at this new phenomenon. The high level of angst among our kids today, their seeming inability to cope with their issues and their tendency to flaunt their depression through self-mutilation strike me as disturbing. But what alarms me even more is the seeming collective reaction to the phenomenon. It is a reaction not grounded on a comprehensive appreciation of the phenomenon, nor of the complex context around it.

If we come to think about it, the whole emo phenomenon is grounded on this overwhelming feeling of isolation, this need to be understood and appreciated, kids’ desire to assert their individuality.

So what really alarms me is the automatic contempt and marginalization directed at emos. Making an outcast of people who display deviant behaviors is not a solution. Neither do punitive measures such as expelling students, or grounding children for being emo. What kids need is real parenting. What pupils really need is sincere and competent molding of minds. What the new generation needs are more role models. But as usual, we are missing the point.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pinoy creativity

We are ranked among the happiest people in the world. This does not come as a surprise because we do have the gift for turning seemingly mundane things into absolute gems of humor.

I dont know where this came from and who actually took the time and the trouble to do the translations. Whoever he is, I admire his creativity and his gift.

I found some of the translations below really, really funny.

English movie titles translated into Tagalog

1. black hawk down - ibong maitim sa ibaba
2. dead man's chest - dodo ng patay
3. i know what you did last summer - uyy... aminin!
4. love, actually - sa totoo lang, pag-ibig
5. million dollar baby - 50 million pisong sanggol (it depends on the exchange rate)
6. the blair witch project - ang proyekto ng bruhang si blair
7. mary poppins - si mariang may putok
8. snakes on a plane - nag-ahasan sa ere
9. the postman always rings twice - ang kartero kapag dumutdot laging dalawang beses
10. sum of all fears - takot mo, takot ko, takot nating lahat
11. swordfish - talakitok
12. pretty woman - ganda ng lola mo
13. robin hood, men in tights - si robin hood at ang mga felix bakat
14. four weddings and a funeral - kahit 4 na beses ka pang magpakasal, mamamatay ka rin
15. the good, the bad and the ugly - ako, ikaw, kayong lahat
16. harry potter and the sorcerer's stone - adik si harry, tumira ng shabu
17. click - isang pindot ka lang
18. brokeback mountain - may nawasak sa likod ng bundok ng tralala / bumigay sa bundok
19. the day of the dead - ayaw tumayo (ng mga patay)
20. waterworld - basang-basa
21. there's something about mary - may kwan sa ano ni maria
22. employee of the month - ang sipsip
23. resident evil - ang biyenan
24. kill bill - kilitiin sa bilbi
l25. the grudge - lintik lang ang walang ganti
26. nightmare before christmas - binangungot sa noche buena
27. never been kissed - pangit kasi
28. gone in 60 seconds - 1 round, tulog
29. the fast and the furious - ang bitin, galit
30. too fast, too furious - kapag sobrang bitin, sobrang galit
31. dude, where's my car - dong, anong level ulit tayo nag-park?
32. beauty and the beast - ang asawa ko at ang nanay niya
33. the lord of the rings - ang alahero
34. transformers - balimbing

Monday, October 13, 2008

Nightmare on Vito Cruz Street

This is my column today.

The vicinity around Taft Avenue and Vito Cruz Street in Manila has always been a traffic hot spot. This is because the area is host to three educational institutions that cater mainly to the country’s middle- and upper-class families. I am referring to De La Salle –Manila, De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, and St. Scholastica’s College.

The area also happens to serve as some kind of public transportation gateway to some of Manila’s most populous areas including San Andres, Singalong, and Paco. The sheer volume of private cars, jeepneys, pedicabs all fighting for precious square inch is a potent brew that spells mayhem.

Having lived and worked near the area for decades, I have seen all possible types of programs implemented in the hope of solving the traffic congestion. Nothing has worked so far. City officials, the administrators of the three schools, and barangay officials have put in place various schemes, all of which have not really fully solved the problem.

Motorists simply avoid the area when they can because, quite frankly, there really is not much that can be done to ease up the traffic congestion. It’s simply a case of not having enough resources— in this case, road space —that can match the development in the area.

This kind of problem is not limited to this particular area. We can take comfort in the fact that at least the development in the area such as the expansion of the academic facilities of the three academic institutions has direct social significance. We must note that in other areas, the congestion is caused by the construction of giant malls and condominiums, business enterprises that could have been subjected to more stringent regulatory oversight. But unfortunately, zoning and urban development planning seem like alien concepts in our country. If we come to think about it, the construction of humungous malls or high-rise condominiums in places where road expansion is not possible is sheer madness. Let’s not even go into the hidden issues such as impact on a number of environmental factors such as sewerage, water distribution capabilities, drainage, and pollution.

Most are quick to lay the blame on the three schools for simply being there, as if not having them in the area is a desirable option. Others blame parents for insisting on bringing their kids to school and picking them up after school hours in private cars, as if it were a crime to perform parental duties. And of course, many more turn their noses up at the kids of the three schools who bring cars to school calling them rich spoiled brats, not really recognizing that for most of these kids, bringing a car is not a luxury but a necessity.

Most of us have learned to make allowances for it and do try to do what we can to help ease up the traffic. Thus, despite the congestion, altercations over traffic are rare in the area. Private cars do often park illegally in some areas, but always leave a lane or two for other cars to pass through. When asked to move along, drivers of private cars and jeepneys to take heed. There is some semblance of system in the chaos borne out of mutual concern for each other.

Traffic in the area is bad, very bad; but up until the overly delayed construction work in the area, it hasn’t been as hellish as the last few months. They are supposed to be laying down water pipes that would connect the water system in Manila to the south.

If you haven’t been in the area in the last few months, I strongly suggest that you avoid it like the proverbial plague. Vito Cruz from Roxas Boulevard to Estrada Street has been practically impassable for many months now. In fact, Vito Cruz from Taft Avenue to Leon Guinto Street has been closed for a good eight months now. When they started the diggings, the usual signs announcing the project, asking for everyone’s patience, and apologizing for the inconvenience were put up. The signs were clear about one thing: The construction would be finished by July 2008. It’s now October and by the looks of it, whatever it is that they are doing in the area is not going to be completed soon. They have since removed the original signs and have not replaced it with ones that specify the new deadline, if there is.

I have no doubt that whatever it is that they are doing in the area is important and will redound to the benefit of many people. Some of the people who live in the area don’t really care anymore because the inconvenience and the hazard being posed by the constructions just seem disproportionate to the promised benefits. It just doesn’t seem worth it. It’s a project that seems equal in scope to the building of the Suez Canal since they seem to be digging up not just parts of Vito Cruz Street, but the whole street in itself and laying down pipes that trucks can drive through.

What is happening in the area is indicative of what is wrong with the way we do public work projects in this country.

First, they seem to have no fixed timelines. Note that the project is already at least four months delayed with no signs of being completed anytime soon. Construction companies must really be made to account for delays in their projects. It can be done with more careful planning and with more stringent regulatory oversight.

Second, this matter of big business asking people to grin and bear inconvenience for the sake of progress is really contemptible. Let’s be clear about this: Government or public utilities may be behind these projects, but these are conducted by major construction companies who stand to gain huge profits from the contracts. So all these justifications about how we should sacrifice for the sake of the public good is sheer nonsense. The sacrifice is unwarranted because the least these construction companies should do is not only ensure that the inconvenience is kept to a minimum, but that they compensate people appropriately for the damages. So when we are being asked to sacrifice, its not really for the public good, but for the sake of profit—that of the construction companies.

Third, this utter disregard for safety and the absence of coordination with the community in the areas affected. Because these projects are cloaked with supposed social significance, contractors do pretty much as they please often without consideration for others. In this particular instance, they simply dug up the street in front of the DLS-CSB School of Design and Arts sealing off the driveway to the building without even warning the administrators of the College. The streets are now pockmarked with really deep gorges and diggings are simply laid over with makeshift steel planks of questionable quality. And worse, the construction company has not assigned people that would guide motorists and pedestrians around the perilous sites. Talk about irresponsibility.

I think it’s about time that the communities around the construction sites in the area go up in arms against the construction company that is conducting the diggings in a clearly irresponsible way. It’s really about time we make big business accountable for the unnecessary mess they do to our lives.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Making the church more relevant

This is my column today.

There is little doubt that the Catholic Church, which is an institution that is highly steeped in centuries-old traditions and dogma, is often out of touch with reality. The Church’s staunch opposition to contraception, sex education, and empowering families, couples, and women are not the only indicators of the growing irrelevance of the Catholic Church.

There are a number of empirical studies that show just how irrelevant the Church has become today. In most countries, the number of people who attend mass has been on a steady decline, there’s a growing number of people who are Catholic only in name—they were born Catholics and
identify as such, but don't really practice the tenets of the faith.

Given our burgeoning population growth, one would imagine that our churches would be bursting to the seams. This is not the case as the numbers of church-goers has been declining. This also applies to those who receive the sacraments. Except during Holy Week, I haven’t seen a line outside a confessional box lately.

I talked to a cousin who is a priest and he pretty much confirmed my observation. The only reason why there still seems to be many attendees to the masses in his Church is because they have reduced the number of masses that are celebrated. Collections during masses have also been dwindling. The same applies to participation in Church activities. Interestingly, he also admits that there is a major need to make the Church more relevant today and for it to find ways to connect with the day-to-day lives of ordinary people. Of course, like many others, he cannot afford to speak up and break his vow of obedience.

I have already written in the past about my misgivings with the apparent misuse of power, influence and authority by some of the leaders of the Catholic Church. Because they are supposed to be epitomes of virtue and kindness, we expect our cardinals, bishops, and priests to lead the way in terms of nurturing sincere, ethical and civil discussion around controversial issues. Instead, we often find the princes of the church indulging in hateful discourse, or even worse, deliberately obfuscating the issues through blackmail.

But like many others who do try to continue to practice the faith, continue to go to mass on Sundays (in my case, also Wednesdays), and who continue to participate in Church activities despite the misalignment of values and beliefs, I try to stretch tolerance and rationalize the Church’s actions. These are not ordinary times and given the enormity of the challenges, the Church often finds itself with its back against the wall. It is therefore left with no choice but to engage in drastic and non-conventional warfare.

However, I do rile against what I think is the root of the disaffection towards the Church: The utter lack of intellectual or even emotional stimulation in the activities, rituals, and celebrations of the faith.

The problem with the Church is that not only are its teachings detached from the everyday realities of its flock. Many of its rituals have also become incomprehensible. There are priests who continue to perform some religious rituals in Latin. And then there are priests who celebrate mass from the altar as if there is a fourth wall that separates them from the mass-goers. Most of the rituals are conducted in ways that offer no meaning and relevance whatsoever. It does look like many of our priests go through the motions of dispensing their duties without any effort at all to explain the significance, much less the relevance of the rituals to the day-to-day lives of the faithful.

Most homilies are of extremely poor quality. I’ve listened to far too many sermons where the priest droned endlessly—and in horribly fractured English at that—about things that were clearly theologically wobbly. It is pretty obvious that many of our priests do not prepare for their homilies and don’t bother to deliver them in ways that engage the faithful. This is why I do empathize with the many who have found refuge in the various sects, religious groups, and even cults that have sprouted like mushrooms. I can’t make sense of their theological acrobatics either, but at least they bother to make their rituals emotionally engaging. At the end of the day, spirituality is really about being able to make a connection with a higher being.

But every once in a while, you do come across priests that do push new frontiers and engage the faithful in many different ways. These are priests who connect with their flock; priests who see themselves as leaders and guides rather than as stern wardens of the faith.

I don’t know their names, but two priests have recently impressed and moved me. The first one was a priest at the Saint Joseph church at Baguio City. I was in Baguio City recently for a conference and I had the wonderful opportunity of hearing mass twice, both celebrated by the same priest. What set this priest apart from everyone else I know is that he seemed to have prepared heavily for each of the two masses I attended. I talked to a friend of mine who also hears mass at the same church and he validated my observation —the good reverend does prepare for each mass. This becomes very evident in the fact that he delivers a well-organized, very logical, and very clear introduction to every mass that he celebrates.

The introduction even came with a Powerpoint presentation where he summarized the points of his message – in bullet points! The result was that the mass goers came out with a better appreciation of the significance of the mass and the day’s Scripture. How many priests actually bother to think about the relevance of each mass in the Roman Catholic faith’s calendar? This priest also delivered his homily the same way—in well argued, well-organized fashion, complete with slides. Thus the whole experience was not just auditory but visual as well.

I also attended a late mass last Wednesday at the Baclaran Church and was impressed with the way a young priest tried to connect with the people who offered to the Mother of Perpetual Help their woes and tribulations. Noting the number of those walking on their knees toward the altar, he stopped the mass. Others would have reprimanded the seeming disrespect for the celebration of the mass. Not this priest. He appealed to everyone who felt the urgent need to be “closer to God” to join him at the altar but to do this in an orderly fashion making sure that no one got hurt in the process. I was amazed at the way hundreds of people were able to file in an orderly fashion toward the altar without shoving or pushing each other out. He continued to say mass with barely enough room for him to stretch his arms. It was a moving experience.

I think it was Stephen Covey who said that the way to manage change in this world is to maintain a changeless core inside each one of us. That changeless core is faith. The Catholic Church should tap into this wellspring of faith that continues to live inside each one of us not by preaching the same old dogma to which less and less people are listening.

(Image of Pope Benedict XVI's coat of arms taken from The Vatican's official website)

Sunday, October 05, 2008

A pathway towards better clarity of the issues on RH Bill

I have been very, very busy lately. In addition to helping manage a merger between two financial companies on top of my other jobs (managing human capital development initiatives in a major bank, teaching, writing, social development work, etc), I also had to manage a national conference with 1,500 participants. I have not opened all my emails in my yahoo account for weeks.

I tried to weed through the tons of emails today and found this gem, forwarded to me by a colleague at the De La Salle - College of Saint Benilde. I don't know who the author is. There are still points about this analysis that I dont agree with, but I think it is a fairly comprehensive take on the issues. Thus, I am reprinting it here.

I do agree with many points of the analysis. In particular, I agree that the way to move forward is to focus on agreements and to conduct the debate in a civilized, sincere, and ethical manner.

Reproductive Health and the Catholic Faith:
The Lagman Bill and the Catholic Moral Tradition
Agreement and Conflict

(Updated Sept. 10, 2008)

I. Introductory Notes

a. Reproductive Health

  • The Catholic Church uses the terms “reproductive health” and “reproductive health care” with a specific Christian meaning. The way the Church uses these terms is different from the usage of the UN, WHO or other organizations.
  • “The Church considers the terms “reproductive health” and “reproductive health care” within a more general concept of health. These terms embrace, each in its own way, the person in the entirety of his or her personality, mind and body. They foster the achievement of personal maturity in sexuality and in the mutual love and decision making that characterize the conjugal relationship in accordance with moral norms.” (from the message of the Holy See to First World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth in Lisbon 1998)
  • Reproductive health is viewed by the Church always in the context of the integral good of the whole person and every person.
  • The Church rejects the act of abortion or access to abortion as a dimension of reproductive health.

b. The Difference between Abortion and Contraception

  • Abortion is the “the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability or the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus”
  • Contraception is “every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, propose, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” (Humanae Vitae)
  • Contraception is different from abortion. They involve different acts, they have different effects, they have different moral meanings; although they are both seriously wrong acts, they are treated differently by the Church.
  • Abortion merits an automatic excommunication while contraception does not.
  • Some contraception methods/devices do not lead to abortion [condoms]
  • Some contraception methods/devices can lead to abortion [IUDs and morning-after-pill prevent implantation of fertilized ovum]
  • We need to be clear and precise about what we are objecting to; we object to condoms for their contraceptive effects; we object to IUDs and morning after pills for their abortifacient effects.

c. Interpreting Church Teaching

  • In interpreting its own teaching, at times the Church speaks in a diversity of voices.
  • Within the hierarchy and among the catholic laity there are conservatives, moderates and liberals. Depending on their views, their interpretation may vary.
  • It is important to listen to the various voices and discern the position that best embodies the whole of the Church’s moral tradition.

II. Points of Agreement Between Lagman Bill and The Catholic Moral Tradition

  • There are certain points in the House Bill on Reproductive Health which are in agreement with the Catholic moral tradition.
  • These positive points of agreement can be the starting point for a reasonable and civilized discussion between the legislature and the hierarchy.

a. Respecting the sound judgment of parents and couples

  • The Church objects to any coercion by the state on the decision of parents to decide the number and spacing of their children.
  • In various sections, the Bill affirms the rights of parents and couples to freely decide the number and spacing of their children. Its two-child recommendation is only meant as an ideal for families in their decision-making. (Sec. 3, g; Sec. 16;)
  • The Bill emphasizes that it is not coercive and no punitive measures will be imposed on families who exceed two children. (Sec 16)

b. Respect for the conscience

  • The Church teaches that the decision of a well-formed conscience must be respected. A person must not be made to act contrary to his or her conscience except if it involves grave harm to one’s self, to others, or to the common good.
  • The Bill makes it clear that conscientious objections of health care providers based on ethical and religious beliefs will be respected. (Sec 21a, 5)

c. Provision of comprehensive information on reproductive health

  • The Church teaches that the correct use of one’s conscience is dependent on its proper formation and access to necessary information for decision-making.
  • The Bill states that one of its aims is to provide relevant, adequate and correct information on matters that pertain to reproductive health. (Sec. 3,g)

d. Prohibition of abortion

  • The Church has made a clear and firm stand against the legalization of abortion in order to defend the life and dignity of the unborn.
  • The Bill states that it continues to proscribe and penalize abortion as a crime in the Revised Penal Code. It states that its provisions on assisting complications arising from post-abortion complications are not intended to violate this law. (Sec. 3, m; Sec 7, d)

e. Preventing Discrimination

  • The Church affirms the equal dignity of all persons and is against any form of discrimination.
  • The Bill prohibits the refusal of quality health care services and information based on a patient’s marital status, gender or sexual orientation, age, religion, personal circumstances, and nature of work. (Sec. 21, a, 5).

f. Care for the poor and vulnerable

  • The Church urges the government to extend preferential aid to those who are more vulnerable in society.
  • The Bill has various provisions that address the specific needs disadvantages groups such as the poor, senior citizens, women in prostitution, differently-abled persons, and women and children in war crisis situations. (Sec 2; Sec 3, j

III. Points of Conflict Between Lagman Bill and The Catholic Moral Tradition

A. Abortion

  • There are some who take the position that protection of the unborn begins upon implantation of the embryo in the womb (such as stated a previous version of the Lagman Bill [House Bill 17], Introductory Section, Par. 7). The Philippine Constitution declares that protection of the unborn begins at conception (Art. II Sec. 12) The Church also teaches that protection of the unborn begins at conception. This difference between implantation and conception is crucial.
  • Any device (e.g. the IUD) or medicines that prevent the implantation of a fertilized embryo is not contraceptive but is abortifacient and therefore any promotion of such devices or medicines would be a violation of the Philippine Constitution.
  • The current version of the Lagman Bill does not define clearly when the protection of life begins. Although it mentions the constitutional illegality of abortion it does not state directly that human life is to be protected upon conception. This is important because there are some contraceptive means that are actually abortifacient in effect (IUDs) while there are contraceptive means that can be abortifacient if used after conception has already occurred but implantation still has not happened (morning-after pills for example.) The Bill must make it very explicit that no devices or methods would be provided that is aimed at the prevention of implantation.

B. Mandatory RH and Sexuality Education

  • The Bill states that the Sexuality Education curriculum shall be common for both public and private schools starting from Grade 5 up to Fourth Year High School.. (Sec 12)
    Private Catholic schools would strongly object to this provision. In conscience, Catholic educators would refuse to teach methods of family planning which they consider immoral or unacceptable according to Catholic norms.
  • This provision can be accused of violating the freedom of religion and freedom of conscience of Catholic educators as well as the freedom of Catholic parents who prefer sex education based on Catholic teachings for their children. The Church would consider it unjust for a catholic school to be penalized if it refuses to teach methods of family planning that is against its moral teachings.
  • A better solution would be to allow Catholic schools to implement their own sex education curriculum and to allow Catholic parents with children in public schools to choose whether or not to allow their children to attend the sex education classes in their schools.

C. Providing the full range of RH services

  • The Bill states that the Reproductive Health Care Program will provide the full range of information and services pertaining to all methods of family planning including surgical methods. (Sec.5, f, 1& 6 )
  • The Church objects to artificial means of birth control that involve direct human intervention to prevent conception, either temporarily or permanently. The above provision will be interpreted by some sectors of the Church as direct promotion by the government of methods of family planning that are immoral. This is what some would call “cafeteria style” of family planning where all methods of family planning are all presented as equally good and acceptable.
  • For some sectors of the Church, this would not be objectionable because it respects the use of reason and the exercise of conscience of persons when making moral decisions. These sectors would focus on the formation of conscience to help Catholics make decision faithful to their religious and moral values.
  • Some may see this provision as recognition of the existence of a diversity of religious views on the morality of artificial contraception and sterilization. While the Catholic Church views contraception and sterilization as immoral, the Protestant Churches and some Moslems do not. Some may argue that since the Bill is to be applied to all Filipino citizens, it should respect different religious and moral positions on contraceptives and sterilization.

D. Natural and “Modern” Methods of Family Planning

  • Advocates of Natural Family Planning will object to the Bill’s use of “modern” to describe artificial means of family planning (Sec 3, a; Sec. 12, f). This gives the impression that the natural methods are not modern or not scientific thus giving a negative image to NFP methods.
  • Current natural family planning methods such as the Standard Days Method, the Two Day Method, the Billings Method, the Basal Body Temperature Method, and the Symptothermal method, and the Lactational Amenorrhea Method are based on the latest scientific research on the reproductive system.
  • The use of the word “modern” to describe the use of artificial means of family planning can also give the impression that out-dated (and ineffective) methods such as the old calendar method and withdrawal are natural family planning methods being endorsed by NFP advocates.
  • Withdrawal has never been recognized as an NFP method and the calendar method has already been replaced by more accurate methods based on body symptoms.

E. Free Ligation

  • The Bill directs public hospitals to provide indigent mothers delivering children in gov’t hospitals to be provided free ligation if they request for it. (Sec. 5, i )
  • This provision may be interpreted as evidence of the government’s bias for artificial means of birth control and providing improper enticement for the poor to have sterilizations. This provision makes it easier for people to choose artificial means of birth control over natural family planning.

F. Consultation

  • The Bill does not mention any consultation with religious groups or churches, unless these groups are under the category of NGOs. (Sec. 24)
  • Such an omission might be interpreted to mean that religious and moral beliefs of citizens are not significant factors in the formation of policies and programs involving reproductive health. A more explicit mention of consultation with religious groups can avoid criticism on this point

G. Employer’s Responsibility

  • The Bill states that CBAs should ensure the provision of an adequate quantity of reproductive health care services, supplies and devices. (Sec 17, Sec 21, c) But what if it is a Catholic institution? Should a Catholic school be forced to provide for contraceptive services for its employees it such an act would be against its moral teachings. The Bill should not penalize Catholic employers if they choose not to provide for contraceptive services and devices if it goes against their consciences.

H. Contraceptives as Essential Medicines

  • The Bill states that hormonal contraceptives, intrauterine devices, injectables and other allied reproductive health products and supplies shall be considered under the category of essential medicines and supplies which shall form part of the National Drug Formulary and the same shall be included in the regular purchase of essential medicines and supplies of all national and local hospitals and other government health units (Sec 10). This provision does not make a clear distinction between products that only have a contraceptive effect and products that can have abortifacient effects. This provision could legitimize the promotion and use of products that have abortifacient effects such as IUDs and morning-after pills. This can run counter to the Constitution, which asserts that human life is to be protected at conception.

I. Freedom of Speech

  • The Bill penalizes who maliciously engages in disinformation about the intent or provisions of this Act (Sec 21, a, f). Malicious intent is difficult to prove and there are wide disagreements about many aspects of the population question that the Bill is trying to address. It could be a violation of the freedom of speech of dissenting groups if they are prevented from speaking out to challenge the Bill. It is true that some opponents of the Bill who do not use correct information, but to stop public debate on the issue of contraceptives through the use of penalties will not solve the problem but instead will turn the Bill into a coercive and undemocratic act in violation of the freedom of speech.

III. Points to Consider

A. Necessity of Dialogue

  • The government must continue to maintain dialogue with the Catholic Church and other faith groups. Legislation that disregards or violates religious and moral beliefs will provoke opposition among the clergy and the laity, and will have very little chance of passing into law. The government, the Church, NGOs, religious groups and other dialogue partners must keep a level of civil discourse that is reasonable and rational.

B. Manner of Discourse

  • In all forms of discourse on reproductive health, responsible parenthood and population, there should be an effort to gain some form of reasonable consensus that respects basic values of all stakeholders.
  • A belligerent and antagonistic approach that uses insults, demonization of opponents, distortion of information, threats, and emotional arguments distract from and do not contribute to finding a proper response to urgent reproductive health and population concerns. Unfortunately, some sectors in the Church use these wrongs ways of discourse. They only cause confusion and make it appear that the Church is irrational, insensitive, and crude.

C. Democratic Process

  • It is not be in keeping with the democratic nature of our society for the Church to speak above the heads of its members and simply deal with legislators and leaders of government through pressure politics and threats.
  • The Catholic Church, in proposing its view of how to protect the life, health, and dignity of the human person should not only speak to leaders and legislators but more importantly it should speak to its members and form their consciences in order that they may exercise their moral choices through democratic and participative forms of political action.

D. A Way of Proceeding

  • “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”
  • For things pertaining to protecting human life and dignity, we need to come to a consensus for the common good;
  • For things that can be left to individual decisions without violating human life and dignity, we need to respect freedom of conscience;
  • In all our discussions, we need to speak and act with charity and understanding as members of the same human community.

    Eric Genilo, SJ
    Loyola School of Theology

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Punitive traffic management system

This is my column today.

Imagine that you are driving at night along the North Luzon Expressway. It’s a generally cool night, traffic is not so bad, and there’s a drizzle out there—in short, it’s a comfortable drive. Suddenly, a police car, one of those pick-up patrol cars that zip in and out of the expressway, glides by next to you and then signals you to pull over. You are sure that you haven’t broken any law so you are naturally apprehensive. At the emergency lane, two patrolmen in uniform get out of their police vehicle, approaches the driver’s window and demands your driver’s license. It’s a scary situation because it’s nighttime, you’re in the middle of an expressway, and for all you know the two guys were thieves masquerading as traffic officers. It’s been known to happen.

You ask what your offense is. They tell you that the taillights of the car you are in are defective; actually, a taillight (singular) because it is only the right taillight that was not working at that particular time.

This happened to me last Sunday evening while we were driving down from Baguio City. I must say that in fairness to the two traffic officers, they were not abusive. They weren’t courteous at first; but they weren’t gruff either.

I went down from the car, checked the taillights, and true enough, the right tail light was not functioning. It must have been busted fairly recently—most have been on that very day, or just a few hours prior to the apprehension—given that I drove the car around Baguio City in the last immediate five foggy nights were having functioning taillights was a must. I told the traffic officers that I sincerely did not realize that one taillight was busted. One of them gave a lecture on how drivers need to check the condition of their cars before entering their precious NLEX, how safety in the expressway is a major concern, blah blah blah. One comment made me groan inwardly. He said that I was supposed to know that a taillight was busted. Unless one is running behind a car while it is moving, how is one supposed to know that?

Since as a matter of principle I don’t bribe traffic cops, and I was already famished at that time and needed to go to a bathroom, I told them to just issue a ticket to the driver of the car.

The exchange was very cordial; no one raised his voice and tempers were kept in check. It struck me that the whole incident seemed like a good material for a column, so I started asking questions. In the interest of transparency, I introduced myself as a columnist of this paper and openly told them that I might decide to write about the whole incident. That’s when the behavior of the traffic cops changed. One immediately went to their car and called someone on a cellphone, supposedly to report the situation. I could overhear the cop reporting the make, color, and plate number of my car, my name, the name of the driver, etc. And that’s when they started to be deferential. They even willingly showed me their identification cards. I still insisted on having the violation ticket issued but I asked that the ticket specify exactly what the offense was. I noted that the ticket (Temporary Operator’s Permit) did not have the appropriate box for “defective tail lights” so the traffic officer simply wrote “defective tail lights” in huge letters across the middle part of the ticket. I asked him to specify that only the right tail light was defective.

The traffic cop was helpful in one other aspect. He volunteered that it would take a week before the license could be redeemed at the Land Transportation Office at its Head Office in Quezon City. Apparently, it takes that long before they could forward the confiscated driver’s license to the LTO. The expiration date printed on the ticket, however, was very clear: The driver was required to appear at the LTO in 72 hours.

Let me repeat for the record that while the whole exchange was not exactly pleasant and friendly, it wasn’t hostile either. Like I said, no one raised his voice; no one issued threats or behaved in a negative way. I did ask, however, what we were supposed to do since we had a defective taillight. What I wanted to know was whether we were supposed to turn on the hazard lights from that point on given that the main reason why we were asked to pull over and issued a ticket was precisely because we were supposedly posing as safety hazards at the expressway. The traffic officer told me it wasn’t necessary. We were told to proceed as if we didn’t have one defective taillight. It was as if a traffic violation ticket already lifted the hazard potentials.

This is my main beef with traffic enforcers. I am all for enforcement of traffic laws on our streets and highways. I think we can all benefit from a more stringent enforcement of traffic laws as most traffic jams are really caused by motorists who do stupid things on the road without thinking of the consequences to others.

But I have this feeling that our traffic enforcers seem to think that they only have one job description, and that is to apprehend real or perceived traffic violators. And in this respect, it does seem as if they have a quota that they need to meet everyday. They don’t seem to think that their job is first and foremost to make sure that traffic flows smoothly rather than serve as vultures on the lookout for unsuspecting prey. Thus, in many cases, traffic enforcers simply stand on the road oblivious to anything else, their attention focused only on spotting violators.

I’ve only been issued a traffic violation ticket a grand total of once in my whole life. I was charged with the very nebulous charge of illegal swerving. I turned right into Edsa from an inner lane, mainly because the outermost lane was filled with pedestrians waiting for their rides and who appropriated the whole lane for themselves. I wasn’t the only driver who was apprehended. In fact, there were at least six of us who were being issued violation tickets, and we were all obstructing traffic all the more. In fact, all of the MMDA traffic enforcers working at that time were busy issuing tickets that no one was minding the traffic anymore. I complained that if the traffic enforcers spent time clearing the lanes of passengers and guiding motorists, there would have been no need for them to write tickets to begin with. The point was completely lost on the hapless traffic enforcers.

This is something that I have been concerned about for quite sometime now. I am becoming more and more convinced each day that the traffic management system in our country is leaning more toward a punitive orientation rather than toward nurturing citizens’ behaviors. What appears to be the collective paradigm among our leaders and officials is that it is only through meting out punishment that Filipinos can be made to follow laws. I think this is a wrong paradigm not only because punishment has not been proven to produce positive behaviors, but more importantly because short of declaring martial rule, this country does not have the resources to enforce discipline comprehensively and effectively.

There are jokes that truly make your day. The following joke, which was delivered by one of the speakers at a conference I attended last week, had me laughing so hard. Question: What is the richest country in the world? Answer: Why, the Philippines of course! The proof: Ang tagal tagal na tayong pinagnanakawan ng ating mga pulitiko, hindi pa rin tayo nababa-bankrupt. Oo nga naman. Amen.