Thursday, May 28, 2009

Missing the point. Again.

And now I am  completely bewildered.   Can anyone tell me what exactly is the point of the senate hearings on the sex video scandals?  I know the operational objective was "in aid of legislation." But given the line of questioning done by our senators and the level of drama present at today's senate hearing, I am not so sure anymore.

Actually, my heart sank at the mere sight of the three senators conducting the hearing.  They just happened to be the three most annoying senators in my list:  Jajajajajamby Madrigal, Jinggoy Estrada, and Bong Revilla.  Talk about portents of worst things to come! (And yes, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago is not included in my list of most annoying senator.  Aside from the fact that she is in a class all her own, it's really difficult to be annoyed all the time by the lady senator.  She says the most shocking things, yes, but will anyone question the fact that she is soooooo entertaining?)

It seemed to me that the whole point was simply to publicly shame Hayden Kho.  Of course the guy deserves the humiliation.  The problem is that just like anything else, one's tolerance for shame is also flexible.  And it looks like Kho has broke his own shame threshold judging by his public demeanor.  Whereas before he couldn't even look straight into the camera and manage a few coherent sentences, he is actually articulate and very much in control of his emotions now.

At the rate things are going, I wouldn't be surprised if Hayden Kho will suddenly emerge as the victim in this whole thing.  I fear that the kind of persecution he is getting from everyone else - and for the wrong reasons, it seems - will eventually boomerang and result in a groundswell of sympathy for him.  It's not a farfetched idea.  He was doused by mineral water by former Police officer turned activist Abner Afuang during the senate hearing.  Who do you think got sympathy in that incident?

For example, I can understand the indignation of the local executives of the provinces of Palawan and Bohol.  But declaring Kho persona non grata and denying him entry into these provinces is an overkill; it's a blatant violation of one's constitutional right to travel.  The pontifications of the governor of Bohol was particularly appalling.  In a nosebleed-inducing rhetorical discourse, he talked about how Bohol is a province of virtuous, religious, etc, people. I guess I was wrong in my assumption that the ultimate measure of Christian values were compassion and forgiveness, then.  

Again, I am not saying Kho should go scot free or that his grievous mistakes should be tolerated.  

All I am saying is that we should limit the discussion to the crime committed.  All these static and sidebar issues about morality, parental responsibility, drug use, etc, serve only one purpose: Obfuscate issues.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rage and sanctimoniousness

This is my column today.

When you are angry, count to ten before doing or saying anything. This was an admonition my elders taught me when I was very little. I was already in college when I learned that the admonition was attributed to the Chinese philosopher Confucius and that it was actually incomplete. The other half of it said “when really angry, count to 100.”

I wish this admonition was on the minds of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel last Monday.

The two senators engaged in what I think was the most acrimonious verbal exchange ever made on the floor of the Philippine Senate. The two senators exchanged insults, called each other names, and even dredged up old grudges in the process. What was equally disappointing was that both senators were aware that members of the media were present and therefore seemed intent on making sure that the whole sordid exchange would find its way into newspapers and TV newscasts.

When two senators, both supposed to be elder statesmen, indulge in the metaphorical equivalent of fishwives engaging in a dirty tussle in full view of everyone else, then we know that civility is truly gone in this country, at least in politics, particularly in the Senate. Bastusan na talaga!

If it is any consolation, at least our senators have not yet engaged in a physical confrontation the way legislators in some Asian countries have. But at the rate we are going, and given the kind of people who are gunning for seats in the Senate, I think it is just a matter of time. Senator Miriam Santiago did prescribe it to Senators Ping Lacson and Manny Villar a couple of weeks back.

It is disappointing, perhaps even unnerving, to watch someone make an utter fool of himself while in the throes of rage.

However, there are probably fewer things more appalling than witnessing someone spewing sanctimoniousness just because he or she thinks he is espousing popular opinion. This phenomenon has become quite common in this country. We’ve witnessed quite a number of people who, at the height of major controversies, suddenly become suffused with righteous indignation and begin to think, act, and speak with the conviction of someone who preaches from a position of higher moral superiority.

The problem in a situation like that is not that people speak their minds in defense—or in support of—what they think is right. Everyone is certainly entitled to do that. What is problematic is when people become so blinded with what they think is the absolute purity of their cause that they tend to be deaf and blind to anything else, particularly to divergent opinions.

In the sex video scandals, a number of politicians, show business people, media people, and even ordinary people have suddenly turned sanctimonious condemning not only Hayden Kho but even passing judgments on sexual acts, fetishes, etc. When people start talking about “kalaswaan” (prurient) instead of sex crimes, then I sense trouble.

I already wrote about the scandal in this space last week (I think I was one of the very first columnists in this country to react to the scandal) and I already made an unequivocal stand condemning Hayden Kho’s victimization of the women in those videos. Let me restate for the record that I firmly believe Kho deserves to be hung in the bar of public opinion.

But I must also state that I find something objectionable in the holier-than-thou posturing of a number of people.

I think that Senator Bong Revilla should not be faulted for having come to the defense of victim Katrina Halili. He is, after all, first and foremost a movie actor. I also share the view that the issue is not any less important than other matters of national significance. The fact that the sex scandal is the most talked about topic in any gathering is proof of the relative importance people have placed on the issue. The senator’s checkered past should also be irrelevant in the discussion.

What Revilla should be put to task for is the way he has been indiscriminately making pronouncements that reflect a rather shallow appreciation of the essential issues in the case. The issue is not about sex per se, or perversions per se, this is simply about the fact that one man, or okay, several if we include those responsible for leaking the videos, committed a crime. So it is gratuitous, and clearly indicative of grandstanding, when a senator begins spewing condemnations of sexual acts in general in a sudden fit of moral indignation. Even the slant on Kho’s being a medical doctor is quite a stretch as if doctors need to comply with a higher moral standard than people of other professions.

Sex is a topic that brings out the inherent hypocrisy in some people. Thus, some people have been “nagmamalinis” (pretending to be chaste and moral) such as those that have been calling for the banning of the videos, or passing judgment on people who have watched, bought, or been searching for these videos—after they have watched the videos themselves.

In short, they don’t seem to find anything wrong with the fact that they themselves have seen the videos; they just find something objectionable when others do it. For example, a man interviewed on television had the gall to admit that he did watch the videos and allowed his friends to borrow them because he felt that more people should know the extent of Kho’s depravity and what he did to those women.

For instance, there’s this whole side bar discussion about Vicky Belo’s continued support for the beleaguered doctor or the state of her morals owing to the fact that there is supposed to be a sex video of her and Kho, but taken with her consent. I have no love lost for the Belos of this world, but really, these things are none of our business.

I already said this before but I will say it again here: Why can’t we just stick to the issues? These things are already complicated enough, why do we complicate them any further?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Pesky fixers at the transport agency

This is my column today.

It is my belief that there is a direct relationship between the level and extent of corruption and the number of fixers present in a particular office. Put another way, the more fixers present, the higher the level and the greater the extent of corruption in that office.

It doesn’t really take a lot of logical acrobatics to make this deduction. Fixers leverage on their personal influence and connection with the employees inside government offices in order to provide undue advantage to citizens who are duped into availing of their facilitation services. This can mean simplifying complexities in a transaction, doing away with certain requirements that citizens are unable—or find difficult—to comply with, or even reducing fees that may be subject to negotiation such as penalties and the like. In return, fixers charge “facilitation fees.”

In certain offices such as in most branches of the Land Transportation Office, some fixers even wear identification cards and are assigned the job of “reviewing” documents prior to submission to a processor. In this set-up, fixers assume the role of an assistant —an unofficial yet anointed layer in the whole government bureaucracy. Fixers with less influence with the employees of the LTO branch fend for themselves by herding people through the various steps of a transaction, acting as some sort of a process consultant. Whatever role the fixers assume in a government office, it is a foregone conclusion that their presence is not only known to the employees of that office. Their activities are conducted with the express blessings of the employees. It is quite simple - fixers won’t have anything to do if employees don’t deal with them.

The thing is, fixers are supposed to be banned from LTO offices. The agency chief, Arturo Lomibao, has on many occasions publicly denounced the activities of fixers and has repeatedly vowed to eliminate them from the agency’s offices. It is easy to prove that he has not had much success on the matter. Anyone with eyes and ears can easily verify the continued existence of fixers at LTO branches. Their continued presence is a slap on Lomibao’s face.

The employees of the agency justify the continued existence of fixers by asserting that the fixers provide invaluable assistance to harassed employees by functioning as extra hands during peak hours. This is the reason fixers are deputized as reviewers and processors of routine documents. The arrangement is not as altruistic as it is made to appear. Fixers find creative ways to fleece money from citizens. The fixers appear to be there to improve efficiency or help the agency serve citizens better, but in reality merely serve as representatives or agents of the employees in their corruption schemes.

The sad thing is that the transactions at offices like the LTO do not really require the services of a fixer such as when one is renewing a driver’s license or the registration papers of one’s vehicle. These transactions are pretty simple and can in fact be completed with a minimum of fuss. The problem is that government transactions are often perceived as hopelessly tangled up in red tape that people automatically presume that hiring a fixer would make the process easier. At the same time, most government employees are perceived to be unhelpful and uncaring and are there to make citizens’ lives difficult instead of convenient.

Anyway. What got me writing about fixers and their activities was the exasperating experience of a friend who wasn’t able to renew his driver’s license recently when he went to the Malabon Extension Office of the LTO because he refused to be a party to a corruption scheme in place in that office.

As many among us are aware, a Taxpayer’s Identification Number is now a standard requirement for a driver’s license. This requirement makes sense as people who want to be vested with the right to drive a vehicle on the road should also show proof of, at the very least, intent to comply with the most basic of all duties of citizens, which is paying taxes. However, the requirement is that applicants for renewal of a license should submit a TIN; nowhere does it say that an applicant must present a TIN ID.

Not even the Bureau of Internal Revenue requires taxpayers to present a TIN ID when paying taxes. And for working people, a TIN is a basic requirement. No employee can ever hope to get away from not having a TIN and from paying taxes because income taxes are automatically withheld from salaries. Regular employees are required to file income tax returns annually. Thus, being specifically required to submit a TIN ID to verify the veracity of one’s TIN does not make sense, particularly since there are various documents that can easily do the job. If we come to think about it, a company ID can very well take the place of a TIN ID since being employed automatically guarantees that the person already has a TIN. The requirement only makes sense if the LTO as an institution adheres to the belief that most Filipinos are dishonest and prone to declaring a false TIN on something important as a driver’s license.

But as can be expected from people with inadequate understanding of the spirit of the law, the fixers at the Malabon Extension LTO Office who have been deputized as checkers and processors of application documents can be quite intransigent, obviously because obstinacy is a good ploy to extract more money from hapless citizens. It’s a classic modus operandi— squeeze hard to produce more loot.

Unfortunately for my friend, he didn’t happen to have a TIN ID at that moment. He did have other documents such as valid residence certificates for the year 2008 and 2009 which contained his TIN. He also had a company ID that clearly identified him as an employee of a universal bank. And anyone with a functioning brain could easily surmise that my friend had been working for quite some time already (more than 25 years in fact) and could not have been employed for that long if he didn’t have a TIN. But no amount of explanation could sway a fixer out to fleece money and since my friend didn’t want to fork over bribe money, he chose not to have his license renewed instead.

But my friend, who stood his ground against corruption, is an exception. Most of us choose the easy way out by simply paying a bribe. There are those among us who justify availing of the services of fixers by saying that it is a form of job creation – at least these people are not indulging in kidnapping or stealing. I am not sure though that the corruption deals that fixers engage in can be considered any different from or less nefarious than stealing.

If we really come to think about it, another major reason why fixers continue to exist in government offices is that there is a market for their services. That means us—you and I and everyone else who choose to avail of the services of fixers instead of bearing with a little inconvenience.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Notes on a sex scandal

This is my column today.

‘‘O my god! Have you seen it?! I have seen it and it’s beyond shocking!!!”

This was the text message, minus a few more exclamation points, that I received Sunday evening from a friend. I honestly had no clue about what my friend was hyperventilating about so I had to call to ask for more details. You know, stuff like who he was talking about (!), what exactly he saw (!), and where he saw it (!).

It turns out he was talking about what is probably the most googled item in the Net today: The alleged Part 3 of the video scandal involving this young sexy actress and this handsome doctor who was—and apparently, still is—involved with another high-profile female doctor. I don’t want to mention names because the identities are not really important to the point I will try to make in this piece. The sordid chain of events could have involved someone else; in fact, these things have happened to other people.

Some people were still texting me Monday night for the Internet address of the site where the video could be viewed or downloaded (some people are under the illusion that I have access to many confidential information, which really is farthest from the truth). I knew the site, but I refused to share it. I saw no point in adding to the humiliation the girl must be going through right now. Yes, I empathize with the girl and see her as a victim in this whole mess; just as I empathized with the other girls who were victimized by sex scandals in the past.

Let me state for the record though that while I have seen the video with my own two eyes; I don’t think I am qualified to verify the identities of the couple I saw writhing in bed. There is such a thing as selective perception; many times, people become convinced that they saw exactly what they wanted to see because that’s precisely what they wanted to see. However, more sex videos of the male doctor in question have flooded the Net. I am told one such video involves a young model that had a brief stint in a popular telenovela. The hypothesis that many bloggers have been making, which is that this doctor has an unusual addiction, seems to make sense although I grant that it cannot be considered a definitive clinical diagnosis.

But anyone with a functioning brain can easily surmise that the male person in the video set the whole thing up without the knowledge of the girl. The video I saw started with the guy setting the video camera presumably inside a closet and all throughout the video, it is apparent that he was performing and “choreographing” the act for the camera.

Thus, I still have to meet someone who had already seen the video who does not feel hatred for that guy in that video—he is such a scumbag.

Dirty pigs like him is more than enough justification to approve the bill filed early this year by Congressman Irwin Tieng of the party-list “Buhay” classifying as a criminal act the taking of sex photographs or videos. The comments I have seen in the Web logs of certain people who have discussed the video range from exhortations to have the guy subjected to sorcery (ipabarang natin!), stripped of his professional license, or openly mocking him as being in the wrong profession (he should be a porn star rather than a doctor). From what I gathered in the discussion threads in some blogs, the person is now supposed to be undergoing psychological and spiritual counseling. Good for him, but what about his female victims?

Sex videos, more popularly packaged as sex scandals, are a major issue in this country and sometimes for the wrong reasons. This is because it seems we always tend to get lost on the static and yield to the temptation to lump issues together and make generalizations.

For example, one blogger blamed our culture’s supposed fascination with sex scandals involving the rich, the famous, and the powerful. Another one maintained that the one that should be blamed is the person who leaked the videos—the implication being that taking videos even without the consent of both or one of the parties concerned is par for the course. Naturally, there are those who also blame the girls involved for not having the prescience to know that the guy in question was up to no good. Not to be outdone, some religious zealot blamed the whole thing on everyone else who is advocating sex education and the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill.

I agree that we seem to be a country that’s fixated with scandals. What’s more, the range of our fixation seems to have been stretched to extreme limits. My problem is that when we make gross generalizations, we automatically lose sight of the individual and specific issues that are often more important. Labeling this particular sex video as a “scandal” gets everyone focused and engrossed only on the lurid details and consequently, shaming the parties concerned. What usually happens is that we lose sight of the more important issues such as victimization, exploitation, discrimination, etc. In this particular case, a clear case of abuse is present. Who should be blamed for the fact that there is a sex video cannot be refuted.

I also agree that people who leak and spread sex videos, particularly those who stand to make money out of someone else’s shame and humiliation, should be made accountable. This is however indulging in wishful thinking as we all know that’s a task that’s even more difficult than ensuring clean elections in this country.

Punishing people who watch or download sex scandals smacks of hypocrisy. Whether we like to admit it or not, sex scandals spread like wildfire because there is a market out there—there are lots of people with a secret (or not-so-secret) craving for sex scandals, perhaps because it brings out the inner voyeur within them. Before we know it, someone will propose legislation requiring psychological testing and sexual profiling from everyone. And it doesn’t make sense to blame the ready availability of technology such as cellphones or the Internet, either. These are just tools.

So in this particular case, I am just going to limit accountability to one person. The sex videos are out there because one person took those videos without the consent of the other person, saved the files, and became careless with them.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Job fair madness

This is my column today.

SPURRED by the supposed highly successful Jobapalooza job fair held on Labor Day where 200,000 jobs were supposed to have been available and 20,000 persons were supposed (I’ll explain the repeated use of the word supposed later in this column) to have been hired on the spot, a number of government institutions, professional organizations, non-government organizations, local governments, and even barangay councils have been busily organizing their own job fairs. It’s the shawarma phenomenon all over again.

Just last week, there were at least three major job fairs in Metro Manila, one of which was organized by the Social Security System at the Hongkong Shopping Complex along Roxas Boulevard. There’s another major job fair being put together by the Tourism Department next week. And like I said, even local governments and barangay councils have been holding their own job fairs in their own town plazas and barangay centers. I know this for a fact because I am a human resource management professional and the bank that I work for has been getting quite a number of invitations to participate in this and that job fair from cities and municipalities around the country. I’m also an active member of various e-mail groups of HRM practitioners and I’ve read far too many tales of woes from recruitment managers who have participated in these job fairs.

Let me restate what I’ve been advocating in this column for quite sometime now: There’s a lot of jobs in this country and this is easily validated by the fact that there are many business organizations that participate in job fairs. Many companies are now on a hiring mode since the dreaded aftershocks of the global recession didn’t materialize as originally feared.

I have nothing against job fairs per se. Job fairs are a good way to shorten recruitment and selection processes as it is supposed to bring together in one location the two parties that make up the supply and demand factors of the labor market—on one side, the people who are looking for jobs and on the other, the organizations that want to hire people.

However, the equation is not as simple as it is being made to be by government and the organizers of job fairs. There are dynamics of the labor supply and demand situation that need to be carefully considered. Obviously, business organizations cannot just hire anyone who walks into a job fair; therefore, they should not be pressured into doing so. And there is something horribly wrong in a setup where people are herded into a job fair like dumb driven cattle without the benefit of being appraised of the qualifications required by the companies doing the hiring.

The problem is that the organizations —government institutions and local governments in particular—seem to think organizing a job fair is a simple matter of providing a location, inviting companies to participate, and herding the jobless into the venue. Worse, it is very evident that job fairs are now being organized with some ill-disguised political agenda.

The recent Jobapalooza was a clear example of this. Companies were pressured into hiring candidates on the spot —some were even told to bring into the venue applicants they were already processing for hiring prior to the affair just to buttress statistics. In the morning of May 1, tens of thousands of applicants who were duped into going to the job fair were deliberately made to wait outside the venue under very uncomfortable conditions despite the fact that SMX could have easily accommodated so much more people inside (only 3,000 were initially allowed inside when the venue could have easily accommodated as many as four times that number) just so footages of throngs of people forming long lines outside could be made. Conditions improved significantly only when Vice President Noli de Castro left the venue and media attention waned. When television cameras left the scene, the organizers then allowed more people inside the venue.

And since elections are in the offing, some politicians have been using job fairs as campaign tool. Some have no compunctions about making preposterous claims about how they are offering jobs as their gift to their constituents as if they are the ones personally hiring candidates instead of business organizations.

Simply put, a job fair is not, cannot be, and should not be used as mere public relations propaganda tool designed to advance a political agenda. It’s not fair. The business cost of hiring the wrong person is tremendous. It is not fair to the companies that participate in job fairs because they genuinely want to help ease the unemployment problem by filling up their vacancies with qualified people. They end up with thousands of resumes that they cannot process because the applicants do not meet their requirements.

For most people, a job spells the difference between starvation and three meals a day. It is cruel to create false expectations and hopes. And it’s not fair to the jobless who flock to job fairs under the illusion that mere physical presence at a job fair, rather than qualification, is all it takes to be hired. They waste money reproducing their resumes and on transportation and food, even dressing up for the event and putting up with a lot of discomfort, only to go home still jobless as before. Yes, one more proof that it takes more than sipag at tiyaga to make it in this country.

The sad reality is that physical job fairs are not really that necessary; it can all be done online. If government is really serious about the whole thing, it can simply put up a common data bank, where candidates can send their resumes and which recruiters can easily access.

But if we insist on having job fairs, there are mechanisms that can be put in place that could save all of us—government, business organizations, and the candidates—the unnecessary expenses and aggravation. We can actually make job fairs work by just a little strategic thinking and just a little more consideration for the real needs of the parties involved.

We can calibrate our strategies so that a job fair does not become the modern day equivalent of the proverbial search for a needle in a haystack. Instead of organizing extravaganzas, we can make job fairs more targeted and focused. We can organize specific job fairs for specific industries and specific labor markets so that there is better person-job fit. We can put in place better mechanisms that ensure a more effective matchmaking process such as defining qualification standards and attracting the right people into the job fair. Obviously, the antics of politicians and government officials out to sanitize their sagging images will have to go.

The madness needs to be stopped. What we clearly need are a little more sincerity, a little less of the gratuitous posturing and politicizing, and more careful planning and organization.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Candy Pangilinan's tasteless joke

I've been asked to comment on the latest tempest in the blogosphere - the Candy Pangilinan issue.  The quick summary:  Entertainer Candy Pangilinan was in Baguio City recently to emcee or perform at a public affair and while at it, she uttered the rather tasteless joke that got her in trouble.  She was supposed to have said something like "Hindi po ako Igorot, tao po ako."

It's the kind of thoughtless and tasteless remark that is standard fare in sing along bars where ridiculing people and making very politically incorrect statements are passed off as comedy.  Some people think it's funny. I don't.  That's why I have not set foot inside sing along bars that offer this kind of entertainment in the last 15 years.

This is the problem with some entertainers.  They are not able to make the distinction between what is allowed inside a sing along bar - where people willingly part with their money to get skewered - and what should be said in public functions - where people go expecting more wholesome entertainment.

I remember a town fiesta ball where someone - an entertainer who is now regular fixture in ABS-CBN and who started his career in the sing along bar circuit - started his spiel by greeting everyone with, excuse the French, "Good evening c*nts and c*cks!" with all the crispy flavor of the local language.  I was flabbergasted. 

But to go back to the Candy Pangilinan issue, quite a number of people took offense - and naturally so! They made their displeasure known in the blogosphere.  Mainstream media picked up the story and a weeping Pangilinan then did the rounds of the television talk shows apologizing and offering all kinds of excuses for her tasteless joke- she was tired, she didn't have any sleep prior to the affair, etc.  She stopped short of blaming the weather.

This did not mollify a number of people.  Some local governments officially declared her persona non grata, etc.  We all know how matters of pride eventually become a major issue in this country.

I think that we should not take it against people when they express outrage.  Being angry is a natural reaction.  Having said that, I think that we should also continue to caution people against making irrational and irresponsible hate statements.  Being a free medium, lots of people seem to think of the blogosphere simply as a mechanism to vent whatever it is that need to be expelled from their systems. The challenge is to teach, educate, inform, influence, persuade, convince (thesaurus, anyone?) these people to be more responsible rather than automatically condemn them.

On the other hand, she has apologized.  What else is she supposed to do after?  Perhaps we can find it in our hearts to also make allowances for certain human frailties.  Let's hope she has learned from the whole experience.

And perhaps our television executives, directors, scriptwriters, etc., can take the opportunity to reconsider this rather disturbing way entertainers from the sing along bar circuit bring along their acts into mainstream television without making distinctions about the inherent differences in the two settings.  Sharon Cuneta's show, for example, has been showcasing these entertainers almost every Sunday evening - their antics are often not fit for general patronage. 


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sharing the blame

This is my column today.

I was at the wedding of a relative recently where a number of politicians were in attendance. Not only were the politicians and their significant others more gregarious than usual, hopping from one table to the next greeting everyone as if they were long lost bosom friends, they were also quite spiffily dressed as if they wanted to stand out and be noticed even from a distance.

I had to ask the bride how they were able to get the politicians to stand as sponsors and to attend the event. She snickered and told me that the politicians practically volunteered. A common friend who was eavesdropping on our conversation therefore concluded that the best time to get married is definitely before a major elections as that would ensure better attendance and more generous ninongs and ninangs, assuming of course that one has no issues about sharing the limelight on one’s wedding day with politicians who, as expected, use the opportunity to campaign, either subtly or not-too-subtly.

I was thrown off the wall when one of the sponsors, a congressman whom I barely knew—he and I were student leaders when we were in college, but he was from another university and we only knew each other only by name— acknowledged me as one of his “best friends” in college during his speech. Imagine further my chagrin when during the photo op sessions with the guests (he hopped from table to table) he told me in front of everyone else that we should “go out one of these days to catch up” as if painting the town red together was something we used to do on a regular basis together.

What amazed me, though, was that he did all these in a very natural way, which made me wonder which one of us was suffering from selective amnesia. But let’s make no mistake about this—that was a quick way to endear himself to my relatives on that occasion. If I were an insecure person who puts premium on being associated with big names, he probably would have gotten my support too. Unfortunately, I am a registered voter in Manila so I am not his constituent.

There are many variations of this story. We have seen pictures of politicians kissing babies, shedding well-timed copious tears while listening to some sob story of a constituent, dancing awkwardly to some tribal beat, singing off-tune in public affairs—in short, making utter fools of themselves in public.

I was at the town fiesta of Noveleta, Cavite the other week where a number of politicians were in attendance. Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Bayani Fernando was there, of course. A barangay chairperson whom I chatted up shared that Fernando met up with them to solicit their support for his presidential bid. He was his charming, gracious self and even displayed his vocal pipes at the affair. Even actor Jolo Revilla (son of Senator Bong Revilla) was all over the place bravely enduring what I thought was extreme sacrifice—being mobbed, hugged and smothered by kisses—by sweaty street dancing participants. Obviously, the poor bloke is gunning for a seat in Cavite politics.

Indeed, the things politicians have to do and become to win votes in this country. They have to woo voters in various ways—spending lots of money in the process and even putting themselves in embarrassing situations. Of course we are aware that a number of politicians resort to buying votes and paying operators to rig election results.

We like to take potshots of politicians and their campaign antics conveniently forgetting that the reason they do these things is that these are what seem to work in this country.

Most people don’t want to listen to a politician give a speech on the state of the economy and what he or she intends to do about it, they’d much rather see him gyrate and contort his body onstage to the tune of “Igiling,” preferably with a half-naked Sexbomb dancer as partner. Even at the forum held at the Ateneo the other night featuring five presidential hopefuls, they couldn’t help asking questions more designed to tickle and entertain the audience. The politicians were just too happy to oblige, of course.

We rile against corruption committed by politicians and accuse them of large-scale larceny and conveniently forget that many among us invite these people to stand as sponsors in baptism and weddings of our relatives, or ask them to bankroll certain community projects. We expect our politicians to be generous when it comes to money although most of us know that they don’t really make that much in terms of salaries.

A relative who used to be a congressman shared with me that when he was in office, he had to stand as sponsor in at least three weddings every weekend; sometimes the number would shoot up to as many as five weddings a day during June and December and in each one, he was expected to give at least P5,000 in cash as gift. And then there would be the scores of people who would come asking for support for all kinds of projects and begging for financial aid for all kinds of personal woes—from medical emergencies to burial assistance.

What I am driving at is something that I’ve been ranting about since I started writing my Web log and this column: We —you and I—are a large part of the problem. It’s just more convenient to blame someone else and politicians (and yes, government) seem the more convenient target. Our politicians do the song-and-dance routines because that is also what most of us are willing to settle for—entertainment rather than substance.

It is on this note that I therefore acknowledge the various movements that have been launched recently to educate and spur various components of the Philippine population to get involved in the 2010 elections. Three such movements that were launched one after the other day recently were the Ako Mismo, ABS-CBN’s Boto Mo iPatrol Mo Ako ang Simula, and the campaign to get more people to register, in particular the youth.

The three movements are using creative ways to get people to realize that electing leaders is not a trivial matter despite the carnival atmosphere associated with it. Elections are not just about electing people into positions it is about electing the right people for the right jobs. I still have to get more details about the specifics of each of these movements but based on what I have gathered so far, they are anchored on the premise that change begins with each one of us—not with the politicians, that each one of us is responsible for this country, and that it is time for each citizen to share in the task of making elections work. In short, it is time to share the blame and the responsibility. I will write about these movements once some details are clearer.

My main beef is that I foresee more movements sprouting like wild mushrooms in the next few weeks and months. As usual, getting everyone to unite around one advocacy is proving to be difficult particularly when business and other interests get into the picture. For example, I foresee that GMA-7 will come up with its own movement in response to the ABS-CBN movement. Let’s hope the old adage “the more the merrier” works in this particular case.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Press freedom versus civil liberties

This is my column today.

It always amazes me how seemingly easy and convenient it has become for some people in this country to make reckless accusations and sweeping generalizations.

A representative in Congress allied with the administration or with some political cause that runs counter to one’s own expresses a personal opinion or files some harebrained resolution or bill, and presto, all kinds of generalizations— mostly sinister scenarios—is automatically conjured. Thereafter, everyone gets worked up on stretching the generalization to the point of absurdity.

A senator gets his or her hand on some unverified information and he or she automatically goes to town with it invoking all kinds of conspiracy theories.

Someone files a suit against someone else and the default conclusion is that the suit is politically motivated or designed to muzzle free expression and freedom of the press, or suppress the truth. In most cases, political vendetta seems to be the favorite default conclusion.

I don’t discount the possibility that the sinister scenarios or conspiracy theories being peddled or stretched out there to form some semblance of logical deduction may be true. That’s always a real possibility in this country. God knows the extent to which the people who prowl the corridors of power in this country have been found to have no compunctions about using power for personal political or economic gains.

But surely a line has to be drawn somewhere between reckless accusations and sweeping generalizations propped up purely by scanty and unverified information boosted by sheer hunch on one hand; and conclusions arrived at through detailed investigative work and intelligent, responsible, and professional analysis on the other hand. Surely we are still capable of restrained, intelligent analysis of issues without automatically resorting to name-calling and conjuring sweeping generalizations and accusations.

The extent to which reckless accusations and sweeping generalizations are automatically resorted to—even by people who should know better, by people who have built solid reputations for rational and analytical thinking—is disturbing. The whole phenomenon borders on laziness and carelessness as if people don’t have time anymore for detailed and scientific analysis or investigative work. Small wonder, really, that most major controversies in this country do not get resolved even after everyone has grown hoarse or tired from the shouting match.

We were witness to a number of incidents that illustrate this phenomenon recently—from the latest travails of whistle-blower Jun Lozada, to the issue of quarantining the Pacquiao Team, even the way the Manny Villar ethics case was played up. In all of these cases, there seemed very little regard for getting the facts right, for thorough and impartial analysis. It seemed that people were just content with the sound bytes, the quick judgments, and the human-interest angles.

Let’s take the case of noted broadcaster Cheche Lazaro who posted bail last week in connection with the case filed against her by Ella Valencerina, vice president for Communications of the Government Service Insurance System, for alleged violation of the Anti-Wiretapping Law. Lazaro is of course a pillar in broadcast journalism in this country with a sterling reputation both in academe and in media. I am a fan of Lazaro; I think very highly of her work (I actually entertained the idea of applying with the Probe Team as an option after graduation from college). Being dismayed that someone of her caliber has to go through something like this is a natural gut reaction.

But if we really come to think about it, who Lazaro is and what she stands for is important and relevant but is not a foolproof defense and justification. I dread the idea that anyone who feels wronged cannot file a case against anyone on account of that other person’s reputation. I dread the idea that people like Lazaro is deemed untouchable because of who she is.

Moreover, I think it’s a disservice to automatically rile against the whole case, scream suppression of freedom of the press, and make reckless generalizations about how the case is yet another proof of sinister political machination of the powers-that-be without considering the intrinsic value of the case in terms of validating the constitutional rights of the press and safeguarding civil liberties of ordinary citizens. Oh please, the whole case is potentially just as much a chance to validate press freedom given the opportunity it offers to vindicate Lazaro’s cause as it is an opportunity to stress the right to privacy of individuals against the often invasive posturing of media.

I am told that the transcript of Lazaro’s phone interview with Valencerina specifically reveals that Lazaro informed the GSIS executive that the whole interview was being taped. Is that in itself license to air the conversation given that Valencerina had been adamant about her reservations about the way ABS-CBN has allegedly been unfair to GSIS? Do GSIS executives, because of the nature of their jobs and given the public interest angle of the particular issue Lazaro was working on at that time, have the right to withhold information, deny media scrutiny, or be selective about who they want to give information to? How and where do we draw the line between the freedom of the press and personal freedom and civil liberties? These, and other questions, are valid and deserve clarification by the appropriate authorities, in this case, the court.

For quite some time now, I have noted the rather irresponsible and abusive way certain members of media treat certain individuals particularly members of marginalized groups. How many times have we witnessed Karen Davila, Mike Enriquez and other media people instigate police raids, ambush interviews, etc, without any concern at all for the rights of the people involved? We’ve all seen footages of Davila, Enriquez, et al., calling people on a speaker phone to confront them with certain accusations without even informing the subjects that the call was being recorded or will be aired on Imbestigador or XXX. How many times have we seen media people armed with their almighty cameras—hidden or otherwise—entrap people from marginalized groups in various uncompromising situations and then air the footages without any concern at all for the privacy and rights of the people concerned?

It can be argued of course that Lazaro isn’t Davila or Enriquez, but the whole case is a profound test of the state of things in this country; in particular, in the way we should be able to balance our various freedoms and in the way we exercise responsibility, both as members of the press and as individual citizens. Isn’t it about time that we have an impartial, intelligent, analytical discussion on these issues?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Early political advertisements

This is my column today.

The elections are still a good 12 months away. Although not everyone is aware of the specific details about when candidates are allowed to conduct their respective campaigns (90 days prior to the elections for national positions and 45 days for local positions), it is safe to assume that everyone knows that candidates are not supposed to do any campaigning now; that it is against the law to do so.

Unfortunately, the laws in this county are not absolute; they are open to interpretation and that there are as many interpretations of the law as there are lawyers. And since the rich and powerful have better access to more and better lawyers, they get entitled to a more liberal interpretation of the law, something the poor cannot afford. The thought is disconcerting but not as appalling as the theory that our laws are mere suggestions—one can abide by them or not at all.

Most of the people who are gunning for public offices are rich and come from families who have been in power for so long. Small wonder, really, that they have no compunctions about breaking election laws this early. They leave it up to their lawyers and their public relations handlers to do the media spin.

There are at least seven people who have already signified their intention to run for president in 2010 and, ironically enough, to take the oath to “uphold and abide by the laws of the Republic of the Philippines.”

Of these, four already have serious nationwide campaigns ongoing. Senators Mar Roxas, Manny Villar and Ping Lacson and Makati Mayor Jojo Binay have regular television advertisements that extol their supposed qualities and accomplishments.

Senator Dick Gordon does not have television spots yet, but he launched a nationwide movement and came out with full-page advertisements last week. Metro Manila Development Authority chair Bayani Fernando has been combing the nooks and crannies of this country, attending fiestas, wakes, baptisms and whatever other event that can bring together at least 20 voters, in addition to plastering the country with tarpaulin banners of his mug. Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro has announced his bid via a poorly conceptualized and done-in-bad-taste cameo appearance during the recent Pacquiao-Hatton match.

Vice President Noli de Castro, Senators Loren Legarda and Chiz Escudero as well as former President Joseph Estrada are also reportedly preparing to launch their own respective candidacies and campaigns. Our television network executives must now be grinning from ear to ear.

The candidates who have jumped the gun and are already campaigning this early have justified what they are doing as “advocacy campaign.” But we know, and they know that we know, and we know that they know that we know, that this is just a cop-out (palusot). So what are we to do, then? Make mincemeat of their early efforts, of course. Not that it requires major effort anyway.

Manny Villar is staking his presidential bid on the baloney that he is the champion of the poor. He claims to have risen to his current high perch on society on the strength of “sipag at tiyaga” and is now prescribing the same values to everyone. He conveniently glosses over the role his wife and her family’s fortune played in his supposed phenomenal success.

Villar’s advocacy is insulting. Sipag at tiyaga are values that millions of Filipinos in this country live by on an everyday basis including the millions of overseas Filipino workers that Villar claims to be closest to his heart. There are millions of farmers, fishermen, garbage collectors and multitudes of minimum wage earners in various factories and sweatshops in this country who invest blood, sweat and tears into their work every day with very little results. They know sipag at tiyaga like the back of their hands. Telling them that sipag at tiyaga is all it will take to make it is patronizing. Sipag at tiyaga are just not enough— they bring minimum wage; they perpetuate subservience to landlords, feudal masters, and capitalists. What we need is more abilidad, which incidentally is what Villar has always had if we are to believe the rumor mill.

Lacson, on the other hand, is making capital of his supposed record as the nemesis of corrupt people in this country. His presidential campaign in 2004 showed a parade of Asian leaders whom he showcased as his role models, including Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand. Well, we all know what happened to the Thai leader and how he was banished from the kingdom due to large-scale corruption. The poor choice of role model does not seem to faze the senator; he was once associated with Erap Estrada. If there is a message that Lacson’s campaign is conveying to voters clearly, it is this: Obstinacy. He is still coming across as an uncompromising, intolerant, exacting paternal figure.

Mar Roxas has ditched the highly successful Mister Palengke campaign that catapulted him to the top spot in the 2007 senatorial elections in favor of a “champion of the masses” campaign, now being epitomized by that really funny television ”padyakitos” ad. The ad shows the senator huffing and puffing while driving a tricycle with just two little kids as passengers and looks like he is going to have a heart attack from sheer exhaustion.

The whole concept however stumbles big time on a simple character test—What kind of a person boards a tricycle driven by a little boy with a body size barely a fifth of one’s own? But then again, his approval rating was supposed to have skyrocketed after that ad which means either of three things: I am not the target audience of that ad, Filipinos are not very logical people, or the whole romance angle with Korina Sanchez has left most of us deaf and blind.

Binay’s campaign on the other hand is infuriating because it holds up Makati City as a perfect place to live in. Binay conveniently glossed over the fact that Makati is what it is now because it happens to be the business and commercial district of the whole country. Makati cannot hold itself comparable to other cities and towns in this country, which would be lucky if they are able to collect even half of 1 percent of the taxes Makati rakes in; doing so is plain showing off. He is not being nice, which is ironic because his slogan is Be Nice (Binay’s). I know it’s cheesy, but what can we do? There really is no accounting for taste.

What’s more, Binay is conveniently glossing over the fact that he does not have the support of the business district and that he has been at odds with the group for quite some time now.

The game of one-upmanship that our candidates have engaged on this early only reinforces our worst fear: Only the rich and the shameless can win in 2010.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Another Lupang Hinirang version

Is it just me or is there anyone out there who is also annoyed that the way the national anthem is sung by whoever is tasked to sing it before Manny Pacquiao's fights is always a subject for discussion afterwards?  

But you know what is worse than someone who tries to invoke "artistic freedom" on the way Lupang Hinirang is sung?  Someone who invokes it after singing a really, reaaaallllllyyyy bad rendition of their very own interpretation of the anthem.  

Put another way, it's bad enough that Martin Nievera tried to pass off as valid his own interpretation of the national anthem.  What is worse is that his rendition of his own interpretation sucked. 

I've already said this before and I am going to say it again here and now.  The people who are behind the telecast of Pacquiao's fight just need to be more responsible.  It seems pretty simple actually.  They should just teach whoever is tasked to sing the anthem how to sing it the right way.  Period.  It's something that should have been done before.  

It's time to put a stop to this madness.

Time out

For only the second time since I started writing my column almost three years ago, I missed a column today.  There was a family emergency yesterday involving my mom.  Thank God, she is okay now.

I hope to resume my column on Wednesday.