Friday, November 27, 2009

Elections and Christmas

This was my column last Wednesday, November 25.

I meant to write about the arrival of the grandest circus of all—also called elections in the Philippines. Since last week, we’ve been bombarded with all kinds of amazing stunts such as instant and dramatic changing of political colors, major comedy acts, etc. I’ve taken note of the astounding feats achieved by many of our politicians in the area of logical acrobatics as well as of the incredible turnarounds—in some cases, complete 180-degree turns—in terms of what is being passed off as political ideology. There’s even a lot of drama of the soap opera variety that’s out there; not to mention the antics of the clowns that want to become president of the Philippines even if they have no party, no resources, no qualification, not even fare money to and from the Commission on Elections. It’s a grand circus, indeed.

However, commenting on the absurdity of the whole thing seems incongruous at this point given the fact that dozens were massacred in Maguindanao last Monday in election-related violence. There’s no way anyone can still make jokes about this election season when it has become obvious that many politicians out there will stop at nothing—not even mass murder—just to win or be able to stay in power.

It looks like the 2010 elections are going to be the most contentions in Philippine history. I was in Leyte over the weekend where, in a family affair, I got to meet education officials who told me that many teachers had opted or were opting to retire early—at 60 instead of 65 years old—just so they could escape election duties in May next year. If what we’ve seen in the last few weeks are concrete indicators of what is in store for us in the next few months as the campaign fever heats up, then we must all brace ourselves for tough times ahead. It will be interesting, at times exciting; perhaps even hilarious. But I fear that it will also be bloody.

***

Almost overshadowed by the elections frenzy is the advent of the Christmas season. Yes, it’s that time of the year once again. For most of us in the corporate world, this means gift lists and endless Christmas parties. We all know Christmas parties have become elaborate affairs that require weeks, even months of planning.

Just to illustrate just how complicated Christmas parties have become in an era characterized by extreme consumerism and concern for political correctness, I am reprinting below an email that totally cracked me up. Hopefully it produces the same effect on you. It’s supposed to be a series of company memoranda sent through e-mail. Enjoy!

FROM: Patty Lewis, HR Director

TO: All Employees

DATE: October 1, 2008

RE: Gala Christmas Party

I’m happy to inform you that the company Christmas Party will take place on December 23rd, starting at noon in the private function room at the Grill House. There will be a cash bar and plenty of drinks! We’ll have a small band playing traditional carols... feel free to sing along. And don’t be surprised if our CEO shows up dressed as Santa Claus! A Christmas tree will be lit at 1:00 PM. Exchanges of gifts among employees can be done at that time; however, no gift should be over $10.00 to make the giving of gifts easy for everyone’s pockets. This gathering is only for employees! Our CEO will make a special announcement at that time! Merry Christmas to you and your family!

FROM: Patty Lewis, HR Director

TO: All Employees

DATE: October 2, 2008

RE: Gala Holiday Party

In no way was yesterday’s memo intended to exclude our Jewish employees. We recognize that Hanukkah is an important holiday, which often coincides with Christmas, though unfortunately not this year. However, from now on, we’re calling it our “Holiday Party.” The same policy applies to any other employees who are not Christians and to those still celebrating Reconciliation Day. There will be no Christmas tree and no carols will be sung. We will have other types of music for your enjoyment. Happy now? Happy Holidays to you and your family!

FROM: Patty Lewis, HR Director

TO: All Employees

DATE: October 3, 2008

RE: Holiday Party

Regarding the note I received from a member of Alcoholics Anonymous requesting a non-drinking table, you didn’t sign your name. I’m happy to accommodate this request, but if I put a sign on a table that reads, “AA Only,” you wouldn’t be anonymous anymore. How am I supposed to handle this? Somebody? And sorry, but forget about the gift exchange, no gifts are allowed since the union members feel that $10.00 is too much money and the executives believe $10.00 is a little chintzy. REMEMBER: NO GIFTS EXCHANGE WILL BE ALLOWED.

FROM: Patty Lewis, HR Director

To: All Employees

DATE: October 4, 2008

RE: Generic Holiday Party

What a diverse group we are! I had no idea that December 20th begins the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which forbids eating and drinking during daylight hours. There goes the party! Seriously, we can appreciate how a luncheon at this time of year does not accommodate our Muslim employees’ beliefs. Perhaps the Grill House can hold off on serving your meal until the end of the party or else package everything for you to take it home in little foil doggy baggy. Will that work? Meanwhile, I’ve arranged for members of Weight Watchers to sit farthest from the dessert buffet, and pregnant women will get the table closest to the restrooms. Gays are allowed to sit with each other. Lesbians do not have to sit with Gay men, each group will have their own table. Yes, there will be flower arrangement for the Gay men’s table. To the person asking permission to cross-dress, the Grill House asks that no cross-dressing be allowed, apparently because of concerns about confusion in the restrooms. Sorry. We will have booster seats for short people. Low-fat food will be available for those on a diet. I am sorry to report that we cannot control the amount of salt used in the food . The Grill House suggests that people with high blood pressure taste a bite first. There will be fresh “low sugar” fruits as dessert for diabetics, but the restaurant cannot supply “no sugar” desserts. Sorry! Did I miss anything?!?!?

FROM: Patty Lewis, HR Director

TO: All F*%^ing Employees

DATE: October 5, 2008

RE: The F*%^ing Holiday Party

I’ve had it with you vegetarian pricks!!! We’re going to keep this party at the Grill House whether you like it or not, so you can sit quietly at the table furthest from the “grill of death,” as you so quaintly put it, and you’ll get your f*%^ing salad bar, including organic tomatoes. But you know, tomatoes have feelings, too. They scream when you slice them. I’ve heard them scream. I’m hearing them scream right NOW! The rest of you f*%^ing weirdos can kiss my *ss. I hope you all have a rotten holiday! Drive drunk and die,

FROM: Joan Bishop, Acting HR Director

DATE: October 6, 2008

RE: Patty Lewis and Holiday Party

I’m sure I speak for all of us in wishing Patty Lewis a speedy recovery and I’ll continue to forward your cards to her. In the meantime, management has decided to cancel our Holiday Party and give everyone the afternoon of the 23rd off with full pay. Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Farewell, Victor


This is my column today.

Renato Victor Ebarle Jr. was at the prime of his life; barely 27 years old and just starting to build his career in human resource management. At the time of his death, he was recruitment manager of the Hotel Peninsula Manila. To say that he still had the whole world ahead of him sounds like a cliché but those among us who actually knew him, those among us who were aware of the kind of passion he had for life and for his work, people like me who had the privilege of having been consulted by him on many professional matters, know this with a certain degree of certainty.

I was Victor’s professor in three major subjects when he was in college. In each one of them, he sat at the first row, which said a lot about the kind of person he was. Professors know this for a fact: Bullies don’t sit in front of the class where they cannot annoy anyone.

I was his thesis adviser and he and his team spent a whole academic school year trying to break new grounds on the question of how person-job fit in the recruitment and selection process affects certain attitudinal and performance outcomes. It was a thesis topic a little bit complicated for undergraduate students, but he and his team were out to prove they were capable of doing something bigger. He eventually went on to pursue a career related to his college thesis.

When the newscasts mentioned his name as the victim of that tragic incident that happened Wednesday evening last week, I refused to believe it was really he. I tried to convince myself it was someone else; must be another guy who just happened to have the same name, I told myself. Going into denial was the general reaction among people who knew him. No, it couldn’t be Victor was the same lament that got posted and reposted in Facebook, Friendster and other social networking sites. The denial was improbable, but so were the circumstances around his death.

Many people including the police and media kept referring to the tragedy as road rage as if doing so could explain why someone’s life was suddenly snuffed out by an assailant who—it seems pretty clear by now based on the psychological profile being drawn publicly about him—should not have been allowed to drive a vehicle in the first place. There is simply no way to deodorize the tragedy. Renato Victor Ebarle Jr. was murdered.

Ebarle Jr. really didn’t seem like someone who would be involved in something so senseless. I had close interactions with the guy for a number of years and never, not even once, did he mention or give any indication that he was the son and namesake of a high-ranking government official who worked just a few rooms away from the President of the Republic of the Philippines. In fact, many among us learned that his father worked as undersecretary at Malacañang only last week.

There’s this baseless and therefore grossly unfair insinuation that there was something more to what happened other than it being a tragic case of Ebarle Jr. being in the same place at the same time with someone else with a dark past. The facts as presented by those who witnessed what happened are pretty straightforward. There was a traffic altercation. Thereupon, Ebarle’s car was blocked by the assailant’s car (bearing diplomatic license plates), who then alighted from his car and pumped bullets into Ebarle Jr.’s chest and arms like he was a sitting duck at a shooting gallery.

The victim of that incident was Ebarle Jr. and there was no way he could have provoked his death. The tragedy was not a consequence of a proverbial pissing contest between two scions of highly influential people—one the son of a high-ranking government bureaucrat, the other an economist of the Asian Development Bank with diplomatic immunity and privileges. Many will see this as an attempt at defense by a former mentor, but I say this with conviction and with utmost objectivity: Ebarle was not a brat. He was not the typical offspring of ranking government bureaucrats who walked with a swagger, called attention to himself, flaunted his connections, and got involved in mischief. He was soft-spoken and almost painfully shy. Everyone who knew him personally will attest to this: Victor was a gentle soul and he looked like it, too. He never cussed, never ever figured in a brawl, never got drunk in public, and never bullied anyone.

There is this speculative drivel being passed around that the tragedy is being blown out of proportion and given way too much media attention because the victim’s father happens to be a government official with direct ties to the Office of the President. Like many others, I also felt uncomfortable with the pronouncements of certain Palace officials who hinted at using the full powers of the Presidential Management Office to get the assailant at all costs.

But on second thought, why shouldn’t the government or the Office of the President be concerned with the death of young people like Victor? We all should feel outraged and the fact that his father is a government official should be irrelevant. The circumstances that attended the tragedy are more than enough to be outraged.

In a country where tens of thousands die every day, many for reasons that are also just as inconceivable, there is the temptation to dismiss the death of one more young person to statistics. We really shouldn’t allow ourselves to become numb and desensitized to senseless tragedy, particularly those that could have been avoided with just a little more responsible oversight—paternal or otherwise.

The truth is that there are just too many people who drive around as if they own our streets. There are just too many people who drive around in cars with diplomatic plates, or with special plates assigned for certain government or elected officials, who expect everyone else to pull over and kowtow to them as if they were monarchs. What is even infuriating is that very often, these cars are driven by relatives—wives, children, mistresses, friends—who expect, nay, demand, that whatever imagined perks and privileges due to the registered owners or assignees of the cars are also afforded to them as if rank, functions and official business were also transferable.

The sad thing is that it seems we’re supposed to accept that road rage is a phenomenon that happens spontaneously; something that cannot be avoided. I can already see the line of defense forthcoming: That road rage happens to the best and the worst of us, that it is a medical condition, that it is involuntary. I will not discount the possibility that all these are contributory factors to road rage, just as traffic congestion, extreme heat, or the sight of a half naked model peddling underwear on a billboard are potential antecedents of road rage. Actually, road rage is a complicated thing but all empirical evidence point to one thing—it can be stopped and managed.

Besides, I refuse to accept that Renato Victor Ebarle Jr. died simply because of road rage. It happened because there was another person on the road that night who either had unspeakable evil in his heart or simply should not have been allowed to drive a car, particularly one with diplomatic plates on it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Goodnight, Victor

There was a part of me that suspected it was him. How many people would have the same name?

But it just didn't sound like he would be involved in something senseless like that so I refused to believe it was him. I was in denial.

I interacted with the guy for three years. He was my thesis advisee so I met him practically every other day for a grand total of three terms (about 14 months). Actually he and his team were supposed to work on their thesis for only two terms but, well, I felt they weren't ready so I deferred them for one term. In addition, he had the misfortune of being under me in three other courses.

Because I can only accept one or at most two groups every year as advisees, I end up having this special relationship with my thesis advisees. They become like my own children and I become quite protective of them.

Victor Ebarle Jr was killed Wednesday night in a road rage incident involving the stepson of an official of the Asian Development Bank. I am sure you have heard about the tragic incident. It turns out the suspect was someone who was involved in another gruesome incident just a couple of years ago but was released on bail.
I still am having difficulty trying to figure out why something senseless like this could happen.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Politics by affinity

This is my column today.

I’ve been traveling to my home province of Leyte a lot in the last few weeks. No, it’s not because I am running for public office although like most everyone else with some kind of pseudo popularity I also have been asked to run by some well-meaning individuals and groups. I’ve been going home mostly for work but these trips have been quite insightful in the light of political developments shaping up in the province in the run up to 2010.

It seems this idea of change in politics is something that a lot of people are taking seriously because there seems to be a mad race to get as many “new names” as possible into the political arena. The problem is that many people are taking the clarion call rather literally—they interpret the need for change as the opportunity to recruit fresh faces as candidates, including those without any inclination or aptitude for politics or public service. The general attitude is that anyone who is not a politician or has not run for public service is potentially a better bet compared to someone who has been in politics for quite sometime and therefore presumed to have succumbed to corruption in the course of being a politician.

I think that making generalizations is a dangerous thing but it’s difficult to argue with people with strong convictions based on years of observation. It’s almost impossible to single out politicians who have remained untainted with accusations of corruption or abuse of power while in office. However, I still think that politics is a career that requires certain competencies. Thus, getting any Juan, Pedro and Jose to run for office without any regard for qualification, or skills, or platforms is potentially disastrous.

In response to the call of the times, there are those who have shamelessly abrogated unto themselves the mantle of “new politics” even if they represent the status quo. Like Chiz Escudero, they use the mantra of change, or as Escudero likes to say so himself, “new change,” merely as a convenient political slogan rather than as an advocacy.

Thus, in Leyte, and I presume anywhere else, husbands are giving way to wives or vice versa, parents are giving way to children, or siblings to another sibling. Political dynasties are playing a game of musical chairs. The strange thing is that these families actually expect voters to believe that the change in candidates already represent change in politics.

And then there is this new development of politics by affinity—that is, husbands or wives of residents of the province gunning for elective posts in the province.

Actor Richard Gomez is seeking to represent the people of the Fourth District of Leyte, home turf of his beautiful wife, Lucy Torres Gomez. Former actress Christina “Kring Kring” Gonzales Romualdez, currently councilor of Tacloban City, is reportedly intent on becoming its next mayor.

I talked to a number of voters in the Fourth District to get a sense of how people are responding to Gomez’ candidacy. I didn’t meet anyone who had a nice word to say about it. Everyone I talked to felt that Gomez didn’t stand a chance of winning. First, he is up against a powerful political clan—the Codillas of Ormoc—whose family is well entrenched in the district. Practically all the mayors of the towns in the Fourth District are related either by blood or marriage to the Codillas. Second, Lucy Torres Gomez’ family is not exactly endeared to the masses of the district. The Torreses are hacienderos who don’t socialize with the poor. Third, there is a backlash directed at celebrities like Gomez who are perceived as opportunists.

“But what about Gomez’ matinee idol appeal?” I asked. Apparently, Gomez is not that popular in Leyte, which is Kapamilya country. “It would have been a different story altogether if it were Piolo Pascual running,” the women I talked to shrieked.

Christina Gonzalez Romualdez, who is married to Alfred Romualdez, current mayor of Tacloban, already won the most number of votes as councilor in the 2007 elections. If we are to believe the scuttlebutt, Alfred Romualdez will challenge Jericho Petilla for the governorship leaving his wife, the former actress, at the helm of the city. If things go as planned, she will be up against Dan Palami, a young charismatic leader who seems to have the support of the youth. Palami was born and schooled in Tacloban City while Romualdez’ ties to the city is purely by marriage. The talk around the city is that most people have had enough of politics by affinity.

* * *

Like everyone else, my family and I were glued to the television set last Sunday as Emmanuel “Pacman” Pacquiao pummeled the daylights out of Manuel Cotto of Puerto Rico. As usual, GMA-7 loaded the delayed telecast with advertisements although mercifully, did not cut off telecasts in the middle of a round to accommodate a political advertisement. Pacquiao’s victory over Cotto has already been discussed and written about extensively—in fact, many broadsheets gave the news the proverbial “second coming” treatment— and there’s really very little else that can be written about the fight itself.

A friend who watched the fight live at Las Vegas gave a minute-by-minute update via twitter and Facebook using his cellphone. It was a wonder he was able to watch the fight itself. He reported that the audience chanted “We want Floyd!” immediately after Pacquiao’s victory like spectators at a gladiator fight screaming for more blood. This is the basic nature of the sport—it celebrates one man’s physical victory over another; and one of the sad consequences of Pacquiao’s phenomenal success in boxing is that it makes us forget about the cruel nature of the sport itself. Pacquaio won; but he didn’t exactly come out of it unscathed. Doctors had to drain blood out of his right ear after the fight and his face was all puffy.

Barely a day before Pacquiao went up the ring to face Cotto, another Filipino boxer Z Gorres was knocked down on Round 10 of his fight against Colombian boxer Luiz Melendez and had to undergo emergency surgery to remove a blood clot in his brain. Although Gorres’s condition has already improved, indications point to many months in rehabilitation. He will never be able to return to boxing again or take up other competitive sports.

One can therefore empathize with Dionisia Pacquaio’s request for his son to give up boxing already. It’s a mother’s sincere plea for a son’s well-being, something that will most likely get drowned in the mad scramble to sustain one of the country’s few remaining tickets to global sports renown.

When Pacquiao comes home in the next few days, he will, however, have to face more frenzied attention to talk about the state of his personal life, in particular, about his marriage. The gossip mill has been working overtime over the last week spilling out really juicy and scandalous bits about his supposed affair with a starlet who was lording it over at Las Vegas. All the drivel is really sad because media projection of Pacquiao has already been largely positive in the last year or so and his stature as a Filipino role model has been gaining ground. A scandal is the last thing he needs right now.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bigotry of the highest order

This is my column today.

In 2007, Ang Ladlad, a group fighting for the welfare of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders was denied party-list accreditation by the Commission on Elections on the grounds that it didn’t have national representation. The Comelec required proof that there were lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people across the land. The denial, based on technicality, rankled because surely one has to be blind, deaf and stupid not to realize that Ang Ladlad’s constituency can be found anywhere and everywhere in this archipelago. True, not all of them are registered members of Ang Ladlad; but then again not all Filipinos pay taxes, vote, or get residence certificates to qualify as Filipinos.

Last week, the Comelec denied anew Ang Ladlad’s petition for party-list accreditation. This time the poll body didn’t hide behind technicalities. The three commissioners who signed the decision, namely, Commissioners Nicodemo Ferrer, Lucenito Tagle, and Elias Yusoph, didn’t mince words. They said, in so many words, that Ang Ladlad, and by extension, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders, didn’t have the right to be represented in Congress because they are immoral people.

I don’t know Ferrer, Tagle, and Yusoph personally but I want to know what type of purified air they breathe that makes them qualified to declare other people immoral.

That the Comelec denied Ang Ladlad’s petition was not totally unexpected although not any less disappointing. Many of the walls that compartmentalize people and make minorities more prone to hate, prejudice and discrimination may have already been torn down by the collective effort of many enlightened people but sadly, there remains people who are still stuck in the Middle Ages in terms of general attitudes and paradigms particularly when it comes to diversity issues. Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders may have gained some measure of acceptance in certain aspects of society, but as the recent ruling of the Comelec has once again validated, there are quite a number of people—many of them, ironically, people who should know better or are in a position to promote enlightenment—who still subscribe to very fundamentalist points of views, people who cling to puritanical tenets long rendered obsolete and irrelevant.

We also happen to have an electoral system that is deeply steeped in political patronage; where groups and individuals that do not have political clout, don’t kowtow to the powers-that-be, or simply don’t have the economic resources to deodorize its public image stand no chance of being in the ballot.

Ang Ladlad does not have the political clout or the resources other party lists associated with powerful lobby groups and even powerful political individuals. Ironically, the party-list system was precisely established primarily to break this system. Party-list groups were supposed to represent marginalized groups who otherwise would have no means of getting elected through the usual channels.

But then again, we’re also supposed to be a country that’s more tolerant and accepting of sexual minorities and their issues so there was some reason to hope that Ang Ladlad would finally get accreditation this time around. After all, even mainstream television show Pinoy Big Brother already has a transgender self-identifying as a woman inside the house and she is one of the more popular housemates of the season. God knows there are just too many issues affecting sexual minorities that need urgent legislative attention. For example, the anti-discrimination bill has been pending in Congress for quite sometime now. The Comelec has now squelched those chances.

Being denied accreditation is one thing. But to be slapped and spat on the face at the same time; to be called immoral and to be accused of being a danger to the youth of this country—well, that’s not just cruel. That’s pure, unadulterated bigotry.

Danton Remoto, professor in the last 20 years at the Ateneo de Manila University and president of Ang Ladlad bristled at the accusation that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders pose a threat to the youth. I personally don’t get the acrobatic logical deduction that props up this argument. Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders have been in society for as long as the human race—many of them have been occupying positions of authority. In what distinct ways have they harmed or could potentially harm the youth of this country? As far as I know, many of the crimes attributed to them, including sexual crimes, are more pronounced in other sectors of society.

Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders are teachers, laywers, doctors, dentists, engineers, writers, etc. They are also fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends. To say that they post a threat to the youth not only defies logic; it is a reasoning that strikes at the core of the very essence of humanity. Remoto is correct, the Comelec decision smacks of intellectual bankruptcy. What the Comelec is saying is that it is okay for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders to teach our children, treat the sick, build houses, etc, but they have no right to have official representation in Congress.

Why should Ang Ladlad earn seats in Congress? Some people cattily remark that sexual minorities don’t anymore need representation in Congress because of the many supposedly closeted members of the sector already in Congress. This reasoning flies on its face because if it were true and we tacitly agree, then the Comelec commissioners are wrong—there is no threat after all. There’s also this assertion that sexual minorities don’t need representation because their issues can very well be advocated by other legislators. This argument negates the personality of all other party-list groups if not of the whole party-list system. We might not as well have party-list groups for women, or farmers, or educators because many legislators respond to these demographic groupings.

Ang Ladlad has time and again stressed that they are not fighting for special rights. Their platform includes the following:

1. Support the Anti-Discrimination Bill that gives LGBT Filipinos equal opportunities in employment and equal treatment in schools, hospitals, restaurants, hotels, entertainment centers, and government offices.

2. Re-filing of the bill to repeal the Anti-Vagrancy Law that some unscrupulous policemen use to extort bribes from gay men without ID cards;

3. Setting up of micro-finance and livelihood projects for poor and handicapped LGBT Filipinos;

4. Setting up of centers for Golden Gays, or old and abandoned LGBTs, as well as young ones driven out of their homes. The centers will also offer legal aid and counseling, as well as information about LGBT issues, HIV-AIDS, and reproductive health. What is so immoral about these goals?

What is ironic is that the Comelec’s decision serves only to highlight the fact that the sector is indeed marginalized. The Comelec has just validated beyond reasonable doubt that truly, institutionalized discrimination directed at the sector exists.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Busy

For the third time in three years, I missed a column today. Lonnng story. Sorry

Absurdity

This was my column last Monday, November 9.

As Yul Brynner thundered in the musical The King and I: “It’s… a… puzzlement!”

Most can’t wait to get rid of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Yet strangely, there’s also this rather perverse, almost insane attention already bordering on fixation, around her political plans after her term as President expires in 2010.

In fact, I would even venture to say that many are indulging her or her allies this fairy tale fantasy that there still remains some semblance of a high-profile political career for her and that she could still continue to wield power after she steps down as President. The initial talk was that of Arroyo becoming prime minister. When that didn’t work, the talk shifted to her becoming Representative of a district in Pampanga en route to becoming presumably Speaker of the House, and in the event Charter change gets through the gauntlet that is the Philippine Senate, prime minister. The buzz last week was that of Arroyo settling for the vice presidency.

Of course the issue of Arroyo’s political fortunes beyond 2010 is complicated and confounding; almost like a multi-headed hydra.

There is the distinct possibility that all these discussions of options are really part of some sinister political machination designed to condition all of us to accept a political eventuality. As the old saying goes, where there is smoke, there is fire. Perhaps Arroyo and her allies are really so drunk with power that they have become numb to the general discontent and revulsion many have toward them. Perhaps the President really wants to become representative and eventually speaker of the House just to be able to continue to wield power enough to escape political prosecution from the next administration.

It is also possible that the conditioning process that is being employed here is directed toward attaining a more benign political goal, albeit no less devious. By stoking people’s fear of the specter of a President-in-perpetuity, we are all being conditioned to accept a compromise which is to give the President the chance to live out her retirement in peace, free from persecution, or else.

There is also the distinct possibility that the issue is being harnessed by various political forces for their own vested interest. Two of the most widely-used campaign strategies being employed today by those who stand to gain from them are, first, to enhance political stock by painting oneself as the complete opposite of the President—and many have no compunctions of resorting to this old Machiavellian tactic. Second, which is a natural extension of the first, is to invoke Arroyo’s supposed political kiss of death.

But what are we to make of everybody else’s continuing fixation with Arroyo’s and her allies’ furious efforts at wishful thinking? Instead of quashing the idea firmly with a “no effing way!” many are actually furthering it, even adding fuel to the conflagration, by saying that the possibility is not remote and that anything can happen in this country as if we are all spineless jellyfish puny to political machinations. Oh please, if there is something that Filipinos consider anathema after Ferdinand Marcos, it is overstaying presidents.

Fidel Ramos was one of the better presidents we have had and his reason for wanting to stay in power longer was more valid, but the Filipino people didn’t want to take the risk of having another president laying proprietary claims to the office. The people didn’t want to give it to Cory Aquino, not even to Fidel Ramos. What makes anyone think that Filipinos would give it to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo?

However, the idea of the President running for vice president in 2010 is downright absurd. I am surprised that people who are supposed to know better bothered to dignify it with some semblance of an intelligent reaction. To my mind, the logical reaction to the trial balloon propped up by Representative Danilo Suarez was to laugh it off as gibberish regurgitated by someone with an overactive imagination who unfortunately had nothing better to do.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is a lot of things but she is not crazy. She knows that her chances of winning the vice presidency is about the same as that of an ice cube surviving in hell. One has to be blind, deaf and stupid not to realize that running for the vice presidency is worse than political suicide both for Arroyo and the ruling coalition. They might as well kiss goodbye whatever microscopic chances Gibo Teodoro has of becoming president of the republic.

But lest we forget, we are a country populated by politicians afflicted with the most severe cases of narcissism so the fact that quite a number of our national leaders actually scrambled all over themselves to register their reactions was to be expected. Even those who wanted to say they had no comment on the matter, people like Senator Pia Cayetano, still managed to say quite a mouthful in the process.

Nevertheless, I did find Senator Mar Roxas’s reaction an exercise in unwarranted sanctimoniousness. Although he did preface his reaction with a lighthearted comment about how Arroyo’s purported candidacy would boost his own chances of winning the vice presidency, what he said next left a bad taste in the mouth. He actually said that they have nothing to fear because what they stand for is righteousness while the administration symbolizes wrong deeds.

Crucifying this administration for various wrongdoings is par for the course and it is very often fully deserved. However, I don’t think leveraging on the misdeeds of others to boost one’s political stock is righteous either. To actually verbalize that one is righteous is downright being sanctimonious.

I know what some pundits are going to say: They will say that Bong Austero is quick to dismiss this administration’s frailties but are hard on members of the opposition. I’ve said this many times and I am going to say it again here. I think it is hypocritical to ask this administration to be honorable and moral because these things are simply beyond their comprehension. It’s like asking a scorpion to refrain from being a scorpion. But the others who are leveraging on this administration’s lack of morals to prop up their political stock should hold themselves up to a higher moral standard precisely because that’s what they are supposed to be about.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

MIxed feelings

This was my column yesterday, November 4, 2009.

The ad opens with dried leaves around a bonfire being swept by winds while the first notes of a haunting melody fade in. The camera then focuses on the burning flames, a resplendent conflagration of yellow, as a pensive Regine Velasquez—also in yellow, must I say it—begins to sing about the need for unity in these dark, difficult times.

What follows is a montage of shots of various celebrities in trademark yellow—from Sharon Cuneta, to Ai-Ai de las Alas, to Boy Abunda, to Kris Aquino, to Anne Curtis, to Ogie Alcasid (who wrote the song), to Dingdong Dantes, to James Yap and what looks like the Philippine Team (a friend cattily remarked that the only people missing in that ad were the Lopezes, the Gozums and Mother Lily Monteverde)—and people supposedly representing Filipinos from all walks of life passing on the flame from one torch to another until the whole landscape is ablaze with the fire of a thousand torches.

At various strategic points of the three-minute ad, the candidate wearing his campaign uniform comprising of a simple shirt with the map of the Philippines emblazoned in the left chest area is shown either passing on the torch to someone else, or leading the people in what appears to be a symbolic journey out of the woods and out of the dark. A fluttering banner with the faces of the candidate’s famous parents makes an appearance exactly at the point when the song mentions them (something about continuing the fight of Ninoy and Cory).

The ad ends with the candidate on top of a mound holding a torch on his right hand flashing his pearly whites while Regine Velazquez brings the song to a rousing close. The words Hindi Ka Nag-iisa is inscribed onscreen while the closing credits—a long list of people, groups, and institutions—roll quickly.

I didn’t know what to make of the ad. But it made history, that’s for sure.

The star wattage in that ad is formidable. In a country where celebrity endorsement is a major factor, being able to assemble that many celebrities, and from competing networks at that, already represents a singular achievement although it really smacks of traditional politician shtick. Kris Aquino is beaming proudly in that ad and I am sure it’s not just because the candidate is her brother. All anyone out there who still has doubts about the critical and major role the supposed Queen of All Media wants to play in her brother’s campaign needs to do is to watch the ad to be fully convinced. It has Kris Aquino written all over it.

On the other hand, the presence of too many celebrities tended to drown the message of the ad so much so that it came across as contrived and unnatural. As a result, the other talents—the ones who were supposed to stand for ordinary Filipinos—looked a bit sterile and the overall effect was too slick and glossy to really draw optimum empathy from viewers. It didn’t help that Noynoy Aquino still looked awkward. Obviously, Aquino is not a showbiz person and his discomfort was quite noticeable.

The ad also happened to be riddled with too many clichés. I hate being a critic but the lyrics of the song are awfully hackneyed and redundant in some parts (kahit paligid ay madilim, iilawan and daan tungo sa magandang kinabukasan; kami ay kasama hindi ka mag-iisa, etc). The opening shot hearkening to the proverbial winds of change riffling through dried leaves is a staple feature in many movies. The lighted torches were not exactly original, or for that matter, an inspired idea. The thing with torches is that it reminds people very strongly of scenes in Filipino movies where the community gather to lynch an aswang. Of course it is possible that this was also the subliminal intent of the ad—we need to start a lynching process to rid ourselves of the numerous aswang in government.

Having said that, let me also state for the record that I think the ad is a much welcome diversion from the usual political ads of this electoral season.

While I do think that the ad wasn’t in any way subtle about what it wanted to say, at least it said what it wanted to say symbolically or metaphorically rather than hit us over the head repeatedly and directly with the usual messages of self-glorification.

Like I said, I have no illusions of the Aquino ad being subtle, but at least, unlike Manny Villar’s ads which tend to bamboozle us unabashedly with false claims of his rags-to-riches story, Aquino’s ad allowed images to bring home the message.

Unlike Chiz Escudero’s ads that remain inchoate and confused as his political ambitions, Aquino’s ad makes no bones about his intent to become President of the Republic.

I think that the ad succeeds in solidifying support for Aquino among those who have already thrown their support behind him. It’s an ad that appeals to emotions as it reprises the fervor of the people power movements. The lyrics of the song in fact trundles the same old slogans from Edsa One from hindi ka nag-iisa to kapit-bisig.

It might also work for people who are strongly convinced that the main issue in the 2010 Presidential contest is character as the ad reinforces the almost mythic packaging of Noynoy Aquino.

But I really doubt if the ad appeals to people who are still ambivalent toward Aquino’s candidacy. For people who still want to know more about Aquino—for example, where he stands in various critical and urgent issues of national import—I am afraid the ad does not really give any hints in this direction.

We already know that Noynoy Aquino is who he is because of the circumstances of his birth. The question that needs to be answered, really, is whether he truly is his parents’ son. This question requires answers that appeal to the intellect and to reason. And so far, Aquino’s camp has remained silent in this area. Hopefully, the succeeding ads will move toward this direction.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Yet another holiday snafu

This is my column today.

Just because some people have had ample experience in administering something does not mean they get better at it; or that they actually learn while doing it. Put another way, some people not only do not learn, they actually get worse each time.

In case you haven’t heard, or are still in denial because you have already made plans for Nov. 27 to 30 (such as booking non-refundable hotel and travel arrangements), here’s some news for you: Nov. 27 and 28 are no longer holidays.

Yes, you read right. Six months after the fact was announced, Malacañang did a quick turnaround and took it back Friday last week. Nov. 30, Andres Bonifacio Day, is still a holiday, though; and if it wasn’t for the fact that Nov. 30 falls on a Monday, I am sure they would have loved to mess with it, too—moved it to another day or did something totally incomprehensible.

Some people in power tried to make light of this recent snafu by saying that the Palace simply shortened the erstwhile four-day long weekend by one day, making it appear that we are such self-centered whining losers bemoaning a day off. What they are conveniently forgetting, once again, is that many people in this country do have work on Saturdays. It is the same kind of shortsightedness or perhaps early senility that got them falsely gloating about how Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 was supposedly a three-day weekend.

Reality check for the people who prepare those holiday proclamations for the President’s signature: Every single time you declare holidays that fall on a Friday or a Monday, please do remember that not everyone works in government or in industries that observe five-day workweeks. Most people in this country have to work on Saturdays.

Malacañang issued Proclamation 1808-A on Nov. 26, limiting the observance of Muslim religious feast Eid’l Adha to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The announcement was made Friday, when most people in Metro Manila had their minds preoccupied with preparations for typhoon Santi and for All Saints’ Day. The new proclamation amended Proclamation 1808 (they simply added a hyphen and the letter A, which says a lot about the kind of thinking that operates in the Palace) issued on April 12, Easter Sunday.

The original proclamation issued on April 12 cited the need to imbue Muslim religious feasts with the same level of importance the country gives to Christian holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and All Saints Day. “Whereas,” the Proclamation intoned with undisguised pompousness, “to guide our search for peace, one principle is that our society is a multi-ethnic one which should be founded on social justice for all and the institutionalized accommodation of ethnic traditions. Christian and Muslim are but a few of names to which the Filipino responds, in a wondrous testimony to our rich and varied heritage as a nation. “I am not really sure what lofty aspirations the author of that proclamation aimed for (or what drug he or she was high on, for that matter) but it stands to reason that we ask now: Does the recall of that proclamation mean that the offered justification already lost its relevance and significance? More pointedly, what has changed between April and now?

When we come to think about it, limiting the celebration of the feast of Eid’l Adha to the ARMM is ironic because it precisely reinforces the notion that Filipino-Muslims are isolated in only one region in this country. Oh please, Muslims are now everywhere in this country. The amendment unmasked the hypocrisy of this administration and revealed that all that talk about building a multi-ethnic society that respects and celebrates diversity is just that—empty talk devoid of sincerity.

Don’t get me wrong. Being a senior executive of one of the biggest banks in the country and being an active member of the premier association of human resource management professionals in this country, I am also against this penchant for declaring too many holidays in this country. It is counterproductive. It also penalizes millions of daily-paid workers who are deprived wages every time the government declares a holiday. As someone who continues to be active in academe, I am also against declaring more holidays at this time because as it is the academic calendar is already impossibly compressed and teachers and students are already having a difficult time trying to make up for lost school days due to the A(H1N1) pandemic, the twin calamities that hit us recently, and the other unscheduled holidays. Let’s not forget that each city and municipality also declares one day each year as a holiday in observance of its founding or charter day.

We are being made to believe now that the snafu was a case of a simple oversight on account of Republic Act 9492, which mandated the celebration of Eid’l Adha in the ARMM. The thing is, Malacañang had six months to reconsider the old proclamation.

The proclamation declaring Nov. 27 and 28 as national holidays was made last April. Most already made arrangements around that proclamation. It is true that rescinding the two-day holiday benefited those in the call center industry. Unfortunately, it penalized those in the manufacturing sector—a sector that is just as critical as the business process outsourcing industry in this country—as production schedules were already fixed around the old proclamation. This translated into hundreds of millions of pesos in lost revenues as production and delivery schedules cannot just be recalled and rescheduled on a whim.

There are people who are bemoaning the fact that they already bought non-refundable tickets and made non-refundable hotel arrangements for Nov. 27 to 30. In one of the e-mail groups that I subscribe to, there was talk of launching a class suit against those responsible for the snafu. But the consternation that met the flip-flopping around holidays was not really because we have been deprived of a holiday. Oh please, we are not that shallow.

This matter of holidays is serious business for many of us who have to fix production schedules, compute revenues and overhead costs, and schedule employee workdays.

I have written around six or seven pieces in this space about the way this administrations is bungling up holidays. I have already pointed out the many ways in which this administration is seemingly oblivious to the negative repercussions of treating this matter of holidays in a cavalier manner.

To begin with, Proclamation 1808 declaring Nov. 27 to 28 national holidays was already anomalous—it introduced a new concept called “national holidays.” There are currently “legal or regular holidays” and “nationwide special days.” Presidential proclamations in the past used the term “special holidays.” These terms have specific significance particularly in the computation of holiday premiums. Besides, the generally accepted notion is that only Congress can declare national holidays. How Malacañang can’t even be consistent in the use of terminologies is appalling. How it misinterpreted RA 9492 smacks of extreme incompetence.

I’ve said this many times in the past and I am going to say it once again here and now—this time more emphatically. The President and her minions should just take a hands-off policy towards holidays. Leave it to the people who know better.

Yet another holiday snafu

This is my column today.

Just because some people have had ample experience in administering something does not mean they get better at it; or that they actually learn while doing it. Put another way, some people not only do not learn, they actually get worse each time.

In case you haven’t heard, or are still in denial because you have already made plans for Nov. 27 to 30 (such as booking non-refundable hotel and travel arrangements), here’s some news for you: Nov. 27 and 28 are no longer holidays.

Yes, you read right. Six months after the fact was announced, Malacañang did a quick turnaround and took it back Friday last week. Nov. 30, Andres Bonifacio Day, is still a holiday, though; and if it wasn’t for the fact that Nov. 30 falls on a Monday, I am sure they would have loved to mess with it, too—moved it to another day or did something totally incomprehensible.

Some people in power tried to make light of this recent snafu by saying that the Palace simply shortened the erstwhile four-day long weekend by one day, making it appear that we are such self-centered whining losers bemoaning a day off. What they are conveniently forgetting, once again, is that many people in this country do have work on Saturdays. It is the same kind of shortsightedness or perhaps early senility that got them falsely gloating about how Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 was supposedly a three-day weekend.

Reality check for the people who prepare those holiday proclamations for the President’s signature: Every single time you declare holidays that fall on a Friday or a Monday, please do remember that not everyone works in government or in industries that observe five-day workweeks. Most people in this country have to work on Saturdays.

Malacañang issued Proclamation 1808-A on Nov. 26, limiting the observance of Muslim religious feast Eid’l Adha to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The announcement was made Friday, when most people in Metro Manila had their minds preoccupied with preparations for typhoon Santi and for All Saints’ Day. The new proclamation amended Proclamation 1808 (they simply added a hyphen and the letter A, which says a lot about the kind of thinking that operates in the Palace) issued on April 12, Easter Sunday.

The original proclamation issued on April 12 cited the need to imbue Muslim religious feasts with the same level of importance the country gives to Christian holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and All Saints Day. “Whereas,” the Proclamation intoned with undisguised pompousness, “to guide our search for peace, one principle is that our society is a multi-ethnic one which should be founded on social justice for all and the institutionalized accommodation of ethnic traditions. Christian and Muslim are but a few of names to which the Filipino responds, in a wondrous testimony to our rich and varied heritage as a nation. “I am not really sure what lofty aspirations the author of that proclamation aimed for (or what drug he or she was high on, for that matter) but it stands to reason that we ask now: Does the recall of that proclamation mean that the offered justification already lost its relevance and significance? More pointedly, what has changed between April and now?

When we come to think about it, limiting the celebration of the feast of Eid’l Adha to the ARMM is ironic because it precisely reinforces the notion that Filipino-Muslims are isolated in only one region in this country. Oh please, Muslims are now everywhere in this country. The amendment unmasked the hypocrisy of this administration and revealed that all that talk about building a multi-ethnic society that respects and celebrates diversity is just that—empty talk devoid of sincerity.

Don’t get me wrong. Being a senior executive of one of the biggest banks in the country and being an active member of the premier association of human resource management professionals in this country, I am also against this penchant for declaring too many holidays in this country. It is counterproductive. It also penalizes millions of daily-paid workers who are deprived wages every time the government declares a holiday. As someone who continues to be active in academe, I am also against declaring more holidays at this time because as it is the academic calendar is already impossibly compressed and teachers and students are already having a difficult time trying to make up for lost school days due to the A(H1N1) pandemic, the twin calamities that hit us recently, and the other unscheduled holidays. Let’s not forget that each city and municipality also declares one day each year as a holiday in observance of its founding or charter day.

We are being made to believe now that the snafu was a case of a simple oversight on account of Republic Act 9492, which mandated the celebration of Eid’l Adha in the ARMM. The thing is, Malacañang had six months to reconsider the old proclamation.

The proclamation declaring Nov. 27 and 28 as national holidays was made last April. Most already made arrangements around that proclamation. It is true that rescinding the two-day holiday benefited those in the call center industry. Unfortunately, it penalized those in the manufacturing sector—a sector that is just as critical as the business process outsourcing industry in this country—as production schedules were already fixed around the old proclamation. This translated into hundreds of millions of pesos in lost revenues as production and delivery schedules cannot just be recalled and rescheduled on a whim.

There are people who are bemoaning the fact that they already bought non-refundable tickets and made non-refundable hotel arrangements for Nov. 27 to 30. In one of the e-mail groups that I subscribe to, there was talk of launching a class suit against those responsible for the snafu. But the consternation that met the flip-flopping around holidays was not really because we have been deprived of a holiday. Oh please, we are not that shallow.

This matter of holidays is serious business for many of us who have to fix production schedules, compute revenues and overhead costs, and schedule employee workdays.

I have written around six or seven pieces in this space about the way this administrations is bungling up holidays. I have already pointed out the many ways in which this administration is seemingly oblivious to the negative repercussions of treating this matter of holidays in a cavalier manner.

To begin with, Proclamation 1808 declaring Nov. 27 to 28 national holidays was already anomalous—it introduced a new concept called “national holidays.” There are currently “legal or regular holidays” and “nationwide special days.” Presidential proclamations in the past used the term “special holidays.” These terms have specific significance particularly in the computation of holiday premiums. Besides, the generally accepted notion is that only Congress can declare national holidays. How Malacañang can’t even be consistent in the use of terminologies is appalling. How it misinterpreted RA 9492 smacks of extreme incompetence.

I’ve said this many times in the past and I am going to say it once again here and now—this time more emphatically. The President and her minions should just take a hands-off policy towards holidays. Leave it to the people who know better.