Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Monday, December 28, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
I do not agree with Nicanor Perlas’ assertion that the fact that a number of media organizations have already invited him to participate in various public forums for so-called presidentiables is already more than enough argument that he is qualified to run for president. I can understand the very high value he puts on his advocacy and his capabilities —I am sure that he is a very competent person. Quite frankly, his performance in the couple of public forums featuring the so-called presidentiables and in his various media outings left so much to be desired; which is precisely why I think Perlas should not anchor his appeal by citing his participation in these media events.
Besides, the idea of making media exposure a basis for deciding whether or not candidates for public office have what it takes to run for public is dangerous. Aside from the fact that people with unlimited resources have already shown no compunction about buying media airtime to prop up their candidacies, it’s relatively easier for certain types of people in this country to get media mileage. I dread the thought of future elections being decided solely on how much media mileage a candidate has racked up in his or her favor.
But I agree with Perlas on another point. The main reason given by the Commission on Elections for declaring him a nuisance candidate and disqualifying him for the 2010 elections is objectionable. The Comelec, in so many words, said that Perlas and many other candidates do not have the money necessary to win elections.
What the Comelec said, in effect, is that elections in this country are all about money. Forget principles. Forget about platforms, ideologies, advocacies. Forget about idealism. It’s all about whether one has money or not.
By extension, what the Comelec has validated as a fact is the general notion that only people with money can run for public office. Of course common sense tells us that running for public office would require some money to be used for campaign purposes. But God help us if the Comelec, the very institution that is supposedly vested with the sacred task of ensuring fair and honest elections, cites lack of money as the reason why certain citizens have to be divested with the right to participate in elections.
I agree with Perlas: The Comelec decision rankles because it sends the wrong message.
But I do understand the Comelec’s need to trim the list of candidates. Having more than 10 candidates for the presidency is an administrative nightmare for everyone involved particularly in the canvassing of votes. The Comelec is also in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation— those rendered disqualified will always find something wrong in its decision regardless of the reasons cited.
I also think that this collective preoccupation with political correctness very often gets out of hand and produces lots of static that complicates matters. But still, it wouldn’t hurt for the Comelec to actually coach its decisions in ways that show some objective and careful thinking process.
The assumption of Jose Melo as chairman of the Comelec raised expectations. However, the recent decisions of the Comelec have left many people, including this writer, wondering if the Comelec under Melo’s watch can deliver fair, honest and clean elections in 2010.
The recent decisions of the Comelec unseating two governors—Bulacan’s Joselito Mendoza and Isabela’s Grace Padaca—were highly anomalous. Both are stalwarts of the Liberal Party and critics of the administration. Surely the twin incidents cannot be mere coincidences?
Melo also cast the deciding vote that junked Ang Ladlad’s appeal for party-list accreditation. Melo parroted the Second Division’s bigoted justification despite general condemnation from a lot of sectors including the Commission on Human Rights. If it’s any consolation, at least we now know that there are three other commissioners in the Comelec that have something else between their ears other than a face.
The Comelec, however, disqualified Ang Ladlad’s president, Ateneo de Manila professor Danton Remoto, as candidate for senator citing lack of money. Gen. Danny Lim was disqualified while Col. Ariel Querubin was declared qualified. Gen. Jovito Palparan, however, was rendered qualified. I have given up trying to figure out the logic behind these decisions.
The actions of the members of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the National Press Club when they mobbed Andal Ampatuan Jr. last Friday were also quite unnerving. These also sent the wrong message.
I also think that Andal Ampatuan Jr and his accomplices should be made to account for the carnage at Maguindanao. I also am incensed at his seeming lack of remorse—he certainly does not even make an attempt to look innocent. But we still shouldn’t take matters into our hands.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Of course those among us who have been actively involved in HIV/AIDS prevention and caring for People Living With HIV/AIDS for more than two decades now have known about the grim statistics for sometime already. I have personally been raising the alarm in this space and in various fora since last year. But seeing the stark data in graphs and hearing the confirmation from the NEC made the data more foreboding.
But why “this is it?” I know the statement makes it appear as if we’ve stumbled on something exciting rather than ominous.
It’s really equivalent to pressing the proverbial alarm button. HIV/AIDS prevention advocates have been trying to convince everyone about the need to get serious about HIV/AIDS prevention for quite sometime now but unfortunately, the seemingly low prevalence of infection rates in the country lulled everyone into complacency. The general attitude was that HIV/AIDS was not a serious concern in the Philippines—the mantra of the 1990s was that HIV/AIDS infection in the country was “low and slow.” After all, our infection rates were at the low thousands while that of Thailand, Cambodia, and other countries were in the millions. Some people even clung to the myth that Filipinos had some built-in protection against HIV/AIDS infection.
For almost three decades, HIV/AIDS prevention advocates sounded like the boy who cried wolf. We tried to put a new spin to the HIV/AIDS situation in the country by describing it as “hidden and rising” but to no avail.
Not this time around. “This is it!” indeed.
The doubling rate of HIV/AIDS infection rates in the country is now officially pegged at two years. What this means is that the number of people who have been infected in the last two years has been twice the number of people infected in 2007. The statistics is alarming because the doubling rate of HIV/AIDS infection prior to 2007 was 10 years. It took the country ten years—from 1996 to 2006—to double the rate of infections.
Prior to the 10-year lull, the doubling rate of infections was every four years (1986 to 1990, 1991 to 1995). What this data says is that the country actually had relative success in HIV/AIDS prevention in the eighties and nineties. I was already actively involved in HIV/AIDS prevention and education at that time and I can categorically say that the resources made available by both government and global funding agencies to the cause of HIV/AIDS prevention in the country were adequate. Non-government organizations flourished and prevention programs were running at full speed. Thus, infection rates slowed down during the period 1996 to 2006 and we were the envy of many countries, many of which looked to the Philippines for inspiration and lessons.
Unfortunately, something went terribly wrong since the early 2000s. Funding for HIV/AIDS programs went dry as HIV/AIDS prevention ceased to be a priority. It seemed everyone became complacent and we all let our guard down. Many NGOs folded up. The few that remained gasped for breath. Most NGOs who focus on HIV/AIDS prevention are subsisting on meager funds.
Without funding support, technical expertise had become scarce as most HIV/AIDS educators and advocates were left with no choice but to give up HIV/AIDS work and opt for more lucrative careers. Counselors became call center agents. Medical experts became nurses abroad. Many NGOs —including the one of which I am President of the Board of Trustees —were hauled to court on account of the country’s rather stringent labor laws.
I’ve said this before and I am going to say it again: We are going to pay dearly for the collective mistake of the last 10 years. And the NEC data released recently is a harbinger of a grim scenario looming before us. This is it! We are now seeing data that shows alarming infection rates.
In 2000, the country had one reported new case of HIV infection every three days. This went up to one new case every day in 2007. This year, we had three new reported cases of HIV infection every day. And we are just talking about reported infections. We are not taking into account undocumented cases, which many experts estimate to be at least a hundred for every reported case. And it is a conservative estimate.
A great majority of infected cases are aged between 20 to 34 years old—people who are at the prime of their lives! This means college students and those who are in the workforce. The primary mode of transmission in the country is unsafe sexual contact—and the data shows algebraic increase in infections among bisexuals and men who have sex with other men. Here’s something just as distressing: In the past, most of the infections came from highly urbanized locations such as Metro Manila; today, the infections are spread across the archipelago.
The NEC data pointed to rising incidence of risky sexual behavior and low prevention programs as the twin factors that account for the alarming rate of HIV infection. Obviously, the solution is to reverse the correlation —we should be working towards decreasing risky sexual behavior through more and better prevention programs. The conclusion is hardly rocket science—it is still education and information that will empower people to protect them selves from HIV/AIDS infection.
The NEC has sounded the alarm. Let’s hope everyone is taking notice —in particular, those who have the means to do something to prevent HIV/AIDS infection rates from further skyrocketing beyond our control.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
This paper featured in its front page last Saturday a news story about the contempt charges filed by a Catholic advocacy group Family Media Advocacy Foundation Inc., against Creative Programs Inc., the cable TV production company of ABS-CBN, for airing the HBO drama series Big Love on its Velvet Channel. The charges were filed at a Quezon City court and cited members of the Board of the television channel including Eugenio Lopez III and Maria Rosario (Charo) Santos Concio, top honchos of ABS-CBN.
The charges stemmed from the continued airing of subsequent seasons of the show despite a supposed standing order issued early this year by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board prohibiting the show’s broadcast “to protect the interest and welfare of the viewing public.” How such a lofty goal is feasible requires major acrobatic deductions but I have long resigned myself to the fact that logic and the MTRCB—or moralists in general—are concepts that just don’t go together.
I came to know about the controversy only last Saturday and was surprised to know that there was a long-standing prohibition order issued against Big Love by the MTRCB. I am fiercely against any kind of censorship, but I wasn’t really surprised that the MTRCB had issued a prohibition order or that certain moralists have protested against the show; reactions like these are pretty expected in a country where hypocrisy reigns supreme.
My surprise stemmed from the fact that the show had been airing late nights on HBO for quite sometime already and nobody had raised a loud howl about it until now. I am not a fan of the show but I have seen a few episodes of it. The truth is that I only became mildly interested in it when I came across an online review of the show which described it as a “Mormon’s Sopranos.” I am a big fan of The Sopranos and the comparison piqued my interest. Now, Big Love is certainly very well written and is relatively more intelligent TV fare than most of the garbage that we have to put up with on the boob tube. But The Sopranos it isn’t—not even close—so I never really felt a compelling need to watch the series religiously.
So here then is the supreme irony of it all: Now that there is a controversy, I am sure the series will attract more viewers. By seeking to prohibit the show from being aired, the moralists have only succeeded in raising curiosity about it. The fact is that Big Love was not popular in the Philippines and I doubt if there was a huge demand for it. But now, thanks to the howl raised by the moralists, I am sure there will be a demand for DVD copies of the show. I, for one, now intend to buy DVDs of the show and watch all episodes of it. Had they kept their mouths shut, the show would have passed by unnoticed by the great majority of the viewing public.
In effect, the moralists have done Big Love a huge favor and have unwittingly become the show’s main endorsers.
And let’s not even delude ourselves from thinking that by prohibiting the airing of Big Love on Philippine cable television people won’t have access to it anymore. This assumption is painfully naïve if not downright foolish. Government cannot even stop pirated pornography from being sold openly on our streets. What do they want to do, cut off Internet access to all? Imprison people from burning copies and duplicating the show through their personal computers?
I prowled the Internet for related controversies about Big Love in other countries and came up with very little. There was a minor controversy in the United States over alleged misrepresentation of one of the sacred rituals of the Church of Latter Day Saints in one episode. I also came across a position paper issued by Pro-Life Philippines early this year in support of the protest of the Catholic advocacy group that filed a complaint against the show at the MTRCB. But overall, there has been very little controversy generated by the show elsewhere. When we compare it to the controversies generated by other television series such as Sex and the City, or Desperate Housewives, reactions to Big Love has been relatively more restrained.
I am not going to defend Big Love and endorse it as the next best thing to hit television after May Bukas Pa. Like I said, I am not even a huge fan of it. Like any other show, it comes with its own pluses and minuses. But it is a television show—it is fiction, not real life. People who watch it—or any other television show or movie for that matter—are supposed to engage their minds while watching it and not simply take everything that they see as Gospel truth. That is why we have brains.
This is my problem with moralists. They think that everyone is stupid and cannot discern truth from lies, fiction from reality, the good from the bad. They think that everyone else is incapable of making judgments. Moralists impose their biases and prejudices on others. Worse, they think that everyone who disagrees with them or do not share their opinions are automatically misguided and immoral.
My view is that more harm comes from imprisoning people’s minds and constricting them rather than allowing them to think for themselves. We rile about attempts to curtail other freedoms but not enough about attempts to curtail the right to think freely.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to this question: What makes this people qualified to dictate on other people what is safe or unsafe? What makes this people qualified to impose their moral standards on others?
What I find even more appalling is the seeming simplemindedness of moralists who pick on shows on the basis of their basic plotlines, on their basic premise. Big Love is about a man with four wives, ergo, it preaches polygamy. It is like saying that a movie about a serial killer is automatically an endorsement of indiscriminate murder. It is like saying that a television show that portrays homosexuality positively encourages homosexual behavior. The context of the situations is very often conveniently glossed over.
As a result, they close their minds to what is even more sinister—subliminal messages.For example, shows on “religious” channels don’t seem to get monitored. Nobody is worrying about the negative effects being propagated by people who preach hate under the guise of saving souls. They even engage in open hostility toward preachers of other religious denominations. Nobody is raising a howl about how the plotlines of most local teleseryers or fantaseryes always hint at incestuous relationships. Talk about shortsightedness!