Thursday, February 25, 2010

A turn for the worse

This was my column yesterday.

Elections in this country have been described as one mad giant circus. That’s because politicians and their supporters engage in unbelievably crazy stunts in an effort to endear themselves to the electorate.

The stunts include relatively harmless antics such as performing song and dance routines regardless of the fact that they cannot carry a tune or do a simple shuffle even if their very lives depended on it. Some engage in really cheap gimmickry such as shedding copious tears in public or fabricating gossip just to gain media mileage or public attention. Others magnify whatever little achievements they have attained in their lives and gloss over their imperfections, pretty much the way magicians do their smoke-and-mirror tricks. Most of it is phony and tawdry and reduces elections to the level of entertainment but we have all learned to take these in stride as just one more indication of our joie de vivre as a people.

Unfortunately, the circus often makes a turn for the worse. The good-natured ribbing turns into mudslinging, the singing and dancing turn into death duels, the public relations campaigns into black propaganda. In the past, these usually happen at the last leg of the campaign season as a last-ditch effort of the desperate. We’ve noted that the 2010 elections have started to enter this dark territory very early in the campaign season.

Of course we all knew that things would soon get personal, that it was just a matter of time before our candidates started trading personal insults or attacking each other viciously. The images of smiling presidential candidates linked kapit-bisig or engaged in friendly banter at the start of the debate series were temporary— we knew they would soon be after each other’s throats. The animosity was bound to happen. It was just a matter of time.

The vicious war started in the Internet. It started with seemingly innocuous exchange of commentaries that soon turned into hostile flaming and baiting in some blogs, Web sites, and social networking sites. The exchange of accusations and counter-accusations between and among the various political camps are dizzying. Some of the charges are truly licentious and libelous such as accusations of sexual proclivities and supposed felonies and misdemeanors.

The thing with verbal commentaries though is that people can argue, debate, fight acrimoniously—as many bloggers do every day—but they only engage those who are passionate enough to care or make their voices heard. But as they say, pictures speak louder than words. Pictures, unlike essays, generally don’t require high-level thinking skills to comprehend. With the advent of Photoshop and other photo editing software, anybody can now alter images and post them in the net. And so we now have all kinds of photos flooding the Net—from the amusing to the sordid, from the shocking to the damaging.

There’s that picture of Baby James Yap showing a dirty finger (I agree that whoever “edited” that picture has a sick idea of what is funny but I am not really sure how that picture is supposed to be black propaganda against the Aquino campaign although they’ve managed to turn the whole thing into their favor by precisely capitalizing on how their competitors would stoop so low). There’s those series of supposedly homoerotic pictures showing the various male candidates in various intimate poses. There’s that morphed picture of Senator Manuel Villar and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo with the damning caption “Villarroyo.” The thing with pictures is that they are easily shared and forwarded. In Facebook, for example, all one has to do is to “tag” the picture to share it with anyone and everyone.

It seems the war has been taken out of the blogs, Web sites and the social networking sites. An email that is currently circulating in the net has the curious subject: “Who owns a house like this?” The email whets reader’s curiosity further by asking a series of questions: “Who would have such taste and live in such opulence (sic)? An American billionaire? A Saudi Prince? Louis XVI of France? Savour the pictures then scroll to the bottom of the page to see who owns this work of art.”

What follows are more than a dozen pictures of the house in question. It’s a stately house indeed, with a huge swimming pool, priceless paintings, grand chandeliers, gilded furniture, ornate columns, etc. At the end of the email, the big reveal: This mansion is in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA and belongs to Senator Manuel Villar of the Philippines. And then the damning commentary, unedited to preserve the flavor: “While Filipinos starve, and die because of abject poverty… and while Senator Villar brags that he had poor beginnings and he had helped his poor countrymen over and over again… but look now… he and his family live like this……his GREED kills his poverty stricken fellow Filipinos. Please send this to everyone you know. They can send it to everyone they know. Soon Filipinos around the world will know what this man is doing to the people he wishes to serve if elected President.”

I want to make clear that I am not campaigning nor voting for Senator Villar but I find this email objectionable not only because it makes conclusions without a clear and factual basis but because of its malicious intent. There is no offered proof that the house in question belongs to Senator Villar. And granted that the house does belong to him, the automatic presumption that he acquired the house through illegal and nefarious means is quite a stretch. Besides, the man does not make excuses for his wealth—in fact, in his latest ad, he is capitalizing on the fact that he is obscenely rich that he cannot be a thief anymore. I know. The logic stinks but it works at some level.

I have come across emails questioning the competence and qualifications of Senator Aquino as well, but they are generally well-argued critiques and not open-faced attacks such as this current email about Villar’ supposed profligacy.

The election campaign has also started to invade erstwhile private domains such as cellular phones. In the last three weeks, I have been receiving campaign messages from local government candidates on my cellular phone. The funny thing is that I am getting campaign messages from politicians who, even in the very remote chance that I could be swayed by the idiotic drivel that they try to pass off as campaign message, won’t still be getting my vote for the simple reason that I am not a voter in their respective areas. It’s very suspicious though how politicians have been able to get hold of the cellular phone numbers of voters.a

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

According to the stars

February 25, 2010 UPDATE. Someone who goes by the handle R left a comment, actually, he insinuated that I lied about the source of this post. It always amazes me why some people are quick to suspect the worse in others. I always make it a point to credit my sources when warranted; I always credit the sources of the photos that I use in this blog. I didn't know that this was first published in The Professional Heckler. I used to follow the blog when I still had lots of time. I haven't been able to do so for a number of months now.

Someone lifted the post and sent it through emails. I got this post three times last Monday on my inbox at work.

So in the interest of fairness, I am crediting The Professional Heckler now. This post originally appeared in his blog.

Somebody sent this to me through email and it made my day. I am truly amazed at how creative we Filipinos can be and how we are able to see humor in every situation.

ANO ANG SINASABI NG MGA BITUIN sa kapalaran ng siyam na kandidato sa pagkapangulo ngayong linggong ito? Narito.

Basahin, limiin, unawain, at seryosohin. Ngunit laging tandaan ang paalala ni Zenaida ‘Syzygy’ Seva,

“Hindi hawak ng mga bituin ang ating kapalaran. Gabay lamang sila. Meron tayong free will, gamitin natin ito.”

Ulitin natin. Pero sa pagkakataong ito, basahin nang malakas at imadyinin si Zenaida Seva habang binibigkas ang linya: “Hindi hawak ng mga bituin ang ating kapalaran. Gabay lamang sila. Meron tayong free will, gamitin natin ito.” At inulit mo naman. Masunuring bata!

Noynoy Aquino
February 8, 1960

Iwasang magtungo sa
Quiapo. Baka mapagbintangan kang bumibili ng survey.

Sa pag-ibig, magpapasya ka this week sa regalong ibibigay mo kay Valenzuela City Councilor Shalani Soledad sa Valentine’s Day. Huwag mo itong ipaalam kay Kris. Pagtatawanan ka lang niya at sasabihang “Gosh, how cheap!”

Hahabol sa kasikatan ng “Nakaligo ka na ba sa dagat ng basura” jingle ni Manny Villar ang NOY|NOY! jingle kung saan tinangka mong mag-rap katulad ng idolo mong si Vanilla Ice. Ngunit makabubuting panoorin ang ginawa mong pagsayaw sa naturang patalastas. Ginawa na ni Villar ang ganyang gimmick noong 2007. Utang na loob, huwag mo nang ulitin. Mukha kang tanga!

Sanga pala, may nag-text.

“Patahimikin mo na kami. Huwag mo na kaming isali d’yan. Matanda ka na. Alam mo na ang dapat mong gawin. Good luck.” All the best, Daddy Ninoy & Mommy Cory

JC De Los Reyes
February 14, 1970

Saludo ang mga bituin sa iyong tapang at determinasyong tumakbo sa pagkapangulo ng ating bansa. Ngunit mas sasaludo sila sa ‘yo kung ikaw ay uurong.

Joseph Estrada
April 19, 1937

Hindi ka si Harry Houdini. Hindi ka rin si David Copperfield. At lalong hindi ka si David Blaine. Pero ang tanong ng mga bituin: bakit
hanggang ngayon ay nabubuhay ka pa rin sa illusion?

Patuloy na bebenta ang iyong mga jokes sa mga presidential forum. Ikaw ang aani ng pinakamalakas na tawanan at palakpak mula sa crowd. Subalit ipinapayo ng mga bituin na limitahan ang dami ng binibitawan mong jokes. Baka mapagkamalan kang si Dolphy at kunin kang endorser ni Villar.

Richard Gordon
August 5, 1945

Bilib ang mga bituin sa talas at husay ng iyong utak lalo na sa mga debate at presidential forum. Ngunit mag-ingat sa napakabilis na pagsasalita. Baka malunok mo ang iyong maigsing dila. Iisa pa lamang ang successful tongue transplant sa mundo.

Limitahan din ang paggamit sa Subic at Olongapo sa mga debate. Given na ‘yon. Sinuwerte ka lang dahil doon ka nahalal na alkalde. Kung ikaw ang naging mayor ng Siayan town sa Zamboanga del Norte na may poverty incidence na 97.46 percent, baka wala ring gaanong nagawa ang matabil mong dila.

Isang unsolicited advice lang po mula sa mga bituin: palitan n’yo na ang iyong TV ad na ang musikang gamit ay “Silent Night.’ Pebrero na ngayon.

Nicanor Perlas
January 10, 1950

May walong araw pa bago opisyal na magsimula ang campaign period kung saan inaasahang gagastos nang todo-todo ang mga kandidato. Dahil sa mababang rating sa survey, mahihirapan kang kumalap ng campaign contributions.

Habang abala sa paghahanap ng financial support, makakatanggap ka ng ‘good news’ at ‘not so good news’ bago matapos ang linggong ito. Ang good news: susuportahan ka ng pamilya Ayala. Ang ‘not so good news’ – ng pamilya ni Joey Ayala: karaniwang tao.

Pinupuri ng mga bituin ang iyong mga nagawa bilang advocate ng malinis at maayos na kapaligiran at kalikasan. Dahil diyan, mananalo ka! Mananalo ka sa May 10… kung papayagang bumoto ang mga puno.

Gilbert Teodoro
June 14, 1964

Iwasang makunan ng larawan kasama ang isang babaeng may nunal sa kaliwang pisngi. May dalang kamalasan ‘yan. Mas lalong iwasang makunan ng larawan kasama ang isang ginoong napakalaki ng katawan ngunit napakaliit ng boses. Doble ang kamalasang dala niyan.

Mauungusan mo sa susunod na survey sina Noynoy at Villar… kung sa La Salle campus gagawin ang survey.
Posibleng umagaw ng boto sa ‘yo ang isang female presidential candidate na berde rin ang campaign color. Malas mo lang dahil pareho pa kayo ng gupit. Remedyuhan habang maaga.

Manny Villar
December 13, 1949

Sa pananalapi: napakasuwerte mo. Ni singko ay wala kang utang. Umuulan ang iyong pera kaya naman bumabaha ang iyong political ads.

Dahil sa ‘yo, muling mag-iinit ang Senado sa linggong ito. Consistent kang tao. May isang salita. Hindi ka sisipot sa pagdinig ng plenaryo. Kaya’t patuloy na magtatanong ang taong-bayan: guilty or not guilty? Dahil sa patuloy na pag-iwas mo sa iyong mga accusers, malamang na iwasan ka na rin ng mga botante. Ang payo ng mga bituin: simulan mo na ang paghahanap ng tindahang nagbebenta ng suwerte. Kakailanganin mo ‘yan ngayong Mayo.

Babala: kung ayaw mong umuwing may black eye, iwasan ang isang babaeng may initials na JM. May maitim siyang balak sa ‘yo. Matagal ka na niyang hina-hunting. Clue sa katauhan ng babae: mukha siyang lalaki.

Jamby Madrigal
April 26, 1958

Kung may mga sanggol na ipinaglihi sa hilaw na mangga, maasim na siniguelas, o hinog na duhat, naniniwala ang mga bituin na ikaw naman ay ipinaglihi sa sama ng loob. Tila malaki ang kinikimkim mong galit sa pulitiko man o sa mga kamag-anak mo. Isa kang ‘bully’ sa iyong past life.

Babala ng mga bituin: Chill. Baka dumating ang araw na maubusan ka ng maaaway at ibaling mo ang iyong galit sa iyong sarili.

Sa pag-ibig, walang gaanong pagbabagong nakikita ang mga bituin. Masyadong maulap ang aspetong romantiko ng iyong buhay.

Sa pulitika, sinabi mo last week na hindi ka naniniwala sa mga surveys. ‘Wag kang mag-alala. Hindi rin sila naniniwala sa ‘yo! Quits lang pare.

Eddie Villanueva
October 6, 1946

Ang katulad mong Born-Again Christian at spiritual leader ay hindi naniniwala sa mga hula.
Ang sabi ng mga bituin: ‘Pwes, hindi rin kami naniniwala sa ‘yo.’
Wala kang horoscope!
Basahin, limiin, unawain, at seryosohin. Ngunit laging tandaan ang paalala ni Zenaida ‘Syzygy’ Seva,

“Hindi hawak ng mga bituin ang ating kapalaran. Gabay lamang sila. Meron tayong free will, gamitin natin ito.”

Monday, February 22, 2010


This is my column today.

At the rate I am doing free lectures, demonstrations, and tutorials on the f
eatures of a Kindle, I have half a mind to charge for promoting its product. Not that I really find it bothersome—I must admit that th
ere’s a certain joy in being able to show people how a certain gadget works particularly since the gadget in ques
tion encourages reading, obviously one of my main advocacies. If one craves attention and wants to show off, a Kindle is probably a good ga
dget to have.

But if one shuns attention and simply wants to enjoy quiet moments of privacy spent reading, then lugging around a Kindle in public may not be the perfect idea, especially in a country such as ours where a Kindle is not yet a popular gadget. To begin with, it was only made available to countries outside of the United States recently. Being interrupted many times while reading or being asked for a quick review on the Kindle has become a regular occurrence.

On a recent flight to Cebu, for example, my reading was interrupted a number of times by people asking questions about “the gadget I was holding in my hand.” Friends and acquaintances ask for free tutorials and request to handle my Kindle. If it is any consolation, no one has asked to borrow it yet—which seems to be a common occurrence with traditional books.

In case you haven’t heard of it or seen one yet, a Kindle is a product the size of a regular paper notebook that renders and displays electronic books and other media. In short, it is a book reader with enough memory to store as much as 3,500 books. Instead of lugging around books or worrying about storage shelves, a Kindle enables one to carry and easily access an entire library anywhere, anytime. This kind of convenience alone should convert many voracious readers to the Kindle. The most pressing problem that face me every single time I would travel is: What books will I bring this time around? I am the type who feels intellectually deprived if I am just reading one book at a given time.

But is the Kindle really worth it? A Kindle costs about 12,000 pesos, certainly a fraction of the cost of a high-end cellular phone. At only 10 ounces, it is lighter than an ordinary paperback. It has a battery lifespan that lasts about two weeks. It comes equipped with 3G technology, which enables one to download books anytime and anywhere. Books in digital format cost so much less—the average cost is about ten dollars for bestsellers, with most books retailing at around six dollars. Some books are on sale—at about a dollar each. No more queues and waiting time as the books get downloaded to your Kindle in less than a minute. There’s more: One can browse books by ordering a “sample” of a book for free— sends you the first three chapters for you to try out. One can try to get a feel of the book and see if it’s something one can lose one’s self in before deciding to buy.

A Kindle also “remembers” where you last stopped reading—so no need to search for pages. When one turns on the Kindle and chooses a book in one’s archives, it automatically turns to the page one left off the last time around. No need for bookmarks or in my case—the terrible habit of folding the upper right corner of the book. The downside of course is that the Kindle does not give you a very real and immediate sense of how close or far off you are to the end of the book, although there is an indicator at the bottom of the screen that shows off your progress in percentages.

The best feature for me is that by plugging a headphone into the Kindle, the books automatically become audio books—the Kindle reads the books for you in case you developed eye strain or just wants to drift off to sleep by listening to someone read a story to you. Since I acquired my Kindle, I haven’t had problems going to sleep as I just plug in my Kindle to a set of speakers, and voila, my own bedtime storyteller.

The Kindle is the kind of Christmas or birthday present I would have died to receive when I was a child. I bought my Kindle online (it is only available online from but instead of having it delivered to the Philippines (which would have added about 30 dollars in shipping costs) I had it delivered to a student (thanks, again Chesca Alonte) who was vacationing in the United States at that time. Thus, I was able to get my Kindle at the regular online price.

A good friend of mine scoffed at my Kindle and me by saying “I prefer to read books on paper.” This was my first reaction when I heard about the Kindle. But then again, I thought it was time for some paradigm shift. What really sealed the deal for me was a more practical reason—I’ve run out of storage space for my books. In fact, I recently realized to my great horror that about a fourth of my library had been lost to termites. Besides, books are printed on paper and paper comes from trees.

“But wouldn’t that kill the publishing business?” another friend reacted in horror. I admired my friend’s concern for the continued viability of the publishing business but just like in the case of the recording industry, making books directly available to customers in digital form benefits writers as well as overhead costs and middlemen are eliminated. Gadgets like the Kindle, which is really software and hardware platform on its own, also effectively protects writers from piracy.

And I think there will always be a market for books—I personally still buy hard covers of books I would like to collect. And since Philippine books are not available through, I still buy a lot of Filipiniana.

The downside is that the Kindle does not come in color and while most books are still printed in black ink against white paper (something which the Kindle LCD screen approximates) some books do come with illustrations that move the story forward.

The other downside, for me, personally, is that it has in a way developed a bad habit of not finishing books I don’t really like. Unlike traditional books which I feel obligated to finish because they cost so much, or in the case of borrowed books they have to be returned to their rightful owners, and they occupy so much space in my bedside table or study—books in my Kindle can just stay there hidden, on page 22 of my Kindle’s home page or in an archive somewhere. So yes, it can be argued that a Kindle encourages people to read more selectively or less.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Much ado over condoms

This is my column today.

At a recent forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, the people who want to lead this country into the future took turns lambasting the Department of Health for distributing condoms in line with its HIV/AIDS prevention program last Valentines Day at the Dangwa terminal, Metro Manila’s main flower market.

Some of the presidential candidates hemmed and hawed and tried to sugarcoat their objections. Senators Richard Gordon and Jajajajamby Madrigal said they were not in favor of distributing condoms without the benefit of information drives, supposedly to explain their proper use. I almost choked on the sandwich I was eating when I heard them say it. I hate being snippy but is there actually anyone 10 years and older in this country who doesn’t know what a condom is for? And if people actually bothered to check, condoms distributed as part of HIV/AIDS awareness actually come with their own packaging. This includes information about HIV/AIDS and the proper use of condoms.

Others tried to deflect the issue by trying to establish a bigger context for the discussion. Administration candidate Gilbert Teodoro, for instance, tried to establish a middle ground by saying that contraception should remain “the moral choice of the person.” In the end, he still maintained he was not in favor of distributing condoms for free.

All of them came across as political animals trying to earn brownie points from and ingratiate themselves with the Catholic Church who remains adamantly against condom use whether for contraception, HIV prevention, or protection against other sexually transmitted diseases. The whole discussion at the FOCAP forum was actually preceded by the vigorous protestations of two Catholic bishops who condemned the condom distribution at Dangwa as immoral. Perhaps the candidates didn’t want to give more reasons for the two aging bishops to become even more hysterical.

Small wonder really that Brother Eddie Villanueva stuck to the narrow-minded position of the Church on the use of condoms. His exertions came out as irrelevant—he insisted that he and his group are against artificial contraception because they promote abortion and “abortion is murder per se” even when it was clear that the issue was about the use of condoms and HIV/AIDS prevention. Anyone who tries to link condoms and abortion is overreaching. At any rate, what this validated was that Villanueva’s efforts to position himself as a candidate that is not beholden to the interests of the Church despite him being a religious leader himself have all been for show. There won’t be such a thing as a separation of the church and the state in the worst but thankfully remote scenario that Villanueva becomes president.

Kapatiran Party’s JC de los Reyes revealed just how naïve and unprepared he is for the highest post of the land. He trundled one of the myths about HIV/AIDS prevention —which is that Thailand’s “massive campaign for condom use backfired resulting in higher incidence of AIDS” in Thailand. It’s one of those biased diatribes against condoms and HIV/AIDS, which, along with that irresponsible claim that condoms are not impenetrable enough to stop the transmission of the AIDS virus, are used only by desperate people who have run out of cogent argument.

The councilor from Olongapo City then intoned rather pompously: “The government must push for moral policies. The condom campaign is a waste of money. It is uneconomical and immoral.” It is very easy to refute de los Reyes’ assertions with facts that are easily verifiable: Thailand’s aggressive 100-percent condom use program, which mandated that all establishments promote the use of condoms, accounted for double digits decline in HIV infections. There was a reported relapse in infection rates in Thailand but experts in fact attributed the rise in new infections to complacency and reduced condom usage, which is why they have once again dusted off their HIV/AIDS prevention programs including active promotion of condom use.

I must decry once again the preponderance of opinions that are being passed off as facts backed by empirical proof. In addition to this baloney about how condoms are ineffective, I am aghast that our leaders have latched on to the stupid notion that availability of condoms automatically translate into uncontrollable surges in libido. It’s like saying that mere possession of a condom forces people to go out and look for sex. Oh please, give people more credit than that.

* * *

As of press time, the Commission on Elections and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting have reportedly withdrawn their “suggestion” to require media people such as columnists and broadcast journalists as well as actors, actresses, and television hosts to resign or take a leave from their jobs if they are campaigning for a candidate or political party in the May elections.

I have no intentions of campaigning for any candidate or for any political party although I have always made known in my Web log my choices for various national positions. This is because readers of my Web log —many of which are relatives and friends—invariably ask me for my choices. Publishing in my Web log my top picks for certain positions is hardly comparable to what Dolphy or Michael V does for Senator Manny Villar or what she-who-must-not-be-named-in-this-column does for her brother. But I realize that certain people may still or already construe what I do as “campaigning.“ My blog is different from my column although my columns are also published in my blog. I am trying to illustrate—perhaps unsuccessfully—that it is difficult to make clear-cut distinctions as to what constitute campaigning; it is even more difficult to delineate among the various roles we play in our lives.

For this and other reasons, it was impossible to enforce the Comelec and PPCRV’s proposal. It was doomed to fail.

I am not even talking about the repercussions to individual rights and to the whole essence of democracy yet. In addition, we haven’t factored into the equation yet the reactions of the media networks and those of celebrities with the power to sway public opinion. Whoever thought of the idea seriously needs to undergo a reality check. In this country, one does not pick fights with the people who have control of the microphone.

* * *

Erratum. Noted writer and Ateneo de Manila University professor, Jonathan Chua, wrote to correct an item that appeared in this space last week. In my column (Wearing a red hunting hat) last week, I wrote that the rather thin canon of Jose Garcia Villa is one of the main reasons why the national artist title had not been bestowed on him. Chua wrote to remind me that Villa was actually one of the first recipients of the award. He is correct, of course. What I meant to write was that Villa’s relatively slender body of works is one of the “criticisms” directed at the writer. But like I said in my column, I don’t agree that an artist needs to produce a huge body of works to validate his worth. At any rate, I would like to thank Chua for taking the trouble to point out my oversight. Thanks, Jonathan.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Furor over a man in briefs

This is my column today.
(Photo taken from

When I heard that Romulo Macalintal, big-shot election lawyer of the President of the Republic and of many other influential people in this country ranted against billboards last week, I heaved a major sigh of relief. Finally. Someone with clout in this country who is not known for calling attention to himself has spoken out against those monstrous monuments to consumerism that pollute our cityscape. I was about to sing paeans of praises to the man. Perhaps those things will finally get obliterated from the face of Metro Manila.

Obviously I find billboards—okay, not all but many if not most of these billboards—a bane on our existence. They are serious threats to public safety. They can topple over during typhoons and natural calamities and kill people as they have done so in recent past. They also distract motorists on the road. Given the fact that heavy traffic has become a regular fixture in our lives and given the abysmal state of traffic discipline in this country, we need distractions such as gigantic pictures of naked men and women on the road like we need another Estrada presidency in this country.

There are billboards that try to be clever and funny. To be fair, some do work such as the ads of a certain optical store chain. I kind of like that one of a buffed man with a tattoo on his back spelled “I love Rudy” instead of “I love Ruby” because the tattoo artist had an eyesight problem. One wishes we had more of these billboards—the ones that crack people up and relieve tension although jokes do have shelf lives and the novelty of these billboards do wear off. The problem is that most of these ads that try to be cute end up as trite and hackneyed—or as we say in Tagalog, korni. Take for example those series of ads hawking jewelry. Instead of jewelry, models are photographed wearing substitutes such as a string of sausages for a necklace and mosquito coils for earrings.

Many of these billboards offend artistic and moral sensibilities. Take that ad that says “nakatikim ka na ba ng kinse anyos?” (literally, have you tasted a fifteen year old?), which many claim as tacit endorsement of pedophilia. I think there’s still a long-standing debate on that one but I am sure it continues to make some people’s blood pressure shoot up to the stratosphere every time they come across the billboard.

And then there are billboards that seem sloppily produced—with lots of texts and pictures in them that it would require someone to actually stop and focus on them for minutes to comprehend them—they look like whoever put them up simply had a printout magnified to fill a canvas. Of course most people don’t have the time (and I think the inclination as well) to actually stop their cars in the middle of EDSA to gawk at some poorly-conceived billboard; which, if we come to think about it, really makes these billboards all the more pointless. But then again, who knows what kinds of people are given licenses to drive on our roads? Someone like Jason Ivler continued to drive a car with diplomatic plates on it despite the fact that a warrant of arrest had already been issued against him.

I’ve written about the need to regulate billboards in the past and I am doing so again now because I’ve noted how they have become more and more pervasive. There was a time right after typhoon Milenyo struck when they were torn down and there was public clamor to eradicate them from our thoroughfares. But as can be expected in a country where business interests prevail over other interests—including public safety—the billboards were restored. Now they are back with a vengeance. And with elections in the offing, we expect more billboards—and most of them ghastly and hideous—to mushroom all over.

I dread the return of the billboards of a female representative of a district in Manila which showcase her in various poses—as educator, plumber, nurse, etc—all of them as hideous as the last one. I was in Sta. Rosa over the weekend where I noticed that provincial officials of Laguna have started a contest as to which one can come up with the most number and the biggest billboard ever.

And it’s really not just the content of the billboards that is objectionable. We’ve noted this new trend where size and quantity have seemingly become important considerations. While driving at EDSA for example, it seems not enough that one is already pummeled by those giant billboards mounted on the sides of the avenue, they also had to put smaller but numerous billboards on the island in the middle of the avenue! There’s just no escaping them because these smaller billboards are on every post.

So I was happy to note that someone like Macalintal finally spoke against billboards, or so I thought. But as it turns out, he was simply against one billboard; or if we may be allowed to ascribe more meaning into his advocacy, against billboards that represent “an intentional and blatant disrespect for family values.” The particular billboard that earned his ire was that giant billboard at the Magallanes Interchange featuring ABS-CBN actor Jake Cuenca wearing nothing but a pair of Bench briefs.

As in the controversy over that “nakatikim ka na ba ng kinse anyos” ad, Makalintal’s complaint is bound for oblivion. That billboard is not going down if the protest is anchored on moral grounds. As it is, we’ve been told that that particular billboard actually got the nod of the regulatory agency responsible for approving billboards.

This is the problem with advocacies that are anchored on moral reasons. They become subject to debate, which in this country means a contest as to who can shout the loudest or talk the longest. People do have different yardsticks over what is morally offensive or not. Inevitably the issue becomes convoluted and confused and simply gets shelved unresolved as people get exhausted and move on to more controversial issues.

Take for example the particular billboard in question. There’s a lot of discussion on whether that billboard is offensive or not. People can’t decide whether Cuenca is wearing skimpy or scanty briefs—to many, they pretty much look like ordinary briefs compared to say, thongs, or string bikinis. And the makers of the product are correct in one aspect—the product in question is an underwear—there is nothing inherently wrong with wearing one.

There’s this whole discussion about how Cuenca’s pose adds malice to the billboard— some people have described the way the actor is reclining as “provocative.” I personally don’t see how that pose is considered provocative —he is just reclining on a bed or couch. He’s not even touching himself or doing anything slightly suggestive. Unlike some ads showing people in languorous or suggestive poses. I am not saying that the billboard in question is benign and that the people who find something immoral, sexually suggestive, or naughty in it are wrong—I am also alarmed about the growing sexualization in Philippine advertising. What I am saying is that this is the problem when issues of morality get into the picture, we all get stuck in the static rather than in the substance. I think billboards simply should not be allowed on major thoroughfares, period. Or at the very least, they need to be regulated in terms of what size they should be, how many should be allowed in one particular area, etc.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


FEBRUARY 16, UPDATE: Allen has contacted his family and is safe. The family has requested for privacy which means we're not supposed to ask anymore regarding what really happened. Anyway. I think what is important is that the guy is safe.

Just want to help out.

If you have any information about him, please call any of the following:

Pat Javier 09159435332
Rea Carpio 09163992674.
Bea Tabuñar 09173260415
Rose Tan 09178297673
Pat Mineses 09178597252
Des Tablante 09279677561
Lorenz Pangilinan 09151126751

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Rewriting history and gloating about it

This was one of the things I feared the most.

It has come to pass.

And I honestly feel very disturbed by it.

Very, very disturbed.

Joseph Ejercito Estrada who is running for President of the Republic yet once again has come up with a television ad that sends shivers down my spine.

The deposed President who was convicted of plunder and spent a number of years in seclusion (I refuse to say he was in jail because what passed off as prison was actually a resort that had better facilities than some five-star hotels) is now rewriting history, proclaiming to all and sundry with a straight face and without batting an eyelash, that if EDSA DOS did not happen, "malayo na sana ang ating narating."

Thank you to the people who have been suffering from a lingering attack of selective morality, Estrada can now afford to be sanctimonious and to gloat over the fact that he has - in his mind - been vindicated. I can make a quick rundown of the many things we have seemingly forgiven Estrada of - from the Boracay Mansion to the midnight cabinet meetings to the many mistresses to the legendary inefficiency and tardiness - but I guess there is no point in doing so. In the minds of the people who fancy themselves as the guardians of ethics and morality in this country, these are forgotten and forgiven and we all know why.

What really gets me riled up is not really the fact that Estrada is rewriting history. It is the fact that he is gloating about it. It is the fact that he is being sanctimonious. If it is any consolation, at least he is not leading in the surveys and it looks like he has lost favor with the masa who used to be a strong constituency. I hope he gets trounced in the elections!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wearing a red hunting hat

This is my column today.
(February 14 erratum: A professor from Ateneo, Jonathan Chua, emailed to point out an oversight in this column. He is right, of course. Jose Garcia Villa was one of the first to be proclaimed National Artist).

I have a confession to make. More than two decades ago when the Internet was still incomprehensible to most people, when geeks and nerds still had absolute dominion over cyberspace, and when access to the net still meant having a telephone and a dial-up connection, I spent inordinate amounts of time lurking in Internet chat rooms.

My initial handle or nick was Salinger, after Jerome David Salinger, the novelist. Back then, no one asked about who Salinger was and why it was my handle; which was probably a reflection of the demographic profile of the people who lurked in chat rooms then—people who knew JD Salinger and what he represented to those belonging to a certain generation.

I tried logging on to a chat room the other weekend using Salinger as my nick. Most of the chatters didn’t have the faintest idea what my nick represented despite the fact that news about the death JD Salinger was one of the top stories in the net. It’s either of two things: Kids today really don’t read books anymore or their notion of what is “cool” and “hip” is completely different from what it was during my youth. I read somewhere that in a survey conducted among today’s young, the few who have read Catcher In The Rye found the plot simplistic and Holden Caulfield, the main character in the novel, “whiny.”

At no other time has the generation gap become more real to me. Reading JD Salinger was a rite of passage for my generation; everyone I knew in college had read Catcher in the Rye. It was almost inconceivable for anyone to have gone through college without at least knowing who Holden Caulfield was. How could kids today not know who JD Salinger is? And how could kids today find Catcher simplistic and Caulfield shallow?

Catcher In The Rye was the book people carried around during my college days like it was the ultimate badge of coolness in much the same way classmates in high school lugged around copies of The Little Prince like it was a barometer of intellectual prowess. No, I didn’t think people fancied themselves as brown Marc David Chapmans who shot John Lennon supposedly to draw attention to Catcher In The Rye; we simply identified with the teenage angst and sense of alienation. (As an irrelevant digression, I should also point out that certain male members of my class, for reasons I cannot go into in this piece, also lugged around Harold Robbins and those pronoun books—He, She, You, They, Him, Her—that listed Anonymous as author).

The death of JD Salinger the other week represented the passing of an era for me and for my friends. We felt like having our own memorial for the reclusive novelist. I finally understood why a favorite professor in college took the day off when Ayn Rand died. (I also read Ayn Rand but didn’t feel any connection probably because I read Atlas Shrugged first before I read The Fountainhead. Atlas Shrugged just didn’t sit well with my political sensibilities at that time).

I am not sure if JD Salinger is still required reading in literature courses today the way it was during my college days. You know how it is when something is forced upon you—you tend to look at the material with some measure of disdain regardless of all the praised heaped upon it. It didn’t help that the professor who made it required reading had plunged deep in my estimation after she encouraged me to read Sidney Sheldon’s Rage of Angels, all the time raving about how it was supposedly the best novel ever written (not!). I procrastinated on reading Catcher In The Rye and settled down to read the darn thing only when the deadline for the paper was almost up. I finished it in one sitting and quickly lapped up all the other JD Salinger books available, which, unfortunately one could count with the fingers in one hand.

Salinger’s portfolio is rather slim. Aside from Catcher, he published only three other books: Nine Stories, Franny and Zooey, and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction. However, there is absolutely no doubt that those four books achieved so much more in terms of influencing a generation and in provoking spirited discussion and analysis.

My fascination with JD Salinger has not just been on account of the fact that he wrote great books or that he published only a few of them. I’ve always been in awe of what he represented as a writer.

He debunked many paradigms about what makes a great writer. He proved that one does not need to have a large body of work to prove one’s mettle. He exemplified what I’ve always thought was extreme dedication or devotion to writing as a craft. And he wrote mainly for himself.

Salinger’s reclusiveness and his manic obsession with privacy may have served as fodder for the gossip mill but they also sparked philosophical discussions on writing, publishing, and the job description of writers and authors in general.

Most writers aspire to be published. The prevailing paradigm is that someone can only claim full-fledged status as a writer if one has published his or her work or works. Moreover, one’s worth as a writer is largely measured by how prolific one is. In fact, the rather thin canon of noted Filipino writer Jose Garcia Villa is seen as the major reason why he has not been bestowed the title of National Artist despite his brilliance.

Salinger, however, shunned public recognition and looked at being published as a major invasion of one’s privacy. Salinger thus prompted the philosophical, perhaps even existential questions that writers wrestle with: Is public recognition relevant in determining writing talent? Does one need to be published for him or her to be considered a writer? Should a writer write for others or should a writer write mainly for one’s self? Are writers defined mainly by their writing?

By isolating himself from the rest of the world and by refusing to be published, Salinger showcased an alternative point of view; perhaps one that is unpopular or unconventional. But when we come to think about it, writing is a creative process that is intensely personal and the demands and pressures we place on writers are often unfair. I often cringe when I come across people who complain that Ninotchka Rosca or Mo Yan do not produce as many books as say, John Grisham or Jeffrey Archer. We often expect writers to be spokespersons for this and that cause, to be the mouthpiece of our innermost thoughts, to be the voice of the everyday man. We forget that the choice—what to or not to say publicly—is primarily that of the writer’s and nobody else’s.

And oh, in case you haven’t read Catcher In The Rye and are therefore unable to see what the title of this piece has to do with the rest of it, Holden Caulfield’s red hunting hat is one of the symbols that appear frequently in the book. It represents his need for individuality and security, while also representing a lot of mixed emotions.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Like betting on prizefighters

This is my column today.

The question that everyone inevitably gets asked at social occasions nowadays, whether surreptitiously as if it were a matter of national security or blatantly as if it were one’s obligation to announce it to all and sundry, is this: Who is your candidate for President?

It is possible of course—although I highly doubt it—that the social circles I move in do not typify Philippine society. Based on my observation, most people who are asked the question are still unsure about who they are voting for. Of course there are those who have already made up their minds and proudly proclaim their choices but they represent a minority.

But most people I know give non-committal answers—they often provide two names. “I’m choosing between this and that candidate.” Some provide stronger indicators by saying “I am strongly leaning towards this candidate.” But the sense I am getting is that people are still deciding; most people haven’t really made up their minds. In fact, I have this sneaking suspicion that many people are not being truthful when they answer because they don’t want to be judged.

Unfortunately, although I have the feeling that it is waning now, there is this strong moral judgment against people who pick candidates who are not aligned with certain supposed moral precepts.

Who then are these people that comprise the respondents of all these various surveys?

I am aware that they qualify the survey questions with the statement “if elections were to be held tomorrow.” But surely, the people doing the surveys detect the hesitation and the uncertainty in the faces and responses of the respondents.

I am not knocking down surveys in general. I certainly find it hypocritical when certain political groups proudly proclaim the results of surveys when it benefits them and then shoot surveys down when the results do not suit them.

I believe that surveys play an important role in the electoral process and in a democracy. At the very least, they provide a strong indicator of the pulse of the people. But as the admonition goes, statistics are like lampposts. They should be used the way a sober man does which uses them to guide his way home. The problem is that most use statistics the way a drunk uses lampposts in a stupor—as a crutch or support to prevent him from falling down.

Thus, I join the chorus of people demanding for more responsible treatment of the results of surveys. I am concerned that survey results are being used indiscriminately as if the statistics are already a substitute for actual elections. In fact, I am alarmed that surveys are now being used deliberately and rather unethically to create a strong bandwagon effect. I am aware that certain groups are now capitalizing on results of surveys and tailor-fitting their campaign strategies to harness the results of these surveys.

When I expressed this concern at a forum recently, I was told that a professor from the University of the Philippines is spearheading a similar advocacy armed with empirical data and a more methodical approach. I wish more people would take up the advocacy, particularly those who are in a position to influence more people. We need to explain the results of surveys better. We need to enlighten people that an election is not about voting for the most popular candidate but about voting for a candidate one believes in.

The immediate consequence of the bandwagon effect being propped up and pushed strongly—unethically, I must stress—by certain political parties is that the electorate seems intent now on choosing candidates very much similar to the way people bet on prizefighters. There is now this whole preoccupation with choosing candidates who, in their minds, are sure winners, or at least have the strongest possibility of winning. People seem intent on casting their luck on front runners as if voting for a losing candidate is now anathema.

We will have to pay dearly in the future if this phenomenon is allowed to continue.

Just last week I attended a family affair where the dinner conversation naturally meandered towards politics. It was just a matter of time of course and when the inevitable question finally got asked, I noted that most people in our table were still undecided. When I said that I was leaning towards a certain senator who is not faring well in surveys, most people agreed with me that it was a good choice but cautioned me that my vote will get “wasted” because my candidate is not going to win based on the results of surveys. I argued my case, of course.

Votes will get “wasted” if they are not cast in favor of candidates who are sure to win based on surveys? I have never heard a more preposterous idea!

The elections are still a good three months away and anything can still happen. In fact the campaign season has not even officially started yet. As it is we’re already seeing shifts in the popularity ratings of certain front runners. Senator Noynoy Aquino, for instance, does not come across as invincible today as he did a few months ago, does he? It’s not fair and certainly not wise to count out candidates who are not rating well in surveys.

And it’s not as if surveys are 100 percent predictive. They are snapshots of the political landscape at a given time; such landscape may change everyday. This is not just wishful thinking. It has been known to happen many times.

But over and above anything else, we must remind people that elections are not about picking the most popular people. They are about voting for the candidates that one thinks and believes are best for the job. This could mean the most competent, the most qualified, the people we strongly identify with.

Otherwise, we might as well cancel elections and let Pulse Asia, Social Weather Stations, and the rest of the companies who are in the business of conducting surveys decide among themselves who should sit in Malacañang, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and in various provincial and local government offices.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Sick and sickening

As I write, I am watching The Bottomline with Boy Abunda. He has Marlene Aguilar as guest. I am totally blown away - thrown off the wall - by the sheer lunacy of it all.

The experience of watching Marlene Aguilar regurgitate what she thinks is wisdom and brilliance is akin to watching a circus freak show. It's riveting but it is also surreal. It's just so totally unreal.

What amazes me is that there are actually people who can't see through her; people who still cling to the notion that she is doing all of these things out of maternal love. She is doing it for herself. She is doing it because she cannot help herself.

She is sticking to this fantastic yarn about how America is behind her son's supposed persecution. She insists that all of these things - even the Maguindanao massacre, believe it or not - happened because of the supposed subversive content of her book.

I've read parts of her books (they can be downloaded from the net) and believe me, the woman is taking too much credit. The accusations she makes in her books are actually very tame.

I realize though that by writing about her I am contributing to her notoriety. But this has to be said: Marlene Aguilar needs a psychiatrist.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Crab mentality

Like many others, I am also concerned about the way candidates, specially those running for national posts, are spending money on television ads like there's no tomorrow.

However, I find it extremely hypocritical when certain politicians and their lackeys begin criticizing other candidates for spending billions on ads and then announce that they will do the same. Okay, let's be more specific.

I think Senator Noynoy Aquino's handlers are being hypocritical when they complain about Senator Manny Villar's TV ads because they (Aquino's camp) are obviously out to produce more ads and give Villar stiff competition as one of the country's top advertisers. It's like the kettle calling the pot black.

I am not saying we shouldn't rant about things we believe are wrong. All I am saying is that when we do so, let's make sure we can't be accused of exactly the same thing.

In case you haven't noticed, my blog now has its own domain name although it is still on blogger platform. The change has been courtesy of a former student of mine (Allan) who has been egging me since he was in my class (three or four years ago) to harness the potentials of this blog. I never really meant this blog to be anything else other than a space for self expression so I never really give his suggestion serious thought. I must admit though that there were times when I wish I had the time in the world to make more posts, respond more to comments, make this blog more interactive. Unfortunately, there's just 24 hours in a day.

But sometimes things just happen when you least expect them. Allan called me yesterday to inquire if I was still writing. We did shop talk for a while. And then he called me again after 30 minutes to tell me he was able to get for me. Just like that. I was in the middle of a meeting so I never did get the chance to thank him for going out on a limb for me.

I guess this is a sign for me to pump more life into this blog. I will try.

Thanks again, Allan! I really appreciate the nice gesture. Salamat!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

No to plastic bags

There was a news report published in the inside pages of this paper last week, which was sadly largely ignored by other media networks.

The Muntinlupa City Council has enacted an ordinance banning and regulating the use of plastic bags, Styrofoam and styropor materials in business establishments in the city. The ordinance was signed by Mayor Aldrin San Pedro and will officially take effect next year. The one-year reprieve is meant to ensure that business establishments and the citizenry are prepared to implement the ordinance.

What this means is that effective next year Jollibee and McDonald stores in Muntinlupa will no longer be serving spaghetti in styropor containers and softdrinks in plastic glasses. Stores in Alabang will no longer be using plastic bags.

Finally, some concrete action to protect the environment! I commend the city council of Muntinlupa for manifesting political will. It’s really about time we stop using plastic and styropor materials in urban centers, particularly Metro Manila. Plastic is non-biodegradable and takes a long, long time to disintegrate. It’s one of the major reasons why we have polluted creeks, rivers, and bays.

Metro Manila produces tons of plastic garbage every day. All our fastfood chains use plastic and styropor for food packaging—from the coffee cups and glasses, to the forks and spoons, to plates and takeout bags. All our vendors—from the major retailers in the Makati Commercial Center, to the hawkers in Divisoria, down to the neighborhood sari sari store, to the guys selling pirated DVDs, and the manongs hawking boiled corn and peanuts in the our streets—they all use plastic bags. Most of the stuff does not even get recycled. They go straight to waste baskets and consequently end up as landfill that won’t get absorbed by the soil for thousands of years, as materials that clog our waterways and cause flooding, or as toxic material that kills many creatures such as sea turtles and dolphins that unwittingly ingest them.

The really tragic thing is that the use of plastic bags or styropor can be avoided and is often unnecessary. Most of us simply use them out of habit. The problem is that many establishments don’t train their employees on how to reduce the use of plastic when wrapping merchandise.

For example, I have always been amazed that National Bookstore uses two types of plastic to bag purchases of their customers. They first wrap the books, pens and other purchases in their standard red plastic bag with their store logo and then place the whole thing in another bag—a transparent white bag with handles on them. I can understand the need for bags with handles; customers need to be able to carry their purchases with a little more ease. What I don’t understand is the need to wrap purchases first in separate red plastic bags before placing them in the white transparent bag with handles.

To be fair to National Bookstore, it did launch a unique promo a few years back. The promo encouraged their customers to buy red environment-friendly recyclable cloth bags, which, if customers used every time they buy from the store entitled the customer to a rebate. The problem was that the bags were hideous (in red!) and to be frank about it, the store seemed to have given up on the promo because it just stopped it. In addition, Powerbooks, which is National Bookstore’s sister company, does use biodegradable paper bags. I wonder why National Bookstore does not use paper bags as well.

Every time I would buy from tiangges or even from other retailers, I would suggest to the cashier to just put my new purchases into the plastic bags I was already carrying so that we would be using less plastic. Some would show appreciation but most would actually look at me with a curious expression on their face as if wondering if something was wrong with me. I am told most people actually want to leave the store with more plastic bags probably because they want to show off their purchasing power or because they use the plastic as trash bags at home.

There have been times when I was actually told by store cashiers that they weren’t allowed not to wrap purchases in their standard store packaging because that served as their security control mechanism. Apparently one can be suspected of having filched merchandise or of being a shoplifter if one walks out of the store with goods not wrapped in the store’s standard plastic bag.

The key is to encourage people to use recyclable bags. There was a time, not very long ago although I think, when there were groups that produced these bags and gave them away. These recyclable bags were such a big thing that they were standard giveaways at Christmas and special occasions. The problem with these recyclable bags was that they were often shamelessly tacky in design or were walking advertisements of some products or political ambitions no one would want to be caught dead carrying them. Ironically, what happened was that these bags ended up as trash themselves.

Some establishments did come up with stylish environment-friendly bags. SM even commissioned artist Manuel Baldemor to do the artwork for their green bags. The problem was that these bags didn’t come cheap. Unfortunately, not very many people were willing to pay the price. For many people, paying money when plastic bags were available for free just didn’t make sense.

We should follow the example of many countries in Europe where business establishments do not provide plastic bags automatically. The first time I was in Berlin, Germany in the early nineties, I was at a loss when I discovered at the checkout counter that stores didn’t provide plastic bags to customers. Since I wasn’t carrying my own bag, I was directed to go to the customer service counter where I had to ask for a plastic bag from a rather stern-looking German employee who gave me a short lecture on caring for the environment.

My feeling is that people can be weaned from using plastic when forced to do so. Business establishments can be encouraged to be more environment-friendly if required to do so.

This is why I truly welcome the move of the City Council of Muntinlupa to ban plastic bags, Styrofoam and styropor materials from the city. It’s definitely a step in the right direction. I hope the other city councils in Metro Manila follow Muntinlupa’s example.