Monday, October 25, 2010

The messenger

This was my column on the date indicated above.

I used to make fun of Senator Lito Lapid and referred to him as the most expensive piece of furniture in the Philippine Senate because he was the one senator who was rarely heard of. In a chamber full of people with gigantic egos all seemingly fighting to be heard, Lapid was an aberration. He never gave privilege speeches, did not hog the limelight, did not file controversial bills (or any other bill, it seemed); did not even seem to attend Senate sessions - if he did, he must have vanished into the woodwork because he was rarely caught on television being inside the session hall.

All these, however, were perceptions that were really not supported by facts.

The truth is that Lapid was quite prolific as a senator in terms of number of bills filed. In a study conducted by a professor at the University of the Philippines early this year, Lapid was ranked sixth overall among senators who successfully shepherded “original” bills into law. He was also ranked fourth overall among senators in terms of number of bills filed in the Senate with 398 bills. Some wags even alleged during the last election that Lapid’s output as senator was way better than then-Senator Noynoy Aquino’s.

But lo and behold, Lapid has suddenly become front-page material with the filing of bills that sparked spirited discussions recently. Lapid is seemingly positioning himself as a champion of educational issues and is focusing on issues that strike many people, particularly those who fancy themselves as members of this country’s intellectual elite, as mundane and simplistic. For example, Lapid recently filed a bill regulating the weight of bags that children have to carry to school every day. He also filed another bill promoting equal opportunities for left-handed people, particularly students who have difficulty using facilities and equipment that are really designed for right-handed people. Even more recent was a bill promoting children’s responsibility for their parents.

Secretary Armin Luistro dismissed —some people say with a mocking laugh—Lapid’s proposed bill to limit the weight of bags. Luistro thought Lapid’s proposed bill was “trivial and insignificant.” According to Luistro, there are already too many laws in this country and the matter of heavy school bags didn’t have to be a topic fit for discussion among our legislators. Really?

Perhaps Luistro does not know this, but there are actually thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people in this country with spinal column problems that can be traced to the fact that they carried heavy bags all throughout their elementary and high school years. I am one of those people, actually. I have acute lordosis which my doctors tell me can be traced to the fact that I was an overly diligent student who carried all my books, notebooks, and whatever else the teacher required every day in school. We didn’t have lockers at school (I don’t think lockers are available in many schools even today) where I could have left my schoolbooks.

I am told that this is a major problem in many schools today. I have met many parents who accompany their kids to school precisely to help them carry their bags. Some kids have to trudge four- or five-story buildings while carrying heavy backpacks. The matter requires institutional attention and cannot be left to the discretion of school principals and teachers, many of whom probably think it’s good exercise for kids.

Lapid likewise filed a bill requiring institutions to provide facilities for left-handed people. In many educational institutions, teachers force left-handed students to learn how to write with their right hands firmly believing that being right-handed is normal while being left-handed is an aberration. Yes, some fallacies and myths from the Middle Ages continue to proliferate today.

At the College where I teach, each classroom is equipped with at least five desks for left-handed people. But not all educational institutions are as enlightened and as appreciative of diversity. This is why it is important that we have laws to require compliance on seemingly basic, mundane, even trivial issues.

The intellectual elite in this country needs to recognize that many of our problems are quite basic and do not really require sophisticated solutions. Perhaps Senator Lapid really needs to speak more often and more assertively to get certain points forward. There’s a part of me that thinks if it was Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago who advocated these bills using words comprised of polysyllables, the reaction may have been different.

There’s also a lesson that Senator Lapid needs to pick up from this experience. Packaging really helps. Sometimes, it really is not just about the message; very often it is also about the messenger.

* * *

It’s been almost two months since she was last seen and to date, there has been no information on her whereabouts. Her sons have asked for media support and have asked people to continue keeping her mother’s disappearance a “live” topic, fearing that if people stopped talking about the case it would be forgotten unsolved.

Carole Day, a 56-year old British woman who has been a long-time expatriate living in Hong Kong, has been missing since Sept. 12. She was last seen in Manila where she was on a business trip. Where is Carole Day? What happened to her?

Carole Day was a frequent visitor to the Philippines. She was into furniture/interior decorations and sourced most of her products in the Philippines. She used a showroom in Makati for this purpose. On Sept. 12, after wrapping up business transactions with her Filipino partners, she said she was due to leave for Cebu and Phuket, Thailand. She was not heard of since then. However, immigration officials have confirmed that she had not left the Philippines.

She is about 5’4”, skinny, has long strawberry blond hair, and brown eyes. Her two sons who are based in Hong Kong have been traveling back and forth to the Philippines to try to find her. The National Bureau of Investigation and other agencies have also launched a manhunt for her.

I am helping spread the word about Carole Day in the hope that someone out there can provide any lead about her and her disappearance. There’s a Facebook account where people can leave messages and which contain various contact numbers of her sons (just type Missing: Carole Day in Facebook search to be directed to the page). I join her sons and her friends in praying and wishing that nothing untoward had happened to Carole and that she is found soon. People who can provide information about her can also email her son Jai at jaicool@hotmail.com.


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