Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Monday, March 29, 2010
I have a suggestion. Let’s scrap Congress. Let’s save ourselves the time and the money in getting people elected into becoming lawmakers. Let’s get rid of senators and congressmen. What’s the point having them anyway when according to the Commission on Elections, the various political parties, the candidates running for various public office, and the many other people who have suddenly found reasons to pick on our laws as justification for their various transgressions, the reason why we are such in a mess today is because we have bad laws.
So forget about the chest thumping, the drum beating, and the efforts at self-promotion of our various senators and congressmen. Forget about the much-ballyhooed accomplishments—volumes of books about them—of the various sessions of Congress that have been convened. As the cliché goes, the fruit of the pudding is in the eating: We are now being told that our laws are poorly conceived, broad, confusing. In short, we have badly-crafted laws.
There are many examples from recent events that illustrate this seeming collective realization, but for purposes of this column let’s just focus on two: The Party-list law and the Fair Elections Act. If we are to go by the pronouncements of various individuals and groups who have run out of excuses and justifications for either their ineptness in implementing or their rampant and wanton violations of these laws, their actions are warranted because they can’t make heads of tails of these two laws.
I know. It’s enough to make one want to tear out one’s hair out and run around screaming like a banshee. We all know it’s really a cop-out because to begin with, they know and we know and they know that we know that there is no such thing as a perfect law. There cannot be a law that is able to address all possible situations and circumstances—all the possible minutiae that people can think of.
If this is the paradigm that we all embrace, Congress will never be able to pass any law at all—not that such as thing hasn’t happened yet since we all know certain measures have been rotting in Congress for years now such as the Reproductive Health Bill. Crafting a perfect law is not possible simply because despite the delusions of many of our lawmakers, no one is omniscient enough to be able to tell future events. Which is not to say, of course, that we settle for poorly crafted and mediocre laws.
All I am saying is that those responsible for ensuring the enforcement of certain laws should stop using the supposed gaps or weaknesses in these laws as justification for their inability to mete out penalties or punishments for those who wantonly violate these laws. As most Filipinos are wont to say, kung gusto may paraan (roughly, if there’s a will there’s a way).
This is the reason why I am aghast at the pronouncements of the Comelec commissioners around the supposed inadequacies in the party-list law. They cite defects in the law as bases for the fact that the whole system is spiraling out of control.
Comelec chairman Jose Melo even had the cheek to actually whine on public television that the law is not clear about what comprises a “marginalized” sector. It’s a classic symptom of denial. Recall that Melo cast the crucial decision declaring Ang Ladlad—the party-list of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people ineligible to run as party-list group because of well, his inability to see beyond his own bigotry. I don’t think there is a law that would be able to enlightenment Melo enough on what comprises marginalization.
The Comelec also cited defects in the law as the reason why they cannot do anything about the fact that certain people are shamelessly using the party-list system as backdoor to Congress. Unbelievable! They cannot disqualify party-list nominees who are clearly not members of the group they seek to represent? I know that we are in a democracy and that there are certain processes that must be followed—but surely there is something the Comelec can do to at least initiate the process of disqualification instead of just throwing its hands up in the air in hapless surrender.
As a lawyer friend of mine likes to say: “There’s always a law somewhere that can be used to nail someone down.”
If the party-list law is allegedly shot with more holes than a sinking ship, the Fair Elections Act seem even in far worst shape if we are to believe the Comelec, the political parties and even candidates running for public office.
Senators Benigno Aquino III and Manuel Villar, supposedly the top two contenders for the highest post in the land, have already exceeded the limits in terms of number of minutes of advertisement they can place in one television network. Candidates for national posts are only allowed 120 minutes of advertisements per television network. Both have already clocked in more than 120 minutes in ads paid for by their own funds (in the case of Aquino) or by their political parties (in the case of Villar). I know. This matter of allocating expenses to personal funds and to party funds is already anomalous as it is because we all know the juggling act can be done just as easily by anyone else.
Aquino’s and Villar’s camps won’t run out of justifications, of course. Or of creative ways to trump the law, that’s for sure. Repeat all together now: There’s always a way! In fact, both have already come out with ads that purportedly endorse a particular candidate so the time allocation can be charged to that candidate. Aquino’s ad endorsing Risa Hontiveros, for instance; or Villar’s ads endorsing his senatorial line-up. These ads are charged to the senatorial candidates even if it is very clear that Aquino and Villar are given prominence in these ads.
Many more candidates are using various real, inferred, and invented loopholes in the law to justify various transgressions. Many have started campaigning even before the official start of the campaign period claiming they were just “introducing” themselves to the electorate. This delineation is utter nonsense.
Most candidates are violating election laws on the size and location of campaign posters and streamers. The sad fact is that the law actually is quite specific on this and leaves no room for misinterpretation. Section 4, article 4.1 of the Fair Elections Act, which provides for the appropriate size of any printed materials specifically stipulates that printed materials whether framed or posted should not exceed two by three feet unless during and at the site of campaign rallies where streamers/posters or any printed material for that matter should not exceed three by eight feet. Still, candidates are coming out with justifications about how their campaign materials are posted by their supporters on private properties, etc.
The sad thing is that all these candidates are putting themselves out there as the best candidate for the post they are aspiring for. They are all running for the privilege of being able to take that sacred oath of office that basically binds them to protect and uphold the laws of this republic. They haven’t won yet and they are already shamelessly violating laws of the republic. When we come to think about it, they are already desecrating the very laws they aim to protect.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
I was at the PICC (again) yesterday afternoon for a graduation (yet again). Okay. Let me explain that previous sentence - as professor at DLS-CSB, I am required to attend as many graduations as possible and the school holds one every term and each one is held at the PICC.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Friday, March 19, 2010
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Monday, March 08, 2010
Now that the local franchise of the “Got Talent” television show is under way, there’s this whole preoccupation once again with the issue of “talent” and just how talented we are as a people.
And luckily for all of us, even if we don’t get to watch the talent contests on television, there’s always a video of the performance on You Tube, which we can watch anytime.
We all like to lay claim to being the most talented bunch of people in the world. If we are to go by the sheer number of Filipinos (or half-Filipinos if we must nitpick about it) that steal the show and end up as finalists in the talent contests staged in other countries, there seems to be evidence to back our claim. Why they end up as “mere” runners-up rather than as winners is understandable— most of these contests are decided by text voting by the general population who will naturally be partial to homegrown talents.
Madonna Decena and Charlie Green created waves at Britain’s Got Talent the other year. Jal Joshua, a 10-year-old Filipino placed runner up to an opera singer in last year’s Australia Got Talent. We’ve had quite a number of Filipino singers as finalists in American Idol—one of them, Jasmine Trias, placed third in the 2004 edition of the singing tilt. Even the Jabbawockeez, who first appeared in America’s Got Talent before winning MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew title, has four Filipino dancers in its roster. Incidentally, I am glad that the group’s trip to the Philippines coincided somehow with the showing of Tim Burton’s film Alice in Wonderland so people will at least get some idea of the etymology of the group’s name.
Lest we forget, I would like to remind people that the distinctions are not really just limited to performing artists. Just recently, Filipina scientist Lourdes Junsay Cruz of the University of the Philippine was adjudged one of five winners of the 2010 L’oreal Unesco “For Women in Science Awards.” There a number of engineers, physicists, medical practitioners, teachers, athletes, etc, who have won international acclaim for outstanding talent in various fields of discipline. The problem is that their talent is not celebrated in the same way we do singers and dancers.
Anyway. As I was saying, there’s now this whole discussion that is raging among households about what talent is and whether certain people have it or not. I expect this discussion to get more intense as the competition in Pilipinas Got Talent becomes more pronounced and people start rooting for their own contestants. This is why I hope that ABS-CBN takes pains to use the show as a springboard for more in-depth discussion about what talent is, how to develop or nurture it, and how talent plays an important role in one’s personal growth and destiny.
I know this is a tall order and I’m probably crying for the moon here but given how performing artists seem to be our most popular (second to domestic helpers, it is said) export to the world, it’s really about time we become more serious about helping people nurture talents. Aside from amateur singing contests we don’t really have mechanisms to discover and hone talents. I am sure some people from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority will try to assert that they’ve been doing something along this line such as providing training in classical dancing for entertainers bound for Japan or somewhere else. I will try to be charitable and ignore what they do rather than label it correctly with a term that is not acceptable in polite conversation.
Unfortunately, we all know that our local television networks, particularly ABS-CBN, tend to see only human-interest drama in each of the situations and cases that they find worthy of some airtime. In Pilipinas Got Talent, for example, we’re seeing a definite trend—more attention and more airtime is given to contestants with more “entertainment value.” Thus, there’s this whole preoccupation with the bizarre, the unique, and the grotesque. The very few gems that they have so far given ample playtime were those with a sob story to tell.
The choice of the three judges in the show is indicative of the direction Pilipinas Got Talent is heading towards. They are going for “kwela” or mass or commercial appeal and will tend to focus on form and entertainment value rather than substance. Forget about making distinctions between superior skill and genuine talent. Forget about in-depth analysis of, for example, the real artistic value or the nuances of a particular performance. As it is, there is now this whole focus on “raw talent”—people who are able to sing their guts out or hit notes as high as the stratosphere, contort their bodies to shapes never before imagined possible, or do stuff beyond expectations.
The obvious question that we need to ask is this: Is being able to entertain the end-all and be-all of a genuine performing artist? The reality is that most people equate talent with the ability to make people stand up and notice. This has happened many times in many talent searches. Some ingénues take our breath away with their initial performance mainly because we had very low expectations of them either because they look plain, or impoverished, or too young or too old, or have physical limitations. We crown them as talent. And then we realize later on that what they had was not sustainable. We realize that talent needs to be constant and enduring. The poor guy ends up even more broken than when he or she started when the attention is heaped somewhere else and another flash in the pan “talent” is discovered.
Our penchant for entertainment value has resulted in more people with dubious talent auditioning for talent searches and —ironically enough—being given more exposure than the ones with real talent. Also, talent that is polished—say, performers who have spent years perfecting their crafts—are deemed too schooled and, strangely enough, ordinary. The ballerina who glides around the stage like she is floating on air is relegated in favor of the fire-spewing contortionist whose main talent really is that she is able to escape third degree burns.
What is talent? My hope is that the answer to this question also gets enough airtime along with the supposed examples of the diversity of Filipino talent out there. In doing so, people hopefully become better viewers and critics and are able to recognize genuine talent when they see it.
Thursday, March 04, 2010
Monday, March 01, 2010
He then challenged Senator Manny Villar, the candidate who is widely seen as his closest rival for the presidency, to a one-on-one debate; a challenge Villar immediately accepted. Villar shot back: Name the place and the venue. A sidelight to that verbal scuffle was Brother Eddie Villanueva’s attempt to insert himself into the picture saying that if Aquino and Villar were going to debate mano a mano, then he also should be there even if only to serve as a referee.
I cite this back story because it just so happened that the professional organization of which I am currently vice president, the People Management Association of the Philippines (the national organization of human resource management professionals in the country) was also at that time organizing its own series of presidential forums. What we had in mind was a format involving two or at most three presidential candidates at a time. Coincidentally, the plan was to invite Aquino and Villar to the first forum. So we jumped at the opportunity and made the necessary arrangements.
I say this with no malice intended: Inviting Aquino and Villar was a complicated and nerve-wracking experience. Up to day of the forum, we were never really sure if both, or either, or neither would show up. I’ve organized quite a number of national conferences myself and I familiar with the difficulties involved in getting the rich, the famous, and the notorious to speak or show up at a public event. Nothing prepared me for the kind of backroom negotiations that had to be made. But after a lot of wheeling and dealing, both camps accepted the invitation. There was also a lot of briefing and coaching on the talking points and the format of the forum. I don’t really know anymore how it came to pass but somewhere along the way, Brother Eddie Villanueva’s participation became part of the arrangement.
Aquino and Villanueva did show up. Villar chickened out at the last minute. If Villar thought human resource managers can easily be dispensed with, he has another thought coming. We directly influence millions of workers—we’re the gatekeepers of information and learning in industry, we’re also the people directly responsible for managing and developing those employed in the private sector.
A friend in media who covers the presidential candidates intimated to me that notwithstanding the bravado he displayed in responding to the Aquino challenge to a one-on-one debate, Villar is actually uncomfortable in forums where Aquino is also present because the crowd inevitably gravitates towards the latter.
This was exactly what happened last week at the PMAP forum. I take my hats off to Brother Eddie Villanueva who must really be such a humble man not to take offense at the fact that people mobbed Aquino and relegated him to the sidelines. I can understand how such a spectacle would be a blow to Villar’s ego. Whether it is on the wane or not, the Aquino magic is a real phenomenon.
The general perception is that there is an ocean of difference between the public persona and who a person really is up close. Television, which is the most popular medium today, brings candidates into our bedrooms and living rooms and magnifies their supposed strengths and weaknesses —their brilliance, nervous gestures, warts, thinning hair, and all. But for all its vaunted power, television has limitations. For one, it has to appeal to as many types of constituents and therefore tends to be superficial in treatment. There is no substitute for small forums that function like town hall meetings focused on specific concerns and issues. In fact, town hall meetings have been staple fixtures in the presidential elections in the United States since the eighties.
But then again, it really still boils down to the readiness and capability of candidates to provide incisive and in-depth answers to questions asked of them. I have noted that even when our presidential candidates are asked direct questions that call for specifics such as action plans and timelines, they still tend to answer with motherhood statements and broad strokes.
I was a little disappointed that at the PMAP forum, Senator Aquino couldn’t be more specific with his answers despite the fact that he had just complained, just a couple of weeks ago, about what he thought was the lack of substantive discussions in the various presidential forums. When asked, for example, how long it would take his administration to fix the mismatch problem and at what cost, he hemmed and hawed and skimmed through the surface. The moderator had to try to pin him down to talk specifics. Still, it was the moderator who had to synthesize his thoughts to come up with a specific answer: About two years, with money to be sourced from the gaps in the tax collection efforts, which would be more than enough.
If Aquino was non-committal and tended to be superficial, Villanueva was clearly oblivious of the issues. His stock answer to everything and anything was a variation of the same refrain: The problem in this country is the lack of a sense of righteousness and that he and his party would lead by example. Villanueva had specific talking points, which he had clearly mastered—memorized even—and he never strayed from these points.
There is more about Aquino that does not register on television and in other mass media channels. He is far more eloquent and engaging in person although he does tend to display non-verbal messages that seem to indicate impatience. Others have labeled these as indicative of being “petulant.” I think the senator just needs to learn to be more tolerant of criticism. At the PMAP forum, he expressed exasperation at our political system which bred incompetence and stymied innovative and long-term solutions. When the moderator cut him off with the observation that inability to change the status quo and failure to get things done within the system could also be interpreted as failure in leadership, the senator continued to whine about what he had not been allowed to do. The senator justified himself by saying he chose not to be popular.
Aquino, however, earned brownie points from me for being sincere and authentic. What I liked most about him was the fact that he didn’t try to come across as a “know-it-all,” he carried with him a folder—presumably containing statistics and various data—which he flipped through during the forum. He drank water straight from a bottle, didn’t ask for star treatment (in fact he refused to enter the room when someone else was talking because he didn’t want to interrupt), and even stayed even if he was already late for another appointment just to accommodate members of the audience who wanted to have pictures taken with him.
I still haven’t decided on who to vote for President but I know this for a fact after having met Senator Aquino, sat with him on the same table, and listened to him parry difficult questions from our group: A Noynoy Aquino presidency would not be such a bad thing.