Monday, April 26, 2010

Batting for equal rights

This is my column today.

Adding color, in so many ways, to the May 2010 elections is the participation of Ang Ladlad—the political party of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people. Ang Ladlad is vying for a seat in Congress through the party-list system. The journey was long and challenging.

We think we are more tolerant and accepting of sexual minorities as supposedly exemplified by the few reported cases of violence directed at lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people. I stress the word “reported” because in reality, there’s a lot of violence directed at members of the community, they have become almost normal and natural. One has to be utterly blind or deaf not to know that most parents, “macho” fathers in particular, or elder male siblings, tend to subject younger members of their families into various forms of physical violence to force them to “straighten up.” There’s also a lot of abuse—ranging from psychological, verbal, and even emotional—that members of the LGBT community have to contend with on a regular basis. We’re not talking yet about the many other ways in which discrimination against sexual minorities is practiced in the workplace!

The truth is that there’s institutionalized discrimination and oppression directed at members of the community. Just look at the struggle Ang Ladlad had to wage just to win accreditation as party-list.

The group finally got into the ballot for the May 2010 elections—number 89 in the list of those accredited by the Commission on Elections —only after the Supreme Court issued a ruling last April 8 in effect rebuking the Comelec for earlier disqualifying Ang Ladlad for supposedly promoting immorality. The Supreme Court chided the bigoted and homophobic Comelec commissioners for targeting “homosexuals themselves as a class, not because of any particular morally reprehensible act.” The Court ruling was explicit about its disapproval of the way the Comelec denied Ang Ladlad’s registration “on purely moral grounds” which, the Court said, was “a statement of dislike and disapproval of homosexuals” rather than for the promotion of “any substantial public interest.”

The decision penned by Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo validated the marginalization of the LGBT community in the country by noting that “through the years, homosexual conduct, and perhaps homosexuals themselves, have borne the brunt of societal disapproval.” The Court ruled that “it is not difficult to imagine the reasons behind this censure—religious beliefs, convictions about the preservation of marriage, family, and procreation, even dislike or distrust of homosexuals themselves and their perceived lifestyle.” The decision notwithstanding, there are more roadblocks along the way.

I was in Mindanao recently and had the opportunity to interview Crisanto Lopera, Ang Ladlad’s third nominee. Lopera represents Mindanao (he is currently based in General Santos City) in the Ang Ladlad organization. Lopera, who was my schoolmate in college, has spent considerable years working for various non-government organizations and is a fierce advocate of health and human rights issues. In fact, what distinguishes the three nominees of Ang Ladlad is their strong background in development work. In contrast to the nominees of certain party-list groups who use the system merely as a backdoor to Congress, Ang Ladlad’s nominees are members of the community they represent. They have spent decades fighting for and advocating the issues of the community.

Lopera does not fit the stereotype of the typical gay man, caricatured as Pacifica Falayfay in Philippine movies. Lopera fits the physical stereotype of a “macho man.” He insists, however, that there is nothing wrong with gay people who express their sexuality and their personal identities through colorful get-ups. “People shouldn’t be judged solely on what they look like or how they express themselves physically, what is important is how they contribute to society,” he says. He noted that most gay people are breadwinners who suffer under extremely intolerable work conditions—most of them don’t have security of tenure, are not even paid minimum wages, and don’t get state benefits. According to Lopera “many operators of beauty parlors or owners of restaurants and stores who employ gay men do not even pay Social Security System premiums for their employees.” In addition, he notes that many lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders are regularly subjected to various from of degradation and humiliation.

Many people raise an eyebrow to Ang Ladlad’s advocacies questioning the wisdom of providing lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders “special rights.” Lopera clarifies that Ang Ladlad is not fighting for special rights. “Gay rights are human rights and what we are fighting for are equal rights —the right to be treated as decent human beings, the right to have equal access to the same opportunities that other citizens are entitled to,” he said. As a form of analogy, he said that they are not asking that red carpets be rolled out for homosexuals when they cross the street—just that they are not subjected to harassment or ridiculed just because of who or what they are, something which is enjoyed by most everyone else.

He further says that Ang Ladlad is not even pushing for gay marriages to be declared legal. This is not among their current priorities. If they win, they would focus their energies and resources into providing basic legal and economic assistance for members of the community through programs that ensure livelihood and economic empowerment.

People cannot seem to agree on what comprises marginalization and even the chairman of the Commission on Elections seems oblivious to the social context around the concept. If we come to think about it, however, it really is not difficult to grasp the concept of marginalization. We’re all familiar with the concept of “being in the margins,” or being at the border or edge of something—whether it pertains to the margins of a document, or the margins of society. And when we really come to think about it—objectively and rationally—lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people are in the margins of society.

The argument that there are many members of the community that are affluent, or have risen to the pinnacle of the political or economic structures of Philippine society does not hold water because the same argument can be applied to any community. Majority of the members of the LGBT community remain marginalized and have no access even to basic protection supposedly guaranteed by law. “The issue is equal rights,” Lopera insists.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On the wrong side of history...again

This is my column today.

A post-EDSA II headline that has remained stuck in my memory to this very day is something from the Varsitarian, student publication of the University of Santo Tomas. In an issue released after Joseph Estrada left MalacaƱang Palace, it proclaimed with ill-disguised dismay at one of its famous alumnus: On the wrong side of history again.

The headline referred to Francisco Kit Tatad Jr., infamous press secretary of the dictator during the dark years of Martial Law and one of the 11 senators who voted to suppress evidence contained in a brown envelop during the Estrada impeachment trial. The Varsitarian chided Tatad for valiantly taking up the cudgels for Joseph Ejercito Estrada during the impeachment trial and for standing by the man until the very end of the short-lived presidency.

Of course, the unparalleled unpopularity of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has given Joseph Estrada a new lease in his political life so much so that he is now running for president again. Estrada has succeeded in deodorizing his image once again that many of those who aggressively pushed for his impeachment in 2000 have since then had a massive attack of selective amnesia. Some actually found it convenient to apologize to Estrada supposedly for misjudging him. The Boracay mansion, the jueteng payola, the midnight cabinets, the shoddy work habits—all these and more have become mere fragments of the imagination. Given current political sentiments I am no longer sure many would agree that Tatad was on the wrong side of history during the second EDSA revolution.

The decade-old headline came to mind once again while watching Tatad and Liberal Party senatorial candidate Risa Hontiveros Baraquel square off last Sunday during ABS-CBN’s Harapan.

Tatad and Hontiveros Baraquel faced off on the reproductive health bill.

Hontiveros Baraquel, Akbayan party-list representative at the last Congress was a co-author of the bill known as House Bill 5043. She introduced herself last Sunday by announcing her unequivocal support for reproductive health. She announced her intention to re-file the bill and to work for its passage into law if she wins as senator. Now, there’s a woman with conviction and courage, indeed.

Tatad, reportedly a devout Opus Dei member, has been consistent in his opposition to the reproductive health bill, to contraception, and other things he considers “immoral.” What makes him qualified to be an expert on morality after loyally serving the dictator and contributing to the oppression of Filipinos for more than two decades is a question that baffles the mind.

The format of last Sunday’s Harapan required that senatorial candidates ask each other one question about a particular issue. Each candidate was allowed thirty seconds to rebut the answer given by his opponent. It was exasperating to note that most of the candidates didn’t make full use of the time given to them for rebuttal. Instead of commenting on the answer given, they invariably asked a follow-up question. Perhaps the candidates do not have the faintest idea what rebuttal means but it is also possible, of course, that someone goofed and forgot to brief the candidates on the format for the debate. Nevertheless, I have always felt that candidates who cannot follow instructions, exceed the time limits given to them, or simply give irrelevant answers to questions don’t deserve to be voted into office.

Tatad’s question for Hontiveros Baraquel took twice the allowed time limit to formulate. Program host Ted Failon had to break the rule on time limits because it was necessary —the whole point of Tatad’s question remained inchoate and there was nothing for Hontiveros Baraquel to sink her teeth into at the end of the prescribed time for asking questions. Tatad started his question by quoting United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s alleged remarks to Congress, which reportedly expressed US President Barack Obama’s firm commitment to ensure that all barriers that prevent women from enjoying their rights supposedly including the right to abortion will be lifted. Tatad’s question and its premise were actually simple: That the Philippines will be influenced by the United States’ aggressive stance on reproductive health bill, which in some states extend to a woman’s right to abortion.

Hontiveros Baraquel couldn’t help but take a dig at Tatad’s shallow premise by saying that she wasn’t aware that Barack Obama is also President of the Republic of the Philippines. I know; it was what you would call a cheap shot but you bet I relished Tatad’s discomfort. Hontiveros Baraquel didn’t even break a sweat—she even managed to make a pitch for Liberal Party presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino.

In the second round, a Tatad supporter asked Hontiveros Baraquel a question on condoms and HIV/AIDS citing an alleged “empirical data from the United Nations” that supposedly showed that HIV/AIDS infections in Thailand increased even after the Kingdom launched programs on condom use. Hontiveros Baraquel refuted the data and in essence pointed out that on the contrary, HIV/AIDS infections in Thailand declined as a result of aggressive programs to promote condom use. In his rebuttal, Tatad valiantly propped up the same fallacy that moralists have been shamelessly using to justify their opposition to condom use: That condoms are ineffective against HIV/AIDS.

I could cite yet again tons of reliable scientific data that validate how condoms are effective in the fight against HIV/AIDS. But I doubt if Tatad and his ilk would be willing to reconsider; I doubt if they would be listening at all. They have made up their minds a long time ago and it doesn’t matter to them that they are unearthing invalid data, or flaunting half-truths, or even asking irrelevant questions.

The results of the poll conducted for each segment of the debate was indisputable about whom the people thought was being more truthful or, conversely, being untruthful. Hontiveros Baraquel constantly got overwhelming scores for truthfulness while Tatad’s scores showed that most people consistently found him being untruthful. For the first round, Hontiveros Baraquel got a rating of 84.7% for truthfulness while only 15.3% thought she was untruthful. In contrast, 51.8% rated Tatad as untruthful while only 48.2% thought he was being truthful. In the second round, the results were even more embarrassing for Tatad. Only 29.3% thought he was being truthful while a whopping 70.7% thought he was being untruthful. In contrast, an overwhelming 85% thought Hontiveros Baraquel was truthful while only 15% thought she was being untruthful.

The results of the poll validate what many surveys have been saying all along: That most Filipinos support the reproductive health bill despite the unreasonable and often fallacious arguments being used to discredit it by the likes of Tatad and his ilk.



Monday, April 19, 2010

Dealing with bashers

This is my column today.

Are we really simply a bunch of oversensitive humorless bleeding hearts who take offense at the most innocuous comments, or on the contrary, the problem is precisely that we do not assert ourselves enough, that we have gotten used to being ridiculed, embarrassed, humiliated in the global stage that the bullies in this world have an easier time dissing us in public?

Or should we just take some comfort from the fact that the problem is not really us, or any other minority or third world people for that matter; the ones with the problem are the racist, bigoted, prejudiced haters in this world who pick on others just because they think they are entitled to it? I have been mulling these questions in my mind in the last few weeks on account of that recent Adam Corolla incident.

In case you have been so engrossed on the goings-on in the local political campaign scene and have therefore been blissfully unaware other things happening in the world, it’s essentially another case of someone who tried to be glib, funny and smart-alecky, failed dismally, and instead managed to insult many people, in this case, Manny Pacquiao and Filipinos in general.

To be fair though, Corolla already apologized to Manny Pacquaio and to the Filipino people. Pacquiao readily accepted the apology. Some people insist that we should let the matter rest already since Corolla has apologized even if the apology seemed halfhearted.

When I discussed the issue among some colleagues of mine, the opinions were divided. Some thought that the best response was to ignore the ranting—in essence, not to dignify something crass. Some felt that the better response was to give the guy the metaphorical equivalent (all right, some thought being literal was more appropriate) of a whopping punch on the face. The first reaction, of course, was “sino ba tong Corolla na to, sikat ba siya?” (roughly, is this Corolla worth our time?). This knee-jerk reaction is actually very common and this was representative of many of the comments in the blogosphere relating to the issue.

The sad thing is that this reaction is no different from the very stimulus that people are protesting against to begin with: That some people are not worthy of our time, that the value of one’s statements or the worth of one’s opinions is measured by one’s popularity or achievements in life. By dissing Corolla and his background, or lack of global popularity, we’re essentially doing what he did to Pacquiao and the Filipinos in general when he said, in essence, that we are bunch of ignorant, stupid people whose fortunes are dependent on the fate of one boxer with dubious capabilities.

Corolla’s recent tirade against Filipinos was not an isolated case of Pinoy bashing. We had quite a string of them in the recent past including that unfortunate episode in that television series Desperate Housewives and that satirical piece written by a Hong Kong columnist.

A standard defense has always been one of sincere intent not to hurt. In the case of Corolla, he tried to justify his verbal diarrhea as “brand of humor.” In the case of that Hongkong columnist, the defense was writing style. I find this defense pathetic. It’s like saying that if I don’t understand something, it is my fault. Well, excuse me. While I do believe the reader or the audience has some responsibility to try to understand the message the main responsibility still lies with the writer, artist, or speaker. Otherwise, it’s really just intellectual snobbishness or personal gratification; one may as well write or do podcasts or produce radio shows purely for one’s enjoyment.

However, I think that we need more rational and effective responses to cases like the Corolla incident. At the individual level, we all must do something to correct wrong perceptions about ourselves as a people and as a country. But we also need to put in place national programs that propagate national esteem—it’s really about time that we purge ourselves of all the negativity and all the baggage that we seem to carry as a nation and as a people.

***

I’m writing this piece in Davao City where I wish I could take up residence in—at least for the rest of the summer months. I arrived here Thursday early morning last week not expecting any respite from the sweltering, blistering, scorching punishment that Metro Manila - and I am told Luzon—residents have been subjected to since February. Truth be told, I didn’t want to come here because I figured that if I had to suffer more of this oppressive summer heat I would want to do it in the comforts of my home where there is at least air conditioning, readily available refreshments, and reliable company.

But surprise, surprise! The temperature in Davao City has been averaging 34 degrees. There was even a downpour Thursday night—a major one at that which got some streets flooded. Friends tell me it has been raining here almost every day. I cannot tell you what a relief it is to see rain falling down in torrents from the heavens, to feel rain on one’s face and skin, to hear rain beating down tin roofs. The cool breeze created by the rain is also refreshing in a different way precisely perhaps because the experience is multi-sensory.

As we sat there picking on the remains of the tuna meal (very fresh in Davao, of course), we all prayed that the rains would soon come to Luzon and Metro Manila if only to replenish the dams which produce water for Metro Manila and its environs. I have been writing about the need for more information and education campaigns about the need to conserve water not only during the drought season but all throughout the rest of the year because I am convinced that water is the next crisis. Unfortunately, I guess such an advocacy would rank low among the priorities of a third world country.

In fact, despite the dire warnings from the water concessionaires about an impending water shortage, people are still not conserving water. One only has to visit washrooms of restaurants and even those of buildings in the commercial district and will readily spot the many ways in which we continue to waste water. I jestingly called the attention of a neighbor recently about the fact that they were wasting a precious resource by watering their plants three times a day using a hose (she said it was necessary because the summer heat was taking its toll on her precious plants) and she responded— partly in jest but I know there was some honesty in her answer as well—by saying “let’s enjoy it while it is still available.”

This got me thinking that perhaps this feast-or-famine attitude is more entrenched in our culture than many of us would like to believe. Many Filipinos do have this penchant for enjoying anything and everything to the max while it is there; consequences be damned. Thus, many Filipinos would rather feast for a day even it means subsisting on virtually nothing for the rest of the month. So perhaps all this urgent appeals for people to conserve water to stave off a shortage is producing the opposite effect. Instead of getting people to act wisely, it is encouraging people to go out and splurge.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Davao!

I've been in Davao City since Thursday for work, work, work... but there's always something about this city that soothes my tired spirit. So even if I've been coming home to the hotel beat and tired for three nights now... I'm surprisingly upbeat. I sleep well.

I actually grew up here although the Davao City of my childhood was a completely different city compared to what it is today. I know. One can't expect things to be exactly the same after 30 years - but still, one wishes some things remain the same. The old haunts are now past gone and in their places are buildings, commercial establishments, more concrete.

But some things have surprisingly survived. I've been warned repeatedly about the dubious quality of the food served there, but going to Luz Kinilaw has become almost like a religious tradition whenever I come to this city. So we just had to have dinner there Thursday evening. That part of the city was pitch dark - they have rotating brownouts here. But mercifully, there was a heavy downpour that lasted about two hours so it was cool and there was no need for electric fans. We ordered barbecued tuna belly and squid and mangoes. It was heartwarming to note that they still served organic red rice. Problem was that the smell of mud wafted throughout the place, perhaps the heavy downpour was causing it.

We went to Jack's Ridge Friday night (I know, I know... this is beginning to sound like a food diary) for yet another tuna dinner. We had bagaybay this time around which was described in the menu as "male tuna fish egg," a bit of a contradiction in terms if you know what I mean. Unless of course they were referring to... well, never mind. I have been told bagaybay is really the sex organ of a tuna fish. We Filipinos are truly a resourceful people - we've made delicacies out of fish parts normally disposed of in other cultures.

Jack's Ridge is located on top of the hill which also houses the Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Praque. I used to frequent this place when I was a child because an uncle lived just a few blocks away at Pluto Street of GSIS Village. When I was a child, this place was forest. It's now about to be turned into a commercial area. Ah, what price development.

I finally got to visit the hotel/art gallery of the artist Kublai somewhere near the Victoria Mall this afternoon. IT WAS AN OVERWHELMING EXPERIENCE!!! My jaw hurt from gaping too long and too much at all the giant sculptures and the rows of paintings and art pieces. I was able to take some pictures so I will try to download soon. And my friends think my art collection is too much!!!

Anyway. Just wanted to post something today for the benefit of family members, friends, and students who have been wondering what's up with me. So there.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ateneo's business decision

This was my column yesterday. For the third time, I missed a column last Monday. I got stuck in a training program in San Pablo Laguna where the heat was unbearable and everything conspired to make sure I wouldn't be able to write anything sensible and logical.

I am not privy to Ateneo de Manila University’s policy on plagiarism but given its stature as a top tier university and its reputation as home of some of the best literary and academic minds in the country, if not the world (think National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera, theater giant Onofre Pagsanjan, poet and essayist Danton Remoto, among others), I think it is safe to assume that it would have a stringent policy on plagiarism in place.

It has been said more than often enough that plagiarism is the greatest academic “sin” and in many universities, it is more than enough grounds for termination of employment. It is inconceivable to imagine Ateneo—The Ateneo!—condoning plagiarism among its professors or students. It is even more inconceivable to imagine the Ateneo turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to plagiarism by its highest official.

So why then is the Ateneo taking a rather reticent response to that flap over that commencement speech made by tycoon Manuel Pangilinan, also chairman of the board of trustees of the university? In news reports published yesterday, the Ateneo virtually absolved Pangilinan of accountability for the plagiarism issue and refused to accept his resignation as chair of is board of trustees. The university did try to leave some wiggle space for Pangilinan and for itself by saying that the ultimate decision is Pangilinan’s.

I can understand Ateneo’s desire to “forgive” Pangilinan for the embarrassing mistake of trusting his speechwriters enough, who, by the way, the academic institution was quick to assert were not graduates of the school. Ateneo’s vehement reaction at being associated with the unnamed speechwriters was a little amusing given the way it shuffled its feet on what to do with Pangilinan’s involvement in what it called simply as an “unfortunate incident.”

Sure, Pangilinan did not write that speech. Everyone knows that busy executives cannot possibly have the time to write speeches—if they had to write their speeches, social lunches, business conferences, and all other types of forums would become obsolete, as we would run out of business leaders who accept speaking engagements. Take it from someone who dabbles as ghostwriter for some executives—crafting speeches does take time and lots of effort.

But Pangilinan delivered the speech. He owned it. It became his the moment he approved it. Still, it was big of him to immediately accept responsibility for the flap. I can imagine how Senator Manuel Villar or Noynoy Aquino would have flailed around and obfuscated the issue had it happened to them. I am sure Villar and Aquino would have thrown giant tantrums and blamed everyone else except themselves.

Pangilinan said he wanted to resolve the matter quickly and put a stop to the controversy. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be possible now that Ateneo rejected his resignation as its chairman. The controversy has just gotten a new lease of life.

By not accepting Pangilinan’s resignation, Ateneo sent conflicting messages to the world. On one hand, its dogged and resolute show of loyalty to one of its alumni and the commitment to pursue due process were admirable. On the other hand, it also showed a double standard—if this happened to a college student or even one of its faculty members, I doubt if the Ateneo would have showed ambivalence. At the same time, the decision cast a shadow of doubt over Ateneo’s supposed cloak of moral righteousness. How can it now impose its policy on plagiarism among its students and faculty when it has “forgiven” Pangilinan for the same offense?

More than anything else, though, Ateneo would have difficulty disproving a predominant perception in the minds of people: That the decision to reject Pangilinan’s offer of resignation was primarily a business decision. Pangilinan happens to be one of the richest men in the Philippines and his munificence —particularly to the Ateneo—is widely known. He is said to be the single biggest individual patron of the Ateneo.

I have nothing against academic institutions making business decisions per se. Even universities have to be profitable. However, academic institutions cannot—must not—sacrifice academic integrity for the sake of money. And when the institution is a Catholic institution that makes a big to-do about being the conscience of this nation then all the more reason it must be careful about protecting its integrity.

As I write, I have a strong feeling that Pangilinan will insist on quitting his seat at the boardroom of Ateneo. If he does, it will only prove that Pangilinan is made of much sterner moral stuff than the people at the helm of his beloved alma mater. There will be people who will insist that Pangilinan’s decision to quit Ateneo’s board is also a business decision. Being made a laughingstock for aping the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Conan O’Brien and J. K. Rowling is not exactly something a tycoon wants to be known for.

Pangilinan, and even the Ateneo, will survive this crisis. In a few months, the whole embarrassment will be a mere footnote among discussions about commencement speeches. But hopefully everyone learned a lesson or two from the whole incident.

Given the advances in information technology where practically every published work or public statement made by anyone famous or for that matter, infamous, is now easily accessible through the Internet, plagiarism has become an even more serious concern for academic institutions. It had become very easy—not to mention, tempting —to commit plagiarism. But the downside, of course, is that it had also become easier, much, much easier to detect or prove if a work is plagiarized or not. There are even sites in the Internet that offers free tracking service to check if a work is plagiarized.


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Courtesy on the road

This is my column today.

I promised my politics-weary friends that I would try to refrain from writing about politics every single time this column comes out regardless of the aggravation from the ongoing campaign season. A very difficult task, I tell you, because most things in this country are related to politics and given that it’s barely a month before election day, one can’t go beyond five minutes without being confronted by a political issue.

So today, I will write about a different kind of aggravation, something that most of us are exposed to on a daily basis: The breakdown in basic courtesy on the road among motorists.

I must admit though that what set me off on this piece was an incident that was still related to politics. We were doing the Visita Iglesia Maundy Thursday last week when we came across vehicles around churches in Makati that were decorated with campaign paraphernalia. I am not talking about cars with giant stickers of a yellow ribbon that morphs into a bird or those with an orange checkmark that is a trademark violation of the logo of that famous brand of shoes. I am talking about cars with windows boarded up with posters of candidates, vans with their external walls plastered with the smiling mugs and the hackneyed slogans of this or that politician, and jeepneys adorned with streamers and other flotsam and jetsam of the electoral campaign.

One would expect that people who are on a campaign sortie would be a little more courteous and would in fact go out of their way to be nicer to people; they are courting votes, after all, and presumably want to be in the good graces of people. Sadly, this is not always the case. I hope that people realize that campaigning for candidates is a task vested with certain responsibilities, foremost of which is projecting the image of being friendly, pleasant and law-abiding. Behaving like you have absolute right of way and flaunting power such as having traffic cops or barangay tanod stop traffic so your convoy of vehicles can get through without delay actually harm the candidates one is campaigning for. People get the impression that the candidates have the tendency to abuse authority.

Unfortunately, courtesy on the road particularly among motorists is a virtue that is almost extinct. Here are, to my mind, ten common acts of discourtesy committed by motorists. I am not talking about following traffic rules and obeying laws—those are pretty much required; I am talking about seemingly simple things that manifest lack of concern for others, or simply lack of civility.

Easily topping the list is this penchant of many drivers to immediately honk at the car in front the moment the traffic light turns green. I really have no idea why people do it. If the car directly in front is stuck or taking its own sweet time, I can understand the impatience. But see, many drivers just automatically honk the horns of their car the moment the green light is on as if everyone still needs an auditory stimulus to add to the visual traffic sign.

Related to this is the annoying habit of some drivers to press their horns repeatedly and loudly in protest or in exasperation when they get blocked or when someone—usually a taxi or jeepney driver—cut them off or did something wicked. I understand the frustration. The problem is that these drivers forget that a car horn being pressed with extra force and for extended periods of time are painful to the ears of people who are not cocooned inside cars such as those aboard a jeepney in front of the car or standing on the sidewalk next to the car.

Many Filipino drivers simply do not respect pedestrians and pedestrian lanes. It is very easy for one who is riding vehicles to forget what it is like to be walking on the road. I know a lot of people whose paradigms is that vehicles have right of way over pedestrians—even at designated pedestrian crossing areas. Motorists should give way to pedestrians crossing the street, particularly on pedestrian lanes and most especially during downpours or when under the scorching heat of the sun. It’s basic kindness. In other countries, one runs the risk of having their cars damaged by pedestrians if it happens to block a pedestrian lane. That’s because respect for pedestrians is highly valued in these countries.

And then there are motorists who stop to pick up or unload passengers right where they are—in the middle of the road, two lanes from the sidewalk, or just when the traffic light turned green. Jeepney drivers are notorious for doing this, but motorists have also picked up on the annoying habit. It seems many drivers just can’t be bothered to bring their vehicles to the curb to load or unload passengers.

Accidents do happen and when they do, I am aware that the right thing to do is to wait for a traffic cop to assess the situation for the corresponding paperwork required. In situations like these, traffic is held up as the vehicles are left where they are. On many occasions, the damage is minor or the culpability can be decided on amicably between the two drivers anyway, so why prolong the agony and inconvenience more people on the road? People should practice quick problem solving right on the spot. Again, I am not saying this should be the norm. Some accidents need the intervention of traffic cops. But really, minor accidents should be settled quickly and amicably.

There are drivers who are obviously new to a place and have difficulty finding an address they are looking for. These people hold up traffic as they slow down, look at signs, or ask people for directions. This can be avoided by just being a little bit more proactive. People should get directions ahead of time. The problem is that some people decide to wing it and therefore cause traffic or inconvenience people on the road unnecessarily.

Some drivers are unbelievably obstinate. I’ve come across many drivers who, after missing a turn, or failing to swerve to an inner or outer lane before an actual turn, still insist on having their way rather than doing what should be logical—move to the next intersection and go back. They force their way and cause bedlam on the road. The problem with these drivers is that they think other people should just adjust to them and their mistakes. They actually think “tao lamang” (we’re just human) is an excuse that is applicable in all situations.

Some drivers are unable to manage their tempers and pick fights with others. In addition to the fact that losing one’s cool is potentially hazardous to one’s health, it really doesn’t help anyone. Most of the time, it is better to just let things go. When someone cuts the path directly in front of you, or does something stupid on the road, the better course of action is to forgive and to let go; to resist the temptation to roll down the window to curse or throw invectives, or worse, coins, cellphones, or the car’s stick shift at the other driver.

Some people attribute this to the so-called crab mentality syndrome, but I’ve always wondered what it is that causes drivers to insist on claiming a few inches of road space ahead of them just because the traffic light has turned green even when they know that the road ahead is jammed and gridlocked. This results in monstrous traffic jams as those who are trying to cross the road get blocked.

And finally, this is what I consider a supreme act of discourtesy on the road: Not giving way to student drivers. Everyone has to start somewhere so we all need to be patient with student drivers as this is one sure way to perpetuate good behaviors on the road.

Monday, April 05, 2010

What win-win solution?

This is my column today.

Among all the comments made about Gilbert Teodoro’s resignation last week as chairman of the administration party Lakas-Kampi, the one that struck me the most was that made by deputy presidential spokesperson Gary Olivar. In an interview conducted by media network GMA 7, Olivar said that Teodoro’s resignation resulted in a win-win situation both for the party and for Teodoro. Of course we all know Olivar was simply doing his job, which was to put a positive spin on a looming crisis situation (for the Lakas-kampi coalition at least, because we all know the downfall of the administration party is heaven sent news to the other parties). It was possible that the man was simply talking his head off, parroting yet another meaningless mumbo jumbo.

The truth was that many members of the party including senior stalwarts such as national campaign manager Prospero Pichay were caught flatfooted by Teodoro’s resignation. A parade of Lakas-Kampi officials all registered that deer-caught-in-the-headlights look in their eyes.

A presidential candidate who wasn’t doing so well in surveys but who, until just a couple of months ago, continued to persevere on the belief that party machinery would ultimately deliver the votes and consequently victory, quit as top honcho of the very party he was leveraging his candidacy on with barely 40 days to go before election. In what way was this going to be a win-win situation?

Yes, I have heard about all that gibberish about how Teodoro’s resignation as chairman of the administration party would supposedly make him an underdog and free him from the stigma wrought by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s unpopularity.

This arrant nonsense just does not fly. First, because Teodoro has not broken away from the administration party; last I looked, he was still singing paeans to it. In fact, the second half of the reason he presented as justification for his resignation was precisely in support of the party who he said was crippled by his inability to devote time to the thousand and one things that needed to be attended to. Second, Teodoro has precisely staked his presidential bid on the assertion that he is not an ungrateful person and that Arroyo has not been such a totally evil person. True, portraying himself as a betrayed person would probably add a few measly points to his ratings but Lakas-Kampi has seemingly been able to marshal over the Holy Week whatever strengths it has left. Deputy Speaker Amelita Villarosa has been elected to replace Teodoro as chair of the party. But rumors of the impending and imminent collapse of the administration party continue.

The official line Teodoro and his partymates tried to put out there was that Teodoro needed to free himself from the burden of being party chairperson so he can concentrate on getting himself elected as president. The official line sounded like Teodoro was making a huge sacrifice but there were many things that didn’t add up in the logic department.

First, given his supposed intelligence, it seemed improbable that Teodoro only realized the supposed conflict of roles now barely a month before the election. The man is supposed to possess superior strategic thinking skills, for crying out loud. Besides, the supposed conflict of roles and his inability to manage it smacks of poor leadership. Second, the timing stank. Why only last week? Resigning as leader of the party barely 40 days to go before the elections opened up speculative drivel that the party and Teodoro needed like a hole in the head.

And more importantly, the two roles—being chairman of the party and being its standard bearer—are not really mutually exclusive; in fact, these two roles are supposed to complement, if not build on each other. It actually made sense that Teodoro was chairman of the party as well as its standard bearer. And when we consider the trouble he went through to clinch the position (recall that hullabaloo during the party convention last year which was even contested by former Lakas loyalist Bayani Fernando) it seems incredible that he would give the post up just like that. Also, the post of chairman of the party is actually more of a symbolic position anyway.

There is persistent talk that Teodoro’s resignation was actually indicative of major trouble within the ranks of the ruling party. Given that the resignation came in the heels of major party defections—the Garcias of Cebu, the Zubiris of Bukidnon, the Singsons of Ilocos, the Cagases of Davao del Sur, the Uys of Compostela Valley among many others—one theory being put out there is that Teodoro had his back against the wall and finally had it with the betrayal. The scuttlebutt points to some machinations being done by someone powerful and close to the President. Supposedly, the whole thing validates what has been suspected all along—that the President and MalacaƱang is actually supporting Senator Manny Villar.

I know. It sounds like a plot from some third-rate telenovela. There’s this drivel about how all these drama is mere ploy to re-channel the stigma towards Villar. If there is some iota of truth in this sordid plot, it only validates one conclusion: Desperation.

There’s widespread discontent among the ranks of Lakas-Kampi soldiers in the towns and cities. Some relatives and friends in politics confirm that unlike in the Villar camp where manna from heaven rains abundantly, Lakas-Kampi candidates are hobbling along with very minimal funds. There is talk that Lakas-Kampi money is held up somewhere in the bureaucracy—that the priority is getting representatives, not mayors and governors elected, to ensure that Arroyo has enough votes to become Speaker of the house.

Teodoro’s campaign is evidently short on funds. He ranked a far fifth in terms of television advertisements so far, only spending half of what Senator Villar has spent on his advertisements. Even Joseph Estrada and Senator Richard Gordon had more television advertisements in the last few months.

On the other hand, the sudden appearance in the scene of former President Fidel Ramos and former Speaker Jose de Venecia flung a wrench into the whole discussion. De Venecia emerged from the shadows and talked about reclaiming the Lakas party from the clutches of Arroyo and her lackeys in support of its own presidential candidate—all the while dropping hints that that person could still be Teodoro. The supposed return of the old generals of the party is being seen as paving the way for yet another win-win scenario in the horizon.

Perhaps I am just too steeped in management thinking and my paradigm of what constitutes a win-win situation is completely different from that of politicians. But perhaps Olivar was right all along. There is a win-win scenario being cooked up somewhere. The question is: Win-win for whom?