Monday, November 29, 2010

Slow and boring

This was my column on the date indicated above.

The kids wanted to catch it the moment it hit local screens but I was in the middle of an election. I figured it was going to be such a huge hit it would probably be screening for at least a month so I asked for a rain check. As expected, the kids couldn’t wait so by the time I was available to watch it, they’ve already watched it on their own. But they still wanted to watch it a second time so off we went to the Mall of Asia Friday night to catch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.

I expected a packed theater and was surprised to find it half full during the 6:00 pm screening. There was reverential silence as the opening credits rolled up. The kids seated behind me whimpered to her seatmate “Oh my god, this is it… it’s about to end.” Deathly Hallows Part I is the second to the last installment of the popular franchise. A generation of kids grew up reading the books, watching the movies and perhaps even more time waiting for the next book or the next movie to be released so the emotional reaction was to be expected. I personally am grateful to the series for encouraging my own kids, nephews and nieces to pick up reading as a habit again.

I’ve read some reviews which pointed out just how different the three lead characters Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) looked in this movie. The kids seated behind me validated the reviews. The first time Radcliffe’s face appeared on screen in this movie, the kid behind me couldn’t help but exclaim “Ang tanda na nya (how he has aged)!”

In this penultimate serving of the movie franchise, there seemed a deliberate effort to make the three characters look rugged and scruffy. Except for Watson who has a natural luminous presence onscreen, Radcliffe and Grint look perennially tired and overwhelmed throughout the movie – as if people had to be reminded all throughout that this was going to be a “dark” movie and that bad things were supposed to happen.

A general sense of doom and hopelessness pervades the whole movie and it is as if there is a subtitle that runs all throughout the whole running time that says: This movie is dark and brooding, this movie is about despair and desolation.

Not that despair, hopelessness, and desolation are not acceptable themes in a movie. I think these are themes that make for a cinematic movie if only directors don’t allow the storytelling to wallow in it enough that these actually weigh heavily on the movie’s ability to make progress in terms of storytelling. This Harry Potter is so slow I actually looked at my watch several times during the whole length.

Okay, I’m going to say it out now: I didn’t like the movie. I thought it was boring. I thought the people behind the movie shamelessly cashed in on the huge popularity of the franchise and spent two and half hours simply interpreting the first few chapters of J. K. Rowling’s last Potter book instead of condensing the whole book into one big movie deserving of our time and attention. And they didn’t even really do justice to the book. For sure, people who haven’t read the books nor watched the first six movies couldn’t make heads or tails of Deathly Hallows Part 1.

Despite two and half hours of running time, a number of subplots remained inchoate – the story of Albus Dumbledore, for instance, which is really central to the whole series and to this book, in particular.

And except when the three characters descended on the Ministry of Magic to “steal” a horcrux, the movie did not really give glimpses of what I thought was the necessary context that would have made the epic struggle of the three characters worthwhile – the fact that the whole wizarding world had already been taken over by Lord Voldemort and his army of death eaters. Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) only appears in the movie near the beginning and at the end. In fact, most of the cast of the movie disappears after the first 30 minutes.

What we see all throughout the whole running time are the three characters in various stages of depression. They argue, fight, tear at each other, make up. There are occasional action scenes but they seem to serve as diversions to a movie about how to survive boredom when you are stranded in a forest.

To be fair, Deathly Hallows Part I does have one of the most exceptional and artistic animation I have ever seen so far. The part that tells the story of the Deathly Hallows in an engaging way was quite inventive – the last time I saw something similarly engaging was in Dreamwork’s Prince of Egypt.

Unfortunately, this part also brought to the fore what were missing in this movie. The story of the Deathly Hallows is supposed to be about the elder wand, the cloak of invisibility, and the resurrection stone. Potter was supposed to have already owned the invisibility cloak and this was supposed to have played important roles in their various capers in this installment. The cloak is missing in action in this movie.

I may strike some people as nitpicking. But really, the Harry Potter series is supposed to be about these magical stuff; it’s supposed to be for children and the children within each one of us.

So much has been said about how this movie is supposed to have served as transition from Harry Potter being a “children’s” fantasy into something that’s supposed to be mature and for grown ups. I have problems with this attempt. For one, I don’t think one movie can do that. Second, what the heck is so wrong with children’s fantasy? I think Alice in Wonderland or Pinocchio offer some of the most profound messages ever to be found in books.

The people behind the movie supposedly saved the best scenes for the second part which hits movie screens July 15, 2011. It’s going to come out in 3D, so it’s bound to be action-filled. I am still going to watch it; hopefully it will be worth the boredom experienced while sitting through Deathly Hallows Part I.

***

On a personal note, I would like to thank members of the People Management Association of the Philippines who flocked to the Intercon Hotel Wednesday last week to cast their votes for the 2010 elections. The turnout of voters was unprecedented and the landslide victory of my team was heartwarming, indeed. Thank you very much for the support and trust.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Enough already

This was my column on the date indicated above.

As expected, the whole Philippines stayed home to root and cheer for Emmanuel Pacquaio last Sunday. He won, of course. We’ve gotten used to the idea of the The Pacman winning that losing to Antonio Margarito was simply unthinkable. A loss just didn’t seem like an option particularly since everyone in the world other than the Mexicans have placed his bet on the The Pacman.

The win earned Pacquiao his eighth title—the World Boxing Council super welterweight belt. It was also his 13th consecutive win.

Immediately after his victory, people started expressing their desire to see The Pacman go up against the flamboyant Floyd Mayweather.

The Internet buzzed with taunts and counter-taunts from both sides barely minutes after the fight. The Pacman’s supporters mocked Mayweather, virtually calling him a coward. Most of the taunts ridiculed Mayweather as “less of a man;” some people said Mayweather should put on some pants and give up wearing skirts. Others were less subtle; they used racist, bigoted, and discriminatory words to describe Mayweather from fairy, to faggot, to pansy, etc. Why some people automatically equate cowardice with being gay or being a woman is beyond me.

Like most Filipinos, I also think Mayweather is full of hot air. However, I do not think we should go out of our way to instigate a fight between the two.

I don’t know if it is just me; I’m hoping there are other people out there (aside from Dionisia Pacquiao at least) who also think that it’s time The Pacman retired from boxing. I am hoping that last Sunday’s fight would be his last.

I am not exactly an expert in boxing, but it seemed pretty clear to me last Sunday that while The Pacman did show the qualities that make him the best boxer in the world today, he also looked vulnerable. He looked tired and less invincible halfway through the fight. And I don’t think this can be disputed: He suffered a lot in that fight. We all saw the pictures after. We’ve read about the injuries to his ribs and fingers. He had to be helped to stand up and walk during the thanksgiving mass and during the press conference.

It’s time for him to quit boxing. It’s a good time for him to hang up his boxing gloves.

I think The Pacman has nothing else to prove. He is on top of the world. His record is difficult to replicate. It will probably take a long time before any other boxer can surpass his achievements in the ring. He is widely recognized as a promising congressman.

It is time for The Pacman to reinvent himself. I think the sportsmanship and the compassion he showed on the ring (and after the fight when he visited Margarito in his locker room to check on his condition) when he refused to “finish” Margarito off at the last round proved that the man has matured considerably. I thought it was very statesman-like of him when he said that he didn’t want to hurt Margarito. He was quote as saying “I did not want to damage him permanently; that’s not what boxing is about” to justify why he held off in the last round.

We all know boxing is the most brutal sports in the world. What sets it apart from all other sports is that it is the only one where athletes score by directly hitting an athlete’s body. I still think that boxers should be made protective gears but I guess I comprise a minority; there are just too many people out there who insist that protective gears take away the very things that make boxing exciting and challenging.

To Congressman Pacquiao: Congratulations, you made the Filipinos proud again. It is time for you to be serious about your role as a representative of the people of Saranggani province.

***

I never thought it would come so early in the life of this administration. I knew it was bound to happen at some point because let’s face it, media in this part of the world do have the predilection to accentuate the negative. We’re just wired that way, I guess. It seems it is innate for us to notice areas for improvement rather than what works; we find it easier to point out the mistakes rather than give praise for the accomplishments.

But I still think President Aquino’s recent gripes against media were uncalled for. Media may have ceased doing cartwheels about him and his administration but the criticism hurled in his direction has continued to be relatively tame. In short, most media people are still holding their punches. Most still want to give him and his people the benefit of the doubt. So his diatribe against the media makes him look like a spoiled brat. What is he complaining about, really?

I also find his annoyance over intrusion into his lovelife quite unnatural. The way I see it, this was all part of the package. He is a bachelor considered by most Filipinos as part of their lives—it is natural for everyone to speculate about who he is seeing, whether there is someone special in his life now, when he is settling down. Which bachelor in this country does not get asked the same questions by family members in every family occasion? It’s not that people want to intrude into his personal life (I will not even go into whether his lovelife is “personal” to begin with given the fact that he is the President), it’s just part of our culture. It may be wrong, but most of us equate being responsible, being “settled,” and being at peace with getting married.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Activist for human capital

This was my column on the date indicated above.

I was a student activist when I was in college. I spent a large percentage of my days meeting with other student activists or with various activist groups such as urban peasants, workers, farmers, even teachers and women’s groups. I spoke at rallies and joined demonstrations. I even took a year off from my studies to spend time with the progressive movement in Davao City. And then Ninoy Aquino got killed, Cory Aquino ran for president, and I graduated.

When I run into college friends these days, they take note of my corporate position and tease me about how I have turned turtle. “You used to wear nothing but denim jeans and white camisa chino shirts or batik shirts,” they remind me as they point to my corporate attire. And I always shoot back with my own observations about how they, too, have moved on with their lives. Quite a number of my college comrades (they who also screamed just as loudly: “Down with US Imperialism!”) are now based in the United States. Some have joined the corporate world and become members of the “ruling elite.” A few have remained political activists, the likes of JV Bautista, Teddy CasiƱo and a few others.

I still think of myself as an activist although I try to shy away from partisan politics when I can. I am not a member of any political party and I cannot imagine running for an elective position in government (although I have belatedly and very sadly realized recently that partisan politics is so much a part of our system that it permeates all kinds of organizations, even professional associations). But there is an abundance of causes that anyone can take up and champion.

For example, I continue to champion HIV/AIDS prevention in this country. I also continue to be passionate about children’s rights, environmental protection, and the rights of minorities.

But my burning passion in the last two decades has been the proactive development and management of Pinoy Talent or Philippine human capital. When I tell people this, some people look at me with a quizzical expression in their faces. They don’t get what is so urgent, or noteworthy about the cause. When we really come to think about it, no issue or cause is probably as important as Philippine human capital.

Human capital—people—is the only lasting source of competitive advantage that we have as a nation. Most of our other natural resources are gone or are fast going. Our seas are dying, our forests are bald, and we cannot afford to dredge up more mountains in search of more minerals underground. What we have in huge quantities are people.

We continue to have the edge in terms of inherent talent and skills. Just recently, Indians expressed alarm that the Philippines was poised to become the world’s number one outsourcing destination. Our merchant marines are still preferred by most global shipping companies so much so that there is always a Filipino in every maritime disaster noted anywhere in the world from hijacked ships in Somalia to sinking ships in Japan. Our science and English teachers, nurses, doctors, information technology experts, and engineers are among the best in the world and the demand for them has not really waned. Of course it cannot be stressed enough that Filipino domestic helpers and blue-collar workers continue to serve as the backbone of the economy of many countries.

In fact, experts acknowledge that the remittances of overseas Filipino workers have been the singular most critical factor that explains the fact that we continue to have a relatively strong economy. We call our migrant workers our unsung heroes but we really don’t have a concrete plan aimed at developing and managing the phenomenon. What we have are control measures and stop-gap measures, but we don’t have integrated long-term plans that address future and present supply and demand factors.

There are many other compelling reasons why we need to be passionate about the cause of Filipino human capital.

Industry leaders have been bemoaning the sad state of the educational system which has resulted in the further widening of the mismatch between what industry needs and what academe produces. And yet, we still have to see an aggressive coordinated response that boldly aims to address the problem. Everybody agrees that we need to do something about the declining levels of literacy in our country but it seems we lack the political will to put in place the needed measures to finally address the problem in a proactive way.

We need to have better ways of forecasting labor demand and supply so that our students make the right decisions in terms of what college course to pursue. A large percentage of our students continue to be in nursing schools even when experts have already expressed doubts about the sustainability of the demand.

We continue to be embroiled in divisive and dysfunctional labor problems because we have a very weak state-sponsored social security system and we leave it up to the private sector to guarantee employment security—something that not all business organizational can afford or sustain given gyrations in the larger business environment.

Industry, on the other hand, need to collectively push the frontiers in terms of technology and processes that improve productivity. There is a wealth of best practices in managing Filipino human capital but sadly, there’s a huge number of business organizations that continue to reinvent the wheel wasting precious resources in the process.

The sad reality is that our leaders and most everyone else take the strategic development and management of Filipino human capital for granted. We get riled about other issues and causes but not enough about ourselves.

I could go on and on about why we really need to start getting passionate about the need to put in place strategic plans to develop and manage Filipino human capital, but as usual I am running out of column space. I will have to continue writing about this in a future piece.

But to go back to what got me writing about Filipino human capital in the first place, I would like to note that when my former activist friends and I meet these days it is often to reminisce about the good old days and, yes, to talk about how else we can support our former comrades who continue to fight the same causes we once fought. And I mean this in a number of ways. Some of us continue the fight. Many of us have moved on to different causes but have kept the fire burning within us. I guess it’s true: Once a student activist, always an activist.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Generation wars

This was my column on the date indicated above.

My friend Alex was fuming mad last week and wanted to vent. Fortunately, I was free for dinner so we met up. But by the time we met up, he had already cooled down sufficiently and was more in the mood for “theorizing,” which is what we call the discussions that we have where we try to make sense of the nonsensical.

What got Alex’s goat this time around was that two young, promising members of his team took off for two days from work because they were sick. What made him really hopping mad was that they were working on major deals; the kind that made or broke careers. They were working on really tight deadlines and my friend needed everyone on board almost 24/7, he moaned.

I shifted to human-resource-management-professional mode and asked a barrage of questions: Were they really sick? Did you check? Was being absent due to sickness habitual on their part? Did they have sick leave credits left? Perhaps the workload was making them sick already? Were the expectations cleared with them? Alex looked at me like I needed to have my head examined. As far as he was concerned, whether they were sick or not was beside the point because “they knew this wasn’t a good time to be sick.”

Actually, what aggravated the matter for him was that the two guys simply sent in a text message informing another officemate that they were taking two days off from work due to sickness. This ran counter to how Alex - or I, for that matter- would have handled the matter. We would have gone on a major guilt trip, explained and justified at length the sickness as if was our fault that our bodies showed signs of weaknesses, and whipped ourselves hard for getting sick at such a bad time. Alex would have called everyone in the office to apologize and to blabber about how bad he felt skipping off work at such a crucial time, etc, etc. In short, we would have turned on the angst machine like typical members of Generation X. Only then would we have felt better about missing work.

Of course our grandparents would have handled the matter in a completely different way: They would have gone to work just the same despite being sick because their strong work ethics dictated required them to do so. And our parents? Perhaps they would have followed policy very strictly and planned for all contingencies ahead of time.

After some discussion, Alex and I more or less came to a conclusion: This wasn’t really just about the sick leaves. This was about different values, paradigms, attitudes, preferences, work habits, etc. This was about the different ways in which members of the various generations who are present in today’s workforce behave based on specific traits associated with their respective generations. Those belonging to each generation, after all, share common experiences shaped by common events, fads, even the general temperament and political fervor that characterized their growing-up years. For example, those of us who were born between 1965 and 1976 known as members of Generation X grew up under Martial Law and witnessed large-scale suppression of rights and freedoms while the generation that followed didn’t have any concept of oppression at all. Thus, it is understandable that members of cohorts also share common predispositions and behaviors. These are more predominant in the workplace where people are forced to interact and be productive together while at the same time cope with various forms of pressures.

This vignette I cited above about sick leaves is an example of the many ways in which the generation war is being waged in the workplace today. There are many, many other examples.

A glaring difference is the way members of the different generations look at wealth and status. Members of the older generation invested on real estate, jewelry, stocks and achieved status by accumulating these. Members of the current generation invest on themselves—they buy gadgets that are supposed to make them more accessible and make things more convenient for them and show these off as status symbols. Instead of diamond necklaces, they wear iPods on their necks.

There’s even divergence in the way members of the different generations look at this phenomenon called work-life balance. It’s a completely alien concept to members of the “older” generation—they who insist that “work” happens on weekdays and “life” happens in the evenings and on weekends. Members of the current generation disagree- and vehemently- of course. The younger set wants both at the same time. I’ve meet people in their first jobs who wouldn’t accept overtime work because they had better things to do with their lives other than just slave at work. It’s not a question of work ethics, really. It’s a question of internal wiring. The members of the younger generation are just wired to see work as fun as well—they want multi-sensory stimulation (they didn’t grow up with Ragnarok games for nothing) and they expect things to be customized to their particular needs and preferences.

Like many others, I too wondered how my kids graduated from college and passed licensure examinations with relatively flying colors. The few times that I caught them “studying” with books spread out in front of them, they were also texting friends, listening to their iPods, watching television, and monitoring status updates in their Facebook accounts online.

But let’s make no mistake about this: Members of today’s generation are infinitely smarter than we ever were at their age. I have probably read more than a thousand books when I reached twenty and had these theories swimming in my head—but I had absolutely no practical skills. When my son reached the same age, he probably had read less than 50 books, but he had been able to transform the personal computer in the living room into an entertainment center, complete with gadgets that did many things beyond my comprehension, learned how to assemble equipment, even figured out how to use mailmerge.

I suspect that we will continue to see more conflicts and problems in workplaces that could be traced to inability among the members of the various generations to work through their inherent differences. Most of us continue to be in denial that generational differences have profound impact on the workplace and on productivity. We also don’t have scientific data that we can use to make sense of the phenomenon and to help us formulate better prescriptions. We’re mostly relying on good old common sense and intuition in dealing with the effects of cross-generational conflicts. Unfortunately, common sense is not really common. And the use of intuition and gut feel are not always advisable when dealing with people other than your spouse.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Accountability

This was my column on the date indicated above.

Two readers recently sent in their reaction to that Halloween column I wrote which was partly about Assistant Secretary Mai Mislang and her unfortunate tweets from Vietnam and about Hayden Kho.

Reader Joseph Baldono agreed with my consternation over the recent attempts to resurrect Hayden Kho’s celebrity career. Baldono’s reactions are quite insightful so I have decided to print them in full:

“Like you, I am aghast that certain media personalities are allowing themselves to be party to the resurrection of Hayden Kho’s star. The handsome pornographer ex-doctor has been all over television trying to look innocent and angelic, his photoshopped mug blown up in giant billboards has been slowing down traffic at EDSA, and he has been very busy it seems doing the rounds of various social occasions in the last few weeks. He and his doctor-girlfriend has been featured in many society columns attending this and that event. These developments are very confusing, to say the least.

I believe even snakes deserve a second chance and that every person deserves redemption. I also do not think the issue is forgiveness because it is obvious that the Filipino people have forgiven him. But we must not forget what he did and we must make sure that people are constantly reminded of the dire consequences when people break social conventions. Media people should remember that by being party to all these effort to deodorize Hayden Kho’s image, they are sending the message to all that it is okay to do what he did because in time everything can be cast to oblivion.”

It seems my reader and I comprise a minority in this country because I don’t hear anyone else protesting all these frenzied attempts to paint Kho as a victim. Like I said in a previous column, I am not advocating that we lynch Hayden Kho. I think there is still a court case pending somewhere and he should be made to account for what he did to all those women, but I agree that he deserves a second chance. But I think there is something seriously wrong in the way people are opening doors for him so that he can parade himself again in the nation’s consciousness. It is like rubbing salt to healing wounds.

A behavior specialist friend of mine told me that Hayden Kho’s fixation with being a celebrity is indicative of serious emotional issues. Given what he already went through, reinventing himself as a celebrity endorser of a product that also happens to carry his name is either a brilliant marketing ploy or a very expensive attempt to prop up someone’s ego.

The other reader who wrote in hid behind the handle Social Critic wrote in to chastise me for having criticized Assistant Secretary Mai Mislang over that Twitter incident. The reader was of the opinion that the virulent criticism directed at the President’s speechwriter was “an overkill, an utter waste of space and a clear indicator that there is a serious drought of controversial topics worth writing about.”

The reader basically agreed with Secretary Ricky Carandang’s assessment that Mislang’s tweets were a “minor matter” that has been magnified many times over by pundits (presumably, like me). Social Critic then went on to point out that even I made the assessment that “at least Mislang was honest.” The reader ended his email by echoing what had become the most convenient justification for Mislang’s serious lapse of judgment: Youth. In short, this reader thought we should all cut Mislang some slack because she is young.

I did write in a previous column the phrase “at least she was honest” (referring to Mislang). But I take exception to the insinuation that I meant it as a justification for Mislang’s immaturity. There are occasion when I do bewail the tendency of some people to sacrifice the truth, sincerity, or honesty for the sake of political correctness or just simply politics. But I don’t think there can be any justification for her tweets. To begin with, Mislang was not being politically correct nor was she engaging in good politics. Actually, she was rude, period.

I think most people have already concluded that Mislang deserves the vilification that she has been getting from most everyone.

However, I do think that Secretary Ricky Carandang’s role in the whole brouhaha has been glossed over. Like many others, I am a fan of Carandang. He was the only media person I sat down with for an interview at the height of that open letter uproar four years ago. But in the interest of calling a spade a dirty shovel, it must be pointed out that the whole snafu was really aggravated by the fact that Carandang—who is Mislang’s immediate boss—refused to take the matter seriously when it first cropped up. My friend Grace Abella Zata noted in a Facebook shoutout that had Carandang addressed the matter with earnestness and conveyed the impression that Malacanan Palace was concerned about the flap and would deal with it administratively, people would not have felt the need to react as much. The problem, really, was that everyone was saying it wasn’t such a big deal when it truly was!

Worse, Carandang actually responded to Mislang’s tweet (“the wine sucks”) with the question “the red or the white?” Some people did find Carandang’s rejoinder just as objectionable. He not only failed to chastise Mislang immediately as her boss and as a Cabinet secretary who should be concerned about the impact of such a tactless remark would have on diplomatic relations. He actually legitimized the tactless remark by inquiring as to which wine “sucked.”

Is youth an excuse or justification in this particular case? I don’t think so. True, fast-tracking the emotional maturity of our young leaders is a problem that we all have to contend with. While we can attribute impulsiveness and impatience to youth, we can’t do the same for rudeness and tactlessness. There’s just no justification for these things.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The raid season

This was my column on the date indicated above.

These must be really slow days for both media and the police because the usual harassment—better known as raids—on bars, massage parlors, and other places condemned as places of sin by moralists and by those who stand to gain from exposing the supposed evil that happens in these places has started once again. The season has started and it’s not really just because Christmas is in the air.

These raids usually happen during times when there is nothing scandalous or salacious enough for certain television programs to feast on. Thus, they instigate raids, which they meticulously cover from the planning, to the actual police operation, down to the part when the victims are forcefully unmasked or embarrassed publicly.

Police authorities cooperate because it provides them the opportunity to look good in the public eye—it’s one of those rare occasions when they are depicted as extremely competent and adept. In short, they get to show off.

The bottom line, however, is one and the same. In the words of a friend of mine who has been witness to many of these raids and who have been campaigning heavily against these raids “pera pera lang yan.” It’s all about money. In fact, it is a known fact that many of the establishments that are raided are also under the protection of some police officers, which really explains why and how they are able to operate as legitimate business enterprises to begin with. The raids that are conducted without the direct and active support of television programs are conducted for show; some are staged. In fact, even the raids instigated by television programs such as those conducted by Mike Enriquez and his Imbestigador staff are often unsuccessful and always fail to catch the proprietora—the so-called big fish—of the establishments purportedly because they get the benefit of an advance warning. Small wonder also that these establishments are able to operate immediately after the raid as if nothing happened.

Many, this columnist included, have written in the past about the oppressive nature of these raids. What usually happens is that the ones that are victimized are the women (and sometimes men) who work in the establishments—the guest relation officers, dancers, masseuses, and waitresses. They are the ones whose faces and nude or half-naked bodies are mercilessly and heartlessly paraded on public television. They are the ones that are victimized many times over. First, by the circumstances and the people that pushed them into a life in prostitution. Second, by the owners of and the people who operate the establishments - from the managers down to the pimps that make money out of the whole arrangement. Third, by the customers who patronize these establishments. Fourth, by media who come up with sensationalized stories and embarrass them publicly. And finally, by police officers who harass them endlessly and subject them to various forms of indignation.

The raids that happen on establishments that cater to heterosexual men are oppressive enough. Imagine what happens during raids conducted on places that cater to marginalized communities such as gay and bisexual people. Obviously, marginalized people such as lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders are prone to more harassment because many are “closeted” and therefore fear being “outed.” There is also this perception that members of marginalized groups are easy prey because they don’t fight back. Police officers have an easier time extorting money from them as in the case of a raid that happened recently in an establishment in Pasay City.

I was asked to write about the raid a couple of weeks ago, but the request got buried in tons of paperwork. What follows are parts of the statement released by TLF SHARE, a community-based NGO, in reaction to the raid. Please note that the establishment in question is a private club, which does not feature sex workers. It’s essentially a place where people hang out in and meet others. The charge of human trafficking is farcical.

“On September 25, 2010, Queeriosity Palace, a well known gay and bisexual establishment in Pasay City, was raided by the Pasay City police. The raid resulted in the arrest and detention of more than 100 men who have sex with men, including members of the establishment’s staff. According to initial reports, the police charged the arrested individuals with violating the Anti-Human Trafficking Law (RA 9208) and a city ordinance against ‘male prostitution.’ Curiously, the police reportedly used the presence of condoms and lubricants found in the establishment as among the bases for the charges. What was most deplorable were reports that the police subjected the arrested persons to threats, coercion and psychological abuse and extorted fees in exchange for their release or for not exposing them publicly as frequenting a “gay club.” Among those arrested reported that their cellphones were confiscated and not returned and that the fees demanded ranged from P100 to P2,000.

TLF SHARE Collective, Inc., a non government organization working for gay, bisexual and transgender and men who have sex with men, strongly condemned this action of the Pasay City Police. The raid violated the rights of MSMs on several counts: The right of MSM adults to a safe space, the right to be protected against abuse and from threats, coercion and extortion. The raided establishment was operating legally and legitimately and there was no evidence that it employed men in prostitution; its only “crime” was that it catered exclusively to MSMs, specifically gay and bisexual men. The raiding team patently violated the integrity and dignity of the clients by subjecting them to physical coercion and psychological abuse during their arrest and detention. The reported extortion committed by the police on the arrested individuals was also strongly denounced .

TLF SHARE calls on the local government of Pasay City and the Commission on Human Rights to investigate the incident and determine the extent of violations committed against the rights of the arrested individuals. The perpetrators have to answer for these violations. To put a stop to using condoms as “evidence” of wrongdoing TLF SHARE called on the Philippine National AIDS Council to formulate, once and for all, the appropriate policy and guidelines with regard to the promotion and distribution of condoms for the prevention of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, especially among most-at-risk populations like MSM and transgenders. Such a policy should acknowledge the contribution to public health of establishments that ensure access to these life-saving prophylactics among their clientele.

Accordingly, TLF also called on the Department of Health to provide the appropriate clear guidelines on the primacy of condom promotion and use in STI and HIV prevention outreach, and assure partners—like establishments catering to MSMs and LGBT groups—that condoms can be safely included as part of its safer sex advocacy and promotional activities. Establishments that cater to MSMs and the LGBT community should no longer be subjected to police action, threats and coercion that are committed in the guise of addressing prostitution or preventing the sexual trafficking of persons.

Stigma, as seen in the case of abuses by the police against MSMs, is the invisible hand that is driving the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country. Raids like this make it hard for the government and non-governmental organizations to reach out to vulnerable communities and give them the capacity to protect themselves from being infected. Only in a climate of tolerance and human rights can we truly engage marginalized groups in the fight against HIV/AIDS.”

Monday, November 01, 2010

Scary

This was my column on the date indicated above.

We all knew it was just a matter of time. Given its commercial possibilities, Halloween was bound to become a major social event in this country. Halloween also allows us to celebrate our fun loving side and to flaunt our flair for bongga (over the top). Over the weekend we saw just how Halloween has become embedded into our culture just like Christmas and Valentine’s Day. But there are other reasons why Halloween is now big in this country.

At the Bank where I work full time, everyone was agog over the Halloween festivities. There was a Halloween decoration contest. The guidelines of the contest specifically asked that people stress “fun” and go for wholesome themes that were playful and creative rather than the scary and ghoulish. The organizers specifically asked to do away with coffins and cadavers. Did people listen? Heavens, no! At least two departments displayed makeshift caskets and one even had a real person posing as a cadaver. People had a blast getting scared. One department transformed its conference room into a “ghost hospital” which resembled what must have been the laboratory of Josef Mengele during the Holocaust.

Halloween does offer people the choice of either going “cute” and dressing up as superheroes, fairies and angels or dressing up as zombies, demons and ghosts. But most people do associate Halloween with the macabre and the morbid.

The trick or treat (we had more than 300 kids descending on the building) featured kids dressed mostly as vampires and zombies. There was a sprinkling of Mazinger Zs and some Supermen and Batmen in the crowd, but generally the whole occasion looked like a gathering of various covens. When I asked my nieces who among them wanted to wear angel wings—they all scoffed and looked at me like I was deranged. They went as zombies from plants and zombies.

I checked out friends in the human resource profession and learned that most of the major companies did celebrate Halloween this year. Even Chinese companies, usually wary of celebrating occasions that “invite” bad luck such as ghosts and spirits, opted to hang jack-o-lanterns and cutouts of Casper this year.

The Halloween phenomenon is huge proof of how globalization is affecting our lives to the core. It is difficult to stay insulated from festivities so big in the first world countries. At the same time, it is indicative of just how the today’s workplaces have been taken over by members of Generation Y, the so-called millenials who look for every opportunity to bring fun into their work. At our Bank, the people who came to work dressed up in the most outlandish Halloween costumes were our management trainees. I couldn’t believe the extent to which they suffered aggravations all in the spirit of infusing a little creativity and excitement into the workplace even for just a day! Needless to say, the old fogeys in the office didn’t get the whole point of the hullabaloo. They all thought it was such a colossal waste of time and money.

Halloween is a time for scary stories, which probably explains why our television networks are scrambling all over themselves rehashing stories of witches and sorcerers. The results are often frightening because they illustrate just how stupid some people can be; but at best, they are hilarious. Last week, for instance, Ces Drilon came up with a story about a girl who admitted being a sorceress and who claimed she survived an attack of a coven of mambabarang (witches). How Drilon managed to keep a straight face and even look engrossed while being taken for a ride was what made the story worth watching.

But as they say, truth is always stranger than fiction. So here is a sampling of the even more scary stories that happened recently; stories that upstage even the most chilling tale of a headless corpse or a witch gone berserk.

It scares the hell out of me that Hayden Kho has managed to stage a major comeback. He has returned and is now back in the limelight. What is even scarier is that his handsome mug is now in huge billboards all over the metro and that there is this whole public relations campaign designed to “deodorize” his image. The choice if product is actually ironic: He is selling his own brand of perfumes! We are supposed to empathize with this guy? We are supposed to wear on our bodies the scent that bears the name of this pig? I think they need more than four variants of expensive perfumes to drown out the stink of this guy’s character.

Oh please, don’t lecture me about forgiveness and about giving people second and third chances. I really wouldn’t mind if this guy gets a life back as a clerk or as a kept man. But I do take it as an insult when he decides to make a comeback as a celebrity endorser! And the really scarier thing is that lots of people who are supposed to know better are actually accommodating this guy. They are party to the resurrection of the pig. Just a year ago, this guy was the most hated person in the Philippines. He is now the toast of the town again. Scary.

One of President Noy Aquino’s speech writers, an official member of his delegation to the 17th Asean Summit, Assistant Secretary Mai Mislang of the Presidential Communications Office for Strategic Planning and Development, committed a diplomatic faux pas that may have been cute on some level but smacked of immaturity and irresponsibility. She dissed the Vietnamese in a few tweets to friends, saying the wine that was served at the state banquet “sucked,” that she didn’t see a single Vietnamese guy that met her aesthetic standards, and that the easiest way to die was to cross a Vietnamese street. Like I said, the tweets were amusing at some level. At least she was honest. But it was scary in another level because it gave us inkling about the kind of people that surround the President.

Halloween coincided with the Fashion Week held at the Mall of Asia last week. I usually have lunch at the Mall because of its proximity to the office so it was difficult not to notice traffic-causing events such as fashion shows featuring half-naked people. As a blogger (who has been on leave for so long from blogging), I know quite a lot of fashionistas who have huge following in the blogosphere because they are supposed to be interesting people. These people post pictures of themselves wearing various contraptions that they pass off as the latest in fashion.

I’ve always been tolerant of expressions of creativity but I never realized just how different photos are from the real thing! In their blogs, some fashionistas look—how shall I put this delicately - interesting in outfits that look like rags put together in some haphazard way. We were in a restaurant in MOA last Friday when this very popular blogger came in with his posse of fashionistas. They caught everyone’s eye because of the way they attracted attention, like they were creatures of a more superior race. Let me tell you this: What they were wearing qualified as Halloween getup. And they were clearly dressed not for Halloween but for the runway.

What can I say, it seems we don’t need Halloween after all. There are more than enough reasons to make every day feel like Halloween in this country.