Monday, January 31, 2011

A woman at the steering wheel

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

Hollywood superstar Sandra Bullock shot to international stardom by playing the role of an accidental bus driver in Speed, a blockbuster movie starring Keanu Reeves. The fact that a woman was at the wheel of a bus loaded with explosives contributed to the nail-biting suspense although it must be noted that it was less because of her gender and more because she was supposed to be inexperienced in driving a bus.

From what I remember (the movie was shown two decades ago), whatever reservations and apprehensions people had about Bullock’s character in that movie was gone after ten minutes. People eventually forgot about her gender and started rooting for her. A movie is probably the worst metaphor for the latest wrinkle in our lives as commuters but there really is no other parallel we can think of at this point. Most of us have not seen a woman bus driver although it’s a common sight in other key cities abroad.

I once saw a female jeepney driver in Taft Avenue a couple of years back but I think she was a rarity; I’m not sure there are still female jeepney drivers plying Metro Manila routes today. I’ve also seen quite a number of female tricycle drivers, but those three-wheeled contraptions don’t really compare to buses.

If the Metro Manila Development Authority had its way, we will have more female bus drivers plying Metro Manila thoroughfares starting March of this year. According to the MMDA, female drivers are more disciplined. They are supposed to be involved in fewer accidents compared to men.

The announcement was met by skepticism. Some even thought the MMDA was joking and derided the announcement as yet another harebrained idea that bored bureaucrats produce every now and then.

There are those who think that driving a bus is a job that is not appropriate or suitable for a woman. I am not sure there are still jobs today that are gender specific-and let’s please not quibble about “babymakers” because I think that’s a job created purely for cinematic purposes by our local film industry. We have female plane pilots and they have been found to be just as competent as male pilots. Most of the production plants in the manufacturing sector already employ women even for jobs such as forklift operators. In fact, I am told that women make better forklift operators as they tend to be more diligent and set higher benchmarks in terms of quality.

On the other hand, more males have also invaded what were once considered exclusive domains of women. For example, the kitchen used to be off limits to menfolk as women tended to be solely responsible for bringing food to the table. I think we have more male chefs today than women. My friends and I visited an embroidery shop at Quezon Province recently to shop for materials for barong and were pleasantly surprised to discover that the embroidery craft was already being embraced by men as well although we were told that the “craftsmen” tended to specialize in embroidery using machines rather than the traditional handcrafting method.

There is this thing called reverse discrimination; it’s a phenomenon where women are barred from certain jobs supposedly for their own sake. Some people tend to see women as delicate, fragile creatures and tend to be “protective” of them. This same argument is being used against the idea of hiring female bus drivers.

The argument may be valid if we still lived in the seventies when buses were machines of steel designed to be operated manually. This is not anymore the case today. Driving the new generation of buses do not require as much physical effort anymore because of modern technology. Advanced hydraulics technology, for instance, has reduced all that heavy pulling and pushing to just a flick of a button. Driving a bus is now as easy as driving a car.

But the strongest source of skepticism directed at this idea of having women as bus drivers is this general belief that women are simply “bad” drivers. To be more specific, that women lack the “diskarte” required to be effective drivers on our roads. What we are really saying is that most women drivers tend to obey traffic rules such as speed limits and tend to stick to their lanes even in situations when stretching the rules a little seems the more sensible thing to do.

I’ve been in many situations where we seem “stuck” behind a car that’s cruising at normal speed, refusing to change lanes, or conversely, trying to change lanes in preparation to make a turn a hundred meters away from the intersection. We would automatically conclude, with a hint of sarcasm, that the driver of the car in front of us must be a woman. If we come to think about it, what that driver was doing was exactly what everyone should be doing except that most among us do flaunt our ability to circumvent traffic rules with just a little dexterity or sleigh of hand.

I’ve also been in many situations when we’d get annoyed at one of our passengers who would turn instantly into a backseat driver, nagging whoever is at the wheel to follow instructions. Of course, the backseat driver would turn out to be a woman 98 percent of the time. It’s a fact: Women are just more conscientious about following rules.

And they are just more focused when driving compared to men who have to do a thousand other things while trying to steer the wheel at the same time. Of course there are exceptions. I know someone who leaves her residence in the morning straight from the shower and arrives at work an hour later fully made up and dressed for client calls. She puts on her makeup, blow-dries her hair, and puts on stockings while driving. We’re talking generalities here, not specifics.

This is wishful thinking, but hopefully, passengers would also become a little more considerate and law-abiding when a woman is at the wheel of a bus. One of the things that aggravate our traffic situation is the fact that passengers often demand to be allowed to board or get off a bus at the most inappropriate of places, not to mention outside of designated zones. A woman can get away with berating passengers for being undisciplined. Also, a woman driver would presumably be more considerate and patient and would not get into situations where buses would hold up traffic just because bus drivers are playing a game of one-upmanship with the rest of the world.

Of course authorities would have to give our female drivers the necessary training and support. I would imagine that other drivers would try to take advantage of female bus drivers by cutting into their lanes or taunting them unnecessarily. We also need to conduct better information and education drives to enable everyone to adjust to the change. Having female bus drivers is not just a simple matter of changing the gender of whoever is the steering wheel of our public transport vehicles. It represents a significant shift in our social and cultural structures as well.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Giving bloggers a bad name

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

Every once in a while something happens that gets bloggers and their loyal readers all riled up. It is during these times when one feels the energy pulsate through the whole blogosphere as everyone weighs in with his or her own “take” on the burning issue of the day. Occurrences like these have become rare lately—the blogosphere has been relatively calm and boring for quite sometime—which probably explains the relatively high level of attention being given the particular issue at hand.

The current controversy revolves around allegations of unethical practices of a certain blogger presumably in cahoots with a certain Public Relations firm.

What triggered the whole brouhaha was an article written by Margaux Salcedo (who is also a blogger and a media personality in addition to being spokesperson of former President Joseph Estrada) entitled “Please Don’t Give Blogging a Bad Name” published in the January 23 edition of the Sunday Magazine of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Salcedo alleged in her article that a restaurateur friend of hers (whom she hid under a fictitious name) was offered by a public relations firm (which she also did not identify) word-of-mouth generation through the magic of “social media.” The PR firm quoted a rather steep monthly fee to avail of the services of some bloggers who were supposed to write glowing reviews about the restaurant on a regular basis. Salcedo’s restaurateur friend declined. Thereupon, Big Bad Blogger (supposedly a popular food blogger) dined at the restaurant, took pictures of the food, and wrote a glowing review in his or her blog. The PR firm once again offered its services, mentioning that Big Bad Blogger is in its roster of paid hacks. Salcedo’s restaurateur friend declined yet again. A few months after, restaurateur opens another restaurant, Big Bad Blogger comes to dine, takes pictures, and then writes a scathing review.

Salcedo did not categorically conclude that Big Bad Blogger and the PR firm were partners in crime but unraveled enough rope to hang both in the bar of public opinion. The article hinted very strongly that the scathing review of the restaurant was triggered by the restaurateur’s refusal to give grease money to the PR firm and Big Bad Blogger.

By not identifying both the blogger and PR firm, Salcedo unwittingly stoked the controversy further by getting most everyone involved in some kind of a guessing game. This twist unfortunately muddled the issues as some people starting pointing sticky fingers at some bloggers. In many blogs, the focus of the discussion was on personalities rather than on the specific allegations or their implications.

Not that the identities of the people involved are unimportant; it’s just that the issue of the alleged unethical practices and the matter of who committed these can be tackled independently of each other. Sadly, it’s often difficult for many to dissociate personalities from issues, substance from form, in our country.

I’ve been there many times. As a (former) blogger and as a columnist of this newspaper (referred to as part of mainstream media by many) I’ve often been at the receiving end of such myopia. There were a number of times when some people would insist on reading more into what I would write—very often biases and motives that people insisted were part of my supposed political leanings. The fact that I didn’t have political leanings was irrelevant to them.

I also think that by withholding the identities of Big Bad Blogger and the PR firm in question, Salcedo may have done her advocacy a disservice. Think how much more productive the discussion would have been if the issues were focused solely on the alleged unethical practices. But like I said, that should not deflect from a more enlightened discussion of the real issues at hand. There is something we can all learn from everyone—including people who chose to remain anonymous when leaving commentaries in blogs or in the mainstream media.

The important issue at hand is whether or not the allegations of unethical practices among bloggers are true and if they are, how rampant or prevalent these practices are today. Consequently, the discussion should focus on what can be done to curb these practices.

It would be futile to attempt a discussion on who should be blamed for such unethical practices. The truism “there are no tyrants where there are no slaves” comes to mind. Unethical practices thrive if there are people who pay for these. Conversely, people might feel compelled to pay off when the pressure to do so becomes intense such as when scathing attacks on their business continues relentlessly.

Does this mean that things should be left as they are? Of course not! Salcedo is right, errant bloggers should not be allowed to give the whole blogging phenomenon a bad rap.

This business of “paying off” bloggers has been noted for quite sometime now. As a former blogger (my blog is still up, but I haven’t been blogging for many months now) I have been “invited” many times to avail of certain services offered by certain business establishments. I’ve been sent tickets to certain shows and events, gift certificates to certain restaurants and spas, offered all kinds of freebies and samples of certain products and services. I’ve refused all of them for many reasons. First, I barely have time to attend to all these invitations what with having a full time job, a teaching load, a column to write, and a number of professional organizations to attend to in addition to running a household of teenagers. But more importantly, I feel uncomfortable accepting favors or gifts when I know I cannot reciprocate accordingly. I can claim to take the high ground and claim to be made of sterner moral stuff but I also know that I can grant favors to friends if they ask nicely or if I believe in their cause.

There are bloggers who monetize their blogs and I know quite a number who try to live off the income from their blogs. This is a tall order and unless one has the stature, the talent, the expertise, and the marketing savvy, is almost impossible to achieve. I suspect that this is one reason why some bloggers become creative in the area of funds generation. My advice to bloggers is to not lose their day jobs if they don’t intend to lose their integrity.

There are good and bad bloggers just as there are paid hacks in mainstream media, columnists included. I know that the same unethical practices area also present in mainstream media. The difference is that bloggers are supposed to be more idealistic and are supposed to champion more ethical ways of doing things. Unlike traditional media, it doesn’t cost as much to publish a blog and bloggers are therefore supposed to guard their integrity and credibility fiercely. When one comes down to it, credibility is any blogger’s main selling point.

Is it time to regulate the blogosphere? Heavens, no. But it is important for bloggers to keep talking about issues like these in order to come up with some norms and benchmarks. At a certain point, even bloggers would have to accept that a consensus on what is acceptable and what is not is necessary.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Father's Day

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

Snicker away all you want, but I have a strong feeling Sharon Cuneta will meet her target of losing gazillion pounds and become svelte all over again.

No, I am not a fan of the megastar. It is difficult not to notice Cuneta’s determined battle to lose the bulges though because it is a very, very public battle. She talks about it endlessly in her television shows. What is more, we see huge billboards all over Metro Manila documenting and proclaiming to all and sundry every single pound that she is shedding.

It’s not just mindless, intrusive showbiz drivel. It’s actually a business case. A major company engaged in the “slimming business” is behind it. And of course, it’s also propaganda for Cuneta’s upcoming television show, which is reportedly going to be a show about people shedding unwanted pounds.

When someone’s shrinking visage becomes a major business case, then we are clearly marking new territories in terms of how commercialism is affecting our lives.

But this piece is not really about Cuneta even if I salute her courage to be the poster girl for overweight people desperately trying to fit back into their college Levi’s 105. People like me.

Losing unwanted weight is a serious matter. It’s often a matter of life and death; although I am also aware that vanity and self-esteem are perceived as the more important motivators. Take it from someone who has been trying —unsuccessfully I must note—to lose weight in the last ten years for, ehem, health reasons.

Losing weight is big business and I think it is reasonable to expect that it will become even bigger in the future as more and more people become overweight because of a confluence of factors that also happen to feed on each other.

To begin with, there’s just too much unhealthy food out there and it seems everyone is in on a conspiracy to get people to ingest as much fat and cholesterol into their systems. Advertising has certainly made eating and fast food appetizing and trendy. Globalization has brought into the country more global brands in the fast food industry and most of them hawk food loaded with chock-full of calories. Sadly, it has become some kind of status symbol to be seen in these new places.

In addition, its been found that most people don’t really care about proper nutrition, or don’t care to know about healthy eating; they presume that eating loads of canned fruit salad is okay because it is fruit anyway. People are also becoming more sedentary as automation and the conveniences of modern living take the place of manual labor. And of course, there are people who are overweight because of some medical condition. I have a cousin who has a thyroid problem and this has resulted in her weight tripling in record time.

In my case, I think I became overweight as an inadvertent result of following all kinds of diets and supposedly healthy tips. My doctor disagrees with me vehemently, but I also have this theory that my recurring vertigo is a direct result of my brains inability to process the conflicting advice given to me by various well-meaning experts on weight management.

Based on my height, my ideal weight should be around 145 pounds. About two decades ago, I was overweight by about 15 pounds and therefore embarked on my first diet, which was based on a famous book that promised the benefit of being fit for life. I lost five pounds, probably from all that effort in carrying the book everywhere I went. That diet—excuse me, healthy lifestyle program—was based on conclusions drawn partly from observing animals in the wild. For example, the authors made a big to-do with the fact that lions in Africa immediately go for the innards of their catch, which contained organic leaves and vegetables. I lost five pounds, and immediately gained ten more in the succeeding months.

I did the famous South Beach diet for a while because, well, it was popular and lots of really beautiful and rich people were singing paeans to it. The problem was that most of those who endorsed the diet had their food catered by enterprising people who made a killing designing gourmet meals for a steep price. A friend insisted that if he were on the same diet, he’d probably lose weight as well from stress and endless worry about how to make ends meet. This particular diet debunked certain prescriptions held sacrosanct by others. For instance, this diet insisted that eating eggs is healthy! Theoretically, I don’t really find eggs distasteful except that I am allergic to them.

Even if an officemate fainted in the office in the middle of a deadline season because of severe malnutrition (that was the diagnosis of the doctor that attended to her), I also tried going on that cabbage soup diet. Yes, I was suckered into that one too. I don’t remember anymore the exact recipe that went into the soup but I remember it involved onions, leeks, tomatoes, and a truck full of cabbages. I remember cooking a whole kaldero of the stuff, which, of course, ended up in the refrigerator for weeks, untouched. To paraphrase a cliché, the spirit was willing but my digestion system was uncooperative.

Another friend swore by the Seven-day Diet prescribed by this famous socialite columnist in another paper. This particular diet allegedly worked wonders because the prescribed food, which could not be substituted and had to be ingested in the right quantities contained the right combination of chemicals that induced weight loss. The problem was that the diet required eating a whole pomelo for breakfast, which was a big no-no for someone like me with a bad case of hyperacidity. And to be perfectly honest, the prescribed portions were so small which only increased my cravings. I gave up after two days.

Atkins, Baby food, Big breakfast, Nothing-after-six, Dr. Phil’s Ultimate Weight Solution, Fruit Flush, Mayo Clinic, etc. I’ve done those. I drew the line at drinking protein shakes because I never developed a taste for liquid substitutes.

I am proud to report that all these diets worked for me. The problem was that I always gained more than what I originally lost so I always ended up heavier than before.

Oh I know. I was supposed to exercise as well, which I did. For a time, at least. I know this will come across as a cop-out but regular exercise is not prescribed for people with certain medical conditions. I have an inner ear problem which has affected my equilibrium – I’ve had major surgery to correct it but, well, I cannot exercise as often as I would like to.

I am now overweight by almost fifty pounds and my battle to shed the extra poundage is now reaching epic proportions. But I still am it. I am still in search of the perfect diet that would reverse the trend.

I know that the solution is actually quite simple—eat moderately and move around. But, alas, “simple” does not really mean doable.

Besides, there’s always a new diet or slimming program waiting to be discovered. If Cuneta can do it, so can anybody. At least for a time.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Current events essay test

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

What does it say of us when the main story about the President of the Republic that greeted the New Year was about his purchase of a luxury car? Prior to this, there was that hullabaloo over what many people thought were uncalled for partisan remarks during the traditional Vin d’honneur or New Year’s reception at the Malacañan Palace.

I know. President Benigno Simeon Aquino III’s recent purchase of a Porsche has already been roundly criticized by many as being ill-timed, ostentatious, impractical, out-of-sync with the general image he has been laboring hard to portray, etc.

On the other hand, the defense trundled out can generally be summed up in this way: Inggit lang kayo (roughly, we can’t help it if you are envious).

What does it say of us when the main story related to the President’s visit to the queen city of the South to attend a major religious and cultural festival was about his search for a girlfriend (should be a Cebuana, someone suggested)? It’s bad enough that media is obsessed with the President’s love life; must local politicians jump into the fray by offering unsolicited advice for the lovelorn and by playing matchmakers?

Obviously nobody really thought through the various implications of having a bachelor as President of the country– and someone relatively young, with a different set of values. It’s not just the Porsche, the series of dates, the smoking, the barkada, etc.

In a way, I can relate with the President’s woes. Bachelors of a certain age in this country are always asked that question and ribbed endlessly about the importance of “settling down.” God knows I dread family reunions precisely because I know everyone will be asking about whether there is a special “girl” in my life and whether I realize that I am already way past the marrying age. It’s annoying. So I can imagine the President’s disdain, he who has to put up with the badgering from everyone else.

The purchase of the Porsche and the justification provided is typical of people of a specific demographic: Young, single men of independent means. What we have here is a clash of expectations borne out of differences in values and priorities.

What does it say of us when a former vice presidential candidate (actually, he was a Presidential candidate prior to sliding down to the second top post in the land) is given a Cabinet position with the official designation as “troubleshooter?” Does this mean we are truly a country of troublesome people that an official troubleshooter has to be appointed for the role? Oh please, I know we’re not supposed to be literal, but position titles are important, as they are indicative of the value and scope of one’s job.

What does it say of us when our leaders openly and very publicly question the qualities and worth of the newly appointed Chairman of the Commission on Elections not on the basis of qualification or competence, but on the basis of perceived bias against them? In the past, people tended to question a person’s bias for a particular cause putting the discussion at the level of issues rather than personalities.

Today, we have the likes of Mar Roxas and Senator Franklin Drilon openly suggesting that their political futures might become imperiled because of perceived bias against them. I think people can be forgiven for deducing that what these gentlemen really want is an assurance of being favored rather than being disadvantaged although of course they will say that they just want fairness and an even playing field.

What does it say of us when stories of a coup at the Senate become banner material in most newspapers when each and every senator denies having any knowledge of it? The way our senators mimic the proverbial monkeys who saw no evil, heard no evil, and spoke no evil is ludicrously hilarious.

Not that this is the first time something like this happened; in fact this has always been the norm as far as the Philippine Senate is concerned. Changes in leadership in the Senate, quite appropriately referred to as coup d’etat, almost always begin with rumors that are promptly denied by the perpetrators. Of course nobody bothers to explain the attempts at subterfuge when the rumors are proven to be true and the coup d’etat becomes successful.

There must be a better, more proactive way of installing a new Senate President, or paradoxically, ousting one from power. I just can’t imagine how our social studies teachers explain Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s “whoever has the numbers can replace me” statement to high school students!

What does this say of us when a congressman representing, of all groups, teachers and educators, is reported to have verbally abused an airline employee who was just doing her job? We all know that many of our elected officials think so highly of themselves and of their positions that they expect all kinds of courtesies to be extended to them. They expect other people not only to open doors for them, but also to bend over backwards and break rules just to accommodate their whims and caprices.

But what does it say when a party-list representative is the one accused of the abusive behavior? Party-list representatives were envisioned to represent marginalized communities; the whole concept was borne out of the desire to provide all sectors of the country equal access to power. What this validates, once again, is the fact that our so-called party list groups and representatives do not really represent real marginalized communities or groups.

Ordinarily, the Alliance of Volunteer Educators should have already expelled Eulogio Magsaysay. But then again, those in the know are aware of the kind of organization AVE really is, the people behind it, and why they have been able to secure seats in the last three elections. AVE is really a lobby group of a particular business interest that is based in Subic. They have the support of the powerful religious sect renowned for voting as a bloc.

And pray tell, what does it say of us when the wife of the congressman in question takes up the cudgels for her husband, insisting that there is nothing wrong with being called a “menopausal bitch?”

It is a good thing that Sarah Teresa Ocampo is pursuing the case by filing a criminal and administrative complaint at the Ombudsman and grave slander, serious misconduct, conduct unbecoming of a high ranking public official, and direct solicitation of personal favor or gain using his office at the House of Representatives’ ethics committee. It’s about time that someone stands up to the likes of Magsaysay who flaunt their power and influence so arrogantly.

What does it say of us if these trends continue throughout the year?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ophiucus and Sotto

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

When I told my friends last Saturday that I couldn’t understand why millions of people are so worked up over the supposed addition of the 13th zodiac sign Ophiuchus (November 29 – to December 17), one of them snapped back at me: “That’s because your zodiac sign has not changed; you are still a Pisces!”

For a moment, I was dumbfounded. True, unlike in their cases, the supposed shift in the dates covered by each of the zodiac sign didn’t affect me. I was born March 12 and the supposed new cutoff dates for Pisces, which now covers March 11 to April 18, still makes me a Pisces. In the case of a friend, she went to bed Friday night as a Scorpio and woke up Saturday morning a Libra. She was not showing signs of disorientation, she was fuming mad because the dates covered by Scorpio were now apparently reduced to only six days! And she said she hated Librans with a passion! We joked that she probably now needs to get legally separated from her husband because their zodiac signs were now completely at odds with each other, and that she probably needs to stop thinking of herself as a sexual goddess (Scorpions being, well, supposedly more sexual according to stereotype). She bristled at the suggestions.

We discussed the implications of the supposed changes. Would this mean that some people would have to get tattoos removed? Ouch. Would this mean business establishments named after zodiac signs would have to change as well? What about those who religiously followed birth charts for their children, would they have to alter birthdays now?

I told them I still didn’t get it. I told them I went to bed Friday night as a Pisces and woke up Saturday night as, well, still Bong Austero!

But apparently, some people take astrology and their horoscopes serious, verrrry seriously, to the point that they’ve allowed these to define who and what they have been and are as individuals. I am aghast that there are people who, in essence, are going through a serious evaluation of their personalities to align with the new zodiac signs. I know at least one blogger who went into full rumination mode suddenly and belatedly “discovering” the rationale behind quirks in her personality. “Kaya pala,” (so that’s the reason) she exclaimed, as if the whole universe has just presented to her the keys to a riddle of earth-shaking importance.

But what caused the ruckus? The whole thing supposedly started when an astronomy professor (the now much-maligned Parke Kunkle of the Minneapolis Community and Technical College) explained to a newspaper about the movements of stars. He said that the sun is now in a completely different position than where it was thousands of years ago. His dissertation went viral as many media networks picked it up. The cause of the misunderstanding can be traced back to the fact that most people think astrology is based on constellations.

Orphiucus is a constellation. It’s represented by a man grasping a snake (representing the constellation Serpens). I can go on and on about the science bit, but that’s really stretching things so far for purposes of this column. Besides the jury is still out on this controversy. Obviously there are those who insist that Kunkle’s theory is wrong. There are those who insist that the man is correct.

To begin with—if we are to buy this new development, which is still being hotly debated by astrologers and astronomers—the changes are supposed to cover those who were born in 2009 and beyond. So it really does not affect those who are old enough now to actually bother about these things. Those who believe that their lives and destinies (supposedly preordained at the time of birth by the position of the stars) are intertwined with movements in the cosmos, have no need to fret—Kunkle did not propose that the position of the stars at the time of their birth has not changed.

So theoretically, if one were a Taurus all his life, he should still be as bullheaded and as obstinate regardless. Theoretically, I’m still supposed to be a wimp.

***

We all know that many of our leaders are immature; they cannot do their jobs professionally or objectively. They insist on viewing the world and interpreting their job descriptions from the very myopic confines of their often bigoted worldview.

Senator Vicente Sotto III recently made pronouncements that smacked of irresponsibility. He recently indicated, in so many words, that as long as he is Senate Majority Leader, the proposed reproductive health bill would not get through the Senate. This kind of swagger is representative of the kind of obstructionist politicians we have today, people who subscribe to the notion that if they can’t have their way, they will use power and influence to ensure that others don’t get their way as well, even if the cause is beneficial to others.

Certain sectors are understandably up in arms. The Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines represented by its National Chairperson Elizabeth Angsioco (who is also a columnist for this paper) chided Senator Sotto last week and told him “to stop irresponsible talks and instead do his job.”

I agree with Angsioco: Sotto’s responsibility is to facilitate the legislative process, not derail it. This includes calendaring bills already reported out by the committees for plenary debates.

“Saying that he would rather be replaced from his position than see the RH bill enacted into law reeks of arrogance. It’s proof that the good senator only cares about what he personally believes in, even if this runs counter to public welfare,” stressed Angsioco.

‘‘If he truly is a statesman, he would not impose his personal opinion on the whole nation. Using his important position as the Senate Majority Leader to derail the legislative process is being untrue to his mandate as a lawmaker. If he doesn’t want to do his job, then he should resign,” said Angsioco in a statement E-mailed to me.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Protectionism and devotion

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

A number of local performers, among them singers Kuh Ledesma, Ogie Alcasid, Rico Puno, Nonoy Zuñiga, Marco Sison and others have been griping about what they perceive as unfair competition being posed by international artists.

Ledesma and company are talking about Janet Jackson, Taylor Swift, and others who are slated to hold concerts in Manila during the Valentine season. The concerts of Jackson and Swift are expected to be bestsellers because of their global celebrity status. In fact, tickets to Swift’s concert have been sold out as early as December. I am told that the tickets to Jackson’s concert is also quite in demand. And mind you, the tickets to the concerts are quite pricey: About P15 thousand for the best seats. The cheapest tickets are going for about two thousand each.

I am surprised that Ledesma and company are raising the issue of protectionism at a time when Filipino artists are finally penetrating the global market. Charice Pempengco, Arnel Pineda, Lea Salonga are just some of the Filipino artists who have successfully built a global following. There are actually quite a number of other Filipino musicians and entertainers who are also making waves abroad although may not have stars that shine as brightly as those of Pempengco, Pineda, and Salonga.

I was of the belief that international performers pay equity to local organizations every time they perform in this country. This is the system that is operating in most countries. If this setup has been discontinued, then local performers should fight for reinstatement. But to openly gripe about “unfair competition” and ask for preferential treatment such as zero taxes for local artists while levying more taxes on foreign artists? I don’t think so. As it is, tickets to concerts by foreign artists are more expensive in this country compared to our neighbors.

Martin Nievera, probably because he has had the opportunity to headline regular shows in Las Vegas, offered a divergent opinion: He said that local artists should step up the bar and improve their act to be comparable to international artists. I agree.

I strongly agree that some form of governmental support for local artists should be institutionalized. Many art forms are dying, gasping for precious breath—if not already dead. But let’s not do so while shooting down global artists in the process.

***

The garrulous retired bishop Oscar Cruz was quoted in many news reports the other day saying that the surge in the number of devotees who attended last Sunday’s procession of the Black Nazarene at Quiapo Manila was indicative of the increasing number of people in this country who are mired in poverty. I am not going to argue that the number of poor people in this country have actually decreased although some empirical data says so. The retired bishop’s observations strike me as rather incongruous because it is the Church who propagates that kind of devotion to begin with. More to the point, I think the retired bishop’s observations oversimplify the Black Nazarene phenomenon. To simply equate the religious event or the devotion to the Black Nazarene to poverty is a disservice to many.

As someone who was there in Quiapo last Sunday and in a number of processions in the past, I would like to ask the honorable bishop if he has personally witnessed the procession and planted himself anywhere near the heaving mass of humanity that attends the annual event. If he has, he would have noticed that most of those who attend are young people who come in groups and do so like it was tradition. Most of the supplicants ask for intercessions for sick family members or friends. I still have to meet devotees who actually ask the Black Nazarene for material blessings.

There’s a whole gamut of social, cultural, and even psychological context around the Black Nazarene phenomenon and it’s not just about religion or poverty. To many, it’s a passage, a coming-of-age ritual.

Besides, there is actually a much simpler explanation why more people went to Quiapo this year. It was a Sunday and there was no work or school. In addition, the weather was perfect—a little bit of rain.

***

Three readers reacted vociferously to my column last Monday on the supposed Boracay sex scandal. Their points of view were so diverse, I felt compelled to write about them.

Someone who identified himself as Celito Buhain wrote in to comment about what he says is “the increasing tendency of our media networks to sexualize and sensationalize our newscasts.” He questioned ABS-CBN’s real intent in taking footages of the tourists supposedly engaged in the sex act, wondering “if the tourists would have continued to do what they were doing if the media people didn’t take the footages covertly.” In short, isn’t it everybody’s job to ensure that public beaches like Boracay are kept “wholesome?”

I also have some reservations about media’s predilection to use hidden cameras, particularly in recording activities, which it later on sensationalizes. I am also aware that media’s role is to report events as they happen. However, like Buhain, I also wonder if media actually simply records and reports events as they happen. In many cases, media actually sets up the whole thing like a sting operation.

Another reader wrote to accuse me of being “ultra liberal-minded” and for “imposing my own liberal views on the general population.” I always find it amusing when people who write in to vehemently disagree with my opinions hide behind a pseudonym. This reader used the convenient handle “moral crusader.” Pray, what is wrong with being ultra-liberal minded? And as a columnist, I think my job description is to express opinions. I am not sure any columnist can be accused of imposing their views on other people—as far as I know, no one is forcing people to read my column.

But what struck me most about this reader’s tirade were the name-calling and the crude references to the sex act. He (or she) basically called me a “pig” that “wallows in the mud of sexual depravities.” Then the reader went on to prescribe certain sexual positions and acts that I should engage in supposedly to satiate my “filthy perversions.” How someone with such a malicious mind (not to mention familiarity with certain acts labeled as “filthy”) could fancy himself as a moral crusader is beyond me. Clearly, there are quite a number of people in this country who need lots and lots of growing up to do.

The third email I received in response to my column floored me. It was basically a tirade against Ruffa Gutierrez. The actress’s comments condemning the scandal were published in several news articles. The reader, Amante Garcia, basically reminded me that Gutierrez acted in various movies, which featured people cavorting and having sex in the beach. He even cited the titles of the movies. Garcia chided Gutierrez for having “temporary amnesia.”

What can I say, when the topic is about sex or sex scandals, people sit up and take notice.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Scraping the bottom

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

It seems we really are not used to not having controversies in this country because in times such as the present when things are generally quiet in the political front, we tend to stir things up to create fireworks during events that should have been occasions for unity or out of the most mundane issues. A friend offers a different perspective. He says we have this predilection to self-destruct. When things are going so well, we tend to shoot ourselves in the foot.

Take for example President Benigno Aquino III’s indelicate dig at the opposition last week during the annual Vin d’Honneur to honor the diplomatic community. PNoy’s remark struck a raw nerve because of the lack of a suitable context. Taking potshots at one’s perceived enemies at a formal occasion one is hosting smacks of illegitimate political behavior, particularly if the people being targeted comprised majority of those who graciously lent their presence at the occasion and who were there apparently in the spirit of cooperation.

We just celebrated the holiday season and greeted each other “peace on earth and goodwill to men.” PNoy’s very partisan remarks certainly shattered any lingering spirit of love, hope and peace in the air. Most surveys indicated that majority of Filipinos have high hopes for 2011 and to my mind, this included hopes for our leaders to work more collaboratively in the pursuit of the common good. The fighting words were uncalled for. We may have a minority in Congress, but they certainly are not “noisy.” We don’t hear of Representative Lagman and company strongly lambasting the President and his cabinet every day, do we?

What was annoying about the whole thing was that, really, there was no need for the whole thing. It was just simply uncalled for! What was even more jarring was Communication Secretary Ricky Carandang’s attempt at backpedaling. As can be expected in a situation where no logical defense is forthcoming, he tried to obfuscate the issue. He said that the President’s dig was not directed at anyone in particular, which made the President come across as someone just shooting blanks in the air. I would have preferred that Carandang just stood his ground; as we say in Tagalog, sana pinanindigan na lang nya.

Clearly, the tempest in the teacup was not a good start for Carandang and company. This attitude of moral superiority bordering on arrogance is what will get this administration into more trouble. Apparently, some people have not learned from the Mai Mislang incident in Vietnam.

And then there was this very amusing bit about how Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista publicly lauded a traffic aide, giving him a promotion and a cash reward for apprehending him. I understand that it took guts for the traffic aide in question to do what he did although it was clear that he did so because he didn’t recognize the mayor (he sheepishly hinted that he would have ignored Bautista’s traffic violation if he knew it was the mayor behind the wheels).

But there is something very seriously wrong when we do cartwheels because someone was simply doing his job. There is also something seriously wrong when the mayor in question goes into a celebratory mood because he was caught violating traffic rules in his own city. Bautista did not even apologize or offer an explanation as to why he broke traffic rules; in fact, the whole part about why he violated traffic rules was completely glossed over. It was as if there was tacit agreement that mayors or other powerful people in this country have the license to disobey traffic rules.

I am all for rewarding people who turn in exemplary performances in their jobs. But rewarding people for simply doing their jobs and celebrating the occasion as if it was something extraordinary—well, this certainly indicate the extent of our problem.

Our media organizations must be really scraping the bottom for newsworthy stories lately because even isolated issues are played up and blown into major controversies.

Okay, just so there is no misunderstanding -although I am aware that despite this disclaimer certain people in this country will still choose to see this piece from a very myopic perspective—let me be clear about one thing: I do not—as in absolutely do not—condone sex in public particularly in places that allow children. Let me be clearer. I do not think that people should be allowed to have sex in the beaches of Boracay, or in other public places in this country such as parks, churches, streets, malls, etc. If we come to think about it, I don’t think there is anyone in this country that actually thinks it is okay for people to have sex in public places.

Having said that, let me now express my utter bewilderment at the whole attention being heaped on what is now referred to as the Boracay sex scandal presumably involving two pairs of tourists on New Year’s Eve. Why it was referred to as a sex scandal is beyond me. It only showed the extent to which our media networks will go to sensationalize a story.

In case you were blissfully unaware of the controversy, ABS-CBN showed footages in their various newscasts last week of two couples that seemed engaged in sex acts. They said the footages were taken at around 2:00 am on a beach in Boracay after the revelry to meet the New Year. Thereupon, the mayor of the town of Malay which has jurisdiction over Boracay, a senior official of the Department of Tourism, and a number of concerned citizens including actress Ruffa Gutierrez were quoted in various news stories expressing their outrage and spewing quite a mouthful of gibberish.

What was absurd about the whole attention was that all the reports were very clear about one thing: It was an isolated incident. Malay Mayor John Yap said so. Tourism Assistant Secretary for Planning and Promotions Domingo Enerio III said so. Even the ABS-CBN people said so. It’s strange therefore that they almost burst a vein trying to pontificate about the supposed implications of the supposed sex scandal.

The honorable mayor said something about the need to pass an ordinance specifically prohibiting having sex in the beaches of Boracay, because he said there is currently no law that would justify the prohibition. Is this guy for real? There might not be a law that specifically says that having sex in public is prohibited, but I am sure there are more than enough provisions in our various laws that can be trundled to justify the prohibition. I have been working with a non-government organization doing work with sex workers for many years now and I am aware that police authorities continue to regularly patrol areas in urban centers such as parks to apprehend and harass people who are suspected of being in amorous situations. I can imagine it now: Signs being put up in Boracay and policemen patrolling the beaches to enforce the ordinance.

Tourism assistant secretary Enerio’s gibberish was even more absurd. Here’s the guy’s reaction quoted verbatim from a news report that got picked up by the global press: “Enerio said hotel owners and other establishments on the beach should post signs or warnings that say it is okay to be happy and enjoy while on the island but there are things that should be done privately, preferably in their hotel rooms. He said it was a good thing that the sex incident happened at a time when kids are already asleep, and that the act was between a couple that seem to be married and it was not done with a Filipina.” Whether the couple who had sex in public was married or not and the race of the woman was material to the whole discussion?

When nonsensical statements and non-issues such as an isolated event in Boracay are played up like they were matters of life and death on public television, then we must scraping the bottom for newsworthy stories!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The state of our public hospitals

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

The country’s attention in the last few days has been riveted on the casualties from the New Year revelry. Cameras focused on the grimacing faces of the victims while medical professionals ran around trying to do what they could given the dire situation; and I refer not only to the seemingly endless stream of victims that needed to be attended to. Also present were a number of aggravations such as lack of resources, inadequate facilities, parents or family members that get in the way, etc.

Of course the whole drill is something we do regularly - on an annual basis, in fact. This will probably not sit well with some people, but it must be said: We’ll soon forget about the people—children included- who lost limbs because they were careless or because someone was stupid or irresponsible enough to allow them to play with firecrackers on New Year’s Eve. Even our sense of indignation has an expiration date, it seems. Until next year, of course, when we will have to go through the whole routine again.

As a form of closure to this year’s episode, perhaps the government can put in place proactive measures such as regulating the manufacture of dangerous firecrackers—months before the onset of the holiday season. There’s really no point in wailing our guts out and delivering all kinds of homilies about the stupidity of blindly following traditions once the firecrackers are already out in the streets or have already been bought; more so, when they have already claimed casualties.

I must empathically stress that government must run after those who fired guns into the air on New Year’s Eve which resulted in the death of some people. I am aghast that there are people who actually continue to do so. Government must hunt these people down and make them pay for their extreme stupidity and irresponsibility.

***

Because media attention was focused on them, our public hospitals and our medical practitioners were seen in various stages of readiness and preparation to handle emergencies. Hospitals were spic and span. Medical supplies were readily available. Facilities were adequate. There were enough doctors and nurses in attendance. Patients got attended to immediately.

Anyone out there who thinks this picture is realistic and reflects the actual conditions in our public hospitals has obviously never been to a government hospital during normal times.

I don’t want to knock the great work our government hospitals and medical practitioners did while attending to the casualties of the New Year revelry but certain observations need to be made regardless of how painful they are. The problem is not really our doctors and nurses per se because most of them are competent and caring enough. However, when faced with the most difficult circumstance such as when facilities, equipment and resources are painfully inadequate, even the most professional doctor is bound to become unqualified, surly and difficult to deal with.

The truth is that there is a huge—a gigantic, monstrous—gap between conditions in private hospitals and those in government hospitals today. I know what some of you are thinking— this is rightly so. Not really. In many countries, government hospitals usually have better facilities and have more advanced technology than private hospitals. The differences between private and government hospitals in other countries are more in terms of the type of amenities offered and in the level of attention given by the medical professionals.

Besides, even if private hospitals are expected to offer better facilities and care, the difference should not be so ridiculously humongous! The differences used to be fodder for stand-up comedy acts. I remember stand up comedians making fun of the differences—e.g., when someone goes to the Makati Medical Center, a condition can be diagnosed as bipolar disorder but when one goes to a public hospital, one is a lunatic. Nobody is making those jokes anymore today because there is no more room for exaggeration—the conditions in many of our public hospitals are truly awful beyond description.

At hospitals such as the Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center in Tacloban City, as many as three patients share a bed, and that is if they are lucky. Some actually simply commandeer monobloc chairs or occupy benches in the hallways because there are no beds available and they are too sick or don’t have the resources to move elsewhere. The bathrooms stink to high heavens because there is no running water and the stench wafts through the whole hospital. For many months, the whole hospital could only do limited surgical procedures because the contraption used to sterilize surgical equipment broke down—a cousin who needed to have a myoma removed had to wait for three months before she finally went under the knife. And forget about free medicines!

Fortunately, hospitals like the EVRMC have relatively good doctors; perhaps there really is value in the training one gets from having to attend to hundreds of cases every day. But if conditions at regional hospitals are already worse, imagine how much worst they are in district hospitals! Conditions at the Abuyog General Hospital in my hometown are beyond deplorable —doctors there cannot even do basic medical procedures such as stitching a severed finger because they don’t have the equipment.

Clearly the situation is dire and urgent. The truth is that we need to build more government hospitals because existing ones are not enough to cater to the needs of the citizenry.

It must be pointed out that not only is the population increasing, social conditions have also changed making the need for hospitals even more important. The types of seasonal diseases that plague this country, for example, are those that now require confinement in a hospital such as dengue, leptospirosis, etc. Confinement to a hospital has also become some kind of a social trend; it seems most people have become paranoid to the point that someone suffering from simple diarrhea is immediately rushed to a hospital for confinement. Of course, the advent of the medical insurance system has contributed to this trend.

But since we cannot even provide adequate resources to the existing ones, any talk of building other hospitals is pointless.

It’s been said more than often enough that health is a basic right. One wishes that we not only respect that right; that we actually uphold and protect it. Improving the deplorable state of our public hospitals would be a step in the right direction.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Expectations and resolutions

This post is antedated. This was my column on the date indicated above.

The significance of a new year is unique to each individual although it is pretty much a given that everyone expects – or hopes – for better things ahead.

I validated this observation when I sat down for coffee with some friends a few hours after the changing of the year. Of the five of us who made it to the early morning get-together, one was greeting the New Year with relatively low expectations, looking at 2011 as a series of difficult hurdles that need to be overcome. Another one, he who lost someone he loved recently was, as can be expected, welcoming 2011 with a heavier heart but with profound appreciation for yet another opportunity to live and to savor the company of people closest to the heart. Two were brimming with hope but for different reasons – one was expecting a major career boost while the other one was expecting the arrival of the stork. I was the one with the more realistic expectations.

I don’t expect great things to happen in 2011 and I am not saying this with any tinge of pessimism. The problems of this country are systemic and any real effort to improve things would require programs that are more long-term and shouldn’t produce results immediately. In fact, we should be wary about “flash-in-the-pan programs” that produce immediate results.

Unfortunately, there is this great pressure for the government to begin showing results. People are showing signs of impatience.

I don’t necessarily think the impatience is a bad thing because real interest in the workings of government on the part of the citizenry is always a good thing; however, it cannot be denied that the pressure is resulting in efforts at justification which, as far as this administration is concerned, is equated with putting the blame somewhere else and so far, the convenient targets have been the previous administration and the Supreme Court. The sooner this administration gets this the better for everyone: Filipinos have relatively short memory when it comes to the misdeeds of previous leaders, there’s a limit to how long we can blame the past for our current problems.

Why are people impatient? Because this administration promised a lot - quite a lot! President Benigno Simeon Aquino packaged himself as some kind of a messiah during the campaign and offered himself as a beacon of hope. Second, because people are weary of the mishaps and blunders that this administration has made in the last six months and the impatience is really a demand for this administration to get its act together and shape up fast. And third, because – and let’s be honest about this – there really are very few results that the Aquino administration can crow about at this time.

The problem is not just the lack of results – it’s also because there has also been lack of activity perceived. The President was hardly seen shuttling from event to another in the last six months – in short, he was not perceived as being “busy.” In fact, if we are to be honest about it, most of the major stories about the President had to do with some human-interest angle such as where he was during the Quirino Grandstand standoff, his facial expression during this or that press conference, that hotdog lunch in New York, and, yes, about his lovelife.

The President and has handlers have been busy in the last few months begging the press to “lay off” his personal life. They are missing the point. The point is that media is doing cartwheels over the President’s lovelife because there is not much else to write or obsess about.

Ordinarily, the broadsheets should be agog with all kinds of reviews, forecasts, and projections for the coming year at this time. When people talk about accomplishments in 2010 that made one proud to be a Filipino, they invariably talk about Manny Pacquiao, the Azkals, Charice Pempengco. The major stories in the broadsheets as I write this piece were about Roland Singson and the casualties from firecrackers. There have been very little substantive news about the economy, the achievements of government, or even about where the country is going.

The sense many people have been getting is one of tentativeness – as if things are temporary and can change anytime soon. Perhaps the scuttlebutt is true – the people who are supposed to be in this administration are not yet on board, waiting for the ban on appointments to expire. We are told, however, that the one-year ban has been reckoned to start with the filing of candidacy rather than from the date of the elections. This should mean that Mar Roxas and company could already be appointed into the cabinet.

This poses yet another question: Are we seeing the proverbial calm before the storm? I dread the thought of a major battle for power the moment Roxas and company comes on board. As it is, the power struggle between the Balay and the Samar factions in the administration is already palpable.

But I do keep the belief that at some point, noble intentions will prevail. I still believe that PNoy and most of the people that surround him have the country’s best interest at heart even if they can’t seem to get their acts together. The learning curve has been steeper but I hope it’s a curve that is being scaled boldly.

***

The New Year is an opportune time to reflect and do some action plans; some people call the later resolutions. I hope that you include the following in yours:

1. Be more environment-friendly by doing simple things such as recycling, using less plastic, composting, etc. 2. Obey traffic laws and contribute to reducing the gridlock on our streets. This is a problem that is no longer concentrated in Metro Manila – traffic is bad even in cities like Cebu, Davao, Baguio, and Tacloban. 3. Support our athletes and artists – they are the two sectors that have been the source of continuing pride for our country. 4. Demand more from our media networks – let’s stop patronizing trash shows so that the networks stop churning them out. 5. Demand more accountability from our leaders by writing them and letting them know that you are watching them. 6. Plant more trees. 7. Send more kids to school by donating to various charitable institutions. 8. Help raise awareness about many critical issues – from diabetes to the negative effects of pollution.