Monday, May 30, 2011

Confronting a confrontation

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

We are a people that takes perverse pleasure at witnessing confrontations. In fact it can probably be said that we like setting up confrontations; it seems our default strategy to manage conflicts is to get the warring parties to settle differences mano a mano. An anthropologist friend of mine said this is expected of a people renowned for being inherently passionate and emotional.

This is particularly true when we talk about conflicts in personal relationships. A cousin who is barangay chairman in one of the urban centers in Pasay recently told me that more than 90 percent of the cases brought to them for mediation or resolution involve some kind of confrontation gone awry. Very often, they involve minor differences that have escalated into major conflicts because the parties confronted each other, in local parlance, nagpang-abot. He said the most difficult part of his job is trying to maintain civility during these confrontations when the parties tend to use emotions as their main means of expressing outrage, humility, even power.

Team building programs are often seen, sadly enough, as company-sanctioned bull sessions where people are supposed to take turns occupying a proverbial hot seat. Talk shows often pit people against each other - celebrity against another celebrity, wife against husband, wife against a third party, even families against another other families. The number one show of ABC 5, I am told is, is the local version of the Jerry Springer show where people are set up and egged on to verbally, nay, even physically attack their rivals, adversaries, or detractors.

When there are issues of national significance, our media networks inevitably round up the advocates of the different sides of the issues, put them together in one, or two, or a series of shows and leave them to demolish each other with verbal cunning, or worse, barbed retorts. Inevitably, everything ends up in a verbal tussle or a shouting match.

And this is the way we are trying to wade through the tumultuous sea of issues around the reproductive health bill. What we have is a situation that has escalated into a virtual shouting match. As can be expected in such a situation, people are hardly intelligible and their arguments tend to become incomprehensible.

Because Rep. Emmanuel Pacquiao is a champion boxer, people sat on the edge of their seats and tried to imagine a metaphorical sparring round between him and Rep. Edcel Lagman when The Pacman recently stood up at the plenary hall to “raise questions” about the reproductive health bill. Some pundits even tried to put a boxing spin to the whole thing, declaring a knockout in favor of Lagman.

Why oh why do we insist on trying to make Pacquiao anything more than a professional boxer who ran and won as congressman because he simply wanted to serve his constituents? He never made claims about being such an intellectual giant and the poor guy knows his limitations in terms of verbal facility. It can be argued of course that the poor guy knew what he was getting into (although I am aware that this point is debatable—did he really?) and that he willingly put himself through the wringer, even voluntarily spending tens of millions of pesos in the process. The point remains: He has his own competencies and he must be made to wage battles that make full use of his own distinct competencies.

This is my beef with the people who made him a poster boy for the movement against the reproductive health bill. I think we should be able to help fellow Filipinos, especially our leaders and those who are making this country proud by not reducing them to caricatures and mouthpieces for issues they obviously are not experts on. It’s pure and simple exploitation to advance political interests.

What was amusing—and all right, probably very Filipino – about the whole thing was the fact that Dionisia Pacquiao got into the fray. Filipino mothers are notorious for getting involved in issues involving their sons and for acting like cackling and ferocious mother hens protecting their clutch.

Was Dionisia Pacquiao’s intrusion into the political field justified? Heavens, no. She is a citizen and an aggrieved mother but there was no compelling need to foist her views on the citizenry. It can be argued that she merely stood up for her son, something that Manny Pacquiao was pleased about. But completely lost on the mother and son tandem and their supporters was the fact that he didn’t really need his mother to speak up for him. He is a grown man, for crying out loud. He is a congressman. He shouldn’t allow his mother to speak of for him, or to come to his defense because he should be able to do this very well on his own.

Many people think Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago was being sarcastic when she offered the proverbial olive branch to the mother-and-son tandem. It was actually the mature thing to do— no statesman in his or her mind should argue or debate with Dionisia Pacquiao. Not that she is not worth arguing with. The answer is simpler: She should not be forced to embarrass herself any further. No matter how inadvertently hilarious she could be, her views will not help widen the contours of the debate, nor help us arrive anywhere closer to a resolution.

I hope our media practitioners, particularly those who follow Dionisia Pacquiao around, come to their senses. It’s a great and nice diversion but we should not force people to become what they are not and what they could not be.

As it is, her shrilly diatribe already drew the ire of gays and transgenders. These are static to the issue at hand, which is a more enlightened and yes, civil, discussion on the merits and demerits of the reproductive health bill.

There really should be - must be - a better way for us to conduct our affairs. We really must find new ways to resolve our differences.

Unfortunately it seems nobody is thinking win-win among our leaders. No one is trying to fill the shoes of an “elderly statesman”—no one among our cardinals and bishops and certainly no one among our senators and congressmen.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Flaunting a privilege

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

I am one with everybody else in expressing outrage over former Batangas governor Antonio Leviste’s repeated caper out of the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa City. Leviste is supposed to be serving out a six-to-12-year sentence for fatally shooting a long-time friend and should be languishing at the national penitentiary like most other convicted criminals. Based on his body language at the time of the arrest, it was apparent that it was not the first time the guy had been playing hooky with his prison guards. He looked too comfortable and too careless, indicating that he was used to being seen in the area.

Perhaps he did it on a more regular basis; who knows, he probably slept in his condominium unit in Makati every single night?

Leviste’s demeanor during the hearing the other day also showcased exactly what many people found objectionable in the whole thing. Leviste acted almost nonchalantly; sure, he was apologetic at times, but he didn’t seem bothered by the fact that he was spinning yarn and was barely concealing the fact that even he himself found his story ridiculous. Justice Secretary Laila de Lima’s reaction summed up my reaction: “Tell it to the marines!”

Of course the prison guards and the officials at the NBP knew of Leviste’s field trips to the city. While it is true that there are too many exit points around the Bilibid area (the NBP is actually near several villages inside the compound, including the upscale Katarungan Village which is just next to Ayala Alabang, for crying out loud), security is not that lax particularly around the buildings where inmates reside.

Leviste makes it appear that he played cat and mouse with the guards, or that he did some Jason Bourne-like subterfuge tactics to get in and out of the prison. Nice try, really. But aside from the fact that he cannot pass for a nimble Matt Damon, nobody is buying that story because there is a simpler, far more plausible, and certainly a whole lot less complicated story: He was too comfortable with everyone in the NBP and he was allowed far too many privileges.

How Leviste was able to do ingratiate himself to the guards and to the whole NBP hierarchy is a story everyone is familiar with. He bought goodwill with his money! He bribed everyone—whether directly or indirectly—to look the other way. It’s the same tactic the Sanchezes, the Webbs, the Gos, the Larranagas, the Smiths and everyone else with money and power in this country employed so that their convicted scions and family members get to enjoy a life of relative comfort even while serving a jail sentence. Quite frankly, I am amazed that we are still surprised that such a set-up happens within our jail system.

Some people make a big to-do with the fact that the rich people who are in jail do not seem to be suffering a life of abject suffering and deprivation. I didn’t realize that was the whole point of our penal system; if it were, we might as well ship convicts to the North Pole. There is a reason why the terms “rehabilitation” and “correction” are used in relation to jails.

And then there were those who dared to make comparisons between our system and that of the more advanced democracies such as the United States where all inmates are supposed to be treated the same way. What rubbish. First of all, there is no great need for inmates in countries like the United States to seek slightly better conditions because the conditions of the jails there are relatively comfortable—inmates are not packed together in cells like sardines, there are basic utilities, and their rights are safeguarded. Second, the rich, the powerful and the corrupt are the same breed everywhere—bribery and corruption are just as rampant in the jails of other countries. Proof that economic power is absolute power, really.

I hope that before people start spewing verbal diarrhea, they actually visit the NBP and see for themselves the conditions there. I have been at the NBP many times and I can honestly say that conditions are almost subhuman.

Which is not to say that Leviste’s sojourns are justified. Like I said, I am just as outraged as everybody else. But I think it is important to make distinctions and to avoid blanket generalizations.

What really made me livid was the fact that Leviste openly flaunted privileges granted to him because of the fact that he is more than 70 years old. What is really appalling about the whole surreal chain of events is that Leviste abused privileges simply because he had the means to do so.

Thus, I find the blanket condemnation of the set-up at the national penitentiary where living out arrangements is granted to inmates who are more than 70 years old over the top. It is important to make this distinction because a number of people renowned for shooting-from-the-hip commentary have been frothing in the mouth lambasting everyone and everything related to the national penitentiary, particularly the living-out arrangement extended to inmates who are over 70 years old.

We are still a humane society and surely we can afford to treat inmates who are senior citizens with a little more compassion. Obviously a number of disadvantages come with age such as increased vulnerability to certain diseases and lower tolerance to harsh conditions. A living-out arrangement means that the inmate is given a little more consideration in terms of mobility within the confines of the penitentiary. Leviste obviously was caught outside of the penitentiary without the necessary clearance so he violated the terms of his living-out arrangement.

The whole issue has acquired added complication because the head honcho of the Bureau of Corrections, the government agency that has oversight functions over the NBP, happens to be a good friend and shooting buddy of the President. People are keeping a close watch on whether the President will sack his friend Ernesto Diokno in keeping with his much-trumpeted allegiance to trudge the straight and narrow path. The fact that people are trundling out this yarn about giving people due process is suspect given the fact that the same courtesy was not given to others such as in the case of weather bureau chief Dr. Prisco Nilo who was unceremoniously sacked from his post in August last year.

Will heads really roll this time around? It’s a given that lesser heads will have to be sacrificed. But the more important question that begs an answer is whether this controversy will effectively stop the shenanigans at the NBP. My guess is that it will—but only for some time. Eventually, things will go back to the old setup because the problem is far more complicated than the current mess.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sex crimes and those who commit them

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

Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned last week as managing director of the powerful International Monetary Fund after being detained in New York on charges of sexual assault. He has been released from jail on bond.

There are many things about the Strauss-Kahn sexual assault case that makes it a compelling story to watch and follow.

There’s the human-interest angle of course, one rife with all the classic questions of incredulity such as: How could someone so powerful, someone with so much resources at hand, be guilty of the most shameful crime of all? This question has been asked so many times in many similar high-profile cases.

In fact it is amazing that despite the many times the nature of sexual crimes have been analyzed, dissected, and explained to everyone, the same reaction is still prevalent. We still tend to force-fit people into a specific profile of what constitutes sex offenders even when there clearly is no such profile —perpetrators of sexual crimes can look like anyone and can in fact be as handsome as Tom Cruise, as rich as Bill Gates, or as highly respected as the Pope.

In the Strauss-Kahn case, there are attempts to paint the man as too handsome, too successful, and too popular to be guilty of forcing himself on another person.

Others weren’t shy about taking the accusation further: He cannot possibly find a maid sexually attractive to force himself on her.

One Strauss-Kahn defender even took the argument to absurd heights by saying that the maid in question should be lucky to have someone like Strauss-Kahn show sexual interest on her at all.

These arguments have been trundled out far too many times in various sex crimes. Very often, there is the tendency to blame the victim for a sexual crime.

I remember figuring in a very heated exchange of words with an entertainment writer a couple of years back over a similar incident involving a popular matinee idol.

The said matinee idol walked into a bar past midnight drunk and drugged to the gills. Thereupon he started flirting with a group of girls, one of which was the daughter of a friend of mine. My friend’s daughter was also drinking that night, but she didn’t pay attention to the matinee idol—she found him boorish. Irked, the matinee idol took my friend’s daughter’s hand and put it on his crotch. It was all fun to him but my friend’s daughter was offended. She walked out of the bar but didn’t press charges. The entertainment writer wrote that my friend’s daughter should have felt proud and honored that she caught the matinee idol’s attention; even more, that she should have thanked all the saints for having been able to hold the matinee idol’s privates—something many girls would have presumably died for. I disagreed, of course. I insisted that the act constituted sexual harassment and pointed out that the matinee idol should thank his lucky stars my friend’s daughter did not press charges.

Let’s repeat one more time: Sexual harassment is not about sex; it is about power. People who commit sexual crimes don’t necessarily do so because of uncontrollable physical need but more because they think they can get away with it; they have been conditioned to think that they are entitled to it.

It appears that Strauss-Kahn does have some kind of a history of being a sexual predator although his defenders have tried to temper the implications of the label by coming up with a subtler one – sexual seducer. There’s a cache of stories on his capers in the Internet and they are easy to find through Google. There is widespread allegation that the man is a repeat offender. Well, it seems the law has finally caught up with him.

I dread the thought of what would have happened if the case happened here. Would our police authorities have the kind of political will to yank the managing director of the IMF off a plane so he can be made answerable to a sex crime? I highly doubt it. There probably would have been a lot of frenzied efforts to smoothen things out, to make an areglo.

As it is, there is already a pronounced effort to muddle the issue with various conspiracy theories.

There is the political subplot. There are allegations that Strauss-Kahn, who was widely expected to become the next President of France, (in the most recent poll he had 46-percent margin over the incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy who managed to rake up only 17 percent) was framed to ensure that his political career was finished.

There is the economic conspiracy angle. A European has always traditionally held the post of top honcho of the IMF; just as an American has always held the post of President of the World Bank. America has reportedly been unhappy with the way the IMF has reportedly been biased in favor of European countries in allocation of funds to pay off loans. This theory gained some measure of credence with the appointment of an American to temporarily fill Strauss-Kahn’s post.

The prevailing conventional wisdom is that the arrest of Strauss-Kahn could not have happened without the explicit support and approval of Washington.

What all these highlight is that even in this day and age of supposed enlightenment and empowerment of women and minorities, sexual crimes remain a deeply divisive issue. Already, the lines between genders and between social classes have become apparent. There also remains a lot of prejudice directed at victims of sexual crimes apparently because people don’t want to deal with the embarrassing issue—they’d rather that victims just move on with their lives rather than embroil everyone else in painful reflection and self-examination.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wasting wisdom

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

I didn’t go to the University of the Philippines so I did not have the opportunity to meet, be mentored, or be tormented by Clarita Carlos, renowned political science professor of the university. But given how Carlos’s scholarly opinions on politics and national defense has always been sought by media, particularly by television reporters, she could very well have done any of those.

Carlos seemed to be always on television, especially during the times when the country was going through one political crisis after another. I thought it was just me who knew her from television (obviously my job as columnist requires me to keep half an ear tuned in to anything political and I have disciplined myself to listen attentively to the political opinions of others, particularly those whose opinions matter) but apparently she really was that ubiquitous because even my siblings knew her also from television.

A couple of weeks ago, Carlos was the subject of media attention courtesy of her musings on mandatory retirement published in another daily. It turns out the woman is pushing 65 and is therefore required to avail of mandatory retirement as prescribed by law.

Carlos asked almost plaintively in her essay: “Why am I being retired mandatorily when I still have the spring in my step as I walk from my university-subsidized housing on campus to my class in the Arts and Sciences building? Why am I being retired when, after 44 years, I would have accumulated so much knowledge, skills and competencies both as a scholar and a professor, and am always passionately imbued with the mentoring mission to extend the same to my students? Why am I being retired when my brain has not become suddenly fossilized and neither dementia nor another degenerative disease has compromised my critical faculties?”

These are questions that should make all of us squirm. Those of us in academe know that there is no relationship between age and certain work outcomes such as performance, productivity, absenteeism, tardiness, etc. In fact, whatever physical limitations caused by age such as reduction in muscular flexibility is more than made-up for by added productivity caused by experience, wisdom, even expertise honed through many years of work. And then there’s even the issue of senior people having more desirable work ethics.

The truth is that we discriminate against age although some take comfort in the fact that very often it’s positive discrimination or reverse discrimination that is at work. Most of us think we are doing senior citizens a favor by forcing them to retire at 60 or 65 presumably because we want them to rest and have fun, enjoy their twilight years, etc. What we don’t recognize is that very often we do so because we imagine that is what we would like to do when we hit a certain age. Some studies however showed that while most people dreamt of retiring early when they were younger, they tended to continue working even in their old age for fear of mental or physical atrophy. I personally thought so too; my goal when I was 20 was to retire at 40 and spend the rest of my life on a hammock reading all the books I never got to read in my younger days. I even started a collection of books reserved for retirement and embarrassingly enough the collection is almost as sizable as the books I have actually read in my personal library. But I digress.

Why do we insist on mandating retirement at 60 or 65 even for people who, like Clarita Carlos, still have a lot to contribute? When we come to think about it, it’s such a pity because it’s at that stage when organizations—or the country—can fully harness the wealth of wisdom and expertise that have accumulated all through the years.

Besides, the current retirement age of 65 was set in 1889 when the average life expectancy was just 37 years. Advances in medicine have increased life expectancy significantly through the last 122 years.

A related incident, which happened to me last week, painfully illustrated the need to rethink our policy and practice on retirement. While in Tacloban City for a quick errand last week I decided to drop by my college alma mater, the Leyte Normal University. As fate would have it, my visit was propitious as it coincided with the last working days of the university registrar who was turning 65 and was consequently due for mandatory retirement. This gracious lady whom we simply called Mana Alice served the university for 32 years and was a fixture at the university registrar’s office. She was assistant registrar when I was in college more than two decades ago and was a steady figure in our college life. She actually knew most of us, students, by name and she knew by heart the ins and outs and all the minutiae of course loads and complying with syllabi and the complications of enrolment and cross-enrolment. The wealth of institutional knowledge that resided within her was priceless and she clearly was in topnotch physical health to continue being of service. Unfortunately, the law said she had to go.

Although Mana Alice intimated that she wanted to retire and enjoy a less strenuous life, we knew she still had a good number of productive years ahead of her and that she would have stayed if the choice were up to her.

Fortunately, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago has filed Senate Bill 2797 seeking to amend the Government Service Insurance System Act and in the process, changing the mandatory retirement age from 65 to 70.

I don’t know how old Senator Santiago is and I must admit that I find it difficult to imagine the senator retiring because of age. There are many others who are similarly situated. Again, I am not really sure how old they are, but it does seem unthinkable to imagine the likes of Winnie Monsod, Juan Ponce Enrile, Estelito Mendoza, and company being forced to retire at 65. It would be such a waste of collective wisdom. Even the late President Cory Aquino continued to be very productive beyond 65. Former Chief Justice Cecilia Munoz Palma and Senator Eva Estrada Kalaw continued to be beacons of democracy in this country well until their late years. I have a number of friends and colleagues who are more than 60 today but are probably more physically able than the average guy in his 20s today. Why, even actor Eddie Garcia remains nimble despite being an octogenarian.

Clearly, there are people who want to retire early so that they can focus their energies on other personal pursuits and there are those who are still up to the challenge of working continuously while they are still physically able.

Of course there are certain issues that must be addressed such as the higher costs of healthcare; but these can be subject to certain arrangements. In many countries, there are employment arrangements where senior citizens work strictly for salaries and do not enjoy benefits although if we come to think about it, we should be able to take better care of our senior citizens. The point is that retirement must be a choice.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Civil disobedience

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

Is there anyone in this country who is surprised by the fact that the leaders of the Catholic Church has threatened the government of civil disobedience unless it drops its support for the controversial reproductive health bill that is now due for debate at the House of Representatives?

The Church has been playing this game since the time of Jose Rizal. When it doesn’t get what it wants, it resorts to issuing threats, demonizing, and name-calling. In fact, there seems to be some truth in the observation that the Church has not really shed its Padre Damaso characterization—to this day, it presumes to be the only authority on moral issues and does not take kindly when this authority is challenged.

It can be argued that advocates of the reproductive bill health have not exactly been shy about engaging in the same kind of polemics either although I know that there is evidence to show that the name-calling, the demonizing and the blackmail did not come from their sector.

However, the Church is supposed to be the bastion of ethical behavior, kindness, charity, forgiveness, etc. In short, it is once again doing the exact opposite of what it has been preaching for the longest time. Who needs the likes of Ely Soriano when the leaders of the Church are already doing a great job of decimating the numbers of faithful Catholics?

Ever since I’ve been writing about my support for the RH bill, I’ve been receiving quite a number of hate mails and texts from everywhere. I have been called evil, satanic, immoral, purveyor of filthy ideas and other words I couldn’t possibly repeat in the presence of my mother without giving her a heart attack. I’ve learned to take these in stride as the price of fighting for something I firmly believe in.

Why, just last week, I received this text message from someone I used to hold in high esteem: “Let’s continue to wage the moral fight against the diabolical RH bill and pray that our legislators are freed from the snares of the devil so they can see the light of God’s grace.” I just cannot fathom the kind of enmity that instigates people to use words like diabolical in the same sentence that invokes God’s grace.

The President has already been threatened with excommunication a few months ago because of his—in my opinion, even halfhearted—support of the RH bill. Quite frankly, even if the President was a known supporter of reproductive health when he was still a congressman and senator, he has been speaking in measured tones about the issue since he assumed the post of President. I don’t fault him for trying to be conciliatory and for trying to seek the middle ground, but we all know that at a certain point the lines had to be drawn—either one was for or against the measure.

For a time there, I actually hoped the Church would make real its threat of excommunicating the President because I just couldn’t see how the Church would have benefited from such a move.

Can you imagine what a public relations nightmare it would have been for the Church? It would have been unthinkable to imagine a country where 80 percent of citizens are Catholics and where the President cannot even receive communion or receive other religious benefits. I can imagine just how such a move could be misinterpreted by many young people as justification for not going to Church at all because, after all, even the President does not have to. Let’s not even go into the ramifications of wielding power simply because one disagrees with the hierarchy on one sticky issue.

Obviously the Church cannot afford to excommunicate the President. So now, it has settled on hurting the government where it matters—economic sabotage. Or at least will attempt to because I doubt if it can actually muster enough support for such a lose-lose and downright unethical and dare I say it—unpatriotic proposition.

Lawyer Lyndon Caña of the Citizens Alliance for the Protection of Human Life officially issued the threat last week. But the threat has been whispered about for quite sometime now by some Catholic bishops as a form of protest for the state-sponsored promotion of artificial contraceptives. Anyone out there looking for proof that the threat was actually sanctioned by the bishops will find it in the response of certain bishops to the President’s off-the-cuff remark that non-payment of taxes, or even mere talk thereof, constitutes sedition.

Ramon Arguelles, archbishop of Lipa, immediately issued a challenge to the President. He didn’t deny the threat or even soften its impact. “He can put us all in jail” was his fighting retort. He likened the President to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos who also threatened to apply the full force of the law against those who threatened civil disobedience at the height of protest actions against the Marcos dictatorship.

Here’s what archbishop Angel Lagdameo, former President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines had to say: “We are willing to pay the price to save the unborn from modern Herods and save the executioners from the grasp of the evil one.” Again, there was no denial, qualify the statement, or efforts to backpedal there.

Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez of Kalookan was more guarded in his response although he also indicated that he was not against issuing such a threat. He said that the Church was not advocating civil disobedience “for now” but followed up by saying that Catholics are obliged not to follow any law that violates their faith.

What I find extremely ironic and hypocritical is the fact that the threat of non-payment of taxes is being made by a sector that does not pay taxes to begin with! If the Catholic Church pays taxes, their call for civil disobedience in the form of non-payment of taxes would have moral legs to stand on. But as it is, how can a sector that had benefited immensely from the fact that it has never had to pay taxes at all advocate for the non-payment of taxes! It’s ludicrous! It’s absurd!

And then imagine the kind of message such a move sends out to all Catholics out there. I can just imagine the kind of explaining nuns would have to do to elementary and high school students on why the Church has to be excused this time around for turning its back on its teachings of “offering the other cheek,” “forgiveness,” “humility,” etc. In short, why we should not castigate if for telling us to “do what we say, not as we do.”

So this is where we are right now. The lines have been drawn, the swords unsheathed. The easiest way to get out of the impasse is to put the measure to a vote. Prolonging the debate only opens the possibility of more enmity and divisiveness. Let’s pass the measure already and get it over and done with.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Pacquiao the lawmaker and son

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

A friend was kind enough to call my attention to a small oversight in the piece I wrote for this space last Monday —there was an unfinished sentence somewhere towards the end of the column.

In last Monday’s column I wrote that “The congressman from Sarangani province wore yellow gloves supposedly as representation of the ultimate fight he wants to wage: Uniting the Filipino people against poverty. I see pundits gathering their thoughts on just exactly how Pacquiao boxing career.” Obviously, the last sentence did not make sense and I realized after doing some checking that the omission was my fault; the file I sent was not the final document.

I’ve always believed mistakes happen for a reason and in this case, it has given me the opportunity to expound on the Pacquiao phenomenon. What I really wanted to say in last Monday’s piece was that I expected that very soon people would start talking about just how exactly Pacquiao can translate his various triumphs in the boxing ring into more tangible programs that would benefit the Filipino people. Sure, we are happy with the kind of honor that he has been reaping for the country; but since he says he wants to do more, it behooves us to do what we can to help the guy even if it only means helping him process ideas.

Besides, Emmanuel Pacquiao was introduced in last Sunday’s boxing bout with Sugar Shane Mosley as “The congressman from the Province of Sarangani Philippines.” The introduction was significant in many ways. I think it was the first time that someone went up into a professional boxing ring to trade blows with another person while carrying with him a relatively exalted position in national politics.

I am not sure how many other professional boxers out there are also at the same time congressmen. I know there are boxers who eventually pursued public careers as politicians or community leaders, but not at the same time that they were professional boxers. The fact that Pacquiao is allowed to be both raises a number of questions since the two careers are not exactly related to each other—in fact they are worlds apart; in addition, both are demanding careers.

Becoming a legislator of note requires dedication and commitment; it certainly requires the legislator’s physical presence in Congress! A legislator needs to attend hearings and must consult with various constituencies and stakeholders. The crafting of laws is a serious task and cannot be done in a vacuum; one needs to consult as many people as possible to ensure that everyone’s interests are considered. Obviously, these are things Pacquiao cannot do when he is training for his fights which require utmost concentration. The recent fight with Mosley required at least two months of training. If he goes up the ring once again in November to settle a running score with Juan Manuel Marquez, he would have to spend another three months in training and for the fight itself. That would mean that in 2011, he would have attended probably less than a tenth of sessions in Congress.

Of course the value that Pacquiao brings to the country is difficult to ignore. It can be argued that he gives the country more honor than any other congressman (some would even dare to suggest that Pacquiao does more to this country’s image than all the congressmen combined although that is certainly a hasty and immature generalization). But he did sign up and campaign heavily to become congressman so he has a responsibility to the Filipino people.

There are those who continue to sneer at the fact that this country elected someone like Pacquiao as congressman. Those who do so because the man speaks carabao English are not worth acknowledging; I think ridiculing a person because he can’t speak good English is childish. The snobbery also smacks of bigotry. But one must admit that there is reason to doubt the man’s overall fitness for the job and not necessarily because of reasons of intellectual capability. On the other hand, his election has been a good boost to the cause of multiple intelligences. Boxing does require high level of thinking skills even if people cannot see beyond the fisticuffs.

But we must still grapple with the question of whether Pacquaio’s achievements in boxing compensate for his shortcomings as legislator. Put another way, should we tolerate the fact that Pacquiao is remiss in his functions as legislator simply because he has been doing this country a great favor by boosting our pride and honor in the field of boxing?

There are people who believe Pacquiao is doing great as a congressman because he has great plans for the people of the province of Sarangani. He is supposedly trying to raise funds from various sources including proceeds from his concerts to construct a hospital for each of the towns in the province. While the intent is sincere and well meaning, the long-term consequences are actually disastrous. Future candidates for the post of congressman of Sarangani will have to measure up to the same misplaced expectations—which is looking at congressmen as a source of direct assistance.

This is the reason we cannot extricate ourselves from the traditional paradigm of politics which involves patronage and doles. This is why we cannot get rid of the pork barrel fund, which as we all know is the main source of corruption in this country. Congressmen are seen as source of political largesse rather than as astute lawmakers whose primary job responsibility is to create and nurture an ecosystem of laws and regulations that is enabling and ennobling for business and society.

***

An interesting sidelight to the whole Pacquiao phenomenon is the rise of Dionisia Pacquiao, referred to as the Pac-Mom and portrayed generally as the epitome of the typical everyday Filipino mother. It’s difficult not to feel a certain degree of affinity with the woman. Hers is the classic story of the mater dolorosa, the suffering mother who singularly put her children to school by taking on odd jobs. She is feisty, garrulous, and unapologetic about her penchant for brandishing her newfound wealth.

She is now finally enjoying some level of comfort courtesy of her very successful son. And very typical of the Filipino who has achieved some level of success, her taste has also climbed up several notches on the social ladder.

No media coverage of a Pacquiao match has ever been complete without a chronicle of Dionisia Pacquiao’s emotional sideshow. Thankfully she has decided to forego with the hysterics in the last two fights—I think she has finally come to realize that going into hysterics is not something someone wearing a Chanel dress, Jimmy Choo shoes, and Louis Vuitton bag does.

A lot has been made about the fact that she asked her son for a Hermes bag as her “balato” (share of the booty) in case of a victory, because in her own words, she hasn’t experienced holding one in her arms. The cost of a Hermes bag starts at around a hundred thousand pesos with the high-end versions costing about four million. That’s certainly a lot of money for a birthday gift. But then again, not as costly as the other birthday gift she asked for: Pacquiao’s retirement from boxing. In the end, mothers may know best, but that doesn’t mean their children listen to them.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Pacquiao wins, as usual

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

We’ve gotten used to it that any other outcome seems unthinkable. In a way, it can be said that we have way become so used to a Manny Pacquiao victory that we have come to expect nothing less. I actually dread the thought of - heaven forbid - a Pacquaio defeat; fearing something similar to a national crisis. I can just imagine the kind of caterwauling, head-banging, and national soul-searching that kind of tragedy would entail. A parallel factoid comes to mind: At the height of his popularity, it was supposedly a big no-no to depict the action king of Philippine movies Fernando Poe Jr as having been defeated or worse, slain at the end of any of his movies, or his fans would go berserk.

As usual, our streets were empty and there was a significant drop in the number of petty crimes or traffic altercations. Most everyone stayed home to watch the fight - even friends I know who don’t give a hoot about boxing or any sports for that matter. We all know of course that Pacquaio’s fights have long ago ceased to be just about boxing; they have become occasions to avenge or assert national honor.

I woke up yesterday to find everyone in the household assembled in the living room – including teenage nephews who otherwise couldn’t be compelled to stay home even during the most important family occasions. Indeed, if it were only possible to have Pacquaio fight everyday there would so much less problems in this country. I bet even the President of the Republic took a leave from his “busy schedule” to plop himself in front of a television set to watch Pacquaio pummel the daylights out of Shane Mosley.

As usual, the local telecast was delayed. And as usual the local channel that earned the right to broadcast the telecast of the fight milked the occasion so shamelessly that the advertising load seemed ten times longer than the actual fight. To illustrate clearly how heavy the commercial load was, I actually finished this column during the breaks of the fight!

I have ranted about this many times in the past and I will continue to do so until one of the following happens: Our networks grow a conscience, our legislators pass a law making it illegal to continue the brazen commercialism, the regulatory bodies find a way to regulate the practice, or until Filipinos come to their senses and take matters into their hands. We don’t have to put up with it, really. We can change things if we want to. We’re cannot be victims at the mercy of greedy, exploitative networks forever.

The shameless hawking was so blatant that they actually cut the pre-fight preliminaries into tiny bits and pieces. It was something like this: They showed snippets of the pre-fight, then went into a long commercial break, showed Pacquaio in the dugout then showed ads, showed Mosley and then showed another round of ads, then showed Charice Pempengco singing Lupang Hinirang and then another round of ads, then Tyrese Gibson singing the Star-Spangled Banner and then another interminable round of ads, then showed Mosley entering the hall and dished out yet another round of ads, then…. You get the drift.

If they could cut up each of the rounds into three or four snippets each, am sure they would have done so as well.

To be fair to GMA7, the network did not invent this kind of shamelessness. The other networks are just as notorious, and yes, just as shameless. They are able to get away with this kind of abuse because of exclusivity clauses – whoever gets the right to telecast these major events have monopoly, no one else could air the fight on public television not even global or foreign networks. I remember one incident in the past (I think it was a Miss Universe telecast) when the local network made sure a Japanese channel broadcasting the same event on a cable provider was effectively stopped.

As prescribed by international rules, each round of the Pacquaio-Mosley fight ran for two minutes – a countdown timer is conspicuously shown on television precisely to time each round. I tracked how long the advertisements were in between rounds: They were averaging five minutes and 30 seconds! And this did not include the voice-overs that introduced and capped up each round, which comprised of enumeration of the various sponsors of the fight. This also did not include the various product placements that hogged a third of the screen during the fight, the various logos that were placed strategically in various parts of the screen, and the various posters that served as backdrop of the fight, which, as can be expected also featured certain products.

We Filipinos are truly a patient people because I cannot imagine any other reason why we put up with it.

As usual, Pacquiao displayed the very traits that make him truly Filipino. There were the obvious amulets and good luck charms (e.g., he wore a rosary prior to and immediately after the fight). He observed his usual religious traditions such as praying in his own corner prior and after the fight, even making the sign of the cross in between rounds. He entered the hall with “Eye of the Tiger” blaring in the background, with no less than Survivor’s Jimi Jamison performing the song live.

The congressman from Sarangani province wore yellow gloves supposedly as representation of the ultimate fight he wants to wage: Uniting the Filipino people against poverty. I see pundits gathering their thoughts on just exactly how Pacquaio boxing career

I am not sure the message got through in a clear way, but it’s admittedly a nice touch even simply for reasons of aesthetics. It helped soften the brutality of the sport, not that colors alone would do that to the only sport where the goal is to deliberately hurt another person. Marbel bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez tried to speak out against boxing as a sport over the weekend, but his was a voice in the wilderness. It’s difficult to argue against popularity and success.

As to the fight itself, what else is there to say? It seemed lopsided in favor of Pacquiao. Mosley looked confused all throughout the 12 rounds. Mosley actually fell as early as the third round and it became very apparent as the fight progressed that Mosley was clearly just buying time – he was hurting, and hurting badly. It was pretty obvious that Pacquiao was raring for a knockout – in Tagalog, he was “gigil na gigil.” This became even more palpable after the referee made a wrong knockout call against Pacquiao on the 10th round when there was not even a physical contact from Mosley.

This particular fight was at least not as vicious as previous Pacquiao matches. Despite the fact that the two boxers were pummeling each other out, despite the fact that Pacquiao obviously got irked towards the end of the match, it was also obvious that the two had profound respect for each other, even giving each other high fives in between rounds.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Mixed feelings

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

I have misgivings about how Americans jumped up and down with glee, gave each other high fives, toasted each other and their president with champagne, and generally went into a celebratory mode over the death of Osama bin Laden.

I am no big fan of bin Laden and like many others, there’s a huge part of me that is relieved that his reign of terror has come to an end.

However, I still don’t think it is appropriate to celebrate the tragic demise of another man. I know that for the longest time bin Laden was considered the most wanted criminal in the world. The collapse of the World Trade Center and along with it the death of thousands of people were crimes that deserve retribution. Justice had to be rendered for the various bombings around the world that were attributed to the Al Qaida which killed thousands of people and destroyed properties.

I will still draw the line at organizing street parties and throwing confetti into the air because someone died.

But at least the Americans knew how to react to the news of bin Laden’s death.

I wish that we knew what the proper reaction should be to the resignation of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

It seems even our leaders are confused and don’t quite know whether to laugh or cry, rejoice or grieve, congratulate the woman or mock her, be grateful or be angry, heave a deep sigh of relief or feel regret over the absence of a proper closure to the whole controversy.

I honestly don’t know how and what we’re supposed to feel. It’s not just because her resignation came at the most unexpected time when so many things were happening one after the other. Our minds have been pretty much preoccupied with various earthshaking events, from the royal wedding, to the beatification of Pope John Paul II, to the run-up to the 2011 Labor Day celebrations and the labor sector’s demand for yet another mandated wage increases, to the roller-coaster movement of the prices of oil.

And it’s not really just because most of us have already been resigned to the fact we’re in a country where leaders don’t make extra effort to get along and are often, in fact, spoiling for a fight. We’re almost immune to high-level squabbles and bitter infighting. We are on first-name basis with discord and enmity.

We’re supposed to be grateful that the country has been spared an impeachment trial, something that’s supposedly potentially disastrous to the image of the country.

I can empathize with the fear; just picturing certain senators in black robes sitting as judges already makes me cringe in embarrassment although that’s one role our senators are supposed to perform, something they willingly signed up and claimed they were qualified for when they ran for office.

Quite a number of pundits have expressed the view that an impeachment trial would have highlighted and validated just how unprepared and unqualified we truly are in terms of managing the challenges that are supposed to test the maturity of our democracy. They are probably correct but it is also entirely possible that they underestimate our capabilities; we don’t know. What is certain at this point is that we missed out on an opportunity; we’ve chickened out from a learning experience that could have yielded valuable lessons. So I am not really sure what we are supposed to be grateful for.

There are those who insist that Gutierrez’s resignation, which aborted the impeachment trial, denied Filipinos the chance of finally being able to pin down the previous administration for various shenanigans and wrongdoings. The impeachment trial was supposed to have been the venue to expose former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s dirty secrets and many of our leaders were already salivating at the prospect while sharpening their knives in public. Hijacking Gutierrez’ impeachment trial to shoot another person is precisely why we can’t make things work in this country.

But wait, the previous administration has not exactly been a pushover in terms of political maneuvering and would have fought with everything it had. Gutierrez is not exactly a dimwit and although the prime movers of the impeachment in the House of Representatives have made it appear that some officials of the Office of the Ombudsman are itching to start squealing on Gutierrez, the undeniable truth is that majority of the employees in that office are four squares behind Gutierrez – how else do you think Gutierrez has been able to dig in for so long if she didn’t have the support of the whole office? So I am sure that she had her own ammunition against her detractors.

It would have been bloody and messy and yes, entertaining in a sordid way.

But it would have brought us a little closer to the truth and gotten us some form of closure. But now we don’t know for sure; so I am not sure we should be grateful.

We’re supposed to feel relief over the fact that the high-level skirmish is now seemingly a thing of the past. Anyone who believes this is terminally naïve. As already openly admitted by many officials of the present administration, the Gutierrez hullabaloo was a pseudo match. The real war has not started yet, so don’t bet that we’ll start having some peace and quiet from hereon.

This is the calm before the storm.



Monday, May 02, 2011

Hoopla over a dress and a wedding

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

Okay, you can call me a jaded and cynical wart, a party-pooper with questionable fashion sense. You can even refer to me as a person with a gnarled heart who cannot identify romance even if it wore wings, diapers, and start shooting arrows into people.

I still didn’t get what the whole hoopla was all about.

I couldn’t get a handle of why the world seemed to have stood still last Friday as billions of people from all over the world sat transfixed in front of their television sets waiting for that supposed magical moment when Catherine Middleton would step out of a carriage to meet her groom at the altar. I couldn’t empathize with people who wept when the vision in white glided over to the aisle of Westminster Abbey except for those who were weeping out of envy that they would never, could never have as their husband His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Strathearn, Baron Carrickfergus, Royal Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.

Sure, William Arthur Philip Louis is an heir – the second in succession - to the British crown although it must be stressed that he probably will not be wearing that crown until all the hair in his head is gone. His grandmother the Queen is obviously hale and hearty even at 85 and his own father seemed to have inherited those longevity genes (even the Queen Mother still looks like she will live for decades). But my goodness, didn’t countries wage revolutions precisely to revolt against monarchies, the English monarchy in particular? And in what particular way was the royal wedding relevant to the rest of the world, especially the Philippines?

Media certainly went crazy over the royal wedding. I nearly fell off my seat when I noted that CNN fielded Piers Morgan and Anderson Cooper to London to anotate the event and I heard the network sent 50 staffers from the United States to supplement the 75 staff that already made up its London bureau - that’s at least 127 people covering the event for just one network! Did they send even half of that number to cover more earthshaking events? The entire TODAY team of NBC was also flown to London to cover the event. I understand that even our local media scrambled all over themselves to provide better coverage of the wedding. I heard ABS-CBN’s Korina Sanchez was in London, although she was presumably on her way to Italy for the beatification of Pope John Paul II.

I didn’t get to watch any of the coverage of the William-Kate nuptials except during the newscasts although it was very difficult not to have caught snippets of it from various media. The Internet was certainly buzzing with it.

If the whole attention to the wedding was baffling, the inordinate preoccupation with her dress was even more so. At a certain point, it seemed to me as if the dress was the whole point of the wedding rather than the ceremony itself.

Again, I am not passing myself off as an expert in fashion but I also didn’t get what the hoopla was about over a white dress that seemed like a copy of what Lea Salonga wore to her own date at the altar. People talked about how the dress was strikingly similar to what Grace Kelly wore when she became Princess of Monaco. There was that whole juicy sidebar about the business implications of the choice of designer (Sarah Burton of the House of McQueen) and the curious circumstances around the death of its founder Alexander McQueen but in the end, I just got lost on the tons of verbiage lavished on that dress.

People lumped together words like magical, tradition, fashion-forward, political statement and many more. Someone said that the dress was a manifestation of the current state of the British economy. Another wrote a long, flowing essay on the romance and symbolism of the cut, the choice of flowers used for the lace, and the feel and relevance of the overall look. I couldn’t believe the level of importance people associated with a single dress as if the resolution of the problems in the Middle East was dependent on its design.

As far as I am concerned, all brides look the same on their wedding day – all swaddled in yards and yards of unnecessary white cloth. Even if she wore a sack, she probably would have looked just as regal, people would still have sung paeans to it, and the fashion police would still have tried to attach all kinds of symbolism on it. In short, it wasn’t really the dress folks, it was the fact that she was wearing it.

The whole fixation over the wedding dress validated for me the level of importance the fashion industry has achieved in the world today. It seems we’ve all been held captive to the trends and dictates of the industry. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing except that it is prone to excesses, but that really is another column.

All these bring us back to the important question: What was it about this particular royal wedding that fixated billions of people all over the world?

There’s a part of me that believes a whole lot of it is pure unadulterated fixation with celebrity. Given the decline of the political relevance of monarchs today, most of them have been relegated to the status of celebrities. In this context, the circus-like appearance of the whole thing seemed logical.

One other possible explanation is that many people could have seen William and Kate’s wedding as an important episode, perhaps one providing a critical step towards a possible closure, to the long drawn-out Shakespearean tale of royal tragedy and romance. I guess there is reason to believe that people of a certain age still carry in their hearts a deep sense of longing for a happy ending for Princess Diana. She didn’t get it, but at least her son, the one that looks the most like her, would hopefully get his.

This fairy-tale ending stuff is something that we have all been conditioned to aspire for, thanks to the brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and of course Walt Disney. Unfortunately, it seems many people are unable to grow out of their kindergarten phase. Many continue to be suckers for fairy-tale romances and try to see one whenever they can. William and Kate’s story is far from being a fairy-tale romance. This wasn’t something from The Prince and Me, she was sometimes referred to as a commoner and people conveniently ignored the fact that she is an heiress to a fortune.

An interesting trivia that served as a good footnote to the whole spectacle was that a girl named Kate Middleton, who is a real person living in the United States, had her Facebook account erroneously deleted by the Web site because she was thought to be someone impersonating the royal bride. So there you have it, the fates of two Kates, one lavished with extra attention while the other victimized because of the association.

What the royal wedding has been was simply a great diversion, a spectacular distraction from our mundane lives. But the world is not going to be a better place tomorrow just because two rich people got married. So let us get on with our lives.