Monday, January 30, 2012

Foregone conclusion

This is my column today.

Many among us try to project this impression that we continue to have an open mind as to whether or not the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is guilty of the crimes for which he has been impeached by the House of Representatives and being tried by the Senate.
There are those who go through the motions of following the proceedings of the impeachment trial purportedly for the purpose of discerning for themselves the real value of the tons of evidence presented thus far, or conversely, ascertaining the real merits of the spirited arguments of the defense panel.

There continue to be many who pretend that they have not made up their minds yet about the guilt or innocence of the Chief Justice—and I am not necessarily talking about Senators Frank Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, or Ralph Recto.

Let us get real, people. Most of us who give a flying fig about the issue have already made up our minds a long time ago. And many of us made the decision based on party affiliation, our degree of affection or dislike for the main protagonists, and other subjective considerations.

The only people who haven’t made up their minds yet are those who just don’t care one way or the other. These are the people who cannot and do not see how the impeachment of the chief magistrate will affect their lives or improve their lot, those who tend to see the whole thing as a very costly exercise with dubious practical value, or those who are disenchanted with the way the stink of politics tend to dirty everything else in this country.

Please spare me the lecture about how the impeachment process is the bedrock of democracy and how everyone should be presumed innocent unless proven guilty or at least allowed to defend himself against his accusers.

Please stop telling me that the whole process is designed to ensure fairness and to usher out justice. We all know that the impeachment trial is not about fairness or justice regardless of the number of times these words are invoked like an all-encompassing mantra by the senator-judges and the members of the prosecution and defense panels.

Impeachment is a political exercise. And sadly, the level of political maturity in this country is not something we can crow about. We’re still electing clowns and their wives to public office. We’re still relying on sheer charisma and political machinery to propel people into office. We’re still mistaking looks, eloquence and pedigree for competence. And worse, we still continue to strengthen political patronage and use political largesse to buy affections, affiliations, and yes, votes.

The prosecution panel wants to convey the impression that it wants to try the Chief Justice based on the rules of impeachment. What balderdash! Any person with eyes, ears, and half a functioning brain can see what the prosecution is up to. It just wants to overwhelm everyone with accusations. It is not interested in building a tight case—it wants to instigate a mob and force a decision based on outrage and emotions.

The defense wants to convey the impression that it is scoring points during the impeachment hearing because its lawyers are able to outwit, out-argue, out-maneuver the prosecution. They can score points inside the hall, but I doubt very much if they can claim that they are winning the public relations battle.

The bright boys at Malacañan Palace has been trying to pretend that they are leaving Chief Justice Renato Corona’s fate up to the senator justices. What hogwash! The government has marshaled the resources of the whole bureaucracy in support of the impeachment. Is there anyone in this country who believes the Bureau of Internal Revenue came up with the kind of information they were able to present to the impeachment court in a matter of days with just one person working on it?

And let’s all face it. No less that the President of the Republic of the Philippines has been strongly championing Corona’s impeachment. Benigno Simeon Aquino III has not made secret his overwhelming and consuming passion to oust Corona from the Supreme Court. In fact, if we are to interpret the President’s pronouncements on the issue sans the diplomacy that a head of state is supposed to observe, it would be this: I don’t care what it takes or how you do it, just get that son of a b*tch out of there as soon as possible, preferably right this very minute.

In fairness to some of the senator judges, in particular, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, there are efforts to imbue the proceedings with as much integrity and fairness as possible. But then again, we all know how politicians in this country conduct themselves when push comes to shove. Lest we forget, 2013 is an election year and half of the people sitting as senator judges are running for re-election. They cannot afford to waste political capital.

So must of us watch the impeachment trial for our own reasons. There are those who watch it for entertainment, like it’s the biggest and most spectacular soap opera ever produced. And if we come to think about it, the costs associated with this trial are staggering. For example, the legislation has virtually come to a halt with the trial. Lawyers and law students watch it mainly for its educational content, like it’s a law school on air where Justice Serafin Cuevas is professor and people like Niel Tupas are, well, the clueless students.

But seriously guys, who are we kidding? The end result of this impeachment trial is already a foregone conclusion. What we are seeing are valiant efforts to just prove a point or two.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Mamma Mia!

This was my column last Monday. I was sick yesterday; thus, the late post.

Some of my friends who have bought tickets to the local run
of the touring production of the Broadway hit musical Mamma Mia are apprehensive.

There is the possibility that the curtains at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, where Mamma Mia is scheduled to run starting tomorrow, will not go up if the local association of Filipino singers, the Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit makes good its threat to secure an injunction or a temporary restraining order against the local promoters of the show for allegedly not paying equity clearance.

In fact, Elmar Beltran Ingles, Executive Director of OPM has issued a more ominous threat: OPM President singer Ogie Alcasid plans to bring up the matter directly with the President of the Republic of the Philippines himself, Benigno Simeon Aquino III. Oh, President Aquino is bound to listen regardless of how busy his schedule is or how preoccupied he is with impeaching the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Alcasid and his wife, popular singer Regine Velasquez not only campaigned heavily for Aquino in the 2010 elections, the couple wrote and performed the song that launched off Aquino’s campaign.

And Kris Aquino, who by the way, may not be a member of the OPM, but is a certified gold record recipient many times over for her “inspirational albums”—where she wears her heart on her sleeve and regurgitates what she passes off as profound words of wisdom—could always intervene and ensure that Alcasid and OPM members would get the justice they think they deserve.

Foreign artists who perform in the Philippines including back-up singers and dancers are required to pay “equity” to the local associations. This set-up is observed in most countries because, theoretically, local artists are displaced and lose opportunities to make a living every single time a foreign artists goes up a stage to perform. Filipino artists who are not members of, say the unions in the United States, are also required to pay equity every time they perform on Broadway. There was a major controversy when Lea Salonga and Jonathan Price reprised their roles in Miss Saigon on Broadway precisely because of equity issues.

The local promoters of Mamma Mia insisted that they have already secured a special permit from the Bureau of Immigration for the performers. Ingles refuted the assertion. The amount OPM imposes on foreign artists is quite steep—P5,000 per performer per show. For a production such as Mamma Mia that runs for four weeks and which has a cast of dozens, the equity clearance fee is nothing to sneer at. What makes the issue a little more intriguing though is the fact that OPM supposedly required the Mamma Mia production to pay double because “December to February is peak season for local shows.” This makes the whole thing seem like a case of extortion and bullying.

But first of all, why is the OPM the one collecting equity clearance fees on the actors of Mamma Mia? Shouldn’t it be the theater artists group that should be collecting and benefitting from the fees?

And someone please tell me OPM did not really say they use the money they collect from equity fees to pay for the “medical fees and other emergency expenses of singer members.” They make it sound like mendicancy, or worse, a mafia-like arrangement.

I am a zealous supporter of Filipino artists and local productions. I make it a point to watch most, if not all local musical and stage productions because I think Filipino artists are among the best in the world and deserve every support they can get.

However, I am against extortion under the guise of protectionism. Protectionism in the arts is already in itself a highly debatable concept particularly at a time when local artists are already making a name for themselves globally. For crying out loud, how do we expect to raise the standards of performing arts in this country and that of our artists if we isolate ourselves from the global artistic community?

And then there’s the matter of costs being passed on to the audience! OPM gets a fat check, but at whose expense? No wonder ticket prices to foreign acts are prohibitive in this country! Do you know how much good seats in Mamma Mia cost? They are beyond the reach of ordinary people in this country.

Please spare me the sob story about how local artists and local productions are forced to hobble along begging for sponsorships and practically doing cartwheels to get an audience for their shows. I know the drill. But OPM, Alcasid and company can use their influence to compel the government to give arts the necessary support. There’s a long list of woes and grievances that local artists know by heart—they basically subsist on, as a local director impudently quipped, Skyflakes and catfood. But how exactly does extorting from foreign acts help their cause in the long run?

If we are serious about raising the standards of local productions and helping local artists, we need to help ourselves and start the process from within.

The truth is that the music industry is dying because of a confluence of factors, but the local artists cannot wash their hands of their involvement in the slow death of the industry. Given the kind of collective output the industry has produced in the last two decades, what the heck are they expecting? Most of the stuff we have been hearing in the last decade are covers of music written by foreign artists. And we are already scraping the bottom of the list of hits from the seventies and eighties. At the rate we are going, it’s just a matter of time before American country music also get repackaged to suit local taste.

We can fight for our rights, but we need not be opportunists and extortionists in the process. Mamma mia, talaga!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Rant

It took me more than an hour to get to my house from the main street about two blocks away. I had to go around and around like in a maze.

The reason? It's bisperas of the feast of the Holy Family, which is the fiesta of the whole San Andres Bukid area. And this means people take it upon themselves to erect platforms, stages, and play areas all over in the process blocking streets and pathways. I don't really mind if only the various groups or barangay chairmen coordinate with each other to ensure that people can still come in and out of the area without too much hassle.

Our house is virtually inaccessible at this point by transportation as all streets leading to it has been blocked. Behind our house there is a Miss Gay contest being staged. Two blocks away to the left is a singing contest. There's a disco at the street to our right. And our neighbors have also set up their own barbecue parties outside on the streets complete with karaokes blaring at full volume.

Sigh.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Side issues

This is my column today.

If we are to believe the prosecution team, the issue is neither Chief Justice Renato Corona nor the Supreme Court. It is, as Niel Tupas whined publicly, about making officials of this land accountable to the solemn oath that they made when they assumed office. And yet, he heaped scorn at the man —who is not the issue at hand—and addressed him in the first person during his opening remarks.

If we are to believe the defense team, the issue at hand is not anymore Chief Justice Renato Corona but the independence of the Supreme Court and the judiciary as a co-equal branch of government. And yet, the defense took pains defending the supposed honor and integrity of Corona, the same man who is supposedly no longer the issue at hand. The rally that was staged Monday morning at the Supreme Court was not also about the Supreme Court or about Justice per se, but about Corona.

The networks also chose to focus their cameras on Corona so that a small window bearing the somber face of the Chief Justice was on camera the whole time the trial was ongoing and being televised.

Both spokespersons spent considerable time in their opening remarks last Monday addressing what the impeachment trial is not supposed to be about. Most of the main characters in the impeachment trial—with the exception of the senators who so far have succeeded in resisting efforts to grab the limelight—have also been spending time addressing these so-called side issues prior to the start of the impeachment. Corona himself delivered a scathing speech at the steps of the Supreme Court Monday morning answering the allegations directed at him, most of which he said were non-issues.

We should cut the bullsh*t and acknowledge the elephant in the room – this very costly exercise is about one man – and his name is Renato Corona.

It gets more complicated. Just as Corona was concluding his speech, the prosecution team’s own press conference started at the Senate. The members took turns lambasting Corona for answering the allegations they themselves fed to the media. This game of tag and one-upmanship will be a continuing source of amusement and befuddlement in the next few weeks. It’s a game where the first party commits a violation of the rules and when imitated by the second party the first partly readily accuses the second party of violating the rules. If you are confused, don’t fret. So is everyone else. And it’s intentional; this is, after all, the way legislators and lawyers make money in this country.

This running around in circles is exasperating. But this is the stuff that will make the impeachment trial interesting to many. It’s the verbal scuffle, the efforts to outwit and outmaneuver, the bombs, the surprise tricks and sleight of hand that many will look forward to. To get to the heart of the issues, we will all have to suffer a lot of fools and dig through a lot of crap.

And whether we like it or not, we will have to deal with very many supposed non-issues that are central to the issues at hand. Actually, I predict that the debate over what issues are central and which are not will become more and more contentious.

For example, Hacienda Luisita. For the longest time, the matter of the Supreme Court decision to redistribute Hacienda Luisita to farmers was whispered about as the real impetus for the President’s zealousness to impeach the Chief Justice. Well, Hacienda Luisita has finally been acknowledged as a side issue in the impeachment trial. Corona himself brought it up Monday morning at the rally. He said that the government wants him impeached because he is a major hindrance to the desire of the President’s family to retain ownership of the Hacienda. Given that the Supreme Court decision to redistribute the hacienda was unanimous, why the Cojuancos would vent their anger on Corona alone is a question that has not been answered in a satisfactory way.

But it is quite telling that the issue is already out in the open. The President’s loquacious youngest sister herself seemed to have acknowledged the Aquino family’s stake in the impeachment trial. In a television show, she was asked the rather frivolous question: If she were made to choose one, who among Former First Lady Imelda Marcos, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago would she choose to invite for dinner? She picked Senator Santiago because, and I quote verbatim: “We need her vote in the impeachment.” Since she is not a government official, nor has she packaged herself as part of the civil society movement, the use of the second person pronoun has been largely interpreted to refer to her family, or to be more specific, her family’s business interests.

The allegations that the Coronas have amassed wealth and the story about the mismanagement of the World Bank grant are side issues that are obviously propagandist in nature. Corona has only been Chief Justice for less than two years and most of the disputed pieces of property that Corona is supposed to own were supposedly acquired prior to 2010. The World Bank project has been there in the last decade. Both were not even included in the complaint transmitted to the Senate. The inordinate attention to the list is intriguing given the fact that based on independent verification, it includes original titles of previous owners, parking spaces, and properties owned by children of Corona.

An important side issue is the need to ensure that this particular impeachment trial does not repeat the mistakes and the consequent premature termination of the Estrada impeachment trial. A lot of efforts have been made to recall the controversial and contentious components of the Estrada trial, which has enabled Estrada to once again register his vigorous protestations and to submit his sanitized version of history.

And as the impeachment trial got under way last Monday, many noted just how this latest national soap opera is threatening to divide the nation once again. This particular comment struck me because it validated the observation that the supposed invincibility of President Benigno Simeon Aquino is showing signs of weaknesses. As proof, supporters of Corona dared to stage a rally and even came up with protest slogans complete with an effigy of Aquino. All these would have been unthinkable a few months ago given the supposed popularity of the administration.

And because we are in the Philippines where the primetime newscast has to include features on the lives of celebrities and on fashion, we have to note that an important sideshow to the impeachment trial was the color of the robes that the senators wore at the start of the impeachment trial. They wore maroon robes. The robes were a different set compared to what they wore when they took their oath as judges last December. They didn’t look like Santa Clauses anymore, but the resemblance to the Black Nazarene was uncanny. Fortunately, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago was absent due to sickness. Santiago would have pointed out that maroon is not exactly the same as Cambridge red, reportedly the color of choice of the senators.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Faith and love

This is my column today.

Perhaps people are saving up for Mamma Mia, or are still
recovering from the mind-numbing fare that was the 2011 Metro Manila Filmfest, or probably bracing for the grandest of all soap operas that is the impeachment trial of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court that will be unveiled today at the Senate (and which I refuse to write about today on account of the bandwagon effect).

Whatever the reason, Next Fall, Repertory Philippines’ season opener began its run last Friday at Onstage in Greenbelt 1 in Makati to a seemingly slow start; there were less than a hundred people in the audience when my friends and I caught it over the weekend.

The lack of interest in the play is surprising. Next Fall was a smash hit off and on Broadway. Moreover, plays —and movies - that tackle relationships between gay men usually have a ready audience in this country. But then again, Next Fall is not really a gay play. It’s a meditation on faith and the dynamics that make love and relationships complicated. There’s also no nudity in the play, which sadly, seems to be an important ingredient for box office success in this country. But the play just opened over the weekend and will run until February 5. Hopefully, word of mouth about the play will bring in more people in the audience. Word of mouth is important, as media’s attention will probably be elsewhere in the next few weeks.

Next Fall is particularly relevant in the local context where faith and sexual identity are overarching issues that often get in the way of the pursuit of the proverbial life, liberty and happiness among sexually marginalized people.

Written by Geoffrey Nauffts and produced on Broadway by the likes of Elton John, the play takes place in a hospital waiting room where the main characters gather while the sixth character—Luke (David Bianco)—is in coma after being hit by a runaway cab. There’s Adam (Bart Guingona), Luke’s seemingly neurotic lover of four years. There’s Brandon (Niccolo Manahan), Luke’s mysterious best friend. There’s Holly (Liesl Batucan), the fag hag woman friend. And then Luke’s divorced parents: Butch (Miguel Faustmann), the take-charge father who barrels into the scene with characteristic fire and brimstone homily-inducing intolerance and Arlene (Juno Henares), the absentee mother who prattles endlessly about the most mundane stuff.

In between the hospital waiting room scenes are flashbacks told in non-linear fashion that try to thread Adam and Luke’s life together and trace the religious conflict that serves as the main issue of contention in the play.

Luke is a fundamentalist Christian who, on surface, seems to be comfortable with his sexuality but is later revealed to be deeply conflicted (he prays after they have sex). Adam is an atheist who is a potent bundle of contradictions – neurotic, confused, emotionally needy. The differences start out like romantic situational comedy sketches that escalate into major rows that are made to appear like earth-shattering moral dilemmas.

It’s not the local production’s fault, but the play is hobbled by the material itself. Sadly, the conflict is not really threshed out in profound and satisfying ways. In fact, all the verbal skirmishes come out hallow, as both characters aren’t seen as truthful champions of the religious-secular debate. The scenes are funny, interesting, absorbing; but in the end, are not really particularly instructive. The extent of Luke’s faith is manifested in the fact that he prays before meals. Adam’s lack of faith seems pretentious in view of all that emotional hara-kiri. The discourses on religion and faith don’t really go anywhere other than provide fodder for emotional highs and lows.

Luke’s inability to come out to his parents and the consequent comedy of errors are thrown in as added wrinkle to the plot but the complication has been done many times over far more successfully in plays like The Caged Birds, or even Torch Song Trilogy.

But make no mistake about this: Next Fall is definitely worth watching. The play raises important questions about intolerance, relationships, and yes, faith. It’s funny, ingenious, and in the end, totally heartbreaking.

The local production is directed by Audie Gemora, himself a fundamentalist Christian. We watched the play on its second run when the production was presumably still a work in progress. The set design was imaginative and adequately fluid but the scene transitions seemed to take longer than necessary. There was a problem with the sound halfway through the play and the static seemed as intolerable as Faustmann’s character. But the direction was competent and overall, the production was commendable.

As usual, the acting was worth the price of admission. One wishes that there was more chemistry between Guingona and Bianco, and the two actors need to work on being more sensitive to each other (when they kiss, it looked like they were just going through the motions). Bianco is a delight to watch as he lends the character with warmth, lightheartedness, and just the right tinge of insecurity. Guingona comes across as intense and conflicted. Manahan’s character is sadly not fully threshed out but he infuses it with touches of humanity; we could relate with his character even we’re logically supposed to be repulsed by it. Henares and Batucan succeed in bringing their seemingly “token” and “stereotypical” characters to life. Faustmann, however, steals the whole play and runs away with the most memorable scene in it.

At its very core, Next Fall is a love story with a premise that is as old as time, that of two ill-crossed lovers struggling with the fallout from seemingly irreconcilable differences. The more perceptive viewer will however walk out of the theatre with a life-affirming realization: In the end, all the philosophical swashbuckling about faith, religion, intolerance, and the many things that divide us are but mere distractions to what truly matters. It’s a sad but haunting reminder that life is best lived in the present because next fall might not come to pass.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Finally!

Yey!

I finally finished updating this blog. All the columns I wrote between May 2010 and December 2011 (the period when this blog was in hibernation) have already been uploaded in this blog. It took me two weeks to do it, but I finally got it done.

Today is Friday the 13th. I don't really believe in that kind of superstition; besides, today was actually a light day at work, which was unusual for a Friday. My officemates and I descended on Sakae Sushi restaurant in MOA for lunch. I was expecting to have a grand time because I love sushi... but sadly, the experience was not something to rave about. Most of the sushi were 90% rice - and the rice was not even of good quality. Am not going back there.

Anyway, just wanted to sign in.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

In the name of devotion

This is my column today.

The feast of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo is one of the very few religious events in this country that gets prominent attention both from media and the general public. It is easy to understand why. It’s an event that draws millions of devotees— mostly male—although the number of women devotees has been increasing through the years.

The devotion has also started to attract the younger generation although there is heated discussion on what exactly is the motivation behind the resurgence of piety among the “younger devotees .” There is reason to believe that the bandwagon effect is the culprit; there’s a ton of anecdotal testimonies that illustrate how joining the devotion is a life-changing and affirming experience.

Many, however, insist most of the groups of young people who have latched on to the tradition do so mainly out of a misplaced sense of self-actualization, believing that hurdling the Black Nazarene procession gauntlet gives them a sense of invincibility; in addition to bragging rights, of course. Last Monday, I personally noted the presence of too many groups of adolescent devotees who created human chains that snaked in and out the route of the procession. But even more astonishing, it’s one of those events that precariously teeters on the edge of total catastrophe and yet, miraculously, does not. The Black Nazarene procession is one of those events that strengthen the power of faith. As Benjamin Franklin once said, the way to see faith is to shut the eye of reason.

This year’s procession, which started Monday morning and culminated early Tuesday morning (the carriage broke down several times, lost all of its wheels, and got stalled on Echague Street for almost four hours as devotees and church authorities debated over the final route of the procession), received further scrutiny on account of alleged terrorist threats, which thankfully, did not come to pass. The kind of mayhem that would have been produced by a terrorist attack on an event that is already chaotic is unthinkable.

People who have not experienced how it is to be swept or borne aloft a heaving mass of devotees in the throes of religious passion will never understand the Black Nazarene phenomenon. As newly installed Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle said, the devotion to the Black Nazarene is something incomprehensible to outsiders. There’s a whole system of meaning around the devotion that is shared only be devotees ranging from practices, norms, beliefs, and yes, superstitions.

I used to view the religious event with amused curiosity bordering on the sardonic until two years ago when I accompanied a brother who personally wanted to bring the case of his terminally ill wife to the attention of the Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno.

My brother, driven by desperation, threw caution to the wind and plunged into the sea of devotees all jostling for the privilege of being able to hold the twin ropes that pull the carriage of the Black Nazarene forward, inch by painstaking inch. He wasn’t successful; but if it’s any consolation, at least he didn’t suffer major injuries in the process. We learned later that there is a method to the madness; one does not simply plunge into the wrestling pit without the benefit of years of preparation or at least advice from veteran devotees. There is method to surviving the “agos” or current, “indayog” or movement of the crowd, and even the correct way of grasping the ropes and positioning one’s head and hands while clutching it.

Last Monday was the third year that I joined the procession although I still haven’t been able to summon the courage—or set aside mental functioning - to actually join the maddening crowd that jostle each other for the chance to kiss the image or pull the ark. I stay at the fringes, or at least walk a few paces behind the ark. But I can say that I have learned to get in step with the cadence and the natural rhythm of the crowd. I don’t get terrified anymore of being crushed because I have learned how to “surrender” to the mob.

The Black Nazarene procession brings to the fore many contradictions that are sadly representative of the state of things in this country.

It’s a religious event, one overflowing with raw passion and fervor. Millions of people risk life and limb just to be able to fulfill their annual devotion. And yet, the fiesta atmosphere is palpable. Because the procession coincides with the fiesta of Quiapo district, there’s a lot of bingeing that coincides with the religious celebration. One can see people imbibing alcohol, or holding singing or dancing contests along the route of the procession. They do stop once the procession is nearby, light candles, wave white handkerchiefs and join the chanting of “viva!, viva!” How many of us are able to balance the seeming irreconcilable paradox is truly a source of wonder.

The procession is best described as ordered chaos. It’s pure anarchy that operates as devotees push and elbow each other. And yet, there is and underlying system to it. All that a person has to do to get rescued from the middle of the mess is to raise his arms and people will reach out to pull him out of there. It’s every man to himself as devotees try to outsmart, outmaneuver, and overpower others. However, it is also there that one witnesses extreme acts of kindness and humanity. Last Monday, I personally witnessed how people rushed to the aid of a man who collapsed in the middle of the crowd. I saw how everyone automatically made space for the person, fanned the person with their shirts and bags, splashed water on him, etc. I saw how an old woman rushed to apply ointments on a fallen devotee. No one loses his or her temper even the midst of extreme provocation; in fact, everyone addresses each other as kapatid (brother).

The whole mayhem is created by the need of many people to clamber up the carriage to kiss the cross or the image itself during the actual procession (the image is made available two days for people to kiss it, for crying out loud) and to be able to hold the twin ropes of the carriage. The act of piety should be admirable. People go to great lengths and expose themselves to great harm just to be able to show reverence for the image. And yet, many actually end up defiling and disrespecting the very image they venerate. People often end up swinging from the cross, or destroying the clothes of the image, or splashing mud, water and other dirty stuff on the image. Actually, one can only see a very limited part of the image during the procession as it is usually protected by dozens of people who surround it.

Yes, there must be a better way to do it and the organizers of the procession do try to make things better every year. But how do you discourage devotion when the whole system is designed to nurture it? How do you tame a beast of your own creation? How does one manage a throng of devotees that has turned into a mob? The whole procession was actually hijacked by mobs that used force to get their way. They refused to have the image transferred to a firetruck, refused to shorten the route, and made sure that they got what they wanted. At a certain point, the authorities just let the mob be. Am not sure this is how we want things to be in this country, but do our leaders know it?

Monday, January 09, 2012

It's funnier in the Philippines



This is my column today.

The Department of Tourism unveiled the
country’s new tourism slogan “It’s more fun in the Philippines” last week.

It’s a powerful commentary of the state of things in this country that the slogan turned controversial within a matter of hours. Someone was immediately able to unearth a photo of a 1951 ad from Switzerland, which used the same “it’s more fun in” tagline. A number of people found creative ways to derogate or reduce the slogan to a joke. Everyone weighed in with his or her own take on the slogan, whether for or against.

And just like that, we turned what could have been an occasion for drumbeating into a free-for-all melee.

What can I say; it’s truly more fun in this country.

We are able to complicate the simplest of issues. Thanks to the management skills of our leaders, we are able to turn what should have been a well thought out and straightforward proposition into a national debate.

Let me state for the record that I actually like the slogan. I like the way it comes across as a mere statement of fact. It’s not a slogan that is meant to conjure images of breathtaking vistas and jaw dropping extravaganzas. It’s not a slogan that ends in exclamation marks; in fact, it is a slogan that seems to end with an ellipsis. I like the fact that the slogan describes the experience rather than the product; and consequently, the challenge it poses to every Filipino to contribute to making that experience happen for every tourist that comes to this country. It’s a slogan we can all relate to because it is the truth.

So yes, I can see how such a slogan can boost tourism in this country. It can work.

Having said that, I would like to express my dismay at the poorly conceptualized and badly mismanaged launch of the slogan.

Given the flak Pilipinas kay Ganda (the tourism slogan proposed last year) received because of accusations of plagiarism, I think it is reasonable to expect that the Tourism Department and the advertising agency would move heaven and earth to check if the phrase “It’s more fun in the…” had already been used as a tourism slogan by another country.

Secretary Jimenez is correct, just because it had been used previously by another country doesn’t mean we cannot use it anymore. But for crying out loud, being caught flatfooted and having a deer-caught-in-the-headlights look in the eyes when confronted with the information that Switzerland beat us to the slogan by sixty years is definitely not encouraging. What, no one has heard of Google?

The way I see it, they could have been ready with a more cogent explanation or justification the moment someone confronted them with allegations of being copycats or plagiarists. They could have acknowledged that Switzerland produced a poster with the slogan in 1951, but that the Philippine slogan was not really a copycat since it is packaged differently and the slogan actually arose out of a series of discussions rather than just being lifted from some vintage poster. A little honesty and a carefully and proactively crafted disclosure would have averted the whole fracas and saved everybody from hyperventilating unnecessarily.

My second issue with the slogan is that the timing of the launch sucks!

A slogan that says “It’s more fun in the Philippines” sounds callous at a time when many of our fellow Filipinos are still reeling from the series of tragedies that struck barely a few weeks ago. Thousands of people in Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Dumaguete, Leyte, and Compostela Valley are still picking up the fragments of their lives from the flooding and landslides that cost them lives, homes, and their livelihoods. International donors are still trying to marshal resources to send to the Philippines and we choose the time to proclaim to all and sundry that it’s more fun in the Philippines? Oh yes, I also heard the famous lecture of the Presidential sister about how we should all move on with our lives after tragedies. But surely we are allowed time to grieve first and not expected to party immediately?

We could have delayed the launch of the slogan for a few more weeks. We could have used the time to pilot the slogan and gather better empirical data to buttress the proposition that such a slogan can work. Secretary Jimenez insisted that the slogan is meant for foreigners. Where is the data that says the slogan strikes a chord with foreigners?

A number of people continue to insist that Wow Philippines was a much better slogan. The reality is that a lot of work was poured into the conceptualization, design, and launch of Wow Philippines. The current administration justified the change by presenting statistics saying that the number of visitors to the country has not picked up – as if a slogan alone would do that. In case this administration has forgotten, a busload of tourists experienced an unfortunate incident at the Quirino Grandstand during its watch.

So once again, we have to make do with something because, well, it is already there. We are being asked to dig deep into our reservoir of patience and citizenship and support something because what can we do, it’s our country and this is our government.

The really good thing is that yes, we are a people very capable of seeing the fun side of any situation.

I’ve seen many variations of the slogan, some bordering on sarcasm and the not-so-funny. There’s that picture of a man singing his lungs out with the slogan “Death by ‘My Way.’ It’s more fun in the Philippines.” There’s that picture of a boy peeing against a wall on a sidewalk: “Watering the plants. It’s more fun in the Philippines.” There’s a picture of a dish of vegetables with a dead caterpillar on it “Fresh vegetables. It’s more fun in the Philippines.” It’s just a matter of time before someone comes up with pictures of tragedies. I hope no one comes up with pictures of the people who posed for photos at the Quirino Grandstand after that tragedy. I hope no one comes up with pictures of hungry children, overflowing canals, people picking through garbage for food, etc.

But yes, it’s more fun in the Philippines. When given a situation that we can’t make sense of, we just turn into a joke. We make do with what we are given to work with, even when it lacks substance. We poke fun at anything and anyone.

At the rate people are turning the slogan into a joke, we might as well qualify it some more: It’s funnier in the Philippines.

N.B.

I chanced upon the photos used in this post in Facebook - my apologies to the owner of these photos.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Piety

I went to Quiapo today. I usually attend the Saturday anticipatory mass in our parish but since I was cooped up in the house the whole day trying to finish some artwork that I promised some friends, I thought I would drive all the way to Quiapo to bask in the purity of the devotion to the Black Nazarene that many people display. I caught the 6:30 pm mass; it was perfect time since the procession of Black Nazarene replicas was winding up.

The piety that devotees during the annual Black Nazarene procession has always struck me emotionally. You just have to be there to appreciate it.

It's... raw passion and emotion. The whole thing is like a dance that's always teetering at the brink of complete and total mayhem; but it never does. Somehow, there is method to the madness. There is poetry in the chaos.
Sadly, this year's feast falls on a Monday. I would have gone on leave to be able to join the procession, but I have lots of important meetings. But I am hoping my meetings would end early and that I would still be able to catch the procession as it winds down towards the church. This would probably be around 10:00 pm.

Wish me luck.

And no, I don't really have plans of being able to hold the rope that pulls the image of the Black Nazarene through the sea of people; nor do I have intentions of scampering up the float to be able to touch the image.

Friday, January 06, 2012

#It's more fun in the Philippines


The Department of Tourism announced today the country's new tourism slogan: It's more fun in the Philippines.

It immediately became a top trending topic in tweeter.

As usual, there was mixed reaction to the new slogan. Some attacked it
ferociously. Others thought the new
slogan was simple but more meaningful.

Someone very resourceful was immediately able to unearth a factoid the Tourism guys seemed to have been blissfully unaware of - another country has already used the slogan (Switzerland was first to use the slogan in the sixties). Really, how difficult is it to google a slogan to see if it had already been used by another country? And given what happened to the ill-fated "Pilipinas Kay Gandah" slogan, one would have thought that the DOT guys would be very, very careful this time around.

Anyway. We have been told the slogan is already THE ONE; it's not going to be subject to change anymore unless someone already has the copyright to it. Paninindigan na daw. Okay.

What do I think about it?

I agree that it's simple and brings home the message in an uncluttered way. It's value proposition is clear: Fun.

The problem is that given what is happening in the country today - we've been visited by natural calamities that have become more and more destructive - the possibilities of having the slogan subject to derogation is quite high. Really we don't want to be known as the country with a perverted or morbid sense of what fun is or should be.

But then again, a slogan is just one among many factors that make a campaign successful. The slogan can work depending on the kind of efforts and resources poured into fulfilling the promise being made by the slogan.




Wednesday, January 04, 2012

A showcase of inanity

This is my column today at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

Still ongoing until the weekend is the Metro Manila Film Festival, which features seven movies as official entries. The MMFF is an annual Christmas tradition in this country and sadly, also an annual showcase of inanity and vacuity.

This year, the combined antics of Enteng Kabisote and Ina Montecillo proved formidable. Enteng Ka Ng Ina Mo emerged as the most watched movie of the filmfest. The film reportedly grossed almost P40 million on opening day, galloping way ahead of its closest competition—Senator Bong Revilla’s Ang Panday 2 and Kris Aquino’s Segunda Mano.

Enteng Kabisote is Vic Sotto’s character from a defunct television situational comedy from the eighties entitled Okay Ka, Fairy Ko. Sotto has been rehashing the same tired and trite comedy routines for almost three decades now. Ina Montecillo is Aiai de las Alas’s character from the Tanging Ina franchise, which produced three successful MMFF movies including that one last year which they promised would be the last of the series (obviously they lied). That the two movies had always been top grossers of the annual MMFF is testament to just how successfully Filipino audiences have been made dumb by movie producers.

The excuse that is being peddled out there is that these movies are made for children—which makes it even worse because it means we really have a very low regard for the intellectual capabilities or potentials of our young since we feed them this kind of drivel. I honestly think the MMFF is a good idea that deserves to be scrapped already. It has become nothing but an opportunity for some people in the local film industry to make money. It has become an exercise in extreme commercialism. In the larger scheme of things, I don’t think the annual MMFF does the cause of Philippine cinema any good. It’s not a showcase of the best in Philippine cinema. Heck, it’s not even a showcase of good filmmaking, period.

What is even more sinister is the fact that the MMFF is obviously being used for political purposes. Two of the most expensive movies in this year’s MMFF are bankrolled and starred in by politicians who are up for re-election (Bong Revilla, senator) or eyeing a national post (Jeorge Ejercito, Laguna governor) in the 2013 elections.

As an avid supporter of the arts, I make it a point to support the annual MMFF by watching as many movies as I could. This year, the lines were particularly long so we failed to watch a movie on Christmas day. But I did get to eventually watch Enteng Ka Ng Ina Mo, Ang Panday 2, and My Househusband. I wished I stayed home instead or did something more productive.

Friends have continuously discouraged me from patronizing the MMFF but I have persisted because of faith – I’ve always believed that Filipino filmmakers are among the best in the world and that they would eventually get their acts together. Well, not this year.

Let’s take Enteng Ka Ng Ina Mo, the top grosser. Because it is a crossover movie, it had the backing of the combined forces of Star Cinema, M-Zet, APT, and Octo Arts Production. The combined resources could have produced a movie in the league of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But all that combined experience and expertise in producing movies could not even guarantee a solid story and a good editor. We’re not even looking for a sensible storyline, one that was logical and sufficiently coherent would have been acceptable. And the editing was so bad even children noticed the gaps.

But then again, anyone looking for cerebral stimulation from the movies of Vic Sotto and Aiai de las Alas probably need more psychiatric help than those who patronize them. Enteng is a TV sitcom showing in a theater, period. It’s a hodgepodge of typical television fare: spoofs of popular Filipino movies, irreverent jokes, sexual innuendoes, slapstick comedy, and awful singing that is being passed off as comedy. In this movie, Sotto continued to act like he was an adolescent, de las Alas acted up a storm, and Eugene Domingo saved the movie by stealing some of the scenes effortlessly. The movie tried to be socially relevant by throwing into the mélange current day issues of gender roles, homosexuality, and changing family values and norms but the writers fail to make it work.

So why was it the top grosser of the filmfest? Because the movie had no pretensions – it just offered people some good laugh and two hours of escapist entertainment. And in this aspect, the movie delivered. I hope, however, that mergers and crossovers will not be a trend. I dread the thought of having Asiong Ka Ng Ina Mo, or Panday Ka Ng Ina Mo next year.

Ang Panday 2, unfortunately, had grand aspirations. The producers went to town proclaiming that this was a movie at par with global filmmaking wizardry. There were some great special effects, but cutting edge they were not. And sadly, the director seemed to have forgotten that there’s a limit to how much special effects the senses could take at any given time.

My main problem with the movie, though, was the fact that it tried to clobber people on the head with its ponderous message about peace and justice. And they were not subtle about it—the repetitive discourse was annoying and too self-serving, Revilla looked like he was preaching from a pulpit. This movie was pure election propaganda material.

The truly ironic thing is that Ang Panday 2 stars a senator who is supposed to be passionate about reviving the lost glory of the Philippine movie industry. Memo to Senator Bong Revilla: If you keep making these kinds of films and in this manner, it’s not going to happen.

The most disappointing of the three MMFF movies I watched, however, was My Househusband, Ikaw Na. This was actually the only movie I truly wanted to watch for personal enjoyment. The others I felt I had to watch out of a sense of duty or responsibility, or as research work for this column. But I sincerely wanted to watch real-life couple Ryan Agoncillo and Judy Ann Santos in the third installment of their own filmfest franchise. I particularly enjoyed their first two movies—Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo and Sakal, Sakali, Saklolo.

KKK and SSS were loads of fun. They weren’t cinematic masterpieces, but they were a rollicking fun to watch. Agoncillo was endearing, Santos’s comic skills were spot on. The idiosyncracies of their respective parents—the snotty Gloria Diaz and Ariel Ureta and the social climbing Gina Pareñno and the philandering Soliman Cruz were a riot. We had great expectations of My Househusband.

Sadly, I found it boring, pretentious and confused. It seemed they couldn’t make up their mind as to whether they were doing comedy or drama. The movie did win Gender Sensitive Award, which was well-deserved because the premise of the movie was commendable. Unfortunately, the change in the formula didn’t fly. The only time the movie became interesting was whenever Eugene Domingo was on screen.

The MMFF should have had a notice set up outside each theater: There are no assurances that the movie you are about to watch is sensible or logical. Check your mental faculties at the door.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Portents

This is my column today at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

I woke up at dawn on Tuesday last week to frantic text messages from my hometown of Abuyog, deep in the heart of Leyte.

The messages were from various kith and kin—each one of them expressing increasing levels of alarm over the rising floodwaters in my hometown.

My younger sister’s text messages were particularly distressing. She said our parents were stranded in our ancestral home—a split-level house in the middle of ricefields and they didn’t have a way to rescue them. My mother was able to send just one text message, riddled with typographical errors, which made it obvious she was on panic mode. Floodwaters were steadily rising, she texted; or at least that is what I thought she meant. Tatay, who is in a wheelchair and my hypertensive diabetic Nanay, had no way of escaping. And there was nothing anyone of us could do except pray—and worry.

The flooding phenomenon has hit home and has become intensely personal to me - so personal I felt like I wanted to hit someone with anything. I wanted to hunt down each and every logger in our hometown, tie them down to a log, and feed them to those menacing giant saws that swing in the air like killer pendulums.

Mercifully, the heavens stopped pouring buckets and by mid-afternoon, the floodwaters started receding. My sister was finally able to cross a highway that had been transformed into a rampaging river and was able to check on my parents. She reported that the floodwaters were barely two inches short of reaching the elevated part of the house. I dread the thought of what could have happened if the rains continued for another hour or two.

The flooding in my hometown was banner material for the evening telecasts. Up until the weekend, the flood in certain parts of Leyte had not yet receded but the images and footages that the networks show continue to be those taken from my hometown. I know because our church is recognizable as well as other landmarks in the town.

How truly sad it is to see footages of one’s hometown being featured in the news because of a tragedy although grief is often difficult to read from the behaviors of many people who seem to think that being seen on television regardless of the circumstance is a reason to act like chimpanzees watching themselves in a mirror for the first time. This scene is all too familiar: Every time a newscaster does a live report from a remote site, a crowd gathers at the back of the reporter and starts waving at the camera, or worse, start behaving irrationally. I’ve always wondered what makes people do crazy things in the presence of a television camera, but I digress.

As I was saying, seeing one’s hometown being featured as site of a tragedy is heartbreaking. Sadder still is the fact that everyone in the town all knew why the flooding happened. In fact, everyone foresaw it happening at some point.

Here’s why. Abuyog is at the base of mountains that have become bald from deforestation. When I was a child, venison and the meat of wild boar caught from the mountains around the town could still be bought from the public market. We feasted on rattan fruits, honey from wild bees, and other exotic stuff that could only be harvested from lush forests. Unfortunately, lumber was also the main business of the local politicians so for many years the town’s mountains were mercilessly pillaged. The town’s oligarchs got richer and richer while the mountains became balder and balder. And now we are paying dearly for years of environmental abuse.

Overpopulation is also to blame for the flooding. Those who oppose the reproductive health bill can romanticize population growth all they want, but pictures speak far more eloquently. The flash floods in this country were exacerbated by the fact that informal settlers have blocked rivers and waterways and aggravated silting and pollution. Yes, in an ideal world, we can theoretically manage Earth’s resources better so that there is enough for everyone. But we don’t live in an ideal world and the quest to get there will not happen overnight if at all. In the meantime, the calamities and the tragedies will continue to happen and with increasing severity.

What was annoying though was that while my townmates tried to cope with the tragedy, the news story about the President was mainly about the 2013 elections. And yes, I also heard the President’s eldest sister’s lecture on how we should all move on from tragedies but I am sure she wasn’t expecting people to be able to do that within 24 hours from the time the tragedy struck.

The big to do was about who would end up in the administration’s slate in 2013 and whether there will be room for Vice President Jejomar Binay’s partymates in the slate. Oh for crying out loud, I know we cannot and should not expect the President and this administration to focus 100 percent of its energies on the flood victims, but a little sensitivity wouldn’t hurt either. The elections are 18 months away and we choose to talk about it at a time when the immediate concern of thousands of Filipinos is where their next meal is coming from and where they would be able to sleep for the night? Talk about misplaced priorities!

Even more dismaying was the fact that the President actually publicly announced that he supports the inclusion of Senator Antonio Trillanes in the administration’s senatorial lineup. But I forgot; the standards of morality has been changed in this country. Anyone who is against the former President and supports the current administration is automatically deemed to have better morals.

***

Most of us woke up yesterday with a cold, a cough, irritated eyes, snoot on our noses, or worse, a severe case of allergies - thanks to the people who, once again, felt the compelling need to patronize the local fireworks industry. Most of us were luckier, of course. After all, many lost an appendage, or a limb or two. I know quite a number of people who woke up late on New Year’s Day, staggering from a bloated stomach and groaning from a killer hangover.

This is how we greet the New Year each year and yet most of us expect things to be different or better; pretty much the kind of attitude we keep as far as this administration is concerned.

Okay. I apologize if I am spoiling your New Year buzz. It’s just that it’s difficult to be upbeat at a time when many of our leaders are behaving like children and most everyone else is content marching along the straight narrow path led by a Pied Piper.

But hope still springs eternal. I may have lost faith in many of our leaders, but I haven’t lost faith in the Filipino.

Here’s to a more empowering and enabling 2012!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Reconstruction

I spent the first three hours of 2012 retrieving my columns from the archives of the Manila Standard Today and posting them here one at a time. It's a tedious job, but this is the price I have to pay for not being diligent enough throughout 2010 and 2011. :).
In the interest of keeping this blog organized, I have decided to antedate the posts in this blog that contain my columns. It would be unwieldy if I post at least two years' worth of columns in just a couple of posts.

Was it just me of did anyone else notice that fewer people seemed to have bought firecrackers this year. In my neighborhood, the "explosions" were over by 1:00 am. The kids and I were in Mall of Asia until about 9:30PM and our trip back home was relatively uneventful in the sense that there was hardly any firecrackers exploding on the roads. Some pundits say this was because the scare tactics of the DOH worked this time around. Huh? What scare tactics? I didn't see any television ad discouraging people from lighting up firecrackers. And since when did scare tactics work anyway? I think people simply got wiser this time around. And the economic crunch was another factor, too.

Anyway. Happy New Year!

Happy New Year

Okay. This time I hope I can make it happen. As I posted in my Facebook account, my number one New Year's resolution is to resurrect this blog. So here I am again.

So many things happened since the last time I posted an update in this blog. I got elected national President of PMAP, the national association of human resource managers in the country and the post was more than a full-time job particularly since we didn't have an Executive Director this year. This, on top of my full-time job in PNB which is already stressful in itself and takes up so much of my time (naturally, they pay me full time as well, grin). And yes, I still teach evenings and weekends; and I still write a column Mondays and Wednesdays at the op-ed pages of the Manila Standard Today. Sadly we had to close down the clinic and drop in center of the Remedios AIDS Foundation although the foundation is still legally existent; am not sure when we will have the resources to re-open. It's really sad because money for HIV/AIDS work is drying up at a time when the country needs it the most.

On top of my resolution to resurrect this blog, I also will try to:

1. Lose at least 30 pounds this year. I lost 20 pounds September to November and then gained back around 10 in December. Sigh. Unfortunately, there really is no magic bullet for it - Herbalife worked for me until I got severe stomach pains. Apparently my hyperacidity and GERD was aggravated so I guess I will just have to hit the gym at least twice a week. At my age I really and seriously need to start taking better care of my health.

2. Submit an entry to the Palanca Awards. I have been thinking about it in the last two years and I think I am ready to give it a shot this time around. Wala lang, just thought I need to explore new pathways for my writing.

3. Do something more concrete for the environment other than just writing about it and helping out other groups. I haven't really thought about what exactly I will do but I am thinking of getting some friends to do a major reforestation of the mountains of my hometown. The town was in the news recently because of heavy flooding. It's a long story but my column on January 2 is partly about it.

4. I vow to be a little more assertive this year and stop allowing people to take advantage of my generosity. Sigh.

5. I will save more this year. I will make it a point to fatten my savings account somehow.

There. I just made my personal list for 2012. Now the hard work begins...