Sunday, July 27, 2014

When did dining out get complicated?

This is my column today, July 27, 2014.
Because I am a regular working drone who must observe regular working hours and cannot watch morning television shows, I must admit that I don’t really know enough about what exactly the presidential sister (who must not be named in this column) is up to every morning in her popular morning show.   But I’ve seen some episodes of her show while waiting in some lounge for an appointment or for a flight and from what I gathered, she visits restaurants and vacation places, tries out the menu or the services, and then either raves about these, which I am told is most of the time, or dismisses these in her characteristic petulant ways.  Her opinion and subsequent endorsement of a particular dish or service is highly coveted as these translate into fantastic sales. Apparently, there are far too many people in this country who are thrilled by the idea of having sampled exactly the same food that the presidential sister ate in a particular restaurant; not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Now I would be the last person to pass judgment when it comes to matters of taste – my personal choices when it comes to food and my idea of a perfect vacation might strike many people as juvenile.  I also don’t see anything wrong with people going on a major pilgrimage just to be able to try a restaurant that a celebrity said served good food; hey, we all need to be nudged towards a certain direction every now and then.  That’s exactly the way I discovered hole-in-the-wall places that do not advertise but nevertheless serve the best stuff.  If the presidential sister is able to bring in paying customers and help boost business, then hurray. 
Unfortunately, the show also encourages people to take pictures of their experience and gives rewards to those who do.  And I am told that, just like other shows, they do seem to encourage certain types of behaviors that are borderline socially acceptable.  It’s not just her show, actually.  There are just too many of these shows that role model behaviors that make life difficult for others.
I do have reservations about people using a lot of gadgets in restaurants, particularly in those quaint places where people go to have intimate conversations or just to have a little quiet time with friends and loved ones. 
For instance, there’s this place that we frequent because they serve really good food and because we like the ambience – it’s relatively quiet and customers respect each other’s need for privacy and quiet enjoyment.  This place had been featured in the show and, presto, suddenly became like a fastfood place - too many people conversing too loudly, and everyone taking pictures of the restaurant, the food, of each other, and yes, of the whole group.  When we were there, we even had to make way and move our chairs so that the big group beside us could have their picture taken as a whole group, complete with wacky poses.
I am not knocking the Presidential sister’s show, please, especially if it brings in money and makes business better for establishments that are having difficulty making a profit. I just wish that the show and similar other shows that feature places and must-try food and drinks to also make a big point out of teaching people how to behave properly in public and communal spaces, and how to show respect for others. 
If people want to take pictures of their food, that should be okay, but perhaps this need not be a public spectacle complete with blinding flashes and would not require calling the waiter to rearrange table settings and the like.  Taking group pictures should be okay, but perhaps this can be done quickly and efficiently – with no need to ask other people in other tables to move, perhaps with only one camera, and perhaps without taxing the restaurant staff unnecessarily specially when there are just too many other customers waiting to be served.  Also, perhaps people can be a little more respectful of others by turning down the volume of their cellphones and not talking too loudly when they must take calls in the middle of a meal.  There’s also the matter of people requesting to be reseated to a table with stronger wi-fi or the phone network connection even when there’s a long wait list of hungry people at the door.
Perhaps people can try to get advance information on the type of clients the restaurant attracts – some are not really designed for big families with pets and children, and some do have suggested dress codes.  A friend picked a restaurant to propose to his girlfriend because of its romantic ambience but the whole experience was destroyed by people from other tables who had children who ran around and screamed and played with their gadgets on full volume. 
I know.  Some might think that this smacks of snobbishness and elitism.  But certain rules about social behavior are there to promote mutual courtesy and respect as well ensure order.  It is just unreasonable for people to behave in public places the way they do in their own dining rooms.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


This is my column today, July 2014.

I have always kept the belief that when a message is misunderstood by the receiver, it is not necessarily the receiver’s fault.  After all, it is the sender, the author of the message, that controls how the message is framed and how it is conveyed.  The hapless receivers—the audience, whether they are radio listeners, television viewers, or newspaper readers—rely on what they hear, see, or read to be able to formulate a judgment or an opinion.  It is unreasonable to expect the audience to do acrobatic mental deductions, conjure some mysterious alchemic processes, or burst a vein trying to decipher good intentions just to be able to understand a message clearly and accurately.  Besides, who the heck has the time to do all that?  But apparently, this is not the case anymore today if we are to go by the pronouncements of the people from MalacaƱang.  As far as the bright boys of the Palace are concerned, if the Filipino people misunderstood, it is the people’s fault.
Okay, let’s drop the theoretical gobbledygook. 
The spokespersons and defenders of the President of the Republic have been working hard in the last few days trying to undo what has been generally regarded as a public relations nightmare: The President’s seeming public display of arrogance, obstinacy, brattiness, etc, etc, etc, over the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling rendering the administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program unconstitutional.
If we are to believe the President’s spokespersons and some members of the cabinet, Benigno S. Aquino III was not being menacing or threatening when he addressed the Filipino people last week.  According to Aquino administration officials, the President was simply trying to explain his administration’s position on the Supreme Court decision.  I personally had the chance to ask Communications Operations Secretary Sonny Coloma when I bumped into him at a function last week whether the President really intended to make the Supreme Court justices accountable for the DAP decision, as he hinted in his televised address to the Filipino people.  Coloma reiterated what he had said previously to media people:  The Aquino government will file a motion for reconsideration, but will bow down to the decision of the Supreme Court. Coloma insisted that the President was simply trying to explain where the administration stood on the issue, and media supposedly “over-reacted” by adding malice to the President’s discourse.  
Asked whether the President really intended to start a campaign that will pit faithful members of the yellow brigade against those who are critical of the DAP, Coloma made light of the President’s supposed off-the-cuff remark and cautioned people against taking the President’s call seriously.
The President’s stance on the DAP and towards the justices of the Supreme Court, and his seeming misreading of where the affections of the large percentage of Filipinos lie on the DAP issue, are symptomatic of the disconnect between the Palace and the general population. 
The President and his defenders have kept on harping about the moral righteousness of the administration as if anyone has directly accused the administration of pocketing money.  The administration has been consistent in terms of its response to criticism:  Act aggrieved and hurt.  If indeed the government only wants to serve the people, then it must accept that personal sacrifices are necessary for the sake of the common good.  There shouldn’t be room for bloated egos.  The demand to see heads roll because of repeated suspicion of irregularity and in view of the Supreme Court decision is a natural expectation given that it was the administration itself who set up very high standards of moral conduct to begin with, courtesy of its incessant harping about the need to trudge along the straight and narrow path. 
The administration is seriously misreading the pulse of the people and in the process needlessly wasting political capital. If it wants to paint itself as distinct and the complete opposite of previous administrations, then it must act so.  Regurgitating instances in the past when actions analagous to the DAP were practiced as way of justifying the DAP strikes a discordant note.  The dogged insistence to defend and retain loyal allies accused of incompetence or irregularities is not reassuring either.  And quite frankly, with only two years left of the administration’s term, what the people want are concrete actions to address issues that impact directly on their lives—poverty, livelihood, jobs, the traffic situation, etc, etc.  Four years of homilies should be more than enough already.
The monumental snub towards the yellow ribbon campaign should have sent a strong unequivocal message.  I even saw quite a number of parallel campaigns calling for the tricolors or other colors (such as peach) to be worn instead of yellow.  Clearly, the people are not with MalacaƱang on the DAP issue.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Typhoon country

This is my column today, July 20, 2014.

I still don’t know exactly how our weather bureau people pick the local names of typhoons. I am told that they asked people to submit possible names with Filipino flavor in them a few years ago.  They presumably picked names at random.  But how is Glenda, or for that matter, Henry (the name given to the typhoon that has entered the country’s area of responsibility Friday) distinctly Filipino? I can’t believe these names were thought out by Filipinos unless of course some hapless individual out there happened to have a mother-in-law with that name and thought naming a typhoon after her would be appropriate.  But I guess most people have simply given up trying to put some sense into the way we baptize typhoons; perhaps because a typhoon by any other name would still wreck havoc.
And so it came to pass that Glenda barreled through Luzon Wednesday - quickly but ferociously - leaving behind a swathe of destruction.  The weather bureau people said she would descend upon Metro Manila between 6:00 in the morning and 12:00 noon.  We used to kid about how our meteorologists basically look out the window when making weather predictions. But for the very first time in a very long while, their prediction was correct.  I woke up to rattling windows, howling winds, and the sound of solid objects being borne aloft and brought crashing into walls and concrete.  I grew up in Eastern Visayas which was visited by typhoons periodically, but Glenda still had me worried.  The last time I witnessed nature’s fury in broad daylight was when Milenyo visited the country almost a decade ago.  By some coincidence, Glenda and Milenyo basically followed the same path, wrecked havoc at daytime, and unearthed centuries-old trees and power lines to the ground.
By noontime, Glenda was well on her way towards the West Philippine Sea and the task of trying to restore some semblance of order got underway.  As usual, media reported on the sensational aspects of the phenomenon – the number of lives lost, the cost of damage, the sad stories of the wet and hungry and homeless.  But except in areas where electricity has not been restored, people have bounced back and seemed to have cast their woes to misfortune. The much-vaunted resilience of Filipinos has been tested once again. 
Yet again, we were reminded of how puny we all are in the face of Mother Nature’s fury.  Once again, Metro Manila was virtually shut down.  Power went out, communication lines went dead, and systems went kaput.  The very same things happened when Milenyo struck almost a decade ago but apparently no one remembered anymore because it seemed the baseline for restoration efforts went back to zero. 
One wishes that some lessons could be gleaned from what happened.  But going into reflection, deriving lessons and making resolutions out of our collective experiences are not among our strong suits as a people.
The state of our disaster preparedness remains bad.  Simple things like cutting down overgrown branches of trees in major thoroughfare that could potentially crash into power lines, or for that matter, preparing enough relief goods to feed people in relocation centers remained undone.  We’ve been talking about setting standards for infrastructures that could withstand winds of up to 180 kilometers per hour for the longest time now, but apparently nothing has been done to translate the rhetoric into action because many newly-built structures still crumbled last week.  The list could go on and on. 
But then again, most of us are just happy to have survived. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Wishful thinking

This is my column today, July 15, 2014.

The President of the Republic was scheduled to address the nation on the Disbursement Acceleration Program a few hours after this column was due.  As I don’t claim to have powers of precognition I couldn’t  make presumptions about what else the President was going to say that has not be said before. 
But like many others, I wish the President would finally choose to see things from a broader and more inclusive perspective.  I wish the President would use the occasion to show statesmanship and project the overall impression that contrary to what many people think, he is not petty, vindictive, and more importantly, his loyalty is to the country, the Constitution, and the people, and not to his friends and allies.
So I wish the President—and his cabinet—would stop simplifying the DAP into a one-size fits-all issue;  it is unfair for anyone to equate criticism of the DAP as a blanket condemnation of his administration.   Anyone who is genuinely concerned over the future of this country should find some encouragement and inspiration from the way people are reacting to the DAP issue—people are being vigilant about corruption and the disbursements of public funds.  I think there is something there that a leader can find encouragement from, if only   he or she puts ego and personal feelings of hurt aside.  Simply put, instead of whining about how unfair many people are, I wish the President would just rise above the issue and learn to make sacrifices.  I look forward to him telling the people “I am ready to make personal sacrifices for the sake of advancing the cause of transparency and governance.”
To be clear, no one has directly accused the President of pocketing public money.  It is clear that everyone in this country thinks and believes the President is clean insofar as graft and corruption is concerned.  No one has openly accused any member of his Cabinet of directly benefiting from government deals or transactions either, although it is a matter of public record that the names of certain Cabinet members have been mentioned in connection with the pork barrel scandal.  So we do not get why the President and some members of his Cabinet are sulking in public and acting like scorned lovers.  I guess some people have not read the memo about how the honeymoon period between this administration and the people has actually expired a long time ago, or for that matter, that bit about how sustaining the popularity of Presidents in this country is actually an exercise in futility given the conflicting and often irreconcilable expectations of various stakeholders and constituencies.  So I wish the President would just be grateful for the continuing trust and promise not to fail the people in this aspect.
Nor is the issue about good intentions or good faith.  Of course we all agree wholeheartedly that every single public official who has won an election was sincere and had all the right intentions when he or she put his or her hand on top of a Bible and took that sacred oath of office to perform the tasks of his position and serve God, country, and people.  There is no shortage of good intentions in this country, that I can honestly say with a straight face.  Unfortunately, that oath of office, which the President and his Cabinet members recited with solemnity, also contained that sacred line that said they would “preserve and defend” the Constitution and execute its laws, etc, etc.  The Supreme Court which is the final interpreter of laws in this country ruled unanimously that the DAP, regardless of its intent, was unconstitutional.  The President must abide with the ruling and must uphold the oath of office which he took at the Rizal Park four years ago.  So yes, we want the President to recall that oath of office and commit to stand by that oath.
And finally, I hope the President and his Cabinet realize that the people who are up in arms over the DAP issue do not necessarily want him or his government to fail.  On the contrary, many of us want him to deal with the DAP issue decisively and in ways that communicate zero tolerance for corruption precisely so this government can deal with the other important and pressing issues such as the hundreds of government projects that need to be completed on time.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Notes on the 10th virgin labfest

This is my column today, July 13, 2014.

The 10th Virgin Labfest, the annual festival of “untested, unstaged”one-act plays officially ended the other weekend at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.  Unlike in the past, there seemed to have been very little publicity about this year’s festival.  Someone I know failed to watch any of the 12 new plays that comprised this year’s harvest precisely because there was hardly any mention of the festival in mainstream media; not that it affected ticket sales anyway. It was difficult to get tickets to the festival. In fact, we could only buy tickets for the second weekend when we trooped to the CCP when the festival opened.
So first things first: After a decade, perhaps it’s time for the organizers to think about how to expand the annual festival.  I understand that fostering an intimate community of supporters (I’ve been religiously supporting the annual festival for six years now and I can honestly say that I basically see the same familiar faces in the audience and even onstage year in and year out) is a  large part of what has made the Virgin Labfest a phenomenon but there are ways to open up the festival to a wider audience without necessarily sacrificing its integrity or deviating from its main spirit.
As it was, the limitations of Tanghalang Huseng Batute were painfully obvious this year– from the leaking pipes that dripped water onstage, the creaking seats and floors at the balcony section, the inadequate air-conditioning system, etc, etc. 
Once again, there were quite a number of times in the five consecutive nights that we religiously went to the CCP to watch all five sets of this year’s harvest when I felt a twinge of sadness that friends and students couldn’t catch another wonderful performance of a very insightful play just because it ran for only two weekends and a grand total of four performances, all of which were sold out.  But then again, I perfectly understand the risks involved in venturing beyond a formula that has already been proven to work. 
The annual labfest is primarily designed to be a venue for exploring new pathways in Philippine theater.  Thus, the selection is always a heady mixture of plays that try to tackle delicate facets of the human condition in various new ways. Out of the more than 160 entries submitted to the festival this year, 12 were chosen for production, three were chosen for staged readings, and snippets (officially referred to as fragments) of another four were performed in hallways during breaks.  Three plays from last year’s festival were revisited and comprised set E of this year’s offering.
As I have always insisted in the past, it is difficult to critique a festival that is driven mainly by good intentions, passion, and the overwhelming desire to break new grounds.  As in the past, all the productions deserved high marks and the best commendations for effort – they all tried to make do with the limitations in time and other resources.   Some of the materials in this year’s harvest were not quite there yet – the premise of two or three plays were promising but were not fully realized, in terms of plot, theme, and structure.  But still, watching Filipino actors try to flesh out the roles and situations was always worth it. 
Then again, the annual Virgin Labfest has always been best appreciated in gestalt form, like an Indian purse with intricate embroidery and bits and bits and pieces of beads and threads and tiny mirrors sewn into them.  We may find faults with each or some of the segments but the only way to appreciate them fully is to consider the whole experience - including how our own images are reflected in those tiny mirrors.
But some works will always stand out.  To my mind, this year’s gems were Eljay Deldoc’s Ang Goldfish ni Prof. Dimaandal, Liza Magtoto’s Anonymous, Raymund Reyes’s Ang Naghihingalo, and Ricardo Novenario’s Wendy Wants to be a Housewife.  These four plays were richly textured and layered; each of these four plays were successful in presenting onstage a seemingly simple situation that eventually exploded into a powerful exposition of psychological, social, cultural and even political issues that provoked, tickled, and disturbed the audience.
This early, we can’t wait for the 11th annual virgin labfest!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Looking for someone to blame

This is my column today, July 8, 2014. 

My heart sank when broadcast journalist Ces Drilon of ABS-CBN’s late night newscast posed the first question to Aurelio Cesar Servando (father of Guillo Cesar Servando, latest victim of fraternity-related hazing violence) in his first live television interview last week.  Drilon’s first question was like an unexpected bullet that came from nowhere:  Will Servando make De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, accountable for the death of his son?
My heart sank because the question, and the very direct way in which it was coached, was characteristic of the default reaction of many in this country every time something alarming happens that involves a young person: Search for someone in a position of authority to be made accountable for the problem; in this particular case, the educational institution.  If Servando, himself, were not grieving, he probably would have been asked if he thought he was not remiss in performing his parental duties.  Come to think of it, I think he was asked a variation of the question by another journalist, although the question was thankfully coached in a more indirect way. 
I agree that parenting is something that is done by many people in positions of influence and authority, but I doubt if there is any way to delineate the various accountabilities assigned to the different forms and sources of parenting. 
Fortunately, Servando seemed more reasonable.  He said the incident happened outside of  school jurisdiction so there was no sense in making the school accountable.  In separate interviews, he revealed that the school has been fully cooperative in the investigation and even went out of its way to assist in tracing the whereabouts of the other suspects.  In the other fraternity-related hazing incident which was also discovered last week, the University of the Philippines was also noted to have been proactive and forthright in its various pronouncements— doing a careful balance between the victim’s right to privacy and the public demand for accountability.  In short, the educational institutions were doing the best they could despite the fact that it is a generally accepted fact that fraternities conduct their hazing activities under a shroud of mystery and secrecy, and largely beyond the reach of any educational institution’s reach. 
But apparently the quest for someone to blame blinds even people we expect to be more reasonable.  Persida Acosta, Head of the Public Attorney’s Office, went on a media blitz over the weekend essentially asking that “school officials be made more accountable for the death or injury of students who are subjected to violent fraternity initiation rites.”  In various media reports, Acosta ranted about the need for school officials to supervise initiation rites as provided for in the Anti-Hazing Law of 1995. 
I am sure Acosta is a very busy person, what with the number of legal cases referred to her office on top of her regular appearance in  television shows that feature live confrontations between feuding parties, but perhaps she should really try to understand the complexity of the problem.
First, not all schools recognize fraternities.  DLS-CSB bans fraternities and Greek-letter organizations so there was no way that it would have had any knowledge of the initiation that led to the murder of Guillo Cesar Servando.  How could they be present in initiation activities of organizations that they do not recognize?  
It can be argued that non-recognition of fraternities is precisely what drives them to do their activities underground, resulting in more danger to students.  But then again, hazing accidents do happen in universities where a more tolerant attitude towards fraternities exist. 
What is clear at this point is that there is indeed a compelling need to regulate initiation rites in schools where fraternities are recognized by the institution, but I doubt if there is any university in this country that would sanction initiation activities that involve violence.  In short, no fraternity would ever think of seeking approval from their school’s office of student affairs for their initiation rites, much less hazing activities, being fully aware that no self-respecting teacher would ever approve such activities.  The initiation rites of fraternities are always done in clandestine fashion—in fact, the elements of secrecy and danger are part of the whole psychological context that raises the affective pull of such activities. 
Blaming schools for not supervising initiation rites is a madcap idea.  However, schools must be made answerable in terms of the steps they take to discipline or make accountable individuals and fraternities that are involved in hazing activities.  Those are two different things.
Fraternities and hazing are complex social and psychological phenomena that we need to comprehend fully before we can make attempts to prescribe solutions.  Looking for someone to blame is not a step in the right direction.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Getting our act together

This is my column today, July 4, 2014. 

Although media still tried to turn the whole thing into a circus, there was less of the usual hysterics and drama when Senator Juan Ponce Enrile surrendered to authorities voluntarily last Friday.
There was a marked difference in the way the “processing” of the voluntary surrender of the aging senator was conducted.  Barely a few weeks ago, Senators Ramon Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada also underwent the same procedures – but in proceedings that were embarrassingly chaotic and marked with inefficiency and disorganization.
Last Friday, everyone seemed to have finally gotten his act together.  Police authorities provided adequate security and put in place measures to protect the privacy of the senator and his family and the integrity of the procedures.  Although there were still lots of shoving and jockeying for choice spots among media people who competed for better shots and an opportunity to bag an ambush interview along the way, the whole proceedings were done in a much more dignified way. 
I have always felt uncomfortable every single time a Senate hearing, a court appearance, or an arrest of a high profile person is turned into a free-for-all melee.  The discomfort is not necessarily borne out of empathy for the personages involved.  I have no love lost for the Janet Napoleses and the Bong Revillas and Jinggoy Estradas (and yes, even the Juan Ponce Enriles) of this world, but the anarchy is a reflection of our inability to establish order and, consequently, ensure fair and objective trial.  We have gotten so used to embarrassing public figures in public it appears as if public humiliation represents the full extent of the punishment we want imposed on erring public servants.  Basta maiskandalo, okay na.
We must learn to do things the right way even if we detest the people involved and want to throw rotten eggs and tomatoes at their faces.  We must learn to respect due process and ensure that the whole process is done correctly and thoroughly to protect the integrity of our systems.
What we learned last Friday is that a more dignified and orderly way to conduct administrative procedures of suspected plunderers can be done in this country – if we want to. 
So perhaps Revilla and Estrada were correct after all, our authorities dispense justice in a very selective manner.  For instance, Enrile was met by a Police General at the People Power monument at EDSA and the same general accompanied him to Camp Crame.  Media people were not allowed to take footages of much of the administrative proceedings and the mug shots of the senator – those incriminating photos that many people wrongly interpret as criminal arrest and conviction- were not made available to media.  There was less hyperventilating this time around and certainly less drama.  So it can be done naman pala.
So what made everyone turn deferential all of a sudden? Is it possible that our authorities finally learned from the Revilla and Estrada voluntary surrenders and finally put in place the correct procedures?  Was it because, as everyone has been harping endlessly in the last few months, of Enrile’s age?  Could it be because Enrile has been Senate President and performed a good job as Presiding Judge in the impeachment trial of then Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona? Perhaps because Enrile has better lawyers (and is a brilliant lawyer himself) who had better appreciation of the law as it applied to the proceedings last Friday?  Or could it be because Enrile has more clout in the military establishment having been Defense Minister for a number of years during the Martial Law years when, presumably, the current generals entered the force?  Or if we are to believe the scuttlebutt, there were previous instructions to afford Enrile with a little more dignity in exchange for certain political considerations.Whatever the reasons for last Friday’s more orderly proceedings, we hope our authorities have finally discovered the template that they can use in future proceedings of a similar nature.  There are ways to ensure that our judicial proceedings are not turned into a circus. We are a country of laws and we’ve worked so hard to put in place the mechanisms that will make democracy work; let’s not make a mockery of our systems.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Celebrating courage and resilience

This is my column today, July 1, 2014.

Tacloban City celebrated its annual fiesta over the weekend.  As can be expected, it was a bittersweet moment as the city valiantly tried to rise to the occasion notwithstanding the many limitations and difficulties.  Taclobanons, as do most of the Waray people, are known for merrymaking; we are a people known for pulling all the stops to ensure that a fun time is had by all during special occasions, a trait taken to extremes by a former First Lady who during her reign was referred to as the favorite daughter of the province. 
This year was the first time the city tried to celebrate its fiesta after the supertyphoon leveled practically everything that stood at its path as it barrelled across the Visayas.  
The city tried to dress itself up and Taclobanons all joined in the effort as if to prove that nothing, not even the strongest supertyphoon, could vanquish the soul of the city.  The usual buntings and flags were strewn across streets, the usual streamers greeting visitors and well-wishers were put up, and the many smells and sights of a fiesta became evident as the weekend progressed.  Of course the scars left by the supertyphoon could not be covered up.  The Santo Nino Church where the Teniente, the revered image of the holy child resides, still brandished the signs of the horror that swept the city on November 8 last year—whole sections of the roof of the church as well as windows of the belfry were still bare.  In many sections of the city piles of ruble and the wreckage remained mute witnesses to the fury of Mother Nature.
But if the fiesta over the weekend was any indication, there is overwhelming desire to rise above the ruins and rebuild Tacloban, if not physically yet, then at least, in spirit.  And the pulsating spirit could be felt all over the city during the weekend; the air was electric with determination.  People walked out into the streets, households put together whatever little they had in order to celebrate, and communities joined in many poignant ways to remember what happened to the city and its people last year.  
There are many ways to celebrate a fiesta.  Over the weekend I learned that a fiesta can also be manifestation of resolve and a palpable expression of a people’s courage to rise again.  Tears welled up in remembrance of the sad state of the city immediately after Yolanda struck; but also in great pride at the way Taclobanons have defeated overwhelming odds in the last eight months.
But two other events that happened over the weekend were less uplifting. 
A student at the De La Salle —College of Saint Benilde, the college where I taught for more than 10 years, lost his life in what was apparently another hazing incident.  Yet another promising life was snuffed out senselessly in the name of brotherhood.  As can be expected, there was lots of screaming and headshaking; once again, our leaders promised that heads will roll.  Unfortunately, we’re still not addressing the roots of the problem, which is that fraternities and hazing exist because there is institutionalized support for their activities from their senior members, most of whom are influential people in government and business.  In fact, what is clear based on reports is that it would be difficult to trace the identities and whereabouts of the perpetrators of the hazing last week because fraternities have now become wiser and have taken steps to ensure that their activities are deeply cloaked in secrecy.  The code of silence has been invoked by the other victims.  You think college kids thought up all these measures?  If we want to ensure that we stop losing lives to fraternity violence, it’s time we exposed the roots that feed the whole system.  I certainly would want to know the list of illustrious people that make up the alumni of the fraternity that perpetrated the hazing last week.
And then there was that news item about a major cache of endangered species as well as stalactites, corals and stalagmites being discovered in a southern city.  It is clear that the underground trade of endangered species as well as natural treasures continue to flourish.  It has also become apparent that the activities of the syndicate were known to many as the perpetrators even used social networking sites and Internet sites for marketing purposes.  Once again, it might help to remind people that criminal acts like the trade of endangered species can only be stopped if everyone lends a hand in the effort.  Closing our eyes and looking the other way when we come across similar incidents will not stop the trade of endangered species.