Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Petty tyrant at QC Memorial Circle

This is my column today, September 30, 2014.

It’s been ages since I last visited the Quezon Memorial Circle.  Someone told me that the QMC, which is a national park and shrine, has become very commercialized although the person also hastened to warn me that it is not exactly the safest (or cleanest) place in the Metro, particularly at night.  But I remember once listening to Charito Planas, former Head of the QMC, talk about a plan to transform the area into a genuine people’s park, heard about the many restaurants that have opened and the many activities that are held in the area, and I read about Mayor Herbert Bautista’s plan to redevelop the QMC - so I thought the park must be on its way to becoming a showcase of what Quezon City aspires to become.
Well, apparently not.  A friend of mine, Romy dela Rosa, wrote a rather poignant letter about how parks in Quezon City have become so commercialized that it had become cheaper to go to an air-conditioned mall than to picnic at, say, the QMC.  To make matters worse, he wrote in to report an unfortunate incident involving a group of Mass Communications students who became victims of the petty tyranny often displayed by inefficient bureaucrats.  I am yielding the rest of this space today to dela Rosa’s account of the rather disturbing incident at QMC recently.
“On September 20, a group of Masscom students went to the QMC to shoot a short film armed with a borrowed handycam and the intent to act the characters of a screenplay they themselves crafted. The project was an academic requirement for one of their subjects. They selected the QMC as an ideal site for their film thinking that President Quezon’s spirit would be with them since the film they intended to make would be about the heroes who founded our nation. While they were preparing to shoot, their youthful enthusiasm and excitement were dashed by a security guard who accosted them and told them that they could not take videos around the park.  They were told to go to the administration office to get permission. Young and idealistic as they were, the students protested that they were just students that needed to make a film for academic purposes.  They were firmly and repeatedly refused.
And so they marched to the QMC Admin Office and got to talk to the secretary of the QMC Officer in Charge.  The students were told that they had to pay P500 to be permitted to take videos within the park. The conversation went this way:  
Students: Why do we need to pay P500? Isn’t the park a public property?
Secretary: For cleaning the park.
Students: But it’s dirty. Is the City government not providing funds for the maintenance of the park?
Secretary: Yes, but we need additional funds.
Students: Including a fee for those who would like to take simple videos and selfies? 
Secretary: Photos and selfies taken through cellphones are allowed. But no photos and videos from a handycam. We do not want videos of the park posted in the social network.
Students: Why not?
Secretary: The OIC does not want it.
Students: No exemption for students?
Secretary: You have to talk to the OIC.
Students: Can we talk to him?
Secretary: He is asleep. You have to wait for him to wake up.
The students begrudgingly pooled their allowances and handed P500 to the secretary on condition that they would appeal later to the OIC for exemption.  The students  came back just as the OIC woke up at around 4:30 PM.  They again asked for exemption from paying the P500 fee elaborating the same arguments they gave to the guard and the secretary.
The QMC OIC obviously did not like the audacity of the students or he must have woken up on the wrong side of his desk that he adamantly refused to accommodate them. The students reminded him that QMC brochure promoted the park as a shrine of a great president and repository of the country’s historical and cultural heritage and as such should be student-friendly, that the park’s website also described the park as a place for recreation and for a lot of fun things, and that the unabashed commercialization of the QMC administration has taken away the fun in going there. The students likewise reasoned that the concern for video footages being uploaded in the social media did not make sense unless they were trying to discourage more people from seeing the poor maintenance and filthy surroundings inside the park. 
The QMC OIC sorely lost the argument to the young students, got piqued, and walked out. When he heard a student comment that it was of rude of him to turn his back on them while they were still talking, walked back, and brusquely returned the P500 fee they collected and gave the impression that they could proceed to shoot in the park without paying.  But when the students tried to start shotting, the security guard again prevented them from doing so, reportedly upon the instruction of the same OIC. If this is not the height of depravity, who knows what is.   
President Quezon must be churning in his grave over the petty tyranny being committed in his final resting place.”

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Crossing a thin line

This is my column today, September 28, 2014.
Anyone who knows a little bit about me will never use the word “conservative” to describe me. I have, in fact, been accused many times of being overly liberal, or of harboring unconventional and even revolutionary ideas.
Be that as it may, I must admit that I, too, was a bit taken aback by the in-your-face sexualization in the recent Bench underwear show held last week at the Mall of Asia Arena. I was shocked to watch the way a woman was tied to a leash and made to behave like a dog that begged to be rewarded by her male master. I also found the antics of certain male celebrities during the show risque.
Of course I am aware that the biennial event has always been less of a fashion show and more of an adult peep show – it’s about underwear for crying out loud and it features the best looking people with the most toned bodies in this country who, incidentally, work even harder to whip themselves into better shape for the event. Anyone who insists that they go to the Bench Underwear shows to appreciate undergarments deserves a whack in the head. They have never been about underwears, per se.
They’ve always been about something else such as asserting freedom, or forcing us to re-examine certain paradigms and perhaps even prejudices, or redefining the limits and boundaries of our own comfort zones, and stretching our tolerance around issues of individuality and diversity.
Okay, I’ll stop trying to intellectualize the Bench shows and admit that they’ve also been largely about sexuality and sex, themes that are not necessarily taboo in my book. But because the Bench shows are public shows, and since they allow people to bring in cameras and video recording devices, they must make sure to keep things tasteful, and more importantly, non-offensive.
The previous stagings were controversial as well, but managed not to offend people other than the usual groups of clerics and moralists. They were provocative, but in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way that communicated a sense of humor. They dripped of lust and urges, but somehow managed to balance things by being campy and at times outrageously flamboyant. I wasn’t sure the one last week kept true to tradition. There were parts that reinforced certain negative gender roles and stereotypes. In the past, the models preened and strutted, and yes, teased. Most still did, but some seemed to have strayed beyond the borders of art. Some people thought this year’s Bench show was lascivious, bordered on pornographic, and yes, sexist.
I think putting an end to the biennial event is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. I think the Bench shows did push social tolerance around issues of sexuality a little further and more importantly, encouraged more empowering attitudes towards human bodies. But there’s a very thin line that people need to be cognizant about all the time. This time around, they crossed it. Ben Chan needs to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Rewriting history

This is my column today, September 23, 2014.

The country marked last Sunday the 42nd anniversary of Ferdinand Marcos’ Proclamation 1081, which placed the whole country under Martial Law from 1972 to 1981.  The whole period was known as the dark years of the Marcos dictatorship.  The Marcoses were thrown out of Malacanan Palace in 1986 and for about a decade thereafter were the most vilified Filipinos and were blamed for most of the country’s woes.  But thanks to our short collective memory and the Catholic guilt complex which compels us to be forgiving even to those who hurt us, the Marcoses were able to come back from exile, run for public office, and reclaim their wealth and status in society.  More importantly, they have embarked on a quest to rewrite history mainly by reframing the horrible events that happened during the dictatorship.
This is my column today, September 23, 2014.
The fruits of such efforts have started to become evident; proof perhaps that there is some semblance of truth to chief Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels’s claim about how big lies can become the truth if repeated often enough. 
I started to notice last year the subtle feed to media and in various social networking sites suggesting that times were so much better during Martial Law and during the Marcos administration.  The feeds became more frequent this year and by some stroke of perfect synchronicity, coincided with parallel moves to enthrone Senator Ferdinand Marcos as an alternative presidentiable.
The really sad thing is that many fell for the propaganda.  I know quite a number of people who reposted in their social networking pages the sleek posters and clips extolling the supposed virtues of the Marcoses.  The logic around most of the propaganda materials was horrendously faulty and the facts and figures were clearly erroneous.  For example, one such clip made comparisons about crime rates during Martial Law and the present, without factoring in population figures and more importantly, the fact that thousands of deaths and disappearances were undocumented.  Yes, there was probably less criminal activity from ordinary thugs and citizens;  but there was no denying that government then was the biggest thief of the national treasury, was the principal kidnapper of suspected dissidents and militants, and the number one oppressor of the people. 
The attempts of the Marcoses and their lackeys is gaining traction because of many reasons.  First, the main mode of communication today—which is through the Internet —is largely dominated by people who were born after the Marcos dictatorship and have no experience of political persecution or oppression.  The propaganda messages are not being moderated by vigorous attempts to refute the lies, correct the misrepresentation, or stress the truth.  Second, the hyperbolic claims of those who demonized succeeding presidents who were also accused of wrongdoing.  In the heat of the campaigns to oust Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo,  quite a number indulged in exaggerations such as those claims that Estrada and Arroyo each exceeded the profligacy and the level of corruption of the Marcoses.  As a result, it had become easy for Marcos propagandists to claim that Marcos was not the worst President this country ever had.
And of course, there is the very real issue of how economic growth has not trickled down to the masses.  The lives of many poor Filipinos have not really improved through the years.  It is a psychological fact that most people tend to remember the past with exaggerated fondness and consequently, see past events in a better and more positive light.  There’s also the fact that overall growth everywhere in the world was faster in the sixties and seventies than in the last two decades and thanks to runaway population and environmental degradation overall social conditions have not been as easy, convenient, or as simple as in the past.  Of course, roads were cleaner and better in the seventies —there were fewer people and vehicles who used them and natural calamities were not as destructive.  Of course food was easier to come by, people still had backyards where they could plant vegetables and our oceans and seas were still teeming with marine species.  Sadly, many are unable to think beyond their initial impressions.
I lived through the dark years of the dictatorship and like many other student activists directly and indirectly suffered from political repression.  The Marcoses can attempt to rewrite history but fortunately for the country, there remains so many living eyewitnesses to the horrors of Martial Law and the dictatorship.  Never again.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Unprepared and inefficient

This is my column today, September 21, 2014.

It is in times of adversity - such as what most in Luzon and parts of the Visayas went through in the last three days - when we get a full appreciation of the complexities and extent of our problems as a nation, and at the same time, of the strength of character and resilience of the Filipino people. 
Once again, we were painfully reminded of the dismal state of our overall capability and readiness to manage disasters and crises situations – even when the nature of the disaster and crisis is something that we have already experienced many times over in the past.  Massive flooding due to heavy rains is not exactly a new phenomenon in this country.  Even the crisis situation in the Bicol area caused by the restive Mayon Volcano is not really new – Mayon is one of most active volcanoes in the country.  We’re visited by typhoons many times a year, the people responsible for christening typhoons are running out of names and have resorted to having contests and being creative.
We’re not lacking in actual experience in terms of disasters and crises situations. 
So why are we still grappling with the same problems every single time a disaster befalls us? 
Let’s not even go into why we have not been able to put in place measures to mitigate the immediate impact of natural phenomena such as heavy rains.  If we really come to think about it, it’s been five years since Typhoon Ondoy submerged Metro Manila and nearby areas in murky floodwaters in 2009.  The current administration did crucify then Defense Secretary and administration Presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro for his supposed bungling of the relief and rehabilitation efforts; so I think some expectations are warranted.  Seriously, do our leaders really expect Filipinos to simply accept that the flooding is a given and that nothing could be done about it?  But okay, putting in place concrete solutions to avert flooding will probably require a more comprehensive, complex, investment-intensive and long-term approach. 
But there is just no excuse for the rank inefficiency and chaos that attend the information dissemination as well as the rescue and relief efforts!
For crying out loud, even if disasters do visit us with regular frequency, there remain quite a number of months, weeks, and days when this country is relatively disaster-free.  What do the people in the respective government agencies do during these times of relative quiet and calm which theoretically and ideally should be spent preparing for the actual times when disaster strikes? 
Given the advances in information communications and technology, we should already have some proactive mechanisms to get critical information out to people – quickly and efficiently so that people are not stranded on streets, or caught unprepared.  Granted that there are Filipinos in disaster-prone areas who are stubborn and afflicted with the worst case of fatalism and do not budge until the last minute, but surely, these represent the minority?  Why haven’t we been able to reduce to a science this matter of ensuring that people are given decent relocation sites, kept warm, and provided with the basic necessities to at least make their suffering bearable?  How come we have not been able to keep people safe and snug in unaffected areas, rather than shivering on the streets? Where the heck are the teams with the equipment and the tools to rescue people? 
As in the past, we leave people to their own devices somehow taking comfort in the fact that Filipinos are the most ingenious, resilient, and yes, cheerful people in the world.  We have the uncanny ability to turn trials into a test of character and moments of distress into a source of hilarity.  In dire situations, we rely on our strong faith and dig deep into our seemingly inexhaustible well of patience.  
Our ability to withstand adversity and overcome difficulties is amazing.  But this, too, can be our undoing.  Simply ignoring the inefficiencies and the seemingly inhumane nature of our systems can only worsen things.  It is time for a change of mindset:  Misery is not our birthright.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Staggering genius

This is my column today, September 14, 2014.

The euphoria may have started to die down already, but it will take a little more time before Filipinos, particularly basketball fanatics in this country, would forget how Gilas Pilipinas surprised us, and stunned the world at 2014 FIBA World Cup. 
The ironic thing was that the team failed to win the crucial matches and consequently failed to advance into the round of 16.  Anyone who was not tuned into the matches must have found the situation ridiculous.  Why were the Filipinos beating their chests and acting out like champions when the simple fact of the matter was they lost the games?  Perhaps at no other time did they find losers who were congratulating themselves and acting very proudly.
People always like to trundle that old admonition about how losing or winning is not the point of the game but how one plays it, but this was the very first time that it actually sounded and felt true.  I’ve always thought the admonition was a convenient justification for losers.  Sure, a Gilas victory over Croatia or Greece or Argentina or Puerto Rico would have really meant so much more (and come to think of it, might have caused many people to consequently suffer from a heart attack), but after watching how the Filipino players gave every last ounce of their energy and effort into each of the games – how they never gave up despite the seemingly insurmountable odds, one couldn’t help but applaud them just the same – even after the heartbreaking losses. 
People have been saying that Filipinos would never do well in basketball because we’re not exactly the tallest people in the world.  It’s a logical observation because basketball is a game that gives people with height a distinct advantage.  But as Gilas Pilipinas has proven, basketball is not just about height.  It’s also about speed and cunning.  And more importantly, it’s about the drive and the passion and the commitment to win.  In short, puso (heart).  Of course we also got creative by getting our own imports; but then again, so did the other teams anyway, including those that did not have our height disadvantage. 
Gilas Pilipinas gave the top basketball teams from Europe a really tough time and each of the four matches could have swung either way; perhaps our way with a little more luck and perhaps, a little more experience on the part of the Filipino boys.  What Gilas has effectively done was change the way we look at basketball as a sport.  But over and above that, the boys have proven that there is nothing impossible if we really set our hearts into achieving whatever it is that our hearts truly desire.  One wishes our leaders imbibed the lesson.
But the Gilas Pilipinas achievement in Spain was not the only performance of staggering genius from Filipinos in the last few weeks. 
Onstage the other weekend was Musikal! - the 45th anniversary presentation of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.  Musikal! was a very rate celebration of the original Filipino musical and featured excerpts from 21 (yes, 21!) Filipino musicals.  The selection was diverse and inspired.  There were the “heavy” musicals that many would probably consider opera.  There were the very popular musicals that celebrated the vaudeville and stageshow era of Philippine theatre.  And then the musical productions with political, historical, social, and yes, pop-culture references and origins.  Each of the musical productions was special and memorable in its own right.  For example, Magsimula Ka, which was first staged in the eighties is best remembered for having created awareness about the promise and potentials of Filipino musicals.  Katy! is a well-loved musical.  Rak of Aegis, Himala, Sa Wakas, and Caredivas were recent hit musicals of the Philippine Educational Theatre Association.  On the other hand, Zsasza Saturnah and Maxie were musicals that had a cult following, and not only because of their subject matter, but because they were such rollicking fun to watch.
What made Musikal! such a heart-stopping, jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring spectacle was the magnitude of the talent assembled onstage.  Most of the musicals featured members of their original cast so one can only imagine the number of performers onstage and the amount of talent showcased that night.  Lea Salonga, who was in the audience, and who was asked to come up the stage at curtain call, could only exclaim “Ang gagaling nyo!” (You were all great).  It was one of the very, very few times when one could actually feel the immense energy in the audience boiling over - bringing everyone to its feet for a long and sustained standing ovation and repeated shouts of “bravo!”
We are still trying to assert our supremacy in sports, but when it comes to the performing arts – boy, we sure have no equals.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Yet another soap opera

This is my column today, September 7, 2014.
Any attempt to expose corruption and to break political dynasties should be a welcome event in this country.  However, we wish the ones who spearhead such efforts bother to learn from the lessons of the past so we do not keep repeating the mistakes and we actually get to accomplish something.
There are a number of things that are obviously wrong in the way the ongoing investigation into the alleged corrupt practices of the Binay dynasty in the City of Makati is being conducted.  And because of these, we can already safely predict the outcome of all the current exertions:  Nada, zilch, nothing.  Once people have become exhausted with the exchange of accusations and once media have directed the attention somewhere else, the investigation will fizzle out.  Vice President Jejomar Binay’s quest for the presidency will regain zest and who knows, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano and Binay might end up as the tandem to beat in 2016.
The fact that the investigation is being conducted by two senators who have already publicly expressed their intention to challenge Vice President Jejomar Binay for the top post in the country in 2016 is jarring. 
I agree that political motivation should not be a ground to derail inquiries into possibly corrupt deals or practices.  However,  investigations do begin to resemble a lynching when being actively spearheaded by the same people who stand to benefit from the fall from grace of the subject of the effort.  Given our soft spot for underdogs, the whole thing may even boomerang.  Had the investigation been championed by the likes of, say, Senator Teofisto Guingona III, or say Senator Ralph Recto, or others who have not yet thrown their hat into the presidential derby, there might be a greater chance of derailing Binay’s momentum.  As it is, it is difficult not to imagine a thought bubble on top of Cayetano or Senator Antonio Trillanes’ head that says “I am the better choice for President” everytime their constipated faces are shown on television grilling a witness.
Let’s face it, those who are against the Binays and who have already decided that they are the worst kind of politicians on the face of the planet do not need the Senate investigation; they have already made up their minds a long time ago and they will most likely stick to their guns.  Those who are vociferously supportive of the Binays will continue to vote for the Binays regardless of the volume of dirt that Cayetano and Trillanes successfully uncover in the ongoing senate investigation.  The allegations of corruption against the Binays have been there eversince Jejomar Binay transitioned from being a street parliamentarian civil rights activist to a politician. That, however, has not stopped the ordinary citizens of Makati from solidly entrenching him at the City Hall, or for that matter, the Filipino people from giving him an overwhelming mandate as the second highest official of the land in 2010.
The investigation should matter to those who stand in between the divide.  The consequence of the unfortunate partisanship in the ongoing Senate investigation is that it gives the Binays and their supporters a valid justification to quash the accusations with very generic rebuttals.  The people who, theoretically, should be the target of the ongoing Senate investigation – the voters who remain impartial or still undecided on whom to support in 2016 – can be swayed to ignore the accusations precisely because there is reason to accuse Cayetano and Trillanes of vested interest.  In an ideal world, other senators should have already stepped in and taken up the cudgels because darn in, what is at stake is the country’s prospects beyond 2016.  Sadly, many of them are wisely keeping to the sidelines because of the real possibility that Binay will become President in 2016. 
And then there is the matter of witnesses that are unable to present hard facts as evidence.  We already suspect that the darn building is overpriced.  There is no need for further speculative drivel - what we need is for someone to produce the smoking gun.  Unfortunately, no one is doing that.  The line of people with a gripe to tell and yet another accusation to make do well in making our blood boil, but does not really prove guilt, darn it.  
To make matters worst, there are the subplots and the diversions.  The issue about the price and the source of the birthday cakes for senior citizens in Makati makes for very good reading, but where the heck is the proof that would prove Senator Nancy Binay is lying? 
I know. There will be people who, upon reading this piece, will automatically conclude that I am a paid hack taking up the cudgels for the Binays.  These are the trolls who think hating the Binays is enough.  Unfortunately, hate alone will not stop the Binays from perpetuating their political dynasty.  What is needed is concerted action from various stakeholders, strategic thinking from those spearheading the effort, and hard work from everyone; three things that are sorely lacking in the current investigation.  Thus, it will not come as a surprise if nothing comes out of this current political soap opera.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Runaway email

This is my column today, September 2, 2014.

I found in my work email yesterday morning about 60 emails on a common thread from various people.  It was very easy to spot the emails because they all had the same subject.  It was an internal media mileage report generated by the public relations department of one of the top hospitals in the country.  The attachment was quite interesting as it detailed the peso value the hospital attached to its various media campaigns and gave a picture of the amount of money it spent on media campaigns.  It was meant to be an internal e-mail on an internal topic that somehow  found its way into the information super highway and became the cyber equivalent of a runaway email.
 Apparently, one of the email addresses was compromised – either because of a glitch, or because of a virus – all emails that were sent to the email address got sent to everyone who was in the corporate accounts list of that hospital.  I presumed this list included the top executives of most corporations in the country who are actual, or potential, clients of the hospital.  Obviously, someone in the hospital goofed, but the problem was exacerbated by many others who jumped into the frenzy and unwittingly added to everyone’s aggravation.  If no one responded to the email to point out the mistake, or to wonder aloud why he or she was a recipient of the email, or even to immediately ask to be taken off the list, or  insult the person who made the mistake – the glitch may not have been noticed at all and no one could have been aggravated any further.
But unfortunately, people were quick to the draw.  Someone gleefully pointed out the mistake and his comment got sent out to the world.  Another made a rejoinder, followed by someone else, and then someone else.  One email became ten, and then twenty, and ballooned  to thirty.  People started to complain about being inconvenienced by the emails.  Someone insulted the person who made the mistake and asked him to resign in shame; and as can be expected, people took sides, and before you knew it, the whole thing had resembled something that our senators would be interested  in investigating.  What happened was typical of how seemingly trivial events in this country escalate into monstrous nightmares.
This is illustrated when something trivial becomes a major event such as when someone makes a mistake on our roads - such as a taxi loading passengers in the middle of a street, an old vehicle getting stalled, or a vehicle almost but not scratching another vehicle, or a slowdown caused by the funnel effect. If people just exercise a little more patience, try to be a little more considerate, and not take matters into their own hands things would get sorted faster and normalcy would be restored immediately.  But sadly, it seems like most of us have become a little more impatient and unreasonably demanding. Monstrous traffic jams are created because someone decides to start a counterflow, or because two people decide to make a major issue out of a minor traffic incident, or decide to block everyone else, etc.
How did we all become so impatient and seemingly inconsiderate of others?
There’s a post script to what happened to the runaway email story.  At a certain point I decided to intervene and sent out an email asking people to exercise patience, stop responding to the email, or refrain from asking to be taken out of the loop as these only aggravated the situation.  I basically made light of the situation and reminded people that the world will not stop if they just deleted the email and let it pass.  The problem was that by responding to the email, I got deluged by hundreds of emails from mailer-daemon and from various mail delivery systems informing me of non-delivery of email due to wrong or non-existent email addresses.  Apparently, the culprit email list of the hospital contained hundreds of email addresses that should have been purged already.  So nice guys do get more aggravation.  But in the end, the few emails I did get from people who appreciated my attempt at intervention and who thanked me for expressing what was in their hearts as well, was all worth it.
* * *
I must end this column with an observation.  Quite a number of people are castigating the Presidential sisters for siding with, or expressing preference for the Binays for personal reasons.  An article that came out in another paper over the weekend even mocked the Presidential sister (who must not be named in this space) for justifying her affection for Vice President Jejomar Binay because “I like him, we like him, he’s helped us a lot, he is always there for us.” To begin with, what the heck did people expect?  What kind of person expects a well thought-out, politically-correct, tactful, mature answer from a person who thinks her choice of color is a matter of national import?  And really, we are assigning too much weight on the opinions and decisions of a group of siblings as if theirs are the only ones that matter in this country.