Sunday, November 30, 2014

A republic within RP

This is my column today, November 30, 2014.

We are a country that takes offense at the slightest hint of racism.  We riled against a European biscuit manufacturer that dared to name its product as “Filipino.”  We got insulted when certain groups abroad dared to make the word “Filipina” synonymous with domestic help.  We protested against  building administrations in Hong Kong and Singapore who posted signs in elevators that not only disallowed Filipino domestic helpers from using elevators, but worse, lumped them together with pets as a category.  We regularly take up the cudgels for fellow Filipinos who are denigrated on account of disabilities, or the color of their skin, or their social or economic background. 
On the other hand, we are also a people who take pride in the fact that we have a culture that is highly relational; sociologists have even developed the concept called  “Kapwa Psychology” to explain our penchant for seeing ourselves in other people.  We tend to value our worth in the way we treat or relate with others.  Thus, we are a people that have developed sophisticated social norms to deal with sticky situations.  We know a mature person does not break bad news to someone who is already going through a particularly difficult time.  We consider it uncouth to embarrass anyone publicly, particularly if the object of our anger is someone from humbler beginnings.
We call the people we hire to help us manage our households kasambahay to denote that they are part of our household.  The days when they were referred to as servants are long gone.  In fact, katulong, the more widely used word to describe them, denotes partnership – they are supposed to be there to provide help, but we are supposed to still do the jobs ourselves (or at least part of the jobs).  And for many of us, they become part of our families – valued, cared for, and treated like our own.
Thus, I was also infuriated when I read in Facebook last week that damning memorandum signed by a certain Katharine Garrido, Property Manager of ICON Residences in Fort Bonifacio, reiterating a building policy that disallows domestic helpers and drivers from using their regular elevators.   Garrido was supposed to have been acting on behalf of tenants and owners who were questioning why “helpers” were using passenger elevators instead of the service elevators. 
The backlash was spontaneous.  The post became viral and many dissed Garrido and Icon Residences.  But Garrido remained unapologetic and even aggravated matters when she dismissed the negative reactions with an emphatic “There’s no issue, it’s not for the world, it’s just for the building.  It’s hard to please everyone but this is just how the world is.” 
It’s one thing to issue unpopular memoranda simply because it is part of one’s job; but it’s another thing altogether to become cocky and to dismiss other people’s hurt feelings with zingers that border on superiority and bigotry.  Yes, the building’s policy is not for the world, but Garrido and her bosses at Icon Residences need to be reminded that they do not live in a vacuum.  They are part of a larger social and cultural environment that has its own norms and values.
Because Boy Abunda and Kris Aquino picked up the issue in their nightly TV show, more people have come to know about the issue and Garrido has earned for herself more bashers and haters.  I personally do not encourage bullying – we certainly can disagree, refute, and rebut other people’s opinions without calling them names and issuing threats.  A sister of Garrido has come out swinging at everyone else.  But no one has yet come forward with a more empathetic response or reaction that could help diffuse the anger.
Of course the issue is deeply personal even if it does not involve most people directly.  Everyone in this country either has a relative, or knows someone who is working as domestic helper.  No one wants to imagine their relatives or friends being victimized by bigotry or discriminatory practices.  It is also a values issue.  Weren’t we all taught by our parents and teachers to treat others – regardless of their stature in society - with respect and courtesy? But above all else, it just smacks of patent snobbishness and elitism.
Discrimination and bigotry all emanate from the same virus.  It’s the same virus that poisoned the minds of Nazis and dictators and gang men and consequently caused the deaths of millions of people.  It manifests in being indifferent to the plight of others.  It is shown in the many ways that some people create social barriers between themselves and others they consider less worthy than themselves.   It’s called hate.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A wedding to remember

This is my column today, November 23, 2014.
There are weddings that are really fashion events and where everyone struts and preens around like peacocks.  There are weddings that seem like a college carnival where everyone was allowed to run amuck with their creative ideas.  There are weddings that are conducted with military-like precision where everyone wears a constipated demeanor and go through the motions like they were merely doing an assigned task or role. 
The weddings that I remember fondly were those where the groom and bride were truly having the time of their lives and the whole atmosphere radiated of genuine love and affection.  I’ve been to simple weddings where the bride and groom wore seemingly nondescript clothes and where the focus was the ceremony and what it meant to the couple and everyone gathered for the ceremony.  I’ve also been to very lavish weddings where the bride and groom obviously agonized over every detail to make sure that the whole event was everything they imagined and wished it to be.
There are weddings and there are weddings.  But the wedding of my friend Andrew to JM held the other weekend was probably one of the most special and in many ways, most memorable. 
It was one of those rare occasions when words like “family” and “community” were palpable in the air.  Everyone in attendance was genuinely rooting for the couple
To begin with, the wedding was held in a beach resort in Olongapo City, which meant guests went out of their way to drive three to four hours from Manila just to attend the ceremony and the reception afterwards– and we’re talking more than 300 guests in attendance!  Everyone wore white as well, quite a feat in a country where people usually ignore dress codes and such other social conventions. 
The ceremony featured the usual symbolism and then some.  In addition to the cord, veil, and unity candle, the couple likewise chose to do the unity sand ceremony, which required them to pour colored sand into a common container and further stressing their intent to bind their lives and their futures together.   The sponsors were also required to narrate the meaning behind each of the rituals - something which I wish were done on all weddings as the significance of the rituals seem lost on not only the guests but even on the couple.
When I was younger, the sight of people crying at weddings used to be a source of amusement.  I’ve grown wiser through the years and have come to recognize that weddings do represent some of the ideals most of us wish or hope for – the fulfillment of love, the promise of fidelity, and the possibility of forever.  There were lots of tears at Andrew and JM’s wedding, and I understood why.  This was a wedding that took a lot of courage and commitment.
As customary in wedding receptions, there were quite a number of moving speeches delivered by people close to the couple.  But what made the speeches doubly meaningful were the way people invariably commended the couple for inspiring many others and for blazing new paths in the community.  I was particularly touched when the father of JM delivered his speech and basically talked about how he has always been supportive of his son.
Yes, it was a wedding between two men.  The union, of course, has no legal personality in this country, which is why Andrew and JM intend to hold another ceremony in the United States where same-sex unions are now legal.  But the fact that the ceremony was purely symbolic did not seem to diminish its significance for the couple and to everyone present.  In fact, it seemed even more special under the circumstances.  Getting married to the person they love is something that is expected among heterosexuals.  But for many others such as gay men, just loving another man is already forbidden; getting married remains unthinkable.
For this and many other reasons, Andrew and JM deserve all the love and good wishes that were heaped on them during their wedding.  I wish them all the best in their married life.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

In praise of career bureaucrats

This is my column today, November 18, 2014.

My day job often requires dealing with regulators and government functionaries, a task that cannot be described as generally enjoyable or pleasant.  It is true that most people in government are actually competent and sensible; unfortunately, our systems seem to have been designed for people to act like robots running on an obsolete operating system. So while we may find some of the best and most dedicated people in government, dealing with government offices is something many of us would rather avoid.  
Fortunately, there are government agencies that are trying very hard to keep pace with the rest of the world.  It’s always gratifying to hear that one need not take a whole day off anymore just to apply for or actually get a license or certification from some government office and that certain processes are already automated and can be accessed online.  The most difficult hurdle has always been in terms of mindsets as most career bureaucrats seem fully convinced that everyone else, particularly those in the private sector, is up to no good and that everyone is potentially a recalcitrant violator of laws. 
Our recent experience with the Labor Laws Compliance System examiners from the National Capital Region of the Department of Labor and Employment was surprisingly gratifying. 
As many are probably aware, rigid compliance with labor laws in this country is difficult for many reasons.  First, we just happen to have too many labor laws and regulations, many of them archaic and outdated (we truly and seriously need to come up with a more proactive Labor Code).  In addition, many occupational health and safety standards have been rendered irrelevant or obsolete by more recent developments in the form of new technology or new ordinances.  For example, reserving an area exclusively as lactation station for nursing mothers may not be feasible in offices with very limited spaces.  In many cases, companies are not fully aware of occupational health and safety standards.  Many are not aware that there are laws that require companies to have policies and mechanisms to respond to HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B, Tuberculosis, etc,.
There is very little argument against the spirit and intent of the LLCS assessment that the DOLE is currently undertaking nationwide.  We need to make sure that everyone complies with labor laws.  I think most of the large business organizations are labor compliant, as well.  People were more worried about punitive sanctions should they be found deficient in areas they had very little control of, or of the consequences of having one of their manpower agencies found non-compliant with certain labor standards.
In our case, we were wary about the administrative nightmare of submitting to the compliance assessment process almost seven hundred times on account of the fact that the LLCS prescribes that every branch of a business is supposed to be considered a distinct entity subject to a separate and independent compliance assessment.  Did I tell you labor laws can also be impossibly daunting to implement? Imagine the kind of administrative nightmare big retail companies such as fast-food chains or banks have to face to ensure that all their branches get certified.
So even if we were pretty confident that we were compliant with labor laws and standards, we still expected the certification process to be an administratively grueling and arduous process.  Thankfully, the DOLE examiners proved to be rational people - conscientious and firm, yes, but also quite reasonable.  We were particularly heartened by the collaborative approach that they took - from the very start, they made it clear that the objective of the whole assessment was to help industry become compliant with labor laws.  Rather than just point out how something was wrong, they would go out of their way to suggest solutions.  After a month of assessment which involved actual visitation and inspection of 17 selected representative branches in Metro Manila, the DOLE NCR team declared the bank that I work for was compliant with labor laws during the exit conference held last week.  The whole process was instructive and enlightening; I think we all became advocates of not only labor laws compliance but also of the power of collaborative partnerships.
I am going out of my way to write about the whole experience because I firmly believe government should really go out of its way to make things easy for industry and the private sector.  I do find it infuriating when certain agencies immediately resort to punitive, or worse, embarrassing measures, in dealing with suspected or “possible” violators of regulations.  I think government should teach and instruct and take it upon themselves to ensure compliance through collaborative ways rather than operate from their ivory towers and make decrees and impositions like emperors.  Government should serve and the best way to do this is for people in government  to change their paradigm about their roles as career bureaucrats. 
If we come to think about it, we’ve really had less labor disputes in the last decade and our industrial climate seem generally peaceful.  We need to give credit where it is due particularly since it seems we do tend to be quick and easy with criticism.  This column salutes the field officers of the NCR DOLE led by Director Rowella Grande for showing those of us in the banking sector that government can be empowering, too.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

An invitation to victimization

This is my column today November 16, 2014.

Perhaps I am just a naturally cynical person who couldn’t recognize altruism even if it were wrapped in gold and served on bended knees.  I will admit to being particularly suspicious every single time our telecommunications companies announce promos that seem too good to be true. 
Having been victimized many times over by all three major telcos that operate in the country, I think I can be allowed to offer this unsolicited advice:  The best kind of corporate social responsibility program that our telcos can offer is to improve their current services.  Internet connectivity in this country is horribly slow and we continue to be bottom feeders in Asia in terms of Internet speed.  Giving existing customers exactly what they pay for - and it wouldn’t hurt if they actually exceed the expectations and provide faster speed and reliable and easy connectivity - seem like good examples of outstanding corporate citizenship. 
But we Filipinos like having big aspirations.  We like to push the envelop, explore new frontiers, lengthen our reach even if we still haven’t mastered the basics.  It’s like aiming to get a doctorate in physics even as we struggle with basic algebra. 
So when one of our telcos recently made a big to do about bringing the rest of the country up to speed with the rest of the world by making Internet access available to everyone - and for free at that - I automatically presumed it was yet another marketing campaign shot through with a lot of conditions and caveats in fine print.  I wasn’t mistaken.  The so-called “free” Internet access was actually limited.  And if we come to think about it, it is really not free because the users and other subscribers end up paying for it one way or the other.
To be fair, the goal seemed noble enough.  Getting more Filipinos on board the Internet bandwagon is a lofty goal.  Just imagine the kind of benefits farmers would have if only they discover the infinite breadth of resources available for them online - from videos, to reading materials, to advice and consulting services.  I once showed my father (who was a farmer until he retired about a decade ago) instructional videos on YouTube on new farming technologies. He became so inspired to try them out that we ended up taking turns watching over him and making sure he didn’t attempt to put on his work clothes and get a relapse from a broken hip and knee. 
Imagine, too, how much more creative teachers can become if they get exposed to various innovative instructional methods from across the world; or how much more interactive priests can be if they acquire better jokes or learn from the more engaging preachers out there.  These possibilities, however, are immediately squelched by the fact that the free Internet service being offered does not actually cover video streaming.  In fact, the assigned daily limit would barely be enough to do anything meaningful.  
And this is when we come to terms with the business side of the promotion, which is that it is really just meant to entice people to test the service and, hopefully, get hooked to enroll and pay for regular Internet connection.  When they do, they become part of the statistics of people who suffer from slow or intermittent or weak Internet connectivity.  It’s basically an invitation to get victimized.
Anyway.  What really got me to write about this topic were two related incidents that happened at home recently. 
I had an assortment of nephews and nieces who spent their semestral break at my house and as can be expected, everyone was maintaining virtual presence through their laptops, mobile phones, and other gadgets 24/7.  At one point, I checked the number of Internet connections available and was stunned to find more Internet services than there were people in the house.  In addition to the LAN connection at home, some had personal Internet accounts that could be shared via hot spot; in addition, each one carried a pocket wi-fi or two subscribed to various post- or pre-paid plans!  Because Internet speed was spotty, they basically switched from one service provider or connection to another depending on which was offering faster speed at any given time.  It’s a waste of resources, but this is exactly what we are forced to do by our telcos - be creative, resourceful, and yes, keep on spending unnecessarily.
A brother whose house was partially destroyed by the supertyphoon in Tacloban was in Manila recently and asked me if I could intercede for him in his fight with a telco.  Before Yolanda struck, they had an Internet connection at their home.  The supertyphoon obviously cut all services and to date, they still do not have Internet connection at their house.  Ironically, their Internet bills have not stopped arriving. As of last month, they were being charged close to P20,000 for Internet services for the period between November 2013 and the months thereafter.  Worse, they were already getting the usual demand letters that threatened legal action.  I told him to ignore the bills and the threats, but the poor guy is not used to the ways of big business. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Snippy

This is my column today, November 11, 2014.

I must admit that there have been days and occasions when I actually felt that the President was justified for being snippy.  We do have the tendency to assign superhuman qualities to our leaders, particularly the President, and expect him to provide solutions to our many problems promptly, nicely, and in a comprehensive manner.
And then, many of the influentials in this country do tend to complicate rather than help matters; and very often, what is being passed off as constructive criticism or advice is really nothing more than just a pathetic attempt to draw attention to themselves and their politically-vested interests.  For example, we all know that the flailing and the caterwauling being done regularly by those accused of stealing public funds are really just desperate attempts to diffuse the situation or to buy time.  So on these occasions, a cutting remark from the Taray King that immediately smashes all the political and diplomatic gobbledygook comes across as necessary and sometimes oddly appeasing. 
However, we have noted that the President seemed to have gotten into the habit of being snippy lately.  We can make allowances for impatience; he is an extremely busy person and there must be a million and one things that need to be attended to.  We can even forgive the air of superiority; he is President after all and a little assertiveness and authoritarian tendency comes with the territory.  A flash of anger or annoyance often gets things done faster. 
But how are we supposed to take the “this-is-all-the-thanks-I-get?” tone as if we owe him a huge favor for the fact that he is the most powerful person in this country?  What is becoming more and more evident each day is that being President and Chief Executive of the country seems to be something Aquino considers as an ordeal, a burden and imposition, a heavy cross that he would rather not carry. While others think of the Presidency as a rare privilege and great honor, he seems to consider it a huge sacrifice on his part.
This was painfully evident during the President’s remarks during the commemoration of the first year anniversary of the Yolanda tragedy in Guiuan, Eastern Samar.  It was an occasion for remembrance, for rekindling hope, and more importantly, for promoting a more collaborative approach to rebuilding communities and lives.  Sadly, the President chose to use the occasion to chide critics and to scold everyone else for complaining about the slow pace of the government’s response to the plight of the supertyphoon victims.  It is sad when government seems to blame the victims for their plight.
While private and church-based organizations such as the Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation have been able to respond quickly and more effectively to the needs of the survivors in a number of towns and in Ormoc City, the government has been stuck in the planning stages.  The difference is that the leaders behind Tzu Chi think of the rebuilding efforts that they do not as work or obligation, but as altruism.  They are genuinely happy to help.
* * *
People in Leyte are alarmed over the way the way government is managing the matter of relocating the Tacloban Airport Terminal to a supposedly safer and more disaster-proof location, which happens to be in Palo, the town next to Tacloban which is being ruled by the Petillas, a close ally of the President and political opponents of the Romualdezes.  Of course the current Tacloban Airport is not exactly the best location – the runway is too short and it is along the fringes of the Cancabato Bay.  In fact, one can actually walk from the terminal to the beach. 
As it is, the utter lack of strategic planning and a collaborative approach to the ongoing repairs of the Tacloban Airport runway is already causing major problems to the people of Leyte.  Only small planes are allowed to land in the airport.  It’s as if the people of Tacloban and Leyte are deliberately being made to suffer for the fact that the local government is at odds with the national government.  A one-way ticket from Manila to Tacloban is currently priced at around P9,000 on average and the seats are scarce!  The repair works are being done at a snail’s pace, there are no definitive schedules for completion, and worse, there are no attempts to communicate with the various stakeholders at all.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Lest we forget

This is my column today, November 9, 2014.

I wasn’t home when the strongest typhoon in history hit last year.  I was scheduled to fly home to Tacloban City exactly a year ago yesterday to stand as sponsor at the wedding of the daughter of one of my College friends.  The wedding did not happen and it would not be until after four full days later before I could wrangle a seat on a private plane bound for Tacloban (and I must admit I was so much luckier than most others who couldn’t get a seat on any plane, or boat, or bus bound for Leyte or Samar at that time despite their very best efforts). 
Before I got to Tacloban on November 12, I had already seen horrifying footages of the devastation in various media reports and in social networking sites.  I had already talked to some of the survivors in person and through telephone.   But nothing prepared me for the kind of devastation that accosted us as soon as Tacloban and nearby towns became visible from the windows of the tiny plane.  Coconut and other trees looked like pick-up sticks chopped carelessly and violently strewn by a giant.  Nothing green could be seen for miles around - only varying shades of murk, darkness, and gloom.  Structures that used to be familiar were unrecognizable and I had to strain to try to figure out parts of the city that I called home. I could feel my chest tightening as I surveyed the extent of the damage from above; felt my knees turn to rubber when I got off the plane to find that absolutely nothing, not one chair or window or wall of the DZR Airport Terminal was spared.  I couldn’t hold back the tears when I noted the dazed and desperate look in the faces of the hundreds of people who were roaming around aimlessly as if looking for something familiar in the midst of the rubble, and as the vehicle we were riding in started to navigate the pathways created around fallen trees, mountains of debris, and hundreds of dead bodies piled along the sides of the streets.  I noted a number of haphazardly made signs begging for help, or appealing to authorities to already remove the dead bodies in their midst.  I finally broke down when I got to hug friends and relatives; relieved that they survived the supertyphoon’s fury, humbled by how puny we actually are against the forces of the universe, and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the loss and destruction. 
I have never seen anything as shattering or heartbreaking in my whole existence.
I talked to people who still had not eaten a decent meal four, five, six days after the supertyphoon struck, condoled with people who were not only mourning the loss of family members ones but also struggling with the heartbreak of not being able to give their loved ones a proper burial, listened to various stories of courage, heroism, resilience, determination, and yes, faith.  
I was there when volunteers from various cities started to trickle in bringing water, medicines, and other services; when MMDA crews started to clear the major thoroughfares and remove the bloated dead bodies from the streets; when international agencies and global media outfits started to stream in.  In fact, I was at the Tacloban Airport when CNN’s Anderson Cooper and his crew arrived.  I made several trips in the succeeding weeks and months to organize various programs.
I wasn’t in Tacloban when Yolanda struck but I witnessed the many ways in which survivors got victimized a second and even a third and a fourth time from the incompetence, greed, indifference, and the shameless political maneuverings of those who were in a position to do something to alleviate the pain, kindle hope, or bring solace.
We marked the first year anniversary of the tragedy brought by the supertyphoon yesterday.  Yolanda delivered a powerful message about how nature has become vengeful in response to man’s uncaring ways towards the environment.  Sadly, that message has been lost in the continuing ruckus over finding someone to blame for the government’s utter failure to deliver what it promised, or should have delivered. 
Thousands perished from the supertyphoon last year.  Hundreds of thousands of survivors are still trying to rebuild their lives.  Their suffering continues.The tragedy continues even after one year.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Remembering a giant

This is my column today November 4, 2014.

One of the greatest Filipinos who ever lived passed away last week.  Juan Flavier, doctor to the barrios, non-government organization stalwart, former Secretary of Health, and one of the most popular senators of this republic, was probably the best president this country never had.  He was a man of vision, a man of action, and more importantly, a man of integrity and conviction.
I expected his death to make a major impact on this country; I certainly expected a barrage of tributes on social networking sites.  Alas, it seemed people were more concerned with ghost stories than the passing on of a man whose qualities could put to shame any of the current so-called presidentiables. 
I was an idealistic college student when I first met Flavier.  He was then President of the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction and he was a guest speaker at a national youth institute for community service.  As activists, my friends and I were naturally cynical of anyone who was a member of the establishment and we were prepared to cross swords with the doctor.  To our surprise, Flavier seemed even more revolutionary than we were.  He was a man who knew the issues of the poor like the back of his own hand and he spoke about real solutions—and more importantly, about programs he was actually pursuing, not just preaching about from an ivory tower.  I remember approaching him after his talk and having a picture taken with him.
The second time I met him, he was already Secretary of Health.  I was still an activist, this time advocating HIV/AIDS prevention as president of a non-government organization and board member of several others.  I sat as member of the Philippine National AIDS Council, which he chaired.  Flavier probably did more for HIV/AIDS prevention in this country than any other health secretary; he certainly succeeded in marshalling media attention towards people living with HIV/AIDS. 
Flavier was not perfect, though.  His passion and zeal often translated into inability to consider critical issues thoroughly.  He also had the penchant for  reducing issues to soundbytes that often rankled because they often verged on the politically insensitive.  I crossed swords with him several times over issues such as the rights of criminals and sexual minorities.  He was always conciliatory though and while he would appear annoyed and would flash an irate look at people who raised policy issues against him, he was always—always—willing to come to the table to talk and settle things amicably.  And he never held grudges.  He would shake hands with people at the end of every meeting and crack jokes as if the bitter debate did not happen at all. 
One wishes the current Secretary of Health acquired even just a tenth of Flavier’s diplomacy and gift of empathy.
Many of Flavier’s programs are textbook examples of outstanding public programs.  The programs were not only conceptualized with ease of execution and sustainability in mind—they were also crafted to have mass appeal.  Yosi Kadiri, Oplan Alis Disease, Sangkap Pinoy, HIV/AIDS prevention, and the massive immunization campaign which led to the country being declared Polio-free, were just some of the more effective programs that Flavier championed.  He engaged the Catholic church squarely on the issue of condom use and although the church called him names and campaigned heavily against him, Flavier still marched on to the Senate and even got reelected to a second term garnering the second highest number of votes during the 2001 elections. 
Most people would remember him for his humor and his seeming irreverence.  But I will always remember him for his passion and his immense commitment to the many causes that he fought for.  Flavier was truly a great Filipino.  It’s a shame no one among our current politicians are like him. 
Flavier could have been a great President.  Unfortunately, the moral forces made sure such an event would not come to pass. And the man also knew when to quit and pass on the torch to others.  To the end, he was the consummate gentleman and statesman.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Halloween Philippine-style

This is my column today, November 2, 2014.

I was at the Mall of Asia for lunch last Friday where I promptly found myself amidst a stampede of fairies, super heroes, an assortment of cartoon characters from Shrek to Sponge Bob, zombies and other various interpretations of dead people and scary beings.  It was bedlam.
There were kids of all ages all over the mall; and when I say all ages, I really do mean all ages.  There is no denying it – the Western (or should we say, American) Halloween tradition of dressing up in costumes and doing trick or treat has found its way into our culture.
Of course it is only inside the posh villages and gated subdivisions where one can actually see children dressed in costumes knocking on doors and screaming “trick or treat.”  Let’s make no bones about it – the whole trick-or-treat phenomenon is not sustainable in our culture where discipline, self-restraint, and concern for others are tossed out when certain “benefits” are to be had.  Probably because resources are always inadequate, people try to grab what they could when they could for fear that they would end up with nothing if they try to be nice or considerate to others.   This is pretty much evident during distribution of relief goods or even at buffet restaurants where people shovel large quantities of the choicest food on to their plates without consideration for others.  I don’t think there will come a time when the trick or treat tradition would spill over to the barangay level unless of course someone comes up with rigid guidelines such as requiring registration of participants, having marshalls to ensure kids do not visit houses more than once, or that everyone is orderly so that each one gets a fair share of the loot, etc.  But then again, where’s the fun in all that?    
Fortunately or unfortunately, we have malls that are more than happy to accommodate.
Our malls have been trying to kindle the celebration of Halloween in the country for quite sometime now as they obviously stand to gain from the whole consumerist phenomenon.  More kids participating would translate into more business.  Every kid that comes to the mall to do trick or treat would require a costume and a parent or a guardian in tow and they all would have to eat or drink and most likely watch a movie or do a little shopping afterwards.
I do think seeing kids in costumes can be heartwarming.  I don’t have anything against children between the ages of 2 and 10 running around shoving  plastic orange containers towards the direction of harassed store clerks for candies.  So I do find it strange when grown-ups join in the fray.  Hey, the whole trick or treat thing is supposed to be for children.  Grown-ups can party all they want in bars during hallow eve, but let’s leave the trick or treating to the kids.
But even more bothersome were the sight of infants in strollers being pushed around the mall while their parents or guardians collected candies.  Those candies were obviously not for the infants or at least I hoped the parents knew that months-old babies should not be fed that much sugar and in candy form. 
The whole trick or treat thing (and to a great extent Christmas carolling and the Filipino tradition of aguinaldo when children collected presents from their godparents) is meant to enrich the childhood experience.  Am not sure whatever experience and memory two-month-old infants get from the whole trick or treat experience is worth all the risk and inconvenience imposed on the poor infant.
I saw one tiny infant dressed up like a mermaid, complete with tails that bound her tiny legs, headgear that limited her head movements, and sequined clothes that must have been itchy and suffocating, squirming in her stroller while a harassed and sweaty yaya patiently fanned herself while both were standing in line for candies.  What kind of parents expose infants to that kind of aggravation and for what?  For candies they are not old enough to eat?  For memories that are blunted by the trauma of having to suffer itchy clothes, the heat, and all the shoving and screaming?
At MOA last Friday, we watched how kids doggedly went about knocking on establishments like it was a chore.  Probably because of the heat, the congestion, and the disappointment of being turned away by many establishments, it didn’t look like they were still having fun.  The manager of the restaurant we were having lunch told us they rationed their candies for specific time slots because there were just too many kids that participated this year, and the suspected many kept coming back.  If the manager was correct (and I suspect she was), what kind of lessons are parents teaching kids today?
The number one retailer in this country even had a promo last Friday.  Customers who could present proof of purchase of a certain amount would entitle one child to dip his or her little hand – once - into a bowl of candies.  Alas, the others who didn’t have receipts were sadly turned away.
Halloween in this country is just another occasion that highlights the many gaps in our system.