Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Spending for the poor

My January 27, 2015 column.
I think efforts to hide the poor and to cover up the stink, the grime, and the unsightly are futile because everyone today has a camera and a ready access to the Internet.  There will always be someone with a damning footage and there is always the possibility of that footage going viral because most of us jump at every opportunity to prove others —particularly those in power— wrong. 
This is why it is difficult to believe that the Social Welfare Department and Secretary Dinky Soliman would deliberately uproot hundreds of homeless people from their makeshift shelters in Roxas Boulevard and bring them to a “posh resort” in Batangas just to hide them from the Pope.  Surely, Soliman and the rest of the people at DSWD are not so dumb as to think that these people don’t have cellular phones or contacts with the rest of the world.  If we are to believe everyone else, they are.  I don’t subscribe to this point of view, though.  I still think Soliman and the DSWD people are among the most reliable, most hardworking, and most trustworthy people in government despite the incidences of bungled relief efforts.
Let’s make no mistake about this:  We do not condone hiding the poor from anyone, anytime.   Aside from the fact that it cannot be done, it just sounds so… Imeldific, which, when loosely translated, means delusional.  
I prefer to give Soliman and her people the benefit of the doubt in this case because, quite frankly, the alternatives were less appealing.  Let’s accept one fact that seems glossed over:  The families who have made Roxas Boulevard their home were going to be uprooted for the Papal Visit because of security concerns.  People were not even allowed to camp out overnight in the area and those living in high rise condominiums were not even allowed to peep through their windows.  So the question that begs to be answered is where should we have housed them?  Most schools, hotels, dorms in the area were full.  Of course, it would have been ideal if everyone, particularly those who have been raising a howl now gladly offered their garage or the extra rooms in their houses, but it is so much better to blame than to share responsibility.
In another time and place, allowing poor people four days of paid vacation in a resort would be met with approval.  There are those who insist that the timing sucked, because the pope was here.  Millions of Metro Manila residents did stay in the metro to commune with the Pope, but millions also did fly off to enjoy the paid days off out of town.  So while there are those who think that the timing of the paid vacation was suspicious, it can also be argued that it was opportune.   It was as good a time as any.  I think that it’s all a matter of perspective. 
But sadly, the pope did tell us to be on the side of the poor and we seem to be looking at something or someone to vent our frustration on after the intemperate remarks of the President during the welcome ceremonies at Malacanan Palace. So I guess crucifying Soliman and the DSWD is acceptable now.  Even Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr—son of the Imeldific herself who boarded up the shanties along San Andres and painted walls everywhere when Pope Paul VI visited the country in the seventies— turned holier-than-thou and joined the lynch mob. 
People are now talking about a congressional investigation.  That’s certainly a worthwhile endeavor if they choose to conduct an honest discussion about the real causes of poverty in this country and what must be done to solve the situation.  Our congressmen, most of which come from the oligarchy in this country, and who perpetuate the many inequalities in our society, might be in for a lesson or two.
Yes there are many homeless in Metro Manila—and even in the disaster-stricken areas.  Yes, we need to do something for them.  Yes, we need to find permanent solutions to the increasing incidence of poverty and hunger.  But there are better things that we can do to help the poor in this country other than crucify government people for giving the homeless four days of luxury.  It’s probably impractical; but I’ve always thought that giving directly to the poor and spending for them directly is infinitely better than having the money end up in the bank accounts of corrupt politicians.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

More chances to travel in 2015

My January 25, 2015 column.

The recent visit of the Pope was also a harbinger of sorts
for what’s in store for Filipinos in 2015: more long weekends!
This is because most Philippine holidays will fall on either a Friday
or Monday this year. In addition, a few holidays will fall on a
Thursday or Tuesday. People can actually plan their work
ahead so they can file leaves on the sandwiched days and be
guaranteed of even longer weekends. In fact, those who
 are creative and proactive can find ways to schedule their
leaves within the holidays so that a five day leave can
translate into a ten- or twelve- day holiday.
This bodes well for traveling, which seems to be a
new preoccupation for Filipinos, thanks to the advent
of budget flights and ready accessibility of travel arrangements.
One can now arrange trips simply by trawling the Internet.
A friend was able to arrange a month-long vacation to Europe
 for 20 people scheduling transportation logistics, making
hotel bookings, and even buying tickets to museums and
shows without having to visit a travel agent – she did all
of it from the comforts of her bedroom using a laptop.
One can easily get recommendations or advice from people
who have been where they want to go, view pictures, or even
watch videos of destinations before making decisions.
In the last four years, the kids and I have made it a point
to go on one foreign and one local trip every year.
We’re thinking of going to the north (Ilocos) and to
Japan or Cambodia this year. I pretty much leave the
planning to the kids – they seem to have better competencies
in terms of finding better deals or choosing wiser options.
I am a satisficer by nature and tend to get the first deal that
meets the minimum requirement that I have set while the kids
 tend to be maximizers – they tend to exhaust their searches
and look for freebies and other sweeteners.
The adage that says one has not really learned until one
has traveled seems true; there’s just so much learning
that can be derived from traveling and not just about the
places we go to, but from the various interactions with
different people and culture, and even from the whole
journey itself. We tend to behave differently in unfamiliar
situations and learn more about ourselves in moments
of utter amazement or bewilderment. Traveling also offers
many opportunities for reflection during long drives or
plane rides, or even while just waiting for flights in an
unfamiliar airport as we watch people go by.
And above all, traveling enables us to appreciate
the many wonders left in this world.
It’s a shame, though, that many people seem to
travel primarily to show off, that is, to take pictures that
they can post in social networking site as proof that
they have been somewhere. I have been in situations where
I witnessed people climbing 200 steps up a historic hill,
or spending hours queueing up towards a famous painting,
only for the sole purpose of having a selfie taken. It gets
worse when in places of worship such as when in temples,
churches, or sacred grounds where one is supposed to soak
in the essence of the place and one finds himself amidst a
sea of chattering tourists with no idea whatsoever about the
significance of the place, or the expected behaviors required.
But then again, I am probably just being a nerd again.
Still, I do think that we would all become better people
if we make an effort to translate most of our experiences
into learning opportunities; at the very least, we reduce
the possibility of repeating mistakes.
There are many opportunities in 2015 to pack those bags
and fly off to some destination particularly with the move
to take out fuel surcharges in plane tickets which have
further reduced the price of plane tickets. There are thousands
of places waiting to be explored both here and abroad.
Happy traveling!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Postscripts to a papal visit

My January 20, 2015 column.
Today is the first day when we all trudge back to our normal lives.  In the words of a friend, it’s when we suffer the painful crash back to reality after a five-day high when everyone put on their best behaviors imbibing and spreading gratefulness, kindness, and peace.   Why, indeed, couldn’t we do that – be like that - every day?
Given what happened, many couldn’t help but engage in wishful thinking – wishing the Pope would be with us longer or more often forgetting that the price tag of frequent or extended papal visits is something we actually cannot afford.  Lest we forget, everyone – not just the government and the Catholic Church - paid for the visit.  Business paid, not just in the form of donations.  Who do you think paid for the four days of additional holidays?  And daily paid workers paid with four days worth of income.  Let’s never forget, please, that daily wage earners in this country do not get paid for days that are not worked.
While it can be pointed out that our problem is that we put on our best behavior only when important people are around, this certainly could not be said of the President who dissed the bishops in front of the pope at the official state function at the Palace.  Supporters of the President have come to his defense pointing out that the President was “just being frank.”  The fact that there has been a divisive and heated discussion at a time when the country was embarked on a spiritual journey - and that the leader of the country himself ignited the controversy - already proves that the President’s remarks were inappropriate.  For crying out loud, we certainly didn’t need to have that kind of divisiveness while the Pope was here.  I am sure he would not have liked it if someone raised the issue of the government’s delayed reaction to and inefficiencies during the Yolanda tragedy during the same occasion. He could have avoided it by laying off politics even for just a day.  Of course I expect the President to once again pass on the blame to others and accuse us of misinterpreting his intentions.  
In the end, the journey we all took in the last five days was instructive and insightful and therefore all worth it.  Once again, we learned to stand together as a people united in faith and not just in the spiritual sense.   Filipinos who were too young to have experienced the two people power revolutions now know what it is really like to be scrunched with fellow Filipinos responding to a common call with a fervor so strong it defies pain and all other personal considerations.  There have been very few occasions in recent memory that allowed us to feel bonded with fellow Filipinos and I thank Pope Francis for allowing us a glimpse of what we can be and do together when we stand united as a people.
The Pope’s visit to Tacloban was particularly poignant for a Waray like me.  The sight of hundreds of thousands of Yolanda victims oblivious to the biting cold, the hunger, the pain, the pouring rain and the howling winds and hanging on to every word that the Pope said sent shivers down my spine.  A people that remains able to kindle the tiniest flicker of hope within them and continues to be emboldened by faith even in the direst of circumstances will never be defeated.  I am truly proud of my fellow Waray who, once again, showed the world true strength of character.
There are many lessons that we could all learn from the Papal visit.   In the spirit of reflection, I would like to end this piece by ticking off my wish list for future Papal visits or similar important national events. 
First, I hope we really work harder to downplay our tendency to turn icons into “celebrities.”  Even if this Pope admonished everyone from focusing too much on him, media and our leaders did tend to portray him as a celebrity focusing on what he ate and wore, and the many little niceties and human-interest anecdotes about him rather than talk about issues and what he stood for.  Second, I hope we all work better to turn events into learning and instructive experiences, particularly for the young.  My hope is that we work collectively to mine events like the Papal visit for national, cultural and social significance.  Third,  I hope we all learn to stop turning national events like these into fashion events.  Seriously, did our media people have to wear intricately embroidered ternos and barongs just to cover the motorcade?  Did participants of the various events have to be dolled up?  Fourth, I hope we all learn to deal with our social and cultural imperfections.  We are a poor country, we have street children, activists, beggars, etc.  We have to stop sweeping them under the rug every single time a VIP comes along.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Meaningful for all

My January 18, 2015 column.

There are many insights and lessons that could be drawn from the collective journey of reflection and spirituality that Filipino people embarked on in the last few days since Pope Francis descended into the country.  But unlike the President, I will wait for the right time to offer my two cents’ worth.  In the meantime, I think it is important to try to help in whatever way we can to make the next two days – today and tomorrow – as orderly as we all possibly can.
I continue to believe that Filipinos along the route of the various papal motorcades and those present in the papal events behaved well because of three reasons. 
First, because people knew exactly where they were supposed to go and how they were expected to behave.   Media outlets were saturated with maps, advisories, notices, etc., - an app was even developed for the purpose and made available for free to everyone.   It always helps if an effective communication program is in place.
Second, the structural preparations were adequate and made ahead of time.  The concrete barriers were set up ahead of time and other provisions for crowd management and control were obviously thought through. Clearly, there is no substitute for careful planning.
But above all else, I think what really worked was the positive messaging.  Most everyone focused on appealing to the inherent values of Filipinos.  Many of our leaders kept praising people for their fortitude, their discipline, and their sense of “kapwa.”  The positive reinforcement clearly worked.  I heard of instances when the few who tried to break rules or took advantage of others were quickly reminded by everyone else to be mindful of the collective responsibility to make a good impression on the Pope.  From what I gathered, what worked in many instances were friendly appeals such as when policemen nicely told a few unruly people at the Manila Cathedral not to sully the good image the Filipino people have been generating in the last few days.  Hiya (sense of shame) is a powerful value to correct or modify behavior, but I guess most of our leaders have forgotten our own values.
Thus, I hope that as we converge at the University of Santo Tomas grounds or at the Quirino Grandstand of Rizal Park for the Sunday mass today, or at the routes of the remaining papal motorcade tomorrow, we would continue to display the kind of discipline and concern for others that we have been showing since Thursday.
Given that there are now few opportunities to see the Pope, I hope that those who have already seen Pope Francis will give way to others.  I was dismayed to read messages in social networking sites were people engaged in competition as to the who got to see the pope more times.  Give chance to others.
Let’s all take heed of the instructions, please.   Umbrellas, back packs, bladed weapons, mono pads, etc, will not be allowed at Quirino Grandstand or at the UST grounds.  It is best to just follow the rules for everyone’s safety.  
But over and above everything else, let us try to bask in this rare opportunity to embark on a collective journey of reflection and spirituality.  Let’s help make the papal activities become joyous celebrations of faith and not a free-for-all street party.  Let’s all imbibe the message of mercy and compassion – concern for others, beginning with the very people we stand with as we join the papal activities.  And more important, let us all fill or hearts with gratitude for the great blessing of having been in the presence of a Pope who is revolutionizing the church and making it closer to people.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I am Carlos

My January 13, 2015 column.

“Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) became a popular slogan and meme in the last few days as people around the world expressed solidarity with the 12 people who were murdered in an apparent terrorist attack on the Paris magazine Charlie Hebdo.  The slogan was meant to highlight the fact that intolerance knows no reason and has no place in the world.  By saying “I am Charlie,” people appealed for an end to intolerance, in effect, asserting that we can all become victims like the 12 people.
Of course a subsequent “I am not Charlie” meme also appeared in Twitter although it didn’t become viral.  From what I understand, those behind the meme also condemned the killing, but took exception to the way the magazine Charlie Hebdo ridiculed organized religion.  The magazine was notorious for provoking, even inciting extreme reactions, by publishing satirical cartoons that mocked organized religion and revered icons.  By saying “I am not Charlie” some people are saying intolerance cannot be fought by committing intolerance.  This poses a dilemma—whether condemning the murder but blaming the dead is ethically viable.  
There are parallels between the Paris incident and the case of local culture activist Carlos Celdran—and not just because Celdran and the newspaper shared the same name.  Celdran was arrested, tried, and subsequently sentenced to a jail term for expressing his disgust over the way the Catholic bishops have been interfering in the affairs of the state, particularly on the issue of Reproductive Health.  Celdran, wearing a bowler hat associated with the national hero, help up a placard that had the word “Damaso” written on it, in the middle of a religious ceremony at the Manila Cathedral.  He was charged with offending religious feelings under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code. He was found guilty by a lower court, a decision that was upheld by the Court of Appeals.  Celdran is bringing his case to the Supreme Court, but has pursued other means including writing to Pope Francis.  
There are those who insist that the continuing persecution of Celdran is a blatant form of suppression of freedom of expression.  On the other side of the argument are those who believe Celdran overstepped the bounds of freedom; like those who pushed the “I am not Charlie” meme, they believe that Celdran’s efforts at ridiculing the Church was also a form of intolerance. 
I do not think that what Celdran did at the Manila Cathedral constitutes intolerance; there were people who were present who testified that they were not offended and some even thought his “protest” was part of the proceedings.  Besides, it’s not as if the Catholic church in this country is a marginalized sector with no resources or means of asserting or defending itself—every church in this country has a pulpit, after all, where many priests pretty much have been hectoring people, often without logical or scientific basis, in the name of faith.
Even more important, Celdran apologized publicly, and even went to confession in the same church.  
I think Celdran’s case is an important side issue that is worth discussing as the country prepares for the visit of Pope Francis to the country this week.  This is a pope that has been preaching and practicing tolerance and has thrown open many doors for many marginalized causes, most of which were previously deemed unacceptable or even heretical by the country’s bishops.  
I view Celdran’s case as proof of the many institutional weaknesses of the Catholic church in the country.  Very often, our bishops do fail in the critical area of walking the talk, or living what they preach.  This is a church that makes a big to-do with charity, forgiveness, humility, and other supposed Christian values and yet fails to manifest the same values during critical times when the expression of these values would be truly meaningful.  In the case of Celdran, we’ve seen a series of embarrassing hand-washing reminiscent of Pontius Pilate, recently done by no less than Cardinal Antonio Tagle.  Cardinal Tagle last week reiterated that the Church had already forgiven Celdran and that the church did not file the case against him.  The facts of the case say otherwise—it was Monsignor Nestor Cerbo, Rector of the Manila Cathedral that filed a case against Celdran!  The state prosecutor hardly attended any of the hearings. 
I think forgiveness cannot be a passive act.  In this particular case, which involves the very institution that preaches “turning the other cheek” and at this very opportune time during the visit of a pope known for being a revolutionary, it behooves upon our bishops to match rhetoric with action.  There are many legal remedies that the Church can pursue to help free Celdran if it truly wants to show sincerity and magnanimity.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Higher expectations

My January 11, 2015 column.
Our authorities and some pundits have been crowing about how the annual celebration of the Feast of the Black Nazarene held last Friday was supposed to be a dry run for the impending visit of Pope Francis to the country this week. 
It’s either of two things.  One, our authorities and these pundits are clueless about what really goes on during the translacion of the image of the Black Nazarene from the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta, to the streets of Manila and Quiapo, before finally ending up at Quiapo Church. Or two, our authorities are preparing to do either nothing, or to go overboard in terms of the preparation for the visit of the leader of the Catholic church. 
I have been attending the annual translacion of the Black Nazarene for the last eight years so I can say this with some degree of confidence:  There is very little direct intervention done by authorities during the annual translacion aside from setting barriers and perimeter fences, providing security posts, and the like.  In fact, I doubt if there is really anything authorities can do other than provide a sense of psychological security and comfort through visibility.  Last year, authorities watched helplessly while devotees started the translacion earlier than scheduled - and not even waiting for the mass to be over before starting the procession.  In 2013, authorities could not do anything either as devotees insisted on continuing with the translacion even when the wheels of the carriage carrying the venerated image had already broken down; the priests and the organizers were forced to get down the carriage as devotees simply took over and went on with the procession despite the very real threat of the carriage disintegrating into pieces in the middle of the event.
The millions of devotees, majority of which are men, who participate in the annual translacion transform into a seemingly senseless mob that crawls, stumbles and scrambles forward inch by inch while constantly teetering at the brink of total anarchy.  It is probably proof of divine intervention that the body count is mercifully kept very low each year; authorities cannot claim credit for establishing order or sobriety because there truly is none.  The Feast of the Black Nazarene operates mainly on the principle of method to madness.
Heaven help us if the kind of piety and the level of devotion that is displayed during the Feast of the Black Nazarene is offered to Pope Francis by the Catholic faithful in this country next week.  This pope may be renowned for being gracious and tolerant and for not being finicky, but I doubt if he would have the stamina to brave millions of people shoving and scrambling over one another just to be able to kiss, touch, or hug him.  I also seriously doubt if the Vatican would allow having the Pope exposed to such a security nightmare.    
This is not to say, of course, that there is nothing that can be done to manage the Black Nazarene mob.  The key is political will and a concrete plan of action that has the support of the major stakeholders.  But this is based on the assumption that we do want to manage or control the phenomenon.  Quite frankly, I am convinced that our authorities don’t really want to interfere directly for a number of reasons.  First, most of us tend to believe superstitious beliefs that are based on events that happened during the translacion regardless of whether we are devotees or not.  For instance, it’s supposed to be a harbinger of bad times for the country if the venerated image is faced with major obstacles during the translacion.  Second, it’s difficult to argue with faith and piety.  Third, politicians don’t really want to earn the ire of millions of Black Nazarene devotees, most of whom are voters as doing so is tantamount to political suicide. 
I do hope that our authorities have something better set in place for the Papal visit than what is usually seen during the Black Nazarene traslacion.  I doubt if the faithful who will attend the papal masses would display the same level of fervor and devotion so the preparations will have to take on a different approach.  What really causes aggravation and gets people all riled up during mass events in this country is the utter lack of organization.  The focus should be in ensuring order and ease of movement for everyone more than security.  So unlike during the Black Nazarene traslacion, we would want authorities to not just be visible, but to actively direct and manage people during the papal events.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

More for others in 2015?

My January 6, 2015 column.

A new year is always an opportune time for reflection and, hopefully, formulation of some actionable plans designed to improve the way things are —if not in the world, then at least within our own spheres of influence. 
There are people who smirk at the whole process.  Thanks to consumerism, this whole process of making new year’s resolutions have become an annual exercise in wishful thinking, mostly about achieving some personal goals designed to meet other people’s approval.  I know quite a number of people whose annual list revolve around losing weight, being healthier, looking better, and getting richer.  These are not necessarily awful resolutions, of course.  But if we really come to think about it, the aforementioned may be considered requisites for anyone who intends to live comfortably even upon reaching senior citizenship.  So perhaps the whole process can be expanded beyond personal needs and goals. Perhaps, we can make the whole process more meaningful by also making action plans designed to help our communities, our country, or even other people particularly those who need help the most. 
Our problems as a nation and as a people are complex and deeply rooted in many social, cultural and structural configurations.  If we want more effective solutions, we all just have to pitch in somehow. 
For example, two of the most vexing problems that confront us with increasing regularity—traffic and flooding—cannot be solved with just two or three interventions.  These problems are quite complex and need to be addressed at various levels - national, local, community, and individual.  The solutions also need to be multi-faceted and multi-pronged and should take into account, among others, infrastructure development, policies and enforcement, education and values development, and yes, political will. We can blame government and local executives for lack of leadership, sincerity, and management skills—but we also need to realize that simply assigning blame won’t really get us anywhere.  We need to propose solutions; better still, we need to become part of the solution.
Over the holidays, friends and relatives in Leyte and Samar bewailed the sudden transformation of their communities into swamplands.  Areas that never experienced flooding in the past were suddenly buried in waist-deep water and in many areas, for two weeks running.  It is always easy to blame developers and local executives who built or authorized the construction of roads and structures that blocked natural waterways.  But we all know climate change as well as environmental degradation are the major vectors for flooding and the other natural calamities that visit us with more alarming frequency and intensity.  So perhaps instead of just ranting, we can all resolve that in 2015 we will plant 100 trees each, practice better waste management, recycle plastic, participate and make our voices be heard in our communities, etc.  These will help reduce, if not solve the flooding.
Instead of just posting shoutouts about how bad the traffic is and castigating officials for supposed inefficiency, we can choose to be more proactive by carpooling, getting updates on traffic conditions and avoiding clogged roads, being patient on the road and resisting the temptation to make counterflows or blocking intersections that aggravate the situation, getting to work earlier or much later, etc.  In short, we can all stop thinking that the traffic is a problem that only affects us specifically and individually because they really affect everyone else; so thinking less about ourselves and more about others will go a long way. 
There are many things we can do for others.  My friends and I support quite a number of charity wards in various public hospitals but, admittedly, mainly during the Christmas season.  We intend to do more in 2015 because there’s really a lot of indigent patients in public hospitals that desperately need help; you will find families there with nothing—absolutely nothing—in terms of resources to buy simple prescriptions worth a couple of hundred pesos or finance the simplest medical procedure.
A couple friend, Nicky and Cely Franco has launched an appeal for help for pediatric Ward 9 of the Philippine General Hospital. According to the couple, Ward 9 has 45 beds packed side by side or end to end in an open hall (no cubicles or partitions) that is probably unbearable in summer months.  It’s a place that requires visitors to have emotional fortitude as the sight of children with terminal cases can be heartbreaking.  But the Francos tell me Ward 9 has improved significantly today. They now use IV drip machines and new incubators. There are also more doctors. However, the patients of Ward 9 are still in dire need of help from everyone and anyone.  When the couple was there recently, they found two cases of biliary atresia (liver), a two-day old child who had just undergone an operation, a father who seemed ready to break down because he had already lost two children and and his third was intubated due to complications from a genetic condition, a single mom from Mindanao with no relatives in Manila and who was abandoned by the father of her child with a two-month old daughter about to undergo an operation; a teenager with Type I diabetes needing emergency dialysis, newborns, abandoned for one reason or another just waiting to be big enough to be taken in by orphanages, a premature baby in an incubator who unfortunately died hours after they saw him.
But the Francos also noted “flickers of hope.” They said a few patients were almost well enough to go home. Parents/grandparents were doing all they could to keep their children/grandchildren alive. Wardmates showed concerned for one another. The doctors were very dedicated, working longer hours than their shifts required them to and even using their own money for their patients.
The Francos are appealing for help for the children of Ward 9 of PGH.  Theres’ a list of medicines that need to be bought for the children or medical procedures that need to be done.  You can personally visit PGH and make your donations there.  Or you can contact me at bongaustero@yahoo.com and I can put you in touch with the Francos who are coordinating an assistance fund for the ward.  
We can all make 2015 a great year not just for ourselves individually, but for others too, particularly for those who truly deserve our kindness and generosity.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Funny and delightful

My January 4, 2015 column.
We finally got to watch English Only, Please - the movie adjudged as second best picture in the still ongoing 40th Metro Manila Film Festival.  We have made it a point to watch the top three movies in the MMFF in the last five years mainly to support the producers and artists who dare go up against the so-called MMFF franchise movies, also known as the brainless and idiotic drivel that the more established local movie producers have conditioned Filipinos to think as holiday movie fare.
It was heartwarming to note that the theater was quite full which belies the claim being trundled out that there is no audience for good movies during the holiday season.  From what I gathered from friends and from social networking sites, Bonifacio, English Only, and Kubot were finally drawing people in after they were declared by the jurors as the top three movies that were worth watching in the MMFF.
So did I think that English Only, Please deserves the awards it garnered?  You bet.  I would even go on record to say that the movie deserves praises for illustrating that a romantic comedy movie need not be illogical, ridden with clich├ęs, and feature over-the-top in-your-face acting to be funny or delightful. 
The supposedly artistic people behind the tired and tiresome MMFF movies of Vice Ganda and Vic Sotto should watch English Only and learn from it; I would be more than happy to even pay for the movie tickets provided they open their minds to new possibilities.  In fact, I think the movie should have been adjudged best movie of the 2014 MMFF if only for reminding everyone that there truly are many new and innovative ways of serving even the same old recipes.  
To put in more bluntly, the people behind English Only deserve our gratitude for hitting Wenn Deramas (director of Praybeyt Benjamin) and company squarely in the head.
English Only is a movie that is strongly reminiscent of Woody Allen movies:  It’s witty, funny, pokes fun at people and situations – but does so in an intelligent way. 
The basic plot of two broken people finding love in each other is quite basic and ordinary but the movie’s premise is quite inventive; it still asks us to stretch our sense of reality a bit, but at least it doesn’t insult us with situations that have no semblance with real life whatsoever.  The main characters are believable, and mercifully are not reduced to caricatures even if we pretty much knew how the whole movie would end.  There are many things about English Only that makes us believe that the people behind it actually thought through the whole movie.  For one, they resisted the urge to over-explain or even resolve the many odds and ends in the plot.  We didn’t need to see the main characters’ exes groveling before them, or Jennylyn Mercado’s family achieving a moment of enlightenment, or even the best friend snagging her own happy ever after.  We know not everything ends happily, thank you very much.
Mercado deserves her best actress trophy.  It’s not really very often than one gets to see a Filipina actress living out a role like its second skin.  One actually sees Tere Madlangsacay in this movie rather than Mercado.  And yes, her award proves that the genre is not really material; good acting shines regardless of whether it is in a period drama or in an absurd comedy.  Derek Ramsay must have won best actor over Robin Padilla (in Bonifacio) for consistency.  It can certainly be argued that Ramsay is playing a variation of himself in this movie, but he makes us root for his character all the way through. 
If you haven’t watched it, please go to the theaters and do so.  It’s probably the must-watch movie of the season if one is looking for something delightful.