Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Love, first

My June 30, 2015 column.

One of the most telling consequence of recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United States giving same-sex couples the right to marry was that one got to know the stuff one’s friends and acquaintances were truly made of.  Reading various commentaries in social networking sites over the weekend on the issue was an educational and informative task, although also quite amusing and agitating in many instances.  Although there were a number of really heartwarming and enlightening messages from people, including priests, political and religious leaders, still the question that was top of mind over the weekend was: How can some people be capable of so much hatred in their hearts?  
There were those who openly applauded the decision and immediately turned their profile pictures in Facebook into a mosaic of rainbow colors, thanks to an app that made it possible.  I was one of those who did this.  But then, expectedly, there were those who expressed disappointment, confusion, anger, and yes, outrage over the decision.  The vitriol was particularly more pronounced the day after the decision was rendered when the celebratory spirit started to wane.
In many instances, people just needed to be enlightened; their negative reactions borne mainly out of lack of information or inability to process the whole picture.  For example, one of my former students decried in his Facebook account what he thought was a question of inequity, essentially wondering why it is okay for gay people to express pride in their sexuality but not okay for straight people to do the same.  I had to explain that straight people actually express their pride in their sexuality 24/7 through the various posts they make about their significant others, when they post those lovely pictures and videos of their engagement parties or of their weddings, those ultrasound pictures of the babies that they are conceiving, and even when they display pictures of their husbands and wives and children at work.  Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders, obviously, cannot do the same things.  Thus the need to stress pride in their sexuality.
Quite a number of people expressed shock and anger over pictures (purportedly of the celebration in the Castro District in San Francisco, or probably, taken in some other place at some other time) that featured some holy images “redesigned” to show that Jesus Christ also loves the LGBT community.  I was also taken aback by one picture that showed a gay man kissing on the mouth what appeared to be a representation of Jesus Christ on the cross and two women kissing while simulating being nailed to the cross.  The pictures were obviously political in nature – they were meant to assert ownership of their own religious beliefs.  In a way, the act was an extreme variation of the way certain people turn the Santo Nino into a doll and present him in various depictions that make him one of them – a judge, a policeman, a farmer, even an entertainer or an overseas Filipino worker.  We’ve also seen images of saints being submerged in water or made to gyrate and rock in the street.  The act may have been more symbolic of redemption than an act of defiance.  But the real message was to push tolerance further.  After all, it is when we see images that incite intense feelings within us when our capacity to really accept and tolerate is tested.  But more important, those images where not necessarily representative of the beliefs and practices of the whole LGBT community – many are actually devout Catholics with particular devotions to specific saints.  It is wrong to hold these images up as a form of condemnation of all members of the LGBT just as it would be wrong to hold up the many husbands who beat up their wives or children as representative of straight men.
Lost in the whole discussion was the fact that the SCOTUS decision affirmed the legal bases for same-sex marriage for those who so desire, it did not prescribe a new morality for everyone.  It did not prescribe same-sex marriage for all.  Neither did the decision change anything about how people practice their faith or religions.  Anyone with a strong faith should have nothing to fear as the decision has not decreed that anyone change the way one observes his or her faith.
Fr. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, tried to put everything in context in a Facebook post he made where he exhorted people to “love first, everything else later.” Of course the Jesuit was attacked by so many religious zealots who claimed to be spokesperson of God Himself.  The priest’s message was lost on them, particularly the one that said “Everything else is meaningless without love.”

Sunday, June 28, 2015

No excuse for bigotry

My June 28, 2015 column.  

After the death of transgendered woman Jennifer Laude last year,
one would expect that most people would have acquired
some understanding of, or more empathy toward the issues
of transgenders and other sexual minorities in this country.
If we are to go by the way clubs such as Valkyrie—
which happens to be partly owned by one of the most
famous cross-dressers in the country, celebrity Vice Ganda—
continue to discriminate against transgenders, we can say
that very little has changed. Prejudice, discrimination,
and bigotry still exist, particularly those directed at
sexual minorities. This is sad, very sad, because
we do have pretensions about being a country
of tolerant, nurturing, caring people.
The separate incidents at Valkyrie where bouncers
of the club barred designer Veejay Floresca and
gay beauty queen Trixie Maristela from entering the bar,
allegedly because of the club’s dress code policies,
were discriminatory. The club has tried to contain the
damage by insisting that it did not discriminate against
transgenders, but the facts of the case are pretty clear
and straightforward. Even the club’s admission that their
people need training is already an admission that something
was wrong with their policies. But what disappointed
me more were the reactions of some people who basically
dismissed the incident like it was a non-issue.
There were those who scoffed at those who are up
in arms over the issue. The general drift of their opinion
was that there are thousands of other bars in Manila—
many of them friendly to transgenders—so why bother
about bars like Valkyrie. The answer is simple:
Because discrimination is wrong, bigotry is wrong,
regardless of who the victims or perpetrators are.
Bigotry and discrimination should have no place
in a civilized society as these are deeply rooted
in the same thing—hatred toward people they refuse
to acknowledge as their equals and therefore view
with contempt or derision.
Some have insisted that Valkyrie, being a private club,
has the right to impose its own dress codes and to refuse entry
to anyone who did not meet the standards it has set.
If Floresca and Maristela were refused entry because
they were wearing slippers, or basketball shorts,
or because they were stoned or drunk, people would not
have raised a howl. But they were refused entry
because of their sexual identity. Why should bars like Valkyrie
be allowed to continue to make money out of Filipinos
while promoting a caste system in the country?
There were those who said transgenders are not the only people
 who have rights, bar owners and other customers also have theirs.
I truly do not get the logic of this assertion because I just
cannot fathom how the rights of others have been disregarded
just because two transgenders wanted to attend a birthday
party inside Valkyrie, which they were invited to in the first place.
What exactly is taken away from everyone else when transgenders
and other sexual minorities demand humane or equal treatment?
I read some shoutouts from people who used the incident to
generalize, pointing out that many transgenders have been taking
way too much liberty parading in plazas or acting indecently in public.
I will admit that I have also been in situations where I was critical
of the behaviors of one or two transgenders inside a church.
But here’s the catch – I don’t think rudeness, crudeness, insensitivity, etc,
are traits that are specific to transgenders. It’s not fair to generalize
and judge all transgenders because of the actions of some, just as it is unfair
to generalize that all heterosexual men are drunks or chauvinists
just because we know some who are. Stereotyping is wrong and dangerous.
Then there were those who insisted that the issue was not discrimination,
but security for everyone else - that the club was just protecting everyone.
It’s as if transgenders have been known to start trouble anywhere.
And the assertion is exactly the reasoning behind prejudice directed
at blacks, or hispanics, or even Filipinos in certain places abroad.
It’s like saying certain people are associated with troublesome behavior,
just because of the color of their skin or their sexual identity.
Why should we care? Simple. Because if we don’t care, the bigots
and prejudiced people in this world will continue to think it is okay
to treat other people with contempt just because they are different.
They will not stop at transgenders.
Valkyrie was wrong to practice discrimination and we should
condemn the people behind the bar for doing so.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The man who was just there

My June 23, 2015 column.

Last Sunday was Fathers’ Day and it seemed everyone used the occasion to get sentimental and mushy about fathers, which was not necessarily a bad thing.   I think this world would be a much better place if everyone learned to be grateful and appreciative of the people who contribute to our respective growth.  I wrote a piece about my dad in 2008, seven years ago.  I decided to resurrect it last Sunday and was pleasantly surprised to find that it resonated with so many out there.  Some friends asked me to share it in this space, which I am doing today; abridged, though, for considerations of space.  The person referred to is my stepfather, who for all intents and purposes, was and is, my father.   
I grew up in the care of my grandmother and an aunt so my interactions with Tatay were limited to a few perfunctory gestures during official family functions and occasions.  So Tatay was simply the stereotyped “man of few words” who lurked in the shadows of my childhood.
I didn’t have memories of having been carried in his arms or being hoisted up on his shoulders; he wasn’t the man who taught me how to balance myself on a bicycle, or swam, or fashioned balls and carts out of palm fronds and tansans. I never flew kites as a child simply because I didn’t have anyone to teach me how. Somehow I couldn’t imagine imposing the task of hoisting a kite up and running with it to an aging grandmother. Which is not to say that I lived a childhood deprived of mirth and mischief. Kids do make do with what they have with their amazing ability to adjust and rationalize.
What Tatay and I shared were a few poignant moments of awkwardness as we struggled to get to know each other throughout my childhood. But I guess fathers do have a way of making their presence felt even if the impact and the power of those few shared moments would only unravel years later. My own realization of the important roles Tatay played in my life struck me like a thunderbolt when I joined a speech contest in the early 90s.  It was when I wrote that speech when the memories gushed forth.
I must have been six and running around in the backyard gleefully the way someone of that age would, unmindful of the admonitions of the adult, when I stumbled and suffered a nasty cut on my leg. I remember desperately trying to be a grown-up and suffering in silence as I tried to stem the flow of blood. Somehow, Tatay was suddenly there. He didn’t say anything. He simply sat me down, fixed the situation in his own way, and then quietly set me off to do my thing again. No recriminations, no big drama. That would be Tatay’s trademark.
I remember many times in my life when he would just quietly emerge from the shadows to fix whatever was wrong in my life and just as simply disappear. No flashy declarations of affection. No major expectations of gratitude. Tatay wasn’t—and still isn’t—big on lectures or worldly declarations of what should or shouldn’t be. He simply was there when I needed him, like an invisible shadow that hovered and appeared when needed. Most fathers are like that, I guess. They are just there. 
There’s this admonition that our mothers like to trundle out at a moment’s notice —something about how one learns to fully appreciate certain roles only when he begins to play it. It’s a cliché the wisdom of which is often lost in the dynamics of familial intramurals, but one that haunts you at crucial moments when one is forced to wonder how your parents coped with your own version of your kids’ misdemeanors.
Yesterday was Fathers’ Day. Because we live in an age where consumerism is the norm, everyone who stood to profit from hyping certain occasions made a field day out of it. But I guess there’s something about getting old—or older—that makes us develop marshmallows in places where the heart should be. And I guess being at the receiving end of affection makes us come to terms with certain occasions and forces us to appreciate affection when we get it. 
So if there is something that we should be grateful for about the way consumerism has consumed our lives, it is the fact that at least it has become easier—if not convenient—for kids today to be more in touch with their feelings particularly towards their fathers. It is easier to be affectionate with mothers because their social role dictates that they be nurturing and affectionate. But fathers are supposed to be of a different breed – oblivious to hugs and tears and big expressions of affection.
Tatay and I had an uneasy relationship growing up but I have realized that this has not in any way diminished the affection we have for each other. Tatay was not the proverbial hero of my childhood but he certainly is in my grown-up life. I can only wish I am as good as father to my kids as he has been to me.  Happy Fathers’ Day, Tatay.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Spoilers don't have to ruin the experience

My June 21, 2015 column.

The season-ender of the fifth season of the HBO series Game of Thrones stayed true to what has now become a tradition in the ardently-followed show: It was brutally tragic, utterly heartbreaking, and, as far as many were concerned, totally unexpected. (Those who have read the books, however, already had an inkling of what was going to happen. Although the TV series has taken so many liberties with the material and has strayed away many times from the storyline, the people behind the show have been talking about yielding to pressure to return to the original work of author George RR Martin.)
But that season-ender will also be remembered for the many “relationships” that got severed, at least in social networking sites. I personally came across so many angry warnings, threats, and heated arguments over spoilers about how the season will end. Because the season-ender was shown ahead in the United States and Britain, there were people who have already seen it before everyone else did in the Philippines. There were those who, either because of excitement, or out of a desire to annoy others, started sharing spoilers – revealing the highlights of the season ender. This, of course, did not sit well with many fans who craved for the visceral thrill of witnessing shocking, unexpected developments unfold before their very eyes without the benefit of a warning or advance information. And so the flurry of blocking and “unfriending” and scolding people for being spoilers ensued.
I empathize with those who felt that their appreciation of the season finale was severely reduced by some inconsiderate trolls who couldn’t keep their excitement and their tendency to blabbermouth in check. But for crying out loud, if one truly did not want to come across information about what happens in the season-ender, they should have simply stayed away from social networking sites where people afflicted with the compulsion to share every single thought that crossed their mind or every bit and piece of their mundane existence, lurk. The way I see it, it is unreasonable to expect everyone in the world to conform to one’s viewing preferences. Surely people can still see how ironic it is to aggressively accost people and call them names supposedly for being inconsiderate and disrespectful of others.
The argument that was repeatedly brought forward was that spoilers destroy the viewing experience. Although I really believe it’s a matter of personal preference, there are actually studies that say spoilers do not necessary destroy the experience – and may in fact, heighten better appreciation of the work in question. There are people who read the last chapter of a mystery thriller first, or people who deliberately ask for advance information about a play or movie, in order to enhance their enjoyment. When the brain has advance information of what’s going to happen, it can become more analytical and learn to focus on many other elements of the work. Plot, after all, is not everything. It is important, but it is not the only element that people can derive appreciation from. In movies there’s the cinematography, the dialogues, the production design, etc.
As an example, I don’t think that my enjoyment of say, Jurassic Park or The English Patient, has diminished despite having watched these films for the nth time. The same can be said for books that I particularly love. When someone inadvertently told me that Dumbledore dies in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, I got irked, but became a better reader, I think, because I started to look for clues and motives early on.
But then again, that’s just me. I will concede that it all boils down to preferences. If people want to rely on the television series rather than read the books, fine. If people prefer to limit their enjoyment of a movie to the plot rather to other elements that are present, so be it. There’s more than enough room in this world for tolerance for all our quirks.
Sure, people should try not to deliberately spew spoilers unless it’s sought. But as the cliché goes, when life gives you lemons, as it often does, hey, make lemonade rather than rile about it and fight with everyone else. You might just realize that not all gifts need to be hidden in layers of wrappers to be appreciated.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Let's start talking issues

My June 16, 2015 column.

Former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially launched her bid for the highest post in the United States of America over the weekend with a rally and a speech that clearly outlined what a second Clinton presidency would be about. She presented her vision and defined her major advocacies.  But more importantly, she put herself out there, presenting herself unequivocally as the person America should vote as its first woman (and grandmother) President.  In so doing, she defined herself and what she stands for rather than allowed others to do it for her. 
One wishes the people in this country who want to be president would learn a thing or two about leadership, purpose, and forthrightness from the woman because it really is time to talk about the important issues in this country.
Of course there are people who are turned off by the seeming aggressiveness; in fact, that has always been one of the criticisms directed at Clinton – that she seems to want it all.  I think that the criticism is actually a reaction to her gender, there are still people even in America who thinks a woman should not be too aggressive; after all, the same criticism would not be made of a candidate who happens to be a man.  But we’re in the Philippines where people are not necessarily threatened by strong women – we’ve produced two women presidents, for crying out loud, not to mention the fact that some of the most feared people in government today are women.  My point is simply this:  I wish our so-called presidentiables would take their cue from Clinton and declare once and for all their desire and interest in running for president.  Even better, it would be  great if all these politicians actually define themselves and the issues they represent and allow these to propel them forward.  I wish someone with enough grit comes forward to bravely talk about issues and answer the critical questions: What exactly are you bringing to the post of president of this country?  What issues define you and your proposed presidency? Why are you running for president? Why should we trust you and not someone else?    
Unfortunately, what we have - with less than a year towards the elections – is a bunch of people who have mastered the art of playing coy and obfuscating facts but all the while keeping a keen eye on the results of surveys.  In short, we have a bunch of siguristas who all want some assurance of support and winnability before they commit.  And yet they all fancy themselves as nationalists who will do anything for the country.
In the meantime, they make appearances here and there, refuse to confirm nor deny their candidacy but nevertheless go our of they way to answer issues, and pretend that they have nothing to do with those ads and posters.  Many are shamelessly courting the President, or the political parties, or some influential groups, using personal relationships as bases for the discussion rather than issues or platforms.  This predilection reaches ridiculous heights when people start talking about personal loyalties, family ties, and about continuing supposed legacies as if it is a confirmed fact that people want an Aquino, or a Poe, or a Marcos clone in the Palace.     For crying out loud, if we truly want someone who thinks and acts like Aquino, we might as well amend the constitution and re-elect him rather than settling for a copycat. 
It is time to start talking about issues because that is the only way we can separate the myth from the fact. 
It is time for Senator Grace Poe to respond to questions around her acquisition of a US citizenship – why did she renounce Filipino citizenship when it is an established fact that she and her family were not exactly deprived of opportunities in this country? 
Senator Panfilo Lacson should squarely address the issues of his seeming distrust of the Philippine justice system and his fellow Filipinos that he had to go into hiding rather than subject himself to the very laws he helped create and swore to uphold. 
Mayor Duterte must tell us how exactly he plans to replicate the Davao City success story on a nationwide scale without turning the country into a garrison state, transforming the military into a monster, and without trampling on the rights of citizens. 
Vice President Binay should present a fool-proof plan of action that would convince people that corruption will not be a hallmark of his proposed presidency.  Of course he must also present incontrovertible proof that he is not corrupt, contrary to what his accusers say. 
And Secretary Roxas should come into his own, emerge from the shadow of the President, and declare exactly what his own plan of action is – independent of the Aquino administration.  Come to think of it, Roxas must simply start telling us who he really is without his surname, his wife, and his connections to all the previous administrations.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A series of embarrassing incidents

My June 14, 2015 column.
It’s a bit disconcerting that our participation in this year’s 28th Southeast Asian Games, which is being held in Singapore until Tuesday, is being highlighted by a series of embarrassing developments. Of course the fact that we are trailing behind Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia in the overall medal tally is already very embarrassing as it is. Yes, I was already old enough to remember a time when we ruled many athletic competitions in the region, when the country had a genuine sports development program, and when athletes playing with the national team were the recipients of respect and adulation. 
But there are other sources of embarrassment. There was that rather unfortunate gaffe about the uniforms of our athletes displaying an inverted Philippine flag. The stunning victories of Filipino athletes Eric Cray and Kayla Richardson in the 100-meter sprint were somehow dented by the fact that they were wearing inverted Philippine flags on their chests when they won the races. As we all know, the flag is supposed to be displayed with the blue field on top; having the red field on top is supposed to signal that the country is at war. We’re having a territorial dispute with China and the President of the country has been posturing like a toughie who is raring to go to war, but am sure everyone agrees that we’re not really at war with anyone – or at least not yet. I am sure the sports officials will dismiss the matter as a minor oversight that must not deflect attention from the grit and courage of our athletes. But it is precisely these small details that are indicative of the rank inefficiency that has characterized whatever preparations there have been in the run-up to the athletic competitions.
In fact, many of the athletes have made it known that they had only a few days preparation prior to the Singapore SEA games! As we know, we are cobbling athletes from all over – fortifying the national team with half-Filipino athletes who are based in other countries. But it is now being alleged that even those who reside in the country were only brought to train together a few weeks – in the case of some teams, a few days – prior to leaving for Singapore. This is truly heartbreaking because other countries train their athletes for years. It makes our blood boil when we are told that this country does not have money for sports development or to support our athletes when we know that the government has underspent once again this year, when we consider the billions of pesos that are stolen by corrupt politicians, or when we compute the total amounts spent on those senseless political ads.
And then there was that rather unfortunate reaction to the videos of two Filipino divers which showed them falling ungracefully into the pool, landing flat on their backs. The reactions were instantaneous.  People mocked and ridiculed the two athletes, calling them all kinds of names. Many of the comments were downright cruel. I couldn’t believe that many Filipinos actually shared the video and made it viral! Fortunately, videos of the two divers turning in great performances in the same games were also available and many Filipinos, this writer included, posted and shared these videos to dispel the impression that the divers were bumbling idiots. Why do we Filipinos jump at the chance to ridicule the frailties of others, particularly athletes? Surely we do not expect all our athletes to make magic every single time they compete, particularly given the low level of support that they receive.
Our hope for a first gold in women’s volleyball was dented when the national team lost to Indonesia in the first game. Our delegation’s response was to file a protest against the Indonesian team and asking for a gender test on Indonesia’s star player– Aprilia Santini, who plays like a man and looks physically like a man. The SEA game organizers have turned down the Philippine delegation’s protest but our officials continue to grumble. This is a sad, sad development. We are coming across as sore losers who resort to technicalities during a defeat. But even more important, the move is indicative of bigotry and discrimination. Physical appearance is not the only indicator of gender. And the player in question has played in many regional competitions before and nobody has questioned her gender. The Indonesian team acknowledges her as a woman and her family knows her to be such. In fact, her reaction to the controversy generated by the Philippine delegation protest was to worry about the effect it would have on her family. As usual, the bigots in this country have weighed in with their own disparaging commentaries mocking Santini’s physical attributes. Santini identifies as a woman; it is her gender identity. How can anyone else presume to know better?

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Missing the point

My June 9, 2015 column.

Equal employment opportunity is a great and noble concept.  In our heart of hearts, we all want to champion fairness.  The truth, however, is that such a concept is difficult to implement in the Philippines.  The reasons are many and it is sad that our legislators seem to think that it’s only so because industry practices discrimination.     Thus, Senator Pia Cayetano and company have been intermittently crowing about the need to pass the proposed Anti-Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 2013.  Some officials at the local level have bought Cayetano’s advocacy and have started filing resolutions in various city councils urging others to support the bill which seeks to penalize an employer, labor contractor or labor organization for discrimination against any person because of age.  There’s also an online petition that is gaining ground; last I looked, it had more than 5,000 signatories.
The proponents of the measure cite job notices and advertisements that specify age requirement.  They want the practice stopped.  They also want to impose prohibition against requiring candidates to declare age and birth date, declining an application by reason of age, discrimination in terms of compensation, conditions or privileges because of age, etc.  It is tempting to argue that the qualifications specified in job notices are not written in stone, but it is a lot easier to concede the point.  Companies can do without it and I have reason to believe those who do specify age limits and other biographical characteristics do so only out of bad habit, laziness, and to add length to their job ads.  But doing away with age requirements in job notices will not guarantee that the supposed age-based discrimination will no longer be practiced.  Also, the prohibition against requiring candidates to declare age or birth date is funny because that kind of data is very easy to access - all transactions with government from NBI certificates to drivers licenses require that data.  If industry truly wants to exclude certain populations from the employment process, there are many creative ways to do it and unless government wants to police every human resource department in every company in every city, it would be difficult to prove discrimination because of age.  
First of all, there are a lot of business organizations that actually practice equal employment opportunity whenever they can.  The business process outsourcing industry, for one, does not impose age limits among other biographical characteristics.  Second, if and when industry prescribes age limits, it would be for certain entry-level positions because it certainly does not make sense for any business organization to set age limits for supervisory or managerial positions where maturity and experience count.  Why would we want senior people with experience to apply for entry level positions?  Third, like other things in a market economy, jobs are a product of the supply and demand relationship.  There are just more fresh graduates looking for jobs and it can be argued that narrowing qualification standards can help both candidates and employers find each other faster.  All of these, however, can be conceded in the name of better corporate governance.
My main beef with measures such as Cayetano’s latest wrinkle is that it is simplistic.  It is accusatory and automatically implies wrongdoing on the part of industry.  For example, why limit the accusation to industry and leave out the biggest employer of all - which is government?  It would be foolhardy for anyone to assume that government agencies do not set age limits.  Worse, it completely misses the whole point by about a mile.  By legislating that age should not be a factor for employment anymore, are we in effect saying retirement, and the prescribed retirement age, are already irrelevant?  If we are to ban discrimination against age in the hiring process, would it not be discriminatory as well to force people to retire at the government mandated cut-off age?  We must change the retirement law.  And heavens, shouldn’t we also talk about discrimination against people who are not yet of legal age? 
Just to be clear, we will join Senator Cayetano anytime, anywhere in her quest for a more tolerant workplace.  We will jump loops with her to push for measures that celebrate diversity and harness the distinct and unique contributions that different types of people bring to the workplace.  
There is however the more important issues, which Cayetano and company choose to gloss over.  And this is that there is a context around the supposed discriminatory practice of industry. 
There is a dearth of scientific bases to convince everyone that age and certain biographical characteristics associated with youth and consequently, physical capabilities, are no longer relevant today.  Government must drive the empirical studies that will justify the movement. We must build the science that will create the principles and practices - only then can we have a compelling reason to lift age limits in both hiring and retirement. So perhaps our senators can fund those studies.     
Passing a law that scolds and punishes industry and people for supposedly practicing discrimination is a half-baked idea in the face of the utter absence of structures that will support such a measure.  There are quite a number of statutory guidelines that make it prohibitive for companies to hire “older people”, even insurance companies have the law on their side for not allowing medical cover for senior employees, or in worst cases, tripling premiums.  Lets’ call a spade a dirty shovel - there are differences in physical abilities between a 20-year old and a 45-year old guy.  Arguing that older workers should be given less strenuous, less hazardous jobs defeats the whole idea of fighting for anti-discrimination because positive discrimination is still discrimination.  The solution is to automate most processes so that there will be less manual and physical jobs, but the shift in technology needs to be put in place first; remember that it took us decades to put in place facilities to make it possible for people with disabilities to come to work.  In short, if we want industry to revise its qualifications standards, we must revise the laws that make it difficult to do it and build the structures that would support the change.  And we’re not yet talking about the costs to industry!
What is clear is the problem is larger than discrimination.  Discrimination does not exist in a vacuum.  Anyone who wants to change the behavior of ducks in a pond must first of all study the pond before forcing ducks to learn to swim underwater.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Ties that bind

My June 7, 2015 column.
I was asked to come home to our hometown in Leyte last month as keynote speaker of the annual alumni homecoming of my high school. My classmates and I did gather to celebrate our 20th anniversary some years back, but I have never attended the grand homecoming event of the whole school so I thought it was a good time as any to come home and experience what many have sworn as an occasion worth coming back to annually. 
I think many will agree with me that high school was when the happiest times of our lives happened. I spent mine at a school called the Abuyog Academy, which was some kind of a family tradition. My mother and her siblings, and my siblings and my cousins all went there and so did the siblings and cousins of one’s classmates. The school didn’t have state-of-the-art facilities but what it lacked in physical resources, it more than made up for with good old-fashioned character building. We cleaned classrooms for homeroom sessions, attended carpentry and gardening for practical arts, and made Christmas lanterns from scratch for the annual lantern parade. We did drills under the scorching heat of the sun and pulled grass around the town’s public areas as community service.  There were distinct advantages of attending a small town high school – we walked to school and went home for lunch, school activities such as the JS Prom and the CAT Tactical Inspection were town events, and everyone looked out for each other. The downside was that the school’s scouts and CAT cadets got commissioned to do most civic tasks – from guard duties at town fairs, to parade marshal, to carrying religious images during religious processions. And as can be expected, everyone gossiped about everyone else.
I naturally had some expectations of the grand reunion, shaped by photos of previous years’ reunions. I came prepared for the feasting and the drinking and the dancing, which basically meant loading up on anti-cholesterol and maintenance medicines. What I wasn’t prepared for were the intermittent shrieks (“Is that you?” “That cannot be you!”), the non-stop hugging, and the endless retelling of decades-old capers. Back in high school, I was the class nerd so it was my mission to make uncooperative and difficult teachers squirm by peppering them with questions that were almost impossible to answer; my class held the record of having made the most number of teachers cry. We were kids then. During my speech last month, I took extra pains to apologize publicly to the concerned teachers, albeit belatedly, and they got back at me by pinching me in the ears and thighs the way authority figures disciplined erring kids in the seventies and eighties, and I guess all was forgiven. 
It had been almost 40 years since we graduated from high school and the toll that the decades have made on our appearances, if not our memories, was difficult to hide, notwithstanding Vicky Belo and the supposed advances in aesthetic medicine. What I did learn though was that as soon as we got to put faces and names together, all identification features became easily recognizable. No amount of time could erase the distinct way in which someone brayed, or squinted his eyes, or covered her mouth as she laughed. By midnight, we were all seeing each other as we were almost forty years ago; and even tried to behave as we did - gout, hypertension, beer bellies, and vertigo be damned. 
And because we had such a lot of fun and probably because we were thinking like irresponsible high school kids, we all decided to extend the reunion the following day at the town’s riverside resort. It turns out everyone else had the same idea so the whole setup looked exactly like a repeat of the previous day’s affair, less the stuffy speeches and the coordinated getups. It was just a matter of time before people started clowning around and dunking fully clothed classmates into the pools. 
Of course we also had serious conversations about where life has taken each one of us and made plans to do more meaningful ways of giving back to the school and the community.  We all swore to come back next year, and yes, in keeping with the Filipino tradition of one-upmanship, made a vow to have better t-shirts and more gimmicks than the other batches. 

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Paano naman kami?

My June 2, 2015 column.
If anyone noticed, there was less of the screeching and caterwauling that used to characterize the start of the school year yesterday when classes started.  We didn’t see the usual parade of irate parents, harassed teachers, and beleaguered administrators reciting the litany of miseries associated with the Philippine public educational system.  I would like to think this was because we have finally been able to address (to some extent) the many shortcomings in our system.
In addition to the structural programs that have been put in place, I know for a fact that the relative ease in which we met the start of classes yesterday was partly due to Brigada Iskwela.
Brigada Iskwela is a collaborative effort among various stakeholders – teachers, local and barangay officials, parents, and various private organizations – to ensure overall readiness of our public schools.  The Brigada project highlights the power that can be had if everyone pitches in and realizes that educating Filipino children is a shared responsibility among all Filipinos.  If we really come to think about it, educating our children is the best form of investment that we can make towards our future.  Human capital remains our best – if not the only - source of sustainable competitive advantage.
One wishes the same bayanihan spirit were evident in our transition towards K12.  Alas, the implementation of the whole initiative is now threatened, because certain sectors are now raising all kinds of questions and throwing all kinds of obstacles into a path that is already difficult as it is. 
We can summarize all the lamentations into just one howl: “Paano naman kami?” Roughly, what about poor us?
The transition phase will result in a drop of enrollment during a certain period, so naturally, certain groups of schools and teachers have put up a lobby against K12 because of economic reasons.  But instead of lobbying for government support and running to Congress to rush the approval of the Bill that will provide subsidies during the transition period, they want the measure stopped. 
Certain groups that claim to speak for parents are complaining that K12 will add two more years of schooling.  In an ideal world, two years of additional education to make children better prepared to deal with the real world should be reassuring to parents; unfortunately, we are being made to believe that parents out there equate schooling only with expenses rather than learning or development.  Instead of pushing for more scholarships and subsidies and other programs to help families cope, they would rather that K12 be stopped.  I was at a public forum recently where someone pontificated about the supposed evils of K12.  His thesis was that poor families are already not able to send their kids to school, how much more if two more years are added?  The logic stank because quite frankly, if families are going to use poverty as the excuse for not sending kids to school, reducing, adding, or maintaining the status quo would not really matter.  In the meantime, we perpetuate the current system that clearly puts Filipinos at a disadvantage over others who mandate systems similar to K12.  I am not saying we should exclude poor families from the equation; I am saying that we help them directly and not hold hostage the whole educational system.
I could go on and on, but you get the drift.  Those who oppose the K12 program are claiming that the country is not ready.  I have news for them – regardless of what we do, we will never ever reach the state of readiness that they prescribe.  They argue that K12 does not solve the many recurring problems of the educational system.  Well, many of the problems are systemic in nature and will never be solved through piecemeal solutions; we are better off revamping the whole system.  In this context, K12 represents revolutionary change.  If people only see beyond the additional two years of schooling and really study the full implications of the program (for example, the proposed curriculum allows students at senior high school to specialize, and therefore, not anymore go to college just to get jobs) perhaps the nature of the debate would be more constructive.  
We all agree K12 is a foregone conclusion.  I am tempted to inquire where all these people have been in the last two decades that the measure has been continually debated upon.  But for now, I will focus on what, to my mind, should be the relevant question that people should be asking:  How do we all pitch in to make sure that the transition and the implementation is successful?