Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Not just about numbers

My September 29, 2015 column.
A friend who lives abroad sent me a message over the weekend, basically expressing amusement tinged with a bit of dismay that Filipinos were about to break another world record, this time for the number of tweets about a single event.  Like many other Filipinos, he was closely observing the mass hysteria over the Aldub phenomenon.  I empathized with him.  I told him he was in a better place compared to many others who got hooked into either hating, defending, or justifying their addiction to the Aldub phenomenon.
I am not sure if Eat Bulaga was successful last Saturday; but if not, I am sure it will just be a matter of time before they succeed in breaking into smithereens whatever existing record there is on Twitter.  The phenomenon is just heating up and I am sure they intend to bring the couple to the altar in a grand wedding ceremony in the coming weeks or months.  I wasn’t really sure what benefits—other than bragging rights—could be derived from hitting a gazillion mark on Twitter.  At the same time, I did wonder if people saw the possibilities and opportunities in the phenomenon.
For people who are still doing mental acrobatics trying to make sense of the Aldub phenomenon, check out the mass hysteria over the Nida-Nestor, Guy-Pip, Sharon-Gabby, and other similar pairings in the past.  I think I was in high school when the reunion movie of Nora Aunor and Tirso Cruz III was shown—and I still have vivid memories of the pandemonium that attended the screening of the movie.  They had to close streets because of the sheer number of people who turned up.  Of course the manner in which people express their adulation has already changed; fans no longer hold vigils and descend in full force at movie events to show their support—there are now social networking sites available.  Nevertheless, the world that we live in may have changed dramatically in the last 20 years, but we’re still basically the same deep down inside—we’re still a people who  goes gaga over love teams that defy social conventions.  We’re still big-time suckers for good old-fashioned romance, particularly those that involve Filipino cliché situations such as an attendant strict or authoritarian parent, class or economic divide, etc. 
To consider the whole preoccupation shallow, or lacking in depth or substance is to mock Pinoy pop culture.  Many major events and movements in the world have been sparked by “shallower” stimulus.  It can even be argued that the whole phenomenon is yet another reflection of the inherent inventiveness of Filipinos.  It’s basically improvisation at work, and those in the know are aware that improv is the most difficult form of comedy.  I also think that the set-up actually triggers higher-level thinking.  Unlike in a soap opera where audiences are required to suspend disbelief, the Aldub portion in Eat Bulaga goes to town with all its on-the-spot improvisation—the characters fumble their cues and everyone makes jokes about the kind of effort they make in stretching things too far.  The Saturday editions of the show basically happens in the vicinity of the Broadway Centrum in Quezon City and while the production people try to make it appear as if the characters run around and travel through a wide geographic area, the hosts make punch lines about how silly they all look because everyone knows they are in the same area, anyway.   
As I wrote in a previous column,  a major reason why people are hooked on the Aldub romance is because everyone is in on the whole charade.  We all know the various complications are made up and we all know that the people behind the show are basically pulling everyone’s leg—we all know we’re all just having fun.  Of course there are those who hope and pray that sparks do fly between the two characters and that Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza really do get attracted to each other in the process.  But most people are aware of the realities of the show, and move on with their lives after 2:30 p.m.  The madness is kept to a tight schedule.
But I do concede that there is a part of me that indulges in some wishful thinking; I do wish that the people behind the show see the immense responsibilities that come with the rare gift or privilege of having millions of Filipinos as followers.  I do wish that the people behind Eat Bulaga (or for that matter, Showtime which has a similar portion involving a broken-hearted girl who also got her five minutes of fame in social networking sites) find the moral courage to use that power and influence constructively. 
What is not being discussed is that the Aldub phenomenon has filled a need among Filipino audiences and it is up to the Eat Bulaga people to provide direction, and more meaning into the whole experience. 
So yes, while I do think that the current phenomenon is not necessarily lacking in depth, I think that perpetuating the same over time without any effort to channel it towards a loftier purpose is a monumental waste of opportunity.  Just imagine, for example, what 25 million tweets on responsible voting, or saving the environment, or even reducing violence against women and children can do.  This cannot be all about ratings. There is more to business than just cornering a lion’s share of the audience.
Similarly, I understand that the Iglesia Ni Cristo has also sent word that they intend to break the existing world record on the number of spectators gathered for a single movie screening event when they unveil Felix Manalo, the biopic on the founder of the religious sect, next month. I personally smell politics behind the whole effort, but there must be more to breaking records than just getting the numbers. Otherwise, it’s a meaningless exercise; like gathering dumb driven cattle.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Internet hoaxes

My September 27, 2015 column.

Filipino Facebook users are the world’s most unintelligent people. This was the bold assertion made by an alleged study conducted by a Filipino graduate student from Harvard University last year. Highlights of the “study” found their way to various social networking sites recently. Among the supposed findings were the following: 80 percent of Filipino Facebook users click the like button on external links without even reading or opening the links first or being aware of what they are “liking;” most Filipino users share horrific images like accidents, killings, child abuse and other horrendous images that are not normally shared by people who understand the effects of these images; and Filipino Facebook users do not seem to understand the concept of human rights or etiquette. The “study” was backed by seemingly convincing data, citing statistics that appeared credible because they seemed empirically-based, such as total population of Filipinos and total number of Internet users, among others.
The results of the “study” created quite a stir. There were those who immediately questioned the methodology and the results, while there were those who seemed to agree with the findings, citing various anecdotal evidences that seem to support the findings. I came across an article about the study on the Facebook page of a friend of mine who happens to be among the country’s most respected clinical psychologists. It was discovered later on that the supposed study was actually a hoax; it was a complete work of fiction.
On hindsight, a closer reading of the so-called findings and the way these were presented showed telltale signs of shoddy analysis. Unfortunately, most of us have profound respect for data presented in a complex form as we tend to associate intelligence, scientific rigor, and even credibility with complexity; thus, it is quite easy to perpetuate hoaxes, particularly if these are packaged well. This brings me to an important question that has been bothering me for quite sometime now: What drives people to spend that much time and effort on making up hoaxes such as the aforementioned study?
The fact that the so-called study became viral and merited heated discussions seemed to validate the findings of the study. There are quite a number of Filipinos who tend to believe urban legends and hoaxes, and worse, are quick to share these without validating their provenance or veracity. I have personally called the attention of some friends in instances when they shared a meme or an article making certain claims that had already been debunked by experts. For example, there are quite a number of medical advice being shared and re-shared in social networking sites that are not supported by science; some of these are quite dangerous because they are not generalizable or applicable in all situations or conditions. 
However, it must be pointed out very strongly that this predilection is not unique to Filipinos —in fact, this seems to be a universal malady.
I would like to think that most are driven by noble intentions when they feel the compulsion to share with the rest of the world whatever information they deem important.
For example, I was aghast that many people immediately posted screen grabs of the street view of their residences when Google Maps made the facility available, in the process throwing security and privacy concerns to the wind. This also includes sharing of photos, information, or even data that should really remain private. 
Of course it would be desirable if people exercised a little vigilance—it is very often easy to check the veracity of certain urban legends as there are reliable Internet sites such as snopes.com that make a compilation of these —but I guess it is difficult to argue with good intentions. 
A large part of the motivation has to do with social coordination as well. Social networking sites are convenient venues for social interaction. Gossip, rumors, jokes, urban myths and legends are the stuff that everyone can easily relate with or contribute to. In this context, analytical thinking or vigilance seem irrelevant.
All these, however, cannot be blanket justification for rash behavior in social networking sites that need to be reconsidered because, at the very least, they smack of immaturity.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Heneral Luna - a must watch movie for all Filipinos

My September 22, 2015 column.
There are movies that entertain, and there are movies that educate. And then there is the occasional movie that does both.  Heneral Luna, which is currently playing in movies nationwide (the number of theaters were reduced after a lackluster first week results, and then subsequently increased as positive word-of-mouth drove audiences to moviehouses during the second week) not only does a superb job of both entertaining and educating in a compelling way—it does a hell of a lot more.  In the two occasions that I watched the movie in the last two weeks, the audience broke into spontaneous and sustained applause as the credits rolled, something that rarely happens today, and particularly when it involves a local movie.
There is absolutely no doubt that Heneral Luna is well-crafted movie.  It’s a period film, which usually becomes an occasion for nitpicking.  The people behind Luna tries hard to keep the production as authentic as possible, but whatever lapses and oversights become overshadowed by the tight storytelling, the outstanding technical elements, and the exceptional performances of the actors.  John Arcilla as Antonio Luna inhabits the role like second skin; it’s not engaging in hyperbole to say even his spittle seems deliberately timed.
There are many reasons why Heneral Luna should be required viewing for all Filipinos.  It is a movie that engages audiences to challenge many of our appreciation of certain critical and pivotal moments in Philippine history and the roles played, the decisions made, and the actions pursued by the people we collectively refer to as heroes and consequently placed on pedestals.  History, after all, is most often reduced to accounts about the courage and valor of the pivotal players of certain epic events during the revolution; the frailties of our heroes and the many tragic stories of conspiracy and betrayal that led to their downfall, are usually presented as footnotes.  We’re generally kinder, particularly to people who died during the revolution. Unfortunately, it’s precisely this collective effort to sweep under the rug the many unfortunate and embarrassing events in our history that hobbled and even pulled back our development as a nation that explains our continuing inability to learn from our mistakes.
Watching Heneral Luna is like holding a mirror in front of our faces and being confronted with our foibles and follies as a people.  This exercise is usually attended by a lot of giggling and defensive laughter, but not while watching Heneral Luna where the sense of rage and anger borne out of realization is almost palpable.
In one scene, Luna successfully sequestered a train to be used to ferry soldiers to the battlefields in Bagbagin and Novaliches; the soldiers could not be accommodated in the train because the officials have already commandeered the train for the pleasure of their families who, naturally got the choice seats.  The tempestuous Luna had to throw everyone out lamenting the Filipino’s complete devotion to their families, sometimes to the exclusion and detriment of the country or the common good.  This same predilection remains today —I have come across many politicians who, even in public speeches, have intoned the hierarchy of their affections thus:  God, Family, Self, and then country.  Notice, for example, how we tend to allocate the best seats or the choice arrangements in public occasions for family members of politicians, and how these people eventually prioritize members of their families for political largesse, advantages, and other political benefits—even those who proclaim to be servant leaders and who make a big fuss about how they are all about serving their constituents, the poor, and the underprivileged.
There are many of these powerful scenes that tug at our collective conscience because we know these incidents continue to haunt us today.  The utter inability among Aguinaldo’s cabinet members to come to an agreement on critical issues and for dissenters to respect decisions arrived at is something is a continuing malady; in our country, our leaders never concede defeat be it an election, an argument, or an advocacy—they scheme, they filibuster, and when all else fails, they wait for their turn to assume power at which point they insist on revising everything to suit their own interests and agenda.  This is why many programs never really get institutionalized—most end up being replaced or revised regardless of the fact that they are working well.  The legendary amor propio of people in positions of authority, the tendency to display blind obedience to individuals rather than to a chain of command, the predilection of the ruling elite to dissociate themselves from the situations of the majority of the people and to exist in a social vacuum, the tendency to identify with regional affiliations (Caviteños, Kapampangan, Bicolano) rather than think as Filipinos—all these are painfully illustrated in Heneral Luna.  All these, are sadly, maladies that we continue to suffer from as a people.
The best movies are those that affect the audience in a powerful way; either provoke higher-level thinking, or move them into positive action.  If we have more movies like Heneral Luna, we’d have more luck empowering our people. It’s easy to blame producers and directors who prefer to churn out inane movies about mistresses and ex-lovers, but the audience is actually not powerless either.  If everyone supports Heneral Luna, then more producers and directors will be emboldened to replicate it.  So please go and watch Heneral Luna.  I promise you it will be really worth it.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

10 Questions for Grace Poe

My September 20, 2015 column.

When Senator Grace Poe announced her bid for the presidency last Tuesday, she also put herself out there as a target for scrutiny and ridicule. I was told that her supporters expected wild jubilation and lots of cheering from across the land, but it looks like the reaction was far from what was expected. There were some who were hopeful, but most of the reaction ranged from expressions of disappointment, to disapproval, to outright ridicule. It appears Senator Grace Poe’s journey to Malacañan Palace will not be an easy ride, nor is it an assured one.  
I personally have not made up my mind as to who to support among the putative candidates. As things stand, it looks like it’s going to be about picking the candidate we least dislike. Poe, unfortunately, seems to be saddled with too much baggage. There’s just a lot of unanswered questions as well as unclarified perceptions about her overall qualifications. The following are 10 questions that I personally wish she would answer truthfully to help people get to know her better:
1. Did she really renounce Filipino citizenship? When? How? Why? As a related question, what exactly is the citizenship status of her husband and three children—is it true they continue to be American citizens?
2. Given that she has, at one point in time, reportedly taken an Oath of Allegiance to another flag, what meaning would she attach to the sacred Oath of Office of the President of the Republic if and when she becomes President, particularly that line that says “protect and defend the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines?”  
3. What exactly is the Fernando Poe Jr. legacy that she says she wants to continue and perpetuate? Her father was a great filmmaker whose potentials as public servant were not realized. His kindness and generosity may have been legendary but so was his being a womanizer, among other vices. He was probably a great man, but then again so are millions of other fathers who are uncelebrated and unheralded. What makes FPJ’s so-called legacy more noteworthy than those of other Filipino fathers?
4. How exactly does being the daughter of a great Filipino filmmaker translate into becoming the best candidate for President of the Republic?
5. What exactly is she bringing to the post by way of actual accomplishments, achievements, and experiences that showcase her qualifications to become president? Given that past behaviors predict future behaviors, what in her experiences indicate that she will be able to deliver the complex requirements of the highest post in the land?
6.  As a senator who has served only half of her first term in office, how has she enriched the quality of legislation in this country? What noteworthy contributions have she made that denote exemplary performance as a legislator? Given that more senior and experienced senators have said that there remains a lot to be learned before they would consider themselves worthy of becoming president, what special learning track did she pursue to maximize the learning in barely three years?
7. Given the absence of a long-term relationship with donors and benefactors and the lack of a well-entrenched political party to draw resources from, how does she intend to finance a campaign that will require hundreds of millions of pesos, perhaps even more than a billion pesos? How can Filipinos be assured that the future of the country is not going to be sold down the river in exchange for campaign donations?
8. Given her relatively shorter political experience, whose opinions and ideas does she value the most? What exactly is the role that Senator Chiz Escudero will play if and when she becomes President? Who exactly will comprise her think tank? 
9. She has, on many occasions, chosen to take the middle ground on contentious issues. She ran with the administration in 2013 but did not sever ties with the opposition. She pandered to the INC during a recent crisis. She renounced Filipino citizenship and reacquired it when it was convenient for her. How does she respond to accusations that she is an opportunist person who picks advocacies and takes sides based purely on personal political convenience and interests?
10. As one of the popular public figures who drew attention to the LRT/MRT problem, how did she marshal the resources of her office as senator to solve the problem? Given that the problem has only worsened despite her early intervention, how does she intend to convince people of her ability to solve problems through effective resource mobilization? 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Two years for emergency assistance

My September 15, 2015 column.
How do we know for a fact that government bungled the relief and rehabilitation efforts in the aftermath of the “Yolanda’’ supertyphoon? 
There’s a report released by the government’s own watchdog —the Commission on Audit—which categorically states that the government not only failed to spend a large portion of the money intended for the victims of the strongest typhoon in history, but that tons of food and other relief goods have also gone to waste because government did not release them to the people before their expiration dates.
Of course we have heard about all these for the longest time now, I have personally lambasted in this space the foot-dragging that characterized government’s response to the urgent appeals for help from the people, but it’s a completely different matter altogether when it’s written up in an official report.  It’s the kind of report that makes one’s blood boil, particularly if one saw with his own two eyes the extent of the devastation and the suffering of the victims.  I will continue to insist that it is always infinitely better to over-deliver on food and relief goods to victims of calamities; scrimping on relief goods smacks of bad judgment and misplaced humanity particularly when these goods run the risk of spoilage.  We’re seeing yet again how overcautiousness, bordering on paranoia and analysis paralysis, can hurt everyone.
But we don’t really need an official report to know that something went grievously wrong somewhere with the Yolanda relief and rehabilitation efforts.  Let’s just allow a known fact to speak for itself: The release of the government’s much-vaunted Emergency Shelter Assistance program, which was intended to help victims of the supertyphoon rebuild destroyed houses, finally got underway only in the last few weeks.  Imagine that—a program that government had the gumption to label “emergency assistance” being made available to the people almost two years after the supertyphoon struck! 
If all of the tens of thousands of victims relied mainly on the promises made by government and did not take the initiative to rebuild their lives through some other ways, they would still be living in tents, or school buildings, or amid the wreckage.  (Actually, some towns with stronger political influence got their ESA much earlier than everyone else, but that’s another story).
I was in Leyte two weeks ago where I met with some families who confirmed that they did get their ESA recently.  When I asked what they did with their money— most everyone told me they used it to pay off their debts.  In many cases, the proceeds directly went to loan sharks who had possession of their so-called green cards as many of them had already pawned their cards as early as last year.  The almost two-year delay in the release of the assistance meant that interest rates had piled up and there was virtually nothing left for the families. 
The delay in the release of relief and rehabilitation funds was supposedly due to efforts to ensure that the process was not hijacked or used by local politicians for partisan politics.  Apparently, all that effort was for naught because we know for a fact that local politicians did find a way to insert themselves into the picture.  Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman complained last week about the presence of Congressman Niel Tupas during the distribution of the ESA in certain towns in Iloilo and we’ve heard stories about how politician members of the Tupas clan have been engaged in some kind of a contest over who gets to preside or grab credit for the relief and rehabilitation efforts in Iloilo. 
The same happened in other provinces, although the politicians were a bit subtler.  But the situation was worst in Leyte where barangay officials directly asked for a cut from the beneficiaries in exchange for elevating their entitlement from partial assistance of P10,000 to full assistance of P30,000.  All of these happened because the inordinate delay allowed politicians at the local levels to strategize and marshal their influence and resources in support of their nefarious schemes.  Had the assistance been given immediately, the victims could have found more meaningful use for the funds.  But then again, all of these is now wishful thinking; as usual, most Filipinos have moved on thankful for whatever little they got.
There are, however, valuable lessons that all of us hopefully learned from the Yolanda tragedy, particularly on how best to manage relief and rehabilitation efforts.  Based on what we saw, the whole response has been severely hampered by lack of effective leadership and an integrated coordination and response.  When we got to Tacloban two days after the supertyphoon struck, no one was in charge and everyone was doing programs based on their appreciation of the situation.  The situation has remained basically the same—we still don’t know who is in charge and how exactly is the rehabilitation being implemented.  As in the first few days and weeks of the tragedy, some towns and individuals have received more than what they needed while others are still waiting for scraps. There remains no visible and palpable mechanism in place to coordinate rehabilitation efforts despite claims that some masterplan has been designed.  In fact, people have remained confused as to who is really accountable; the roles Senator Ping Lacson, Secretary Mar Roxas, and Soliman have remained inchoate and in the minds of people, they are all just passing blame to each other.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Traffic Theories

My September 13, 2015 column.
The theory that happens to be the current favorite of the apologists of the Aquino administration is the volume of vehicles theory. According to this theory, the monumental traffic that beleaguers Filipinos today is caused mainly by the fact that there are just too many vehicles on the road. The proposed solution, therefore, is vehicle reduction—something that was naturally met by a lot of caterwauling. There’s already a vehicle reduction scheme in place that grounds vehicles on certain days based on their plate numbers so yet another scheme would be a cruel imposition. 
There are many things wrong with the volume of vehicle theory, foremost of which is that it renders analytical thinking irrelevant. It’s like saying that the science and technology at our disposal and the combined intelligence of all the people in government are of no use—we might as well just replace everything and everyone with people whose only job is to count vehicles. But my main problem with the people who lean on this theory is that they don’t acknowledge the logical implication of the theory, which is that it is tantamount to admission of incompetence and ineptitude. Projecting the increase of the volume of vehicles is the easiest thing in the world; sales of automobiles are monitored for taxation and for other economic reasons. This data is readily available and simple trend analysis could do the rest of the work. So the question is, what has been done in preparation for the projected increase in vehicles on the road in the last five years?
Linked to the volume of vehicle theory is the complexity theory that is now being peddled alongside a sub-theory on long-term solutions. According to proponents of this theory, the traffic problem is a complex phenomenon that requires multiple and long-term solutions. To the people who have been mouthing this excuse, I say: Nice try, but no cigar. Of course the darn thing is complex and requires long-term solutions, which is why there are government agencies and hundreds of people supposed to be working on fixing it. But my beef with this theory is that there is not a single person in this country who wants a miracle in Edsa— we all just want traffic to move at a reasonable pace. Our expectations are actually quite low. By all means, go ahead and think of long-term solutions, but don’t use that as an excuse not to pursue immediate solutions to alleviate the gridlock on the road.
The traffic-as-sign-of-progress theory could have been amusing, if it weren’t for the fact that some people actually seemed to believe it. I am sure that there is some empirical basis for the theory, but when we consider the monumental economic costs that traffic brings to business and to individual citizens (and we’re not talking about the medical, social, psychological, and other toll traffic brings), it would be like adding insult to injury to even hint that traffic has its beneficial effects.
There are the methods and technology theories that have been championed to various degrees by certain government officials. These theories build on the assumption that if we upgrade the systems, methods, and technologies around traffic management, traffic congestion will be reduced. I don’t necessarily disagree with these theories—except that even the most advanced methods, systems, and technologies will not work unless the people component is addressed.
And this is where and when I reiterate what I feel has been most overlooked in the whole discussion: the traffic problem is first and foremost a people management issue. We have monstrous traffic jams because there is breakdown in discipline and courtesy on our roads. The traffic congestion is caused not by vehicles per se, but by drivers who lack the necessary competencies that should be required of anyone before being given the license to drive. There is mayhem on our roads because there is breakdown of values during crunch situations—everyone becomes blind and deaf to everyone and everything else. It’s every man to his own. The solution is enforcement, communication, education, and most important of all, collaboration. The key that binds all these together is leadership.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The Aldub Phenomenon

My September 8, 2015 column. 
Traffic around certain areas in Metro Manila and other key cities was unusually light last Saturday.  There were less people on the road; in fact, most were glued in front of their television sets.  No, there wasn’t a Manny Pacquiao fight on.  So instead of the usual cheers and boos, there was the intermittent shrieking and giggling as people swooned over the latest pop phenomenon to hit Philippine television: The Aldub romance, representing Alden Richards and Yaya Dub (Maine Mendoza).
In case you have been living under a rock in the last two months, it’s a short segment of Eat Bulaga, the country’s longest-running noontime show. Eat Bulaga people have invented the term “kalyeserye” to describe the segment as most of the action happens literally on the street of whatever barangay the show is doing remote telecast from.  On the show, Richards and Mendoza haven’t met physically and are merely shown via a split screen, interacting mainly by lip-syncing snippets of popular songs a la dub smash, and by writing and flashing short messages for each other onscreen.  Richards “performs” at the Broadway Centrum Studio and Mendoza out in the streets.  Mendoza plays the role of the yaya of the snooty Lola Nidora, who is adamantly against the relationship. 
The Aldub phenomenon has shattered new records in Twitter and local TV ratings, which has befuddled many.  So how do we explain the Aldub phenomenon?
I think the main attraction of the Aldub romance is that it has brought out our collective penchant for matchmaking, called “tuksuhan” in local culture.  We enjoy setting people up for romantic situations and in this particular case, everyone in the show indulges everyone else’s in the game.  We’re all having the time of our lives teasing Richards and Mendoza no end, and the two are more than willing to accommodate.
There’s also the spontaneity factor; the whole thing is not scripted and it is clear that everything is made up as the show goes along.  Everyone is improvising and the mishaps and foibles all form part of the show’s charm.  In fact, they stumbled into the “romance” purely by accident; in one episode, Mendoza was caught on cam tickled pink by an on-cam Richards and the audience lapped it up.  The show decided to pick it up and made it into the phenomenon that it is today.
 It’s also a hit because for once the audience is not at the mercy of scriptwriters and directors who, most of the time, stretch logic too far in local soap operas to the extent that dead people are resurrected and ill-fated lovers become siblings. Here the audience knows that all the plot complications are just for kicks, that Lola Nidora is a phony (he is a man, for crying out loud), and that everyone is in on the whole charade; there’s a lot of nudge-nudge, wink-wink going on and it’s all part of the deal.  Everyone knows that everyone knows that everyone is just pulling everyone’s leg.  Everyone can really have fun without the guilt and the second thoughts.
At the same time, the humor is organic.  Because it is mostly improvisation, everyone has to mine the situation for laughs and end up bouncing ideas on each other.  It’s like watching classic Pinoy stand-up comedy—sometimes they get a bit physical, or end up roasting each other, but all in the spirit of fun.
Because majority of the viewers (and those with the tendency to obsess) are women, younger people, and well, gay men, it is understandable that most of the adulation is directed at Richards. The shrieks released last Saturday every time Richards is shown on screen must have reached new decibel levels.  There’s also the fact that Filipinos really do relate with the señorito-maid complication which has worked in countless hit movies and shows. I can understand how many women can identify with Mendoza’s Yaya Dub/ugly duckling character.  The divides that exist between the two characters on many levels (physical, aesthetics, social, etc) add more spice. We are a people that find great fulfillment in the classic “langit-ka-lupa-ako,” against-all-odds syndrome. It is rooted deeply in our psyche; we are suckers for Pangako Sa ’Yo, Bilangin Ang Bituin Sa Langit storylines.
But we also know the Aldub phenomenon has a shelf life, which explains the many appeals to GMA-7 to delay the meeting between the two for as long as possible. People know that when the lovers meet, it would be downhill from that point on.  And finally, the show has wisely turned the whole thing into a multi-media event and of course people are always willing to jump at the opportunity to express themselves in social media.
I am not a fan of noontime shows (like most people, I have an 8-5 job so I don’t really get to watch noontime shows) so I don’t really know why the success of Aldub is being flaunted on the face of ABS-CBN’s Showtime hosts. For crying out loud, the Aldub romance may be new and charming and fun, but it has not elevated the overall quality of noontime shows.  But if it is any consolation, at least, on this one, we’re not total victims.   For once, everyone’s in on what’s really happening.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Post mortem on the INC adventurism

My column, September 6, 2015 at The Standard.
It’s been a full week since the Iglesia Ni Cristo took over a major part of Edsa and most have moved on to more pressing and seemingly more important concerns, such as the horrible traffic jams that seem to become more monstrous with each passing day. But I do have a number of friends who are INC members and I have exchanged views with them on what happened. Most of them, unfortunately, have remained adamant about the rightness of the cause they were fighting for (although unable to articulate exactly what the cause was and therefore hid behind sweeping generalizations such as “separation of church and state,” “harassment,” “interference on an internal matter,” and “undue haste.” But one or two have kept an open mind and seemed receptive to the feedback I gave on what I thought caused the animosity towards the INC.
First, the resentment didn’t actually happen overnight. It had been building up for sometime now. It got more pronounced when the INC staged a series of mass actions designed to rally support for then Chief Justice Renato Corona. And then there were the series of major INC events that created bedlam such as the centennial celebration and the inauguration of the Philippine Arena, among others. In all of these, the INC has expected the Filipino people to accept and understand without question. We tried, but the continuing INC demands started to take its toll.
Second, the INC was unwilling to assume accountability for its political decisions, particularly on the critical role their bloc vote plays in selecting the country’s leaders. Many of the politicians the INC have enthroned in power are to blame for the mess the country found itself in, but the INC has refused to assume some measure of accountability. The INC has likewise interfered in the appointment of people to key positions and in many instances, this has resulted in a snafu.  And yet the INC has refused to own up to its actions.
Third, the relationship between the INC and the Filipino people has not been built on mutual trust and consideration. It’s never been a two-way relationship. The rest of Philippine society accommodates the practices the INC imposes upon its members as part of its so-called doctrine. When INC members refuse to cooperate or join corporate activities, citing their “doctrine,” everyone else is more than willing to look the other way. Religious and civic leaders pay their respects to the INC during critical times, but the gesture has never been returned. In fact, even on occasions such as when the Pope was here, INC members gleefully bashed Catholics in their media stations.
Fourth, the INC has consistently flaunted their so-called influence. For a religious group that is supposed to champion moral and ethical practices, they have not been reticent about collecting political debts. If the INC truly endorses candidates on the basis of qualifications, then the political debt should be considered paid through exemplary programs and services rendered to the people.
Fifth, the INC has consistently maintained exclusivity—even claiming that when judgment day comes, only their members will be saved. 
Sixth, the issue of corruption within the INC resonates with the Filipino people because, darn it, we want corruption in all its forms to be addressed.
Seventh, by going to Edsa, the INC members did not factor in the fact that mass assembly in that area holds a special meaning to Filipinos. By making parallelisms between their struggle and the two Edsa revolutions, they unwittingly ignited outrage. Edsa is hallowed ground to Filipinos and for it to be used for dubious political purposes was sacrilege.
Eight, what happened was a classic lesson on leadership and public relations crisis. On such a critical hour, visible, palpable, and inspiring leadership was badly needed; a clear explanation of the issues straight from the mouth of INC’s Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo would have spelled the difference. 
Unfortunately, the masses who assembled were hardly articulate and quite frankly, prone to making acrobatic logical deductions.