Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Shouldn't bishops also speak with compassion?

My March 31, 2015 column.
As expected, our bishops have come up with a strongly-worded position paper against divorce on account of moves to push a bill in Congress that seeks to legalize divorce in the Philippines.  The bishops knew that the bill was dead on arrival at the committees, but they just had to assert themselves -  perhaps because they really wanted to send a strong warning.  
No one in his right mind expected the divorce bill to actually get through Congress, particularly on the eve of a crucial national elections.  The  legislators who are championing divorce can huff and puff all they want, but let’s get real - most of them are scared of the Catholic bishops.  Sure, there is no such thing as a Catholic vote in this country, but our bishops and the catholic organizations know how to play hard ball.  When push comes to shove, such as when congressmen and senators become the object of relentless demonization at the pulpit, how many of them can do a Duterte - that is, take out a huge billboard in a major thoroughfare and mock a priest?   And then there is the matter of the so-called Catholic guilt which is deeply entrenched in our DNA, thanks to 300 years of conditioning by the Spanish friars.   Regardless of the strength of our convictions, how many among us can actually stand up to someone in a cassock and tell him his opinions smack of misogyny?
Even if our senators and congressmen can withstand the pressure from priests, they can turn puny in the hands of their wives, who must maintain a stature in their communities through socio-civic and religious involvement.  In the words of the usually brilliant and erudite Senator Serge Osmena,  “I cannot favor divorce law, my wife might use it against me.”  Obviously, divorce is not for happily married couples and those who have no plans of separating from their spouses and I doubt if the presence of a divorce law will encourage them to sever their marital ties either, but lest we forget, making logical deductions are not among the required competencies of our leaders.   
But then again, who are we really kidding?  There’s hardly enough time left for the measure to get through the legislative rigmarole before Congress goes on recess.  As it is, Congress is already crammed with bills that have been festering in some committees for decades already, many of them, such as the Fair Competition Act, certified urgent and badly needed years ago.  Let’s not even talk about the Anti-Political Dynasty Bill which as we all know would help rid us of unqualified and incompetent politicians whose only claim to power is their family name.  And then there’s the Basic Bangsamoro Law, which will require intensive and passionate discussion.
For these and many other reasons, I don’t think the divorce bill is going to be enacted into law in our life time.  
This being so, one wishes our bishops can take the time to speak with a little more empathy and compassion for those who truly need the protection and the solace that can be offered by a divorce law rather than scolding people and judging them. 
The statement of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines over the weekend was an indictment of people who find themselves victimized or trapped in unhealthy relationships.  The statement basically said that people who cannot make their marriages work are immature people, or at least are people who are too lazy to work at their marriage.  These are tough words for people who don’t know what it is like to be married; at least the majority of them, I’d like to think, since I know quite a number of priests who are actually married and have families on the side.
 “The supposed suffering that a spouse must bear owing to a failed marriage is more imagined than real and comes only upon one who does not make use of the remedies already available under existing law” said the statement.  Those words not only represent intolerance but also ignorance as well.  Contrary to what the bishops think, the supposed remedies are not really readily available.  They take a lot of time, they cost money, and they fail at giving most victims the justice they so deserve, or at the very least, the opportunity to pursue second lease on life and happiness. 
In this season of reflection and recollection, and given what the country is going through at the moment, one wishes that our bishops lead the way in ushering in an atmosphere of openness and caring, indulging in dialogue that accentuates kindness and humility.  Rather than condemn, we can teach.  Instead of judging others, we can encourage reflection.  There is a lot of space in our current situation for acceptance and respect for each other, even if we do not share the same opinions.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Meaningful holy week

My March 29, 2015 column.
Today is Palm Sunday, which announces the start of Holy Week, supposedly the most solemn week in the Catholic calendar.  When I was a child, this time of the year meant total deprivation from most of my favorite things and activities as a form of sacrifice.  I still like to think that most Filipinos do try to still find deeper meaning in the observance of the Semana Santa even if most of us, particularly the younger set, do see it as opportune time to hie off to some vacation place, and to party like there’s no tomorrow.  It is a matter of public record that the Holy Week is the top peak season for vacation spots such such as Baguio, Puerta Galera and Boracay.
I’ve always made it a point to spend the week in the national capital after experiencing in the early nineties what I thought were the most excruciating 16 hours of my life crammed into a highway along with 20 million others all trying to get to some destination up north.  The whole ordeal reminded me of what salmon fishes have to go through during their migration from the ocean towards upper reaches of rivers in order to spawn on gravel beds.  I understand the situation has only worsened since then as more and more people join the annual exodus out of the Metro at this time.  But then again, it is the Holy Week and some kind of sacrifice is required so many must think of the whole experience as part of their penitence.
I say this with all sincerity and earnestness:  Metro Manila is the best place to be during the Holy Week.  It is the only time when the metro is less congested - there is less traffic, pollution, noise, and yes, less temptation as most bars and malls are closed.  In addition, the variety of choices available for those who wish to attend religious activities is also quite rich since Metro Manila has the highest density of churches in this country.  For instance, one can do as many rounds of the Visita Iglesia as one wished. 
Of course if one truly wants to see elaborate observances of the lenten activities such as spectacular processions and rituals, one will have to go to certain provinces.  The good news is that a good number of them are near the Metro and if one plans the trips carefully, traffic and the other aggravations can be avoided.  For example, anyone who wants to witness the processions in any of the old towns in Laguna should prepare to set out very early on Good Friday and plan to return back late evening to avoid the traffic rush.  The towns of Pakil and Paete and San Pablo City have some of the most breathtaking Good Friday processions that I have witnessed.  Religious families in these places are known for pulling all the stops to ensure that the images and statues of the saint that they keep as family benefactor or protector take pride of place during the procession. 
For the most colorful and theatrical salubong (meeting of the risen Christ and His grieving mother), one will have to hie off to nearby Angono Rizal east of the metro.  Angono is renowned for culture and arts and has produced two national artists—Lucio San Pedro for music and Botong Franciso for visual arts—and a community of other great artists.  The salubong in Angono is unique as it involves the whole community in a celebration of replete with pageantry and religious fervor.
From Angono, one can pass by Antipolo, which used to be the top pilgrimage destination before Manaoag in Pangasinan.  On Good Friday, hundreds of thousands of young people still converge in the Cathedral of  the Nuestra Senora de la Paz y Buen Viaje (Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage), trudging on foot from various parts of the city.  Unfortunately, the tradition has been getting bad rap lately due to the presence of gangs and unruly groups who see the pilgrimage more as a rite of passage than as a religious activity.
What I like best about doing the Visita Iglesia in Metro Manila on Maundy Thursday is that churches make it a point to come up with unique and creative altars of repose in an effort to heighten spiritual reflection.  In some churches, they even move the altar to an open area and create a garden setting to accommodate more people and perhaps to provide variety.  It’s a thoughtful gesture, really, because visiting eight to fourteen churches can be quite taxing; a little change in the ambience can do wonders to lift a tired spirit.  Unfortunately, the whole experience is often marred by people whose main goal it seems in doing the Visita Iglesia is to take pictures of the various altars, or worse, to take selfies or groufies with the altars as background.  
Consumerist touches will continue to alter the way we observe traditions, including those associated with the Holy Week.  But I guess what is truly important is what is in people’s hearts; even more important, we can all take comfort in the fact that the traditions continue to be observed even in the midst of rapid changes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

It's about the fit

My March 24, 2015 column.
Any astute observer of political events in this country will tell you that the recent  activities of Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr are  attempts to test public reception to a potential presidential bid.  What they are doing is “floating” their names as possible presidentiables; in short, announcing their interest in being shortlisted for the highest post in the land. 
Duterte has embarked on what he calls “listening tour” - doing the rounds of key cities in Mindanao and the Visayas, purportedly to discuss federalism.  Marcos has been unsuccessfully trying to package himself as a thought leader in various critical national issues.   Senators Antonio Trillanes and Alan Peter Cayetano have been  preening like peacocks in heat and howling like monkeys engaged in a territorial squabble.  Of course we’ve already known that Vice President Jejomar Binay and local governments secretary Mar Roxas are already out there in the starting line, heckling and trying to disqualify each other. 
The messages they are putting out there may be conflicting – it would seem as if they alternate between playing coy and being assertive, blowing hot and cold, being gentlemanly and boorish, apparently depending on which side of the bed they woke up on for that day. Let us make no mistake about it, though: They are seriously putting themselves out there as possible candidates for the presidency. 
This is both good news and bad news.  A discussion on possible successors to Benigno S. Aquino in 2016 will hopefully neutralize the persistent demand of certain sectors to change the leadership of the country now – barely a year before the next  presidential election.  In fact, a review of the qualifications of the putative successors might make spook those aggressively calling for Aquino’s immediate resignation – my goodness, look at the pitiful bunch of clowns that are positioning themselves as possible successors.  Furthermore, this might just galvanize critical sectors to actively explore alternatives.  Surely, there are other more qualified, more trustworthy, better leaders out there?
This is my problem with the many groups who have many things to say about the way things are in this country.  Everyone is a critic who demands accountability and performance from our leaders; hardly anyone talks about what really needs to be done and the roles they can and must play to make things better.  If we really come to think about it, the more proactive course of action is to ensure that we develop, and consequently, elect the right leaders for the right posts at the right time.  If we don’t want a repeat of the blunders of the current and previous presidents, then we just have to stop electing the same types of people and using the same processes that catapulted them into office. 
Our problem is that we keep on installing people in leadership positions even when they clearly lack the competencies required to effectively fulfill the mandates of the position.  Worse, we tend to equate personality traits with abilities; just because a person is the progeny of morally upright people we immediately conclude that he or she will become a moral leader.     We also have this predilection for making shortcuts in judging the overall qualification of a person often by merely focusing on one key accomplishment.  For instance, many conclude that because a major has shown exemplary political will in running after drug pushers and criminals in his city he will be very effective in cleaning up the whole country of drugs and criminality.  
What we need to do is fix the system.  We need to put in place frameworks that help voters appreciate the responsibilities of key national positions and consequently, the key competencies that candidates must have to be able to perform them.  We need to ensure that those aspiring for critical positions such as the presidency go through a fair and rigorous assessment so that voters see through the sheen created by clever positioning and packaging.  We need to debunk the many myths perpetuated by traditional politicians about themselves that legitimize political dynasties.  And more importantly, we need to start promoting a more inclusive approach to identifying and developing leaders, allowing community leaders and non-politicians equal access to elective positions.
We can continue to elect leaders on a whim and then waste time and effort recalling them from office or we can invest in efforts to identify, develop, and elect the right people for the right posts.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Aesthetically challenged

My March 22, 2015 column.
We know there is no accounting for taste, but one wishes our leaders would try to get good advice from people who know better. This is particularly important when it comes to public structures and fixtures that are expected to be there for a long time and are seen by many everyday.  I am tempted to also include the recent trend at Malacanan Palace and in other venues, which involves putting up some tacky backdrop during official state functions, but I guess we can ignore those installations of plastic doves and bahay kubo since they are mercifully put up for just one-time events.
Those of us who had to pass by Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City everyday of our lives had to contend with those hideous marshmallows-on-sticks street lamps for many years until most of them finally and thankfully gave way to the elements.  Unfortunately, many of the red and white streetlamps in Manila along Quirino Avenue are still there even if most of them have degenerated into eyesores – most do not function anymore, have broken glass cases, and are in various stages of decay, twisted this way and that.  Remnants of many other ugly streetlamps still litter our thoroughfares nationwide – many of them carrying political logos and insignias (think B for Binay in Makati, or P for Petilla in Leyte).  There ought to be a law that regulates the design and construction of streetlamps in this country.
Worse, our leaders insist on building more hideous structures and contribute even more to the continued uglification of our surroundings.  It is already bad that there is squalor and decay courtesy of poverty, pollution, and the general lack of interest in sustaining a healthy environment; must our leaders aggravate things?
Our leaders cut down perfectly healthy trees on the center island of Senator Gil Puyat Avenue in Pasay and Makati a few months ago to give way to a road widening project.  The end result is that Gil Puyat is now wider but still hopelessly gridlocked at peak hours because the main problem is still there – the four major bus terminals that choke traffic.  Just one bus trying to maneuver in or out of a terminal already brings traffic to a complete standstill for a few minutes– imagine what happens at rush hours when 20 or 30 of these buses compete for passengers, space, and time.  Worse, our leaders did not provide for pedestrian crossing so there’s mayhem anytime of the day.
In the past, people could at least take some physical and psychological comfort from the greenery that used to be there.  There used to be a mini-forest and what passed off as mini parks in the middle of the avenue.  They have taken all of these down and replaced them with the most horrid of all fixtures – huge pots in hideous pink and brown.  So from Roxas Boulevard all the way to Dominga Street just a little beyond Taft Avenue, one is assaulted by the sight of these ugly cement pots sitting on top of pillars.  The pots are being planted with young ficus trees that for the next few months and years, will look scraggly.  Yes, they fell down fully-grown beautiful trees so that they can install ugly pots planted with miniature trees.
This kind of thoughtlessness, nay, boorishness, is unfortunately prevalent in our country.  Everywhere one goes we can actually see examples of how lack of aesthetic sensibility is foisted on the citizenry by some despot seemingly unacquainted with the concepts called simplicity and elegance.  In other countries, a construction site is kept from public view by walls painted over with splash of colors that bring joy and visual relief to onlookers.  Metro Manila’s main thoroughfare is dotted sporadically with “artworks” that invite derision, anger, or at the very least, confusion – as in “what’s are those supposed to be?”  I have nothing against dark, brooding, abstract artworks; I collect some myself.  But on our major thoroughfares where people need something to distract them or lighten up their disposition while being stuck in traffic or while inhaling toxic fumes?  In construction sites all over the Metro, there are not only no attempts to hide the ongoing destruction, the efforts to pick up debris and clean up the surroundings are pitifully kept to a minimum.  Our public structures – terminals, waiting sheds, train pillars - are covered in grime. 
The sad part is that our leaders don’t seem to care.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Forked tongues and temporary amnesia

My March 17, 2015 column.
The President’s men, referred to as minions by some quarters, have been scrambling all over themselves to regain the upper hand in the ongoing public relations nightmare that the Aquino government has found itself mired in.  Unfortunately, there’s really not much anyone can do to prop up the image of someone seemingly determined to continuously shoot himself in the foot.  So it must be frustrating for Mar Roxas, Leila de Lima, Sonny Coloma, Edwin Lacierda and company trying to keep a straight face and maintain their convictions in an effort to defend the indefensible and correct the “unrightable”. We find the efforts pitiful but also sometimes hilarious. 
Roxas and Coloma tried last week to redirect the focus of the Board of Inquiry report on the Mamasapano incident. What was surreal was the way they crowed about parts of the report that nailed down SAF Director Leo Napenas, but turned critical and disparaging on the parts where the BOI cited the President’s role in the whole series of events that eventually led to the death of the 44 police officers.  One is tempted to admonish these cabinet members to make up their minds as to what the government’s official position is on the BOI report – they cannot both slam and praise the report.
In fact it might be instructive to remind them that up until Thursday last week when the BOI finally released their report, the same cabinet members have also been admonishing people  to accord the board the benefit of the doubt that they are able to function independently and objectively.  As an offshoot of the President’s sudden garrulousness during a dialogue with religious leaders in Malacañan where he played Pontius Pilate by washing his hands of culpability and by crucifying Napenas, the cabinet members were one in assuring the people that there would be no whitewash and that the BOI was duty-bound to seek and report the truth “as a minimum requirement.”  But since BOI has apparently missed or ignored the mandate to shield the President from further fallout, Roxas et al has suddenly found fault with the BOI and its methods.
De Lima even tried to conjure the classic smoke-and-mirror tactic by trying to redefine the application of the principle of the chain of command in the police hierarchy.  The valiant attempt of the justice secretary is noteworthy in one aspect – it tries to deflect presidential accountability by legal gobbledygook. The honorable justice secretary was mercifully silent on a critical issue:  What happens to the much-avowed moral ascendancy of this administration? 
But then again, the justice secretary’s bouts of temporary amnesia has been recurring more often in the last few weeks.  When celebrity lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney recently drew attention to the plight of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who has continued to be denied bail despite her medical condition and despite the fact that the legal cases against her have been falling apart, de Lima was quick to assert that the government has no hand in Arroyo’s continued persecution.  She tossed the blame to the judiciary.  There’s just one glaring problem – and it is a humongous one.  For the longest time, and up until Sunday when de Lima’s boss delivered a speech at the graduation rites of the Philippine Military Academy, this government has not made  any effort to deny that putting Arroyo behind bars is its major preoccupation, nay, obsession.  Aquino has been talking about it incessantly since he started having a moist eye on the Presidency. In fact, he has not made secret of the fact that Arroyo’s continued detention is one of the major achievements of his presidency.
Given the actions of the cabinet leaders, can we blame Senator Nancy Binay for ranting about the selective application of justice on her family?  Binay last week decried the speed in which the suspension order for his brother, the mayor of Makati, was issued.  Ordinarily, the job of a senator in this country is to uphold the law (since they create them) and to see to it that justice is served quickly.  But as can be expected when other interests other than the common good come into play, public officials tend to put loyalty to family, party, and to superiors over and above all other considerations, even reason and logic.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Health is still the best wealth

My March 15, 2015 column.

A good friend of mine recently suffered a heart attack.  Fortunately for him, he did not ignore the symptoms – heaviness in the chest area, pain that vibrated through his left arm – as most reportedly do.  When he felt the pain, he took a cab and brought himself to the emergency room of a nearby hospital where he promptly announced with understandable urgency “I am having a heart attack, please attend to me now.”   The ER doctors slapped an electrocardiogram machine into his body, which automatically confirmed my friend’s suspicions – the lines in the graph were more erratic than a rabbit in heat hopping around like crazy. He was rushed into a special room where they performed an emergency angioplasty on him, barely an hour since he arrived in the hospital.  He has since then made it his mission to explain heart disease, at least initially to friends.  
Up until my friend’s heart attack, I didn’t know angioplasty could be performed at a moment’s notice.  Apparently, most of the major hospitals have the facilities to perform the procedure and already have a ready team on standby for the purpose.  What this tells us is that, heart disease is truly a serious problem in this country and that heart-related medical procedures such as an angioplasty and an open-heart surgery have become quite common.  I think we do not need to highlight the fact that the cost of such medical procedures can be quite prohibitive.  My friend’s bill came to about a million pesos.
My friend has since then embarked on a major lifestyle change.  He has decided to finally follow what his doctors have been urging him to do in the last three decades: eat healthier, exercise regularly, reduce stress, and give up harmful vices such as smoking and excessive drinking.  Hindsight is always 20/20 vision, of course, but my friend has been posting what passes off as commonsensical advice in his Facebook page.  Two that struck me most were “If you do not take care of your body, where are you going to live?” and “If I can only take back the 40 years I spent smoking, I would do it in a heartbeat.”
The latter advice struck home because I was a smoker from the time I was 18 up until about a year ago.  Of course I knew about the serious dangers that nicotine did to the lungs and the rest of the body but as the cliché goes, wisdom is wasted on the young.  I only stopped smoking when I became borderline diabetic and I was warned by my doctor that smoking is one of the leading causes of blindness and amputations among diabetics.  At least I take comfort in the fact that I was strong enough to quit before I had extended coughing spells, unlike someone we all know who is supposed to be the paragon of virtue and monopoly of the truth. 
The past few weeks have been very stressful for most of us in this country, and must be taking its toll on our health.  I figure it would be as good a time as any if we spend this Sunday in some reflection about health and living.  Here then are top five health-related memes that I have seen floating around in social networking sites which we can all imbibe:
The first one seems like good advice because it offers workable options and choices: Less alcohol, more tea; less meat, more vegetables; less salt, more vinegar; less sugar, more fruits; less eating, more chewing; less words, more action; less greed, more giving; less worry, more sleep; less driving, more walking; and less anger, more laughter.
The second is something that many among us work drones must be reminded of everyday:  So many people spend their health gaining wealth and then end up spending all their wealth trying to gain health.
Aesop’s fables always offer an advice or two we can put to good use:  A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken with anxiety.  “If you cannot pronounce it, don’t eat it” is a good rule of thumb at a time when all kinds of gastronomic inventions can be easily had. 
And finally, Mark Twain’s knack for delivering wisdom with simplicity and humor always comes in handy: “The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.”

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Beyond high heels

My March 10, 2015 column.
To express solidarity with women, a number of men walked in high heels last Friday, March 6, in various parades held in the cities of Quezon, Cebu, Davao and in La Trinidad, Benguet.  This was the second year that the activity called “In Her Shoes” was held in this country (similar campaigns have been held in other countries), but the presence of actor Dingdong Dantes this year provided publicity mileage;  most media networks picked the story and the picture of Dantes and his group of men walking precariously on high heels became viral over the weekend.  Sadly, celebrity is a double-edged sword.  On one hand, Dantes called attention to what could have been a ho-humm event.  On the other hand, the focus became Dantes and his high heels rather than the cause.  
But if the success of this year’s parade is any indication, we can already see what succeeding parades will look like—more actors and politicians lending their celebrity status to the campaign.  It will be fun, but am not sure it will be good or right.
The sight of bulky men trying to balance themselves and walk confidently in stiletto shoes can be cute.  Unfortunately though, the campaign also offers quite a number of possible pitfalls that can be counterproductive in the long run.  The key is to make sure that the advocacy does not get lost in the hoopla.
First of all, high heels may be closely identified with women and may be a good metaphor for empathy and for the delicate roles that women try to balance every day of their lives.  But it’s also a symbol of oppression for many women so I am not sure that we want to reinforce the idea that a woman is defined by her Manolo Blahniks.  A lady friend of mine told me there are just too many anti-women norms and standards of beauty that continue to be perpetuated such as that bit about how heels make a woman look sexier or her legs look more shapely.  Why should such standards prevail, anyway?
And then there’s that other thin line that the organizers must work very hard not to breach —the possibility of the whole campaign being turned into a caricature of gays and transgenders.  There’s a staple image in Filipino movies that many directors continue to pass off as comedy: Ridiculous-looking bulky macho men in drag, wearing makeup, and shod in killer high heels.  Let’s hope “In her shoes” does not degenerate into a joke because equality for women is such a crucial advocacy to be made fun of.
It’s difficult to be a woman, particularly in a culture such as ours.  Sure, Filipino women have more options available to them now; they can vote and run for office, pursue careers, and express themselves sexually—at least most of the time.  But there’s still a lot of institutionalized barriers and gender bias against women even in a country that has already elected two women Presidents and produced a female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  When Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago gets mad at the Senate, she is called hysterical but when Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes do a dumbed down version of the same, they are called fighters. 
Working mothers are still expected to take care of the home and their children—even if they earn more than their husbands.  My mother was a public schoolteacher during the day but she also had to cook our meals, prepare our baon, supervise our homework, clean the house, do the laundry, etc.  She would go to bed late and wake up very early.  Far too many women still live lives similar to that of my own mother.  
And yes, women are still largely penalized for having a womb.  Most women carry the full burden of pregnancies, often left to fend for themselves.  Even more tragically, there are people in the world—many of them supposedly spiritual and moral—who continue to champion moves to deny women the right to information, access to support, and decision-making on something as basic as women’s reproductive health.  And lest we forget, there are still companies that deny employment to women on account of pregnancy or because they are unwed mothers.
So yes, we must try harder to provide equality to women.  We certainly can begin by having more empathy for their situation.  But we have to go beyond tawdry campaigns that oversimplify the issues  and reduce them to a cute image.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

What matters more

My March 8, 2015 column.
The results of a study conducted by King’s College in London, which were released last week, raised quite a number of interesting reactions.  There were those who snipped at the study itself, wondering what the whole fuss was about.  There were those who were genuinely surprised at the results of the study while quite a number picked on the methodology used and, consequently, the integrity of the overall findings.  As can be expected when people discuss sexual issues and private parts, there was much snickering, chortling and giggling.  One could almost see people giving each other high fives, or blushing, or raising eyebrows.
The study was supposed to be a definitive dissertation on penile size.  The researchers measured 15,000 men who volunteered for the study.  The scientific rationale for the study was about using “graphs to examine discrepancy between what a man believes to be their position on the graph and their actual position” and to “benefit men with body dysmorphic disorder.”  Stripped of the scientific jargon, the study was basically meant to reassure men – at least the majority - that they have nothing to worry about, the global norm of about 3.6 inches when flaccid and 5.15 inches when erected, is significantly less than what many wrongly think as the ideal.
In this context, the results of the study do achieve some relevance.  Whether we admit it or not, machismo and the whole gamut of issues around male ego do have serious implications on social behavior.  There are many social and cultural stereotypes around gender and sexual behavior, particularly in a country such as the Philippines where men are brought up amid social pressures that aim to define their identity and place in society.  For instance, most boys in this country are conditioned to think that they are entitled to certain sexual liberties, or to have bragging rights, depending on the size of their genitals.  I have met certain men who think women should worship them and that other men should view them with envy because they claim to have been blessed in that department.
As someone who fancies himself as a behavior specialist and who teaches psychology to college students, I do know for a fact (and I think my friend Margie Holmes will support me on this) that many men are insecure about the size of their penis.  It doesn’t help of course that media projection on the matter is quite exaggerated; no thanks to porn movies, the misplaced bravado of certain male archetypes, and yes, advertising – think Calvin Klein and Bench ads.
Thanks to the study, we now know that only about 2% of men fall short or exceed the average.  In other words, we should now redefine what is normal.  Additionally, it is enlightening to note that according to the study, there is no relationship between foot size, race, color and penile size.  That should hopefully stop people from making generalizations.  I used to work with the US Peace Corps in the Philippines and it always floored me that Filipinos, particularly in the rural areas, tended to make snide remarks about color and race and what’s in between an American volunteer legs.  For example, a female friend of mine who had a black American for a boyfriend always got teased about whether she knew what she was getting into – the latter said with a lot of giggling and winking.
It’s really about time we have discussion about what really comprises one’s identity as a man.  A woman friend of mine told me that size only matters in the absence of many other factors – for example, being considerate of the welfare and needs of others, an endearing personality, and let’s face it, other physical features.  In her own words, an extra inch or two will never make up for laziness in bed, or for that matter, the total absence of other redeeming qualities.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Still not getting it right

My March 3, 2015 column.

There’s good news and there’s bad news for the victims of supertyphoon Yolanda, particularly those who have still been unable to rebuild their homes, or at least put together some semblance of a shelter for their families after the howling winds and the storm surge destroyed everything on that fateful morning of November 8, 2013.  
The good news is that 15 months after the supertyphoon wrecked havoc and devastation across the Visayas, government is finally releasing direct financial assistance to victims under the Emergency Shelter Assistance of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.  The total amount that government is now willing to give to the victims of the supertyphoon is a staggering amount that reaches tens of billions of pesos.  The amount released recently just for Western Visayas reached P1.5 billion pesos.  Based on media reports, families whose houses were totally wiped out, destroyed, or leveled to the ground, would receive a low of P30,000 to a high of P70,000 each,while those with partially damaged houses would receive a smaller amount.
Okay, so we all know that this was exactly the plea of People Surge, the alliance of victims of the supertyphoon who even went to Manila and submitted their request at the gates of Malacanan Palace last year.  They were snubbed and their request for financial assistance to the victims and the homeless was deemed impractical. In his trademark response to questions that annoy him, the President of the Republic scolded the leaders of the movement for not thinking clearly and for being unrealistic, saying that releasing that kind of money was not as easy as the victims thought.   Senator Panfilo Lacson even branded the victims as communists who were out to destabilize government. 
But let us not get anymore into the reasons for the sudden change of heart of the Aquino administration.  The generosity may be a little late, but it can still be of great help to the victims many of whom have not fully rebuilt their houses or still live under temporary makeshift houses.
The bad news, however, is that the guidelines that define who are qualified to receive the shelter assistance has been met with large-scale indignation.  From an objective perspective, the intent is quite clear and reasonable – only those who are gainfully employed with incomes below P15,000, those below the poverty threshold of the region, and those who have not received similar assistance from other agencies are the only ones qualified.  When resources are limited, it makes sense to make sure that these go to those who truly need it the most.  Unfortunately, this is not the way mindsets go in this country where everyone thinks of himself or herself as a victim who deserves as much help as everyone else. 
What aggravates the whole situation is the seeming lack of coordination with local governments, most of which are complaining about not having been consulted by barangay health workers or DSWD employees on the ground.  In many cases, the local officials are themselves the ones agitating people to complain about not being in the list of recipients.   And so, all over the Visayas today, there is widespread grumbling and anger directed at the DSWD for the alleged snafu in the selection of those who got the highly coveted “green forms” (the Disaster Assistance and Family Access Card).  
Once again, we have a situation where instead of being praised and congratulated for helping the victims, government is actually getting more flak.  In the words of many people in Leyte who were “disenfranchised” from the list, “it would have been better if the government didn’t help anymore since we did not expect them to do that anyway.”  It’s not really a fair comment because there really are many people who would really still benefit from the shelter assistance, but on the other hand, not totally incomprehensible since many of the global donors did not impose the same preconditions when the granted aid in the immediate aftermath of the supertyphoon.
All of these problems could have been avoided if government response was quicker; a year ago, it would have been a lot easier to distinguish those who really needed help the most.  Also, a more collaborative approach where everybody – local governments, community organizations, church organizations, etc – is consulted and involved would make communication efforts more effective.  And of course, a little more empathy on the part of government would really go a long way.  Scolding people and brushing their complaints and questions off and accusing them of being opportunists – as some DSWD local officials in the Visayas have been reportedly doing – does not help.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Learning from a mistake

My March 1, 2015 column.

There was not much of a people’s celebration last Wednesday when the country commemorated the 29th anniversary of the people power uprising.  People were not in the mood to sing the anthems about freedom and unity and love of country that used to bind us together as a people.  There was no yellow confetti that rained from windows of buildings, no yellow ribbons tied around trees, and hardly anyone among the key figures in the first people power revolt showed up.    
There was instead lots of cursing and gnashing of teeth from ordinary people who were greatly inconvenienced by the monstrous traffic jam created by the celebration.  I don’t think the traffic jam last Wednesday was really the problem; we’ve put up with far worse traffic jams in the past. 
People just didn’t like the idea of expressing solidarity with Benigno S. Aquino III on anything at this point- even on something as momentous and significant as the commemoration of the people power revolution. 
It’s already sad that we seemed to have lost sight of the ideals of EDSA; sadder still is the fact that many seem to think that the  spirit of EDSA can be summoned at any time by just anyone with a cause. Not that we blame them, particularly those keeping a moist eye on the presidency. Of the five presidents that we’ve had after Ferdinand Marcos, four rose to power on the wings of EDSA.  Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos were catapulted to power because of EDSA 1.  Gloria Macapagal Arroyo became President because of EDSA 2.  Benigno Aquino was basically a product of the EDSA spirit.  On the other hand, Marcos and Joseph Estrada fell from power through EDSA.
But perhaps herein lies our problem.  We seemed to have conditioned ourselves into thinking that the presidency of this country is truly a matter of destiny; that they rise to power through the confluence of a number of factors all coming together at the perfect time for the perfect person.  
Perhaps it is time for all of us to really come to terms with the fact that the presidency is a job that requires more than just luck.  Being president requires a certain set of competencies; that the problems that face us as a nation are quite complex requiring more than just integrity and credibility. 
I know we’re not in the mood for reminiscing now, but perhaps it is worth noting that there was a time, not so long ago it seems, when most people in this country truly believed that Aquino was th  e perfect person
for the presidency because of what he stood for.  The lesson has been hammered down once again, and hopefully, more effectively this time around - good intentions are truly not good enough.  There is more to leadership than just the desire to do good; that a country cannot rise to greater heights on the wings of anti-corruption efforts, no matter how successful they may seem.
Aquino’s many failures as a leader deserve condemnation.  But we must share responsibility for his presidency as well.  He was freely elected by millions of Filipinos.  So the more important question we must ask at this point is this: How do we make sure that we do not repeat this mistake in 2016?