Saturday, July 31, 2004

Para sa Gudang at Sa Lahat ng Mga Naninigarilyo

Ako'y nangungulila sa dating samyo ng paborito kong sigarilyo. Tila ba't sa mga nagdaang araw ay nag-iba na ang lasa nito at sa bawat hithit, ako na'y nagkukulang. Dati'y anong namnan, anong sarap ang laruin ito sa pagitan ng aking mga labi. Ang tamis na humihinang, nananatili.

Ang upos na itatapo'y katumbas ng panandaliang ligayang naramdaman sa pagkalinga nito sa aking mga daliri. Dalawampung minuto ng katahimikan, ng pagninilay-nilay, tangan ang aking sigarilyo. Ito'y kaibigan sa pag-iisa, kadaupang-palad na walang sumbat na nagdudulot ligaya. Kahit sandali.

Ngunit ngayo'y tila na ito'y ibig magpaalam. At tila ba'ng ipinagtatabuyan ng aking panlasa, ng aking katawan. Marahil siguro'y ang pangangailanga'y di na katindihan. Ang kalungkuta't pag-iisa ngayon ay napunan. Marahil sa kalaunan ng panaho'y ang tamis ng sigarilyo ko'y manunumbalik. At magdudulot ng panandaliang aliw. Kung kailan man may kailangan.

Friday, July 30, 2004

The US election campaign has begun in earnest starting with the Democratic Conventions this week. I am not an American, and I am not voting come November. But I hope to God a Democrat wins. The rest of the world usually fares better.

Here's Former President Bill Clinton's speech last monday, July 26. It reportedly "brought down the house." Lets see the Republicans top that.

Here are some of the highlights:

After 9/11, we all wanted to be one nation, strong in the fight against terror. The president had a great opportunity to bring us together under his slogan of compassionate conservatism and to unite the world in common cause against terror.

Instead, he and his congressional allies made a very different choice: to use the moment of unity to push America too far to the right and to walk away from our allies, not only in attacking Iraq before the weapons inspectors finished their jobs, but in withdrawing American support for the Climate Change Treaty, the International Court for war criminals, the ABM treaty, and even the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

....For the first time ever when America was on a war footing, there were two huge tax cuts, nearly half of which went to the top one percent. I’m in that group now for the first time in my life.

When I was in office, the Republicans were pretty mean to me. When I left and made money, I became part of the most important group in the world to them. At first I thought I should send them a thank you note—until I realized they were sending you the bill.

They protected my tax cuts while:

· Withholding promised funding for the Leave No Child Behind Act, leaving over 2 million children behind

· Cutting 140,000 unemployed workers out of job training

· 100,000 working families out of child care assistance

· 300,000 poor children out of after school programs

· Raising out of pocket healthcare costs to veterans

· Weakening or reversing important environmental advances for clean air and the preservation of our forests.

...Here is what I know about John Kerry. During the Vietnam War, many young men—including the current president, the vice president and me—could have gone to Vietnam but didn’t. John Kerry came from a privileged background and could have avoided it too. Instead he said, send me.

Their opponents will tell you to be afraid of John Kerry and John Edwards, because they won’t stand up to the terrorists—don’t you believe it. Strength and wisdom are not conflicting values—they go hand in hand. John Kerry has both. His first priority will be keeping America safe. Remember the scripture: Be Not Afraid.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The President's State of the Nation Address yesterday

• The nation's most worrying economic problem is the rising budget deficit. Last year, the actual deficit was P199.9 billion against a target of P202 billion. The target this year is P197.8 billion. In the first semester, the actual deficit was P80.1 billion against a target of P79.6 billion. The nation has been posting budget deficits in nine of the last 13 years.

The ballooning deficit poses a danger to the nation because it stunts the economy, bloats the nation's debt burden, raises interest rates, spurs inflation and, because it is a sign of mismanagement of the nation's finances, turns off potential foreign investors.

• The public debt is increasing; debt service eats up about one-third of the national budget that would otherwise go to essential social services and infrastructure. The government's public debt stock as of September 2003 stood at P3.8 trillion or 90 percent of GDP.

• The country's population, one of the fastest growing in Asia, is expected to break the 84-million mark this year if left unchecked. About three babies are born every minute. The high population growth rate of 2.36 percent negates economic growth, puts pressure on social services and infrastructure and causes overcrowding in the cities.

• The incidence of poverty is growing, from 31.8 percent in 1997 to 33.7 percent in 2000, or 32 million poor Filipinos in absolute terms. The projection is that 40 percent now live below the poverty line.

• The number of unemployed rose to 4.99 million last April. The unemployment rate increased to 13.7 percent in April from 12.2 percent in the same month last year. Every year about 1.9 million Filipinos enter the labor force.

• On the brighter side, the country's gross domestic product grew 6.4 percent in the first quarter, compared to 4.8 percent in the same period last year. It was the country's strongest economic performance since 2001.

• The economy grew 6.4 percent in the first quarter on the back of robust farm output and election spending. Last year the gross national product expanded by a hefty 5.5 percent, spurred by the rapid expansion in remittances from overseas workers.

• The economy is being kept afloat by the remittances from an estimated seven million overseas Filipino workers, which is projected to increase to about $8-9 billion this year from $7.6 billion last year.

• The agriculture sector grew by 7.7 percent in the first quarter, compared to 2.9 percent in the same period last year. The services sector, the fastest expanding sector in 2003, grew by 5.9 percent.

• Merchandise exports in May rose by 15.3 percent to $3.26 billion, the highest in 18 months.

• Total investments in the first five months of the year rose 692 percent to P137.4 billion from only P17 billion in the same period last year.

Monday, July 26, 2004

I found out about this weblog through a Bahibyap's comment on mine. Providing a different view on the Philippine pull-out from Iraq, his and others like his comments were deleted from this weblog, Iraq the Model.  It is supposed to be run by three Iraqi brothers in Iraq. It enjoys 6,600 hits daily on average. Quite a wide readership.

I dared post comments questioning the authenticity of the bloggers. Are they who they say they are?

The comments of the avid readers are amazing.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Is this "Democracy" at work?

Misdirections on Iraq "Elections:" When you hear "caucuses," don't think of Iowa

By Seth Ackerman

"January saw a major dispute between the Bush administration's Iraq occupation authority and that country's leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. The administration was promoting a plan to hand over power to an Iraqi government selected through a system of what it called "caucuses." Sistani, a spiritual leader for the country's majority religious group, called for the new government to be chosen through elections instead."

"For the U.S. media, the story presented a host of problems. For one thing, it raised awkward issues about how to cover a process that had been advertised as "Iraq's transition to democracy." That, of course, is how the administration describes its goal in Iraq, and the press has been happy to take it at face value."

"But the election dispute poses the first serious test of Washington's "democracy" rhetoric, and the administration has come out squarely on the side opposing a free vote. The rationale offered was that national elections this year would be logistically impossible. A comprehensive voter registry had yet to be compiled, they said, and there was no way to hold a nationwide census in time for a vote. Again, most of the media seemed to buy that."

"What few news outlets seemed to notice was that even while U.S. occupation officials were pointing to the lack of a census as an obstacle to a vote, they were quietly vetoing a detailed plan to conduct one in time for elections."

"December (12/4/03), the New York Times revealed that census experts in the Iraqi Planning Ministry had compiled a comprehensive proposal to hold a national population tally followed by elections within the space of 10 months. The plan was completed in October--a month before the U.S.-backed "caucus" plan was unveiled--but the Americans secretly rejected it and never told the Iraqi Governing Council of its existence. When they found out about it, Governing Council members were furious. "This could have changed things," an aide to a Shiite council member told the Times.

But the Times story, which ran inside the paper, seemed to go unnoticed."

"In fact, diplomatic officials have spoken out frankly, if anonymously, about their trepidation regarding a popularly chosen government--and their plans to manipulate the process from behind the scenes. Citing senior officials, the New Republic's Lawrence Kaplan reported last spring (5/12/03) that "attendees at future political conferences as well as the membership of a soon-to-be-organized Iraqi coordinating council will be vetted by American officials and 'stacked' with friendly voices, particularly those belonging to the INC," that is, Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress."

"The bottom line," a senior State Department official explained, "is we control the purse strings, the appointments, and anything else of political value [in postwar Iraq]. Not just anyone is going to get access to this." Kaplan referred to the plan as "updating the Nixon Doctrine for Iraq," an allusion to Nixon's "Vietnamization" plan, which envisioned Vietnamese doing the fighting while the U.S. maintained control."

"Meshing well with this Nixon-Doctrine strategy are plans to create a CIA-directed secret police agency in Iraq to root out opposition to the occupation and to any U.S.-installed government. An article in the conservative London Telegraph (1/4/04) reported that "the Pentagon and CIA have told the White House that the organization will allow America to maintain control over the direction of the country as sovereignty is handed over." As intelligence expert John Pike observed, "if you are in control of the secret police in a country, then you don't really have to worry too much about who the local council appoints to collect the garbage."

"Most reporters apparently had little stomach for assembling these facts into a case for skepticism regarding the Bush administration's democratic intentions in Iraq. When the elections dispute with al-Sistani heated up, much of the media resorted to euphemisms to describe the issues at stake. Take, for instance, the word "caucus," which is how the occupation authority characterizes its favored mechanism for selecting a sovereign government. Americans are familiar with the concept, since that's how we choose delegates to party nominating conventions in places like Iowa--where, by coincidence, presidential caucuses were being held in January. (, in fact, ran a column that discussed the caucuses in Iowa and Iraq as if they were pretty much the same thing--2/19/04)."

"But the terminology is misleading. Unlike the system envisioned for Iraq, our caucuses are generally open to the public, or at least to anyone who chooses to register as a party member. In Iraq, however, the "caucuses" envisioned are to be closed to the public, with participants handpicked by "organizing committees" set up in each section of the country. The committees consist of 15 individuals handpicked by the Iraqi Governing Council as well as by provincial and local councils--each of which, in turn, were hand-picked by the U.S. The local "notables" chosen to participate in the caucuses would then agree on members of a Transitional Assembly, which, in turn, would appoint the new government. At no point would the public be involved."

"Despite this, the process was routinely referred to as one of "caucus-style elections" (e.g., L.A. Times, 12/4/03; New York Times, 12/1/03). Even more misleading, it was often labeled a plan for "indirect elections," as if elections of some kind would actually be held and then the winners would in turn select the government. Ubiquitously, Sistani's position was described as a call for "direct elections," leading news consumer to make the logical but erroneous conclusion that the alternative was some other kind of election. This had the effect of making the dispute appear rather technical. (See Boston Globe, 1/23/04; Washington Post, 1/20/04; Seattle Times, 1/19/04; L.A. Times, 1/18/04.)"

"In fact, it would be much more accurate to call the U.S. plan a system of indirect appointments. Stated so bluntly, however, the idea loses much of its democratic appeal. And, in fact, there are signs the Bush administration might consider partially conceding the issue to al-Sistani or the U.N."

Over the next year, as Iraq's political process unfolds, the media will get further opportunities to compare the administration's soaring rhetoric with its often less impressive practice. Hopefully they will convey that information to the public--directly.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Filipinos are Iraqis and Iraqis are Filipinos

Filipinos have a lot more in common with Iraqis than we might think. Sure, they are a predominantly muslim country while our own muslim brothers and sisters only number between 5% to 14% of the total population. We have no significant historical ties with them in past century or so (or to my knowledge, ever). It would probably never occur to an ordinary Filipino or an ordinary Iraqi for that matter, that they share an unfortunate common bond.

Flashback to a hundred years ago. A Philippines that had just won its war of independence from the Spanish colonial yoke of three centuries. A war that has brought a consciousness of a Philippines free from foreign rule. A war that has sparked in the people's imagination, a "Filipino." Free at last, our ancestors had probably thought. No more white people bossing us natives around, brandishing their superiority over us because, well, we have more melanin than them. And well, it is the order that God himself has designed. And yeah, they were ruling us and oppressing us for our own good.

But not long after the traces of the long-faded Hispanic imperialist power has left the Islands, comes a shining new and promising imperial power that was the United States. Come to free us from our own ignorance and well, to spread to us the hollowed teachings of their dead white male ancestors from a couple of centuries before. They came firepower ablazing, demolishing all sorts of resistance against the white American man's burden. They had come, thousands and thousands of miles away because, well, they just wanted to teach us democracy and give us education, the American way. They came, a foreign power that had killed and maimed as many as 600,000 Filipinos on Filipino soil, take all the reins of authority and then expect to teach us, benevolently, "freedom" and "democracy."

US occupation of the Philippine Islands numbered fifty years. A half century of, some might say, good vibes and good happenings for all us previously-uncouth little natives, while some, among them a Filipino scholar Onofre D. Corpuz, might say a half century of Americans profitting from monopoly commerce. If one cares to do a little bit of unearthing from our libraries, one will discover a plethora of American companies "invading" not long after the gunsmoke has cleared Philippine air. Oh, and not to mention the establishment of the biggest military base in the world outside of continental USA as an outpost for their paranoiac Cold War pissing contest against them Soviets hoolahbaloo.

A half century that saw us little brown brothers pledging allegiance to the American flag, learning the language if not the twang, copying everything American from the mode of dress to the mode of government. A half century that saw a massive flood of American goods to fulfill our Americanized wants and needs and desires. Because everything American was surely better than what our own backward country could ever make.

Some say ours was a tragic history of the local elites being coopted by imperialist conquerors. An elite chosen and installed in the high seats of power as the years went by and the American occupancy was about to hand us our "sovereignty." An elite that was schooled American, and shared real "interests" with anything and everything American.

Fast forward a hundred years to the present. Here come the Americans doing what they've gotten very good at. Smashing their nose in on other people's business and bullying anything and everything that comes in between. Here's a people minding their own business, albeit living in a repressive but otherwise harmless regime, bombed and invaded for no other reason than the American president and his business and political cohorts have got much to gain from doing so. George W. Bush comes from a family which has made its fortune in Oil. Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world. The United States is the largest oil consumer in the world, more than the next 5-6 combined. DUH. Any idiot can put two and two together.

But no, this simple equation has been muddied by the US government's hunting of imaginary weapons of mass destruction and counted on a paranoia of an American public whose collective memories still bore the image of two airplanes crashing into two very tall buildings.

And so each and everyday these days we see Iraqi militants killing and maiming white American soldiers who are tromping about, brandishing their expensive weapons, tanks and such, trying to "settle" US occupancy of Iraq. If you're an Iraqi living peacefully in your own neighborhood, saying your prayers five times a day, trying to raise your family in the best possible way you can see in the past year or so the death of thousands of your own countrymen, some of whom might even be family, will you stand idly by and do nothing?

Probably not. You'll do any means possible to get these American motherfuckers who've bombed your houses, businesses and countrymen, out of your own motherfuckingcountry. Even resort to kidnapping and threatening to behead (because you sure ain't got no smart bombs or computerized gadgets to fight back) "coalition forces" to get them the hell out of your borders.

Gawd. This is history in the making. And we're all standing by see such injustice unfold behind our eyes. We should hail Angelo de la Cruz as a hero. If only because he has single-handedly shown the Philippine government, the folly it has made in "supporting" (albeit with only 51 pencil-pushers) a war fashioned in American paranoia and profiteering.

Just you wait and see. There'll be billions of dollars to be made on Iraqi "Reconstruction." American corporations will come "invading" very soon after things get "settled," just like they did here a hundred years ago. But not if ordinary Iraqis, made militant by the injustice done them, could help it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

US has bowed down to terrorists before

"The most prominent example of caving in to terrorists by the US happened in 1979 when Iranian militants seized the US embassy in Iran. The world's strongest military power was helpless in obtaining the release of 66 (later 52) diplomatic personnel. An ambitious rescue mission collapsed even before it started. No amount of saber-rattling and threats of retaliatory action could free the hostages. The ordeal ended two years later under an arms-for-hostages deal that saw the delivery of sophisticated war materiel to Iran (then engaged in a protracted war with Iraq) in exchange for the release of the hostages."

"Fear of further loss of lives also persuaded the US government to give in to terrorists when a car bomb smashed into a US marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in October 1983 killing 231 American servicemen."

"In April 1983, terrorists rammed a truck loaded with explosives at the US embassy in Beirut, resulting in the death of 63 people, including 17 Americans. The action did not faze the US government. It said it would not bow down to the terrorists' demands to pull out its troops from that country.

Six months later, after the worst casualty record of American soldiers on a single day, a distinction that still stands up to the present, Reagan immediately ordered an immediate withdrawal of its troops from Lebanon. The policy of standing up to terrorism was promptly forgotten."

"The same scenario was repeated in Somalia in 1993. Upon the request of the United Nations, the first President George Bush sent 25,000 soldiers to that African country to prevent massive starvation of its populace brought about by anarchy. The warring tribal chieftains in that impoverished nation made it extremely difficult for the UN to undertake its feeding program. The US troops were tasked with maintaining peace and order as the UN tried to stave off mass starvation of the Somalis.

As things turned out, the Somali militia was not scared of the American soldiers and their sophisticated weapons. In November 1993, a ragtag army of Somali terrorists killed 18 US Rangers who were part of a contingent assigned to arrest a local warlord."

"Now, who has the habit of giving in to the demands of terrorists?"

Monday, July 19, 2004

Why Arroyo Made the Right Choice on Philippine Pull-Out From Iraq

Randy David, a Filipino scholar and sociologist, says it all. Here is his article from today's Philippine Daily Inquirer:

WE can't expect America and Australia and all the other nations that supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq, to understand the full complexity of President Macapagal-Arroyo's dilemma. To them, the choice is merely between giving in to the demands of Iraqi terrorists to save one overseas Filipino worker's life and keeping our troops in Iraq in order to honor an international commitment. Any self-respecting government, they say, would give priority to its commitments.

To appreciate the context of the President's decision to withdraw the Filipino troops in Iraq in exchange for the life of Angelo de la Cruz, one would have to take into account a few of the realities we face.

The first is the reality of the nation's collective guilt over the deployment of millions of its desperate citizens to various work sites in the world where it cannot protect them. Our government has called them "modern heroes," in recognition of the billions of dollars they send home every year. But this compliment hardly repays the social costs that they must often bear in the form of broken lives and dysfunctional families. The OFW phenomenon has produced a thick residue of resentment that weighs heavily upon relationships within both the Filipino family and the nation as a whole. Every tragedy in the OFW family becomes an occasion for the release of this resentment. Every publicized misfortune of an OFW abroad is potential ground for a Flor Contemplacion convulsion. Neither Francis Ricciardone nor Jay Leno would know this.

The second is the reality of an unexplained foreign policy of intervening in a distant war without a strong moral and legal warrant. True, in the past, most Filipinos automatically took the side of America, wherever its superpower adventurism went. But that was when they knew no other country but the United States. Today the Middle East is a place of work for more than one million Filipinos. Ten million of our people live and work in more than 150 countries. Our foreign policy cannot ignore this reality. Loyalty to America will be measured inevitably against the dangers our own nationals face when they are perceived as citizens of an enemy nation. De la Cruz's town mates may not understand the whys and wherefores of George W. Bush's war, but they will immediately see the folly of a President who recklessly gambles the lives of her own citizens just to please America.

And the third is the reality of a politically insecure President who has the unenviable task of explaining and justifying the Philippines' continuing involvement in a war that a growing number of Americans now consider unnecessary. Since the May 10 elections, we've had in our country a volatile situation in search of a spark. The President's victory at the polls remains shrouded in doubt. While the nation slept, Ms Arroyo's allies in Congress hurriedly proclaimed her the winner on the basis of certificates of canvass that many think have been doctored. She won big in three provinces but lost in most of the regions of the country, including Metro Manila. The last thing she needs today is an incident that can explode into a crisis of legitimacy. The decision to pull out the troops from Iraq is as much about saving the presidency of Ms Arroyo as it is about saving the life of De la Cruz.

The convergence of these three political and sociological realities-an unjustified war, a helpless Filipino OFW, and a politically insecure President-lends a unique quality to this crisis. The situation would have been different if the victim had not been an OFW but a member of the Filipino peacekeeping contingent. There would still be loud calls to withdraw the troops, but the government would not have felt as strongly pressured. Similarly, if De la Cruz's abductors had demanded not the withdrawal of Filipino troops but, say, the release of Abu Sayyaf members from Philippine prisons, the government's response would have been a firm rejection of the demand. And finally, if Ms Arroyo's victory in the May 10 polls had been more convincing-if her legitimacy had been stronger-I believe she would have risked a momentary slide in popularity at home to please America.

Ms Arroyo's foreign critics are thus being too harsh when they call her a weak and indecisive President. Had she ignored the demand of the Iraqi extremists, she would now be facing a full-blown popular uprising from which even George W. Bush would not be able to rescue her. The neo-conservatives in the United States may feel aggrieved over this small setback in their Iraq strategy, but they ought to know that Ms Arroyo remains their staunchest and most loyal ally not only in the Philippines but in the entire region. Unfortunately for us Filipinos, however, the withdrawal of Filipino soldiers from Iraq represents neither a nationalist awakening, nor a principled re-appraisal of our policy toward Iraq in the light of the US Senate's own findings that the reasons for war had been irresponsibly exaggerated. A voluntary withdrawal would certainly have been more honorable.

The only consolation we can derive from all this is that we are made aware once more of the responsibilities that a government assumes when it pushes its people to find work in other countries. Thirty years after embarking on a labor export program, I think we've not fully realized what this demands in terms of adjustments in foreign policy and in the nature of consular work abroad. The first obligation of a government is always to its people, wherever they may be. A president who forgets that will not be around for long.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Supremely Irritated by Ignoramus Americanus

That's it. The Jay Leno hoo-ha has got me seething mad at how ignorant the world's model democracy is about other countries, especially those whom they ask to be their allies against a war waged on very iffy terms. Although I don't agree that the talk show host should necessarily apologize for making such a tasteless joke as some local militant groups want, I nevertheless think that millions of Americans shape their opinions based on television shows and an American media that has lost all traces of fairness or balance since September 11.

And besides, Leno's one-liner only echoes American sentiments, like this Filipino-American journalist who dares call Filipinos "weasels." What a disgrace. I suggest you let Ms. Malkin know what you think. And heck, why not Jay Leno too.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

The Katipunan Divide, Nostalgia and Growing Food

There is something about institutions of higher learning that refreshes the soul. There's something about green grass, the rolling landscape, the acacias, the quiet. Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever be free of the university as long as I live in this city.
I wonder if there will come a time when I no longer consciously seek to soak in the sun through the thick fire trees' foliage, to inhale the aroma of freshly created oxygen, to wander about the buildings both decrepit and spanking new.

Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever do my best thinking without ever having to dip in my Alma Mater's spring of intellectual energy. Its as if, the naked well-toned man whose arms spread
open in supplication and welcome bestows upon all who enter this hallowed domain instant rejuvenation. I love my Alma Mater. Now more so because I am not often in it. More so because I teach in another university a world away from this one.

Where I teach there is something missing. Is it in the clean, ordered surroundings? Is it in the fully-functioning amenities? Is it in the students' eyes? The faculty? Perhaps the priests? I have been thinking about it for quite a few semesters, but cannot quite put my finger on that elusive missing...something. Until today.

Today we welcomed a Belgian diplomat to campus. He was there to speak about the European Union's enlargement (the addition of 10 new member countries). I didn't need to be there, but I thought it would be interesting to hear what the "officials" had to say about something I believe concerns not just this inconsequential archipelago, but a host of other "small" countries. I wanted to hear diplmotese.

It was a relatively small gathering of both students and faculty, 50 would be a generous estimate. The Belgian speaker presented a brief history of the Union and the impacts of its
recent enlargement. All very neutral presentation of facts and a careful selection of words. What could it mean for this archipelago? Why, new trading opportunities! Its all a win-win situation. He was a diplomat. What else could he have said?

After the 45 minute monologue the floor was open for questions. Normally, I like standing up and speaking my mind in lectures like these and often I have no qualms. But today, I
hesitated. I wanted to pose contentious questions, critical. God forbid even "radical." But for a brief moment I checked myself. This would never have happened if this little lecture was on the other side of Katipunan.

I looked to my right, to the Italian teacher who also came from my Alma Mater. I whispered "Medyo contentious itong itatanong ko." But we are of the same blood and she understood what I meant and what I needed to hear. She reassuringly nodded and said "Sige lang ba."

I consciously toned down my usually argumentative voice. I picked my words careful not to sound too...combative. Questions of facts.

Self-deprecatingly I said, "I have a series of questions, I hope you wont mind my taking this opportunity to ask them....(pause)...Would you say there are substantial Philippine exports to the EU? Do you have figures? And in what kinds of commodities do we trade?"

He responded, the Philippines exports some 6.3 billion euros worth of mostly aquamarine
products, some fruits and vegetables. We export agricultural goods.

"I have a particular interest in the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, would you know what percentage this year's EU budget is devoted to CAP?"

His demeanor changed, his facial expression more...resistant, closed. He knew where my questions were going, but nevertheless he answered. Over 53% of the EU Commission
budget. He then conceded that the CAP is a highly politicized policy and that the WTO Cancun deadlock may be partially attributed to it. He didn't say the word "protectionist" I
noticed. I didn't either.

"Some of your documents are freely published in the EU internet website, and I have come across the CAP Midterm Review of 2003. It indicated that the 10 new member countries, obviously a lot poorer than the others, were willing to accept significantly less agricultural funds for the next decade as compared to the fifteen original members. Do you see a trend of this changing? How long will these new members receive less than the rest?"

Calmly, choosing his words he replied. Obviously, the CAP needs to be changed and reviewed. For now he could not say. But these new members will benefit by having their agricultural production increased.

"These new members, Central and Eastern Europeans, are mostly agriculture-exporting nations. As part of the Union, would you agree they might have a priority over say,
Philippine agricultural products?"

He kept his cool but he increasingly looked irritated. I could picture a thought bubble above his head, "Mais quand est-ce qu'elle va arrêter?" (When will she stop?) What was I expecting him to say? Of course diplomatese came out of his mouth, speaking of equal opportunities for free trade. Sure, the costs are higher importing from some place further away. Sure, there are strict environmental standards to be met. But we agree on fair competition do we not?

"Merci." I said. "Il n'y a pas de quoi (Its nothing)." He said.

After the adrenaline rush of public speaking my hesitancy came back with a force. I felt I had taken up everyone's merry, light and gay air with my silly out-of-place questions. I felt I had wasted the faculty and the students' time. This was even more highlighted by someone else's question about the number of stars on the EU flag. And someone else asking what would happen if the Philippines were somehow magically transported to Europe. The Belgian regained a light, casual demeanor and made a few funny comments in reply.

I couldn't help but feel out of place. Like I had soiled a clean, crisp cloth with unnecessary grime. Traitorous to the hand that feeds me, I nevertheless couldn't help but compare. In my Alma Mater, I wouldn't have felt compelled to be circumspect. In my Alma Mater, the diplomat would have been torn to pieces. Maybe that was why he chose to speak on this other side of Katipunan.

Its a war unfolding in a foreign land thousands of miles away. Why should it concern you and I, ordinary Filipinos minding our own business, going about our lives as best we could given these trying times. It is a war most unjust, some would say. It is a rightful war that has deposed a tyrant, some would say. Most will take in the headlines and television images with unseeing eyes. They may shake their heads in regret or disgust or incomprehension and then go about their daily routine mindful of the momentary delay. The fact that we have hundreds of thousands of Filipino workers in the middleast wouldn't register. Some 4,000 in Iraq and 50 non-combatant forces working for the US troops. Oil price hikes are blamed on government incompetence when this unforgiving pain in our wallets is due to that war killing Iraqis on Iraqi soil.

But now that war has a face, and he bears a Filipino name, a Filipino passport.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Such is the Filipino's plight

Sunday, July 11, 2004

He does it with no grand gestures. No sweeping romantic spiels, no fuss, no muss. It's the little things he does. Pretty flowers to go with his pretty eyes. He shows me he cares. And he loves. We just spent (almost) three good days together, mostly watching Cinemanila, coffee, food, talking, walking. A weekend of two friends/lovers luxuriating in each other. No pretenses, no fakery. And this morning we parted ways so I can go home to my worried mom. On his way back to the studio, he bought me this from an ukay-ukay in his building. Isn't it romantic? :)

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Film Fests Galore

Mid-year in Manila means film festivals aplenty. And film buffs like me are salivating. There's so many movies to see there's hardly any time too see everything I want. Unfortunately, the first of this year, the French Film Fest, went by me in a flash and I was only able to see a Pinoy short film, Binyag and a fifth of a french feature film. And I had wanted to see a couple of gay-lesbain themed films at the Pink Film Fest but wasn't able to. Let's just say I was otherwise occupied.

Since I like documentaries, I caught a couple of docu-films at the UP Film Center with my boyfriend. We saw Black Nazarene and Pa-Pogi: Imaging of Philippine Presidents last month.

Black Nazarene focuses on the Quiapo devotees of the "Poong Nazareno" and the phenomenon of crucifixion in Pampanga. Like an onion, this film had so many layers it would take a while to peel off each for a closer look and analysis. The director/writer Robert Nery, a social-anthropologist, focused not only on the phenomenon of crucifixion from a religious point of view but also the socio-political. One layer was an exposition of how the Catholic faith was both a yoke and a coping mechanism with which our ancestors learned to live with colonial oppression. "Pasyon" was a narrative of the suffering indio transposed onto the suffering Christ.

Another layer showed individual pinoys and their myriad reasons for having themselves nailed on the cross. Some did it for faith, some as "panata" (literally a pledge, something you do in exchange for prayers granted), some for penance, and some, as the filmmaker seemed to suggest, for the sheer "performance" of it. Theater it was, and the men were the orchestrators, the playwrights, the actors.Mel Gibson should have seen this film, he would've learned a thing or two about what "passion" actually is for some devout Catholics.

Most disturbing is the depiction of the profanity of human greed can corrupt what was initially sacred. The crucifixion phenomenon has throughout the years become a tourist attraction of sorts, bringing in not only locals but foreigners as well. And when local officials see caucasians, you know they see $$$.

You leave the cinema asking yourself questions about what it means for these Filipinos to have themselves nailed to the cross. Is it for faith? For glory? For money? The film may focus only on a small part of the archipelago, San Fernando, Pampanga, but he may well have been talking about the rest of the country.
The ride has taken us far and wide and we've a long way to go. But I need this moment to pause and take the reins back from this runaway carriage. I need to pause and look back the way we've come to sense some sort of future that has yet to unfold.

A whirlwind it has been for the last two months and like children unmindful of consequence and real dangers of life we plunged right into the pool of the unknown. And it's been a blast, a blessing, a revelation.

But I miss my footing now. And I need to get my feet back firmly on the ground. I need to regain some sense of control. Starting with my body.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

my blog won't show up in my mozilla firebird browser...i posted something then it shows up. i deleted it then the page won't frickin' load again...when i publish this...i hope it works...