Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A "God-fearing" People

In all my 9 years in UP, I don't believe I've ever heard, seen or read the term God-fearing." My classmates and acquaintances never used it and certainly not the professors. Surprisingly, in my 4 years of teaching in the Jesuit university right across, I've never heard the term used either.

This morning I asked my students and they don't recall having been taught that God should be feared, not even in their Theology class. But then Jesuits have traditionally been very liberal, especially when it comes to academic freedoms.

So, imagine the extent to which my eyes rolled over and over and over when I kept seeing this term, "God-fearing," used in another university in Intramuros, where I commenced teaching this semester. In one essay quiz after the next, my students kept mentioning "God-fearing" in answer to questions about politics in general and Philippine society in particular. Although I received a Catholic education during my elementary and secondary years, my university years were the most formative when it came to my view of religion. When we talked of God or the Church, it was almost always in a pejorative light. God was the instrument of colonial oppression. God is the opium dealer of the doped - and so tamed - masses. And so you can imagine my hackles raise when I encountered "God-fearing" in this Intramuros school, where students come from middle to lower-middle class backgrounds. Although the premier state university welcomes young people of various socio-economic classes, I now realize it is also the "breeding ground" of not only "destablizers and naked runners" (see post below) but also of a particular intellectual elite, whose basic values and norms are VASTLY different from the majority of the Filipino.

And so, in this Intramuros university, I met the ordinary Filipino, and I found that she fears her God. Regardless of my own ambiguous thoughts on deities, one wonders why this is so. Perhaps it reflects the ordinary Filipino's relationship with things unseen, with fate, with the cosmos. If God is to be feared then it pays to be obedient under his constant surveillance. If God is to be feared then he probably metes out punishment for those who fail to conform to his wishes. If God is to be feared then one must be wary of his capricious will. If he decides to make life hard for you, then you've no choice but to accept your fate, or maybe pray harder.

Monday, August 28, 2006

You gotta love 'em senile cabinet members

Gonzalez: UP breeds destabilizers, naked runners
By Armand Nocum
Last updated 02:25am (Mla time) 08/27/2006

Published on page A5 of the August 27, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

THIS time Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez has picked on the University of the Philippines school system, saying it mainly produces militant protesters and fraternity men and women who run around the campus naked.

"That school breeds the destabilizers that haunt the country year after year. They are acting as if they are the only ones who know how to run the country," Gonzalez told the Inquirer yesterday.

He made it clear, however, that he was not assailing the entire university population because "there are many students there who are bright and good."

Interviewed by phone while he was with President Macapagal-Arroyo in Guimaras, Gonzalez pointed to the Oblation run of the APO fraternity as another indication of the kind of students that came from UP.

"I doff my hat to them because they initiate the running of naked people... That's also one kind of culture that they develop there," he said, noting that women had begun to join the naked run as well which is held in December.

"Maybe we are going in that direction... there are now women running naked. I will not be surprised if they will go to school with only their books, nothing more," he said.

Gonzalez made the statements while lamenting that UP was the site of numerous protest rallies and symposia calling for the resignation of President Arroyo.

"In every storm that takes place, UP students are in the forefront,"he said. "As a matter of fact, our history will show that since the martial law years, students from UP were the ones who went underground and fought the government. In fact, many of them went to China and never came back."

Bomb-making in labs

Gonzalez said he came to see the militant activism of UP students first-hand during the First Quarter Storm of 1970 when then Sen. Genaro Magsaysay formed a panel to look into the violent protests there and he saw pillbox bombs being assembled in the school laboratories.

He said this was not the way the students should repay the government for giving them a world-class education. "They should consider the fact that the state is the one paying for their schooling. Why fight the state? Why try to bring it down. I think some degree of gratitude should be there also," he said.

He noted that UP had always been known as a "cradle of leadership" but he was worried that with the way some students there were acting, some serious questions would be raised about the "kind of leaders we will have in the future."

But he said he was "not degrading UP per se," but was only questioning the kind of students that came from it.

`I am well-behaved'

He said the matter of the high "tolerance to education freedom" should be raised to UP officials and teachers during the annual budget hearing for the school.

Asked what school he graduated from, Gonzalez replied: "University of Sto. Tomas... that's why I am well-behaved."

Gonzalez is known for speaking his mind on most issues and creating controversy.

Earlier, when he was asked if he was going to arrest the widow of the late residential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. for inciting to sedition when she spoke out against President Arroyo, he said she was too pretty to be arrested.

Another time when it was revealed that he was undergoing dialysis for kidney stones, he said that was not what made him launch verbal tirades against critics of Ms Arroyo.

"What does [having the] balls [to say things] got to do with that?" he said when he was asked if the painful passing of stones in his urine was the reason he was grouchy to critics and media people.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Ils (They) Film Review

Unlike many pompously self-important French films, Ils (They) has a surprisingly sparse script. Full of one-liners like Qu-est-ce que tu fais? (What are you doing) or Qu'est-ce qu'il y a? (Whats the matter) repeated over and over and over, my beginner's French students would love this film. The simplicity of the characters' dialogue pretty much mirrors the simplicity of the production - set in a huge old house in the woods, and the story - two French expats in Romania victimized by an unseen force bent on doing them harm. There are no big budget special effects and only about a couple of ounces of blood shed shown on screen, but this film nevertheless delivers the goods.

Directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud opt to make the film look like a documentary. Supposedly "inspired by true events" Ils opens with an especially tense scene of a mother and daughter stranded on the side of a dark, empty road. After almost hitting something or someone, the car swerves wildly and hits a post. Thankfully mother and daughter are unharmed...but only for a few minutes. Mom pops open the hood and checks the engine while Daughter stays in the car. A clicking sound is heard from the woods nearby. And Mom is gone. Daughter gets off the car, calling for her mysteriously disappeared mother. This scene is so scary I couldn't believe there wasn't anything actually happening on screen! Just this girl looking around the car, framed by the dark road/woods calling out "Mama" with some swooshing, clicking sounds in the background. Brilliant.

Spoiler starts here....

I can't say the ending was a total shock to me, halfway through I figured out "they" weren't exactly supernatural. Its a bunch of kids who hunt and kill people for sport, for fun. If this film was actually based on true events then it seems to be go right along a filmmaking trend portraying countries in Central and Eastern Europe as morally bankrupt. Tarantino's The Hostel showed Bratislava, Slovakia to be some run-down city full of abandoned factories where absolutely anything - including the joys of torturing backpackers - can be had for a price.

Rationally, there could be some truth to these stories. The collapse of communism and the dominance of Russia over these countries left a "moral vacuum" of sorts. Communism banned religion, a mechanism to make people "behave." Order was enforced by completely human, secular laws. And so you have roughly two generations of former Soviets who don't have an all-seeing God to censor their actions. Couple this with the kind of poverty this region has had to battle as it adjusts to the rest of the capitalist world, then you've got the perfect social conditions which would render events depicted in these films entirely feasible.