Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Myth-making in a Time of Fragmentation

As much as things unseen shape communities - the law, institutions, networks of friends and families, work and others - what holds a nation together is a common narrative. A story binding all in the mosaic of our country is comprised of common goals, struggles and heartaches. In each other we should see a reflection of ourselves. The taxi driver has essentially the same story as the teacher, the balut vendor, the politician, the accountant, the homeless, the call center agent.

As scholar and historian Benedict Anderson once said, we have to able to imagine a community first, before it becomes a reality. In this liquid soup of change, of shifting space and time it is often difficult to locate place and belonging. Allegiances are shifting, as the old crumbles all around us. In the hyperspeed of today, of reflexive reality unfolding in real-time, it is often difficult to find quiet to reflect. This is why we look to the past to remind ourselves of how we got here - amidst the uncertainty of change. We celebrate our nation's symbols - the flag, the national anthem, the innocuous sampaguita, to draw from them the magic qualities of what it means to be Filipino. From the holy days we celebrate, we draw a thread to sew into the story of the private, individual lives we live.

Today we celebrate one of the great mythologies of the Filipino - the People Power revolution. I was too young to remember anything substantive. Over twenty years later, I look to the accounts of elders, Wikipedia and YouTube to derive meaning from such a landmark in our commonstory.

Far from a historical relic, EDSA is real and relevant. It is the core artery of our metropolis. It is the channel from which we all converge and diverge on our way to work, our loves and enemies, our homes. It is the avenue not only of resistance, but the avenue of means, of tragedy, of relief and disparity.

EDSA is at the heart of this country's soul. It pulses the beat of the networks of families, friends, colleagues, leaders and followers we have all created. We look to EDSA, we look at ourselves.

But what of those who do not physically encounter it? What of the millions who live in the hinterlands? What of the millions abroad? For them there is only the spirit. In which ways does the spirit continue to live? I believe it is this generation's challenge to answer this question. For those who may question the value of even going through such an exercise, I have this simple answer. While People Power may vary in meaning for all of us, while it may mean what we want it to mean, while we may construct People Power to suit different purposes - no one can deny that it is, above all, a story of liberation.

In the cool of our office cubicles, on the blistering heat of sub-standard cement roads, in the sanctuary of our homes, we ask ourselves - who does not want to be free? Free from drudgery, isolation, debt and a soaring cost of living. Free from noise and pollution. Free from dogmatic religion. Free to go from point A to point B with ease of transportation. Free to look at the expanse of our city, our village our towns and see beauty instead of ugliness. Freedom from food shortage and poverty. Freedom to sleep at night without anxiety.

People Power is our commonstory. It is our magic talisman to reclaim freedom to live as we will, to reclaim this country for ourselves. We must cling to it with all our might, our ticket to redemption, our memory waiting to become reality. Power to the people.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sparks - Part Two

From afar she looked like porcelain, fragile and cool. Up close she was much warmer than he expected. He didn't think she would respond to his overtures, but here they were, walking back to their apartment complex in a tense yet easy camaraderie. His chest expanded as he inhaled her scent. Flowery but not cloying. It was increasingly getting difficult to walk straight.

"There's a box of ice cream cake in the fridge, if you'd like to share dessert." He had to try. Although she seemed receptive, he figured her for a shy one. A few moments passed. And then some more. Quickly glancing down he was disappointed he couldn't see her face. The street lights were all in working order, but the trees cast a shadow on her face. His heart was pounding, working hard as he expected to be rejected. Oh well, it wouldn't be the first. But he had a good feeling about this one. He shortened his stride for her, and to ease the tightness in his pants. Down boy, down.

Finally she stole a quick look up at him. She opened her mouth as if to say something, then closed her pretty lips once more. No lipstick this evening. His imagination ran wild as the the shadows broke revealing her full lips in a pout. Oh god. Images of her kneeling in front of him with that welcoming mouth brought a knot in his stomach.

"Sure." Quick but thick with hesitance. Now he regretted her saying yes. He was in no condition to play host tonight.

Her voice was softer now, treading in unknown waters. "I guess this means we eat at your place?" He cleared his throat and mumbled an affirmative. Was this a good idea? He wasn't sure he was in control of himself. But no backing down now.

"Ahhh!" Her grip on his arm communicated the pain more than her scream. Hopping on her right foot, that little mouth of hers were now filthy with expletives. "You ok?"

"I stepped on a shard or something. Asshole hillbillies throwing bottles on the road. Motherfuckers. Die! May you all die!" She was busy inspecting her injured foot. Boy was he as lucky as she was unlucky tonight. He was never the rescuing type, he liked his women independent and strong. But he sensed all wasn't right with her world as soon as she entered the deli - exhaustion written all over her face. He had always been curious about his neighbor of six months. It seemed a natural thing to strike up a conversation then.

"Lemme see." Any excuse to touch her again. Her skin was so soft he had difficulty seeing anything. Breathe Leo, breathe. It was a small cut, but she obviously couldn't go on walking now. One more block. "Here let me carry you." Before she could protest he had her in his arms. The flowery smell was stronger now and him harder. Great.

RH is now moving in Senate

It wasn't exactly the CBCP who walked out of last Thursday's technical working group on the Senate version of the RH bill. It was their legal counsel Atty. Imbong. And it looked like their walkout was premeditated because they already had a speech prepared beforehand. They weren't really meaning to make constructive comments. Anyway, the Inquirer has the 'walkout' as today's headline. Whee!!!!!!!

Meanwhile, thanks to Carlos Celdran, here is the BBC feature on Sex and Religion in Manila.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Abre Los Ojos

Emancipation is a well-trodden theme in pop culture. Off the top of my head I think of classic cult hit "The Matrix." Neo, having glimpsed the truth behind the human condition, had the choice to down the blue pill which would make him forget what he saw and revert to his life of habit. He would forget his encounter with Morpheus and his crew, forget the sinister Mr. Anderson and go on with living out his life.
Morpheus: This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.
But Neo chose to swallow the red pill - in pursuit of truth. He later on found out that he, and all of humanity, have been living simulated, fantasy lives as their bodies served to power the world created by machines. Later on another character Cypher, expressed deep regret in forgoing the blue pill. Knowing what he knew then, he would have gladly reverted to his simulated life - back in the blissful arms of ignorance.

This same choice was offered to David in "Vanilla Sky." Near the end of the film he finds out that in grief for losing a loved one, he chose to be cryogenically preserved, living his simulated perfect life indefinitely. Upon learning the truth, he chose to jump off the building and wake up to face his painful reality.

I remember these pop culture references as I read this article entitled "Barrel of worms" by Rene Azurin. In it he depicts the hesitance of officialdom in digging too deep:
If nothing else, congressional zarzuelas on the World Bank’s findings of bid rigging and "kickbacking" in public works projects highlight the fact that no agency in this government — not the Department of Public Works and Highways (obviously), not the Senate, not the House of Representatives, not the Department of Justice, not the Ombudsman — is interested in opening up the whole barrel of worms. A logical conclusion is that everyone has an interest in keeping this barrel sealed.
Thieves guarding the bank can be expected to deflect attention from the intricate ways in which wealth is siphoned off the bank.

But what of the depositors?

It is probably in their interest to believe in the credibility of the institution which houses their fortune, their hopes, their fate. Believing otherwise would trigger a crisis. Given a choice between reality and the comfort of ignorance or even the relative discomfort of innuendo - do we take the blue pill or the red?

We go about our daily lives in varying levels of consciousness. Most of us probably prefer to sleepwalk. Reality may be too much to take. For those who see a glimmer of light behind closed eyelids, I dedicate "Anino" by Wolfgang.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The World Economic Crisis and Asia

A Public Lecture Sponsored by
Department of Economics, Department of Political Science, and
Action for Economic Reforms

"The World Economic Crisis and Asia"


Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development,
Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations
Member, United Nations Commission of Experts on Reforms
of the International Monetary and Financial System

23 February 2009, Monday
4:30-6:00 PM

Faura AVR
Ateneo de Manila Loyola Heights Campus

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I Heart Anoop

Just making an official declaration of undying love for Anoop Desai. Lol.

Here's his audition in Kansas City. Its the way he handled Simon. The slippers. His dorky thesis on barbecue and American folklore. Those killer dimples. And the voice! The voice....*wipes drool*

If that isn't enough to convince you, this will.

See what I mean? Now you've to hear this...


Huh? Heard the ladies hearts aflutter? Told 'ya. Now I'm really miffed with American Idol. I waited a whole week and all they gave me was ten seconds of Anoop. Thank heavens for YouTube!!!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lupang Hinirang

Lupang Hinarang is a film in two parts about a fierce and deadly battle raging between farmers and landowners in the Philippines. The documentary opens with the tribal Sumilao farmers, Ka Rene, Linda and Bajekjek, who, inspired by Gandhi’s protest march, journey on foot for two months from their mountain village in Bukidnon to the presidential palace in Manila.

It is a gruelling 1,700 kilometer journey through scorching heat, rains, fatigue, and great uncertainty. After weeks of walking, the farmers reach Manila, rally at the corporate offices of San Miguel, confront the agrarian reform secretary and grapple with anti-riot police before finally meeting the President.

The second part tells the story of the sugarcane workers from Negros. When the landowner’s armed guards kill one of the farmers in 2007, Chay Lindy, Chay Gamay, and Chay Biray go on a harrowing 29-day hunger strike with other farmers on the steps of the agrarian reform office in Manila. The hunger strike results in victory for the farmers until the film ends in a shocking climax.

Lupang Hinarang is a timely documentary set against ongoing debates in Congress to extend and reform CARP (CARPer) or to kill it.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Cat and Mouse

My kitty cat Tinay.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Nationality Means Everything

I disagree with Smoke’s post a few days back. Nationality means everything.

It can determine your life chances, your health and well-being, your educational opportunities, whether you live or die, where you can and cannot go. A person born Canadian will probably have a much easier life than a person born Palestinian. Nationality confers not only identity but material well-being. This is probably why the Filipino, ever outward-looking, is seeking any opportunity s/he can for a better life, even overseas. I disagree that “parochial” is what the Filipino stands for. Our history did not allow for it. The Filipino was born at the cusp of the globalization of everything.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Here Comes Everybody

Clay Shirky doesn't really say anything new in this LSE public lecture, but he neatly ties everything together in a bright red bow that will have you thinking, WOW.

EVERYBODY needs to hear this. You, your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, friends, enemies, pets, pests, colleagues, everybody. And listen up to the very end. More interesting stuff in the Q&A.

From the event announcement:

"Clay Shirky, one of the new culture’s wisest observers, steer us through the online social explosion and ask what happens when people are given the tools to work together, without needing traditional organisational structures. As online communication becomes ubiquitous, Shirky unpicks fundamental issues that are increasingly the source of much debate in particular in the media, in business, and in government, all of whom are grappling to make sense of the new social revolution. He argues that the conundrum is not whether the spread of these social tools is good or bad, but rather what the impact will be, for better or for worse."

Ok, pass on.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


Part One

Her heel broke, having stepped in a crack on the pavement. A perfect way to end a lousy day. Disoriented, she almost stepped off the sidewalk, the blaring horn of a red car close enough her skirts swooshed. She bent to take off her shoes and stashed them in her oversized bag full of stuff she usually didn’t need. Toothbrush and toothpaste, pens of different colors, nail clipper, a book or two. The Chinese deli ought to still be open.

Just in time, the cute little button-nose waitress was starting to clear the tables. “A little late for dinner isn’t it?” A familiar face. He wasn’t usually so talky. A nod or a smile was the extent of their exchanges, her neighbor of six months. “I was late in a meeting.” He smelled nice, she thought. A soapy, just out of the shower man smell. She didn’t realize he was so tall when his head bent all the way down to peek at her naked toes. “I didn’t figure you for a red toenail polish kind of woman.” Beet red. Her cheeks must be aflame by now. Red flags of embarrassment unfurling for him to clearly see.

“I broke my heel.” Quickly he bent on his right knee. “Which one?” She felt his fingers gingerly stroke first her left, then her right ankle. A not unpleasant sensation, his skin on hers. Rough, his fingers. Maybe he worked with his hands. She always figured him to be an indoor nine to five kind of guy. Guess not. “My shoes!” she screamed in chagrin. Pantene. His hair smelled of her shampoo. She didn't remember it to be this heady. A low rumble of laughter did funny things to her tummy. Hungry. She must really be hungry. His eyes crinkled in amusement, his head so uncomfortably close to her chest. She breathed in deep. This was making her woozy. They certainly broke some physical barriers today, after six months of nothing but awkward smiles and nods.

“We’re closing in twenty minutes, you guys wanna order?” The button-nose waitress looked dead on her feet. “Oh yeah, you know. My usual.” Spring chicken and fried rice. If ever she needed her comfort food, it was today.

After inspecting her ankles one last time, and making a big show out of it, he finally stood on his feet. “Damn, and here I thought I was rescuing a real damsel in distress.” Big grin. His teeth were too straight, she thought. But not movie star white. Never in her wildest imagination would she have thought him to be so cheeky. When not smiling or nodding at her, he usually had his head bowed in deep thought, his eyebrows permanently furrowed. She thought him to be an accountant. Or some other boring, soul-numbing profession. Guess not.

“Here you go.” The button-nose waitress handed us our little take-away bags. His smelled of garlic and soy. Must be the steamed halibut with leeks. “You sure you can walk back? I could go and get the car and come back for you.” She really wasn’t in the mood to be rescued, least of all this day. “No, no. I’m fine. Its just a two blocks away.” His eyes positively gleamed in delight. What was up with her neighbor today? “Well. I guess I’m walking with my shoeless red-toe neighbor then.”

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Land, Still

I sometimes think that to maintain rationality, one must submit to irrational. Otherwise the world will stop rotating on its axis until the irrational has managed to explain itself in a manner satisfactory to rational people.

December 17, 2008 was a date memorable to some, insiginificant to most. On that day the House was filled to the brim with people, some in celebration of the Christmas season, some mourning the loss of their livelihood and their way of life. Others, like me, stood at the sidelines, unable to determine which emotion to let reign. To celebrate with Christmas revelers on the last workday of the year? To commiserate with farmers, some not having eaten for days, as they awaited the fate of agrarian reform?

Inside the session hall, the Chief of Staff of a representative from Mindanao let loose some choice words for the landlord block bent on killing the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, a landmark bill of the post-Marcos era. Her frustration was real, her empathy for those who till the soil palpable. On the floor the lawmakers milled about. Those advocating land reform and those whose interests are against it were visibly on edge. Those not visibly interested yet remained glued to their seats (instead of having dinner in the lounge), made looking bored look so easy. It should be difficult if a person in office had some semi-conscious thought about anything other than the size of her pork.

Out in the lobby the legislative staff were raffling gifts to the tune of your usual Christmas melodies. At the sidelines, milling about, are farmers in their humble garb, green ribbons tied around their upper arms. While the legis staff stuffed their faces with party fare and howled in the simple joy of getting something for free, the faces of these farmers spelled the end of agrarian reform in this country. It was bizarre, I thought, too see so much abundance and food sit side-by-side with hunger and pain and loss.

Bleeding hearts will argue land reform in this country should be rooted in social justice, that those who work the land must be allowed a way of life commensurate to their labor. This means that the eleven million or so who till the land must also own it. To ease our nation into modernity, to follow the pattern of development of other countries, we must also find a way to expropriate surplus from the agriculture sector to support a nascent industrial base, and later a service sector. This was how other countries of similar size and population have done it. As our pattern of development would have it, we have an insignificant agricultural sector contributing to the nation’s wealth even as it continues to employ over a third of the labor force. No more lands to till or no means with which to till it, millions of hungry, inutile hands and lives lay fallow. A graying demographic, these farmers sell what is left to sell and bundle their kids off to seek better fortune overseas. Those smart enough will realize that the local economy is incapable of generating job opportunities. But hey. We cannot export all our people.

One who has no heart to bleed may also see agrarian reform in a completely selfish light. If no one grows our food because we have sold all large landholdings to multinational corporations to grow GMOs for export or to foreign governments who have no arable lands in their countries, then where do we get our food? Food security is a matter of national security for rational governments. The titans of agricultural exports, the United States and the European Union, have come to a loggerheads over farm subsidies ever since agriculture was included in the world’s global trading regime. At the expense of many more developing nations, both the US and the EU spend billions on either supporting their farming industries or paying them to not plant to keep food prices high. They do so not only to support these sectors or even to honor some sort of social contract with their farmers, they do so as a matter of security.

Our little raft bobs on rough waters as the world experiences food crises on top of all others. The Filipino farmer is mercifully ignorant of the fate the rest of the world awaits. All his energies are devoted to keeping alive. This administration, and many others, have pledged to ease his suffering. So much has been said in the name of the poor. We shall end poverty, they promise. But poverty in this country is a rural phenomenon. Manila’s urban slum-dwellers are rich in comparison.

One who prefers to see things in a completely utilitarian manner will want a sensible agrarian reform policy which will see the right environment put in place to grow the agrarian economy in sync with the rest of the country. This will solve both poverty and food security. If the experience of other countries ring true, then it will also pave the way to that elusive First World status. 2020, she says. 2020. But the President, and those who share her interests, may have other plans for Philippine lands. Not for farmers to till. Not to grow food for domestic consumption. For lease. For sale. For now. Tomorrow, well. Tomorrow can go hang.

Cross-posted at FilipinoVoices.