Monday, September 28, 2009

People in Charge: A Letter to the Filipino

It is perhaps part of our culture to have blind faith in many things, not least faith in two social forces that most shape our collective lives – god and government. This weekend has clearly demonstrated that our faith can only take us so far. God only helps those who help themselves. And government will only help itself unless pressured to do otherwise. We should perhaps take stock of what burden, what “charge,” we should place where appropriate. We cannot have blind faith that god will provide and succor. We cannot have blind faith that government will govern.

Of force majeure Ondoy, we have no control over. But we need not remain resigned to the caprice of nature and fate. Civilization tells the story of man’s battle to tame nature. All of science is a monument to this undertaking. For each difficulty posed by nature’s tyranny, humankind has dreamed of and fashioned solutions. Why can’t we? Typhoons, harbingers of disaster, come and go like the tide. Yet all these years, all these decades, we succumb blindly to fate. Fatalism is a condition that belongs to olden days. If there is progress, then there is no room for blind acceptance of what becomes of us.

And government – oh government. As we see names and personalities play their roles before us on our TV screens, we ask ourselves where the make-believe ends and where reality begins. The President wades in water in her pink boots while her son searches and rescues booze in a liquor store. Our leaders, ourselves? I despair. Yet perhaps this statement is unfair. Government or no, we have seen stories of people who help themselves. There is heroism in grand scale committed by humble nobodies. There are unknown soldiers who have gone beyond the call of duty. There is that 18 year-old construction worker who has saved thirty lives only to lose his. There is that father who mourns the computer for which he scrimped and saved to gift his son. His house and all he owns buried in mud, he endeavors to go on.

And so, here we are. The people we put in charge, the people to whom we entrust our monies and our fate. There is so much we do not know, so many questions to ask about the nitty-gritty of governing. For now let us ask this question, where did it go, our P5 billion supposedly spent on “flood control projects” last year?

The people we put in charge, bearer of public monies and public trust. Our state of affairs need not perennially begin in helplessness and end in tragedy. In 2010, when we choose people to put in charge, let us have faith in ourselves - that we deserve so much more than we have been given. And if we believe we so deserve a rational, functioning and clean government, then so must we exact.

Volunteer Clean Up!

This is to inform everyone that the Loyola Schools, headed by the Office of Administrative Services (OAS), will go on its first trip tomorrow, 29 September, to help clean-up the houses of those who have been affected by the flood. There will be two volunteer groups, one will proceed to Dela Costa 5 in Montalban and the other in Ateneoville. The groups will meet at Xavier Hall for their expected departure at 8:00 am and to arrive back, hopefully, by 3:00 pm. Should there be anyone who might still be interested to join tomorrow's brigade, please send a text message to Ms. Lucia Chavez of OAS or you may email her at, to be able to include your names.

OAS will be bringing with them some cleaning aides but volunteers are encouraged to bring their own as well. Below are the following things needed:

1. shovel (only if you can)
2. detergent soap
3. scotch brite
4. cleaning brush
5. walis tingting
6. pail (timba) and/or tabo
7. rugs
8. please bring your own food and water to drink

Everyone is advised to wear shorts and slippers or perhaps, boots (bota).

The second round of visit will take place on the following day, 30 September. Volunteers from the faculty members and staff are being encouraged to join the clean-up brigade to be able to help our friends.

An update on tomorrow's trip will be given out before the day ends.

Ateneo Task Force Ondoy

The Ateneo is accepting donations, both in kind or in cash/check. The center
of relief operations is the Ateneo College Covered Courts. Most needed are
ready-to-eat food, canned goods, drinking water, clothes, mats, and blankets.
Those who wish to donate or volunteer for Ateneo Task Force Ondoy are welcome
to go to the College Covered Courts, where they will be directed, assisted,
and briefed.

For cash donations, direct deposits can be made to:
Bank of the Philippine Islands (Loyola-Katipunan Branch)
BPI Peso Checking Account Number: 3081-111-61
BPI Dollar Savings Account Number: 3084-0420-12
Checks may be addressed to Simbahang Lingkod Bayan as well. For GCASH users,
you may send your donations by typing: DONATE__<4-digit>_SLB and
send to 2992.

Operations start at 6AM daily, and deployment to the areas start at 1PM. Volunteers are welcome to help by signing up for three-hour shifts each, starting at 6AM ending at 12AM. For easier monitoring, people are highly encouraged to come at the start of the three-hour intervals. For volunteers, please wear comfortable working clothes. Bring umbrellas, jackets, extra shirts, and water. Please wear blue.

We are also consolidating a list of missing people and evacuation centers around
Metro Manila. Please visit and update
If you know people who are missing or who are at evacuation centers, please
add their names and contact information at the website. The site is currently
still down, but please check back in an hour or so. We are still finishing
uploading files into the site.

Just today, September 27, we were able to raise Php 83,000 in monetary donations
to aid the relief victims. 3,000 packs of relief goods have also been sent
to Upper Brangka Bliss.

For inquiries, please contact Gio Tingson at 0917/880-7427 or Kacci Morales
at 0927/981-8811.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pregnant Expectations

Humidity never goes well with smoking. I glance over my shoulder at the other smokers, taking a break from their commute to and from somewhere. I take a quick puff and exhale. The smoke disappears in front of my face. I wonder why I bother, as I inhale the smoke of the passing cars below anyway. The volume on EDSA says it is a busy Saturday.

I take a look at the little girl from whom I bought my cigarette. A pink t-shirt and blue jogging pants. She looks seven or eight, but probably older. She would be inches taller had she been born in a family who didn’t work her on weekends. Her eyes have no business looking so tired early in the day, early in her life. I gave her ten pesos for my reds and a mint candy. I moved over to the smoker’s corner when she said “Ate may sukli.” I shook my head. I see her sister and somebody who looks like their father come over. He, a slight man in a flowery button-down. He gestures to somebody sitting on the steps, a woman in her thirties. So, some families spent their Saturdays this way. Selling cigarettes on MRT station walkways.

My friend of fifteen years lost her baby last year. Spotting she said. All her baby was blood. I look across the table and scan her smooth face. She is pregnant again. Three months. I tell her I think it’s a boy. She laughs and tells me I’m mean for saying so. I know I look ugly, she half-laughs, half-exclaims. I reassure her she looks fine. Our meatball pasta finally arrives, a hot and sour dish of delight. Her eyes brighten and I remember the countless times we have gone over this ritual. So many meatball pastas in the last decade and a half. I hardly ever see her these days. Time is a precious commodity, effort and money more so. She is the same as I remember her when we were fourteen, except more blunt and tougher from pummeling through life.

She tells me she quit work for the baby, a difficult decision. She says she got depressed at work because she couldn’t function as quickly or as well as when she wasn’t pregnant. She says it is literally an emotional rollercoaster ride, weeping madly over certain triggers. I sat wondering what it was like to have a human being form in one’s body. Your body, a lifeline to another. I suspect I won’t understand until it happens to me. My friend is happy but her voice and her eyes tell me she is scared shitless. Reproductive health advocates keep saying pregnancy truly puts a woman’s life at risk – always and each time one foot in the grave. We have a sanitized version of what pregnancy entails. Women were built to make babies, it is but natural. Sperm meets egg cell and mother nature takes care of the rest. I look to my friend and see it is a battle that will not be won until her child draws his first breath outside her womb. And then - parenthood.

Everybody had counseled her not to quit so early – her family, her husband, her workmates. She recounts a phone conversation with a common friend. He told her to quit anyway, it was for the baby. He told her she had to convince herself she did everything possible to make she sure did not lose her baby again. It was a decision only she could make. Her body, her well-being. So she quit. I tell her I thought she made the right choice. This motherhood business, what a wonderful, lonely thing.

Friday, September 18, 2009


We had agreed to break it off, if only to keep our sanity. We scared each other shitless, so that morning we'd decided to scurry back behind the line separating friends from lovers. He pushed all the wrong buttons. I made him think, he made me laugh. Suddenly he had an Asian fetish and suddenly I didn’t think Spanish was so harsh and noisy. But the power of self-preservation is a foolish a thing.

China, what was it about the Chinese banking system? For the better part of the day I couldn’t really concentrate. Holed up in the ‘bat cave,’ the basement of the library, that magical journey the written word makes between page to eye to brain wasn’t working. My deadlines were fast approaching.

He sent me an SMS late in the afternoon. Did I want a beer and dinner he said. I was lonely and missing him, so I texted back yes. That was one of the longest text message my thumb had ever had to type. I’m not hungry, erase, No thanks, erase, I don’t feel like having a beer, erase, Sure, erase, Ok, 10 second pause, 20, 30. Was it 5 minutes that went by before I hit the send button? All the while, in my head, the night before was on replay.

He came for me in the library, looking disheveled as always. He didn’t like to iron his clothes. He didn’t like to fix anything really. The genius rebel who topped his country’s high school college aptitude exam but could not be bothered to crack open a book. I hated him so much for being brilliant without trying. For not giving a shit about grades. For initially being dismissed for his height, then commanding the attention of a crowd of ten for the smarts and the funny. I hated him.

He was already a little drunk. He proudly announced having downed four bottles on Prof. Murray’s tab. Man, why did I miss that one class where he treated his students to alcohol?

He said to go to the bottle shop at Market Square for the booze and maybe take-out dinner at the fish place. He didn’t ask what I wanted. A man’s decisiveness, to me, was unfamiliar territory. Growing up, it was men who took instructions from women, not the other way around. How dared he not ask, I thought. And secretly thrilled to it.

The trek to Market Square was quick and woozy. Those short legs maneuvered the asphalt and grass as easily as mine. We made small talk about Murray’s class. I was worried he idolized him too much, the xenophobic, homophobic, woman-hating prick. But he was a cool and hip teacher. Even if I didn’t agree with his politics, I could see why girls positively vibrated around him. And, too, I could see why my would-be misogynist thought Murray was ‘the best.’

We split a pack of six Pure Blondes. I’d never liked beer ‘til I got to Australia. If the national pastime was drinking, then it made sense all sorts of alcohol would be great. We sat near the ‘lake’, an off-shoot of the waterways dotting the small city. Between the walk from the library to buying food and booze, it had gotten dark. The lights from the apartment across twinkled on the water. It was all the light we had, the nearest lamppost was busted. On the grass we sat, opened the twist cap of our beers and ate quickly.

He was spoiling for an argument over climate change. Mankind was a virus he said over and over. The misanthropy made sense because he’d spent two years as a volunteer ranger in the Amazon. I’d called him Mowgli for his distaste of civilization and his constant yearning to be out in the wilderness. He’d make a terrific, credible greenie, I thought. But there was nothing for us to argue about as I shared his opinion on the matter.
On my second bottle and on his sixth, he said for me to lay my head on his lap to look up at the stars. Unthinking, a little tipsy, I did has he asked. Imagine the skies covered with smog you can no longer see that, he marveled. He was talking with his hands, gesturing up at the constellations. Then he was palming my right breast. I gasped, but said nothing. He squeezed and kept talking about climate politics and the on-going conference in Bali in a hushed, unhurried voice. I wondered why his words didn’t slur. Drunk, he only got more insistent, his voice more passionate. I said nothing.

When he noticed I was quiet he looked down at me. In the darkness I couldn’t quite make out his features, but the stars twinkled behind his head. In the silence, his hand snaked into my blouse. What are you doing, I said. “We agreed to stay friends but a few hours ago,” didn’t come out as indignantly as I’d wanted. He said not a thing and kept stroking. “People will see!” But there was nobody near the lake. The nearest building was twenty meters uphill and there were people inside.

“Let’s go back to your place,” he said. He never asked. Oh, the thrill of capitulation. Like children, our trek back to my house was quick and exhilarating. Both housemates weren’t in. Conspiracy of fate. My rational self was performing somersaults getting my attention. It was holding a one-person picket in my head, damning me for looking over the cliff about to jump. Yet I kept walking.

He put on his earphones and started humming a song in Spanish. Something about the devil. Bemused, I listened to his voice grow louder as we neared my house. What is that, I said. He gave me one of the earphones and rock music blared into my eardrums. A song about the devil, he said. I wanted to wipe off the smug look in his eyes. I hated him so.

The house came into view. It was dark, as were the neighbors’. Gloom never looked so enticing. “Are you sure about this?” I said. “Why, aren’t you?” he fired back. I bet him I could hold off when he couldn’t. He muttered a Spanish expletive and said he bet he could too. Oh yeah? Yeah. “Ok let’s turn back right now,” I dared. Fine. I motioned to walk back. One, two, three steps was all I managed when he pulled my arm so hard I whipped around.

Up the hill we walked, me taunting and laughing at him. He promised to make me suffer. I did.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Will of the Frailes vs. the Will of the People

Now that Speaker Nograles has signaled a call for a debate and a vote, the CBCP has called on its legion of rabid fanatics to punish members of Congress who are supportive of the Reproductive Health Bill. This is to be expected of course, given that our sainted frailes have closed their eyes and ears to the plight of the common tao.

What I do not understand is why they are singling out Noynoy Aquino for having co-authored the Senate version of the RH bill. The CBCP is playing favorites. To be consistent, they should also call on the unthinking faithful to pillory ALL candidates seeking public office. Let me be of assistance to our esteemed frailes and list down these condom-loving sinners.

Sec. Gilbert Teodoro has expressed his support of "freedom of choice" in this Radio Veritas interview last May:
Well ako po ay for freedom of choice informed freedom of choice ng mga tao. Ako personally ay meron akong paniniwala that I am for freedom of choice na yan ay sang-ayon sa ating Saligang Batas na my freedom of thought ang freedom of religious na Religious Freedom na tinatawag.
In this article that came out in Malaya last July, former Health Secretary and staunch RH advocate Alberto Romualdo also lists Sec. Teodoro as among the decisive supporters of the RH bill. This same news article is on Sec. Teodoro's website. His wife, Rep. Monica Prieto-Teodoro is also a co-author of the bill.

The same article names Senators Manny Villar, Mar Roxas and Chiz Escudero as 'neutrals' because they have not given unequivocal support nor have they expressed rejection of the bill. Perhaps they are afraid of the consequences of standing up to the frailes? Sen. Escudero is a particular disappointment because his father Rep. Salvador Escudero is co-author of the HB5043. And so is Sen. Villar since his wife Rep. Cynthia Villar is a co-author and vocal RH advocate.

Vice-president Noli de Castro has been mum on RH, as he has been on anything else really.

In the Countdown 2010 Presidentiables Forum held recently, Mayor Jejomar Binay and ex-President Joseph Estrada both categorically expressed support for the bill.

Sen. Loren Legarda is co-author of the senate version of the bill.

The panel debates should have started today but has been postponed til Tuesday next week. As has been the trend the past few weeks, the House adjourned early for lack of quorum. Forgive me then for coming to the conclusion that the postponement could not have been because our hard-working members of the lower house are up to their ears drowning in work. So what is the cause of delay? To give the CBCP 5 more days to pummel Noynoy on this issue?

I think Sen. Benigno Aquino III should be awarded laurels for remaining steadfast to his commitment to women and to the Filipino family. He has been a long-time advocate of RH, even when he was in the lower house. Unlike his mother, he owes no debt to La Iglesia Katolika and her sainted clergy. Balls you say? Step out of his parents' shadow you say? Be his own man you say?

9 out of 10 Filipinos support the RH bill. I am calling on all members of Congress to heed the will of the people.

And to our religious hierarchy - a shame. You would doom your flock to Bayani Fernando, the only presidentiable who blindly follows your call.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The CBCP Threaten Noynoy on RH

Cardinal Vidal threatens to wage war on Noynoy's campaign based on his RH support. In that case, they should wage war on pretty much all the presidentiables. Really, what douchebags are our church leaders? I'll write a proper blog post once I've calmed down some. I'm just mighty pissed off right today.

From the Bandila newscast last night.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sparkast 3: "Corruption and Poverty: Barking Up the Wrong Tree?"

This podcast has me reading some salient points from Walden Bello's 2009 edition of The Anti-Development State: The Political Economy of Permanent Crisis in the Philippines.

From Chapter Seven entitled Corruption and Poverty: Barking Up the Wrong Tree?:
Corruption discourse becomes very handy for elite factions wishing to discredit the ruling faction and to present themselves as the alternative. Implicit in this discourse is that all will be well if only the voters remove those who are corrupt and replace them with other elite factions. All that is needed is a replacement of personnel, not the arrangement in place.

If anything, the prevalence of the corruption discourse, or what one author calls "scandal politics" only serves to underscore the deliberate shutting off from public discourse discussions on any other real political and economic alternatives. The ease by which politicians rattle off corruption charge against their enemies only highlights the lack of any real meaningful difference among political and economic programs of the competing parties and personalities.

The more convincing explanation for the country's poverty and underdevelopment lies more with the ruling elite factions' control over people, production, markets and resources and the successful subordination of the state to their interests. The country has failed to develop and so many of its people are mired in poverty because the state, strangled as it is by competing factions' demands, has been rendered too powerless to even chart the country's direction, mcuh less subordinate ruling elites under its control.
The podcast is 30 minutes long. Download here. Listen to the stream here.

Is it Good vs. Evil?

I am squeamish any time somebody brings up "good" versus "evil" in politics because in this context, the Church pretty much has a monopoly on ascribing what either one is. In the classic binary of black-white, devil-satan, there is little acknowledgment of the gray in between. Randy David rightly cautions Noynoy Aquino's camp from overtly framing his candidacy along these lines:
For, such moralistic formulations preempt and disparage the need for a careful and reasoned analysis of the problems that confront us as a nation. They tend to focus on the character of the doer than on the origins and consequences of the deed. They ride on unexamined moral prejudices, and simplify the search for political solutions into a quest for heroes. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo may be the most despised president in the nation’s history, but instead of ascribing to her sole authorship of everything that is bad in our government, I find it more arguable to think of her as a reflection of our society’s basic problems, or the street-smart personification of a dysfunctional social order.
Perhaps because I have seen what 'evil' professional purveyors of morality can and do perpetrate up close, I share David's opinion. The Church has called pro-Reproductive Health advocates 'evil.' There is no reasoning with anyone who thumps the bible and calls on God as final arbiter on affairs of humankind. There is no room for debate and no room to unpack and balance ideas on what it means to be a mother and what a woman's rights are vis-à-vis her husband, her family and the State.

There is no question that the Church played a significant party in the first People Power. Then, they also framed the Marcos regime as the evil empire to be toppled. Here, let me say I understand where Conrado de Quiros is coming from when he says the battle is that between good and evil:
The people who criticize Good and Evil presume completely unsophisticatedly and plain ignorantly that we think only with our conscious abstract mind, not with our unconscious image-making mind. They’re so busy looking at logistics, figures, organizational charts, they cannot appreciate the power of myth, symbol and archetype. Or the power of the storyline the ad agencies of the “presidentiables” are so desperate to find and mine for their candidates. The phrase “Good vs Evil” is merely a symbolic, mythical, archetypal, shorthand for a situation where the choice has become so stark, so life-and-death, it cannot be captured by trite and sullen articulations.
It was linguist George Lakoff who said our brains are structured to process information and to find meaning in metaphors. The human mind organizes thought by creating categories. For political purposes, Lakoff, a democrat, has written literature on how Republicans have successfully used language to frame many policy issues. It is understandable, then, that De Quiros is hammering the Good versus Evil frame. On the surface, this is a metaphor that has rung true among homo sapiens since they started walking upright. We categorize things as 'bad' or 'evil' if they harm us and 'good' if they don't. In discerning the difference, we act accordingly.

Let me suggest then that David and De Quiros' seemingly opposing views need not be irreconcilable. For the purposes of elections in these extraordinary times - the good versus evil frame will be useful. But for the purposes of governance, the day-to-day nitty-gritty of running a country, we might want to heed David's appeal to careful reasoning.

And since history has shown we have no problem fighting the battle of Good verus Evil, then we might want to shore up our collective capacities to fight the more protracted battle of figuring out how we can function as a just and prosperous nation.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Mikey Arroyo BBQ

Winnie Monsod skewers Mikey Arroyo on his US properties.

For the latest Philippine news stories and videos, visit GMANews.TV

In case GMANews takes down their video clip, here is the same interview on Youtube.

Oh...I love this. Thanks E.P.!!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Imagining a President, Making a President

The thought has been percolating in this writer’s mind since that first column by Conrado de Quiros on Noynoy. For the past three weeks we saw how the idea has simmered, and today has culminated in an announcement by Sen. Mar Roxas that he is giving way to Cory and Ninoy’s only son.

Skepticism has come from all quarters. They question Sen. Aquino’s competence and record as a public servant. They question the unsavory elements of his heritage, that of being a descendant to the land-owning Cojuangcos. But De Quiros makes a convincing argument. Noynoy has no ambition to be President – and that is what separates him from aspirants yipping at Gloria Arroyo’s heel. Like his mother in 1986, he has no greed for power. He perches on the shoulders of giants. This alone, De Quiros asserts, would make it difficult for the son to dishonor the heroic memory of his mother and father.

Because all through his career he has not been the media whore his little sister Kris is, we know very little of the man. His legislative record isn’t impressive, but it doesn’t count for nothing either. Those who have rallied behind Noynoy these past few weeks saw a glimpse of grace under pressure, maybe a hint of a quiet kind of spine, in his time of bereavement. And character matters as much as qualifications, if not more. Gloria Arroyo’s experience is impressive – and look where that got her. Look where she has dragged all of us.

The idea that tantalizes is Noynoy’s blank slate. And on this blank canvas, we the people are free to write the narrative. On Noynoy we can inscribe our dreams as a nation. On Noynoy we can ascribe our will to heroism. Noynoy is an idea whose time has come. Like his mother and father, he must find it in bones to answer this call to duty. And like the generation who first wielded People Power, we must find it in ourselves to answer ours.