Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Last Hurrah!

(With my bestest officemate Gemma who looks like my Lola! Joke only! Luvyah!)

We celebrated our Christmas party last night 19 Dec 07. This happens to be the last party I'm going to spend with my MRI family. I hate to admit it but I did have fun doing the games and the raucous merry-making. Not to mention the fact that I won 1k worth of GC's in the raffle! What a fun bonus!

Sometimes, we do get lucky. Take this picture of mine where I look a couple years younger than I really am. EYELOVIT!

Merry Christmas indeed!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Happy at Last

I wake up feeling light and easy today. I slept early and in turn woke up early. These days, my mornings are rather sunnier and lighter than the usual. I know precisely the reason why. Just this week, I finally told my Pinay boss about my intention of leaving the company. She took it calmly and rather quickly. She inquired about my job prospects and told her there is one I was seriously considering and left it at that. She didn't even bother to hold me back, perhaps she did not really see a need to do so.

I wouldn't say I was happy with her reaction, but I was certainly relieved. This is the second time I would be filing my resignation for this company and this time there would be no going back. I have been tormented for months by the nature of my job. I usually woke up feeling heavy, even if there is bright sunshine outside, and would delay going to work, finding time to fix the littlest and most trivial of things in the house and then finally leave just a couple of minutes before being actually late in the office.

Leaving is always difficult for me. I always leave only when I feel that my head is barely above water and couldn't breathe any longer. It's like being in a quicksand, I wait and wait for the surface to envelop me, not daring to move even when the mud is already way beyond my waist. I just dont know how to quit. In my head, the alarm signal goes off, triggering a sense of panic and alarm in my system but I dare not move. Or rather, I am moved to catatonia. So I stay there, immobilized in my spot only to let out a yell once I am certain that I have no other choice but to move out.

So this time I finally worked up the courage to say that I am quitting when I knew there was no other way but out. My dark cloud has parted and I feel a heavy burden lifted off my shoulders. I am finally free at last. The quagmire I unwittingly led myself into has now transformed into a solid ground. I can finally walk and breathe sunshine and fresh air again with a happy smile pasted on my face. I am happy at last.

Monday, December 3, 2007

What a Zoo!

(With big old Ellie in the background)

I saw the saddest looking elephant at the Manila Zoo last (Sat) 01 Dec. We went there in the hopes to teach my young daughter the actual size and sight of the animals she would normally just see in her books. Little did I know that after a what seems to be a lifetime ago of seeing the Manila Zoo, only some structures have changed but the same old animals from my own childhood have remained. Others that have died, the lions, the giraffe, were no longer replaced and so we searched for them to no avail. Some mummified version of these animals were displayed in front of what is supposed the zoo's public information center. I really don't know what to expect anymore of Philippine government officials and how they take care of properties under their stead, but I guess I am just grateful that they haven't completely left this public zoo to be in advanced stage of dilapidation and ruin. However, one step at the zoo and you will unmistakably smell the decaying manure in the air. It stays with you throughout your tour of this cramped place, which on this particular day is quite teeming with a full range of middle-class families.

Another sad-looking or rather depressed-looking, and combative animal in there was the gorilla. I am not sure if this particular monkey is actually a gorilla but she happens to be the biggest monkey in the zoo. I safely assume she is a she the way she was pitifully stroking her human-like fingers as if cradling her young. I could immediately sense her quiet desperation as she bravely put up a fight to keep her composure amidst hecklers in the crowd. Some unruly bunch of men and schoolkids were trying to rile her up to get her attention. They directed obsceneties at the poor creature who might not understand the actual meaning of those hurtful language, yet undoubtedly feels the weight of it all by the sheer force and volume those words were repeatedly uttered. In retaliation, the poor monkey avenged herself by spraying them with water she ingenuously stored in her mouth. She blasts her mouthful of vengeance to unsuspecting onlookers. But some of the crowd is all too familiar with this angry antic and moves away in time to salvage themselves from the shower of water mixed with the monkey's own saliva. They cheer and continue to heckle the monkey leaving her with no peace. Trapped in the cold bars of her solitary cage, she moves and is left with no choice but to endure the loud stares and angry words directed at her. She has no room for even the littlest of privacy. I begin to think that if she has the chance to escape in her bettle-trapped-in-the-glass existence, the first thing she might do is commit suicide. Sadly, shaken by the venom of the inhuman crowd and human-like animal, I veer away from the gorilla never to return again in her spot. I snap photos of her, caputuring her oblivious stares and vacant soul.

So I tell my husband-toting daughter to stay away from the gorilla and move on to the birds. Surely, the birds must be the least violent creature in the wild. We stare at some brightly colored male peacoks with complimentary hues of indigo and jade on its backside. Suddenly, a pure white peacock opens up its fanlike tail. He is bereft of any color and as such the effect is quite dramatic. He beautifully stays this way for a couple of seconds but I fail to capture his enchanting image in my digicam. Then out of the blue, just as we are stepping away to catch one last look of the giant elephant and some other birds, a big pelican (or a pelican-looking bird) tweaks its long beak against a smaller fowl neighbor. I laugh noting that he/she or rather it suddenly sees its longtime neighbor and cage-boarder as dinner. The smaller bird escapes its predator amidst violent squirming and loud quaking and screeching sounds. The birds are not so friendly animals after all.

We move on to a group of cuckoos, a solitary parrot and a handful of crows or "uwak." The moment I see the black crows or "death messengers" I am reminded of the immemorial passage in the Bible which gives it its dubious dark history. Accordingly, the crow used to be a pure and white dove sent out by Noah to scout the remains of the earth after the Great Deluge. However, instead of returning back to to the wooden hull as instructed, it lagged behind to feed on corpses of the other perished animals. The master, knowing full well that the bird transgressed as it did not go back on its schedule, punished and cursed the bird to its now lowly disposition. Magically, the dove's purely white feather transformed to deathly black and hence became the symbol of greed and sin in the entire fowl kingdom. I feel sorry for the crows, children instantly recognize them because of this infamous biblical story.

Then we give a one last long look to the lonely elephant. This time it is quietly eating its regular supply of grass. It had a helping of grass suspended on its wide backside and which for some gravity defying reason remained there the entire time it was feeding. I wonder how it can stay vegetarian and keep its strength and stature. Where does it source its energy when it doesn't take even a gram of meat in its diet? Vegetarians would love this classic example.

At home, comfortably tucked in my sheets and dusty pillows, I tell my husband how sad the elephant at the zoo must be. I know for a fact that elephants live in herds. By nature, they are not solitary creatures like lions or tigers and any other predators of the wild. They usually co-exist in a tight-knit community to protect their young and their group. I just wished that the zoo administrators could find a companion to this solitary elephant. It may see and hear the presence and noise of the other animals trapped in this contrived and make-believe jungle paradise, but it is still not the same as a distinct elephant sound and elephant touch it may be yearning and missing all these years. "You have an elephant-like memory," a friend told me once. Elephants are amazingly intelligent and known for their keen memory. They remember the sounds of their partners and herd from memory alone. I wonder how long this elephant can keep the memory of its former loved one, former companion after its many years of being alone. The elephant's sadness, perhaps borne out of its aloneness, can be nakedly read in its big watery soulful eyes. (I later found out from Wiki that only female elephants tend to live in herds while the male elephants usually live in solitude, deliberately staying away from his group.)

I wish they (officials) could do something more for the zoo. They could definitely liven up the place by bringing in more youthful looking animals. The state of animals at present reflect the true condition of the zoo. The animals are old, sad and harried-looking. They may be constantly fed and watered but seem to be lacking of love and attention from the zoo keepers and visitors alike. They are hedged in their little corners of zoo paradise but are essentially prisoners every waking day of their lives. Some parts of the zoo are in bad need of repair and reconstruction. It would also help if they decorate the place with flowering plants to make it more attractive. Occasional vendors also litter the zoo peddling their wares of wooden snake toys, stuffed monkeys and various ice cream drops. I happily munched my deep-fried peanuts and calorie-laden chicharon while finding my way from one animal to the next. I think I may have gained two pounds while touring the compound.

Another image I wont forget in this uneventful jaunt is the ragged yet friendly photographer who offered to take my family's shot for fee. I declined as I brought my handy digicam given by my OFW sister. I wish for once logic didn't take hold of me and have said yes. He certainly looked like he could make use of some extra cash. His sheepish invitation and my quick refusal, which is what he may customarily get from zoo visitors, left an imprint in my mind. Poor people really outnumber the rich in my beloved country. On my way home, to save fare, we took the jeepney and I couldn't really help but notice how third-class this country is plying the route of scary Harrison Blvd. Street families, and not children mind you, can be seen sleeping contentedly on the sidewalks. Traces of poverty are everywhere, littered plastic bags and vandalized grimy walls that make me want to turn my eyes away. I am not certain I want to raise my child in this environment, in this country.

I leave the zoo feeling grateful again for my little comforts in life. That I have a little space blanketed from natural elements I can call my home. So many people out there have so much less than what I have and yet remain consolable in their daily struggles. Heck, even the animals in this country need help. I wish I could do more for the both of them.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Christmas is Coming

"Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world." -veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church, answering the famous question posed by certain girl named Virgina if Santa Claus exists.

Christmas is definitely around the corner. I still can't feel it in the air but the Christmas feeling is already there. TV networks already announce a nightly countdown of Christmas eve. What I love about Christmas is the spirit of giving. Christmas forces you to be generous, to go beyond your usual budget, just so could buy a knick knack or two for your loved one. I also used to love the season when I was a child. I believed as (avowed by my parents) of Santa Claus' existence. I patiently waited for my Christmas socks (an ordinary one at that) to be filled with a surprise holiday delight from good old Santa. I don't recall when or how I discovered that it was my parents after all who refurbished that socks each night, but I do recall being hugely disappointed. In a sense, it was the beginning of the end of my childhood. You definitely know one is way past childhood if he no longer believes that an old fat man from a far far away cold region somewhere on top of the Earth actually goes to one's house to deliver those delightful packages. But I have a secret to tell, in my heart of hearts, I still in Santa Claus. (Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus!)

Remember, the immortal editorial written in response to a certain girl named Virginia? She asked the innocent question of whether Santa Claus existed and the editor resoundingly answered, "Yes, he does." Santa Claus exists the same way we believe that God or JC exist. They exist because we believe and we believe without even seeing. We believe because we feel and know in our hearts that all those that stand for the ideals of goodness, love and humanity do exist in this world. We believe because we are perpetually hopeful. A world without hope is a world without love. One is contingent upon the other and this hope is manifested in a child's innocent belief that even those unimaginable do exist.
(The actual editorial, including a picture of the editorial clipping can be read through this website:

I will carry on this tradition with my child. I would have her believe that Santa Claus and all other unimaginable things still exist in this world. I would let her stay in her innocence and childlike imagination for as long as she wants. I would nurture her dreams and sense of wonder of the world. I would let her fly. That is what is Christmas is all about and that is the greatest gift I could ever ever give her.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A Reading of "The Reader" by Bernhard Schlink

The good part of Saturday and late afternoon of Sunday I spent reading this book. I got it at my newest favorite bookstore, the Booksale at MOA, for only Php110 bucks. I knew about this book a couple of years back as I saw Oprah recommending it in her show. I remember wanting to read it but never got the chance as I couldn't get myself hold of a copy. Then I saw it at the MOA this weekend, instantly recognized it, read the first few sentences and decided that it is worth the buy.
The prose is very easy to follow. The work is almost non-literary by nature because of the simplicity of the lines. Basically, the story is about Michael Berg and her illicit relationship with a much older woman, in fact more than half her age, Hanna Schmitz. A sexual relationship began when a 15-year old Michael visited a 36-year old Schmitz in her apartment purportedly to thank her for an earlier favor. Over the course of months to follow, Michael regularly visits Schmitz in her apartment until one day she left without a trace and a goobye.
Their relationship can be likened to that of a slave and master. Young Michael worshipped Schmitz like a Grecian goddess. He constantly yearned for the physical connection that she offered through their sexual encounters, but she refused to give him the emotional connection usually found in equal partnerships. He was blinded by his love for her and revolved his life depending on her work schedule. If her shift ends in the morning, Michael will be at her apartment at lunch time and if her work ends in the afternoon, he will come to her around dinner time. Schmitz never acknowledged him as person and dominated their shortlived affair by the power she had over his sexuality.
When she left, he was devastated. He recovered and resumed his daily routine, but he never really got over her in his entire lifetime. Of his memory of her, he says, "But at a certain point the memory of her stopped accompanying me wherever I went. She stayed behind, the way a city stays behind as a train pulls out of the station. It's there, somewhere behind you, and you could go back and make sure of it. But why should you?" However, his relationships with other women always paled in comparison with the ideal "Hanna." Michael always thought they didn't move, or smell a certain way and was perpetually looking for the image of his young love in his later romantic relationships.
Michael remains unhappy for most of his life. He maintains a subtle veneer of self-confidence bordering on arrogance but inside, he experiences a deep-seated unhappiness. He muses, "Why? Why does what was beautiful suddenly shatter in hindsight because it concealed dark truth? Why does the memory of years of happy marriage turn to gall when our partner is revealed to have had a lover all those years? Because such a situation makes it impossible to be happy? But we were happy! Sometimes the memory of happiness cannot stay true because it ended unhappily. Because happiness is only real if it lasts forever?"
Michael meets his lover again in a court trial. He instantly recognizes her but has no feelings left for her. Hanna Schmitz spent her time away from him working as an SS woman guard for the Third Reich. She stands accused of murdering labor camp prisoners by not allowing them to get out of a burning chapel. He attends daily the trial meetings but doesn't make an effort to communicate to her. He discovers Hanna's lifelong secret that could save her from a certain death verdict. Frau Hanna Schmitz is an illiterate. She cannot read nor write and would rather die unjustly to keep this shameful secret from the prying world. Thus, he realizes the reason behind her insistence of him reading aloud great works of literature during their trysts.
He wants to save Hanna but doesnt want to superimpose his will upon her choice of silence and shame over her knowledge disability. But in the end, he chooses to save her by telling the judge the truth of her condition and so she receives a lighter sentence, that of a lifetime imprisonment. This was his own version of revenge over Hanna's powerplay all throughout their doomed relationship, he says, "I couldn't make myself visit Hanna. But neither could I endure doing nothing....But I wasn't really concerned with justice. I couldn't leave Hanna the way she was, or wanted to be. I had to meddle with her, have some kind of influence and effect on her, if not directly then indirectly."
So in the end he has his revenge (or so he thought). He continues to have a relationship with Hanna by sending her cassette tapes of his readings of the works of great German literary writers. But he never sends her any personal greetings or messages. He doesnt want to give her a place in his life and instead provides a niche to contain their continued relationship. Just like the time she refused to acknowlege him and relegates his presence as a mere convenience or nuisance that one has to no choice but to deal with, he gives her his time and space at a distance. He doesn't really make a real connection with her.
Then, a day before Hanna Schmitz finally gets released after staying in prison for eighteen years, she commits suicide. She leaves a suicide note and specific instructions of her will to Michael but never addresses him in first person, "And tell him I say hello to him." In the end, she gets back the upperhand and control that she used to wield over him when he was still a fifteen year old pubescent kid.
I love this book. I would definitely rate it among the top ten percentile of my over-all favorite books. With parts of it being philosophical, I could imagine Sartre or Camus writing this although the real author is actually a professor and a practicing judge. What I love about it is its clarity, with words are almost naked and crystal clear in thoughts and nuances. Written and told in a first-person narrative, Michael Berg's life and thoughts progresses lucidly and unassumingly. And just like the main protagonist in the story, you will fall in love with the book's quiet and unassuming clear writing. Definitely a must read book for me.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Changes at the Office

(An ideal career cycle: 1. assessing self 2. exploring options 3. developing skills 4. marketimg self 5.performing. I feel the need to go back to stage one to really know which way to go next.)

Our new Indian boss has arrived. He looks decent and nice. So far. However, everything I hear about Indians expats are on the negative side. I really don't know what this new leadership will bring. Aside from this, we will have a new Pinay boss officially titled as Operations Manager. I used to whine a lot about the utter "mismanagement" by my previous boss but these new changes seem daunting. I just don't know what to expect.

I really ought to get myself a new job. I feel now that my end is near for this company. One year and counting, I haven't gotten myself to the point where I can honestly say that I even "like" my job. This is not me. Several critiques regarding my work ethics has been raised by suspicious co-workers. I am really not like this. I know myself to be honest, dedicated and even at times sincerely "hard-working". Maybe my heart is really not into this line of work and that is why no matter how hard I try, the passion is just not there. I feel that for me to truly love my work I should be able to identify myself with what I do. I cannot be estranged with my job. "Love your work and you will never have to work again for the rest of your life." Oh how I wish I could be in this state right now.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Business as Usual

(PGMA visits and shops at Glorietta 2, the site of the deadly bombing, just 4 days after the incident.)

To project that malls are perfectly safe to visit these days, PGMA dropped by to inspect and shop at the Glorietta shopping mall complex yesterday 23 Oct 2007. The message the government strongly and loudly wants to bring forth is that it is "business as usual." Meanwhile, the underlying and real message of this brave act is this, "mindless middle-class herd, go back to your senseless shopping and window-shopping, please."
Funny, but this scene reminds me of the time when Thaksin Shinatwara, erstwhile Prime Minister of Thailand (he was unexpectedly booted out by the military) forced his ministers to eat fried chickens when the predominantly Buddhist country was ravaged by the bird flu virus. During that period, Thaksin didn't want to admit that Thailand was hit by the dreaded bird disease despite suspicious massive death of chickens in their countryside. He was adamant that the chickens died by some other disease aside and not the fatal bird flu strain. So to prove his point, he made a show of eating fried chickens publicly together with his government ministers. However, a few weeks or months later, he did admit the truth. Thailand was indeed hit by the bird flu virus, and subsequent human deaths were reported as a result of the deadly bird strain. What was going on the head of those ministers when they willingly smiled at cameras and muched those potentially life-threathening fried chickens? I can only wonder. I reckon they were forced by Thaksin to chomp those crispy fried chickens and didn't much have of a choice given that their jobs were on the line but still, what could have they been thinking?

I, myself, dropped by at the Glorietta the day PGMA arrived there. Forced by the relentless rain to the take the FX taxi bound to Landmark, I found the Glorietta mall virtually empty. The usually jampacked restaurants had only a few diners here and there. People are still obviously scared over what happened and cannot be fooled by assurances that everything is fine and dandy again. Around this time, teeming with eager early Christmas shoppers, the Glorietta shopping mall complex is almost always filled to the brim. But now, the place is unusually cold and desolate-looking. It still has a pungent smell which is perhaps caused by the unexpexted blast. Things will never be the same again. Business will never be the same as usual. No matter the amount of cajoling from government officials, including the president, I will never ever forget what took place on that unfortunate Friday afternoon. The lapse of security measures means that Glorietta can be targeted again and again. Although it is highly unlikely that it will be a target again anytime soon as the principle of "lightning not striking the same area twice" generally applies, still it is "better to be safe than sorry."

Deconstructing Harry Potter

(JK Rowling, which rhymes with bowling and not howling, the only billionaire author in the world who earned her riches through her widely successful Harry Potter series. It is so hard to believe that she used to live off government support before her tumultuous public acclaim.)

Let me start off by saying that I love the Harry Potter (HP) series. My friend Les was adamant I read the book way back in college. She generously lent me the first three HP books and midway through the third book of the series, I was definitely hooked. I was practically begging for her to give the fourth book as soon as I finished the third one. Curiously, the HP books had the same effect on my non-reading sister. I nonchalantly advised her to read the first book saying she might enjoy reading it despite her engineering background. Soon, she got addicted just like me and even bought her own copies of the book just so she could read and re-read it again.

I often say that my favorite book in the series is the second one. I find the second one the funniest and most charming of all. Harry, at this stage, is still a fresh and hopeful young 14-year old boy still in love and at awe with his new environment. As the series continues, Harry grows up, becomes accustomed to his wizarding world and shows his darker mature side. As most book critics would say the entire series is a "bildungsroman" of the main character, Harry Potter. As such, the first book, which serves an introduction to the entire seven-book series, is the shortest book of all. I daresay the best-written book in the series is the third one as it provides the best mystery of all. All of the seven books is basically a whodunnit mystery novel with a heightening climax from chapter to chapter. The HP books are simply "unput-downable" and you will end up staying awake all night as you rush to know how it will end. Highly controversial from the beginning because of its sorcery and witchcraft theme, the HP series breaks all of the record for the most number of book sold at the fastest possible time. We should all thank the book's author, JK Rowling, for making reading such a cool thing for children and even adults to do again. Children the world over would line-up the bookstores every time a new book in the series is up again. Personally, I find the series amazing because it is craftily written for the enjoyment of children and adults alike, and everything about the plot is highly original and creative. JK Rowling transports us to a new world, both childlike and magical, which is something beyond our imagination. She brings to life new characters and gives a new twist and look to ordinary things we take for granted. I for one believe that the HP series will the stand the test of time and will be adjudged as one of best books or series in the years to come. In fact, when my own daughter, nicknamed JK, (her name stands for those initials, plus I am such an incorrigible fan) starts reading, we will read together the entire HP series.

The last and highly anticipated book of the series came out in the mid quarter of this year. It was a bittersweet moment for most fans. They wanted and longed for the book's ending and yet they were reluctant to let it go. JK Rowling was clear from the beginning that she will end the series at Book 7 and yet I for one simply wanted her to go on. I wanted her to write about Harry Potter from his babyhood upto his dying day. Heck, if she could write about Harry for eternity, I would still be interested to read it one book at a time. I was lucky enough to get a bootlegged soft copy of the last book before it officially hit the bookstores. As such, I was able to read the book before fellow book addicts got their legitimate hard-bound pricey copies.

More recently, the last book, HP7, again gained headline news as JK Rowling surprisingly outed the reverent and almost godly figure of Albus Dumblebore in her book signing trip to New York. Answering an inquiry from a child fan on whether Dumbledore will ever find true love, JK Rowling simply said, "Dumbledore is gay." This answer elicited gasps and applause from a stupefied audience. I don't know what to make out of this recent relevation. It just reminds me of the time it was rumored that my fave Sesame muppets of all time, Ernie and Bert, are actually gay lovers. It was said that the producers of the show were prepared to sacrifice one character by letting it die on national tv as a result of the sexually transmitted HIV virus. (WTF!) Accordingly, they wanted to promote sexual education and gay rights to the conciousness of young children. While being politically correct, all I could think of at that point was, why can't they just keep my childhood favorite character innocent and childlike. So when I heard about this recent outing of Dumbledore, all I could think of is why can't she just let me keep this all-knowing and all-powerful godly image of this well-loved character.

Firstly, unlike others who doubted or sensed that Dumbledore's character might be gay because of his apparent lack of love interest in the series, I never once thought of Dumbledore as gay. My idea of him resembles that of St. Thomas Aquinas, John Paul II and most priests in general. Just because they lack an obvious lady love doesn't mean they are gay. That is not to say that all priests aren't gay because sadly, controversies have erupted over sexual indiscretions of Catholic gay priests. I thought of Dumbledore in this highest regard, his apparent lack of love interest was justfied in my mind by his Socratic love of wisdom and truth. Naturally, he wouldn't have time to think about human love as he was thoroughly engaged in his quiet and passionate love of wisdom and universal ideals. So all the while this noble version of Dumblebore was apparently incorrect. Maybe he is the same wise and venerable character I loved but his uncharacteristic lack of a romantic lady love was not all due to his scholarly quest for wisdom, but simply because of his sexual orientation.

I love JK Rowling and the HP series just the same. All literary works stands to be constructed, deconsructed and reconstructed to the author's and reader's content. In fact, in literary criticism, it is a rule of the thumb that the author must never interpret his own work, otherwise, he/she will unwittingly limit the reading of the work in one voice or light only. I am sure JK Rowling chose to stay quiet about Dumbledore's real idendity for a good reason. Revealing him as an openly gay character might attract unneccesary attention to the book and offend the sensibilities of her young audience. Although I know Dumbledore's sexual preference should not affect his noble status in the book, I still can't bring myself to reconcile this perfect scholar idea I had of Dumbledore to the outed "real" Dumbledore. It's almost the same as discovering for the first time that Sir Ian McKellen, who resembles Dumbledore's character in appearance and personality and plays Gandalf, the noble wizard role in another literary gem, Lord Of the Rings series, is actually gay in real life. I just dont get it.

I am not homophobic. I am consciously respectful of other people's ethnic, racial, and sexual differences. (I even have a lesbian friend.) I almost always practice political, religious and gender neutrality. It's just that when you suddenly find out somebody you thought of as the epitome of manhood and saintliness is gay, of course, my normal reaction is that of shock and fear even. Perhaps its the same as the people in the olden times suddenly finding out that the world is round and not flat as previously believed. They set their ship to sail forever fearful of falling off the edges only to find out that they won't fall at all. So your whole world and outlook suddenly turns upside down, inside out. You experience a sense vertigo as you no longer know which is which. I guess the world is really like that, its not a simple matter of seeing white as white and black as black. We live in a gray gay world indeed.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dark Friday: Glorietta 2 Bombing

(A human face of the tragedy: Jeanne de Gracia, among the 11 dead of the G2 bombing last Friday. Lest we forget. )

“But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

Tony Blair, speaking at the memorial service for the victims of the 9/11 tragedy, quoted a passage from “The Bridge of San Luis Rey.”

Last Friday, 19 October 2007, a portion of Glorietta 2 was unceremoniously bombed leaving at present 11 dead and 110 others wounded or injured. I was at the office when I first heard about the news, just minutes after the bombing occured. At first, sketchy reports of a possible LPG explosion from a groundfloor G2 Luk Yuen Restaurant was said to have caused the blast. I felt no sense of alarm at this point. Some 20-30 minutes later, intial photos from the blast were already blogged online. At this point, it became clearer that this was not an ordinary accident. 8 people were immediately reported as dead and 40 others as injured. The photos of the bombing showed extensive damage of properties. Cars were upturned, windows and glasses shattered and rubbles were everywhere. Clearly, Glorietta 2 was intentionally bombed.

I pass by this shopping complex on a daily basis. I take the passenger FX taxi on the lower ground level of the MRT Ayala line. For Php 30 per ride, this FX taxi will take me directly a block away from parent's house in Villamor. Incidentally, this same MRT line was bombed two years ago in what is now tagged as Valentine's Day Bombing as it happened exactly on the day of hearts. This terrorist act was actually a three simultaneous bombing attacks that occured on three separate citiies of Manila, Davao and Gen. Santos. The Al-Qaeda linked Abu Sayyaf ragtag group claimed responsibility for the attack that was said to be their "Valentine's gift to President Gloria Arroyo." Ironically, about the same number of people were among the casualties in this tripartite bombing attacks. 11 people were killed and about 90 others wounded when separate buses in Manila and Davao exploded coupled by the shopping mall blast in Gen. Santos. Prior to this, one more notable bombing incident that will be forever etched in memory is the Rizal Day Bombing which occured on a national holiday, the 30th of December 2000 or more populary known as Jose Rizal's death anniversary. On that fateful day, 22 lives were lost, around 100 wounded in a five-fold attack in various locations in Metro Manila, the most deadly of which is the LRT bombing that took place at the Blumentritt station.

I will never forget this incident simply because I used the LRT back then on an almost daily basis as well. It was the easiest, fastest and cheapest route for me as college (UST) student. I only had to suffer the indignity of being squished and cramped in the train cab for about half an hour but at least it will save me from two hours of traffic in terms of travel time as opposed to the traditional jeepney ride. I had a good deal. Unfortunately, 3 million others thought of the same idea so I had to ride with almost the same number of people daily. The mental picture that would come to mind is that of a fish trapped in a can of sardines. Stuck as if almost glued to somebody else's body, I no longer cared which body part touches another sensitive body part of mine. All I wanted was a (fucking) ride home. This was the same thought that crossed the mind of the teeming masses who rode the LRT train that unfortunate day. All they wanted was a bleeping ride home. A ride home that never got them home (unless home in this case is meant as heavenly home.) I could easily have been on that tragic train ride with them.

I remember crying on that day as I cannot forget the innocent boy whose body was badly burned as a direct result of the bombing. He became the face of the nameless and faceless other victims of that gruesome act. He was visited by then President Joseph Estrada and was given and promised all sorts of help to mitigate the effect of his young life's tragedy. I also remember being angry at Estrada simply because he was the president. I held him accountable for what happened and ironically enough, like the current state of PGMA, was in deep political crisis at that time. I deeply wonder if there is any link between these two seemingly random events. It must be recalled that previous administration, namely that of deposed dictator Marcos' regime, was credited for being personally responsible for dubious communist attacks in the metropolis before carrying out the dreaded Martial Law decree. It was done in the past and so it is not completely beyond logic to think and hypothesize that it could be done again. If truth be told, PGMA stands much to gain with this recent bombing as the country's attention is diverted from the on-going political crisis. Just before this atrocious incident, the bribe-giving aka gift-sharing debacle that happened right inside the supposedly majestic halls of Malacanan Palace was hugging the newspapers spotlight.

Justly or unjustly so, many Filipinos believe that PGMA has something to do with this G2 bombing incident. Oppositionist Senator and one time coup d e tat plotter, former Naval Lt. Sg. Antonio Trillanes IV was quick to point an accusing finger at National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales and AFP Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon as the perpetrators of the crime. The accused two were equally quick to react by calling for an investigation of Trillanes over his allegations. Incidentally, despite being duly elected as Senator of this land by a mandate of more than 11 million untampered votes, Trillanes at this point is still languishing in jail for his political crime of dethroning an (illegal) president. They call to investigate Trillanes when he is clearly beyond the bounds of possible suspects, what with him being already in jail, and as such waste their efforts on finding out who the real perpetrators are. A certain Sheik Omar of the Rajah Solaiman Revolutionary Movement had promptly claimed responsibility over the attack but security analysts were fast to dismiss such claims as they questioned the authenticity of the voice of Omar during the on-air radio interview as well as the capacity of the said group to launch an attack.

Personally, the timing of the attack is highly suspect. The aim is clearly is not to create a catastrophic number of casualty but to plainly and coldly send a message. The attack occured at around 2 pm, way beyond the usual lunchtime of workers in the Makati area. If the perpertrators simple plan is to wreak havoc as big as possible, they could have planted the bomb at around 5 or 6pm, which is the peak time for passersby and mallgoers in Glorietta. Instead of just having 11 people dead, they could easily have more than 100 dead if acted upon a this precise time. Take the Bali Bombing that occured in Indonesia on 12 Oct 2002 for example. This bombing incident instantly killed more than 200 people, most of whom are foreigners and injured the same number of people. In this case, the motive was plain and simple, and that is to kill as many as possible. And so the suicide bombers acted out their plan at the most opportune time and at the best possible location for maximum impact and damage. It doesn't take intensive logistical intelligence to know that G2 or the entire of Glorietta mall is jampacked around after office hours. However, either by a stroke of pure luck or cunning evil genius, they opted to plant the bomb at the time when it had the least possible impact, at an hour way past lunchtime. One really good question now is this, "Why choose this dead hour to plan a bombing attack if your motive is only to kill as many as possible?"

Currently, the possible theory being raised by police officials is that the blast was purely an accident, saying there is a "high level of certainty" that the explosion was caused "by the presence of certain structures underground." Accordingly, toxic combination of methane gases located in the underground level of G2 accidentally leaked and caused the massive explosion. I am not buying this. UP Chemical Engineering experts are not buying it either and thus cautioned the police for laying out such unfounded theories that might beffudle the public. If I were to believe this version of events, then I might as well say that George W. Bush waged a war against Iraq because of their hidden Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). The amount of rubbish that our officials would want us take as gospel truth is unbelievable. Having worked for the military institution before, I very well know that it is within their means to twist the truth for the sake of "national security." Not everybody deserves to know the truth, especially if it will only cause national pandemonium. So they most probably conclude that it is for country's best interest for the masses to continually litter our superfluous malls for its apparent economic benefit. Better to tell the public a softer version of the events than to admit and subseqently explain a bombing attack that was successfully launched right under their noses.
The bombing of Super Ferry 14 last February 27, 2004 is a clear example of such a deception. It is now officially dubbed as the "the Philippines' worst terrorist attack and the world's deadliest terrorist attack at sea", killing 63 people instantly with 53 others missing and presumed dead. Initially, the deadly explosion was passed off as an accident caused by a faulty gas leak. However, 8 months later, PGMA admitted on October 11, 2004 that the bombing was indeed a terrorist attack. But by then, the Super Ferry bombing attack hardly made any impact on public consciousness. The time they acknowledged it wasn't the case, the public already forgot what the news was even all about. So it wasn't difficult for them to make excuses as to how such an attack was not prevented by "intelligence information." When they revealed the attack as a glaring breach of national security, the public simply no longer cared. Is this a brilliant coincidence, a mere happenstance that conveniently saved our security officials from public condemnation over their faulty intelligence gathering and information? I don't think so.

Everytime confronted by a unexpected tragedy flat on the face, I am always reminded of how fleeting life truly is. You can never really know when your "end" will be. You can just be strolling by the mall idly passing away your time and for all you know it would be the last minutes of your life. Such is what happened to the victims of the G2 bombing incident. Sadly, the metropolis is no longer a safe place to live in. The bombing incidents that happened in the last five years or so could have easily taken away my life just like that. I would have been robbed of my life, of my youth and of every potentiality I could ever become with hardly a blink of an eye. I must always remember this---to savor every breath I take, to enjoy every moment I make and to live my life the fullest possible way I can.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

World Hunger

"The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist."
These were the last words of Kevin Carter, the famed ill-fated photojournalist who took this Pulitzer award winning picture of a malnourished Sudanese girl being stalked a hungry vulture. At that time, majority of the population in Sudan were experiencing extreme hunger because of a bitter civil war. In an interview, Carter said the girl was walking her way towards a food camp and later resumed her travel after taking this brief respite. He shooed away the vulture afterwards. Reportedly, after taking this photo, "he sat under a tree for a long time, smoking cigarettes and crying." Carter committed suicide two months after receiving his award.

The picture of this dying girl is simply heart and gut-wrenching. It was taken 14 years ago by Kevin Carter, a South African photojournalist who was most probably haunted by the girl's image so much so that it contributed to his suicide. More than a decade had passed and yet this picture still evokes the same amount of emotion as if it were taken yesterday. Now that I am a mother I cannot help but visualize the face of my own baby in that child's face. Carter was condemned for being a mere spectator in this instance. He was ridiculed for not actively helping the child and for choosing to just take this stark image. But how many of us can honestly say that we would have done otherwise? That we would not have turned a blind eye and instead be moved to action given the same circumstance?

Not everybody knows this, myself included, but there is an event called as World Food Day celebrated last Oct 16. Accordingly, at present times, "some 854 million people, or about one in seven, lack sufficient food." If you put it this way, in cold mathematical and logical terms, it fails to have the same agonizing effect as evinced by one girl's dying image. This little girl represents the "50,000 people dying every day because of extreme poverty." It is appalling to think that in this modern day and age of technology and advancement, literally millions are still dying out there for the want of proper food. In the Philippines alone, it is reported that 17% of Filipinos live in extreme poverty. That figure sounds and looks innocuous and doesn't seem reflective of the child beggars I see dangerously plying the streets of the metro on a daily basis.

There is no stopgap solution to world hunger or local hunger for that matter. It is not simply a matter of giving away excess food and money to the needy. The Philippine government's solution to the country's own hunger problem is to allocate a Php 1 billion peso fund to finance temporary feeding centers and projects for the extremely impoverished sector of the society. But this barely scratches the surface of the problem. Like terrorism, communism and other ideological conflicts this world is currently experiencing, the problem of hunger is deeply rooted and cannot be resolved overnight. But unlike ideological, political and philosophical issues, the problem of poverty speaks to us in a universal language, one that cuts through cultural differences and demands our immediate attention and action regardless of our race, religion and skin color. Hunger knows no boundaries. Hunger is the same for all, it is one of humanity's great equalizer, just like death.
We are touched by this dying girl's image because it speaks to us in this universal language. It is the same language that reminds us all of our humanity. It speaks to our hearts and awakens our soul. We remember that we are human because we all grieve and cry over this. We grieve and cry for the little girl, but we grieve and cry also for ourselves.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Scattered Thoughts on Money and Happiness

"Happiness is a warm puppy."

Today's headline screams about the unabashed bribery by the Arroyo government of local officials to keep the so-called President in power. Apparently, after a meeting/party hosted by Malacanang officials, Congressmen who attended the event were each given fat envelopes with amounts varying from Php 200,000 to 150,000. Called as a early Christmas bonus, these extravagant gifts were handed away to keep their loyalty in favor of the present President. After the brouhaha brought about by the NBN deal fiasco, the Arroyo government feels the pressure and wants to be on the offensive by fielding a sham and weak impeachment complaint in order to effectively shield Arroyo from a potentially damaging real impeachment move. It must be recalled that the law protects incumbent presidents from power-play political manueverings by only allowing one impeachment case to be filed per year. So technically in legal parlance, if you file a impeachment complaint this year and it turns out to be a dud, you have to wait for one whole before you could take the only legal action of throwing out a President.

I am in the state of doldrums these days. I am still reeling from the pang of betrayal and lie by a loved one. Can a trust lost be ever fully regained? Where do you find the courage to stand up and pick up the pieces after you knowingly brought destruction to yourself? How do you find strength on your own? As I wallow in despair and soak myself in the pain of denial, my mind struggle to find the answers to these eternal questions. I breathe in sadnesss and breathe out anger by turns. I ask myself the question "why" a countless times. Immobilized by despair, I move automatically like a robot. Trapped by the daily routines of my insipid life, I spend the day doing what is expected of me like a chore and devoid of any sense of purpose and passion. Where do I go from here? How do I get myself back, if ever I had "it" in the first place?

Just last week, a meeting with an old friend provided me with much needed comical relief. Fresh from her recent trip to Korea, she regaled me with her stories of adventures and misadventures. She told me that the elitist or "sosyal" afternoon snack in Korea is would you believe sweet potatoes or "kamote" coupled with hot white milk. Koreans, being consciously healthy, even add kamote as toppings to their pizza. Philippine bananas are also a big hit in Korea and only the rich can afford them there. The temperate loving banana stalks refuses to grow in their country's cold and wintry weather. So they have no choice but to import their bananas here and purchase them in Korea at ludicrous prices. What I find so amusing about these stories is the apparent irony of it all. What the rich classes eat in Korea, the poor folks here in Pinas have in abundance. I cannot help but notice that there seems to be a leveling of some sort between their rich and our poor. No wonder Koreans come to the Philippines in great droves. They can eat whatever their elite class can in stupendous abundance. If Koreans knew that only the truly poor ones in the country are forced to eat kamote and bananas, particularly in the rural areas, when the staple food rice is not around, I wonder, if they would still consider these fruits as a symbol status of "kasosyalan."

So I am left with the safe conclusion that indeed the value of money and happiness are relative. Money may seem to make the world go round and may bring happiness to most people but there is more underneath. So much more. Bribing money to gain friends and support, a political move perfected by the current administration, may give them their desired goal for the time being but not forever. Sooner or later they may run out of friends once they ran out of money. The goods that people buy for a hefty amount of money for the ultimate purpose of finding happiness and getting satisfied may be of no value at all to others. While some may even get it for free and yet still find no satisfaction despite of its superfluous presence. Happiness has different a face for everyone. It is not easily recognizable as its form varies from one person to the next. But happiness in order to be true and lasting must come from within. Only "you" can tell what can make you truly happy. So I ask myself again, "What makes me happy?"

Sunday, October 7, 2007


(Sr. Ana Cielo Matuloy, the one with a white halo over her head.)

I just miss this woman. Her name is Ana Cielo, the latter name means heaven in Spanish. She used to be a close college friend and we even maintained our bond beyond the shallow confines of school to include working life, until one day she decided to become a nun. It wasn't a sudden, smack-me-in-face revelation for I always knew all along that she would take the plunge, it was just a question of "when." So when she did tell me about it I wasn't exactly shell-shocked by her decision but I wasn't particularly happy about it as well. It's not the same as your friend telling you that she's about to get married, you know for a fact that the change of status would entail lessened quality time together as friends, but for Cielo, her change of status would mean no time at all to share with her friends, family and other loved ones. She has to devote her entire time to her vocation. That is why even her immediate family, who very well knew that she would become one day a nun for she unflinchingly revealed her calling even in her younger years, was not totally accepting of her decision. But in the end, they, just like her friends had to relent as we all knew that this would be the only thing that would ever make her truly happy.

I write this note to let her know that I miss her so much. To say that she got me through the end of my college years is an underestimation. She did that and more. She was the one who inspired me study harder, as I was always determined to get a better grade than she did. She was always my gauge, if my test scores belonged in the median of hers (for she always topped the class), I would be perfectly happy and contented with myself. I was striving to get the better of her and was constanly upset if she received a point higher than mine, a fact I never verbalized though until now. She graduated cum Laude, the only person to do so in our class. However, not everybody knows the fact that she had no idea of her grade point average during her first and second years in college, as it never reached their house in a rural sea village in Batangas. She is a born genius, I would love to say. She is the youngest of four siblings, a product of a late and unexpected pregnancy by her aging mother. So they say, a menopausal baby would either turn out as a genius or "downie." Luckily, Cielo turned out to be the former, as she topped every class, every exam that came along her school days. She even managed to get a flat one in our Physical Examination (PE) classes for Pete's sake. She just topped them all, I guess.

But this not the most amazing thing about her. The world is quite teeming with all sorts of geniuses in variegated fields, both specific and general, both profound and banal, but she is quite extraordinary. She is a personification, a material presence and being of goodness. She has the brains but more importantly, she posseses the heart that makes her stand out as a human being. She also happens to my friend and I am so lucky. Whenever I think about the values of Christian ethics and standards, firsly I am reminded of JPII, the Pope of our century and my lifetime, secondly of Mother Teresa, the great nun of Calcutta, and thirdly of Cielo, my old friend and college buddy. I may not know those two reverred icons personally, but knowing her is enough to attest that truly, good people still exists in this planet. The quality that makes her goodness quite unique is that she extends this not only to a chosen few, which most of us are guilty of, but she gives it generously away to almost everybody and anybody who seeks her help. She offers goodness before you ask for it. I remember this one time that she offered free tutorial services to some of our classmates who experienced difficulty in one subject even if it meant inconvenience on her part. She actually had to stay in the class and spend time with people who are not particularly friendly to her just to simply "help" them. She did not crave for fame and had no political aspirations in our class but she helped them just the same out of the plain goodness of her heart.

Cielo, wherever your chosen path may lead you, I just want you to know that I will never forget you. In times of my darkest despair, it is you that I remember. I remind myself of the images of your goodness, your bits and pieces of wacky advice, and above all your unfailing belief in the goodness of my own heart. If somebody like you can stand to be with me and call me a friend, then I still have hope. I will continually pray for the day that you and I will meet again. When that time comes, I hope you will still call me as your friend. You may be a full-fledged nun at that time and I, a full-fledged mother and wife, but hopefully we can still meet eye to eye and laugh and understand each other's word perfectly like we used to. You may have married God (JC) but I do hope that you still have time to share and spare for ordinary people like me who just professed love to a regular man. You may soon be the paradigm of the extraordinariness and I, of drab ordinariness but I hope that you will still love me like you used to.
I miss you so much friend. That is the long and short of all of this.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

And the Plot Thickens

(The man of the hour. A caricature of Chairman Romulo Neri of Commission on Higher Education, who was trasferred to this post from NEDA after rejecting the ZTE broadband deal.)

"The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is."---Winston Churchill

The quest for the truth behind the much talked about NBN-ZTE contract has become Arthurian in nature. Calls for the lofty ideals of truthfulness, integrity and honor are being made of the government officials summoned to appear and testify at the Senate. Following "Joey" or Jose de Venecia III's explosive testimony, the next man to be literally grilled on the proverbial kitchen sink or burner is former National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary and now Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chairman Romulo Neri. He was apparently transferred to this new post after his former office flatly rejected the ZTE proposal. Just today, 26 Sep 07, appearing with Commission on Elections (Comelec) Benjamin Abalos on the Senate hearing, he recalled how the former offered him Php 200 million in kickback if he were to push through with the now ballyhooed deal. To quote Abalos, "me 200 ka dyan Secretary." He said he assumed it was P200 million “given the magnitude of the project...Siguro hindi naman P200 or P200,000.” Apparently, he couldn't stomach the negotiation, rejected the ZTE proposal and informed PGMA of the nefarious offer by Abalos. He further revealed that the President ordered him to reject the offer.

But what he and the president further discussed regarding the controversial project, he simply refused to reveal by invoking the blanket of protection offered by Executive Order 464. One must recall that this executive order, which was ingeniously drafted at the height of the Hello Garci controversy, bars pertinent government officials from discussing issues which involves “conversations with the President.” Essentially, it is an all-encompassing gag order which restricts officials from giving testimonies in a public hearing say, in the Senate or in the Congress, which could prove damning to the executive office. It is a two-edged sword which prevents the official from perjuring himself and the highest official in the land, the President, herself. As such, EO 464 is the main escape route of officials who are burdened by the knowledge of the truth but doesn't want to run the risk of outrightly telling a lie. They can keep their blessed silence by simply invoking this seemingly innocuous executive order and instantly free themselves of the task of telling the nerve-wracking truth or a convoluted lie. (It takes fun out of the game if you ask me.)

The real story behind the NBN-ZTE broadband deal is becoming more and more complicated, with additional characters coming to light as the days go by. With the plot thickening, it threatens to spill over and implicate the President herself. What does she truly know about the broadband deal? Was she aware of her huband's supposed contentious involvement? And more importantly, why is Comelec Chairman Abalos even a part of this issue when his primary concern in the government is the "counting" of votes come election time? Is there any special link behind his involvement in the deal?

In the end, we all just all want to know the truth. Truth that will hopefully set us free--finally.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Final Bow

I can't believe this! My boss is finally leaving us. After almost a year of constant (yet silent) complaints of his ineffeciency, he is finally bidding us adieu. What do I say to a man who refused to accept my resignation letter and asked me to consider another job description (which I did accept in the end). I can't say he made an excellent decision by letting me stay in the company but still, you gotta appreciate the gesture. I still don't think I make a right fit in my current profession. I know there is something more between the lines when he said he was simply "taking another offer he cannot refuse." But I wish him all the best still. Despite his lack of management skills, he always the prim and proper British boss one could hope for. As the Brits say, "Cheers mate!"

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What's the Deal with the NBN Deal?

( Is he telling the truth? Photo above is the son of House Speaker Jose de Venecia, "Joey" de Venecia or Jose de Venecia III)


The latest government scandal to hit the newsstands these days is the National Broadband Network (NBN) and ZTE contract broadband deal. To put it plainly, this shady agreement amounting to US$329 million dollars (PhP 25 billion) was signed between the RP government and the Chinese company, ZTE Corp., to provide the Philippine government agencies a national broadband connection. ZTE will sponsor the loan and infrastructure for a mere 3 percent interest per annum which will interconnect all national agencies from Luzon to Mindanao, a supposedly a good idea as this will ensure faster and better services of the pertinent government agencies. Moreso, this deal will also pave the way for cyber or E-education to reach the public schools nationwide as they will be also given free internet access which includes a 20-30 minutes footage of educational materials to beef up their declining quality of education. This is purportedly a bright idea given the dearth of public school teachers and more importantly, their inadequacy of good teaching skills due to lack of training. It would be like hitting two birds in one stone. The government gets to resolve the lack of teachers or quality teachers for that matter, by simply giving away computers with internet connection to rural schoolkids. They get to have instant teachers, with quality education and skills by just watching live internet feed from the tv sets. Viola, problem, instantly solved! And not only that, this particular benefit is just a small consequence of the greater broadband connection. In theory, the deal will benefit the government by saving millions of pesos in terms of telephone bills and internet connection access as it will magically interconnect the entire national government agencies for more efficient and speedier public service.

It all sounds so good to be true. And it is. Two months after signing the agreement, the real picture suddenly comes all out in the open, ugly insinuations of muti-million dollar kickbacks by several high profile government officials were revealed by a virtual unknown in the Philippine politics radar. His namesake and father, is a political heavyweight, a presidential loser and wannabe for the longest time, but he himself is a private businessman who goes by the unassuming name Joey. His real full name is Jose de Venecia III.

The burning question now is, "Is he telling the truth?" What are his motives for allegedly speaking the truth, for brazenly burning political bridges by sharing to the Senate damning accusations against the close allies of his father? Yesterday, 18 Sep, Joey or JDV III, attended the Senate hearing regarding the controversial NBN deal and even showed them how the FG Mike Arroyo, who hurriedly left the country for a "long-planned" trip, brownbeat him in staying out of the government deal. Prior to this, he already claimed on national tv that Comelec Chairman Abalos brokered the deal for ZTE to win the government contract against other foreign bidders which includes his own Amsterdam Holdings Inc. He was supposedly offered a US$ 10 million dollars bribe just to stay out of the government sponsored deal. But then burdened by the weight of his conscience, he felt compelled to reveal that the deal was overpriced by at least US$ 130 million just to accommodate kickbacks of top government officials, not excluding the President's omnipresent husband.

Or No Deal?

More recently, PGMA announced that she was suspending the NBN contract because it was generating much unwanted "political noise." She reiterated that the suspension would be a step back to the cyber highway and E-progress that her government promised but that she was left with no choice as her political detractors were unneccesarily fussing over the legality of the said contract. New SWS ratings showed her satisfaction rating was at its worst, garnering a negative eleven (-11) percent approval rating, partly due to the recently concluded Estrada plunder case and the controversial contract. Still, government officials claim that the suspension will be a disservice to the country as this deal will purportedly save the government Php 20 billion in the first five years alone and Php 60 billion in the next twenty years. Apparently, the government spends about Php 4 billion annually for its telecommunication expenses. Where they got the exact mathematical figures for the savings is beyond the logic of explanation.

Ironically, it was Joey or JDV III who served as the "bridge" to link PGMA and JDV back in 1998. It must be recalled that PGMA was the winning Vice President of then presidential hopeful JDV. At that time, though a political novice, Arroyo made a good name for herself as a Senator (and was highly popular because of her uncanny resemblance to Nora Aunor in her political posters) but wasn't JDV's top choice as VP partner. His primary choice then was late Senator Barbers ( recall Garci scandal) and or Tito Sotto, the actor-politician, who subsequently lost in the 2007 Senatorial election, primarily for being an actor. Filipinos are rather fickle-minded in their choice of political leaders. At one point, being a popular tv personality is enough to ensure one of a stable political career in whichever seat and province or city you may want to be. But seeing that tv actors/personalities is no guarantee for a graft-free and corruption-less political environment, voters soon shunned these popular figures as suitable political candidates. There are always exceptions to the rule, of course, one major point in case is the Star for all Season and renowned dramatic actress Vilma Santos, who won a landslide victory as the governor of Batangas province. But still, the rule of the thumb these days is that you can't expect your pleasant-looking face and affable personality to assure you of a political victory, qualities which were good enough some five or ten years ago.

Indeed, the Philippine political milieu changes in the blink of an eye. One minute, you're the hottest political star on the rise and the next second you are out of the game. As such, it is highly important that one knows how to play one's political cards correctly. PGMA knows the value of this. If not for her adept political manuevering, she wouldn't be PGMA nor she would have stayed as PGMA. How she will temper the latest political storm resulting from this NBN deal is a classic study for all political enthusiasts and students alike. My bet is that she could still find a way out of this conundrum and maintain her mighty act that she is still only commencing the deal for the benefit and good of this confused nation.

So is it a deal or no deal?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Memories of a Long Ago Summer

(The Nabasan Beach in Subic, the very same beach discussed in the poem below. Following Heraclitus' principle of change, it is not the same beach I chanced upon five years ago. The beach itself is not the same and so am I. )

Inspired by the lone summer trip that we took as a group of four single twenty-something girls five years ago, my dear old friend Les wrote me a poem which talks about the changes that happened since then and how change itself cannot be stopped. Aptly titling it, "Tales in the Sand," she likens the changes that took place between us, separately and together as friends, to the rocks that weather gradually to become the sands that we tread on the beach. Changes, she says, is inexorable, moves without our consent either for the better or the worse. I am glad to say that despite these changes in our lives, we have remained as very good friends. I post this poem here (without her knowledge) in appreciation for the many years of our friendship which began for the most trivial of reasons. Way back in highschool, Les and I became close friends as I remember her generously sharing her mathematics homework with me. She has shared so many other things with me since then and more valuable than those precious items is her gift of time and self. She has listened and seen me grow spiritually, mentally (and physically) over the years. Now, she shares her knowledge and love of philosophy by letting me "sit- in" in her feminism graduate study class. She is now my professor and I, her student. Indeed, the tides of time bring about unpredictable and crazy changes. I can't wait to know what will happen next.

Tales in The Sand

By Noelle Leslie de la Cruz

For M.R.G.

Years ago, you didn’t have a daughter yet
All four of us were single, closer to 20
Than to adulthood.
Our only out-of-town trip
Remember, that night-long drive through the forest
Passing sentinels of monkeys on the wayside
Their lax fingers dragging on the ground
And their tails curling like questions marks.

The sun had sunk behind the mountains
By the time we reached the road’s end
Where the beach poured into the bay.

You got out and ran to the water, jumping in
With all your clothes on.
We waded ankle-deep
And watched you swim as far out as you dared,
Your winged feet sinking beneath the surface
Like the phantom fins of a mermaid.

This is as close to the open sea as we can get
The warm, wet sand swirling around our limbs
I would have liked to tell you, I am changing
But my open mouth is full of sand
And I am drowning in this endless streaming
Through the funnel of God’s hourglass.

There is sand under my fingers, sand
In my damp hair and ears, sand
In my heart ground to dust as I watch you
Swim farther and farther out, until
You are a speck lost in the shifting grains.

Perhaps this is the secret of the ocean’s equanimity
And the millennial wisdom of the rocks:
Standing faithfully at the water’s edge
Against the onslaught of wind and brine, yielding
A fraction of a fraction of oneself, each year.

Just as we shed a rain of dead cells in our wake
As time passes, so too must these great rocks
Surrender to the elemental encroachment
Becoming the sandy water we swim in today.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Guilty! (for the right and wrong reasons)

( A photo of Erap with son Senator Jinggoy with a sad look on his face. The father was convicted but the son was exonorated of the similar crime of plunder.)

Note: Plunder is a criminal offense legally defined as: "By taking undue advantage of official position, authority, relationship, connection or influence to unjustly enrich himself or themselves at the expense and to the damage and prejudice of the Filipino people and the Republic of the Philippines."

Today, 12 Sep 2007, a historic guilty verdict was handed down to deposed 13th Philippine president Joseph Estrada. He was convicted of the crime of plunder and sentenced to a lifetime imprisonment which carries a maximum sentence of 40 years. It is highly unlikely that the charismatic leader will carry out that lifetime sentence given that he is now 70 years of age. If he does, he will outlive his enduring mother who is now 102 years old. Seems that long life runs in the family and instead of feeling blessed, Estrada might be wary these days if he lives that long. At any rate, the guilty verdict, which doesn't come as a surprise knowing that this case is primarily a political one if truth be told, will not bother Estrada that much. He knows very well that he has the upperhand and that the government, or rather the Arroyo regime, won't dare place him in an ordinary or poor man's jail cell, as he can easily provoke the sympathy of his paid and blind minions.

That Estrada is guilty is a well known fact. However, the thing that troubles a lot of people, particularly his sympathizers is that he was the only one convicted of such a heavy crime. The charge of plunder or simply put it graft and corruption in a massive scale, is an offense committed by almost everybody in the government. Sadly, power corrupts people and if you're not morally strong enough by nature, you don't stand any chance if you opt to work for the government. One ripple cannot possibly overturn the raging river. If you dont go with the "flow", you will simply drown in the sea of murky government affairs. They will brand you as an aberration, as somebody who doesn't know how to blend in the crowd. They will mistrust you and do overything in their power to take you out of position as you are not one them. Estrada may be guilty but so are the rest of them. How come justice is not served as swiftly to others who are just as guilty as him? Seems to me that justice in this country is never blind, it is partial and only serves the interests of those who are in power.

Estrada was found guilty for all the wrong reasons. Firstly, he will never be given a non-guilty verdict as this decision will undermine the legitimacy of the Arroyo government. Regardless, that she supposedly "legitimately" won a second mandate in the last 2004 elections, the fact that her first taste of presidency might be questionable is enough reason to convict Estrada. Secondly, the Supreme Court, in the person of then SC Chief Hilario Davide, presided over the oath-taking of erstwhile Vice President Gloria Arroyo to the highest position in the land, saying that the Estrada presidency has lost its "moral" ascendancy to govern. This means that the highest court in the land legally approved the take-over. The people then cheered for the "morally" conscious, church-going and family-oriented replacement that was Arroyo. Little did we know that morality has different shades and that being outwardly moral does not guarantee inward and deeply ingrained morality after all. Six years under her government rule will prove that morality is such a contentious issue and that one should not simply judge a book by its cover. Estrada with his philandering and Bacchic ways is no less moral than the churh-going Arroyo.

The Estrada conviction is hollow victory for the Philippine justice system. They caught a "big fish" but it was a fish that has been out of the water for so long. He no longer wields the same charisma and political clout as before. Compared to the current president, Estrada is no doubt more popular, but in terms of political strings and connections, he does not have the same network when he was still the one in power. In politics, the adage "friends in need, are friends indeed" holds true. Estrada had numerous political friends before as his was the figurative ass that needed kissing, but now that this very same bottom was literaly kicked out of power, his so-called friends have dissipated one by one.


Lately, after much reading, hearing and watching about the merits of the plunder case against Estrada, I came to realize that the 3 justices of the Sandiganbayan maybe truthful and impartial after all. Judging from the contents of their decision, it seems to me that the justices did base their final ruling on the dry facts of the case alone. Accordingly, they convicted Estrada based on the P189 million kickback he received from the purchase of Belle Corp. shares by the Social Security System and the Government Service Insurance System. They deemed this piece of evidence as irrefutable, incontrovertible fact as this was a matter of Estrada's word against the SSS and GSIS officials who bravely testified that the former did receive kickback and ordered the transaction. The justices also contend that Erap and Jose Velarde are one and the same after hearing Clarissa Ocampo's testimony that she saw Estrada signing bank documents in such a signature. If we only had a person of Ocampo's stature and credibility to testify against who real Jose Pidal is, then maybe we could know the truth and convict him as well. They also found him guilty as the chief supporter and instigator of jueteng operations in the country, discounting even the allegations of Chavit Singson, a close jueteng lord accomplice, that Erap received P140 million bribe from him. Given all these arguments, the special courts seemingly displayed honesty and integrity in their landmark court ruling. They kept the promises they made when they swore to be the just arbiters of the law.

Justice was after all served. I just wish it could be served to all.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Longing for a Place called Home

"Only when they have changed in our very blood, into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no longer to be distinguished from ourselves—only then can it happen that in some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth from them."---Rainer Maria Rilke

My recent birthday celebration had me thinking. What have I done so far for the past 28 years in this planet? Aside from mothering a lovable two-year old free-spirited child, what other significant contributions have I accomplished? Well, I earned my Bachelors degree at a reasonably prestigious university, worked for the government and been in various non-gratifying dead-end jobs, and well...that is all really. (I forget to mention finding a man who vowed to be my partner for life as I attribute that success in my emotional life mostly to him and not to me.) I am 28 years old and my friends keep on teasing that a couple of years from now my my age will no longer be contained in annual calenders, yet I haven't accomplished anything. I've had two failed attempts at getting a Master's degree and will most probably try my luck again at the start of this year. Considered as a sort of intellectual during my college years, I seem to have lost the passion for knowledge. My contemporaries have or are currently in the process of earning their higher education and yet I am here stuck in some brainless and thankless job, calling people who are not particularly overjoyed to hear my voice on a regular basis. The idealism, my heady days of intellectual pursuit, are all but memories of a quickly fading past. I long for the "old" me. Now that I am practically an "old adult" on the brim of becoming a young thirty-something person, I suddenly have this inexplainable longing for my past. A past that I never really enjoyed, but now desperately want to go back to.

Extending way way beyond my college days, my mind keeps flashing back with the memories of my long-forgotten childhood. Most probably because as I presently write this I can vivdly envision my grandfather or my "Tatay" as I fondly called him idly whiling away time on his deathbed in a rural place called Caranas in my province of Iloilo. He is dying and everybody knows it, but we cannot do anything about it. He has reached his golden years, now more than 80 years of age, he has probably outlived most of his peers. My grandfather's sister, my grandma lovingly called "Lola Ika", who is a couple of years older than him is fast approaching her 90's. Nobody knows her exact age now as her immediate relatives cannot find a copy of an existing birth certificate. They both lived full lives in their youth and sired sons and daughters way beyond the normally accepted ratio these days.
I miss them both. I miss the days when they were still strong, could talk coherently, chastised and even perhaps spanked me for my childhood misbeheaving days. I visited my lolo, my Tatay, last May and saw him peacefully sleeping in a fetal position. Legs crumpled and bent, his muscles are slowly defeating him and refusing to recognize simple voluntary movements ordered by his brain. He has difficulty sitting up these days and can no longer stand on his own. He munches his food loudly with his toothless gums and has to spoon-fed like a child. Indeed, that is where we will all go back to. In old age just like in our infancy, we return to our needy state. Days when we were simply helpless, defenseless and completely dependent to external care from our loved ones. After being independent for a such a long time, it might either be a relief or a pure frustration to suddenly go back to being dependent again.

I wanted to cry at that moment. But I held my ground and refused to shed the tears as there was nothing to regret about his life. He spent it wisely, lavished his family and friends with time during his younger years. And yet, I feel like crying, invisible tears are flowing down my face as I cry for those years I did not spend with him. Where was I when there was still strength left in his body, when there was still memory and sense in his mind? I was preoccupied with myself then. I indulged in sensory and intellectual pleasures all meant to discover the real me that I was trying to form. In those years I centered on myself, I lost him, I lost my patient grandfather who took care of me in my youth. The one who said, "Choose which chicken you like and I will kill it and serve it up as your dinner." The one who let me roam around to catch piglets and goats running inside our backyard. The one who provided me during my childhood a place called home. The only place I would ever call home. It is still exists in the corners of my mind, that wonderful place where I felt loved, protected and experienced total bliss. And as long as I am alive it will always be there. My grandfather, the physical house itself, may soon pass but as long as I keep on breathing, its memory will forever be true, pulsing with life, eternal, fresh and vibrant, just like when I was a child.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Ugly (Funny) Politics

A joke I got from PDI which best describes how ugly our Philippine bureaucracy works. I can't stop myself from laughing when I should be crying all along because sadly, this is really how our government conducts business. We are not Asia's most corrupt country for nothing! Here goes the joke.

Three contractors were asked for their fees to repair a White House gate.
American contractor: I’ll charge $900 -- $500 for labor, $300 for materials and $100 for me.
Mexican: I’ll charge $700 -- $400 for labor, $200 for materials and $100 for me.
Filipino: I’ll charge $2,700.
White House official: Why so expensive?
Filipino: $1,000 for me, $1,000 for you, and $700 for the Mexican to do the job.
Guess who got the contract.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Birthday at the Office

I celebrated my birthday at the office! It's almost a year now since I first came here...To all of my officemates who greeted and "partied" with me, my sincerest thanks! (Looks like they had more fun than I did!)

Looked outside the office window, it is raining again! It always rain on my brithday! :)

Mood: Happy-bee!