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Love’s Labor Found August 4, 2019 Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Luke 12: 13-21 Someone in the crowd said to Je...

Monday, March 31, 2014

Sabah debacle: The Philippine ‘Teflon’ Government of President Noynoy Aquino

March 7, 2013
by benign0
You sometimes wonder how much of the foreign press is under the payroll of the Philippine and Malaysian governments considering the sort of slants they lend to the “reports” they publish about a region they presume to know…

The Philippine government said Tuesday it had tried bring a peaceful end to the standoff by sending Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario to Malaysia urge restraint, while Philippine President Benigno Aquino III twice appeared on national television in recent days to urge Mr. Kiram’s followers to lay down their arms and end their quest.
“We’ve done everything we could to prevent this, but in the end, Mr. Kiram’s people chose this path,” Philippine government spokesman Ricky Carandang said.
In case the the Wall Street Journal hadn’t noticed, to claim to have “done everything” without actually having spoken to Jamalul Kiram III, claimant to the title of Sultan of Sulu, is quite simply textbook lying. The festering of the debacle points to a deep systemic failure in the way the Philippine Government under the leadership of President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III works.
It fails even in the simple task of taking accountability in the real sense of the term. Shortly after Carandang issued this statement, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario owned up to the snafu surrounding a set of letters sent by Kiram to Aquino back in 2010 shortly after he took oath as President. The letters which articulated Kiram’s position on the Philippines’ long-standing claim on Sabah were reportedly “coursed through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp)” and not the Department of Foreign Affairs (which brings to question del Rosario’s sudden emergence as Malacanang’s chosen Fall Guy in this debacle).
True to his usual form, President BS Aquino was left scratching his head while flashing his usual ngiting aso (dog-like smile)…
“Let me say to Sultan Jamalul Kiram III: I have just been made aware that a letter to me, from you, was sent through OPAPP in the very first weeks of my term, when we were organizing the government. Unfortunately, this letter was lost in the bureaucratic maze. Let me make clear that there was no intention to ignore your letter. Knowing this now, will you let your mistaken belief dictate your course of action?”
Unfortunately it’s so far been too little too late mixed with heaps of banal Pinoy-style ineptitude. Considering this astounding display of washing-blood-off-hands on the part of the Philippine President, it is hardly surprising that the Kiram clan is reportedly not impressed…
The Kiram clan turned a cold shoulder today to reports that the Philippine government wants to apologise for losing the letter it wrote in 2010, pointing out that it was too late as many Filipinos have already died during the violent clashes in Sabah.
Fatima Celia, wife of the self-proclaimed Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, said on ABN-CBS News Channel in the Philippines tonight that the government should instead apologise to the families left behind by the Sulu's "royal security forceâ".
Who can one trust, for that matter, when one is dealing with the worst sort of governance abomination — a Teflon Government?
For its part, the Malaysian government — that other creation of European imperialism that remains largely irrelevant to the Sulu Sultanate clansmen that now run amok across “national” borders — has quite a bit to answer for. As the Inquirer.net editor points out in light of the spreading Mindanao insurgency into the jungles of North Borneo it is a case of bad karma rearing its ugly head…
[...] because Kuala Lumpur did allow [Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)] rebels to train in Sabah all those many years ago (or determinedly looked the other way), it is now grappling with a ghost: the prospect of armed men hiding in the Sabah countryside that they call both ancient homeland and old training ground.
People caught with their pants down tend to overcomepensate in whatever comeback they could cobble together, and the Malaysian government did so spectacularly with its expensive toys — “military aircraft dropping bombs on a band of men (and women) armed only with handguns and rifles”. Classy.
[Photo courtesy National Democratic Front.]

The irony of DepEd

 (The Philippine Star) 
The Department of Education was mandated through Republic Act 9155, to formulate, implement, and coordinate policies, plans, programs and projects in the areas of formal and non-formal basic education. It supervises all elementary and secondary education institutions, including alternative learning systems, both public and private; and provides for the establishment and maintenance of a complete, adequate, and integrated system of basic education relevant to the goals of national development.
It has the mission to protect and promote the right of every Filipino to quality, equitable, culture-based, and complete basic education where: students learn in a child-friendly, gender-sensitive, safe, and motivating environment; teachers facilitate learning and constantly nurture every learner; administrators and staff, as stewards of the institution, ensure an enabling and supportive environment for effective learning to happen; family, community, and other stakeholders are actively engaged and share responsibility for developing life-long learners.
Has the DepEd achieved its mission as stated above? Will it meet UNESCO’s Education for All Goal by 2015? As our government administration changes over time, so do the policies, plans and programs of the department. It is very unfortunate that these constant changes in the system have proven to be detrimental to teachers, to the school environment, administrators and most of all to the students.
For instance, with the implementation of the K-12 program, many schools mass accelerated their students last year, making students skip a grade level to re-align themselves with the K-12 program. To many parents this meant extra savings of a year’s tuition fee. To many schools, it gave them an opportunity to offer a good bargain to attract more enrollees. But to the students, the effect is damaging. It is similar to using a “kalburo” (calcium carbide – a chemical use to quickly ripen fruits) to make sure the mango ripens quickly so it can be sold right away without considering its natural development.
Let me make myself clear once again, I support the K-12 program for the country’s educational advancement. But I am appalled on how DepEd has implemented it. By mass accelerating students, we force the children to grow up and deny them their basic right of two more years of childhood. As a result, these children are required to enter junior high school at such an early age.
If the Department of Education is committed in helping children as stated in their mandate, then, why would they allow this to happen? Is it a lapse on the part of some superintendents? I thought we jumped started the K-12 program to improve and strengthen the skills of our school children. Didn’t we just weaken the foundation of this batch of children, academically and emotionally?
Opinion ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1Another issue I consider a “scam” in the public school system is about the National Achievement Test (NAT) given to Grade 3, Grade 6 and 4th year high school students. Recently, an association of private elementary and high schools called on DepEd to abolish the National Achievement Test on the premise that students need to think, not memorize! Eleazardo Kasilag, president of the Federation of Associations of Private Schools and Administrators (FAPSA), pointed out that public school teachers resort to “teach to test” to get incentives. Public schools that do not show “adequate yearly progress” in the NAT face sanctions such as a decrease in their Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses. There is also an allegation that teachers in schools that obtain high scores in the NAT receive P35K each. Kasilag added, “Teaching to test is simply item-teaching, which removes the validity of tests and it is reprehensible. It should be stopped.” I agree.
I have heard many horror stories about the NAT. There are several allegations that: (1) most public schools’ work plans are centered on the contents of the NAT; (2) classes are dominated with NAT reviews; (3) schools only select good students and discriminate the underachievers. In fact, some public school parents claim that teachers usually advise them, “Pag mahina, huwag na papasukin sa araw ng exam” (if the child is academically weak, don’t let them go to school on the day of the exam); (4) the appraisal of the Division Offices is reliant on the NAT performance of the whole division including private schools. This is used to assess not only the performance of the students, but also the principal and the teachers under her supervision wherein if the division fails to meet the expected performance they will not receive any merit from the higher office. Hence, the superintendent exhausts all possible means for the public school to get the highest score possible; (5) there are also claims of test leakages. Public and some private schools were actually given sets of test questionnaires; (6) alleged cheating during the NAT was deliberately condoned by some principals. This is another issue that needs the attention of DepEd.
The Department of Education can either confront these issues or easily deny all of them. But at the end of the day, the question remains the same. Is this really the kind of educational system we want to achieve? I must say we are very good in sustaining illiteracy in this country and very poor in eradicating it. Susmariosep!
By the way, standard achievement tests are given to students around the world. The results of such tests are relevant in making important educational decisions in the school level, the regional level and on the national level. Achievement tests inform parents of their child’s abilities in comparison to the norm used; results can be used by teachers to improve their programs to strengthen skills; schools can use them as a measurement tool to ensure that their students meet the local or international norms. This test should not be used by public schools to evaluate schools, evaluate teachers and promote students.
Students should not even review for such exams. We must look at achievement tests as tools in assessing students’ acquired skills in specific subjects. The presumption is that these skills have been acquired as a result of previously taught and learned lessons. If you want more reliable and valid results, don’t give the students reviewers.
I’m quite puzzled why DepEd does not get an independent group to administer achievement tests using either national or international norms. This move will actually give us an unbiased picture of the state of our educational system. As it is, the DepEd creates the tests, controls its implementation and reports to us the results. This is wrong. There are too many biases in such a system. I really wonder why DepEd officials cannot see such flaws that beset our educational system.
Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world… – Nelson Mandela

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Expo 2015 and Filipino Food: An Opportunity Slowly Slipping Away

March 30, 2014
by MidwayHaven
A lot has already been said recently about Filipino food and how the world reacts to it, so I won’t be covering much of that issue here. What matters I suppose is that, in spite of what foreigners think of our local delicacies, we have an opportunity to show the world that our food has the potential to become the best of what it can be, if we only knew how to exploit such a potential.
As a matter of fact, within the coming year (2015), a huge opportunity to showcase what Filipino food can be has been slowly building itself up, away from the glamour-ridden immediacy of the Philippine worldview. However, with what I’ve been seeing so far, even that opportunity is slipping away.
The Universal Exposition, more popularly known as Expo, is set to be held in the city of Milan in Italy this 2015, from 1 May to 31 October. The six-month Exposition’s theme is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” Timely, given the state of our 7-billion strong human population. As of this writing, 147 nations have pledged to join and present to the world their own ways on how to feed the planet. For some reason, despite its vast natural resources, the Philippines is not one of these 147 nations.
Detractors would claim that the country still has more than a year at this point to sign up and represent. Given how the Expo is on par with the Olympic Games in presenting a nation on a global level, having the Philippines sign up late (or even not at all) would personally be a huge embarrassment. Many of the 147 nations that have so far committed to participate in Expo 2015 signed up as early as 2011. If indeed Filipino food is palatable and unique as many claim, wouldn’t it be reasonable to sign on at the earliest possible time for a global stage that specifically showcases food?
The Philippines’ participation in previous Expos could be said to be sort of okay at best; the Philippine pavilion in the previous Expo in Shanghai (2010) resembled a silver bayong, or handmade bag, which I thought didn’t quite exude the overall theme of being in a “Better City, Better Life.” Compared to those of other national pavilions, the Philippine pavilion was easily overlooked. Back in 1970, however, the Philippine pavilion in Osaka’s Expo was one of the most spectacular based on its sweeping architecture and imposing sail-like shape:
Since then the country’s pavilions (along with our participation) have become less imposing. Those of other countries with less economic clout on the other hand have become more impressive and memorable, leaving a visual imprint on visitors the best of what a culture can show. The Philippines couldn’t apparently even host a minor Expo; citing economic constraints, Manila withdrew its right to host after it won the bidding to host the 2002 Expo.
Digression aside, is the Philippines capable of presenting the best of its delicacies to the world in an appropriate time and place? Expo 2015 in Milan is waiting; and yet here we are, a supposed East Asian powerhouse of biodiversity, unable to get over the butthurt of foreigners reacting to our food. There has never been a better time and venue to prove that Filipinos are capable of improving the quality of its food, if only we were to at least sign upNow.
By the way, both Vietnam and Thailand, supposedly economic equals to the Philippines, are now busy constructing their Expo pavilions.
Malaysia already has a full documentation of how their pavilion would present food sustainability, and even Cambodia already had a similar concept ready as early as 2012. Our ASEAN neighbors are more than willing to showcase in Expo 2015 how they could sustain our planet’s food supply, despite their own unique culinary preferences. So, Philippines, is your food worthy of international admiration? Prove it by joining Expo 2015. No excuses.
(Expo 1970 Philippine Pavilion photo courtesy of designKULTUR. Expo 2015 Vietnam Pavilion photo courtesy of InhabitatExpo Milano 2015 on Facebook hosts the photo of Expo 2015 Thailand Pavilion.)

Earth Hour: too little too late

March 26, 2011
by benign0
Contrary to popular belief, “little things” can’t change the world. Many scientists believe that Planet Earth could already be past the point where human activity is the prime mover of climate change. Evidence is trickling in that we are nearing the point where further change in the Earth’s climate could continue even without human activity contributing to it. In short, it is possible that even if humans were to disappear from the face of the planet today, the trajectory of change in weather patterns that humans initiated has already been set.
The only known outpost of life in the universe
Consider the carbon trapped over thousands of years in permafrost across the arctic region. There is already evidence that the amount of ice that accumulates in the region during the winter months is on a downward trend. The total area covered by winter sea ice in the arctic this year is reportedly the smallest seen since measurements started in 1979. If the Earth’s climate has warmed enough and already started a sustained net thawing of permafrost in the arctic region stretching across the northern areas of Canada and the Eurasian continent, the volume of trapped carbon that will be released into the atmosphere as it bubbles out of melted ice could averageone billion tons per year.
While burning fossil fuels contributes considerably more carbon, about 8.5 gigatons annually, that process can at least in theory be controlled – whereas once the permafrost thaw begins, it sets up a self-reinforcing loop far from human activity and potentially difficult to stop.
This is but one of possibly many other climactic positive feedback loops or “runaway processes” that could be kicked off (or are already underway) if we continue pushing our luck. Our own carbon emissions into the atmosphere, it may turn out, could be the least of our problems. Once Nature joins the carbon emission bandwagon we got going, there’ll be no stopping her.
The whole idea of an “Earth Hour” where everyone turns off their electrical appliances for one hour in one night in every year sounds nice. But “nice” simply won’t cut it. Like the spectacle of self-flagellation during the Easter season (“Holy Week” in the Philippines), participating in “Earth Hour” gives the average schmoe a sense of having “done her part” in the overall scheme of environmental activism — kind of like clicking on a “Like” button in one of those charitable causes that pepper the “social media” scene. So think of the self-flagellant who comes out of Holy Week “penance” feeling like a million dollars in the eyes of his god, and then goes on to spend the rest of the year leading a life of “sin”. Then perhaps consider the message that “movements” like “Earth Hour” might be sending out.
Indeed, why participate in an “Earth Hour” (and miss your favourite TV show tonight) when we can all be permanent participants in an Earth Lifetime by making sustained and sensible changes in the way we live?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Next step after Bangsamoro peace deal: Philippines to pay up – drop Sabah claim

March 27, 2014
by benign0
So what happens to the Philippines’ claim on the Malaysian state of Sabah following the signing of the Bangsamoro “peace deal” between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)? It seems this is now conveniently in the backburner as Filipinos, on cue, dance to the tune of Malacanang’s “celebration of peace”.
But left out of the loop in this much-celebrated erstwhile posterboy of international “peace” collaboration were “smaller Islamic militant groups in Mindanao” which, as is now clearly evident, includes people and groups still loyal to the Sultan of Sulu as well as the MILF’s “main rival” the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Interestingly, the origins of the MILF as a militant breakaway group from the more moderate MNLF was over disagreements with the direction being taken by the MNLF leadership back in 1977 towards renouncing its own separatist agenda in favour of a more “conciliatory” deal with Manila then, a direction which bore fruit ten years later for the MNLF…
In January 1987, the MNLF signed an agreement relinquishing its goal of independence for Muslim regions and accepting the government’s offer of autonomy. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the next largest faction, refused to accept the accord and initiated a brief offensive that ended in a truce later that month. By one estimate the Mindanao-based Moro Islamic Liberation Front fielded around 3,000 troops.
'You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in You.'
‘You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in You.’
It seems it’s déjà vu all over again for Muslim Mindanao. The bandit groups’ acronyms and the euphemistic names given to “autonomous” Islamic territories may have changed but not the overall situation and certainly not the question on the Philippines’ long-standing claim on currently-Malaysian Sabah. Was Mindanao “peace” supposedly architected by President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim achieved at the expense of the Sabah claim?
So far, all parties have been silent on the implications of this “achievement” as far as this elephant in the room is concerned. It is, suffice to say, an elephant that both cannot be ignored and cannot be made to go away. Former Senator Jovito Salonga who was part of Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez’s team dispatched to London in 1963 to negotiate the Sabah claim brilliantly articulated the clear historical reference that frames the Philippines’ still-standing position on the matter…
Thousands of years ago, what is now known as the Philippines and what is known today as Borneo used to constitute a single historical, cultural, economic unit. Authoritative Western scientists have traced the land bridges that connected these two places. The inhabitants of the Philippines and Borneo come from the same racial stock, they have the same color, they have or used to have similar customs and traditions. Borneo is only 18 miles away from us today.
North Borneo, formerly known as Sabah, was originally ruled by the sultan of Brunei. In 1704, in gratitude for help extended to him by the sultan of Sulu in suppressing a revolt, the sultan of Brunei ceded North Borneo to the Sulu sultan.
Here, our claim really begins. Over the years, the various European countries, including Britain, Spain and the Netherlands, acknowledged the sultan of Sulu as the sovereign ruler of North Borneo. They entered into various treaty arrangements with him.
The claim to Sabah which remained enshrined in the Philippines’ 1973 Constitution was weakened by the 1987 Constitution which dropped the words “by historical and legal rights” from the definition of the national territory. This paved the way for the drafting of Senate Bill 206 which sought to amend Repubic Act 5546 of 1968 which describes “the territory of Sabah, situated in North Borneo, over which the Republic of the Philippines has acquired dominion and sovereignty.” For now, Senate Bill 206 which, evidently, encapsulates President BS Aquino’s “promise” to drop the Philippines’ claim on Sabah is yet to be signed into law.
More disturbing, however, are the real implications of this bizarrely naive international exercise in negotiating with a terrorist organisation like the MILF. With its more than 10,000-strong active membership and cellular command structure, there is no guarantee that all of its members will lay down their arms. And, make no mistake, the MILF as recently as July 2013 was described as an “Islamic separatist terrorist organization” in a Stanford University document. The document states that the MILF “denies links to the Abu Sayyaf Group, Al-Qaeda, and Jemaah Islamiya” but that these bigger groups “through funding” have “bought loyalty from MILF members, and through more direct philosophical similarities, these groups have shaped MILF’s evolving tactics to secure an independent Bangsamoro state.”
According to Jane’s Intelligence Review, hundreds of MILF members from Mindanao trained in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, where they also secured strong ties with bin Laden. The National Bureau of Asian Research also reports that Al Qaeda has sent trainers to MILF training camps in Mindanao.
Philippine Star columnist Federico Pascual sums up this “achievement” of the Second Aquino Administration in one sentence: “Ignoring other sectors and rebel groups, Malacañang chose to talk only to the MILF, with Malaysia whispering behind the curtains as facilitator.”
Recipe for disaster? Only time will tell.
[Photo for #SelfieForPeace tweeted by Jee Y. Geronimo.]

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Filipino dude in Canada always being asked by Pinoys how many white chicks he's slept with

I am a Filipino born Canadian who moved here (in Canada) around my teen years. I have memories of the ‘motherland’, but I feel I could very well be one of those generation 1.5 Canadian Immigrants – well assimilated and owing nothing to the ‘motherland’.

However, I do love the Philippines, my Filipino heritage, and of course, I still have childhood friends and family over there. …so I am always at odds with the dysfunctions of Philippine society vs. my desire to see it improve and rise above such dysfunctions.
That said, this reply of yours is a very neat way of summarizing what I was trying to get at in two posts about my travel memoirs in the Philippines. I guess I should practice brevity more! (then again, mine is a travel memoir… so length is never an issue, while detail and specific experiences are always the target)
In this post I had a run in with a lady who scoffed at a common courtesy often practiced here in Canada/North America.
I then wondered:
“They’re westernized enough to speak English, consume ‘western’ products and entertainment, but not westernized enough to emulate the best of the Developed World’s values?”
In another post, I had another run-in with a Filipina matriarch who annoyed me with an assumption about our (or my) character; as though she imagined me as just an English-speaking, Canada residing version of her kids – without regard for how I may be differ from them philosophically.
This again, made me wonder:
“…instead of asking me what makes living in Canada so great, instead of probing what values have I learned during my transition to being a Canadian, and what style of ‘pamamalakad’ I feel could be applied to the Philippines, there is a kind of Filipino who would rather ask me how much money I make, what car I drive, how many white chicks I’ve had sex with, all while marvelling at my accent that is ‘oh so, distinctly Fil Am!’ (Canadian.. American.. all the same to them)
More than anything, the material advantages and the superficial glitz and glamour of living here in ‘The West’ seem to interest them a great deal more than the values, social justice, and social mores that I personally feel are what make living here so great.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Repeat after me: I am the Philippines and I am home to a dysfunctional society

March 26, 2014
by benign0
I realised the whole problem with the prevailing discourse within the social media space I inhabit: there is too much discussion about politics and not enough about the underlying issue with Philippine society that I have long highlighted is the real deal here — Filipino culture. Fact is, the Philippines is beset by a really profound problem. Criminality is deeply ingrained in the very fabric of its society. Philippine government institutions are populated by some of the vilest criminals in the land — officials who were elected by the popular vote; that long-trumpeted construct associated with that supposed “power” Filipinos wield against the forces of evil. We may aspire to be led by the most honest, the smartest, the most prayerful, and even the prettiest politician the Filipino gene pool has to offer. But for some reason, we only get the most deceitful, two-faced, uninspiring, crooked, and insubstantial of the lot. A consistently baffling outcome in a nation of 100 million unique DNA sequences.
With every election that passes, it becomes more and more evident that Filipinos are wielding this power to “vote” the way a two-year old armed with a blowtorch would redecorate her house. With every “promising” president comes with him or her a cadre of opportunistic clansmen: former classmates and hangout-mates, cousins, brothers, mothers, fathers, half-siblings, mistresses, shooting buddies, canoeing buddies, frat “brods”, sorority “sistahs”, family drivers, etc. who somehow get “appointed” to sensitive government positions within a few weeks of being sworn into that lucrative office in Malacanang. And the pattern repeats itself. The campaign promises morph into excuses, and the voters turn into mere spectators sporting silly canine grins.

In no other time has the underbelly of this lethal political cycle been more obvious than under the administration of President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III. Under the watch of President BS Aquino, the national lament has become walang masumbungan. There is no one in the Establishment to whom escalating important issues will yield sympathetic action, much more clear resolution. Even the nation’s activist scene has become a vast wasteland of inconsequential debates and half-witted hashtag-branded “movements”. The last elections which saw candidates viciously maligned by social media “activists” topping the polls was an indictment of the hollow catchphrases and slogans tweeted by the nation’s top self-described “social media practitioners”. More important than that, the three pillars of check-and-balance, the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches have all been tainted with corruption scandals. The office of the President, the very source of the funds whose pilfering is a deeply-institutionalised tradition in Philippine government and politics, is in the midst of an unprecedented excuse engineering exercise while the whole effort to hang perpetrators of that thievery in Congress is imprisoned by a pointless “Blue Ribbon Committee” “probe”.
Many would think the Philippines is a “lost cause”. It isn’t. It only seems like it because the popular discourse revolves around politics rather than around the underlying issue that we have long insisted is the real deal: Filipino Culture. Philippine politics and the bozos who populate it are mere reflections of the character of the society they infest, much the same way that rats infest an unsanitary building or home. Killing the rats does not cure the underlying malaise. You need to clean up the rot and deodorise the stink so that the rats don’t come back.
Until then, the powers-that-be will protect the status quo. With deadly forceif necessary. That is why pork barrel scam “whistleblowers” are dressed in flak jackets whenever they are paraded before the public. It is widely-accepted that they are not safe even within the confines of a Philippine government building. That’s fair enough. When was the last time you felt safe in the custody of the Philippine police? That says something about the Philippines. It is an inherently unjust society. Changing this status quo cannot be done by simply showing that “lots of people” agree that it should be changed. That change may have to be won by the sword if necessary — because the people who profit mightily from the status quo will not be moved by pakiusap.
Look no further than the next headline. Do we really seriously think any of the people of consequence embroiled in this pork barrel corruption scandal will end up behind bars? I wouldn’t bet good money on it. As much as our hope of one day electing an “honest” and “smart” president is like betting on being dealt a royal flush in a game of poker, the prospect of seeing alleged perpetrators Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla, and Johnny Enrile behind bars is a full house at best. President BS Aquino being held accountable for the criminal farce that was the impeachment “trial” of former Chief Justice Renato Corona and his continued sorry efforts to defend the virtually un-auditable Disbursement Acceleration Program funds is a pipedream. He will likely simply go on and run for Vice President in 2016. There are no consequences in the Philippines — only new slogans.
So, “hope” in a better Philippines? Dude, buying a lottery ticket is not an investment strategy. The real effort here is to give substance to this hope. We will not find that substance in the colourful media whoring of our “social media practitioners”, nor will we find it in “non-traditional” politicians. You just need to recall that bozos like Risa Hontiveros, Teddy Casino, and the rest of their commie comrades were once bandied around as the “hope” of rotten Philippine politics. Well, look around us now. They are now anything but. They are hopelessly inconsistent, discuss people more and ideas less, and are reduced to arguing on Twitter with disembodied avatars.
Walang masumbungan. Kahit si Tulfo kelangan isumbong.
You cannot pull substance out of social-climbing airheads who parrot the latest popular slogan ad nauseum, retweet the latest “trending” topic, and insist that debates be carried out over a series of 140-character one-liners. Neither will we find that much-needed substance in “thought leaders” who are hand-tied by media organisations owned by Indonesian taipans or held to returns-on-owners’-equity ratios. And certainly we will not find that substance in politicians who are members of political “parties” that lack any sort of ideological or philosophical underpinning.
Filipinos need to learn to think. Yes, the Philippines is a renowned non-thinking society. But just because it is so does not mean that national character flaw cannot be changed. We just need to recognise — by overcoming our instinctive inclination to get butthurt by The Truth — that our society and culture needs not just a major makeover, but a brain transplant.
I am Juan and I am an alcoholic.
Those words represent the single biggest step a wino can take on the road to recovery. The Philippines needs to undertake a similar journey. Only when we recognise our society’s most fundamental problems with eyes wide open can we consider ourselves on our way to real recovery.
[Image courtesy pxleyes.com.]

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The country we’ve made for ourselves: why we need an outsider’s perspective

March 25, 2014
by benign0
[The following is a copy of the Foreword I wrote for my friend Ben Kritz's new book Same Planet, Different World: An Outsider's Inside View of the PhilippinesYou can download the book from Amazon here onto Kindle or any of a variety of apps also supported by Amazon.]
We in our clique of the “politically passionate” love to derisively point out that our government is run by leaders driven by self-interest to the awful detriment of the vast majority. It is, in fact, true that Philippine politics has proven us to be the antithesis to the lofty notion that there is supposed to be no other motivation to seek political power beyond a personal desire to serve a people. Nonetheless, an aspiration to see ourselves constituting a government that truly serves – one that sees the greater good as the only end in all of what it undertakes – remains at the core of the national consciousness.
Yet we fail to see the irony in how we’ve all but delegated to the private sector much of the business of delivering essential public services. Indeed, we now cheer the takeover by private enterprise – enterprise driven by profit – of undertakings that government should be fully on top of, if not completely in control of, to ensure that access to these services (considered by polite society to be a “human right”) is based more on need than on an ability to purchase these.

Community building at large urban scales in the Philippines’ big cities, for example, is now largely driven — and constrained in many ways — by private interests. Government officials say they can no longer “cope” with the rising demand for public services normally provided by the state such as development of public facilities, law enforcement, and waste disposal. As a result, there is a markedly lessened sense of community in the Philippines, especially in its premier city Metro Manila where the public domain is being squeezed out by the rapidly-expanding domain of insular privately-held spaces and the elite communities these host.
We express indignation over the way our politicians apply more of a what’s-in-it-for-me ethic than a sense of civic duty to the common good when making crucial governance decisions that affect hundreds of thousands of people. Yet we gladly embrace the commercialisation of public and civic space by for-profit enterprise. Small surprise that business interests (read profits) are now at the centre of pretty much everything to do with community dynamics in the Philippines.
Accessible recreational space in the Philippines, to cite another example, is now increasingly falling within the control of big-time retailers. Malls rather than parks are now the default go-to for family frolics — because there is no other clean, safe, and affordable place to go. In this way, Philippine society has ceded awesome power to retailers to set the pace and tone of how Filipinos spend their leisure time, and their money. Instead of wholesome environments where family and friends can gather and socialise most Filipinos can only choose among places where every sight is shared by a colourful and noisy pitch to spend. Such is the strength of the consumerist mindset being ingrained in the Filipino that much of Metro Manila gets paralysed by monstrous traffic jams whenever the powers-that-be in the retail industry call the faithful to a pilgrimage to their temples of consumerism — whenever there are occasions and events deemed by the industry as reasons to spend and consume even more than the usual.
This short-sighted looking to the private sector to subsidise – worse, own and control – public service is by no means a recent malaise. Public transport had been taken up by rinky-dink “jeepneys” converted from surplus US Army jeeps after the end of World War II for the sake of plugging a gap in the government’s ability to provide a basic public need. But then this stopgap measure that draws on laissez faire enterprise to quickly fill a need was to remain largely unchanged over the next several decades until the present. So now the social cancer that is the jeepney remains a key pillar in what has become the monstrously chaotic kanya-kanya free enterprise morass that is the Philippines’ public land transport system.
More disturbing is the relatively recent manner with which that approach to looking to the private sector to step in in lieu of the state’s neglect of its duty to guide the evolution of society into a true community has been applied to developing urban land assets. Like the country’s public transport systems, many of the biggest Philippine cities are now limping along the same way under the weight of a cacophony of private subdivisions competing for space and rights to attract customers and keep them happy. Because, following the same retarded logic that went into addressing the public transport challenge, the thinking that prevailed is that (1) government lacks the resources and (2) private enterprise necessarily does things better. The two truisms have long been ingrained in the national consciousness as the state’s default excuse and the private sectors’ compelling pitch respectively to maintain this perverse status quo contract between government and business. So on-going administration of huge tracts of land developed by private enterprise have been ceded to the same private interests as well – including control of general access and maintenance of law and order to and within the area. In most cases, this works well for these gated communities’ customers. The private administration delivers because its customers could afford it. But the greater public suffers.
Step back far enough and take overall stock of the manner with which essential public services – in this specific case mobility, environment, and security – are delivered across social classes under the current setup and we will find an unacceptably high variance in quality, with the best of services availed of by those who can afford the best that private enterprise can deliver and the worst of service availed of by those who can only rely on government. For the poor and lower-middle-class, there is not much choice. Life in gated communities is simply beyond their reach. Interestingly as well, for the rich and middle class, there is not much option either. Availing of private service is a must, because government will not assure security and safety to the quality they require.
Many critics of “big government” hail the privatisation of the Philippines as an all-good thing, pointing out that the private sector with its focus on competitive advantage is necessarily in a better position to deliver quality and value to its customers. The government and its public service delivery agencies, as the same thinking goes, are monopolistic and therefore inefficient, not focused on quality, and not in tune with “customer” needs.
But are recipients and beneficiaries of essential services, the access to which are deemed by many so-called thought leaders as a basic “human right” really “customers”? The idea that citizens who avail of essential services like public transport, law enforcement, waste disposal, and public facilities and infrastructure are “customers” needs to be re-examined. A setup where individual businesses engage in a competitive bid to provide essential services to people to be regarded as their “customers” rather than as beneficiaries of essential public services remains the core of public transport dysfunction in the Philippines. And now so too, in the same way, does this condition afflict overall large-scale community development. Gated communities today are to the challenge of coherent community development as jeepneys are to the development of a coherent mass transportation system. Both the gated community and the jeepney are short-term fixes that went on to become deeply-ingrained stains in the fabric of the society and are now hindrances to achieving much-needed leaps in development.
How, after all, can an elected official living in a gated community and enjoying the vastly superior security and community services it affords claim to truly understand – no, personally feel for – the plight of the majority of their constituents? For that matter, why would a voter even choose a person whose very lifestyle is hinged upon an ability to isolate herself from their voters’ ways of life? It seems many Filipinos fail to see that politicians living in gated communities can never have enough skin in the game played by most ordinary Filipinos. Indeed, they will never have the same sense of urgency to, say, improve police services – because they can afford to pay for their gated communities’ private security forces and afford to ignore what goes on beyond their personal fortresses. Beyond the issues of dynasties and the scourge of “traditional” politicians, the very notion of voting for a person who as a matter of routine deliberately excludes himself or herself from the banal challenges of their constituents’ way of life points to the fundamental flaw in how Filipinos wield the so-called “power” democracy has vested in them.
Perhaps one day, Filipino voters will be cluey enough to know enough to vote for someone who personally can relate to their ordinary challenges. And when that happens, political leadership then becomes one where the resulting sufficient skin in the game compels leaders to spur change with greater senses of urgency. But until then, the manner with which government with our current crop of politicians at the helm, the sorts of voters who elect them, and private enterprise controlled by a centuries-old oligarchy divvy up the country together provide ingredients for interesting stories to be told.
It is this corner where political agendas, business interests, and Filipino thinking intersect that Ben, equipped with his astute nose for business insight, carefully-tuned political radar, and personal skin in the game of life in the Philippines as a foreigner, has cut his niche. The Philippines is a country that aspires to steer itself towards social justice bliss but whose sails are filled by winds of self-interest and private enterprise. In his excellent work in punditry and in mainstream media, Ben adeptly navigates the Philippines’ exciting landscape of conflicting interests and warring classes while picking up the relevant dots and connecting them, identifying the patterns nobody else sees, and asking the sorts of questions nobody dares ask along the way.
That we now have this volume of Ben’s brilliant work in one place to grasp and sink our teeth into is cause to celebrate – celebrate the start of what will likely be an even longer journey we must take to find our country’s own unique path to real sustained progress given our unique challenges. For many, the ideas Ben lays out in this book will remain debatable for years to come, because much of what he proposes goes against the grain of Filipinos’ conventional thinking. But in that lies the source of my confidence that his work has gone a long way towards pointing us in the right direction – because to achieve different results, we cannot continue to keep thinking in the same way (with apologies to Albert Einstein).
[Same Planet, Different World: An Outsider's Inside View of the Philippines is a collection of insights on public life in the Philippines, from the point of view of long-time American resident and Manila Times columnist Ben Kritz. It can be downloaded from Amazon here. Photo courtesy Action International Ministries.]

Monday, March 24, 2014

Psychoanalysing the Filipino character

To explore the Filipino mind is a journey on the dark side which would have kept freud busy and amused.

The Filipino psyche predominantly revolves around a range of defence mechanisms developed as a means of coping with day to day struggles, low self-esteem, and external criticism.
The end result is a psyche which doesn’t want to hear painful truths, and will only believe what it wants to hear, however absurd/illogical. A fantasy world of achievement compensating for the stark reality of failure, and like a walter mitty character, Filipinos become legends in their own mind splitting reality and fantasy to such a point the two become fused and/or confused.
In such a world guilt and shame have been banished, for they would burst the balloons of pride and ego which have been lifted so high and remain the symbols of hope in a barren life
It overcompensates through hubristic pride, narcissism, a collective mentality, a strong need to belong and to associate with anything/one regarded as successful – which equates with money rather than with intellect or contribution, and without a strong moral compass, despite the apparent grip of religion, can regard crooks with money as demi-gods ( even when it is their money which has been stolen!. Very perverse)
It may also partly answer [the] question about intellect as a liability, since those with intellect who challenge collective thought are a perceived threat to the group, and without possessing the ability or rational to attack/debate the message, their only choice is to attack the messenger.
In the Philippines, stupidity is not a hindrance in politics, crime pays, and fantasy rules.

Squatters embody all the reasons the Philippines consistently fails to prosper

Have you ever gone inside a squatter colony ? I have ! It is humanity living in a sewer, above, along, beside, below, living in hovels built from disgarded fragments of rotted coco lumber, broken furniture, torn filthy tarps, rusted nails, low cellings, and often stacked 3 to 4 floors high. Dirt floors, repressive heat, sickness, TB, rotted teeth, dysentery, unwanted pregnancy, criminality, open fires, illegal electrical hookups, no fire route access or escape plan, none of the occupants ever paying taxes. Sweaty Babies with snotty noses, children covered in dirt, dressed in rags, everyone peeing almost anywhere, crapping in plastic bags, one tap for 30 or more families. People sleeping on mats, lined up often like sardines, with the rats, cockroaches, unimaginable strenches wafting from every direction. Walkways 18 inches wide, the sounds of voices, crying, wailing, laughing, screaming, as if you just woke up liviing inside a Fellini movie complete with dwarfs and disfigured would wandering around. It is sad to see, (but) with the inhabitants amazingly cheerful, and quite pleased it would seem, with the entire arrangement.

Of course, much of the time the squatters are simply tolerated by the true land owner who pays the property taxes, has title to the property but faces huge challenges to reclaim what is in fact owned. Evicting the squatters is rarely possible without resorting to costly and lengthy legal remedy that through delaying tactics can take 10 or 15 years to resolve.

In the Philippines where the Judiciary is broken, impunity rules, and discipline doesn’t exist, the problem simply exacerbates itself, with the Government lacking the will or the intention to fix any of the country’s ills.

The squatter problem is a good example of why the Philippines can never really move away from its 3rd world status. As long as the right of ownership cannot be exercised over the so called rights of squatters who in modern society should only have extremely limited rights, expect little in the Philippines to truly change. It is a country that has a hopeless future unless overdue reforms can get a foothold. Looking at the Political landscape, it really does not look even remotely encouraging.


Much of Philippine history was motivated by Filipinos’ kneejerk butthurt reactions

March 24, 2014
by benign0
I’ve come to realise that much of Philippine history was really all about a monumental effort to counter centuries of butthurt. The Philippine “revolution” of 1898 was an epic reaction to 400 years of butthurt in the hands of Spain. The arbitrary re-defining of the 4th of July, 1946 from “Philippine Independence Day” to “Philippine-American Friendship Day” originated from former President Diosdado Macapagal’s butthurt reaction to Filipinos’ incurable colonial mentality at the time and successive presidents’ efforts to appeal to their respective constituents’ “nationalist” sentiments. Then there was the kicking out of the US’s massive military presence in the Philippines in 1992. That was the Philippine Senate’s epic butthurt reaction to perceptions that the Philippines could not stand on its own two feet and take care of itself.
Even way back in the early 2000′s Filipinos were already renowned for their chronic national butthurt condition. The late consultant Clarence Henderson wrote an extensive treatise on the subject of Pinoy butthurt in his seminal 2002 essay Cyber-Flamings & Onion Skins: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the Pinoy Dream. Even back then, there were excellent case studies on what, at the time, was termed Filipino onionskinnedness.
The Probe Team: The Probe Team, a GMA news magazine and the longest running public affairs TV program in the country, also airs in Singapore. In early 2001, in prototypical reality television show format, certain stories dealt with sensitive topics: pedophilia in the provinces, the sex tourism business, the Payatas mountain of garbage, and college students dying in fraternity hazings. The new segments were accurate and reflected objective realities of life in the Philippines.
A group of OFWs promptly organized a vocal protest and did all they could to keep the show from being shown in the Lion City. Their bone of contention, of course, was that it made the Philippines look bad in the pristine city-state of Singapore. Why air dirty laundry when those things could be so easily ignored?
Live Show: In The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, I described the uproar that occurred in Manila when Jose Javier Reyes’ cinema verite piece, Live Show (originally known as Toro) was released. This existential and engaging film told the sad story of young people whose extreme poverty led them to perform live sex on stage in order to survive.
The critics were all over the film, which was soon repressed with the blessing of Cardinal Sin and the devout Philippine President. Their argument was that the film encouraged promiscuity and painted an inappropriately sordid portrait. In reality, it was a well-done work of art that called attention to an unfortunate social reality. But that was not acceptable.
Claire Danes’ “Ghastly Manila” remarks: About four years ago, Claire Danes came to Manila to film Brokedown Palace. After returning to the states, she made several not-very-flattering remarks about Manila in the pages of Vogue and Premiere magazines. Specifically, she described Manila as a “ghastly and weird city,” said that the city “smelled like cockroaches”, and noted that “rats were everywhere”.
The whole country, led by the Manila City Council, was immediately inflamed and up in arms. There was a major move to ban all of Danes’ films in Manila and her name is now considered synonymous with “Ugly American”. Very few politicians or commentators were brave enough to note that Danes’ comments were basically accurate and that something badly needs to be done about the state of the Philippines’ capital city.
Top American thought leaders were not spared by non-thinking Filipinos’ butthurt tirades. Henderson also recounts how then US Ambassador Frank Riccardione earned the ire of Philippine government and media honchos when he candidly pointed out before Manila-based journalists how the Philippines continues to fail to attract significant amounts of foreign investment due to “widespread” corruption.

The most famous of all American inducers of Filipino butthurt is journalist James Fallows whose famous 1987 article A Damaged Culture: A New Philippines? published on The Atlantic attracted the modern-day mother of all Pinoy butthurt. In that article, Fallows made his most pointed assessment of Filipino society in these words: “Because the boundaries of [decent] treatment are limited to the family or tribe, they exclude at least 90 percent of the people in the country. And because of this fragmentation–this lack of nationalism–people treat each other worse in the Philippines than in any other Asian country I have seen.” Since then, Fallows had been the favourite “whipping boy” of Filipino “nationalists” and “patriots”. Yes, Philippine “nationalism”, indeed, is an oxymoron in a country described by Fallows as one where “people treat each other worse [...] than in any other Asian country.”
To digress a bit, it is interesting to note that Fallows, in a brilliant stroke of prescience, made this observation as well in that article:
BECAUSE PREVIOUS CHANGES OF GOVERNMENT HAVE meant so little to the Philippines, it is hard to believe that replacing Marcos with Aquino, desirable as it doubtless is, will do much besides stanching the flow of crony profits out of the country. In a sociological sense the elevation of Corazon Aquino through the EDSA revolution should probably be seen not as a revolution but as the restoration of the old order.
Remember, those were words written back in 1987 — which, as it turns out, probably highlights an important point — that;
A lucid understanding of the Philippines’ issues at a cultural levelprovides a better lens through which one could regard its politics.
Fallows, back in 1987, showed that building a thesis on Philippine politics using culture as its primary intellectual foundation yields motherlodes of timeless principles. This is made even truer when one considers that a democracy where officials are elected by popular vote necessarily yields leaders and representatives that directly reflect the character — the culture — of their constituents.
See this now in the context of how the most popular of Filipinos’ butthurt reactions to critics of their society involves pointing to their crooked politicans as the supposed source of all of what makes the Philippines the chronic failure that it is. This highlights one of the more disturbing aspects of the Philippines’ butthurt culture — that Filipinos are prone to missing important points (such as the point here that they elected their crooked leaders and representatives) because of the dulling effect this inclination to butthurt has on their abilities to think clearly. Hardly surprising then that Filipinos keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
It’s high time that Filipinos end this cycle of using butthurt to mark important points in their history and, instead, look to objective achievement to mark the key milestones in the history they are yet to make.

Why is da Pinoy so easily butthurt? Is it an excuse?

March 23, 2014
by Impaler Triumphant
GetRealPhilippines repeatedly points out the sensitivity of da Pinoy as something that is immature and something we should grow out of–and fast, for many reasons:
Ego distorts our way of thinking–it helps Pinoys make excuses for bad behavior instead of correcting them. Ego shifts blame–it helps insists that it’s Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s fault that the Philippines is in the dumps instead of looking for the REAL reasons in order to give the right solution. Ego helps people lie to themselves–The Aquino family saved us from total economic destruction. Then they wonder why their problems with money, with relationships, with their snatchers Manila traffic, and criminals won’t go away.
Pinoys just can’t, can they? Before you engage them, they insist you to have good social skills–someone with pakikisama. They want people to give them negative criticism “in a nice way.” They vilify the frank ones if they aren’t mentally-prepared for Real Talk. If you tell it as it is–bitter and full of ouch, they’ll assume you’re wrong. To them, there is no better method of you telling them their faults other than telling them that “in a nice way.”

You think you can sugar-coat your observations about them, but with no such luck. They make polite excuses when they think they are prepared for Real Talk–”I had nothing to feed my family, I was confused, I have a D, I was tempted. It’s just who I am.” Congrats, you’ve just been tuned out.
You can see how much they care about taking care not to get butthurt, therefore get real: PNoy rigs a Hope Christian School Q&A forum, Supreme Court ruled RA 10175 constitutional, politicians hold press conferences on national TV, celebrities file libel cases everywhere, your classmate whispering behind your back because you frankly told her she has bad breath two days ago in the privacy of your Facebook chat.
I guess it’s an international thing for people to be concerned about how people are supposed to say their two cents about anyone else. Many governments have been made Enemies of the Internet given the frank and spicy nature of bloggers and Anonymous.
So what?
Granted that many Filipinos truly need to refine their pakikisama, does that excuse the rest of their society to remain sensitive?
Why should Filipinos be so concerned about the way things are said about them?
In fact, why is da Pinoy so easily butthurt?
I offer a psychological explanation on the mechanism of denial. Denial, or perceptual defense as psychologists call it, is a form of defense mechanism employed with teeth, claws, and basest instincts for survival. When something is threatening, unpleasant, or negative, we employ varying degrees of perceptual defense so that we don’t get traumatized by them. Otherwise we go insane.
Survivors of gruesome accidents have one notable example on how denial works. Many of them saw themselves and others burned, broken, or torn apart before their very eyes. They look at all that meat and blood scattered all over the concrete. It’s graphic. Yet when they regain consciousness in a hospital days or weeks later, they will tell their doctors that they have no memory of what just happened. It’s self-censorship to the point of actually believing the edited version of memory.doc to be true.
Given the unpleasant nature of criticism, Pinoys’ perceptual defense goes up along with proselytizing everyone why it’s good to be Filipino. And given the truth from the criticism against them–the fiesta elections, the dancing politicians, the blame games, the excuses, and the over emphasis on showbiz and the squatters–its bitterness must be so traumatizing that it is a perfect excuse to deny its existence. Not to mention scolding you that you should have put it in “a nice way.” Excuse me? What’s nice about EDSA traffic jams? What’s nice about spitting on the ground? What’s so blessed for being poor?
So there you have perceptual defense. Then you have the bitter truth. Add that with the brainwashing from mainstream media and even certain social media sites. Put it all together and you have the perfect recipe for making an Ampaw Republic.
Of course their way of looking at things will make them fail the So What? Test. Their houses will still be dingy. BIR will still collect too many taxes from the middle class. They will keep electing the ampaw politicians because they can sing and twerk and their mother just died. They will still scream like monkeys in social networks and in public places and then shut up instead of using all their cunning to not let thieving legislators get away with their tax money ever again. Pinoy society will keep on consciously and unconsciously excuse themselves for their incompetence and for shitting on their pants–so long as they are in denial what truly went wrong.
So going back:
Granted that many Filipinos truly need to refine their pakikisama, does that excuse the rest of their society to remain sensitive?
If you’re unwilling or unable to identify and consciously acknowledge your negative behaviors, characteristics or life patterns, then you will not change them. (In fact, they will only grow worse and become more entrenched in your life.) You’ve got to face it to replace it. — Phillip McGraw
Why should Filipinos be so concerned about the way things are said about them?
They shouldn’t. Like many confident men and women that succeed, they should, as Ilda said, take criticism with a grain of salt–with graceful contemplation.
GRP says it all the time. It’s time the rest of Philippine society bite the bullet and ask themselves the hard questions why the BIR collects too much taxes from the taxpayers; why many Manila are roads still covered in black grime, piss and phlegm; why the ampaw politicians, the pickpockets and the muggers keep coming back; and why they have to admit that they are accountable for it.
Anu ba yan ang nega mo naman! Nuod na lang kami ng Eat Bulaga.
I guess Pinoys would rather feel good and content with the dirty society around them rather than feel bad and then put their foot down and admit. “No. I don’t like this, and this is my fault, my friends’ faults, and practically everyone in this society.” I guess they would rather believe their own lies instead of saying, “This shit has to stop.