Saturday, October 24, 2009

And on on the other side of the AdCon coin...

I have read the article on AdCon Overall Chair Margot Torres’ rationale on the decision to move this year’s Ad Congress to Subic, and while I still do not agree with the decision, I must admit I see their point.

For all of us up here, the reasons behind the AdCon pullout are baseless: students have gone back to school, the malls, restaurants, sidewalks, etc. are once again filled with people, transportation systems to and from Baguio have gone back to normalized. While we can still see evidences of Pepeng’s destruction in certain areas, things have certainly begun to normalize in the City of Baguio. With everything in place, add to that the hard work already put in by those directly involved, Baguio’s ready and very much capable to host the 21st AdCon. But sadly, that’s not how they see it.

Or more accurately, that’s not exactly how things are presented to the rest of the them over there 250 kilometers away. Examples:

Heard on a TV news report: “90% OF BAGUIO IS IN DANGER OF LANDSLIDES.” Ninety percent! From our house, I look at the five houses up the road and the other four down, and I’m thinking – which one of these ten houses would probably be left standing should a landslide occur? Out of the city’s 129 barangays, which 12 or 13 are lucky enough to be free from potential danger?

Net-izens are also talking about another news report that said residents of Crystal Cave were being evacuated, when according to someone who actually lives there only those whose houses happen to be situated on sinking areas are being asked to evacuate. But a whole barangay being evacuated does make for a better sound bite than just a few houses, doesn’t it?

Headline online: “PE√ĎALOSA OPENS HIS GYM TO PACQUIAO AS ‘RAMIL’ KOs BAGUIO CAMP.” KO as in knock out? I pass by Coyeesan Hotel Plaza, where Manny Pacquiao has spent the last few weeks training for his upcoming fight, I have even been buying supplies at the hardware store located there – the place pristine, fully-functional, in fact in our area it’s the only structure that continues to enjoy electricity even if there’s a blackout because of its industrial generator that can power the whole building.

Oct. 11 headline: “REPORT: RICE AT P60/KG, FUEL STOCK RUNS LOW IN BAGUIO CITY.” On that day, I went to the city market, and while there were some rice stalls that were obviously running low on stock, I bought 5 kilos of that “aroma” rice variety at 40/kilo. And while there were some gas stations that have closed down, I was able to fill up the car with P500 worth of gasoline.

The story that had “VICTIMS RELOCATE TO MANSION HOUSE” as headline turned out to be a mere photo op, and the supposed evacuees were allegedly sent back home as soon as the cameras stopped rolling. To add grave insult to grave injury, we even learned that some of those who were bused there to receive relief goods later found out that inside those bags were tattered rags.

That’s just the way it is… “dog bites man” takes the inside pages while “man bites dog” takes the front page. We all know that media relies on advertising for revenues, advertising is all about reaching as many people as possible, and sensational headlines promise a wider readership/viewership.

Think about it, why would the organizers go on with the planned staging of the 21st Advertising Congress in a city where according to the headlines, there’s only roughly five square kilometers of space that can be considered safe in this city with a total land area of 49 square kilometers? Or where a gym has been “knocked out,” which to me brings to mind the images of a collapsed building? Where prices of commodities have doubled? Where even the president’s official residence has been turned into an evacuation center?

So much has been said about this issue showing that this particular coin has more than just two sides, and I believe that one of those sides shows the ugly face of sensationalism in media as among the reasons for this brouhaha.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


And so the people behind the 21st Philippine Advertising Congress decided to ditch Baguio for Subic. This comes at a time when the city and its neighboring communities can really use some much needed push to rise up from the devastation caused by typhoon “Pepeng.” “Ito ang tama!,” a beer commercial says.

A number of reasons have been cited for this insensitive, selfish decision – the safety of their delegates, the much longer travel time to Baguio because of the damage to roads brought about by floods and landslides, etc. They gave up on us so easily, when these are the same people who told us, in a garments commercial, that “Impossible is nothing.”

“Is it in you?,” an energy drink slogan asks. Obviously, it’s not in them. It’s beyond them to walk the extra mile (or in this case, drive the extra few kilometers in their flashy SUVs) to really put some meaning to the words “Corporate Social Responsibility.” They sit behind those desks for hours waiting for that most memorable slogan to come to them so they can put a human face to that corporate logo, and then turn their backs on this real opportunity to really do something noble. Didn’t they tell us, in a car rental ad, that “We try harder?” No they don’t, and they won’t, in this case, they obviously didn’t.

Sure, some roads leading to Baguio are currently damaged, but didn’t you see the city rise from the ashes after the carpet bombing of the city during the liberation of Baguio from the Japanese, or get back on its feet after the 1990 earthquake? “We’ve got it all for you,” as that mall chain slogan says – a healthful climate, breathtaking scenery, efficient world-class facilities, and of course, the city’s greatest treasure: its warm, hospitable, friendly people.

Fine, “Have it your way,” as a burger joint tagline says. But really, can’t you take it from that ice cream brand slogan, “Follow your heart?” You people know how much help this congress will bring to the City of Baguio and its neighboring communities, how much it will boost the morale of its people struggling to get over the tragedy of losing their loved ones, their homes, their means of livelihood, and yet, just like that, you walk away from this opportunity to show us that those catchy one-liners aren’t just empty words. To paraphrase a softdrink brand slogan, “Magpakatotoo kayo!”

Well, at least now we know that there’s one slogan out there that you really do practice, “Think small,” as one compact car advertisement says. To the heartless people behind the 21st Philippine Advertising Congress who chose not to hear the pleas, turn a blind eye to the destruction, and not see this golden opportunity to show that they actually care at all, wala ba kayong “Haplos ng pagmamahal?” Because really, “It’s all in your hands.”

As for Baguio, I say “Nasa dugo lang ‘yan” and let’s “Just do it,” and “Keep walking.” We just need to “Think different.” Let’s “Fill the air with love” and soon, we shall see, to paraphrase that airline catchphrase, “The beauty of Baguio shining through.”

Baguio has the heart that’s “Simply amazing,” and that’s among “Some things money can’t buy.” “No more tears,” and believe in the “Power of dreams,” and start “Turning dreams into reality.” Baguio will soon get back on its feet, really, because, see...

... “I can feel it… yeah!”

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bringing out one of Baguio's greatest treasures (and it isn't the longest longganisa)

In the last 13 years since I made Baguio my permanent place residence, I have lived in various parts of the city – three times in three different houses in San Luis Village along Asin Road. During one really strong typhoon in 2001, San Luis was inundated with landslides, one of which brought down a house killing several persons. The house we were living in then was also hit by a landslide, but fortunately the slide, which buried the driveway in 3 feet of mud, stopped right at our doorstep. We didn’t have electricity for days and water was scarce since water delivery trucks couldn’t come near our house. This had the whole family carrying buckets and whatever else can contain water trooping down the road where there was a spring to collect water. But despite all that, at the height of the typhoon when I braved the weather to get some supplies from town, the sight of our Barangay officials armed with shovels and what-have-you immediately clearing out parts of the road that’s been blocked by a landslide, or evacuating families living in danger zones was comforting.

I must mention that I was also really impressed by then San Luis Barangay Captain Corazon Arizala. Back then, Kapitana, as almost everyone called her, was always seen out in the streets directing her people in cleaning up the Barangay, sweeping the streets, painting the sidewalks. On that stormy day 8 years ago, I saw her right in the middle of the street, her raincoat barely doing its job of keeping her dry, screaming at the top of her voice that there would be no merienda break yet for the volunteers who were clearing out the debris from the landslides for there they still had much to do. And then she proceeded to get her hands dirty by directly helping out in the clearing operation.

Seeing our barangay officials at work made tragedies such as what just befell our city a little bit more bearable.

Last week, even before Pepeng wreaked havoc in the city and while Ondoy was putting much of Metro Manila underwater, my wife was driving down Asin Road on her way home when suddenly there was a traffic build up just some meters from our house. A motorist on his way up the opposite way stopped and informed my wife that a landslide just blocked the road 50-100 meters down. When my wife reached our house, I got into the car to go to town, expecting traffic along Asin Road. But as soon as I got out of our driveway, I was surprised to see an empty road with hardly any cars in it. Curiously (just like any “usyosero”), I went down the road instead of up towards town to see exactly what happened, and there they were, just minutes after the landslide: San Luis’ valiant barangay officials (wasn’t sure if they were tanods or kagawads) and some volunteers shoveling mud and chopping down fallen tree branches out of the way. I believe Kapitana is not our current barangay chair anymore, but the tradition of public service that she initiated surely lives on.

Then Pepeng came and last Thursday. My wife and I were on our way to town to get some groceries and knowing that the kind of rain that the city was getting that day would certainly cause a lot of damage, we brought our cameras to document whatever came our way. At the bottom of Quezon Hill’s main road along Naguillian Road, the sight of the City Camp lagoon underwater made us stop to take photos of the area. Seeing that cars were still making their way down Queen of Peace, we decided to get a closer view and drove down towards the lagoon and on our way down, we saw several men in uniform yellow raincoats making their way down the same road. After taking more photos of the flood, we decided to go around town first to look around before making our way to the supermarket. Earlier that day, we heard that Marcos highway had been closed due to landslides and we saw video footages of the rampaging Balili river. Off to Marcos Highway, but after reaching the turning point in Green Valley, we were met with really heavy rains and strong winds that shook our car, so we decided to turn back towards the city. We proceeded to the area where the footage of a raging Balili was taken and we were really impressed by the presence of so many ambulances, rescue vehicles and police along KM 3 in La Trinidad. Balili frighteningly raged on but there they were, the city’s Samaritans, clearing our blocked roadways, assisting and evacuating people, sans tv cameras, sans relief goods with politicians’ names stuck to them.

This we can say: the damage Pepeng inflicted on Baguio will never get as much attention as the havoc Ondoy wreaked on Metro Manila. We didn’t have celebrities on rooftops waiting to be rescued, and that’s probably why while last week my Facebook wall was flooded with calls for donations and volunteers for relief operations to help the victims of Ondoy in Metro Manila, at the height of Pepeng in Northern Luzon, those same calls, this time to help victims in the Cordilleras, were buried under the usual clutter of Mafia Wars invitations and inane online quizzes.
Our deepest condolences go to the victims and their families up here, and our gratitude goes out to to the city’s rescue volunteers, the police and certain barangay officials who, as I said, helped a lot in making this calamity a little bit easier to bear.

But, if there’s a silver lining to all this, I must say that this tragedy brought out one of Baguio’s greatest treasures: its sense of community.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Baguio in the time of Pepeng

Naguillian Road, City Camp Lagoon, Marcos Highway, Government Loop, Session Road, Balili River... Oct. 8, 2009, around 4:30PM.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Realizing the dream of a vibrant Baguio theater scene

After squeezing in between students, parents and other local theater patrons, the simple yet imposing set greeted us as we entered the theater. This didn't come as a surprise knowing that the indefatigable duo of Baguio theater, Atty. Damaso and Mrs. Bing Bangaoet, was behind this production of “Joseph the Dreamer.” Known for theatrical presentations with impressive production values and as the driving force behind the renowned SLU-CCA in late 90's until the early years of 2000, the Bangaoets, in the past, brought to us the unforgettable productions of “Les Miserables,” “Miss Saigon” and Lynette Carantes-Bibal's “Adivay,” among others.

After a voice-over introduction, the cast of thousands entered (ok, that's an exaggeration, but that's how usually a cast the fills up the whole stage is referred to in theater), and we felt privileged to be seated in the front row. The opening number, “Praise His Name and See It Happen,” was strong, setting the tone for the rest of the performance. Among the notable performances that night was Ian Paolo Acosta's portrayal of “Benjamin.” His mastery and compelling delivery of the spoken text was matched by his impressive singing voice. He “conquered the stage,” so to speak, with his very strong stage presence.

That evening the title role was played by Baguio's Got Talent champion, Lloyd Celzo (who alternated with Jeff Coronado for the role of Joseph), and he breezed through the whole presentation with aplomb as expected of a veteran of countless musicales. The production was a collaborative effort between the UCCP-Baguio and SLU-CCA, and I am really hoping that UCCP-Baguio will from now on be a regular player in Baguio's theater scene with more heartwarming productions such as this.

Our very own group, Open Space, recently premiered its musical revue on the history of Baguio, “Kafagway: Sa Saliw ng ng Gangsa,” and will be doing a re-run on October 16. UP Baguio's CCA recently ended its month-long run of Baguio Stories. The newly formed Sentro ng Teatrong Pilipino will be staging a play called Rizal Side B this month. And hearing the warm applause during curtain call brought a big smile to my face for I thought, Baguio theater is indeed alive and kicking.

Congratulations to the cast and staff of “Joseph The Dreamer,” and to the rest of the city's theater artists… keep 'em coming!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Tempest on that pale blue dot

“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

Carl Sagan said that. He was talking about a photograph taken by that NASA space probe, Voyager 1. The photograph, perhaps unless explained to its viewer, may not make sense at first glance: a dark background with a scattering of tiny specks and a ray of light that runs vertically through the middle, and barely visible somewhere on that ray of light, is a pale blue dot: Earth. That space probe was launched in 1977, originally with the primary intention of visiting Jupiter and Saturn, but currently on an “extended mission to locate and study the boundaries of the universe.” Upon Sagan’s constant prodding, and after completing its primary mission, on Valentine’s Day, 1990, NASA decided to command the probe to turn around for the last time and take a photograph of our home from 3.7 billion miles away. And there was home… “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

It does put things in a different perspective, doesn’t it? Zoom in on that blue planet, zoom in further on the biggest continent in that planet, and zoom in even more on that collection of roughly 7,000 islands – somewhere in those islands, in a place they call Metro Manila, hundreds died and thousands were left homeless.

A weather disturbance that occurs here and there and every now and then on this pale blue dot brought in so much rain which resulted in unprecedented flooding in the area. It was, on that Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009, a great equalizer. It did not spare anyone, it did not choose between rich and poor, good and bad: powerful politicians, celebrities, common folk, it didn’t matter. Everyone was helpless.

You may think so highly of your position in government, or your popularity as a celebrity, but in the eye of “Ondoy,” you’re just one of billions of this mote of dust’s inhabitants, and in that instant your life mattered just as much as your neighbor’s noisy mongrel. So the next time you are deluded into believing that you are so great and powerful, privileged and untouchable, remember that during that one stormy day, you felt the same way everyone else did: small and powerless against the power of… what? Just a combination of some amount of warm and cold air spinning in one direction and coming your way.

After collecting donations and distributing all those relief goods (go ahead, put a sticker with your name on it if that makes you feel good about yourself), after caring for someone other than yourself for one brief moment, and after getting our lives back together again, remember that just some hundreds of meters above and your face cannot be recognized anymore. A few kilometers away from earth and your home cannot be distinguished from everyone else’s. Just a little beyond the earth’s atmosphere and you’re not even a dot anymore. And from 3.7 billion miles away?

Carl Sagan further said, “The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate… Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand… It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”

There’s something, someone, out there that, who, is so much bigger than you are and will ever be. Call it what you want… I believe it’s God. And if there’s one lesson that can be learned from all this, for me it’s this: Remember your place in this universe. There’s so many ways you can make your short visit on this pale blue dot matter.

Think about it.