Saturday, December 11, 2010

Broken Cane and Dreams

I never really thought much about what dreams meant before, except those that almost ushered me out of this world – bangungot. I get those a lot. 

For those who are lucky enough not to know what I’m talking about, it’s usually like this: the dream begins just like any other dream, then it slowly gets weirder and weirder and scarier and scarier and then you find yourself, in the dream, in a situation where you’re either being choked, strangled, suffocated, and then you start having a hard time breathing, then you’re there somewhere between two dimensions – the dream and real life, and in both places, you can’t breathe. The dream continues, with you not being able to take in air, you’re aware of that, and in real life not only are you not breathing, you also can’t move. To hell with Big Bang theorists, but I am grateful that I am naturally equipped with self-preservation instincts, and I believe that that’s by intelligent design – in the dream I start trying to get myself out of that situation that’s preventing me from taking in air, and in real life my body’s doing everything to wake itself out of the dream. 

A lot of times, I wake up just in time. I know that if I stayed in that in between state for a few more seconds, I’m outta here.

It’s Nightmare on Elm St., the reality show. I’ve gotten so used to these nightmares that at times, lying in bed waiting to fall asleep,  I know if I’m gonna have one that night. I remember one particular nightmare I had years ago. I wasn’t living here in Baguio yet, but was staying at one of those old cottages in Camp John Hay just before they bulldozed those down in the late 90’s to make way for those luxury log cabins up in Scout Hill. We were shooting a film here and I was sharing a two-bed room with a fellow actor. It was one of those times when I felt like I was gonna have one when I fall asleep. Sure enough, after staring at the ceiling for some time, I fell asleep, and in my sleep, I dreamt that I was staring at the same ceiling, in the same room, in the same bed. It was as if the what was happening to me in real life was moved into a different dimension – just like a touring play where they the whole stage set-up to a different venue for the next show. Suddenly, a woman appeared through the ceiling, grabbed me by the collar and started pulling me up towards the ceiling. The sensation of levitating was so real, then I looked down and saw my roommate across the room, sound asleep in his bed, and myself (my other self?), asleep,  right below me. Then it came – I started having difficulty breathing and when I looked down at myself again, I saw my body struggling for air. I (the one being pulled up towards the celing) tried to scream, but no sound came out. I remember ordering my body to make a sound loud enough to make my roommate wake up. Then I realized, that I, up there, and I, down there, are one, though at the time mysteriously separated. And I thought, I, up there, may not be heard by my roommate screaming for I, up there, is in another dimension, but if I try hard enough, my actions up there can move my body down there to do the same. Did that confuse you? It was so clear to me that night. Then, after struggling for a few more seconds, I, up there, actually heard myself, down there, scream, it was loud enough to wake my roommate up. I actually heard the sound, saw my roommate being roused, seeing me, getting up, walking towards my body down there, and shaking it and then I woke up, gasping for breath. I up there and my body down there were one again.

I wake up in the middle of the night a lot, gasping for breath. Medical websites tell me it’s sleep apnea. So perhaps the bad dreams were just coincidental. I for sure am still now sure whether it’s the sleep apnea that triggers the nightmares or the other way around. Then lately, during these episodes, I realize that dreams aren’t nightmares anymore, rather seemingly regular dreams of open spaces, sunsets, smiles, laughter, trees, loved ones - and yet I still find myself in between dimensions – in a dream not being able to breathe, and here in this world, paralyzed in bed, unable to move nor make a sound, struggling to stay alive, or here.

It’s been almost a year since I injured my knee, I tore a ligament, according to a couple of doctors I consulted. It’s gotten better several times, and I’ve re-injured it as many times. My wife bought me a cane a few months back when I started really having a hard time walking. I’d pick that cane up every now and then whenever I twist my knee the wrong way again finding myself unable to walk unaided. The other night, I dreamt about that cane being broken in half. Oddly enough, the mere sight of the broken cane in my dream brought me to that half-asleep, half-awake state again, unable to breathe.

Luckily, for the nth time, I woke up just in time to catch my breath. I found it hard to go back to sleep that night, thinking about that broken cane in my dream and though I’ve formed my own conjecture, the next day, instead of my usual morning fare of coffee, cigarettes and browsing Facebook for anything interesting happening on and beyond my computer monitor, I found myself searching the world wide web for anything that could tell me what it meant, or maybe confirm my speculation.

Typing in “search: ‘broken cane dreams’” brought me to which told me that, “To see or use a cane in your dream, suggests that you are in need of some support and advice. The cane may also represent someone you trust and can rely on.” I thought so, it’s pretty obvious what a cane may represent.

Let’s see, what are the canes in my life?

Family – my children, my wife. My life revolves around them. And while I do all I can to provide for them, it’s really me who lean on them a lot. To rephrase an oft-quoted line from a movie, “they complete me,” in so many ways.

Family – my parents, two surviving grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins. At the end of the day, they let me know that I’m not alone in this journey, that I belong.

My art – in all the forms I express it. And like the ripples a tiny pebble makes in the vast ocean, my art lets me know that I matter in this universe.

Friends – all of them, all my life. From that friend I sang songs all afternoon up a tamarind tree as a child; and 
the one I fashioned masks with to fight all evil and become superheroes; and that one with whom I crossed that threshold between childhood and being a grown-up; and the rest who remained and the ones who left and returned. And yes, even those who believed bridges were burned, if only they knew that in certain cases, some of them never actually needed a bridge in the first place to get to the door, which, for better or worse, never really closes.

So what’s with the dream? A broken cane – not some manananggal strangling me, nor was it anything remotely scary at all, yet how come that image turned into a nightmare that left me almost out of breath?

And if it did mean what it supposedly meant, which cane in my life was it about? Ahh, there you go, see, breaking any one of those canes is indeed more terrifying than anything else in and out of this world.

Did I break the heart of a loved one, a friend? Did I compromise the integrity of my art in some way?

The broken knee has gotten better, since I hurt it, sigh, again, a couple of weeks ago. After a day with a cane, I can do without it again. Whenever this damned knee gets better, I always feel like I will never have any real use for that cane again. It gets tucked away somewhere out of sight, neglected, forgotten. And then something happens, and I find myself almost totally helpless without it.

I must take care of that cane, no matter what, for better or worse. Not only because I may need it again sometime in the future, but also if only to show my gratitude for all the times it propped me up when I’m down, or helped me move on, climb up steps or get down on my knees. 

It’s comforting to know that as long as I catch my breath, when I wake up, a cane’s there to always help me get out of bed. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

One less car

*a repost of my Nov. 21 column in the Cordillera Today

The signs say – “Motorcycle and Bicycle Ban Along Session Road Is Strictly Implemented. Violators Will Be Apprehended.”

In recent days, police visibility along Session Road has multiplied, particularly during afternoon rush hour. I’m sure this will help drive away so-called petty criminals such as pickpockets and snatchers (hopefully out of the city, and not just a couple of blocks away from the heart of the city), it’s quite obvious that their top priority is the apprehension of motorcyclists in the area as two-wheeled vehicles are banned along Session Road. I am wondering though if this only applies to private (i.e. non-commercial) motorcyclists as the delivery morotcyles of the numerous fastfood restaurants there are still around at all hours of the day. They’re the ones who should be banned for I am sure I am not alone when I say that a lot of these fastfood deliverymen are notoriously reckless with their motorcyles, weaving in and out of traffic dangerously, swerving between lanes carelessly, making u-turns at pedestrian lanes, etc.  I believe the among the reasons for the ban are the added noise and air pollution these two-stroke engines produce.

And now, I just learned, that there is also a bicycle ban in place too. Er, huh?
While the rest of the sensible world, in this age of ozone layer depletion and global warming, are advocating the use of bicycles as an environment-friendly, not to mention healthy, alternative to oil-powered modes of transportation, here we are banning its use. Just a few weeks ago the debate was how to reduce air pollution at least within the Central Business District, now the talks are about why were discouraging one of the things that can actually help do just that. For every cyclist prevented from bringing his bike to Session Road, that’s one more commuter who would be forced to either ride a smoke-belching jeepney or taxi to get to the center of town.   

One of the comments in an online forum said that the ban is actually anti-poor, for while those who can afford to buy motor vehilces can freely drive around town, it deprives those who can only afford to buy a bicycle their right to use the city’s roads. That’s also true.  

So instead of promoting, encouraging the use of an alternative more of transportation that can help ease the traffic congestion, air and noise pollution along Session Road – they ban it. Just like that.

How did such a ban come about? I really don’t know what the rationale behind it is. But take a look at our city officials – top to bottom – do any of them bike? Right.

You want to ease traffic along Session Road? How many vehicles parked and double-parked along that road carry only one person? Can you imagine if most of those persons rode bikes instead? How much less space their parked bicycles would occupy?

And I write this column after seeing a photo in of our local newspapers of a police officer removing the license plate of a vehicle apparently belonging to our good congressman for double parking alone Session Road.

Ay, apo.

It’s two-way street: look both ways

*a repost of my Nov. 14 column in the Cordillera Today

In one of our performances of a play here in Baguio years ago at a school gymnasium, there was a group of students who obviously did not come to watch a show but to be the show instead. While the show was going on, they kept on heckling, making unnecessary noises, doing all they can to disrupt the performance and catch attention. After some time, I stopped in the middle of a line, dropped the character, and addressed the audience directly. I apologized for the disruption, and for not being able to go on with the performance anymore due to the aforementioned group’s behavior. I then turned my attention to the attention-seekers and reminded them that for P50.00, the price of the ticket to the show, they only earned the privilege to experience a theatrical presentation, and not the right to disrespect both the artists and the rest of the members of the audience.  That’s what our posters and other advertising materials promised: buy the ticket, and you can come in and watch the performance, and for our part, we commit to professionally perform with all our hearts and minds. While we do remind our audiences during performances that they cannot eat, drink nor smoke during the show, we did not have a dress-code written at the back of those tickets, neither did we need to specify that they should not disrupt the show. Common sense dictated those.

I am reminded of this incident now as I read about the incident at the Manila Hotel where one Moshe Dacmeg was prevented from entering the premises because he was not wearing the appropriate attire for the occasion. That occasion, dubbed “Embracing Our Common Humanity, had the former U.S. President Bill Clinton as speaker. First arriving at the venue wearing more conventional clothing, after breezing through the entrance to the hotel, Dacmeg later changed into a traditional Cordillera g-sting which prompted the event’s coordinators, as well as the U.S. Secret Service assigned to Clinton, to deny him entry. Tickets to the event did not come cheap, with most expensive pegged at P25,000.00 and general admission at P2,000.00.

The online community is expectedly again filling up with outrage and hate messages, most decrying the perceived “discrimination” that Dacmeg suffered, particularly atthe hands of white men that were members of Clinton’s security detail. Ifugao representative Teodoro Baguilat reportedly said “a man in a g-string is not a terrorist but an honorable man,” and asked, “Why? Does wearing G-string constitute a threat to Clinton?”  Mr. Vladimir Cayabas, administrator of the National Institute of Information Technology (NIIT) and to whom Mr. Dacmeg was reported to be an aide, also said, “We went there using our tribal gear to represent our region. We went there to participate and learn, and not to be labeled as terrorists or suspects.”

I don’t think that Dacmeg was prevented from entering because he was perceived as a threat to Mr. Clinton, or suspected of being a terrorist. I simply think that they (the organizers and the Secret Service) never expected to encounter a half-naked man at the event. Nope, they were not being disrespectful towards indigenous cultures and traditions, they most probably had no idea that what he was a wearing was a traditional Kankanaey attire. To them, he was simply dressed inappropriately for an event where people were expected to attend dressed in more conventional attire. Mr. Dacmeg was asked if he could at least put on a shirt, to which the reply was that putting on a shirt would dishonor g-string, and that the g-string “must never be mixed with other attire”, according to Mr. Cayabas. But he did later say, reportedly, that “it was cold so I allowed Moshe to finally wear the shirt.” Among my memories of Sagada are old men in g-strings and coats walking around town.

Bottom line is, it was Clinton’s, their, show - their show, their rules. In the same way as when they come to yours – your show, your place, your rules. While we must respect all cultures and traditions, indigenous or otherwise, we must also not impose our own on others. A lot of establishments here in Baguio would not allow a person wearing only a g-string to enter their premises too, you know. 

Respect is a two-way street. We must always look both ways before holding up a placard and shouting, “Damaso.”

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Crazy in love

It’s the morning after but their voices are still ringing in my ears. I like it.

Baguio Apaches Rudy Paraan and Rae David  / Photo by Jojo Lamaria
Of course we got the usual quips like, are these guys from Manila? It’s really so annoying, and sad, when our performers get asked that after a show. But you really can’t blame the people who do that for more often than not, institutions in the city ignore local artists and turn to Manila whenever they need performers for their events. That’s why it’s no surprise when they see something good onstage in Baguio, they instantly think the artists must be from elsewhere but here. For those who have been following Panagbenga’s new tradition of staging grand musicals at the Burnham Lake top-billed by Manila artists, last night’s performance was no Phantom nor Camelot on the Lake, as far as grandiose sets and costumes and production budget are concerned. But sheer talent and artistry more than made up for it.

Raye Baquirin / photo by Charm Simbajon
It was during the frenzy of Session Road in Bloom when couples Rey & Deb Bautista and Dammy & Bing Bangaoet opened Marien Platz at the basement of La Azotea earlier this year. While most patrons came and saw a cozy little café that served German sausages and beer, we in Open Space, a group of performing artists in Baguio, saw a potential performance space.  While the idea of having performances there has been brought up from day one, which is expected since the owners have been at the forefront of the local arts and culture scene all their lives, elections and the later the daily struggle of local artists to make rent and put food on the table got in the way of conceptualizing, planning and putting something together. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, we came up with the idea of an evening of songs from hit Broadway musicals, but there were still logistical and technical concerns to tackle: lights and sound equipment, budget, performers’ availability, etc.

A couple of weeks ago, I finally decided to just go ahead with it with eyes closed and fingers crossed – I sent text messages to the group to ask if they would be willing to perform in a musical revue at Marien Platz. Merely minutes later, I received favorable replies from three artists. Within the next hour, I have come up with a design for a poster which I posted immediately online, and a tentative repertoire of about a dozen songs. By the end of the day, eight have confirmed their participation, and more songs were added to the repertoire. By the time we had our first meeting, we had 12 performers and 30 songs to rehearse. We agreed on a rehearsal date – a couple of days before the show, and by the end of that rehearsal, four more songs were added.

Robert Capuyan, Jr. / photo by Charm Simbajon
Pardon me if I’m gloating about local artists again, I know I do that a lot here. And they deserve it. Their dedication, professionalism and love for the craft never fail to amaze me. At rehearsals, after convincing everyone that we can pull off a rendition of “One Day More” from Les Miserables even with only one rehearsal, Lloyd Celzo showed up with handwritten notes for everyone at rehearsals. Jeff Coronado’s passion for singing shone when he opened the show with “Love Changes Everything.” The Cats suite had Eunice Caburao surprising even herself with a masterful performance of Macavity; Ryle Danganan hit those notes in “Memory” effortlessly; and Roman Ordoña delivered an engaging performance with “Mr. Mistoffelees.” Raye Baquirin, who arrived in Baguio just the night before, conquered the stage with her first solo of the night, “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” while Open Space veteran Russell de Guzman sang “Sunset Boulevard” with utmost sincerity. The audience hushed as Ro Quintos beautifully sang the first lines of the duet, “All I Ask of You,” which Lloyd Virgo complemented with his powerful baritone. Lloyd Celzo, as expected, flawlessly breezed through “Music of the Night.” Dennis Gutierrez sang “Rain” from “Once On This Island” with much power and conviction. Arkhe Sorde Salcedo and Robert Capuyan, Jr. brought the house down with their “Jesus Christ Superstar” solos, while Claude Danganan had the group of Baguios Apaches Rey Bautista, Rudy Paraan and Rae David dancing and singing along with his rendition of “Hair.” 

Last night, the audience filled every inch of space in Marien Platz. Later, as we were packing up the sound system that was generously lent by our musical director, Ethan Andrea Ventura, for the show, and after a few glasses of wine and beer and chicken liver kilawin, after singing a total of 35 songs, we all took a deep breath and decided, yes, we would love to do this again.
Photo by Jojo Lamaria
See, we’re just a bunch of people in love… we all fell in love with this crazy world called theater, and as Jeff Coronado sang that night, “Yes, love, love changes everyone. Live or perish in its flame. Love will never, never let you be the same.”

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lost and Found in Natonin

The saddest thing is that when I first came here six years ago, the roads were in exactly the same condition. It took an hour to cover 10 meters six years ago, it took us an hour, or so, to cover 10 kilometres now. The good thing is that the place itself looked almost exactly the same as it did 6 years ago.
We arrived in Paracelis, Mt. Province, on our way to the next town, Natonin, last night after close to ten hours on the road from Baguio. We were advised by friends at our stopover not to even attempt to bring the same van we arrived in on to Natonin, there’s no way it can make it. We first thought of going against their advise, but luckily we heeded it in the end, and hired a tried and tested local jeepney to take us to our final destination.
To cover a distance of a little over 22 kilometres, it took us three hours. Four of us from our entourage of academics, artists, journalists and NGO workers sat on the roof. But of course. So in the darkness of a Mt. Province evening, we made our way, over rocks, mud, rushing waters and in the case of us on the roof, protruding branches. 
I joined the trip mainly because of our NGO worker-friend, an adopted son of the town who’s been working hard to help in the town’s development, and who’s been raving  about the town for the past few months. I dragged another friend to help me document the trip on video and in photos. We arrived late at night so I still had no idea what our friend has been raving about. After a hearty, albeit incongruous, dinner of paksiw na bangus, we hit the sack, hoping to wake up at the crack of dawn.
Dawn cracks rather early in these parts that by 6AM the sun was already brightly shining. I asked around for the best spot to get a panoramic view of the town, and we were accompanied by a good Samaritan to a place called To’or – a hill right in the middle of the valley. We could see that hill from where we were staying and I figured it couldn’t be that far – perhaps a 10-15 minute walk. But there are no straight lines here, so the winding uphill trek to the view deck actually took an hour or so, and this Baguio City slicker hasn’t been on a trail in a very long time – I think it took longer to catch my breath than the actual trek.
But it was worth it. Still and video cameras and tripods on our backs, we reached the top of the hill and there, in 360 degrees, the beauty of Natonin unfolded before us. It wasn’t the thought of another hour‘s trek that made me prolong this fool’s stay on top that hill but rather the golden morning rays on brilliant shades of green painted on mountain sides, rice terraces, tree tops, occasionally interrupted by huts that housed the land’s bounty. So this was Natonin, perhaps among the Cordilleras’ best kept secret havens.
The walk back to the town center was much more pleasant. The people we said good morning to on our way to the hill were still where they were on our way back: the mothers sunning their babies; the store keeper who was preparing her shop for the day earlier was now attending to the day’s first clients; the man shovelling dirt out of the way on the road was now taking his first break chewing moma under a shade. We were particularly amused by the numerous lost and found signs on the walls of several sari-sari stores: lost and found money, lost and found bag, lost and found pustiso. Yup, someone must have left his false teeth at that store the previous night.
I figured, nothing gets lost here. In Natonin, whatever it is you lost, it will find its way back to you. I would love to find my way back here some time again soon.
And I think I wouldn’t mind if things remain as they are here for the next six, or 20 years.

Free admission

The group has been known primarily as an independent theater group based in Baguio. For the past 14 years, we told stories – from that very first production of a performance art piece called “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll” in 1996 to last year’s paean to the City of Baguio called “Kafagway, Sa Saliw Ng Mga Gangsa.”

In between telling stories onstage, we’ve shared what we can with children from various communities in the Cordilleras to help them tell their own stories.

In recent years, as our family grew with the entry of artists from other artistic fields, we’ve branched out to other forms of creative expression – photography, music, film and literature. We’ve put together a portrait of Baguio with “Portrait of a Hill Station,” a documentary on this beautiful city’s history,  a compilation of original musical compositions with “Pag-ibig Sa Tinubuang Lupa,” several photo exhibits, and a few feature articles and original scripts. We’ve made ourselves available to fellow theater artists who needed and asked for our support, and performed for the love of Baguio (as most local impresarios would call it when there’s no budget for professional fees).

We’ve performed to an audience of 5,000 excited, boisterous students at gymnasiums. We’ve performed to an audience of five serious, supportive, critical peers in an art gallery. We’ve told our stories in Baguio, Beguet, Ilocos, La Union, Pangasinan, Batangas and Manila; through plays, music, photographs, moving pictures; at conventions, anniversaries, weddings, festivals, exhibit openings and book launchings.

We treated each storytelling opportunity the way whether it’s a big budgeted production or gratis, that never mattered, perhaps the reason why we lasted this long.

We believed in the Baguio artist, and we did all we can to put them on a pedestal, to honor them, respect them, help uplift the local performing arts scene for them, for it broke our heart every time we see them forced to set aside their God-given talents for nursing or call-center jobs. And with this group, admission's free - the door has always been wide open to anyone who believed in him or herself, and who’s in love with this wonderful thing called art.

Now, almost a year since the last curtain call, we’ll try to get together once again for an evening of more stories, we’ll try to gather as many storytellers as possible, and we’ll tell as many stories as we can. For the truth is, we can’t help but think every time we go up on that stage if there’ll ever be another opportunity to tell another one tomorrow. Nothing big on the night of October 29, 2010 at Marien Platz at the basement of La Azotea Bldg. on Session Road, just a lot of songs and laughter and love. And a lot of songs.

So what is this group called Open Space? A theater company?  A production outfit? A studio? A workshop? Since I first decided to make Baguio my home in 1996, making it Open Space’s too in the process, we have always ended our written communication with, “in our journey to provide an alternative form of entertainment that consistently presents relevant social and cultural issues, we shall remain, yours sincerely.” Open Space is a concept, a family of artists, a venue for artistic expression. What we do is simple - we agree on an idea, we gather like-minded/hearted souls and together, we go out there to express idea that we believe must be communicated to an audience.   

And for most of the last 14 years, we performed mostly for the sake of performing. Why? Sometimes, I believe, to borrow from a monologue from “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll,”  ‘just to make sure we’re really alive.’
So one more time, with feelings – October 29, 2010 at Marien Platz along Session Road: “Broadway Session.” That’s a Friday night. Admission’s free.      

Saturday, October 2, 2010

“But even enemies can show respect”

They say it was bold, creative, fantastic, funny, brilliant. True. But it was also wrong. Pardon me for not jumping on the bandwagon praising famed storyteller/tour guide/performance artist Carlos Celdran’s  daring coup at the Manila Cathedral when he barged in during a mass dressed as Jose Rizal and holding up a placard that simply said, “Damaso,” to protest the Catholic Church’s stance on the RH Bill issue.

from PDI: Holding up a placard with the word Damaso on it, tourist guide Carlos Celdran screams at the clergy to get out of politics during Mass at Manila Cathedral. Damaso, an abusive Spanish friar, is immortalized in Rizal’s “Noli me Tangere.” EDWIN BACASMAS
I believe, though, that the Catholic Church, or any other church for that matter, has no business dipping its long and many hands into politics (besides, they have enough of that within their organization already). The constitution prohibits that. The Philippines is not a Catholic country (even qualifying that statement with “predominantly” may not even be accurate anymore). I believe that the Reproductive Health bill should be passed – I’d rather have health professionals and educators introduce our children to reproductive health and sex education instead of pop songs, internet porn and TV shows and commercials.

I also believe that Celdran should be released, not even be charged – it’s just wrong for him to be in jail while Romeo Jalosjos isn’t; while priests found to have committed pedophilia are merely suspended by the church or transferred to another diocese. The government has pardoned a plunderer, it cannot justify keeping someone like Celdran incarcerated.  But…

…see, some of those inside the Manila Cathedral that day were simply to pray, get closer to God. Perhaps one or two were praying for forgiveness, for the soul of a departed loved one, for salvation. Not everyone inside that church that day were either pro or anti-RH bill, some of them perhaps don’t care about it at all, so I will play the party pooper and stand by my opinion that while the cause is a very worthy one, there are other ways. Lest I be accused of not seeing the bigger picture, I just want to say that that bigger picture does not justify the blatant disrespect for others' religious beliefs and their right to practice those beliefs and worship in peace. Not all Catholics support their Church's stand on the RH issue, in the same way that not all Muslims participated in or supported the 9/11 bombing of WTC and other acts of terrorism perpetuated by extremists.  Barging into a mosque wearing a Salman Rushdie mask and holding up a placard that says "Khomeini,” or wearing a ski mask with a placard that says “Abu Sayyaf,” isn’t right too. Nor is having an animal rights activist gate crash an ongoing cañao dressed as Bambi to protest the slaughter of dogs for meat. Ok, now that’s ridiculous. Or is it, really?

The RH bill is a big deal, and religious freedom is too, and Celdran’s freedom to express his beliefs ends where the freedom of another to practice his or hers without being harassed or violated begins. Considering all churches and Catholics fair game in one’s advocacy against their leaders is no different from persecuting all Muslims for the acts of extremists, or all Americans for their government’s atrocities, or all Filipinos for that botched hostage rescue attempt at the Quirino Grandstand. Oh wait, that’s already happening in Hongkong and mainland China, right? And didn’t we cry foul?  

I posted these thoughts on a social networking site and got this reply: “religion ang umpisa ng lahat ng gulo dito sa mundo... f**k them all.” Be careful now.

As Priam said to Achilles in the movie, Troy, “You're still my enemy tonight. But even enemies can show respect.”   

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The House Always Wins

The promise is this: risk a small amount for a chance at a fortune. One for a thousand, 10 for a hundred thousand, a hundred for a million. The “less small” the amount risked, the bigger the potential earnings. In the land where the majority have less, with no clear chance at having more in the horizon, next to leaving the country, gambling provides the most promise at a better life. Gambling lords have a better chance at striking gold in this country than in one where the life is so much easier. And people get addicted to it believing that they can beat the odds.

Here’s the catch – while the gambler can believe all he wants that he can beat the odds, the gambling lord designs his business in a way that the house always wins. Otherwise, what’s the point, right? And that is the point - the house always wins, whatever design that house may have: a slot machine or a black jack table at a casino, a bingo social for a church benefit, a neighborhood mahjong-an, a sports arena that’s actually a sabungan, or hidden jueteng operations.

And if the house wins, who loses? That’s right.

Baguio Mayor Mauricio Domogan, at left. Photo by Jojo Lamaria.

And in these houses, who are home? The owners of course. Parents who run it and make sure it runs smoothly and that the end result is achieved: the house wins. Then there are the children who help with the household chores – card dealers, bet collectors, etc. And if it’s an illegal gambling operation such as Jueteng, the children run the bigger risk of getting in trouble with the law, they’re the ones who are out there in the streets, in alleyways at the market, passageways in between shanties, collecting coins and dreams. And the parents? Well, they’re safe behind the walls of the house, away from view, away from trouble. And the children get their paltry allowances every single day, and the parents get to keep the rest.

And if the children get in trouble, it compromises the whole house, so they do exert efforts to keep their children safe – by buying out the trouble, in this case, the law enforcers. Now this is a tricky undertaking: you pay off the foot soldiers, you will have to pay off the ones commanding them. You pay off the commanders, you will have to pay off the ones supervising them. You pay off the supervisors, and the money will have to somehow reach higher and higher up. There’s so much coins to go around, anyway, coins that put together can make for quite a comfortable house, buy guns for protection, and souls to play with like puppets. 

In the meantime, dreamers’ dreams remain unrealized. Maybe they do get a taste of comfort thanks to some winnings that will buy a lechon manok for the day and a few pirated videoke DVDs to sing the blues away for a few days. But at the end of the day, they still live in a shanty on borrowed land.

The rich don’t play jueteng, they don’t need to, they eat six times a day and do not have to line up for a jeep ride home in the rain. Their children go to schools in crisp, clean uniforms and on weekends they can all watch a 3D flick at the mall.

So never mind what the political implications are of having the name of our good Mayor dragged  into this whole jueteng mess, this will only result in efforts to “clear his name.” Never mind empty pronouncements such as “I have created a task force to address the problem,” or “I am directing our police force to go after all forms of illegal gambling,” etc., these are nothing more than space fillers for newspapers. Never mind cheap political tricks like “maybe they were referring to the previous administration,” it’s really cheap. And don’t blame the dreamers by saying “e kung wala namang nagsusugal wala namang magpapasugal” - they’re hungry, and desperate, and the government has failed to give them hope. For us to believe the denials, all you need to do is to eradicate jueteng, and maybe the way to go is to make this city a place where people can realize their dreams, a place where honest, hard work is rewarded with just compensation. Make it possible for its people to become heroes and realize their full potential as human beings. Show them that graft, corruption, unlawfulness and immorality are wrong, and not the norm. And all of this can only happen with principled, clean and honest public service.

Give them hope.

With that, the house of cards would come tumbling down, and the city and its people will win, finally.  

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Haunted Tree

If only the rest of Baguio’s pine trees were like the concrete one that once proudly stood at the top of Baguio’s most popular thoroughfare, insulting people’s sensibilities for years. Why? Nothing can kill it. It never dies. Not even with sledge and jack hammers and wrecking balls. As the song says, “they stab it with their steely knives but they just can’t kill the beast.”

Due process is what it’s all about, said city’s father during a press conference -- that thing was government property, and you don’t just get rid of it without going through the proper process. I’m sure they can show proof that the construction of the concrete pine tree actually went though “due process,” But I doubt if it can be said though that it went through some thought process. He lambasted the people behind the stone installation that replaced their beloved “monument to corruption,” as another former Mayor called it, for not coming out in the open to take credit for putting it up. He even said that perhaps ghosts put those up. One day the concrete pine tree was there, gone the next, replaced by something the good janitor says he doesn’t even know represents what.

Just for the record, the days after the concrete pine tree was replaced, the news was all over local media. Local cable TV hosts and their guests alternately praised and ridiculed it, so did columnists and radio commentators, and it was all over the local papers. It wasn’t ghosts that did it, it was “designed and executed by a group of volunteer architects and engineers headed by Architect Elvis Palicdon, local sculptor Gilbert Gano and other Baguio residents who contributed to this effort by lending a hand, sharing their thoughts and donating in kind whatever they could to help make this project a success,” according to a news report. The same press releases also said that “The stone pillars symbolized the eight commissioners of the 2nd Philippine Commission that held its sessions in 1904.” So unless our government officials don’t read the papers, or watch TV, or listen to the radio, I doubt if they really don’t know how the installation came to be. But then again, maybe they only watch, read or listen to what they want to see or hear.

As to which is “better,” the concrete pine tree that had a sign that said “plant me, protect me,” or Gano’s installation-art piece, it's a matter of taste, I guess. The only way to find out how the community really feels about it is to hold a plebiscite. We don’t want to go that far. But as to the artistic value of the art work, perhaps the artist should have spoon-fed his audience by actually making life-size realistic representations of the commissioners, ala Madam Tussauds’, then they wouldn’t have to use thought process and their imagination to appreciate the work – there’s evidence that those two do not flow abundantly inside that building filled with people who call themselves honorable. 

There are so many talking points about this issue that I don’t know where to begin – but allow me to focus on one: how it amazes me to see elected officials passionately defending that concrete pine tree, while real trees do not get the same amount of concern from these same people, some of whom even caused the demise of living, air-cleansing, life-sustaining trees. While we’re still talking about the demise of their beloved concrete tree, these are yesterday’s news, forgotten, hardly talked about:

-          Pine trees felled to make way for an unnecessary flyover
-          Pine trees murdered to make way for log cabins (built using “imported logs” – ahhh, the irony)
-          Government allows the “transplantation” of around 400 trees to accommodate the expansion of an industrial site, knowing that the last time a mass relocation of trees was done in the city, it only had a 15% success rate, meaning that potentially around 340 of those trees will die

Now why can’t some of our elected officials show the same concern for these trees as they do for that damned concrete pine tree?

Or maybe it’s not the famous tree in Loakan that’s really haunted, it seems like the concrete pine tree harbored more ghosts than any other -- and it looks like it will continue to haunt us for a while longer.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Take it easy... and be careful

If you’re an artist, particularly a male one who wears your hair long, sadly, for the rest of us, you probably smoke pot. And if you happen to live in Baguio, then the odds get higher, this city unfortunately being known, especially by out-of-towners, to be a source of cheap, good quality toinks, as some locals call it. Not entirely true of course, but also not an entirely unjustified presumption. Having a good number of artists who in fact cannot function without a head, a high, does not help disprove that notion, and having a good number of that good number justifying (usually rather passionately) their need for some mind alteration to exist at all just does it. Though I must say that the need to be high to be creative is not unlike Barry Bonds risking shrinking his family jewels and inflating his head with performance enhancing drugs – it’s plain cheating.
But hey, I don’t blame them, nor do I judge them. I’m just lucky enough to have legal substances as my addictions – cigarettes, coffee and the occasional fermented stuff, preferably bourbon. And don’t get me wrong, unlike Bill Clinton, I did inhale, and again, luckily for me, I never really liked it.

I have heard the justifications all my life: that alcohol is actually more dangerous than marijuana; that drunks are more likely to commit violence than those high on grass; cannabis sativa is organic while alcohol manufacturers put all sorts of poison in their brews; etc. Here’s another one from “Marijuana is psychoactive because it stimulates certain brain receptors, but it does not produce toxins that kill them (like alcohol), and it does not wear them out as other drugs may. There is no evidence that marijuana use causes brain damage.” The website also claims that “There is no existing evidence of anyone dying of a marijuana overdose. Tests performed on mice have shown that the ratio of cannabinoids (the chemicals in marijuana that make you high) necessary for overdose to the amount necessary for intoxication is 40,000:1.”  And further adds that “For comparison's sake, that ratio for alcohol is generally between 4:1 and 10:1. Alcohol overdoses claim approximately 5,000 casualties yearly, but marijuana overdoses kill no one as far as any official reports.” You want to know more about the benefits of marijuana? Well, what better website to visit than, on whose homepage is a welcome note that says “the Physical benefits of marijuana are far-reaching, widespread, and long-term?”

On the other hand, another website,, claims that “Within a few minutes after smoking marijuana, the heart begins beating more rapidly and the blood pressure drops,” and that “Because of the lower blood pressure and higher heart rate, researchers found that users' risk for a heart attack is four times higher within the first hour after smoking marijuana…”  It is also claimed that “the active ingredient in marijuana, delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, acts on cannabinoid receptors on nerve cells and influences the activity of those cells…" And that “Many cannabinoid receptors are found in the parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thought, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement.”  And marijuana, when eaten/digested rather than smoked, causes “hallucinations, delusions, impaired memory and disorientation.” On top of all that, some argue that marijuana is a gateway drug – once you get addicted to it, there’s a bigger chance that you’ll want to try stronger drugs.

Now what? I don’t care as much about the pros and cons of marijuana as I do about the fact that right now, right here, as in most other places in the world, possession, selling and taking of marijuana is against the law. Fact is, whatever the pros and cons, you can go to jail for it. A newspaper reported the other day about the arrest of a young lady by a security guard at a popular mall. Never mind how the fact that she smokes marijuana, assuming that she actually does and she didn’t just happen to have it in her possession, could affect her for the rest of her life, but I can’t help thinking about how that fateful moment when the guard discovered the illegal substance in her purse could affect the rest of her life. We live in a country where getting caught in possession of a small amount of marijuana can result in a long prison term. Before 2006, possession of over 500 grams resulted in the death penalty. I’m not so sure about it but I assume that since the death penalty has been abolished, today, that could mean life in prison.  So I won’t pose the question to those who are already on it, I can only hope you do know what’s good for and what’s not. But to those who aren’t hooked on it yet, those who haven’t tried it yet, those who are thinking of trying it or wondering what it’s like to be high… is it worth it?

I know, it’s just so much easier to cross the road wherever convenient, instead of using the overpass or walking the extra few meters to get to the pedestrian lane; it is much easier to make an illegal u-turn than to drive the few extra blocks to get to where you’re going; and perhaps a few grams of marijuana, the occasional high, really is no big deal. But the fact is, these are illegal, and going against the law brings with it a lot of risks.

I do have my addictions on top of those already mentioned above: staging plays even if it’s been the cause of my financial woes for most of my life; good, albeit unhealthy food even if I am already unhealthily overweight; being online a lot even if it has resulted in countless of wasted hours making status updates and answering stupid survey questions and commenting on comments on comments; watching the series Friends, NCIS and Big Bang Theory over and over again until late at night even if it has resulted in a lack of sleep and fatigue. I always tell myself to take it easy on these, and to be careful.
I do know people, some close to me, some I love, who smoke pot. At times I myself have been an enabler – either by not doing anything at all or making it easier for them to satisfy their cravings. I myself have at times justified their addiction, mostly by believing their own arguments about the “harmlessness” and “benefits” of marijuana. A lot of them have told me to back off, to never tell them what they’re doing is wrong. To them, what can I say?

Be careful, be very careful. Crossing the road where you’re not supposed to is very risky. And sometimes it may well just be worth walking the few extra meters to the pedestrian lane after all.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Chaplin & Baguio's Outstanding Citizens

I chanced upon this DVD containing several movies of the great Charlie Chaplin a few days ago, and it almost hasn’t been removed from our DVD player since then. I am not complaining. Not even about my kids arguing in mock-German owing, I guess their favorite among all the movies in the disc is “The Great Dictator,” Chaplin’s only “talkie.” Until that movie, he refused to use sound, a new technology then, in his movies. He believed that using dialogue in his films would only result in a much smaller audience – his silent flicks can be seen by audiences from Zamboanga to Zimbabwe and people would still be able to know what’s going on.

Chaplin belongs to my list of the greatest actors, nay, artists, of all time. A gifted comic gifted with a deep understanding of the human being and a brilliant mind that can command a very agile body to do just about anything. He played one character in almost all of his movies – the Tramp, yet through that one character he was able to express the whole range of human emotion. The tramp was a desperate, oppressed, jobless man on the street in “Modern Times,” a struggling, loving parent in “The Kid,” a persecuted amnesiac Jewish barber in “The Great Dictator,” and in each of his films we feel his sadness, aspirations, failures and triumphs.

But what made him great, more than his talent, was his passion for his craft, his vision and, most of all, sense of responsibility. He knew the power of his medium, and he did not waste a single frame on mediocrity, on the inane. He knew that he could make the world a better place, or at least that one man in the back row a better human being, with his stories. While the rest of the world then, and even now, honor Ford for inventing the production line, “Modern Times” showed us the evils of capitalist greed. At a time when most of the world thought nothing much of Hitler’s saber rattling, “The Great Dictator” showed us the dangers of Nazi Germany’s vision of a new World Order where a superior race reigns over everyone else.

He was labeled a Communist by the American Government, particularly by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI who saw him as a threat to the “American way of life.” He was thrown out of the country and forced to flee to Switzerland where he lived for the next 20 years after his banishment. Eventually, just before he died, he was invited back to the country and was honored by his peers at the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

I remember Chaplin now not only because of the drone of Ragtime music at home whenever the children put on one of his films (to digress a bit, the kids didn’t even notice the film was in black and white until we pointed it out to them, and then now they can’t comprehend why they couldn’t put color on film images back then), but also because it’s Baguio’s Charter Day once again, the city’s 101st, and the City Government has given out awards to outstanding citizens of Baguio for the year 2010. There were four awardees last Wednesday – Karen Navaratte-Anton (dancer, choreographer), Lourdes Florendo Bello (educator, entrepreneur), Zoraida C. Clavio (physician) and Julian Chees (martial artist). They are all Chaplins to me, in the sense that they did not succumb to mediocrity and instead rose above social convention and used their respective talents and humanity to uplift the lives of people in the city. A dancer, a teacher, a medical researcher and a karatista, so what, right? There are thousands like them in our city alone, but just as there’s only one comic like Chaplin, there’s only one of them in their respective fields during their time who showed us that we all have that spark of heroism in each of us.

Sure we have comics up there in City Hall, but fankly, what we need up there are more Chaplins. But ones who would go beyond sporting a funny mustache just like one beloved retired councilor.

Monday, August 23, 2010


If “Murder, as defined in common law countries, is the unlawful killing of another human being with ‘malice aforethought’, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide (such as manslaughter),” from a certain perspective, it may be said that the 42 people who died may have been murdered. According to another online legal dictionary, “the term malice aforethought did not necessarily mean that the killer planned or premeditated on the killing…” So what and who caused the death of those innocent people?

The thought of last Wednesday’s bus accident in Sablan still sends shivers down my spine. I could’ve been on that bus, perhaps on my way to San Fernando to meet with a client which I do once in a while, or for a day at the beach with friends and family. And what about the reported passenger who boarded the ill-fated bus just minutes away from the site of the accident? What a tragedy - 41, some reports say 42, people died. Reports also say that the driver survived and will be charged with reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide. The operators will probably be included in the suit. The company’s franchise will most surely be suspended for some time, the whole fleet grounded. Sadly, in a month or so, and this is perhaps the bigger tragedy, everything will be back to business as usual. What business?

We have been told that the bus lost its brakes causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle causing it to fall into a steep ravine causing the death of 42 of the passengers and injury to some 8 or 9. But, also according to some local media persons, when the conductor was first interviewed, he narrated that they did notice much earlier, when they were just leaving Baguio, that the air pressure for the vehicle’s braking mechanism (the bus had air brakes) was slowly going below the prescribed or standard level. They were once again reminded of this when they picked up that one passenger just minutes before the crash. But they decided to go ahead anyway. Typical pinoy driver “kaya pa ‘yan” or “ok lang ‘yan” thinking. Their vehicle’s spewing out poisonous black smoke? “Ok lang ‘yan.” One or both headlights aren’t working? “Ok lang ‘yan, kita ko pa naman yung daan e.” Brake lights aren’t working? “Ok lang yan, meron namang DISTANCIA AMIGO sa likod e.” Their vehicle’s tires’ treads are dangerously worn? “Kaya pa ‘yan, di naman flat e.” What if this driver was among those who seriously believe that a seat belt is nothing more than a nuisance and should only be worn on when there are cops around to avoid being cited and fined for not wearing his seatbelt? What if he’s among those who got their licenses through the “palakad” system wherein for double or triple the usual amount paid to get a valid driver’s license, one wouldn’t have to go through the mandated traffic safety seminar, written and actual driving tests, and at times even the required drug test? 

I know of a person who bragged about his numerous fake licenses under different fake names and the lengths he had to go to acquire them, and I wondered why he never bothered to go to the same lengths to acquire a genuine one instead. I know of a person who has failed the written test required to get a driver’s license who, instead of exerting more effort to study and learn what he needs to know to pass the exam, is exerting all efforts to find someone who knows someone at the Land Transportation Office (LTO) who can be bribed so he wouldn’t have to take the test at all.

And now another news report tells us that the operator of the ill-fated bus, Eso-Nice, “is one of the 807 franchise holders that appear to have irregular documentation,” according to the Department of Transportation and Communication, and that the franchise issued to Eso-Nice, according to the DOTC Cordillera director the same news report says, “violates a 1996 DOTC circular that imposed a moratorium on franchises covering Baguio City.”

So, what if the owners of the bus are among those who operate illegally and without the proper authorization? Or those who pay off authorities to forego stringent maintenance requirements? Or among the greedy ones who subscribe to the “pwede na ‘yan” mentality and the pinoy’s penchant for “remedyo" and  would go ahead and put their vehicles on the road knowing that certain parts are defective or replaced with inferior spare parts just to save on maintenance costs?

The measly hundreds or considerable thousands of pesos that changed hands in illegal transactions at the Land Transportation Office or at Land Transportation Franchising ad Regulatory board may have killed those innocent people. Legitimate transport operators would have had their vehicles undergo periodic maintenance keeping their vehicles safe and sound. Honest and vigilant government personnel would not let any unregistered and unlicensed bus on the road, and ensure that those in operation legally are really road worthy. Uncorrupt government personnel would have ensured that only qualified and educated drivers are given licenses and a qualified and educated driver would not knowingly put his and the lives of his passengers in grave danger.  

Graft and corruption kill people. Knowingly engaging in corrupt practices can result in the death of people. We know that. And that, for me, falls under “malice aforethought.” That, to me, is murder.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Now what?

In the months leading to this year’s elections, Baguio produced an extraordinary number of experts in public administration and local politics. They commented criticized, damned, commented on practically every issue – the Athletic Bowl hysteria, the garbage problem, the traffic schemes. They all professed their love for Baguio – in the wonderful virtual world that is the world wide web, in fact, it was as if there really was a competition as to who loved Baguio the most. They were vigilant, their words were impassioned. They went to Burnham Park to pick up plastic cups, have pinikpikan picnics and plant some seedlings. For a moment it did feel like Baguio’s renaissance was in sight.

They did all they can to shape public opinion, not being totally aware that they were also writing Baguio’s history in the early stages of its second century.

Scheming, aspiring and/or come-backing politicians took advantage of the prevailing public sentiment, and jumped on the bandwagon. Facebook status updates became campaign slogans, blog entries became platforms of government on newsprint campaign flyers. People didn’t want some Korean-led consortium to spearhead the development of the Athletic Bowl, and the politicians said they have a better alternative. People were getting impatient about the garbage crisis, and they said they will solve the problem within 60 days if elected. People were getting tired of the traffic situation within the Central Business District, and they vowed to immediately improve the situation.

And we bought it, lock, stock and barrel. Lapped it up, got lost in the hysterics. We let bygones be bygones – the sly attempt to put up a gambling haven in the city; the controversial suspicious and utterly one-sided pay parking scheme that was rammed down the people’s throats that had motorists coughing up twenty pesos every time they stopped their cars practically anywhere in the city. We ignored the fact that a lot of the problems that Baguio is facing today were created by the inaction, ignorance and indifference of the same people who were now positioning themselves as the city’s saviors.

And it’s been said that there were people too, both private citizens and those in public service, who took advantage of these politicians’ desperation to regain and/or hold on to power and accepted the envelopes that promised them a few days’ worth of cheap alcohol and instant noodles in return for what supposedly was their sacred vote, uncaring, unaware, that the envelop bought way more than that: the dignity of this glorious city.

I know, it’s too early to criticize the newly installed administration, I accept that. But this early, we are being told that we can’t afford the rehabilitation of our parks, after all; that there really is no solution in sight in the near future for the city’s garbage problem; and that one of the solution to our traffic problem is to reconsider bringing back that much-hated pay parking scheme that we rallied and fought against not so long ago.

And the flash-in-the-pan pundits and Baguio-lovers have been quiet. Save for the occasional “no to Beneco’s planned development of a property along South Drive,” Baguio net-izens have been posting really nothing more than the usual cut-and-paste quotations, amusing YouTube videos, what they had for lunch, what movie pirated DVD they’re watching tonight, and online relationship status updates. It’s complicated. In the meantime, the garbage continues to pile up and nobody’s picking up trash on weekends anymore.

Now more than ever, experts on and defenders of Baguio, we need you. We began writing this part of Baguio’s history last May 10, 2010 – now what?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Let's talk about sex

A comic strip in a national daily said it all. The first frame mentioned the government’s messed up plan to include sex education at certain grade levels in public schools. The next frame showed the other character saying that when he wanted to know about that double insertion issue involving Manny Villar and searched for those keywords on the internet, he ended up in a porn site.

The Department of Education (DepEd) launched a United Nations-backed sex education program last month that aims to “promote safe sex, limit the spread of HIV-AIDS and prevent unwanted pregnancies,” according to an online new report. Expectedly, the Catholic Church is once again at the forefront of the opposition to the program, their position buoyed by self-righteous conservatives. It is primarily the duty of the parents to educate their children about sex, they say, a prerogative, actually. That’s true, too. And while the program envisions an informed youth educated in responsible sex, the opposition sees it as merely a ploy to promote promiscuity. Now, that’s a lot of bull.

Let’s take the side of the opposition. Let’s agree for a moment that the DepEd’s program is flawed. Let’s keep the status quo – sex won’t be talked about in schools, we’ll leave it to the parents to educate their children about it. And if they don't, that's ok too.

So, let’s leave it to those parents who themselves were not educated about responsible sex. Let’s leave it to 20-something parents who themselves had their children when they were 15 or 16. Let’s leave it to parents whose sex education consisted mainly of their own parents not saying anything about it, or merely saying, “don’t do it.”

Let’s leave it to fathers who believe that getting a vasectomy means castration, or coming out empty at the end of a sexual encounter, or is simply just “un-manly.” Let’s leave it to most Filipino fathers who believe that having several sexual partners means being a real man. Let’s leave it to most pinoys who believe that “coitus interruptus” is an effective way to prevent pregnancy.

Or let’s leave it to mothers who believe those fathers mentioned above. Let’s leave it to the young mother who got pregnant because her boyfriend told her that if she loved him, she’d have sex with him. Let’s leave it to mothers who believe that if they stood up or jumped up and down after sex, or if they only had sex “5-days before or after” having their menstruation, they won’t get pregnant.

How about those youngsters entering puberty with raging hormones whose parents prefer not to talk about it and leave them to discover and learn about sex on their own? With the internet as the most common information tool these days, especially for the young ones who wouldn't be caught dead in a library reading a book, let’s allow them to “Google” the word “sex,” and just hope that the websites that would be listed would be ones where they can get responsible and sensible information about the topic. But no, unfortunately, what Google offers are sites that attract the most traffic, or the ones who pay them good money to be placed at the top of the list. To wit, here are the headlines of the top 5 websites that Google tells your children to visit when they type the word “sex”:

1. Free Sex Videos For Free - Enter Now!
2. Free Porn Videos & P***y Movies- Sex Videos, Porno, Porn Tube, XXX
3. Free Porn, Sex Videos, P***y Movies, Porn Tube, Free XXX Porno
5. Pinoy Scandal And Pinay Scandal - Philippines & Asian Sex Scandals

Times have changed. While in the years B.I. (before the internet), adventurous youngsters who want to be introduced to sex would have to look under their parent's bed for their father’s dirty magazines or Betamax tapes, and if there’s none, ask an older friend who can pass for an 18 year-old to pick up a Playboy or a Tik-tik from the newsstand. Or giggle and blush at the occasional sensual scene in a Saturday blockbuster movie on TV, or if they’re in Baguio, stay up late for the occasional porn shown on that Japanese channel that used to be carried by that now-defunct local cable company.

We need responsible sex education. We need it not because there’s hardly any information out there. On the contrary, we need it because there’s too much information out there – not all of which is the kind that we would like our youth to absorb. During the FIFA World Cup late night marathons last month, there was this one beer commercial that I found rather distasteful. They had a promo wherein with 45 bottle caps, you can win a chance to spend a weekend with a starlet. One of the commercials showed images of young men elbowing each other infront of a starlet's apartment, intercutting with images of the near-naked woman taking a shower, who later walks towards and opens the door wearing very provocative, very revealing lingerie. The other version shows a close-up of a man lustfully massaging the back of the same scantily clad starlet. That version ends with the man lifting up the starlet’s bikini top to his face to wipe his tears of carnal joy. I believe these same commercials were shown on regular TV too. The promo’s tagline? “Real man promo!”

So while you want your sons to be sexually responsible, last month they were told that real men collect 45 beer bottle caps for a chance to be intimate with a woman. And your daughters? Well, the commercial just told them that there's nothing wrong with girls being raffled off in a beer promo.

You’re against the government’s sex education program? Then enroll your child in a Catholic School, or home-school them. As for the rest of the Filipinos who are non-Catholics, or non-practicing ones, or practicing ones who differ with their church’s position on the issue… let’s talk about sex. Responsibly. I believe it’s a way better alternative to a beer commercial or internet porn doing it for us.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thinking small

I open my Facebook account and I was told that it’s my fault that the world is messed up. I was also informed that I must do something to save Mother Earth. I really want to, but saving a whole planet seems like a really, really tall order.

Just yesterday, I was also told that Mother Earth is at war… with me! Yup, me and my co-inhabitants on this giant orb, which as Sagan put it, is actually just a pale blue dot in the universe. I was also told that I am winning, but unfortunately, winning this war means losing it.

Ok, first of all, I did not consciously want to wage war against Mother Earth. It is not personally my fault that the specie I belong to is one that can never be satisfied, one that continues to imagine, explore, experiment, create, destroy and create again, and destroy again. It’s a vicious circle really. And we happen to exist here, on earth, on which we want to go as happy as we can. And to be happy we look at the things around us and see what we can do about it. We discovered fire and then we invented the wheel, so we can move bigger things faster. We invented tools so we can gather more food. We invented weapons so we can hunt more animals for meat, and to get rid of those who want to take our meat. At first we used found objects, like wood, and rocks. Then we discovered that some of the dirt on this planet contain stuff that can be turned into stronger materials for our tools and weapons and wheels. So we started digging for bronze, silver, gold. We were happy for a while but not for long, since as I said, we never satisfied, never content. Never truly happy. We had our floating devices that brought us across waters from one land mass to another, and later we learned that we can actually put ourselves on top of those wheels, and travel faster on land. We went farther, saw more and wanted more. More food to gather, more animals to hunt.

To make a very long story short, here we are today, using fossil fuels that take millions of year to form, fuels that when burned, produce greenhouse gasses that can result in the end of life the way we know it. The end of life itself, even. We didn’t see that coming, did we?

So go save the earth. Who me? I can’t do that, I’m no Superman. Even Superman himself can only save some people sometimes, but he couldn’t save all the people all the time. That, maybe I could do.

So don’t tell me to replenish the earth’s denuded forests and stop global warming and. I can’t do that. I can plant a few seedlings in my backyard, or if I don’t have one, any open space where a tree can grow freely, that I can do. Don’t tell me to stop polluting the earth, I can’t do that. But I can try to reduce the garbage I produce, reuse and recycle some of it as much as I can, that I can do. Don’t tell me to stop poisoning the earth’s rivers and lakes and oceans, I can’t do that. But I can try to minimize the use of harmful chemicals at home, try to minimize the poison that flows down my kitchen sink knowing that this will eventually find its way into the nearest river, and that river flows into the ocean. I can’t de-clog the world waterways of garbage, but I can make sure the canal in front of my house is clean. Don’t tell me to stop putting greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, I can’t do that. But I can make sure that if I use of one of those things that run on wheels, it’s powered by my own body. And if I really have to use one of those that require fossil fuels to run, I’ll make sure that the vehicle emits as little of those gasses as much as possible by having that engine is always at its best possible condition at all times. And I’ll walk more.

There are times when looking at the bigger picture helps. Other times, it’s just much better to focus on small, practical, doable realistic things.

Afterall, though what I can do on my own may not be much, but the last time I checked, there’s close to 7 billion who are just like me on this earth. That’s a lot of small things that if put together, may just be big enough to matter.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

In Baguio, when it rains

We just had our first typhoon, and I’m very thankful that PAGASA got it wrong again – what they forecasted as a typhoon that would hit Baguio directly only brought about moderate winds and gray skies for a day, it was actually nice.

While known as the Summer Capital of the Philippines – originally literally when the American colonial government declared this highland paradise as the official seat of government of the country during the dry season, I have always loved Baguio even more during the rainy season. Having less tourists during that time may be one of the reasons for that.

Now as in when I was growing up, summer for our family meant the going to the beach, so way before I chose Baguio to be my home, my mother would bring me with her on her numerous trips to visit friends here usually during the rainy season. We used to take the Pantranco bus from Quezon Avenue, I’d sleep off the first few hours of the journey and wake up just as the bus perilously starts to make its way up Kennon Road, I’d keep the window open to feel the gradual drop in the wind’s temperature as the bus climbs higher and higher.

Coming here then was like entering a theater to watch a play. Open house starts at the bottom of Kennon Road, with house music provided by the sound of the rushing Bued River. That music slowly fades out as curtain time nears – and you know that the magical Baguio experience is about to begin when the curtain of fog closes, gradually hiding everything from view. The lowland flora slowly exits the scene and a new cast of highland greenery takes its place, waiting in the wings behind the clouds to make their entrance. The air gets colder and everyone in the audience of tourists, students, Baguio folks on their way back home, change costumes – out come the thick jackets and sweaters and scarves and bonnets – back then it was cold enough to wear gloves or mittens.

And the performance begins – the curtains are drawn to reveal a majestic sight of towering pine trees, mossy rocks and thickly vegetated mountainsides. It is a multi-sensory experience – the wind chills and gently moistens the tip of your nose as you stick as much of yourself out the window to take in as much of the ongoing performance as you can, you take a deep breath and smell the unique scent of pine, and your eyes feast on the one of the most beautiful skylines you’ve ever seen. And it’s only the beginning.

A gentle drizzle would complete the overture as the bus enters the center of town. The bus slows down and even before it comes to a full stop people would be getting off their seats already, picking up their bags from underneath their seats or from the overhead luggage rack and start making their way down the aisle. You get off, and Act 1 of Baguio in the rain begins.

In Baguio when it rains, you don’t rush to hide from it like you do elsewhere. Here, you look up towards the heavens and take it all in, and it’s a wonderful feeling.

In Baguio when it rains, walking around Burnham Park is like being inside a watercolor painting where all the colors seem to feather into each other, flowers cross-fading into leaves into earth into people’s faces.

In Baguio when it rains, the lagoon across the Mansion House and the pine forest beside it are a Zen garden.

In Baguio when it rains, artists gather for an exhibit opening and later around the fire to make music; around a table for a warm drink; every establishment along Session Road provides a welcoming, warm sanctuary; the cold brings people closer together.

In Baguio when it rains, you breathe out and make a cloud.

In Baguio when it rains, at night, the lights of the houses in the distant mountains are like fireflies.

In Baguio when it rains, at night when you call it a day, the mountains sing you a lullaby and beginning with your toes and the tips of your fingers, numbs you to sleep, a welcome intermission.

In Baguio when it rains, the next morning when you wake, the sun comes out and the world is young again.

So one rainy day more than a decade ago, I decided to never be elsewhere again but here, in Baguio, when it rains.