Sunday, April 25, 2010

To Poke or to Superpoke

I have been interviewed twice the past few weeks regarding the use of Facebook in this current election season. The questions were about the usual pros and cons, dos and don’ts.

Ahh, the many wonderful , and awful things about this crazy thing called Facebook.

Created by college boys initially to provide a platform for their schoolmates at Harvard to get together online, share stories and keep in touch with each other, it has evolved into the world’s biggest online community with reportedly 400 million users worldwide. Yup, it has a much bigger population than the Philippines.

While the uninitiated might think that Facebook is just for young people, the truth is that those in the 30-something and above age group have more going for them in Facebook more than anybody else. As a Time article pointed out, we middle-agers have gone through high school (that’s one group of long lost friends one might find in this virtual community), college (another one), most have gone through several jobs each bringing with it a new set of friends, acquaintances – and experiences to chat about, blog about, post pictures and videos of, and that’s why this particular demographic counts as among the biggest groups on Facebook, and the most active! After all, it was in our generation that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs changed the world. We’re the ones who were first to tinker with really floppy floppy disks, got to move that thing called a mouse around, went gaga over Windows 2.0, and so on and so forth – we know how to work this thing. We know how to create an e-mail address so we can log in to Facebook. We know how to access our email address book to find our friends. We know how to upload pictures from our digital cameras (and even tweak those snapshots in Photoshop first before publishing them). We know how to chat, we know how to poke… and to superpoke.

And so we poked and superpoked and we have found long lost friends including that classmate from elementary school who has apparently forgiven me for relentlessly teasing her all throughout 5th grade. Or maybe she just forgot that I did that. While in the past communication with loved ones abroad meant waiting for the mailman to deliver that letter once or twice a week, or month, we are now in contact with them every single hour of every single day. We even know that they have been playing Word Twist or Bejewelled all night.

Now the cons. Above all else, spamming: unsolicited material being shoved down your throat (or hard drive). A contact can tag you in a provocative photo which means if anybody out of the 400 million members comment on it or even just “like” it (which one does with by simply clicking a button labeled, “like,” and you will be notified. If you haven’t turned off your email notification option, 100 comments and/or people “liking it” would mean 100 emails in your inbox. Say, a friend lost her cellphone and informs everyone in her contact list of her new number, each “got it,” “how did you lose it?,” “here’s mine,” “hey, long time no see” reply would find its way both in your Facebook and e-mail inboxes.

Then there are the viruses: a post appears that links to supposedly, say, “the funniest video ever,” you click on it to view it, and the next window asks you to “allow” the application to access your profile – the next thing you know, you’ve just unwittingly sent a racy video to all of your friends in your contacts list.

As for those politicians utilizing this for their campaigns? Well, the pros are countless – Comelec has no idea how to regulate material online, so it’s basically a free-for-all out there. While television exposure is limited to 60 minutes for local candidates, you can post a three-hour epic depicting your greatness online if you want. 120-minute limit on radio? Well, go ahead and post a full symphonic version of your campaign jingle if you want. But, while your supporters can rave about how great you are on your “wall,” adversaries can infiltrate your contacts list and start badmouthing you right in your own Facebook page. They do that a lot, mostly perpetrated by those who cowardly hide under pseudonyms.

This is what, my 3rd, 4th, nth article about Facebook? We just can’t get enough of it. But if there’s one thing that Facebook, and all those other so-called networking sites, has shown us is its apparent power to influence people. In Baguio, it helped cancel a government contract; it helped bring down a stupid concrete pine tree; and it might just help elect the city’s next leaders.

So enjoy it, hate it, do whatever you want with and in it. Just be responsible enough and know that this virtual world is also governed by the laws of the real universe: cause and effect, any action brings a reaction, you get the drift.

So, you can be helping make this world a better place. Or you can just be adding to the mess we’re all in.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


The whole night we talked about nothing else but Baguio. Our newfound friend was Baguio-born and -raised, and in the last three decades since he left the city, he has only visited Baguio thrice.

I myself have been living here for 15 years, but as a child has been a regular visitor to this haven nestled up in the mountains of the Cordilleras. Talking about Baguio, sitting at the table by the sidewalk in Rumours on Session Road, as expected the conversation turned into a nostalgia trip for from where were sitting, we could get a vivid moving picture of what the city has become - a hundred and one years since Dean C. Worcester and Luke E. Wright informed the US Philippine Commission that yes, this rancherria was indeed the perfect site for a hill station.

We asked him, why do you keep coming back? He said, despite all the negativities being said about Baguio, there is still something about Baguio that makes one keep coming back. Or something like that.

He asked, after hearing about our adventures and misadventures, successes and disappointments in the past 15 years, why are you still here? I ended saying the same thing. And I add, my relationship with this city has become some kind of a marriage – for better or for worse. Perhaps, even ‘til death do us part.

Not so long ago, Baguio had fewer people, but we had more friends. One thing a lot of Baguio folks miss is walking down Session Road and surely bumping into someone you knew, for these days one can spend a whole day there surrounded only by strangers – strangers whom you see carelessly throwing a plastic cup, or a cigarette butt, or spitting just about anywhere. What do they care? They have no history with the city, and they have no idea about the history of this city.

That’s probably why we also can’t blame the seemingly prevailing xenophobia among the Baguio citizenry – a true Baguioite would do no harm to this beautiful city. There’s this thing that has been going around on the internet that lists the reasons that make one a true “taga-Baguio.”

Well, you’re “taga-Baguio” because you know that the people in Baguio are courteous, and that’s why you won’t drive around town like a maniac; that’s why you would stop at a pedestrian lane; that’s why you would let a car coming uphill pass. You know that this city was once the cleanest and greenest city in the country, that’s why you won’t dirty it, you won’t desecrate its beautiful surroundings, that’s why you won’t build anything that would scar the land, that’s why you won’t indiscriminately cut down trees. You know that Baguio was founded in this place particularly exactly because of its natural beauty, and so you know that if you are here you have to live your life in harmony with that natural beauty. You know that Baguio was a health resort, and that’s why you’ll do anything to keep its natural environment healthy; you will make sure that you won’t add to the already worsening air, water, land, noise and yes, moral, pollution.
And because you’re “taga-Baguio,” through thick and thin, through good and bad weather, through world wars and earthquakes and devastating storms… amidst criticisms and so-called “uglifications”… you’ll stand by Baguio, you won’t go out there to slander her, you’ll do something to make things better.

And that’s probably why that after 30 years, our newfound friend plans to return to the city of his birth. And that’s why we’re still here.

And Baguio will surely hurdle all these obstacles today – because its people won’t have it any other way.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Can't buy me love

Our theatre group, Open Space, merited a one liner in an article in a national daily about local talents. It’s been months since our last production (KAFAGWAY our musical on the history of Baguio was last performed at the Rose Garden, Burnham Park last December), so I decided to reprint here an article I wrote about the group some time ago hoping it will get us fired up enough to once again tell a story onstage.

CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines) Complex – a sprawling haven for culture and the arts located along Roxas Boulevard that includes several world-class theaters, museums, galleries and home to the country’s supposed best arts and culture companies.

CCP Complex - Also a psychological condition that makes the afflicted believe that any artistic output that comes from beyond the boulevard and the breakwaters of Manila Bay is inferior.

I must admit I too once had the aforementioned condition, until I stage managed a production that toured the whole country for a whole month and got exposed to the artworks in the regions, from Baguio to Marawi. I knew then that I would get out of CCP soon after the tour. And I did. And I moved to Baguio , around (15) years ago.

Last night a colleague informed me of a group’s interest to feature our productions in a local institution that’s being re-packaged as a cultural and educational destination – they’re interested because it would be much more cost effective to hire a local group to stage a play rather than bring a whole production from Manila . Though I’d rather hear that they’re interested because they believe in what the local artists can deliver, beggars can’t be choosers. And this is among the reasons why I left Manila more than a decade ago to live in Baguio – I just couldn’t stand the arrogance of Manileños in their belief that the best things in this country can only be found in Manila , and everything that comes from beyond the toll gates of both the North and South Expressways are inferior. You patronize artists in the regions only when the budget can’t afford the Manila variety.

They probably haven’t heard the compositions of Ethan Andrew Ventura, and the way he plays his guitar. His work, setting Rizal’s Me Ultimo Adios to music, to me is a classic. Or perhaps they haven’t been to a jazz jam session at Overtones, one of many places in the city that houses exceptional local talents. Too bad, most of them never get to sit down and listen to Emerald Ventura, Ro Quintos, Jef Coronado, Cholo Virgo, Yoshi Capuyan, Arkhe Sorde Salcedo, Ramirr Grepo, Jenny Cariño, Sunshine Gutierrez, Mary Raquel, Ron Ruiz, Patchi Viray, SLU’s Glee Club, the reggae bands in Baguio, or the folk, rock and rock ones in nearby La Trinidad, and many others whose music can blow you away.

Perhaps they’ve never been to an exhibit by the Tahong Bundok group at the Baguio Convention Center – watercolors of a beautiful city that hypnotize, or an ongoing exhibit at the Café by the Ruins – coffee on paper, different shades of sepia that calms the spirit, or the photography of local lensmen on that can rival those that hang on Manila’s expensive gallery walls, or the VOCAS group’s multimedia explorations that challenge and provoke the mind.

They’ve never sat in a local writers’ group’s open mic session. They’ve never been to an SLU musical. They’ve never seen Tropang Paltok’s street theater performances. One pays good money to hear the now Manila-based Pinikpikan perform something one could normally hear for free at the steps of La Azotea or the Dap-ay of Café by the Ruins. Manila charges hundreds to thousands for what one could get into on less than a hundred bucks’ ticket price, or in most cases on a complimentary pass, as in most local theatrical presentations.

And the sad thing is, the community encourages the discrimination against local artists whenever it turns to Manila for most major artistic or cultural outputs in the city. But maybe that’s precisely the reason why the local artists continue to produce great art despite the situation: the main thing the fuels them is passion, and just like love, all the money in Manila can’t buy that.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Congratulations, Marko Angelo

Marko Angelo is my eldest son. And he just graduated high school. He was born 17 years ago, I was barely a grown up myself then. At 19, everything was happening so fast that the only thing I clearly remember about November 29, 1992 was that it was a blur. But one thing I will never forget is that first time I held him in my lanky arms and realization that hit me like a rock – I am a father.

A proud father. Nothing else in this world matters as much as my family. My proudest moments do not involve being onstage or in a movie or having a piece published or a photograph exhibited. I was proudest when my youngest, Aeneas, and younger daughter, Sofia, played their first memorized piano piece, or when my younger son, Leon, came up to me to give his opinion on my directorial concept for a play. Or everytime their Ate Sofia sits down with me to discuss the last book she read.

I had to hold back the tears when Leon won a literary contest and lost my voice cheering everytime he scored a goal (a total of 6!) in a soccer tournament. I was speechless when Marko told me that he’s starring in a school musical, and I could stay put in my seat watching Sofia in a play at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. In one of our theatre group’s performance last year, I could hardly believe my eyes watching Aeneas and Gabriela performing a song live onstage with so much gusto and sincerity.

I was late for the graduation, the travel from Manila to Alabang took longer than expected. I stopped by my father’s house a few blocks from the school to change – Marko would never forgive me if I showed up in my usual jeans and sandals. Something with a collar and footwear that cover the whole feet, that’s all he’s asking for. When I got to the auditorium, they were about to call the graduates onstage already – just in time. Being late, I was seated at the balcony, so I had to change camera lenses to get a decent photo of him walking up that stage and standing proud on that podium. Just as I was locking in that lens, I heard it: “Marko Angelo Altomonte.” I looked up and there he was – looking so smart and proud in his toga. The ceremony was pretty sober, quiet, sedate, and as he bowed to the crowd, his hat fell and he fumbled with it for a moment before finally putting it back on. I had on this really big stupid smile that I was trying to hide behind my camera, and as I clicked away, I thought to myself – that’s my son.

They’re my children, all five of them. And I am proud of each one and of all of them. I am a lot of things, but the one thing I know that I really am is a father to five beautiful children.

Driving him back home after the ceremony, I asked him what his plans were for the evening. I didn’t really plan for anything as I didn’t want to get in the way of whatever plan he had, this was his evening. And though I wanted so much for him to say that he had nothing special planned so I could take him out to dinner and just sit down with him all night and congratulate him over and over again, I wasn’t really surprised and just smiled when he said that he and his classmates were going to a party. This was evening.

After a quick change of clothes, he was back in the car, and we were back on the road, and too soon he was getting off already at some café where him and his friends would be meeting up. Ahh, too soon.

What I didn’t get to tell him was that I was so proud of him and that I love him very much. That I wish him well as he now enters college to chart his own destiny; that whatever happens to always remember that I love him very much and I would always be there for him and would do all I can to make him happy.

Congratulations, Marko Angelo.