Sunday, July 31, 2011

The games we play

*my column in the July 31, 2011 issue of Cordillera Today

Maybe it’s because the travesty has gone on for a very long time that we long for the revolution to be magically instantaneous. Like the way the first rain of May immediately wipes away all memories of summer
For more than three centuries we were enslaved by the Spanish colonizers, but just barely a year into Andres Bonifacio’s reign as Supremo of the Katipunan, the Magdalo faction led by Aguinaldo felt that it was already time for a change in government. Corazon Aquino became president of our country after more than a decade of martial law, and the following year, a series of attempts to overthrow her government were launched.

After a decade of rigged elections, unabated unjust killings and disappearances, “un-moderated” greed in government and other dishonourable and despicable acts committed by the very people to whom we entrusted our lives, Noynoy’s pitch, “Daang Matuwid,” struck a chord, and we, the people, decided it’s time we corrected the mistakes of the past decade, and elected him to lead us. And now a lot of us have given President Benigno Aquino III a failing grade. No less than Archbishop Oscar Cruz revealed early this year that there are moves to replace Aquino, then just a little over six months into his 6-year term, because of incompetence. Aquino was elected with the highest percentage of votes in the country’s post-EDSA history, yet the impression that we get today, a year after he took his oath of office, is that there is a clamor for change yet again.

Aquino, a failure? It’s way too early to make that judgement, I believe. I personally did not vote for him, but despite the obvious lapses of his regime, I am prepared to be pragmatic, and recognize that 12 months are not enough to make a 360-turn from the direction Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took this country down to from 2001 until June 30, 2010.

In the same way that while I did not personally vote for the current local leadership in Baguio, and though I have misgivings about some of their self-serving pronouncements that give the impression that a year into their terms and they’re still campaigning, and the direction our local executive and representative seem to be taking the city down to, it is too early to make a judgement. Maybe they’re right. I sure am hoping they’re right. And that soon, the city will be able to breathe, live a good life again, because “we stopped hauling garbage to Capas, Tarlac,” because of the “rehabilitation” of the Rose Garden, because of all the construction going on in the city, because they questioned the legality of the citizen’s initiative that is Panagbenga Park, etc.

In 2004, after a decade of musical chairs up in City Hall and the sudden transformation of Baguio from being a city in harmony with its natural environment to being a poster child for unsustainable development and the site of a hideous concrete tree, we said, “tama na, sobra na, palitan na,” and replaced the local leadership. Yet, a year later, we did nothing as sour-graping politicians and suspicious capitalists silenced our voices and removed our chosen one. Again in 2007, we let our voices be heard as we declared that we are never going back to traditional politics. But when we finally felt the effects of more than a decade of misdirected efforts – including sitting on the Solid Waste Management Act that resulted in a garbage crisis, we wanted all the problems solved in a mere three years. Never mind that we were already headed towards solutions, never mind that most of did not do our share to solve the crisis, we wanted the problem solved for us, immediately. And when the solution didn’t come fast enough, we decided to play Trip to Jerusalem again.

The first half of the game’s not even done yet, too early to tell if a substitution is absolutely necessary. Don’t leave the arena just yet, or better yet, keep on playing the game – remember, we chose the game and who we wanted to play with. Don’t judge P-Noy just yet, and Mayor Mauricio Domogan and Congressman Bernie Vergara too. But keep watching, keep playing. At the end of the day, we must remember that after all, we’re in the same team. Sometimes the captain’s replacement is unnecessary, sometimes we, the other players, just need to step up and play better. Just like the Azkals - when de facto top guys Caligdong and  Younghusband could not deliver, we saw how Schrock stepped up to lift us all up. Of course the Azkals lost in the end in this match, that only tells us that it can’t happen overnight, but their gallant effort gave us hope that one day, we’ll get where we want to be.  

We keep going for instant gratification, and look at us, still in a losing game. But that’s no reason to quit –keep playing, keep cheering, voicing out suggestions from the sidelines too. It’s way too early to give either a failing or a passing grade. Stay in the game – then after the cheerleaders finish entertaining us with their routine during breaks and at half time, then we can decide whether to go ahead with the current game plan, or change tactics, or players. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Rooftop Football

*my column in the July 10, 2011 issue of Cordillera Today

According to Robert R. Reed in his book, The City of Pines, the biggest piece of level land in the area of what was then the proposed townsite of Baguio, was called “Minac,” which Architect and City Planner Daniel Burnham reserved for a huge public park, and everything else needed to realize the Americans’ dream of a hill station in Benguet will be built around it.

Today, we call it Melvin Jones, and through the years, it has served the city in so many ways – as parade grounds, a venue for performances, exhibits, sporting events, particularly football, and at times for miraculous healing as promised by self-proclaimed modern-day prophets and crusaders. But there’s one other purpose it has served that matters the most – a place where the people of Baguio can go to breathe, relax, heave a sigh, protected from the ravages of rapid urbanization by towering trees and colorful blossoms – just as Daniel Bunrham envisioned it to be. That’s what parks are for, a place where we can be under the sun, or the rain, the feel of earth beneath our feet and the scent of green in the air.

Today, most of us would agree that the most common sight there are young men and women, boys and girls, muddied from head to cleats, chasing a ball around the field. Some say it has always served as a football field in the past. And in his speech last weekend at the opening of a football tournament, Ramon Dacawi, respected journalist and known football advocate, couldn’t help but wax romantic about how the grounds have gone back to being a football field, among its original intentions, he said.

But the good feeling was immediately shattered by the pronouncements of the guest of honor who followed Mr. Dacawi at the podium. I hope he wasn’t serious, or that it was just one of those things politicians say for the sake of having something to say and not something that’s really going to happen, or already happening – our honorable congressman promised to “develop” Melvin Jones, and by develop he meant going beyond lighting up the place at night, here’s what we got from what he said:

Melvin Jones will first be dug up to build an underground parking lot, top that with concrete (“tatambakan natin ng semento”), then plant grass and lots of trees over it, the latter said as if its icing to a very suspicious cake. That’s really scary, and sounded like a totally unsound plan. I can’t imagine a football game being played on a “rooftop.” And how much weight will that rooftop have to carry since a lot of earth would need to be dumped on it to be able to support trees and other foliage.  

Well, “don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone,” as the song says. Are we really going to allow them to pave paradise to put up a parking lot?

For the nth time, again I ask, why does “development” always have to be about building something and pouring cement on everything? Why can’t it also be about preserving and protecting something that is already serving a noble purpose, such as our parks?  I know the Central Business District has a parking problem right now, but do we really have to desecrate the Melvin Jones grounds to help alleviate that problem? We do need infrastructures, but in a city like Baguio, such projects should be done with utmost care and in harmony with and with minimal or no impact at all on the city’s natural environment.

I beg of our “honourable” government officials, come on, give Baguio a break, give us a break. Leave Minac and the rest of our parks alone for really, they’re the only reminders of how beautiful this city once was. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011


*my column in the July 3, 2011 issue of Cordillera Today

Local religious and political figures are pushing for the declaration of those involved in the gay wedding ceremony held recently in Baguio as personas non grata. A bishop called it “kaidiri.” The brouhaha was all over TV and online forums.

About that ceremony – unless you were one of the grooms or brides, or among those who officiated, or were in one couple’s entourage, a ninong or ninang, bridesmaid or groomsman, what’s the big deal? It’s their wedding, not yours. And you’re not invited.  You may not agree with the idea of a same sex marriage, but did it ever occur to you that they, in turn, do not agree with the idea of a heterosexual one? You may find it repulsive to have sexual relations with a person of the same sex as you, just as they too find it repulsive to have sexual relations with a person of the opposite sex. They leave us alone, why can’t we do the same? We do not hear of homosexuals going on TV condemning heterosexual marriages.

Local politicians and holier-than-thou personalities denounced the ceremony, pulling the morality card out of their sleeves. Ehem, madams and sirs, if they believed in the same religious principles as you, the ceremony wouldn’t have taken place at all. Heck, they would probably even be spending their whole lives miserably denying their sexuality. The fact that they’re out of the closet, openly living their lives as homosexuals, openly falling in love with a person of the same sex, meant that they do not believe in what you believe in. That makes them different, not wrong.

Gay people don’t “choose” to be gay, they are gay. Period. It’s unnatural, some say. No, what’s unnatural is to deny your sexuality. To have homosexual relations when you’re straight, that  is unnatural. To have heterosexual relations when you’re gay, that is unnatural.    

We know for a fact that some of us humans are gays and lesbians, just as most of us are straight. We know heterosexual men have sex with women, and vice versa, while gay men have sex with fellow men and lesbians have sex with fellow women. So what’s wrong with gay couples wanting to solemnize their relationships, just as we heterosexuals wanting to solemnize ours? I say live and let live.

It’s illegal too, they also say. Nah, the marriages solemnized are not legally binding, true, but I don’t believe they did something illegal. And besides, I don’t believe that that piece of paper called a Marriage Contract is what they were after – they were after something much deeper than that, I think.

By the way, did it ever occur to those condemning the recently held gay wedding in Baguio that their actions actually promote pre-marital sex, sex out of wedlock?  Just a thought.

Kadiri. Immoral. Disgusting. All true about the ignorance and hypocrisy of those grandstanding bigots. And I’m all for declaring certain people personas non grata, but I don’t think we have the same people in mind.

I say it again - live and let live.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Bihag pa rin

I arrived a good four hours before the scheduled performance – it was the day after Jose Rizal’s 150th birth anniversary and SM City Baguio has put together a tribute that involved the following: An exhibit on the life and works of Rizal, a parade of 150 boys and men dressed as Rizal, a performance of a play on Rizal, and the screening of Gerry de Leon’s film, “Noli Me Tangere.” Our part was the performance of the play by Malou Jacob, “Pepe.”
The play begins with the Rizal monument in Luneta coming to life in present day Manila – he compares the Manila of his time to what it has become, or what we have allowed it to become, over a century since. He segues to a narration of relevant anecdotes about his life, including his bitter experiences with the guardia civil. The play then takes on a more serious tone as “Pepe” questions present-day ideas about him such as the notion that he was an “American-made” national hero. He asks the audience, “ako ng ba ang Ronald Mcdonald ng 19th Century?” After pointing out that nothing much has changed in the last one hundred years – “nilulunod tayo sa utang ng mga prayle noon, sa World Bank naman ngayon,” in the end, taking from Padre Florentino’s soliloquy at the end of “El Filibusterismo,” he challenges the audience, and in the case of last Monday’s performance, 150 modern-day Rizal’s, with “nasaan ang mga kabinataan na magtataglay ng lakas ng buhay na tumanan sa aming mga ugat, ng kalinisan ng pagkukuro na nadungisan na sa aming mga isip, at ng lagablab ng sigabo na namatay na sa aming mga puso? Nasaan kayo, kayo’y aming hinihintay?”
Never mind that we didn’t get to do a proper curtain call – we may have performed a play but we were in a mall after all, and the emcee probably wasn’t familiar with the theater s.o.p. of bowing after a performance. It was a wonderful experience and as I’ve said before – while other theater artists might not view performing a play in a mall favorably, for me it’s a unique opportunity to reach audiences that would otherwise not go to a theater to experience a play.
After the performance, a government official approached me to say, and this would have been creepy if I didn’t know the guy, that some of the lines may have been too subversive and that I should be careful when performing that play. Whew! I understand, one of lines in the play go, “Nasaan ang mga makabayang opisyal ng gobyerno, ang mga intelektuwal, ang mga makabayang mangangalakal?”
I have performed this role countless times over the years, and I must say that this particular performance was a very unique experience: I was performing the role of Rizal to an audience full of people dressed as Rizal.
The next day, I caught a local news channel’s feature on the event which labeled it as “pakulo.” A gimmick. Pakana? Pearls to swine.
The play closes with “Ako Rizal, may dugong Indio, may dugong Intsik. Taga-Calamba. Naging repormista. Naging rebolusyonaryo. Ngayo’y bayani, ngunit bihag pa rin. Kayo, bihag pa rin ba?”
Sabay buntong hininga.