Sunday, November 27, 2011

So what?

*my column in the Nov. 6 issue of Cordillera Today

Seven years ago, Braulio Yaranon won the Baguio mayoralty race on a platform of graft and corruption-free governance. The main issue at the time was the local government’s contract with Jadewell to manage the city’s on-street pay-parking scheme. Most people thought that the contract was anomalous and grossly disadvantageous to the government, for how else do we explain the overwhelming mandate then Mayor Yaranon received from the citizenry?

From day one, he spent most of his time and energy on his pursuit to remove Jadewell from our streets, stepping on a lot of toes and breaking some laws in the process. People said that he was forgetting that there was so much more for him to do as Mayor of Baguio other than tilting at that windmill that is the Jadewell contract. Eventually, he was suspended from office in the last year of his three-year term.

His detractors successfully trivialized his quest against pay-parking company – that first, there was really nothing anomalous with the government’s deal with the company and that his obsession with it rendered him inefficient as Mayor. But the Jadewell contract was so much more than the P20.00 they forced out of every motorist’s pocket – it represented all that is wrong with our political system, one where our elected leaders rule with impunity. For at the end of the day, no matter the noise created by the most despicable acts by our chosen leaders, more often than not, they get away with it. We even reward some of them with re-election.

PNoy is in the same boat at the moment, sort of. He’s being accused of focusing too much in prosecuting, or persecuting, depending on which side of the political fence you’re on, former PGMA, now CGMA. Marcos proposed a “Bagong Lipunan;” the current president’s mother’s administration may be remembered for the word “sequestration” in her quest to recover the previous powers-that-be’s ill-gotten wealth; Ramos led us on the road to “Pilipinas 2000;” Erap’s short-lived regime waged an “all-out war” against the MILF; and Gloria promised us – “Matatag an Republika.” And while PNoy continues to pitch his “Tuwid an Daan” idea, critics paint a portrait of him as a vengeful president, obsessed with and hell-bent on sending Gloria to jail. To this, I say, so what? Really, where did PNoy’s predecessors’ grand, comprehensive schemes bring us?

And if PNoy is indeed giving too much focus on GMA’s prosecution, then so be it. From the time of the Spanish occupation to the last one hundred years or so, our country has been raped and pillaged by the very people who were supposed to care for her and they got away with it. Heck, the Spaniards were even rewarded with 20 million dollars for three centuries of abuse. Sure, Erap was convicted, but was pardoned and could’ve even been our current president if Noynoy wasn’t persuaded by PR efforts to run in the last election.

Gloria and his cohorts are being accused of electoral sabotage – or telling you that your vote and your voice is worthless and you are absolutely powerless as a citizen of this country, and of plunder – or telling you that they have the right to help themselves to the money the government takes from your meager salary, or the extra five or six pesos for every liter of gasoline or kilo or so of rice you buy.

Let them say that President Benigno C. Aquino III has forgotten that there’s more to the presidency than making Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo pay for her sins against the country, for really, so what? This is not merely about Gloria, as much as it wasn’t all about Jadewell then - it is about the root of all that is wrong with our country.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Message sent

*my column in the Nov. 20 issue of Cordillera Today

A former president is being accused of electoral sabotage. The accusation stems from her alleged actions to ensure the then ruling party’s majority victory during the 2007 senatorial elections. Wearing a contraption allegedly meant to protect her very delicate spine and seated on a wheelchair, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was prevented by airport officials from boarding a plane out of the country based on order from Justice Secretary Leila De Lima. The Supreme Court provided extra juice to the drama with the issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order preventing, in turn, De Lima from implementing the travel ban.

From where I sat, GMA looked “kawawa naman,” a pitiful, powerless underdog who just a little over a year ago seemed totally untouchable until her term ended last June, 2010. If the “costume,” the “look,” the defeated facial expression were all a mere PR stunt, then kudos to the director – it hit right here (I am pointing a finger to where my heart is).

But De Lima seems to be hell bent on keeping her on Philippine soil – she doesn’t buy the medical alibi. I don’t too. See, first of all, she lied to the Filipino people on the past, once even right at the monument to our national hero. Why should the people believe her now? She lied and lied and lied too before admitting that, yes, it was her voice on that tape and that she did call Comelec officer Virgilio Garcillano during the election period, something that was totally immoral, if not downright illegal, and that she was “sorry.”

De Lima challenged the TRO, and a day later, the Supreme Court upheld the same. And just when the Arroyos thought they were free to flee, the Comelec and the Department of Justice finally filed a case before a Regional Trial Court, effectively rendering the TRO moot and academic for the charge against the former president was non-bailable. A warrant of arrest has been issued and served, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is now officially in the custody of the police, under hospital arrest.

Except for her lawyers, some family members, and the hordes of media representatives, there were hardly any loyal supporters who came to her rescue at the airport that evening. This should remind her that EDSA 2 was never really about her – she was merely the lucky beneficiary of the people’s loss of confidence in Joseph “Erap” Estrada. How she managed to get away with impunity during her decade-long reign remains a mystery to me. When Chavit Singson spilled the beans about the racket that is the tobacco excise tax and jueteng “payola,” an impeachment case actually made it to the senate and when it seemed obvious that Erap’s minions there were about to turn the whole thing into a moro-moro, the people brought the trial to the streets where Erap was found guilty and was forced to leave Malacanang.

But jueteng continued under the Arroyo administration. Corruption was rampant in practically all areas of government, so were forced disappearances of journalists and activists. She was caught red-handed manipulating the presidential election. Etcetera, etcetera. And yet, she remained in power. The only battle the people won against her was the one that stopped the proposed charter change that would have allowed her to continue her reign as Prime Minister. She was invincible, indomitable. She succeeded in making a mockery of the senate investigations looking into alleged irregularities that directly involved her with the infamous executive order 464 which barred government officials from testifying in congressional inquiries or investigations.

And today, there she was, looking dishevelled and defeated.

We might feel pity for Gloria, even take the side of the perceived underdog being persecuted by the powerful, vengeful Aquino government. We must not be fooled. Not again. Or these things will just keep on happening over and over again. It’s about time somebody pays for crimes against the nation.

Sure Erap was convicted, and I must insert here that he should be commended for actually facing the charges against him honourably and with dignity, but he was pardoned by the very person who now faces the prospect of incarceration and he spent his detention in a plush vacation house of his choice.

GMA’s alleged crime makes plunder seem petty – making a mockery of the electoral system is an attack on the very essence of democracy, spit in the face of every single Filipino. This is not Arroyo vs. Aquino, Gloria vs. The Government, this is Gloria Macapagal Arroyo against the people of Philippines. If we do this right, if those who perpetuated this despicable crime are punished, only then can we say that we as a people are really free and we send a message to everyone in power – from Aquino, to Vergara, to Domogan to your Barangay Kapitan – that we will not let anyone get away with impunity anymore.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

St. Louis Loves Dem Artists – Bravo!

*my column in the Nov. 6 issue of Cordillera Today

 Of course their first major production would be excerpts from musicals such as Miss Saigon and The King & I, that’s how a lot of us have been introduced to theatre, thanks to Lea Salonga , Repertory Philippines and Atlantis Productions. Nothing really wrong with that, but it’s amusing, sad even, that when newly formed theatre groups decide on what play to stage as their maiden offering, often they choose some popular Broadway production, perhaps one that has been adapted into a movie. But hey, no real complaints here, at least more and more young people are being introduced to this wonderful art form, and that makes me happy. I just hope that their love for theatre would somehow lead them to a more diverse repertoire eventually.

I’m in the back of an FX taxicab on my way to the second day of the workshop I was asked to facilitate for the resident theatre group of St. Louis College in San Fernando, La Union. Yesterday was spent discussing western theatre history, a bit of Asian theatre, and how theatre figured in the shaping of our nation’s consciousness and history. Today we shall focus on acting. This is in preparation for their aforementioned premiere production and later a competition between fellow schools run by the Congregatio Immaculati Cordis Mariae (CICM) such as St. Louis University in Baguio and St. Mary’s University in Nueva Vizcaya.

The competition will have three categories – chorale singing, dance and theatre, the three disciplines common in the schools’ respective centres for culture and the arts.

In Baguio, St. Louis’ University’s Centre for Culture and the Arts has been at the forefront of not just the school’s but the whole city’s performing arts scene. This is primarily because of the efforts of its resident theatre repertory company, Tanghalang SLU led by the highly dynamic director, Dan Rommel Riopay. SLU has created a very conducive environment for artistic excellence where talented students can further hone their talent and where both the SLU community and Baguio as a whole can experience the wonderful world of theatre. Because of the school’s support, the company can afford to come up with an annual theatre season and even periodically offer free admission to some of their performances.

This does not only develop the talents of the students who belong to the group, but because of the fact that such art forms are made accessible to their students, faculty and employees, it helps encourage critical thinking within and help the consciousness of a community. It exposes them to different ways of thinking, of perceiving world around them.

I am reminded of the time we were invited to perform a play in Daet, Camarines Norte and how I was so impressed by the support their local government provided local artists. The Provincial Government employed resident artists – painters, writers, actors, etc. They receive a monthly stipend for doing only one thing – developing their respective talents and sharing it with the whole community.

And we thought Baguio was highly urbanized city.

Such efforts – recognizing the value of artists and art in general in shaping a community's consciousness – truly deserve a standing ovation. So to the CICM, the likes of Dan Rommel Riopay and Tanghalang SLU, The Centre for Culture and the Arts at St. Louis College in San Fernando, La Union under Jeddahn Pacalso Rosario… I salute you. Bravo!