Saturday, December 28, 2013

Law and Order and Fireworks

At a press conference last December 26, the group of fireworks distributors decried the ban issued by Mayor Mauricio G. Domogan on the sale of pyrotechnics in the city. “He’s depriving us of our livelihood,” “the law clearly provides only for regulation, not outright prohibition,” they said.

Sell toys instead, they were allegedly told by the mayor. They’re not buying that, they said it’s like asking a plumber to do carpentry work. Then the DENR raised the environment card – fireworks cause so much pollution. True, too. Then one licensed distributor threatened, “if the ban is not lifted, then we would have no other recourse but to resort to guerrilla tactics to sell our merchandise.”

The ban has its merits, but it came too late. Almost every year, we hear our mayor announcing a ban on the sale of pyrotechnics, only to lift the same at the last minute. The distributors do not stock up a couple of weeks before New Year’s Eve, they would have had to place their orders from manufacturers way before that in order to have their merchandise ready for distribution weeks before the one day in the year that they can make the most sales. City hall needs longer foresight – announcing this ban much earlier would have given the distributors the opportunity to find alternatives to selling fireworks. You don’t tell the actor just before he gets on stage to paint a painting instead – he’s worked for months memorizing the script, his blocking, understanding his character and internalizing everything, and he doesn’t know how to paint and can’t learn how in just a few minutes.

Aside from environmental concerns, the other reason cited for the ban is public safety. Every year, January 1’s headlines have all been about the number of fingers lost, houses burned, even deaths due to firecrackers, oops, the distributors specifically said they’re selling fireworks, not firecrackers, “pailaw” and not “paputok”… anyway, the mayor also wanted to lessen if not totally eradicate pyrotechnic-related injuries and deaths on New Year’s Eve. I agree with him on this one.

The press conference ended and the one statement that stood out was the threat: they will do guerrilla selling if the ban stays. That would mean going under the radar of the government, which means that they can sell even prohibited pyrotechnics, the ones that maim, burn, damage property and kill – “bawang,” Judas’ belt, thunder, “lolo” thunder, super thunder, super “lolo” thunder, goodbye Philippines, goodbye world (the names alone do give you a clear picture of what these firecrackers, nay, firebombers can do).

That’s my main concern in this issue: law enforcement. The question is, can the Mayor’s office really, effectively and fully enforce the ban?

Here are the scenarios: allow the licensed distributors to sell, regulate what they’re selling limiting it to relatively safer fireworks and perhaps even do all that while discouraging people from taking these things into their own hands and offer a citywide fireworks display instead. Or make the ban stay and risk all these distributors going underground selling their explosive merchandise, legal and illegal, in back alleys from the trunk of their cars where the government do not have eyes. We haven’t even gone into the issue of gun owners indiscriminately firing their firearms to welcome the New Year.

As for me and my family, we’ll have a nice dinner, talk about how our lives have been the past year, and what our aspirations are in the coming year, and play good music and laugh and be merry looking up to the sky not to watch fireworks but to envision a meaningful, even happier New Year… while being cautious enough to be safe under a roof for we never know where those bullets would land.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I'm boycotting SM, remember?

And yesterday I was reminded of the reasons why by the homegrown establishments that I have been patronizing and for which I have been convincing others every chance I get to do the same.

Yesterday, all seven of us were in all over town buying gifts in time for tomorrow, Christmas Day. Except for Leon who joined us a bit later, we paired up: my wife and I, our eldest Marko and youngest Aeneas then our two daughters Sofia and Gabriela.

"Are we still boycotting SM?" Marko asked me. It's been almost two years since we last stepped inside SM City Baguio (or any other SM-owned establishment here and elsewhere, in fact). We started the boycott in January of 2012 after learning of their expansion plan that would result in the removal of 182 trees on Luneta Hill.

"I am still boycotting SM, " was my reply. I explained again to my son, as I did when the whole SM issue started, that I will never force them to boycott SM, that the decision must come from them. His question stemmed from the fact that yesterday, the city's central business district was congested - people filled almost every inch of the sidewalks and traffic was bumper-to-bumper. One must admit, if you're buying gifts for several people, SM City Baguio did offer some convenience for having the most shops under one roof. But no, my boycott's still on to protest the adverse impact that their planned expansion will have on the city's fragile environment. And so we walked up and down Session Road to do our shopping instead of up to SM, as tempting as the convenience it offered  was, to patronize homegrown shops that survived SM's huge bite into the Baguio consumer pie.

1st homegrown shopping center - after an hour or so of looking, buying, grabbing a bite, I needed to go to the bathroom and I had to pay P5.00 to use theirs. This was repeated hours later at our 3rd homegrown shopping center stop. I ask, is it legal for these establishments to charge customers for the use of toilets? Both malls have restaurants, and aren't restaurants required to provide toilet facilities free of charge? I believe any establishment that has its patrons within their premises for more than an hour should do so. Never mind what the law requires, basic decency dictates that. But, well, I shell out the P5.00 because I'm boycotting SM, remember?

Exiting our first stop, we were met by a stench so strong it made me wonder how these line of restaurants along Session Road can stand operating with that offensive smell of rotten food just outside their doors. And then I realized, they are the cause of the stench. The curb reeked of dried up rotten kitchen waste, and where else would kitchen waste come from along Session Road? From the restaurants, of course. Don't they have their own waste treatment facility? Or even just a proper sewage  system? Their own septic tank? The rotten smell could only come from kitchen waste being dumped repeatedly on the curb. Never mind that SM actually has a sewage treatment plant, because I'm boycotting SM, remember?

We stop for coffee at another homegrown restaurant where my son had food poisoning once and had to be hospitalized for days with nary an apology from the owner. But what can I do? I am boycotting SM, remember?

Checked on the car parked on along a side road and reminded myself to remind myself later to be back by 4pm to move it somewhere else before the cops steal my license plates again. Had to park the car there because we were going to be shopping for hours and if I parked it at homegrown shopping center 1, I would have to pay more than a hundred bucks. What can I do, I can't park in SM where they charge P35.00 flat for parking, I'm boycotting SM, remember?

On to our 2nd homegrown shopping center stop. Had to walk on the road, for there was hardly any space on the sidewalk which was being used as an extension of the shopping center itself and was full of merchandise waiting to be delivered to customers or being delivered by suppliers to there. Jeeps have to let passengers off in the middle of the road for the lane nearest to the shopping center is being used as a parking space for delivery trucks. I grin and bear it, because I can't be walking on the sidewalk going up Luneta Road and do my shopping there because I'm boycotting SM, remember?

We knew what we needed to get from here, so we went straight for those products, paid for it, and when we offered to use our own reusable bags, we were told by the cashier that : "bawal po sa'min yan, e, kailangang i-plastic bag yung binili niyo." What can I do? I want to help lessen the use of plastic bags that end up poisoning our land and seas, but I'm forced to use plastic bags here because I'm boycotting SM, remember?

On to our next stop. It would have been so convenient to exit on the floor that directly connects to the overpass, but we can't - "no exit, entry only." So we squeezed ourselves in between narrow lanes and throngs of shoppers and lined up to be able to get out via the one exit where we're allowed to. We finally made it out, but before we could leave the guard asked for our receipt to make sure we didn't steal the merchandise in our plastic bags. I resent being treated as a suspect instead of as a customer, but I surrender my receipt to the guard who scribbles some hieroglyphics on my receipt and allow him to check the items listed there against what I was holding, because, I'm boycotting SM, remember?

It's been hours since I last paid P5.00 to use a bathroom, and the coffee I had in between has kicked in and I needed another trip to the toilet. At homegrown shopping center 3, I pay another P5.00 for a quick bathroom break. I was reminded of the couple of times I came here to shop and parked the car in their basement parking facility - one time I forgot to have my receipt "validated," that is, have any one establishment in the building stamp it to show proof that you did buy something there and I had to pay way more than the usual charge of P35.00 for the first hour and 10 or 20 per hour thereafter. The other time was worse - I lost my receipt, and I was being charged something like a couple of hundreds for it. I didn't have enough money with me, so I had to leave my driver's license with them until I can come back to pay the full amount. I wouldn't have minded it as much if we had to go through the trouble of proving that the car was indeed mine, for I thought that was what the receipt was really for - proof that the car yo're driving is yours. But we did not, and they could've easily looked up the time I entered the parking facility in their computer where they record all cars that enter and exit the facility. But what could I do, I paid the "fine," and redeemed my driver's license because I'm boycotting SM, remember?

Clutching lots of plastic bags (and with our "un-allowed" reusable bags tucked inside them), we walked the hundred meters or so back to our car and realizing halfway that it's already past 4pm, I broke into a jog hoping that the police have not stolen one of my license plates yet (and have to pay a couple of hundreds in ransom money to get it back)... lucky break - two plates untouched.

I'm boycotting SM because of their expansion plan's impact on the environment, and yesterday I was not allowed to use a reusable bag for my purchase to lessen the plastic bags that go in our landfills... so I patronize a local mall whose tenants pollute the sidewalks of the central business district by insensitively and indiscriminately disposing of their kitchen waste right on the curb...

I'm boycotting SM too because of questionable business practices and yesterday I had to pay P5.00 twice to use a facility in two homegrown establishments, a facility that they are supposed to provide for free to their customers...

I'm boycotting SM also because of their overall impact on Baguio (from the environment to traffic to life, in general) and yesterday I had to play a deadly game of patintero with cars while walking on the road because a homegrown shopping center has appropriated the sidewalks for its private use (and I remembered that we also fought for SM to free Luneta Road, a public road which it has been closing and opening at will as if they owned it).

Boycotting all these other establishments won't do any good... I'm just one of thousands of people that patronize them.

So what can we do then? Let's talk about it...

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Thanksgiving and keeping the flame alive

I find it amusing that from being a theater group, people who’ve heard of and know about Open Space now see it as some kind of a musical group or a band. But looking back at the last couple of years, it does seem like it – we were seen a lot in protest rallies and concerts performing songs.

I shouldn’t be surprised, when I put up the group 18 years ago, I originally envisioned it to explore all “theatrical” possibilities in presenting stories onstage. The word theatrical has since been changed to “creative,” and creative the group has been.

But I’ve talked a lot about the group’s genesis and what it’s been up to in this blog, so this time I just want to talk about this Sunday's gathering at home and why we’re doing it.

We’re thankful – for having each other, first and foremost, and knowing that we can always rely on each other whenever needed. We’re thankful that we share a vision: a better Baguio, a better country, a better world, and we’re thankful for all the opportunities to forward that vision, be it at inside a theater or out in the open at some park. And we’re thankful for every single person who chose to come to our performances and listen to our stories.

And this Sunday we gather to reinforce our faith in each other and in what we do. Each one of us will bring something to make the gathering a meaningful one – be it something to eat, something to drink, or something to warm our hearts. But the most important thing each one of us can contribute to today’s potluck is ourselves, to provide company and be in the company of kindred souls.

And one thing I’m looking forward to the most in today’s gathering is this: the next story we’ll all decide to tell.

On behalf of Open Space, we wish everyone a meaningful Christmas and more happiness in the coming year.

Two mayors, security concerns and empty headlines

Secretary Leila De Lima was reported to have ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate the shooting of a mayor, his wife and two others at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. That shouldn’t merit a headline, really, for it implies that without such an order, the NBI will not do anything about the incident. They’re the National Bureau of INVESTIGATION, caps mine, and that’s exactly what they’re supposed to do, with or without a special directive from anybody.

It’s the same whenever we read headlines that says “President orders the police to solve case,” “Mayor directs POSD to clear sidewalks of illegal vendors,” they’re redundant, they’re empty.


That incident offered a lot of angles that are worth looking deeper into. I always feel a bit apprehensive when entering an airport – whether as a traveller or even just to bring or pick up someone from there. Security’s always tight, and the sight of so many armed men, heck, even just one armed man, never fails to make me feel anxious.

Hearing of a mayor, in a country where most government officials are known to go over the top when it comes to security details, being assassinated right there is a cause for alarm. Out of all their other options, the assassins felt that attacking their target right at the airport is the easiest and safest way for them to perpetuate their crime. What does that say of NAIA?

This isn’t meant to take the focus away from the main issue here: the killing of a public official, his wife and two innocent bystanders, but it’s also time we give attention to the pathetic state of the country’s gateway to the rest of the world.


And then there’s Mayor Binay of Makati and the incident between him, his bodyguards and the Makati police on the one hand and the security personnel of Dasmarinas Village on the other. The incident once again brought to the fore the misguided belief of a lot of our public officials that their office, instead of placing the responsibility of enforcing the laws of the land on their shoulders, puts them above it.

Junjun Binay, Mayor of Makati, son of Vice President Jejomar Binay, brother of Senator Nancy Binay, lived most if not all of his life in Makati. He probably knows the city like the back of his hand. He knows that Ayala Avenue is impossibly clogged during rush hour; that Gil Puyat Avenue gets flooded when it rains hard, that certain roads are one-way at certain hours; he definitely knows that exclusive subdivisions like Dasmarinas Village have very strict policies on non-residents entering and exiting their area.

I don’t believe he didn’t know that the gate where he was prevented by guards from passing through is closed to non-residents at that time of the night. I’m quite sure he knew that, being a Makati boy. But being a Mayor, he believed that he was above the law. Can’t blame him entirely, his father, the vice president, already came to his defense saying that as mayor he should’ve been accorded some courtesy ( read: special treatment). Of course it didn’t occur to this presidential wanna-be that as Mayor, his son should lead by example.

We gave too much power to the wrong family, apparently. It’s time we took that anti-political dynasty bill more seriously.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Aeneas' palsiit

He had one before, bought from the market. But after hearing me tell stories about how we made our sling shots from scratch as children, he wanted one just like what I had as a kid. So he tagged along with me on one of my trips to the market again to buy a couple of strips of rubber and a strip of leather and we looked for that branch on one of the guava trees in the yard that would have the appropriate y-shape.

He went to bed clutching his new sling shot...

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Victory on Luneta Hill

It's one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it's another to think that yours is the only path.” - Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I write about this now because I still receive inquiries about the SM expansion plan issue. At the end of this month, it would be two years since I and my family last set foot inside SM City Baguio. I used to get invited a lot to mount performances there before the issue if the expansion plan arose. Over the years, we’ve performed musical revues and even plays there, something other theatre artists frowned upon, but something I saw as an opportunity to reach people who would otherwise not find themselves inside a theatre to a watch play.

I find it ironic that the last event we staged there was an exhibit called “City Beautiful?” Yes, with a question mark. It was to honor Daniel Burnham and his Plan of Baguio. The exhibit featured photographs of the early development of Baguio along with Burnham’s actual blueprints for the then budding hill station for health and recreation. My documentary on the history of Baguio, “Portrait of a Hill Station,” was screened at the exhibit opening, and our group performed original songs about Baguio in between the segments of the documentary.

The question posed at the end of that documentary – “We inherited a beautiful Baguio from the city’s pioneers. What kind of Baguio are we passing on to the next generation?”

A few months later, SM announced their plan to remove 182 trees on the hill for a parking and commercial building. Out on the street, we screamed at the top of our lungs, “No!” SM, in turn, screamed in various press releases, that they’re actually doing a public service by providing a parking facility in the city’s central business district. This sentiment was echoed by City Hall. Never mind that access to the parking facility wasn’t going to be free and SM was posed to earn millions from its operations.

I printed placards the day before that first rally, “It’s not what you’ll build, but what you’ll kill to build it.”

Almost two years, countless rallies and several court hearings later, SM announced that after taking into consideration the issues raised by the protest movement, that they are re-designing the expansion plan reducing it to almost half of the floor area of the original design. Instead of building all the way from the edge of the existing building to the edge of Gov. Pack Road, much of the earth space will be spared. The redesigned plan will also be saving as many as 115 trees out of the 133 that still stand on Luneta Hill. With that much space, we asked if they could then bring back the number of trees to 182, if not even go beyond that number. They said yes. Nay, they, in fact, committed to it. Hey also committed to turning that space into a nature park that will be open to the public, whether they’re customers of the mall or not.

I personally welcomed this development – the thought of having more than a hundred trees spared by their backhoes gave me hope that we could still instil in the minds of the corporate kind and the politicians that enable them to rape the environment the concept of sustainable development.

Another interesting proposal forwarded by SM was their desire to work with the protest movement. How will they go about the nature park? What are better mitigating efforts can they put in place?

I personally do not like malls. While they do offer certain conveniences, I still prefer buying from the neighborhood bookstore or my favorite fishmonger at the market. My outstanding balance of my terminated account with an internet service provider has gotten higher because it’s taking that long to settle my account without having to go inside that mall. Yes, I will continue to boycott SM, despite their proposal to redesign their expansion plan.

If SM went ahead with their original plan, and there’s nothing that’s stopping them from doing so right now, we would have lost all those 133 remaining trees on Luneta Hill. And while Save 182 has helped spread the concept of environmental protection and sustainable development to, losing the battle for the trees on Luneta Hill would have been a great setback. Had we won the environmental case we filed against SM, all the trees would have remained untouched. But would that really be a victory?

What do we gain if a corporate giant like SM remains an adversary instead of an ally in preserving and enhancing the environment? How would they go about their other development projects in other areas if they continue to view advocates of the environment as enemies?

If we’re able to help them have a change of heart, change their mindset, and make them take their impact on the environment, and in fact, on the lives of the people in the communities where they operate into consideration in every step they take, that to me is a sweeter victory.

O Christmas Tree

I don’t know what Wikipedia says about it, but to me a Christmas tree must, first and foremost, inspire. Certain Western theories say that it is a symbol of hope – during winter, at a time when most trees are devoid of leaves, a verdant Christmas tree represents Christ, a saviour appearing in a world filled with strife. I agree with that too.

And give hope. That’s what our Christmas tree at home stirs in me, a sense of hope. That despite all the troubles of the year that’s about to end, a new beginning is on the horizon with its promises that tomorrow will be better and we’ll be happier.

I used to ask our good neighbor for permission to prune their cypress tree towards late November. The cuttings I used to cover a conical frame I usually fashion with wood and chicken wire. For a few years that was a tradition and the scent of cypress was a reminder that Christmas, the season of love, of joy and happiness, was just around the corner. Christmas was, and is, always the happiest time of the year at home.

My wife is at her happiest during Christmas, the happiness springs from making the rest of the family happy. No matter what our financial situation is, everyone would have a few gifts to unwrap. She’s wonderful that way. Christmas is about that, making every single member of the family feel that they’re special. After all, Christmas is about one man who died for every single one of us.

We did not open gifts at twelve midnight. On Christmas Eve, we dressed up and went to hear mass, after which we would head straight back home for a late dinner. We went to bed after telling stories and sharing laughter at the dining table, with the children hardly able to stop themselves from sneaking under the Christmas tree of cypress needles and chicken wire to unwrap boxes with their names on it, and hopefully, to finally catch Santa. But we only had to remind them that Santa is paying extra attention right then for some last minute revisions in that list of children who deserved a special gift from him, and they would immediately forget about risking losing that one special gift from Santa.

We would wake up the next morning to the sound of our children’s shouts of joy upon discovering the gifts that Santa had left for them. There was that one Christmas when Santa actually left a trail of ashy footprints just next to the fireplace and towards the window. Whatever we, the parents, were able to get them for Christmas, Santa always gave the best gifts. And he never forgot to leave a note too for the children – reminders about how they’ve been the whole year and advise on how to be even better children the rest of the New Year.
A few years ago, after moving quite far away from our neighbor with a cypress tree, we finally bought a Christmas tree with a steel frame covered with faux-pine needles made of plastic in green and silver. We still tried to spruce it up with some real cypress needles to make it appear thicker, but we know that we had to have those cypress leaves for their aroma. The smell of Christmas.

We’ve been going through a rough patch lately, and when my wife put up the tree just a couple of nights ago, immediately the sense of despair, and anger, and hopelessness, and uncertainty vanished. It’s not an extravagant tree, with just the right amount of lights, and trinkets that tell the history of our young family. Cross-stitched pin cushions. A few Christmas balls in red, green and silver. Some figurines bought garage sales and ukay-ukay stores. Some object that a son or a daughter insisted on hanging on the tree. My wife turned on the lights, the kids said their goodnights, and I stayed up for a little while longer, staring at that tree. I went to bed with a sigh and knowing that everything’s going to be alright.

I walked by the gigantic, garish Christmas tree at the top of Session Road the other night. It felt empty and soul-less. It just didn’t have that same magic our humble tree had. Could it be the design? The amount of money spent?

None of that. I believe it’s all about the intention of the one who put up the tree – that, everyone can see and feel.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The News Weekly

Pigeon Lobien, erstwhile de facto editor in chief of Cordillera Today, just launched his own paper. Simply called The News Weekly. I have a column there with the same title as this blog.

He missed the photo I sent him for the column, but I'm starting to like it just like that... blank. 

Congratulations, Pigeon!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Rich man, poor man

The vehicle reduction ordinance, or the number coding scheme, has been suspended in Baguio for the duration of the on-going Fil-am Golf Tournament. “Why?” My son asked on our way to school today, a Friday, the day we’re not supposed to bring our car to town for our plate ends in 9. For the benefit of more than a thousand golfers and their families and friends who are here for the annual Fil-Am Golf Tournament, I answered.

What’s wrong with making it easy for visitors to our beautiful city to go around town without having to worry about getting their SUVs stopped for having that particular last digit on their license plate on a particular day? It actually makes sense and I am sure that it was easy for the mayor to make the decision.

You know, like how easy it was for them to think of a way to ease the traffic along General Luna Street during the morning rush hour - ban public utility jeeps from passing there. You know, just like it was easy for them to grant SM the permit to mow down a whole forest so they can make the biggest mall in Baguio even bigger, and earn more money in the process. Just like it was easy for them to surrender our streets to Jadewell before, and the market to Uniwide – so that these businesses can do more business and earn more money.

Those who have less in life must have more in law. That’s not the case in our city. Here, those who have more in life are given even more in law and everything else. They don’t see anything wrong in looking the other way when it comes to the concerns of the moneyed.

Thousands have been clamoring to pedestrianize Session Road to help clean the air in the city’s central business district and provide the masses a some relief from carbon monoxide, but since it faced stiff opposition from the business owners in the area, the idea has been shelved. The welfare of a few against that of the greater majority, and for the powers-that-be, the former’s always trumps the latter’s.

Jeepneys carrying two dozens of the city’s children from the eastern part of Baguio on their way to school in the morning must walk the extra couple of hundred meters or so because their ride’s not allowed to enter General Luna Street, so that those comfortably in their cars can be dropped off right at their school’s doorstep. If traffic was the main concern for the decision, then ban the private cars instead and allow the jeeps in, for they carry more people.

What I don’t understand, I shared with my son, is why they find it very easy to make decisions that would benefit those who already have more in life, more often at the expense of those who have less?

In the meantime, be careful when crossing Session Road for the duration of the Fil-Am Golf Tournament: they’ve neglected to paint the pedestrian lanes with stripes for people on foot, and a golfer’s SUV is on its way.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Ana’s bonfire (and her father’s portrait of Tacloban)

When she noticed that water was flowing ankle deep into their home, she told everyone in the room, her family, that it was time to leave. She made her way to the door and as she opened it, the water started rising and her along with it. She grabbed on to a branch to avoid getting swept away by the current. She recalled how painful the wind was on her face. She stayed floating for a few minutes, and as rapidly as it rose, it started receding. She didn’t let go of the branch and in just a matter of a couple of minutes, from being in danger of drowning in floodwaters, she realized that she was in danger of falling to her death from her perch on the topmost branch up a kaimito tree some thirty feet up. She looked around and was relieved to see most of her family members grabbing on to the branches of the same tree. But not everyone was there.

Soon after the Typhoon Yolanda left, Jun Fernandez received the news in Baguio – his wife, a daughter and two grandchildren who lived in Tacloban were missing, and were presumed dead, according to eyewitnesses who last saw them. There was no way they could have survived after being swept away by a series of storm surges that brought tree-high waves. His younger daughter was determined, she told her father that she will travel to Tacloban that same night to look for her mother, her Ate and the two children, aged six and four. There was news that the body of her Ate Eva has been found, and Ana wanted to see for herself if the news was true.

Ana would call her father in Baguio after seeing the body of the woman she was told could have been that of her sister. “It’s not her,” she told her father.

After hearing of the situation in Tacloban in the days that followed, and realizing that Ana herself could be putting herself in harm’s way by going there, Jun decided to follow. He has accepted the loss, but wanted to make sure that his daughter Ana was safe. He arrived in Tacloban four days after Ana did. As they prepared to cook some food that night, Ana, together with her aunt who was saved by that kaimito tree, told Jun that the last time they received some relief goods was on the day Ana arrived four days earlier, they have had to stretch that small amount of rice and couple of canned food for four days. A cousin was able to buy rice in between, at P100 per kilo and only after walking for kilometers for hours on end in search of food.

“It was unreal, unbelievable” was how Jun described the scene before him. The dead lay unclaimed, unattended, survivors were preoccupied trying to stay alive to bother with them. The memory of the sight of the bodies of three infants by the road would haunt him forever, he said. One of the infants had an arm missing, along with much of its face. Nobody could ever be prepared for what Jun shared with us, “what can you do? Dogs were trying to stay alive too.”

The story of how one Iglesia ni Cristo church was closed to non-members of this sect. A sister of Jun’s wife was one of those who tried to seek refuge inside one, and was turned away. But not all churches closed its doors, the other non-Iglesia ni Cristo places of worship provided shelter and saved thousands of lives. Even a softdrink warehouse was opened to the people who needed shelter.

“Did that church close its doors on evacuees too?” Jun wondered as he passed a church with its doors closed. He decided to go closer to try to take a look inside and regretted doing so. Peeping through the gap on the church doors, he saw the whole inside of the church filled with lifeless bodies, piled up to three bodies high. That church, filled with evacuees before the typhoon made landfall, turned out to have been inundated in the blink of an eye, drowning everyone inside.

Ninety percent of the population of Barangay 88, according to what Jun gathered on the ground, died. The death toll could very well breach the initial estimate of 10,000 which top government officials have been trying to deny.

For a time, Tacloban was hamleted – nobody in, nobody out. This was due to the alleged infiltration and looting by rebel forces. In one instance, according to news reports, a military convoy bearing relief goods was ambushed by rebels.

Contrary to the picture of inept and uncaring government personnel that the mainstream media have been forcing us to accept, according to Jun, from where he was, he witnessed heroism and selflessness and portraits of self-sacrifice – he saw soldiers, policemen, government workers, themselves exhausted, wounded, hungry, also grieving, who hardly ate or slept to do all they can to ease the suffering of the survivors. There was enough food to go around, that’s true, but there were not enough hands to get them to the victims fast enough. Soldiers would take a bite or two from their own food rations before passing this on to the nearest survivor begging for food. A brief lull in between carrying sacks and boxes of relief goods or people on their backs was an opportunity to close their eyes for a few minutes to rest. On a regular day, we already know how we don’t have enough policemen and soldiers in this country, how we don’t have enough doctors in every town, what more in times like this when many policemen, soldiers are themselves victims? They don’t need to hear every single day how inefficient they were, how badly or wrong they’re doing their jobs. Specially coming from people who saw nothing more than what Cooper or Sanchez or Failon or Enriquez or Tianco chose to show them, in the warmth and comfort of their own homes swiping on a computer screen or clicking on a mouse. What Tacloban needs are extra pairs of hands.

Photo lifted from Jun Fernandez's Facebook page.
In your opinion, based on what you saw, what could’ve prevented this much destruction, or this many deaths? I asked Jun. Nothing except evacuating whole provinces, he said. There was almost no escape, even those living far inland away from the shores were tossed around by floodwaters and strong winds, overwhelmed by unbelievably strong rains. And Jun points to poverty and the resulting illiteracy of many of our countrymen as an added culprit. The warning they received from the local officials was for a typhoon with potential wind speeds of over “300 kph” and the possibility of “storm surges.” “Kung sinabi nilang parang tsunami, o kaya parang dalawang Ondoy, mas naintindihan siguro naming kung ano’ng klaseng bagyo ang parating,” said one survivor. Tsunami they’ve been hearing a lot on the radio and on television, a “storm surge” is a relatively new concept, if not a totally alien term, for most of them. “300 kph” is just a number. As Jun shared with us, we did not speak to them in a language they could have understood better.

Jun would break down in between telling his story, or would try letting a chuckle out after a rather funny anecdote, or forcing a smile – they were all painful to watch.

Ana wanted to stay longer, stand by the shores of Tacloban in the hope that her mother, her ate Eva and her two children would show up. It would take a long time for anybody who lost a loved one or two, or four, or everyone and everything they had, to accept what happened. Jun and Ana got on the next bus out of Tacloban, and decided to start their own journey towards acceptance and healing.

One particularly cold evening after the typhoon, Ana, gathered some damp wood and started a fire. The soldiers have been trying to get one going, in vain, everything around them was drenched. But Ana, a true Baguio girl who can start a bonfire with her eyes closed, soon had a nice, warm fire going. People started gathering around her bonfire, soldiers gathered more wood and placed them in Ana’s able hands.

For one evening, amidst the destruction, the deaths, the despair and feeling of hopelessness, Ana’s small bonfire lighted up her part of the world, and kept people warm, eased their pain, started the healing of broken hearts, and spirits. And most importantly, let everyone around her know that they were not alone, that there are people who can help provide some light in this time of darkness, and keep that fire going until the sun rises again tomorrow.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Mabuhay tayong mga Pilipino

Every one of us is in search of a handle, something to hold on to, something that can help us comprehend what just happened. Every one of us, victims, acquaintances, friends and relatives of survivors, witnesses, we are all finding it difficult to make sense of what just happened. Typhoon Yolanda, the strongest storm in recent world history, stronger than this storm-ravaged country has ever encountered, left thousands dead, hundreds of thousands injured and homeless, countless communities in total ruins.

Yolanda has vanished, and we can’t direct our anger at something that has ceased to exist. So who do we blame for the misery, the despair, hopelessness, for all this? Armed with an idea of a fraction of the whole scenario, we start point fingers. A reporter, from where he was standing at a particular moment, saw that survivors were left to fend for themselves with no relief operations in sight, corpses lining the streets, survivors desperately trying to survive searching for a morsel to eat or a sip of water. And there we all were like a mob kicking, punching, cursing at all government officials. How can they be so heartless? Where were they? We have no idea and our already conditioned minds fill the gaps for us and conjure images of top government officials comfortable and dry in their warm beds. Or of soldiers sleeping on the job, uncaring. And how, indeed, can someone sleep at night or be so uncaring at a time like this?

But what the reporter didn’t tell us was that he has no idea what was going on beyond his limited field of view. That maybe just a block or two away from where he was standing were a group of weary, hungry, perhaps even injured government employees putting together and distributing food packs to whoever was within their reach at the moment. Or somewhere beyond the nearest rubble could be soldiers immersed in floodwaters carrying women, children and the elderly on their backs to get them to a safer place. They didn’t see that, and they didn’t tell us about that, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

And since this tragedy is so difficult to comprehend, to accept, we will find it hard to accept any answer to all our questions. If we were told that the government officials were there after all, much overwhelmed, yes, but there doing everything they can, we ask another question. How can they have not prepared for something like this?

But who can ever be prepared for something that nobody has ever experienced before? How can anyone prepare when nobody knew what was coming?

The country needs to rise from this tragedy, and it is hard for a weary, injured, heartbroken nation to do so when it continues to receive a beating just days after being at the receiving end of one of the strongest storms in world history. It’s like watching a parent hitting, pinching and screaming at a crying child for hurting himself while playing, being a child. The child certainly didn’t want to get hurt, and most probably the child had no idea that there was protruding rock in his path while he was running, he just didn’t see it coming. The child already suffered a nasty wound, it doesn't make sense to break his heart too.

Let’s stop seeing the government as something detached from ourselves, for we are the government. Like you, Mar too feels for every one of the victims. Like you, Dinky too has not been sleeping well at night, if at all, and would like be able to feed every single one of the victims. Like you, Noynoy too has cried several times in the last few days. Like you, the soldier too would like to be able to get every single one of the survivors out of harm’s way. The policeman from Tacloban would surely start helping everyone around him as soon as he buries his wife, or his child. The barangay captain too after he finds every single member of his missing family.

We are all wounded, some way more so than others, but wounded nonetheless. We all need a hug, a hand to hold, to be reassured that everything will be better tomorrow. And nobody else, not CNN, not the U.N., not Obama nor Her Royal Highness can make us feel better the way we ourselves can.

They need you, you need them, I need you, and you need me. Let’s not turn our backs on each other now. We need each other, let’s hold hands. Don't let go now.

Mabuhay tayong mga Pilipino.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Nature can, nature will and nature has

Other parts of the nation went to bed last night dreading the next day’s news about what Typhoon Yolanda, considered as one of the biggest storms ever to form in world history, will leave in her wake. As the sun was setting yesterday, Yolanda was making landfall in central Philippines, but her tremendous power can be felt hundreds of kilometers away up here in the Cordilleras. It was humbling – with all the illusions of power and greatness people surround themselves with, Yolanda’s presence reminded us that we’re but tiny members of one vast community living on nothing but a dot floating almost defenselessly in the universe.

I overheard this quip in an upscale restaurant a few days ago: I already followed it up with the person in charge, but don’t worry, if he doesn’t act on it, I will make sure you get your permission to cut those trees.

Is it progress when we significantly diminish the quality of life of a community, of human beings in a community, of all living beings in a community? Because that’s the reason they give for the rape of our natural environment – progress. In today’s society, the advocates of this so-called progress, the perpetrators of this rape are called leaders, and the people who call attention to the crime are labeled as troublemakers. The former get pats on the back, plaques of recognition, golf club memberships, fat bank accounts while the latter get smirks, scorn and contempt when the former get stuck in traffic during public demonstrations denouncing the crimes being perpetuated against our mother.

Nature can make the tiniest seed grow into a towering tree, taller than any other living being on this planet. Nature can, from the tiniest cell, create the most amazing and beautiful living beings – a brightly colored flower on the ground, an eagle floating in the air, a gentle giant quietly making its way in the ocean. Nature can inspire us with the most amazing sun rise, nourish us with a gentle rain, or cleanse the air that we breathe.

Nature can, nature will and nature has.

And nature can make the slightest movement deep underground that can result in lives lost and so much destruction and cause ocean waves to rise to unbelievable levels. Nature can cause so much earth to come rushing down a mountainside burying everything and everyone in its path. And now, nature showed us that it can gather enough power from thin air and turn it into what we call a storm, a super typhoon named Yolanda, and all the concrete monuments to crass capitalism, the parking buildings for your SUVs, the expensive high-rise condominiums mean nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Nature can, nature will and nature has.

She lets us take from her, but expects us to leave enough, give back enough, to maintain that delicate balance between what we need to live our lives and what she needs to continue providing for us. All she asks of each one of us is to do what we can to help keep that balance. After all, she is us, we are nature, as trees are, and birds, and turtles and fish, and butterflies, too. The real community we belong to is the one that made our existence possible at all, nature, and not the artificial, “progress”-driven one that we’ve created where life is easily bartered for 13 pieces of silver, where a life-giving tree is a mere obstacle to a bigger mall, where a home for birds and other tiny living beings are never part of the blueprint.

I choose to live my life belonging to, and defending and enhancing the community that made my existence possible at all.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Living room

*my column in the Nov. 3, 2013  issue of Cordillera Today 

The birds are singing, and the sun’s rays are trying to make their way through the clouds. A slight drizzle falls and the crows on the wire fly to a nearby tree to stay dry. It is almost six in the morning on the 2nd of November, 2013, and the city is waking up and I just know that it’s going to be a beautiful day in Baguio. Let me tell you about our home.

We moved to this house in June, the start of the monsoon season. Under this roof we’ve stayed warm and dry through the countless storms that came our way this year, including the latest one which left the country last night.

I wish this column came with pictures, as I want to share with you, dear reader, one of the reasons we chose this house over the other ones we were considering – there was one somewhere in Kennon Road, an apartment on the third floor that offered a magnificent view of Mt. Sto. Tomas and another one, rustic, wooden and lived in which was just a short walk from the center of town. But both of those didn’t have this one thing that this house had – earth space.

The recent rainfall showed me and my son, who has been helping me prepare the soil in one corner of the yard for a vegetable garden, which canal needed further digging and shovelling to make it easy for the water to flow out to the drainage and prevent the beds from being flooded. A variety of seeds have been sowed, and the beds are waiting for them to be ready for transplanting.

And this house has three guava trees, one pear tree, a blue pine tree surrounded by a hedge of bamboo. There’s enough space for a nursery, and we thought we could try to propagate pine seedlings for planting in every available space here and elsewhere.

Earth space – living space. On the driveway there are still traces of chalk drawings – lines for “patintero” and “sikking,” there’s a drawing of the sun, a child’s plea for sunshine. Here we get to spend some time away from LCD monitors and out in the yard. We’ve spun tops, played with marbles, climbed this one guava tree that grew much taller than the others, played fetch with Zeus, our dog, ran around, biked around. We are, indeed, living in this house.

This is our sanctuary, every part of this home is a living room. And in a city that’s fast going down the road of urbanization, a path where money is seen as the source of true happiness, where the scent of pine is indiscriminately bartered for the stench of diesel fumes, a forest replaced with a parking lot, botanical and rose gardens and wide open fields are cemented over, parks are fenced in and gated, where monuments to crass commercialism and a myopic view of beauty are erected with arrogance and conceited belief that they can do better than the magnificent natural beauty that the Creator blessed this city with, it’s nice to have a small corner, a living room you can retreat to.

There are less and less living rooms and more and more lifeless spaces in Baguio, how can the powerful, the influential, the leaders who made this happen expect people to be able to live a life in a lifeless city?

Hold on, I won’t allow what they have done to Baguio ruin this beautiful morning. I see that the slight drizzle made the leaves of the trees and the flowers in the garden glisten, the branches sway to the gentle, cold November breeze, and I see the first batch of vegetable seeds have started to sprout.

Ahh, and there's the answer - if we want more living rooms in Baguio, all we have to do is plant the seeds and make sure they grow.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Commending Domogan

This might come as a surprise to some people, but I do want to commend our mayor for a job well done at the public market, which has always been my favorite place to visit in Baguio City. I have been away for most of the last couple of months and couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I went to market the other day.

First stop, the fish and meat section and I was surprised to see the road going down towards the Baguio City Market Superintendent’s Office completely cleared of illegal vendors. Market goers walked around easily, not having to squeeze themselves in between Divisoria wares and ­ukay-ukay garments spread on the pavement.

From there, I walked up towards Hilltop, usually stopping briefly at that side-street on the left, the only place where I can get salmon. My children dread entering that street when they come with me to the market – aside from salmon, that’s also where one can find meats that perhaps not even a seasoned chef would be able to identify. I always thought that perhaps after the choice cuts are delivered to the meat section, all the other parts go to this area. And while I did miss the out-of-this-world tableau worthy of a scene in a macabre film or novel, having so much breathing space and clean walkways blew me away. Even the passageway at the ukay-ukay alley had much more space now.

I turn towards the new blocks on the block – were those blocks 3 and 4? – which were really nicely laid out and organized. Plus I discovered a new place where one can stop for a quick bite or even a full meal that looked really clean and the sight of igado, dinardaraan and dinakdakan almost made me forget that I had to get home in time to cook dinner. I walked on down towards the hangar market to get my fresh highland produce, reminding myself to return for that pickaxe I saw at the tools section, I need that for the garden.

Not much salad leaves at the hangar the other day, and the ones available didn’t look very good and were very expensive. Still, I got a handful each of ice lettuce, lollo rosso and romaine. Stocked up on garlic, onions and tomatoes too and got a bit of fresh basil and some coriander.

We still had coffee, so I walked past my suki to get some chicken for pinikpikan, and after that, a coconut for gata and unsweetened peanut butter for kare-kare. And with my bayong full of ice cream containers that I use to put meats and fish, reusable bags for the vegetables, I walked up the pedestrian overpass to cross towards Malcolm Square to wait for my jeep home.

With that, I have to give it to the man in City Hall, Mayor Mauricio Domogan, for doing a good job of cleaning and clearing up the market. I surely hope that we can keep the market this way. See, Sir, I simply write about what I see around me – bad or good. This time, it was something really good, and you deserve to be congratulated.

It took me more than an hour to get a ride home, so now I hope that instituting positive reforms in the city’s public transportation system is also in the mayor’s plans. Let’s talk about that next week.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Katarungan para sa mga kababaihan

Nagkataong mayroong press conference nung nakaraang biyernes sa Luisa’s CafĂ© sa Session Road habang naroon ako. Panauhin si Monique Wilson, kilalang artista sa entablado at masugid na tagapagtaguyod ng karapatang pangkababaihan at LGBT. Si Monique din ang punong tagapagsalita ng One Billion Rising, o ang malawakang kilusan para sa pagsulong ng mga karapatang pangkababaihan.

Ang pangunahing paksa ng press conference ay hustisya para sa mga kababaihang naging biktima ng karahasang tulad ng pangaabuso sa kamay ng kani-kanilang mga asawa at panggagahasa. Nakakapanlumo ang kwento ng mga tagapagsalita sa press conference, na kinabilangan din ni Mila Singson, ang Secretary-General ng Innabuyog-Gabriela, alyansa ng mga organisasyong pangkababaihan sa Cordilera.

Palala ng palala ang mga insidente ng panggagahasa sa Cordillera. At ang masaklap pa dito, dahil na rin sa kahirapan, madalas na nalulusutan ng mga maysala ang kanilang krimen sa pamamagitan lamang ng pagaalok ng maliit na halaga sa mga biktima. Hindi rin natin masisisi ang mga biktima sa pagtanggap ng mga alok na ito – dahil sa kabulukang umiiral sa ating sistemang panghustisya, karamihan sa kanila ay tuluyan ng nawalan ng tiwala sa ating mga hukom, at dala na rin ng kahirapan, marami ang napipilitang tanggapin ang alok na kabayaran.

Sa hukuman, madalas tayong makarinig ng mga kwento tungkol sa mga biktimang muling nabibiktima ng pambabastos at pangaalipusta sa kamay ng mga hukom at mga abogado. Sino nga namang biktima ang hahayaang muling yurakan ang kanilang dangal at pagkatao habang dinidinig ang kanilang kaso?

One Billion Rising for Justice – pagaaklas ng isang bilyon para sa hustisya, ito ang kampanya ng kilusan para sa darating na February 14. Ngunit makamit man ang pagbabagong hinahangad sa ating sistemang panghustisya, malayo pa rin ang paglalakbay upang makamit n gating mga kababaihan ang tunay na kalayaan mula sa karahasan. At mahalaga ang papel nating mga kalalakihan para tulungan silang makamit ito. Ilang beses mo na bang narinig ang birong “pambayad utang” ang isang anak na babae? Ilang ulit mo na bang narinig, o binigkas, ang mga katagang “kababaeng tao pa naman?” Parang ang isang pagkakamali ay mas malala kung babae ang gumawa. Ilan lang ito sa mga halimbawang nagpapakita ng ating baluktot at maling pagtingin sa mga kababaihan.

Sa ating bansa, malawak pa rin ang pananaw na ang mga babae ay parang bagay lamang na pagaari ng mga lalaki – mapa-ama o tiyuhin, asawa o kasintahan. At dahil sila ang “nagmamay-ari,” maaari nilang gawin sa mga babae anumang gustuhin nila. Ang isang lalaking nakipagtalik sa isang babae ay pilyo, naka-iskor, o macho. Samantalang ang babaeng nakipagtalik sa isang lalaki ay “nagpagamit.” Ang ganitong maling pananaw ang nagbibigay lakas-loob sa mga tarantadong kalalakihan na abusuhin at lapastanganin ang mga kababaihan.

Hindi lang pagbibigay kapangyarihan sa mga kababihan ang kailangan, mahalaga ring baguhin ang kamalayan ng mga kalalakihan dahil mkamit man natin ang repormang hinahangad sa sistemang panghustisya sa ating bansa, magpapatuloy pa rin ang mga abuso’t iba pang uri ng karahasan habang naririyan ang mga tradisyunal na pananaw na matagal nang dapat nabuwag.

Tinanong ako kung ano para sa akin ang ibig-sabihin ng tunay na hustisya para sa mga kababaihan. Medyo nahirapan akong pag-isipan ang sagot. Ano nga kaya ang kailangan upang makamit ito?

Tunay na pagkakapantay-pantay.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Defending Domogan, Mayor of a quarter of Baguio City

*My column in the Oct. 13 issue of Cordillera Today 

A meme floated around social networking websites showed a signage at Burnham Park purportedly warning park-goers that a permit is necessary when exercising at and taking pictures of Burnham Park. This altered photograph was shared around online and that’s how I got to know about it. For those who don’t know what a meme is, defines it as "an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture." In this case, it was an altered image of an actual signage located at the newly-built fountain of what was once known as the Rose Garden. That photo of the actual signage was shared around too online too, and that’s how I got to know about it.

The first photo is an expression of a sentiment: Burnham Park must remain free and open to the public. It came about after people learned of the charges being imposed by the City Environment and Parks Management Office (CEPMO) on exercise groups that use various areas of the park every morning. They are led by volunteer fitness instructors who, in turn, get a little compensation for their effort from donations from mothers, fathers, senior citizens, in fact people of all ages who attend these exercise sessions. A great alternative to enrolling in any of the swanky expensive fitness gyms in the city that charge an arm and a leg for one to get toned arms and legs. At Burnham Park, one gets to exercise amidst the scent of pine and warmed by the bright Baguio sun rise, for a song, really.

They are making money, and they should pay, was basically how CEPMO summed up their defense of the charges imposed on the groups. Otherwise, individuals who wish to jog around the park or do any other exercise, or hobbyists who wish to take photos of Burnham Park, are free to do so.

Former local media man Jogin Tamayo, now based in Canada, but whose continued advocacy of relevant issues in Baguio makes it seem like he never left, is among the loudest voices protesting this move by the city government. Ryan Olat Mangusan, the Mayor’s “punong-abala” did not take this sitting down, and now the words “libel” and “politically motivated” are being thrown about between the two.

Mangusan’s defense of Domogan was shared around online too, “BURNHAM PARK IS FREE FOR ALL, except those who use the premises for commercial purpose or simply those activities that require paying of fees,” his online announcement claimed. That makes sense, except that the exercise groups do not “require fees,” and thrive on voluntary donations. Besides, we’re not talking about millions of pesos for ERS machines here, nor tens of thousands for a failed fake snow show on Session Road – now these are the things that should merit a charge, a court charge that is.

And who are “these people?” They are citizens of Baguio City, of which Mauricio Domogan is the Mayor, also considered as the so-called “Father of the City.” But the words coming out of City Hall are all but those coming from a father. Mangusan must remember that his boss isn’t only the Mayor of those who voted for him, but of every single citizen of Baguio. Go ahead and enjoy the praises being heaped by your minions, but it is your responsibility to address the issues of everyone else in the city. Remember that only roughly a quarter of the city’s voting population chose our current Mayor, three quarters either chose someone else or did not bother to choose. I remember the barbed words that came out of the Mayor’s office, and family, when people criticized the move of Domogan to unilaterally remove Baguio geographically from Benguet and defied Malacanang’s suspension of classes due to heavy rains not so long ago – these “children” were called “bobo” and “tanga” for looking up to their father for guidance.

Mangusan took offense when the altered photo of the signage at the park spread like meningococcemia online. But really, how different is it from the signs that City Hall put all over the city labelling Baguio as “clean and green?”

So Mangusan, on Domogan’s behalf, launches an attack – against his own boss’ “children.” This just reinforces the belief that our current Mayor is only the Mayor of those who voted for him, those who always agree with him, those who toe his line. And those who show a hint of dissent? They are considered the enemy.

That is not leadership. That is dictatorship.

Oh, and by the way, referring to it, as I did earlier in this article, as “what was once known as the Rose Garden” was not a mistake. It really is hardly a Rose Garden anymore. But that’s another story, but one that’s not too different.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

My high

Newly elected senator, Grace Poe, is reportedly mulling the legalization of marijuana. If this actually gets to the senate floor at all, we can expect deliberations of the same intensity as the debates on RH Bill. I’d love to hear what Tito Sotto would have to say about this. Not.

Off my head, no pun intended, the justification that would be most argued by the pros would be that alcohol, in fact, does way more damage than weed – both on a person’s physical and mental health. The church would probably bring up the morality card again, which would make me wonder why they don’t bring up the same card to call for the banning of alcohol, or public office. Both have been known to result in immorality.

I once puffed and I inhaled, unlike Bill Clinton. Was never a big fan of it, even if, no use pretending otherwise, the beautiful grass grows abundantly in the art community. But whatever effect it’s expected to have, I’ve discovered that a good cup of Benguet coffee brew on a cool yet sunny Baguio morning brings the same kind, in fact even a better high. Or a good book or a good song. All the latter, in fact, never results in a bad trip, unlike the former.

But despite my agreement with some of the pro-cannabis arguments, right now I am against the use of marijuana, let’s get that out. I won’t argue the pros and cons of smoking pot, won’t entertain comparisons between that and any other mind-altering substance. And while I’ve had so many talks with my own children about it, I don’t and won’t judge those who just can’t live without it.

But as far as my own children is concerned, my argument against marijuana is simple: right now, it’s illegal, and to me, the high just isn’t worth the risk. Getting caught with 5 grams or so of it, that’s probably enough for a couple of joints, or one fat one if you’re in the highlands where they commonly come from, can get you more than a decade in jail. Getting caught with more of it, enough to be classified as a pusher or dealer, and that would mean spending the rest of your life in jail. I don’t think freshly brewed Benguet coffee is easily available in Muntinlupa, neither do good books – and it’s really hot in there.

But I am looking forward to how Poe would proceed with the possibility of legalizing pot. But in the meantime, the law says no, and it’s just not worth the risk. Besides, a kilo of Benguet coffee beans is only P200.00, and I don’t have to hide to enjoy it.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Love with all my life, check

It's 7:30 in the morning and I've been up since five. Nothing extraordinary there, five has been my usual waking hour for the past few years. I stop for a moment before refilling my mug. Just finished my third mug of coffee, nothing extraordinary there, really, that's usually how much it takes to get me going every morning. Except that I've heard so many times that I shouldn't be drinking that much coffee. But today's supposed to be a special day, I will go for that fourth mug. And that fifth stick. Not nice.

Anyway, days such as this one are a great time to take stock.

Be married to the perfect life partner, check. Have wonderful children, check, five times. I have traveled quite a bit, but I'd like to be able to see more of the world. Let's put an asterisk on that one.

Write a play, compose a song, paint a picture. Check. Full nudity onstage, asterisk. Maintain that sense of social responsibility when creating art, no to art for art's sake, and certainly never for money and money alone, honor the honorables, expose the what must be exposed, tell stories that must be told, and do all to tell them well, check.

Never compromise principles to please, because it's popular, or for 13 piece of silver, or even a hundred, check that and keep it in check.  

Choose a career path that I can be passionate about, never get bored with, check. And one that can provide the family with financial security. Another asterisk right there.

"You ain't seen nothing yet," the perfect mantra for this day, says a good friend whose turn to sing the song comes in just a couple of weeks or so. I like that, and shall keep that in mind as I write down an outline for a documentary on Cordillera cultural icons and the efforts of a group of young men and women to save sea turtles from extinction.

Love with all my heart. Check.

Other than all of that, it's really all about the five - five wonderful souls that I helped bring into this world. Make sure they will have good memories of how they got to where they're going when they get there. Laugh a lot with them. Make them smile a lot. Allow them to cry when they feel like it, be there to hug them when they do. One of them once wrote me a note that said, "I love you with all my life." Wow. So that's how it feels to be loved that way. That's exactly how much I love them.

So life begins 40, so they say. First day of the rest of it, the remainder of what's left of it. Wait, a message notification on Facebook. "Happy birthday," a dear friend says. Thank you, and thank God for allowing me to still be here today.

Monday, September 16, 2013

In response to Mr. Michael Bengwayan's statement

Mr. Bengwayan, posted the following on Facebook:

"The Fight for the Trees at SM is Far From Over

When I started the fight for the trees at SM by writing a petition that was signed by more than 40,000 people in the streets and more than 8,000 people online and by mobilizing and leading the first and biggest ever environmental protest in Baguio City on January 20, 2011, it was because of three things: first, the trees are our heritage and they are sacred to the people and the land; second, they are ecologically important, and third; they are a legacy to the next generations. The connection of people, culture and environment cannot just be defiled... especially, by an outsider.

Now, as we await the verdict from the Court of Appeals, I am told that some of the closest people who supported the cause, have succumbed to SM. Two have come out in the open accepting SM's position.

I have not given up the fight. SM sent a representative, a nun, to convince me that SM's intentions are good. I do not believe them. Already, the giant pine trees SM attempted to earthball are right there at SM ....DEAD, the others DYING. And SM, even if it redesigns its plan, will still kill trees.

I will wait for the verdict of the higher court and hope it favors us..and the real tree lovers and real people who love Baguio. If we loose, what else is there to do, but continue to protest."

As he is known to delete dissenting comments on his public posts on FB, here's my reply to Mr. Bengwayan's post:

The nun, Sister Fidelis, is not a representative of SM. She was not sent by SM. She sought you out to inform you of an important development.

And no, we have not accepted SM's position. We merely presented what they presented. In fact, we reiterated our position to Mateo and Pe that the case will push through, regardless of their latest action.

Let's stick to the facts.

And while you "wait for the verdict", we continue to work with the legal team, actively, to help in whatever way we can. It would be nice to see you take a more active role in the legal battle for a change.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Saving 133: Talk's cheap, time to start walking

In the beginning of 2012, the city woke up to news that the biggest commercial establishment in Baguio, the one that has forever altered the face and culture of this community, the reason why traffic had to be rerouted at the Central Business District, the reason why so many smaller businesses in Baguio have been forced to close shop for not being able to compete with a Goliath of a competitor, will be further expanding their business by putting up a multi-storey parking and commercial complex on one side of Luneta Hill. That side happened to be where 182 pine and alnus trees were located. One Michael Bengwayan, known environmentalist, started an online petition opposing the killing of those trees. And the people responded – “stop corporate greed, save the trees” was the common battle cry.

In the course of the protest, which has been dragging on to date, other issues against SM have been brought out: unfair labor practices (the question of “contractualization”); the legitimacy of their ownership of the property where SM City Baguio stands (the original title to the property labelled as OCT No. 1 has not been cancelled, and SM to date still doesn’t have a title to the property); the morality of further expanding the already biggest commercial center in the region), etc. But the one goal that surely united the people – save the trees on Luneta Hill.

An environmental case was filed against SM, which was unfortunately dismissed by a local court. An appeal is pending at the Court of Appeals. Currently, SM can go ahead with the removal of the remaining 133 trees on Luneta Hill, since they were able to “earthball” some 49 trees before they acknowledged the court issued Temporary Environmental Protection Order in April, 2012.

The Ayala example at Camp john Hay was often cited in the early months of the protest – the Ayala Technohub was able to minimize their effect on the environment by building around the trees as much as possible. Why can’t SM do the same? Some asked.

Then SM pulls out a rabbit – they are redesigning the expansion, taking into consideration some of the issues raised by various sectors. They have minimized the size of the expansion, saving more than a hundred of the remaining 133 trees in the process. Bien Mateo, Vice President for Operations of SM Supermalls, said that Hans Sy, son of SM founder Henry Sy, instructed his architects to listen to what the protesters are saying. Hence, the redesign to save as many trees as possible.

Reactions have been varied – some welcomed the prospect of being able to save more than a hundred pine trees, considering that at this point, SM can simply go ahead with their original plan and remove all those trees. But others are not happy at all: it’s not just about the trees, they say.

I would still rather that SM completely abandon their expansion plan – give local businesses a fair fighting chance, have them co-exist with the rest of the business community instead of setting out to completely eliminate the competition for that’s just being just plain greedy. Besides, I'm no engineer but I still think that reducing a hill's water absorption capacity, greatly disturbing the fragile eco-system in the area, a hill that stands directly above schools and an already flood-prone road, is not a good idea at all.

So, if there’s anyone out there, particularly from those who are completely rejecting the idea of saving more than a hundred trees in the reduced expansion plan and are screaming their heads off to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court and even filing more cases against SM, who will actually commit to be with us every single time a public demonstration is called for, spend late nights with the legal team in preparation for the various legal battles we face if we do file charges against SM aside from the ongoing environmental case, dig out of their own pockets money for various legal and other relevant incidental expenses, or even just religiously attend the hearings to be updated with status of the case, deal with death threats, lose time for other things in their lives such as time with their family specially children, lose work that brings in income to feed their families, be ostracized and ridiculed by paid hacks who have sold their souls and the integrity of their profession to the devil, almost miss enrolling their children the following school year because the protest movement took so much of their time that they lost money in the process, not to mention get an eviction notice, have their electricity and water service cut...

...then by all means, let’s bring this as far as this will take us. Because that's what it took as far as I'm concerned to take this protest this far. Just let me know when the next rally is, and we, my family and I, will be there. Put your money where your mouth is, as they say. And so should SM. Specially SM.

Otherwise, all of us, SM City Baguio, The Baguio City Government, and the community - talk's cheap, time to start walking.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Option 2: SM City Baguio listens to protesters and redesigns their expansion plan

Right before the recent elections, I received a text message from Sister Fidelis, an Assumption nun and one of the staunch supporters of the protest against SM City Baguio’s expansion plan that will result in the removal of 182 trees on historic Luneta Hill. She had something very important to share with me regarding SM, her message read. We agreed to see each other at the soonest possible time.

I was very excited, since the case we filed against SM along with the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has been dismissed by a local court, and I have been hoping for some good news about our protest. Sis. Fidelis and I wouldn’t see each other until after the elections.

In one post-election gathering, she pulled me aside away from the crowd and shared the news: she had a one-on-one meeting with Mr. Hans Sy, son of tycoon Henry Sy, founder of SM. But I wasn’t prepared for what she had to say, the gist of which was in that meeting, Mr. Sy was able to answer most of the issues that we have been raising against SM. We agreed to meet again soon after so we can discuss what she had just shared with me in more detail and without the distractions of a post-election party.

Some days later, we were having coffee in a fast-food joint along Session Road. And I still couldn’t believe that Sis. Fidelis, one of those who attended almost all of our protest actions against the expansion plan, the one who helped convince a lot of people to join the protest movement, be complainants in the suit and join our call for a boycott of SM City Baguio, seemed to be having a change of heart.

“I got to hear things directly from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, Karlo,” she said to me. I told her that the Hans Sy she was describing to me – patient, calm, mild-mannered, seem to be very different from the Hans Sy I met at the meeting arranged by the late Sec. Jesse Robredo at Camp Crame. The Hans Sy I met there was the stern, unemotional business executive who insisted that removing that many trees for the benefit of one corporation, their corporation, and at the expense of a community’s heritage and future, was justified.

We have always met them, SM, under hostile circumstances – the Baguio City Council hearing, the dialogue in Camp Crame, the court hearings, on the streets when their guards along with the local police would attempt to curtail our right to a peaceful assembly.

“But this time he was just meeting with an older sister,” she said, “so the atmosphere was different.” True, maybe – but I had to remind Sis. Fidelis that the protesters really can’t be blamed for the hostile attitude and the anger in their hearts at the prospect of having their home scarred forever, their heritage and history wantonly desecrated.

Sis. Fidelis narrated how she first tried to set a meeting between herself and Teresita Sy, “she’s our alumna,” the gentle Assumption sister shared, but she never got any reply from Henry Sy’s daughter. Then one day, the office of Mr. Hans Sy got in touch with her and informed her of Mr. Sy’s willingness to see her.

According to Sis. Fidelis, after patiently listening to her enumerate all the issues we’ve been raising against SM, Mr. Sy calmly shared with her their side of the like how  the Deed of Absolute Sale came with a cover letter from the Office of the President authorizing Exec. Secretary Paquito Ochoa to sign in behalf of the President (we’ve always questioned Ochoa’s signature in the deed above the president’s name); and that while they do hire contractual employees, they do this only to augment their regular workforce during peak seasons (we’ve questioned their questionable and alleged unfair labor practices, “contractualization” in particular).

I was not convinced. There were still loopholes in Mr. Sy’s justifications. But, at the end of our coffee talk, Sis. Fidelis informed me of SM’s new plan for the expansion area and asked if I would be willing to sit down with representatives of SM City Baguio for a dialogue. I am, I said, but not as a representative of any group, organization or movement but just as an individual. A meeting was set between Sis. Fidelis, myself and Mr. Bien Mateo, SM Supermalls Vice President for Operations and Mr. Jansen Pe, Mall Manager of SM City Baguio.

It was awkward sitting across the table from the person whom many of us perceived as the “face of the enemy” – Mr. Mateo was the one who presented SM’s expansion plan at the Baguio City Council hearing, he’s the face one always saw on TV justifying the removal of 182 trees for a parking building, next to Henry Sy, to a lot of us, he was the face of SM’s expansion plan.

Mateo opened the meeting with, “we’re bad communicators, we admit that.” I did not contradict him. He went on to say that it was their hope that through dialogues such as this one, SM can better respond to the issues being raised by the protesters. I kept my guard up, and wanted to get into the heart of the matter right away so I asked – what’s on the table?

Mateo talked about how Mr. Hans Sy called for a meeting one day and told them how much he admired the passion and determination of the protest group that have come to be known as the Save 182 Movement. He told his staff that he believed that they would be better off working with this movement, and not against it. Listen to their voices, their issues, take all those into consideration and re-design the expansion plan, Mr. Han Sy was said to have told his people. Some time later, the architects submitted various concepts for the re-design, all of which were attempts to minimize the damage that would be done on the area’s ecosystem, save as many trees as possible, while still serving SM’s intention of addressing the alleged soil erosion issue in the area, and of course to bring additional revenues to the company coffers. From what the architects submitted, Mr. Hans Sy, according to Mateo, chose one concept and gave the go-signal to finalize the blueprints based on that concept.

Do you have a blueprint or at least an artist’s perspective of this new plan? I asked. Not yet, Mateo said, but he did share that the new plan drastically reduced the expansion plan to roughly half its original size, and would save close to a hundred out of the remaining 133 trees in the area. Mateo also said that in a couple of weeks or so, they can present the drawings so I asked if I could bring in more people when they do. I intended to bring to that next meeting the people I have been personal working closely with in the last year and a half that we’ve been struggling to save the trees on Luneta Hill, people who have been there from day one and at almost every single significant event – meetings, court hearings, legal research work, rallies, conferences, etc. 

A date was set and this time, I came with Atty. Chris Donaal, de facto lead counsel of the complainants in the environmental suit filed against SM, Glo Abaeo, president of the Cordillera Global Network, CGN members Gideon Omero and Nelson Alabanza and fellow Open Space, an artist collective, members Ethan Andrew Ventura and Eunice Caburao.

In that next meeting, Mr. Bien Mateo, again accompanied by Mr. Jansen Pe, presented the artist’s perspective of the re-designed expansion plan. Much of the earth space fronting Gov. Pack Road, originally planned to be completely cemented over with a 4-storey commercial complex, will now be left untouched along with the more than one hundred trees therein.

Ideas were floated around from the protesters’ side of the table: can we bring the original number of trees back to 182? Maybe even plant more? Will SM commit that it would really stick to this new design? Can it be turned into a nature park, and that park will be open to the public, even to non-patrons of the mall? Can SM also commit that after this expansion, no more buildings will be erected within the property? Can their mitigating efforts be concentrated within the Central Business District (CBD) where their operation’s effects are more felt? Would they be willing to sponsor serious and carefully-planed urban re-greening efforts in the CBD?

Mr. Mateo, representing SM in that meeting, said yes to all of the above. Lastly, we informed Mr. Mateo and Mr. Pe that this would have nothing to do with the ongoing appeal of the case we filed, currently pending with the Court of Appeals. We reiterated that the case will still be pursued.

SM’s re-design of the expansion plan came as a surprise for after the dismissal of the case by the lower court and despite the appeal filed, the Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) issued against them has been deemed lifted and there was no legal impediment anymore that would SM from going ahead with the execution of their original expansion plan.

The numbers, in a nutshell are these: there were originally 182 trees, a mix of alnus and pine. SM was able to earthball 49 in April, 2012 prior to their acknowledgment of the TEPO issued, all of these were alnus trees except for one pine tree, leaving a total of 133 still standing on the expansion site. Based on their re-designed plan, out of those remaining 133 around 120 trees, mostly pine, will be left untouched, or only 13 would be affected. There will be much earth space left that can accommodate a number of new plantings that can bring back the number to 182, or even go beyond it.

The re-designed plan was presented to a number of members of the protest movement and so far the reactions have been varied. While some welcomed the prospect of being able to save more than a hundred trees, others rejected the new design outright.

I, personally, after all those late nights with volunteers helping the legal team prepare for the marathon hearings that lasted six months, all the rallies, concerts, symposia, dialogues, confrontations over a period of more than a year, having been threatened with physical harm, having been betrayed by officials in all three branches of the government, having seen how politics reared its ugly head in the struggle to save our city’s environment, how vested interests compromised the integrity of both sides, how trapos and other miscreants tried to appropriate the protest movement for their selfish intentions, I welcome the prospect of saving more than a hundred trees, than losing every single one of them. I welcome the prospect of looking up Luneta Hill today, tomorrow and decades from now, to see a canopy of green instead of a huge soulless chunk of concrete.

The original design of SM City Baguio's expansion plan

Top view of the new design as presented by Mr. Bien Mateo,
Vice President for Operations of SM Supermalls. The  blue shaded area shows the
building footprint of the original design, while the red shaded area shows
the footprint of the new design.
I, personally, joined the protest movement to do what I can to save as much of Baguio’s trees from being needlessly felled. 182 on Luneta Hill. Hundreds more along Marcos Highway being threatened by Moldex. And thousands more inside Camp John Hay and within the Forbes Park forest reservation.

Every tree saved is a victory for the people of Baguio and the environment. More than a hundred trees saved sends the message that we, the people of Baguio, care not only about our own interests today but also that of our children's tomorrow and the heritage that was handed down to us by those who came before us, and that we’re ready to put ourselves on the line to defend all that.

And while one Honorable Mauricio Domogan will always be remembered as the Mayor who said “I cannot do anything” when the people turned to him to save the trees, the Save 182 Movement will always be remembered as that group of individuals from all walks of life who shared one thing in common: they cared, and despite all the odds against them, was able to save more than a hundred trees on Luneta Hill.

Now, let's see if SM will keep its word. And borrowing from Sting, who moved his concert last year from SM-MOA to Smart-Araneta in support of the protest, "we'll be watching you."

Saturday, September 7, 2013

More questions instead of answers: a letter from the Baguio City Engineer’s Office

In June, we started a petition to question certain proposals forwarded by Mayor Mauricio G. Domogan with regards to the development of Burnham Park. We voiced out our opposition to three major issues: the mayor’s proposal to concretize portions of the Melvin Jones Grounds to accommodate the night market currently held along a stretch of Harrison Road; his proposal to install iron gates at the major entrances to the park and the planned privatization of the Baguio Athletic Bowl along with the ongoing commercialization of the park.

We kept the Mayor’s Office and the City Council updated about the petition – the first letter we sent informed them of the online signature gathering effort and the second one gave them an update of the number of signatures we’ve gathered – which included DILG Sec. Mar Roxas’.

We received a letter from the City Council informing us that our petition, including the sentiments expressed therein, has been “noted.” I had no idea what that really meant.

Then I received a letter from the City Engineer’s Office dated August 13, 2013, informing the petitioners of their reply to Mayor Domogan’s letter. Apparently, the mayor forwarded our petition to their office and directed them to address the issues we raised. Odd, for when the aforementioned proposed projects first came out in local newspapers, I don’t remember seeing City Engineer’s Leo C. Bernardez, Jr.’s name. But I guess that’s how it goes at the mayor’s office these days: projects, whether proposed, ongoing or completed, will be announced by the mayor himself to make sure we give the credit where or to whom they want the credit to be given. But when it’s met with opposition, the buck’s passed to another office. Take for example the proposed expansion project of SM City Baguio that put 182 trees on Luneta Hill on death row. Initially, the mayor came out lauding the project as it will, according to both SM and the mayor, and echoed by the local traffic management czar, help ease the traffic in the central business district. But when the opposition to the expansion project came out, all we heard from the mayor was “I cannot do anything” and that his office had nothing to do with the project. That, despite the admission of DENR that the mayor’s office’s endorsement of the expansion project was a key factor in the granting of a tree-cutting, or make that tree-mass murder, permit.

The letter from Engr. Bernardez answered the issues we raised thus:

1. In the construction of a “walkway” along the perimeter of the Melvin Jones Grounds, there will be no “concrete works except for the edges of the walkway to hold the “palo-palo” pavers in place.” They’re now calling it a “walkway,” but we must not forget that this is being done to turn the grounds into a nightly tiangge when the night market is moved to that concretized, okay, “palo-palo” laden “walkway.” In an earlier letter from the City Council, we were reminded that there is in fact an existing ordinance prohibiting the holding of trade fairs inside the park. Let’s not be fooled by semantics: walkways, “palo-palo,” night market, etc. Look at how much earth space we lost when they “renovated” the Rose Garden. And really, what part of “beyond the commerce of man” don’t they understand?

2. In a meeting they had to tackle the putting up of gates around the park, Engr. Bernardez informed us in his letter that said “road entrance/exits,” mind that they’re not calling it “gates,” “shall remain opened at anytime.” His letter further said that it “also recommended the possibility of realigning it from steel gates to steel arches.” I’ve heard this before: there is money available for a project, and even if the project is useless or just plain inane, officials will push through with the project otherwise the money would be returned to the national treasury or the city coffers if they don’t spend it. And what’s wrong with that? That’s still better than spending it on a useless project. They said that the money for the gating proposal will be sourced from the surplus from the government counterpart funding provided for the fencing of Burnham Park. The money’s there, and they’re itching to spend it. What’s the use of putting up gates if they’ll remain open at all times anyway? And now, a proposal to instead spend it on steel arches. They just have to spend it, don’t they? The attitude’s got “Napoles” stamped all over it.

3. And lastly, Engr. Bernardez said that “The Athletic Bowl shall remain under the City’s management. The proposed development of the Athletic Bowl will not be under any private person/entity.” So what are the terms of reference passed by the city council for that set the guidelines in the bidding process? How can we say that the City itself will undertake the development project when at the same time City Hall has in its hands proposals from a Korean-led corporation and two other private engineering firms?

Thank you very much for your letter, Engr. Bernardez, but I must say that in your effort to provide answers, the letter seems to have raised more questions.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

For every centavo they stole

As expected, soon after her surrender, Janet Lim-Napoles got on a wheelchair, and her doctors confirmed that she's suffering from diabetes and needs to be jailed under much better conditions - air-conditioning is a must, so is a refrigerator where she needs to store her medication. That's how it's been since the time of Arroyo's arrest - you see these accused hopping from one media interview or another without any apparent sign of discomfort at all and when the time is right, they suddenly fall ill.

So don't tell us, Mr. President and Mr. Secretary of DILG, that Napoles is not being treated differently from common criminals. If she has to be treated differently, then that treatment would be justified only if it's worse. How many other inmates in Muntinlupa or any of the city jails all over the country are suffering from diabetes or any other debilitating disease? And how many of them can go to the court and say, "I need an air-conditioner in my cell and a refrigerator and if it's not too much to ask, can I be transferred to a much comfortable facility like the Veterans Memorial Hospital or at least Fort Sto. Domingo."

Besides, she and her cohorts in government, after all, did something much worse than what a murderer of one or two committed. In fact, she and her cohorts in government, I believe, did something much worse than what the Ampatuans did. Napoles' misdeeds caused millions of Filipinos to not be able to put food on the table, provide proper health care and education for their children, or any hope at all that they can rise above poverty and live their lives with dignity. Napoles and her cohorts in government spat on the graves of Rizal, Bonifacio and all the other who dedicated their lives for this country and doomed this Bayang Magiliw to generations more of poverty and despair.

For every centavo stolen from the nation's coffers, is a centavo that will not go farm to market roads that can help uplift the lives of our farmers; that's one less centavo so that 80 pupils will not have to be crammed into one tiny classroom in most of our public schools; one less centavo so that we don't need to privatize our public hospitals that would make it even harder for most of us to afford even the most basic health care services; one less centavo so that the government can provide millions of Filipinos with housing so they would not have to suffer the indignity of being referred to as squatters and periodically chased away by armed men and bulldozers.

But we're not talking in centavos here, we're talking about 10 billion pesos. That's only so far what the Commission on Audit knows of. That's only Janet Lim-Napoles, and there's more than one of her kind in our country. If you were to investigate and do research on those two Environmental Recycling System machines in Irisan, you will most certainly discover that they can be had for much less than the 120 million that the city government of Baguio paid for. Now multiply that with every questionable road construction project done all over the country, or every needless concrete structure erected in Baguio's public parks such as the commercial and parking facility at the Botanical Garden and the concreting of much of Rose Garden at Burnham Park. Let's not forget the despicable and very insulting concrete pine tree that once stood at the top of Session Road.

Amusing, but not entirely surprisingly, that both our Mayor, on his second term in his second string of terms, and our newly elected Congressman, despite all the evil that's been uncovered related to the pork barrel, continue to defend it.

While I'm all for the abolition of the pork barrel, I believe that a system should be in place where government money can be spread to every congressional district in the country. Otherwise, Manila imperialism will rear its ugly head. As it is now, the whole country is paying for the comfortable commute of MRT passengers in Metro Manila by way of government subsidies. The pork barrel system is flawed for it gives the power to decide where it goes to one person. Perhaps our congressman, with the support of our mayor, can instead bat for a much higher Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA). While it serves the purpose of spreading the money all voer the country, at least there would be a city council to oversee the way it's spent, or in the case of provinces, a provincial board. This would not totally eradicate corruption, but it would certainly make it harder for the Napoleses of this country to get their hands on it.

But, as long as our leaders see their positions as that of power instead of responsibility and a public trust, as long as contractors agree to the SOP of having a huge portion of the budget for a project go to the pocket of those in power, as long as members of the so-called fourth estate, the media, continue to spread the their lies and receive their envelopes from these politicians in return, as long as most of us continue to receive our own envelopes in exchange for our votes, this country is definitely going nowhere else but further down. See, those corrupt members of our society, those who empower the corrupt, those who benefit from the corrupt system, they may not have stolen as much as Janet, but make no mistake - they too are Napoleses.