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!