Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dear tourists/visitors currently in Baguio City

Dear tourists/visitors currently in Baguio City:

1. You are not caught in a traffic jam, you are one of the reasons there's a traffic jam. Take the jeep, or better yet, walk around town and leave your cars wherever you're staying. That way, we lessen the cars on the road, and in the process, the pollution in our home, and you get to meet us, the people of Baguio and see how friendly and welcoming we are when our city's not being trashed.

2. Bring reusable bags wherever you go, because let's face it, you would want a couple of jars of Ube or Strawberry jam, a bonnet or two, that Baguio City shirt, or a couple of ukay-ukay items. These things are usually put in single-use plastic "sando" bags, and you'll most likely to leave that in our city and not take it with you wherever you came from. And in case you didn't know, waste management isn't one really among our city officials' expertise. So don't add to the haul we need to take all the way to far away provinces kind enough to accommodate our garbage.

3. Stop asking "where are the Igorots?" You're surrounded. Yeah, the old folks in native attire at the entrance of the Botanical Gardens are Igorots, most vendors at the market and the pony boys at Wright Park are too, so are the carvers at Asin Road, most probably the guy driving your cab or jeep, or the owner of that Hummer or that BMW, or this or that hotel... did I say you're surrounded? Some are in g-strings, others are in suits... This is Baguio, a melting pot of different cultures including the different indigenous groups in the Cordilleras collectively known as Igorots.

4. No, The Banaue Rice Terraces isn't anywhere near here. You have a smart phone? Go to and you'll see.

5. Our taxi drivers are honest, they will give your change down to the last peso. But don't be a cheapskate and tip them well.

6. Do not smoke along Session Road and in our parks. There's an ordinance prohibiting smoking in public places. Better yet, don't smoke, period. And that e-cigarette? Yeah, we don't care if you call it vaping, it's still smoking to us.

7. Don't be too loud when you get back to your transient homes... you're on vacation, we're not. We live here and we have work early tomorrow morning and we don't need to hear your version of My Way until midnight. And remember that Baguio is teeming with world-class vocalists, so unless you are too, keep the volume down.

8. We do a lot of tree planting around here, so watch your step when walking along trails, you might step on a pine seedling that takes decades to become a tree.

9. There's more to Baguio than Wright Park, Botanical Garden and Mines View. I suggest you also visit the nearby towns, go down Asin Road to check out the carvers' village, Ditch Mines View and take a drive towards Itogon instead to see what the mines really look like, go up Mt. Kabuyao and view the majesty of Baguio from up there, etc.

10. If the Christmas decorations around the Central Business District, particularly the supposed Christmas tree at the top of Session Road make you cringe, please know that most of us don't like it too. I don't think anyone does, not even the people who put it up or the city officials who approved the budget and design for these.

P.S. We also don't like Joel Cruz's ugly house in Camp John Hay.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

YOLO, and we got time

One Rabindranath Tagore once said, "The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough."

Most smaller species, the ones we usually see fluttering about in our home gardens, on flower pots on our window sills, on plants by the side of the road, live an average lifespan of a mere few days to two weeks as butterflies. Just enough time to spread its wings and explore the world around it, to jump from one flower to another and taste the sweet nectar found in each one, to soar as high as its wings can carry it. Yeah, butterflies have time enough. 

They have enough time to live a life well-lived because they do not spend their time thinking about what kind of flowers they would land on, which garden has better flowers. 

True, comparing the way we live our lives to the way butterflies do would be an over-simplification. It's way more complicated. Or is it? Whatever, there's a lesson to be learned here. Over our lifetimes, if we're fortunate and careful enough, we may get to spend 70 birth anniversaries. Alright, we'd hardly remember if at all the first few ones, but how many Christmas memories can we look back at that can make us sigh a happy sigh? Make us nod our heads with a smile on our face and think, yes, those were happy days. How many cold, rainy nights were you able to spend cuddling under the covers with loved ones, keeping each other warm and making each other feel safe? How many good laughs were you able to share with people who complete your life? How many times were you there for that loved one who needed a hug, a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold? 

How many times were you able to experience a moment of happiness without making someone else feel sad? Get on a higher plain without having to step on and push someone down? How much unnecessary baggage were you able to put down? How many trespasses were you able to forgive, whether inflicted by someone else or yourself? 

Today's generation shout YOLO! You Only Live Once, the acronym can often be seen as a caption to an image of someone taking chances, dreaming and daring. It's the Gen-Y-ers' version of Horace's Carpe Diem. 

How many times did you want, desire, dream and how many times did you stand up and make it happen? How were you able to make the world a little better than when you were here for those whose life journeys are just about to begin? 

We all have our caterpillar stages, spend some time in our respective pupae, but we all get to be butterflies... and when we do, it's up to us what to do with those wings. We only live once, and it's enough - enough time in this world if only we don't forget what it's all about: happiness. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Serving the people is not exclusive to those who bear arms

No regrets coining and labeling some as Rebels, Just Because (if, indeed, I did coin it, otherwise credit goes to whoever used the phrase before I did)...

While I do understand the struggle, armed conflicts never produce real victors. And I just can't accept armed resistance as a solution knowing that it's not only about resistance to an oppressive, corrupt system but also to forward an oppressive, failed ideology.

We cannot denounce the death of our comrades while condoning, celebrating the loss of lives on the other side of the political fence. A death of a human being is always a loss, soldiers leave widows and orphans too. Or how about the unfair, senseless loss of innocent lives caught in the crossfire, oftentimes brushed aside as mere collateral damage?

In the last couple of days, I have listened to a doctor who personally attended to the victims of an ambush against police trainees. One of the survivors was a woman whose leg was penetrated by a bullet which exited and totally shattered her knee and had to choose between amputation or to never be able to bend her leg again. They were jogging, part of their morning exercise, unarmed, when they were fired upon by snipers. Maybe she, too, set out to dedicate her life to serve the people, she just chose to do it as part of the police force and not as a rebel. We will never know now.

Another first-hand account shared to me was how a road project nearing completion that would help farmers in a far-flung area bring their produce to the market was halted because of non-payment of "revolutionary taxes."

Peace. Give it a chance, is all I'm saying. Yeah, peace.

I do acknowledge, a revolution is in order - our political system needs restructuring, our fragile democracy needs strengthening, but how do destabilization, terrorism, and let's not deny it - murder help bring about change, positive change? How do all that help move this nation forward? How do AK47s put food on the table of the oppressed and not only on that of its bearer? 

Let us not romanticize terrorism, let us not romanticize violence, let us not romanticize murder.  

And we too love this nation, we too are doing what we can to help turn things around in this country, and we, too, are hungry - most of us are, in fact. But none of that justify firing a bullet on a fellow Filipino. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Rebels, just because

Traffic was heavy at the top of Session Road the other night because of the annual lantern parade – one of the things we look forward to at Christmas time in Baguio and we regretted not knowing that it was happening then. We could’ve been seated on the knoll at the mini-park at the Post Office to watch, instead we’re stuck in traffic in our vehicle on our way home.

We saw the candles, and that’s one of the things we loved about this parade. It used to be solemn, we used to love the calm, the peace that fell on the normally noisy, smog-filled Session Road when the hundreds of candles come. It was a joyful experience.

There were less candles this year, we noticed. There were more placards too. We heard chanting, somewhere along the lines of “bayan ko, ‘di pa tapos ang laban mo!”

Oh well, Merry Christmas to you too.

Image lifted from

“All we are saying is give trees a chance.” That was the main battle cry of the movement that has come to be known as Save 182. The movement was protesting the planned removal of some 182 trees on Luneta Hill for SM Baguio’s expansion. Before the Temporary Environmental Protection Order was issued, nay, honored by SM Baguio, around 49 trees were removed, earth-balled they say, whatever. A case was filed by the movement, the court ruled in favor of SM. Then SM offered, despite the absence of any legal impediment to go ahead with their expansion as originally planned, to re-design the whole thing to spare all but less than ten out of the remaining trees. Sounds good?

Not to some, who now insist that they weren't really there just for the trees so despite the proposal to spare almost all of the trees left on that side of the hill, the expansion must not push through.

What was it again? “All we are saying… blah-blah-blah.”

The war rages on between government forces and communist rebels and separatists down south. Can’t help but wonder how our lives would really be if this war ends with the victory of one and the defeat of the other. What would life be like in this country if our soldiers only had to risk life and limb serving the people, protecting the nation’s sovereignty? On the other hand, what would life be like in Mindanao if it were a separate state ruled by the leaders of the separatist movements fighting the government now? Or, what would it be like if the country were under communist rule?

What's your rebellion about?

“We are living in the era of premeditation and the perfect crime. Our criminals are no longer helpless children who could plead love as their excuse. On the contrary, they are adults and the have the perfect alibi: philosophy, which can be used for any purpose - even for transforming murderers into judges.” ― Albert Camus, from The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Leaving Home

One stormy night a few months ago, strong winds battered the gate to our house and our dog, Zeus, a beautiful Labrador, got out and never returned.

We got Zeus when he was barely three months old in 2009, a Christmas gift for our children. He’s a playful dog and loves to nibble on anything: newly potted plants, wooden furniture and footwear were among his favorites. Almost all of our furniture has nibble marks, and we’ve had to throw away a few pairs of shoes and slippers that we carelessly left outside the door.

The children adored him, when he was a puppy he slept in the kids’ room. He loved to fetch, and loved to have you run after him to play tug-o-war with whatever it was you had him fetch – an empty soda bottle, a stick, a chewed up slipper. He can be intimidating too – he wasn’t that tall nor long, but he was bulky and had a deep baritone for a bark. Those he scared just didn’t know that his barks were simply an invitation to play.

Last year, a friend offered one of their Labrador’s puppies to us, a female that we named Juno. We thought she’d be a perfect match for Zeus. In the days leading to that stormy night, we noticed several times how Zeus would try to mate with Juno. She must be going in heat soon, we thought.

And then it happened, got out. He loved darting out of the gate whenever we opened it. He even learned how to pretend not to be interested in escaping, and silly us fell for it often – we’d open the gate and in the blink of an eye he’s out. He would not answer to anyone’s call, one of us would have to run after him and lead him back home. We were confident that he was just in the neighbourhood, waiting to be fetched.

There were several sightings in the days, weeks that followed, but we never saw him again. After more than a month, the sightings stopped and we thought: somebody must have taken him in already. We were sad, of course, the kids specially. Even Juno was, we noticed. But at some point, I became somewhat angry at Zeus. How can he do this to us? We fed him, and fed him well. We played with him whenever we can, took him on trips around town whenever we had the chance. He loved having a specific spot on his belly rubbed, and we obliged and I found it amusing how, whenever we would miss that area by even just a inch, he would use his paws to guide our hand to the right spot.

But then I thought, there was something he needed, perhaps, that we couldn’t provide that he found somewhere else. He yearned for something, and we didn’t have that – our home didn’t have that.

Several good friends are leaving for foreign shores soon. They’re leaving as a group, almost all of them were born and raised in Baguio. They’re very, very good at what they do, no wonder they easily passed the audition for that gig. I’m not sure about the rest but I know a couple of them would rather not leave home. But they are left with no choice, home doesn’t have what they want, need. No, they’re not asking for the moon really, just a fair fighting chance in this crazy world.

They’re not alone, in fact here are many of them – artists, doctors, nurses, teachers, a lot of them would rather stay home but are left with no other choice but to grin and bear it, bite the bullet, be away for a while, sometimes a long while, from their loved ones, for what? What were those again? Food, clothing, shelter? Some peace of mind. Freedom from anxiety. A future that’s just a little brighter.

Never mind the ones who are leaving because they want to, those who've totally lost faith in this nation, have pledged allegiance to a different flag, but my heart bleeds for those who have to leave home because they need to. It’s not easy. I've tried leaving once, and I just couldn't.

We are among the countries with the richest natural resources in the world, and we live in one of the most beautiful cities in this country. Why are they leaving? Because As big as that pie is, only a few enjoy the lion’s share of it, while the rest are left with crumbs – that’s how it is in this country, and it’s how it is in this city.

What can I say, but fare thee well. Fare thee well.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Behind the fog: keep an eye out

The sunflowers are out, and in Baguio, that means Christmas is just around the corner.

Our two elder children spent most of their lives in Manila, but spent most of their holidays in the summer and Christmas up here. One time, when we entertained the thought of moving down to Manila those two said: we cannot imagine spending Christmas elsewhere but in Baguio so if you do move to the lowlands, you have to make sure that we spend Decembers up there.

How can you blame them – the chill, the fog, the nights warmed by a fireplace or a bonfire, nothing compares to a Christmas in Baguio.

I don’t mean to be a Scrooge here, but in the last couple of years, it seems that bad things are hatched during this time of the year here in our beloved city. Take the SM expansion plan, for example, which was announced at around December of 2011 with plans to start construction early the following year. They probably thought that catching the community by surprise that way would not give them enough time to voice out their opposition. Thanks to the likes of Michael Bengwayan, Chyt Daytec, the Cordillera Global Network led by Atty. Chris Donaal, Glo Abaeo and Gideon Omero and the thousands of concerned citizens who took the streets to stop the sacrifice of 182 trees for a parking facility.

The following Christmas, alliances were made, holy and otherwise, in preparation for the 2013 elections. We ended up with the same old faces up in City Hall whose concept of development is limited to the use of chainsaws, bulldozers and cement mixers, which meant more woes for this abused city in the years to come.

Christmas 2013, a party was allegedly held at an alleged private property on top of a prominent mountain in the city allegedly attended by who’s who in the local media community allegedly hosted by a public official newly-elected to a new position who during the campaign swore to be a protector of the environment. That same property is now in the middle of a controversy and a serious environmental issue when more than 700 trees were mowed down to pave the way for a planned resort. Between the time of that party and the time some concerned citizens discovered the massacre of trees, not a squeak was heard from the media personnel who were at that party who knew of the plan as early as then.

What are we saying? It’s Christmas time once again, go visit the Christmas Village at the Country Club, or maybe the light and sound show at The Manor or the artificial snow fall at Le Monet, enjoy the chill at any one of the remaining parks in the city, or simply, let’s be merry and make it as meaningful as possible, but keep an eye out for it is during this time of the year, under cover of fog, that shenanigans usually occur in our beloved city.

Monday, November 24, 2014

In Baguio, happiness costs 37 million pesos (and the City Government says it can't afford it)

In the last few years, the skating rink has been functioning as practically anything except what it was originally intended for. Sure, one may still go there and skate around the rink, but first you pay a rink fee if you brought your own skates, and you would have to contend with the throngs of people walking around the rink who are there for the restaurant, the arcade games or the bumper cars. The rink has been fenced in with what looks like chicken wire that screams “this is private property.”

Former barangay captain Ferdy Bayasen spearheaded the petition, which gathered strong support both online and out in the streets of Baguio. See, aside from being a maverick of a public official (his barangay has a no-plastic bags policy and maintains its own composting facility), the guy is also an avid fitness buff and can regularly be seen sweating it out at the park in the mornings either jogging, doing zumba and aerobics offered practically for free by concerned citizens.

The petition has already been submitted to the mayor’s office, where they were told by no less than the chief executive himself that areas of the park really need to be privatized so the city government will have a source of funds for the upkeep of the park. Did you know that they spend 37 million pesos annually for the maintenance of the park?

37 million does sound a lot, but if you look at it from a non-trapo point of view you will realize that it is a small price to pay considering what Burnham Park offers the citizens of Baguio. It is the most accessible to both residents and tourists. Here, children get to breathe relatively clean air as the park still enjoys some tree cover. Here, they get to play, get closer to nature, socialize with other children, bond with their parents and loved ones. A day at the park does wonders to the well-being of people – one goes home feeling rejuvenated, renewed – unlike spending a day at the mall where one goes home feeling exhausted.

But these are benefits that cannot be counted by the City Treasurer’s office, and if it they can’t quantify it, then it has no use for them.

Aside from the skating rink, how about the benefits our citizens, our children, get from the Athletic Bowl, which the city government has been itching to privatize, or from the Melvin Jones grounds, which the mayor has been envisioning as a concrete parking facility.

How much does the city spend for their inefficient efforts to address our garbage crisis? How about the 120 million pesos spent on those virtually useless ERS machines? There’s another example of a misdirected, Band-Aid initiative. These millions they willingly spend, yet they rue the mere 37 million spent on Burnham Park. I wonder how much the mayor thinks the city should spend for the well-being of its citizens?

And really, 37 million pesos? It would be nice to have this amount audited because, frankly, I don’t see that much money being spent there. .

Besides, so what if that's how much it costs to maintain Bunrham Park? Because, really, how does one put a price on children's laughter, on people's happiness?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Banking on the BSP

Image lifted from Faura online

A year into the protest against SM’s plan to remove 182 trees on Luneta Hill, some of us in the protest movement received a call from Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas Luzon Regional Office personnel inviting us for a dialogue. They wanted our opinion and inputs if any on their planned construction of a branch inside the National Food Authority property in Loakan, Baguio City.

There are 300 pine trees in the proposed site that may be affected by the construction. They presented initial drawings and we expressed our respective opinions. Present then were some personalities involved in the protest against SM City Baguio’s expansion plan along with a representative of the Diocese of Baguio in the person of Fr. Manny Flores.

The common concern was of course how to minimize the impact of the project on the environment – from the time of the start of construction to the facility’s eventual operation. Suggestions were offered: walk the extra mile to first minimize the number of trees that would be affected, then another extra mile not to harm the trees that would be left untouched during the construction to the removal of the proposed basketball court that would add to the size of the area that would require concreting.

Fast forward to November 15, 2014, another meeting was called.

I, along with Engr. Nelson Alabanza and local environment advocate Gideon Omero trooped to the Baguio Country Club where BSP personnel led by Diwa C. Guinigundo, BSP Deputy Governor for
Monetary Stability Sector have prepared a presentation to various stakeholders which included Kag. Virgilio Bautista of the barangay concerned.

We welcomed the inclusion of some of our suggestions in the latest version of the proposed construction plan. There will still be trees that would be affected, approximately 20% of the 300 trees therein, but they’re still working on the plans to even lessen that number. The basketball court has been removed from the plan, and our latest suggestion was taken into consideration: instead of concreting a portion of the property for a parking lot, why not just use gravel instead so as not to affect the areas water absorption capacity too much and perhaps they can turn the remaining natural space into an ecological sanctuary that they can open to the community. And in their effort to plant more trees in all available spaces within the property, we also encouraged them to plant endemic species.

The BSP also committed to making both the construction and the operation of the facility as environment-friendly as possible. In the meantime, what would the benefits of having a BSP branch Baguio have? Help boost the local economy; ensure that the city meets its currency requirements including always having fresh clean bank notes (also a sanitary concern, really); make available a learning hub; offer better consumer protection and stronger ties between the city and the Banko Sentral, among others.

The plan presented isn’t final yet, but we already appreciate the effort they’re exerting in holding public consultations before going ahead with the project, unlike the SM expansion plan which was already scheduled to commence when it was made public. In the end, the BSP also committed to get the nod of the USGBC via a LEED certification to ensure that their proposed project is, indeed, sincerely as environment-friendly as possible. And we’re banking on the BSP to honor these commitments, and perhaps serve as a role model for future construction projects in the city.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Noli me tangere in the time of Binay, et al

The abuse now comes not from the hands of colonizers, but of our countrymen, and the primary cause of our misery comes not from the abuses themselves but from our refusal to see these abuses for what they truly are - crimes against the people. Noli me tangere, Jose Rizal called his portrait of Philippine society more than a century ago - do not touch it, do not talk about it, know that it exists yet just grin and bear it.

It's how it was then, it's how it still is now. Rizal, through Padre Florentino in the latter part of the sequel to Noli, EL Filibusterismo, asked what need we have for freedom when the slaves of today are the tyrants of tomorrow?

Jejomar Binay, Vice President of the Republic of the Philippines, current front-runner in the race to Malacanang in 2016, is at the center of the country's attention. We did this to Makati, we can do the same for the rest of the country - that sums up his justification for his ambition to become the next President of this country - he offers images of high-rise buildings, underpasses with escalators, luxury cars along the streets of the Central Business District where Dionisia Pacquiao can purchase a handbag that costs as much as three years' worth of blood, sweat and tears for the common Filipino worker. Hidden beyond the concrete monuments is the rest of Makati, representative of the rest of this country: Filipinos living below the poverty, nay, dignity line. 

The ongoing Senate hearings on corruption charges against Binay and his family want to turn our attention to the systematic, institutionalized plunder of the city's coffers that's been going on for as long as the Binays have been in power in Makati that made it possible for the family to own what's been alleged as "Hacienda Binay," the size of which can probably provide land to all of the thousands of Makati's homeless and more.

Why aren't there a million people massing up along EDSA, a  million voices calling for justice? Because to a lot of us, being in power means getting away with plunder, an opportunity to serve selfish interests. For if not, nobody would dignify the moro-moro that is Philippine elections - for how can anyone justify spending millions of pesos to win a seat that would pay a few thousands a month for the next three years? 

Try tallying up the cost of winning the chairmanship of any one of Baguio's biggest barangays, put it next to how much a barangay captain gets as salary. "Ang swerte naman niya," we say about the young man who's been accepted to the police force, not because he has been given the chance to serve the community, but because he now has the opportunity to get his hands dirty with money earned questionably.  

A cancer that's spread from head to toe, that's how deeply rooted corruption is in this country. Public service is an empty concept for most - the public's welfare can easily be set aside for the opportunity to pocket SOPs from inane public infrastructure projects like parking lots and gates in parks, throw in dozens of monograms on overpasses and waiting sheds. 

But consider, too, the role models this country had - the friars and governors-general for three centuries, the yanks for half, fellow Asians for a few years, no wonder we had Ferdinand Marcos for a couple of decades and two plundering presidents more recently one after the other. For that's what we were taught power translates to: impunity. It's time we change that. 

I've said this before and I say it again - for all of the failings of PNoy's administration, perceived or otherwise, it's efforts to punish people in power for crimes against the people is setting this country on the right track. But that "daang matuwid," as straight as it can be, is an uphill one and we can only get this country up there if most of us will get behind and help push it up. It's time we say no, being the president, vice president, a senator, congressman, governor, mayor, barangay captain, policeman, a person behind the desk at any government office does not give you the right to steal from the people, to take away hope from the farmers in the fields, the workers who carry hollow blocks on their backs from sun up to sun down, the children who walk kilometers before sunrise to get to school in time to sing "Aming ligaya na pag may mang-aapi ang mamatay ng dahil sa'yo." 

Really, it is not, well, "OK lang" for people in power to steal, whether billions of pesos or a ream of bond paper, from the people. If the Binays, Revillas, Enriles, Estradas and for that matter, the Aquinos, et al did commit crimes against the people, they must be punished.   

Let me quote, albeit with a bit of paraphrasing, from playwright Malou Jacob's translation of Padre Florentino's conclusion in El Filibusterismo in the play, "Pepe" - 

Ang ating kasamaan ay sa atin din buhat, huwag natin sisisihin ang kahit sino. Hanggang ang bayang Pilipino ay wala pang sapat na tibay ng loob upang ipahayag ang kanyang karapatan sa lipunan at patibayin ito, sa pamamagitan ng sakripisyo ng ating sariling dugo, samantalang namamasdan natin ang ating mga kababayan na nakikisama sa mga nang-aabuso, upang kutyain ang ang mga inabuso. At hangga’t nakikita nating pinupuri sa tulong ng pilit na ngiti ang mga lalong nahahalay na kagagawan, at nagmamaka-awang humingi sa pamamagitan ng tingin ng isang bahagi ng napala.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Be and let be

It’s a simple question nobody seems to have a simple answer to: why are some people gay?

I was invited to be a speaker at the 5th Parents’ Congress organized by the Child & Family Service Philippines and the SLU Sunflower Children’s Center last October 11, and I was assigned this topic: “Doing Good for our LGBT Children: Psychological Tips on Raising Happy Gay Kids.”

I arrived early so I got to listen to the presentation of Ms. Annie Salvador, and she said something that almost made me review my own presentation, perhaps even revise it: according to research, “homosexuality MAY NOT BE ENTIRELY learned or acquired.” Caps mine.

I sat there, waiting for my turn at the podium, thinking: I don’t have scientific research or studies to cite, and only had experience to go by. Does that count?

Because, see, I was born in the 70s, to a mother who’s a theater actress. You know what they say about theater, so yeah, I grew up surrounded by gay people. In fact, I was told that at my Christening, all my godparents were gay men save for one woman. One of them found time to gather butterflies to release in church to celebrate my baptism. Another came in drag.

Later in life, at 14, I myself would enter the world of theater. My very first professional gig was directed by a brilliant theater artist - gay. That production was handled by one of the best stage managers in the industry - gay. I was curious about what goes on backstage and worked as a stagehand for a while before eventually becoming a stage manager myself eventually. And as one, I got to work with some of the greatest theater artists in the country, and a lot of them were gay.

In all those years working for various theater companies in Manila, easily half, maybe more, of my colleagues and friends were either gay, lesbian or bisexual. I even learned to speak the lingo, which prompted my own mom to ask me one night: are you gay?

So why am I straight? All the “ingredients” were present for me to “learn” or “acquire” homosexuality. Heck, I even found my gay-couple friends’ relationships kinda cool that I actually wondered if I could ever be in one. But when I thought about it, I found the idea of myself being intimate with another man repulsive, perhaps in the same way that a gay man would find the idea of being intimate with a woman repulsive too. Bisexuals are kinda lucky, if you ask me.

On the other hand, I have a son who was raised in a “straight” environment – as a child we played all those “masculine” games, I taught him to climb trees, play basketball, hit cans with a slingshot, he had monster trucks and action figures, etc. He’s gay, and proud of it, as I am of him too.

See, from where I stand, it’s not a virus, nor a bacterium that anyone can catch. Nor is it a “mannerism” or “skill” that can be learned or acquired. We are either born straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual – some of us embrace our sexual orientation, whatever that may be, and live happily outside the closet, others spend their lives inside it and in denial, oftentimes forced to do so by external influences: relations, peers, community, society.

But who can really deny nature? Dams burst because we try to deny water’s nature. Grass will grow no matter how many times you mow the lawn. Birds in cages can never be as beautiful as the ones soaring in the sky.

So yeah, be and let be.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

On October 16, 2014 (Sunny side up)

count your blessings, one coin
at a time
the garbage truck's late
today and
the car's all out of gas

so you walk, and walk some more
carry all that stuff
on your back
and one by one
you drop them
leaving traces on the ground

just remember never to walk this way again

Today's happiness is two sunny side up eggs.

That's why I stopped making art

Every now and then, this runs in my head - “If everybody knows everything, then nothing means anything. Everything’s a cliché. That’s why a stopped making art.”

From the "Artist," one of the pieces in Eric Bogosian’s play, “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Friday, October 10, 2014

Bring it on

A column, a powerpoint presentation, menu for the weekend, and set up for tomorrow's film showing and Sunday's concert...

Got almost everything I need... bring it on!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A reliable source is someone who was there and saw it with his own eyes

The following spread via text messaging and Facebook posts the past few days:

"From very reliable sources. Unseen by the public eye, SM has been slowly cutting the trees they were not allowed to cut. Tenants on that side of the mall were given until December to vacate their spots after which construction will commence TO EXTEND THE MALL, NOT BUILD A PARKING extension. Pls spread the word."

It would be good to know where this message came from. We had so many of these during the height of the protest against SM City Baguio - during that first rally, we all trooped from Malcolm Square to Luneta Hill when one of the speakers at the rally announced that SM has started cutting trees only to find out that it wasn't true. But that announcement caused emotions to run high that almost led to a violent confrontation with the police and SM's security guards. 

So I wonder who sent the original message, and who the reliable sources were. See,one of the members of the protest movement took it upon himself to do an ocular inspection and took photos of the expansion site - the photo showed no tree-cutting activity. Another photo taken by a local lawyer on October 1, 2014 and posted on Facebook showed the same (click here to view the photos).

So where did it come from? Could the message have come from SM City Baguio, to sort of test the waters? Could it be the handiwork of agents provocateurs?   

So much disinformation is going around that we have to remind ourselves that just because it's on Facebook, or somebody said it and spread it that it's true, in the same way that just because it's not on Facebook doesn't mean it's not happening. 

So before we panic, or react, let's go through it point by point. 

1. "Unseen by the public eye, SM has been slowly cutting the trees they were not allowed to cut." 

In April of 2012, a 72-hour Temporary Environmental Protection Order was issued by the court, and eventually extended to until the termination of the case filed against SM with Branch 15 of the Regional Trial Court. 

That case was decided by the late Judge Antonio Estevez in December, 2012, dismissing the case that we filed. And while we have since filed an appeal with the Court of Appeals, that decision of Branch 15 of the Baguio RTC effectively lifted the TEPO it issued. 

The case is still pending with the Court of Appeals. 

2. "Tenants on that side of the mall were given until December to vacate their spots after which construction will commence..."

We have yet to verify this information but initial probes revealed this also unverified information: there is a tenant who runs two shops located on the side of the expansion site whose lease is being terminated for violating SM's internal rules. 

We are still trying to verify both of the above information. 

3. " will commence TO EXTEND THE MALL, NOT BUILD A PARKING extension."

While the movement also pointed out in its protest against the plan that building an additional parking facility may contribute to the traffic congestion in the area for this will just encourage motorists to bring their car into the city's central business district, the SM City Baguio expansion plan has always been a mall extension, which just happened to have a parking facility incorporated in the design.   

We still stand by our opposition to the expansion plan as it was originally presented to the public in late 2011. SM has since redesigned its expansion plan (See; Option 2). Reactions to the redesign have been varied - some welcomed it, some rejected it. 

As for me, I opposed the expansion plan and continue to oppose it because I believe that removing one of the last forest covers in the Central Business District....

...would adversely affect the air quality in the area.
...sets a dangerous precedent: if SM was allowed to do it, why can't other corporations do the same? We saw this already in the Moldex construction project along Marcos Highway.
...would increase the risk of soil erosion in the area that could result in landslides, endangering lives and properties directly below the hill.
...would greatly reduce the water absorption capability of the hill which may result in increased water run off in the area.

I say it again: it's not so much about what they're going to build, but what they would kill in order to build it.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

New day

Woke up to a heavy downpour. It's half past five in the morning and power's out, and there's hardly any light outside that the trees swaying in the wind are giant silhouettes dancing to an eerie symphony of howling wands, rain bearing down on roofs, branches breaking, windows left unlocked slamming. The dance of the fallen, I thought. Nothing else is moving in the dim kitchen except me and the clock on the wall. I light a candle.

The 20th of September, 2014, the 13th typhoon of the year makes landfall. The neighbor's rooster crows a hopeful crow, the only reminder that this is still, despite the tempest, indeed a brand new day. You know, the first of the rest...

It is much brighter now, light finds a way through thick clouds. The porch is littered with leaves. Bamboos not strong enough to withstand the gusts, or flexible enough to bend in the wind, lay on the ground. I will clean up later when the rains slow down a bit.

But it is a new day. I've forgotten how fresh the air felt after a storm. The wind sweeps and the all that water washes away all that is yesterday's, and we're left with a clean slate. On this 41st year, a clean slate.

And there - today is, indeed, a good day and a good way to celebrate a birthday.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hula (or intuitive consultancy)

That's what I want to call what I do, really, she said to me when I asked her what method she uses as a "manghuhula," or fortune teller. Pick three cards, she asked me as she spread out a deck of tarot cards in front of me. I did. Don't you have any questions you want answers to? She asked. Hmmm, where do I start, but I decided to go for the one that I've really been wondering about:

What's it like for me for the rest of the year?

image from
Drought's over, she said. Work's going to come pouring in, and these projects aren't going to be stressful, "easy" was the exact word she used. Money's going to come in.

Ahhh finally, I thought, hoping that, borrowing a line from the Indigo Girls, just because she said it that it's true.

At the end of that night's gig, I passed by an ATM machine to withdraw what ever little's there to buy something and I saw a P50.00 bill on the ground. I picked it up and looked around for someone who may have dropped it. Nobody. Finders-keepers.

The next day, a client for whom I wrote three articles 6 months ago and never heard from again suddenly emailed to let me know that he has deposited some money in my account. Not much, but hey, I wasn't expecting anything from that gig anymore.

Not, bad, Meng, not bad. I"m not going to spend that P50.00 bill and will just keep it in my wallet as a good luck charm.

Yeah, I believe in those.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

If it's not on Facebook...

Bumped into someone who was involved with the protest against the expansion plan of SM City Baguio yesterday and he asked: "why did you leave our group?" What do you mean? I asked back. "Why did you stop?" Stop what? "Protesting against SM?"

So if it's not on Facebook, it doesn't exist? Or if you're not on Facebook, you're nowhere?

Nah, I never stopped believing that it's wrong to easily sacrifice the majority's welfare and future for the benefit of a few. I just stopped believing that ego-tripping, posting links and commenting on comments on Facebook will save the environment.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday mornings

I love them. 

Now, pick that phone back up

“Put that phone down more often, really, and smell the flowers,” was the last thing I said two weeks ago in another post. I was referring to a lot of people’s obsession with taking a photo or video of everything and anything that’s going on around them instead of actually experiencing the spectacle.

But today’s smartphones aren’t all that bad. I finally had to give in and get one of those smartphones a few weeks ago when my Jurassic mobile phone finally conked out. I’m lucky to be getting into it quite late in the day since the prices of smartphones have gone down significantly with more and more players entering the lucrative market. I got one of the cheapest available ones out there and I love it, first and foremost because it’s locally made.

Internal memory’s very limited, so none of those high-maintenance social networking apps. But it can make and accept calls, text and multimedia messages, play music and videos, take photos and videos, and at P3,000, I can’t complain.

But the one thing I love most about it is that I can read e-books on it.

Yeah, yeah, I know how different the feel of a real book is, the smell of the paper and all that, but I can be in the bathroom, in a bus or jeep, in line at the bank, just about anywhere and I can whip up my phone and immerse myself in a story, a concept, a strange, wonderful, inspiring, scary universe.

Photo lifted from
It sure beats browsing through all that dirty laundry being aired or self-serving postings on Facebook. is currently my favorite website to visit with my smartphone. With close to 50,000 free e-books available, there are more than enough literary gems in there to last a lifetime. Currently, I have bookmarked pages in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov.

Knowledge has never been this easily accessible, all it takes is a tap and you can swipe your way through the world’s greatest literary treasures.

So if you’re not sending text messages or making a call but just have to pick that phone up – read a book.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

First things first: an efficient, sustainable public transport system

The goal is to decongest, de-pollute the Central Business District and the city executive proposes to desecrate sacred grounds to build a parking building, some are proposing the SUMP concept, or the Sustainable Urban Mobility Program which would involve the pedestrianization of Session Road, instituting a traffic re-routing scheme, while the city’s representative in congress cannot pitch in his ideas at the moment because his busy trying to wriggle his way out of the Mt. Kabuyao mess he created.

There’s wisdom in both proposals. A parking facility will indeed free our roadsides in the CBD of cars. In the case of Session Road, that’s one added lane for vehicles and for the narrower side streets such as Assumption Rd. and Mabini Street, perhaps a wider sidewalk for pedestrians.

And the SUMP? It would definitely lessen the pollution along Session Road. Though I’m quite apprehensive about where all those cars passing the city’s main thoroughfare would be transferred, we might just be transferring the pollution to a different, nearby area and in this case, from an area lined with business establishments (Session Road) to an area surrounded by schools and hospitals (Gen. Luna Rd., Assumption Rd.).

The first proposal, I’ve discussed in this column at length and basically, my disagreement to it is premised on one thing: not at the Melvin Jones grounds.

As to the second proposal, I agree with the concept, but I would like to see a detailed timeline for its implementation. The presence of two major hospitals in the vicinity worries me. The re-routing scheme must be well thought out, tried out over a long period of time before being implemented.

Let's look at the more recent traffic re-routing scheme in the CBD that was implemented a few years ago. After a couple of months of relative efficiency, we are now experiencing some of the kinks of that scheme -we now experience bottle necks in certain choke points such as the area going to YMCA where vehicles coming from lower Session Road and the Baguio Cathedral converge on a single lane. Then there’s the increased air pollution in the UP Baguio area where most vehicles coming from Kennon Road, Marcos Highway, etc. en route to Session Road pass.

Which brings me to my own humble suggestion to help address the major issues, which are, again, congestion and pollution – a more efficient public transport system.

When we were living in San Luis Village, we wanted our children to take the jeep to school, but it’s almost impossible to do that in the morning where the jeeps arrive in our area already full. Simply allotting some seats for those along the way could have solved that, but no, the drivers would like to assure themselves of full capacity. We now live along Ambuklao Road, and the situation’s the same, just as when we were staying in the Gibraltar area. See, a public transport franchise isn’t just a license to do business, it’s also a mandate to serve the best interest of the riding public. And so we’re forced to bring our kids children to school by car.

Then city hall has this penchant for making things much better for private motorists too – PUVs are banned along Gen. Luna in the morning and two of our children go to school in that area. So even if we walk the extra mile and have the kids by the roadside very early to catch a jeepney ride, they would have to walk another extra mile to get to school. A jeep carries around 20 passengers, against a huge SUV that brings one pupil to school.

Alright, I’m fine with the banning of jeepneys along certain roads, in fact, I’m fine with having no jeepneys at all in the Central Business District. As long as an alternative is put in place – a vehicle that goes into a loop around town. Electric jeeps? Sure! How many mostly empty Trancoville and Aurora Hill jeeps do you see crawling, idling, stopping at “no loading/unloading” areas, creating bottle necks? Check out the area across the Baguio Cathedral or in front of Tiong San Harrison. How about all those jeeps going up Calderon? A scheme that would put all those jeeps at the perimeter and outside the CBD would significantly help decongest the area.

Have that – an efficient, sustainable public transport system and we do away with the need to bring one's private vehicle into the CBD, reducing their number on the road. Have that - and the Mayor  wouldn’t need to destroy a park for a parking building. Have that, and let’s talk pedestrianization.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Put that phone down

Photo from
Common sight at most gatherings these days (be it a performance on stage, graduation ceremony, a spectacular sunset, a baby's first steps, etc.): people with their smart phones held up to record the spectacle.

I was at a nephew's wedding where my wife was ninang and I volunteered to take photos and I had to compete with dozens of guests and relatives for the best angle to take photos of important moments during the ceremony and the reception. During the entrance of the entourage, of the bride, when groom received the bride, when they sat down, when they stood up, when the priest blessed them, when they put on the rings, when they were pronounced man and wife and when they kissed as a married couple for the first time, they were there, with their arms stretched out, phone in hand... click.

This images would go in Facebook status updates and photo albums, or on Twitter or Instagram, and will be buried under the deluge of the next day's status updates and memes and viral videos and the occasional petition for world peace.

In the meantime, years from now, perhaps at the couple's 10th anniversary, the next family reunion, when they look back at that beautiful day, they won't remember exactly how the moment felt as much as they would remember how that phone felt in their hand and how the scene looked on their tiny LCD screen.

That's a lot of people's first impulse right now at anything worth remembering - look, a beautiful flower!, uh, oh, a car accident, a full moon!, a sunset, a sunrise, a nice plate of delicious food, heck, even intimate moments between a man and a woman and a man and a man and a woman and a woman... take a photo or a short video clip.

And years from now? They won't be able to relive that same moment in the same way as those they experienced with their senses - how it looked not through a screen but as seen by their eyes, how the aroma of that dish whetted their appetite, how it actually tasted, how the environment felt, how the music played in the air. They will be reliving the moment they took out that phone and took a photo of something or other.

Sure, there are moments that are worth capturing in a photo or video, but unforgettable moments are better experienced with the senses, and that's exactly what makes them unforgettable.

Put that phone down more often, really, and smell the flowers.

Friday, August 8, 2014

This fine young man

This is what we woke up to this morning: a photo of two of our children at a demonstration against the government's inaction to SM's proposed expansion project that would result in the removal of 182 trees on Luneta Hill. In the photo, our son was holding a placard which was photoshopped to show the following:

"Aliping for President 2016"

The photo has since been taken down, thanks to the anonymous poster who granted our plea to do so, and as irresponsible and below-the-belt it was, and as much as I feel so guilty for allowing myself to be among those who were at the forefront of that protest movement that resulted in our children being dragged into the mess, we'd like to put that behind us. So there, thank you, whoever you are, Save Baguio of Facebook.

But let me tell you about that boy.

His critique of my work, particularly as a theater artist, is among those I value the most. He was not even three when he first started asking me questions about my production of "Pepe," a play on the life of Jose Rizal written by Malou Jacob which our theater group, Open Space, first staged in 1998, the year he was born.

In one of our re-stagings, he asked why the first part of the performance depicted our national hero rather comically, and what the real story was behind the slapstick that I as Pepe and my co-actors presented onstage. He asked why Pepe said that he was also Placido Penitente, Isagani, Basilio, Simoun, and Padre Florentino. One evening after watching that Disney movie, "A Bug's Life," he quipped, "Flick is just like Pepe, right Papa? He wanted to change things."

And he never let get anything in the way of what he believed was right, I would tell him some years later.

He liked that performance-art piece, "Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll," very much and our conversations about the characters in that piece were way more meaningful than ones I had with much older people. He would particularly rave about the segments "The Artist" where the actor ranted about how technology has forced him to stop making art, "Dirt" that depicted how we've managed to turn our world into a human cesspool, and "Benefit" that depicted, among many other ills of this social epoch, how detached some people are from reality, etc.

He's good at everything he puts his heart in. He was six or seven when he first got hooked on football, and once scored seven goals in a tournament. After being awed by good friend Ethan Ventura's guitar playing, he wanted to learn how to play too, and has since been filling up the house every now and then with Bach's Bourree and blues riffs. He took up taekwondo for a couple of years and has a haul of dozens of local, regional and national bronze, silver and gold medals in his room. You should see his photos - he's taken up photography recently.

He reads, and reads voraciously, lapping up literary gems from Marquez to Murakami to Nabokov to Tolkien to Tolstoy. And Rizal, El Filibusterismo is among his all-time favorites along with One Hundred Years of Solitude which he read, and had long discussions with me about, when he was 13. Our conversations about that play, "Pepe," has gotten more interesting too after reading Noli and Fili.

We disagree about many things - the challenges of rearing a teenager, but we do agree a lot on many things too. Like how the concrete pine tree, which has since been removed, at the top of Session Road was a symbol of the many wrongs about our city today. Or how misguided the decision was to fence Burnham Park and pour concrete on much of the Rose Garden.

He wouldn't cross the road when the light is red and there are no cars in sight, even if he's the only one standing at the curb - he's stubborn that way. He was the first to decide to boycott SM when their expansion plan was announced late in 2011, and has since been boycotting the mall. While his siblings, too, supported the family's decision not to patronize a corporation that threatens to put its interest ahead of that of the community's and would voluntarily join me during demonstrations against the planned removal of 182 trees, he was the one who stood with me, a heavy video camera on his shoulder, during most of the rallies. When school started along with the hearings on the case we filed against SM, DENR and DPWH, he would always ask me at the end of the day how the last hearing went.

His grasp of this particular environmental issue never failed to amaze me. I always thought that he could debate any of SM's apologists and supporters and be able to clearly express all that is wrong about their expansion plan.

When the news of Congressman Nicasio Aliping's destruction in Mt. Kabuyao broke out, he was very agitated. This 15 year-old found it hard to comprehend how grown-ups like Aliping, who looked people in the eye during the campaign and vowed to be a protector and steward of the environment, someone who's supposed to represent the people's best interest, can do something like that.

He does his best to do his share - from simple things like simply saying "huwag niyo na pong i-plastic" when buying something from the neighborhood sari-sari store, to speaking his mind about social issues that's affecting his immediate community, his country, his world.

It broke my heart when the anonymous Facebook user chose an image of him to forward his own agenda - he didn't deserve it. I felt guilty even, very guilty in fact, that he was dragged into the mudslinging that's been going on when what the community needs now is to unite to defend the welfare, dignity and heritage of this beautiful city. I have that same photo, in fact, taken during that church-led demonstration against SM's expansion plan and the government's apparent inaction, nay, endorsement of it. He was asked by the organizers if he would like to hold up a sign at the head of the rally, and he rather shyly agreed, but proudly did.

The anonymous netizen could have chosen to satirize me - been getting a lot of that from people who don't really know what forwarding the Luneta Hill cause entailed then and what forwarding the Mt. Kabuyao cause is taking now. But yeah, I'm fair game, but not my children, please. Not any child, please.

It's easy to grab a photo online, alter it, type in an insult, defamatory statements,  smear one's reputation on a Facebook status update, I'm glad my son knows that, and knows too that it takes way more than that to sincerely forward an advocacy.

I'm even more glad that, seeing how he handled that offensive altered photo, that it takes more than that to break his resolve to stand by his principles. I don't have much in life materially, there are so many things that I will not be able to give him, but if there's one thing I'd like to be able to ensure that he has, that's it - prinsipyo.

That's Leon, the boy that the offensive photo tried to put down, our son, one of five children, five beautiful children with their heads held up high knowing that they're doing all they can to be responsible children and citizens of this city, this country and as children of the universe, while their feet remain planted firmly on the ground.

He's a fine young man, and we're very proud of him.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

That proposed parking facility (what they will and will not tell you...)

They will tell you that the proposed construction of a parking facility at the Melvin Jones grounds is a necessity that must be implemented to help decongest the Central Business District of the city.

What they won’t tell you is that this initiative is not a fool-proof solution to this problem. In fact, taking their justification at face value, it appears to be a foolish proposition. Burnham Park is within the Central Business District of the City of Baguio, and they’re proposing to get all those cars out of Session Road and its immediate environs and get them into the proposed parking facility at the Melvin Jones grounds. Obviously, this will just move to congestion from one part of the CBD to another – a public park. Yes, a public park where most of Baguio’s residents who cannot afford a day at the mall or a weekend playing golf at an exclusive country club go for recreation; a public park where children play and get closer to nature and breathe fresher air. The proposal is have a couple of thousands of vehicles added to the thousands that pass through the park spewing noxious fumes in a haven for clean air, peace and quiet.

Traffic congestion occurs when there are more vehicles within a road network designed to carry a much lesser number. Their proposal is to attract thousands of vehicles to an area flanked by Harrison Road, Lake Drive, Shanum St. and Jose Abad Santos Drive . Save for the latter two which don’t experience much heavy traffic, the other two roads already suffer congestion practically at all hours of the day.

They will tell you that there is no other place to build this facility but in the only remaining sizeable piece of open space in the CBD.

What they won’t tell you is that they refuse to entertain the proposal to build their proposed parking facility in an area that’s already being used as a parking lot – the area next to the Athletic Bowl. They will tell you that it’s too small. But even if you offer suggestions such as building smaller facilities in different parts of the city that would distribute the volume of vehicles to a much wider area instead of concentrating the traffic in one, which makes more sense if the idea is to decongest, they will still insist that the Melvin Jones grounds is the best place for it.

They will tell you, that the proposed project will not harm the environment. And they will tell you, too, that they will “put back” the field on top of this proposed facility after it’s built.

What they won’t tell you is how much disturbance the construction will cause in the area’s eco-system and that there is no telling exactly how much environmental damage it will cause until it’s built and in operation. But think about it: with dimensions of roughly 230 by 100 meters or an area of 23,000 square meters or a little over two hectares, imagine how much earth would have to be removed to construct this facility. Imagine, too, how much rainwater that much space absorbs and what will happen to that much water when the area is concreted. Perhaps they also won’t tell you about the incidences of flooding in the area in recent years and how this construction project might worsen the situation.

The Baguio Water District, still reeling from the effects of Congressman Aliping’s Mt. Kabuyao shenanigans, and long struggling to provide water to the city's residents, operates wells in that area. The Melvin Jones grounds is an aquifer – a natural water storage facility. So they probably won’t tell you too about how much it will affect the water supply of the city.

Lastly, for now, if we bring up Presidential Decree No. 1216 which states, and I quote, “WHEREAS, there is a compelling need to create and maintain a healthy environment in human settlements by providing open spaces, roads, alleys and sidewalks as may be deemed suitable to enhance the quality of life of the residents therein;” and goes on further to state that “WHEREAS, such open spaces, roads, alleys and sidewalks in residential subdivision are for public use and are, therefore, beyond the commerce of men;” their lawyers might argue, as one did during a forum they hosted, that the aforementioned law has since been modified. What? Why? When? By who? We, non-lawyers, might ask.

And that, my friends, summarizes the modus operandi of the proponents of this proposed destruction of an important part of the city’s heritage – they will bend, pervert, corrupt the laws of the land to forward this misdirected initiative and perpetrate this injustice.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

I didn’t buy anything (or how the boycott SM thing is doing)

Last night dinner, my son confessed: he had to go through SM to get to a location where he and his friends were doing a photo shoot. “But I didn’t buy anything.”

It’s been more than two years since our family decided to boycott SM because of their expansion plan that would result in the removal of 182 trees in an area that’s one of the very few remaining forest covers in the Central Business District of Baguio.

The family boycott started on January 19, 2012. That was the day we responded to a call by Michael Bengwayan to rally against the planned expansion. That day, we printed placards that said, “It’s not what you’ll build, it’s what you’ll kill to build it,” and distributed these to some friends who joined us as we walked down Session Road to Malcolm Square where the protesters gathered.

Just when we thought that the rally was over, we heard that some of the protesters decided to continue to demonstration right at the rotunda by the entrance to SM at the top of Session Road. We were already tired and were ready to go home, but decided to check on what’s happening up there.

When we arrived, there were several people gathered at the rotunda already – gongs were being played, motorists were being coaxed to blow their horns as a sign of support for the protest, there were performance artists dancing (and at one point one of them set herself on fire).  The police were all over, trying to convince us to disperse. Right across the road in front of Banco De Oro I remember seeing then Councilor Nicasio Aliping, talking to some policemen. The protesters didn’t want him in their ranks, and I don’t think he was there to join the protest anyway.

After an exhausting couple of hours of shouting, playing gongs, dancing and at one point preventing the arrest of one of our friends whom one policeman tried to pull away from our group, we went home and a had late dinner and talked about the idea of boycotting SM.

Before that, we were SM regulars. It’s where our children had their music lessons and while waiting for them, where we bought our groceries. The hardware store there was also the most convenient place to get supplies for our productions. That night, we talked about losing all that if we boycotted SM.

We made it clear to the kids that they didn’t have to join the boycott, but they did ask why we, their parents, were doing it.

We were going to boycott SM then to protest their plan to easily sacrifice the environment, and with it the welfare of the people of Baguio, so they can expand their business despite already being the biggest commercial center in the city. We told them that we, their parents, cannot continue to feed the monster that’s trying to kill us, so to speak.

The children decided that they too would stop going to SM until the issue is resolved. And since then, we have never patronized SM or any of the establishments therein.

Of course at the height of the Save 182 protest movement, thousands joined the boycott. But as time passed and recently with the announcement of SM that they have since redesigned their expansion project to spare the remaining trees in the area, others thought that it was time to end the boycott. Nothing wrong there too, really. 

Not us, though. And no regrets too – we do our shopping mostly at home-grown establishments and have since been spending more time outdoors. We miss the spectacle of a huge movie screen, but nothing compares to a movie night at home when the whole family would camp out in the living room, cuddling, snuggling warmly under the covers. The children have gotten so good at horseback riding, just one of the few outdoor recreational activities they do in place of an afternoon at the arcade.

So, yeah, it doesn’t matter if our family’s continued boycott of SM makes any dent at all in their revenues, or if it helps forward the cause of saving one of Baguio’s fast-disappearing forest covers, we’re still not going and still not buying. It’s a matter of principle.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Innayan and Gawis ay Biag

I just came from a road trip with my son. I needed some photos of various Cordillera cultural icons for a project and I thought that this would be a good opportunity to let my son, and eventually and hopefully soon every single one of my children, in whose veins run the same blood as the people who call this awe-inspiring mountain range home, to experience the same sense of belonging that I did from the very first time my mother brought me here as a child, to the time I would come here every time I needed some time away from the dog-eat-dog world that was, and is, Manila as a young man, to the time I decided this is the place I want to spend my life in.

As a child I fell in love with Baguio specially when it rains. I loved the warmth of the homes of my mother's friends, and the warmth of their friendship. I was awed by the serenity of Sagada, the majesty of the Ifugao landscape, the scent of the mountains, I could go on and on. I wasn't surprised at all when one day, after a trip alone across the Cordilleras that ended with a stay at some friends' home in Baguio, I decided to give up our place in Manila and make this beautiful city my home.  

Banaue, Ifuago, ca. 2014
We arrived in Kiangan at sunrise, and after going around the town, all the while reminding my son that this was where his grandmother spent her early years as a child, we proceeded to Banaue. It felt good that some friends I met there more than a decade ago, particularly the owners of a restaurant that would eventually be my regular stop whenever I was there, remembered me. Like old friends, we were welcomed warmly. We left our bags at the restaurant before proceeding to Batad.

What used to be a 2 to 3-hour trek is now a mere hour's walk and if the project of building a road from the main road proceeds as scheduled, by early next year motor vehicles would now be able to go all the way to Batad. And while the thought that even the physically-challenged, persons with disabilities, or the elderly will be able to experience the beauty of the place was welcome, I also wondered how the influx of tourists would affect the culture and landscape of Batad.
We have seen this in Banaue, where there are now less farmers, carvers, weavers and way more store-owners, innkeepers and restaurateurs.
My son, Leon, taking it all in (Demang, Sagada)

We proceeded to Sagada from there and while having coffee at a roadside cafe, we noticed how every 15 minutes or so a huge truck would pass carrying heavy construction equipment - more roads are being paved.

I needed a photo of a Patpatayan and an authentic dap-ay, which had us abusing our van over rocky roads to get to Demang, Sagada where we met Biag, the current village chief. He was named after Biag, an ancestor who is said to be the first settler in Sagada. Biag is a staunch advocate of the preservation of indigenous culture. "This is one of the curses of modern education - the younger generation now know very little about native wisdom." His house, built in the mid-80's, was the last one built through the Ug-ogbo, or reciprocal labor system. "I did not spend a single centavo on labor when I built this house," Biag shared, "people in the community all contributed, that's how it was before. And later on, when the time comes that they need my help either in building a house or working their farm, I will be there for them. But now? Everybody wants money."

He's especially saddened that the concept of "Innayan," which may be translated simply as taboo or "must never be done," which Biag considers as among the most important life lessons that a person must learn, is now lost on the youth. For example, it is Innayan when someone diverts the flow of water to his own farm and deprives others of irrigation. It is Innayan to cause so much damage to nature for one's own selfish interest.

With Biag of Demang, Sagada
While listening to Biag talk, I was reminded of the more than 700 trees that were cut on Mt. Cabuyao to pave the way to a resort owned by the family of our very own congressman. That is, as I understood from Biag, definitely Innayan. It makes me wonder how Congressman Nicasio Aliping, now the representative of the people of Baguio, an Igorot who traces his roots to where Biag himself comes from, can do something like that.      

If there's one life lesson that I wish my son will never forget from this road trip, it is the thought that Gawis ay Biag, or the beautiful life, can only be achieved if one lives it in harmony not only with the community but more importantly with the environment.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Tyranny and the Baguio POSD (Justice for Oscar Caranto)

It is a common sight around the market area and the rest of the Central Business District: ambulant vendors being chased by either the police or members of the Public Order and Safety Department (POSD) of the City Government of Baguio. Often, the vendors are old women who have mastered the art of sensing the presence of “authorities” from some meters away, giving them a few seconds’ head start to pack up their wares and make a run for it before they lose all their merchandise, and with it, a few meals for their family.

The late Cecil Afable once said during a rally: “We call them squatters because we failed to provide them homes.” And we call them illegal vendors because the benefits of our city’s so-called development, progress failed to reach one Oscar Caranto, a so-called illegal vendor who passed away on July 4, 2014 allegedly due to the beating he received from elements of the POSD.

I am for a peaceful, orderly, clean Baguio, but not at the expense of a life of a father who’s just desperately trying to make ends meet for his family. Who really wants to make a living that way, anyway? Imagine having to start your day preparing your merchandise all the time hoping that today, the “authorities” wouldn’t be around, or if they are that you would be able to run away from them fast enough. Nobody wants that kind of life.

Given the chance, nobody would want to be called an illegal vendor, or for that matter, a squatter. Given the chance, everyone would embrace a dignified, secure, peaceful, happy life – Caranto would have jumped at the opportunity to become a legitimate vendor, just as any squatter would to legitimately have the right to the land their home sits on. There is no dignity in being an illegal vendor, no security, it’s dangerous and it’s sad.

So how do all the taxes that the huge businesses pay that our local government have allowed to sprout all over this city at the expense of its natural environment, beauty, heritage trickle down to the likes of Caranto, if at all? 

And while Caranto paid with his life, others get away with it – how come supposed "legal vendors" selling illegal wares such as pirated DVDs and second-hand mobile phones that came from questionable sources can peacefully, orderly go ahead with their trade un-harassed? The law must apply to all...

And I wonder, too, what kind of instruction, direction these men of the POSD receive from their superiors that make them believe that violence can result in public order and safety.  

Caranto’s was a very, very wrongful death. City Hall’s got blood on its hands – the blood of a hapless, desperate, disenfranchised, deprived citizen. More light will be shed on this very unfortunate, tragic incident in the coming days – I already anticipate a self-defense alibi, but taking the life of someone who’s  just trying to make a living, or stay alive at all, is criminal. Way more criminal than what the elements of the POSD would say Caranto was committing. And even if he reacted quite violently to their efforts to confiscate his merchandise, that is justified – a hungry man is an angry man, as Marley sang – they were taking away the only means he knew to feed his family, his only means to stay alive.

The curse of the Filipino – given the slightest hint of power over his fellowmen and he abuses it. The ghost of hundreds of years of colonization and having those colonial masters as role models that really messed up our concept of being in power continues to haunt us.

That’s the point those POSD men missed – they didn’t have the power, instead, they had the responsibility to keep the community orderly and safe. Just like our congressman doesn't have the power to do as he pleases with the environment, like cutting down more than 700 trees for his own personal benefit, instead, he has the responsibility to ensure that the welfare and rights of the people he represents are defended and forwarded, including their right to a healthy environment.

And now that he's gone, Oscar Caranto and the loved ones he left behind have one right that demands to be respected, defended, forwarded: Justice!  

Photo lifted from the Facebook wall of Ivy Buenaobra

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Where is Save 182?

A friend sent this to me one morning. Why did I bother to blur the photo and his name, really, when it was posted on a social networking site for public consumption.

I wanted to ignore it, I have actually, coming from another netizen who not only asked where we were but even went as far as calling us hypocrites. Ouch. Then a scion of a prominent lawyer in Baguio came out swinging in a letter that was shared online... his father, among the "true leaders" of Baguio, according to him, wanted to help the legal team that filed a case against SM, et al, but was rejected. He went on to belittle the lawyers who worked pro bono, and hard, to save the trees on Luneta Hill.

Never mind that his true leader of a father was rejected more than once by the Baguio electorate, but really, you should have been there...

"Kasi walang photo-ops..." said one referring to Save 182's alleged absence amid the ongoing protest actions against the cutting of trees on Mt. Cabuyao.

So, where's Save 182?

First, who's Save 182?

A lot of the people involved in the protest then were people I met for the first time like the group of young advocates like Calypso, Dumay, Ivy, Richard, Jarlaw, et al.

Michael Bengwayan, I had no idea who he was, but I fully supported his call for signatures when he launched that very first online petition. When he called for a rally, I called him to ask if there was anything needed for the rally, such as a sound system. We did provide that during the first rally.

The members of our artist collective, Open Space, of course I knew them well. Ethan who actually owned the sound system that we abused at the time, his wife Emerald along with Eunice, Delo, Ryle, Roman, Rose, Cholo, Ro, Jeff, Jerrick, Jojo and the rest who were there at one point or another and in the case of some, the whole time...

Cheryl Daytec-Yangot of course I have heard of before (who from Baguio hasn't, really?), but only knew her, before this, as (pardon me, Chyt) a lawyer and the wife of politician Leandro Yangot. She headed our legal team and was the one responsible for bringing the cause to international rock star Sting's attention, who cancelled his concert at the SM Mall of Asia and moved it to Araneta Coliseum.

I knew Chris Donaal and Go Abaeo before when we helped them with a concert at the Melvin Jones Football Grounds (oh, by the way, where were you when we were protesting the planned concreting of the grounds and gating of Burnham Park? Anyway...). I hardly knew Gideon Omero except as a regular face I occasionally bump into at Luisa's Cafe. Their organization, the Cordillera Global Network, spearheaded the filing the case against SM.

Willy Alangui and Vangie Ram I knew as teachers at UP Baguio.

Who else... Ellen Lao I only knew as a member of the family that owned Tiong San, and the first time we actually met was by mobile phone when she asked me to take care of the empty containers of water that she lent to the concert. Marie Balangue along with (Tita) Sonn Fenrnadez and (Tita) Guia Limpin I also met for the first time during those first few meetings at her place. Andrea I got to know better whenever she whipped up a wonderful meal out of whatever's available.

There were the teachers too, the students from the different universities and schools, the religious.

What's in a name

One afternoon, after another grueling week of protest actions, and after being asked repeatedly what the group was called, we decided to just refer to the movement, not the people, not the group, as Project: Save 182, or Save 182. There was never any attempt to "organize," we knew then that we differed on so many other things: political affiliations, religious persuasions, etc., so we focused the on the one thing that surely held us together, united us, which was one specific issue: the 182 trees on Luneta Hill and all that they stood for.

So, where's Save 182? 

While the case is still pending with the Court of Appeals, SM has since re-designed their expansion plan. That too has caused differing opinions among the protesters for while some of us welcomed the fact that despite having no legal impediment to their expansion plan as it was originally designed, SM adjusted their design that would leave more than 120 out of the 133 or so remaining trees at the site untouched, others believed didn't think it was enough (and even accused some of us of "selling out").

So, really, where's Save 182? First, Save 182 is not an organization. So what is it? Call it a movement, a concept, an ideal, a cause. Where is it? It is in every single tree on Luneta Hill that was saved from SM's backhoes, in every single person who was made more aware about the importance of taking care of our environment, in every single environmental protest action it inspired all over the country and indeed in other parts of the world, heck, it is even in every single Sting fan who had to get a refund and buy a new ticket when he moved his concert to a different venue to support the cause.

Seriously, where is Save 182? It's here, in our hearts and minds and, with all your impassioned statements online and offline, apparently, in yours too.