Sunday, February 23, 2014

In honor of the true heroes and heroines of Panagbenga

I have heard stories in the past of the sacrifices of the nameless thousands of pupils and students, but it’s only now that our family experienced first-hand how much these youngsters go through to make the annual Baguio Flower Festival a success.

After graduating elementary last year, our daughter applied for and was accepted in the Baguio City National High School Special Program for the Arts for dance and their group form part of the contingent that is currently preparing to take center stage along Session Road in today’s street-dancing parade. Yes, I write this watching the live coverage of ongoing parade on television where I thought I’d have a better chance of catching a glimpse of my daughter in her Kalinga-costume than squeezing in between the throngs of people lining up the city’s main thoroughfare.

Initial preparations started late last year for their group, I believe, and as soon as the first day of class after the holidays, rehearsals went into full gear. Costume and props requirements were given, and the hunt for materials all over town began. It wasn’t easy for our daughter who also belonged to the Baguio Futsal Team to the 2014 CARAA having to work both on her part in the dance and attend training and practice sessions with her futsal team. This actually resulted in an overnight stay at a hospital due to over-fatigue.

As this day drew nearer, the stress level rose dramatically. The main prop, an umbrella covered made to look like a flower using supposedly recycled plastic bags (I’ll write about this in length in next week’s column) soon deteriorated after so many rehearsals and some needed to be repaired while others needed to be replaced altogether. My wife made a slight mistake with the arrangement of the beads attached to the headdress, that too had to be redone.

Three days before the parade date, we received a waiver that we needed to sign: the contingent will have to stay overnight in school the next day so that they can be there to serve as a backdrop for a major network’s early morning news program. I was hesitant to sign it – why have hundreds of young students, after rehearsing all day, at times under the sun, and late into the night, sleep on makeshift beds towards midnight to be roused before 4:00am so this network can rake in extra hundreds of thousands in advertising revenues for the scoop that is having hundreds of students in colourful costumes dancing in the background? After discussing it with our daughter, we decided to let her go.

So there, they finished rehearsals close to midnight. Some of them had to stay up to repair their props while the rest tried to get some rest. Before 4:00am, they were up, putting on their costumes, make-up before making their way to Burnham Park on foot. They were scheduled to finish by 9:00am, but just as I was getting ready to pick her up, she called and said that when they get back to the campus, they will be rehearsing one more time before calling it a day. By this time, she’s had only a couple of hours’ sleep in the last 30 hours.

I pick her up at 10:30am and as soon as we got home, she laid down on the couch and was asleep in an instant. I tried to wake her up for lunch, but she was just too tired.

Day of the parade, call was at 4:00am, and here I am today, waiting for her group to come on TV, and there she is, somewhere along South Drive waiting for their turn as my wife waits for her somewhere along Upper Session Road.

Much print space and radio and TV airtime were spent on the issues surrounding the staging of the annual festival, including the apparent rift between the City Government and the Baguio Flower Festival Foundation, Inc. (BFFFI), allow me to take advantage of this column to honor the thousands of pupils and students who make great sacrifices to make Panagbenga the success that it is today. Mabuhay kayong lahat! Ignore the conflict between the powers-that-be that revolves mainly around money, you are the true heroes and heroines of this festival.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Age of Aquarius - The 4th Baguio Music Festival

For the fourth straight year, the Baguio Flower Festival Foundation, in cooperation with the Office of the Hon. Richard Cariño, Councilor, Baguio City, and this year's major sponsors InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) and Cordillera Today will be presenting“Open Spaces – The 4th Baguio Music Festival.” First staged during the month-long Panagbenga celebration in 2011, this musical collaboration between home-grown and visiting artists advocates the protection, preservation and enhancement of Baguio’s remaining open spaces.

The theme for this year is “The Age of Aquarius,” and will highlight the music of the revolutionary era that is the 60’s. The festival will be launched with a gathering of the participating artists and a performance by Sonny Zandueta and his band on February 24, 2014 at 4:00pm at Ili Likha, Kidlat Tahimik’s newest art space at 32 Assumption Road.

The following day, February 25 at 4:00pm, the festival moves to the Igorot Garden with an open-air concert featuring guest prog rock band Fuseboxx and a collaborative effort of local musicians performing covers of classic rock pieces by The Beatles, The Doors, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, as well as excerpts from the musicales Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair. Among the featured musicians in this performance hosted by veteran radio jock Señor Blues and led by festival musical director Ethan Andrew Ventura are Bubut Olarte, Sumitra Gutierrez, Ric Maniquis, Chris Donaal, Bakulaw, Bong Dailo, Ian Paolo Acosta, Luis Asejo, Jeff Coronado, Lloyd Celzo, Jerky Afaga, Josef Ventura, Eunice Caburao, Ryle Danganan, Emerald Ventura and Gemma Gonzalez.

The festival closes with an encore of highlights of the performances at the Main Stage of Session Road in Bloom on February 26, 6:00-9:00pm. The final night closes with a performance by The Baguio Boys.

As in all the previous staging of this event, all performances are free and open to the public.  

Also sponsored by the University of Baguio, the Rural Bank of Itogon and Alabanza Meat Store, this year’s Baguio Music Festival, according to Executive Director Karlo Marko Altomonte, forwards the need for a major paradigm shift towards a more environment and human-friendly city as Baguio progresses on in the 21st century. 

Festival organizers, Open Space, a Baguio-based artist collective, pose with members of the prog rock band, Fuseboxx and festival chair, The Hon. Richard Carino (top row, 2nd from left), Councilor-Baguio City. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

That woman in uniform

The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) issued a statement condemning the appointment of one Lina Sarmiento as head of the martial law claims board. According to the statement forwarded by former Congressman Teddy Casiño via, the NUPL asks, ‘But does she “have a deep and thorough understanding and knowledge of human rights and involvement in efforts against human rights violations” committed during the Marcos regime as mandated by the law? No such evidence on record.’ Casiño‘s post on Tweeter read: “PNoy appointment of 2-star general to Human Rights Claims Board is a mockery and a bad prank.”

The statement also asked, “Why put a woman in uniform who represents an institution that has historically played its indispensable role in violating human rights at the helm of a body on human rights? What sort of macabre message is this?”

The former congressman wouldn’t want the public to judge him today based on his being a congressman in the past, would he? Should we also ask, what right does Casiño have to question Sarmiento’s appointment when he was once a member of that institution known for rampant graft and corruption, infamous pork-barrel abuses, and had child-rapists, convicted druggies, murderers as members?

I had no idea who Lina Sarmiento was, so I looked her up. She’s a chemistry degree holder who joined the police force as a forensic chemist for the Philippine National Police crime laboratory. From there, through the years, she has held various positions in the Directorate for Operations, the Police Regional Office and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. She later earned her degree in law, her Masters degree in management and became the Director of the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office.

I don’t know how Sarmiento would perform as a member of the Human Rights Claims Board, I wish her well, that’s for sure, and I hope that the nation would finally close that chapter of our history, learn from it, punish all perpetrators of injustices and compensate legitimate victims. The NUPL finds her appointment some “sort of a macabre message” from this administration. But from where I’m standing, the message I see is the recognition of a woman’s unprecedented achievements in a male-dominated institution.

The NUPL, through Atty. Edre Olalia, accused her of playing “into the part of the apologist mechanism during the GMA administration killing spree and nightmare of disappearances of scores of civilians,” but the statement offered no further detail as to her actual alleged participation other than the generalized accusation.

I reacted to Casiño’s tweet: “I'm sorry, but I fail to see why a woman who headed the Human Rights Affairs Office, with a law degree and an untarnished record is unqualified.” To which he replied, “not saying she’s unqualified. Only that she’s a very, very bad choice. Read the statement.” You’re right there, former Congressman, you can’t really say she’s unqualified, in fact, she seems to be highly qualified for the job.

And I did read the statement, former Cong. Casiño, and while you see a police personnel who can never do anything right, I prefer to see a woman who, based on her professional experience, is qualified for the position and whom I would not only give the benefit of the doubt, but also the benefit of trust and support and hope that she will continue to prove naysayers wrong as she has done throughout her career and be able to help finally correct the injustices done during martial law.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Stream of consciousness on a beautiful Saturday morning in Baguio

I sit at the kitchen table with my mug of Benguet brew thinking. Thinking of the kind of city that we will be passing on to our children as Baguio continues on its journey on the path it’s on is heart-breaking. 

It’s not that we are lost, we know exactly where we are and where we’re headed.

The city government announced the suspension of the number-coding scheme on certain days for the month of February. The schedule corresponds to the days that Baguio is expecting heavy traffic due to the influx of visitors that will be added to the increased number of resident who would venture out of their homes and into the heart of the city to celebrate Panagbenga, the annual Baguio Flower Festival. Is it really wise to encourage people to bring their cars out on those days?

Public transportation is banned along Gen. Luna Road during the morning rush hour. Does it make sense to disallow vehicles that ferry more people, particularly jeepneys that students of moderate means take to get to school, so that gas-guzzling SUVs bringing a student or two each can fill up the road instead?

While nobody was looking a couple of years ago, the Baguio Water District awarded its own executives and board members hefty raises, claiming the move was well within what’s required by law, which includes, according to a newspaper report (not this paper), “a positive balance in average net income of the utility’s 12-month operation.” In the meantime, water in Baguio continues to be rationed and that’s the way it’s been for as long as anyone can remember. The population of the city continues to grow, and we hear of neighbourhoods that do not get any water at all during the summer months for weeks. Justifiable, perhaps, but was their move just? Moral?

We don’t have enough water, we don’t have a sustainable solid waste management system in place, our streets are congested, in the meantime more and more forest covers are being cleared for concrete structures, structures that would bring in more people to the city, attract more motor vehicles, exact more from the city’s limited resources. Our parks are being fenced in and concrete’s being poured all over its remaining earth spaces. And all the powers-that-be in the city care about is how much money was moved today.

I look out the window of our kitchen, I look past the hanging plants outside, past the bamboo hedge, past the top most branches of the neighborhood’s remaining pine trees… blue skies. It still is a beautiful morning, but I can’t help but dread what Baguio would be like at the end of the day.

Really, it’s time for a paradigm shift. Our children, too, deserve beautiful mornings in Baguio.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The other, bigger picture

What I found really disturbing about the whole Vhong Navarro mauling incident is most people’s misconceptions about rape. And I thought we’ve come a long way since the time when a rape is deemed corrected if the perpetrator marries his victim; or when a rape was deemed justified if the victim is proven to have been promiscuous in the past or acted and dressed provocatively; or when rape was something that can never happen between couples, married or not.

Consider this opinion posted online: "She couldn’t have been raped since she’s given him oral sex in the past. "

A woman having consented to having sexual relations with anyone in the past does not render her subsequent consent to have sex unnecessary. This line of thinking is also the reason why most Filipinos still can’t comprehend the concept of marital or spousal rape.

Sex is a consensual act between two, or in some cases more (frowned upon by most but let’s face it, it happens), persons and at any given time, and yes, even in the middle of the act, all, both or either one can decide to no longer consent, stop, or not ever do it again. When one is forced to have sex with another person against his or her will, by force, intimidation, threat,blackmail or ay other form of physical, emotional, psychological abuse, that’s rape. When one is unable to consent to sex at all such as when the person is heavily intoxicated, unconscious, etc., that’s rape.

Here’s another: “She invited him to her condo, alone, late at night, that only meant one thing and therefore she couldn’t have been raped.”

An invitation to come to one’s condo may or may not be an invitation to have sex. Simply, the only time you can have sex with another person is when that person agrees to do it with you. Period. Even if they engaged in certain sensual acts that night, kissing, petting, touching, etc., if she didn’t agree to have sexual intercourse with him, and he still forced himself on her, that’s rape.

And yet another: “She couldn’t have been raped because rape victims don’t just go on television to be interviewed if they were truly raped.”

Not even rape victims can tell whether another person was raped or not based on her actions after the incident. Individuals react differently – some rape victims keep their ordeal to themselves, never telling another soul, while others find the courage to come out in the open. There are the Maggie dela Rivas who stood up against her abusers, and there are the Maria Teresa Carlsons who, after attempting to expose the abuses inflicted upon her, ending up falling to her death from the 23rd floor of a building. Then there were those who have been silenced forever such as Chiong sisters in the infamous Cebu rape-slay case, or Carmela Vizconde in the much talked about Vizconde Massacre case.

I believe this passage from a blog ( says it best: “Rapists don’t rape because they can’t “get” sex elsewhere. Rapists don’t rape because they’re uncontrollably turned on by the sight of some cleavage, or a midriff, or red lipstick, or an ankle. They rape because they’re misogynist sadists, and they flourish in places where misogyny is justified as tradition and maleness comes with a presumption of violence.”

It goes on further to say that, “Combating rape and sexual assault goes beyond just criminalizing and prosecuting it. It requires an understanding of how many misogynist puzzle pieces fit together – that a cultural belief that the female body is inherently tempting and dirty cannot be separated from actions that do violence to female bodies; that a conceit of eliteness or purity means perpetrators within special elite or pure groups will get away with committing crimes; that community policing is useless for enforcing gendered crimes when community norms privilege men; that the politicization of female sexuality sends a message that the female body is public property and that women are less deserving of basic rights than men.”

I don’t know whether Vhong Navarro or Deniece Cornejo is telling the truth, the wheels of our justice system ought to be allowed to turn for us to really know what happened on the night of January 22, 2014. But let’s not miss the bigger picture here: our own myopic view of rape. Time to look in the mirror and re-examine ourselves for as long as we look at this issue through biases, misguided, misogynist eyes, these despicable acts will happen over and over again. We owe it to our mothers and sisters and daughters and, indeed, our sons, and brothers and fathers to foster societies where each individual’s rights and dignity are protected and defended.