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.