Saturday, June 22, 2019

HIS SONG AND THE STORY OF ROCKETMAN

I should have known better.  I have a habit of watching movies alone.  There are some movie shows that you must not and cannot see all by your sweet self.  You do not want to be cringing and screaming by your sweet self in a suspense or horror film like A Quiet Place. Nor do you burst out into uncontrollable laughter in comedic highlights, right?

But nobody prepared me for Rocketman, a retelling of the life of singer and pop icon Elton John through the thread of his most memorable songs.  Yes, friends already told me that the film was good --- better than that Freddy Mercury bioflick --- but then I always felt they were biased.  Belonging to the High School Class of 1972, our youthful memories are all stuffed with the songs of Elton John together with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Carole King, Carly Simon and, uh, Jim Morrison and Carlos Santana.

Yet all these givens in my life should have been a telltale sign of how I was going to react to his film, seated alone on D-16 Cinema 4, inside a movie house where less than 30% of the seats were occupied. OK, right.  The kids of nowadays may have never heard of Elton John or his music. Generations have their own preferences and benchmarks and maybe the lyrics of Bernie Taupin and the melodies of Elton did not come across to them as relevant to their tastes and mindsets.  But still.

What I did not know was that this was a musical.


No, it is not your usual cut-and-paste jukebox musical featuring all the famous songs of a group threaded together to make a story.  Not Rocketman that used the songs of an artist to narrate the highlights and lowest points of his life, to illustrate his relationship with family, friends and colleagues ... and to blueprint that arc of his rise and fall and resurrection.  

And because these songs are the songs of my youth --- the memories of my high school and college days --- I was this pathetic piece of sponge absorbing everything and by the time Your Song was played to illustrate how this classic was reimagined in its creation, I found tears uncontrollably streaming down my face under the comfortable darkness of a cinema.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-uij9eiwwG0


This was not merely a movie for me but an experience. It was a unique experience of understanding a man in his music without the sanitation and safety nets found in the Freddy Mercury biography.  Here was a barenaked look at a life of an artist, a composer and his relationship with his lyricist --- and the price he had to pay for his fame as well as the pain he had to go through to be able to create his art.

My friends who saw the film earlier were right.  This was not only about our generation --- but a beautifully crafted depiction of the making of an idol and his musical creations.

When the movie ended and the lights went on, I realized that fifteen minutes into the film I was not seeing a Welsh actor named Taron Egerton but Elton John.  The man was not lipsyncing original recordings ... but doing his own singing. It was even shocking for me to find out that that familiar face I could not categorically identify was Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton's mother.  

OK, enough said.  This afternoon, alone in the cinema, I must have watched what could be my best film for the year. And I wish that this film directed by Dexter Fletcher receives not only the accolades but also the audience that it so deserves.

Excuse me, but I am putting on my headset and listening to Your Song for the umpteenth time.






THE LAST OF THE TRUE KINGS

In one of his more recent interviews, Eddie Garcia said that when you die, then it is the end.

You will disappear then you will eventually be forgotten.

I dare say that he was wrong.

That was the Eddie Garcia we all knew and gave the highest respect.  Through the span of seven decades of film work, his feet never left the ground although his love for the art and craft enabled him to soar in uncharted bounds of the heavens.

Unlike other "stars" who gave such brilliance for the limited moment they are allowed to float in that imaginary infinity.  If there was one thing that Eddie Garcia proved, then it was his longevity in his career because of his professionalism and ability to adapt, embrace and reinvent himself with the roles he portrayed through the passage of generations.

From Siete Infantes de Lara which ushered in his career as an actor to ML and Rainbow Sunset, Garcia showed no fear, did not cower to the demands of image that actors of lesser talent are obsessed with in the choices of roles or how they presented themselves to the public.  What made Garcia resilient through the ages was the fact that he was an actor, an artist and not merely a celebrity whose concern is public perception rather than personal fulfillment.

I only had one chance to work with Eddie Garcia: that was a project called I Want to Be Happy where he appeared with Gloria Romero, Marissa Delgado, Cherry Pie Picache among others.  And what I remember the most about the Man was that he would be on the set ahead of everybody else, prepared for the day's shoot and would show utmost respect for literally everybody on the set.

This was the measure of greatness.  It was his humility, his accessibility and openness to people he worked with making everyone feel that he was one of them.

Joel Lamangan and I were discussing about the events that transpired leading to the accident that eventually took Garcia away from us.

Joel said that Eddie was like that: he was 90 years old but never used his age as an excuse or a license or a form of entitlement for him to fulfill his work.  He will insist on doing what was demanded by the role because it was part and parcel of what was expected from him as an actor.  He wore that jacket under the sweltering heat of the June midday sun: he complied with the instructions for him to run carrying a gun --- never complaining nor asking to be treated any differently.

He would always say that yes, he was old ... but he was not an invalid

And you do not find people like that any more in the business.  You do not find such commitment and dedication to work as that found in the actors of previous generations.  These are the living treasures of Filipino cinema:  Anita Linda, Gloria Romero, Gloria Sevilla. They are the last of the immortals in a business of dispensable.

We will miss Eddie Garcia.  He is now with Fernando Poe Jr and Dolphy ...the great icons of Filipino cinema who shaped the industry as we understand it today.

We will miss the man. We will miss this Ultimate Gentleman.  We will miss this Great Artist.

Tomorrow, the 24th of June 2019, his ashes will be laid to its final rest. 

But, Sir ... Tito Eddie, you are wrong.

You will never be forgotten. Kings are etched in the annals of history.  They are remembered to give dignity and pride to those they leave behind.

Paalam po.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

CHRISTMAS AT THE MOVIES: MMFF 2017

I had the privilege of screening all the eight movies selected as entries for this year's MetroManila Film Festival.

Even at the start, there was already controversy.

With the overhaul (again) of this year's Executive Committee came the rain of fire and brimstone due to the noticeable elimination of certain personalities identified as the reformists of the festival mounted the year before.  

For indeed, 2016 was a very different year for the annual fiesta of Philippine movies: movies like Avid Llongoren's Saving Sally or Baby Ruth Villarama's Sunday Beauty Queen would have never reached mainstream screens if not for the radical changes which were implemented.  

But going hand in hand with this is the unpreparedness of the audience to be served such genres as live action/animation mix or a documentary film to be part of what used to be a horror/romcom/fantasy Christmas smorgasbord.  

This unpreparedness translated into far much smaller box office receipts. Yes, the numbers still hit the hundreds of millions but not enough by certain standards. Although there was a relatively decent gross at the end of an abbreviated festival, the numbers did not come even close to the record breaking 2015 when the total amount earned by the eight entries grossed over a billion pesos.  

And to put it bluntly, business is business.

Movie making is a multi-million peso business. So is owning chains of theater outlets.  Christmas is that specific time of the year when people have extra cash (and kids, most especially) to spend on entertainment.  In our country, Christmas is a good time ... perhaps the only time for some to have families flock together and watch movies.

I do not think a P250-270 to now close to P300 per ticket is something easily affordable to somebody earning a salary on the minimum wage scale.  

Watching a movie has become a luxury for the masa so let us stop deluding ourselves into thinking that it is the madlang taongbayan who are actually filling Vice Ganda movies to the rafters. No, no, no: it is the middle class who can watch, re-watch and fill the cinemas because of their buying power and money reserved for amusement. The masa sets aside their Christmas money to watch the movie of their choice but perhaps one or at most two of the festival offerings.

There is great purpose, sense of mission and nobility in the crusade to reform and redirect the festival into a showcase of the best of Filipino movies.

The hope of some to bring back the glory days of the MMFF that produced films like Mike de Leon's Kisapmata, Marilou Diaz Abaya's Rizal or Laurice Guillen's Tanging Yaman seem so long ago and far away.  This is most especially after the Best Picture Category became tantamount to the Top Grosser among the entries. 

The commercialization of the December film festival has always been there (because it was still the Dolphy, Vic Sotto and other lighthearted films which bagged the top position in terms of earnings. But now commercialism has become more blatant, more in your face ... and, unfortunately, more uncontrollable because of the present structure of the movie industry and its sister businesses.

It should be made clear that the movie business is not only ruled by producers who create and market the products and content. It is more controlled if not dictated upon by movie theater owners who call the shots as to what movies may be shown --- or how long they will stay on the screen.  

Naturalmente the money generating movies will have the privilege of accommodation and increasing number of screening outlets while those with poor audience response will certainly give in to those with greater demand. (Note: turning on the air conditioning of an entire movie house with only two to three people watching is definitely a losing proposition.)

What applies here is the law of supply and demand. The greater the number of people flocking to your movie, the more cinemas you will get to accommodate the swelling crowd.  And when your film does not deliver the numbers, so sorry ... such is life.  That is when the producer is confronted with the fact that ---yes, that is business which is what the MetroManila Film Festival is all about.

But there is also an urgent need to address the issue of giving a chance to other films not to be pulled out of cinemas all that easily.  Somehow an opening day screening cannot be justice to enough to be tugged out of your venue just because one or two of the entries turned out to be juggernauts.  

Nothing can be done as far as the selection of what movies to screen during the December festival outside MetroManila because the mandate of the festival only covers a certain perimeter or domain of cinemas in the country. 

That is why certain movies are not showing in the provinces not because the MMFF is unfair in its distribution but because theater owners choose not to show the likes of Larawan or Siargao and opt to ride on the bandwagon of The Revenger Squad, Panday or Meant to Bae. These are the crowd drawers and the movie houses do not only want but need the crowds.  There is nothing illegal about that: it is the choice of theater owners and they are thinking in terms of what makes good business.

However all this does not say much about boosting the quality of Filipino movies or defining what is the true value of success in cinema.  This is exactly what the reformists are fighting for. 

Although millions of pesos are invested not only in the production but also in the marketing and promotions of movies, success nowadays has been simplified to earning more than P100M in the box office to qualify as a blockbuster.

Who cares if members of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino go into epileptic fits from the sheer torture of sitting through a particularly bad movie? 

Critics are there to be ... uh, critics. Yet as one of my colleagues in the academe resignedly told me, "Who cares what critics say? I do not think your legendary Aleng Tacing who is addicted to tired and beaten plots of telenovelas read what critics opine in their popular blogs."  The proof of the pudding is in the tasting: the multi-million earnings of the studio justify the choice, style or substance of the products they field out during Christmas.

You cannot argue with more than half a billion earnings to qualify as success.  So let that be.  

In the meantime what is important is to find ways of pushing other films in the consciousness of the Filipino moviegoer --- not only during Christmas time but throughout the other eleven months of the year. In a free-for-all set-up like the December festival, every producer clamors for a position to make the most out of an end-of-the-year profit. So it is expected that big time companies will muscle their way to find a slot in the MMFF.

Christmas time is when the biggest local blockbusters of the year are fielded --- a do or die situation for some major film studios to achieve their quota of annual profits or to provide icing to their proverbial year long cake. No amount of argumentation about the "significance of art" or "uplifting the taste of the Filipino moviegoers" will receive a predictable reply of, "Oh, come on. Get real" as studio executives are hosting their victory parties after their thanksgiving mass.

But let's get real indeed.  

Yes, you get your more than half a billion movies to boost the annual income of a studio ... not necessarily locking out all other alternatives or diminishing the choices of the audience.  There is still a chunk of the movie going public (like the ones who provided the P400M+ earnings of 2016) who want something different, something a little bit more substantial than fantasy or horror movies --- and Punch and Judy shows.

If commerce should be the principal consideration for the MMFF, then let it be so. We understand.  However, what other producers need is a fighting chance that should be given to other forms of filmmaking aside from those railroaded by the giant studios. That is the only other consolation the Filipino audience can get from the December movie fiesta of local films.

Like in this year's festival, two movies should be given due attention and importance because of what they aspired to achieve.

"Ang Larawan" by its very nature is a film that is not only worth watching. This should be part of one's repertoire of films that must be seen in your lifetime together with other must-see Filipino movies that define who we are, what we have become and the possibilities of what is to come.

Based on a play by a national artist with a book at libretto by another national artist and set to music by someone who will soon be another national artist, there is no way that this film directed by Loy Arcenas lacks gravitas. It is the heart and soul of this year's festival ... and perhaps one of the two reasons that this December will be remembered.

The film is not perfect: at times it does not feel like a film at all but a theater piece captured by a camera. 

But glossing over that and focusing on the love and passion given by the director and everyone else in the making of this movie should be reason enough to commend its very act of creation.  

The original film version of Nick Joaquin's Portrait of the Artist as Filipino was produced in 1965 by Manuel de Leon and directed by another national artist, Lamberto Avellana with an adaptation for the screen by Trinidad Reyes and Donato Valentin.  Portrait starred Daisy Avellana and Naty Crame-Rogers as Candida and Paula Marasigan with Vic Silayan as Bitoy Camacho and Conrad Parham as Tony Javier.  This was a direct adaptation of Joaquin's English play about the burden of tradition and the death of an era, a elegy in three acts as he so described.

Portrait also saw its Pilipino translation when it was mounted by the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) with the incomparable Lolita Rodriguez portraying Paula to Rita Gomez' Candida (directed by PETA Founder, Cecille Guidote). Then Rodriguez took the role of Candida with Charito Solis appearing as Paula  directed by yet another National Artist, Lino Brocka.

Thus the burden of creating a 2017 version of this play now transformed into a musical with book and lyrics by (here we go again) National Artist Rolando Tinio is of the tallest order.  Celeste Legaspi, Girlie Rodis and her team together with Arcenas and Ryan Cayabyab can be literally personified as the young man carrying his old father on his back as they escape from a burning city.  The burden is the expectations of the public and the weight of the history of this material to be brought to the screen in the age of social media.

Admittedly, Rodis and company realized that Ang Larawan as a sang-through musical would  not elicit the kind of frenzied response of the Vice Ganda movies.  Neither does it have the privilege of strength of a franchise like Shake, Rattle and Roll.  

The director and producers were aware that theirs was an uphill battle, a high brow film translation of a play that verges on the operatic. How can this possibly compete with the magic of special effects and the commonness of familiar comedy bar humor?  Is there a place for an intelligent material meant for the literati in a festival meant for the madlang people crowding malls and queuing for the first showing of their much awaited fantasy flick?

Well, passion knows no logic. It defies warnings and hopefully creates miracles. 

This passion is so very evident in Ang Larawan: there was great reverence given to the words of Tinio so that what we see on screen is an edited version of the book and libretto then shot by Arcenas.  Unlike the first movie version of Portrait, this musical utilized no screenplay as adaptation... and it showed in the treatment of the material. Neither is there a real musical score because what we experience is the beautiful music of Ryan Cayabyab as material for the play.

Nonetheless, the power of the musical play is preserved as its sense of history and insistence on significance. 

But, as I have written before, there are four reasons why this version of the play is important: Joaquin, Tinio, Cayabyab and Joanna Ampil. I repeat and cannot emphasize enough: Joanna Ampil.

For the past two decades Joanna Ampil has been a theater star, hailed in the West End.  She is one of the handful of of true Filipino international stars whose name is more recognizable abroad than she is here in her native land.  Thus after all these years she landed the role of Candida Marasigan and rendered a truly remarkable performance. Not only in her singing did Ampil show incomparable excellence but in the nuances of her acting for the camera for the very first time.

In a year of very lean notable performances of actresses (include Angeli Bayani in Zig Dulay's Bagahe and Iza Calzado in Jerrold Tarog's Bliss), Ampil gives the hands down performance of the year. 

Ably supported by her Paula, Rachel Alejandro --- and a cast that includes a thespian like Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo or a veteran theater, television and film actor like Nonie Buencamino, Ampil and this cast has turned yet another version of Portrait of the Artist as Filipino as unquestionably significant and important.

Then there is the other entry, the smaller film.

After twelve months of insatiable romcoms with occasional delights (like Bernardo's Kita Kita), this year's MMFF has a relationship movie that is not overdosing on saccharine, not playing for cute and dated to be sharp, edgy and down to earth real.  

There was almost real pain in watching Derek Ramsay and Jennelyn Mercado in All of You. 

The film confined itself to two characters --- Gab and Gabbi --- whose relationship traversed a volatile arc from a chance meeting using a dating app down through that long and complicated process of self-discovery and rediscovery.

What makes this Dan Villegas movie special is that it dares to be unapologetic. 

There is a very disturbing yet delicious rawness about the imperfection of the lovers.  He is ever self-doubting yet stubborn, bratty yet sincere while she is a passive-aggressive girl who has a superb talent of inflicting guilt on her lovers as she plays the role of drama queen and victim.

Because of this courage not to romanticize characters into those color-by-number romcom stereotypes, All of You is a little gem that may not be for everybody but certainly challenges the audiences to think while they feel.  

Defying expectations, this love story is not an anesthesia. It does not provide a hundred minutes of lovey-dovey fast-tracked by a sugary theme song. Yet this movie can create kilig moments that are mature, not inane or formulaic. More important than that, they are real scenes in a couple's life with the audience as voyeur observing the build-up and deterioration of a relationship.

After English Only Please, Jennelyn Mercado was rediscovered by the audience. Here is one of the most versatile and competent actresses we have around --- still underrated as she deserves portrayals as challenging as what she did in this Dan Villegas project.

We may have had our doubts about Derek Ramsay's capacity to embrace roles because we are more preoccupied with his triceps and abs. Or we may have thought his Best Actor trophy in English Only ... is a fluke. But this time we are quite sure about what we are getting.

Ramsay is excellent as Gab and mano-a-mano, he delivers perhaps his best performance ever. His rendition of Gab as a wounded man trying to put together a life is so familiar, so reachable that we all know a guy like this sometime or the other in our lives.  

The premium offered by All of You is its honesty and its refusal to be brought down to the level of formula. It boasts not only of first rate performances from its cast but also a screenplay that stands to be perhaps one of the best for the entire year.  For this,  the movie is worth celebrating this December.

Regardless of what we feel or think of the MetroManila Filmfest, it has become so much a part of the popular cultural tradition of the country.  Even if through the years the all-Filipino movie festival has generated too many questions and controversies, it has still proven to be a viable source of some of our best cinematic pieces.

And so, another year has come to pass ... and it is not enough we stomp our feet whether in applause or in protest.  What is important is that we go out and watch all these Filipino movies ... both flippant and great, both amusing and intriguing.  There is no point screaming our lungs out saying we want better films if we do not go out of our way to watch them.

For the record, folks: we get the movies we deserve because of those who choose to watch them in movie houses. Enough said.




Monday, December 25, 2017

GONE GIRL

On the evening of the twenty-first of December, a little before 11:00 PM, a seventeen year old Grade 12 student left a cafe where she was working on her laptop to go to a convenience store to have her money broken into smaller denominations.

Her mother arrived a little past eleven to find her daughter gone. She went home only to discover that the young lady has not reached their residence either thus prodding her to return to the cafe.  There she found the girl's belongings, including her cell phone and her laptop. But her daughter was nowhere in sight.

By the following morning the internet was abuzz with the disappearance of this teenager from the south.  What was particularly alarming was that there was no CCTV coverage of her whereabouts right after she disappeared, except for the fact that she bought water from a convenience store nearby perhaps to break her thousand peso bill.  

Her sister in a state of dismay posted her picture in social media.  Facebook went ablaze with netizens sharing the photo of the lost girl and the information provided about her looks, her clothes, her latest known whereabouts. A photograph was posted, a screen capture from the closed circuit TV showing the missing kid in what she was wearing that night.

By Friday morning, everybody knew how she looked, what she was wearing at the time of her disappearance.  And yet not a word was heard about her.

Her parents asked for the help of the police while her siblings sought the aid of the netizens in looking for the young lady.

And the netizens responded with a sense of alarm.  

Why? Because you did not need to know the family of the missing girl personally to empathize with what they were going through.  Considering all the missing kids ... and the kind of cruel fate that awaited them in that short span of time of their disappearance, the jaded imagination can play all sorts of cruel tricks.  

Sometimes what we imagine is far worse than what really transpires.  But we are sometimes shocked when what happens in reality is far more gruesome, cruel and inhuman than whatever it we ever imagined.

That is why I was terrified.  

The girl was seventeen. She was alone.  And she was missing for twelve hours.  God knows what can happen in thirty minutes but more so in twelve hours. Even more frightening was the fact that all this occurred near my residence.  In other words, if there was imminent danger ... then this transpired not far away from what I consider as my sanctuary.

The events that followed reflected the speed of information --- but more so the response of people to a call for help.

In a matter of hours Facebook and Twitter were sharing the emergency call to help find the seventeen year old girl.  Everybody knew the face of the girl, the details to look for and where she was last seen.  Social media had such power to make information accessible that all it took was a selfie from a college girl out with her friends in Starbucks at a provincial mall south of the Metro to let the world know where Little Girl Lost could be found.

The succession of events that transpired right after almost had a fairy tale ending.

We all sighed with relief when the girl was found, unharmed.  

The photograph issued yesterday on her sister's Facebook showed the weeping young lady embracing her mother. We wept too ... relieved.  All these terrible images in our mind as to what could have happened to her were erased.  It was our ... uh, reasonable paranoia ... that generated such wild imagining.

But here was the rub.

The family refused to provide any further explanation about what happened.  

What was important was that the girl was found on Christmas Eve ... a miracle of timing indeed.  Although we did not personally know the family, we were happy for them.  They were going to have an even more beautiful Christmas.

The decision of the girl's kin not to provide any more details about her return was their right. After the taxing thirty-six hours or so of not knowing what happened to the child, they deserved their alone time to review and reassess what happened, to regroup and reintegrate. 

However, the very reasons why social media is powerful can also be the same source of misunderstanding if not abuse under the category of entitlement. People were perplexed by the thought that the family was quick in seeking the help of netizens but then suddenly clammed up when required an explanation ... or, as the politically correct would say, closure.

The sudden retrieval of the girl became subject to suspicion and cynicism.

This was when all these questioning comments arose in the internet as if the whole event was overblown, scripted and even over dramatized.

Some branded the incident as yet another trending manifestation of insincere humanitarian concerns --- another case of social media attracting those who were nakikiuso or riding with the trend of faking concern because everybody else is aligaga over the sudden disappearance of the girl. If there is nagmamaganda, then there must be nagmamabait.

There are even others who muttered, "What's the big deal? Who is she? Kids get lost everyday. What makes her special? She isn't even a celebrity!" Who is she to deserve all this attention?

And others interpreted this according to their own perception --- which I found either surreal or downright ridiculous.

There are those who claim that much of this brouhaha took place just because the family of the missing girl is rich. 

The event was diminished to the social dichotomy of the haves versus the have nots. Suddenly this became unquestionable proof that if you are rich, people will help and sympathize with you, but if you are poor ... then you are only good for tokhang.

Would people express as much concern even to draw celebrities to retweet and share the shoutouts for help if the girl came from a depressed area or did not study in an exclusive school?

Others claim that they feel cheated.  

Well, yes. They were worried, restless, concerned ... thinking the girl was kidnapped for ransom, etcetera ... only to find out the possibility that she just had a tiff with her father and ran off somewhere deliberately incommunicado. They felt that a false alarm was sent to the public, creating so much attention only to find out it is just good old pagmamaldita that caused such a commotion in social media.

The fact that she comes from an upper middle class background worked against her. 

Unfortunately, those who do not understand the mindset and problems of kids of any social class do not see that there is more to this than a bratty little girl wanting to prove something to her parents.  This is symptomatic of a much larger problem of the young today.

How easier it is to be so simplistic in looking at young people and their irrational behavior, retreating to our conservative conclusions about their so-called folly, stubbornness and irrationality.

How more convenient it is to brand events as another "entitled spoiled little rich girl" causing havoc to the netizen world without understanding the deeper causes as to why kids are like these nowadays.

The reaction showed that the problem did not only lie with the kids. There are also problems with us adults.

I would have thought the same about this incident if it were not for the opportunity to go back to school and stand in front of the classroom to face not millennials ... but the iGeneration kids, the centennials.  Oh, the things we go see and experience not within the class hours but the dynamics of kids whose set of problems are completely different from my time or my generation. And there are issues that these kids are facing that we, the elders, must address and understand because we live in far different times.

We cannot dismiss their problems as pagpapakasutil because we need to understand their world today by the norms that they live in and not in terms of how we were taught or how we grew up.

The retrieval of the lost girl was perhaps greatly aided by social media --- but it is social media as well that creates a sense of isolation, replacing actual human relationships with virtual involvements --- diminishing the world of young people between their very compartmentalized selves and the monitors of their smart phones or tablets.  

Remember this is a world where friend has become a verb where you can unfriend and block people who you may have never really met but made to believe you share a relationship of whatever kind.  This is a world where kids suffer from depression, personality disorders and mental health issues which our generation would simply dismiss as sinusumpong.

A colleague of mine said it is the influx of too much information that has warped the minds of young people.  

Their access to the internet, their ability to collect and retrieve data without the maturity to digest, understand and imbibe the significance of these facts happening in the world around them have left them confused ... and yes, feeling more isolated than any other generation before them.  And to think that we believe that these kids, all with their computer savvy, are the most intelligent and informed generation of human beings ever made to walk the face of the earth.

There is apparently a price to pay for all that. And we cannot diminish it into simple equations by calling them entitled and brats. The problem is as much us for we created this world for them and never took time to see the implications of the speed of developing technology to the frailty of growing up.

Some netizens are demanding explanations from the family as to what really happened to the girl.  Did she deliberately leave her belongings and planned her disappearance? Did the parents know that she was a stowaway and not a kidnap victim of sorts? What is the real score? Give us the story.

Fact: yes, they asked for our help but the family is under no obligation to explain. 

We panicked, we felt bad, we worried because we are fathers, mothers, brothers, sister, uncles, aunts, grandparents, teachers, friends.  We felt the panic, the pain, the fear when a seventeen year old girl disappeared into the darkness of nowhere leaving behind no clue of where she was going or what has happened to her.

We want to know the story but we can only assume because it is still the family's choice to share the information as to what led this girl into that kind of predicament and what transpired before all this happened.  

Yes, we were disturbed, frightened and stressed out with the possibilities --- but that is our choice too. And that was a good choice because we proved that we can still feel for others and we are willing to help in our own little way to give a happy Christmas to a family.

So what if she is not a celebrity?  So what if she comes from the middle class and not the countless nameless members of the madlang people? A daughter is a daughter regardless of her station in life.  And we feel not according to the choice of social class but because of our degree of humanity ... or lack thereof.

Leave that be. The girl is back in her parents' arms: the family found their peace and happiness this Christmas. Let us be happy for them.  They are real people.  They are not characters in your favorite telenovela that require another episode to maintain our curiosity. This is real life. And it feels good to know there are people who can feel for others and are willing to help without a pre-requisite of getting something in return.

You do what you think is right because it is right and not because you expect a payback.  

As I have replied in my social media account, let us just be happy for the family and stop asking questions which, at this point, is no longer our business. 

If you feel you have been taken for a ride, console yourself with the thought you are human enough to empathize with the pain of others. And be thankful. Be thankful that in this brutal, cynical, Machiavellian, pragmatic world we live in ... you can still feel for others.

Be happy and pray that what happened to this family a few days before Christmas does not happen to you ... or any of your children.













Sunday, December 24, 2017

THE YAYA DIARIES PART 1


Exactly a week before Christmas, one of my housekeepers asked the more senior of the helps if she could leave the house for a while.  She showed a bag of items she purchased at the garage sale held at the village clubhouse a few days before.  She said she was going to give these gifts to her husband and child who (without my knowledge) returned to Manila from Davao.

The older housekeeper naturally agreed, asking the yaya what time she would come back. I left the house early in the morning to spend the entire day until the earlier part of the night at work.  The yaya said that she would text back as to the exact time of her return. This the senior housekeeper found strange.  But she let her go anyway reminding her that she should be home before dinner.

The housemaid never returned.

No, she was not kidnapped or anything as dramatic as that.  She simply did not return.  She did a good and clean exit, left the village premises as she has most probably planned timing it with the approach of Christmas and, yes, after she has been given her 13th month salary at the start of December.  

I imagine that this was not a spur of the moment sort of thing.  She knew the date of arrival of her spouse and child, she had it all set out because she never asked permission from me that she would take a day off.  Although I have had her for almost a year, she was always quiet, unassuming and maybe a bit simpleminded in following instructions. 

But, as another friend would warn me, it is better that they are quiet and simple than too bright and atrebida. I never looked at it that way. What was important was that she did her job well and that she was honest. Or so I thought.

When I arrived in the evening and found out she left and has not yet returned I somewhat knew at the back of my mind that this woman made a getaway.  I cannot exactly call it a getaway because there was no reason to escape.  She texted the older housekeeper to say that she could not come home that night because no one was going to take care of her child.  If I had known this was her scenario, eh, di fine.

What right have I as a mere employer to deprive a child of his mother?  But what right has she too to just walk out on me, maiming my household a few days before Christmas when there was so much to do? I kept reviewing the past year she was under my roof and I do not remember any particular incident when I raised my voice, threw a tantrum or even berated her beyond the quiet gigil moments you have when the househelps blunder.  And this is what I get in return?

And, yes, I cannot repeat it enough. She waited for the thirteenth month salary to be handed to her before she decided to unceremoniously desert her post.

It is as if I had not learned my lesson through the years.

There was this housekeeper who used to be so good and such a terrific cook and who was with me for around eight years.  The only problem was that by the seventh year, she started behaving oddly --- like leaving my house when I left for work or taking things from the kitchen to bring home to her place in a nearby city (because she cooked well, remember?).  It took a new housemaid who was downright outspoken to tell me that she was being left all alone because an hour after I leave, the other maid also took her time off. 

During days when I was out of the house working on location or going on a vacation, my most trusted housemaid would also go off somewhere to the great beyond leaving my house to this new helper.

Or what about my driver of twelve years?  If there is anyone under your employ who is closest to you, then it would be the driver.  You are literally with him the whole day as he waits for you as you work or even in your residence.  He is the one who knows all the places you go to, all the people you meet and the sphere of activities you move within.  

I have had my share of insane drivers but this one made the ultimate benchmark.  Our twelve years of togetherness have made us close to each other as he had earned my careless trust and confidence. I would send him to the bank to deposit and encash checks as he had grown equally familiar with the tellers and other people who took care of my account.  So guess what?  One day I discovered that he was forging my signature, pulling checks from my book when I would leave my bag with him and encashing them at the bank where he was no longer questioned.

Fate had a way for me to find out his extra source of income. It would have been only fair and logical that I sent him to jail. But I cannot be bothered because what hurt more was the betrayal that took place and how the years of working together meant nothing to him or that was I was setting aside money for his wife's impending delivery of his third child.  

I should have known better.

When I posted my woes about the Case of the Disappearing Yaya as my Facebook shoutout, I was met with a chorus of responses.  Almost everybody had a horror story about housemaids nowadays.  As my Mama used to say when she was still around, "Iba na sila ngayon. (They are so different now.)"  It all boils down to a sense of entitlement because they think you cannot do without them ... and they sincerely believe they have you by the balls.

You learn to be patient, to endure their shortcomings thinking that they have hard lives to leave their families and tend to your kitchen and dirty clothes and toilet.  You give them that extra mile because you want them to feel that they have a part in your life because you let them enter your bedroom, you let them smell your clothes --- and cook your meals.  But apparently only very few appreciate that nowadays.

A friend recounted how her maid stole her son's toys as well as the Christmas gifts being delivered to her house, either shipped to the home province or given to the anonymous boyfriend who would emerge from the shadows when Kuya and Ate are not home.  

Another celebrity friend had this story about a maid working for her for two years suddenly saying goodbye. The yaya said that her relatives have finally pooled resources for her to go back to school. The employer was happy for her ... letting her go with wishes of good luck. But then what? She later found out that the maid was working for another celebrity and definitely not enrolled in any educational institution.

Oh, we can go on and on.  Suddenly the thread on my Facebook account spilled over with all sorts of horror stories about maids disappearing without notice (apparently a modus operandi that has been around and occurring during the summer and Yuletide seasons), cases of theft or celebrations of grand stupidity like using Joy Dishwashing Liquid for taking a shower. Dios mio!

Nowadays it is more of a big, big exception to find decent help who will treat you with a sense of civility.  Yet there is this cloud looming above your head after a while, after a series of not so pleasant, heart-crushing experiences doubting the sincerity and credibility of people under your domestic employment.  There was a time when length of service was voucher enough for the credibility of a maid ... but nowadays that principle seems to be outdated.

My cousin had a housemaid for twenty years ... somebody whose face I remembered since way back when. It was only a few months ago when she found out that this woman was not being completely honest with her. Or my nephew who had a most efficient and loyal driver --- whose only problem was that he could not keep his zipper padlocked when maids were around. What the f--!

I am now tempted to follow what so many of my friends have advised me before: simplify and downsize. Live a life that is not high or mid-maintenance.  Choose a life where you can do the cleaning and find ways of having good food delivered if you are no chef-wannabe in your kitchen. Better yet, redesign your life --- because Jean Paul Sarte must be thinking of house helps when he said that hell is other people.

I asked my Facebook friends to share more Yaya Horror Stories.

A friend of mine from Berkeley said she had none.  She has a vacuum cleaner and a sweeper.  She owned a washing machine, a dryer and a dishwasher: nobody walks out on her without notice. And these household appliances do not require a thirteenth month salary or SSS Contributions.  Point well taken.







Saturday, December 9, 2017

THE ROADS TO THE GATES OF HELL

As if another rant about MetroManila traffic will really matter.  Everybody curses what has become of the metropolis the moment he steps out of the house.

Whereas before this kind of Carmageddon only exists during the peak of the shopping season of Christmas, now the level of "devolution" has literally peaked ... or perhaps still peaking.  Regardless of day, time or location, you will get stuck in traffic in Manila. And being stuck in traffic does not preclude sitting on your derriere in the confines of your car for fifteen to thirty minutes. Nowadays we average about an hour and a half of watching the rear end of the car in front of you or gazing at the semi-naked bodies in underwear billboards at the Guadalupe Bridge.

Once upon a time in the late '80s until the early '90s, it took about an hour from Alabang to reach Fairview. That is about 40 kilometers on a regular day with a little bottleneck taking place at the end of Commonwealth Avenue.  But now it is faster to take a flight from Manila to Haneda Airport in Tokyo than to travel from the south to that far north of the city.

The worst scenario was nearly fours of travel from Trinoma to Alabang literally crawling and squirming through main thoroughfares and side streets giving WAZE a nervous breakdown. Somehow there should be no surprise if all of a sudden that staccato voice recording in WAZE would tell you, "Make a U-turn now and just go home."

Those of us with private vehicles are still much luckier than the greater number of the citizenry who depend on mass transport systems to commute from home to work.  Some have confessed that they waste a grand total of four hours each day going to work and coming home.  This includes the hideous queues that lead to jeepney pick up points and the much dreaded trains --- if and when they are operational.

Referring again to the Land of the Rising Sun, the Japan Railway System (JRS) apologized to their riders because the train arrived a few minutes too early.  Uhm, out here in our city wilderness no apologies are ever sent to commuters who are made to vacate the coaches, walk on the railway tracks to proceed to the nearest station because the train conked out.  Of course there are all these accounts of train doors not closing and God knows what further proof of deterioration is taking place requiring the most urgent and immediate solution.

Anyone among us privileged to see the mass transport systems and the city railways of Japan, Hong Kong and even Thailand will realize that we have been so shortchanged not only with the services but the quality of life we deserve. And why?  

It is easy to blame the here and now but ... wait. Let us remember that we got into deep this very, very deep and seemingly inescapable shit hole not in a matter of months but through a collection of years of irresponsible management, lack of foresight or what about plain textbook effing corruption.  Those thrown into the firing squad because of the need to address all these herculean problems just happened to be at the end of the line.

Why were there not enough infrastructural developments done in the past realizing the growing number of private vehicles being sold? Why was there no effort to not only improve but to give proper maintenance to our railway systems that service the greater number of urban dwellers?  Why was there no visible planning to decongest the city and bring business to the nearby suburbs so as to develop more hubs for commerce?  Why is there no effort to encourage home offices considering the accessibility and utility of the internet in our country?  

Oh, we just keep asking all these questions over and over again making it all the more frustrating that no visible solutions are being made to change the situation. What we get are inane panaceas and consuelo de bobo of making do rather than changing the situation.

Somebody said, "Accept traffic as now a part of your daily life."  It could not be as easy as that. You do not accept daily torture as a form of penance to enter the Kingdom of God.

In the meantime, let us admit that Dan Brown was right when he said that we are living in the Gates of Hell.

IS IT TIME FOR CHRISTMAS?

I thought it is only me.

I look outside my car window and there is barely any Christmas decor out in the streets.  Except for malls or department and certain enclaves in business areas, it seems that everyone wants to skip out Christmas this year ... or they want it done and over with.  

I remember the time when the street where I lived literally blazed with Christmas lights, lanterns and all sorts of electric conflagrations to remind us that 'tis the season to be merry. I recall all those Christmas carols blasting from the radio as early as October just to remind people that Santa Claus is coming to town.

Now I only see token decor in a house or two.  Yes, you still come across one of these token houses who defy the Universe by installing all the available Christmas lights in every imaginable color to turn their abodes into Tinkerbell's nightmares. But then even these are barely found this year.  It seems like almost everybody is scrimping. Or we don't care much that it's Christmas time at all.

A friend commented that people have become wiser not to fall for the trap of capitalism in turning the holidays into one grand Spendfest.  

Well, it has always been that way. Thanks to their 13th month salaries and the bonuses from the more generous of bosses, there is extra money to spend not only for the necessities but for the little excesses to reward one's self at the end of the year.

Some say that Christmas this year is bleak because business for them is bad. Some sincerely feel bad that there is not much money to use to buy gifts or even that big noche buena that connotes the highlight of the season.

But then again, we need to reorient ourselves here.  

And I am not about to go into that usual path about peace on earth, goodwill to men --- or that this is all about the birth of a very special infant in a manger. I hope to be more real and practical about this by saying that if it is all about money (which it is) as a measure of your capacity for happiness (which everybody says should not be but you still believe is essential), then you don't need Christmas at all.

Having money helps, all the time.  The best things in life are free ... blah, blah, blah ... sige na. But money still helps and yet you cannot allow the bulkiness of your wallet or the mind-boggling digits of your bank accounts to be a definition of who you are and what you want people to think of you.  After all, everybody should know that not everybody who uses paper money bills as wallpaper means that said creature is actually happy. Just definitely insecure and probably a little sick.  

People who think that money is the be-all and end-all for happiness will never find enough fulfillment in whatever season of the year, regardless of whatever blessings he may already have received.  

Maybe the world is just a bit much sicker than it ever was which is why people are not feeling good enough to celebrate Christmas.

Maybe it is because every time you turn on your TV set to catch the news or scroll down your Twitter updates you come to realize that there is so much insanity and self-destruction out there now (not to mention impending dangers for the worse yet to come) so that you couldn't give a care in the world if some reindeer's nose is red.

But it is as if feeling more miserable can change anything that is beyond our everyday powers.  Marinating in misery does not and will never make the world any better.  Neither is flippancy nor disinterest. Sadness is infectious and multiplying this by telling the world that you're ready for your shutdown does not make your contribution commendable.

So many agree that Christmas this year is one of the dreariest ever. However, I have decided that I will not get me down. Yes, I rant ever so often because of the hopeless traffic or the zigzagging motorcycles in the main thoroughfares of Manila but I am not going to let all these steal away Christmas from me.  

Maybe I need not measure the significance of the season with the number of lights glowing outside my window.  Rather, it is the thought that the year is about to end and I have my family, I have my friends. my students, my co-workers ... and even my dogs who love me. And those are enough reasons to celebrate --- with our without Santa Claus.

Allow me to be schmaltzy: Christmas is a state of mind.  And if you lose your capacity to be unreasonably thankful and happy, then you have just dug a shithole to spend the rest of your life.