Saturday, August 18, 2012


As the gods would have it, the man was given a choice: a long but relatively uneventful life or a short one full of challenges to measure one's character and disposition.

And as all heroes are inclined to choose, the man opted for the short but meaningful life.

For indeed, it is not the number of years a man has lived that measures his greatness. It is what he has done and how he is remembered with the time loaned to him that his worthiness is weighed.

10:30 AM / 19 August 12

As I write this, there is no definite word about the fate of Jesse Robredo.

I was preparing to leave for an early Saturday night dinner with friends when news about his plane accident spread through the internet. In moments like these, you feel a chill up your spine while a thousand questions flash in your mind at a speed that you cannot decipher --- much less comprehend.

There is no doubt about it: Jesse Robredo is an exceptional man.

As a La Sallian, I take great pride in saying that this man who was voted as one of the youngest mayors and cited as one of the most important people to truly institute changes in Naga City is a co-alumnus.  You feel that sense of pride when you know that somebody as important and significant as Jesse also walked the same corridors where I studied and eventually taught.

There were occasions in the past when I met Jesse.

Those were the times I still hobnobbed with politicos and the so-called social movers.  That was when I caught a glimpse of how Philippine politics works ... how businessmen, educators, urban thinkers and philosophers, artists and men of letters gathered together to make plans, move events and somehow make decisions about the fate of the nation.  

That was when I realized that there was more to all this than meets the eye ... or what you read in the papers ... or what you see or hear in television. That was when I realized that there was a world a difference between what they say we need ... and what they really want.

Jesse Robredo walked among them ... but he was different.  

Jesse was simple and soft spoken but determined and always carried a vision not only in his mind but also his heart. He wanted to make a change ... and he did not by the power of speech alone ... or through grandstanding ... or a shameless enumeration of what he has done to gain political clout. He lived the principle he worked for and believed in.  In other words, he was exceptional in a sense that his idealism moved way ahead of any semblance of mere ambition.

Even after I have moved away from the circle of such influential people --- perhaps wiser and bit more learned --- I never lost my faith in and admiration for Jesse Robredo. He was one of the few I will forever respect.

When President Aquino chose Jesse to be part of his cabinet as Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government, he could not have made a better choice.  Although others have a right to disagree ... as all political decisions are bound to be subject to deliberation ... I always believed that Jesse's presence in this administration is one of the best things that has ever happened to our country.

Whether he was that mayor in Naga ... or a man who held such a vital position in national government, Jesse remained the same quiet, focused and hard working man that everybody knew.  There was not a semblance of flash and grandstanding in his person. He just worked quietly. And he worked hard.

And now this.

I often find myself in situations such as these.

Why do bad things happen to the few good men?  Why does God allow such things to happen?  Is it not a greater need to have the Jesse Robredos among us in our near desperate hope to bring back greatness to this country?

Has it not been such a shining example to have Jesse Robredo among the throngs of politicians, filibusters and strategists who run our government ... if only to give us a sense of hope that ... yes, there can still be real and positive change?

In my Twitter account last night, one very hurt and disillusioned follower sent a message naming other politicos who he wished were on that plane instead of Jesse.  But I said let us not go there. I understood where that fellow was coming from --- for I know there are others who feel or felt that way when they heard the news.  

This accident did not make any sense. It is too unfair.  There are others who we think may deserve this fate ... but not Jesse.

Why Jesse and why not Whoever?

Let us not even think that way. I do not believe the Powers Up There work that way.

There are a lot of things that happen in life that we do not and cannot explain or understand but we are in no position to bang the doors of heaven and demand an explanation from God as to why He does these things to us.  

I would still like to think that there is a purpose behind all this.  I greatly believe that He is teaching us a lesson the hard way ... the painful way ... again.  And that lesson is we need men like Jesse.

We can only ease the pain by not only admiring the example Jesse sets ... but by doing the same in our own little and humble ways.

We should stop merely complaining about what we do not like around us. We must work to make those changes ... regardless of who we are and what station we hold in life.

We do not have to be in government or any position of great influence and power to make changes.

We only have to be examples by the way we think, the way we feel and the way we live.

Just like Jesse.

In the meantime, I am with so many Filipinos immersed in prayer. His will be done ... but Jesse, please come back to us.

If the good Lord has decided to take you back to His arms, we will accept that. We will miss you if such be the case ... but you ARE great by simply showing us how to live.

Come back to us, Jesse.


A little past eight in the morning on the 21st of August, three days after the plane carrying Secretary Jesse Robredo crashed a few kilometers away from the runway of the Masbate Airport, a team of divers recovered his body from the fuselage of the craft.  

He was positively identified and immediately brought back to his home in Naga City.

Jesse was described was a man who always made it a point to come home.  And he no terrain can stop him from returning to Naga to be with his family --- especially last weekend.

Now Jesse Robredo is finally home with the ones he truly loved.

His body is now home with wife and daughters and the citizens of Naga who hold him to the highest esteem.

And there is no doubt where his soul has returned --- to the arms of the Father who must be truly happy to hold this great man in His embrace, proud of everything Jesse did in the 54 years that was his life.

For it is not in the number of years spent on earth that really matters.  It is what you leave behind. It is how you are remembered.

It is how your life has become a source of inspiration.

Farewell, Jesse. Farewell, our hero. And cheers ... to a life so well-lived.

Friday, August 17, 2012


At this point in time, everybody has an opinion about these unlikely events.  This must include everything that transpired from the moment the senator gave an emphatic speech ending in a heart-wringing tear wrenching note on the sacred halls of legislature ...down to the shocked reaction of the public when certain detail about that masterpiece of oration was exposed.  

Apparently chunks of the emotionally-charged elocution piece pointing to the dangers of the pill to the lives of both women and the children that they will decide to bear have been ripped off someone else's blog.  Aray ko!

Nay, as the day progressed, as many as five blogs have been attributed to what constituted as evidence to the core argument of the esteemed lawmaker in making his stand about the Reproductive Health Bill. Aray ko, Part 2! Mash-up pala!

So by the end of the day, the conclusion from all this fiasco is that the Senator gave a speech that was patchwork of excerpts from a spectrum of blogs in the internet without acknowledging the sources --- and, worse, denying the conscious or accidental act of plagiarism.  

Yes, that has been the buzzword for quite some time in this country: plagiarism. 

That was the curse that smacked Manny Pangilinan in a speech he gave at the Ateneo University thereby warranting his honorable act by admitting the error and resigning from his position in the University.  

That was also the same accusation hurled to a Supreme Court Justice eliciting all sorts of reactions including demands for his impeachment because he has lost his moral authority to hold such a position in a major branch of government.

Any which way you look at it --- regardless of language and analysis of syntax --- plagiarism is theft.  It is literally ripping off somebody and claiming not only his thoughts but also his words as your own.  There is nothing mind-boggling or controversial or debatable about that.  Di ba?

However the Majority Floor Leader of the Philippine Senate denied the accusation hurled at him.  The accusing finger came from Sarah Pope, a writer whose blog was entitled The Healthy Home Economist. 

What made matters bad to worse was the dismissive statement given by the Filipino legislator by poo-pooing the blogger. His seemingly irritated (and somewhat interpreted as arrogant) statement insinuated that bloggers are writers not to be taken seriously. His implication that Ms. Pope was "just a blogger" suggested that such writers generally do not count in the hierarchy of importance of much greater creatures in the universe such as .... uh, ok, Philippine Senators.  

Uhm: epic fail! Your honor, EPIC FAIL TALAGA!

In one sweeping gesture, the Senator succeeded in earning the ire if not irritation of all the bloggers in the net universe --- regardless of degree of importance or sphere of influence.  

The belittling of bloggers may have been your proverbial knee jerk reaction or defense mechanism --- as if to emphasize that he, a senator, will not refer to a mere blogger in any utterance delivered in such august halls. After all, this was not your run-of-the-mill speech hurled at Commencement Exercises or during the opening of a skin care clinic. This was the speech condemning the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill meant to excite "the angels from heavens above and the demons down under the sea"( taken from Edgar Allan Poe's poem Annabel Lee, thus properly accredited and not carelessly lifted).

Unfortunately this pambabale-wala statement backfired when his Chief of Staff admitted to Ms. Pope that indeed her blog was used  as reference.  But wait: before she gets all fired up, let it be known that her work was somehow "accidentally" used verbatim in order to emphasize pertinent points regarding health dangers in the use of the pill. It was not her blog but just her references. But they used her words anyway ... so, whatever. Basta like that.

According to the said officer of the senator's staff, the use of the blog was only centered on the theories given by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride on the possible adverse reaction of birth control pills. In other words, it was not Miss Pope who was being quoted --- but only her reference. Kaya manahimik na lang siya.

But the effort to reword Miss Pope's prose --- or even acknowledge the use of her as a writer was conveniently forgotten, omitted or swept under some imaginary rug because --- after all, she was just a blogger.

That sort of argument did not hold water.  Hoping that the good senator will be absolved not only from the ire of Miss Pope but also the public's indignation for intellectual dishonesty, the alleged apology sent to the American blogger did more harm than good.  

The letter did not only acknowledge the use of Ms. Pope's blog (O, hayun naman pala, eh. Alam ba yan ni Sen?) but also further belittled the writer implying that she was overreacting and that this was a Philippine senator using her references and that she should be proud and not offended.  Reading that apology requires a double and even a triple take: totoo ba yon? Did he really write that? The point of the matter is that (again) arrogance rather than humility to admit human fallibility took priority.

For instance, to somewhat imply: "What else do you want? Nag-sorry na nga kami sa kayo, eh" does not sound like an apology at all. It sounds more like pikon-talo. 

And let's face it, Guys: Philippine senator or not,  the rules are clear as Ms. Pope pointed out. Intellectual dishonesty is still theft any which way you look at it.  Translated into the vernacular: Weno ngayon kung nagtatrabaho ka para sa isang senador!? Does that exempt you from being accused of plagiarism? Ano ka? Sinusuwerte?!

We can only hope that the Senator knows everything happening not even behind him ... but under his nose and right in his Senate office.  One easy conclusion any rational being would obtain is that the senator may indeed  be in much deeper trouble  without his knowing it.

Whether or not he gave a seal of approval to that apology letter to Miss Pope is something that requires verification. If he did --- uhm, oh well. ( I can only scream Epic Fail twice.)

But if he did not --- uhm, a suggestion of a very urgent staff meeting should be in utmost order if not imperative.  For there are still those who would want to believe that the letter sent to Miss Pope did not have the Senator's foreknowledge much less his consent.

It is because after reading that letter, one no longer wonders why the Senator mouths such speeches researched, prepared and written by his staff. 

Whether the senator unwittingly walked into this booby trap is something he must clarify somewhere in the course of his political history. Otherwise, he takes the risk of being remembered not for his tearful speech but for the perfidy that followed.

If he should condone his Chief of Staff saying that "blogs are meant to be shared" and that anything floated in the internet is devoid of copyright laws, then the Senator should really call for a staff meeting immediately right after his noontime show. Pronto! By allowing such statements to slide off his back, he will not only earn the ire of one very peeved Ms. Pope but an entire legion of bloggers who will be out to prove him and his people wrong.

In the process, what will be placed in question is the credibility not only of his Chief of Staff ... but the integrity of he who holds position in that elected office.  Intellectual property and respect for the thoughts, ideas and writings of others is an indication not only of education ...but basic decency in a civilized and literate society.

But then we must see this over and above and beyond a mere series of unfortunate if not ridiculous incidents.  After a while, what transpired --- from the heart-tugging speech at the senate --- down to the moments of humiliating exposure that parts of that speech were ripped off blogs --- suggest something much deeper than your usual Philippine political circus.

What do these events prove about the importance of moral authority?

Indeed, do we live in an age when the end ultimately justifies the bloody means?  In trying to emphasize, underline and even magnify a point as crucial as the health of women and children, is there a license somewhere along the way to indulge in little excursions in intellectual dishonesty defended through some sort of moral ambiguity?

A supporter of the Senator pointed out that one bad event does not make a person completely bad. She insisted that this may have been an honest mistake --- and that this collective condemnation is only being fanned by the the Pro-RH Bill advocates who would love to clobber the Majority Floor Leader to smithereens in order to prove their own point.

There is great truth in that.  But then everything still boils down to basics.  

We wish we could be as charitable in assessing the moral magnitude of our leaders to equate them with Calpurnia who was beyond reproach.  Nowadays, Filipinos elect their officials based on their humanity ...and even celebrate their fallibility and vulnerability as signs of pagpapakatotoo. 

Unfortunately pagpapakatotoo is not necessarily kakayahan.

The Senator's supporter is correct in saying that it is so easy to make a big deal out of this event to discredit everything that he has done through his years in public office.  But that is not the way people will see it.  That is not the way the larger number of people think --- not unless you are a diehard supporter.  Whether the Senator was aware of the error or not (which I honestly think he was not aware of the sordid details), people will still judge him for being, as Ms. Pope wrote, a thief who is a thief who is a thief.

And that is what will be remembered ... not the name nor the line of reasoning of his trusted Chief of Staff meant to defend the senator's integrity.

Ms. Pope also apologized to Filipino women for what she felt was a misinterpretation of her writings.  Apparently, Ms. Pope was Pro-Choice and she would not stand for others to use what she wrote precisely for crusades that she was vehemently against.  So there. Another epic fail.

To think that all this could have been settled with just a simple apology and clarification.  Just like that. But, of course, such a gesture would require largess and humility and real pagpapakatotoo. Maybe that is indeed asking for too much.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


It took all of twenty-seven seconds to create havoc among the netizens.

Simply put --- we were appalled.  Not merely disgusted but appalled.  The reaction was spontaneous --- like combustion --- and unanimous.

There was a certain degree of pain watching two burly men assert their power over a much older man who was not even a fourth of their sizes.  Worse, the older man was a traffic enforcer in uniform and the setting was right at the intersection of one of the busiest streets north of the metropolis. The actions rendered by one of those who assaulted the traffic officer clearly defined behavior that was unspeakable and inexcusable under whatever circumstances.

Another sample of road rage.  No bullets were fired here --- but just more of the common type when harsh words and somewhat barbaric actions.  This includes the raising of voices, slaps and punches and a lot of posturing. If one watches the video carefully, it was actually a performance not only for the victim but for everyone else in the periphery to see.  It was like the preening of a peacock ... or the loud barks of an aggressive canine. 

If you are a fan of the National Geographic Channel or Animal Planet, then you can recognize the same aggressive behavior when primates assert their territoriality over fellow simians who figure lower in the pecking order. In other words, what we caught in twenty-seven seconds follows the same behavioral pattern of chimpanzees, orangutans and baboons.  

Except of course monkeys do not wear high-end purple shirts and costly shades.  But that's a different thing all together. We would still like to think that we have evolved.

The point we are raising here is that people react to what they see and hear.  Even for twenty-seven seconds.

The video taken from inside an adjacent car clearly illustrated the perfect example of a problem that has become most prevalent today: bullying.  There are many advocates for the prevention of bullying in schools --- but the more dangerous kind happens among the alleged adults who have yet to deal with their awful childhoods, personal traumas or perhaps just a textbook case of very misguided upbringing.

Almost immediately the viewer or witness would respond to three distinct points upon watching the twenty-seven seconds of this video:

(a) There were two of them --- and only one of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) officer.  Not only was the officer outnumbered but the two men (who turned out to be brothers) were, uh, plus sizes. They were hefty --- or approximately the same size as the car that they drove.

An addendum to this is that both men knew they could easily overpower the man they were confronting because they saw that the officer was a much older and weaker man.  They were sure they had the advantage --- and could have handled whatever it was that caused them such anger in a manner less arrogant and flashy and physical.  But they chose to do so because ... uh, it was like ... so macho to do so. 

(And there were people watching. Did they also know there was a camera rolling?)

Well, true to the nature of inherent bullies, the more they see the opponent as weaker and vulnerable then the more they will assert themselves as stronger and dominant. 

(b) The very sight of the bigger of the two men who humiliated and physically abused the officer in public already triggered the worse possible perception.

Now if he were less formidable in size and not the perfect prototype of villainy ( think of Popeye's Brutus or most recently, Batman's Bane ) then the response of the public would not have been as vehement, dramatic and even drastic.  

The very presence of this individual --- garbed in purple, complete with goatee and body language that immediately screamed aggression automatically branded him as the enemy especially when he started manhandling an older man. He packaged himself as the astig. He presented himself as invincible. He is your textbook kontrabida simply by stereotyping.

There was no argument about that.  He did not only look the role but portrayed the role with utmost sincerity and appropriateness.  All the qualities were thrown into the pot (that eventually became his girth): arrogance, foisting pride --- mocking the weak but, worst of all, shamelessly terrorizing someone who was not fighting back.

But the real worst swing of things came a little later.

That was when the characters in the video were identified and data defining their existence spread throughout the net like crazy.  

It was only when the curriculum vitae of this burly individual ascertained that he was actually a high school and college graduate from the most respectable Jesuit-run university that a new dimension was added to the already overly-dramatic and even muddled scenario. The realization that the man was not only rich ... but enjoyed the benefits of the best kind of Philippine education ... infuriated the netizens all the more.

The fact that the aggressor was an Atenean meant that this was another kind of confrontation. This pointed to:

(c) A class war between the arrogant, heartless and selfish rich with their privileged and most comfortable lives and the helpless poor.  This became a battle for those who succumb to the maltreatment of the spoiled brats who think of themselves as above the law of men because they have the money (and therefore the clout and power) to go about doing what they want to do regardless of propriety, decorum or even civility.

And what made it even worse?  The fact that the burly brothers were driving a Volvo (read: elitistang mayayaman na naghahariharian sa kalye) and that the source of provocation as to why the assault took place was because the traffic officer tapped his car to signal him to stop.

(But let it be told that there is an entire psychology behind men and cars.

It is quite apparent that men treat guns and cars as extensions of their masculinity, like a form of penis compensation.  

That is why it is also said that men take care of their cars more than their women --- because cars become the sacred extension of everything they represent or perhaps make up for whatever they lack physically.

So when the Officer tapped the green Volvo, should it be an unexpected knee jerk reaction that Mr. Hyde or the Incredible Hulk should emerge from the otherwise decent persona of this sparkling sample of the male of the species?  Did the old man unwittingly cross over the territorial boundaries or even violate the very symbol of some very hot headed male's pagkalalake?

Can we therefore explain the reaction leading to violence as --- typical male aggression?

Perhaps. If we were living in the Neanderthal age. )

Add all these three elements together and you get the perfect recipe for being the object of the internet lynch mob.

When netizens decide to gang up on you, then better brace yourself for next viable solution: a witness protection plan that can enable you to change every available data about yourself and be shipped off to somewhere as exotic as Martinique or Ethiopia just so that you can have a new life. OR you can join the monks in Bukidnon where you can grow quality premium coffee for the rest of this present earthly existence.

The moment the internet identified the culprit --- everything about him, including the size of his waistline, was spread all over the net.  Social media went crazy identifying not only his school but also a) his professional position and b) his place of employment.  Added to this, even his c) cell phone number  and d) car license plate were soon revealed together with ... uh, the name of his mother.

In other words, the netizens went crazy and turned into a virtual lynch mob. The netizens resorted to their own bullying.

Before the night was over, the Road Bully had pulled down his Facebook, Twitter and Linked In accounts --- but a tad too late because there are so many brilliant tekkies out there who were able to retrieve the data --- including his photos --- and started using the joys of Adobe Photoshop.

Even before midnight, his name was already trending in Twitter and has earned the distinction of being The Most Hated Man in Cyberspace while mainstream television was also dedicated in bashing and grinding him until he has been diminished into one big hamburger patty.  

There are moral lessons learned here --- and the problem is that there is more to this than what is apparent.

The netizens were up in arms because of such heartless bullying --- and decided to punish Big Boy by bullying him as well --- making him taste his own medicine --- except for the fact that he is being virtually assaulted.  

The enemy is no longer a single old man who had the mistake of tapping his car but an entire legion of faceless people who are out to avenge what they felt was blatant injustice and shameless arrogance.

How did they intend to do that? In the worse possible way.  Now he was helpless as he watched his life being stripped piece by piece of everything he holds sacred.  That includes his privacy. And his identity. And his affiliations.  And, yup, his professional credibility. Now everything was out in the open --- being vulgarized and, in the process, trivialized.

His company has apparently suspended him as investigations continue with criminal charges filed against him by the MMDA.

Poor man.

When media showed the old officer he tormented --- and showed the humble house where he lived with the four daughters he was raising on his own because he was a struggling widower --- the die has been cast.  

The battle between the powerful and the inaapi has been so scripted and everyone knows which of the two sides they will take --- out of sheer decency. No, maybe humanity.

Although it would be unfair to drag the name of his school to this issue (as I personally feel so awkward to take the line of defense of Ateneo considering I am a graduate and a die hard alumnus of the other school ) because all colleges and universities have one bad apple in their bushels of graduates, the fact still remains.  The background of the aggressor --- and his supposed Catholic education --- has made the scenario all the worst.  

How could someone raised with such privilege do something as inhuman as this ... and still, to this moment, foist arrogance and absolute lack of retribution?  Epic fail, Man. Epic fail!

All it took was twenty-seven seconds and an entire life has been changed.  Why?  Because we live in times where there are always eyes watching us ... as well as camera lenses.  A friend of mine said that we should be more wary that God sees everything we do ... and not only be threatened by the possibility that somebody is secretly recording what you are doing.

Maybe he is right. Or maybe the camera lens is actually God's eyes sharing His vision for the rest of the world to see ... what we have become or what we are still capable of becoming.  Like the primates featured in the Nat Geo specials. 

Maybe Darwin still needed to fine tune his entire theory of evolution.

But for the sake of convenience, we can simplify the lesson in just one word: BEHAVE.  And that, we guess, is much easier said than done. Especially if you are going around in a Volvo. Even if you know Big Brother is watching you.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Oh, come on, let's face it ... and I will confess: the biggest reason I couldn't let the weekend pass without catching The Bourne Legacy was not because I am die hard fan of Robert Ludlum.  I am not even going to say that my excitement for the Jason Bourne series in the movies could match my obsession for anything with Batman.

It was because an important portion of the movie was shot right here in Manila.

And it was also because some of my friends ... people who I have worked with ... actually appeared in the movie. Ang saya-saya, di ba?

OK. So I am not going to write this mind-boggling movie like I am  going to sound so film literate.  

There is no way that I am going to compare and contrast the mind of Tony Gilroy with that of Christopher Nolan.  Nor will I try to deconstruct the angst of Jason Bourne and his successor, Aaron Cross --- and how they represent post-modernist man in search of his identity.  I tried doing that with Batman in Nolan's trilogy, trying to squeeze every philosophical juice I can extract with Bruce Wayne's endless questionings of "Who am I?","What is good? What is evil?" or "How do I overcome my fears by being fear itself?"  Until the closing credits of The Dark Knight Rises, I found myself in bewilderment: "You mean ... this young cop is going to be Robin?"  But enough of that.

The Bourne Legacy did not carry the weight of such angst. It was about a lot of ice ... then even a lot more perspiration.

It was a movie about universal spies pumped up with genetic engineering --- much like Captain America or GI Joe sans superpowers.  In this case, the superspy is all woozy and confused. He is also trying to kick some drug addiction that was inflicted upon him by some high-end ultra secret clinic in cahoots with the US Government.  This is also where a gorgeous Ph.D. in Microbiology played by Rachel Weisz works with utmost seriousness and dedication. Weisz, a terrific actress, adds that much needed charm and beauty to the dull world of science where everybody looks staid, unusually intellectual and post-menopausal. Except Rachel, of course, who was exceptionally beautiful and intelligent: her character, Dr. Marta Shearing, could rattle off terms like endoplasmic reticulum and make it sound like an ingredient for instant brownies.

Oh, but what the heck!!!  This is a movie that is meant to be enjoyed and savored ... like a tub of popcorn with a lot of salt and melted butter on top. I am not going to go into this with pretenses of being tight-assed critic. Pass me my tall glass of Coke.

If I wanted a meaningful human experience which I can discuss over cups of chamomile tea and cannabis, then I would have spent the evening watching DVDs of Kurosawa's Throne of Blood or Pasolini's Teorema or Salo.  Even Joey Gosiengfiao's original Temptation Island or Elwood Perez' Waikiki. Sige na, even Pribeyt Benjamin. I would not have gone to the mall, spent P220.00 to watch Jeremy Renner, right?  And this isn't even The Hurt Locker.

But wait ... there is nothing sinful about a Friday night watching the LMF. Nor does this immense pleasure mean that my taste is pedestrian.  It is just that I enjoy greasy doughnuts as much as I appreciate buttery tasting Kobe beef.

Was the movie great? Will critics all over the world do cartwheels celebrating this cinematic excursion?

Well, let me put it this way: it isn't The French Connection or even Bullitt.  

The movie tended to be disjointed with parallel actions taking place all over and ... well ... it showed enough of the third rock from the sun to cover everything from the wolf-infested mountains of Alaska ... to the idyllic seas around Palawan. Throw in Korea, Pakistan ... and, uh, Maryland. The movie was just ... all over the place. Literally.

Still following the narrative thread of Ludlum's Bourne series, this installment did not have the same nerve-wrecking pace of the previous movies of the franchise.  

Maybe because we are not dealing with Jason Bourne here --- since Matt Damon only comes out in photos with recurring characters as those portrayed by David Straitharn and Joan Allen further adding to the sense of continuum.  There is that attempt at continuity indeed since the director of this movie, Tony Gilroy was the screenwriter of all the Bourne series brought to the screen.  So he must certainly know what he is talking about. But somehow, uh ... you feel the Ludlum touch impersonated rather than fabricated.

Admittedly we all expected more.  That's the problem. We wanted our minds blown off by action scenes ... and to be mesmerized by the new hero in the series.

In trying to reshape the franchise to focus on Jeremy Renner's Aaron Cross, the tension behind the entire back story of Jason Bourne is lost.  But then again you knew that even before you bought your theater ticket so that's a given in the deal.

There was just so much explaining and elaboration during the first hour and thirty minutes that you wish you can press a fast forward button so you can get to see the much anticipated Manila scenes.

In moments of great discomfort, I just keep telling myself that the entire production staff and stars of this movie were so nice and kind and helpful to the Filipinos that I will not mind spending another fifteen minutes dealing with Edward Norton (who wasn't here in Manila anyway!)and all these people seated behind computer monitors and consoles trying to determine the fate of the world.

So did I enjoy this movie? Naman! Why shouldn't I? It is seeing friends and actors who I have worked with appearing in a major mainstream international movie that had my heart pumping extra hard. 

It is the thrill of seeing Madeleine Nicolas as the landlady who took in the leads to her sleazy apartelle, Antonette Garcia as the screaming neighbor but more so ... John Arcilla and Lou Veloso in roles that are so markado that you just end up pointing at the screen, giggling and saying, "Ay ... si ...!" then end up feeling very, very happy for them.

When that famous chase scene from San Andres down EDSA to the corner of Taft Avenue where Law Fajardo shot Amok last year then down through EDSA again with people flying over jeeps and tricycles and what nots --- I knew this was where my P220.00 went.  All the while I was trying to figure out how many cameras they were using, how were the logistics of camera planning implemented --- more so, how was the entire stunt choreography designed to be so brilliantly done in the streets that I know so well.

If only for that, then my Friday night was not completely wasted.  For I realized that filming like that can be done here --- and hopefully the Filipinos who worked with the production of The Bourne Legacy learned a thing or two on how it can be properly done.

If only for that, then it was worth the trip to the cineplex.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


I am shocked and saddened to find out that someone's house ended up under flood waters again.

Three years ago while she was abroad, Ondoy hit the country and her oh-so-loved residence was completely devastated by flood waters that almost reached the second floor.  All her newly acquired furniture not to mention her high-end car ended up inside what turned out to be a giant blender of muck and water overflowing from the nearby Marikina River.

Thank God for her splendid career and her seemingly endless resources.  She came back determined to put together the pieces, spent perhaps more than year living elsewhere while her house was being remodeled, refurbished her furniture and finally settled back that home ruined by the onslaught of uncontrollable floods in her posh northern subdivision.

She left the country (again) for business feeling secure that all will be well because there was not even a typhoon within the radars.  And who would have guessed that the annual visitation of the Southwestern Monsoon (popularly called the Hanging Habagat) should wreak such havoc?

Who would have suspected that the annual tag-ulan should bring this much ulan in a matter of days?

Yes, Ondoy brought us six hours of non-stop rain --- but this nameless creature of almost generic nature shoved three days of sporadic downpours enough to swell up rivers, bloat waterways and submerges towns, villages and the enclaves of the rich and privileged, drowning everyone and everything on its way with mud and garbage.

From what I heard, the executive's house went underwater again.  Insert music here: "It's the same old song ..."

And I shake my head and wonder.  I am upset for what happened ... but I think it requires more than just being discombobulated here.  It requires a bit of thinking ... and playing a devil's advocate.

For one thing, hard and bitter the bite of the apple must be, the chomp of fruit we must learn to swallow.

If you happen to invest in a flood-prone area (nay, let us be brutal about this: if you decided to build your residence in any of the areas, town or municipalities that went underwater three years ago ... and had a repeat performance recently), then you must face one brutal fact. It is going to happen again.

Consider the extent of the problem.

I have been kvetching about the lack of preparation or foresight that powers that be exhibited in order to ease the situation.  Please take note: I am not even close to suggesting that the government can stop the flooding at this point --- not unless the president is so privileged that a flaming bush will appear in front of him in one of his sorties and no less than God the Father hands him the staff of Moses.

It is insane to think that the government can solve all this.

The problem has become far too big --- and cannot be tackled instantaneously like pouring hot water on a cup of noodle.  On the contrary, flooding in the Metro and the nearby provinces took years to bring to this drastic extent.  We were all warned but we did not listen.  We were all sent feelers but we chose to practice the art of deadma.

Eh, di hayan ngayon.

We cannot blame the government for all the careless, irresponsible and even godless beings who dump their garbage on the waterways because they have not been taught the art of civilized urban behavior in a functioning modern society.  But we can ask the government to implement much stricter rules, create more stringent laws that will send the signal to these people that if you mess around with the canals and the esteros, all the garbage and crap you throw away will float back right on your faces.

We cannot blame the government for the swelling of the Marikina River or the overflow of the Angat, La Mesa as well as all the other dams because of the uncontrollable volume of rainfall.  But we can also demand that the government become more assertive especially in creating ways and means of minimizing the damage to whatever extent possible the next time such a natural occurrence takes place. Because we all know for a fact that it will most certainly happen again and again.

In a previous blog, I asked, "How could the government allow developers to actually launch and sell real estate properties in areas which (to begin with) are already endangered by flooding?" It is easier to understand how and why those informal settlers mushroomed in all the most unlikely places --- including those which are evidently in the front line of waters rising.  These people are, well, incorrigible --- and when poverty becomes the issue as both cause and effect --- or politicos succumb and kowtow to the call of the Madlang Masa or they risk political castration.

But there must draw the line.

We are all aware that the presence of these shanties lining up esteros or even under bridges and other waterways is a major source of the clogging of the already pathetic sewerage system we have in the city.  It is bad enough that the drainage system we have has become so outdated and completely out of proportion to the service of an urban population that has ballooned beyond the imagination --- but to have non-biodegradable waste (including the reckless use of plastic and Styrofoam) thrown into waterways together with the rest of their personal muck does not only create poison the water (which is already devoid of all life forms except disease-causing bacteria).  It is acknowledged to be one of the major causes of flooding.

Just how long can we accept the excuse that kasi mahirap nga sila  as a reason for tolerating this practice --- or throwing a blind side whenever the sun is out and we are all going on with our merry ways?

It is bad enough that we have not completely addressed our waste disposal system --- that we have to deal with other major problems like illegal logging that causes loosening of the soil thus resulting to landslides, blah, blah, blah.  It is bad enough that we have to reckon with the fact that Manila is indeed below sea level and yet through the years the government has not created a long-term program to find ways and means of wrestling with the problem of flooding --- especially now that we are also confronted by rising sea levels brought by global warming.

Mga kababayan, even more than a century ago Manila has already been under flood waters.  This is a phenomenon that did not happen ... uh, just during the time of Ondoy. We have been practically sunk out of the map since the time of Rizal --- except for the fact that we are sinker much deeper now.

And still we have yet to hear of a concrete long term project that can help ease  (not even obliterate) the problem.

We can predict the weather. We can calibrate the strength of gusty winds or even the amount of rainfall --- but have we done anything to insure that:

(a) People will be wise enough to realize that if you choose to live in a village, town or area of the city that has succumbed to disastrous flood waters, then you do so at your own risk --- and you prepare yourself for a life that should include speedy evacuation and perhaps waterproof furniture.

(b) People are aware of the consequences of their action so that if they violate certain rules that can contribute to the jeopardy of a critical ecosystem, then they shall be punished accordingly and not merely given a senseless, useless and ineffective warning.

(c) People are responsible for their decisions.  If they are told to evacuate --- and choose to stay put and guard their material possessions rather than their lives --- then let them deal with it. The stubbornness of some should not the be cause for others to risk their lives just because of pure impertinence, lack of foresight --- or even downright stupidity.

I think one lesson we should learn at this point is that we should stop being merely reactive.  We have to move our butts and step on feet --- sensitive feet --- if necessary just to get the job done.

Otherwise, if we are going to simply skirt the issue and think that packing relief goods and singing "Magkaisa" is the solution to this problem, then I greatly suggest we Filipinos --- especially living in the Metro area and the nearby provinces --- should either have mandatory lessons in scuba diving, snorkeling or even develop gills.

* * *

In the meantime, social media is bursting with pleas, petitions and calls to action for people to help in the relief activities.

The response is overwhelming. There are those dedicating their time, energy and resources to make sure that relief goods are delivered to areas where to this very moment the flood waters have not abated.

But again, let this be a reminder: this outpouring of generosity affirms the good side of the Filipino.  The better side has to appear: the sense of direction, the sense of determination ... and not to succumb to fatalism by mumbling, "Ganyan talaga ang buhay."  The bag of rice, the sachets of instant coffee and the cans of sardines can relieve the problem in the here and now ... but not what follows after.

Maybe we should also be reminded that the Season of the Habagat should normally last until October.

We are in a catastrophe and there isn't even a tropical depression to press alarm buttons.

So what are we going to do about it?

* * *

It will be useless to have the house repaired for the second time after it went under water again.

The owner has two options: the first is to do as minimal correction possible --- then unload the house by selling the property.  Or the second is to defy the law of logic --- of spending millions of pesos again --- trying to bring back the residence in its original form.  Perhaps part of that project is to build a firewall big enough to serve as a dyke to insure that the Marikina River will keep away the next time it decides to indulge in another unannounced visit.

But there is another problem here.

If the owner sells the house, who will buy it?  I mean, who in his right mind, will want to purchase property in a place that has the infamy of being twice under water in three years?  Even if the house and lot are sold at a quarter of its purchased price, I doubt if anyone would want to have anything to do with such a volatile acquisition.

I guess there is a third choice: to face the awful fact that there are areas in this country which have become unusable.  They are no longer usable because they have ceased to be investments.

That is the saddest part. For we have so many of our countrymen who have to accept the fact that if they still choose to stay in their abodes that they worked so hard to obtain or are their ancestral homes, then they will have to deal with a ceaselessly worsening situation. They endanger not only their properties ... but also their lives.  Their persistence will never yield anything fruitful except dangerous sentiment.

That is sad.  That is very, very sad.

And just like what has happened to various parts of the Metro, some properties have already degenerated into liabilities.  They have actually become useless.

Yet we have to deal with it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


As I write this, the rains have not ceased.

It has been more than a week that the rains have fallen incessantly in Metro Manila.  Even if I left for Bangkok the weekend, I came back with more rains greeting me. This was nothing unusual this time of the year.

Then Monday night came --- and the rains really started pouring.  

We were all properly warned, weren't we?  This was not a tropical depression: the strong winds are out there dancing near the shorelines of Taiwan.  This was just the habagat getting to us. Ah, ok.

This was just the Southwestern winds --- nothing phenomenal, something we deal with as part of our climate cycle. Except that tropical depression north of our islands is sucking up all the monsoon thereby dragging this mammoth cloud to cover a slab of Luzon.  That was what was unusual. And exceptional.

The satellite weather map posted by a friend on Facebook last Sunday night was somewhat disturbing. The cloud practically covered half of Luzon: the country was practically swallowed by the blotch of cloud.  I asked my friend, "Where's the Philippines?"  And he replied, "Underneath all that." Ah, ok, I said.

The Weather Bureau warned us of more rains to come. Just that.

Nobody told us it was going to be that much rain.  A helluva lot of rain, rain and rain.  No winds --- just endless pouring of rain.

Three years ago we were also caught flatfooted. Remember?

Despite storm warnings, Ondoy was not supposed to be a major cyclone to send alarm bells ringing or signaling red alert.  After a while you get used to these storms.  Some are so insignificant that they become more of irritants rather than major causes of concern.  Ondoy was supposed to be one of those --- except for the fact that nobody said anything about the amount of rainfall he would bring.

We are properly warned about the strength and intensity of winds ...but at that time, we weren't talking about how much rain the depressions brought when it hits land. Ondoy's winds were not that threatening ... but who would have been prepared for six hours of continuous and outrageous rain?

We are all used to the fact that typhoons meant wind ... and the rains followed after the typhoon has left because of all the stratospheric activity happening out there that the late Ernie Barron could have explained with such authority and Kuya Kim could enlighten with such cuteness.  But then ... we simply listen to the enumeration of facts and say, "Oh, well."

We were not told that Ondoy had more surprises than unimpressive winds.

The result of that typhoon was cataclysmic--- traumatic and perhaps historic.

MetroManila and the nearby provinces looked like it was flushed through a toilet bowl.

You would think that after Ondoy we would have learned our lessons.

You would think that after Marikina practically sank back to the sea --- and that cars ended up on rooftops because of the overflow of the rivers and the spillage of major dams surrounding the metro that we would have gained an insight into the degree of damage, the extent of danger and even the more horrible possibilities of what has yet to come.

You would think that we would have made concrete plans on how not only to handle the disaster but to minimize the possibility of duplication of such events.

After Ondoy we should have confronted certain facts:  that global warming has indeed raised the sea levels to such awesome extent that the waves come crashing into Roxas Boulevard like a prelude to a tsunami each time a storm skirts the country.  That never happened before ... and there was even a time that we did not even think that it was a possibility at all. But it is now happening ... with regularity. So much for arguments against the rise of sea levels, huh?

It is now a fact.  There is global warming, Manila is located below sea level (like many other locations in the world) and we are right at the gateway of all possible repercussions from a screwed up worldwide climate disaster.  So there. We cannot relocate our archipelago to another side of the Pacific --- thus we have to accept the inevitable: that we will get the brunt of all these tropical events in varying degrees ... like annually.

We can also add other murmurings that others considered as downright irritants but have now become evident facts.  

These include our really irresponsible way of treating Mother Nature --- because a great majority of our population (include those who have been bestowed the privilege and responsibility of local and national governance) do not give a hoot about ecological balance or just making sure we don't make a bigger mess out of the mess that we are in and perpetuating.

We have not made greater efforts to improve our waste disposal, clean up our drainage and sewerage system ---or even just making sure that people who choose to live by canals, seashores or even under bridges don't throw their garbage into the waterways. 

Well, we ask ourselves again: what are they doing there in the first place?  

Yes, they are illegal settlers (we don't call them squatters any more ... because we consider the term politically incorrect. As a matter of fact, we even protect them.  Of course we do. Because they are also our countrymen ... they have their rights even if they have decided to occupy a space that is not their rightful land or they shouldn't even be living beside canals or under bridges --- not unless they are trolls ) but more important --- they can be registered voters.

After Ondoy you would think that we should have done something and that we could have been just a bit wiser. Or smarter. Or even practical. Or even realistic.

We already know that certain areas are indeed prone to floods because of their locations near waterways.

We already pinpointed critical points for water levels of dams --- and the extent of damage opening the flood gates would create to towns and cities directly affected by the content flow. The onslaught of rushing water will not distinguish a shanty from a mansion as long as these are on its way, right?

We have already seen the extent of damage that massive flooding can create and how equipped we are in dealing with such tragedies. We realize our shortage of amphibian tanks, rubber boats, even jet skis to traverse waters rising above rooftops.  I mean, how can any government be prepared for that?

But, hey --- let's have a reality check here.

It happened three years ago. It has happened all over again.  And now there isn't even a storm.  We do not even have a name for it.  

Yet we still have people left wet and cold on their rooftops waiting for rescue teams in rubber boats to save them.  We have entire towns and cities submerged in murky flood water and mud.  The entire parking lot of SM Marikina as well as the ground floor of the UST and UE RM hospitals have been under water for the past two days ... and the rains have not stopped falling.

We have seen all this before and it has happened again.  Guess what: it is going to happen again and again and again and again ... because it is not going to get any better. Nope, there is a possibility that it is going to get far much worse.

Not unless we learn our lessons, right?  

Not unless we confront the fact that this problem will not go away and can only get much worse.  Now what else can be worse? Oh, I think the possibilities are endless ... and even all the more terrifying.

Yes, it feels good to hold hands, get together and find ways of alleviating the pain and anguish of our countrymen who have been devastated by these horrid acts of nature.  It gives us a high to be of service and to celebrate the power of the people.  We celebrate our sense of concern, empathy and charity.  But, kababayans, unfortunately these are not the solutions. These are medications, palliatives --- and temporary pain relievers but are not even short term solutions.  What we see is a bountiful reaction to the tragedy ... and not the ways and means of directly dealing with the source of the problem.

We think healing wounds is the way to end the battle. Uh-oh! Not true.

Proof of human concern makes us indeed special creatures because it makes us exactly that --- human.  But let us be honest: they are consolations. They are necessary for uplifting the morale and boosting the fighting spirit --- but truckloads of relief goods, more rubber boats and more speeches about the future of our nation will not mean that the flood waters will not rise again and again.  

We need to address the problems not as if it were the sole responsibility of the government ... but as a people not merely protecting our properties but preserving the very survival of our country.  That much I realized: the government can only do so much. And I have reached a point of not expecting much from the people who sit in thrones of power because ... well, politicians are called politicians because of their politicking.

A nation is not made by the greatness of politicians but by the resilience and integrity of its people.  

And I am not very keen on politicians using disasters such as these to prove to their constituents that they are actually living saints.  I would rather have them as leaders --- with a sense of control, resolve and direction. I am more impressed by quiet but effective public servants who do their jobs ... because they know what jobs have to be done ... and that is not merely passing bags with a kilo of rice and two cans of sardines and a sympathetic smile on the face punctuated by a rehearsed, "God bless."

Foresight. Resolve. Determination. 

And let's cut the crap.  I hope we institute and implement more stringent laws to protect the citizenry from building houses in disaster-prone areas.  I  wish we can have law enforcers who do not have to beg people to leave their houses because of impending danger ... then only to have rescue teams summoned by the same stubborn (and, yes, idiotic ) people when they are neck-deep in dirty flood water --- screaming bloody murder "because the government ain't doin' anythin' for them." 

I hope we can have certain people in City Halls explaining why they allowed developments of middle class residences in areas which are in direct danger of overflowing rivers and waterways. 

I hope there are ways of convincing these most unfortunate and misguided residents that despite the fact that nobody will buy their properties with a history of flooding --- that going back to that same house over and over again will mean losing everything they worked for in the process of reconstruction to the next swelling of the river ... or overflowing of a waterway.

I wish we learn our lessons this time.  Even for a bit.

Meanwhile, I look out my office window.  The rains have not stopped.  The visibility is practically zero.  And I know that the flood waters are again rising.

We have to learn our lessons this time.  If not now, then when? Hopefully, it is not an exercise in futility.