Friday, December 30, 2011


Two things stand out as I look back on life in Baguio in the year 2011 – the Irisan garbage slide that claimed lives and property (and more than that, human dignity), and concrete pouring all over the city. And it doesn’t take much to see the relation between these two incidents.

The Rose Garden would be unveiled soon after its months-long concrete rehabilitation. While some of us would go ohhhh and ahhhh at the sight of a newly erected structure, this early some of us are already missing the earth on which grass and roses use to grow on. The Botanical Garden entrance is currently blocked by a block of concrete, it was such a disturbing sight. Though the tarpaulin showing an artist’s perspective on what it will eventually look like looked pretty, it doesn’t give much comfort again because of the presence of so much concrete.

Naguillian Road has been re-opened following hellish months of heavy traffic and the sight of intimidating concreting machines, but this early I am already missing the much smoother ride of the old road – compared to the newly concreted one that makes it feel like one’s driving down a staircase. Same goes for Quezon Hill’s newly re-opened main road. And really, don’t these road projects involve architects, or anyone with some sense of aesthetics, at all? Don’t they realize that it’s these roads who really welcome our guests to the city? The roads, newly paved (or re-paved) as they are, are ugly. We know make these repairs in quadrilateral portions and I just can’t help but notice how crooked the divisions between the portions are that if this were a kindergarten project the teacher would surely have the pupils redo the whole thing. What, nobody had a ruler when they were making it?

So that was the year that was – so much effort and precious resources being poured into what all seem like a huge waste of time and those same precious resources, while we hear hardly anything about anything being done really make life, all forms of life, in this great city better. Most of the roads repaired really didn’t need it, or if they did, the end results seem to be somewhat worse than the way they were before. The gardens – Rose and Botanical, didn’t really need concrete – they’re gardens, what they needed were plants and trees.

And while brains continue to be racked for new concrete structures to be erected and resulting in more of our natural environment getting wrecked, we hardly hear anything concrete about the more serious problems of the city right now: overpopulation, garbage and the environmental destruction that come with these.

I don’t really want to sound so negative at the beginning of what the Mayans’ claim is the year that the world as we know it would end, but it would be great to be informed of any concrete plans the city has to solve issues more pressing than paving over paved roads. For without it, it may just really be the year that Baguio, as we know and once knew it, would end.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Merry Christmas

*My column in the Dec. 18, 2011 issue of Cordillera Today
After I wrote about the feeding program being conducted by Dr. Mark Ventura and his friend, Henry Carlin, at the Rizal Elementary School, I received a few inquiries from friends who wanted to help in various ways. Some pledged cash to cover the cost of feeding around 70 children at least twice a week, while others offered their help in preparing and serving the food. When Dr. Ventura invited our group to attend the Christmas party he’s putting together for the kids, we immediately thought of what we can contribute.

As artist Bumbo Villanueva, who also showed up at the party with writing materials for each of the children, put it, Mark and Henry have the taking care of the children’s bodies covered already, perhaps what we can do is to help nourish their minds and souls. And so on short notice, we started a book drive hoping to provide at least one book for each of the children.

While I was expecting the usual suspects to respond to the call for donations, I was amazed when it was a grade 6 pupil, whom I’ll call Zia here, who inquired about the drive first. She was one of the participants in this theatre workshop I conducted in a school and she wanted to donate “some” of her books. I told her where she can meet us to drop of her donation, expecting maybe three or four books from her.

Then a virtual stranger sent me a message on Facebook, asking how she can send her donation to us since she’s currently based in Manila and she won’t be making a trip to Baguio until early next year. I suggested sending them via Victory Liner, expecting her to perhaps just promise to bring the books next year when she comes up since all three stations of Victory Liner along Edsa are known to experience heavy traffic practically at all time of the day and making the trip to there to send a couple of books might just too much of a hassle.

Then later that day, I received another message from her that she’s already sent the books. When I picked them up the next day, the books were neatly packed in a brown envelope, including a pack of five still in their original packaging.

My wife and children went through our bookshelves and was able to put together around 15 books to donate to the children. But when it was time to meet up with Zia to receive her donation, I was totally surprised when she showed up with her mom with bag full of books, around 30 of them!

Still, we didn’t have enough to be able to give a book to each of the children. And then we realized, why give them a book each when they can all have access to all of these books if we start a library for them in their school? So with additional sets of books and encyclopaedia brought by one of the members of our group on the day of the party, we made arrangements with the school to start a library right in the Home Economics room where the feeding program was being held twice a week. We thought that in the half hour when Dr. Ventura comes with pots full of food with Jojo Castro with his pots full of hot Chocolate de Batirol, the children can also let their imagination fly by opening a book, writing, drawing, doodling their thoughts using the pencils and notebooks brought by Bumbo and his wife Arlene.

That morning, musicians Ethan Ventura enabled fellow artists Jun Utlieg and Cris Donaal to tell stories to the children with their songs. The children feasted on noodles prepared by Dr. Ventura’s helper, the amazing chef Alma who can whip up wonderful meals even with the most limiting ingredients available. We played games and handed out prizes and gifts to everyone.

At one point, I picked one book from the pile and asked Bumbo to read it to the children. When we were leaving the school after the party, a young girl ran after me and told me that I forgot the book I asked Bumbo to read, and she was giving it back. I told her she could keep it for herself.

I don’t care whether GMA spends Christmas in jail or at home under house arrest, or whether Corona resigns, I am definitely not looking forward to what Lito Lapid would have to say during the impeachment trial. I just had a Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


*My column in the Dec. 11, 2011 issue of Cordillera Today

 I used to worry a lot as a child on Christmas Eve when everyone would start going to bed and my grandmother would make sure the doors were locked for the night. It’s Christmas Eve, and my sock (we didn’t have those fancy Christmas stockings) would be hanging on the wall ready for Santa’s largesse for the year. Hours earlier, I would have struggled not to think of any bad thoughts walking back home from the church, I’d have been extra polite to elders, and perhaps even give extra to last minute carollers - lest Santa counts those last minute transgressions and put me on his naughty list instead.

I would worry about the locked doors because we didn’t have a chimney, and I was told, mainly by television, that’s how Santa Clause made his way inside your home. I knew I would get in trouble if I unlocked the doors, so I would move the sock and hang it by the window instead and this worry about how small my gifts would be since the space between the window slats were too narrow for that die-cast Voltes V action figure, or a skateboard.

I’d wake up the next morning to find the sock filled with candies, sometimes money, and I would forget about the skateboard and Voltes V and just be happy that the night before, Santa did not forget about me.

I don’t remember when Santa stopped sneaking in toys for me on Christmas Eve, I just remember being excited again when it was my children’s turn to try all they can to stay up to finally catch Santa. I felt tears in my eyes when one time, my youngest expressed his concern about how Santa would find his way to our house – it was Christmas eve and we have moved to a house with no fireplace, and there was I locking up the door for the night. This time, I left one window open, the kind that slides to the side leaving space big enough for big old Santa to make his way in.

Through the years, Santa never failed to show up at our house on Christmas Eve to reward my children’s good deeds for the year. Sometimes he would be so generous as to leave really huge toys, and at times you just know that he did his best to provide everyone with something to be happy about at all.

He would almost always leave a letter for each of my five children – reminding them that somebody cares about how they lived their life the past year, and advising them on how to make the coming year even better. There was that one year that he apologized for not being able to give something "big" – it hasn’t been a great year, he said – but hoped that the children would still find happiness in the humble gifts he managed to give them, and reminded them that this did not mean that he cared less at all that year.

Last year, I witnessed the time Santa stopped giving gifts to my two elder children. In the bright morning of that Christmas Day, they found a note from Santa explaining that now that they’ve grown up, it’s time they give up their slots for other children. Their younger siblings felt sad for them. But it really warmed my heart to see the two telling the younger ones not to feel sad at all for why they’ve stopped wishing for toys from Santa on Christmas Eve, and that this only meant that Santa would have more toys for them and other children.

Last year, my younger daughter got a wave board (some kind of a skateboard with only two in-line wheels instead of four) from Santa. But unfortunately, the wave board broke soon after she got it – the screw that held the wheels came off and we couldn’t find them or at least replacement ones that would fit. All year she hoped we’d get her another one. Her birthday came and we still couldn’t afford to get her a new one. Finally, just a month ago, we finally got to replace the broken toy – we were able to get her one that looked exactly like the one from Santa.

Then a funny thing happened – my wife found the missing screws of the broken one and was able to put it back together. My daughter decided to give it to her younger brother instead so they could skate together.

Then one night, while waiting for us to finish rehearsals, they brought out the two wave boards – the new one from us for my daughter and the repaired one from Santa for our youngest son. And when they started skating, my daughter noticed that the wheels of the wave board that Santa gave which her brother was now using lit up in different colors when they turn.

My daughter looked at her new wave board with wheels that don’t light up and then at me quizzically, and I told her that, hey, I’m only her dad, I could never top what Santa could give.

With a shrug and a smile, she got on her wave board, happy that her mom was able to put the one from Santa back together... and just happy for her brother who now has his own wave board.

Later that evening, over dinner, my youngest son tried to remember what Santa said in his letter to him through the years – particularly the one last year where Santa said that he hopes to finally catch him awake so they can have milk and cookies together.

I told him - no promises, but I’ll try to stay up with him to wait for Santa.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Beautiful Baguio?

*my column in the Dec. 4 issue of Cordillera Today

If I would light up our Christmas tree, and perhaps at least the main window of our home with even the cheapest (but still safe) Christmas lights, I calculated that it would cost at least P1,200.00. Nothing fancy - just plain, silver and yellow lights, ones that don’t even blink. I like them that way anyway.

I walk down Session Road and notice the boys busily climbing up ladders and setting up lights that everybody was hoping would not be as offensive to the eyes as last year’s. A night or two later and they were lit. And they don’t make sense - the flower-shaped ones on the center posts would have one side blinking and the other steady. They didn’t make me happy. And they all looked like clutter in the morning.

I digress. Looking at all those lights, I tried to calculate how much they may have cost the City Government. Just the center island infront of Luisa’s has about eight shrubs, each bedecked with lights including some that looked like icicles falling off the leaves. And those shrubs are much bigger than my puny tree at home. What, P1,000, or P1,500 per shrub? I lost count halfway up the road.

A week ago, good friend and musician Ethan Andrew Ventura mentioned a feeding program that his father, paediatrician Mark Ventura and friend Henry Carlin, along with their other friends have been conducting at the Rizal Elementary School. This isn’t one of those feeding programs that really feed the egos of the proponents way more than the intended beneficiaries. Their group has committed to come to the school at least twice a week to feed and provide essential vitamins to undernourished children until the end of the school year. They carefully plan their menu, taking into consideration the precise nutrients that the children need the most.

The average cost per feeding is about P1,000.00, which is enough to provide a meal for at least 70 elementary pupils. A lot of these pupils are noticeably thin, some of them noticeably hungry. According to Ethan, who has been accompanying his father the past few weeks, some of them come to school with just a cup of rice - and absolutely nothing else – as baon. That baon should last them the whole day – morning snack, lunch and afternoon snack. Some of them get too hungry in the morning that they end up eating up that entire cup of rice leaving nothing for lunch and merienda in the afternoon.

The group cannot afford to spend enough money to light up the giant Christmas tree at the bottom of Session Road. They are not a multinational corporation with millions reserved just for “corporate social responsibility” projects. They don’t care about the PR that usually goes with projects such as this one. They don't hang up tarpaulins with their pictures and names in bold letters. They just sincerely care, and care enough to actually make a difference. Just a month or so after starting that program, most of the children have registered significant increases in their weight. Our theatre group, volunteered to cover the cost of one feeding a few days ago. A hundred from one member and fifty from another and eventually we were able to cover the cost of two big pots of sopas. Dr. Ventura provided the vitamins for the day.

The past few months, leaving and going home has been quite an effort for us living in the Naguillian Road area because of the road repairs. A good portion of the national highway is now done and I can’t help but state the obvious – hardly any difference between the road’s before and after states. A lot of people have said that the repairs were a waste of money, unnecessary. There are other roads in the city that are in much worse condition.

We have those waste recycling machines that cost over a hundred million pesos that failed to solve our garbage problem as promised.

The lights, the road repairs, the beautification projects, all that concrete, all those millions of pesos – all to beautify the City of Baguio. But really, how can a city be beautiful when you have children who are literally starving?

To those children at the Rizal Elementary School, it isn’t those gaudy lights and fake snow that make Baguio beautiful. It’s Doc Mark, as we call him, and his pots of sopas and champorado every Tuesday and Thursday.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

So what?

*my column in the Nov. 6 issue of Cordillera Today

Seven years ago, Braulio Yaranon won the Baguio mayoralty race on a platform of graft and corruption-free governance. The main issue at the time was the local government’s contract with Jadewell to manage the city’s on-street pay-parking scheme. Most people thought that the contract was anomalous and grossly disadvantageous to the government, for how else do we explain the overwhelming mandate then Mayor Yaranon received from the citizenry?

From day one, he spent most of his time and energy on his pursuit to remove Jadewell from our streets, stepping on a lot of toes and breaking some laws in the process. People said that he was forgetting that there was so much more for him to do as Mayor of Baguio other than tilting at that windmill that is the Jadewell contract. Eventually, he was suspended from office in the last year of his three-year term.

His detractors successfully trivialized his quest against pay-parking company – that first, there was really nothing anomalous with the government’s deal with the company and that his obsession with it rendered him inefficient as Mayor. But the Jadewell contract was so much more than the P20.00 they forced out of every motorist’s pocket – it represented all that is wrong with our political system, one where our elected leaders rule with impunity. For at the end of the day, no matter the noise created by the most despicable acts by our chosen leaders, more often than not, they get away with it. We even reward some of them with re-election.

PNoy is in the same boat at the moment, sort of. He’s being accused of focusing too much in prosecuting, or persecuting, depending on which side of the political fence you’re on, former PGMA, now CGMA. Marcos proposed a “Bagong Lipunan;” the current president’s mother’s administration may be remembered for the word “sequestration” in her quest to recover the previous powers-that-be’s ill-gotten wealth; Ramos led us on the road to “Pilipinas 2000;” Erap’s short-lived regime waged an “all-out war” against the MILF; and Gloria promised us – “Matatag an Republika.” And while PNoy continues to pitch his “Tuwid an Daan” idea, critics paint a portrait of him as a vengeful president, obsessed with and hell-bent on sending Gloria to jail. To this, I say, so what? Really, where did PNoy’s predecessors’ grand, comprehensive schemes bring us?

And if PNoy is indeed giving too much focus on GMA’s prosecution, then so be it. From the time of the Spanish occupation to the last one hundred years or so, our country has been raped and pillaged by the very people who were supposed to care for her and they got away with it. Heck, the Spaniards were even rewarded with 20 million dollars for three centuries of abuse. Sure, Erap was convicted, but was pardoned and could’ve even been our current president if Noynoy wasn’t persuaded by PR efforts to run in the last election.

Gloria and his cohorts are being accused of electoral sabotage – or telling you that your vote and your voice is worthless and you are absolutely powerless as a citizen of this country, and of plunder – or telling you that they have the right to help themselves to the money the government takes from your meager salary, or the extra five or six pesos for every liter of gasoline or kilo or so of rice you buy.

Let them say that President Benigno C. Aquino III has forgotten that there’s more to the presidency than making Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo pay for her sins against the country, for really, so what? This is not merely about Gloria, as much as it wasn’t all about Jadewell then - it is about the root of all that is wrong with our country.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Message sent

*my column in the Nov. 20 issue of Cordillera Today

A former president is being accused of electoral sabotage. The accusation stems from her alleged actions to ensure the then ruling party’s majority victory during the 2007 senatorial elections. Wearing a contraption allegedly meant to protect her very delicate spine and seated on a wheelchair, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was prevented by airport officials from boarding a plane out of the country based on order from Justice Secretary Leila De Lima. The Supreme Court provided extra juice to the drama with the issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order preventing, in turn, De Lima from implementing the travel ban.

From where I sat, GMA looked “kawawa naman,” a pitiful, powerless underdog who just a little over a year ago seemed totally untouchable until her term ended last June, 2010. If the “costume,” the “look,” the defeated facial expression were all a mere PR stunt, then kudos to the director – it hit right here (I am pointing a finger to where my heart is).

But De Lima seems to be hell bent on keeping her on Philippine soil – she doesn’t buy the medical alibi. I don’t too. See, first of all, she lied to the Filipino people on the past, once even right at the monument to our national hero. Why should the people believe her now? She lied and lied and lied too before admitting that, yes, it was her voice on that tape and that she did call Comelec officer Virgilio Garcillano during the election period, something that was totally immoral, if not downright illegal, and that she was “sorry.”

De Lima challenged the TRO, and a day later, the Supreme Court upheld the same. And just when the Arroyos thought they were free to flee, the Comelec and the Department of Justice finally filed a case before a Regional Trial Court, effectively rendering the TRO moot and academic for the charge against the former president was non-bailable. A warrant of arrest has been issued and served, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is now officially in the custody of the police, under hospital arrest.

Except for her lawyers, some family members, and the hordes of media representatives, there were hardly any loyal supporters who came to her rescue at the airport that evening. This should remind her that EDSA 2 was never really about her – she was merely the lucky beneficiary of the people’s loss of confidence in Joseph “Erap” Estrada. How she managed to get away with impunity during her decade-long reign remains a mystery to me. When Chavit Singson spilled the beans about the racket that is the tobacco excise tax and jueteng “payola,” an impeachment case actually made it to the senate and when it seemed obvious that Erap’s minions there were about to turn the whole thing into a moro-moro, the people brought the trial to the streets where Erap was found guilty and was forced to leave Malacanang.

But jueteng continued under the Arroyo administration. Corruption was rampant in practically all areas of government, so were forced disappearances of journalists and activists. She was caught red-handed manipulating the presidential election. Etcetera, etcetera. And yet, she remained in power. The only battle the people won against her was the one that stopped the proposed charter change that would have allowed her to continue her reign as Prime Minister. She was invincible, indomitable. She succeeded in making a mockery of the senate investigations looking into alleged irregularities that directly involved her with the infamous executive order 464 which barred government officials from testifying in congressional inquiries or investigations.

And today, there she was, looking dishevelled and defeated.

We might feel pity for Gloria, even take the side of the perceived underdog being persecuted by the powerful, vengeful Aquino government. We must not be fooled. Not again. Or these things will just keep on happening over and over again. It’s about time somebody pays for crimes against the nation.

Sure Erap was convicted, and I must insert here that he should be commended for actually facing the charges against him honourably and with dignity, but he was pardoned by the very person who now faces the prospect of incarceration and he spent his detention in a plush vacation house of his choice.

GMA’s alleged crime makes plunder seem petty – making a mockery of the electoral system is an attack on the very essence of democracy, spit in the face of every single Filipino. This is not Arroyo vs. Aquino, Gloria vs. The Government, this is Gloria Macapagal Arroyo against the people of Philippines. If we do this right, if those who perpetuated this despicable crime are punished, only then can we say that we as a people are really free and we send a message to everyone in power – from Aquino, to Vergara, to Domogan to your Barangay Kapitan – that we will not let anyone get away with impunity anymore.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

St. Louis Loves Dem Artists – Bravo!

*my column in the Nov. 6 issue of Cordillera Today

 Of course their first major production would be excerpts from musicals such as Miss Saigon and The King & I, that’s how a lot of us have been introduced to theatre, thanks to Lea Salonga , Repertory Philippines and Atlantis Productions. Nothing really wrong with that, but it’s amusing, sad even, that when newly formed theatre groups decide on what play to stage as their maiden offering, often they choose some popular Broadway production, perhaps one that has been adapted into a movie. But hey, no real complaints here, at least more and more young people are being introduced to this wonderful art form, and that makes me happy. I just hope that their love for theatre would somehow lead them to a more diverse repertoire eventually.

I’m in the back of an FX taxicab on my way to the second day of the workshop I was asked to facilitate for the resident theatre group of St. Louis College in San Fernando, La Union. Yesterday was spent discussing western theatre history, a bit of Asian theatre, and how theatre figured in the shaping of our nation’s consciousness and history. Today we shall focus on acting. This is in preparation for their aforementioned premiere production and later a competition between fellow schools run by the Congregatio Immaculati Cordis Mariae (CICM) such as St. Louis University in Baguio and St. Mary’s University in Nueva Vizcaya.

The competition will have three categories – chorale singing, dance and theatre, the three disciplines common in the schools’ respective centres for culture and the arts.

In Baguio, St. Louis’ University’s Centre for Culture and the Arts has been at the forefront of not just the school’s but the whole city’s performing arts scene. This is primarily because of the efforts of its resident theatre repertory company, Tanghalang SLU led by the highly dynamic director, Dan Rommel Riopay. SLU has created a very conducive environment for artistic excellence where talented students can further hone their talent and where both the SLU community and Baguio as a whole can experience the wonderful world of theatre. Because of the school’s support, the company can afford to come up with an annual theatre season and even periodically offer free admission to some of their performances.

This does not only develop the talents of the students who belong to the group, but because of the fact that such art forms are made accessible to their students, faculty and employees, it helps encourage critical thinking within and help the consciousness of a community. It exposes them to different ways of thinking, of perceiving world around them.

I am reminded of the time we were invited to perform a play in Daet, Camarines Norte and how I was so impressed by the support their local government provided local artists. The Provincial Government employed resident artists – painters, writers, actors, etc. They receive a monthly stipend for doing only one thing – developing their respective talents and sharing it with the whole community.

And we thought Baguio was highly urbanized city.

Such efforts – recognizing the value of artists and art in general in shaping a community's consciousness – truly deserve a standing ovation. So to the CICM, the likes of Dan Rommel Riopay and Tanghalang SLU, The Centre for Culture and the Arts at St. Louis College in San Fernando, La Union under Jeddahn Pacalso Rosario… I salute you. Bravo!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

One in seven billion

*my column in the Oct. 30 issue of Cordillera Today

Last Wednesday, October 25, 2011, together with local media representatives, we were invited to cover the La Union leg of “Coffeetalks,” an initiative of a cement manufacturer that gathered together sustainable construction advocates from various groups to discuss possible collaboration efforts. I must admit that I was prepared for another junket courtesy of a corporate entity hoping to score “pogi points” with the media. It slipped my mind that this was being done by Holcim Philippines, Inc., and that they do walk the talk.

The speakers presented both ongoing projects as well as proposals for new ones and what really caught my attention was the presentation done by Mike Guerrero of Green Architecture Advocacy Philippines. I particularly liked his anecdote about “ice-tea buildings” – boiling water to make tea and then putting lots and lots of ice to cool it down is not unlike building structures like those with glass facades that naturally act like an oven, then spending millions and millions and much artificial energy to cool them down.

Then he talked about an ongoing project he designed for a fisherman’s village in Bani, Pangasinan.

First, instead of a whole row of houses joined together at the sides, this village had duplexes – the housing units were designed in twos to allow for windows on three sides to maximize natural ventilation. I was reminded of an aunt’s home in the lowlands that had really huge windows only on one side and how hot it got specially during the summer months. This is because despite the size of the windows infront , the air did not circulate inside. This happens too when you’re in a car and you only have the driver’s window opened – just open the passenger side window even just a bit and notice how much more air flows inside the car.

The main windows of Guerrero’s design faced north, and according to him, that’s because our country is positioned above the equator and thus the sun would “never” hit those windows directly except perhaps during the summer solstice, among the rare times that the sun is at its highest point in the sky – lessening the heat inside and the need for electric fans or air-conditioners to cool the house.
Next, he discussed the design of the roofs – instead of having the usual A-frame design, the houses had roofs sloping only towards one side. This makes it easier to collect rain water. And the roofs faced south so that if and when the homeowners can afford to install solar panels in the future, the roofs’ position would provide the most exposure to the sun.

And unlike most mass housing projects where every bit of land is appropriated for the structure, Guerrero made sure that each house would have a patch of earth each to allow for expansion, or plants. He particularly recommended the plating of bamboo since his design made use of this durable, inexpensive, but often taken for granted material particularly in the houses’ interiors so that should they need to replace a beam or two, they can easily source it out right from their own backyards.

But the lesson here isn’t exactly about the aforementioned innovations, but how Guerrero arrived at such concepts - environmental consciousness. We go about our daily lives with hardly any thought at all about the earth that we all share. All that Guerrero did was be aware of his environment and how he affects it.

And while our egos tell us how big and significant we are, we tend to think the exact opposite when it comes to how our lives impact the environment. We tend to make ourselves believe that the few plastic bags that get thrown in the pile of burning leaves in our gardens, or the emissions of our vehicle, or the harmful chemicals that we carelessly let loose on the earth hardly affects the earth.

Besides, we’re just one of several billions of polluters on this planet, right? The problem is that most of those several billions either deny their contribution to climate change and the earth’s destruction or are simply totally unaware of it. We think that we’re just one of seven billion, and that’s why we find ourselves amidst more intense monsoons, heat waves, snowstorms, etc., today.

What we need is to view that same thought from a different perspective – that the one cigarette butt, or that one car that we drive, or that one plastic bag that we either burn or carelessly throw away, is but one of seven billion.

And when you do something that can help this planet, or just your own backyard,  again, remember that you are one in seven billion who can do the same.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Apple

*my column in the Oct. 23 issue of Cordillera Today

The world mourned the passing of one Steve Jobs a couple of weeks ago. Using a device just a bit bigger than a cigarette pack, I browse through the endless stream of text, photos and videos about the man who helped define the way humans live their lives in the Age of Aquarius. The contraption has a screen with a glass surface that shows high-definition images from that virtual world called the world wide web. If the image is too small, I simply, actually instinctively, “stretch” it with my thumb and forefinger. I pan up, down, left or right by swiping a finger across the screen. This I do while listening to music on earphones attached to the device - I can choose from over ten thousand songs stored in it.

My browsing was interrupted by a call from my mother-in-law on the other side of the earth. I receive her call from her bedroom in America as I sip coffee in a glass at Luisa’s along Session Road. She wanted to talk to my wife, so I told her that I would “text” her which meant sending a text message from mine to her mobile phone to go “online.” She will get that message in a split second as soon as I press the “send” button.

Those born in the last twenty to thirty years will never know what life was like before the likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates chose to skip classes and devote their time to leading a global revolution by helping bring computers to our homes. They will never know how we managed to communicate using wired telephones that actually “rang” when there’s a call.

Luckily for people like me who as a child played barefoot under the sun, we have a much deeper appreciation for the technological marvels brought about by the digital revolution led among others by one Steve Jobs. When virtual 3-dimensional moving pictures came about, while we experienced it with jaws dropped, stupefied, the younger generation merely said, “but of course.” It will take so much more to amaze them than mind-bogglingly lifelike visual re-creations projected on a screen.

Jobs, Gates, et al have benumbed this generation.

A couple of weeks later since the passing of Jobs, I am once again swiping and stretching images, watching moving pictures and listening to what’s being said about the killing of one Muammar Gaddafi. He came to power in Libya four decades ago via a coup that deposed the monarchy and was then regarded as that country’s messiah. After living a life of luxury at the expense of his people and country, two days ago he was dragged out of an underground sewer line where he hoped to evade the advancing rebel forces determined to end his regime.

They found him, dragged him out, beat him up, and here I am watching the images on a tiny screen. I saw him being dragged out bloodied and I couldn’t help but wonder what he could be going through his mind at that moment as men with guns whom he himself tried to murder earlier paraded him in the streets of Libya. Later that day, the images on the screen were of the lifeless body of one Muammar Gaddafi with a bullet hole on his forehead.

As a child, I once followed a neighbourhood throng crowd around a suspected robber shot dead by police officers just a block away from where we lived. I squeezed in between bodies to get a glimpse and when I finally caught sight of the dead body, alive just moments earlier, I ran away, terrified, throwing up along the way. The image gave me nightmares for weeks after that.

And here’s Gaddafi’s dead body, I can zoom in by simply by sliding my thumb and forefinger on the screen. I can hear the voices of the Libyan people and others around the world and I read texts celebrating the death. Earlier the world zoomed in and out of images of Osama Bin Laden’s corpse. Watched and replayed over and over again the video of Saddam Hussein being hanged.

And on another tab on their internet browser, the world watched a blindfolded man being beheaded by a terrorist with a knife. A drunk coed being gang-raped at a party. A man being beaten and hacked to death by a mob. And with hardly a flinch, we easily swipe away the images to move on the next one, perhaps one of a cat being skinned alive by a group of bored teenagers, or being killed with the heel of a shoe by an online prostitute.

I think I’ve said this before, and I say it again: I believe man did not eat that forbidden fruit in Eden – he did so here on earth not so long ago, and the apple is computers. And with that bite we now “know” more. And as we know more, we feel less and less, care less and less. As information becomes more and more available, more and more accessible, we become more and more detached from reality. After all, they’re just high-definition images on a screen. Merely virtual reality.

The apple benumbed this generation.

Friday, September 23, 2011

What were they, we, thinking?

*my column in the Sept. 25 issue of Cordillera Today

What were they thinking, those young boys, when they ganged up on their helpless classmate? After the first punch on the face, the first stab of that pen on his body, what motivated them to go on?

I have had my share of pre-preadolescent fisticuffs – an older schoolmate once engaged me in a mano-a-mano over a girl he had a crush on who happened to be our neighbour, and our walks together on our way home from school made him jealous. I was about to “win” that fist fight after landing a couple of punches squarely on his face, but then I hesitated when I saw he was hurt, and let down my guard – a mistake he took advantage of. The next thing I knew he has pinned me down on the ground and was peppering me with his fists on the face. But he too somehow stopped when perhaps he realized that judging from the number of punches he landed against those that I did, he has already won.

That was how far physical confrontations used to go in my time. And that’s why I was shocked to find graffiti in the back pages of my son’s notebook a couple of years ago depicting gang logos and their twisted slogans. I felt chills running up and down my spine as the word “kill” seem to jump out of every page. I wanted to dismiss it then as just something harmless, even when I got to listen to the lyrics of some of the music he listened to, gangsta rap, as it’s called. But when we learned that gangsters were actively recruiting members as young as 10 years old in their school, it reinforced our resolve to home school our children in the meantime.

I have heard so many different theories about the tragic event – that is was a simple bullying incident that went way too far; that it was an accident and that the students were simply engaging in horseplay; that it was actually a gang initiation rite where neophytes are required to stab someone with a pen. And this isn’t the only shocking news to hit Baguio involving children in criminal activities – aside from murder, we’ve heard of and seen cases of vandalism, theft and even rape.

Some are now clamouring for the amendment of the Republic Act 9344, or the law establishing a Juvenile Justice and Welfare System, which essentially lets those 15 years old and below get away with crime. Some want the age threshold lowered, some want it repealed totally. At the current rate congress gets things done, if they get anything done at all, how many more murders, vandalism, thefts and rapes will be committed before anything is done?

According to Psychology Today (, “A time of both disorientation and discovery, adolescence describes the teenage years between 13 and 19. With increasing rates of early-onset puberty, the preteen or "tween" years (ages 9-12) may also qualify.” It adds, “No longer children but not yet adults, adolescents struggle with issues of independence and self-identity.”

At those ages, pre-teens and adolescents go through radical changes physically and psychologically. Young girls experience the onset of menstruation, boys see their bodies grow right before their eyes, they begin to be aware of their sexuality - there’s so much energy going on inside them and that energy needs to be channelled somewhere and expressed somehow.

If mainstream society does not, if we do not provide for venues where our young can express themselves, provide for something they can identify themselves with, others will fill in that gap – that cannot be expressed more by the circumstances that surrounded the unfortunate incident at the Baguio Central School. The teacher stepped out of the classroom for a while, and in her short absence, a pupil died in the hands of his peers.

In our homes, if we don’t step in, the world wide web -, it’s that parallel universe where they can easily access pornography, depictions extreme acts of violence, etc., will. In the late 80’s and the early 90’s, we were scandalized by Carmi Martin and Alma Moreno dancing scantily clad on TV – that’s nothing compared to what they can easily access these days with a click of the mouse. Just a little over a decade ago, we cringed at the thought of the crime Leo Echegaray committed against his own daughter, and later by his execution by the state – that’s nothing compared to the videos of people being beheaded by extremists, young girls and women being violated and other despicable and gut-wrenching acts they can watch freely on the internet. Before, parents were shocked by the naughty insinuations of the ditties sang by Tito, Vic and Joey and their like – have you heard No Vaseline by Ice Cube, or Dr. Dre’s B*tches Aint Sh*t, and all those other songs they play for the public on radio?

What were once unspeakable, despicable, are now common occurrences we take for granted.

And every time a basketball court where the youth can play and develop themselves physically and learn the concept of cooperation and teamwork is turned into a venue to accommodate illegal vendors; every time a public park where they can run and play and smell the flowers is left neglected; every single cent we take away from our education budget that results in shortage of classrooms and teachers to finance suspicious public works projects; every time we turn our attention away from our children even for just a moment, we ourselves are making it possible for a 10-year old to die in a classroom in a senseless act of violence.

Think about it.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

This is why

Tonight, at 6:00PM at the Bulwagang Juan Luna of U.P. Baguio there will be no grand sets, no amazing lighting equipment, no state-of-the-art sound system.

I write this at past midnight, the early hours of Saturday, the day of the premiere of our latest production. Minutes ago, I was talking to my mother and her best friend on the other side of the world – they are both theatre artists too. They asked me about this play we’re opening later today, my mother talked about this play she’s currently working on, and her best friend talked about the last play she did. We talked about our struggles to get our stories on stage.

“Why are we doing this?” don’t we always end up asking ourselves this question? My mother’s best friend asked.

I have been giving myself the same answer for the past couple of decades or so, and yet I do find myself still asking the same question after each curtain call. There’s no money in this, but I just can’t help myself – I always find myself getting ready to tell the next story.

There’s something messianic about being a theatre artist, I cannot deny that. When I was much younger I believed that I was here to help provide an alternative to the inanities being fed to us by popular media. In recent years, I thought that there simply are stories out there that need to be told. Some might scoff at the idea that if I am able to make one man out of all the people in the auditorium start seeing things from a different perspective, open up his mind to new possibilities, provoke him to think, to act, make him cry, or laugh out loud, I would have been successful. Well, I don’t - I myself truly believe in that idea.

I won’t be getting much sleep tonight – the day starts at dawn tomorrow. After weeks of late night rehearsals, we start the day by hauling everything we need to tell this story to the performance space. We don’t have much time - we have to have everything set up by noon for we just couldn’t afford paying for just a little extra time to get ready to tell our story. Then my fellow storytellers will start arriving, start putting on their costumes, they will then get a feel of the three-dimensional space for the first time. They have to get their act ready before sunset, our audience will start arriving by then.

A bare stage, only the actors themselves will up that space, and we’ll do our best to light up that space. I hope our sound equipment will be enough to reach every single person in the theatre.

Tonight, I have nothing much to offer but a good story that I tried with all my heart to tell the best possible way I can. And if you happen to be one of those hiding in the darkness of the theatre when we tell our story, I hope you found it worth your while to listen.

And that is why.

Friday, September 9, 2011

From where we stand (Show us the elephant)

*my column in the Sept. 11 issue of Cordillera Today

Someone once asked me, after doing a couple of plays here in Baguio a couple of years since I moved here, why I haven’t done a play that touches on Igorot culture. I told her I cannot possibly tell that story truthfully then just yet. It’s been 15 years since, and I still won’t dare tell that story, not yet. I don’t know enough about it to tell stories about it.

But, I have told the stories of Jose Rizal, Antonio Luna, one Fernando Bautista, Jesus Christ, an orphan named Timoune, a beggar called Serapio, a place once known as Kafagway and its transformation from being a natural paradise to a concrete and GI sheet jungle, among others. I told these stories for I believed I could, and in most cases, I should.

The same way I felt that I should tell the story I knew of about the wall that ruptured unleashing a torrent of garbage that claimed people’s lives and homes.

We are being told different stories about the tragedy, and there may be some truth to all of those stories. Just like those men who ventured to observe an elephant – the men were all blind and as the Indian legend goes, the one who bumped against the animal’s broad body believed that an elephant is like a wall; while the second man who touched its tusk was convinced that en elephant is shaped like a spear; “it’s like a snake,” cried the third who was clutching its trunk; while the fourth who hugged the animal’s leg knew for sure that an elephant is just like a tree; the fifth blind man who happened to touch its ear assumed it be just like a fan and the sixth thought it was like a rope as he tugged on its tail.

None of the blind men lied, you see, but none of them knew the whole truth.

I acknowledge that perhaps I was like one of those men, knowing only a part of a whole. But really, has anyone come forward to tell the whole truth and nothing but the WHOLE truth about the Irisan dumpsite tragedy? Because that’s what we want, what the people of Baguio deserve and nothing less. So go ahead, tell me I’m only describing just part of the elephant.

I was invited to visit the dumpsite recently, for “you don’t know what you’re talking about,” I was told. But is seeing the dumpsite the same as seeing the whole elephant? Or is Irisan just the tail, perhaps the tusk, of a much bigger animal?

But what I talked about, I do know of. If that’s not enough, then please tell us the rest of the story. Correct me if I’m wrong in saying that the tragedy was the result of a rotten political system, a system that allows powers-that-be to get away with murder. I have said that not much was done from the time we were bound by law in 2001 to do away with the Irisan dumpsite by the year 2006 – is that not true? That the Irisan dumpsite was finally closed only in 2009, which forced the city to pay dearly to haul its refuse to faraway Tarlac – is that not true? That seeing the tons and tons of garbage that rampaged from the dumpsite all the way down to Asin Road somehow tells us, since the city has managed to stop hauling its garbage to Tarlac, where our garbage was being dumped – is that not true too?

If so, then tell us what is, but don’t shut us up just because our truth is not the same truth you want us to believe.

What we say about it, what we know about it, is simply what we see from where we stand.  

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mina showed us

No, they can’t pull out the “politicking” card and cry foul when it comes to the Irisan tragedy. That’s how they got elected themselves, by politicizing the issue during the campaign.

But really, what led to the “garbage slide” that claimed lives and property at the height of Typhoon Mina last week?

In January, 2001, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 was enacted into law which mandated the “State to adopt a systematic, comprehensive and ecological solid waste management program…” The 44-page document signed by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo also directed local government units, in our case the City Government of Baguio, to come up with a plan that “shall include an implementation schedule which shows that within five (5) years after the effectivity of this Act; the LGU shall divert at least 25% of all solid waste from waste disposal facilities through re-use, recycling, and composting activities and other resource recovery activities…”

Five years. So between 2001 and 2006, what was done to implement that law?

Since the majority of finger pointers point their fingers at the executive when it comes to this particular issue, the men holding the reins of the local government then were as follows:

The Hon. Bernardo M. Vergara – Baguioi’s mayor from the year the law was enacted to the year that the Irisian open dumpsite should have been converted into a controlled dumpsite for Section 37 of the law, headlined “Prohibition Against the Use of Open Dumps for Solid Waste” states that “No open dumps shall be established and operated, nor any practice or disposal of solid waste by any person, including LGUs, which constitutes the use of open dumps for solid waste, be allowed after the effectivity of this Act: Provided, That within three (3) years after the effectivity of this Act, every LGU shall convert its open dumps into controlled dumps…” the sections ends with, “no controlled dumps shall be allowed five (5) years following effectivity of this Act.”

The Hon. Braulio Yaranon – our mayor until he was suspended in 2006, or the year that the Irisan dumpsite should have been totally closed, and that a Sanitary Landfill should have already been established in its place.

The Hon. Peter Rey Bautista – the chief executive when the whole thing blew up in our faces and right under our noses in 2008, or two years since the deadline set by the law.

That year, Baguio was in the headlines because of the mounting uncollected garbage in its streets – uncollected because we had nowhere to dump our trash because the Irisan dumpsite was finally closed. Why did Bautista close it? Because it would by then already illegal to operate an open dumpsite, which is what the Irisan dumpsite was. At that time, at the height of the crisis, then Mayor Bautista, instead of sweeping things under the rug and making excuses like any old trapo would, bit the bullet and apologized to the people and said that “he alone was responsible for it and was willing to go to jail for the actions he took to solve it” (Vincent Cabreza, Philippine Daily Inquirer 08/07/2008).

With the Irisan dumpsite closed and with no other option but to bring our garbage somewhere else, Bautista had the city’s waste hauled to faraway Tarlac, the nearest garbage facility willing to accept our garbage. It cost a lot of money, obviously, but considering the risks to life and property posed by the continued operation of the Irisan dumpsite then, add to that the health risks brought about by uncollected garbage left rotting in our streets, what other real choice did the city have then?

The dumpsite's operation was limited then to being a staging area before hauling the garbage to Tarlac - effectively turning it into a controlled dumpsite, something that was supposed to have been done three years since the law was enacted, or back in 2004.

The City Government then began focusing its attention on finding a suitable site for a Sanitary Landfill, but that proved to be not a walk in the park despite the availabliity of funds for its acquisition and construction. The law specified that a Sanitary Landfill must satisfy the following criteria:

(a) The site selected must be consistent with the overall land use plan of the LGU;
(b) The site must be accessible from major roadways or thoroughfares;
(c) The site should have an adequate quantity of earth cover material that is easily handled and compacted;
(d) The site must be chosen with regard for the sensitivities of the community's residents;
(e) The site must be located in an area where the landfill's operation will not detrimentally affect environmentally sensitive resources such as aquifer, groundwater reservoir or watershed area;
(f) The site should be large enough to accommodate the community's wastes for a period of five (5) years during which people must internalize the value of environmentally sound and sustainable solid waste disposal;
(g) The site chosen should facilitate developing a landfill that will satisfy budgetary constraints, including site development, operation for many years, closure, post-closure care and possible remediation costs;
(h) Operating plans must include provisions for coordinating with recycling and resource recovery projects; and
(i) Designation of a separate containment area for household hazardous wastes.

The highlighted part above proved to be one of the several major hurdles in the establishment of a Sanitary Landfill. While there were suitable sites that were found to have passed most of the criteria, mostly in neighboring municipalities, residents objected to their town being the recipient of Baguio's garbage.

By the time elections came last year, this was where we stood:

1. Irisan dumpsite closed.
2. We didn't have a proper gabage disposal facility as prescribed by the law.
3. We continued to produce garbage.
4. The nearest facility willing to accept our garbage was in Capas, Tarlac.

To lessen what needed to be hauled to Tarlac, the City Government asked, nay begged, residents to segregate their garbage. When this didn't work, a no-segregation, no-collection policy was enforced. It still didnt' work, to a lot of people, segregating their garbage was such a big hassle, required too much extra effort. So instead of exerting extra efforts to segregate their trash, they started finding ways to dispose of these by dumping these in collection areas when barangay officials aren't looking, burning them (including plastics and other toxic materials) in their backyards, etc. The mountains of uncollected, unsegregated garbage continued to pile up.

In 2009, the year before the elections, politicians capitalized on the garbage issue to perpetuate their respective candidacies. Every one of them had a “permanent solution” to the crisis. In a report by Artemio Dumlao for the The Philippine Star (November 08, 2009), he quoted then Congressman and now Mayor Domogan as saying that “(there) seems no action to implement the permanent solution,” apparently referring to Bautista’s administration.

Photo of Irisan Dumpsite before (at left) and after Bautista closed it and began its rehabilitation in 2010 (at right).

He won the mayoral seat last year, together with The Hon. Bernardo M. Vergara who won as congressman and who promised to spend much of his pork barrel on solving the city’s garbage woes.

Then just three months ago, in May of this year, according to a report, Mayor Domogan announced that the city’s garbage problem has been solved (“Mayor solves Baguio garbage woes” by Dexter See, May 16, 2011 The government has purchased Environmental Recycling System (ERS) machines which should take care of the city’s biodegradable waste, and the rest of our garbage (residual, non-biodegradable waste) will be taken care of by the suppliers of those machines, Protech Machinery Corporation.

Which makes one wonder – if the ERS machines only took care of biodegradable waste, where were they taking the rest of the city’s garbage?

Last August 27, 2011, Typhoon Mina showed us where. See, Typhoon Mina did not just trigger a tragic catastrophe that claimed lives and property, it uncovered a rotten political system, a system that kills.

During last year’s elections, flyers were anonymously printed and distributed ridiculing then Mayor Bautista which had an illustration of a mountain of rotting garbage with the caption, “Basura, basura, matutumba!” How ironic.

But at the end of the day, forget about politics, the ball is in our, the citizens’, hands. The city government has provided for the handling of our bio-degradable waste. That’s good. Now as for the rest of our garbage - reduce, reuse, recycle. A lot of the trash that made it to Irisan dumpsite, and unfortunately down towards Asin Road, can instead be recycled, if only we would exert a little extra effort – and SEGREGATE!

We can point fingers all we want, rant on Facebook all we want, but really, what have we done to help solve the problem?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

See-Top Baguio

*my column in the August 28, 2011 issue of Cordillera Today

Ang buwan ng Agosto ay buwan ng wika, dahil diyan susubukin kong isulat ang sanaysay na ito sa ating kinikilalang pambansang wika – Filipino, nang hindi masyadong umaasa sa diksyunaryo o, paumanhin po, sa... GOOGLE TRANSLATE. At sa bawat tatlong tuldok na magkakasunod na makikita niyo, hindi ito paggamit ng ...ELLIPSIS... kundi katumbas ng pagtigil sandali upang isipin kung ano ang susunod na sasabihin. At ang mga salita naman sa malalaking titik ay mga salitang wala talaga akong ma-isip na katumbas sa Tagalog. At nawa’y hindi masyadong guluhin ng MICROSOFT WORD AUTO-CORRECT FEATURE ang sanaysay na ‘to.

Tagalog ang unang wikang natutunan ko, lumaki ako sa... PROJECT 6... dun sa may bahagi ng... ROAD 7... na kung tawagin ng mga galing sa ibang parte ng aming baranggay ay... SQUATTERS’ AREA. Kabilang ako sa henerasyon ng mga Pilipinong naaalibadbaran kapag nakakarinig ng mga kapwa Pilipinong nag-uusap sa wikang Ingles, puro man o ‘yung tinatawag nating TAGLISH, o pinag-halong Tagalog at Ingles. Napapangiwi din ako ‘pag nakakrinig ng “LET’S EAT na lang AT THE turo-turo,” o di kaya’y “HERE BABY, mag-EAT ka na, tapos mag-TAKE A BATH KA, OK?” Dahil sa Maynila noon, ang pananaw ng mga tao ay ‘pag nag-i-Ingles ka, siguro edukado ka, o ‘di kaya’y mayaman –sosyal, o pa-sosyal.

‘Yun ay hanggang mapadpad ako sa mundo ng teatro, kung saan kadalasan ay Ingles ang usapan ng mga tao. Kahit nasa wikang Tagalog ang dula, maririnig mo ang direktor na magsasabing “sa linyang ‘yan YOU CROSS TO DOWN STAGE RIGHT, PAUSE FOR FIVE BEATS, THEN SIT.” Bilang artista at... STAGE MANAGER... noon sa Tanghalang Pilipino ng Sentrong Pangkultura ng Pilipinas, takot akong makipagsabayan sa balitaktakan sa Ingles dahil nga baka maubusan ako ng salita. Pero pagkaraan ng ilang taon sa Teatro, at maiksing panahon sa industriya ng... ADVERTISING... (pananalastas? Pwede.), ay unti-unti rin akong natutong mangusap sa Ingles.

Hanggang makilala ko ang aking kabiyak na tubong Baguio kung saan bihasa sa wikang Ingles ang mga tao. Dahil siguro dati itong isang HILL STATION na bakasyunan ng mga Amerikanong sundalo at mga opsiyal ng gobyerno nung unang bahagi ng 20TH CENTURY. Noon, dito sa Baguio, kung hindi Ilokano, Ingles ang salita ng mga tao. Kabaligtaran ng sa Maynila – sa Baguio noon, ‘pag nag-Tagalog ka, pa-sosyal ka. Natuto akong bumili ng SOY imbis na toyo. At kung minsan, maski Ingles na yung salita, ini-Ingles pang lalo, tulad ng sigarilyong CAMEL, na kung bigkasin ng karamihang sa mga tindera ay key-mel.

Ngayon, lumaki ang mga anak ko na ang unang lengwahe ay Ingles, dahil yun ang kulturang inabutan nila sa lugar na kinalakihan nila. Kung dati’y hiyang-hiya akong mag-Ingles dahil hindi ako masyadong bihasa dito, sila nama’y nahihiyang mag-Tagalog. Ito ang kanilang binubuno ngayon – ang matutong mag-Tagalog.

At kapag natuto na sila, hindi na nga ba sila maaaring ituring na higit pa ang amoy sa malansang isda, tulad ng sinabi ni Jose Rizal ukol sa mga taong hindi marunong magmahal sa sariling wika?

Pero teka, paano nga naman natin mas maisasapuso ang wikang Filipino e mula sa paglabas mo ng GATE, hanggang sa pagsakay sa JEEP, ang lahat ay tila nangungusap sa’yo sa wikang Ingles – “FARE: 8.50 REGULAR, 7.50 FOR STUDENTS AND SENIOR CITIZENS,” “NO I.D. NO DISCOUNT,” GOD KNOWS JUDAS NOT PAY.” Sa lansangan naman, “NO PARKING,” “LOADING/UNLOADING ONLY,” “APARTMENT FOR RENT/TRANSIENTS,” at sa PARKING LOT ng SM CITY BAGUIO: “GOVERNMENT VEHICLE, FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY.” Saan tayo mamamasyal, sa BURNHAM PARK, ATHLETIC BOWL o sa BOTANICAL GARDENS?
Ilan nga ba sa atin ngayon ang tunay na marunong, o kahit na komportable man lang na mag-Filipino?

NATIONAL LANGUAGE o Pambansang Wika natin ang Filipino, e bakit hindi natin ginagamit? Alam ng kahit sinong tagpag-turo ng mga wika na ang pinaka-mainam na paraan upang maging bihasa sa isang lengwahe, at itaguyod at pagyamanin ito, ay ang paggamit nito – hindi lang isang buwan sa isang taon.

Handa nga ba tayong pumunta sa Daang Session o Abenida o Kahabaan ng Magsaysay, o kumuha ng cedula sa Bulwagang Panlunsod, tumakbong mabagal paikot sa Mangkok na Pampalakasan?

Oo nga pala, SEE-TOP BAGUIO? ‘Yan ang tawag ng ating mga HONORABLES sa Siyudad ng Baguio.

Friday, August 19, 2011

This I can do

*my column in the August 21, 2011 issue of Cordillera Today

I received a message from an online acquaintance on last week – some guy was looking for a documentary filmmaker for a project. I sent that guy a message online and I got a reply. Later that evening, I received a call from one Illiac Diaz.

Diaz was, not sure if he still is, an actor turned... and this I got from “Googling’ him – social entrepreneur, environmental hero, designer, inventor, etc., etc. I knew him first as that guy who designed those odd- looking dome-shaped tsunami-proof houses made out of recycled materials. I thought then, well, that’s cool. He’s being talked about lately for his latest brilliant brainstorm – using plastic bottles to make “solar light bulbs” that can brighten up a room with light equivalent to that emitted by a conventional 55-watt light bulb.

So last week, I was on the phone with him to talk about that particular latest project. But what made a bigger impression on me was the idea behind the idea. We have been reading a lot about how we can all do our share in protecting the environment and live an eco-friendly, sustainable lifestyle. We have been told that we can convert gasoline-fuelled cars to LPG, to lessen harmful emissions in the air. Or, for the more financially-able, there are hybrid cars now that can switch from gasoline to electric power with the push of a button. We know about those fluorescent light bulbs that while four to five times more pricy than regular incandescent bulbs, consume much less electricity and last longer. How many of you out there are using solar panels to heat water? Or closer to home, have you bought yourself one of those trendy, eco-friendly shopping bags from the shopping giant up the hill to lessen the use of plastic bags?

But see, most of us don’t even have cars to convert to be more eco-friendly to begin with. Maybe in the long run we can save some money from using fluorescent light bulbs, but right now, today, we can only afford that P30.00 incandescent bulb, and not that P200.00 eco-friendly one. Most solar panels I looked up can cost you around P140.00 per watt. That means having solar panels that would run a 300-watt refrigerator would cost you... you do the math. The point is, most eco-friendly efforts out there are just unrealistic for most of us. There are things we mere mortals can do. Sure, reducing, reusing, recycling non-environment-friendly materials is doable for most of us. Segregating our garbage, assuming that the city we live in has a proper waste management system, can go a long way in protecting the environment. But what can the majority of Filipinos do to help protect the environment?

That’s where Illiac Diaz is coming from – he brings the concept of sustainability closer to the masses. And his ideas and efforts can realistically have a positive impact on the environment simply because most of us can actually do it, and not just a few privileged households in exclusive subdivisions. 

I was asked recently by a corporate giant to put together a website to trumpet their so-called environmental efforts. The project was simple – they will give me literature about and images of their sustainability efforts and I will publish them on the world wide web. It has been months since and the website is not up yet because I have yet to receive materials relevant enough to be considered real efforts. Sure they have a sewage treatment plant – as if letting toxic liquid waste seep into the ground is acceptable, and having such a plant is a great effort on their part. Sure they use energy-efficient light bulbs, bit is it really to help save Mother Earth or to pay less money for electricity? Sure they turn off some lights during the annual Earth Hour, during which they hold a concert to pat themselves on the back for the effort, knowing fully-well that the ensuing concert consumes a lot of electricity to power those stage lights and sound system.

Too bad our group could not afford to go on a week-long caravan with Illiac Diaz to promote his plastic bottle light bulb idea to do a video documentary on it. I had to take a rain check, a reality check really, since there was no budget for the documentation and our group just couldn’t afford to do it pro bono at the moment,  to skip work for a week at the moment, for skipping work for a week for us means skipping eating for a week. It’s one of those realities that, no matter how much we believe in the idea, how much we love the environment and how much we want to participate in protecting it, we could not ignore right now.

So I thought I would at least write about it, so you’d know about it. That I can do. Now, what else...     

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Virgo rising

I can only speak of his story from the time he joined to tell the story of Timoune in the play, Once on this Island in 2006. I did not know him or of him before that. He was coming in with a clean slate and with nothing else but sheer talent and passion for his craft - any theatre director’s delight.

One of the two roles he played in that musical was Agwe, the God of Water, who early in the play takes center stage with a song that sets Timoune on a journey. A veteran of choirs and singing competitions, he was a theatre novice at the time, yet he performed the role with such aplomb, such conviction that one might think that he has been on stage all his life. He is a joy to be with during rehearsals, engaging the staff and fellow performers in playful banter and would occasionally fill up the room with his booming, baritone laughter. But once onstage, he totally shuts out everything else and devotes his whole being to telling the story. Always eager to take in anything that would make him a better artist, he listens to directions attentively and accepts criticisms graciously.

While he is aware that God has gifted him with a wonderful singing voice, he knows that there is always room for improvement, and he works hard to further develop that gift. And he generously and readily shares that gift with anyone who wants it. He would always be seen giving advice to his fellow performers, imparting all that he has learned in years of vocal training, both formal and informal.

He never settles for mediocrity, and for him, and this is one of the reasons I love working with him, there’s no such thing as a minor production, or a small gig. He treats every single performance as a performance of a lifetime. Whether it’s at the ballroom of the Baguio Country Club, or a cafeteria along Session Road, or on a makeshift stage out in the open in some park. And he expects nothing less from the people he works with – he would encourage, push, and motivate everyone around him to always strive for excellence, whether it’s a major production where he’s getting paid a decent professional fee or a pro bono performance, where the only compensation he will get is the audience’s applause.

Since joining Open Space five years ago, he has been seen as Pilate in the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Judah in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and as one of the storytellers in “Kafagway: Sa Saliw ng mga Gangsa.” Earlier this year, we did a series of performances at the Art Park of Camp John Hay, which showcased his versatility as a vocalist: one night he would be heard singing classical arias, pop hits in another, and Broadway favourites the next. And it almost never fails - someone would come up to him after each performance, ask about him, where else he performs, if he has a recording. One Russian tourist, in town for a few weeks, perhaps missed visiting much of what Baguio had to offer for after hearing him sing one night, she made it a point to be there every single time this artist went on stage. A senator was driving by the Art Park one afternoon while he was onstage singing, and the senator stopped, got out of her car, and just stood there, with eyes closed listening to his wonderful voice. Weeks later, the senator requested a command performance, an encore just for her and her friends.

One might come to the conclusion, with all of the above, that he may currently be a big name in the industry. That perhaps fans crowd around him wherever he goes. But no. Not yet anyway. In one singing competition here in Baguio, the judges didn’t even think his voice merited a spot in the finals, when perhaps the real reason was that this guy was just too good to be true for them, too good to be in a competition set in the middle of a tiangge in the park. Or maybe it’s because while there right in front of them was world-class talent, a voice that reaches deep inside of you and stirs up emotions you didn’t even know you were capable of feeling, what they were looking for was just another pretty face.

Yet unheralded he may be, but not for long, for Virgo is rising. Lloyd Virgo, baritone, that is. With his recent performance in the qualifiers for Pilipinas Got Talent, where he left the judges in awe with an inspired rendition of “Nessun Dorma,” Lloyd Virgo may finally get the recognition he deserves and reach a much wider audience hungry for real, pure talent.

Lloyd Virgo is rising, and it’s a very good sign, for this Baguio-based talent deserves it. And we are very lucky to have him in our midst. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The games we play

*my column in the July 31, 2011 issue of Cordillera Today

Maybe it’s because the travesty has gone on for a very long time that we long for the revolution to be magically instantaneous. Like the way the first rain of May immediately wipes away all memories of summer
For more than three centuries we were enslaved by the Spanish colonizers, but just barely a year into Andres Bonifacio’s reign as Supremo of the Katipunan, the Magdalo faction led by Aguinaldo felt that it was already time for a change in government. Corazon Aquino became president of our country after more than a decade of martial law, and the following year, a series of attempts to overthrow her government were launched.

After a decade of rigged elections, unabated unjust killings and disappearances, “un-moderated” greed in government and other dishonourable and despicable acts committed by the very people to whom we entrusted our lives, Noynoy’s pitch, “Daang Matuwid,” struck a chord, and we, the people, decided it’s time we corrected the mistakes of the past decade, and elected him to lead us. And now a lot of us have given President Benigno Aquino III a failing grade. No less than Archbishop Oscar Cruz revealed early this year that there are moves to replace Aquino, then just a little over six months into his 6-year term, because of incompetence. Aquino was elected with the highest percentage of votes in the country’s post-EDSA history, yet the impression that we get today, a year after he took his oath of office, is that there is a clamor for change yet again.

Aquino, a failure? It’s way too early to make that judgement, I believe. I personally did not vote for him, but despite the obvious lapses of his regime, I am prepared to be pragmatic, and recognize that 12 months are not enough to make a 360-turn from the direction Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took this country down to from 2001 until June 30, 2010.

In the same way that while I did not personally vote for the current local leadership in Baguio, and though I have misgivings about some of their self-serving pronouncements that give the impression that a year into their terms and they’re still campaigning, and the direction our local executive and representative seem to be taking the city down to, it is too early to make a judgement. Maybe they’re right. I sure am hoping they’re right. And that soon, the city will be able to breathe, live a good life again, because “we stopped hauling garbage to Capas, Tarlac,” because of the “rehabilitation” of the Rose Garden, because of all the construction going on in the city, because they questioned the legality of the citizen’s initiative that is Panagbenga Park, etc.

In 2004, after a decade of musical chairs up in City Hall and the sudden transformation of Baguio from being a city in harmony with its natural environment to being a poster child for unsustainable development and the site of a hideous concrete tree, we said, “tama na, sobra na, palitan na,” and replaced the local leadership. Yet, a year later, we did nothing as sour-graping politicians and suspicious capitalists silenced our voices and removed our chosen one. Again in 2007, we let our voices be heard as we declared that we are never going back to traditional politics. But when we finally felt the effects of more than a decade of misdirected efforts – including sitting on the Solid Waste Management Act that resulted in a garbage crisis, we wanted all the problems solved in a mere three years. Never mind that we were already headed towards solutions, never mind that most of did not do our share to solve the crisis, we wanted the problem solved for us, immediately. And when the solution didn’t come fast enough, we decided to play Trip to Jerusalem again.

The first half of the game’s not even done yet, too early to tell if a substitution is absolutely necessary. Don’t leave the arena just yet, or better yet, keep on playing the game – remember, we chose the game and who we wanted to play with. Don’t judge P-Noy just yet, and Mayor Mauricio Domogan and Congressman Bernie Vergara too. But keep watching, keep playing. At the end of the day, we must remember that after all, we’re in the same team. Sometimes the captain’s replacement is unnecessary, sometimes we, the other players, just need to step up and play better. Just like the Azkals - when de facto top guys Caligdong and  Younghusband could not deliver, we saw how Schrock stepped up to lift us all up. Of course the Azkals lost in the end in this match, that only tells us that it can’t happen overnight, but their gallant effort gave us hope that one day, we’ll get where we want to be.  

We keep going for instant gratification, and look at us, still in a losing game. But that’s no reason to quit –keep playing, keep cheering, voicing out suggestions from the sidelines too. It’s way too early to give either a failing or a passing grade. Stay in the game – then after the cheerleaders finish entertaining us with their routine during breaks and at half time, then we can decide whether to go ahead with the current game plan, or change tactics, or players.