LEADERSHIP CHANGES AND UNCERTAINTY IN 2010

Politics

LEADERSHIP CHANGES AND UNCERTAINTY IN 2010

No Comments 24 January 2010

By Isagani de Castro Jr.    

The Philippines will see changes in political leadership in 2010, with an opposition president and vice-president likely to take over by noon of June 30, 2010. However, the political transition is paved with a lot of uncertainty brought about by an untested poll automation technology and most voters still unfamiliar with the process. READ FULL STORY.

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BRILLANTE SPARKLES IN FOREIGN FILMFESTS

Entertainment

BRILLANTE SPARKLES IN FOREIGN FILMFESTS

No Comments 24 January 2010

By Pepper Marcelo

Almost from nowhere, Brillante Mendoza has risen to become one of the most prominent figures in the Filipino film industry. 

With only 10 films under his belt, he has garnered prizes and citations from all over the world, capped by the selection of his latest film, Lola, as the Best Film in the 6th Dubai International Film Festival from Dec. 9-16.

Lola bested over 513 entries in the Muhr Asia-Africa feature film section, winning US$50,000 (or P2.3 million) for Mendoza. The festival describes the independent film, which focuses on poverty, as a “simple tale, yet loaded with emotion and profound moral dilemmas.” Lola, which top-bills veteran actresses Anita Linda and Rustica Carpio, was also the country’s “surprise” entry in the Venice International Film Festival last September.

The Dubai prize is Mendoza’s third major honor in 2009 — after winning Best Director awards in the Cannes Film Festival (France) last May and in Sitges Film Festival (Spain) last October for his film Kinatay.

As is usually the case with other Filipino trailblazers who have made their marks on the world stage, it is sad to note that Mendoza’s achievements and stature are relatively unknown and underappreciated in his own country. This is partly explained by the fact that the local independent film industry, or indie, as it is popularly known, is a minor blip in the Philippine movie sector.

Be warned

Those curious or interested to watch any of Mendoza’s of movies may be in for a rough surprise. First, his films are not usually exhibited at the nearby mall or multiplex (though he has become a virtual mainstay in the international films and arts festival circuit). And though critics and fans have admired his serious, provocative films as being “thought-provoking” or “challenging,” there are some detractors that have labeled his films, such as Kinatay, Serbis and Foster Child, as “unwatchable.”

But the 49-year-old director relishes the fact that his films are so passionately debated. In an interview with Planet Philippines, he says his goal is to challenge audiences and present them with the brutal, oftentimes explicit truths, about his homeland. This, he adds, may not go over well with audiences raised on Hollywood blockbusters or on homegrown star-driven melodramas.

“First and foremost, when I’m doing a film, it has to be a truthful story,” says Mendiza. “If it’s based in the Philippines and it’s a true story, you can’t remove that – the culture, the people – whether it’s good or bad. Mga fantasy, hindi totoo yan. Wala na sa realidad. You will forever live in the delusion that it is a perfect world, and it’s not.”

Originally from Pampanga, Mendoza started in film in the late 1980s as a production designer, creating sets and backgrounds for mainstream film directors such as Chito Roño, Peque Gallaga, and Celso Ad. Castillo.       With his efficiency and unique ability to do so much with very little resources, he rapidly became one of the most sought-after set designers in the country. In the 1990s, after approximately a dozen movies under his belt, he shifted to television commercials and advertising, doing work for multinational companies such as Proctor and Gamble and Unilever.

First directorial job

In 2005, he got his biggest break when he was offered to direct the film Masahista (The Masseur). Despite the limitations imposed by a low budget, he found immense satisfaction in direct-to-video filmmaking.  

“I had an awakening, a realization,” he says. “I thought at the time I was making good money from advertising, and that was it. That was my life. I didn’t realize there was this other level of fulfillment. Eventually, I left advertising.”

Both he and the producers had modest goals for Masahista, namely, acceptance into one or more foreign film festivals. Eventually, it was accepted and exhibited in the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland.

His experience in leaving the country for the first time and interacting with Europeans was an eye-opener, which further emboldened him. “During the Q and A after the film screening, one member of the audience commented, ‘I’m not really aware of your cinema, and I’m not exposed to the Philippines, but when I saw your film, I saw your people, your culture and your country.’ I was surprised she saw all that in the The Masseur!”

Other works followed in quick succession: Tirador (Slingshot), which focused on criminal life among a group of inner city youths; Foster Child, which told the story of a poor woman taking care of abandoned children; Serbis, which is about an adult movie theater and the dysfunctional family that runs it. These works have been exhibited and recognized in film festivals all over the world, making Mendoza one of the most celebrated filmmakers the country has produced since the late Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal in the seventies and eighties.  

Making up for lost time

His directorial career started relatively late; he was 45 when he made Masahista. But film buffs were pleasantly amazed at the speed in which he was churning out film after film – from two to three per year – prompting a writer in the New York Times to comment that he was “making up for lost time.”

Mendoza says that he is not in a rush, he works almost non-stop simply because he finds complete happiness and satisfaction when doing a film. “I don’t see filmmaking as work. It’s a life. It’s something I enjoy doing everyday.”

He credits his experiences both in his career and personal life in setting the stage for his success. “Kaya pala hindi ako nakagawa ng pelikula nang mas maaga. I was building experience. I couldn’t have achieved the depth for Masahista if I made it in my 20’s.”

His successive works have always found a place for exhibition and competition in various film festivals all over the world. While Foster Child was accepted in the Cannes Film Festival for exhibition, and his follow-up film, Serbis, actually competed, it was Kinatay that firmly placed Mendoza on the word map.

“To have three successive films in Cannes is such an achievement for me,” he beams proudly.

Kinatay (Slaughter) tells, almost in real-time, of the brutal rape and murder of a prostitute as witnessed by a law student. While many critics raved about Mendoza’s vision, some came out with negative critiques of his uncompromising treatment of the grisly subject matter. Noted American critic Roger Ebert infamously called Kinatay “the worst film” he’s ever seen in all his years attending the festival.

Mendoza admits that he was initially affected by the negative criticisms, but the overall satisfaction is simply overwhelming.

“I never realized I’d go this far,” he says. “Not in my wildest dreams. Feeling ko, filmmaker na ako. Sarap ng feeling. . . I read the reviews, but I don’t have to agree with them. Maganda, pinaguusapan. My films don’t get unanimous positive reviews. Whether people say one thing or another, nagkakaroon ng discussion, and that’s what films are all about. It’s healthy.”

Mendoza wants to put all the acclaim and recognition aside and focus on making more films. “There’s so many stories I’m developing.”

Though he understands that audiences may not appreciate or even like his work, he says there is no denying that he is bringing necessary truths to light. “I want them to think and be emotionally involved in the film. I don’t want to entertain; we have enough entertainment. Especially here, with commercial and Hollywood films. I’m just trying to show an alternative cinema that you can watch once in a while and experience.”

He offers no apologies for his style, concept and focus. “I’m a filmmaker from a Third World country. I can’t present something that’s like Hollywood. I’ll show you something like this; it’s more realistic and heavy, and it’s all that I have. Ito lang ang kaya ko ipakita.”

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A COUNTRY OF IMMENSE AND LARGELY UNSEEN FAILURES

Politics

A COUNTRY OF IMMENSE AND LARGELY UNSEEN FAILURES

No Comments 24 January 2010

By Juan T. Gatbonton

The Jesuit educator, Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, describes government’s neglect of elementary education as “our immense and largely invisible failure.” The fact is that education is not the only basic chore we’ve forgotten to look after. We are a country of immense and largely invisible failures: Our nation is like the proverbial frog inside the kettle on the stove—swimming blithely in water that is coming to a boil. READ FULL STORY.

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PINOY ‘KARITON’ EDUCATOR IS CNN ‘HERO OF THE YEAR’

People

PINOY ‘KARITON’ EDUCATOR IS CNN ‘HERO OF THE YEAR’

1 Comment 24 January 2010

A young Filipino educator who set up the “Kariton Klasroom” to bring education to poor children has been named CNN ‘Hero of the Year.’

Efren Peñaflorida was declared winner over nine other nominees from around the world in ceremonies at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles, California, last Nov. 21.

Anderson Cooper, one of the top anchors of Cable News Network (CNN), presented the award to the 28-year-old teacher from Cavite City. Peñaflorida was selected after getting the highest number of online votes, which reached 2.75 million in seven weeks.

Peñaflorida received $100,000 cash to continue his work with his group, Dynamic Teen Company. The cash prize is on top of the $25,000 bonus that Peñaflorida received after he was included in the top 10 CNN Heroes.

He said 90 percent of his prize will go to his group while 10 percent will be donated to his church.

“Nothing for me. I was here to represent the poor children (of the Philippines),” Peñaflorida said. For him, seeing the smiles of the children who rush to meet him when they see his pushcart is enough reward for his efforts.

He said the real heroes are the 10,000 volunteers of Kariton Klassroom who are now helping in educating more than 1,500 kids in depressed areas in Cavite.

“Our planet is filled with heroes, young and old, rich and poor, man, woman of different colors, shapes and sizes. We are one great tapestry,” Peñaflorida said in his acceptance speech before an audience of about 3,000.

Peñaflorida urged the crowd to “be the hero to the next one in need” and called on them to “serve well, serve others above yourself and be happy to serve.”

“As I always tell to my co-volunteers… you are the change that you dream as I am the change that I dream and collectively we are the change that this world needs to be,” he said.

Peñaflorida vowed to continue his work and offer himself as an example of an underprivileged kid who fell victim to violence driven by poverty and yet found a way to lift himself up.

Upon his return from the United States, Peñaflorida was conferred the Order of Lakandula by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Malacañang. The Order of Lakandula, one of the highest honors given by the Republic of the Philippines, is conferred on those who dedicate themselves to the welfare of society, perform meritorious political and civic service, and lead lives worthy of emulation.

Peñaflorida’s triumph came exactly one week after boxing champion Manny Pacquaio made boxing history by knocking out Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto to become the first boxer to win seven titles in seven weight divisions.

When CNN early this year announced its annual search for Heroes, Peñaflorida was nominated by Club 8586, a youth group in Cavite that financed his elementary and high school education.

CNN’s Blue Ribbon Panel sifted through 9,000 nominees from over 100 countries, and soon narrowed down its choices to 28. On Oct. 1, CNN announced its top 10 finalists for its Hero of the Year. Peñaflorida made it. The finalists were selected by a panel that included former US Secretary of State Colin Powell, philanthropist and CNN founder Ted Turner, actress Whoopi Goldberg and singers Shakira and Sir Elton John. The winner was chosen online by the public, with nearly 3 million votes cast.

Peñaflorida said his inclusion in CNN’s Top 10 “gave Filipinos a breath of fresh air, a brief moment to cheer and celebrate,” since the Philippines was still reeling from the floods and devastation wrought by storms “Ondoy” and “Pepeng.”

As a child, Penaflorida chose education over gang life in Cavite City and vowed to create a way for other children to make the same choice. He was occasionally bullied and beaten by street gangs, which prompted him to decide to come to the aid of street children and rescue them from poverty and neglect through education.

Peñaflorida created a program that brought books to children in slums and on the streets, and the 10,000 members of his Dynamic Teen Company have brought reading, writing and hygiene to 1,500 youngsters. (See related story.)

“My message to children of all races, please, to embrace learning and love it for it will embrace and love you back and enable you to change your world,” Peñaflorida said.

Peñaflorida’s group was first recognized after it won the Bayaning Pilipino award for its heroic work in bringing education to poor children in Cavite.

Since 1997, more than 10,000 volunteers are now helping in educating more than 1,500 kids in depressed areas in Cavite.

The group later launched the “Kariton Klassroom,” an innovative way of bringing the classroom to the children in the depressed areas.

The pushcart classroom is now complete with teaching aids, blackboards and even folding tables and chairs to allow children to sit and read materials provided in a mini-library – a far cry from the humble effort of loading the books and school supplies in large plastic bags.

Peñaflorida now earns a living as a public school teacher in Cavite but still continues his pushcart classrooms on weekends where volunteers have started teaching the street urchins of Manila.

Peñaflorida recalled that he and other volunteers had to endure discrimination and even being branded as “trash collectors” with their pushcarts whenever they carry out their noble mission.

Emanuel Bagual, DTC chief executive officer, said the group’s newfound international fame had brought it many positive changes. Before, DTC members had to sell old bottles and newspapers to earn money and sustain operations. But after DTC was featured in the media, the group started receiving private donations, enabling it to increase the number of its pushcart classrooms from two to four.

The sweetest recognition, however, came in the form of replication: Other youth groups in Davao, Metro Manila and Zamboanga approached DTC, asking permission to implement the project in their own areas, Bagual said.

One group put up a pushcart classroom in Kenya. The DTC willingly gave the groups its modules, Bagual said.

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THE RUTHLESS POLITICAL ENTREPRENEURS OF MUSLIM MINDANAO

Politics

THE RUTHLESS POLITICAL ENTREPRENEURS OF MUSLIM MINDANAO

1 Comment 24 January 2010

By Francisco Lara Jr.

The Maguindanao massacre predicts the eruption of wider violence and conflict as the nation heads towards the 2010 elections. Yet to dismiss this incident as “election-related” is to miss the fundamental political and economic implications of this evil deed. The massacre is rooted in the shift in politico-economic sources of violence and conflict in Muslim Mindanao. It signifies the emergence of new-type warlords whose powers depend upon their control of a vast illegal and shadow economy and an ever-growing slice of internal revenue allotments (IRA). Both factors induce a violent addiction to political office.

Mindanao scholars used to underscore the role of “local strong men” who were an essential component of the central state’s efforts to extend its writ over the region. The elite bargain was built upon the state’s willingness to eschew revenue generation and to grant politico-military dominance to a few Moro elites in exchange for the latter providing political thugs and armed militias to secure far-flung territories, fight the communists and separatists, and extend the administrative reach of the state.

The economic basis of the elite bargain has changed since then. Political office has become more attractive due to the billions of pesos in IRA remittances that electoral victory provides. The “winner-takes-all” nature of local electoral struggles in Muslim Mindanao also means that competition is costlier and bloodier. Meanwhile, political authority may enable control over the formal economy, but the bigger prize is the power to monopolize or to extort money from those engaged in the lucrative business of illegal drugs, gambling, kidnap-for-ransom, gun-running, and smuggling, among others. The piracy of software, CDs and DVDs, and the smuggling of pearls and other gemstones from China and Thailand are seen as micro and small enterprises. These illegal economies and a small formal sector comprise the “real” economy of Muslim Mindanao.

The failure to appreciate how this underground economy, coupled with entitlements to massive government-to-government fund transfers, shapes prevailing notions of political legitimacy and authority in the region partly explains the inability of the central state to deal with lawlessness and conflict.

Political legitimacy in Muslim Mindanao has very little to do with protecting people’s rights or providing basic services. People rarely depend on government for welfare provision, and are consequently averse to paying any taxes. People actually expect local leaders to pocket government resources, and are willing to look the other way so long as their clans dominate and they are given a small slice during elections. Legitimacy is all about providing protection to your fellow clan members by trumping the firepower of your competitors, leaving people alone, and forgetting about taxes.

There were positive signs in the recent past, especially among the Moro women and youth who bore the brunt of conflict and who sought a different future. But achieving their aspirations depends on their ability to rise above clan structures and the dynamics of hierarchy and collective self-defense that bound its members. This dilemma was painfully exposed in the Maguindanao massacre, where Moro women who usually played a strategic role in negotiating an end to rido (clan wars) became its principal victims.

The sad thing about the recent massacre is that it could have been avoided. Everyone in Central Mindanao knew about the looming violence between the Ampatuan and Mangudadatu clans as early as March 2009, when the latter’s patriarch Pax Mangudadatu confronted Andal Ampatuan in a public gathering and made known his clan’s intention to challenge the latter’s political hold on Maguindanao. This threat was in turn based on the knowledge that Ampatuan was planning to undermine the Mangudadatus by fielding a challenger against them in Sultan Kudarat.

In short, the “looming” rido which pundits are predicting today actually started more than six months ago. Yet neither Malacanang nor the Comelec, PNP, and the AFP made any attempt to monitor their activities, disarm their private security, demobilize their loyalists within the police and military, and ring-fence their camps.

Why?

The answer lies in the newfound role of Muslim Mindanao to national political elites. The region is known for a long history of electoral fraud. The difference today lies in its ability to provide the millions of votes that can overturn the results of national electoral contests, a situation brought about by the creation of a sub-national state (ARMM) and reinforced by the sort of democratic political competition in the post-Marcos era that makes local bosses more powerful and national leaders more beholden to them. This was the case in the presidential elections of 2004 and the senatorial race in 2007. It will serve the same purpose in 2010. Whose purpose is served by arresting Ampatuan in an election year? Certainly not those of the ruling coalition.

This partly explains the foot dragging and the lame treatment of principal suspects in the massacre. And to those pressing for limited martial rule in Maguindanao, beware what you wish for. Having a surfeit of troops on the ground can provide a superficial peace at best. At worse, it may facilitate the same type of electoral fraud in 2010, or leverage the firepower of one clan over another.

In a region where the rebellion-related conflict between the GRP-MILF received all of the national and international community’s attention and aid, NGOs such as International Alert and the Asia Foundation have often decried the ignorance and indifference of the government and donor agencies to community-based inter and intra clan violence. As International Alert asserts, it is time to focus on the confluence between both types and sources of violence and conflict. Indifference will only lead to more death and destruction as the election approaches, when a convergence between rebellion-related, and inter and intra clan conflict occurs as military forces and armed rebels take sides between warring clans and factions.

Mindanao scholars such as Patricio Abinales, James Putzel, and John Sidel have previously noted how local strong men made Mindanao, and how the region provided an ideal case of the country’s “imperfect democracy” and “political bossism.” More recently, the conflict scholar Stathis Kalyvas called attention to the birth of “ruthless political entrepreneurs” who shape and are shaped by the dynamics between states, clans, and conflict.

The viciousness of the Maguindanao attack shows how these phenomena resonate here. It demonstrates the weak and narrow reach of the central Philippine state in Muslim Mindanao, and how the continued reliance on local strong men will not end the cycle of violence.

(The author is Research Associate at the Crisis States Research Center, Development Studies Institute, London School of Economics.)

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RP’S POLITICAL SYSTEM UNABLE TO DELIVER DEVELOPMENT

Politics

RP’S POLITICAL SYSTEM UNABLE TO DELIVER DEVELOPMENT

No Comments 24 January 2010

By Juan T. Gatbonton

In the process of “late industrialization” the East Asian countries are following—it is based on borrowing technology and learning disciplines from the countries that have preceded them—the state has a leading part. Public policies affect directly the rate and quality of economic growth. Read full story.

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GREAT CITIES OF MINDANAO

Travel

GREAT CITIES OF MINDANAO

3 Comments 24 January 2010

By Amadís Ma. Guerrero

Rich in history, its beginnings dating back to 320 A.D., Butuan is the capital of Agusan del Sur and the center as well of the Caraga region (which brings together the four Agusan and Surigao provinces in northeast Mindanao)

Your tour of Butuan should begin with the Butuan Regional Museum where you will see relics and artifacts, gold jewelry, including the Golden Tara of Agusan; and other archeological diggings. Nine ancient boats known as balangay are found at the Balangay Shrine Museum. Also check out the Diocesan Liturgical Museum.

Places to stay in Butuan include Balanghai Hotel & Convection Center, Almont Inland Resort, and Hotel Karaga.

Cagayan de Oro, regional center of Northern Mindanao, bills itself as “the City of Golden Friendship.” Although quite developed, it attracts adventure tourists because of its Mambuaya River, excellent for whitewater-rafting, the Macahambus Cave-Gorge, and Catanico Falls. Twelve kms from the city proper, overlooking Macajalar Bay, is the showpiece Gardens of Malasag Eco-Tourism Village, with its tribal architecture, trees and nurseries, tribal huts and cottages, amphitheater for performances, and indigenous artifacts and souvenirs.

Davao City was in the news again recently because of the death squads which kill petty criminals and sometimes innocent persons. The Commission on Human Rights has investigated and found human rights violations. There was even an independent film on these killings, Engkwentro, which won for its young director, Pepe Diokno, a major award at the recent Venice International Film Festival.

Despite this negative image, Davao remains an interesting place for domestic and foreign tourists. It is a large, sprawling city with modern malls (you can skip these if you’re tired of malls), convection facilities, and fine hotels like Malagos Garden Resort, Apo View, Durian Hotel, and many more recently established.

Davao is also a feast for the lover of sea food, especially tuna. Check out restaurant row along Florentino Torres St. and get your fill of broiled giant tuna (bariles), panga, (head), buntot (tail), tungol (walls of intestines), bihod (eggs) and obol-obol (throat). Perfect when eaten with steaming rice and washed down with beer, as you exchange jokes and tall stories with your hosts and friends.

The same can be said for General Santos City (known as GenSan to its residents), which faces Sarangani Bay in South Coatabato. It thrives on tuna for domestic and export markets. The giant tuna and marlins arrive by fishing boats in front of the public market in the morning, and you can see local and foreign (mostly Japanese) traders buy these by the ton.

While in GenSan you can stay at Sydney Hotel, Sansu or Anchor; and dine out at Fiesta as Barrio, Lola Sisay or Ribs N’ Jazz. Resorts within the city include London Beach, Olaer, and South Sea Tropical.

 The well-maintained Shrine City of Dapitan in Zamboanga is for the lover of Philippine history, notably the admirer of National Hero Jose Rizal. Everywhere you see reminders of Rizal’s exile here, including a park with replicas of his clinic and residence. A gem is the Church of St. James, constructed by the Jesuits in the 1870’s, where Rizal heard Mass. In front of the church is a relief map of Mindanao said to have carved out by Rizal who was, among other accomplishments, a sculptor.

A 15-minute drive away from the city proper is the upscale Dakak Park Beach Resort, with its towering cliffs, palm trees, well-manicured lawns, hidden cottages, and white-sand beach cove.

Include Iligan in your discovery or rediscovery of Mindanao, if only because it is “the city of waterfalls.” You can start with the spectacular Ma. Christina Falls, which can only be viewed during weekends (and you cannot swim here). But there are over 20 waterfalls within the city.

There’s the smaller Mimbalut Falls, with a lot of boulders nearby and shallow but ever flowing waters. Move awesome is Tinago Falls, accessible downward through 315-step stairway of stone. The waters fall into a deep, natural swimming, and there is a raft attached to a rope overhead, plus other smaller falls. And if you get tired of cold spring waters, there’s always the Timoga de la Mar Swimming Pools, another popular destination.

If Iligan is the city of waterfalls, Islamic Marawi, only an hour’s drive away, is the city of mosques. There are over 70 of these places of worship, some of them grand and majestic. Also visit the King Faisal Mosque and Center for Islamic Studies, and the Mindanao State University and its attractive campus overlooking Lake Lanao.

The place to stay in Marawi is the elegant Marawi Resort Hotel, located within the MSU campus.

When in Zamboanga City, be sure to be a pilgrim and visit Holy Hill, trekking (or even riding) up the paved zigzag and the Fourteen Stations of the Cross, which leads to the mountain summit and its giant cross. There you will be rewarded by a grand view of all of the city, Santa Cruz Island and, separated by the bay, the mountains of Basilan province.

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GLORIA’S GAMBIT

Politics

GLORIA’S GAMBIT

No Comments 24 January 2010

By Leandro Milan

Claiming public service was “emblazoned on my DNA (genetic fingerprint),” President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo stunned the nation when she declared on Nov. 30 that she was running for Congress in the coming elections. She said she would remain in her post even after she had filed her certificate of candidacy.

Her announcement was welcomed by her most ardent supporters but condemned by her critics, who accused her plotting to extend her hold on power as a way to escape criminal prosecution when she steps down from the presidency. When her term expires on June 30, 2010, Mrs. Arroyo, 62, shall have served as president for nine and a half years (three and a half years are from Joseph Estrada’s unfinished term), making her the second-longest serving Philippine leader after the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled for more than 20 years. According to surveys, she is the most unpopular leader the country has had since Marcos was booted out in 1986.

Mrs. Arroyo said her decision to seek a congressional post was due to her desire to continue serving and to heed what she called a “clamor” by her province mates for her to serve them. “After much contemplation, I realized I’m not ready to step down completely from public service,” she said on the government-run Radyo ng Bayan.

This is the first time that a President is running for a lower position, an idea that no one thought would ever happen. Even the framers of the Constitution failed to consider this scenario. Section 4 of Article VII of the 1987 Constitution states, “The President shall not be eligible for any re-election.” But the Charter is silent on whether the President could run again for a lower position.

Weekly visits

While Mrs. Arroyo’s announcement maybe shocking, even shameless, to some, it was not completely surprising. During the past year, she has made 47 visits to the second district of Pampanga (18 of them to her hometown Lubao). This translates to nearly one trip a week. During her visits, she would be accompanied by staff from various government agencies and give away free PhilHealth cards, seedlings, medicines and cash for microfinance projects. Acting on the requests of barangay leaders, she would order the construction and repair of schools, roads, health centers, canals and dikes. To her cabalen, the presidential largesse is like manna from heaven.

On Nov. 28, two days before the President’s announcement, the President’s elder son, Pampanga 2nd District Representative Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, led a contingent of over 200 mayors, barangay captains and other local officials of Pampanga in a call on his mother in Malacañang.

“My dear mother, in your decision-making, my sentiments must be taken as inconsequential,” Mikey said in his speech. “My political future must be brought to the back seat because as public servants, we have sworn to give our all to our country. . . Madame President, I believe that the best service I can give to my constituents, whom I’ve grown to love so much, is urging you not to deny them the privilege of being represented by your person.” Mikey is eligible to seek reelection but is giving way to his mother.

The congressman noted the steady stream of farmers, fisherfolk, businessmen and civic leaders trooping to the Palace “to express their desire that they be given the privilege of being represented by … a stateswoman with the stature of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.” On Nov. 27, some 200 leaders from farming and fishing communities, as well as representatives from cooperatives and business organizations from the second district of Pampanga presented the President with a manifesto urging her to run in 2010.

Where’s delicadeza?

Up against three unknowns, the President is a sure winner in the congressional race. There is near unanimity in the belief that there are no legal impediments to the President running for Congress. But this did not deter Akbayan Rep. Rissa Hontiveros from filing before the Commission on Elections a petition to disqualify Mrs. Arroyo from running in Pampanga. Hontiveros argued that the President, by refusing to vacate her post after filing her candidacy for Congress, will be violating the constitutional provision regarding “equal protection of the law.”

“As current President, she has all the powers and resources as well as access to it that will definitely prejudice the chances of any opposing candidate in any electoral competition against her,” Hontiveros said.

But beyond the legalities, there are those who question her decision on moral grounds. Pampanga Auxiliary Bishop Pablo Virgilio David said Mrs. Arroyo should forsake her plans “in the name of decency and for the sake of propriety.”

“I’d appeal to her not to run and to respect the spirit of the Constitution instead of exploiting the letter of the law, which indeed does not categorically prohibit running for lower positions,” David said.

Fr. Joaquin Bernas, an expert on constitutional law and a member of the 1987 Constitutional Commission, shared David’s sentiment. “We never thought the President would be humble. If I were her, I would not seek a lower office,” he said.

Bernas, dean emeritus of the Ateneo College of Law, admitted there were no legal obstacles to stop Mrs. Arroyo should she decide to run for representative. “Now, delicadeza ibang bagay yan,” Bernas told reporters.

Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz said the framers of the Constitution did not think of imposing a ban on an outgoing president running for a lower office simply because “really there is no person in his or her sound mind who will do such a funny and demeaning political circus.”

Bishop David’s older brother, UP Professor Randy David, who backed out from his earlier plan to challenge Mrs. Arroyo, noted: “There are areas of social behavior where there are no explicit laws because in many instances, the existing custom, the existing sense of shame and sensitivity to what is regarded as decent or what we call delicadeza are deemed sufficient to keep people in line. You don’t need specific laws.”

Circuitous route to the top

Most of the President’s critics – from the political oppositon to Church, business and civic leaders – however believe her decision to run for Congress is just the first step to her aspirations to regain power. This is how they paint the grim scenario: she will aspire to become Speaker of the House of Representatives, then move to amend the Constitution to allow for a shift to a parliamentary form of government, and finally crown herself prime minister.

Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, running mate of Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, said, “Her ultimate goal is to become House Speaker and ram through her burning desire to change the Constitution. Since she cannot hope to beat Noynoy, her next best option is to render his victory useless and lead the change in the form of government.”

United Opposition president and Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay voiced the same fears. “The real agenda is to … shift to a parliamentary form of government and snatch power from whoever is elected president in 2010 by becoming prime minister and head of government,” said Binay, who is the running mate of former President Joseph Estrada.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo said he suspected Mrs. Arroyo would finance the candidacies of many administration allies so that she could control majority of the House if she won.

According to them, it is only by regaining power as prime minister could she escape the deluge of suits that await her – from plunder to human rights abuses – after she steps down as president.

Unfounded fears

But Sen. Joker Arroyo, an on-and-off critic and ally of the President, dismisses the fears. He believes Mrs. Arroyo can never be prime minister.

“She is now very weak. She has no political clout; what more if she is only a congresswoman?” the senator asked. “She can never be prime minister because we have to amend first the Constitution. Since she cannot amend it, no way.”

He continued: “How can she succeed as speaker—she cannot do that—because the speaker of the next House will be the choice of whoever is the President. . . Chances are there will be no President that will support that—Noynoy won’t, Villar won’t, Erap won’t and even Teodoro won’t,” he said, referring to presidential candidates Benigno Aquino, Manuel Villar, Joseph Estrada and Gilbert Teodoro.

Senator Arroyo‘s observation was echoed by the Philippine Daily Inquirer. In its editorial last Dec. 2, the daily wrote: “In truth, however, and given the political realities, it will be difficult for a rookie representative, even a former president, to drive Charter change from a seat in the chamber. We have raised the threshold question before: If she could not effect a revision of the Constitution while she served as president, how can Ms Arroyo reasonably expect to change the Constitution as merely one of over 250 congressmen?”

Indeed, it is worth noting that Mrs. Arroyo’s allies in the House have tried vainly to ram through various proposals to amend the Constitution during the past two to three years. The influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has already made it known that while it was open to a constitutional amendment in the past, it is now rethinking its position if such a move would be used to perpetuate “a few people” in power.

In the 15th Congress, Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will be joined by three other Arroyos: youngest son Camarines Sur 1st District Rep. Diosdado “Dato” Macapagal Arroyo; brother-in-law Negros Occidental 5th District Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo; and sister-in-law Ang Kasangga party-list Rep. Ma. Lourdes Arroyo. There are reports that Mikey Arroyo will be joining a party-list group so he can possibly stay in the House of Representatives.

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KEEPING CHRISTMAS

Lifestyle

KEEPING CHRISTMAS

No Comments 24 January 2010

By Manuela Perez Samson

This morning the sun came out! There it was, making its presence felt in patches of light that dappled the leaves of the plants and slipped through the lattice panels in the lanai. Such a beautiful, heartwarming sight, after weeks of rain and wind. After days of harrowing sights leaping out at you from your TV screen – people on the roofs of their flooded homes, people grasping branches of trees to keep from being dragged downstream by the strong current, holding on to tight ropes as they wade through chest-deep waters, babies in styrofoam boxes bobbing up and down streets that had become rivers . . .  This isn’t a horror movie you’re watching, you tell yourself. This isn’t “end of days”, a Nostradamus prophecy played out on a 21st century TV screen, the Great Deluge, the end of the world. 

No, this isn’t make-believe. What you’re watching on TV is what’s actually happening elsewhere in your own country, in a city or town a few miles away from where you sit, warm and comfortable. Horrified… but warm and comfortable, while people on  rooftops send out frantic calls for help, and children and old people are washed away by raging floodwaters. It was a nightmare played out night after night, seemingly unending, seemingly hopeless. Gloomy days, dark clouds, overcast skies . . . what is happening to the world, to our little corner of it? Is God punishing us? Or is Mother Nature turning against us, finally, because we have abused her and desecrated her, and ignored her warnings and her pleas?

Message of hope

And then, the sun came out, bright and shining like a great big smiley face! What more potent message of hope than this? What more can we ask of a God that must be up to here with our pleas, our protests, laments, our wailing and weeping? Our cries of despair and cries for help?

These tragic events are as much our fault as they are of the dam managers who let loose the waters that flooded our streets and turned them into rivers, drowned our beloved ones, destroyed our dreams and hopes.

In the midst of all this sadness and bereavement, this fearful expectation of more devastation yet to come, how can we bring ourselves to await Christmas as in past years, to ready ourselves for joyful reunions, gift-giving, colorful lights and lanterns at our windows – all the wonderful things that the very word Christmas evokes? All the beautiful traditions that have been handed down the years in our families?

How can we reconcile the devastation, the individual tragedies collected into one huge drama of loss and bereavement – how reconcile with the coming holidays, the season of joy and gladness, open hearts and open hands? 

Perhaps therein lies the connection – the outpouring of sympathy and spontaneous generosity towards those who have lost so much, who have lost everything. The giving from the heart to those who have lost heart.

Peaceful Sunday

Sunday, peaceful dreamy Sunday, listening to Johnny Mathis singing his immortal love songs. Vic sitting in his TV chair, eyes closed, dozing off at times, wide awake at times. Only Johnny Mathis can sing a love song the way a love song should be sung, with feeling. Feeling deep enough to waken Vic as JM goes from 12th of Never to Stranger in Paradise.  When we were in college and he was courting me, that was like “our song”.  We were “strangers in paradise” . . . just out of our teens, exploring a new world of emotions, on the threshold of discoveries, reckless and brave with our promises.

And here we were this peaceful Sunday, many moons, many worlds away from those reckless daring years, once again listening to Johnny Mathis singing “our song” in his cool mellow voice, once again strangers in a paradise now badly beaten  by the storms life has dealt us. Vic in his TV seat, eyes closed, his good hand holding mine, his fingers tapping softly to the music. Myself misty-eyed and remembering, glancing at the caregiver in the chair across the room, wishing I had a magic wand I could wave to make him vanish from our sight. Why couldn’t we have this moment of tenderness and memory in complete privacy . . . why couldn’t we cry if we wanted to without feeling embarrassed because other eyes were watching?

His wheelchair by the bed, my gnarled hand clasped in his, a house made quiet by the absence of young voices and young noises are the signs of the passing of many years.  Is it only people like us (okay, old people like us) who can be overwhelmed by this emotion such a love song can evoke?

Christmas countdown

Thirty odd days away to the enchanted season of Christmas, the countdown on TV reminds us. While the young buck with impatience at the crawling of time, we on the other hand, wonder how minutes and hours can so swiftly pass into days and weeks.  Listening to the ticking of the clock, watching the setting of the sun, the waning of the moon, asking ourselves timidly, fearfully, hopefully. . . Will I still be here next Christmas?

Was it George Bernard Shaw who once lamented that youth was wasted on the young? And does that still hold true in this day and age of amazing inventions, incredible technology, unbelievable discoveries – all by the youth, and for the youth? They who send text messages from mobile phones with their eyes closed. . . who do magical stuff on their computers and laptops, communicate in “real time” across seas and oceans and even  planets, speak of Facebook, Twitter, blog, Google in a language known only to themselves. Theirs the world of MacDonald’s, pizza, PS2s and 3s, i-Pods, and all those strange mysterious gadgets familiar only to themselves 

While ours the world of quiet Sundays, Johnny Mathis and The 12th of Never, Tony Bennett and Autumn Leaves, Frank Sinatra and September Song. And Christmas?  Christmas was (and always will be) the magical time, the enchanted world of childhood,  Never Never Land! Step out of your front door – and you can almost smell Christmas! It’s almost here. Reach out for it, and you can almost touch it. Close your eyes, and believe as you believed when you were a child, when nothing was impossible.

How to keep Christmas then, when we seem to be losing everything else?  Perhaps in ways we may have forgotten. Perhaps by being together in heart and mind and spirit if not in the flesh.  Perhaps with hugs and kisses in lieu of gift-wrapped packages.  Perhaps a Christmas table which may be half-full, but with our hearts overflowing.  Perhaps a tiny tree all lit up with smiles and laughter. (On our first married Christmas Vic and I had a really small tree on a plate, trimmed with the tiniest of tinsel balls, its treetop angel a single white bulb at the tip. But it was one of our best Christmases ever!)

Survivors, that’s who we are as a people. Non-quitters… fighters… We are “where Asia wears a smile”.  And even as we brave the stormy winds and rainwaters, we know deep in our hearts that the sun will come out again, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps the day after. Because Christmas is almost here. You can almost smell it. . . touch it. . . feel it.

And we shall keep Christmas, not squander it. We shall weave Christmas into the daily fabric of our life – and treasure its memories that are forever good and sweet.

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MABUHAY GUIDES: FIRST LINE OF OFFENSE

Travel

MABUHAY GUIDES: FIRST LINE OF OFFENSE

1 Comment 24 January 2010

By Pepper Marcelo

When one visits a foreign country for the first time, the first and sometimes only native person he encounters is the tour guide. Not only does this person introduce and explain the history, culture and landmarks of the country, but a more crucial element is that the guide frequently becomes the de facto representative of an entire people. Questions that are often asked upon their return: “Were they friendly?”, “Did they have good manners?”

Thus, it is essential to put one’s best foot forward in order to make the best impression upon visiting guests. After all, a satisfied visitor that was treated well will more likely visit again (and again) and through positive word of mouth, recommend that country to friends and family. This bodes well for that nation’s local tourism industry and, in turn, contributes to the overall economy.

Cognizant of this, the Department of Tourism (DOT) has created a program called “Mabuhay Guides” to train extensively an eager group of men and women to become not only the most knowledgeable and friendly tour guides, but, in essence, be “ambassadors of a nation.”

With the improvement of many sectors of the tourism industry, it was only logical that tourist guides themselves get an upgrade.

“The quality of hotels, the service of our airlines, the travel agencies, the tour operators are improving. There was a missing component that was very important in enhancing the tourist experience, and that was the tourist guide,” says Tourism Secretary Ace Durano.

“We needed a new breed of tour guides that has different perspective, sees the Philippines differently,” he adds. “No matter how you train someone as a tour guide, how you feel about your product and how you feel about your country will really come out. So we needed a fresh perspective.”

Another proponent of the program is Susan Calo-Medina, producer-host of the ANC show Travel Time.

“The Philippines has long been known for its beautiful vistas and a warm, welcoming people,” she says. “By developing both, the Department of Tourism hopes to create an unbeatable combination.”

An advertisement for DOT tourist guides was placed on Calo-Medina’s program and local newspapers, and over 200 aspirants from various disciplines – from teachers to advertising professionals – applied. After a rigid screening, the list was trimmed to a core group of 25.

“I see tour guiding as an extension of teaching. Whereas I used to teach inside a classroom, I now teach outside the confines of classroom, with the [tourist] sites themselves as my visual aides,” explains Irene Fernandez why she joined the program.

The first batch of Mabuhay Guides underwent an intensive six-week training course on many aspects of Philippine culture – from history, arts, architecture, and geography, to the environment, cuisine and music.

“Our first batch of graduates comes from different backgrounds, different professions and went through such a rigorous program taking seminars from the best resource persons,” says Durano.

The lecturers were experts and luminaries in their respective fields, including National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario, UP Humanities Professor Felipe de Leon Jr. and former Central Bank Governor Jaime Laya, who is an avid antique and art collector.

“What attracted me [to the program] were the lecturers,” says Therese Carlos. ”I wanted to undergo training under these prominent people in their respective fields.”

The guides also underwent training in various skills and subject matters, such as grooming, good manners, health issues, personality development and first aid. Moreover, representatives from the prestigious London Blue Badge, the premier qualification group for tour guides in Britain, engaged the trainees in rigorous, on-site sessions by bus and foot.

The rigorous and specialized instruction demonstrate that tour guiding is more than simply dishing out historical and cultural facts, but, more importantly, it is connecting with, and even entertaining, a discriminating audience.

“I realize that tour guiding involves developing a lot of empathy for the tourist, so we think about his safety and comfort, and how he reacts to what we’re saying,” says guide Yael Fernandez.

After the training, Mabuhay Guides are given their certificate and an official badge. Because the program is associated with the DOT, the graduates became fully accredited members of the World Federation of Tourist Guide Association.

In a speech during the graduation ceremonies, Fernandez said, “Our reason for joining was one and the same: all of us share the same vision, a strong desire to share our talents for the benefit of the tourism industry and the Philippines. We consider it an honor and privilege to be called Mabuhay Guides, and we are committed to serve the department and be the best we can be so that other people can appreciate the country the way we do.”

Currently, the Mabuhay Guides are individually deployed on an appointment basis through the DOT, servicing an assortment of visitors from all over the world – business investors, trade industry players and niché travelers – in and around the Metro Manila area. Trips include visits to the Walled City of Intramuros covering such historical sites as Fort Santiago, Manila Cathedral, San Agustin Church and Palacio del Gobernador. The city itinerary also covers neighboring Binondo, Escolta and Quiapo.  

Visitors and guides explore the city by bus and on foot along main roads like Roxas Boulevard and Ayala Avenue and by boat on the Pasig River. The DOT is working on expanding the tour routes to neighboring provinces like Batangas, Cavite and Rizal.

Becoming a Mabuhay Guide has expanded one’s initial objectives of gaining employment and traveling.

“I envision that my tour guiding would impact on nation-building, that this will not be a simple job for me, but something that would influence my fellow countrymen to be proud of the Philippines and for us to really promote tourism in the country,” says guide Maria Morena Galvelo.

Calo-Medina concurs: “We all have a Mabuhay Guide in each of us, waiting to be let loose. All we have to do is know more about our country and our culture and share it with the world.”

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