Friday, February 29, 2008

Firefox Plugins

Taking a quick break from the political vitriol (which has me fired up so)....

I've discovered and installed a couple of plugins to Firefox to help me with my day-to-day activities: ScribeFire and Zotero.

ScribeFire will be familiar to a lot of serious bloggers but it's only today that I've adopted it. I've held off for the longest time because the Blogger web client was sufficiently fast for my needs and because ScribeFire always added that nasty "Posted with ScribeFire" tag each time.

Then, all of a sudden, Blogger just became so sl-ooooow. I don't know why, exactly, but I suspect it had to do with more and more Javascript loaded into the web client. More functionality? Feh! Give me back simplicity any day; Web 2.0 is overrated.

So today I installed ScribeFire and I'm pretty happy with it. Fortunately, the unwanted promotional graffiti is gone now; and there are some nifty tools to manage the last ten posts.

What I'm not too happy about: it only manages the last ten posts and the Wordpress login seems wonky. Anyway, t'will do for my Blogger posts. Feel the new spring in words?

The other nifty discovery is Zotero, a personal knowledge management addon. It essentially allows you to bookmark web pages, organize them into topics, and annotate them. It automatically saves all the reference information for later retrieval. Taking into account the new direction that my life is taking now, it's the perfect companion. Love it!

The Irrelevant President

In a presidency fraught with denials, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo did the unthinkable last Saturday: she admitted, over public radio, that she was aware of the anomalies surrounding the ZTE-NBN deal. Her words:

“Nasumbong sa akin the night before the signing of the supply contract, pero hindi pa naman kasi...oh that was only one of many pa paano mo naman makakansel the night before mayroon pang ibang bansang kausap...tinuloy yung signing pero sa unang pagkakataaon kinausap ko na agad yung pangulo ng China para sabihin sa kanya na kailangang kanselahin ang proyekto.”

Come Tuesday, Malacañang spinmeisters quickly backtracked on the story, claiming the tried-and-true "she-was-misquoted" defense. As they say: "Tell it to the Marines."

Just what are we to make of the foregoing statement? Setting aside, for the moment, the distinct possibility that this president is irredeemably corrupt, the admission points to contemptible incompetence and stupidity.

One: it is Mrs. Arroyo's job as chief executive to ensure that the deals she signs are airtight and aboveboard; if not herself personally, then through the series of checks and balances that are inherent in the processes of any large system. Certainly a deal as large as $329-M requires extensive audit.

Two: once she already learned of irregularities in the transaction, why did she proceed to sign it anyway? Because, as she reasoned out, that was only the first of many signings? How strange, then, because in business, it is the chief executive's signature that is the final seal of approval! Regardless, she displayed wilful negligence and tacit complicity in the anomaly.

Three: the signing took place in April 2007. The ZTE-NBN deal was only scrapped in October 2007, when its stink already proved to be indisguisable. If we are to believe her words, it took her all of six months to work out its cancellation? Why not sooner before the hint of scandal overtook the contract?

Four: she learned that there were irregularities in the deal almost a year ago, and yet all this time no one has been reprimanded, suspended, fired, charged, or jailed. An irregularity for a deal of that magnitude, not to mention the accompanying instability it brought, should have been sufficient cause for heads to roll.

This is the fundamental problem at hand: Mrs. Arroyo, when she isn't clinging desperately to the presidency using the Constitution as her bat, styles herself as the Chief Executive Officer of Philippines, Inc. Her perpetual boast is one of financial gains and foreign investments. But as we can gauge from her decisions, she is not fit to run a company. The stockholders would pretty soon run her off.

Mrs. Arroyo's corporate fantasies notwithstanding, the Philippines is not a company. It is a country, it is a nation, it is a state. There are simply some things that you can never ever do with a country or a nation or a state.

A company, for example, could put its assets in collateral for a loan. It might even sell these assets in order to raise cash for other investments. But a country can never ever willingly cede sovereign territory that it lays claim to, at least not without a fight. That, in effect, seems to be what Mrs. Arroyo has done.

Following a Correspondents special report, this is what is coming to light: starting in 2006, the Arroyo administration managed to secure loans from China amounting to $2-B per year up to 2010. Summing it up, the loans will run up to $10-B over the 5-year period. This is what is funding the National Broadband Network, the Cyber Education Project, Northrail, Southrail, and other questionable deals just coming to light.

The Arroyo administration will, of course, boast that the interest rates are low and repayment conditions lenient. However, it is suspiciously coincidental that such loans should come on the heels of a deal with China for joint oil exploration of the Spratly islands. The deal implicitly grants China access to any valuable resources that may be found on those islands.

Mrs. Arroyo, it seems, is trading our patrimony and our future for a very expensive bowl of lentil soup.

There are words for this: Treason. Treachery. Traitor. Traidor. Taksil. Maka-Pili. Hudas.

That's not all. Mrs. Arroyo's radio confession seems to have been a preparatory step to distance herself from her lieutenants. Where else would such an open admission lead to? Mrs. Arroyo was getting ready to sacrifice some lambs.

Just who was Mrs. Arroyo going to sacrifice? Lorenzo Formoso. Leandro Mendoza. Benjamin Abalos, whose resignation from the COMELEC last year was merely a prelude. But could she really afford to break with Mendoza, a former PNP general? Or with Abalos, who holds so many, many secrets? These are not lambs who will go down without a fight.

As the ZTE-NBN puzzle come together, it seems that the web is much more intricate than was previously believed. Really, a deal of this magnitude or complexity cannot come together with just a few heads and a few hands alone. More than the usual Palace spokespersons, who have been the most vocal in the past few days following the admission? Peter Favila? Eduardo Ermita? Ricardo Saludo? The actions of her cabinet secretaries and generals will bear much observation over the coming weeks. Like as not, Mrs. Arroyo is now a prisoner within a cage of complicity of her own making.

Finally, there was the much-vaunted "Unity Walk" with the 52 governors early this week. It may be that these governors genuinely feel for Mrs. Arroyo and did so out of the goodness of their hearts. However, if we follow the tit-for-tat politics of the Philippines, it's more likely that such solidarity entails the promise of future purse strings for the projects...if Mrs. Arroyo survives the next two years. If not? Well, so easy to turn their backs on their president at that last opportune moment; after all, they were elected by the people of their province, were they not? It's a win-win scenario.

To be effective, a president must wield real power. This power emanates from the Constitution, yes, but prior to that, this power emanates first and foremost from the will of the people. Mrs. Arroyo, because of her questionable victory in 2004 and because of the continuing unresolved doubts, cannot fully claim this mandate. Mrs. Arroyo, because of her actions within the recent weeks, has shown herself beholden to a select group of people around her, either co-conspirators or opportunists. Worst of all, Mrs. Arroyo, by the records of her administration's transactions, may be beholden to a foreign power.

Nothing we the people will say or do will matter much to her now. Why should she matter to us?

She is irrelevant.

Black American Literature in the Mainstream

My report on Black American literature for my class in English and American Literature. As I was writing this, I noticed some parallels with the continuing quest for recognition -- or I should say, "the mainstream" -- in Philippine literature. Black American writers, by virtue of their culture and geography, have a leg up; but there's much we can learn from them. My conclusion, though -- "to lose the blinders" -- applies just as equally to Filipino writers: sometimes, we're so focused on our condition and our situation we lose sight of the wider audience -- and because of that, they lose sight of us.

When Prof. Robert Stepto asks at the end of his essay whether Black American literature will continue to be mainstreamed, the clarificatory question arises: what exactly does he mean by the "mainstream"? Tracing through the article, it becomes clear enough: publication, academic dissection, and even international awards. If we go by these criteria, then there is no question that Black American literature is already in the mainstream. And that would be that.

Such a view, though, seems overly narrow and self-congratulatory. The mainstream is, in fact, much more expansive than the confines of academic literati. A significant part of art is entertainment, and so the question is whether Black American literature today appeals to a larger mass audience. More importantly, in a worldwide industry dominated by American publishers, does Black American literature resonate with international audiences?

International bestselling authors like Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Terry McMillan seem to indicate so, and yet: is that all there is? In comparison with Black American success in sports, music, and cinema, the influence of Black American literature on the international scene seems paltry and anemic.

If we are to delve into the nature of mass appeal literature, it behooves us to study the selections of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club. Oprah was, after all, responsible for the bestseller status of many books in the past decade. What does Oprah's list tell us? A cursory analysis will show that, of the selections dating back to 1998, only a scant 13 books out of 68 were written by Black American authors. Of these, three were from Bill Cosby and four were from Toni Morrison. Of the 54 authors selected by Oprah, only eight were written by Black Americans. Why so few in a forum that would be a natural advocate for Black American literature?

When we switch the analysis to gender lines, the picture becomes more interesting. All the aforementioned international bestsellers were women. Within Oprah's selections, five of the eight Black American writers were women, a number in keeping with the gender ratio of the entirety of her list. However, remove Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier for their celebrity factor, and you really have only one male Black American author against the five.

So what can we conclude? The interest in these books and authors are not so much for their perspectives on Black American culture as they are for their feminist views. Closer examination of the themes of these books supports this claim.

By inductive logic, what can we conclude on a larger scale? The international mainstream appeal of Black American literature will not be because of their Black American heritage; it will be because of Something Else, of which Black American culture is a component tangential or subsumed. International readers will be less preoccupied with the color of the author and his history as they will be with what the author has to say concerning a universal human truth.

For Black American literature were to become truly mainstream, it must lose its blinders.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Other Witness

Pity Dante Madriaga. Although his testimony appears more substantive and damning than Jun Lozada's, Jun Lozada seems to have taken all the thunder.

First, the Senate isn't even sure it believes him.

Then, no one bothers with security preparations for him or his family. How will this cavalier attitude bode, I wonder, for new potential witnesses?

To add insult to injury, now it seems that not even the government is interested in filing charges against him.

It's probably the third point why many people are cool to Madriaga. One would think that by now, Malacañang flunkies would be stumbling all over themselves to refute his allegations and destroy his credibility. And can almost hear the sound of crickets chirping.

Too calm and composed, complains Kiko Pangilinan. That much is true. It never helped that suspicions were rife he wanted to paid for his testimony.

On top of that, he doesn't really have the charisma of a Jun Lozada, more's the pity.

From the Inquirer story:

When the hearing ended at past 8:30 p.m., everyone in attendance was ready to either retire or attend another engagement except for Madriaga.

Like a lost and confused child, Madriaga grabbed and held tight the arms of Sandra Cam, a former Senate witness who testified in 2005 that Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, a son of the President, and his uncle, Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo, had received money from operators of jueteng, an illegal numbers game.

Madriaga asked her, “Sandra, where will I go now?”

Cam said it was only then that Madriaga’s security arrangement was raised and attended to.


It was at this point that Cam and the nuns decided to rush to Parañaque City to fetch Madriaga’s family.

“We went on a convoy and the sisters volunteered to use their L-300 (van) to fetch Madriaga’s wife and children. We pitied the family when we saw the house,” Cam said.

The Madriaga house is modest without a trace that the family was once affluent, according to Cam.


While in her car, Madriaga, according to Cam, received a text message from his wife who told him, “wala nang pananghalian (no more food for lunch)” and sought permission if she could sell the family’s water pump so she could buy food for the kids.

Cam said that broke her heart and insisted that Madriaga take her P2,000. “At first he did not want to accept it but when he opened his wallet, I saw he only had P20. So I pitied him. I insisted that he take the P2,000,” she said.

"How good is your Kung Fu?"

Via Spidamang:

Aaaaah! Jet Li and Jackie Chan together! Fanboy heaven!

And here I thought that Jet Li had kissed Kung-Fu movies goodbye. Thank goodness he changed his mind.

Never mind that it's a Hollywood production, and never mind that it has the obligatory American "Chosen One" teen hero. I am going to WATCH this movie.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Analysis: Shakespeare in Love

Pardon me if this seems overlong: this was written for my Literary Criticism class and the teacher wanted a 5-page report. It seemed a shame to just throw it away after submitting it, so here it is.

Speaking strictly from an average moviegoer's perspective, without any pretensions to critical analysis, "Shakespeare in Love" has all the hallmarks of a hit movie. It has everything going in its favor. First, there's the talented cast garnished with some well-known names (with Gwyneth Paltrow and Geoffrey Rush coming fresh from other acclaimed films, and of course, Ben Affleck, then at the height of his popularity). Then, there's the love story peppered with moments of comedy and drama; and light romantic comedy, more often than not, is the formula for a Hollywood hit. As the character of Henslowe insists: "It's a comedy they want."

Moreover, it's a love story that, as the title proudly proclaims, involves the most famous name in English Literature, William Shakespeare. And finally, it's a period piece that doesn't take itself too seriously; the modern audience gets the pageantry of the costumes and the richness of the settings without the the burden of stilted dialog or convoluted plotline. Strictly as entertainment, "Shakespeare in Love" is eminently watchable.

The plot is straightforward, following the typical Hollywood formula: Shakespeare is commissioned to write a play, just when he feels that his creativity is at an ebb. Then he meets a beautiful woman, Viola de Lessups, who it turns out is probably his biggest fun. Viola so fires up his imagination and his words so that he finally begins "Romeo and Juliet." They have an affair, notwithstanding Viola's impending marital transaction to Lord Wessex. Breaking the taboos of the time, Viola disguises herself as a man to play the role of Romeo. Ultimately, though, Viola, following the conventions of the time, marries Wessex and goes off with him to the colonies, but not before saving the production by playing Juliet. Queen Elizabeth is on hand to make sure that the ending, if a little sad, is not tragic.

Now, "Shakespeare in Love" does not purport to be a historically accurate portrayal of the life of the Bard or of the period that he lived in. It's a fanciful "what-if" scenario that merely avoids major contradictions of what we do know about Shakespeare. It plays loose with elements of Shakespeare's life, e.g., his failed marriage, his contemporaneousness with Christopher Marlowe, his association with the Rose. It also adds other elements to spice up the movie, most notably Viola. Considering how little we do know of Shakespeare, these conjectures are, if not plausible, at least not impossible.

"Shakespeare in Love", however, goes much deeper than strict entertainment. That is part of the delight that it provides. There are textual, intertextual, and subtextual references aplenty that will take more than one viewing to fully catch and appreciate. These references happen on several levels, too.

First, there are the tongue-in-cheek nods to modern conventions. Shakespeare, chucking about crumpled sheets, tosses one to a souvenir mug that says "A PRESENT FROM STRATFORD-ON-AVON." When he chases after the disguised Viola for the first time over the Thames, he tells his boatman (in Hollywood detective fashion): "Follow that boat!" Later, a chatty boatman tells him he had Marlowe for his passenger once (following typical cabbies in modern London and Hollywood); the boatman even claims to be a playwright and tries to foist his play on Shakespeare. Funniest of all is Shakespeare's confession with Dr. Moth, reminiscent of a modern psychoanalysis session, complete with a timer and Freudian double entendre:

"It's as if my quill is broken. As if the organ of the imagination has dried up. As if the proud tower of my genius has collapsed."

The movie also pokes fun at Hollywood itself, with Henslowe and Fennyman as greedy, money-oriented producers. Fennyman, Henslowe's major creditor, only relents to the play on the idea that he can turn a profit from the venture, and to heck with Art! Fennyman's idea of the play is based on the number of seats he can sell:

"A play takes time. Find actors. Rehearsals. Let's say open in three weeks. That's--what--five hundred groundlings at tuppence each, in addition four hundred groundlings tuppence each, in addition four hundred backsides at three pence--a penny extra for a cushion, call it two hundred cushions, say two performance for safety how much is that Mr. Frees?"

And what of the actors and the playwrights?

"But I have to pay the actors and the authors.

"A share of the profits."

"There's never any...."

"Of course not!"

"Mr. Fennyman, I think you may have hit on something."

Then there are the references to famous historical and literary figures. Christopher Marlowe and Queen Elizabeth are the most prominent and have already been mentioned earlier. There are others, too, probably less-known but equally real: Richard Burbage, England's most famous actor of the time and owner of Henslowe's rival, The Curtain; and the young rat-loving snitch John Webster who, in a conversation with Shakespeare, says that he prefers his plays with blood and gore. The real John Webster was a Jacobean playwright known for macabre plays White Devil and The Duchess of Malifi.

Forming their own subset of historical references are those pertaining to the myths around Shakespeare himself. For example, during the meeting when Viola's disguise is finally unmasked, Viola questions Shakespeare:

"Answer me only this: are you the author of the plays of William Shakespeare?"

Though it seems at first to be a merely circuitous way of asking Shakespeare if he is Shakespeare, it does serve another purpose: it pokes fun at the continuing debate on whether some of Shakespeare's plays were actually written by him or by someone else.

The most recognizable references are the words and scenes from Shakespeare himself. They make appearances at odd moments and in slightly altered form. Disguised and hiding just a bit in the background and yet still identifiable, they humorously hint at the sources of Shakespeare's inspirations.

For instance, the Puritan preacher Makepeace proclaims loudly to the passing crowd intent on ignoring him: "And the Rose smells thusly rank by any name! I say a plague on both their houses!" which is supposed to prefigure Romeo and Juliet's "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" and "A plague on both your houses!"

The balcony scene between Shakespeare and Viola is yet another recognizable riff on Romeo and Juliet, as is the confrontation between the company of players when Burbage discovers Shakespeare making time with his mistress. But there are several others, too: the skull from Hamlet makes several appearances; as does the chest from The Merchant of Venice. Viola's disguise as a man prefigures Portia in The Merchant of Venice. Wessex, thinking that he is seeing the ghost of Shakespeare (whom he thinks is Marlowe), flees: yet another reference to Hamlet. Even the ending, with Viola's ship lost at sea in a storm, follows The Twelfth Night.

This is the conceit of "Shakespeare in Love:" words and scenes inspired by Shakespeare's plays make their way into the make-believe world of the film. The film makes use of these elements to purport that these provided Shakespeare with his inspiration. As presented by the film, it is all quite plausible, too. But in this case, inspiration is cyclical: who inspired whom? Did the world around him inspire Shakespeare? Or rather, is it the world (specifically the world of the film, but the world at large, too) that is inspired by Shakespeare? As Henslowe shrugs: "It's a mystery."

Really, this is the core of "Shakespeare in Love," the very thing that the movie -- either knowingly or unknowingly -- deconstructs: the nature of Inspiration and the Creative Process. How much of Art comes from the artist's genius, and how much of it comes from the world around him? True, the William Shakespeare of "Shakespeare in Love" is a passionate character, and within the movie, an acknowledged talent. But to take that further step into greatness? The movie claims that it comes from the inspiration his milieu. At the heart of all of this is Romeo and Juliet, the play.

Romeo and Juliet starts life out as Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter, as silly, as unromantic, and as uninspiring a title as you can get. It must be a comedy, Henslowe insists, because that is what sells. No wonder Shakespeare can't get himself to start writing!

It's only after a chance meeting with Marlowe that Shakespeare's artistic juices start to flow. It is Marlowe who suggests that Romeo be Italian, "always in and out of love," who meets Ethel, "the daughter of his enemy." "His best friend is killed in a duel by Ethel's brother or something. His name is Mercutio."

Even then, Shakespeare turns out the play by the seat of his pants, writing the parts as he goes along and changing scenes as the situation and his moods demand.

"What will you do in Act Two when he meets the love of his life?"

"I am very sorry, sir, I have not seen Act Two."

"Of course you have not! I have not written it!"

It is Ned Alleyn, his most competent actor, who will suggest a scene missing between Romeo and Juliet's marriage and suicide, hinting at the need to depict consummation. Perhaps most important is the decision to change the title, also from Ned:

"The title won't do. Romeo and Juliet. Just a suggestion."

But more than that, it is the tumultuous events of his life at that moment that fuels the fire of the play. Nights spent with Viola provide the spark of passion that inspire the words to flow. It is his poetry for Viola that becomes Romeo's lines. Romeo and Juliet was written for his muse.

Far from the Creative Genius that we revere him to be, this Shakespeare is a harried artisan who must balance his failing finances with a forbidden love affair. It is the people around him who step up and fill in for his failings. Shakespeare the Genius is no longer perched on a pedestal, but is an accessible human figure, all the more so because of his foibles.

Is this, perhaps, the manifestation of the postmodern curse that declares that no man is truly Great? That takes insists on that all men are created equal -- not only in rights but in everything else? That take comfort in weakness if only to be able to say: "He is one of us?" That maybe, given the right circumstances, just about anyone could have written the works of Shakespeare?

What if Shakespeare had been celibate? What if he had been financially secure? What if he had written Romeo and Juliet from the solitude of his room, solely by the power of his word and his imagination? Certainly "Shakespeare in His Room" would not make for a very interesting film, but would it diminish the power of his works? Alas, the postmodern audience imposes these demands on its heroes.

But it is Shakespeare who provides the answers to these questions as he makes his own appearance in this movie that bears his name. Not Shakespeare as played by Joseph Fiennes, but William Shakespeare, the original Bard. Or rather, not so much the playwright but his words, used liberally to great effect throughout the film.

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.

Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

Though speaking from a gulf of five hundred years, Shakespeare's words still manage to convey today the Truth of the human condition with unmatched wit and inimitable turn of phrase. Not only that, his words manage to outdo the modern day script of the film so that they appear "sick and pale with grief." The best that the movie script can really do is mimic Shakespeare, but they cannot better him.

Perhaps some five hundred years from now, the prevailing opinions will run counter to the mode of "Shakespeare in Love." Its in-jokes might no longer seem so fresh, its interpretations of actors and playwrights be inscrutable. Contrast this to Shakespeare who has withstood the test of time, and who, five hundred years from now, will quite likely still continue to delight. Shakespeare will still be Shakespeare, and he will still be Great;

So "Shakespeare in Love:" a fun film? Yes. A watchable film? Undoubtedly. But some interpretations and reinterpretations seem to pander too much to the sensibilities of the modern (or perhaps we should say "postmodern") audience. The playful script tells us what could have been, but it also carries its own colored view of the Bard, in keeping with current philosophy.

The reality, though, is perhaps more basic: the Bard persists because of his Art, and only because of his Art not for his personality. It is the Art that survives.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

It's Go-Go, not Cry-Cry

ABS-CBN Interactive has a story: UST’s new battlecry: Go Lozada, go USTE!

Which brings to mind a quote from a recent movie:

"It's Go-Go, not Cry-Cry."

Care to guess which film?

Arroyo admits ZTE-NBN irregularity

And now you get it straight from the Shetland pony's mouth. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo admitted that there was actually something wrong with the ZTE-NBN contract. But she went through the signing of the contract anyway.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Saturday said she learned that something was wrong about the Philippine government's $329.48-million National Broadband Network project with China's Zhong Xing Telecommunications Equipment (ZTE) Corp the night before she witnessed the signing of the NBN-ZTE contract.

Mrs Arroyo told radio dzRH that the day before she witnessed the signing of the NBN-ZTE contract on April 21, 2007 in Boao, China, she was advised about the supposed irregularities in the project.

What should we call that? Let's see: "evil" was already used, and so was "b***h."

This volté-face from the top executive could signal the beginning of a purge. Some lambs will be sacrificed, the question is who. Will these lambs go down quietly, or will they upend the whole banquet table?

Can Mendoza and Formoso still continue to defend this project when their boss has already admitted to the irregularity? Does this have anything to do with Mike Arroyo's trip to Hong Kong? Having turned her back on major political allies JdV and FVR, will the kitty fund from the oligarchs last long enough to hold the wolves of Congress at bay?

(Pardon the animal metaphors, they just flow out naturally.)

Rest of the story:

However, she said she could not readily terminate the deal that would be funded through a loan from the Chinese government.

On September 22, 2007, or five months after she knew about the ZTE mess, and during the height of NBN-ZTE controversy that was linked to her husband, Mrs Arroyo canceled the NBN-ZTE contract.

"Sumbong sa akin the night before signing of the supply contract, that was one of many signings. (Pero) paano mo i-cancel the night before, may ibang bansa kang kausap (Someone told me about it the night before the signing of the supply contract. That was one of many signings. But how can you cancel a deal the night before, when you are dealing with a foreign country)?" she said.

Mrs Arroyo, however, did not say who told her about the irregularities, and what were these all about.

On April 21, 2007, Mrs Arroyo witnessed the signing of five contracts between the Philippines' Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza, Education Secretary Jesli Lapus and Trade Secretary Peter Favila and China's ZTE, Tsinghua Tongfang, and other Chinese contractors.

It was Mendoza and ZTE president Yu Yong who signed the NBN contract that was witnessed by Mrs Arroyo. The Philippine government's copies of the contract, which were reportedly stolen, had been reconstituted.

Romulo Neri, then director general of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) had argued that the project should have been put under a build-operate-transfer (BOT) scheme.

Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr, a former consultant at the NEDA who reviewed the NBN project testified before the Senate that the project was padded by $197 million. Lozada also accused Benjamin Abalos Sr, former chairman of the Commission on Elections, of asking a $130-million "commission" from the project.

Last year, Jose "Joey" De Venecia III, testified before the Senate that the President's husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo told him to "back off" from pursuing the project. De Venecia III, the son of ousted Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr, co-owns Amsterdam Holdings Inc, which submitted a proposal for the NBN project.

De Venecia III also claimed that Mr Arroyo was asking a $70-million "commission" from the project. Lozada corroborated portions of De Venecia's statements before the Senate, claiming that Abalos talked to Mr Arroyo on the cellular phone complaining about the NEDA's reluctance to place the NBN project under the BOT scheme.

On Saturday, Mrs Arroyo said that while she was unable to immediately address the problem on the NBN-ZTE contract, she later on took steps to "correct" the wrong by having the deal canceled in September 2007.

"Pero sa unang pagkakataon kausap ko ang pangulo ng China para sabihin kailangan kanselahin ang proyekto. Sa una nagulat, sa pangalawa, naintindihan niya at magkaibigan pa rin kami kahit kanselado ang proyekto (The first chance I had, I talked to the President of China and told him we had to cancel the contract. At first he was surprised
but he understood and we remain friends)," she said.

Arroyo said this showed that she did not want corruption. "Ang taumbayan galit sa katiwalian ganoon din ako (If the people are outraged over corruption, so am I)," she said.

She said the government had also taken other steps against corruption, including increasing the budget of the Ombudsman, and having various groups monitor government procurement.

Earlier this week, she suspended 11 official development assistance (ODA) projects, and had transparency groups monitor procurement and bidding processes of the government.

The groups include the Bishops Businessmen's Conference, Makati Business Club and Transparency and Accountability Network, according to Mrs Arroyo.

"Ito ang reporma sa sistema para mabawasan ang katiwalian sa pamahalaan (This is one of the reforms in the system that we have undertaken)," she said.

So far, she said the group had identified "20 biggest projects" to watch.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Communal action in Ateneo de Davao

Ateneo de Davao University held its "communal action" for truth this afternoon. 'Twas a bit of a surprise for me as I didn't pay attention to the announcements. Nevertheless, I caught it on time.

We started with a small rally on Roxas Avenue; Fr. Albert Alejo read a statement from the Ateneo de Davao community (text to follow). After that, we had a Mass in the covered court. Following Mass, we went back outside to light candles and pray together.

Like most people, I suppose, I was dismayed by what I thought was an ambiguous and non-commital stance from the CBCP. This afternoon's event showed me why. "Communal action" is just that: it's up to the community to decide what to do and how to do it, and mayhaps come to the light. I believe now that the bishops simply do not trust their own judgment on these complex issues, and hence their generic admonition. As Jesus once said: demons like these can only be cast out with fasting and prayer.

And, like most things Catholic, "communal action" can only be understood in the doing.

I was a little dismayed with the small turnout early on. But that led to another truth. For the longest time, we Filipinos have used sheer numbers as the barometer of the truth. That's the weapon that is now being used against us in Congress and elsewhere. Truth, however, is not something you vote on:

Even if only one man says that 1+1=2, whereas a hundred million million say that it is 1+1=3, it is that one man would be saying the truth.

May the Truth be with you.

Erwin Santos, copycat

Photo from The Professional Heckler

"You're nothing but a second-rate trying-hard copycat!"

I can't help but laugh out loud every time I see Erwin Santos cry on TV. For those of you who don't know it, Santos is the former aide of Jun Lozada at the Philippine Forestry Corporation, now tearfully confessing to all the wrongs committed by his old boss. (This he did on a government-owned TV channel. How convenient.)

While I'm not in a position to weigh the veracity of Erwin Santos' accusations, I can judge him based on his lachrymal performance. And the verdict "mwa" and four "ha's." As in "mwa ha ha ha ha!"

In the main, it's because this wet confession has all the earmarks of a "Me, too!" performance. Erwin Santos cribbed everything from Jun Lozada, down to the protestations of "I-still-consider-you-as-my-friend." It's just that, whether from a lack of sincerity or thespic skills (or both), Santos cannot even begin to match Jun Lozada. There simply is no "oomph!"

To quote the great Cherie Gil: "You're nothing but a second-rate trying hard copycat!"

(Also read Third Wave's Crying Men: Is Crying Good for us?)

My real age is...

I found this via Jen's Livejournal. My real age is 12.

You Act Like You Are 12 Years Old

You are a kid at heart. You never quite really grew up.

You still have an optimistic life view - and you look at the world with awe.

Playful and fun, you bring a lighthearted attitude to every part of life.

You're a little irresponsible, but your charm makes up for it (in most cases)!

And yes, I do enjoy Spongebob Squarepants. Especially the "Imagination" episode.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wiretap of Joey de Venecia and Jun Lozada

Caught wind of this in the radio this morning and decided to look it up as soon as I got on the Internet: the wiretapped conversation of Joey de Venecia and Jun Lozada.

Whoever put this out certainly wants to damage the credibility of the ZTE star witnesses. The action may have unintended consequences, however.

Granted that Joey de Venecia and Jun Lozada did have the conversation and were complicit in the corruption, it also shows three other things:

First, it lends credence to Jun Lozada's claim that Abalos said he wiretapped their conversations. Who has that capability? What of other wiretapped conversations?

Second, it supports the figures bandied about since the middle of last year. There's mention of the $130-M kickback. There's also mention of efforts to reduce the amount. Abalos is referred to as the "gatekeeper" of the account.

Third, it points to plans by the Chinese to put up a 16-hectare embassy along Roxas Boulevard. This is not significant of itself, but if this item proves to be true, it indicates the depth of knowledge that Jun Lozada has of these movements.

Of these, the third item is to me the most disturbing. It hints at the extent of these activities and their extranational nature. Together with the "web of corruption" diagram (shown in the print edition of the PDI), it shows that we are caught in China's efforts to expand its sphere of influence within the Philippines, while correspondingly diminishing the United States' own influence.

In other words, we are once more pawns in an international game.

I want to know: how much more does Jun Lozada know? How much of the activities he is aware of crosses the threshhold of treason? Who is involved?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Twenty percent

By now no one who has not been living under a rock these past two weeks will fail to recognize the name Jun Lozada or know some part of the misadventure that has befallen him. And while there's much preoccupation about the whos and the whens and the wheres and the hows, the question at the back of my mind is: why did a decent and intelligent fellow like Jun Lozada get involved in a such a dirty deal in the first place?

The problem, I'm afraid, is not limited to Jun Lozada. As soon as we enter what the jaded like to call the Real World, we are initiated into the gray areas that hover between what is right and what is permissible. These two are not always the same thing. With a nudge and a wink they tell us: cooperate, this is the way it's always been done. You don't have to play, they coo, just turn a blind eye.

It happens in the interplay between customers and vendors. It starts out small: "Throw in an extra USB flash memory and you have a deal." Sometimes it comes under the guise of tough negotiation: "Throw in a two-week training for us in Singapore and you have a deal."

Are these actually free? Of course not. Somehow somewhere someone has to pay for it.

Pretty soon, this becomes a regular practice, so much so that vendors instinctively "cost in" these extras. People become adept at asking for and hiding these freebies. What's an acceptable figure? 5%? 10%? How about the magic number, 20%? Conveniently this falls under "marketing expense."

Does this sound fishy? It doesn't matter. A wink and a nudge. That's the way it's always done. Makisama ka na lang.

And so like a rubber band, we expand the permissible area of our ethics to accommodate these situations. Pretty soon, a "marketing expense" of 20% becomes normal, an undeniable obligation even. If Jun Lozada was scandalized it was not because the kickback was there. It was because Abalos dared to push the envelope to 40%. Thus the famous words: "Bubukol iyan."

Before we point a sanctimonious finger at Jun Lozada and condemn him for his elastic ethics, consider all these other situations we take as a matter of course:

  • Free trips to conferences in exchange for helping to "push" their products.
  • "Educational" trips to another city or another country paid for by the vendor.
  • Discounts and freebies not reflected in invoices or delivery receipts.
  • Soliciting samples or donations from a vendor for a company event or during holidays.

    Really, what determines the ethical boundaries? Is it the amount? Is it the intent? What's acceptable? Have you done it? Should we condone such practices?
  • Davao Food Trip: Metro Grub

    Saturday evening found me, care of the Davao Food Trip series, in the company of blogpals at Metro Grub. Now, I'm no stranger to Metro Grub, having patronized the joint several times in the past. But it was good to have dinner there with a larger group.

    Metro Grub is one of the restaurants in Metro Avenue. It's a small place, almost-but-not-quite a hole in the wall. In keeping with the now-popular cafe style, the dining area spills out into the Metro Avenue covered court.

    Metro Grub has a no-frills student ambience. That's not surprising since it caters largely to the students from Holy Cross. This is not to say that it's dingy or unkempt; in fact, Metro Grub is immaculately clean and well-kept. Metro Grub just seems well-suited to informal gatherings I associate with college students.

    (One talking point for the evening was Metro Grub's tables: they had compartments underneath where you could keep your bags and other things. It was a hit with us notebook-toting bloggers.)

    Metro Grub's menu falls within the affordable end of the mid-range scale. Prices range from P40 to P120, with their rice bowl offerings hovering around P60 to P80. Since it's catering to the yuppie and student market, Metro Grub's specialties focus on single-serve dishes.

    My personal favorite in Metro Grub is their ample Chicken Teriyaki rice bowl. It's the right blend of sweet and savory. It's served with sticky rice and buttered vegetables, so it hits the spot. I also had a spot of pork spare ribs, something I'll be trying in full sometime soon.

    The other dishes we tried included their tangy kinilaw and their eponymous Metro Grub Chips. The other fellows each ordered their own bowls and dishes so there wasn't much opportunity to share. That's all right, though: I'll be going back for additional servings soon.

    Tuesday, February 19, 2008

    My Speed Dating Experience

    Ria Jose first announced news of the speed-dating event in Davao a couple of weeks ago during one of our food trips. Would I want to go? Absolutely! Even if I didn't get to meet anyone, it would be something new to write about.

    Some words about the place: Cafe Vivere is a cozy new coffee shop along Mt. Apo St. (near Davao Doctors Hospital.) The palettes of the cafe tend towards browns and sepias, lending a classy air to the ambience. They have free WiFi, too. I think I may have found a new alternative to the late lamented Spro Coffee Shop (though Spro will always have a place in my heart.)

    I arrived earl at Vivere, armed with my EeePC so I could access the Internet while waiting. I was the third guest, but unfortunately, all three of us were guys. We introduced ourselves and the other two guys started a lively discussion on American health care and politics while I sequestered myself in a corner with my computer. Not long after, Ria also arrived and we sat together discussing music lessons and wedding coordination (her business.) If no more girls would arrive I would at least have had the benefit of a semi-date.

    We didn't really get started until around a quarter past eight. That's when the other guys and gals started trickling in. Just before we began, our hostess Mauwi gave us sheets of paper with guide questions and scoring tables.

    The ground rules: no exchanging of contact information, no asking for age, no discussion of career. The last restriction was the first to go, however, because we found it easier to ask: "what do you do?"

    In total, there were five girls and eight guys, so the numbers were a little skewed. Gentlemen that we were, we guys rotated through the loop while the girls held the tables. We each had eight minutes to get to know our partners.

    One thing I noticed about speed dating was how open the girls were about the details of their lives and careers. On the whole, it felt like the girls talked more about themselves than I did. Or maybe I just know how to listen. Or pretend to listen. Or...hmmm....

    Of the five girls, I chose three, and of that number, I got two matches. Of the two I didn't pick, one was a reporter covering the story and the other...well, I shouldn't tell. The girl who didn't pick me looked like she really wasn't going to; so too bad we're never going to have that conversation about watercolors.

    Still, not a bad way to spend a weekend evening.

    Headline Porn: Rufa Mae Quinto

    I can't believe the Headline Porn Goddess missed this, so here it is.

    Headline picture and title like that? 'Nuff said.

    Kaibigan ni GMA Yahoo Group

    Just in case you're on the other side of the fence, you might want to check out this Yahoo group: KGMA, mga Kaibigan ni GMA. The group boasts of 506 members, but requires registration.

    If you like that, here are all the other groups you can explore.

    Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is Eee-evil!

    When Jun Lozada revealed what Neri thought of GMA (and which Neri now conveniently "forgets" saying), it brought to mind this earlier post, dated January 2007.

    See? The Village Idiot Savant called it first!

    Sigh. Never put in office someone who has severe Daddy issues.

    Photo scanned from a print issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

    Monday, February 18, 2008

    Manifest: Time to Go

    Got this via email:

    We are former government officials who have held high positions in the current and previous administrations. Having participated in the highest level of governance up close and personal, we now feel compelled to speak up for our demoralized public servants and arrest the decline of our institutions of governance. In the past, many of us kept quiet, going on about our daily chores, attending to business as usual.

    However, over the last few days, we, together with the rest of the country, have seen one man – Jun Lozada – finally decide that he can no longer be part of the massive graft and corruption that permeates this government. His testimony exposed that the corruption in the project he dealt with – the NBN ZTE project – is standard in what he called “dysfunctional government procurement processes.”

    Clearly, what Jun Lozada knew so terrified the powers-that-be that they unwittingly exposed what Jun called “the dark side of the state” – state-sponsored terrorism that had been rearing its ugly head in the various disappearances and extra-judicial killings in the past six years – and which almost took him as a victim in a botched kidnapping that the administration has been trying, with little success, to cover up.

    In a sense, all Jun Lozada did was to confirm what we already know: Our country is sliding into moral decadence. He also confirmed the systematic destruction of our democratic institutions and the systemic nature of our problems. We have seen this in the wanton disregard of checks-and-balances; abuse of the powers of the President; the cooptation through patronage and outright bribery of the other branches of government; politically sponsored corruption, facilitated, not thwarted, by bureaucratic procedures; the naked use of power and authority through the PNP, PSG, NAIA, among others, to strangle the truth; and the deployment of cabinet, sub-cabinet officials, and the military to obstruct justice and cover up illegal orders and acts.

    In the past, for too many times that we were confronted with threats to our democracy and to our moral values, our response was: “What can we do about it? What is our choice? Who will lead us?”

    These questions persist but, today, we can no longer stay silent. We can no longer ignore the reality of a government gone wild, wreaking havoc on our rights and institutions in a climate of impunity. We can no longer console ourselves in the strength of the peso, narrowing deficits, and an expanding economy. Even these ephemeral gains have not translated into a better life for the majority of our people, especially the poor.

    The future of our country is at stake. Our democratic institutions are under attack. What we stand to lose is the moral fabric of our society.

    We call on all government officials – Cabinet Secretaries, Undersecretaries, Heads of Agencies – who know about these anomalous transactions to join the heroic stand of Jun Lozada to come forward and speak out. We call on all those who know about the extrajudicial killings and disappearances to go public and tell the truth. We call on all those who can no longer endure this wrongful governance, with its structures of evil and unmoderated greed: IT IS TIME TO CUT CLEAN! IT IS TIME TO GO! .

    Tama na! Sobra na! Panahon na!

    Thursday, February 14, 2008

    Ryonosuke's "The Spider's Thread"

    "The Spider's Thread" is a short fantasy tale that aims to impart a moral lesson on compassion and salvation. It is told within the framework of the Buddha in the garden of Paradise, but at the core of the story is a robber, Kandata. In the story, Kandata is suffering in Hell, but a small kindness he performed in life earns him a chance at redemption. The Buddha lowers a spider's thread into Hell and Kandata uses this to ascend. Miraculously, the thin thread supports not only Kandata but several other souls also attempting escape. In a fit of selfishness, Kandata scolds the souls behind him. At that moment, the thread breaks.

    "Spider's Thread" is clearly meant to be just a story, not a canonical piece of religious text. Because of its theme and the elements that it uses, however, framing the text within a religious and philosophical structure would not be altogether inappropriate.

    What does the story say? Kandata's chance at salvation comes because of the mercy that he showed a spider. He is ultimately damned because he refused to share that salvation with others. The central message of this story follows a variation of the Golden Rule: "It will be done unto you as you would do unto others." In the absence of a more concrete theology, the measure of morality all comes down to natural law.

    There is something disturbing in the text, however, and it pertains to the utter lack of passion in the Buddha. Is the Buddha compassionate? He lowers the spider's thread for Kandata, yes, but this act stems from a desire for harmony and balance. Just as Kandata permitted a spider to live, Buddha offers Kandata an opportunity. When Kandata falls, that is that. There is no more effort to save Kandata, or any other soul. He returns to the contemplation of harmony in the garden of Paradise, sparing no more thought for the suffering souls. The Buddha is detached, yes, because the Buddha is cold. His ultimate goal is harmony.

    This world-view underscores the deficiencies of Oriental philosophy vis-a-vis the seemingly more aggressive Western philosophy. It espouses passivity, and passivity leads to stagnation. Contentment is the primary virtue, and thus, there is no more will nor drive to move forward. This is the malaise that struck China and Japan up until the 19th century, thereby exposing them to European invasion.

    Moreover, it is an unrealistic stance: Oriental philosophy optimistically hopes that the universe is intrinsically harmonious (as typified by the garden of Paradise in the story), with man being the disruptive force. But that is not the case: quite the opposite, the universe tends toward entropy, and it is man that establishes harmony and order because he can think and he can act.

    With this in mind, we can deconstruct this story. We can see the Buddha not as a benevolent mystic but as a cruel tyrant, content to meditate and wander in his walled garden while the world outside is in chaos and his fellow men are in suffering. Buddha has the opportunity to save them, but does so only once, more out of a sense of obligation to the balance in the universe than any real compassion. We might say that the failure was Kandata's own fault, but what really are we supposed to expect? Kandata is a brigand, most likely ignorant (and we might ask, what of the factors that caused Kandata to follow that twisted path). Kandata acts according to his own upbringing. Buddha, supposedly the more enlightened one, should have and could have done more. Instead, he is content to once more shut himself from the world, meditate on his own goodness, and say: "I have done my part."

    What is clearly lacking in the philosophy presented in this story is the virtue of forgiveness, specifically the forgiveness espoused in Christian philosophy. "How many times must I forgive my brother?" "Not seven times, but seventy times seven times." It is a latitude that Kandata would have appreciated. While Christians are capable of great sins, they are also capable of great repentance and greater forgivness.

    More quotes

    In looking up the Goebbels quote, I came across several other gems.

    This one is also from Goebbels, and it comes to mind whenever I see the baleful stare below the troglodytic brow of Deputy Chief Paul Mascariñas:

    “Intellectual activity is a danger to the building of character."

    Two others:

    “In politics stupidity is not a handicap.” -- Napoleon Bonaparte

    “Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.” -- Plato

    State lies

    I posted this as a response to one of the comments in the previous post. However, it struck a chord in view of recent national developments.

    “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

    This quote is attributed to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's minister of propaganda. Bear the quote in mind when they pillory Jun Lozada in paid newspaper ads and in the courts for his alleged misdemeanors in the Philippine Forestry Corporation while conveniently turning a blind eye to the NBN-ZTE scandals.

    Tuesday, February 12, 2008

    Mindsets of Inaction

    I have yet to see the Korina Sanchez interview with Jun Lozada in its entirety, but one thing that struck me during that dialogue were his thoughts on the mindset of the Filipino people with regard to corruption and politics. In particular, his exposition of the the three different mindsets of apathy struck a chord within me.

    I did a search, and it seems that someone transcribed the interview and sent it out in the form of a letter. I finally found it on a forum (warning: several trolls on that board.)

    Anyway, here is the transcript, which is as faithful to the interview as I remember it:
    “Once you achieved your aim of destroying the system you fought against, do not leave a single trace or else the bad habits that were formed during the period of the dysfunctional system and which still remains in the hearts and minds of the people, shall nurture this remnant and allow it to come back in a more vicious form.”

    This is one of the three conditions set forth by our beloved hero, Jose Rizal, this condition captures the framework of action and shall act as the guiding principle in any post-game scenario that must be formulated as part of the preparation to undo this brazenly corrupt regime.

    But before we consider any action to take, it is a must to first address the concerns and arguments of other individuals and sectors that I believe are critical in creating a broad base support for such an action.

    The Arrogant Mindset – first of which are purveyors of the Perversity issue whose main contention is that taking action may simply result to a more seriously worsened scenario than the present one we are against. This is typified by remarks such as “any action against the administration will only result to anger and chaos in the street, a situation that can be taken advantage of by ideologically and militarily cohesive groups as the CPP/NPA or the Right Wing military groups. This will be bad for the economy and will only worsen the already bad situation.” Let me warn you to look out for this arrogant mindset. It is arrogant because it is their view that the universe is totally predictable, and that they are capable of knowing ahead all the unforeseen, both the intended purpose and the unintended consequences of such purposive social action. It is a fact that no person has been endowed with such a gift that borders on the Divine.

    The Insulting Mindset - Second are the believers of the Futility issue, whose main contention is that any action taken will simply result in the same thing we are fighting against. This is typifies by remarks such as “Kahit ano pang gawin natin, kahit sino pang ilagay mo dyan, pare-pareho lang ang mga yan! Ganun pa rin ang kalalagyan natin, mangnanakaw din lang ang papalit dyan!” Filipinos who say these words are insulting our entire race. They are condemning all of us as incapable of patriotism and love for one another. It seems that they are the majority now. They may have the numbers, but they are wrong. I’ve always believed that real strength does not come with numbers but comes with commitment.

    The Untrustworthy Mindset – Third are the proponents of the jeopardy issue, whose main contention is that any action taken will be too costly for the intended purpose of removing a morally corrupt administration. This is typified by remarks such as “Hintayin nalang natin hanggang 2010, anyway, mahigit 2 taon na lang yan. Baka pag ginalaw yan, mas lalo pang masaktan ang ekonomiya at maghirap pa tayo lalo.” These type of statements are usually observed from people who are not willing to do the right action now for fear that they may not have the courage to do what is right in the future. Watch out for people who think like this, for they will be the practitioners of the same corrupt practices that you are now fighting against once they are the ones in power.

    What alternative action can we suggest?

    Take action together. There seems to be a common agenda among all sectors to eradicate state-sponsored corruption in the country, as practiced by the current leader and her immediate predecessors. This shared goal will be enough to put together a sober and well thought out post scenario plan that will address the concerns of the first group in a synergy that has certainly more chances of success compared to a number of separately conceptualized plans by different independent groups.

    Inaction is going to be more expensive both in short term cost and long term goals. The short term cost of this state-sponsored corruption is going to be enormous if measured in total peso cost. Our quick estimate just for the current Chinese projects will run into tens of billions of pesos. But the more costly and hidden cost from the public is the long-term damage to the government institutions, which will now have a new standard for public service that says “ Corruption pays as long as you steal big. Only the small goes to jail.” This argument will blow the second and third groups’ arguments for not taking action, because it is more costly and will not be ‘business as usual’ even if a new group takes over government.

    History will vindicate us. The history of our nation has repeatedly shown that Filipinos do not punish a sitting administration for political and authoritarian misdeeds but rather only upon gross moral transgressions such as exemplified by Rizal’s death by the Spaniards, Moises Padilla’s death from the hands of a Quirino henchman in Negros, Ninoy’s murder from Marcos’ thugs and the Tessie Aquino’s jig from the unsealed envelope in the Erap Senate. The Filipino people are now being subjected to such gross moral abuse in the ZTE-NBN deal, the bribery scandal, the Garci affair and other outright and blatant lies to the people.

    “Why be a single stone alone out there in the field, if you can be part of a great monument of the Filipino people?”

    Monday, February 11, 2008

    Roy Scheider, 75

    Just found out that actor Roy Scheider succumbed to myeloma. People will probably best remember him for his role as the police chief in "Jaws" but I will always associate him with "Blue Thunder", "Seaquest DSV", and "2010". My favorite tough-guy actor from the 1980s.

    Scheider, by the way, was also the source for the name of Space Sheriff Shaider (the original, not the execrable GMA spinoff). Apparently, Scheider was big in Japan.

    Scam at the grocery checkout lane

    If it weren't for a family friend's alertness and assiduousness, she would have been cheated of P100. Now, P100 isn't such a big amount, but as we like to think, it's the principle of the thing. Besides, the culprit was one of the cashiers at the grocery of Gaisano Mall of Davao.

    It's a story worth telling, if only for its cautionary value.

    Last weekend, Mrs. D purchased groceries worth P650.20 from Gaisano Mall. That was the amount that came out on the till display. She put two P500-bills on the counter.

    "Ma'am, do you have 20 centavos?" the cashier asked.

    Mrs. D fumbled in her purse for the coins. The cashier gave her change. Mrs. D was a little distracted because she was thinking of a few other things, so the bills didn't register immediately.

    The bills came out to P250. Mrs. D stared long at the bills, sensing something was wrong but not quite certain what it was. The receipt in her other hand also indicated change of P249.80.

    "Ma'am, are these other items also yours?" the cashier asked, pointing to the next pile. Mrs. D shook her head. "Then you're done."

    Mrs. D took five steps away from the lane before coming to her senses. She turned back and confronted the cashier.

    "My change is P350," Mrs. D demanded. "You only gave me P250."

    The cashier turned white. She blurted an apology and gave my Mrs. D another P100 bill. "I'm sorry, I forgot," she said.

    It was only when Mrs. D got home, looked over the receipt, and found out what happened.

    Indeed, the groceries purchased amounted to P650.20.

    However, instead of punching in P1,000 for the cash tendered, the cashier first punched in P100. That left a balance of P550.20.

    And then, the cashier punched in a cash tender of P800 instead of P900. That -- conveniently -- brought the change returned to P249.80!

    If Mrs. D had relied solely on the receipt to do her arithmetic for her, she would have lost P100. (Again, not a big amount who knows how many other victims there might be in a single day.)

    So all you shoppers out there, be careful. Mrs. D is reporting this to the management of Gaisano Mall. No doubt they will take action against the cashier but you never know if this tomfoolery is endemic among her cohorts.

    Friday, February 08, 2008

    The orchard

    In honor of Rodolfo "Jun" Lozada, a flawed and reluctant hero, but a hero nonetheless -- as all heroes are:

    Not too long ago, I visited a farm in the uplands. A sun-browned farmer in tattered clothes and well-worn slippers was my guide. He took me around an orchard that was wild with greenery. I marvelled at the fertile bounty.

    On the guava trees the branches bent low with heavy fruit. I turned to my guide and said to him: "You know, if you harvested these guava fruits, you could sell them in the lowlands for a good price."

    My guide smiled sheepishly under his fraying straw hat. White teeth glistened in the hot afternoon sun as he pronounced a bit of folk wisdom that I carry with me to this day:

    "If I did that, sir, the birds will have nothing to eat. What would happen to them?"

    Image from the

    At Midnight

    At midnight all the agents
    and all their superhero crew
    Come out and round up everyone
    that knows more than they do

    --"Desolation Row", Bob Dylan loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil.
    --John 3:19

    Pivotal events of the last four years have taken place within the wee hours of midnight. What is this allure of darkness that decisions and deeds must be done in the cover of night?

    On Monday a murder was in the offing. It had been spoken of for many weeks. The knives were unsheathed and the battle lines were drawn. It was not to be a corporeal murder of blood and gore but a political assassination. One hundred seventy congressmen turned their backs on their once-revered leader, trading in a toothless patron for a moneyed other. No love lost for the deposed, but the sight of out-and-out treachery rankles nonetheless.

    Something died that night, and it wasn't the victim's career. While we no longer expect our congressmen to be honest or temperate or intelligent, we thought they at least had one last remaining virtue. Now we know we cannot even count on them to be loyal. All for sale, all for sale.

    They waited till the fall of night to consummate the proceedings. One by one, they took the floor, solemnly intoning: "Mister Speaker, may I explain my vote?" Long and winded were the words, peppered with appeals to reform, national interest, and personal conscience. All that was merely civil veneer to hide the smacking lips slavering to the promise of pork. The verdict came past midnight when the world was fast asleep.

    Four years ago, this same court came together, also under the cloak of night, to hurriedly declare their present queen and benefactor the victor. Two years ago, another gathering in the stillness of the night to kill an impeachment complaint. Always, always, always: in secrecy, in mystery, hidden from our eyes.

    So the darkness spreads. In the name of national interest, you cannot know and you must not know and you will never know. The police and the army have become state-sponsored terrorists, thugs with guns and batons and tear gas. Their code words are "Do not ask, do not look, do not speak." Their motto is "To punish and enslave." They are listening, and they will swoop down on you in the middle of the night, while you are sleeping....

    ...if you let them.

    Ask. Look. Speak. And do not go gently.

    Rat king

    With all the Chinese New Year astrological mummery about the Year of the Rat and the intolerably saccharine rodent anthropomorphism in vogue this season, I thought I'd share this picture I found via Boing Boing:

    What is that, you ask? It's a rat king, or rather, the mummified remains of a rat king. A rat king, according to the Wikipedia, is a mass of rats whose tails have become inexplicably intertwined.

    Rat kings are cryptozoological phenomena said to arise when a number of rats become intertwined at their tails, which become stuck together with blood, dirt, and excrement. The animals consequently grow together while joined at the tails, which are often broken. The phenomenon is particularly associated with Germany, where the majority of instances have been reported.

    Sort of like the Lower House of the Philippine Congress, eh?

    Wednesday, February 06, 2008

    Forgiving Manero

    Fellow Davao blogger Keith Bacongco witnesses Norberto Manero's visit to Kidapawan where, over twenty years ago, he murdered Fr. Tulio Favali and attempted to kill Fr. Peter Geremia. Fr. Geremia was on hand to welcome and forgive Manero.

    Repentance and forgiveness is such forgotten words nowadays, or reduced to mere trivialities, that seeing the pictures sent chills down my spine. Would I be able to? Would you? We must.

    Ash Wednesday

    Ash Wednesday today. Attended the early morning Mass with my mother. Lent begins. To mark the occasion, here's T.S. Eliot:


    Because I do not hope to turn again
    Because I do not hope
    Because I do not hope to turn
    Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
    I no longer strive to strive towards such things
    (Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
    Why should I mourn
    The vanished power of the usual reign?

    Because I do not hope to know
    The infirm glory of the positive hour
    Because I do not think
    Because I know I shall not know
    The one veritable transitory power
    Because I cannot drink
    There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

    Because I know that time is always time
    And place is always and only place
    And what is actual is actual only for one time
    And only for one place
    I rejoice that things are as they are and
    I renounce the blessèd face
    And renounce the voice
    Because I cannot hope to turn again
    Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
    Upon which to rejoice

    And pray to God to have mercy upon us
    And pray that I may forget
    These matters that with myself I too much discuss
    Too much explain
    Because I do not hope to turn again
    Let these words answer
    For what is done, not to be done again
    May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

    Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
    But merely vans to beat the air
    The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
    Smaller and dryer than the will
    Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

    Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
    Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

    Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
    In the cool of the day, having fed to sateity
    On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained
    In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
    Shall these bones live? shall these
    Bones live? And that which had been contained
    In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
    Because of the goodness of this Lady
    And because of her loveliness, and because
    She honours the Virgin in meditation,
    We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
    Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
    To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
    It is this which recovers
    My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
    Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
    In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
    Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
    There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
    And would be forgotten, so I would forget
    Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
    Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
    The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
    With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

    Lady of silences
    Calm and distressed
    Torn and most whole
    Rose of memory
    Rose of forgetfulness
    Exhausted and life-giving
    Worried reposeful
    The single Rose
    Is now the Garden
    Where all loves end
    Terminate torment
    Of love unsatisfied
    The greater torment
    Of love satisfied
    End of the endless
    Journey to no end
    Conclusion of all that
    Is inconclusible
    Speech without word and
    Word of no speech
    Grace to the Mother
    For the Garden
    Where all love ends.

    Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
    We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
    Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,
    Forgetting themselves and each other, united
    In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
    Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
    Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.


    At the first turning of the second stair
    I turned and saw below
    The same shape twisted on the banister
    Under the vapour in the fetid air
    Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
    The deceitul face of hope and of despair.

    At the second turning of the second stair
    I left them twisting, turning below;
    There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
    Damp, jaggèd, like an old man's mouth drivelling, beyond repair,
    Or the toothed gullet of an agèd shark.

    At the first turning of the third stair
    Was a slotted window bellied like the figs's fruit
    And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
    The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
    Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
    Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
    Lilac and brown hair;
    Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind
    over the third stair,
    Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
    Climbing the third stair.

    Lord, I am not worthy
    Lord, I am not worthy

    but speak the word only.

    Who walked between the violet and the violet
    Whe walked between
    The various ranks of varied green
    Going in white and blue, in Mary's colour,
    Talking of trivial things
    In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
    Who moved among the others as they walked,
    Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs

    Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
    In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary's colour,
    Sovegna vos

    Here are the years that walk between, bearing
    Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
    One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing

    White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
    The new years walk, restoring
    Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
    With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
    The time. Redeem
    The unread vision in the higher dream
    While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.

    The silent sister veiled in white and blue
    Between the yews, behind the garden god,
    Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke no word

    But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
    Redeem the time, redeem the dream
    The token of the word unheard, unspoken

    Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

    And after this our exile

    If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
    If the unheard, unspoken
    Word is unspoken, unheard;
    Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
    The Word without a word, the Word within
    The world and for the world;
    And the light shone in darkness and
    Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
    About the centre of the silent Word.

    O my people, what have I done unto thee.

    Where shall the word be found, where will the word
    Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
    Not on the sea or on the islands, not
    On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
    For those who walk in darkness
    Both in the day time and in the night time
    The right time and the right place are not here
    No place of grace for those who avoid the face
    No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice

    Will the veiled sister pray for
    Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
    Those who are torn on the horn between season and season, time and time, between
    Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
    In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
    For children at the gate
    Who will not go away and cannot pray:
    Pray for those who chose and oppose

    O my people, what have I done unto thee.

    Will the veiled sister between the slender
    Yew trees pray for those who offend her
    And are terrified and cannot surrender
    And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
    In the last desert before the last blue rocks
    The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
    Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.

    O my people.

    Although I do not hope to turn again
    Although I do not hope
    Although I do not hope to turn

    Wavering between the profit and the loss
    In this brief transit where the dreams cross
    The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
    (Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
    From the wide window towards the granite shore
    The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
    Unbroken wings

    And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
    In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
    And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
    For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
    Quickens to recover
    The cry of quail and the whirling plover
    And the blind eye creates
    The empty forms between the ivory gates
    And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

    This is the time of tension between dying and birth
    The place of solitude where three dreams cross
    Between blue rocks
    But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
    Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

    Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
    Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
    Teach us to care and not to care
    Teach us to sit still
    Even among these rocks,
    Our peace in His will
    And even among these rocks
    Sister, mother
    And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
    Suffer me not to be separated

    And let my cry come unto Thee.

    Tuesday, February 05, 2008

    Philippine Genre Stories via LBC

    Brief plug for Philippine Genre Stories: you can now buy your copies via LBC.

    I think this is a pretty nice innovation. I'm thinking of other possibilities for selling this way.

    Aseya Bistro Orientale

    An unexpected text message came my way Friday evening. "I'm on my way to Aseya. See you there." From Blogie. Well, that was a surprise. I knew Aseya was next in line for the Davao Food Trip but I didn't sign up for it. Nevertheless, food is food and free food is free food and free good food is even better, so I went.

    Aseya Bistro Orientale is a small Oriental restaurant is housed under Humberto's Hotel along J. Palma Gil. It bills itself as an Oriental restaurant because it offers the whole range of Asian food: Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese; but its primary specialty is in Japanese and Thai food.

    On hand to welcome us warmly were the owners of Aseya, Ponchit and Lani Ponce-Enrile. As it turned out, they themselves prepared our sumptuous meal. Ponchit specializes in Thai food, having studied cooking in Thailand; Lani specializes in Japanese. Ponchit pointed out that they get many of their ingredients directly from Thailand.

    Aseya has a comfortable yet homey atmosphere: cream-colored walls, curtains, high-backed chairs. It reminds me of an elegant aunt's well-kept house. Just about the only complaint I have is that the ceiling is too low so the sound from the other tables carry over. Other than that, Aseya would be just fine for a family gathering.

    And the food! Blogie already posted the full menu for the night so I won't repeat the details. The meal consisted of several savory dishes, all of them suitably Oriental and up to my taste. What did stand out were the kamameshi, the Thai sushi, and the sauteed tofu. The kamamesh was fragrant and nutty; the Thai sushi was delectably different; and the tofu was spicy enough to my liking.

    If there's anything that makes a big difference in Aseya's cooking, it's in their generous helping of mushrooms. The mushrooms, Ponchit tells us, is part of their bounty imported from Thailand.

    Fortuitously, February 1 also turned out to be Aseya's first anniversary. After dinner, Lani gave us souvenir chopsticks -- again from Thailand. Dark hardwood, carved tips, and a woven wrapper. Very nice. Make sure you visit them on their anniversary.

    It was only after dinner that Blogie told me that he had missent the text message to me and I wasn't originally part of the entourage. What to make of it? Meh! With food like Aseya's, it was what I would like to call a happy accident.

    Monday, February 04, 2008

    Story and Plot

    Story and plot. In common usage, we use these two terms interchangeably, making no real distinction between one and the other. But in formal literary studies, story and plot are two subtly different concepts. Understanding their differences can help you tell more engaging tales.

    Story is the straightforward account of what happened. It is the essential core, the most basic idea, the simplest framework on which everything hangs. A story you can sum up in one or two sentences because you already take out all the embellishments.

    Plot, on the other hand, is the presentation of the story. It is the sequence of events by which you unfold a tale in order to maximize suspense and delight. If story is the skeleton, plot is the guts, muscle, and skin. Plot is what makes a story interesting.

    To better understand the distinction between story and plot, let's dissect a well-known example, "Star Wars: A New Hope."

    What is the story of "A New Hope"? If you strip it down to its bare essentials, it's about a simple farmboy who rescues a princess and kills the dark lord threatening the kingdom (or the galaxy, in this case.) And there you have the core. It's not very interesting but that about sums it up. It's also the story of many a typical fairy tale.

    Where things get interesting is when the plot comes in. What is the plot of "A New Hope?" It starts not with the farmboy but with the princess. The princess is on the run but is captured by the dark lord. She manages to send out a call for help to an old wizard. The call finds its way to the farmboy, who passes it on to the wizard. The wizard enlists and trains the farmboy. They smuggle themselves to the kingdom with the help of a lovable rogue, only to be captured by the dark lord. They escape and rescue the princess. The wizard dies while securing their escape. They assemble a desperate army and, against all odds, defeat the dark lord.

    Note that the plot follows the basic story but manages to introduce some twists and turns that make it slightly different from other stories in the presentation, e.g., the help of the lovable rogue and the sacrifice of the wizard. It is in the plot where you have a clear beginning and a clear end; and in between, you get to play with the essential storytelling question: "what happens next?"

    Plot-wise, "A New Hope" follows a linear sequence. It doesn't necessarily have to be so. Plot can incorporate flashbacks or flash forwards, or even sideways digressions. By rearranging the plot, you can even tell a story backwards. Anything goes, but the point is to make the story interesting in the presentation.

    Plot also affects story. As you add more elements, you might find yourself telling a different story. Going back to our Star Wars example, if you interconnect "A New Hope" with its companion pieces in the original Star Wars trilogy, "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi", it becomes something else. The original trilogy now becomes the story of a boy who turns his father from evil back to good.

    If you expand the Star Wars plot to include all six films, the focus shifts away from the farmboy Luke to his father Anakin. It's now the story of how an ambitious young man turns to evil in pursuit of power, and how he finds redemption through his son.

    This distinction and relationship between story and plot has been very well studied and goes as far back as the 1920s. If you'd like to know more about this fascinating topic, you can read up on some articles on Literary Theory, in particular, the works of Boris Tomashevski and Vladimir Propp.