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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Should I Invest Or Insure? (Part Two)

In the previous post, I discussed two factors to help you decide whether to invest or insure. We continue with a discussion of the other three factors mentioned. Do remember that there are other considerations, but the ones I discuss are the ones most frequently raised or talked about when I meet my clients.

Time Horizon

Used as a gauge for financial advisers to recommend where clients will invest their money in, time horizon would refer to a time period in which to achieve your financial goals. This is where there is a clear delineation between investment and insurance.

I often use a single question to give my recommendation to clients as to where they will invest in: "What are you investing for?" This seemingly simple question can open the discussion into bank account balances, lifelong dreams and purpose in life, but in a less romantic but more numerical sense, it gives me a specific number to base my recommendation on.

A 30 year old who wishes to begin saving for retirement has a good 30 years ahead of her to attain her goal. But a 22 year old who wants to travel to India in a couple of years will not have a lot of time to allow his funds to grow. Couple that with the fact that a 30 year old will (statistically) have a more regular, higher paying job and some money already in her savings account, compared with the 22 year old (who is just starting out, and may realize he is in the wrong company or even field), and probably is still busy "partying it up" at each payday, and their time horizons will affect where they will invest in - or if they should even be investing at all.

This is why when I meet parents who have very young children, I cannot help but advise them to begin investing for their child's education ASAP. In investing, a longer time horizon tends to be equated with a larger fund value, and given the cost of college education these days - and the fact that schools can legally increase this amount every year - it would be wise to begin investing NOW. (Actually it should have been yesterday, but spilled milk and all.)

In contrast, insurance proceeds are triggered by an event - usually death, but sometimes, the onset of an illness (depending on the type of insurance product). The time horizon is instantaneous (all one needs is for the event to occur), and which is why those with dependents should consider insurance as being more imperative than investments. You need time to maximize the latter, but no such requirement is needed for insurance.

(Courtesy of


In both cases, it is in one's best interest to get in while you are young: Invest early, insure early.

As previously mentioned, in investing, one needs the element of time on one's side, in order to maximize potential gains. When you look at the charts of funds available for the general public to invest in (and I'm excluding those that are considered high-risk, speculative or derivatives), the price per unit goes through a series of ups and downs on a daily basis, but are generally in a line that slopes upward. Over the long term, most funds perform in this fashion.

Even when the Asian financial crisis hit (which saw a noticeable dip in fund performance), if the investor did not pull out his funds (which was still a paper loss at that point), he would have recovered by last year, and even surpassed it, especially if it was in a mutual fund, where the investment is spread throughout several companies and even industries.

I've had clients who withdrew their funds after less than a year of investing, and predictably, most of them "lost," especially since they said they wouldn't need the funds until 20 years later, and which is the information I used to recommend them placing a portion of their money in equities (stocks). Whether out of need, or that they wanted to place it elsewhere, given that funds have an entry fee, management fee and the timing of the withdrawal, chances are an investor would be suffering a loss.

I mention this because it is important for clients to remember that the information they give their financial adviser should be accurate, because it is the basis upon which we give our advice. In the same way that you go to a doctor and he doesn't give you antibiotics without first asking you about your condition, we only give recommendations based on the information we receive.

Insurance premiums are pretty much age and health based - and this is something that makes sense statistically. When one is younger, chances are great that you are healthier and free from most diseases or illnesses, which result in lower premiums. Rates are computed in part based on the mortality and morbidity experience of age groups, and it's no wonder that if you were to get the same product, a 59 year old would be paying much more than someone who was 21.

A word of caution, though. The age when people are getting tumors and life threatening conditions is getting younger, based on my experience. I've had a 31 year old client who was denied insurance coverage because of a tumor (even though it was benign). I also remember another client who worked out everyday (he was in his 40's), and did not want to consider getting an insurance plan for himself (he is single but his parents depended on him financially).

Out of the blue, he calls me one day and asks to meet with me - with the news that he now has cancer, owing to family medical history. (One thing I pointed out a year before when I was encouraging him to get protected with life insurance). It may be our stress levels, our lifestyles, but whatever the case, the age when people contract these diseases has become earlier.

Insurance is a strange product because you have to get it when you don't need it, and you can't avail of it anymore once you do.

Current Financial Condition

If you only had 100 pesos left and it is still three days to payday, would you opt to buy dinner or the pair of shoes on sale?

Many of our buying decisions are based on "how much do I have in my wallet?" This, I feel, is because most of us are content in living from paycheck to paycheck. As a country, we have one of the lowest savings rate in Asia. We have not inculcated in ourselves, and especially our children, the discipline of setting aside a specific amount from our paycheck, to remain untouched and only to be used in emergencies. This is a topic that deserves a separate post, but I mention it because in giving financial advice, it is important for advisers to know where a client is right now in order to make an informed recommendation.

If one has limited funds, or especially a pressing need for immediate funds, it would not be wise to either insure or invest. If we are at a level where there is no safety net, then that should be a financial adviser's first priority: to recommend that a client first make sure s/he has enough funds in a savings account to ensure personal needs and emergency needs can be met if the need arises.

One might argue that an insurance product is a safety net. True, but only if the daily needs are met, and can be reasonably met in the near future. Only then should a client begin to assess the correct insurance product for him or herself. Other than need, cost is also a factor - and if needed, a client could consider getting a term (temporary) insurance first (lower premium), which is most likely convertible to a permanent plan, which costs more.

As stated previously, money for investing is something you should be prepared to lose. This is why you should gauge - honestly - that the amount you are putting up for investment makes up only a part of your overall financial plan, and one that doesn't impinge or take away from funds for other purposes. Only by assessing your current financial condition truthfully can you make a realistic estimate of how much you can or should be investing.

Financial advisers can only do so much - the action portion of this equation belongs to each and everyone of us. I've had my fair share of people whom I've encouraged to either invest or insure, but they've delayed for a myriad of reasons. The only thing constant is that those who acted - they invested or insured themselves - are always in a better position financially than those who did not, who dilly-dallied, and wasted time letting their money grow, or already contracted diseases that they have been rendered no longer insurable.

Financial knowledge is good , but it doesn't benefit you until one acts on it.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Should I Invest Or Insure? (Part One)

This is a question I get asked often as a financial adviser. The short answer to that is: it depends. (Or as my friend who likes to joke a lot says, it defense.) The long winded reply has to do with many factors - including, but not limited to: purpose, number of dependents, time horizon, age and current financial condition.

In my years in the financial industry, I have noticed many clients have been given mismatched products in relation to their needs. This may be because the client was given not too well informed advice, or the vendor did not know (or did not care to know) the financial status of the client, or the client was taken in (in the vernacular, nasilawan) by the returns promised that s/he didn't read the fine print: returns not guaranteed, paying period could be a lifetime, or the risks are all your own, among others.

Let's tackle the factors listed above.


It may seem like a basic premise, asking a client why they met with a financial adviser in the first place. But in an effort to make more sales, some bank employees or insurance agents end up being product pushers - even if the client has no need for the particular product being shoved face first.

This is why financial education is important. Similar to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, in financial circles we also have a guide in order to help a client better assess and understand what financial needs are more imperative to achieve first, before moving on to the next level.

The lowest level of this guide is ensuring you have enough cash and liquidity for your emergency and daily needs. This safety net is an amount that should equal around 3 to 6 months worth of salaries. Notice the qualifiers "emergency" and "daily", which means it can cover both expected expenses (like your weekly grocery shopping) and the unexpected events (like a car needing massive repair from a car accident).

The next level would be protection - ensuring that those who are dependent on your income for survival will be taken care of should the breadwinner be taken out of the picture. I come from a Chinese family that had serious (cultural) reservations about ever mentioning death, so I understand clients who find it an unpleasant topic, but the more you put off this discussion, the more it becomes difficult to manage financial affairs if the breadwinner dies.

There will be burial or cremation related expenses, final medical and hospital bills to deal with, estate taxes on properties left behind, and the specter of "how will we earn for our daily needs" has to be answered at that moment, because life goes on for those left behind despite a horrible loss.

Investments form the last level, and these are purposely relegated last, because they should be entertained only if you have excess funds to do so. The simplest reason I can give for this is because investments, by definition, are never guaranteed. As part of one's financial portfolio, these should be funds you are prepared to lose and write off should the investment not perform to expectation. Yes, there are ways to manage risks (like diversification), but it will never be absent and an investor will have to take that as part and parcel of the investing world.

Therefore, if all you have in your bank account is 20,000 pesos, using it all in buying the equivalent amount of shares in a mutual fund would be unwise as it leaves you with nothing for the first two needs. I mention this specifically because I have met clients who eschew saving for emergencies or insurance, but whose eyes light up the moment the word "investment" is bandied around and are ready to "go all-in," to use gambling parlance, rather fittingly.

Number of Dependents

If there are people who are depending on your income for their survival or needs, then you have a dependent. This relationship is easiest to understand in a parent-child relationship. Every need the child has - food, shelter, clothing, transportation, tuition fees, school uniforms and supplies, all of these are supposed to be provided by the parent who is the breadwinner of the family.

It stands to reason that the child will be financially distraught if the parent dies and the source of income is discontinued. If the spouse is a housewife or househusband, then this will mean a drastic change in occupation, from homemaker to a member of the working force. (And which raises new questions, like who will now bring the children to school? Who will take care of the daily chores since no one will be available during the day to do them? How will the surviving parent now fetch the child from school, whose classes end at 2 PM, when work hours end at 5:30 PM?)

Having insurance will alleviate many of these valid concerns. The surviving spouse will have ready funds for immediate needs like the bills that come like clockwork, and do not stop just because the breadwinner has passed on. S/he may also hire a yaya (nanny) or tagaluto (cook) to help with the chores. Most importantly, having ready funds buys time for the remaining parent to look for a job, which we all know is one thing that is not easy to come by.

(Image from

In the insurance industry, it is quite often more difficult to introduce the concept of insurance to single people, seeing as they do not have immediate dependents. The reason "no need" is true - at first glance. However, with people living longer these days, a new demographic has come up: parents who depend on a single child's income. Since one or both parents are now retired, if they haven't saved for their retirement, a child is often culturally obligated to foot the bill, so to speak, lest a melodramatic scene with the line "pinag-aral ka namin sa mabuting eskwelahan!" (we sent you to good schools) should come to pass.

Adding to that cultural pressure, single people are often "tapped" into being benefactors of their siblings who are married but unable to provide adequately for their own families, having 5 or 6 kids to boot. I have clients who come to me, complaining that their sister would "guilt" them by saying "napaka-selfish mo naman, tulungan mo naman kami sa gastusin, wala ka namang pamilya, eh!" (you are so selfish, come on, you have to help us with our expenses, it's not like you have a family of your own) and having a financial burden they didn't even sign up for.

A newer concern for single people is who will take care of them when they get a major disease, like a heart attack or stroke. Being without the traditional support of a family, they will have to rely on fending for themselves - and true enough, I have clients who come to me specifically for this purpose: health insurance, which ensures they will have a ready fund should a catastrophic illness strike. We have made advances in treating illnesses like cancer, that they are already seen as surmountable nowadays, but at the end of the day, you need funds to avail of them.

Whether you are married with kids, married without kids, single with kids, or single by choice, it seems inevitable that you will have dependents. It would be prudent to prepare for it while you still can.


I will discuss the last three factors mentioned above in my next post. Having been in this field for a number of years, I can say that even when armed with sound financial information, people tend to procrastinate on acting on it. Reading materials can only do so much - the will to act will come from you.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Problem With Tolerance

This past week saw two news items that, as the lingo goes, broke the internet. One was the SCOTUS' (Supreme Court of the United States) decision to uphold marriage equality, and the other was the UP (University of the Philippines) graduate and summa cum laude Tiffany Uy getting a near perfect GWA (Graded Weighted Average) at the country's premier learning institution.



Both of which highlighted a concept that may not be as obvious as it first seems: tolerance.

An interesting word, to be sure. The closest translation I can come up with using the vernacular would be tinitiis or sinisikmura when one says "I'm just tolerating you." Curiously, the first term alludes to suffering to the point of wanting to let go, and the second term refers to the stomach, also a reference to wondering how much one can stomach the person/situation being faced.

None of which are ideal situations, or at least not the kind of remark anyone can describe as being a positive note. What it conjures up is a threshold: one that will make me go over to the other side of the field. It comes across as a threat, a warning, or a dark foreboding. I can't imagine anyone feeling good about themselves or their self confidence should they hear the phrase, "tinitiis lang kita, malapit ka na." (I'm just tolerating you, you're nearing my breaking point.)

But it seems that many Filipinos have had enough, judging from the Facebook posts I've been seeing. Enough of those gays, abusado na sila sa gay rights nila. (abusive with their so-called gay rights) Enough of these Chinese Filipinos pero Instik na Intsik ang pangalan naman (but the name is so obviously Chinese) getting slots at UP which are for Filipinos ONLY and for the poor. If that is not homophobia or racism in full display, I don't know what is.

See, the problem with the word tolerance is that people who espouse this stance, whether with the LGBT community or immigrants, are more interested in finding reasons to drop their tolerance. Because, heaven knows, it is such a weight to appear less homophobic or racist in public. Any time one engages in pretense, there is sure to be an emotional cost (which often manifests itself physically). How can there not be? You are not being your true self, you have to keep up a facade, you cannot express how you really feel. So when a trigger like "two men can get married legally in the USA now" or "the best student in UP is a Tsinoy (Chinese Filipino)" it is a signal to loosen their grip on feigned acceptance.

That, to me, is what tolerance really is: feigned acceptance. Trying to appear accommodating when you are seething inside. Waiting for the right moment to bubble over.

In the book And Say Hi To Joyce, journalists Deb Price and Joyce Murdoch go over the hate letters they have received over the years as a lesbian couple and find striking similarities between those who exhibit misogynistic, racist and homophobic attitudes. In Jessica Joseph's piece on Huffington Post, its' title also draws the same observation: Homophobia And Racism: Similar Methodologies Of Dehumanization.

When the LGBT community gains the civil right to marriage - not in church or forcing any religion to officiate these unions - why is it treated as a threat, in particular to the Roman Catholic Church in this country? Will our local counterparts go the way of the American conservatives, some of whom have threatened to set themselves on fire, get divorced (now there's a concept: imposing religious values on others while threatening to break self-imposed rules) or moving to Canada, should marriage equality be upheld by their Supreme Court? (Many of those "threatening" are unaware Canada has had marriage equality for a decade now.) Will heterosexual couples suddenly turn into cockroaches because of this ruling, a civil, secular ruling that has absolutely no bearing on how any church is to conduct its' own wedding ceremonies?

When Tiffany puts in the hard work in order to achieve her near perfect final grade, does it stop other "mukhang Pinoy na Pinoy" (looks ethnically Filipino) Filipino students from achieving the same GWA? How does mere acceptance into UP ensure that she will get the GWA she graduated with? Is it fair to say (as some online comments have posited) that she had wealth to help her achieve her academic goal, disregarding the fact that several news items over the past years have highlighted those who have come from humble backgrounds (read: not rich) or even battling physical disabilities to become top of their class?

What will it take for our society to fully and wholeheartedly accept gay people or Tsinoys? When can we turn tolerance into acceptance?

It won't happen if we happen to keep invoking ancient texts to say "my holy book tells me they are an abomination." Or spreading ideas like "ang mga mukhang Instik dapat ipadeport sa Tsina! Alis!" (Those who look like ethnic Chinese should be deported immediately back to China! Away!)

It won't be a reality when we fallaciously equate same sex relationships with pedophilia or bestiality, as if children or animals could sign contracts and have legal standing.

Nor will it come to pass as long as we keep calling them Instik beho, or thinking that all people who look singkit only perform well in school because they are rich/had connections/"only" did the grunt work. As if hard work was something to scoff at. (Seriously, who would be a better role model: Tiffany with the 1.004 GWA or one of those gyrating dancers in barely nothing on our noontime shows?)

The best way to combat tolerance - and changing it to acceptance - is to actually know the person you thought you knew so much of, but have barely spoken to. (And in this, it takes both sides to make it work.) I have seen so much hatred and spitefulness hurled at both Tiffany and the LGBT community these last few days. One used the cloak of nationalism, the other one, of supposed moral uprightness.

News flash: bigotry wrapped in either of those things is still bigotry.

Your marriage is not devalued because Susan and Trixie tied the knot. You can still beat Tiffany's GWA - albeit it will be much harder, after she set the bar so high - even if you look Pinoy na Pinoy. Until we focus on how to better ourselves - individually - and to stop judging others for what they achieve in their own lives in order to feel superior, that is the best we can come up with.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Dear Parents, Is A Bag More Important Than Your Child's Education?

That is the question I am led to ask upon seeing this news article.

(Photo courtesy of

While the item is discussing a situation happening in Bangkok, I have no doubt that it is also happening on our shores. The article opens with the following paragraph:

Luxury items such as Hermes, Gucci and Louis Vuitton handbags and Blythe dolls have been sold at pawnshops nationwide as parents struggle to find money for their children's tuition fees and related expenses for the new school year this month.

The rest of the article seemed to focus more on how much money the items could fetch, and the security measures employed by different pawnshops to secure these pricey items. As a financial adviser, one of the skills I have to use repeatedly is to draw out information even from what little data is offered by the person in front of me.

Given the paragraph above, one can conclude the following.

1. Luxury items induce desire and are coveted. As a friend once pointed out, they are designed to elicit envy in those who do not have them, and pride in those who do. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it sets the next point up.

2. Not having enough money to maintain a luxury lifestyle does not stop people from buying these items. Clearly, the people who resorted to pawning or selling their LV bags or notebooks/tablets (also mentioned later in the article) had enough resources to purchase them - but at the expense of other expenses or needs that have to be addressed.

3. Being a parent does not automatically endow you with the "children come first" instinct. This is something that I thought would be natural, or even primal. I've heard of new parents who have declared that their world has changed - forever - the moment they see their newborn.

But what happens after that heart wrenching moment? I've seen some parents of my schoolmates who are absent - either physically because they would rather be at work or attend parties than spend time with their kids, or emotionally, unable to connect with their children and not having any desire to do so.

And given the paragraph above, I cannot help but wonder: how is it that any parent can afford to buy a luxury bag but forget to realize the obligation of funding a child's education? It is an entirely different situation when a parent is working already to the bone and still can't make ends meet - at least s/he is trying, given his/her circumstances. But a luxury bag - or any luxury item - automatically means you have a substantial amount of money, which leads nicely to the next point.

4. What we do with what we have is always a choice. Since we have established that these are people who are in possession of a not insignificant amount of money - being able to buy a luxury bag - it becomes apparent that they have deemed "having an Hermes bag" more imperative then "I have to save for my son's tuition next year."

If that means I'm being judgmental, I'd like to say that my "judgment" is based on the actions exhibited. It is easy to shriek and say "I love my child! How dare you judge me? You don't even have your own offspring!" but I have always believed something I have been taught: actions will always speak louder.

The moment you have a bubbly baby in your arms, parents should immediately begin mapping out a financial plan that will prepare them for the coming financial obligations. That includes constant saving, investing in vehicles that overtake the inflation rate, budgeting and cutting costs whenever possible. It must be impressed that another human being is now fully dependent on you - that to me is the simplest definition of being a parent. And that brings up my final point.

5. Make your financial priorities clear. Parents are supposed to put their children's needs before their own. I italicized the word because not every parent does that - obviously, otherwise that article about bags and pawnshops wouldn't have been written.

The best way to do that is to know where you are - how much you have, are earning - and what your goals are for the near and far(ther) future; this will lead you into actions to bridge the gap between the two. As an example: you are earning 40,000 a month currently. You have to compute what your child's tuition fees would be by the time s/he enters college, taking into account inflation and the amount of increase that laws allow schools to impose, and the actual school where you want your child to study. (Many parents are fanatical about keeping the Alma Mater tradition.)

That will help you decide how much to save every month from this point on, where to invest your money so it can earn more than what a deposit account can give you, and if needed, to take a job/s that will provide another stream of income (especially if you want your child studying in a 'prestigious' school). Having a goal can help immensely in deciding your actions as far as finances are concerned.

By all means, splurge once in a while. Get a Frappuccino as a treat. No one is advocating being a miser - and it's no surprise that the word leads nicely to being miserable. But if you find yourself rationalizing all kinds of reasons to down that frothy concoction everyday, or getting a new wardrobe every payday - all the while you don't have any savings at all or aren't building up your retirement fund - you might not be looking for a treat so much as trying to blow your paycheck at every chance you can get.

In an ideal (unrealistic) world, we would have unlimited funds to buy everything our hearts desire. But unless you belong to the top 1%, allocating our funds is a reality we face everyday. What we choose to spend on reveals what we prioritize.

One thing I know, though: I haven't heard of anyone being called a bad parent just because she didn't have a designer bag. Unless there's a new memo about parenting that I haven't received.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Night Of Feasting At Lugang Cafe

Thanks to my Facebook feed, I chanced upon this excellent promotion by Lugang Cafe.

And what a delicious chance it turned out to be.

I have read on some food blogs that have raved about Lugang's version of the dimsum staple, xiao long bao. So reading this promotion made me smile because I could have unlimited amounts of it. I was invited to have lunch at Lugang a few months back, and the memory I have of the hot broth encased in that slightly elastic covering hiding delicious pork is still with me.

We started off with some appetizers (which were also unlimited), and having sampled almost all of them, I can say these are the ones that tickled our taste buds the most.

Garlic Pork Roll. Get this. Get copious amounts of this. The slight blandness of the pork melds well with whatever herbs were encased within the pork and delighted us with the sweet and garlicky sauce around it. It was such a hit at our table, we are embarrassed to reveal how many servings we had.

 Taiwanese Omelette With Preserved Turnip Bits. If you're a fan of any dish with egg in it, then you should take a bite of this - while it's served hot. There was a certain scent (one of the herbs, probably) that permeated through that was both savory and fresh. The turnip bits might be an acquired taste, though I liked it.

Spicy Sliced Offals. Wikipedia defines offals as "internal organs and entrails of a butchered animal," so if you're not a fan on innards (like me), this may not be up your alley. But I was drawn to the spicy smell and I have to admit that it was not unpleasant at all - which is a high compliment coming from someone who detests liver, gizzards and the like. It helped that it was cooked in a spicy sauce. The rest of my party found it delicious, just a tad too spicy.

Steamed Xiao Long Bao. The star dimsum, needing no introduction. There's no time, anyway - everyone was busy gobbling up the tasty morsels.

Soup of the Day. It was spinach that day. If you watch Restaurant Redemption, you'd know that courses like these (in a buffet or order all you can setup) are fillers and presented to offset economic costs. I think my taste buds were spoiled by the Garlic Pork Roll that this seemed unremarkable by the time I tasted it.

Pork Wontons in Spicy Chili Oil. Separately, they work. So it makes sense to join them, right? This elicited a rather divided opinion on the table. Some said it was too spicy, others not enough spice. Maybe we should have ordered a second and third serving to have a control group?

Now, on to the House Specialties. (Note: You can only one House Specialty per person, I would advise you to take part of this promo in at least a group of three to four people, so you can have different House Specialties to sample.)

Chicken Topped With Scallion And Ginger Oil. If you love scallions as much as I do, then you're in for a treat. The white, boiled chicken underneath was a perfect canvass for the toppings, and could cause your anti-carb result to crumble. (You cannot eat this without rice. It wouldn't make sense. They just go together, period.)

Hainan Boneless Chicken. My friend Cristie ordered this, and is a perfect alternative to the dish I ordered, from a traditional standpoint. You can see the bird in all of its (pale) glory, with dipping sauces provided at the side to suit everyone's taste. (Of course I still went for the ginger sauce.) And I noticed that this was a larger serving than the one covered in scallions (this was half a chicken).

Crispy Chicken. Can you hear the crunch? Yes, yes and yes. (Yes, I realize that this is the third poultry dish. What can I say? We're chicken fans.) This was dubbed by Art as "Peking Chicken" or what chicken would taste like if they were done the Peking Duck way/style. I have to say this was a crowd pleaser, with happy tummies (and burps) to prove it.

 Wasabi Mayo Prawns. Shrimps in a fried coating covered in wasabi mayonnaise. Enough said. (The broccoli? Decorative. Haha. But seriously, a good counterbalance to the richness of the dish.)

You can view the entire menu list below, and it's a special menu specifically made for the duration of the Feast All You Can promotion. (PhP 588+ on weekdays and PhP 688+ on weekends). Hurry, you only have until the end of May to avail of this promotion.

Happy, happy eating!


For more information, please check out the sites below.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Emperor Is Fully Clothed

While watching the (very delayed but free) telecast of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, I could hear my eight-year old niece getting riled up and going, "Go, Manny, bugbugin mo siya! (beat him up)"

As expected, another long commercial break followed (I already knew from online reports that Mayweather won by that time) and I talked to her. "I know you're rooting for Manny, but just to be know that pambubugbog (beating someone up) is bad, right?"

"Oo naman (Of course), tito (uncle) Joey, I wouldn't do that. Mali naman talaga gawin yun (it's wrong to do that)."

"That's right."

She skips a beat, and then does a follow up. "But tito...this is boxing. This is different naman (anyway) from pambubugbog (beating someone up), right?"

What makes this substantially different from a professional boxing match?
(Photo from

Not sure as to how her parents would answer that, I just asked her to talk to her dad about the differences between professional boxing and beating someone out of the ring, where there isn't PPV (pay per view) recording the brawl.

The truth was, I knew exactly how to answer her question. No, I don't see a difference between the two. They both inflict pain, one can actually die from the blows received, and as far as I know, violence in any form is against every moral code I have ever read up on, studied, tried to learn, or live my life by.

That is not to say that I deny bloodthirsty lust as a human urge. The few times I have ever been involved in activities that involve violence, there is a release that I inherently understand as both appealing and cathartic. A time for words, yes, but sometimes, you just want to beat the crap out of someone for being abusive, or hurtful, or (insert your reason here).

So, no, I am not in a position para magmalinis. (To appear blameless or 'pure' as far as violence is concerned) But in those times, I felt "justified" in some way: an unkind word was said, or someone inflicted violence on me first. I certainly didn't do it to get paid, but to address some wrong - perceived or real - that I felt needed correcting or just to get back at someone.

Which is why boxing is especially abhorrent in my book. To necessarily and purposefully harm another human being - for sport? And to attain wealth and some unfathomable (to me, anyway) version of glory and honor?

What can be less honorable than beating up another human being who has conceivably done nothing to you, just because you belong in the same weight class?

What adds moral weight to glorifying this blood soaked activity is the fact that fighters and fans alike invoke God into these bouts. You may call me a heretic for my next sentence, but any God that actually approves of this activity is not someone I would call the path to enlightenment. This country claims to be the bastion of Christianity in Asia - I fail to see anything Christ-like in cheering two men beat each other into a pulp for money and fame.

It was quite interesting to see my niece compartmentalize what I would describe to be an action that would cause cognitive dissonance. I know of no school in this country that endorses violence; in fact, students engaged in violent activities are quite often expelled or suspended. But we have extolled boxing as "the sweet science" - the absolute definition of a misnomer, but so romantically poetic to hear - and raised Manny Pacquiao to saint-like status that, in her mind, pambubugbog is undoubtedly wrong but boxing is "different".

Should I envy my niece for seeing the emperor as fully clothed?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Trivial National Pursuits

As expected, all Monday long my social news feed was cluttered with posts, news items and blow-by-blow accounts of how our candidate to the annual contest known as Miss Universe was faring. Even the "serious" news organizations of this country were giving up-to-the-minute updates.

It is now Tuesday, and apparently, the buzz has shifted to - strangely, of all places - Miss Jamaica. I knew (from my feed) that while our contestant entered the top 10 of the pageant, she did not fare any higher, and news stories were sprouting up saying Filipinos were now behind Miss Jamaica because she "supposedly" has Filipino blood. (Which she has denied.)

No, she doesn't have Filipino blood. Stop asking her.
(Courtesy of

Several of our men in uniform died (it seems needlessly), a city mayor is possibly going to be arrested by the Senate, but what makes us pulse online is if a beauty pageant contestant has Filipino blood? Talk about priorities - or the lack thereof. (I read a report that "Jamaica" suddenly trended online for the Philippines during the Miss Universe pageant.)

As a country, we are "supposed" to be obsessed with two things in the international arena: how congressman Manny Pacquiao fares in his next boxing bout, and how our candidate will do in this year's slew of beauty pageants. If this is what it means to be Filipino, then I most definitely will be on the other side of the fence, what some have labeled as anti-Filipino/un-Filipino.

I don't care much for boxing matches - I find them as having no difference with the gladiator fights of yore (one can die in either scenario from the strikes sustained). I actually wonder if Manny has some cognitive dissonance with what he does in the ring and what he preaches whenever he is asked his religious views - one that pretty clearly states violence as a no-no.

I don't care much for beauty pageants, also. It is an insult to women to be judged on how they look in a bikini and to be assigned some kind of numerical worth on that basis. The very notion of pageants is no doubt related to what is already an epic obsession of young girls to look a certain way, along with the powerful messages transmitted in mass media about whitening lotions, laser therapies and underarm treatments.

What is it about our national DNA that takes pride in the arenas of violence (boxing) and sex (beauty contests)? How do we reconcile that with the fact that we are supposed to be a "deeply Catholic" nation - one that eschews divorce but where illegitimate children are rampant?

And, in Miss Jamaica's case, we seem to ride on the coattails of anyone who is remotely suspected of having a single drop of Filipino blood. Kahit nga wala, basta masuspetsahan lang. (Even if there is no evidence, just suspicion.)

Last year, a bunch of kids from Philippine schools placed well in an international mathematics competition. I didn't hear anyone clamoring for these kids to be paraded on floats when they arrived back home, the way we do when Manny or a beauty contestant comes home. You may think little of this, but it is the bits and pieces that make up our cultural landscape - and we have arrived at a (sad) point where one can be called a "traitor" for not being supportive of either of them.

One argument says "they bring honor to the country!"

We certainly are famous - even our cab driver in Vietnam knows who Manny Pacquiao is - but I'm having a hard time equating it with honor. Unless we are now putting fame and honor on the same footing, the only ones I see gaining from these competitions are Manny or the beauty titlists themselves. (And the companies that sponsor their respective contests, of course.)

Maybe I have un-Filipino views. But that doesn't make me less of a Filipino, the same way one isn't required to be Catholic in order to be considered a Filipino citizen. It just makes me part of the minority - and that suits me just fine, in a major, major way.