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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Holy Week Hostage

As the country comes to a grinding halt on account of the annual Holy Week, I am transported back to an incident that may have sparked my fervent call for secularism, especially where government and public service are concerned.

An incident that took place several decades ago (OK, the fact that I can say this means I am officially old), this was brought back to my consciousness while Art and I were thinking of our schedule for the upcoming Holy Week.

A tradition we had when I was much younger was that we would all gather at my uncle's house to be together for the Holy Week celebration. It was a time I looked forward to for the sole purpose of reconnecting with my cousins, and not much else; I was not really concerned about any religious rituals to do, or prayers to be said, all I knew was that Holy Week meant I would be able to have fun with my cousins. Period.

My uncle's place had a pool, billiard table and various board games, so we would be playing cards and sungka well past midnight, and it was the only time my mom couldn't object to us staying up late.

One such year (the year my "secular" consciousness was awakened), my mom started rounding up all of us cousins and told us to meet them at the big hall. It was close to 6pm so I thought we were having an early dinner, and we probably had some planned activity after that.

I was surprised to find my aunt lighting some candles at the center of the hall, and there was a picture or altar of sorts. (As one of the "late" cousins, I was situated at the back, so I really couldn't see.) After the lighting, my aunt turned to us, mumbled something (my cousin and I were busy giggling about something) and suddenly, everyone started mumbling as well: it seemed like they were repeating after her, and I started looking quizzically at my mom, who was trying to mumble along.

I excused myself from my cousin and went beside my mom, who looked just slightly less bewildered than I was.

"What are we doing?" I whispered.

"It's a prayer...can't you tell? Ssssshhhh."

"Yes, it sounds like a prayer...but this isn't the kind we pray, right?"

"No, we don't. It's a Catholic prayer. Ssssshhhh!"

"Okaaaaaay...if this is a Catholic prayer, then why are we praying along? Because last I checked, we're NOT Catholics."

"Because we're at their house! Ssssssshhhhh!"

Yes, the seeds of secularism were planted in that very moment. It was then that I noticed something pecuiliar that particular Holy Week: we never really had lunch, but my mom kept sneaking chips, crackers and what-not to me and my sister, and coupled with the fun I was having with my cousins, we never really noticed.

Until the evening when we were "forced" to pray. It was then that I also heard a familiar sound: my stomach grumbling. I went back to my mom and confirmed something with her.

"Ma...we didn't take lunch, right?"

"No, your tita is fasting, and since this is their house, we should all sympathize and fast with her. Sssssshhhh! Will you get back there and be quiet? Sssssshhhh!"

"But, I don't want to fast! Where can I get food?"

"Until she eats, we don't eat! Ssssshhhhh!"

(Courtesy of

We did eat a little while after the prayer, and I remember my aunt telling everyone that she made a promise to not feed herself anything until 6 in the evening, and with only vegetables and fish. (So you know what we had that very night.) I don't recall ever being asked to go to a particular church service that time, nor told to go bisita iglesia, but my mom might have been, since there was a moment when the adults were absent and it was just the cousins chasing one another in that big house.

And I don't recall us continuing the meet-during-Holy-Week tradition after that. The extended family did seem to go more separate after that. Some might see this as a bad thing, but I was grateful that I would never have to pray a prayer that went against what I was taught at the time, or do fasting or any other ritual against my will - that right is reserved for my parents alone, haha.

When the Supreme Court ruling on the RH Law came out, I noticed one of the provisions that was struck down was basically a religious test: if a person felt it went against her/his faith, s/he is not obligated to refer a patient seeking reproductive health services or advice if the advice/service provider would be prescribing something "sinful". I cannot help but note the parallels with that event one Holy Week: our aunt is fasting, so even if we weren't Catholic, we "had" to fast. It goes against my belief, so even if doesn't contradict yours, I won't tell you where to get help on the best artificial contraception for your own body.

At least, in the first instance, one could argue "well, you went into their house, you follow their rules!" although that would be an untenable argument at best because being in someone's house doesn't automatically mean surrendering your belief system. But for a PUBLIC health service provider to be able to refuse the law on religious grounds would border on going against our Constitution, which specifically mandates religion and state to be separate, and for no religious test to be required to discharge one's duties in public office or service.

(I can't wait for a Buddhist to head a government agency that would force this entire archipelago to go vegetarian.)

Truly, the personal is the political: this season, Art asked me if I would go bisita iglesia with him. This is someone who knows my stance on secularism, but he also knows I would never ask him to change his beliefs on account of mine, and that he is free to practice his faith - the same way each of us has that inalienable right. I readily said yes, because while I might not get to kneel and pray, I am endlessly fascinated by the piety displayed, and as a lifelong student of the social sciences, it is something I cannot ignore. (Not to mention I get to marvel at the architecture of many churches.)

The one lesson I learned that day at my uncle's place is that you should never force someone to conform to your point of view just because you deem it right. This goes for politics, food choices, and most certainly in matters that people profess by faith. But that right extends to your own body, your own belief system, your own world view. The moment you force someone - obviously against their will - to accept yours as the righteous path, you are infringing on someone's right to call the shots on their own life.

If only some quarters could see it that way, too.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Racism Is Real

The conclusion of this year's Asia's Next Top Model has degenerated into an ugly sight, pitting fans of the finalists against each other online, and using the race card to disturbing lows.

Not the finest moment for fans from Malaysia nor the Philippines.

(Courtesy of World)

When Sheena Liam from Malaysia was declared the winner of the modeling contest (the show's second cycle), displeased fans from the Philippines took to cyberspace to air their discontent and made their sentiments unequivocally known. Fans of the two Filipino finalists, Jodilly Pendre and Katarina Rodriguez, descended on the show's Facebook page to make their views heard.

The exchanges started off in a "technical" manner: how Sheena never won Best Picture in the televised episodes (or what fans of the show call FCO for First Call Out), how Jodilly had 2 FCOs and numerous "almost" FCOs, how Katarina progressed from being criticized regularly to getting 2 FCOs herself, and why the judging process deviated from how it was done by its "mother" show, America's Next Top Model. (Sheena did win one FCO, but the episode was not aired, owing to the Malaysia Airlines tragedy.)

And then racism reared its ugly head.

Accusations of bias and politicking came in, heavily aimed at the producers and judges. The predominant theme of this cycle was "Visit Malaysia Year 2014" and many of the judges were from the host country, adding fuel to the perception that Sheena was a hometown choice. (It didn't help that one of judges of the show's finale started her critique with "as a Malaysian, I'm so proud of her," referring to Sheena.)

Then came the comments comparing Sheena to a fish, shrimp, and various other animals; Filipinos saying "let's give this to them, after all this isn't a beauty contest which we always win, this is the only time they get to win anything, have you seen Sheena's face?!? Ugh!"; others have said that they hoped it was Sheena who crashed in the Malaysia Airlines incident; Sheena's fans have retaliated by calling Filipinos sourgraping losers, and calling them "mostly maids and servants," and to just accept that Filipinos can never be the modern face of Asia. 

There has been wholesale labeling of both Malaysians and Filipinos as "stupid" and the issue has definitely reached the show's producers because, one by one, two of this season's judges - Nadya Hutagalung and Joey Mead King - as well as Jodilly herself, and season 1's winner Jessica Amornkuldilok have made statements on the show's Facebook page, pleading for sobriety or explaining that it was a collective decision. (Nadya has since taken down her post since she was largely perceived to be "pro-Sheena" and received many negative comments on her post.)

It's a car crash, a train wreck, and I can't look away.

It's an incisive study into how we think of ourselves and others from the same region, and a validation of my stance that despite our best efforts to hide or deny it, we are racists. I raised similar points in an article I wrote after the FIBA games last year, and many comments denounced me as being unfair, saying that I was merely representing a personal view, that most Filipinos are friendly and that I was being anti-Pinoy for stating what I did.

After seeing the race-tinged comments, I knew I was right, my points were validated, and it's not only us, it seems there is a "hierarchy" of sorts in the Asian region, and many of our neighbors have voiced their low regard for us since the Filipinos they come into contact with are domestic workers/helpers.

The sad part is, if my points were in fact validated by this recent exchange of tirades, why don't I feel victorious?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

I Cried In Public Last Sunday

For those of you who know me personally, I tend to shun the touchy-feely stuff. I loathe telenovelas with their long, drawn-out scenes which always ends up in caterwauling, hand wringing and the obligatory slapping scene.

So this public show of emotion took even me by surprise.

How the public display came about: I was giving some documents at the office when my new boss - a woman you don't really think of saying No to - saw me from the corner of her eye and hollered, "Joey! I signed you up for a 2 day self-discovery seminar! I'm paying so you're going!"

Oh, yes. The eye-rolling quickly commenced - in my head, of course. But the admission price was hefty, and Arthur has been to one of these things and came back feeling much better about himself, so I did the unthinkable: I actually told myself to surrender to the process and "get with it."

It was an eye opener. In ways I did not intend nor forsee.

The facilitators certainly knew what they wanted to achieve: getting everyone to drop down their defenses, get in touch with your feelings, which are intertwined with events in your past. On the second day of the seminar, we formed small groups to open up about something that has remained unresolved in our lives.

And so, I address this to you, my friend.

We had a good run, all of 18 years.

When we first met, we had serious body issues, and getting rid of our excess physical baggage became the one thing that made our bond stable. We were suffering, we were in pain sweating it out, but because we were in it together, we empathized, we cursed and laughed about all the perfect bodies we were so envious of.

And we found out we had an affinity for the arts. Literature, films, music, we exchanged so much of our personal libraries that it expanded our minds and deepened our bond.

So much time spent being the recipient of fat jokes has honed our snarky repartee, and we bounced off each other (pun intended) so well that the bullies felt we were the bullies: mind over matter, always.

But when we started working together, the dynamics changed.

It became clear that you intended to prove how right you were, and how wrong I was, supposedly, in every situation that you could do so. And because I was never one to let the mistaken party have the final say, you did the only thing you could: you pulled rank on me.

You would shoot down any ideas I had.

You would set a meeting, then change the venue when I was at the agreed time and place.

You used your position to get the best slots, displacing other employees, then dared me to remove or reprimand you. As if that was even an option to do to someone who regularly flaunted his position and rank.

But when you suddenly changed the area I was assigned to - with no good reason, no explanation, just because you could - and you did this in front of the person who we used to speak so lowly of but who has somehow become your confidant - I could see the beginning of the end.

And when this confidant - who you imbued with authority over me, someone who we used to laugh at, someone who once called me a bully because I used English in our memos - used an out-of-work, unrelated incident to end my working contract, you were nowhere to be found.

You washed your hands off the incident.

When clients came to you, to ask my whereabouts and why I suddenly "left", you even feigned surprise, and said that you didn't know what happened, and that you would talk to me to get to the bottom of the matter.

Something you never did. You never called, you never attempted to reach out. All the while maintaining this "I'm doing all that I can" facade in front of clients.

Which isn't really a surprise, because in our last heated, work related conversation, you verbalized it this way: working together has been bad for our friendship.

I have waited for more than a year for you to own up to your part in all of this. You never did.

As I was relaying this in the seminar, I suddenly felt tears well up, then start to fall. It was the fact that it was unresolved that made it so much worse. That you were fine with leaving things the way we left them. I was seized first with embarrassment in front of the group, but finally being able to verbalize my long held frustration just felt...freeing.

So the tears did fall. And this is what I learned, and I now know.

Our part in each other's lives is over. And rather than be sad, I've decided to be grateful for whatever joy we have shared, and the lessons that you imparted when we reached the end.

People can either be a blessing, or a lesson. You have been both to me.

(Courtesy of

It is time for me to let it go, in order for the new to come into my life. I have made peace with this, and maybe that is the biggest lesson you taught me.

We can let go once the lesson is learned.

And now, onwards and upwards.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Are You A Consumptive Saver?

I got to bed quite early, so when I woke up, I checked my social media accounts and found my news feed flooded with articles about the debut of the new Samsung S5.

The Enemy, in my line of work.
(Courtesy of

The two people that I think would probably be most orgasmic about this are tech geeks who would be going gaga over the features like fingerprint scanning, and the latest bunch - the people who are obsessed with having the latest edition of their preferred smartphone, laptop, tablet, etc.

It brought to mind a term that I encountered at a recent financial management seminar I attended: consumptive saving.

Simply put, consumptive saving is the process of setting aside money for a specific goal that is neither life-saving nor irreplaceable. The goals mostly take on the form of objects and activities that would likely fall under the Lifestyle or Trend sections of a publication: gadgets, travel, fancy dining places.

Let's use that checklist to determine if having an S5 would fall into this category.

Is it life saving? No. (You can argue that "seamless work transition" is a matter of life and death, but the S5 will not be there to administer CPR or take you to the hospital if your heart stops functioning.)

Is it irreplaceable? No. (In fact, manufacturers make it a point to replace it on an almost annual basis. It certainly makes the stockholders happy.)

A significant part of what I do daily is educating people on how they must conserve their finances, properly apportioning them into goals that are either on the short, medium or long term horizon.

Short term goals consist of having enough money for medical emergencies, baon of the kids, and a ready fund in case you suddenly get laid off from your current job. (Credit card bills fall in this category, since they arrive on the dot every month, like clockwork. Credit cards deserve their own post, though.)

Medium term goals would be concerned about starting a college fund for your 5 year old, or setting aside funds to finally get into your own business and get away from that wretched being called your "boss". Marriage plans also fall into this category - have you checked how much it costs these days to have a "decent" wedding?

Long term goals usually take the shape of retirement planning, or a fund that will take care of medical expenses that inevitably comes with age, a number that is slowly lowering. (We've all known someone who died from a heart attack in their 40's, these are diseases that aren't only "for the seniors" anymore.)

These are goals that should be acted on now, with what you earn now. Too often, especially with medium and long term goals, people have a tendency to procrastinate, and say, tsaka nalang. Long term horizon doesn't mean thinking about it later; it means making a plan right now because you need a head start in order to accomplish those goals.

In my line of work, the Samsung S5's are the enemy.

It distracts people from achieving their savings goals. And without any form of savings, it would be irresponsible of me to recommend any kind of investing, a way to beat inflation. Their savings will never grow if, on a yearly tradition, consumers stand in line for the latest gadget, but can't be bothered with making additions to achieve even their short term goals.

Then there's the "it's going somewhere" defense: some people justify consumptive saving by saying things like "well, at least napakinabangan ko siya, it's not like I wasted it on drugs or anything like that!" not realizing that consumerism can be even more lethal than any mind-altering substance, because when a breadwinner dies, the spouse and children can't live on an S5. (Like cars, gadgets begin depreciating the moment you buy them.)

I'm often surprised when some people are surprised that they don't have enough funds to pay a doctor for an unscheduled emergency visit - but are carrying a designer bag, or an iPhone 5s. If the priorities are wrong, it takes away your right to complain about how doctor's fees are off the charts - how can you complain that your last hospital visit cost you a thousand, when you're willing to plunk down more than 40 thousand pesos for a phone? Or more than a hundred thousand pesos for a bag?

So, are you a consumptive saver?

If you are, recognize the signs and do something about it. I have a goal to change consumptive savers to consummate savers, but like most things in life, that is something you have to decide for - and act on - yourself.

Besides, as far as I know, you can't die from not having the latest gadget.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

One Afternoon At Burgoo

When I was working full time in the south, my go-to mall was Alabang Town Center, mainly because I could walk to it from my place of work. I never got a chance to see the other malls for longer than 5 minutes, so when my friend Wins and I met up for a late lunch, I asked if we could meet at SM Southmall for a change in scenery (for me, anyway).

Wins got there earlier (since he lives in the area) and while walking around, someone from Burgoo handed him a coupon that had a Buy One-Take One promotion on their entrees. So when I arrived and he told me about it, we had this half-hearted attempt at seeing what other dining options we had, but ended up - predictably - at a place where we could maximize value.

Our first entree was their take on Fajitas.

We opted to take the Trio variant (consisting of shrimp, chicken and beef, on top of mushrooms and bell peppers) and we first enjoyed the savory aromas when it was brought to our table. The beef, in particular, I found to be quite good.

The dish was served with this:

A tray of pita bread/wrappers and - also - a trio of condiments: a creamy mixture (we were debating what it was but it wasn't mayonnaise for sure), salsa and shaved pieces of cheese. The warm proteins inside the bread together with the three condiments complimented each other well and made for a messy but fun way of eating, drippings and all. (Best condiment for me was the salsa. Lovely.)

We also decided on a pasta dish, Seafood Au Gratin.

At first glance, we wondered where the seafood (squid, mussels, clams) was. Turns out, they were hidden at the edges (covered by foil) and underneath the (thick) noodles, which were in a creamy, seafood-tasting sauce that had a hint of curry, and which we found to be deliciously intoxicating.

Our total bill came to about a little over 700 (they have a 10% service charge) and we paid for only one of the entrees (the one with a higher value). The last time Wins ate at Burgoo was about 10 years ago (and he didn't relish the experience), so it was a pleasant surprise that both the dishes were "winners" and we were able to take off half of the price.

The only way this meal could be better is if this was shared over unbridled laughter and excellent conversation.

And so, a great meal came to pass.

*All photos by Wins and his spectacular phone camera*

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Quick Note About Respect

You have to earn it.

(Courtesy of

I chanced upon a former colleague (on the street, she didn't see me) who reminded me of an incident that reaffirmed my stance about this.

Back then, she was insisting that because of his position, a manager who made a false report about me and refused to face me in a meeting meant to resolve our differences was worthy of respect by virtue of his position.

"I'm sorry, I don't see how I can respect a liar and a backstabber who doesn't even have the balls to own up to his own statements made behind my back."

"But, Joey, he is the operations manager. Don't you think he deserves respect, at least?"

"What do I respect? Honesty. Integrity. Decency. Humility. He embodies none of those, in fact, he is despicably the very opposite of every one of those qualities. 

He was remiss in his duties of handling the studio sound system, he was nowhere to be found to fix it, and when I did find him, he was popping a zit facing a mirror, and when I asked him to attend to the matter, he looked at me as if I had just barged in while he was concocting the latest cure for ovarian cancer.

He even had the temerity to file a false report, claiming I had interrupted a meeting he was conducting when I insisted he do his job. And he can't even face me right now as we are all trying to get to the bottom of this, why we have different sides of the incident...and you think I should respect that?"

"Basta for me, we should respect him as the manager."

"I guess that shows the difference in values that we were raised in."

You want respect, you give respect first. Show people - especially subordinates - that your ego is not so fragile that you take offense if someone doesn't call you "Sir." Demonstrate empathy and people will naturally extend the same courtesy to you. You do not get to "demand" respect if you resort to outright lying just to make people side with you.

The thing is, if you were worthy of respect, you don't have to demand it in the first place.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Seeing Red (China) And Liking It

On a day like today when work took me to the north (Quezon City and Caloocan City), I opt to have a not-so-short lunch with one of my best friends based in QC, Liza. I (wisely) left the car in favor of the Mass Rail Transit (MRT), and requested that we have lunch at Trinoma Mall, since the train station connects directly to the mall.

After meeting up, we proceed to the Concierge, since we are both not too familiar with the restaurants there. I was saddened to learn that Peking Garden has closed shop (insert groan here), and we proceed to review the list of eateries that would interest us.

We knew we wanted Chinese fare (big whoop), so we first went to Mann Hann. With a line that looked like we would be seated by 2PM, we then proceeded to Red China by Super Bowl.

(Courtesy of

It was both our first time to dine here: I haven't seen this restaurant in Makati, and Liza wasn't too keen on anything related to Super Bowl, as she finds their flavors a little bland.

Having no clue or recommendations as to what's a must-order here, we decided to order the first item featured on their menu, guessing that this would be a dish they're proud to serve.

Yes, yes, and yes. 

The Roast Pork Belly (PhP 175) has the aroma, crunch and taste that hits all the check marks in our book. The crackling sound heard when you take a bite of the bronzed exterior is melodious, and the succulent, flavorful porcine taste that follows compliments it wonderfully. 

The odd thing was that mustard was served as the "default" sauce (seen above), which I immediately identify with hotdogs. But it is served separately, so it's a matter of taste to use it. (Liza liked the condiment, I wasn't too much a fan.) No matter, it's the pork that's the star, and we concur that this should be the item that's front and center on the menu.

We also ordered the Roast Chicken with Mala Sauce (Half Order, PhP 350; Whole, PhP 675), as we were intrigued what Mala Sauce was. We asked them to serve the sauce separately, as our server told us it was quite spicy.

 Red China's Roast Chicken...

...and the Mala Sauce.

The chicken itself was not bad, but the Mala Sauce was delicious, after a few bites. (Only because the first few tries, we were busy deciphering what were the components) It seemed like a combination of chili sauce with tamarind paste, with an oily base. Some may find this an acquired taste, but we ended up finishing the sauce faster than the fowl itself.

(You can ask the server to serve the Mala Sauce without the spicy component, if you're not a fan of spicy food. Without the spice, it tasted about 70% sour and 30% sweet.)

Of course, we had to pair it with our choice of carbohydrate, one which appealed to us both from the name and the menu picture.

Chinese Chorizo Fried Rice (PhP220) is a sinful concoction, and my only negative point is that the rice could stand to have a teeny bit more moisture, but the sausage slices were very flavorful, and this dish could very well be eaten on its own. It's Chinese Chorizo, so you know you're in for a treat.

Good thing we had excellent (complimentary) tea to lessen our guilty feelings about what we had just ingested over lunch. And in such cute containers too.

I've always associated the color red with China, and this is one restaurant that can fly its' colors proudly. (Despite the political tensions we are experiencing with the country in this restaurant's name.)

Our countries may be at odds, but common ground might just be found on the dining table.