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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

On Celdran, Intrusion And Convenience

No one who follows the news could escape the recent decision handed down to cultural activist and tour guide Carlos Celdran for "offending religious feelings".

Disrupter, or truth teller?
(Courtesy of wparchive.risd.edu)

Since when did truth telling become a crime?

No, I am not speaking from a legal point of view, I am not a lawyer. I am coming from a place of being fed up: a citizen of a supposedly secular democracy that sees the constitutional provision mandating the separation of state and church being trampled upon on a daily basis, yet most everyone just shrugging their shoulders, as if to say "there's nothing we can do about it, it's the way we've practiced our form of politics."

Hogwash.

Celdran is correct in saying that this is now bigger than him, and I have always thought of the bigger picture even before his Damaso 'stunt' was played out: the time is actually ripe to discuss what it means to have freedom of expression, why one particular religion is lording it over all other religions in this country and practically dictating our secular laws, and getting into what secularism really means.

The tour guide has been accused of "intruding" into a solemn, sacred and religious rite. But who has been intruding into secular politics for centuries? You can browse any news item after his stunt, Celdran himself stated that the reason he did it is because the Catholic Church in this country has again flexed its' political muscle - when it shouldn't have one in the first place - in trying to block the discussion of the (then) Reproductive Health bill from moving forward.

Just yesterday, the evening news showed the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) hosting a lunch for all of the legislators who opposed the RH Bill - quite literally, an intermingling of politics and religion - and anyone who can even say with a straight face that this particular religion has never tried to intrude in the formation of our secular laws is the worst kind of fool, what we natively call nagbubulag-bulagan, fooling only yourself.

Any public official who truly imbibes our Constitution, one that says that no religious test will ever be conducted for public positions, would have easily and with no compunctions refused to sit down with the CBCP - or any other religious leader - on any topic concerning secular laws. Frankly, I was disappointed when PNoy tried to extend some form of an olive branch to them after the RH Bill was signed into law, and even during its formulation, one of his lackeys voiced out the idea that the Catholic Church would be consulted before the final version was to be passed.

What does this say about the "separation of state and church"?

This blurring of roles, this lack of clear demarcation lines, is one of the reasons why we have not been able to push for laws as fast and as much as we could have. When our own lawmakers and even the President has to bend over backwards for one particular religion, for fear of political backlash come election time, we cannot expect the citizens of this country to do the opposite, seeing that our official institutions kowtow to the whims and tantrums of one religion.

And yet, when Celdran attempted to talk to the priests, by using his placard to urge them to stop interfering with the business of government - in other words, when a call for secularism tried to intrude into how their religion would be run and their actions noticed - their immediate response was to file a lawsuit to ensure that no one outside their hierarchy would be able to do so in such an "offensive" manner.

So, the CBCP is free to comment on what laws to pass, and even dangle the threat of eternal damnation on lawmakers who will vote against their wishes, but no one can ever make the mistake of saying anything remotely resembling criticism against their religion?

That is hypocrisy, pure and simple.

And even now, when various sectors are urging them to take a "Christian" stance and forgive Celdran, they nominally say yes but also cling on to the convenience of having a legal verdict handed down, and accrue to themselves the illusion of being upright citizens who follow the law to a tee.

If you really wanted to be law-abiding citizens, you would desist from intruding into politics.

But then, that would diminish your already diminishing stature, wouldn't it?

It reminds me of a news item last week elsewhere, where a malpractice suit was filed against a Catholic hospital by a widower who lost his wife and two babies because no doctor was available, resulting in the death of all of them. Now, anyone who has followed the RH debates knows that the official Catholic stance is that a fetus is already 'human', in fact, some of the more absurd claims were along the lines of saying that masturbation was tantamount to murder, so what do the lawyers of the Catholic hospital cling to as their legal defense?

Their secular laws do not recognize a fetus as a human, and therefore they shouldn't have to pay anything at all.

(Read it here: http://www.businessinsider.com/catholic-hospital-fetuses-arent-people-2013-1 - and yes, the Catholic hospital won.)

Hypocrisy, inconsistency and convenience - you'll forgive me if I'm beginning to think that these are the cornerstones of this supposed 'moral' religion.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

You Know This Gym Character

Living in a condominium has many advantages, and one in particular that I have been using quite often is the gym provided for the owners and tenants. It is by no means a "complete" gym (having all the machines and apparatus of full-scale ones) but it had the basics covered so I was quite satisfied, not really being a nitpicky person when it comes to this.

I dropped by this morning and found two tenants, a mother-daughter tandem also working out. I should change that to "working out", in quotes, because the middle aged daughter was on the treadmill, doing a cross between sleepwalking and limping, with all the windows shut and with no ventilation (the air conditioning unit was turned off). The senior mother was half walking-half light jogging around the entire gym floor, in snakelike fashion - where the free weights are, where the inclined bench was, etc.

Since the other treadmill was under repair, I decided to warm up on the stepper, and proceeded to turn on the air conditioning unit, in order to get some ventilation going.

"Could you not turn on the aircon on?" the daughter hollered while holding on to the treadmill handles, but looking my direction.

"Why not?" I asked.

"The aircon is near me and I want to sweat."

"I'm going to work out and I need the ventilation. Besides, I didn't place that airconditioning unit there, it's obviously meant to be used while working out, otherwise it wouldn't be here in the first place."

At this point, the mother probably felt she should defend her middle aged daughter, so she quipped (while passing machines and weights in a zigzag fashion, using the entire gym floor as her "running path"): "Maybe you should try to be considerate."

"Actually, it is you who needs to be considerate. You don't own this gym, other people will be using this facility as well, and when I'm working out, I need the ventilation, especially since all the windows are boarded up."

The grizzly mama - not more than 5 feet tall - looked me up and down as if wanting to challenge me to a duel. I had to resist the urge to roll on the floor to cackle maniacally and just commented "You know, you shouldn't be running around the gym area, making it into some kind of personal jogging path."

It was the proverbial needle that broke this penguin's back: "REALLY? Where is the rule that says I can't run around here?"

"Uh, it's common sense. What if other people want to do their workout with the free weights, how can they do that with you running all around them?"

"Common sense? COMMON SENSE?!?" (I think she popped a blood vessel or two.)

I mustered my best Mona Lisa smile and said "Yes. Common sense."

She faltered for about a second, and then (while still doing her idiot run) tried to back up into her previous "argument": "Just show me the rule that says I can't run here! I'll stop if you can show it to me!"

"So...You need rules to do the right thing?"

That stunned her for about all of 5 seconds. The penguin's daughter was mum the whole time, probably realizing what fools they have presented themselves to be. But Mama Penguin, being a paragon of wisdom because of her age, pressed on the attack, I'm guessing for her "honor" and "pride".

"Wow, you must know all about the right things!"

"Yes, I do." (With a syrupy smile.)

"What a man you are."

I look at my crotch, and give her an even more infuriating smile. "Yes, I am."

"Basta. There's no rule that says I can't run."

"OK. I guess I should let the management handle this."

I proceeded to the building administrator (luckily they open their office very early) and asked them to intervene, since I felt that with every second I spent with the penguins, my IQ level was slowly being impaired. He asked me to describe the penguins and when I did, everyone in the office looked at each other knowingly and he said, "ay, si Mrs. ________ 'yan..." apparently signaling some kind of internal joke or understanding about the penguins, making me think that this is not the first time that someone has complained about them. 

In 10 minutes, the gym was cleared of all wild animals with no manners.

As I was running, I was suddenly hit by a wave of l'esprit de escalier, or the spirit of the stairway. I began listing the things I should have retorted to Mama Penguin, like:

"Have you considered running for Congress? You'd be a natural fit, they way you cling to legalities to justify all the wrong things you do."

"There's also no sign that says you can't defecate here...can I shoot a video of you doing it?"

"I guess it's true, what they say about short people."

It's amazing to me that whichever gym I go to, there is this particular strain of gym goer: the kind who only thinks of herself, who thinks he owns the gymnasium, who use their phones on machines while others are in line, who think that certain machines and places "belong" to them, who have no concept of the words "communal" or "public spaces", and, even though they know that what they're doing is wrong, will insist on it to protect their "pride", and will even act haughty, defiant, and worst of all, as if they have some kind of moral high ground to do so.

Admit it. You know this person.
(Courtesy of virilemag.com)

Who knew kicking out idiots could be this much fun?


Monday, January 28, 2013

Did Jose Rizal Die In Vain?

Having been offline most of the day, I was besieged with countless status updates once I logged onto my Facebook account about a singular news item: Carlos Celdran has been sentenced to serve time for "offending religious feelings".

Offensive or inspired?
(Courtesy of kapisanancentre.com)

The phrase itself is problematic, and seems to me nothing more than senseless alliteration: why should someone be incarcerated on account of hurt feelings? I am certain that I have hurt many people's feelings with what I have been accused of possessing, a tart tongue that will not sugarcoat things just to soften the blow. Corollary to that, many people have returned the favor to me, sometimes quite pointedly and in equal measure, but in other times, done unwittingly and with no real intent of doing so.

I am led to question about the intent of this phrase's inclusion into our penal code.

It seems to be designed to stifle any form of criticism aimed against religions, and since most of this country identifies itself as Catholic, then it would be understandable if anyone would think that this specific provision, while couched in general language, is meant to shore up Catholicism.

If you think this is conjecture on my part, one only needs to go back to last month, when the debates on the now newly-minted Reproductive Health law were still raging because it was then just a bill to be voted upon: when lawmakers against the measure stood up to defend their positions, you would hear variations of the same point - this is a Catholic country, we should include the inputs of the Catholic church when making our laws, and, while I was watching the live voting on television, one lawmaker even recited a Catholic prayer in lieu of a defense that could be contested on legal or secular merits.

Clearly, Catholicism is not on the same footing with other religions in this country, which is really an affront to any democratic society, where no religion is to be treated in any way superior, and is to be excluded in the discussion of secular matters. Our own lawmakers seem to find it difficult to separate state from church, so in truth it may actually be unsurprising why "offending religious feelings" is inscribed into our laws, at least for now.

Celdran's misstep - one that can be argued as inspired for the same reason - was that he raised his Damaso placard during a Mass. I often argue about how religions should stay out of secular spaces such as both Houses of Congress, so it is but proper that churches and religions be free to say and do whatever it is their faiths permit them to in their own spaces.

But what he was protesting was essentially a response to the never ending ingratiating of the Catholic church into the affairs of the state: I remember that he was protesting their constant opposition to the RH Bill (then), and dressed up as our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, he raised his voice - his placard - to demonstrate his feelings about the constant intrusion the institution makes.

WWJD - What would Jesus Do? - is a common online response to fundamentalist Christians in the United States, who seem intent on using the Bible on every turn to justify their misogynistic, racist and homophobic stances, appropriating for themselves some derivative of "holiness" because they have found a Bible verse to prop up their biases. It turns their claim on its head because, for example, not once was there a record of Jesus himself ever saying anything about homosexuality in the book they profess to believe in.

It would be interesting, then, to answer this question: what would Jose Rizal do?

What would he have done?
(Courtesy of moralheroes.org)

How would Rizal have reacted to the constant interference of the Catholic church in the debates about the (then) RH Bill? Or to how they have flexed their political muscle in practically all secular affairs when they are supposed to be excluded from it as an institution?

A clue to his response would be the fact that he wrote two of the novels we now study in school: Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, which depicts the Catholic hierarchy in the most unflattering of lights. Isn't it interesting that when the Rizal Law - the reason it is a requirement to teach these books in school - was being debated in Congress, the same hierarchy also opposed it strongly, on pretty much the same grounds that they did with the RH Bill (now Law)?

As a non-Catholic, they have constantly offended my feelings: where else but in this country can you see a grotto and a 3 o'clock Catholic prayer being uttered over the PA system in a government office, thereby stopping work, and forcing me and other non Catholics to be hearing the prayer in what is supposed to be a secular government's office?

What recourse does any citizen have over the brazen way this institution has in ensuring that what they think and believe is supposed to be followed, even by adherents of other faiths, or by those who claim none, when we have a provision in our laws that protects their "feelings"? Anyone who does not subscribe to their faith can easily be seen as "offensive", choosing to profess any other faith, or none at all. Should Protestants also lodge complaints against Catholics, since statues of saints are seen as "graven images" and is therefore an affront to the Protestant faith? Where does it end?

It may be time to reread the Noli and Fili, once again. Until we learn from our own history, we are doomed to perpetuate the same cycle over and over again, where one religion wields considerable influence in how the state is run - and it leaves one question open:

Was Rizal's death in vain?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Reunited With Zensho Once More

Since we moved to Makati a few years ago, I can count with both hands just how many times I have been back to Quezon City, given the horrendous traffic. (If I am going to make such a long trip, it better be worth my while.) Art asked me to make a list of possible places where we can have our Sunday lunch, and I thought since it was a weekend, we could try a place we have been to a couple of times when we were living in QC, Zensho.

Zensho is located along Tomas Morato Avenue, unoffcially the city's food row, smack in the intersection where Roces Avenue ends. It is situated in a mini-pocket that includes McDonald's and Lord Stow's Bakery. As we passed by Tomas Morato, it dawned on us how many establishments have sprouted up, signaling the demise of some places that we knew from way back when. The fact that Zensho is still standing gives me a kick of nostalgia, and is a testament to them doing something right.

A Japanese restaurant that offers ala carte, it also has an option called order-all-you-can. The latter combines the convenience of having food served at your table but with a plethora of choices at a set price. The price differs depending on whether you are there for lunch (PhP 595 plus charges) or dinner (PhP 695 plus charges).  They will give you a "paper menu" for you to tick off the items you may wish to order.

We started with a staple that we order in Japanese restaurants, tuna and salmon sashimi. 


It tasted fresh, and it may be an odd preference since we did order fish, but we prefer it not to have a fishy smell even without the citrus provided (and Zensho's version tasted clean and not fishy). They provided each of us with our own serving.


I also ordered the California temaki (hand roll). The seaweed cover gave a slight resistance, but the filling had everything that I associated with any Japanese dish with the modifier "California": Some greens, crabstick, Japanese mayo and mango.


We also had the kani (crab) salad, again in petite individual servings. It was fresh and punctuated with just a feather touch of sweetness.


As an additional appetizer, we ordered Agedashi Tofu. Traditionally topped with bonito flakes, this version didn't have it, and I did not enjoy this dish too much, since the tofu seemed to be devoid of any seasonings, and the sauce didn't help bumping up the flavor.

We began our main dishes with Ebi Tempura.


The term I would characterize Zensho's version of this Japanese staple is sprightly: they were light, none of the heaviness of the batter that other restaurants have, and the meat inside was lightly firm. These are some of the best ones I have ever had.


We had ordered the U.S. Beef teppanyaki, Japanese beef teppanyaki and mixed vegetables separately, but they managed to combine them in one plate and I thought they arranged it well. Note that all these dishes have a strong garlic taste, but we enjoyed the U.S. Beef the most: quite silky, it did not offer too much resistance when we began chewing it, and since we have not had steak in quite some rime, this was a most welcome respite. The Japanese version was reminiscent of the cut used in sukiyaki, but its taste was overshadowed by the U.S. version.


We also ordered cuttlefish and tofu teppanyaki, and while I prefer the spicy cuttlefish version that I had when I was in Xin Tian Di, this version was more garlicky and savory, which we both lapped up with no questions and all smiles.



I wanted to try their chicken and beef teriyaki, and while these were my favorites as a child, I did not have the same level of appreciation now, but I will say that I am glad they did not fall into the trap of making this a "Pinoy" version, the way this country enjoys its spaghetti, in an overly sweet sauce.


We thought there was something too strong in their marinade for the pork ribs, which Art described as nakakaumay (once is good enough). But since they have a no leftover policy, we had to finish this dish as well.


I cannot possibly leave a Japanese restaurant without tasting another staple, sukiyaki. Their version lacked the egg that I was used to having, which would explain why it wasn't the consistency I'm used to, but the soup was quite delicious.


We also had the Pacific Special and Oyster Motoyaki, which, as the picture shows, are (fish and oysters)  drenched in cheese. Lots of cheese. Don't bother us, we're busy now.


The piece de resistance proved to be the U.S. Beef Teppanyaki, so we had a second serving. (I won't confirm or deny if you asked if we had a third serving.)



We paired all of these dishes with our choice of starch: I had the seafood fried rice, while Art had the mixed fried rice. Both were excellent, and could actually be eaten on their own. 


The price includes your choice of drink, iced tea (zzzz) or pandan gulaman, which is what we both had. I would advise also ordering the house tea, it was lightly flavored with a grain-y taste, and it served to cleanse the palate somewhat.


The dessert choices seemed to be an afterthought, and between a strawberry gelatin and mango graham, it was no contest which one we both ended up with, as well. Dessert afficionados had best take their appetites elsewhere. 

After a long hiatus, I am happy to say that Zensho still retains the same quality and charm that I remembered, with food that will satisfy both the palate and pocket. This was a reunion that was well worth the travel and wait.


--------------------


Zensho
168 Tomas Morato, Quezon City 1101
(02)9291069
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Zensho/215423228473036




Friday, January 25, 2013

Do We Not Know Our Own Power?

I love election years.

It is a time when politicians of all stripes are forced to kiss our asses - whether perfumed or, er, smudged - be beggars waiting for any scraps, and act like contestants on American Idol, dancing and singing onstage on various sorties to woo our votes. (I predict lots of Gangnam and Call Me Maybe covers this year, with matching choreography that is painful to watch.)

It got me to thinking why anyone would practically debase themselves so publicly, and this is a rhetorical question, of course: after they have been voted into office, it becomes a little club, all to themselves, using our money, wielding might through laws, enforcement or plain intimidation.

I don't know about you, but I've had enough.

It is time to turn around this cultural acceptance that politicians are our superiors, that they deserve respect by virtue of their positions, and that we should tremble, scramble and practically bow our heads whenever they deign to go where the rest of us mortals tread.

They should be kissing our asses every single, frigging time.

It's not called public service for nothing. It may take some retraining of thought, but it is high time we reclaimed the very essence of democracy, that power in politics emanates from each and every one of us. They serve us, not the other way around.

The recent teleserye playing out in the Senate has underscored one thing we are missing: a substantial discussion on public funds, how they are utilized, and how they are being accounted for.  It has now degenerated into a discussion of family loans, illicit affairs and even accounts for someone asking the Senate President about erectile fitness. Yes, television writers could never come up with the mouthwatering gossip levels that the Senate has plunged our country into, and I also forsee politically themed teleseryes now being conceptualized over at boardrooms that can smell a fortune for this venture.

Like most teleseryes, this one misses the forest for the gossip-covered trees.
(Courtesy of hatawtabloid.com)

The Senate President has maintained that the discretion of how to dispense of the body's savings is provided for by law, and the Commission on Audit has concurred. It does not make it right, it only makes it legal.

Here is an example that is more domestic in scope: my mom used to have some supplies bought at the  neighborhood stores, things like washing detergent and other household items. She would give our helper a certain amount, and she'd estimate the price of the detergent and give an amount that is beyond that "just in case".

Through the years, more and more stores opened up, thereby giving consumers a choice. If our suki sold it at, say, 30 pesos, and a new store sold the same product for 28 pesos - which our helper would naturally choose since it is lower - is she not obligated to return the extra 2 pesos to my mom?

The rationale is, obviously, because the money was not our helper's, it was from my mom. It doesn't matter that there was a savings of two pesos, it does not mean our helper could pocket the difference, since my mom was under the impression that the detergent still cost 30 pesos. What matters is that you should be returning money that is not yours.

It is, therefore, striking for me to see our legislators claim savings for themselves. Savings from our money. And that they have used laws - isn't it a kick that they are also our lawmakers? - to justify it, as well as appealing to tradition, saying things like "it's always been this way".

I've never been too keen on traditions. They promote stagnation, and are the opponents of change.

And it is time to make a sea change in how we view our public officials: they serve us. You may think that this is a simplistic approach, but it is rather obvious that this is not how it plays out. They have acted insulated, entitled, and above us - some even threatening to take our freedom to criticize them taken away.

To paraphrase the line from a cartoon so popular in my childhood, He-Man: it is we who have the power, and it is time to wield it, in our electoral exercise this 2013. We have seen the same positions filled up by the same people and the same family names, over and over. Let us begin using our power to make important changes, because we are accountable to the generations that will come after us.

It has been said that insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results - if that is the case, then this country has long played out its' insanity card.

Our power begins with our vote and it doesn't end there - we make our officials accountable each and every day.

We have the power.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

To Win A Seat By Guilt

My mom, who owned and ran McBurger in Benavidez Street in Manila (so many, many years ago now), used to hand out wooden number stands to customers who were waiting for their orders. It was almost shaped like a trophy, with a large burger on top, and at the base were the words "Share A Seat, Win A Friend". I have since seen the same words in other restaurants, and it was (and still is) a nudge for customers - especially if they were dining alone - to open up their tables, in an effort to lessen the number of customers waiting in line to enter.

Personally, I'm not a fan of the practice, but I do realize that when I dine in public establishments, I may have to do so, and there really is no use complaining, short of building my own restaurant to dine alone in sheer, utmost privacy. I've learned to live with it, and while I have never made any friends this way, some of them have at least proceeded into a mildly convivial atmosphere - we are eating at the same place, after all.

This childhood memory was elicited after a recent experience I had at a famous Filipino food store.

And I thought I'd have a boring lunch.
(Courtesy of angsarap.net)

I had just settled in my seat, eyeing my purchase with much gusto, as I haven't had laing (taro leaves in coconut milk) in quite some time, best paired with steaming, newly cooked rice. I had barely begun my pagnanamnam (savoring) of that first rice-ulam (viand) combination in my mouth when I heard an old(er) woman exclaim loudly "eto, eto...malapit na matapos!" (here, here...he's almost done)

I looked up from my laing-induced reverie to see two women, at least 60 years of age, standing imperiously over my table, trying to will me to hurry up and leaving no doubt as to what they wanted: for me to finish my meal that instant so that they could have the table for themselves.

I instinctively removed by (humongous) bag from the seat opposite where I was and placed it beside me, so that they could have the two seats, side by side. The other woman was nudging the loud one with her, uhm, snout, but the response she got was "gusto ko tayo lang sa mesang to" (I just want it to be just us on this table).

You can bet I ate my darned slowest that day.

Note that this was pre-lunch hour (around 11:30AM), and I had purposely eaten at that time to avoid a deluge of office workers coming in for reasonably-priced but delicious offerings. I already made the gesture of taking my things away so that they could have their seats but since they were under the impression that the particular table I occupied was "theirs", they probably saw me as some kind of "squatter", tresspassing on their "property".

Here's the other odd thing: there were at least four other tables that were completely vacant. Since I am the last person in this country to be ever "guilted" by looks so as to be made to conform to some culturally accepted norm, and they knew that their attempts to stare me into finishing my meal in haste was moot, they decided to wait.

Two tables away from me. Sitting down at a table they can also call their own. (In Facebook lingo, this is where I would be doing a facepalm.)

I am fully aware that some people have preferred spots in their usual haunts. Having worked in large fitness centers, I see this happen all the time, especially in group exercise classes, or in the cardio machines, where a client would prefer to stand in a "favorite spot" in class, or a runner would like to use Treadmill Number 2, because it's the one with a view. But you can't demand someone who was there before you to "get out" just because you've arrived. Again, the idea here is that in a public space, we share and do not impose our wills on a whim or caprice, just to suit us, out of convenience.

So back to my meal: I had eaten so slowly that, as expected, the office crowd had started to descend. By this time, the loud, old hag decided to peruse the food counter to see what viands were available that day. As I was taking my last bite, a well-dressed woman went up beside me to ask if she could share a seat on my table.

I immediately stood up and in a saccharine voice told her "it's all yours, I'm done." I could see the hag's eyes go ablaze and she started running towards the table I occupied - well, given her age, as fast as she could - and shouting "Amin yan! Amin yan! Kasi naman, Choleng, ba't ka natutulog!" (That table is ours! Ours! Why are you sleeping, Choleng!), referring to her companion who had fallen asleep waiting for "their" table.

So much for the potency of guilt.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Why Bother Setting The Campaign Period?

OK as long it doesn't say "vote", huh?
(Courtesy of thefreedictionary.com)

Having mastered the art of ignoring television commercials, I have honed myself into only paying attention to the television whenever the newscast is on (or back on from another lengthy "earning" break). I have no quarrel with advertising, I understand the value they give (I was in business school many years ago, after all) and it really is a personal quirk to turn the noise (anything that distracts me from my goal) off.

The only time I do watch ads is if (a) it showcases a new product, or a new spiel for an old one, or (b) it's either brilliantly executed or horribly mangled. And last night, it was a case of the first scenario that held my attention.

One after another, various politicians who have not made it a secret of their intent to vie for a Senate seat came on (one appearing as a complete political party's slate), extolling either the pieces of legislation they have passed (if they are currently at the Lower House) or the laws they intend to make once they are elected. I counted a total of 15 Senate wannabes in the span of the newscast I was watching.

Let's get one thing out of the way: no, not one of them ever said, in black and white, to vote for them, for the Senate. Sadly, that is the only saving grace, the only positive that we can draw from this premature awareness effort on the part of these candidates.

And premature it is: the Commission on Elections, in Section 5 of Resolution 9616, has declared that the campaign period for the purposes of the May 2013 elections, is only to begin on Feb. 12, 2013, and will end two days before the actual date of election.

(See http://www.comelec.gov.ph/uploads/Elections/2013natloc/res/com_res_9616.pdf)

These "don't contain the words vote for me" advertisements are troublesome for two primary reasons, in my view:

(1) They circumvent the law, thereby negating the spirit for which the law was intended.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the reason that a specific date for campaigning is set is to have an even playing field. How would you feel if you intended to follow the Comelec's guidelines (that is, to start campaigning only starting Feb. 12), but saw that your opponent is now bombarding television screens, night after night, with footage of the roads that they have put up, who their relatives (in politics) are, and why they are to be considered "good public servants" - without ever saying the words "vote for me"?

It is but natural that you would feel taken advantage of and cheated (for trying to follow the rules), and would most probably resort to the same thing. (Just this morning, I saw a senatorial candidate "co-host" a show. Again, this candidate never said "vote for me".)

In this country, name recall and visibility are two factors that can propel you to higher office (so it's not really surprising when artistas decide to run for public office), and clearly, advertising is built on these very things. It's the reason people go to ad companies to have commercials and spots made - in the hopes that their "product" will be remembered, and they would capture market share, which (hopefully) translates into actual purchases and sales.

It becomes imperative, then, to ask why politicians would resort to advertising, since they have no actual product to sell. If I was to make a parallel, it may be so that their names will be remembered, and they would capture favorable public sentiment, which (hopefully) translates into votes.

I'm just guessing, of course. And so much for an even playing field.

(2) This clearly questionable action favors the rich, or those parties with deep war chests.

Do you know how much it takes to advertise on TV, radio and print?

Yes, that's at least 6 zeroes: in the millions.

You can imagine, then, how much some candidates have already spent, since I have already blogged about some of them since last year. Giving the public a flimsy reason like "people have to know the good our foundation does" puts into question the timing of the advertisements, especially if the foundation has been existing for decades.

It underscores one thing: you better have big money to play at this level. And it also harbors a point that has been brought up over and over: why would a candidate spend so much for a position that is limited in term, with no guarantees and could potentially wreak havoc in your personal life with the amount of intrusion and scrutiny you are bound to have and have willingly signed up for?

And if exploiting the "I never said the words vote for me" loophole is the order of the day, then really, why do we even allot a limited time frame to campaign?

What would be the point since everyone seems to take pride in "beating the system"?

Really, why do we even bother?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Euphoria In A Pizza

Who knew fusion could be this much fun, and deliriously delicious?



I have been seeing online updates on Sebastian's Ice Cream on their latest creation: Leche Flan Ice Cream Pizza, and I knew I had to have it. However, I was also not relishing having to go to Mall of Asia and then having my hopes dashed because they might have run out of the lovely new "pizza flavor" - their Facebook page states that this is their most successful flavor debut, and judging by the comments and requests, I certainly have no doubt that this is the case.

(See https://www.facebook.com/Sebastians.Ice.Cream?fref=ts for more information.)

So when they announced that they would replenish their stocks on _____day, I made sure to be there.

This was a first for me: having dessert before lunch. But I decided that if I was going to make the trek, I had better have something to show for it. I made the right decision because just after I was done, a trio entered the store, entranced by the picture of this heavenly creation on the wall.

The first scent that wafts and permeates my senses is the distinct sharpness of orange.


The cookie crust is bathed in this citrus note (a personal favorite), although I expected the cold storage to have gelled  the crust better (as can be seen, some of it has chipped off, and when you plunge your spoon through it, some of it falls off further, but this is a minor quibble).

The concoction is topped by a sliver of silky leche flan (fair warning: diabetics had best stay away from this dish), melding ever so harmoniously with the thicker layer of ice cream of the same flavor, and duly accented by that bit of butter and orange melange at the end.

I had to physically place my spoon down to savor the symphony of delights rolling in my mouth.

I no longer cared what I would be having for lunch.

Catch this creation - if you can - at their branches in Mall of Asia, Katipunan and Podium. Do refer to the Facebook page link I included above for specific information, and more importantly, to inquire if there are stocks of this guilty, guilty pleasure.

In case you were wondering what other surprises they have in store for you, here is a sneak peek at their offerings:

Top flavor is what I am most intrigued by - blue cheese.
I can vouch for the green mango sorbet with actual bagoong - a must.

Another flavor I aim to try: colorful sapin-sapin.
(Not sure I'm as rah-rah over the champorado below.)

Yes, that's Maple. Bacon. Pancakes. In ice cream.

Another nod to a local delicacy, I heart.

If you've been saving up your calorie count or are looking for what to have on "cheat" day, this is an excellent place to splurge it all. When food artistry and gustatory pleasure combine so ethereally, you can't help but feel that maybe, just maybe, you can have a piece of heaven on earth.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On Fat Cells And Rudeness

You dared show up in public not looking like this?
(Courtesy of indiyanews.com)

Reading through a friend's Facebook status update, it amazes me how incredibly callous and unthinking we have become these days, to the point that decency seems to have gone out of fashion, to be surreptitiously replaced by ill manners.

My friend, "Alice", was having lunch with her mom at a new restaurant, and her mom called up an acquaintance to join them. As soon as this person arrived, the first thing she does is look at Alice, and mouths the line "Don't you have any plans to lose all that weight?" She then takes her seat, and talking to Alice's mom, proclaims "You know, every time I see Alice, it's like she's always getting..." then trails her voice off, adding a knowing smile, as if she had a private joke.

I must mention that this person is not Alice's friend. They know each other only by osmosis, through Alice's mom. She is also not Alice's personal doctor. Therfore, I am aghast that Alice had to endure all this - and believe me, it would be suffering to have to eat through lunch with such a creature - because they hardly know each other.

Is it because they knew each other sparingly, that she had the audacity to call attention to Alice's weight?

On what planet can this be considered "proper social conduct"? The intent of the commenter was obviously to embarrass Alice. It wasn't even a veiled attempt, it was outright ridicule and open-faced social hostility. There wasn't even a vain stab at appealing to Alice's health, with the pretense of being concerned with her physical well-being. It was the English version of the "greeting" we hear in the vernacular, "ang taba taba mo na!" (you're practically obese)

I have a friend who has also faced this same ridicule, but from the opposite end of the spectrum: whenever he is walking and a strong gust of wind blows, his tormentor never fails to advise him to hold on the railings because baka matangay ka ng hangin (you might get swept up in the wind).

This seems to me to be an indication on how caught up we are, to the point of obsession, to look a certain way, and that any deviation from this supposed ideal is to be ridiculed, laughed at, be ashamed about, as if we are nothing more than how we look.

A cursory look at the commercials that bombard us every night on television unfailingly reminds us that being too fat, too thin, too dark, too Asian, too old and any other "horrifying" natural state should make us all hang our heads in collective shame, and they have the added bonus of pontificating from the podium of shallowness because these advertisers have the perfect pill, lotion or procedure to "fix" what's "wrong" with us, and we must therefore be "at fault" if we insist in being the same way, forever excluded from the inner circle of physical godhood.

Even the newer type of reality shows hammer the same point - now stylists, hairdressers, make up artists and other "surface" professionals are getting their 15 minutes, emphasizing what they deem to be "negative" as gospel truth.

It's come to the point that a friend's 5 year old daughter is refusing to eat dinner, and when her mom asked her why, it was because her classmates have called her "fat" and that "swimsuit season" is coming up.

Are we not seeing what this is doing to the next generation?

Are we waiting for teenagers - possibly your own - to take their own lives just because they look "different"?

Are we agreeable to children obsessing over their bodies the way many adults have made it "fashionable" to do so?

Do we think it now acceptable to shame someone for how they look?

Have bad manners become the new way of showing "we (supposedly) care"?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

5 Reasons The MMFF Isn't "Right"

Mishmash, nth sequel, rehash...did I miss anything?
(Courtesy of philnews.ph)

Over the weekend, I wanted to see the remainder of the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) entries that I was not able to view during their "slated" run. I could not help but notice - glaringly - that none of my theater staples were showing them any longer. I suppose I should've been tipped off by all the Facebook status updates I saw urging everyone to watch Life Of Pi. And of course, there was the much publicized non-holding of the Les Miserables premiere.

It was as if theater owners couldn't wait to change their (law-mandated) lineup.

I also chanced upon a friend's Facebook update (hi, Doc Wee), talking about her conversation with her 12 year old daughter, and they both resoundingly hate the MMFF. In a short paragraph, she has crystallized what I am about to list as reasons why, in its current state, the said film festival is more "wrong" than "right". Hold your violent reactions until I've listed them here, please.

1. It interferes with a free market system.

In an ideal system, vendors come out to push their products, and buyers, through experience and elimination, lean towards those that they derive some form of pleasure or utility the most. The assumption is that in such a system, the players in a free environment will weed out those that are out to make a quick buck only, when everyone is given a fair chance to "show their stuff".

In the MMFF, it shuts out foreign competitors, in an attempt to "save" the local film industry. What this communicates is that (a) we are "inferior" to foreign films, and the only way we can "win" is by eliminating those evil offerings when Christmas rolls around and (b) it's "fair" if it benefits us.

2. It encourages mediocrity and unoriginiality.

Knowing that a ready market is held captive, with no choice but to watch these films, it becomes easy to see why Shake, Rattle and Roll is on its' 14th (!) installment. Or why Enteng Kabisote has teamed up with whatever character Sen. Revilla is supposed to be playing for another year - who can blame them for wanting to squeeze as much moolah as they can from the viewing public, with the same schtick, over and over? It becomes a chicken-and-egg scenario: do people pay because they have no choice, or do these film producers repeat the formula because it works every time?

An interesting development this year is that Sisterakas and One More Try have knocked out the "usual" top grosser. But given that money seems to be the only criterion for this festival, are we about to see Sisterakitas and Yet Another Try in the 2013 MMFF?

3. It provides a marriage for the worlds of entertainment and politics.

Do I need to expound on this? The uneven playing field, the constant confusion of public persona with private character, the frustration of those with the disadvantage of relative anonimity, a candidate winning on nothing but the sole engine of their popularity...no, there is no law that prohibits characters from either world to do "crossovers". I am aware of that.

But just because something is legal doesn't mean you should "go for it".

4. There doesn't seem to be a government incentive for joining the festival.

I would love to be corrected on this point. I would love to see the government push for tax credits for exemplary films of the local industry, be accorded cash and non-cash benefits, anything. As far as I can see, it is the big, private studios that are constantly bombarding all forms of media to "please watch our MMFF offering!" and films that do not have the same organizational advantage and financial resources to promote their products always end up sa kangkungan.

5. The MMDA handles the metro's traffic and garbage.

I can't shake the uneasy feeling connecting this point and the festival's output.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Good Production, Etc., Etc., Etc.

Nonie Buencamino as the King and Menchu Lauchengco Yulo as Anna.
(Courtesy of the Facebook page of TicketWorld Manila)


One rainy weekend, we went and saw The King And I, held at the Resorts World Complex, in its Newport Performing Arts Theatre. A well-known musical (which was also a movie starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun Fat), I was more interested in seeing the production value.

It did not disappoint, and made the rainy trek worth it.

The musical was slated to start at 8PM, and while it did not start on time, it may have been (possibly) to give way to those still trying to make it to the show, given the rain and traffic. An assortment of people, from matronly seniors, to youngsters in what appeared to be their prom getup, were in the audience. 

The show begins with some dancers, and the sets, a mixture of real props and the backdrop of a large video screen, fit together seamlessly to create the fantasy world needed for the musical. Kudos to this use of modern technology with traditional materials for set building, because having had to do all of them by hand would not have allowed for the (relative) ease in changing the stage background for the next scene. A live band was also playing the score, and they gave perfect accompaniment to the excellent singing that was performed that night.

Nonie Buencamino and Menchu Lauchengco Yulo were debuting that night as the title roles, and it was only a fortuitous turn that we decided to see it that very night. Both of them were quite assured in their playing of their parts, being seasoned actors, but this is the first time I have witnessed Nonie sing, which was a pleasant change (as I know him to be an actor foremost). Menchu was quite enchanting as Anna, the foil to the King's high regard for himself (although admitting he needs help). Her British accent never faltered (I've been to plays where the accent goes in and out), and everyone else - including the children of the King - contributed to make this show very much complimented in the pre-show interviews showing onscreen.

I must make special mention of the performer who played as the Burmese "gift" forced to marry the King (I regret not being able to get her name) for having an eeirly ethereal voice, one that reminded me of Lea Salonga in her Miss Saigon run. Just remembering her voice gives me goosebumps, and I thought she had the best singing of the night.

A quirky surprise was when the elephant appears, and we all had to squint our eyes to check if they brought a live animal on stage. As I mentioned, they gave time and hard work to make the sets quite outstanding, and for this, they really deserve applause.

Do catch this musical, which I believe has been extended to May of this year. It was refreshing to see a lot of young people in the audience, and even though you may already know the story (by heart or osmosis), there's no doubt that you'll be mouthing along when the King utters his "etc., etc., etc!"

Friday, January 11, 2013

Still, Grateful

A nasty surprise awaited me earlier this week. I was thrown under the bus.

Maybe I should rephrase that: it was not entirely unexpected. When one refuses to bow down, compromise, or say "hmm, this sh*t tastes good!" there will always be those with frail egos and even more minute minds who will do what they deem necessary in order for their world to remain unshaken.

While it was happening, I felt a strange sense of calm come over me. It's funny, I found that as I could see a particular road coming to an end, before my eyes,  it was also at that moment that I felt a swelling of possibilities sprouting up, like new buds taking in their first light.

It felt freeing. Wonderful. Exciting.

It also gave me a chance to look back at the road I had traversed, and I truly, truly have no regrets. What right did I have, seeing so many others, just like me, who have not even had a tenth of the opportunities I was allowed to seize and take advantage of?

When I was given a rare gift - to do something I loved, and to also make that my source for sustenance? How many people can claim to really like what they do in order to put food on the table?

And most importantly, for the people I had met along the way, if only for this reason, I will eternally be grateful: from countless acquaintances, clients, colleagues, my internal life was enriched because somehow, everyone gave as much as they received from me. It's true, you learn something from everyone: some people teach you the value of perseverance. Others, why the act of holding your tongue can be a masterful skill. There are those who will show you why laughing until it hurts - until you are forced to roll on the ground - is one of those moments that all humans should have.

And for those people who have penetrated my force field, the ones who I let in, as much as they have let me in theirs, for sharing with me your laughter, your stories, your fears, and yes, our collective inadequacies and insecurities, for connecting with me on so much more than just a passing level, we are richer for it. Our time together was never wasted - and some of who will still be with me on a shared journey - but to those who, by dint of circumstance, I will have to part ways with, it was good, and it was as good as it gets.

Our paths may cross again, but what's important is that they already did. I have nothing but gratefulness, and I look forward to seeing what this new day - everyday - may hold: it's been quite sometime since I've gotten excited at the "mere" prospect of waking up and seeing what's in store for me.

It really is a brand new day.

(Courtesy of goodmorninggratitude.com)


Thursday, January 10, 2013

If Maria Von Trapp Sang To Enrile

The Senate's Santa?
(Courtesy of manilatimes.net)

That Senate President Enrile reportedly gave out 30 million pesos, sourced from the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) budget, for his Christmas 'gifts' to senators, is hardly surprising to anyone who is a student of politics.

(See http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/01/09/13/enrile-admits-p30m-xmas-gift-senators for more details.)

From where I stand, it is merely symptomatic of what ails anyone who enters the government to work: we are now ignorant - willfully or because "everyone's doing it as a matter of culture" - of what it means to be in public service.

Enrile has defended his action by saying that his "gift-giving" is provided for in the Constitution. But, given the more-than-usual passing reactions of those who have come across the news item, particularly from netizens, it's apparent that it does not sit well and is not well received by the public, constitutionality notwithstanding.

It may be time to go back to basics - as the Sound of Music tells us, let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.

For example, anyone who identifies her/his occupation as "teacher" would be naturally burdened with a question like "what will I teach today?" You may think it odd, funny, or even silly, that I had to point that out, and you're maybe thinking "hello! Teacher nga eh! Of course it will be a concern for that person as to what will be taught, duh!"

So let me direct this next segment to those who are in government and public service, to ask themselves this question everytime they conduct themselves in an official capacity: how does my action serve the public?

Indeed, a very good place to start.

The reason it's called public service is plain to anyone outside of it, but apparently not too obvious once you are entrenched in the system. Reading the reactions of netizens, there is a theme of "ang kapal! Pera namin yan!" prevailing, and rightfully so: public money is to be used for public purposes.

It should benefit us, the people. Period. After all, we pay the taxes, it's only right to expect it to work for us. Applying that principle, we can then ask Sen. Enrile: "How does giving 30 million pesos of MOOE to your fellow senators serve the public?"

Where is the benefit for everyone?

How does this translate to public goods or services?

And using this question, it becomes easy for anyone who is "untainted" - thinking of going into public service just now - to weigh any potential decision or action.

If I use public funds to put up my family name as the city's official seal, or embose my name over the sidewalk, or put up tarpaulin signs that say this project is because of me, how does it serve the public?

If I use a wang-wang to beat the traffic, or, since that is currently frowned upon, get a bunch of motorcycle-riding police officers in front of my publicly provided luxury sedan, to wave other motorists to get out of the way while I am on the road, how does it serve the public?

If I use the cover and excuse of law (as if laws are dead and written in stone) to propagate and further actions I wouldn't want my own mother and children to know, how does it serve the public?

Once that question can be answered with a straight face, and with no moral compunctions, only then should you proceed. It stems from a simple impetus - why - and if your answer is nowhere near the public's interest, then you should take another course of action or consider (to put it diplomatically) leaving something that requires you to serve the public as a matter of label and course.

In the Sound of Music, Maria won the heart of the Captain because she stood her ground, insisted on what she knew to be right, and made the audience sing along with her in the process.

If only Sen. Enrile could hear the virulent cacophony of violent reactions in cyberspace over what we feel with his gift-giving, he would not have responded the way he did. But then, even in the impeachment trial, he was seen regularly adjusting his hearing aid.

It may be time to sing louder.

Monday, January 7, 2013

You Say Coffee...

My friend Richard is right: I seem to have a knack for getting these "kinds" of coffee shop stories.

Say what?
(Courtesy of nespresso.com)

After doing a bit of moaning about how everyone else has discovered my new cafe-hangout, I decided to make the most out of it and just enjoy my cup of coffee.

My ever-so-shaky silent reverie was shattered just as I was about to finish my drink.

"...Yah, yah, I have this Preyda (Prada) and then I have another Preyda at home!"

I turn to see what is colloquially called a matronix, an older woman of a certain age, talking to another woman who seemed to be of the same mold. As they passed by, I got a whiff of the perfume they were sporting, which reminded me of my grandmother when I would visit her just before she passed, although these women were probably in their 60's.

After settling their things (they seemed to have shopped for a barangay, shopping bags galore), they proceeded to the ordering counter, still engaged in dropping off label names, some of them correctly pronounced, some of them...well, not.

"I told him to get a Zeeg-na (Zegna) suit, to go with his Jor (Dior) ties!"

I decided that I deserved better (eavesdropped) conversations than this if this was the last thing that I would remember should a sudden wave of amnesia hit me that very instant. I managed to haul my butt to the door, and thought that my ears were safe from the verbal assault these two women were giving out, but matronix number one managed to have the last word.

"Miss, miss, I'd like to have the drink I had when I was in Italy, yung ka-pu-see-no."


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Ill-Fitted For The MMFF

And I mean that as a compliment of the highest order.

The irony is so palpable, you can smell it.
(Courtesy of cine-vue.com)

I was determined to watch Thy Womb out of one impetus: I could not bear to think that what were tabulated as the 2012 Metro Manila Film Festival top-grossers were the best films that our country had to offer. It certainly provided a snapshot of what the current moviegoer is looking for, but I hold filmmakers, like all artists, to an invariably higher standard, as their craft and medium are capable to affecting minds and hearts.

Imagine my despair when I found out no Makati cinema was showing it. I had to check in with Click The City and I was also disappointed to find that only 9 theaters in the entire capital were showing it as of the first Saturday of the new year - it certainly makes one wonder why it was even included in a festival that had the words "Metro Manila" in them.

Entering at around 11:45 AM for the 12:00 NN showing of the film, we came into an empty theater. It was so bizarre that we started doing the "echoes" to check that there really wasn't any one around. After the flag ceremony video - whose brilliant idea was it to insert almost 2 minutes of "acting" after announcing that people should stand up for the national anthem and before the actual song? - a couple of people entered the theater as well, we were no more than 10 people all in all. On a Saturday.

Thy Womb stars Nora Aunor as Shaleha and Bembol Roco as Bangas-An, a married Badjao couple who seem to have answered the question "who wears the pants in the family?" with the response "no one and everyone". Both of them go fishing, they both work on the mat weaving (one does the actual weaving, the other does the dyeing of the material), and even though Shaleha is the midwife, Bangas-An assists in the process. Which was actually refreshing to see, and in stark contrast to the film's central conflict.

They are a barren couple, and under their laws/religion/customs, a man is allowed to have another wife with the purpose of begetting a child, with the implicit assumption that it is the woman who has difficulty with it. (I do wonder if the roles were reversed, and it is the husband who is incapable of impreganting his wife, would a Badjao woman be allowed to take another man for the same reason?)

The film, for the first half, focuses on the mundane-ness of everyday life: trips to the market, seeing a beautiful shawl and not buying it to save money, and even when very early on, Bangas-An gets shot, they do not bother going to the hospital, but treat his wounds with herbal remedies. The casual appearances of men in fatigue uniforms, or (what I assume to be) pirates are taken matter-of-factly, an inconvenience that, after decades of living with the violence in the area, have become nonchalantly ingrained into their daily schedule. When a scuffle ensues and some men in a chase bump into Shaleha, she proceeds to pick up the dropped root crops she bought and heads back her original way with no comment.

Bang-An's desire for a child must be a horrible ordeal to bear witness to, much less be married to, and in true Nora Aunor fashion, she does not need to engage in any hysterical dialogues, or hair pulling of any kind to make the audience empathize with the turmoil and torment - and the comical irony - that she, a midwife, who cannot bear her own child, has to help in looking for a suitable replacement for herself. Her eyes alone are all she needs to convey this, because the culture in which she lives out her marital duties all accept it as a husband's right.

They find Bangas-An's next wife in Lovi Poe, who plays Mersila. Before they can even see her, they have to raise a dowry well over a hundred thousand pesos, and when the couple sells the boat motor, it underscores what they deem important, that they would think of possibly jeopardizing their source of income. When Mersila  finally appears, the furtive glances that Shaleha makes communicate that while her husband's journey has ended, the unraveling of her life is just beginning. And when, privately, Mersila insists on a single condition when she bears him a child, the scene where Bang-An's tears fall are so gut wrenching that I physically winced because the horror of making this decision was something I would never want to experience.

The final twist of the knife is when Shaleha has to deliver the baby, and all she has to remember her entire marriage by is the umbilical cord of the infant, which also served to sever a marriage that she has been nothing but steadfastly loyal to.

Yes, a film has to make money. But that cannot be the only reason why a film comes into being. Against a backdrop of commercialism, box office receipts and themes of quick quips/fantasy worlds, Thy Womb was no more than a saling-pusa in this festival. (If I remember correctly from reading a news item, that is literally the case, since there was an eighth film that did not make it in time for the festival, and Thy Womb was the 'replacement'.)

Thy Womb wasn't made to fit in. It was meant to stand out. And it does so spectacularly.