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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Context Of Jessica Vs. Vice

"Mare! Kamusta na...Grabe, ang laki ng tinaba mo, ha?" (How are you, friend?...My, you've gotten really fat, haven't you?)

This is a "standard" greeting we use when we see old-time friends (or should it be "frenemies"?). This is also the cultural context that I think we are all failing to consider in the current debacle between GMA-7 news anchor Jessica Soho and ABS-CBN comedian Vice Ganda.

(Courtesy of

As this is now all over the news (and tellingly, ABS-CBN is keeping mum), I came across an interesting (albeit older) article in Science Blogs about what jokes reveal. What the article comes up with is that (1) not all jokes are universally funny and (2) there is an in-group that a joke caters to, and those without the "particular assumptions, experiences and contexts" will fail to find the humor. (The underlying assumption is also that the joke teller is a member or identifies with the in-group.)

In discussing Vice's remarks about Jessica, it might be useful to separate them into two distinctive parts: those that pertain to Jessica's weight, and those that refer to rape.

(Courtesy of

The opening I used (ang laki ng tinaba mo) is an indication of what we deem to be acceptable as a greeting, comment, or "free-for-all" to pick on. We need not look further than the recent elections, where senator-elect Nancy Binay was, for a large part, ridiculed for the color of her skin. That Jessica is being ridiculed for her weight is a matter that is accepted culturally; the same way that an effeminate male child is shamed "acceptably" lest he becomes a full-fledged homosexual; the same way soap operas have dark colored protagonists who were supremely unhappy but managed to be triumphant and be coincidentally fair-skinned at the same time; the same way shorter people are still used as comedy fodder in variety and comedy shows.

And those that are picked on for their less-than-perfect physical attributes are supposed to take it all in as good natured fun, lest they be labeled as pikon.

In a country where how we appear matters so much more than what we truly are, these jokes about physical attributes are par for the course. It is extremely hypocritical to be chastising Vice for sounding out on his stage what we hear everyday, that certain physical configurations are to be embarrassed about, reinforced by parents, schools, classmates, friends, office mates, and vastly helped by companies that have ads that promise you can be thinner, whiter, taller.

The matter of rape is not a laughing matter. I understand why the GMA-7 reporters came to the defense of their boss, and saying that it is something you do not wish on anyone. You may ask, in what context would such a joke be permissible? Is it even possible for it to be permitted on any level, knowing the rape statistics of this country?

A few days ago, new Manila mayor Joseph Estrada was quoted as saying, "It's enough that we've had two women presidents." Was anyone indignant or angered by this statement, the same way people are now criticizing Vice unceasingly? Why is a joke causing so much anger, but when a former President says that women have a ceiling in this country, that they should be relegated to a certain place only, the silence is deafening?

Rape is about power, not sex. And in these 7,107 islands, it is women and children who largely form the powerless.

When we tell women that their only assets are their breasts and curves, what message does that send to young girls? When we compile magazine lists of "100 sexiest women" all in near-nude states, can calling it "women empowerment" conceal the fact that it is the very opposite? When our male politicians proudly parade their second, third, fourth wives, and the children they spawned from different women - and have them run for public office at the same time - why do we accept it and say "macho kasi"? When our legislators insist that all women follow a single form of family planning, one approved by an organization that hasn't been shy about its' misogynist credentials, are we not telling women they have no power over their own bodies?

Viewed against this backdrop, against a culture that systematically tells women they have no control, it becomes clearer why Vice Ganda can tell jokes that trivialize rape.

It comes from an entire culture that can afford to trivialize women, without batting an eyelash, accepting it as a given.

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Matter Of National Insecurity

First, it was Manila. Their next target: Boracay.

Troubled paradise?
(Courtesy of

That is, if you believe the online conspiracy theorists now coming out of the woodwork over the perceived "attacks" on the Philippines. After the very recent brouhaha over Dan Brown's Inferno, his latest work of fiction, which describes Manila in less-than-flattering terms (and the ensuing "butthurt" comments, to use online lingo) we now have a review that exudes a similar tone in the Los Angeles Times for that paradise we lovingly claim as the best beach in the world, Boracay.

Enter our next so-called "attacker," Catharine Hamm.

Her May 26, 2013 article in the LA Times differs from the Inferno fiasco in one important respect: Catharine made a review out of her personal, actual stay in Boracay. Her not-so-positive experience begins with the boat ride after landing at the Caticlan airport; she notices the "water standing in the streets after recent rains," as well as the establishments that line the roads, charmingly described as "pot-holed obstacle courses." She found the flurry of activities and amount of people "all a bit overwhelming" and was saddened by the sight of children begging, with "the occasional mom with a baby and another child with hand outstretched."

And while she found the people "quite wonderful," she concludes that Boracay is "a place for partyers or rich people, of which I am neither."

Question: is there going to be a second round of whining from Boracay offcials or from another religious organization, the way MMDA Chairman Tolentino and the CBCP did over a work of fiction?

What is it about us that we seem to take negative comments - whether from a real or imagined place - on such an intensely personal level that we hand out persona non grata credentials as if they were going out of style, to parties who do not know nor care that they are already banned from entering our shores?

Viewing the comments under the Hamm article, one observation struck me, calling the Filipino community in Los Angeles obviously slighted. Even when we cross borders, there seems to be this need to prop ourselves up, however superficially, as a tall member of the world community, that any tinge of (perceived) negativity is viewed as a hostile act, needing our anger and large capital letters on social boards?

When Desperate Housewives hinted that medical degrees from our country were questionable, how did we react? When Jessica Sanchez came is second in last year's American Idol, why was the general consensus "it was rigged because they're racist?" When Joan Rivers proclaimed that people here ate dog meat, why did we get so infuriated, as if we have never heard of such a thing?

Quite a contrast (one can say logically) when the case is reversed: that when an achievement is accomplished by someone even just suspected of being partially Pinoy, our news organizations jump at it and we laud it as a product of Pinoy pride/talent.

The sterling thread that binds these two opposite sides of the same coin is that we depend - deeply, irrationally, unhealthily - on what others think and say of us, whether they speak of us in glowing or scathing terms. And we act accordingly, for show, in a shallow manner, because all that matters is how we appear.

When will we stop depending on what they say?

We have cried mightily, day in and out, for our officials to clean up our streets, to get rid of prostitution, to manage the hellish traffic jams. They have responded as if they have heard nothing. Is it because it came from us, your own kababayans? But when a fictional book calls Manila the "gates of hell," only then will officials move to do something about our "image?"

Why is it that our hotel doormen eye their kababyans as if to say "what are you doing here?" but subserviently bow down when another hotel guest with a different nationality comes in next, offering to carry their bags and whatnot all the way to their hotel rooms?

Hamm's article is non-fiction, albeit an account of her personal experience. As I gleaned from the comments online, the Pinoy Pride crowd is already making a predictable response: that Hamm's account is her own and can't be given weight, that she and other writers (cough, cough) have an agenda to destroy our trajectory towards economic ascendancy, etc. 

Until we can learn to face criticisms in the eye, weigh them and see the merit and substance behind, we will always fall victim into more posturing, more temporal makeovers, and nothing of actual substance being implemented.

How long are we going to be tragically, terminally insecure?

Jewish-Iraqi On A Plate

While waiting for the 10PM showing of The Fast And The Furious 6, we decided not to stray too far away from the theaters for our dinner. Newport Mall was a sea of activity - nope, make that an avalanche: there was a concert, with a variety show and raffle prize-giving in between spots. The mall didn't have a large floor area to begin with, and the seats of the restaurants provided an added obstacle course for people who just wanted to use the escalators.

We settled for the very first available table we could see of any restaurant (yes, all the eating places were SRO), which was at Cafe Mediterranean. I'm used to ordering kebabs whenever I find myself in this staple that Art and I have enjoyed over the years, which was a good enough reason to try out something else.

One of the menu inserts proudly proclaimed the "return" of an item that made a brief appearance and requested by patrons for a comeback, the Sabich (PhP 145).

What particularly drew me to it was the description: "A Jewish-Iraqi sandwich with eggplant, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, hummus, tahini and sliced boiled egg." I don't think I have ever had anything remotely resembling Iraqi cuisine ever touching my lips, and the ingredients pretty much sounded "standard" for a dish from the restaurant's namesake.

I wish they had warned me about the jalapenos. (In person or in the description.)

My first bite was tasty, fragrant...then quickly evolved to fiery hot until my tongue felt a tinge of numbness. (How's that for an odd juxtaposition of words?) Even though I have been warned by numerous cooking shows not to take water in or the spicy sensation will last longer, I couldn't think of anything but downing my full glass of water. I spent the rest of the time looking for the tiny bombs of heat that clouded what I could tell - as much as my recovering tastebuds allowed me to taste, anyway - was a chunky, filling and yummy sandwich. (I do like eggplants. And hummus. And tahini.)

Maybe I should come back again to give it another try. Just hold the peppers.


The Cafe Mediterranean
Cinema Level, Newport Mall
Resorts World Manila

Friday, May 17, 2013

Need Bills, New Senators?

We've just finished another election. I'll be the first to say that, in my circle, we are vastly disappointed with who we now call our new representatives. I'll even go so far as saying that, on a personal level, I did not vote for a single person currently ranked in the 'top 15' for the Senate race.

The advice that I have been getting lately has been to move on, that we should respect the people's will, that we should hold hands and sing Kumbaya, it's time to heal, and we should now fall in line, etc.

Sorry, that's not how I see it.

One of the 'funny' things about how we run our democracy is that it seems to be a one day affair - we vote, we feel empowered for a single day, we claim that our voice matters, but after the results are out, we are supposed to treat these elected officials as demigods, our superiors, and they're supposed to "know better."


We're supposed to watch them every step of the way, to see if they can deliver what they promised during the period when they were begging for us to choose their names on the ballot. I noticed that many of them had the same motherhood utterances - fight poverty, create jobs, feed every child - as can be expected of sweet talkers.

So, senators, I'be decided to give my input, as to the kind of bills I would like to see deliberated upon, and since I posted this on Facebook, some people have given their inputs as well, which I will now share here.

(Courtesy of

(1) A bill that ensures that once elected, a public official is barred from holding another job, in any capacity.

We voted you to do a job - to legislate, to run our cities - but what do we see? Senators who produce and star in movies for the annual filmfest, who see nothing amiss by appearing in a noontime show, pushing products or co-hosting morning talk shows.

What happened to that much touted "backlog" they keep referring to, whenever they are asked why a certain bill is still not being tackled? You are supposed to sit there, day in and out, and argue until the cows come home and decide if a bill should be approved and in what form. Then on to the next bill. And the next. We're not paying you to see your name sa takilya or in the small screen.

Execute, legislate - DO YOUR JOB. If you have time to advertise for nutritional supplements, does that mean the job we entrusted you with is too easy?

(2) A bill that requires journalists, TV personalities, public figures in fields other than politics that have lopsided public exposure to resign from their jobs one year before they file their candidacies.

We've seen it all too often - a matinee idol decides to "cross over" to being a legislator because his star isn't shining that bright anymore, or a newscaster thinks to parlay the daily exposure she gets on a nightly basis into a career as a local executive. It's terribly unfair, especially in a country like ours, where telenovelas and lunch time variety shows reign supreme, a testament to our obsession with flash, not substance. (More on this in a later bill.)

(3) A bill that raises the minimum requirements for a candidate to be considered for public office.

And we need to raise this bar. Drastically. For those who say that it is anti-poor, our government provides for free schooling until high school, and many colleges offer full scholarships for deserving but financially struggling students. These are positions that will affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Millions of people. This is not the time to scrimp on getting the cream of the crop, to be bashful and say "pwede na yan."

Are we that desperate? As long as they have a "heart to serve" OK na? The way I see it, you do not need a public position to translate your "heart to serve" - but to be imbued with much power and money under one's control, you need to prove yourself credible and trustworthy of such a responsibility.

We need to stop glorifying the least common denominator. If we allow those with the barest minimum of qualifications to lead this country, it doesn't take a genius to know we won't be getting anywhere.

(4) A bill that reverses the oppressive requirements in the workplace.

This is a bill that is the complement of the third one in this list; that is, if our lawmakers refuse to raise the standards for public office, then it's only fair that everyone take their lead.

Why should a small retail shop require its' employees to be college graduates, when the job only requires them to take inventory of the store's products, and we can have senators who don't even know how to file a bill or understand why a corporation has a separate identity all its own, yet be responsible for sweeping changes in our social structures that will affect generations to come?

We might as well take the lead from these "leaders" - OK na ang OJT. And the bill won't even require you to have the surname of an unconstitutional political dynasty.

(5) A bill that bans all telenovelas and all variety shows for a period of one year, after which time, the national IQ will be measured.

You may think this to be a radical proposal, decry it as undemocratic - but what could be more damaging to a democracy than giving the vote to someone who judges a candidate by what character s/he has played in a movie? Even politicians who have never been on the silver screen adopt names from that genre - think of Alfredo "Dirty Harry" Lim, who was just beaten by Joseph "Asiong Salonga" Estrada.

During this time, shows on science, math, literature and the arts will replace what we see on a daily basis.

Of course, when I threw this suggestion out, someone pleaded with me to retain Be Careful With My Heart. Between that and a book series called Twilight, I'm not sure which one would be the lesser evil. So maybe that soap opera has a chance of surviving this bill, after all.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sharing Your Blessings?

Blessings from on high.
(Courtesy of

I was going through an online thread that was discussing the pictures you see over social media of how many bags one person has purchased, or the latest car or cellular phone they just bought, when a newcomer barged in the thread, obviously miffed at the tone of the discussion, and started "shouting" (which is what writing in capital letters is equivalent to in online communication).

"Bakit? Is it wrong to be happy that my husband bought me a new bag that costs more than a hundred thousand pesos?!? I am just SHARING MY BLESSINGS! Inggit much kayo dito?!? I see NOTHING WRONG with SHARING your blessings with the WORLD!!! God gave us these BLESSINGS and it would be GREEDY of us to hide it from the world!!!"

I'm not sure how to respond to this.

I suppose the first question I have is, was it necessary to parade the price tag of your bag? I imagine that if I went out, to the mall or wherever, and I wore brand new clothes with the price tags still on them, people would be staring at me, not because they would be wowed by the amounts indicated - I don't prioritize spending hard-earned money on clothes, ever - but probably because you're supposed to snip these off before you wear them. (And I would add, more importantly, to wash them before wearing them, which would make the tag unsightly.)

Being happy/grateful for gifts from your spouse is an expected response. I'm just confused how posting it over Instagram is part of being grateful, or how that shows that you "share your blessings."

To my mind, if you really wanted to "share" these wonderful gifts and blessings, you would have (a) given the bag/s to one of the "unfortunate" ones or (b) sold the bag/s and given the cash equivalent to the same "unlucky" ones, or to charity.

The example this woman gave reminds me of a scene from Will and Grace, when Karen and Jack ordered too much food on Christmas Eve in their hotel suite, and Karen thinks out aloud.

Karen: "Jack, we have all this food we haven't touched...when there are people who can't even eat."
Jack: "My God, Karen, you're right...but what can we do?"
Karen: "I know! Let's take a picture of us eating all this food...and show it to them!"
Jack: "Karen, you are like a female Jesus!"

I might be out of touch with how things work over social media, but it seems to me that posting pictures of your material possessions still falls under the "Bragging" column. Whenever I am in doubt, I try to imagine online actions in terms of how they would be translated before Facebook and Twitter.

In my day, people would usually have to hold a party, come down (often on a spiral staircase) wearing their Paris-bought clothes or jewelry, then "casually" show it off to declarations of oohs from the invitees.

Did that sound as silly now as I thought it did, even back then?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Inspired Choices For 2016

Let me be the first to congratulate all the almost-sure winners of the current Magic 12 for the Senate.

I will admit that I did not vote for a single one of them, because I had two basic guidelines in eliminating candidates as "nuisances" - (1) if they are reelectionists, because I believe they already had their chance or (2) if they are part of a political dynasty. As Prof. Solita Monsod pointed out, places where dynasties are entrenched have some of the highest poverty rates. This is aside from it being unconstitutional, and the lack of checks and balances once members of the same clan are in power at the same time, or holding a post in succession.

Based on the winners for this election, I would like to propose that the following "personalities" consider my suggestions in preparation for 2016, another electoral year for our (relatively) young democracy.

(Courtesy of

Grace Poe should waste no time in capitalizing on her performance - not one, not a single one, of the survey firms doing pre-election surveys ever projected her to top the race for the Senate, and she is doing so spectacularly, with at least a million votes ahead of usual topnotcher, senator Loren Legarda, who cried on TV over accusations about her alleged SALN discrepancies. Poe (who wisely dropped her married name) can test the waters if she decides to run for the VP post in 2016. (She can resign from her senate term, which is for 6 years.) Strike while you are number-one hot.

(Courtesy of

As of writing, boxing champion Manny Pacquiao seems to be a shoo-in for reelection as representative, and his wife will also win as vice-governor. It left me wondering why, as a budding dynasty, they let Manny's brother run, instead of their most media-friendly member who is already known nationally, Mommy Dionesia! Her ballroom dancing skills will certainly be at par with other politicians doing the Gangnam, Harlem Shake, or Gentleman, and we all know on-stage dancing is an absolute necessity to be elected in this country. Her frank demeanor will certainly spell Every Person-slash-makamasa, which former President Erap Estrada has fully utilized to endear him to voters. (Not incidentally, he has been proclaimed the new mayor of Manila.) She can just zoom right for the Senate; after all, Nancy Binay did, who is currently ranked number 5 in the Senate race.

(Courtesy of

Nancy Binay (who, like Poe, shrewdly discarded her married name) should also capitalize on her newfound popularity. Since her father, current Vice President Jejomar Binay, has made no bones about wanting the country's top post in 2016, she can probably present herself as his running mate, since both have been proven to pull in votes, and both have stated that they are quite alright with political dynasties. (Actually, they didn't need to be asked their stance there, since Nancy's brother looks set to retain his post as mayor of Makati, and sister Abigail has the same fate as representative. There is an obvious "magic" where the Binay brand is concerned.) If she decides to run as VP, she would have to give up her Senate seat, but that's where Nancy's mom can come in, herself a one-time mayor of their bailiwick, to take her vacated Senate slot. That way, they can truly embody the notion that political dynasties - like everything else - are more fun in the Philippines! (A tie up with the Department of Tourism is begging to be conceptualized.)

Senators Trillanes and Honasan look set to keep their positions as senators, so it might be prudent to form a political party based on rebellions, coups and hotel lobby crashers, because their performance means that voters aren't averse to what they did before running for the Senate, it might mean the opposite! A party that has for its basis continuous revolts in various shapes and forms, something that will appeal to those who read it as nationalistic. The opportunity is just there, they should take it.

Buhay has topped the names of party list contenders, and it may be time for them to dismantle that silly constitutional provision that says that the separation of church and state is inviolable. Their current standing in the party list race gives them the "moral right" to do so, if they choose to read it as "people want a theocracy, if they voted us into power." Of course, they will encounter opposition from various sectors who value democracy, but what do they know? Bakit, number one ba sila sa botohan? They can rub that question all the way to 2016, and if that happens, priests, ministers and other religious folk need not resign in order to take part in elections as candidates. No need to field lay people or organizations whose underlying thrust is to advance religious tenets, if theocracy becomes our form of government.

Instead of fighting each other, all scions of political dynasties should form one party. Since we are a country with no real political party based on ideology, you will notice that political dynasties/families form a chunk of the two major "parties" in this election. It seems silly, then, to be on opposite sides of the fence, because no matter which "party" you belong to, as long as you are part of a political dynasty, you are assured of your seat in government. Seriously, for 2016, the Comelec should just identify a candidate as either PD or DC - for Political Dynasty or Disabled Candidate (as in disabled by lack of political funds, insignificant name recall, running on principle/platform). I'm all for keeping things simple.

(Courtesy of

The Villar power couple (as of writing, Cynthia Villar was at number 10 in the Senate race) should be proud for being senators at the same time, so for 2016, they should field all their children as senators as well. They can run under a Pro-Family slogan, but this is, of course, in a literal sense, promoting their own family only. What an achievement that would be if they all could sit at the same time, I've never heard of such a thing happening, where parents and all children occupy the same position in government, but they should take it as a challenge! We must let Pinoy Pride be the battle cry to set new heights worldwide - we've conquered singing, now we have to take the world political stage by storm and show them how we do it here!

I used to think that education and citizen empowerment were the keys to having an informed, critical electorate. But having gone through several of these exercises, we seem content in voting the same person, name or family  over and over again, though we do make room for artistas and athletes. Let's short circuit the process because with each election, my fervent hopes for this country keep getting dashed violently, repeatedly, and terminally, against the rocks of apathy, inability to think of the far-future, and mindless entertainment.

In that way, we can all do our nails or take a local trip come election day on 2016. You know, because we already know who will win, anyway.

Monday, May 13, 2013

While I Was Voting: 2013

(Courtesy of

1. People were setting up the (two) voting booths by 6:15 AM. (I was there by 6:10 AM.) I was also informed that I could vote by 7AM.

2. After grabbing a quick coffee from the convenience store just a few steps away from the clubhouse/gym, I came back to find two separate lines forming.

3. There were no labels what people were lining up for. Nagbabaka-sakali lang, said one person I asked. Great, let's leave everything to chance, haha.

4. I was the 5th person in line for the first line. (From what I remember ever since I started voting, people in my parents' village ALWAYS come here early to do their duty.)

5. We were told that the official list containing qualified voters has not arrived. And the person holding it was supposedly wading in floodwaters to get to where we are. Time check: 7:18 AM.

6. Various know-it-alls trying to suggest this and that, while election officers look helpless and dumbfounded because the lines were starting to snake.

7. Person with official list shows up, looking harassed and all sweaty. It turns out, she had just come from another place to deliver their list, and was also headed elsewhere after our place to deliver another list. Time check: 8:10 AM.

8. Officer in charge acts immobile, unsure whether she should put up the list on boards so people can just check their names, or whether she should entertain those lined up - which she asked everyone to do - on a first come first serve basis. Crowd gets antsy, not knowing why she keeps staring into a little booklet when the list is right in front of her, on the table.

9. Guy officer decides to post the duplicate list on boards, while woman officer stays put. People already lined up have no choice but to ask others in line to hold their place while checking for the correct precinct to line up for. I was in the wrong line, and had to move to the other booth's also lengthy line. Guess some of us early birds were being punished for being too eager to vote - now we had to line up behind those who decided to come in past 8 AM.

10. Woman bellows out that senior citizens get priority in voting. I looked at those who fit that description, and the median age seemed to be 75. This did not help the crowd feel elated. I wonder why.

11. Thankfully, in my line, seniors lined up as they came. I was able to exit the voting booth and saw some people in my original line still waiting to vote because the seniors there kept coming intermittently, holding up the (non seniors) line repeatedly.

12. I was NOT asked to present identification, even though I had my driver's license ready. I also did not have a picture in the official list of voters. While I was in line, only one girl was asked to produce identification; strangely, she had a picture in the list.

13. Since there were only two booths, we had to make do with squeezing in a small space, all 10 of us at a time. There were married couples who entered the booth at the same time.

Married couple 1, husband: Who should I vote for as party list?

Married couple 1, wife: number 135! Buhay party list! Father __________ said that's who we should vote for! Buhay! There! There! (Wife starts furiously pointing where husband should shade. Secrecy folder rendered useless.)

14. Married couple 2, wife: who didn't you vote for senator?

Married couple 2, husband: Don't vote for Pimentel! He had a divorce! No, no, no to divorce!

15. Election officer thinks my finger is a blank canvass, and proceeds to POUR the indelible ink. Liberally. Time check: 9:17 AM.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Line Should Be Clear

One of the top stories in last night's newscast was that the Iglesia ni Cristo, a religion that is often referred to as "hugely influential" in news reports, has chosen their 12 candidates whom they officially endorse for the Senate in the 2013 mid-term elections. It brought to the forefront something we all know, but refuse to admit, acknowledge, and declare in plain sight.

We don't really have a separation of church and state in this country.

(Courtesy of

My understanding of this relationship - or what should be their relationship - is based on our very own (1987) Constitution.

"The separation of church and state shall be inviolable." (Article 2, Section 6)

"No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights." (Article 3, Section 5)

You can understand, then, my bewilderment, ever since I began being engaged in our political life: the basis for all our laws, the Constitution, has made it patently clear how one should relate to each other.

There should be a separation of church and state, and if you would, kindly read the meaning of the word inviolable - "never to be broken, infringed or dishonored." There will never be a state religion, and the reason is given immediately: because every person should be free to believe in their own chosen deity or belief system. And that is why, in doing our duties expected of citizens of a democratic, secular government (like voting), "no religious test shall be required."

What has been happening, ever since I was old enough to vote, is clearly, and blatantly unconstitutional.

How else can you describe the actions of the INC, and most recently, the Roman Catholic hierarchy, when they tell their followers which candidates to vote for specifically? Is this not subjecting a civic and political act - voting - under a religious test, one which is approved by a religion's "elders?"

How else can you describe candidates - supposedly running for a position in a secular, democratic government - who willingly kneel in front of religious leaders, with the unwritten-but-still-waved-around assumption that such a "blessing" will translate to actual votes in a secular, democratic exercise?

The terms "bloc voting," "command vote," "INC endorsement" and "Catholic vote" are no longer foreign to us, we seem to have accepted them as a given, even when our Constitution states that this should not be happening in the first place.

I am not a lawyer, so I will not try to argue using court decisions or obscure entries in our law books that even law professors hardly remember. But one reason I can use, why this confluence of religion and politics is especially disturbing come election time, is the loss of our individual voice, and why I find it most disrespectful.

Voting is the one time we are all, truly, in its barest sense, equal. One person gets one vote. (No jokes about flying voters.) Rich, poor, disabled, triathlete, obese, model, straight and happy, gay and unhappy, none of those things matter. As long as you are a citizen, you get one vote. It also means you do not have to be Catholic, or INC, or Buddhist, or Muslim, or Protestant, or any of the thousands of other religions out there, in order to vote...what, did you think that there were only 4 or 5 religions?

That is the reason why it should not matter come voting time. There cannot be a tyranny of numbers, that just because most people in this country are Catholic, it should follow that every citizen has no choice but to be compelled to follow Catholic doctrine and teaching - and that is what has already happened, and one sterling example of this would be former Manila mayor Lito Atienza during his stint declaring that public health centers - of a secular, democratic government - will only offer natural family planning methods, as per his belief system, who cares that there are non-Catholics living in his city.

But most of all, the concept of "command voting," where religious leaders tell their followers what to write on election day, gives rise to the assumption that people are incapable of thinking for themselves, and need to be told what to do, who to vote for, where to go, who to marry. Why did we bother setting an age for being legally defined as an adult if we won't even bother making decisions for ourselves? Even parents cannot force their children - ideally, anyway - where to live once they are 18, or in this country's case, now with spouse.

Why are we allowing a few men to dictate the outcome of our elections? (And yes, most of the major religions aren't too excited about the prospects of having "women leaders," hence the usage of the term "men.")

If this country is to move forward, we have to vote for a candidate despite the misgivings of our religious leaders, but if you yourself feel it is the right choice, after considering all factors, then you should be free to choose who it is that your reason and emotion tell you to.

It's time we honored our own minds by standing by our own choices. And let this country's politics be free from religious interference, as mandated by the Constitution.

As it should be.


UPDATE: As soon as I posted this, a news item appeared in my feed, saying that the INC has NOT yet given its list of candidates to vote for, and you can read the news report here. (It may have been a false alarm, but the use of the word "yet" indicates they intend to come out with such a list, something they have done over the course of several elections.)

Monday, May 6, 2013

My Platform: Pinoy Pride!

Can you think of a better slogan?

(Courtesy of

Since I plan to be included in this year's lineup of senator-wannabes, I must make sure that my slogan is catchy, appealing and sentimental, and no two words are tagos sa puso (literally, through the heart) as those two, which has become, of late, a common battle cry, both online and IRL (in real life). Why shouldn't I be able to use this in my campaign?

Of course, I can't just stand there and mouth those two words, and "hope for the best" - I have to back it up with proposed programs and concrete actions! Which got me to thinking: what exactly are we most proud of?

Singing comes to mind as one of the things we are known for. Go to any singing contest - and I'm talking worldwide! - and you will always find a singer who is of Filipino blood, descent, citizenship, and who cares if these contestants have lived their entire lives without ever setting foot in our shores, they're OURS! Even when a contest specifies that "only American citizens can vote," we wasted no time is texting our support for American Idol finalist Jessica Sanchez, achieving absolutely nothing by way of votes for Jessica, but making the show and the telecom company quite happy.

Therefore, we must focus our meager resources towards the formation of singing schools around the country! If need be, we will use these basketball courts constructed by politicians over the years to prove that they have "done something concrete" (literally) for the land needed for these institutions that will showcase our signature talent! Stop crying, we don't have the height to compete in international basketball tournaments!

There will be a moratorium on televised singing contests, as I will make sure that it is the mandate of the State to gather from the best vocal talents available to send abroad to conquer the world! Tax exemptions will be granted to those families who willingly surrender their child over to the State once their vocal prowess manifests! Singers will likewise be granted the same benefit, as well as housing, disability and various other discounts and exemptions!

Boxing is a sport that we have excelled in for years - although we have suffered some losses lately - and that is why, boxing will be the only sport authorized in all schools! All gymnasiums will be transformed into multiple boxing rings, and if you wish to play another sport, you have the option of being deported! I will make sure that beating someone up becomes socially acceptable - after all, we cheer so much watching our boxers do the same - that all laws regarding beating and violence will be immediately repealed, if I get elected! From this point on, boxing someone will be a perfectly legal way of settling disputes, and betting stations will be legalized for this purpose! Courtrooms will have a mandatory boxing ring, so that justice can be dispensed by way of the fist!

Beauty contests, now there's a category we are also renowned for! To this end, all ladies (who qualify by age and height, and of course, the swimsuit and evening gown competitions) will be taken care by the State! Not one of them must exhibit any trace of fat cells, and will be subjected to state-sponsored purging stations! Similar stations will be put up across the country to attract hopefuls not yet discovered, and what better place than at the malls, where fashion magazines have led millions to go shopping for the clothes advertised on glossies worn by emaciated girls who have been photoshopped and airbrushed more times than I care to count!

They will receive continuous beauty treatments from Belo, Calayan and all other such clinics, until such time that they lose their beauty! Government media stations shall reinforce this opportunity by running ads that highlight the advantages of being pretty: "Without beauty, you are worthless!" sounds like a catchy ad copy. As for the notorious Q and A portion, all academics will focus on formulating answers for every conceivable question. Physicists, chemists, urban planners...all fields will be harnessed with the intention of making sure that our contestants "don't feel any pressure, right now!"

We are known for our laborers: hardworking, fluent in English and incapable of complaints! Therefore, all college courses will be tailored towards what the world labor market needs! Courses that are not in demand will be abolished! Related to this, there will be NO family planning of any kind! Natural, modern, I will not have any of it! We need to produce more and more humans to supply the demands of the entire world! We have been fooled by these politicians, talking about sustainability, economic fitness and what-not, as reasons to plan the number of children a family has. Nonsense! We are talking of the entire world as our job market - it is practically limitless! Produce, produce and produce babies, lots and lots of babies!

It brings me to something we are also known for: hypocrisy! We have government authorities who use the national budget for personal trips, pious politicians who have mistresses by the truckloads, police officers who use their cars to go against a one way road, priests who sire children, murderers, looters and sex offenders in public office! You name it, we've done it all! To maintain this advantage, all hypocrites will be given tax breaks, and a subsidy to perform all acts relating to their particular brand of hypocrisy! Honest citizens who try to live a moral life will be taxed to the highest level, as they give our hypocrisy branding a bad name!

We are also known for natural resources like forests and beaches - if I am elected, I will issue permits to any and all companies that wish to exploit all these! Build more resorts, cut more trees, destroy all ecosystems, as long as we profit from them - and the government gets a huge chunk, of course - you will have my support!

I promise to fulfill each and every one of these programs once I am elected, because I truly believe that with Pinoy Pride leading our path, there is nothing we cannot achieve!

A vote for me is a vote for Pinoy Pride!

(And if you dare write horrible commentaries in the news about my plans and programs, we're also known for what we do to journalists. I'm just saying.)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Subtlety Was Never Kris' Strong Suit


(Courtesy of

That is one word that can hardly be associated with television host, perennial endorser and presidential sister Kris Aquino. Since her introduction to the public eye from when she was quite young, she has made no secret about her intentions to become famous - and has proceeded to singularly achieve this goal, up to the present time.

How she traversed this route to celebrity status is cause for much, er, comment. I don't know of anyone (locally) who has regularly paraded her personal affairs in so carefree a manner, that even if you were the least interested person with regards to showbiz, it would be virtually impossible to not have known about how she contracted a sexually transmitted disease, or her predilection for basketball players, and quite recently, the revealing state of her annulment.

Whatever she does, it's loud, out there, and ready for public scrutiny. Or, as some would label more accurately, begging for public scrutiny.

Today, I woke up from a short nap, and found out that Kris has thrown her hat in the political ring. Specifically, she has decided to run for the position of governor, in their home province of Tarlac, come 2016. (You can read more about it here.)

Reading through the news item, she gave a rather revealing statement, one I wish to highlight.

"The incumbent (Tarlac) governor Vic Yap is now running for his last term. He said he would give it to me (to run for)"

I have never heard of such a blatant description of how political clans view these elective positions. And, Kris being Kris, she cannot help but be blunt about it.

For years, we have been trying the delicadeza tack: sounding out to these out-and-out political dynasties about their blatantly unconstitutional stranglehold on their positions, bouncing the same posts to their spouse, mistress, children, uncles/aunts, and even their manicurists, keeping it all "in the family," so to speak.

And for those same number of years, the usual response we get from them is a variation of the same line: "there's no enabling law!" and "let the people decide! It's because they want us!" They have skirted around what many of us have been thinking: ano yan, ipinamamana ang posisyon?

It took someone like Kris to finally, verbally, and specifically, admit that people of her (political) stature view these positions as a given, theirs by some kind of right.

It may be time to change our form of government into a monarchy.

Thank you, Kris, for never being subtle.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Which Is It, Dingdong?

Celebrities and politics - married in this country.
(Courtesy of

While waiting through another lengthy commercial break during American Idol last night, I channel-surfed for awhile (I knew I had at least 4 minutes to do so) and was stopped cold  by a political advertisement.

(Courtesy of

An advertisement for the partylist Buhay, which is going to be represented by Irwin Tieng (who voted against the then-RH Bill-now-Law), and appearing in the same commercial, actor Dingdong Dantes.

Wait a minute, kapeng mainit.

What was Dantes doing in this commercial? I distinctly remember him and his on-and-offscreen sweetheart, Marian Rivera (a celebrity in her own right) endorsing the RH Bill just a few months ago. It made an impression on me because I know that these are the golden children of TV station GMA 7, both stars of the stations many telenovelas and other shows, and I secretly wondered whether their job security would be compromised by coming out in favor of a bill that was grandly opposed by this country's Catholic hierarchy. Let's face it: the big stars don't get to where they are by rocking the boat, but by being cute, likable and mainstream.

My memory being not what it used to be, I decided to get an actual news item that confirmed this recollection of Dingdong being supportive of the RH Bill, and all I have is a article, using a Manila Bulletin item, with the headline "Dingdong Dantes is pro-RH but is against abortion." and you can view the article here.

As anyone who follows politics in this country knows, Buhay party-list is associated with Mike Velarde, leader of the El Shaddai religious sect, as well as former Manila mayor Lito Atienza, both of whom are clearly vocal in their opposition of the (now) RH Law. If I remember correctly, one of their stated objectives in running (as party list) this time around is to try to have the RH Law repealed. And who can forget what Atienza did, forcibly foisting his Roman Catholic beliefs on the entire city he was mayor of then, by only authorizing natural family planning methods in all public - that means "supposedly secular in a democracy" - health centers, and banning modern methods because they conflicted with his personal choice of religion?

Normally, I wouldn't care what celebrities endorse. I don't follow showbiz news, and I loathe it when these stars parade the latest car or bag they purchased (really, an obscene act in a country like ours). If they use their faces and bodies to induce people to buy a particular brand of soap or drink the latest diabetes-inducing carbonated concoction, it wouldn't make a dent in my own life.

But when they lend their support to political causes that can potentially set this country backward, after more than a decade of painstakingly pushing for measures like the RH Law, and when you factor in the Supreme Court decision to prevent its implementation, I cannot help but be indignant of this careless and wanton use of celebrity power - and you better believe it, in this country, that translates to real power. Because these stars - some faded and longing for glory, some just jumping the bandwagon - can help get themselves or others into elected positions that will reverse our country's economic and political direction, for decades to come.

Ano ba talaga (which is it going to be), Dingdong? 

By saying that you're pro RH then, and now supporting a party list known for opposing the same measure...well, that would make you a shoo-in for the world of politics. Which is remarkably the same as the current world you reside in, where you say what people want to hear.

But with direr consequences for this country.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

My Mom Doesn't Know Kipling

I don't mean the writer. I'm referring to the bag maker.

(Courtesy of

On Labor Day, my mom and I were sharing bowls of piping hot mami in one of the country's oldest restaurants, when I noticed her bag, one I hadn't seen before.

"Is that new?"

"Oh." She started patting the bag. "Yes. Well, you know naman your sister just came from the States. And she called me up while she was there, telling me "Ma, I bought you a Kipling bag."

"So was this something you asked her to buy?"

"No!" She started laughing. "I don't even know what the brand is. Kipling? I've never heard of it. And to which your sister said, "Are you serious?" Sorry, I don't know it."

Honestly, I'm surprised that my sister was even surprised. One of the things I remembered most growing up was by how simple my mom was. And by simple, I mean "hardly preoccupied with brand names." She was more from the matibay school when it came to retail purchases. As long as something was usable, there was no need to replace it, which she felt was a matter of frivolity.

One memory that remains etched to this day is when she once went to school for some conference, and she came across a co-parent, who was all dolled up, with hair obviously galing sa (from the) parlor, and with clothes that looked to be "the latest." My mom raised her eyebrows, then whispered to me in Chinese, "I dread to know what she is teaching her daughter." And she's right: based on her online pictures, the daughter who was my schoolmate seems to be preoccupied with what she just bought.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank my mom for imparting this view of things by her example. She taught me to never be bothered by what people thought of what I was wearing, as long as it was clean. In doing so, she let me know that while having branded items are nice, they aren't necessary, the way so many people nowadays live and die by brand items.

Thanks, mom.

Why What Jason Collins Did Matters

By now, anyone who follows the news would be aware of one particular "hot item" from the world of sports: Jason Collins, Washington Wizards center, has come out of the closet.

(Courtesy of

I am glad he did, because it matters.

I say this, not because it "should" matter to anyone who is part of the sexual minority, although that alone is reason enough. What I find bothersome is how Collins' message has been received by some sectors.

The messages of hate are to be expected, the ones raised by bible-thumpers, who invoke "morality" as if they invented the concept, I'm not worried about those. Any time now, I'm expecting the Westboro Baptist Church to show up at Collins' house or anywhere the Wizards are playing and picket him, wishing that it was his funeral, already.

But what bothers me is a different response, one I've seen online since Collins' revelation. It was a similar response I witnessed when CNN personality and talk show host Anderson Cooper came out.

(Courtesy of

Why are you all making a big deal out of this announcement?

The fact that naysayers are coming out of the woodwork to negate what Collins - and Cooper - did as something insignificant is proof that it isn't, because of one simple truth: we're not there yet.

And by "there," I mean a time when one's sexual orientation truly does not matter anymore. A time when you cannot be denied housing just because you're a gay man, when you aren't denied government/federal benefits just because you are a same sex couple, or a business refuses to cater your wedding or make your wedding cake because the customers are lesbian.

Let me repeat: We're not there yet.

Open any newspaper - or favorite online news portal, more likely - and what do you see whenever there is news that relates to the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered) community?

How gay people are destroying "traditional values."

How lesbians are being featured in a department store ad, making them "non-threatening."

How bisexuals are destroying "the normal way of things."

How the LGBT community is demanding that (secular) laws be changed for their benefit.

What this tells me is that we are still content in demonizing people just because they are The Other. If you need more sterling proof, you need not look further than how conservatives in the USA have thrown various (racially-motivated) epithets against US President Barack Obama. This is 2013, decades after African Americans have achieved equality by law.

So it is rather unsettling to see some people downplay Collins and the significance of his act: He is black, gay and in an industry that thrives on being one identified as a "man's man" interest - sports. He has every reason to stay in the closet.

But he chose not to, and he says why much more eloquently.

I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, "I'm different." If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand.

(Read more reactions here.)

Growing up, the only openly gay sports figure I read about was Olympian Greg Louganis. And even then, the attempts to downplay his revelation were apparent: "it's okay, diving isn't really a sport" or "diving is just like dancing, so it's OK to be gay there." It didn't matter that Louganis racked up one Olympic medal after another, as long as the sport wasn't culturally considered "manly." 

They can't do that with Collins now. 

This is a multi-billion dollar industry, one of the epitomes of macho culture. Even in a country like ours - considering our average height - we view basketball as a must for boys. I remember thinking "why can't we choose what sports we want?" back in elementary and high school, and dreaded having to step onto the hardcourt. Not to mention, my parents had a little court built in our backyard for me to play in. And while so many services and infrastructure projects are lacking, there seems to be a basketball court in every barangay.

It is in this industry, against this backdrop of conservatism and conformity, that Collins chose to come out.

And that is why, what Collins did really matters. Until such a time that we are no longer "there" - and this could take a few years, decades, even past a century - every coming out remains potent, and its power is derived from knowing someone who is other-than-straight. Once you know someone who is gay, especially a person you have known and have formed a bond with, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify hatred and bigotry in an effort to prop up somebody else's version of "morality."

May this be the beginning of the end for homophobia in sports. Because, as it turns out, some of us can throw balls.