Monday, November 30, 2009

Sleepless in Davao

This blog has been idle for quite some time until I decided it's about time to post an update. Getting busy with work, on both paid and voluntary basis, have so much to do with this, not to mention getting caught by the usual cycle of that dreaded tardiness and unproductivity.

I knew I missed a lot of events that are worth writing on dozens and dozens of webpages, foremost among them the tragedy that Ondoy brought all over Metro Manila and the nearby provinces of Rizal, Laguna, and Bulacan, and the succeeding typhoons that turned many parts of Luzon into a virtual waterworld.

Finally, I found that elusive inspiration to be blogging again, this time in a cozy corner here at Las Casitas, a homey budget hotel here in downtown Davao. I'll try to capture in bytes the troubles and joys, and the estrangement and familiarity of the place, the people, and the culture of Davao.

Flying in late for two hours, no thanks to PAL's (Plane Always Late) legendary inefficiency, and being seated in the middle of the wide-bodied A330, I felt sorry to have missed the bird's eye view of the city, which was covered by a mass of unkind clouds that normally descend late in the afternoon.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Comic Side of the National Artist Award Tragedy

In defiance to the gloomy skies and faces of thousands of Filipinos who are still mourning, here I am in my corner of the office in an unreasonably gleeful state despite missing an important protest march, the threat of a cancelled movie date and the prospect of going home very late due to heavy traffic. This joyful exuberance has nothing to do with some future good luck such as hitting the lotto jackpot or of being inserted to the now much-derided National Artist Award. However, this has to do with the National Artist Award, yes, or how its honor was scandalized, disrespected, corrupted, and bastardized by ignorant, inutile, and reckless imbeciles whose passion and sole purpose of existence seemingly is to make our political and artistic life miserable.

We all know by now how those Fantastic Four--Alvarez, Caparas, Manosa, and Moreno--were inserted into the horror list courtesy of presidential prerogative, an exclusive power solely exorcised by the highest official of the land with the lowest moral wisdom and judgment, so far in history.

We all know by now also that two of the F4s, Alvarez and Caparas, have since broken their silence, them being the favorite ridicules apparently because they are the most deserving of the undeserving list.

Alvarez lawyered for herself, and rattled off her accomplishments in trying (in vain) to convince us she deserved the honor for being such a theater luminary.

Caparas, on the other hand, painfully lectured about the millions that flocked to watch his obra, the retake of the Maggie dela Riva rape saga, proudly his only one film with lesser relevance and contribution to the development of the local film industry because the rest of them have no relevance and contributes nothing at all. The four million he claimed to have watched his film watched not because it was a Carlo Caparas film; they watched because it was a Maggie dela Riva retelling, which was both fashionable as a story and as a genre during that period in the 90s when beautiful coeds in Metro Manila and in some parts of the country turned up in some canals badly beaten, raped, and shot to their death.

Arousing mere curiosity, as well as capitalizing on the penchant for flesh on the big screen especially among the male species, in all honesty does not and will never qualify for sensible, significant, much less critical contribution to the growth of the local film industry. Maybe Caparas is only referring to box office returns when he asserts his right to being chosen for the honor. While Viva could vouch his box office claim, it could not measure the real benchmark of a remarkable film simply because it had none, except perhaps for reminding that once upon a time, a beautiful actress was gang-raped by men who belonged to the elite members of the society. And then what? As we call it then, Caparas films belonged to a unique genre of 'pito-pito' films that had seen better days in the 90s. But it was gone too soon, much to the delight of the more discriminating taste of the moviegoing public that certainly deserved more than just the endless flesh-gun-and-knife formula of those 'pito pito' obras.

Alvarez may have some claim to fame, or honor for that matter. Maybe. Yet, credentials is not the be-all, end-all of the Order of National Artist. Credentials what? Will you please explain clearly, Ms. Vilma Labrador, if you can? Admittedly, I'm no fan of either Lumbera or Almario as artists, but I have no agenda in joining the furor except to question the logic, if any, in choosing these Singit National Artists, in the process abrogating the established tradition of collegiality in the selection process. Surely, nobody could explain the mess here, except for Labrador who, unlike her counterpart in the CCP, the eminent Emily Abrera, could never lose a sleep over her and her big, little boss' latest indiscretion. Her insistence smacks both poor and bad taste, not to mention it lacks an aura of delicadeza because there was none, there is none, and there never will be until she has summoned all the courage to decline the honor and save not only herself but the Order of National Artist itself as an institution. She had already declared it would be her joy to accept it and share it with her family. How could she, or you, or we, undo that? She can't, you can't, we can't.

NCCA commissioner Elmar Beltran Ingles seems to be the lone sensible voice today, more sensible than that Malacanang twitter who is not as lovely as her namesake pet looks, he who acknowledged the critical nature of selection as it involves people's money and trust more than anything else.

These are unbiblical times yet we must lose no hope for a change of heart, as hoping for a miracle seems to be an exclusive affair of the umblemished souls, of angels, that are not on our side these days. Change of heart we make this a mantra with the following supplication that the Fantastic Four, most especially the beloved two of them, decline the honor. When everything else fails, then the other three awardees should do it for them, i.e decline the honor. I believe with this final act, the Fantastic Four, especially the beloved two of them, will live forever haunted by the ghost of a scandalous, disrespectful, corrupt, and bastardized award offered by ignorant, inutile, and reckless imbeciles with whom they are so beholden.

Monday, August 3, 2009

National Artists of Honor

I was trying to make sense out of the latest tragedy that has befallen the artistic community after it suffered, yet again, another blow when Malacanang, in its darkest bowel form, named its three proteges to the honor of National Artist, now officially named Order of National Artists.

The announcement of the latest batch of National Artists is normally less controversial because, normally, only the hallmarks of excellence in an artist’s craft—excluding producing violent komiks and films and society couture—are carefully considered. But in abnormal situations such as the one we are having right now, even the mention of an awardee’s name provokes fire, especially if that awardee has been nominated but rejected twice for two different categories. But thanks to that awardee’s persistent patron saint in Pasig, now he can finally bring him home his beautiful trophy, courtesy of a fellow National Artist, his medical and life insurance (assuming he is still insurable), and a sweet smile for the rare honor of a state funeral (if that is something to smile sweetly for).

As Bienvenido Lumbera, National Artist for Literature and chair of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines, confirmed in media reports, only four names have been submitted to Malacanang for approval, and certainly not for insertion: Manuel Urbano a.k.a. Manuel Conde (posthumous, film and broadcast arts); Federico Aguilar Alcuaz (visual arts, paintings, sculpture and mixed media); Lazaro Francisco (posthumous, literature); and Dr. Ramon Santos (music).

But Malacanang did what it was famous doing best: it did a Garci, in the spirit of the forthcoming elections. So now, we have the -1, +4 formula: it omitted Santos, and added Cecille Alvarez (theater), Magno Jose Carlo Caparas (visual arts and film), Francisco Manosa (architecture), and Jose Moreno (fashion design). This brings a total of not one but four insertions, very much like the fund appropriation for the road that traverses the property of a senator who wants to become the next president. On this note, Malacanang just bested Villar's best record of two. So who did the Garci? I have a suspect but as it is . . . a suspect. Perhaps we can share details through our private inbox here.

Caparas and Alvarez incurred public ire with almost the same degree by virtue of them being both close to Malacanang and having the same guts to leave decency aside for the sake of an honor that they don’t rightfully deserve. But it would be unfair to artists close Malacanang not to be conferred such an honor, right?

Caparas has been nominated and rejected twice—first for literature and second for visual arts—both acts of which we can rightfully construe as failed attempts by the same cabal of ignoramuses inspired by their equally moronic patron whose cerebral wavelength is as short as her frame. But Caparas’ dogged determination and audacity (of hopelessness) proves much more powerful than basic decency and delicadeza could even muster together.

On the other hand, Alvarez could have done better by choosing to be honorable enough to decline the nomination by virtue of a rule that bars members, officers, employees and staff of CCP and NCCA from being nominated. She is the executive director of the NCCA, whose duty among other functions includes receiving the names of the shortlisted candidates. Delicadeza? What the hell is that?

Alvarez defended her nomination by rattling off her previous awards, awards that her patron convinced were worth enough for her insertion. Surely, she had her fair share of artistic endeavors that brought her, her family and her country some good and these might have enriched her ‘body of work.’ Yet, wisdom would tell her to wait, as the time is not yet right. Yet it happened; she was named. There must be a higher wisdom that guided Malacanang’s insertion of Alvarez, Caparas and Moreno into the list with a sense of an urgency beyond reproach. This higher wisdom must have eluded the highly respected peers of Alvarez, Caparas and Moreno in counting them off from the final list of four. Whew! Higher bullshit is now the new higher wisdom!

While there is really nothing new about presidential insertions in the honorable roster of National Artists, the latest act by Arroyo’s minions—with her divine imprimatur, of course—effectively rewrites the rule and history of the Order of National Artists, a welcome change for those who could not make the cut. During the administrations of Ramos and Estrada, they made one insertions each on the list of candidates chosen and endorsed by their peers in the artistic community. Arroyo, ever the ebullient, feisty politico she has become in her almost two terms of office, is certainly in for breaking records: she inserted three. Now, that’s hard to beat.

The choice and endorsement by peers is not something to be taken against the person who usually makes the final choice—the president. Not that presidents know nothing about art, or that art such as poetry is far less exciting than pork, a presidential favorite and the official congressional diet especially these days when senators and congressmen are preparing themselves for 2010. Rather, this choice of and by peers ensures that those who are inducted into the so-called ‘academy’ are only those who have way, way satisfied the standards they themselves set, i.e. the hallmarks of excellence in their craft. For this purpose, we don’t have any need for a NCCA chairman or executive director who doesn’t understand, much more appreciate, the artistic milieu of our artists and cultural visionaries. And most certainly, we despise the guts of those whose sense of accomplishment, self-righteousness and self-importance could not even stand a preliminary selection process, if it were to undergo one.

We may ask if there's a way to restore honor in this process. Yes, there is. And I can only think of the most difficult yet the best solution to this. If the four stooges will cling on to their tainted honor, then the three should refuse to accept theirs. The challenge is now on the side of the right and reasonable. It is difficult, yes, but it is not impossible.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Substance, Packaging, Timing (or the lack of these among government communicators)

. . . are elements that define good communication, this Gary Teves learned the hard way, courtesy of his now unenviable and equally stressful job as finance secretary; a hundred times more stressful than his former post as president and chief executive of Landbank, confessed the gray-haired former congressman of Negros Oriental.

Gary Teves was the guest speaker and inducting officer at the annual general membership meeting of the International Association of Business Communicators Philippines (IABC Phils.) held at the Filipinas Heritage Library.

Though he admits to be far from being an expert in communication, Teves makes us listen whenever he responds to questions from the media, be it a calculated or a plain dumb question, with the latter in abundance. It could be because he is the finance secretary and whatever he says will have far-reaching market implications. But he certainly knows how to play the game here; he knows his SPT the way smart kids know their ABC. Personally, I prefer him to be the press secretary; his manner of speaking is both elegant and intelligent, his language sharp yet witty with trademark Gary Teves touch--empirical as it is relational. Yet, Teves proves to be too honest and straightforward for the job that is normally reserved for spinmeisters and euphemists. On the other hand, the job of improving revenue collection might be too challenging (and equally tempting as well) to be given away to those whose only mission in life is "to make more and more money for tomorrow we shall all perish."

Lest I be mistaken for selling Gary Teves to voters for next year's poll, let me make it clear here: I was there to attend the meeting and listen to him share his perspective and lessons in communication; lessons that I myself almost/nearly mastered but nevertheless need to be refreshed as learning never stops.

Lesson learned: government executives, especially those in the upper echelon, should learn how to communicate effectively. Certainly, there is a better way of informing us citizens where the hell our blood taxes go than just announcing it on oversized and expensive billboards and, in keeping with the forthcoming election season, on television via brainlessly thought-out commercials by political wannabes. F@#$%*g morons--by this, I mean the politicians and their PR handlers.

Essentially, the line-up of wannabes who are itching to replace Madam La Gloria Vda de Inutil are all UNSALEABLE items. They are all bootleg, pirated copies, much like the goods Edu Manzano is running after. Edu can only run after because he could not, and probably will never, run ahead and catch them. But at least he should run along, di ba? But these gremlin, fungus-faced (sorry Aling Miriam), white leghorn of presidentiables are willing to drop the price rock bottom, as in SALE at up to 70% off! Wow! That cheap, really. As in a big mall sale that is becoming famous this side of the world, people will flock to where the best bargain is. The cheapest gets the vote, er, bill. Needless to say, this is the best example of a worst communication practice--selling the unsaleable. It's like eating poison; since poison is cheap, go eat it! Now, I'll have more poison below:



Lito Camo and Willie Revillame will be holding a political campaign strategy workshop 90 days before the election period. There will be song and dance sessions, speech clinic, and many more. Major PR and law firms will also participate in the workshop. Call Lito or Willie for more details.

Monday, July 20, 2009

An Inconvenient Truth (About Going to Ilocos These Days)

We trek up north Wednesday night for the MLE forum and launch of Sukimat. To save your precious time, let me just paste here the portion taken from the blurb for a preview. Here we go: " . . . Sukimat—the work of scholars, academics, and cultural workers committed to the exchange and diffusion of knowledge and information on Ilokano and Amianan Studies—offers a way to rethink of education to democracy and freedom."

A few weeks before, I had been to La Union on a related business, and thought the Ilocos trip was no different, except that it would take five more hours on the road. I took the Partas bus to La Union and it was relatively a good ride, except that, again, I could not and will probably never sleep while travelling by either bus, car, or plane. Maybe my insomnia or probably some unresolved psychological issue has something to do with this inability to sleep during travel, except by boat on a long trip.

I assumed then that the longer the trip takes, the more comfortable the ride is. I was darn WRONG! The four of us had purchased our ticket about 10 minutes before departure. It turns out we got the last four seats on the de luxe bus that was to take us to Laoag. Except for Dr. Agcaoili who had taken seat No. 24, Dr. Nolasco, Lucy, and I and a lady passenger from Paoay had the misfortune of occupying the last four elevated seats with defective backrests and recliners. WORST, the seats are too high that our legs were hanging like columns of chicken feet being drained in a Mongkok kitchen. The "ottoman" or the leg support was defective, too, making it extremely difficult to stretch our already tired hanging legs.

Minutes before rolling along EDSA, I had asked the conductor if he could lend me something to keep my back from being reclined too much and he was kind enough to part with his still unopened inflatable pillow that looked like he rarely used it. I had no choice but demand some comfort. After all, I paid not just the miles but for a comfortable ride. Remember it was "de luxe," whatever that means to Lakay Chavit. The defective seats, I learned from the conductor, had been left unrepaired for weeks already and I was given the lame excuse that repairs can only be done once the parts--purchased by bulk--arrived from Mars or Jupiter!

Will someone blow this bus into pieces, please? I'm sure, replacement will come faster that they can claim insurance.

That inconvenient seat had me behaving like a little boy who has yet to undergo deworming; I could not settle down my seat from Manila up to Rosario, La Union. I must have tried all possible seating positions just to make myself calm, collected, composed, and comfortable to my supreme frustration. I had to keep my cool although I could smell blood and gunpowder already!

After La Union, I thought my ordeal was over because early on I had psyched up for a sleepless day or two and kept telling myself to get a full doze in my bed on weekend. I was wrong again. As soon as we hit Tagudin, signs of more inconvenience were all over the roads.

A few months back, the region had been battered by storms, and its network of national and provincial roads took the beating to the worst. Bad timing!

The bad roads and the ongoing repairs along the southern stretch of Ilocos not only lengthened travel time by more than an hour; it kept most passengers awake as the bus negotiated with potholes and had to tilt left and right more often than we could curse DPWH and the bus company management.

By the time we reached Santa Maria for stopover, I was too tired to complain of my misery and resigned to the fact that I didn't have enough vision to appreciate the majestic Ilocos coastlines at sunrise. I had to give up taking shots of the mighty Abra River as it pours into Bantay. Though weakened by my misery, I still managed to take some shots of the inconvenient bus and its inconvenient seats that gave me my most inconvenient ride to date.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Few Good Men

Yesterday, July 14, was the feast day of an Italian saint from Lellis, who founded a society of young, privileged men who dedicated their lives to ministering the needs of the infirm--the sick (physically and otherwise). Today, his followers call themselves Ministers of the Infirmed, and usually attach a two-letter abbreviation M.I. after their names.

As customary in this predominantly catholic republic, feast day of saints are eagerly celebrated not only by their devotees but even by the most unsaintly among us for various reasons. And in keeping with tradition, we also held our own de facto feast--a feast made merrier by the retelling of stories and memories of days of innocence, of submission, of awakening, and finally, of realizing that we have had enough.

Most often our 'tragic' stories are intertwined, have the same plots, involve the same characters and persona, and would always end up a comedy. As one would recount a chapter of his own life story, we could not help but laugh out loud together, and curse together the character/s whom we love and hate together with equal fervor. It was this sharing of common feelings for or against certain character/s that we find ourselves united and unfied not just by our tragicomic experience but more importantly, by the lessons we have learned as we dealt with those who made our lives both heavenly and hellish back then.

In hindsight, life back in the hills of Marikina was a process. Whether it was designed deliberately or by sheer divine will is now less important; what matters really now is that the process has resulted in quantifiably favorable results.

I can only speak for myself and for a few good men who have not lost the candor in the face of the changing and challenging times when principles and honor become a commodity in the free market of lies and deceptions, as well as divine interventions. Not that I have morphed into someone with whom the world owes its inspiration to survive; nor I'm Salman Rushdie of the Muslim world. No. The quantifiably favorable results have to be found in those minority voices that, when they tell their stories together, command the attention of the world. This is far, far better than a voiceless, headless, nameless, candor-less, and ultimately, a useless majority.

The de facto feast therefore is a feast of and by the majority. A minority feast.

Friday, July 10, 2009

"Politicians . . .

like diapers, must be changed very often for the same reason: they're dirty."

--Tom Dobbs, the protagonist played by Robin Williams in the political comedy hit Man of the Year.