Plying Pasig River

These photos taken using my phone would have remained untouched on my desktop had I not fortuitously ran into them this morning while I was attempting to clean my computer and rid it of unnecessary and incriminating files.

Two weeks ago, a friend and I went to Manila for lunch and finally proceeded with our long-stalled plan of riding a passenger ferry that plies Pasig River from Manila to Taguig City.

I must say that the idea of the project–using the navigable portion of the river as a passenger route to ease the traffic in the metro–is an excellent one, only that the government arm who is tasked to do this has been missing on a lot of details.

The ferries are not properly maintained, the air-conditioning units not working, and the security is, to say the least, very lax. The stench of the river seeps through the interior of the ferry. Despite the commendable effort of both local and national government to rehabilitate Pasig River, undeniably, the river still gives off noxious odor. If they intend to use the river for the purpose of making it a commuters’ highway, and if they want the people to patronize this alternative, then something has to be done regarding the minor discomfort the system brings to the riding public.

In spite of this, the experience had a tourist-y feel in it similar to riding a Ferris wheel or walking through a House of Horror for the first time, we ignored the inconvenience because of the novelty of the experience; it’s not as if we ride the ferries in Pasig River every day.

From Escolta, several meters from Chinatown, is the second station south of the route. I imagined Elias (was it he?) throwing the improvised bomb to Pasig River thwarting Simon’s plan to seek vengeance against the corrupt friars in Jose Rizal’s novel El Filibusterismo.

The trip, which took more than 40 minutes, had lull moments. So to let time pass, I folded my ticket into a paper boat.

One will notice that people keep on moving from one side of the ferry to another to avoid the sun. With this, one can see the narrow line that separates death (that is, dying from ingesting murky water that has in it God-knows-what species of bacteria and viruses million times more potent than HIV or Ebola virus)  and life, all because of the vanity subliminally imposed on the Filipino psyche by ads for skin-whitening lotions.

The back of the Post Office building that faces the Escolta station and the building being reflected in the nearly black water. If there is something beautiful about the waters of Pasig it’s the fact that their reflections of buildings and objects along banks of the river are comparatively clearer and definitely more beautiful than in the waters of cleaner and more pristine rivers.

For unknown reasons, probably security, it is forbidden to take photos of the Malacanang palace. The moment it dawn on us that the magnificent white building to our right is the center of power in the country, we passengers started snapping pictures of the president’s palace. The uniformed men in the ferry hurriedly ordered us to delete the pictures in our phones which we promptly did, and these men made sure we did. But out of sheer luck, I was able to keep this one. This, I believe, will hardly pose any security concern to the incumbent president, Gloria Arroyo.

(But if somebody has the audacity enough to go past her legion of security personnel and, say, put poison in her cup of coffee, plant a bomb in her bathroom, or simply bludgeon her to death, it’s an act some of us would gladly welcome.)

And after the long trip, we saw this imposing silhouette of Guadalupe Bridge right in front of the breathtaking Pasig sunset. Relishing the unforgettable sight before us but more concerned with the stench that got stuck to our clothes, we caught a bus home to Makati.

Jose Rizal and Filipino virility

I first knew about him when I was in my second grade in my Sibika at Kultura (Civics and Culture) class. Before that, the only place I saw him was on big one-peso coins measuring almost two inches in diameter until it went out of circulation. He is Jose Protacio Mercado Rizal y Realonda or simply Jose Rizal, the Philippine national hero who died on the 30th of December 1896 in Bagumbayan, now known as Luneta in Manila.

He inspired awe in me during those impressionable years of my life. He was, according to our Sibika at Kultura book, a doctor, farmer, writer, sportsman, orator, poet, engineer, painter, sculptor, teacher and all other possible professions I already forgot. He must be very good, I thought, for of course he is the national hero of my country, the pride of the Malay race (although most Malays from Indonesia and Malaysia would sneer at this epithet).


In college, the Rizal I knew when I was eight years old was deconstructed to a point of irrecognizability. He was depicted as a person committing the same mistakes, same blunders, same indecisiveness as any living mortal. He was even rumored to be gay. The last one shocked me for I never thought of him having sex with any of the members of the propaganda.

However, just recently, I chanced upon an article entitled “Women First in Heart of First Filipino” which basically enumerated the love interests of Rizal. Based of the latest count, he had no less than ten women all scattered around Europe and in his hometown in Laguna. They were Segunda Katigbak, Leonor Valenzuela, Consuelo Ortiga, a certain girl named Julia whom he met when he was 15 years old in Laguna, O Sei San, Gertrude Beckette, Nelly Boustead, Suzanne Jacoby, and finally Josephine Bracken whom he met in Dapitan.

What even impressed me more was aside those professions he had that I learned in my second grade, the national hero was also a woman’s man, a Don Juan.

Not that I am being skeptical about the claim, nor I am questioning the historical proofs that strengthen the claim that Rizal, indeed, was a real man, virile, I think is the better word. However, despite all these relationships with women attributed to him, I wonder why he didn’t have a child, except for the case of miscarriage suffered by the Irish girl Josephine Bracken in Dapitan which purportedly was Rizal’s supposed progeny.

In the Philippine society, a man’s virility is primarily measured by the number of women he conquered and successfully slept with. Virility is a positive trait that will guarantee the continuation of a family name, honor, wealth and all other factors related. As much as Rizal is a representation of an ideal Filipino, his virility must therefore be emphasized. This explains the outrage of most people when Rizal was suspected to be a homosexual, for this allegation is not only an attack on Rizal but an assault to long-held values of manliness in the Philippines.

Filipino intellectuals as “merely” intellectuals

If you ask a first year Filipino high school student who does he think is the greatest Filipino intellectual, aside from having a hard time figuring out the meaning of the word intellectual, he will either give you a blank stare for an answer or will blurt “Jose Rizal” only because he cannot anymore think if this country has one in the first place, aside from the national hero.

I graduated from the best university in the Philippines where one can brush elbows with the country’s intellectuals. It is not unusual to attend a lecture of a winner of the Palanca Award, a National Scientist or someone who is a Fulbright scholar or an expert in international relations, military defense, women’s issues, biotechnology, theater and visual arts, botany, the list goes on – scientist and artists who are well-respected in their respective fields.

Jose Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar, Mariano Ponce
Filipino Ilustrados: Jose Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar, Mariano Ponce

Nothing can be sadder, however, that this intellectualism is not reflected in national development. An outsider, say, a man from the moon, who happens to land in the Philippine soil, will never conclude that the Philippines has existing intellectuals. Okay, I know these images are pathetic and lame. However, the fact that intellectuals in the Philippines are pathetic and lame, that declaration, I will stand by.

I remember riding a jeepney, a form of public transportation common in the Philippines, and meeting a professor of Community Development in the University of the Philippines. While we were both trying to compress our bodies to give the remaining sitting space to incoming passengers per order of the conductor, the topic of our conversation shifted to the role of intellectuals in the Philippines. She said that Filipino scholars are too cerebral to shift their attention to the people in the grassroots. Being a scholar in the Philippines means being “pedestalized” and at the same time ignored

Filipinos treat some of their intellectuals like the way they worship their movie stars. We place them on the pedestal that we end up missing the point why we call them intellectuals; we cannot appreciate the knowledge they have to share because the glitz and glamor of their erudition blinded us like the absence of talent for most of our movie stars and the lack of it superseded by the controversies, scandals, and intrigues they create.

Some of these intellectuals, those who are too unlucky to be uncharismatic and not good looking will only wallow in oblivion and unfunded researches.

We are a nation of people who always misses the point, the essential.

Randy David a an immenent Filipino sociologist
Randy David an eminent Filipino sociologist

Randy David is one of the few Filipino intellectuals who is given enough media attention so that he is able to express his academic views in the tradition of the pop culture, a great sociologist who knows how to make use of pop media to make the public understand, at least those who can read English, and re-examine our Filipino-ness. However, I see this to be detrimental rather than beneficial to the intellectual community in general. Allowing David this greater access to mass media, and barring other school of thoughts from stating their cases due to their lack of access to the media, creates a monochromatic perception of Filipino society. Of course David is not the only good sociologist this country has.

In the academe necessary debates bring light to new way of looking at a certain phenomenon, in the Philippine media this does not happen. Media exist in sound bites, headlines, sweeping videos. Simplicity is paramount; if one wants to explain something, in order for the public to understand his point he has to simplify it, and stating an important commentary on the role of people power, something that defines history, in 60 seconds, is not at all helpful and can be very dangerous. It will only lead to misinterpretation, misunderstanding, or even the collapse of a nation.

For any ordinary Filipino the academe is represented by a single face – that of David’s. So here we see a good example of an exulted Filipino intellectual dialectically positioned against a much bigger community of intellectuals whose line of thinking are divergent therefore unable to have their line of thinking represented and be made known to the bigger Filipino nation, ignored. Some of these ideas may be better than that of David’s.

I believe that the Filipino nation is one of the most intellectual nations in the world. Our scholars are well-respected all over the world. But why is this not seen in the country’s economic performance, political maturity, and societal growth? Filipino intellectuals are one of the most articulate in any international conferences; they propose sensible ideas on analyzing different phenomena that boggle mankind, but when they are in the Philippines they become dumb.

Filipino intellectuals are detached from the hustles of ordinary Filipino lives. They cloak themselves with robes of erudition and pedantry. Intellectualism, knowledge production are ends in themselves. What’s next after acquiring knowledge is left for the public to figure out.

Unless the intellectuals of this country do not immerse themselves in the nation’s problems and join in the great debate of Filipino-hood then they’ll remain useless erudites and pedants, or better yet books in libraries that gather nothing but dusts.