On elegance



Seated in the end-most seat at the back part of the auditorium of Insituto Cervantes in Manila, I had a clearer, albeit the small cinema in the Instituto was unlighted as in all other self-respecting cinemas, glimpses of people who were seated in front of me. I went there earlier, catching a 5:30 pm LRT1 ride from Gil Puyat to United Nations amid a heavy afternoon downpour.

On Wednesday of last week, I got hold of an announcement, printed in the Business Mirror, on the Spanish Embassy’s annual El Dia Espanol (Day of the Spanish Language). Piqued by the activities lined up by the Instituto, I braved the impending rain which later fell into an itinerant early monsoon rainfall. I arrived at the Instituto soaked and a bit disorientated because of drippings from umbrellas of other less careful commuters and the usual slaughter house-like scene inside these crammed coaches.

The perceived very intellectual atmosphere in the Instituto, several meters away from the UN Avenue train station, gave me a warm welcoming.

Several groups of Filipinos, mostly students and young professionals and some tourist-looking Caucasians were conversing with each other in Spanish and English and occasional Tagalog in a small cafe a few steps from the metal-detecting machine. I do not speak Spanish neither do I understand the language, which is just too bad.

At first, I thought the place was reeking with heat coming from the usual European (specifically Parisian) coffee shop debates on semiotic, critique of post-structuralism or the discussion on metaphor and the primacy of irony over other devices in chapter 4 of Aristotle’s Poetics. Overhearing their small chit-chats, my impressions fell flat on their faces and mine, and the supposed intellectual atmosphere collapsed into heaps of commonplace subjects of small talks. The topics of their discussion were of unlofty kind, mostly mundane concerns about the heralding of a new brand of politics that comes with the election of Mr. Aquino to the highest seat in the land, the recovery of the national economy vis-a-vis the ‘rigged’ figures proudly claimed by the Arroyo administration, the sorry state of Philippine education system, and some students from, I gathered, St Benilde, who were exchanging banalities about the rigor and excitement of their college life.

I sipped my coffee fast and escaped immediately from the very heavy atmosphere in the lobby. I ran to the small auditorium and chose the most isolated location because I wanted to enjoy my movie, Galatasaray – Depor. I half suspected it was going to be in Spanish (of course!) and that subtitles, if there were any, would be in Spanish. I was right.

I trusted that motion picture is an art of universal value that transcends cultural boundaries. And that for somebody who studied and teaches communication, my education prepared me to tackle kinesics head on, understanding the story based on the actions, the varying tones of the characters’ voices in delivering their lines, and the subtleties of their interactions. Or so I thought.

Until a group of people, the same group I tried to escape from in the cafeteria came in and joined in communal experience of film-viewing. One of them, the most brazen, blurted “Ay, walang English subtitles.” I do not see why people in this country have the penchant of stating, and stating out loud, what is obvious.

But the fact that these people have the audacity to advertise their stupidity like a badge of honor is even more horrifying.

On the other end of the spectrum, some people, whom I assume to be impeccably conversant in Spanish, made it sure that people like me who understand no Spanish word except pronto, puerta, or puta knew where to locate ourselves in the greater scheme of things. These people who have studied Spanish, the younger, over-eager undergraduate, especially, who were part of that group in question, laughed twice as hard and as loudly as one would normally laugh when faced with a funny scene or line in the film.

Their stylized way of laughing signified the void that separates the Spanish literate and the non-literate, which was fine with me. They were more than willing to announce their extensive knowledge of the Spanish language, complete with understanding of the subtle idioms and irony.

But this is an act that leaves a bad aftertaste. It’s inelegant.

How the local media cheapened the coverage of 2010 elections

I am now beginning to question the wisdom behind blow by blow accounts of the election process all over the Philippines conducted by the big three television networks. Yes, the coverage was comprehensive, in fact it was hyperbolically comprehensive that they all hardly left minute details unmentioned. In fact sometimes, viewers would get an idea that the contents of news did not vary, only the place and the people involved.

The three big networks, ABS-CBN, GMA7, and ABC5, all fell in the shallow puddle of mere events reporting. Although it is worth mentioning that ABS-CBN went a bit against the grain by including a small analysis of the candidates. But this was an exception rather than a rule.

Yes, the Commission on Election was, as it has always been, sloppy and inept in doing the only thing it was supposed to spearhead and supervise, thereby giving our overeager journalists a field day reporting about malfunctioned PCOS, flying voters, disorganized system, and other election related incidents such as massive vote buying, killings, intimidation, and cheating.

The problem was that nothing got past the already negativistic and cynical perspective taken by the media, a point of view they take usually by default.

Little was reported about the quick and efficient conduct of polls in other parts of the archipelago. Little was reported about the heroic deeds done by our public school teachers who have been plunged in such dangerous places doing responsibilities no one would be willing to undertake in exchange of 1500 pesos allowance. My mother, a public high school teacher in South Cotabato, who chaired a cluster, can not even answer my calls until this time. I wonder if she has already eaten her dinner. Little was reported about the people who braved it all — fatigue, heat, hunger — just so they could vote and despite this still maintained their calm because they know they are doing something for the future of this country.

But reporting about long lines, overheated PCOS machines, irate voters who until this time have not even voted, and the grim future that lies ahead, it appeared to me, was local media’s very definition of newsworthiness. Boring analyses made by experts do not rate therefore a waste of precious airtime.

The networks and the reporters have chosen the easier way, a methodology that requires nothing much but stating the obvious.

Local media survive in redundancies and repetition. It is mind blowing how they do these. They do not get tired hearing themselves saying things they’ve already said moments ago. For a reporter, to be an effective election reporter in the Philippines he must love how he sounds so much so that he would not mind hearing himself saying the same thing every fifteen minutes in a 24-hour cycle.

Watching television coverage of election in the Philippines had been a traumatic experience. One will simply bleed in the shallowness of reportage.

A field reporter reporting live from Naga related that there were 16 ballots rejected by the machine; someone from Commonwealth, Quezon City reported about seven ballots rejected; from Davao City 11 ballots. But who cares? Should we owe it to the public to spare the people these unnecessary information?

Or that Noynoy Aquino got 237 votes from a precinct in Tondo, Joseph Estrada got 212 from the same polling cluster, and that Binay lead by 36 vote over Roxas who only got 17? Do we waste that same precious airtime on the pettiness of these pieces of information?

I say no. But I was traumatized to learn that the local media’s response was a resounding yes.

The new technologies, instead of empowering the public and involving the people in the exercise of democracy are cheapened by pseudo-journalists who parrot mindless reporting, predictable storytelling, and unverified reports which only heighten public distrust on our institutions. Forgetting that although there are parts of the process that are found wanting, in general automated election is better than manual. If only we get over our fear of technology.

If one entirely based his assessment of the election on the news he is getting from the media, he will without doubt think that the Philippines is the worst country in the world, even worse than little heard and hopeless countries in Africa such as Mozambique, Somalia, and Rwanda. If he believed in everything he hears and sees on TV, I’d be wondering why he had not committed suicide until this time by slitting his throat, licking the indelible ink on his index finger until high silver nitrite content poisons him, or simply running amuck until the military shoots him dead.

Good thing the Filipino is left with a little sense and maintains an almost unconditional and supernaturally-inspired hope for the future.

I’m still wondering what has happened to my mother. She has not returned my calls until now. I’m worried.

2009 Presidential Candidates

From 99, which was eventually narrowed further down to 20, and now the official presidential candidates: eight people who can afford to wage a full campaign to get the highest seat in the land.

http://inquirer.net.


Cynical thoughts on this week’s politics

Ben and I were walking our way along Makati Avenue to an obscure street facing a chapel on Buenavista Hill to buy his daily paper as he makes sure he has a copy of all the big three broad sheets: PDI, Star, and Bulletin, everyday. For what reason? That I will have to find out.

From nowhere, “Who are you gonna vote for president?” I asked him.

Without any trace of hesitation he flatly replied, “Roxas.”

Having your opinions on Philippine politics is tricky if not altogether futile. As one is about to step on a stable ground, thinking that everything is going to be all right then he will realize that he stepped on a quick sand. So it is suggested not to have anything definite, especially opinions (well opinions are often changing), regarding politics in the country.

Mar Roxas and Noynoy Aquino

www.farfromneutral.com

Let’s pick as an example Mar Roxas’s case. Weeks ago, we read on the news his pathetic performance in both polls made by the Social Weather Station and Pulse Asia, number six and seven, respectively. This week came and we found him abdicating the official endorsement of his Liberal Party, giving way to Noynoy Aquino (his childhood friend) to bid for the highest post in the land as their party’s standard bearer.

All of a sudden, people are talking about Roxas’s statesman-like character, his discernment, his virtues. Solita Monsod in her column even praised the senator and presidential wannabe.

Now let me share you an opinion by somebody raised and who still remains unweaned from Philippine pop culture:

This is a grand telenovela plot. Noynoy Aquino has no plan whatsoever to run as president. He knows his capability and he knows he’s not cut for the job. His parents’ heroism, unlike their Hacienda Luisita that has remained untouched by the Agrarian Reform Law, is non-transferable. Since Roxas’s popularity is trailing behind the rest he can use this to his advantage, as he finds out that marrying the high profile newsreader Korina Sanches is not enough to do the task. So he’ll be a thespian for a while, appearing undistraught in giving up his party nomination “for the country’s sake”. A mark of a true statesman.

Noynoy will then be back from his week-long retreat in a convent in Zamboanga, feeling all refreshed and ready to face his fate. And on national TV, teary-eyed he’ll declare that the post of the president is not for him, but will be content being the vice president in the mean time. He will add that somebody more worthy (as if it is a privilege), definitely not he, can do the job. The camera will then pan to Roxas feigning an unassuming posture. “Mar Roxas shall be the Liberal Party’s presidential nominee, and I will be just behind him as vice.” Noynoy will then do the cliché raising of Roxas’s hand.

Well, opinion do change, but Philippine politics seems to remain as is.