Riding an Ayala-Leveriza Bus

I do not know where this bus route leads but from anywhere between Fairview or Gardens in Bulacan to just before the right turn on EDSA to Ayala Avenue, I am usually taking any bus with this sign on the lower left-hand corner of its window. Ayala-Leveriza buses pass by this place in Makati, where I shall be staying for the whole of summer.

Unlike in other big metropolis in the world, the bus system in Manila still follows a rather old system of using the name of the place for the routes. Some cities use numbers (Saigon), the alphabet (Jakarta), or a combination of both (Singapore). But this is not the case in Manila, and it is not bound to change any time soon.

Tourists will find the streets of Manila bewildering because of the absence of any directional signs to guide them where to wait, where to go next, and where to get off. They are left to themselves and the benevolence of the people to help them go around. At least, Manilenos do not speak gibberish and luckily their facility of English is close to decent.

When I came to Manila almost a year ago, I was enamored by the megalopolis’ lack of wit and charmlessness. It’s a city that that does not think of language as necessary for it to exist. Manila is a dumb city. It does not have any use for written language. But what it lacks in written literature, it compensates in the more powerful non-verbal language of its streets. Its sexuality is reflected in the billboards of naked models that sell almost anything from baby feeding bottles to plastic surgery. Its worship of and unquestioning faith in the ultimate god, ‘Kaching’, is seen in the scandalous stretch of Ayala Avenue, and the poverty it tries to ignore thrives and is plastered on the faces of ordinary Manilenos who will do anything just to get by.

But no one questions Manila’s stark illiteracy. It is taken as ordinary, a discomfort and inconvenience, that has long been taken in as a normalcy a probinsiyano, like me, can either take or leave.

And from the inside of this air-conditioned Ayala-Leveriza which only god knows where it leads, I am left with a question I have no answer as yet, where does this lead?

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When bloggers meet to save the world

When bloggers meet and discuss about plans to save the world from the Apocalypse or the Armageddon (depending on which testament of the Bible one is keen on reading), one will inevitably question whether this group of passionate people is indeed capable of doing such daunting task.

Obviously, none of them is.

These bloggers, sensing the obvious incredulity of this objective observer (in my person, definitely) ‘embedded’ among them, will then decide to alter the agenda of the meeting a little. So instead of salvaging the world from its demise they’ll all try to have a consensus on sponsoring a Saturday party that will be attended by a famous celebrity from Manila.

When I started blogging, the first thing I had to hurdle was differentiating myself from the rest of the crowded blogosphere. As in all fields, it is important to set what makes me unique; what I can offer that others can not; what I know that others do not know; and in some rare cases, how I can say things that only I can say with conviction, humor, authority, or voice. But eventually I found out that the web is just too big, almost infinitely vast, that while it encourages diversity and differences, it inadvertently spurs uniformity. And paradoxically, the more I try my best to be distinct, the more I unknowingly fall into the pit of trite pastiches of blogging.

Seeing other bloggers in the act of mirroring each other, they mirroring me, I mirroring them (no matter how hard I deny, dislike, and hate the exercise) is a humbling experience.

They gather around a round table like King Arthur’s Knights of, the last time I heard, Round Table but which now is not limited to this shape as a rectangle, square or oval will perfectly do. They will then proceed with the review of the minutes from the last meeting which unfortunately is lost by somebody they appointed as secretary. Unable to proceed which will never be the case, they will proceed with the discussion of pertinent issues anyway.

First, somebody holding a piece of email printout waving it to the crowd as if to say, “Hey somebody emailed me that there will be an activity (the email was sent to my address, am I that popular) on Sunday”, presumably this person is the president, will ask if any of the bloggers present in the meeting will be available to cover an event sponsored by a company, say a cake company.

If the task is simply about tasting to-be-introduced confection, as a rule, none will volunteer as most bloggers are not the assertive kind. On the date of cake tasting, however, the cake company will have to brace its personnel for the arrival, en mass, of self proclaimed cake tasters made up of all the bloggers present during the meeting in question.

Definitely, they will do honest, comprehensive, and exhaustive write-ups about everything they saw, heard, felt, smelled, and, of course, tasted during that day. They will take note of everything down to the most inconspicuous details such as the bow ties of the waiters being improperly placed, what was said by a certain expert on social deviance about the cakes being indicators of people’s decadence, or a provincial police inspector’s statement about cakes being a positive reinforcement in maintaining peace and order; and no one, as a tradition, will miss making comments about the weather that day in his blog. Some of the most overeager kind will take photos of the sky that day and relate it to the success of the cake tasting endeavor.

Speaking of photos, since it is a meeting, food and beverages should be served. Not wanting to miss a blogging opportunity on his lap, somebody will pull his 5.1 megapixels Nikon digital camera to take photos of the ‘outrageously delicious cinnamon rolls’, ‘the out-of-this-world cappuccino’, and the truly Ilonggo friendliness of the waiters in the coffee shop where the meeting is being held.

Not wanting to be outdone, somebody, the self-proclaimed photoblogger most of the time, will remove his state-of-the art DSLR camera from its leather case for the people in the entire room to behold. Without any regard for decency, he’ll take macro shots of those rolls, mugs of coffee, and the waiters, with flashes of his camera at their brightest, temporarily rendering some innocent members of the quorum who are unfortunately seated near him blind.

And so the meeting continues and the discussion about how to save the world forgotten or shelved until such time that the ‘embedded’ blogger decides that he has enough of the baloney and leaves the place, giving the rest peace of mind and leaving with them with the security of thoughts that their unique position in the grand scheme of the blogging universe is preserved until their next post where in they will lambast that ‘embedded blogger’ until nothing is left of him but a negligible dark pixel in the constellation of the great Ilonggo bloggers.

I’ll cast my vote this time

I am a registered voter in Barangay Calansanan Badiangan, Iloilo. I registered with my grandmother in 2004, traversing streams and rice paddies and riding a tricycle swarmed by young elementary school students just to reach the municipal hall located on the other side of a mountain. Although I am a registered voter, I never voted in any single election since I turned 18. Some crooks might have already used my name to vote for some corrupt politicians who can afford to pay, as is always the case in Philippine elections.

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This barangay, located several kilometers from the nearest high way, is blocked by ephemeral streams from roads that would have connected it to other barangays for trading and other commercial endeavors, so until this time civilization is still at bay wondering when it will be allowed access. The place exists in a dream-like painting by Amorsolo minus the smiling lasses and able lads basking in a golden afternoon sun because the place is poverty incarnate. And the smiling lasses and able lads are either forced to leave and find a living in the city to send back money or they endlessly manufacture, so long as their hormones allow them, smiling lasses and able lads like them and hoping that these replicates of themselves go to the city and send back money someday.

For if somebody in the field of anthropology wanting to conduct a research using hermeneutics to live in a place where cycle of poverty mindlessly cycles or a biology major finding evidences to support the theory of spontaneous generation, as in this place babies miraculously sprout from any available space like mushrooms after a shower and thunderstorm, then the place is perfect.

I was asked by my lola to register in that place because my uncle, her son, was running during that time for municipal councilor. I agreed. He won without my vote because I chose to volunteer then for a radio station to cover the election in a district of Iloilo City.

I was not able to vote in the succeeding election as well. That time my grandmother’s son found himself at the bottom of the list. By the third time, he failed to occupy a position. The last time I heard he was wallowing in memories of his failed career as a politician but was contemplating to do a grand political comeback in 2010.

I read in the news this morning about the forum organized by the businessmen of Makati that invited aspirants for the presidency in 2010. In the forum, the presidential wannabes we’re asked to give a presentation of their platform of government. It must have been a riveting gathering of five men and a woman. Both Noli de Castro and Manuel Villar declined. Ping Lacson (for reason that he has already given up his bid) refused the invitation.

PHILIPPINES MUSLIM REBELS

Gilberto Teodoro is an untested yet imperious, cocky is a better adjective, guy from the Armed Forces who has deluded himself that he can win the election despite him standing in the shadow of Arroyo’s corrupt administration and his name that spontaneously appeared from a virtual anonymity. This, of course, is with the help of his wife whose take on being ambitious can only be described by the word overkill

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Loren Legarda, a broadcaster turned senator tuned griping vice presidential loser has said nothing concrete in her entire life and who has mastered the use of politicalese to a high level of efficiency that nobody understands her anymore, not even she. “The absence of an integrated, unified, and coherent road map is the culprit for the snail-paced Philippine economic and security development. We need to fuse national economic growth with national security in the development of an integrated plan.” By integrated plan she means…

Dick Gordon

Richard Gordon needs to seriously consider changing his nickname, Dick. He is an idealist who speaks in sweeping and stirring declamatory style. I first heard him speak when I was fourteen, and I was awed, but after several times of listening to him my eardrums started to show signs of exhaustion. He delivers his speeches like a televangelist, which explains why he was the most applauded during the forum. He’s a cross between Bro. Edddie Villanueva and your favorite Amway sales representative. (I am considering voting for him, though.)

Manny Villar

Manuel Villar is hounded by scandals of corruption even before he has held office. His paid interview with Boy Abunda that could have cost him millions is too long to be effective and too dragging to be entertaining.

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Noli de Castro has not proved anything during his short stint as senator and his accomplishments as vice president are forgettable. He lacks enough political experience to run a country that is as complex as most complicated definition of the word complex is.

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Manuel Roxas lacks charisma which explains his strongly advertised engagement with news anchor Korina Sanches, a case of basking in the newsreader’s masa appeal. He inspires in me an image of a henpecked husband once his union with Korina is officially consummated. Any of Mar Roxas’s accomplishments was obliterated by his Padyak ad; he should think of means to undo the damages the ad has caused in the viewing public’s psyche.

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Francis Escudero may have exuded confidence and youth, somebody who can usher new politics in the country, but based on his recent media interviews on his platform of government, this man is all but empty rhetoric and vacuous monotone.

Bayani Fernando

Bayani Fernando is a man who never strived to be popular in exchange by and give up the hard changes he viewed necessary. Manila may not be as organized or as livable as say Singapore (kidding) or as any Southeast Asian megalopolis but as chairman of MMDA he has made major strides to lessen the traffic jams and to make the people abide by the rules. Still so much is needed to be done. But Fernando is a no non-sense guy who walks the talk. (I’m also considering him.)

Joseph Estrada

Former President Joseph Estrada. We cannot allow this country to be run by a thief, again.

The election in 2010 is as crucial as any other elections in the past. I do not agree that this is more important that the previous ones. This will simply give us a chance to change the way our country is governed that for the next six years. If we botch this one, it means another six years of again waiting in vain. That, I believe, is something we cannot afford.

A single vote, that is my vote, will hardly matter, but I am willing to tread several streams again, with my lola if she is still alive by then, to cast my vote this time.

A walk along Ongpin: revisiting the Manila Chinatown

I roamed the countryside searching for answers to things I did not understand. Why thunder lasts longer than that which causes it, and why immediately on its creation the lightning becomes visible to the eye while thunder requires time to travel. How”- Leonardo da Vinci

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I was fourteen when I first visited Chinatown in Manila as a stopover when I attended the National Schools’ Press Conference in Dagupan, Pangasinan. We were accompanied by two friends of my coach in Copyreading and Headline writing. Almost a decade later, yesterday, I went back to the place without any recollection of the Ongpin we went to and the things we did there, which served me well because I spared the place from an unfair comparison and contrast with the past that I often subject the places I visited when I was younger.

And going around with somebody made the experience even more unforgettable.

Unlike other Chinatowns in Southeast Asia, this one in Manila lacks the haggling and wrangling and the market and carnival-like atmosphere of similar Chinese hamlets in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, or Saigon. But what it lacks in vivacity and activity is compensated by its history and the beauty of its hybrid architecture – a sundry of Catholic and Spanish baroque and the ubiquitous wooden pagoda structures with dragon designs admixed creating a unique Filipino interpretation of a Chinatown.

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From Plaza Miranda just outside Quiapo Church or the Basilica of the Black Nazarene, we walked our way to Sta. Cruz Church which faces the entrance of Manila Chinatown. It is only in the Philippines where big churches are located side by side each other. Parishioners crowd these two churches almost 500 meters away from each other in an almost endless plethora. Outside the entrance of Sta. Cruz Church near the Romanesque water fountain are for-rent horse carriages that added color to the place that is already saturated with varicolored shop signages.

Dotting the lanes that vein through Ongpin are specialty shops selling traditional Chinese medicines, restaurants, and gold shops. Tourists are welcomed by “Ano po, Kuya?” (What is it, brother?), the staple spiel of salesladies waiting for their customers in gold shops. Their managers or owners, who are either pure-blooded Chinese or Filipino-Chinese, I noticed, remain indifferent to the presence of curious customers inquiring about the price of gold necklaces and wedding rings.

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Near Ongpin North Bridge there are Chinese restaurants and fast food stores selling siomai, siopao, noodles, and other traditional Chinese specialties. It was quite odd to find a line of food stores located beside a bad smelling, reeking, stenching estero or creek, but what is odder is that the place proudly calls itself Kainan sa tabi ng Estero (Restaurant by the Creek). Not wanting to overextend our budget, a friend and I went to a buffet restaurant near the ‘restaurant by the creek’ minus the odor coming from the putrid stream.

The Manila Chinatown may not be as alive and busy with business as other Chinatowns I’ve already been to, but places, I realized, only become significant when we walked their streets with somebody who is beyond the word significant. The experience of revisiting Ongpin would have been ordinary without that extraordinary somebody.

Emails from a girl in the past

There are a lot of things that are impossible to bring back.

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I was searching for an article I wrote three years ago in my email attachments when I inadvertently opened some emails containing previous correspondence with a friend in college. Before, I used to save all my files in my email because I easily lost (up until now) small objects that of course included several memory disks, and since I didn’t have a personal computer then, my email is the most convenient and safest place to save those files. The correspondence I had with that girl spanned for three years. I recall that we started exchanging messages using Friendster.

We are of the same age. She was studying in a private Catholic school along Katipunan Road; I was a student from a state university in the province. We met in Singapore when we were 19. At first I didn’t like her probably because of my prejudice against students from Ateneo, but she proved me wrong. She’s intelligent but never arrogant. She is as driven as I am in reaching for her goals, more ambitious, maybe, however this did not keep us from becoming friends. I never thought we would be good friends.

I was waiting for the van that would pick us up in Changi airport when it so happened that we caught each other looking at each other’s eyes. She gave me a smile first, which I expected because she is living in the metropolis and I was a shy boy from the province. She then invited me to have a walk. From then a friendship blossomed.

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She’s different from all other women I knew because she has this certain way of getting what she wants in a very subtle way. After three days, all my defenses slackened until I let go of whatever distance I had from her. I was elated when she asked me to go around Little India  with her, only the two of us. We took the MRT and I made sure we didn’t get lost. She made me feel like a man. During our final day, we agreed to meet in Lucky Plaza along Orchard Road bringing with us all our luggage. Yes, we met there on time, but I decided before that to leave my luggage in my foster family’s house so she had to go with me back to Bishan District to get my things. She only responded with a smile after we alighted from the MRT and I carried her bag like a porter before taking a bus going to the house. “Sabi nang dalhin na lahat eh. ‘Yan tuloy.” Which I only replied “Nakalimutan ko eh, di bali, hindi naman mabigat eh.”

When we reached the airport and boarded the plane, she was supposed to be seated three rows in front of me but asked if she could sit beside me. Who am I to refuse her? While we were on the three hour ride, she was reading her book, when I noticed that she was starting to sleep and lay her head on my shoulder. It felt so light. I knew I fell in love with her that time when I saw her face illuminated by the overhead reading light.

It was raining when we reached Clark airbase; we then took a chartered bus going to EDSA and separated ways in Megamall. “Email me, okay?” She said.

“Of course I will. Thanks for everything.”

From then on, we constantly emailed each other and talked about our struggles in the university, plans for the future, our dreams. We knew we loved each other, but none of us had the courage to say “I love you.” Whenever I visited Manila, I saw to it that I meet her, even for two hours. She told me things that she would otherwise not tell other people because she has to be strong or to appear strong.

She is.

But whenever I met her I was confronted with two different women. One whose letters are an expression of a void inside, sadness, weariness that crushed my heart and a completely different woman seated in front of me sipping a Starbuck’s espresso while smoking her Marlboro Lights talking to me about her victories as if she’s holding the world in her palm.

It confused me.

My John,
here it goes again… the entire message
disappears. what the hell… :p
so sweet to know that you try to check your mail
to see if i have emailed you. as much as i am busy
as you are with demanding school load, i will
always, to the extent of the powers that heaven
and hell had bestowed upon me, keep in touch
with my John.
My John… nag-claim daw ng ownership?!?!?! kapal
talaga ng mukha ano? but i find it wonderful to say
(i mean, type and send). puts a smile on my
face. 🙂
if and when the opportunity comes for you to go
here in manila, let me know ok? i want to be with
you again.
even i am becoming busier and busier here. the
end of the semester is fast approaching, and some
damn teachers pour out all their requirements. as if
we didnt have five freaking months for them to
assign the papers and projects right away. and it’s
against the magna carta for students of ateneo.
gusto kong isampal sa kanila yung kopya ko ng
magna carta… hahahaha kaya lang, if i do so, i
should be expecting an F, if not an expulsion from
my dear ateneo. haha
this morning, i saw a girl in ateneo not wearing a
bra. hahaha i thought, if you were with me, may
bago na naman tayong pagtatawanan.
hahaha i caught the colds here.
it’s always raining and my frail, sexy, hot body
(hahaha) just wasnt able to bear the shift in
weather conditions. init-lamig kasi. so you better
not get sick there ok?
really lang ha? you find the 96-year old _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
hot? hahahaha ikaw talaga… :p i cant even
imagine myself that way. but if your imagination
makes you fly, and if the thought of a sexy old
woman can make you hot, GO. hahahaha :p
kagatin kita jan eh. alam mo naman.. i become a
vampire. :p
the hottest vampire in all underworld. (pakapalan
na ito ng mukha hihihi)
miss you a lot.

Your _ _ _ _ _ _ _

We stopped communicating after I finished college. She found a man who loves her more than I probably could. Crying, I said good bye to her. I knew that from that day on I will never be anymore as close to her as it was before. We met before I left for Vietnam. She retold our story that day in Singapore to her younger brother who was with us. I noticed she mistook some parts, and forgotten some details. I already have become a man in her past.

I know she’s happy now. She has her own life, her own plans, her own dreams. I won’t say “had I been braver…” for sometimes there are really good things in life that we simply cannot have because they’re just to good to be had.

I found the file that I was looking for. I was about to delete all her messages when I realized that she is a beautiful part of my memory, and I chose to let her stay.

“Freest press in Asia”: when freedom gets out of control

During the first three quarters of this year, the city of Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) alone received a total of 27 billion US dollars worth of Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs). Now compare this with the 3.5 billion received by the Philippines during the same fiscal quarters. If this does not mirror the lack of trust of foreign investors in the Philippines, then I do not know how to look at it. Countries in Southeast Asia – Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam – have already left the Philippines behind in attracting investors which are needed in developing the economy.

Investors blame this on the glaring corruption in the government. Nothing new. Transparency International released a report several weeks ago ranking the Philippines as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, even surpassing Indonesia. In fact it is found in the bottom 20. We all know this, and this report did nothing to confirm this fact it mainly quantified our corruption index.

Presidnet of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
President of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, on the other hand, in an effort to divert the attention from her government’s inaction, said:

“A lot of their (Transparency International) basis is what they read in the papers. It’s a whole layering of perception indexes. And if you compare the Philippines with the rest of the region, we have to remember that the Philippines has the freest media in the region.

“What would be on page 10 in some other countries would be a banner headline in the Philippines. Even rumors and innuendos become fact when they’re in the banner headline. That’s part of what we have to live with,” she added. “I don’t think the business community would like a clampdown on freedom and liberties in the Philippines because that’s part of our competitiveness I suppose.”

This was her answer when she was asked in an open forum by Charles Goddard of The Economist Intelligence Unit on how the country would combat corruption. A woman is caught stealing and blamed it on the witnesses because if not for them there will be no stealing. A lousy argument once again made by Mrs. Arroyo.

This essay will not be about corruption in the Philippines for several reasons: Number one, I am not an expert in Philippine bureaucracy and how it works; number two, it’ll be a waste of time to propose solutions to this problem because the people who run the Philippine government have gone callous to heed the calls for reform. Ordinary Filipinos are already hopeless that this country will change in this generation. Our national leaders have failed us. Straight. And number three, I am more interested in discussing about a topic very close to me – the media.

The president might have begged the question for instead of acknowledging her administration’s failure to curb corruption she blamed the media. however, there is truth to her declaration. Media in the Philippines, the “freest in Asia”, contributed a lot why the country’s falling down the drain.

In a democratic country, a free media is indispensable. It is a component of freedom that without it democracy is nothing but a general noun.

Meaningless.

In the case of the Philippines, a country that claims to be democratic, or is working toward it, having a kind of media that is a sloppy imitation of the United States’ media is problematic at best and a nuisance at worst. The kind of ‘free’ media cherished by the American people works for a certain kind of social situations – strong state apparatuses, literate people, powerful middle class, historically mature population – aspects that are obviously lacking in the Philippine setting.

Philippine Daily Inquirer's Sunday issue.
Philippine Daily Inquirer's Sunday issue, a far tamer version of its weekdays issues

Philippine media, on the other hand, has a free reign and is having a great time partying with the gore, controversies, blood, sex. It is never controlled in the real sense. I’ve read newspapers in English in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam; these are papers read by foreigners, by English-speaking business men. Yes, they print news about national problems, corruption, natural disasters, political factionism, crimes, but they do not place them in the front page. They allot a small portion of the paper for these concerns.

In the Philippines, the case is the complete opposite. Politics takes precedence over other issues followed by entertainment news. So debacles in the senate such as the recent confrontation between senate president Manny Villar and another senator Jamby Madrigal is more important than the approval of JPEPA, an economic partnership program between the Philippines and Japan that will boost development in the country. Or that the rumored break up of senator Francis Pangilinan with his wife Sharon Cuneta got more attention than the 8.3 per cent losses that the stock market incurred.

According to the Agenda-setting theory, a communication theory that basically explains that media organizations can be so powerful because they can actually dictate what is newsworthy, if it’s not broadcast, aired, or printed then it is not news.  In the Philippines national development is not the primary agenda of the media, that is, if they consider it as part of their agenda at all.

Media in the Philippines are at a failure to recognize that they can shape public opinion and they can do it for the good of this country.

Comparing Vietnam News and Philippine Daily Inquirer based on criteria such as page design, the way news are written, use of the language, and editing, an objective journalism professor will clearly judge the Inquirer as winner in all fronts. But Vietnam news creates a better image of the country than the Inquirer does for the Philippines.

I am not interested with Foreign Direct Investments but when I read Vietnam News my attention is pulled towards it because it is in the front page. I am not interested about national economic policies of the Communist Party for 2015 but I get to read them because they are prioritized over other sensational issues. These controversies, if I may add, are rarely printed or if they are, are not in banner headline where a poor foreigner can see them and would think that Vietnam is pathetic.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer dated October 13, 2008
The Philippine Daily Inquirer dated October 13, 2008

Inquirer is the complete dialectic of English newspapers in Southeast Asia. It may be the ‘freest’ but it has redefined the word free that it has gone unrecognizable. For Inquirer, it seems that it has made an assumption that all its readers are dumb so news related to entertainment are placed in the font page. They do not think that if readers would want it, they could just go to Showbiz page and read about the fight between Cristy Fermin and Nadia Montenegro. No, Inquirer slaps these details, scandals on to the readers’ faces. “The bad news is good news” dictum is still the guiding principle of most media organizations in the Philippines.

I believe that the kind of media the Philippines has is not suited for its developing status. Sensationalism, crime reporting, warring politicos, rampant corruption have their right places. And the front page is far from it.

Truly corruption in the Philippines as measured by Transparency International is based mainly on perceptions that are further based on reports from national media. And the sad truth is that in the Philippines this is not just perceived corruption for it is too obvious. The government is too hypocritical to blame this low Foreign Direct Investment turn out on the media. Nevertheless, the media is also answerable. It has not transcended sensationalized reportage. Issues are not tackled in the manner of investigative journalism. It’s a hybrid between half-baked adversarial journalism and down the line shallow showbiz reporting that results to what the Philippine media is today.