The two I look forward to seeing when I reach home:

http://www.dpreview.com

Mt Matutum being crowned by fluttering, morning clouds.

And pineapples being harvested. I am yet to taste something more divine than a freshly picked, succulent Dole pineapple. The taste and the tangy smell remind me of my childhood.

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.

Love songs and how they inspire dread, scornful pity, and cloud one’s judgment

To listen to love songs during late night programming when all cheesy and gut wrenching songs with romantic melodies and lyrics are playing is the worst advice one can give to somebody recovering from a recent breakup.

But tonight, just before all the FM radio stations in General Santos City sign off, I am doing something I would proscribe anyone from doing, with or without of late parting with his/her lover. But I cannot help it, I am doing my sister’s Math project, which she requested me to do last week. I procrastinated until this afternoon when she demanded me to do it with added stipulation that I have to be done with it tonight or she’ll have nothing to submit later this morning to her teacher, and that it will cost her her grades for this grading period. Being a brother ridden with biting guilt that I have not helped my sister with any of her assignments since she started schooling, I humbly acquiesce.

Example is this one below:

8. Of the apples inside the barrel that will be sent to Tampakan for Christmas, 1/13 are green, 2/4 are red Fuji variety, and 7/65 are sour yellow, the remaining apples are native ones grown in Kalsangi (a local farm in Polomolok, South Cotabato famous for its golf course and fine weather). What part of the apples in the barrel are native variety from Kalsangi?

Let me know if you know the answer.

I have no choice but to hear the songs coming from an old stereo to my left, since silence is a harsher company.

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So here I am being drowned by Barry Manilow’s bromidic sermons about love, gasping in Air Supply’s heinous high notes, and helplessly manslaughtered by Engelbert Humperdinck 70s classic, while wracking my head to provide answers to the fraction word problems I wrote myself.

In general, love songs are meant to be confusing. The poetry, or prose, that makes up the so called lyrics is nothing but a gibberish that is arranged in such a way that it sounds intelligible to somebody whose judgment is clouded by a recent heartache or a newly found love. Every line is sprinkled with randomly chosen meaningless abstraction such as the word love (the most overused), memories, the only one, alone, you, heart, waiting, remember, now and then, tomorrow, sun, song I sing, all my life, day without you, and other ludicrous ideas that exist anywhere but in reality.

They all have silly notions that forever can be through, there can be bluer than blue, about a moonriver (a foolish idea) wider than a mile that can be crossed in style someday, somebody whose only want is to grow old with somebody, leaving on a jetplane to someday come back with her wedding ring, or saying ‘I’m yours’ while spending precious time doing an entirely dopey thing of checking one’s tongue in the mirror.

And it would be too much if I still have to comment on the melody. They all sound the same, with some little variations here and there, and whose only purpose is to make anyone of their unsuspecting victims to be out of touch with what’s real.

See, I almost forgot about my sister’s assignment. I have to continue writing now, while ‘Unchained Melody’ envelops my room with an eerie feeling of dread.

Unchained_Melody_by_TOYIB

http://deviantart.com

 

To my father

If not for the two bears (a father bear and his cub) flying kite in today’s yahoo.com homepage I wouldn’t have remembered that today is father’s day. This purely American tradition that became a national day, set every third Sunday of June, in the US under Nixon in the 70s is a relatively new celebration in the Philippines which is almost always a copycat of the United States.

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So I was prompted to send an SMS to my mother to send papa my greetings for him. My father whose name is Juan, whom I was probably named after, is a traditional man who spent his growing up year in Janiuay, Iloilo as a young farmer. Driven by ambition, he left for the city and worked for his older brother. There, in Iloilo City, he met my mother who is the younger sister of the wife of my father’s older brother.

After he finished his studies in a trade school in the city, he and my mom left for Manila and got married in Pasay in 1983. They then went back to Iloilo for my mom to continue her college. After four years and three small children they left for South Cotabato in Mindanao to settle permanently.

In the early 90s my mother worked as a public school teacher and my father as a casual carpenter and security guard. After some time, since he took educational units in college, he started teaching Industrial Arts in the same public high school my mom is teaching. I have no childhood recollection of my father similar to those scenes I see in mainstream media.

I remember him to be strict and detached. He never showed any emotion whenever he dealt with his children. There was however one time when during dinner time I told a joke I heard from a classmate. My father laughed uncontrollably that a grain of rice came out from his nose. I already forgot what that joke was about, but it was the only time somebody laughed at my joke, and it was my father.

My father and I are the complete opposites. He would always mention while I was growing up how my hands are abnormally soft like that of women; his hands are rough. That I did not like doing manual job; he supported the family as a carpenter when he was younger. That all I did was reading; except for his books on building construction he never reads and always complains about his blurry eyes.

But never did he force any of his children to love the kind of life he lived in the province before. We grew up scared of farm animals he loves, protected from the hardships he experienced when he was growing up in the farm.

Eventually, when we all left for college, he saw to it to give all of us a lump of soil from our yard which according to him will help us remember our home wherever we are and to help us ease the longing because of being away. I thought it was funny, but after six years of being away, I appreciate now the value of that handful of soil my father gave us.

And while looking at the bears flying kite again this evening, I remember that at one point my father and I did fly a kite when I was nine. It was the harvest time for pineapples and the field was filled with people handpicking the prickly fruits when my father and I were staring at the kite he made soaring beyond the clouds.

I know he will not be able to read this post, but I am dedicating this to him anyway. This is for Juan whom John looks up to all these times but cannot muster the courage to tell him how hard he tries to be like Juan.

A Jolli-birthday party and quitting birthdays

I attended a kid’s birthday party two days ago, my first time to attend such kind of party organized by a fast food chain. I never thought a birthday party for a seven-year old kid could be that mechanized where everything starting from the food, the dancing orange bee mascot, the games, and even the spiels of the emcee  are according to the corporate value of efficiency and revenue maximization.

I appreciate the mom’s effort to give her son a fun party, though. I might have gone too critical about something I found too rigid. The party did not start on time, so she had to pay extra. There was more than the expected number of quests, so she had to pay extra for the additional set of oil-drenched fried chicken, badly made spaghetti, and awfully small brownie. I did not see her eat during the whole time because she was busy going around taking videos and photos to be sent her Japanese husband in  Tokyo.

Often times, out of convenience, noveau middle class Filipinos or those who can afford, simply pay for a party set provided for by these fast food chain, but too much spirit of the birthday party is taken away in the process. When she was asked to give a short speech for her son, she asked me what to say. I didn’t know what to do, so I told her to thanks the guests for coming. God! I realized she did not even know most of the guests because most of them are nannies of her son’s classmates in exclusive primary school in Makati.

This party is unimaginable in the place where I came from during the time I was growing up.

My recollection of the grandest birthday party my parents threw me was when I turned twelve years old. They went to my school then and surprised me with the two of them bringing ensaymada and orange juice (from powder concentrate, of course, inside a plastic bag where you bite one of the pointed ends and sip the sweet orange-colored liquid inside). My classmates, as all public school students are, flocked like sparrows around my parents who busily distributed the 65 sets of ensaymada and eight o’clock orange solution.

To show their gratitude for free snacks, they will disagree with this statement if they read this, then enthusiastically sang me the Happy Birthday song and gave me birthday cards made from art papers sold by the old woman outside the gate of my elementary school.

It was the grandest, and the last birthday party I’ve had. After that, whenever my birthday came, my mother would prod me to attend Mass to ask for grace and to thank God for the blessings I received in the year that passed. My birthday celebrations that followed then started to be more personal, spiritual, and solitary. When I reached college, it became an ordinary day I was only able to remember when I received birthday greeting from my parents through an SMS sent after a tiring day in school reminding me that it’s my birthday. This continued for three more years until I finished college. By the middle of my college year, I quit attending Mass and thinking of my birthday altogether.

Concerns and the passion for the environment

Two years ago, I left for Germany because of my passion in saving the environment. At that time, I believed so much in the ability of the youth to create ripples of change that could help in finding solutions to pressing problems facing the world-melting of the polar ice caps, extinctions of wild life, deforestation-and in my case, mitigating soil erosion in my hometown, Polomolok, South Cotabato, home of Dole, Philippines Inc., the world’s biggest producer of fresh fruits and vegetables.

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I joined the competition that time sponsored by Bayer and the United Nations Environment Programme because I wanted to go to Europe, never did it occur to me that I’d be enmeshed with my project and be more involved with the environmental issues Polomolok is confronting due to the presence of the big multinational company.

I cannot deny the benefits the people are getting from Dole. Cannery, a barangay that got its name from the fact the it is the cannery for pineapples harvested from the vast plantation surrounding it, is now lobbying to become a municipality because of the revenue it has amassed making it a good candidate as a second class municipality. Almost all the people living in the place are employees of Dole. In fact, my parents who are both teachers, decided to settle and raise their children in Cannery because of the opportunities awaiting them during that time. Some of my high school classmates are now employees of the company. Despite these good that Dole has brought to the place since it first started its operations in the 60s, the environmental degradation it is causing Polomolok as well as the municipalities of Tupi and Tamapakan is increasing at an alarming rate which may cancel all the gains of  Polomolok for having the company conduct it operations in the area.

The pineapple plantation being predominantly monocrop is placing too much pressure on the soil; soil erosion being one of the problems, aside of course from the resulting high acidity of the soil which will leave the soil virtually unusable in the event Dole Philippines decide to bring its operation elsewhere. The problem of soil erosion is observable in the area beside Dole Cannery Central Elementary School and Polomolok National High School; both are my alma mater. The width of the creek is growing at such a rapid rate that both schools have to build retaining walls along areas that used to be green grounds. Moreover, some houses were abandoned because of the dangers of flash floods. Whenever it rains heavily, the runoff carries with it portion of the topsoil and exposes the more vulnerable and less fertile subsoil. This process that is occurring for years is now slowly felt by the residents and the company. However, nothing substantial has really been done.

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With the global financial crises and the slowdown in the demand for fresh products, the place will be hard hit if Dole halts its operation. I heard from a relative that two months ago the working days were temporarily cut by the company. This resulted to salary cuts, an event they fear was just a dress rehearsal for a more gloomy days ahead, or worse, Dole abandoning its operation.

The soil being unsuitable for rice plantation because of very high chemical level and thin top soil will be of no use to people. Here the people are confronted with the delicate balance between the environment and the people being tipped. Polomolok will be a sad case of an environmental disaster if these concerns are not carefully studied and given appropriate solution.

This Earth Day, I am reminded of that project I conducted almost two years ago. It was already a start but I stopped midway because I also had to face other life’s concerns. I seldom visited my hometown and I have no idea what have become of the trees we planted along the creeks or the students who listened to my lectures regarding soil erosion. Mine was a case of an aborted ripple that was supposed to cause tidal waves but disappeared in the middle of my oceans of concerns.

Still my passion for the environment has not waned; probably I am just awaiting for that day when I finally get tired pursuing all my banal pursuits.

Circumcision and becoming a man

This afternoon, while riding a jeep from Padre Faura to Espana under an afternoon temperature of 35 degrees Centigrade, something ordinary occurred that reminded me of a beyond-the-ordinary event that occurred around twelve years ago. That event gave me a sneak preview of what to expect as I entered the series of rites of passage a Filipino boy has to go through before becoming a real man.

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A family of four rode the jeep when it passed by a government health clinic along Taft Avenue. The family was composed of a father sporting a proud, almost airy, expression; a mother with the undeniable know-it-all character most mothers have; and their two sons who are roughly ten to thirteen years old walking carefully and wearing over-sized shorts while holding the front portion of their shorts in an odd manner. In rural Philippines as well as in some poor areas of Manila, this sight of young boys wearing baggy shorts is common during the months of April and May when school closes therefore giving young boys enough time to recover from this simple surgery called circumcision but almost universally called in the Philippines as ‘tuli’.

I had mine when I was twelve years old; it was the summer of 1997. A week before the operation, my father advised me to clean myself, and if possible, spend time taking a bath by soaking myself in lukewarm water for half an hour everyday until the day. That day, my father brought me to a government clinic in the poblacion, around four kilometers from where we live. We were greeted by a market-like atmosphere of young boys with their father, sometimes also with their mothers, waiting in line for their turn to undergo an operation that will ultimately make real men out of them.

In the Philippines the operation is almost a routine in the general male population. While it is related with religion for Jews and some Christians, in the Philippines circumcision is a social activity that signifies the first step in the long process of becoming a man. Boys are made to feel the pressure by their friends and male relatives to undergo the operation. Although the benefits of the surgery have not been very convincing, a lot of myths have been made up to support the conduct of the surgery. It is said that boys will grow faster when they are circumcised; an uncircumcised man will not be able to impregnate a woman; circumcised men are more virile; etc.

The methods of the operation range from those conducted in private clinics in urban areas to the cruder and more dangerous ‘paltak’ where a village healer cuts the foreskin using a very sharp knife with just one blow, relying so much on a hit or miss.

It was an unforgettable day for me, and so was for my father. I am his eldest son, the first one he accompanied in this very important part of growing up for Filipino men. I tried as hard as I could not to show fear because I did not want to disappoint my father. But I knew I disappointed him when I went out of the clinic after my operation was done looking like I was about to pass out; I sensed it in the way he looked at me. He never talked to me during the entire time we were riding a tricycle back home. I eventually realized that it was my natural reaction whenever I lose an amount of blood. And whenever he told the story about that day he never failed to mention how I looked like I was about to faint.

I followed his advice on how to clean wound. He taught me how to gather young leaves of guava tree, boil them, and wash the wound using the water from boiled guava leaves. But I did not allow him to see my wound. I feigned independence in order to prove him that I was already a real man who could do things without his help. My wound got infected a week after, but I did not call his attention, instead I read the medical self-help book my mother bought on how to properly clean the area and how to use tincture of iodine as antiseptic. After a month and a half, I was completely recovered and healed.

It was an experience that caused a rift between my father and me. It took me a time to forget that look on his face that day when I almost passed out.

All those years, I was haunted by my father’s disappointed look that made me forget how proud he was that day bringing his first-born son to that small government health center in Polomolok, South Cotabato for his entrance to manhood and, most especially, adulthood.

I know I need not prove to him my manhood, nor to anyone else.

I smiled when I saw the two boys carefully avoiding the shorts they wore to touch their wounds from the circumcision; and their parents, with pride in their voice and saying it loudly for all the passengers to hear, advising them what do.

I smiled because I also experienced the same hard and painful process of becoming a man in the Philippines, and along the way understanding my own father.