PGTW: Advice to Krisel

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 26 March 2015, Thursday

Advice to Krisel

High school salutatorian Krisel Mallari gave a speech not heard around the world, for the reason that she was cut off midstream by the member of the faculty.

Instead of delivering welcome remarks, she discussed the alleged unfairness of the Sto. Niño Parochial School in not considering her for valedictorian honors and the need for the school to revisit their systems.

A video of school officials preventing Krisel from finishing her speech went viral. Netizens stormed cyberspace to support her, saying under the principle of freedom of speech, she should have been allowed to finish.

School officials said Krisel’s message was not appropriate. The valedictorian told Krisel, on a TV interview, to accept that she did not get the top place, and that her speech “tarnish[ed] the school’s reputation.”

The Department of Education is investigating the matter.

Was Krisel really cheated out of the top spot? We do not know that for a fact. Were any of her rights violated when she was not allowed to complete her speech? That’s for lawyers to say.

What is clear is that Krisel was moved by strong emotion – disappointment, frustration, anger, bitterness, which may have been justified. However, she was asked to give welcome remarks, which she did not do, and thus failed to consider the thoughts and feelings of the other attendees at the graduation ceremony, while focusing on her own.

Krisel believed she should have graduated as class valedictorian. She worked hard and sacrificed much to achieve that goal, as all other honor recipients have. But not being valedictorian is not the end of the world. If she was cheated out of what was rightfully hers, that is not her burden to bear, but that of those who did.

As someone who’s been in similar situations, here’s my advice to Krisel – take ‘Frozen” as your peg let it go.

Krisel, those much-vaunted honors will not guarantee success or happiness. Academic awards, even intelligence, are not always highly valued IRL – in real life. Our society values social skills more than knowledge, relationships and connections over test rankings.

If you want to be successful, learn how to hobnob, press the flesh, kiss babies – in short, the traditional politician shtick.

Grow a strong stomach for rich food and liquor. Much relationship-building with principals and suppliers takes place over late-night inuman. Know your wines and whiskies, your fine dining and private hang-outs.

Observe your boss’s habits and find out how you can serve her with ‘extras.’ Competence is a requirement for the job is a given. Set yourself apart from the herd by performing those little attentions that mean so much – checking in her luggage when you go on official travel, getting her a glass of water at meals before she asks, driving her around when her driver is off duty.

Develop your networks. As I was told by a classmate in MBA school, “We’re not here to study – we’re here to make connections.” Befriend everyone – judges, mayors, celebrities; the lady in accounting who issues the checks, the guy who signs the licenses. That way, when you need a favor for yourself or for your boss, you have contacts who can help.

You don’t need to be a salutatorian – much less a valedictorian – to do these things.

In the real world, no one really looks at your school grades or awards, Krisel. In the end, that’s just information on your resume or personnel data sheet that goes into a filing cabinet. Earn them, enjoy them, use them to gain what points you can, but in the end, what matters is that you can deliver the goods and the ‘extras’ if need be. Be resourceful, make do with what you have. Work with grace under pressure and by golly deliver on time or even earlier.

So let it go, Krisel. You may have a right to be aggrieved. But you won’t carry the burden of having done an injustice. You can hold your head high and move on. There is much more to life than school and grades.  ***

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PGTW: In support of Filipino knowledge

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 19 March 2015, Thursday

In support of Filipino knowledge

Does the Philippines have a reading culture?

Arguments may be made for both yea and nay, with the former pointing to the growth of the chain bookstores as an indicator of the steady sale of books, while the latter will grumble at the overwhelming consumption of television as a medium over the printed word.

It certainly is a fact that the country is far behind in its reading habits compared to, say, Japan or the United States. Yet the government, through the National Book Development Board (NBDB), is looking to promote Filipino authors and publishing by providing grants to those who would not otherwise be able to finish a manuscript or transform a research work into a book for the general public.

Last March 13, NBDB Trust Fund grants for 2014 were awarded to Darwin J. Absari for his “Pag-tuhan: Tausug Gnosis as a Living Tradition” in the field of Islamic studies, and under the field biodiversity/health and wellness, to Amado C. Bajarias Jr. for his “The Birds of Ateneo de Manila University, Miriam College, and UP Diliman,” Grace Quiton-Domingo for her “MPA for Teachers: A Fun Activity Guide that Illustrates the Science Behind Marine-Protected Areas,” and Rosario I. Tañedo for her “Come Back to Me: Lives Taken, Shaken, and Changed by the Lack of Reproductive Health Rights.”

NBDB was created under Republic Act No. 8047 (1995), the Book Publishing Industry Development Act. Its mandate is to be “the leading catalyst for building a culture of reading and authorship as well as an environment for the growth of the book publishing industry toward making it globally competitive”.

RA No. 9521 (2009), the National Book Development Trust Fund Act, sourced funding for a trust fund for NBDB’s programs and activities from the General Appropriations Act and from government-owned and –controlled corporations Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

The NBDB Trust Fund provides grants of P200,000 to an individual or organization for the completion of manuscripts or research works for publication, especially in the field of science and technology, “and in subject areas where locally-authored books are few and non-existent.”

Each year, the agency puts out a call for manuscripts in certain subject areas. A panel of experts assists the NBDB in evaluating submitted manuscripts.

This year, the topics are local history and culture; traditional medicine; integrative medicine and tropical medicine; food science and technology, organic agriculture, sustainable agriculture, and agritourism; and popular science, for example, robotics and inventions.

Among the subject areas in previous years were documentation or codification of any traditional knowledge; habitat rehabilitation and social impacts; new technologies in entrepreneurship; livelihoods; and fiction and non-fiction book-length literary works.

Authors and organizations applying for grants must submit at least 25 percent of their manuscripts or research works that will be turned into books. Check out the agency’s website at nbdb.gov.ph for application forms and other details. The deadline for submission of applications is May 31.

According to NBDB Executive Director Graciela Mendoza-Cayton, “We tend to broadly interpret the categories, so we advise writers to just apply, because there are so many unexplored research areas.”

She cited as an example a dearth of documentation of the history and folklore of Mindanao, and suggested that more authors concentrate their efforts in identifying and exploring similarly under-researched areas.

Right after the grant-awarding ceremony, Cayton dashed off for the “Booklatan sa Laoag” event over the weekend, where author and illustrator Adam David taught fanzine writing and other activities were conducted.

Upcoming agency events include a copyright clinic on March 28, “AK/DA: Araw ng Aklat at Copyright” on April 23, while the whole month of April is “Buwan ng Panitikan” (Literature Month) as provided for by Presidential Proclamation No. 968, signed last 10 February 2015. Major bookish activities are scheduled for the second half of the year.

The agency, Cayton says, can also help authors publish their works through both traditional and non-traditional means.

Usually printing is not the difficult part – it’s distributing the books. “We have contacted distributors,” she said, “who can put the books in outlets other than the chain bookstores, to get them to a wider audience.”

I’d say NBDB’s efforts not only promote and embed a reading culture, they also support the collection, preservation, and creation of kaalaman – Filipino knowledge. For we never stop doing and learning; the thing is to write it down, and to get those writings in as many minds as possible.

The development of a country and its people is possible only when ideas are allowed to flourish and proliferate; and a society that values books and authors and knowledge has the advantage over those that do not. ***

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PGTW: The Palanca Awards: changing the rules

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 12 March 2015, Thursday

The Palanca Awards: changing the rules

The writers’ beehive is buzzing with news about the revised rules for the 2015 Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, the oldest and most prestigious recognition program for creative writers today.

The Foundation, as the contest sponsor, has every right to change its rules as it sees fit, and they have done so the past several years.  After all, no one is being forced to join the contest.

However, it is disturbing that some of the new rules seem to confer advantages to the sponsor that may be considered unfair to the author, one of which is the waiver of the author’s moral rights over their work.

Republic Act No. 10372 (2012), The Intellectual Property Code (IPC), which amends some provisions of the Code’s earlier incarnation, RA No. 8293, provides in Sec. 198, “Term of Moral Rights” that the right of an author…shall last during the lifetime of the author and in perpetuity after his death…the moral rights shall not be assignable or subject to license.”

In RA 8293’s Sec. 193, among the ‘moral rights’ is the requirement “that the authorship of the works be attributed to [the author]” and that the author’s name “as far as practicable, be indicated in a prominent way on the copies, and in connection with the public use of his work.”

The author also has moral rights to alter their work, withhold it from publication, object to any sort of modification or “other derogatory action” in relation to their work, and “to restrain the use of his name” in connection with a work not their own or a “distorted version” of it.

Under 2015 Palanca Awards Rule No. 21 (posted on their website), these moral rights would be handed over to the Foundation, so that in theory they may alter the author’s work, publish it without attribution, and perform other related acts:

“21. … In the case of a winning Work or Works, the Contestant further grants and assigns to the Sponsor the concurrent and non-exclusive right to exercise the full copyright and all other intellectual property rights over such Work(s), as well as all intellectual property rights over the Contestant’s previous Palanca Award prize – winning work(s) if any, (collectively, the “Work(s)”), and waives all moral rights over all his or her Palanca Award prize-winning Work(s) in favor of the Sponsor.”

Not only will the Foundation have the moral rights to the work – this when the IPC states that moral rights are perpetual and “shall not be assignable” – they will also claim “all intellectual property rights” over the author’s previous Palanca Award-winning works in what looks like a bid to retroactively assert a type of control they did not seek in previous years.

Granted, the phrase “concurrent and non-exclusive” means the author still holds the same rights as well. But let’s say the author refuses to allow a publisher to include their work in an anthology; the publisher could then approach the Foundation for the same thing.

Some writers point out that it’s the waiver of moral rights that is a new rule this year, while the assignment of worldwide rights and copyright over all past winning works was already included in the 2014 rules, something that slipped under the writers’ radar then.

It’s unlikely that the Foundation has any intention to hand authors a raw deal, but it looks like there was some over-eager tweaking of the rules.

I have won a Palanca Award and deeply appreciate the honor and prestige it bestows (at least in the public eye – we writers know the truth, that we’re only as good as our last work), but the new rules are worrisome and could make some writers reconsider entering this year’s contest.

There’s nothing to stop people from joining under these circumstances; it’s an individual decision to make. Many write pieces specifically for this contest, hoping for a shot at literary glory. It’s up to the writer to weigh their chances of winning or placing, and the pros and cons of abiding by these rules should their entry receive an award.

Only read the fine print first. Caveat emptor.

***

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PGTW: Numbing down

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 5 March 2015, Thursday

Numbing down                                                  

The day the Internet broke wasn’t when Kim Kardashian bared her bum for the world to see; albeit it was a nice, squishy bum glistening with oil, it was the controversy about #TheDress, #LlamaDrama, and more that had social media raging for hours in all time zones.

This all went down last week.

First, someone posted a photograph of a dress and asked: was it black and blue, or gold and white? The photo was obviously one taken in poor lighting that served to create an optical illusion. However, arguments for one or the other broke out among netizens who seemed to have forgotten their basic high school science lessons on optics.

#LlamaDrama was intensely more fascinating. Sun City, Arizona, was the scene of a high-stakes caper involving runaways. There was adventure! and comedy! and an exciting high-speed chase across the city! with cops in cars and choppers trying to round up two llamas escaping on foot, er, on hooves, from no one knew where. Zoo? Private home? Animal sanctuary? That was another puzzle – who would be keeping captive llamas, and how did they manage to break loose from confinement?

One llama was white, the other black; both were captured on camera running on pavement, away from the people chasing them, away from all the angst and stress of modern urban living. Local television gave massive coverage to the incident. It went viral.

The renegades were eventually rounded up, and the memes broke out: “I bet the #whitellama gets off with a misdemeanor,” tweeted one wag.

“#Whitellama and #blackllama are the new #leftshark and #rightshark,” said another, referencing the dorky shark-costume-wearing dancers at a recent Katy Perry performance.

Other memes mashed up references to the two incidents: in one cartoon, two llamas were depicted, one striped blue and black, the other white and gold.

While people were wrecking their retinas over The Dress and the llamas were fleeing, Leonard Nimoy was quietly expiring in his Los Angeles home, bringing a graceful end to the living legend that was Commander Spock.

“He played an alien, but he was the most human soul I knew,” said co-star George Takei. Nimoy was not only an actor, he was also a director (Three Men and a Baby and two Star Trek films). He also wrote poetry and recorded songs.

Dying at 83, he lived a full life. In the last Tweet he posted a few days before his death from lung disease, he mused: “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.” He ended with his trademark “LLAP” – “live long and prosper”.

The extraordinary hubbub over these happenings – on an order of magnitude that perplexed even jaded netizens – pushed to the side more important news, among them the massacre by the Islamic State of Christians in Syria, the destruction also by IS of valuable antiquities and other objects of art and history at the Mosul Museum, and the threat of a death sentence for Saudi atheist blogger Raif Badawi, a crushing blow to the struggle for freedom of speech and religion in the Middle East.

Even the SAF 44 issue wore thin. “Got tired of Mamasapano,” commented a reader about my column a couple of weeks ago about the Fifty Shades of Gray phenomenon. “Found this refreshing and funny.”

A media effects theory posits that prolonged and frequent exposure to violence on media desensitizes the viewer, numbing their reactions and emotions to the suffering and pain of others.

The result is that issues with a significant impact on society will fall off from the public radar and thus receive no resolution. Without constant and ceaseless public monitoring, abuses will be perpetrated, crimes committed, rights trampled upon.

#TheDress and #LlamaDrama? They’re funny, but not important. Have your chuckle, but don’t waste an inordinate of time on whatever’s new that claims to “break the Internet”. Buying into the global dumbing down won’t help while we are at a point in history that we need all our wits about us.

When consuming media content, sift and screen all the information. Ain’t nobody got time for all that. Let’s not forget to care about what really matters – and that’s what we should break the Internet for. ***

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PGTW: Working hell-iday

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 26 February 2015, Thursday

Working hell-iday

            Some decision makers up at the Palace were not thinking clearly when they decided to make February 25, the anniversary of the People Power revolution, a working holiday.

Either that or they don’t get around the city the way normal people do, seemingly having failed to anticipate the hellish snarl of traffic that ensued when a stretch of Edsa was closed. What, these bright guys take a chopper to work, or something?

A northbound portion of E. de los Santos Avenue, which was the venue for commemorative events, was closed to motorists from 12 midnight until 4:00 in the afternoon.

This shutdown of one of the city’s main arteries resulted in heavily knotted traffic on lesser roads.

An officemate sent me this message at 7:45 AM: “It’s so trafik here at Shaw, the [office’s] Bulacan bus has been stuck for 30 mins now. I myt get l8 po.”

A fellow writer said she was “super late for work.” Another posted on Facebook that it took her four hours to get from Quezon City to Shaw Blvd. in Mandaluyong, a trip that usually takes an hour or so. She added, “I texted my boss to say I was stopping where I was and working from there.”

The editor of a news magazine left his house in Parañaque at 6:00 am for a meeting at Shaw. He got stuck for nearly two hours in the Guadalupe bridge area. He had to reschedule the meeting.

What sucks big time about the whole thing is that there was no advanced announcement made of the planned closure. If there one, no one seems to have heard about it.

This incident cements the country’s horrible reputation for traffic. The Philippines, according to the recent Traffic Index 2015 survey by Serbia-based research firm Numbeo, is the ninth worst for traffic and the fourth worst in Asia among 88 countries surveyed.

That certainly is “numbing” news. The traffic index, by the way, refers to the “composite index of time consumed in traffic due to job commute, estimation of time consumption dissatisfaction, carbon dioxide consumption estimation in traffic, and overall inefficiencies in the traffic system,” according to the research firm.

What the Palace should have done was to declare yesterday a non-working holiday. That way, inconvenience, frustration, and stress would have been at a lesser level and people would have had a chance to properly contemplate the significance of the Edsa event.

Actually I’m kidding, many people are sick and tired of hearing about it, especially after it became a tool for political propaganda for the Yellow crowd instead of a celebration of a nation’s perseverance and courage against a dictator.

Sadly, in contravention of the spirit of the event, marching protesters on Edsa yesterday were blocked by phalanxes of policemen with truncheons. Some of them were supposed to have made a human chain and met up at the Edsa Shrine to offer interfaith prayers.

It was claimed by the police (in live reports over the radio) that no coordination was made with them regarding the march.

But why would peaceful praying protesters be feared? Why would they be barred from reaching the Edsa Shrine, supposedly a place for worship for all Filipinos?

Where now is the democracy we fought for and all its rights and freedoms, including the freedom of assembly and the freedom of speech?

Even our freedom to travel is curtailed; because of the Made in Hades traffic situation, we barely even get around Manila!

Everybody makes mistakes, and no one expects the Palace or government in general to keep a 100 percent batting average. “Pobody’s nerfect,” as the saying goes.

However, the continual missteps such as these, even the smallest baby steps, only serve to deepen the prevailing gloomy mood of the populace and its slipping confidence in its leaders.

* * * * *

The Carlos Palanca Foundation, Inc. is now accepting entries to the 65th season f the

Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature.

This year, the categories Novel and Nobela are open. Both are offered only every two year. Only unpublished or unproduced works may be entered in the contest, which encourages both aspiring and seasoned writers.

Visit the Palanca Awards website at http://www.palancaawards.com.ph for more details and the downloadable entry forms. The deadline for submission of entries is April 30, with the awarding ceremony on Sept. 1.

***

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PGTW: Fifty shades of meh

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 19 February 2015, Thursday

Fifty shades of meh

No, I haven’t seen the film “Fifty Shades of Gray.”

No, I haven’t read any of E. L. James’s books, after I was given a copy of the first one a couple of years back and cracked it open to a portion where the protagonist Anastasia exclaims, “Holy cow!”

No, I have no intention of aggravating myself with what I believe is bad prose and a dull, unexciting narrative born from a fan-fiction of Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight, of which I hold an equally low view, more for the quality of the writing than the erotic content.

What I find interesting in relation to this is the discourse that has erupted about erotica, specifically the kind geared toward a female audience.

Erotica refers to artistic works that sexually arouse or stimulate, whether literature, visual art, film, music, or other art form.

It is differentiated from pornography, with the latter portraying explicit sex acts and having a negative connotation of being degrading and exploitative.

FSOG’s merits or demerits as either have been hotly debated. Its unexpected popularity among a certain demographic – women over 30 – has led to its being called “mommy porn.” Certainly the only people I know who’ve read it are female officemates in their 30s to 60.

When the books came out a couple years back, there was much giggling and lending back and forth of the volumes. One male lawyer I know, seeing the demand, gave copies at Christmas to the ladies of his acquaintance.

While the feedback from my friends who’ve seen the film is mostly negative (“It sucks, and I don’t mean that in a good way”) there are positive reviews, mainly from a shallow perspective, but then, who said FSOG was deep?

An officemate said his wife watched with her girlfriends and they enjoyed the film. In his opinion, “Women like it because finally there’s a movie for them about their sexual fantasies, although regular guys are like, whatever.”

What women might be fantasizing about might not necessarily be the acts themselves – the pornographic bits – but the attention that millionaire Christian lavishes on Anastasia. Who wouldn’t want to be whisked away in a helicopter and regaled with gifts?

The downside is that the kind of men who do that are creepy, possessive, and abusive – like Christian. But just as we used to do with the Danielle Steel novels we read in high school, we can skip to the juicy parts, which I suspect is what many women who read FSOG did.

What’s worth reading are the parodies that have sprung up around FSOG, especially the genuinely hilarious ones on Twitter. At a maximum of 140 characters, there’s no room for sloppy writing or a bad joke.

My favorites are Fifty Shades of Gran (from the point-of-view of senior women) and the older Fifty Sheds of Grey (men with tools).

From @50ShadesGran: “She fixed me with a gaze filled with sensuality, eroticism, and deep, passionate desire. Either that or her glaucoma was playing up again.”

“I need it now!” she panted desperately, getting down on all fours at my feet. It was always the same when she lost a jigsaw piece.”

From @50ShedsofGrey: “I’m a bad girl,” she moaned as she bent over my workbench. “I deserve to be punished.” “Very well,” I said, and cancelled her credit card.”

“She leant over the kitchen table. “Smack that bottom,” she squealed. “Smack it hard!” “I am,” I said, “But the ketchup just won’t come out.”

Last Valentine’s Day, the hashtag #MNL50ShadesOfGray debuted: @iamloves: “He hold my hand. I’m nervous. With his husky voice, he whispered in my ears: “Open-minded ka ba sa networking?”

@1nutty_hazel: “He smiled at me as if he knew a naughty secret. He leans over and whispers…”Miss, bukas zipper mo.”

Comedy is as sensual as erotica in its appeal of and titillation of the senses, and a funny partner, one who makes you laugh, is also often romantic and sexy and will bring you pleasure on many levels, not necessarily the physical.

And in the end, isn’t that what we really fantasize about having – a relationship that

transcends the ordinary? ***

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PGTW: Hari ng sablay

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 12 February 2015, Thursday

Hari ng sablay

Is it just miscommunication, or were there actual missteps in President Benigno Aquino III’s responses to the Fallen 44 incident?

It’s a question that comes to mind after hearing the speeches he delivered before and after citizens’ outrage about his off-kilter responses to the deaths of the 44 SAF troopers.

In the eulogy he gave at the necrological service for the fallen soldiers, to which he arrived late, he referred to his father’s (former senator Ninoy Aquino) death by assassination. It gave some the impression that he was downplaying the deaths of the troopers.

His message to the SAF commandos again referred to his father’s death and an ambush in which he (the President) was injured. The speech was greeted with stony silence, even when Aquino urged the assembled troopers to speak.

The constant references to his family irked many. People are tired of that by now. That’s been milked for all it’s worth,

After negative public comments on social media, Aquino again took to television to air yet another message. This one was better crafted, with hardly any mentions of himself or his family.

One of the lines was: “Ako ang ama ng bayan, at 44 sa aking mga anak ang nasawi” (I am the father of the country, and 44 of my children were slain.)

However, with the timing what it was, this speech came across as a form of damage control – insincere and manipulative, seeking to placate the public. It came too late.

It also seemed to crib from the message (released on the Internet before Aquino’s TV appearance) of Jordan’s King Abdullah, dubbed “the warrior king” to the terrorist forces of the self-styled Islamic State (IS), where he referred to a slain Jordanian as his “dear son” and a “martyr.”

After IS burned a Jordanian airman alive in a cage and released the gruesome footage to the world, the king issued this wrathful declaration:

“The blood of martyr Muath al-Kaseasbeh will not be in vain and the response of Jordan and its army after what happened to our dear son will be severe.”

He had also told US lawmakers that Jordan would fight IS until they ran “out of fuel and bullets.”

Nor was it an empty boast. Soon after, a Jordanian airstrike killed 55 IS militants. Nor did the pressure let up. Since then there have been more air raids launched by Jordan, with a ground strike planned in coordination with other countries.

Jordan’s Queen Rania marched in protest along the capital Amman’s streets holding a photograph of the executed pilot. She also spoke against IS at the recent Abu Dhabi Media Summit.

That was their response to one murdered Jordanian. One. Forty-four SAF troops were executed, mutilated, and robbed by armed rebels. What is our President’s response?

Our President is also a king  – the hari ng sablay, the king of missteps and near-misses, someone who tries but fails to hit the target.

A definition of “hari ng sablay” on the Internet, posted by mgirl88, is “a guy who never quite gets it right, who has the best intentions, but is always off-center with everything.”

Another sablay incident happened at the recent funeral in Catanduanes of the SAF’s “last man standing,” Max Jim Tria.

Tria’s father, according to a news item, was said to have at first refused to have the President’s wreath placed by the home’s entrance, but acquiesced after someone from the Presidential Management Staff said she was “just following orders.”

At the burial site, the presidential wreath was “nowhere to be seen.” That’s what happens when something is forced upon someone who clearly said they didn’t want it. Sablay again.

How many more sablays will he make before he gets it right?

***

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PGTW: From high tech to high touch

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 29 January 2015, Thursday

From high tech to high touch

Is there a part of yourself that you’ve lost touch with through the years?

Is there something you enjoyed doing but set aside when things you thought were more important claimed your attention?

Over the chilly holidays I decided to use thicker blankets. I rummaged in my linen closet and came across patchwork quilts I’d sewn when I was a young stay-at-home mother.

Here were the crib quilts of my daughters, some of them made by quilting friends in the United States. My girls used quillows – lap quilts that fold into a pillow pocket – when they were a bit older. Our bed-size quilts were riots of patterns and colors, made from blocks and fabric swapped with quilters from around the world.

Unfolding the quilts triggered memories of hours spent reading old magazines and teaching myself the basics, cutting shapes from fabric and sewing them together, and basking in the satisfaction gained from the process and completion.

I’d stopped quilting when I re-entered the work force, and my tools and materials had remained untouched for 13 years. I opened my storage bins. The colors of the quilting cottons I bought in Divisoria a decade ago were still crisp. The rotary cutters remained sharp, the cutting mats flat from having been kept under my mattress. My Pfaff Tipmatic sewing machine only needed oiling in the hook race to run like new.

My first quilts were made in the ‘90s with cotton-polyester blend fabrics from the palengke. My seams were crooked and selection of fabrics limited, but I was satisfied with having made functional objects that gave warmth and comfort to my family and friends.

Later I joined international block and fabric swaps via the Internet. One of the most memorable swaps, held in 1999, was the Great Y2K Quilt swap. Each quilter sent out packets of 25 two-inch charm squares (samples of different fabrics) and a signature square.

These “siggies” bore the names and countries of the quilters: computer-printed on fabric, embroidered, or written with a fabric marker. The goal was to collect 2,000 charms for a “year 2000” quilt. Y2K quilts are now part of quilting history.

John Naisbitt, in High Tech/High Touch (1999), suggested that we live in a “technologically intoxicated zone,” and that the sacrifice of intangibles such as “hope and fear and longing, love and forgiveness, nature and spirituality” impels us to reconnect to those simpler things.

One back-to-basics activity is using your hands to make something, and past years have seen the rise in popularity of crafting and cooking classes.

Trey Ajusto, the “Gantsilyo Guru,” holds basic and Tunisian crochet classes in public venues such as coffeeshops and restaurants, and sells hooks, yarns, and other materials in her online shop.

She looks forward to opening a physical store within this year, where crafters can see and touch the goods before purchase and where they can consult her on their projects.

“I used to have mostly older students,” said Trey, “but lately a lot of younger people have been signing up for my classes.”

Those who remember the cross-stitch rage of the ‘90s know that many supply stores closed when the fad faded. Those that didn’t fold reinvented themselves – Dreams in Glorietta now carries yarns and other materials.

New suppliers have sprouted up, many of them young people who operate online and participate in “pop-ups” in venues around the city. There’s also Craft MNL in Makati City that provides workshop space and can arrange private teaching sessions.

Whatever craft or skill you’d like to learn – paper quilling, bookbinding, screenprinting – chances are there are classes for it. On a budget? Check Youtube for tutorials.

Over the holiday break I culled my quilting magazines and books, rearranged my embroidery floss, and dug up my UFOs (unfinished objects) for completion. I’m ready to quilt again.

Friends have already given me orders – a queen-size in country colors for Krip, one in pink and tan for Adelle, others for Gen and Ricci. I’ve designed two art quilts for an exhibit with other writer-artists in November, and dusted off the hand-applique flower blocks of a decade-old UFO.

Now I take up needle and thread again, and lose myself in color and pattern as I create, stitch by stitch, quilts for my loved ones to use up and wear out.

For we are all makers, and into each work we create, we infuse our chi, our mana. Even when we are gone, that creative energy remains, and we live on in our works.  ***

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PGTW: The writer as “righter”

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 22 January 2015, Thursday

The writer as “righter”

Is freedom of speech under fire in 2015?

The new year was only a week old when two Muslim gunmen, said to be members of the Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda, rained up to 50 shots on the offices of the publication Charlie Hebdo last Jan 7. Twelve were killed, including a Muslim policeman, and 11 others were injured.

The magazine was notorious for its satirical cartoons and articles mocking Islam, Judaism, Catholicism, and other faiths, as well as right-wing politics and culture, as part of its secularist agenda.

The global media community immediately took sides. Many, espousing freedom of speech and human rights, used as their slogan “Je suis Charlie” -  “I am Charlie,” a show of support that bridged languages and culture.

The incident was a takeoff point for the renewed discourse on free speech, what it means, what it involves, and what its limits are. Also part of the conversation is the role of the journalist (whether writer, cartoonist, artist, or photographer) – is it to merely report the news? dissect and analyze the news? Create news?

Freedom of speech and freedom of thought and religion are held to be inalienable rights under many legal and moral codes. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in its preamble, looks forward to a world where people “shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want.”

The 1987 Philippine Constitution says in Section 4: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press…”

However, the reality is that in many parts of the world freedom of speech is suppressed and harshly punished.

Such cases that gained high profile this year include that of Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger and founder of the secular website Free Saudi Liberals.

He was almost sentenced by a court to die, but eventually received 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes, a flogging of 50 lashes to take place every Friday until the entire sentence is carried out. His crime? “Insulting Islam.”

He has received the first set of lashes, and the second has been postponed for medical reasons. Some sources believe that the punishment will eventually kill him.

Another case that came to the fore early this month is that of artist and activist Carlos Celdran. In 2010, while advocating for the passage of the controversial Reproductive Health bill, he interrupted a Mass at Manila Cathedral dressed in 19th century clothing and holding up a sign reading “Damaso,” a nod to the reprobate priest in Jose Rizal’s first novel.

Celdran, through Facebook, asked Pope Francis to intercede in his case by “[having] a word with the bishops of the Philippines” in line with the pontiff’s “message of forgiveness, reason, and tolerance,” as he posted on his Facebook page on Jan. 6.

Convicted by a lower court for violating Article 133 of the Philippine penal code – “offending religious feelings” – a decision upheld last December by the Court of Appeals, Celdran will take his case to the Supreme Court. He and other free speech activists are advocating for a repeal of Art. 133 as unconstitutional.

The Pope has not responded to Celdran, but his take on the Charlie Hebdo case was that there are limits to the exercise of free speech. He compared the mocking of religion to insulting someone’s mother – “he can expect a punch.”

“You cannot provoke,” he added. “You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

But that is precisely the point of freedom of speech. It includes the right to ridicule other’s assumptions, opinions, actions, and beliefs, as part of society’s continued and unending construction and re-construction of itself.

What lifts up such expressions from the gutter is the intention and motivation.

The actions of the Charlie Hebdo staffers, Badawi, and Celdran explore the ramifications of the writer’s role as “righter” – righter of wrongs and abuses, exposer of scandals and crimes, fighter for truth and justice.

The press, considered the “fourth estate” vis-à-vis the medieval societal forces of clergy, nobility, and commoners, has the undefined but accepted responsibility to act as society’s check-and-balance by revealing abuses and oppressions and advocating for positive change for the benefit of the people.

Freedom of speech, by its very nature as a “freedom,” requires that it be unlimited in terms of content to ensure the fullest discussion of a diversity of issues and opinions. Offended by something? Don’t watch or read it. Those who react to someone pushing buttons give that person power over them.

A writer, however, must also weigh common sense and prudence against the desire or need to exercise freedom of speech and action. There must be awareness of the implications upon others and self, as well as the risks involved in escalating levels from destruction of friendships to lawsuits to loss of life.

What all these cases have proven, as have others throughout history, is that the pen still cuts finer and deeper than any sword, and that it is a power to be wielded with integrity, otherwise it becomes, itself, an abuse. ***

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PGTW: This atheist says, welcome, Pope Francis!

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 15 January 2015, Thursday

This atheist says, welcome, Pope Francis!

People have asked me, an atheist, what I think of the Pope’s visit – yea or nay?

His Holiness Pope Francis’s state and apostolic visit to the country starts today and lasts till Monday. The country, particularly Metro Manila, has been turned topsy-turvy by the government making massive preparations for the event, including locking down entire areas to traffic and declaring non-working holidays for the duration.

Traffic snarled horribly starting last Monday (Jan. 15) when Metropolitan Manila Development Authority head Francis Tolentino performed a dry run and shut entire areas to motorists. Committees were formed, one for Manila and the other for Leyte, to organize the Pope’s visits in those places. Commemorative coins were struck. Some 2,000 traffic enforcers will be asked to wear adult diapers during their tour of duty.

Government funds are being spent for all these preparations.

Article 2, Section 6 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution declares: “The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.” “Inviolable” means “never to be broken, infringed, or dishonored.”

Are all these preparations that government is making a violation of this policy?

The Pope is a unique personage in that he has a dual role – he is both head of a millennia-old religion with an estimated 1.2 billion adherents worldwide, and he is also the head of the Vatican City State, the world’s smallest internationally-recognized independent state in area (44 hectares) and population (842).

Moreover, with some 60 to 80 percent of Filipinos professing to be Roman Catholics, and with the religion’s rite and customs deeply embedded in Filipino culture and tradition, the Pope’s coming gains even more importance.

This explains the fuss attending his arrival, a treatment not similarly accorded the visit of United States President Barack Obama, head of the world’s foremost superpower.  The difference is that Obama is not also the head of a world religion.

Pope Francis, in his twin roles, will not only be holding Masses in various areas, he will also be meeting senior government officials and members of the diplomatic corps in a general audience on Monday (Jan. 19) at Malacañan Palace with President Benigno Aquino III.

The dominant ideology of a society will control and influence it to a significant degree; atheists like myself, and other minorities, cannot expect to stand in the path of the twin juggernauts of culture and religion and not be crushed. There are times when it is more prudent to step aside and enjoy the parade.

All we can do is remain vigilant with regards to the law, and in this case, several legal eagles assured me, there is no violation of Church-State policy.

What’s truly reprehensible are the antics of politicians who have hitched their bandwagons to the Popemobile by displaying epal banners and engaging in similar publicity moves.

It was also inappropriate for Aquino to say that he would like to discuss with the Pope the state of the Church in the Philippines and “promote the Kingdom of God” during his term. The head of a democratic and secular country should always bear in mind that there are other religions in the country besides Catholicism.

The Philippine Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to the reproductive health bill, abortion, same-sex marriage, and divorce, is only to be expected – it’s their job, after all, to defend their beliefs no matter how medieval. Pope Francis will do the same. We cannot expect otherwise from him.

It’s up to our government to bring about a secular state, in line with the Constitution, and to write and enforce laws that will benefit all without fear or favor, that will not discriminate, that will not unduly raise one up at the expense of another.

It’s up to our citizenry to hold our government and other societal institutions accountable for upholding the best interests of the people, basing decisions upon sound science and logic and not the mumbo-jumbo of superstition or the influence of the rich and mighty.

Pope Francis has nothing to do with the incompetence and stupidity of some of our government officials. For that we have no one else but ourselves to blame, a lesson we should heed for the next elections.

Meanwhile, if the Pope’s arrival brings comfort, if his presence bestows peace, if his example spreads joy and calm among believers, then that’s all to the good.

So this atheist says, welcome, Pope Francis!

***

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