Archive of ‘cultural studies’ category

pop goes the world: hypocriciety

 POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  30 March 2012, Friday

Hypocriciety

The other day I received a forwarded email. The subject was “Dump Starbucks”, and turned out to be a link to an online petition to boycott the global chain for allegedly supporting same-sex marriage in the United States.

The debate on same-sex marriage is raging in that country. The issue gained prominence in the media, with high-profile celebrities either bashing or advocating same-sex marriage.

The cons include Carrie Prejean (2009 Miss USA candidate), actor Kirk Cameron (Growing Pains), and Mel Gibson (‘nuff said).

Among the advocates are actors George Takei (Star Trek) and Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother), who are gay, and George Clooney, who is not; they focus on the issue as being concerned with equality in general, with same-sex marriage being a part of equal rights for all.

In the United States, the states that allow same-sex marriage are: Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Washington DC, Iowa, and Washington. California recognizes the marriages it previously performed when it still allowed them, while Maryland recognizes out-of-state marriages.

The ten countries that allow full marriage equality nationwide are Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden. Denmark is expected to pass a bill on same-sex marriage in June this year.

In Brazil, they are performed in some states although allowed in theory; in Mexico, they are allowed only in Mexico City. Israel recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, while there are ongoing debates to allow it in Australia, Finland, Uruguay, and France.

How relevant is all this discussion in the Philippines, when we remain the only country without a divorce law? While our intellectuals and advocates are immersed in the global discourse on social issues related to marital, sexual, and gender rights, the rest of the country has lagged behind.

With the local Roman Catholic church still heavily sustaining the majority’s patriarchal mind-set, divorce and contraception remain bones of contention while many laws favor men over women (such as those on adultery and concubinage).

In order to cope with the dissonance between norms and actual behavior, people employ mechanisms such as dedma, or turning a blind eye.

Spousal infidelity is rampant across society; among the elite, recall the public exposure of Paqui Ortigas and his wife Suzie Madrigal Bayot’s private lives, and the Aleli Arroyo-Grace Ibuna-Iggy Arroyo triangle. Multiple families are a fact of life, as are the concomitant problems that everyone concerned, including the children, have to deal with.

Aleli Arroyo and Grace Ibuna. Image here.

Here’s an example of the difficulties that arise: last weekend, the 7-year-old daughter of my ex-husband by another woman asked me, “How are you related to my dad?” Now, how do we answer questions like that without causing trauma to the child?

My ex told me that she asked him last year, when she was introduced to our daughters, “How come I met my ates only now?” A divorce law would have spared us, and many others in unhappy marital situations, a measure of the anguish that arises from unfaithfulness and separation.

As for LGBT rights, much more needs to be done. Our society is generally tolerant of gays – many are prominent businessmen, showbiz celebrities, world-famous designers and artists, and successes in other fields – but they do not have equal rights when it comes to marriage. Though they live together and behave as married hetero couples do, and the fact is accepted, it is unfair that they do not have the same marital rights under the law.

Pride March in Manila, Philippines, Dec 2011. From a private Facebook page. 

Cultural norms and values are socially constructed, meaning that they are generally shaped through consensus or agreement among the members of society. Sometimes these are imposed through force (war) or guilt and threats (religion).

All these rules, whether codified as law or unspoken as norms, are determined by man. If society is to serve its members, rather than the other way around, people must be responsive to historic shifts in thought and perspective that seek to find solutions to old, recurrent problems. With the discourse gaining even more prominence globally, now is the time for us to face this too.

The choice is between the hypocrisy our society has resorted to as a coping mechanism, or laws that reflect the current social condition and provide the means to properly deal with present-day situations.

We have evolved a hypocriciety. When will we accept that not all marriages work, and that people need the chance to start new lives? When will we throw away biological distinctions and gender-based prejudices and think of ourselves and each other simply as humans, all entitled to the same rights and privileges? *** 

George Takei image from his Facebook Page. Paqui Ortigas image here.

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pop goes the world: film, and life imitating

 POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  15 March 2012, Thursday

Film, and Life Imitating

“There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.” (Director Frank Capra)

Have filmmakers run out of ideas? The local movie industry has certainly been accused, many times, of rehashing worn-out narrative formulas ad nauseum.

Indie films may have the answer to the moviegoer blahs. As last holiday’s film festivals proved, a fresh way of presenting narratives will attract viewers. However, indie filmmakers will always have to battle constraints, primarily financial.

Cineastes will be happy to know that they can participate in the creation of movies themselves without being Mother Lily or other deep-pocketed capitalist. Multi-awarded indie filmmaker John Torres calls this “crowdfunding”, and it’s the way he’s chosen to finance his proposed fourth feature film, “Lukas Nino”.

Photo provided by John Torres.

Torres says the project “is a narrative from the succession of film titles and posters left behind by the late director Ishmael Bernal.” It received “a digital production grant from the Hubert Bals Fund of the International Film Festival Rotterdam, “ and could be premiered in the Netherlands next year.

“Lukas Nino” will be Torres’s first time to shoot in film and use a team and script, rather than in his usual video, with non-actors, and unscripted. He needs P500,000 for 35mm film stock, processing, and transfer to video.

Visit http://johntorr.es/support to pre-order the DVDs of his earlier films – Todo Todo Teros (2006), Years When I Was a Child Outside (2008), and Refrains Happen Like Revolutions in a Song (2010). This will be the first release ever of Torres’s films and is a landmark event for collectors.

Portrait of the filmmaker. Photo provided by John Torres.

These films have been screened in international festivals in Berlin, Rotterdam, Buenos Aires, and other places, and have won many prizes – the Cinemanila and Gawad Urian locally, and the Dragons and Tigers Award at the Vancouver International Filmfest, among others.

Another filmmaker, Alex Socorro, is exploring the world of horseracing with “Largaaa!” He and his group are connected with the Philippine Motion Pictures Directors Association under the Film Academy of the Philippines. Their only source of funds is a grant.

The movie stars Yasmien Kurdi, Felix Roco, Leo Martinez, and Jeric Raval.  The actors will be guided only by a flexible script, “to maintain spontaneity”.

The first shooting day is March 24 at Santa Ana Park in Naic, Cavite. There will be unscripted interviews with trainers, jockeys, and other racetrack folk. To donate to their cause, check out the “Largaaa” page on Facebook.

* * * * *

 And in other news, the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s front page yesterday showing a four-photo montage of impeachment trial witness Demetrio Vicente’s face unleashed a barrage of angry reactions from the public.

Image here.

 Via Twitter, Facebook, and other Internet platforms, commenters called PDI’s move “insensitive” and “cruel”, among other things.

As a subscriber, I received a version of the paper without the Vicente montage on the front. Instead, a photo in that same space was of Rep. Toby Tiangco conferring with Senator Juan Ponce Enrile.

The provincial edition I received as a subscriber (although we’re located in Metro Manila). 

A PDI insider who lives up north confirms that the edition I received was the provincial, which was also the one he also got. Provincial and subscriber editions are released before the city edition. So this was the first print run of the front page. The offensive Vicente photo series was placed on an inside page.

In PDI’s  provincial edition, the Vicente series was inside.  

PDI therefore made a second print run putting the Vicente photos on the front page. They also used this version for their online edition.

Now why go through all that trouble to redo the layout and stop-restart the presses again? What motive could PDI have for deliberately ridiculing the facial expressions of Vicente, a stroke victim?

Whatever their reasons for doing so, it backfired on PDI. Despite their issuance of an online apology and yanking the offensive image from their website, the damage has been done. PDI violated several Filipino cultural norms: support for the underdog, respect for the elderly, sympathy for the sick, no disparaging of personal appearance, and not kicking a man when he’s down.

PDI touts itself as the number one bestselling newspaper in the country and doesn’t miss a chance to trumpet this every so often with charts and ratings on their front page. With this one stupid decision to mock a man, its credibility has plummeted. Sales might not be far behind.

It could be a movie. Capra would have approved. As real life, it sucks. *** 

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pop goes the world: color me color-blind

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  1 March 2012, Thursday

Color Me Color-Blind

Men’s magazine FHM-Philippines buckled under a barrage of negative feedback after it posted a photo of its proposed March cover on its Facebook Page that aroused the ire of Netizens.

“Racist!” said one commenter. “Shame on FHM Philippines!” said another.

The controversial image showed light-skinned soap actress and model Bela Padilla, wearing a strappy hot pink bikini, surrounded by three dark-skinned models, and headlined “Bela Padilla: Emerging from the Shadows”.

Image here.

Over three hundred people signed a petition on change.org asking FHM to apologize and yank the cover.

FHM-Philippines’ publisher Summit Media responded by cancelling the cover, promising to have a different one upon release, and issuing this statement: “We apologize and thank those who have raised their points. We apologize to Bela Padilla for any distress this may have caused her.”

Their full statement is posted on the FHM-Philippines website. Nowhere in it is there an apology to the backup models.

Bela took the flak in stride. Much was made of her video and Twitter apology. In the latter she said, “I’m so sorry to everyone who got offended. I hope all of you see the beauty of the cover and appreciate it,” and, “My cover is supposed to be about stepping out of my shadows, inhibitions, fears, etc. And has nothing to do with race.”

She herself is of mixed race, having a Filipina mother and a British father.

In the first place, didn’t she know better to participate in such a shoot in the first place? Did she not even make a comment during the shoot? Ask the pictorial director why this particular concept was employed? Was she even aware of the racism inherent in the concept? Has she gone on record as having made objections before all this?

It seems not. One might chalk that up to her youth – she’s 20 – or her ignorance. Or perhaps for her it was just a job, and who cares about the image concept and any other deeper meanings that may lie behind it.

The chocolate beauties were treated as background, as mere props to the star, like furniture or a backdrop. They are still unnamed in the media. They are the subject now of global attention, yet they remain anonymous, because props do not have names.

It is they who deserve an apology from FHM, not Bela.

Racism exists as a cultural norm in many countries. Certainly prejudice is universal. I don’t think there is any country that does not have any biases based on skin color, ethnicity, religion, or other factor that would set one group apart from another. The collective, the majority, is always afraid of what is different, as it seeks to maintain its dominance through cultural hegemony.

We are guided by a mindset stillborn from 400 years of Spanish rule and 40 years of American occupation. Despite the advances in technology and scholarship since then, we have not been able to shake of the heavy burden of nearly half a millennium of colonial mentality.

In our culture, light-complexioned girls with Caucasian features are extolled as being more beautiful than their warmer-skinned, ethnic-looking counterparts. This notion is heavily reinforced in the media, which has led to the phenomenon of whitening through chemical means, from soap to injectable glutathione.

With migration to other countries, people crossing national borders to live and work, and intermarriage, we thought the world would become a melting-pot, with all the cultures blending together to create a happy coffee-skinned world population.

Instead, as scholars have noted, countries with high multi-cultural populations have become salad bowls – where different cultures mix yet remain distinct, “maintaining their own practices and institutions” (Laura Laubeova). One example of such a country is the United States.

Unlike the US, the Philippines has not been a focal point for mass migration. The majority of its residents are of Malay extraction – one race. So racism is not the entire issue.

Rather, it is also an issue of class, with the dominant, foreign-descended upper class deemed as the ideal and copied slavishly by the masses as an extension of the colonial influence and the bourgeois status quo.

The good thing about this entire FHM-Bela Padilla issue is the discourse that resulted from it and the immediate feedback. It is also heartening to note FHM’s immediate response and their pull-out of their distasteful cover.

With vigilance and continued action we can bring about a cultural revolution in the Philippines, and lay the foundation for a society that is color-blind, tolerant, and inclusive.

We can change this country for the better.   *** 

UPDATE: 10 March 2012, Saturday – I saw this at a gas station convenience store – FHM’s March issue with the revised cover.

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pop goes the world: a culture of domestic abuse

 POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 23 February 2012, Thursday

A Culture of Domestic Abuse

Last Valentine’s Day, instead of gabbing about their lovelives over coffee and cake, a group of women gathered to discuss a pressing and urgent matter, one that impacts the lovelives of all Filipinos.

The “Soul Sisters for RH”, a group of legislatrices urging the passing of the Reproductive Health Bill, held an open forum to exchange views on issues concerning women, relationships, and how these relate to the RH bills now pending in Congress.

The group comprises representatives Jaye Lacson-Noel, Kimi Cojuangco, Sandy Ocampo, Bernadette Herrera-Dy, Abigail Ferriol, Sharon S. Garin, and Emmeline Y. Aglipay.

Among the topics discussed, I was most interested in a disturbing fact mentioned by Rep. Aglipay (DIWA partylist) – that violence against women has been increasing.

According to the 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey of the National Statistics Office, “One in five women aged 15-49 has experienced physical violence since age 15. More than fourteen percent of married women have experienced physical abuse from their husbands; and more than one-third or thirty seven percent of separated or widowed women have experienced physical violence, implying that domestic violence could be the reason for separation or annulment.”

These are horrendous statistics. Can we, “the only Catholic country in Asia” and all that, supposedly having a strong moral foundation, hold our head high as being morally upright? No. These figures are too high.

This increase in the incidence of abuse has occurred despite the passage of Republic Act 9262, the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004 (VAWC), which “granted the government the right to intervene in case of household violence or abuse against women and children. (Association for Progressive Communications).”

National Anti-Poverty Commission assistant secretary Lila Ramos Shahani notes that “The implementation gap in this country continues to remain particularly glaring…Violence against women and trafficking are overt manifestations of gender inequality in the Philippines and its prevalence in our patriarchal culture.”

Domestic abuse is a stark reality of life in the Philippines, no matter how much some people will try pretend it doesn’t exist. I remember attending a Bible study at a ritzy international church in Makati some years ago. The other members were older ladies from the ultra-wealthy set, coming to Bible class with Louis Vuitton handbags slung over their arm. One day we were discussing what sort of ministry to provide to womens’ correctional inmates; I suggested some sort of therapy workshop for abused women. One of women shuddered. “I can’t believe there is such a thing!” she exclaimed. “How can men hurt the women in their family? My father and husband love me and spoil me so much!”

I told her I myself was the victim of terrible physical abuse from my ex-husband. I proceeded to tell her a few stories from that dark period. Her eyes wide, she edged away from me, shaking her head, clutching her Epi leather LV closer to her chest. I left that church soon after.

Men are also likely to downplay the abuse that occurs. After a particular severe beating (I was gagged with duct tape and tied with leather straps), I went to the police precinct in our area to report the incident. The policeman on duty took down my statement in the blotter, but refused to take any other action. “Away mag-asawa yan,” he said. “That’s none of our business.”

Last week, a woman who lives a few doors away from ours was telling neighbors that the week before, she caught her seaman husband and another woman together in a motel. Her husband dragged her home and beat her savagely.  Having been caught being unfaithful, siya pa galit. The wife sported a black eye and bruises after that. The entire neighborhood saw.

According to the author of a version of the RH Bill, Rep. Edcel C. Lagman (Albay), the proposed law “is not anti-life. It is pro quality life.” Among other benefits, it provides for the “elimination of violence against women.”

It is doubtful whether the bill can be passed before the Congress recess on March 13, given the focus of lawmakers now on the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.

What’s important is to ensure that the attention on the RH Bill does not wane. “Out of sight, out of mind.” Delaying this important matter does our country a great disservice, and continues to keep us locked in the shackles of fear and ignorance created by the dark side of culture and law.

As a citizen of this Republic, I urge – no, I demand – the passage of the RH Bill, and other legislation that will adequately protect women and children from pain and hurt inflicted by those obligated and sworn to protect and cherish them, not only at home, but in the societal milieu.  *** 

Stop VAW poster here. Lila Shahani image here. Edcel Lagman here.

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pop goes the world: no such thing as mixed signals

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  16 February 2012, Thursday

No Such Thing as Mixed Signals

Ah, Valentine’s Day. For couples in a relationship, it’s a happy romantic time, roses and chocolates blah blah.

But for some singles, it’s bleak – feeling alone even when in the company of friends, wondering when the Universe will get its act together and drop your soulmate in your lap.

It’s downright painful for other singles, especially women, who are waiting on a beloved to say, “Yes, you’re the one I love. I can’t imagine life without you. Marry me.” And are still waiting. And waiting…

The man will often have an excuse – I have to take care of personal issues first, I don’t make enough money yet for us to set up together, istrik ang ferents ko. The woman will wait, hoping things would get better.

This happened to me, not too long ago. I’d been clinging, hoping for a change, rationalizing to myself that the mixed signals he was sending stemmed from his personal challenges. That it was just a matter of me being patient and giving him the space to work things out then hey, maybe, our time would come.

An older gentleman at work – a lawyer, rational and logical – hearing my story, said with extreme kindness, “He’s not sending mixed signals. He’s being very clear. He won’t commit. Now can you bear that? If yes, then let it go on the way it has been. Otherwise, the next step is up to you. It’s not up to him, because he’s already told you where he stands – and it’s not in your corner.”

I’d fallen into the trap most women do. We hang on hoping he’ll come to his senses. That he’ll wake up, as if from a dream, and transform into kind of the man you’ve always wanted to have by your side. That he’ll realize we’re the love of his life and he can’t bear spending the rest of his life without us.

But for men, it is often quite clear. They’re not the ones sending the mixed signals – it’s the women in their lives who won’t accept what they trying to say – “I won’t commit to you”.

Comedian and now relationship guru Steve Harvey says in his book “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man” that a man doesn’t show his love the way a woman does. Women will sacrifice and endure all for the sake of love. Their love is boundless, unconditional, and encompassing.

A man’s love, says Harvey, is no less powerful but expressed differently, in three ways – profess, provide, protect. First, profess. He’ll tell everyone you’re his lady, his woman, the love of his life. “In other words, “ says Harvey, “you will have a title – an official one that far extends beyond ‘this is my friend’ or ‘ this is (insert your name here).” A man who professes you as his own claims you as his, that “he has plans for you. He sees himself in a long-term, committed relationship with you.”

Next, provide. It’s ingrained in a man’s DNA, says Harvey, that “a man who loves you will bring that money home to make sure that you and the kids have what you all need. That is our role – our purpose…[that] the people we love need want for nothing.”

Last, protect. “When a man truly loves you, anybody who says, does, suggests, or even thinks about doing something offensive to you stands the risk of being obliterated. Your man will destroy anything and everything in his path to make sure that whoever disrespected you pays for it.”

So, ladies, wake up. If he doesn’t call you his lady, if he’s not by your side right now, if he didn’t put a ring on your finger, then he’s not the one. Accept that, thank him for the good times, and move on.

You deserve much better. You deserve the title, the bacon, the protection. You deserve to spend the next Valentine’s Day in someone’s warm embrace, the kind of hug that won’t let you go.

* * * * *

Poets Joel Toledo, Karen Kunawicz, and others will read poetry at the Freelance Writers’ Guild of the Philippines’ OpenBook event tomorrow night, Friday, February 17, at Chef’s Bistro, 94 Sct. Gandia, Quezon City. Entrance-plus-drink is P200. A portion of the proceeds will help fund projects for Typhoon Sendong victims.

FWGP founder Ime Morales convinced me to read a couple of poems. I don’t fancy myself a poet. But all I can do is try my best. Feel free to bring eggs and tomatoes to hurl at the stage. I can always make an omelette. ***  

Carabineers here. Steve Harvey book image here. FWGP logo here.

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pop goes the world: a slogan by any other name

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  12 January 2012, Thursday

A Slogan By Any Other Name

People are having fun with “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”!

But not necessarily the good clean kind, okay. Have you seen the user-generated photo on the Internet of a blonde-bewigged Madame Auring (who must be in her mid-60s at least), stuffed in a leopard-print swimsuit overflowing with her ample breasts, with the text, “Growing old – more fun in the Philippines?”

Fortune teller to the stars and now B-list celeb Madam Auring. Image here.

It’s only one of the many fan-made photos created in the week following the Department of Tourism’s launch of its new campaign, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”.

Print and online columnists and commenters immediately weighed in with their thoughts. Most of the arguments go like this: let’s be positive rather than negative, let’s be united and show support, the slogans are easy to remember and pronounce, and flexible enough to be used in a variety of ways (for); and it’s boring, vague, unnecessary, and plagiarized (against).

I was monitoring the Internet the day of the launch and saw the onslaught of comments; the initial pattern of public attitudes toward the slogans; and the actual shift to a “majority” stand, all within half a day online. The public perception was later reflected in the evening news and the next day in the newspapers.

Twitter, because of its immediacy, was the first to “cover” the event, and comments both for and against emerged here first. Most people were underwhelmed by the phrases, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” (international campaign) and “#1For Fun” (domestic).

A lot of what first went around was sarcastic. But then, that’s what happens when the slogans are phrased in such a way as to lend themselves to all kinds of interpretation.

Image here.

As for the accusation that the current DOT slogan was lifted from a 1951 Swiss campaign for suntanning – “It’s more fun in Switzerland!” – I think we can safely say that it was a coincidence. But then, that’s the problem when the phrase is so common and banal! It was a certainty that it had already been used somewhere, sometime, in that context.

DOT Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez Jr. has defended the campaign created for them by award-winning advertising agency BBDO by saying that they weren’t looking to be creative, but to tell the truth about the country and simply describe it because it really is “more fun” here.   But given the wealth of creative genius that this country boasts, couldn’t we have come up with something more original and interesting, or at least something less lame?

I liked the old DOT campaign better – “Wow Philippines”. (By the way, it was also created by BBDO, as was the older “More than the usual” campaign). It conveyed interest and excitement in one short word -”wow” – without making unsupportable or subjective claims such as “more”, that open the claim to unmerciless mockery, which the phrase has been subjected to.

Image here.

Perhaps if it were worded “It’s fun in the Philippines”, it would have been less likely to be made fun of.

However, compared to the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” fiasco of November 2010, this new one is an improvement. The fact that #itsmorefuninthephilippines is trending worldwide shows we are working with this and, yes, having more fun with it.

But is it going to do its job, meaning, is the slogan going to attract more tourists? The DOT should have a survey form for foreigners that they can fill out on the inbound planes – “What influenced you to visit the Philippines?” No fair claiming any increase in tourist arrivals to the slogan without accurate monitoring with a survey instrument constructed with the proper methodology!

What struck me most about the entire phenomenon was that anyone can always come up with pros and cons for any topic. It’s social construction, meaning that many aspects of our daily experience are accepted as a result of agreement among members of society. In this manner social reality is created.

I saw this occur in real time – a people constructing their social reality through computer-media communication via social media. For a communication scholar such as myself, it was intellectually orgasmic. Phd dissertation topic, anyone?

At first, perception toward the new DOT slogan was skewed toward the negative – people were making fun of the slogan. Then, influential Tweeters, bloggers, and celebs chimed in urging support for the campaign.

Later, some of the “pros” went further and berated the “cons” for being too negative and, worse, unpatriotic! Suddenly the tide turned – negative comments are now interpreted as “bashing”, masyadong nega, hindi maka-Pilipino. Even the mockery is more gentle than it was at the start; it’s somehow toned down. It’s as if a sort of bullying took place.

Image here.

Why do some ideas spread so fast and embed so strongly, like a virus? Why are some ideas accepted and others not? Writer and researcher Malcolm Gladwell might have an explanation for this in his book “The Tipping Point” (2000).

There are three types of influential persons who have rare and particular social gifts, he says, upon whose involvement “the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent”: the “connectors” are people who “link us up with the world”, who have social networks of over a hundred people; the “mavens” are “information specialists, people we rely on to connect us with new information;” and “salesmen”, the persuaders who have charisma plus powerful negotiation skills, and who tend to have “an indefinable trait that goes beyong what they say, which makes others want to agree with them.”

Once these people jump on one side of an idea or the other, they bring about the “tipping point”, the “moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” Then, others who are less influential or undecided tip that way. Then an idea becomes the dominant ideology.

For now, people are having fun with “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”. Let’s hope it brings in the visitors and their much-needed moolah.

But we have to remember that it’s not all about slogans, which are just a bunch of words strung together. The slogans need to be backed up by a genuine product – a safe and tourist-friendly Philippines, where people can truly have more fun. ***

Malcolm Gladwell portrait here.

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buddha says: whom to love

You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere.

You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection. - Buddha

Photo taken at Namaste, Baguio City, Dec 2011.

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on the brony phenomenon

This is perhaps the best Christmas gift ever – my eldest daughter Alexandra Ma. Alcasid gets published for the first time on 26 December 2011!

Her piece, “Ponies and Bronies”, appeared in the “Everyman” column of the English-language daily broadsheet Manila Standard-Today. It’s on page 4, part of the Opinion spread.

Alex’s piece explores the “brony” phenomenon – why adolescent and young men adult men have become the unexpected fanbase of the remake of the ’80s “My Little Pony” cartoon series.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Philippine Bronies group on Facebook is very active, with around 277 members and still growing. Asking around, I learned of quite a few reasons why the male members were attracted to such a colorful cartoon aimed at little girls.

At the core of it are the characters. The show’s first season starts with Twilight Sparkle, an introverted unicorn who has trouble making friends. She is sent to Ponyville in an attempt to make friends. While there, she meets the pegasi Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy, the unicorn Rarity, and the Earth ponies Applejack and Pinkie Pie. These six ponies are the center of the show and it is through their antics and adventures that Twilight Sparkle, and the viewer, learns a valuable lesson about friendship.

Mis hijas: Erika and Alexandra Alcasid, 24 Apr 2011, Makati City.

Alex is a gamer, K-pop fan, and fiction writer – watch for her forthcoming YA novel, The Agency. Here’s a taste. In this scene, Vash introduces the protagonist, Lilah, to the members of the band “Hell’s Garden”:

“This is Pride.” Vash gestured to the girl, who smiled pleasantly back at him and Lilah. “She’s the leader of the group, and coincidentally the shortest. She may look carefree, but she’s the most responsible. Also, Pride is the lead singer. Makes sense seeing as how the lead singer is always the center of attention in a music group. Next is Wrath.”

Wrath was the most oddly dressed of the group, wearing a long sleeve white jacket that covered the neck, and it had short belts strapped along the arms and the whole thing was reminiscent of a strait jacket. Wrath also wore black cargo pants and high top sneakers, and a biker mask that covered the nose and mouth. Wrath glared at the opposite wall so intensely, Lilah thought it might catch fire.

“Wrath is the drummer of the group. Her jacket and mask are symbolic of rage held at bay to the raw emotion that is released to the beat of the drums.” Vash explained.

“Wait wait…’Her’? Wrath is a girl?” Lilah looked to Vash, then back to Wrath, and was taken aback as her eyes met Wrath’s. Her eyes were cold and her expression was of pure anger. Lilah shrank back but Pride just put a hand on Wrath’s shoulder. “Your eyes. Softer…Softer…” she said, and Wrath shifted her expression. “Okay, that’s good.” Pride let go and tapped Wrath on the top of her head. Wrath now wore a blank expression which was, to Lilah, much better.

I’m a proud mom – can you tell?

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pop goes the world: the corona-vela

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  15 December 2011, Thursday

The Corona-vela

The past two weeks we were talking about KC breaking up with Papa Piolo, in tears on television, and Mo spilling the beans about himself and Rhian, in tears on Youtube.

All this seems the stuff of telenovela – so dramatic and exaggerated. But a new narrative now bursts upon the Filipino consciousness – the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona by 188 members of Congress last December 12.

The 63-year-old Corona was appointed by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the Supreme Court on 9 April 2002. On 12 May 2010, two days after the 2010 elections and only one month before the expiry of Arroyo’s term in office, she appointed him Chief Justice of the SC.

The Constitution of the Philippines bans appointments by a president two months before a presidential election and until the term expires on June 30.

Father Joaquin Bernas, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, in a January 2010 newspaper interview opined that it would be the next president after Arroyo who should appoint the next chief justice. Even with the constitutional provision requiring the President to appoint a new chief justice within 90 days after a vacancy, he said the new president would still have 45 days to decide after taking office on June 30.

Corona has recently come under fire for siding with Arroyo in various ways and frustrating the ends of justice in the cases the government has filed against her. Therefore his impeachment by 188 lawmakers, when only 95 would have sufficed.

The vast majority of Filipinos, like myself, are not lawyers. We do not know nor understand the ramifications of the law on this issue. So we require the guidance of those who are learned in the matter, scholars and practitioners of the law. But they, like the ordinary folk, differ in their interpretations.

Most public opinion goes either of two ways: one, that the government is morphing into a dictatorship, that they are undermining one of the three branches of government, that checks and balances are being eroded, that the Constitution itself is being threatened.

The other view is that no one is above the law, not even the judiciary. For it is illogical to maintain, as many of them do, that because they are judges they hold the final interpretation of the law, and can therefore do no wrong. No one is above the law, not even the law.

It seems to me that the latter perspective is the more logical and fair, as expressed in the statement of the University of the Philippines Law Student Government 2011-2012 (the whole text was posted on Facebook yesterday): “From the point-of-view of the Honorable Chief Justice, the efforts of the current administration, allegedly in concert with its allies in Congress, threaten the independence of the judiciary, and ultimately threaten our country’s democracy itself.

“We submit that it was the former President Arroyo who was in fact the greatest threat to the Judiciary’s independence in the past decade. It was the former President who was responsible for politicizing the High Court in the first place by her many appointments, his elevation to the Chief Justiceship being the most questionable.

“The fact also remains that there is a steady stream of recent decisions by the High Court has continuously blocked major attempts by the current government to pursue its platform of holding the past administration to account for its sins against the Filipino people.”

Yesterday, Corona hogged public attention with a speech, attended by court employees and officials who declared a court holiday to rally behind him. It’s a cultural trait, the drama and the hyperbole, the carefully studied move or action executed in public, accompanied by exaggerated emotion (to elicit pity) or a lack of it (to show grace under pressure).

Corona said, “Ako raw po ay isang midnight appointee. Dapat raw po, hindi ko tinanggap ang paghirang sa akin. Bakit po ba, para si Ginoong Aquino ang makapagtalaga ng kanyang sariling chief justice na hawak niya sa leeg? Mapapa-iling ka talaga.”

“Iling” is to shake one’s head in disbelief, or incredulity. Opo, CJ Corona, napapa-iling ako talaga. Because according to the Constitution, you are a midnight appointee – of Gloria Arroyo, who has a tight grip upon your neck, and who wanted her very own Chief Justice in the highest court in the land.

I am not a lawyer. I do not know Corona personally. So I look at his pictures to gain some sense of the man. His eyes are like raisins pushed into his doughy, well-fed face as he hogs public attention with his grandstanding speeches. I try to muster empathy and benefit-of-the-doubt. But it’s hard. If this were a telenovela and he was cast as the hero, di ito bebenta. Give me more KC, Mo, and Rhian.

So I focus on the facts. The situation is complex for all its legal and political implications. But it seems simple to me. His appointment was made improperly and in contravention of the highest law of the land. For that alone, Corona does not deserve to hold office. *** 

Image of CJ Corona here. Fr. Bernas here. UP LSG logo from their public Facebook Page.

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pop goes the world: mo and rhian – should we care?

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  8 December 2011, Thursday

Mo and Rhian – Should We Care?

With the populace still reeling from the revelations of actress/model KC Concepcion about her breakup from actor Piolo Pascual, now comes another teary scandal, this time from disc jockey Mo Twister.

A video of a crying Mo (his real name is Mohan Gumatay) was recently uploaded to Youtube. In it he alleges that his then-girlfriend, actress Rhian Ramos, had their child aborted last July 2010 in Singapore.

An image of Mo Twister from the video, here.

From his @djmotwister account, he Tweeted, “I have a question about abortion. Should the girl ask the guy what his thoughts are and should he have a chance to stand up for the baby?”

Image here.

He followed this with other, more controversial Tweets: “Because no amount of inconvenience could ever justify treating the supreme creation of God with murderous contempt.” “…even the dictionary defines it, in its 2nd explanation, as monstrosity.” “Young child, don’t ever think you were never good enough. You just had no choice in the matter.”

Finally, Mo posted a photo of what presumably was his own shoulder, tattooed with the words “to the wounds that will never heal, 08/07/10.” The skin was still reddened; the ink looked fresh. (Check out http://www.spot.ph.)

Mo’s shoulder, presumably. Image here.

Rhian Ramos has filed a harrassment case against Mo. She claims that his insinuation that she had an abortion violates Republic Act 9262 (Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act). She has also asked for a temporary protection order to prevent Mo from making any more such statements.

We are merely spectators in all this and have no idea, at this point, what the truth is. Did she or didn’t she? Because he certainly did.

In any case, as I’ve said before, other people’s personal lives are none of our business. But since Mo (like KC) has made a private matter public, it is now fodder for all sorts of speculation and gossip.

Is Mo’s revelation vengeance, narcissism, or simply a man in pain lashing out like a wounded tiger, regardless of whom he hurts in his turmoil?

Can any good come out of this kind of exposure of private pain?

Rather than schadenfreudenly feeding off the suffering and misery inherent in the drama, let us deconstruct the concepts that arise and allow it to flow into the river of societal discourse: in this case, the topic of abortion.

Mo raises a good question – does the father of the child have a say in an abortion? The woman usually makes the decision to have an abortion, although it also happens often that it is instigated by the man. There are many reasons why the woman would have an abortion – youth, career, lack of finances, fear of disapproval and anger of parents and family, an unwillingness or unreadiness to be a parent, and the knowledge (or assumption) that the man will not be a good father and she’ll be raising the child on her own are just some of them.

In the end, what happens is that the woman makes the choice because it is her body, and it is her right to decide what to do or not to do with that body.

But why even have an abortion when contraception would have prevented the situation in the first place?

Given that the majority of Filipinos are Roman Catholics, and that the Church wields a strong influence in politics, and that the dominant ideology embedded in this culture is based upon Roman Catholic doctrine (sorry, other kinds of Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and those of other, little, or no faith), prevailing attitudes toward abortion and contraception consider them abhorrent and sins against God.

In fact, so inflexible are the attitudes of some sectors of society that back-door influence has been brought heavily to bear against lawmakers passing the proposed Reproductive Health Bill, which in no way condones nor encourages promiscuity, homosexuality, teen – even child – pregnancies, or any of the other “abominations” ascribed to it by the paranoid.

Yet the behavior of teenagers – as opposed to attitudes – tells a different story. As of 2009, based on data from birth certificates, the number of teenage pregnancies in the Philippines was at 195,662, a 70 percent increase from the 114,205 in 1999. Of the 1.75 million live births in 2009, over 11 percent of those babies were born to teenage mothers.

According to the United Nations Population Fund’s 2011 annual report, the teenage pregnancy rate in the Philippines is at 53 births per 1,000 women aged between 15 to 19 – the highest among the six ASEAN countries.

A 2008 news article says the Philippines (where abortion is illegal) has a higher abortion rate than the United States (where abortion is legal), at 25 per 1,000 women compared to the latter’s 23 per 1,000 women. Consider also that the US has a much higher population – around 250 million in 2011; the Philippines has less than half at around 95 million.

The main drivers of the escalating teen pregnancy rate are poverty and ignorance. The RH Bill would try to minimize that, through certain of its measures that would provide sex education in schools.

The discussion of sex is still taboo in many sectors of Philippine society, even if as an activity it is frequently and enthusiastically practiced (see: Philippine population, number of offspring sired by Ramon Revilla Sr.).

But these are pressing issues that people face every day. Birth control, sex, abortion – they need to be discussed, they need to be faced, because people live and die over these matters.

We have a long, long way to go. We don’t even have divorce in this country – the only one left on the planet that refuses to let people start over.

So, should we care? Mo Twister opened up a can of squirmy things living in the dark. We need to drag this all into the light and let clarity, logic, and reason illuminate the important life issues we have long kept on the dark side of our collective soul.   ***

Teen mom image here.

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