Archive of ‘culture and arts’ category

pop goes the world: sotto controllo

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  6 September 2012, Thursday

Sotto Controllo

Senator Tito Sotto thought he had everything under control when he gave his turno en contra speeches against the reproductive health bill.

He didn’t reckon on the rest of the populace having a brain and not being afraid to use it. After being called out by professors, writers, and many other people on his plagiarism, falsehood, and a slew of other issues, he ramped up his arrogance quotient instead of admitting his mistakes, among other things claiming that he is being cyberbullied.

I don’t think the senator understands what “cyberbullying” means. It’s the sort of extremely mean behavior that can drive people to suicide, as in the cases of Megan Meier, Tyler Clementi, and Ryan Halligan, just to name a few. It’s a serious form of aggression, and the term should not be misused for its gravity to remain undiminished. Cyberbullying is not what the senator is undergoing, which is merely people pointing out his mistakes online.

“Sotto controllo” is Italian for “under control”. Too bad the senator let this issue get out of hand when an apology would have allowed everyone to move on. Remember when businessman Manny Pangilinan apologized when netizens pointed out lifted paragraphs in a speech he gave? That resulted in everyone moving on; that incident is nearly forgotten, and when recalled, what comes to mind is Pangilinan’s gracious behavior.

But how can you expect Sotto to apologize when in the first place he does not believe he did anything wrong?

As for lawmaker Rufus Rodriguez’s recent tantrum in Congress, he obviously does not have his temper sotto controllo. Ranting before that august body the other day, he raised the issue of “no quorum” claiming only 111 present when the secretariat declared there were 155, rather more than the quorum of 143. 

Rodriguez ranting in the Lower House on September 4. Image from Rappler.com here

The lawmaker raised a ruckus because he thought the RH Bill was on the agenda that day. Being against the RH Bill, his outburst was seen as a delaying tactic. But how transparently obvious and demeaning! Surely a more adroit politician could have come up with a more elegant ploy. Instead, by choosing to use blunt force rather than finesse, he’s shown the world his character.

I saw Congressman Rodriguez in action somewhere in the provinces, and he was also upset then, haranguing someone because he could not get immediate action from them on a certain matter. I was appalled to see someone of his stature behave that way. It was juvenile. Wait, I take that back – it’s an insult to juveniles. My daughters had ceased having tantrums by the time they were three years old.

No one is perfect, and stress and worry can certainly cause anyone to lose their temper. But a frequent and consistent lack of self-control, especially at work, is detrimental above all to the person who can’t keep his or her cool. How can anyone still respect a screamer? Why should their authority be recognized when they can’t even govern themselves?

Neither did broadcaster Korina Sanchez have her snark sotto controllo when on her DZMM radio show she mentioned “maiitim na mga maligno” aiming for the post of Interior Secretary, considered by many as alluding to Vice-President Jejomar Binay.

The Vice-President’s daughter, Nancy Binay, addressed the issue on Twitter thus: “Aminado naman po kami na maliit at maitim ang daddy ko pero hindi naman po ata tama na tawagin ni Korina na maligno siya.” Now that is having the situation under control. That’s class. That’s manners. Unfortunately, both are in short supply nowadays, along with restraint and delicadeza. If only we could order cases – no, container vans – of the stuff.

Korina may have been defending her man [her husband is newly-appointed Interior Secretary Mar Roxas], but does he need defending? From what? All her comment sounded like was unmitigated spite.

Filipino culture frowns upon losing temper. Not only is it considered rude, vulgar, and ill-mannered, it also leads to loss of face as it causes embarrassment to the person on the receiving end of the outburst, who will then tend to refuse to cooperate or do so only with resentment.

Self-control is necessary for anyone to earn others’ respect. True leaders speak softly and mildly, because it is their trustworthiness and ethical rectitude, their gravitas, that will ensure that they will be obeyed.

Those who cannot admit their mistakes, those who yell and fling unwarranted insults, those who cannot rein in their faults, are not true leaders.  They’re certainly not the kind the Philippines needs. ***  

Tito Sotto meme image here. Korina Sanchez and Mar Roxas image here.

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pop goes the world: one class, three palanca essays

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

One Class, Three Palanca Essays

There is a wealth of stories in the places we call home.

“I am always drawn to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods,” wrote Truman Capote in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and this seems to be a universal yearning. For what are autobiography and memoir in a certain sense but a return to one’s home, an exploration of memory that time has washed over with a sheen of sentiment, an Instagram photo rather than a jarringly colorful image.

The concept of home is so powerful that works that deal with it seldom fail to capture interest. This is true for three Carlos Palanca Memorial Award-winning essays from last year and this.

Last year’s winner for first was myself for “The Turn for Home: Memories of Santa Ana Park”, which explores my early adulthood as a wife and young mother lived beside the now-defunct Makati racetrack.

The second place winner was Jeena Rani Marquez-Manaois’s “River of Gold”, memories of her youth in Cagayan de Oro. Here’s an excerpt from her draft from 2010:

“This golden fish was not some prince under an evil spell. It had been a golden fish all its life in the Cagayan River, which was why, according to the grown-ups who explained it to me, “de Oro” became a part of the city’s name.

“Some of the older people of the city swore they had seen it. The colossal fish had emerged from the Cagayan River sometime in the 1950s. It was so huge that all of Cagayan de Oro City shook violently in a mighty quake when it came out of the depths of the Cagayan River.

“Those who had seen it in their childhood claim it was not a fish; it couldn’t have been because of its towering height and the power of its majestic movement. It was a sleeping red dragon which lives in an invisible river beneath the San Agustin Cathedral on one side of Carmen Bridge.”

This year’s first prize winner is Hammed Q. Bolotaolo, a well-traveled man with an interesting past spent in Malate and a present spent roaming around the world. His winning esssay combines elements from his “Malate” (2010) and “Of Legends” (2011) pieces.

From his “Malate” draft:

“I also remember one bar along Adriatico having a logo of a small, partially damaged plane in blue neon lights, with fractured windows and wings and busted rudder and propeller. It was no longer working except for its flashing beacon. Whenever I found myself staring at it as a young boy, I wondered whether the plane had really crashed on that spot.  It looked real from what I could tell. And I never asked my mother. But such is Malate: a fusion of illusion and reality, a dreamy place of incandescent lights, of virile laughter and vigor.”

All different places, different homes. But these three pieces have one thing in common: they have their origins in a couple of creative non-fiction writing graduate classes taught at the University of the Philippines College of Arts and Letters by professor emerita Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo.

Dr. Hidalgo, often called “Ma’am Jing” by her students, is one of the foremost teachers and writers of CNF. In those classes held during the first and second semesters of 2010-2011, she not only guided us in the technique of our craft, she also encouraged us to tap deep within ourselves for the creative impetus that would allow us to write not only with lyricism and beauty, but with truth and honesty.

For the first class, her instructions were “write about a place;” during the second, “write about a personal memory.”  We wrote, critiqued each other’s work, and in the process shared food, laughter, and our lives.

Those classes were home in the way no other classes were, and we were family to each other.

It is perhaps the first and only time that a class under one professor has produced three Palanca Award-winning essays. I hope this is mentioned during Palanca Awards Night on September 1. How rare and beautiful is that?

It would be a fitting tribute to a well-beloved teacher, who nurtured her students and helped them fulfill the potential of their talents and make their own contributions to Philippine arts and letters.

Thank you, Ma’am Jing, and happy birthday (August 21). We couldn’t have done it without you.   *** 

taste more:

corner tree cafe

For those who have adopted a vegetarian diet, or are looking to try something new, Corner Tree Cafe offers vegetarian fine dining with a taste of Morocco and the Mediterranean.

The interiors are comfortably dim, with tealights at every table. Perfect for quiet tete-a-tetes.

A young author writes her novel by candlelight.

The Spanakopita is creamy inside and crunchy outside.

corner street cafe camote fries

Camote fries – not your usual.

corner street cafe vegetarian meat loaf

 Vegetarian meat loaf entree.

It’s interesting enough to try out. Corner Tree Cafe is at Miladay Building, 150 Jupiter Street, Makati.

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daily art: essay-a-day

Inspired by Summer Pierre’s one-page story writing exercise, I started an essay-a-day daily art project, a diary-slash-creative non-fiction effort.

Summer’s method of using keyword flashcards to choose a topic is interesting but I’m too lazy to make flashcards. I suppose instead of flashcards that I’d have to carry around, I could flip through a book and point to a word.

For now I rely on serendipitous random happenstance of whatever floats to the surface of my mind when faced with a blank sheet of paper, though I do have a theme going on now; all the pieces start with “In [add name of city].”

Here’s my second entry in a pocket plain Moleskine.

Materials: vintage Sheaffer Agio fountain pen inked with Noodler’s Black Swan in Australian Roses, Derwent Coloursoft pencils.

I follow Summer’s rules of writing whatever comes first to mind and no editing. The length of the piece is constrained by the size of the page, although I’ve done a two-page piece.

I posted the picture above on Instagram and Twitter, and tweeted a link to Summer’s article. That got a retweet and a favorite from Summer herself! (Follow her on Twitter @summerpierre).

I asked if she didn’t mind that I adopted her idea.

Her reply? “@jennyortuoste of course not! I am THRILLED you took to it!”

Art is global and knows no boundaries. 

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pop goes the world: a primer on the national artist award

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste

Published in two parts: Manila Standard-Today,  19 July 2012 and Manila Standard-Today, 26 July 2012

A Primer on the National Artist Award

The Philippines was plunged into mourning by the recent death of the media-dubbed “Comedy King”, actor Rodolfo “Dolphy” Quizon.

To a degree unprecedented, the nation avidly followed the 24/7 media reports and coverage of his illness, death, wake, and funeral rites over several weeks until its culmination with the interment of the actor in his massive metal casket last July 15.

The Dolphenomenon spawned renewed interest in the actor’s life and his career. Born into an impoverished family, from an early age he had to work selling peanuts at theaters to support himself and loved ones.

Given a break to learn the thespian’s craft and allowed to hone his technique in vaudeville skits, he learned to sing, dance, and act, and found he had a knack for comedy. This he parlayed into fame and fortune with his drag-dressed portrayal of gays and carefree enactment of poor men in films and on television.

Not only was Dolphy an excellent all-around actor (all too rare in these times where mere good looks without talent are enough to merit media exposure), he was also that uncommon thing, a genuinely good man, who had not a bad or mean thing to say about anybody, who welcomed all into his fold, who emptied his pockets to help those less fortunate.

It is not surprising then that a grateful and sentimental nation wishes to honor such an admirable man in any way it can. Thus the clamor for the conferment upon Dolphy of the National Artist Award.

This was debated as early as 2009. In a July 5 article that appeared in another publication, former NCCA executive director Cecille Guidote-Alvarez said in a radio interview that were it not for the disapproval of Dr. Nicanor Tiongson at the second stage of deliberations, Dolphy could have received the award back then.

A noted author, academician, and critic, Dr. Tiongson was once vice-president and artistic director of the CCP in the late 1980s to mid 1990s and chairman of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board.

Tiongson replied soon after saying that the “accusations” made by Guidote-Alvarez are “selective and misleading,” making it “appear that one person (in this case, myself) can actually engineer the outcome of the second stage of the National Artist selection process, when in reality it is a council of about 20 experts representing various disciplines that chooses, through majority and secret vote, the candidates to be short-listed for the final deliberations.

The selection of a National Artist is done in three stages by three bodies and it is simply impossible for any one person to influence all of them into making the same decision.”

Tiongson also said Guidote-Alvarez’s revelation was a “grave breach of the confidentiality” since she was co-chair of the 2009 National Artist Awards Selection Committee, and questioned its timing, made three years after the fact.

Tiongson also clarified that the opinion he expressed on Dolphy’s body of work “in no way diminishes my continuing admiration and respect for Dolphy as a most talented comedian and a very kind human being.”

The conflict between the two led to more questions on the award, its criteria, and its very purpose.

What is the National Order of Artists?

According to information on the National Commission for Culture and the Arts website, it is “the highest national recognition given to Filipino individuals who have made significant contributions to the development of Philippine arts; namely, Music, Dance, Theater, Visual Arts, Literature, Film and Broadcast Arts, and Architecture and Allied Arts. The order is jointly administered by the NCCA and Cultural Center of the Philippines and conferred by the President of the Philippines upon recommendation by both institutions.”

What are the criteria?

Apart from citizenship requirements, the National Artist award is to be given to “artists who through the content and form of their works have contributed in building a Filipino sense of nationhood…who have pioneered in a mode of creative expression or style, thus, earning distinction and making an impact on succeeding generations of artists…who have created a substantial and significant body of works and/or consistently displayed excellence in the practice of their art form thus enriching artistic expression or style; and…who enjoy broad acceptance through prestigious national and/or international recognition, such as the Gawad CCP Para sa Sining, CCP Thirteen Artists Award, and NCCA Alab ng Haraya; critical acclaim and/or reviews of their works; respect and esteem from peers.”

The NCCA also recognizes folk and traditional artists through the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan or the National Living Treasures Award. Established in April 1992 through Republic Act No. 7335, the GAMABA honors artists who “reflect the diverse heritage and cultural traditions that transcend their beginnings to become part of our national character” and engage in a traditional art uniquely Filipino and characterized by a “high level of technical and artistic excellence.” Their presence is required at NCCA events such as “the Philippine National Arts Month, the National Heritage Month, and other important national and regional cultural celebrations.”

Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said last month that President Benigno Aquino III “personally believes that Dolphy has contributed immensely to the arts. And in fact, in his words, he has contributed tremendously to what we call ‘art for man’s sake’.”

Since it is the NCCA and the CCP that recommends the awardees after much research and discussion, the President himself cannot give the award. Lacierda also cited the temporary restraining order that the Supreme Court issued in 2009, after a group of national artists led by Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera and Dr. Virgilio Almario accused former president Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo of “grave abuse of discretion” for adding the names of director Carlo J. Caparas, Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, architect Francisco Mañosa, and fashion designer Jose “Pitoy” Moreno to the list of National Artist awardees.

The President did give Dolphy an honor that was within the scope of his powers to confer. In November 2010, within a few months of his assumption of office, the President invited the actor to Malacañang Palace to receive the Order of the Grand Collar of the Golden Heart, which was first awarded to humanitarian Helen Keller in 1955.

At the occasion, the comedian joked that he no longer wished to be given the National Artist award, and that at his age, a “National Arthritis Award” would be enough.

It is clear that the conferment of the National Artist award is a multi-layered process that cannot – and should not, like Macapagal-Arroyo tried to do – be influenced by the head of state or partisan politics.

There are strict criteria regarding its bestowal that must be honored if the award is to have any credibility. If it can be conferred without a rigorous and objective selection process, if it can be swayed by sentiment or clamor, it is worthless.

Dolphy could have been given the award upon further deliberation after 2009, if so deemed worthy by the selection committee. However, they could not do so because of the TRO issued by the Supreme Court.

At the moment, then, it is up to the SC to take the next step, so that the NCCA and the CCP can get on with its task of sifting the nominees for this supreme cultural honor. It is too late to award it to the living Dolphy; perhaps he may still receive it posthumously?

As to its purpose of the National Artist award, that remains part of the ongoing discourse. But if we agree that a nation’s art contains and reflects its heart and soul, then it is essential for us to honor its creators, either through such an award, conferred by the state, or through popular acclaim, manifested in the tears and laughter that accompanied the beloved Dolphy to his final rest.   ***

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pop goes the world: anthology

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  5 July 2012, Thursday

Anthology

Last week I received a final “call for manuscripts” notice from University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication dean Dr. Rolando Tolentino, who is collecting critical, personal, popular, and creative non-fiction works for an anthology called “The Ballads of Malakas and Maganda: Marcosian and Imeldific Essays.”

This is a sequel to the “Mondo Marcos” volumes, published in 2010 and edited by Tolentino and veteran journalist Frank Cimatu.

Such a collection would be a significant addition to the histories and memoirs written about the period, a time of struggle and pain, a time that many young people do not know about.

If the stories of that time are unknown or forgotten, how will generations to come benefit from the lessons learned during that time?

Imelda Marcos’s 83rd birthday rolled around last July 2, with a concomitant barrage of posts on social media of pictures of her in the bloom of youth. The comments were mostly flattering, referring to her beauty and singing voice.

At the height of their power, she positioned herself as the semi-divine Maganda of Filipino creation myth, with Ferdinand Marcos as the counterpart Malakas.

Musician David Byrne, who in 2005 recorded a two-CD rock opera with Fatboy Slim called “Here Lies Love” revolving around the Imelda story, has blogged about Imelda’s deliberate assumption of this persona.

Having seen portraits of the Marcos couple in Malacañang, Ilocos, and Leyte, he wrote about their depiction as the “ur-couple of the Philippines…the strong man and the beautiful woman,” with Imelda cast as a “nurturing goddess.”

Many from Generation Y, the millenials, have never even heard of the Marcos couple, except as names in history books. Imelda is still a congresswoman, and even launched a fashion line in 2006 using her recycled belongings; she is known to the youth mostly as some sort of celebrity. Her legacy and that of Ferdinand – Martial Law – is shrugged off as a historical tidbit.

Those who were at the forefront of the struggle during the 1970s will never forget what they endured during Martial Law. One of them is lawyer Eduardo Araullo, who in his student years at UP was a member of the Left. He fought against the dictatorship with blood and bone and life and love laid on the line.

Imprisoned for acts of “subversion”, he recalls being doused with water from cannons, beaten by the military with bats and truncheons, hauled off to detention centers in handcuffs. He tends to downplay his experiences, saying he knew what he was in for.

He was twenty and in the underground when he was arrested by the Metrocom and taken to Camp Crame, where his father visited him. He was asked, “Kaya mo?”

“Kaya ko,” he answered.

Prison was boring, Attorney Ed recalls, and the inmates filled their time with games and sports – basketball, table tennis, Monopoly. He was not released until six months later. He went underground again, and later became a labor lawyer.

Why did he fight against martial law, I asked.

“Because it was wrong.”

What else had he been prepared to give up?

“I was ready to die.”

Would he do it again?

“Yes.”

What did you learn?

“Stand up for what you believe in. It’s worth it.”

It is hard to elicit much from him beyond cerebral responses. I ask, “What did you feel?” Attorney Ed replies, “It was an intellectual exercise.”

Much remains locked inside him. I feel I can go no farther. He will not take me there.

I take my leave of him and wait by the curb for a ride.

He follows me, and whispers, “I still grieve for them, for those who died. I always remember.”

This and similar stories of those years should never be forgotten, because too much went into the weaving of them. Too many lessons were learned that need to be graven in our hearts. Too many people suffered and died for their legacy to be ignored.

If it takes books for us to remember or learn about those years, then we look forward to the publication of Tolentino and Cimatu’s forthcoming anthology.  *** 

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pop goes the world: “it’s just grammar.”

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  28 June 2012, Thursday

“It’s Just Grammar.”

How essential is communication to a corporation?

How important is it for today’s workers to possess communication skills?

The answer seems to vary among the different sectors. There are private corporations, whose revenues depend upon the sales of products, that place such a high value upon communication that they retain high-powered advertising agencies to craft the strategies that enable their message to be transmitted to a vast audience using mass media, thereby providing potential customers with information about their products.

They also hire employees who have good communication skills, both written and spoken, who create their messages for their internal audiences. Often, the employees who have the best communication skills become the spokespersons, receptionists, and greeters – the ones who face the public.

There seems to be a larger gap in this respect when it comes to some public agencies and corporations. The concept of “branding” is almost unknown or haphazardly practiced. Communication and communication skills may not be included in their overall strategic plan. Thus, policy emanating from the top is inadequately cascaded both internally – to their employees – and externally – to their customers or the general public.

Organizations that fail to see communication as an essential aspect of their corporate strategy are likely to transmit messages that are misunderstood by both their internal and external publics.

What is “communication”?

As a concept, it is easy to understand – it is simply the sharing of meaning.

Effective communication, the kind that achieves its objectives to inform and persuade, should be as uncomplicated and unambiguous as possible. Use of jargon, beloved among the business and technical crowd as a symbol of belonging to a special in-group, should be eschewed because it tends to alienate others and is difficult to interpret.

Effective communication is carefully presented and flawless in terms of grammar and style.

Quite often, the number-crunchers within an organization scoff, “What’s so important about grammar?”

Grammar is integral to the use of language, both written and spoken. Language is the tool humans use to communicate. And it is through its communication strategies that an organization shows its face to the public.

If an organization is willing to be sloppy in this respect, then they take the risk that this failing will lead to the public’s negative perception of the organization and its mission and activities.

As a consequence, damage control has to be applied. The cycle continues ad infinitum.

That’s bad for the organization; it dances “one step forward, two steps back”, retarding forward momentum and wasting time by having to apply a fix.

But it’s good for writers and spin doctors – more work for them.

It would be great to see a greater awareness of the importance of communication in the public sector. Among the public agencies that already acknowledge the need for excellent communication skills are Malacañang Palace and the Department of Tourism.

Good communication is so important to the Palace that it formed the Presidential Communications Group, under which are the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (with no less than secretary rank given to its current head, the Presidential Spokesman, and the Presidential Communications Operations Office.

The Group has spruced up the official Palace websites and launched social media campaigns on Facebook and Twitter in order to get its messages to as many people as possible.

Other public agencies such as the Senate and Congress have followed suit.

The DoT relied on the expertise of an advertising agency for its “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” global campaign – our country’s face to the world.

May the excellent example set by these agencies be followed by others; it would be a great service to the public indeed if effective communication by government was the norm rather than the exception. *** 

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pop goes the world: k-12: yay or nay?

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  21 June 2012, Thursday

K-12: Yay or Nay?

The first batch of students under the new K-12 education scheme trooped to school this year, with feedback divided on the merits of an additional two years for basic education.

The rationale for implementing K-12, according to government, is to bring our country in line with world standards in education, where the norm is six years for high school compared to the four we used to require.

The average age of our high school graduates was 16 to 17. So some parents welcome the move for a longer high school period, saying that 18-year-olds would be more prepared for the rigors of college.

The naysayers groan under the additional burden of two years of school fees and expenses. Large families would feel the heaviest impact.

Not only should household finances be considered but also the readiness of government to support this new scheme with infrastructure and personnel. Most reports and statistical data show that both are inadequate at the moment to handle the increased load.

Varying sources claim the shortage of classrooms to be from more than 18,000 to over 97,000. There is also an alarming lack of sanitary facilities such as water and bathrooms, equipment such as seats, and instructional materials including books. There is also a shortage of qualified teachers. The pupil-to-teacher ratio in high school is 35 to 1, compared to Vietnam’s 18 and Indonesia’s 12.

Consider also that kindergarten teachers have been hired at a measly contractual rate of P3,000 per month. Apart from this being unfair, the caveat is that you get what you pay for. Are we willing to take the risk that the teachers instructing our children are not necessarily the most qualified, just the ones most willing to work for low pay?

The additional financial burden on families should not be disregarded. In a September 2011 article by Celia Reyes and Aubrey Taguba, researchers of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, the poverty rate in 2009 was cited as being 26.5 percent.

In other words, one-quarter of our people are, by various economic and developmental indicators, considered “poor”.

In addition to the other causes of poverty, development is delayed or forestalled by various “man-made and natural crises” such as typhoons, which wreak havoc with devastating effect year after year, with some estimates putting the cost at P30 billion.

This ties in with the statement of the PIDS researchers that poverty is “very much an agricultural phenomenon,” with farmers constantly struggling against bad weather, pests, and the negative impact of global warming.

Many of them who are not blessed with good harvests, and those from other sectors below the poverty line, will be hard-pressed for the survival basics, and will let go of expenses such as schooling. Though public school is free, parents and guardians must still provide for their students’ daily needs – food, transportation, and incidental expenses.

Is it a wonder that the dropout rate among youth 12 to 15 years old is around 40 percent?  Millions of people will grow up to be illiterate or only semi-literate; what will be their chances of finding decent jobs? They also pose a possible burden to the state in terms of the latter having to provide funding for social programs that provide livelihood training, greater fund allocation for cash transfer and other assistance, and the like.

A couple years back, I taught college English to freshman and sophomore students in a private university in Makati. I thought I was to teach basic writing skills; instead, I was issued a grammar textbook. I was appalled at how many of my students, aged 16 to 18, lacked knowledge of the fundamentals of grammar.

One day, one of my students asked me, “Can I learn English in two months?”

I told him, “You have been studying English since preschool. If you have not learned to speak it fluently by now, then the system has failed you.”

I quit that same day. I hadn’t realized what I was up against.

Neither can all private schools guarantee a good education. My daughter attends a nun-run private school in Makati. Through the years, she’s had some English teachers whose grammar and pronunciation aren’t of the highest quality; there are times when the students speak better than the teachers. The same goes for science and mathematics.

We need to be sure that students are not going to school hungry; hunger dulls concentration. Other countries provide free school lunches, something we do not even dream of when some classes are held under the trees.

We need school buildings and equipment to be upgraded.

We need more and better-qualified teachers who are paid good wages that uphold their dignity and compensate them fairly for their heroic work of molding the country’s future citizens.

More than “quantity” education, we need quality education. *** 

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pop goes the world: dressed in mixed messages

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  7 June 2012, Thursday

Dressed in Mixed Messages

An advertising campaign designed to sell clothes backfired when social media users lashed out at the offensive message they said was embodied in the ads.

Fashion retail store Bayo’s “What’s Your Mix?” campaign, launched a few days ago, featured “mixed-race” models. Each image carried taglines purporting to reveal the exact lineage mix of each model – “50 % Filipino, 50% Australian,” “80% Chinese, 20 % Filipino,” and so on. Other nationalities featured, said to be mixed with Filipino, were British, Indian, and African.

A “manifesto”, as the chunk of advertising copy beside Fil-Aussie model Jasmine Curtis-Smith’s photo was called, emphasized the point of the campaign : “This is just all about mixing and matching  – nationalities, moods, personalities, and of course your fashion pieces. Call it biased, but the mixing and matching of different nationalities with Filipino blood is almost a sure formula for someone beautiful and world-class.”

Bayo ad with “manifesto” here.

I don’t get how mixing races equates with mixing a long-sleeved floral blouse with denim cut-offs. It’s doesn’t make any sense at all. An advertising campaign seeks to inform people about a product and persuade them to buy it. Bayo’s confused effort, instead, was a turn-off.

The Internet provides, among other things, something that mass media did not have before – instant feedback. Much of the commentary posted online was negative, citing issues of racism and colonial mentality.

On Twitter, user @radikalchick’s take was that “100% think the Bayo campaign is tanga. It has lost what it had going for it when Lea Salonga was its endorser. #stopbuyingBayo.” Aina Banaag said the campaign was “completely off and racist;” “Joshua”: “The message is…you have to be mixed race Filipino to be beautiful? WTF?”; Grace D. Calara: “To Bayo: I’m 100% Filipino. I am proud of my race and I consider myself beautiful. I don’t need to be of mixed lineage. #bayosucksbigtime.”

Others pointed out that the message was confusing because the text of the “manifesto” was badly-written and difficult to interpret.

Twitter user @butnotquite said, “Had they fine-tuned that copy, this could have actually worked. As it is, it’s just patronizing and divisive.”

@JimLibiran: “It should have been tested in FGDs (focus group discussions). It must have been conceptualized as a Pinoy pride thing targeting the moneyed mixed-race Pinoys.” “Lloyd” said:“…Wonder what message it will send to teenage girls. #worried.” Mark David Dehesa: “Intent vs. execution gap = miscommunication.”

The story was posted yesterday on online tech news portal Mashable. The advice given by international commenters was to steer clear of using race to sell products.

Said Brian Perkins: “That first paragraph is cringe-worthy, though. “We always have a fighting chance of making it in the world arena of almost all aspects.” Except creative writing, apparently. Before that it says you’re pretty much going to be beautiful and world-class if you’re mixed with Filipino. LMAO. You can mix and match all you want, but please don’t mix race with ad campaigns like this – it’s not a good match.”

Bayo ads with other mixed-race models here.

 Another Mashable reader, Michelle West, said: “Don’t use race as an advertising tool. It just comes off as creepy and/or patronizing. These things happen when advertisers make the wrong, or overly sweeping, assumptions about how their target audience sees or wants to see themselves.”

Was it just misinterpretation? People’s reactions show that race, identity, and beauty are still sore issues in the national psyche, and advertising folks seem to be unsure how to handle them.

Writer Yvette Tan tweeted, “Because people seem to be having fun with percentages, I’m 75% Fujianese, 25% Bulakeña, 2.5% Spanish, 2.5% Mongolian, and 100% bagsak sa Math.

“That being said, let’s not be too harsh on Bayo. The campaign failed. It was a stupid move, but one borne out of ignorance, not hate.”

Bayo used to be all about simplicity. The brand name itself is the Visayan word for “dress”. Nothing could be more direct to the point. Their clothes are classy and no-frills. But with intense competition coming not only from fellow Filipino brands but also from trendy foreign ones such as the upscale Zara and Mango and the cut-price and uber-popular Forever 21, it seems Bayo felt the need to stand out with what they thought was an edgy, novel concept – but one that unfortunately had the opposite of the desired effect.

Remember the Bela Padilla-FHM cover flap last February? The fair-skinned Padilla was shot against a background of dark-skinned beauties. It took Internet flak for being racist and the issue with that cover was pulled from newsstand shelves.

It’s a big, sad, and sorry lesson for Bayo.

To advertisers, the message is crystal. Colonial mentality is out. Stop trying to make it trend. Stop using controversy rooted in insensitivity to promote products. Stop indulging “facism,” “ageism”, and the glorification of youth and Western standards of appearance. Be real. Be natural. You’ll be more appreciated. *** 

taste more:

how i spent my u.s. vacation (short story)

Heartfelt thanks to Palanca Award-winning writer Ichi Batacan for encouraging me to write this story, and Kenneth Yu for publishing it last April on his Philippine Genre Stories website.

Much of this is based on true stories. Truth, after all, is always stranger than fiction, precisely because it really happened.

Excerpt:

So. The girl, I was told, was not Silva’s but another man’s – the woman’s husband. She had left him because he was beating her. Late one night she crept out of their shack carrying only a duffel bag of clothes and her young daughter; hitching up the skirt of her duster, she got astride Silva’s Yamaha motorcycle and off they sped into the night and a new life. Only for him to disappear mysteriously five years later.

Ray said, but that’s not what really happened.

You mean Silva didn’t run off with another woman?

No, said Ray. Tatay’s friend told me this:

A Spyderco Endura knife like this one features in the story

Boyong Silva was a neighbor of theirs. He was a drunkard. He spent the days getting soused with cronies, who, like him, relied on their wives to keep them fed and sheltered in the barong-barongs, the shacks of scrounged wood and galvanized iron that littered their community like rat’s nests.

He’d come home late. The wife would be asleep. She took in laundry and would be tired to death after a day bent over a washtub, scrubbing clothes by hand, the chemicals in the harsh detergent bareta eating into her hands, pitting the rough brown skin with red wounds that stung when she immersed her hands in water. After that she’d iron the dry clothes. The damp, the heat, the hard labor, they take a toll.

Read the entire story here.

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