Archive of ‘current events’ category

pop goes the world: it takes a village

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 25 October 2012, Thursday

It Takes A Village

“It takes a village to raise a child.”

Said to be an African proverb, and famously used as the title of Hillary Clinton’s 1996 book on her vision for the children of America, the phrase refers to how collective action in  behalf of the children of a community is required in order to raise them, indeed in some cases ensure their survival.

Anthropologists have described how some African cultures, such as the !Kung, bring up their children in a communal setting, sharing effort and resources to nurture them physically (by providing food, shelter, and protection) and mentally (through socialization, children learn their culture’s norms, values, and methods of survival).

The !Kung people, or Bushmen, of the Kalahari desert of Namibia, Angola, and Botswana. Image here.

There is an emotional component as well. In a culture where children are free to wander in and out of the homes in the community, where they are certain that they will be fed and given a bed in whatever home they end up at night, they will feel loved and safe.

In modern society and its emphasis on the nuclear family, this method is no longer practiced as such except in certain activities such as education (in general, children are schooled in groups) and charity work.

For charity work to be successful, volunteers are needed to get things done – kindhearted people who take an interest in the concerns of needy children and are moved to make a positive contribution to their lives.

We find many examples of volunteerism in the activities of charitable organizations and companies practicing CSR (corporate social responsibility).

One such initiative is the Tahan-Tahanan halfway home for pediatric cancer, chronic illness, and organ transplant patients who live outside of Metro Manila.

Located at the East Avenue Medical Center and funded in part by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, the facility opened its doors on Valentine’s Day 2011.

The young patients are cared for by EAMC’s multi-disciplinary Pediatric Oncology team, headed by physician Ma. Victoria M. Abesamis and comprising pediatric oncologists, nurses, psychologists, teachers, parents, and volunteers.

Tahan-Tahanan patients with their caregivers and nurses. Also with them are PCSO general manager Atty. Jose Ferdinand M. Rojas II and Dr. Marvie Abesamis (in floral print top).

Tahan-Tahanan patients and their caregivers receive free board and lodging in safe, clean, and home-like surroundings. The facility also has playground equipment and age-appropriate educational toys.

To encourage patients’ development and to make their stay pleasant, the children are engaged in a comprehensive enrichment program that provides play and study activities such as arts and crafts, sports, music, theater, dance, and home-study.

Skills training is also given to the family members and caregivers.

Since it was established, the PCSO-EAMC Tahan-Tahanan program has helped 638 patients. Much of its sustainability as a program is due to the selflessness of volunteers.

As part of the PCSO’s 78th anniversary celebration this month, the children of Tahan-Tahanan were treated yesterday to a party at the facility, where they were entertained by volunteer performers.

Garie Concepcion (who came with her mother, Grace Ibuna) sang “It’s a Wonderful World;” Brazilian model Lua (who is fluent in Tagalog), sang “Nandito Ako” and led the parlor games; Dayloe Ranario of the cast of “Teen St. Pedro Calungsod: The Musical” told the story of the Philippines’ newest saint; and Stauro Punongbayan of Rotary Midwest-Diliman gave a short talk on earthquake preparedness. 

Garie Concepcion (daughter of actor Gabby Concepcion) sings.

PCSO general manager lawyer Jose Ferdinand M. Rojas II and jazz musician Boy Katindig spoke to the children about the value of courage in the face of adversity.

The situation was especially poignant for Katindig, who revealed their family’s fight with cancer – his father died of the disease, his sister is in remission, and his daughter is undergoing chemotherapy – hence his support for the mission of Tahan-Tahanan. 

Boy Katindig with the Jollibee mascot. In the background are Lua and “Teen St. Pedro” cast member Emer Greengon, the event’s program emcee.  

The children were bright and cheerful. They participated in the games, sang and danced with Lua and Garie, and correctly answered Stauro’s questions about the story he told them. They are children just like our own, except that they are suffering life-threatening illnesses.

They belong to our village, our community. They, and others like them, deserve our help.

* * * * *

Volunteers are always needed at Tahan-Tahanan. For more information on how to help, or on admission requirements, call PCSO’s Minette Fernandez of the Special Projects Department at (63-2) 846-8879, or EAMC’s Maggie at (63-2) 928-0611 loc. 711 or visit eamc.doh.gov.ph. *** 

Tahan-Tahanan photos taken with an iPhone 4S.

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pop goes the world: and a little child shall lead them

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today18 October 2012, Thursday

And A Little Child Shall Lead Them

A 14-year-old girl was shot in the head for wanting to go to school.

Something that our children take for granted and even complain about – an education – is to another child who does not have it a precious thing to fight for and die for.

Malala Yousafzai was shot last week by Taliban assassins because she defied a Taliban ban against female education in the Swat Valley of Pakistan.

Also injured were her schoolmates Kainat Ahmed and Shazia Ramzan.

“I don’t mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is education. And I’m afraid of no one,” Malala has said before.

The young activist first came to public attention in 2009, in a documentary about the shutdown by the Taliban of the girls’ school she attended.

Her father operated one of the last girls’ schools in the area, and since then she and her family have been the target of Taliban ire.

The world erupted in indignation and anger after her shooting. Among the comments on Facebook were those of Curt Olsen – “Only a coward would shoot an unarmed child” – and Edward Clements – “She should be awarded the Nobel Prize for such bravery.”

Others pointed to the need to bring the Taliban to account for the human rights abuses they continue to perpetrate in the name of religion.

“A very brave girl,” Facebook commenter Andy Poljevka called her. “The world needs to rise up against this craziness.”

Sudhansu Jena lauded Malala’s courage: “No words to appreciate the ‘fight for right.’ The cowards who shot at her are highly condemnable.”

Roger Greatorex opined, “She could be the turning point in the struggle against the so-called ‘Taliban.’ How ironic that ‘Taliban’ means ‘students’ in Arabic.”

 Salt Lake Tribune editorial cartoon here.

The Pakistani government will pay for Malala’s treatment at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in the United Kingdom, where she arrived last Monday for the removal of a bullet lodged in her brain.

Meanwhile, as Malala was being airlifted to the United Kingdom for medical treatment, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner jumped from the edge of space to freefall down to earth, breaking his 24-mile fall with a parachute and, in a show of incredible skill, landing on his feet.

This, said some netizens, comparing the record-breaking skydive to the shooting of Malala, shows the difference between science and religion.

That is too simplistic a comparison. Islam condemns the murder of innocents. The Taliban are extremists and in no way represent the whole of the Islamic world. But what the two events do show are the triumph of science over religious fundamentalism, of curiosity and the quest for knowledge over intolerance and fanaticism, and of the human desire to explore new frontiers against the human need to cling to old traditions even when they are cruel and destructive.

Malala is the same age as my younger daughter, who is a high school sophomore, now taking her quarterly exams and preparing for the annual school play and cheerdance competition.

Halfway around the world, a girl who could have been her classmate and friend is on the Taliban hitlist for wanting and striving for what my daughter has, an education and a normal life, the chance to be what she can be, perhaps even a spacejumper like Baumgartner.

What is clear is that the abuse of women and children around the world must stop. Malala na ito. (This is at its worst.) This is a battle that must be waged, with constancy and vigilance, on the platform of public opinion so that people may be made aware and changes come about.

Activists denounce the attack on Malala. Image here. 

This is a fight, and those who care about the rights of women and children are all its defenders.

There are many cultural and political attitudes that were once thought to be ineradicable, such as apartheid and its policy of white supremacy in South Africa and totalitarian communism in Soviet Russia and East Germany. But both were slowly eliminated over time and through fervent struggle.

Religious intolerance will be harder to conquer. Hatred, one of its manifestations, will always lurk in a corner of the human heart.

The way to evolving into a better society that treats all its members with equality and respect is to prevent hatred and injustice from winning.

We need to be brave enough to keep on fighting for the rights of women and children, because if a child like Malala has the courage, then so must we.  *** 

Image of Malala here. Image of Felix’s record-breaking jump here.

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pop goes the world: house rules

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  11 October 2012, Thursday

House Rules

The September 30 editorial “Of lemons and cowards” published on the University of Santo Tomas’s “The Varsitarian” student publication website, assaulted the pro-reproductive health bill stance of some professors from two other Roman Catholic universities and in so doing did more harm to its cause than good.

The cliché-studded, grammatically-challenged, and logically flawed Varsitarian piece called the pro-RH Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University faculty members “intellectual mercenaries” and “intellectual pretenders and interlopers,” while contradicting itself by claiming that by joining “the bandwagon,” they are “dishonest and don’t have the courage of their intellectual conviction.” Does not the fact that these professors came out in support of the controversial RH Bill show courage and conviction?

I got a laugh out of this declaration: “It’s quite shocking that Ateneo and La Salle professors should harbor naïve and misguided thinking about health and social problems.” I can imagine an elderly maiden aunt with hand on breast saying this, but a student? Que horror!

Please go online and read the entire piece (if you haven’t yet) to savor the full flavor of its arrogance, fanaticism, and claim of moral ascendancy and superiority.

But then again, as the editorial pointed out, Catholic and all sectarian universities have their own house rules that, if broken, would merit sanction by the school administration, and UST professors do not have the liberty allowed the faculty of AdMU and DLSU to publicly declare their personal beliefs if these are against UST’s.

According to the Varsitarian editorial, “It is quite gratifying that UST has cracked the whip and reminded its faculty members that they’re members of a Catholic institution and should toe the line.

“UST Secretary General Fr. Winston Cabading, O.P. [said in a letter that] “In the light of recent events where some faculty members of Catholic universities have publicly expressed dissenting positions from the Catholic bishops on matters of faith and morals, we in the University would like to reaffirm our fidelity to the magisterium of the Church as the Catholic University of the Philippines.”

Cabading’s letter was also quoted as stating “all faculty members of the University are to refrain from teaching or expressing their personal opinions within the bounds of the University anything contrary to Catholic faith and morals.”

There you go. House rules. But those are UST’s, and thankfully, not AdMU’s nor DLSU’s, otherwise there’d be two fewer universities that allow scope for intellectual freedom and critical thinking. It is good to know that the Jesuits of AdMU and Christian Brothers of DLSU treat their faculty members as the professionals that they are, and not slaves that have to be made to toe the line with cracks of the whip.

Soon after the Varsitarian’s editorial was posted online, it drew many negative reactions ranging from furious comments to satirical blog posts.

With public outrage on the boil, UST administration then felt a need for some damage control by coming out with a statement on October 9 that while it supports the Varsitarian “in its stand against the RH bill…the University does not impose its will nor exercise prior restraint on the opinions of the school paper’s writers nor the manner by which they are expressed.

“Thus, the opinion expressed…insofar as it supposedly called the pro-RH Bill professors of the Ateneo de Manila University and the De La Salle University as “intellectual pretenders and interlopers” does not bear the University’s imprimatur.”

Save for that crack againt the pro-RH professors, then, the rest of the piece has UST’s support. This is not surprising, given that the letter of Father Cabading’s was no less than a directive.

The student publications of AdMU and DLSU reacted with their own editorials on October 9.

AdMU’s “The Guidon”, in its “Our duties as student journalists,” said, “Throughout its 84-year history, The Varsitarian has certainly had many moments of brilliance, but this most recent piece is an unfortunate stain on that record…

“With our conviction that a student newspaper must promote rational dialogue and the fruitful exchange of ideas for the benefit of the larger community, we find The Varsitarian’s willingness to employ a kind of dismissive language that verges on the fanatical as completely unacceptable.”

DLSU’s “La Sallian” came out with “With all due respect”: “In our opinion, however, the method of expression used [in the Varsitarian] to express the matter veered away from the real issue, while creating new and unnecessary ones…

“The RH Bill is an important issue that deserves constructive discourse. None of this constructive discourse, however, can come from ad hominem lambasting from any of the parties involved, whether Pro-RH or Anti-RH. We believe in sticking to the issues, and backing conclusions with substantial, objective arguments.”

DLSU’s “Ang Pahayagang Plaridel”, in its “Responsableng pagpiglas sa malayang pamamahayag”, chided The Varsitarian for forgetting the true spirit (diwa) of an editorial, and for putting down the AdMU and DLSU professors while crowing about UST’s superiority (pagbubuhat ng sariling bangko).

You do not need to emphasize the faults of others, Plaridel said, to raise and prove the truth of what you are fighting for, adding “Mas magiging lubos ang kahulugan ng mga pahayag kung may sarili itong pundasyong magpapatibay sa kredibilidad ng mensaheng nais nitong iparating.” (Any declaration would be more meaningful if it were built on a foundation strengthened by the credibility of the message it wishes to convey.)

Their editorial cartoon is the best I have ever seen in my entire life.

But UST has its own house rules. It can do whatever it wants, like waiving its own academic requirements by bestowing a PhD degree upon former Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona by accepting a public lecture in lieu of a dissertation. (Shocking!)

The Varsitarian said the pro-RH AdMU and DLSU professors should resign from those universities for their anti-Catholic stance.

In the same manner, students and faculty can take what UST’s dishing out, or leave it. They can choose to stay where whips are cracked or they can choose to belong to a school that values and encourages intellectual liberty, critical thinking, and freedom of speech – the hallmarks of a rational institution that promotes genuine education and edification.  *** 

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pop goes the world: we the people

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  4 October 2012, Thursday

We the People

Since last Monday, avatars on Facebook and Twitter have been turning black one by one, like stars in the sky winking out.

With the Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Law coming into effect yesterday, netizens are reacting in various ways to register their sentiments.

The smiling photos of some friends and tweeps morphed into black squares, which is self-explanatory, the color itself connotative of mourning and loss. Others redacted words or phrases from their status updates, citing “RA 10175”.

As the movement gained momentum, other people put up images that symbolize concepts such as dissent, struggle against oppression, and rebellion against totalitarianism.

Among these symbols is the Guy Fawkes mask. The mask is white with red cheeks, a mustache, and slim pointed beard, a mere stripe upon the chin. The mask was used as a plot element by writer Alan Moore in his 1982-85 graphic novel series V for Vendetta, later made into a movie. The film is perceived by some to refer to a society’s oppression by government. The Guy Fawkes mask was used by hacktivist group Anonymous and by activists in the Occupy movement in the United States as a symbol against repression and tyranny.

Another symbol appearing on social media avatars is the red “forbidden” sign (a circle with a slash within), often accompanied by text such as “Cyber Martial Law”; there’s also an image of Rizal with black tape across his mouth.

These and others are used as signs of protest against the loss of freedom of speech that many fear is heralded by the Cybercrime Law.

Says a lawyer whose profile picture is the Guy Fawkes mask: “I don’t like people dictating my personal choices. There are things I can say and express within the bounds of the law, then it is made illegal, which violates Article 3, Section 4 of the Constitution – “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press…” This is contained in our Bill of Rights.”

Says an almost-lawyer, represented on FB by a black square: “As it is, the libel law in the Revised Penal Code is already questionable because it provides jail time for what is basically a civil offense – so you can go to jail for saying someone’s stupid. Libel is between two people, not the state.”

Other signs of outrage erupted online. Hacktivists calling themselves “PrivateX” have entered ten government and private websites so far, posting various messages, one of them beginning, “This domain name associated with gov.ph has been seized pursuant to an order issued by Anonymous Philippines…”

Among the affected websites were those of the Office of the President, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, Philippine Anti-Piracy Team, National Telecommunications Commission, Philippine Information Agency, American Chamber of Commerce, and the Food Development Center.

The Philippine National Police said it was victimized by hackers who created a false FB page for it, with status updates such as “Foul words against our police officers can be used as evidence now to file a case against you in a court of law.” The page can no longer be accessed.

This image appeared on FB earlier this week. PNP claims it is a fake page.

Other netizens put up the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance or pifa.ph almost immediately, a “website blackout protest” with this call: “Respect our right to free speech, privacy, and information. Prevent dictatorship. Protect democracy.”

Screenshot of home page of pifa.ph. 

A celebrity made this clever statement: he posted a picture of himself holding up a sign with his name on it, and below that the words, “Future Cybercriminal? RA 10175.” Other famous people took to Twitter to express their points-of-view, either for the repeal of the bill or its revision.

The Cybercrime Law has been likened to SOPA (Stop the Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) in the United States, which people protested against by blacking out their websites or entire chunks of text and content.

In July 2010, Senator Francis Escudero filed a bill decriminalizing libel. However, he was among those who signed the Cybercrime Law, and is backpedaling by filing Senate Bill No. 3288 to repeal it, admitting he did not notice the libel provision.

Senator TG Guingona, who opposed the law, filed a petition with the Supreme Court urging that the provisions pertaining to libel in the Cybercrime Law be declared unconstitutional, and warned the public that this law would suppress freedom of speech.

“The state has no right,” he said, “to gag its citizens and convict them for expressing their thoughts… Filipinos should never be left to cower in the sidelines – their thoughts and voices should not be shackled by fear and intimidation. The people should not be afraid of its own government.”

When it is government itself that curtails freedom of speech in any manner; when government itself imposes an atmosphere of fear; when government itself suppresses a fundamental right of humans, then it is acting contrary to the interest of the people and its own survival as an entity.

And when a people feel their rights are curtailed, when they become fearful and angry, when their outrage boils over, then they are moved to action.

And with action follows change.

Here’s a quote from the film “V for Vendetta”: “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” *** 

Guy Fawkes mask image here.

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pop goes the world: the secrets that we keep

UPDATE: Mr. Christy blogged about this column here. Thank you, Mr. Christy.

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  27 September 2012, Thursday

The Secrets That We Keep

It took a foreigner to open the Filipino public’s eyes to the tragedy of illegal ivory trading in the Philippines.

Bryan Christy’s article on the topic for National Geographic’s October 2012 issue was posted online as early as last week, and broke on Twitter when the link to the story was posted by activist Carlos Celdran, who urged authorities to investigate the matter. The story was picked up this week by local newspapers.

According to Christy, he came to the country five times to “get a lead on who was behind 5.4 tons of illegal ivory seized by customs agents in Manila in 2009, 7.7 tons seized there in 2005, and 6.1 tons bound for the Philippines seized by Taiwan in 2006. Assuming an average of 22 pounds of ivory per elephant, these seizures represent about 1,745 elephants.”

His search led him to interview Monsignor Cristobal Garcia of Cebu Archdiocese, member of a wealthy family and a collector of religious art, whose extensive collection includes ivory pieces.

Christy says Garcia gave him tips on how to purchase ivory and smuggle it into the United States, among them this: “Wrap it in old, stinky underwear and pour ketchup on it,” [Garcia] said. “So it looks shitty with blood. This is how it is done.”

Filipino Roman Catholics worship religious statues in themselves as objects of spiritual power and magic, ascribing to them miraculous events and cures. There’s the Santo Niño de Cebu, said to be the oldest image in the country, given by Ferdinand Magellan to Rajah Humabon in 1521; and the Jesus Nazareno or Black Nazarene, carried around in a clamorous and sweaty procession on its feast day. While both of these are made of wood, the material of choice for religious images is elephant ivory, prized for its translucent glow and high market value.

The worldwide treaty that sets and enforces wildlife trade policy is the Convention on International/ Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), opened for signature in 1973, in force in 1975. CITES lists both African and Asian elephants as threatened species; a global ivory trade ban was adopted in 1989 to ensure that elephant populations worldwide recover from the slaughter by poachers for their tusks.

The Philippines is party to the treaty, which ensures that trade in plants and wild animals does not threaten their survival and offers protection to over 33,000 species.

The resources of CITES are limited; it deems the Philippines as merely a transit point to China for ivory, whereas the reality, as Christy discovered, is that it is also a destination because of the local demand for the material, which is sold mainly in religious image stores in Tayuman, Manila.

An antique ivory carving on display at the Yuchengco Museum.  I took this photo on a visit there in 2010, and blogged about it here. Only new ivory is banned and has been since 1989. 

The government recently reacted to Christy’s story and the subsequent public interest in the topic, saying that traders of illegally acquired ivory would be investigated and prosecuted if found liable; among the agencies working on this are the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Bureau of Customs, National Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Justice.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said that the NBI was investigating the ivory trade even before Christy’s story broke, adding that Customs intercepted a P48 million shipment of rhino tusks just last week.

All this is good to hear – now. But why did we not hear about this sooner? Why did it have to take a foreigner to bring this to local public awareness?

Our country hides many secrets, and this was one of them. Now that the cover has been thrown back on this illicit activity, we realize that here is yet another issue that will bring us national shame.

“Embarrassing,” NBI Director Nonnatus Rojas called it, “[and] it puts us in a bad light.” He vowed that those “who will be found involved in the illegal trade will be immediately charged.”

We have taken for granted too long many cultural conventions that turn out to be against the law. And when a priest himself, a monsignor no less, gives someone else tips on how to buy and smuggle new ivory that was quite likely taken from illegally killed elephants, we should wonder about our much-vaunted morals and those who are supposed to teach them to us.

Christy revealed another secret about Garcia. Go online and check out his article. Find out for yourself what it is. Maybe it does need an outsider to tell us these things, because these are embarrassing things, things that will put us in a bad light, things that we would rather not hear for shame.  *** 

Photo of Mr. Christy here

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pop goes the world: b-ball and the bigger picture

I wrote a review of this book in 2010 for a PhD class and posted it in its full form on the blog here.

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  13 September 2012, Thursday

B-ball and the Bigger Picture

“Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”

This is the standard safety warning on vehicle side mirrors, cautioning drivers who might be misled about the proximity of things around them on the road.

We could borrow this phrase to mean that people immersed in a certain culture might not be aware or take for granted certain nuances of detail in its usage, practice, and tradition that are glaring or obvious to foreigners.

In other words, to learn more about ourselves, it is also useful to find out what others think about us or how they perceive us.

Take writer Rafe Bartholomew’s basketball memoir “Pacific Rims” (2010).  A player and enthusiast of the game, Bartholomew (a Medill Journalism graduate) obtained a Fulbright grant to study basketball in the Philippines for one year. He ended up staying for three.

Rafe Bartholomew. Image here.

He played wherever he could, joining pickup games with kanto tambays in makeshift courts and in fully-maintained courts in the barangays in elite residential villages. He played with men wearing expensive trainers and men wearing worn flip-flops. He followed the fortunes of a professional basketball team – the Alaska Aces – and charted their triumphs and defeats until the exhilarating denouement of the season.

Bartholomew recounts his researches at the Ateneo de Manila University library and in newspaper and magazine morgues to trace the history of basketball in the country. The sport was introduced at the turn of the last century during the American colonial period, when the Americans taught the sport first to young women as a physical exercise, and later to men.

From that time, basketball captured the nation’s heart and became so embedded in the country’s psyche that it is nearly inextricable – so the author says – from its politics and other social elements.

A game on a barangay basketball court. Image here.

Evident in Bartholomew’s narrative is the importance of relationships within the collective consciousness of the Filipino. The relationships he observed between team owner and players, coaches and players, players and fans, and so on, were clearly delineated and nurtured. The depth of the level of interaction between the Filipino players and fans, he said, is something he felt would be impossible to achieve within the context of American basketball.

Bartholomew also noted differences between the Alaska team’s Filipino players, the Filipino-American players who grew up in the United States, and the lone American import with regard to personal space. He noticed how Filipinos are more disposed towards touching each other and are comfortable doing so, whereas Fil-Ams and Americans tend to keep distance from each other and observe a greater degree of private space, even in the context of social activities such as chatting and male-bonding rituals such as roughhousing.

Bartholomew perceived that people of all socio-economic backgrounds enjoy basketball, but based on social stratifications, their experiences of the sport were markedly different. Those of lower socio-economic status played on makeshift or barangay courts. The latter may be well-appointed – as the author remarks, some barangay courts are better than New York city public courts – but whether a barangay court is well-appointed or not depends on the political agendas of the barangayand local government officials. Those belonging to the elite of society play on school courts, some of which are so expensive that at one university, the hardwood was imported from a court played upon by NBA players.

This image by Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Images was used as the cover for the book Pacific Rims. Image here. 

He also described the unano versus bading (yes, they are billed that way) exhibit games in the provinces. At first he was disgusted by what he perceived as a demeaning and humiliating activity. But upon his interviewing the people concerned, he was surprised to find that in fact the  players considered themselves performers, were glad of the opportunity to work, and can be seen as themselves having power over their audiences in the reactions they can elicit from spectators through their performances.

There are quite a few more cultural points that he observed, some of them norms related to racial biases, the celebrity culture, accommodative behavior, use of humor as a coping mechanism, and tacit collusion to achieve common goals, but I won’t preempt your enjoyment of the book.

I’ll end by saying that in this first-ever book-length work by a foreigner on Philippine basketball, Bartholomew confirms the universality of sport as a phenomenon. It is an activity that may be enjoyed across cultures, all around the world; and talent may come from anyone anywhere, especially with Filipino-style basketball being largely learn-as-you-go.

These insights are relevant now that it is the height of the UAAP season. The games are so popular that tickets often go for high prices, more so when old school rivalries come into play at Ateneo vs. La Salle games. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook carry play-by-plays and score updates. School-themed merchandise fill stores so that fans can wear their pride colors. 

Competition is fierce at the 2012 UAAP games. Image here.

But in general our perception of all this is matter-of-fact. Such a response to a phenomenon speaks volumes about our society, in what it is we take for granted and others see as an uncommon or unusual thing.

As Bartholomew’s book explores the cross-cultural boundaries of communication, it also shows us that reflected in the mirror is one of things that makes up the heart and soul of the Filipino. *** 

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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: whole lot of mansplainin’ goin’ on

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  30 August 2012, Thursday

Whole Lot of Mansplainin’ Goin’ On

When will men get off telling women what’s best for them?

From celibate priests to overbearing lawmakers to some of the men in our own lives, women all over the world are subjected to the unsolicited pronouncements of those who believe they are the final arbiters on issues that affect women.

It’s called “mansplaining.”

As far as I can find out, the term has been around since at least 2010. A post of February that year by “Fannie” at fanniesroom.blogspot.com says mansplaining is a result of “males possessing the privilege whereby they are largely assumed to be both default human beings and automatically competent at life.”

Rebecca Solnit, award-winning author of 15 non-fiction books, in an article posted last August 20 at motherjones.com calls it “the problem with men explaining things,” that “billions of women must be out there…being told that they are not reliable witnesses to their own lives, that the truth is not their property, now or ever.”

It’s not solely a male thing, she said, because “…people of both genders pop up…to hold forth on irrelevant things and conspiracy theories…”

However, Solnit added, “…the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is in my experience, gendered.”

In the United States, just to provide one example out of a great many, Republican congressman Todd Akin recently said that women could not become pregnant in the case of “legitimate rape,” saying that their bodies “shut down” to prevent it. Apart from displaying an abysmal ignorance of basic science, this also shows a male-oriented notion that there are cases when rape – by its very definition an act of force – isn’t a crime.

I won’t even mention any local examples. Just open any newspaper on any day and read for yourself the abundance of conspiracy theories (that the RH Bill is a ploy to sell more contraceptive medicines and devices and prevent the poor from reproducing, etc.) and blanket pronouncements (such as that a secular world will promote all sorts of immorality, as if our present society isn’t already rife with it).

I wonder why some men believe they know what’s best for women, despite not having a vagina, uterus, nor a menstrual period. It’s what Solnit calls “men’s unsupported overconfidence” and the “archipelago of arrogance.”

Therefore there are some men who deride outspoken, opinionated women as “feminists”, like it’s a bad thing. How? Because feminism rejects patriarchal hegemony? Because feminists think for themselves? Because feminists see through the mansplaining and have decided to take their lives back?

Our society is still patriarchal; protection for women is inadequate and slow in coming. It wasn’t until 2004 that the Violence Against Women and Children Act (RA 9262) was passed. The Magna Carta for Women (RA 9710) wasn’t enacted until 2009, only three short years ago, after being delayed for seven years.

All women’s and minority groups’ rights are hard-fought. The struggle for reproductive rights is no exception. We now see the usual pattern in such matters playing out – the conservatives and reactionaries are up in arms, kicking and screaming against any change to their status quo, while the progressives are out there making themselves heard and felt.

But as in the issues of slavery and votes for women, in time we will get to a better place. Women nowadays recognize when they are being mansplained to, when they are being condescended to instead of being engaged in genuine dialogue coming from respect and love.

True manhood lies not in having as many children or wives and mistresses as one can, nor in control and aggressiveness, but in respecting other people and acknowledging their right to live their lives in the manner they wish, and in caring properly for the people one is responsible for.

I am grateful for the men in my life who are not mansplainers, who see me as an equal, as a fellow human being – friends, relatives, university professors, colleagues. First among them is my late father, who told me when I was a teenager, “Do not allow yourself to be limited by the double standard.” I asked, “What is the double standard?” He said, “You’ll find out,” and sure enough I did, and duly rejected it as unfair and demeaning.

Because beyond gender, we are all human. And it takes all humankind working together to make a world that is kinder, one that is egalitarian, just, and free.  *** 

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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.   *** 

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pop goes the world: freedom of choice

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

Freedom of Choice

My column last week, “Science and superstition”, where I declared my support for the RH Bill, drew over 600 Facebook “Likes”, a rarity.

However, there were a few people who badly misread my article, saying it was an attack on religion and that I was trying to persuade the Philippines to embrace science and turn away from God.

Nowhere in that column did I advocate a repudiation of religion. Freedom of worship is a human right. I have always been on the side of choice, and people should be able to make their own decisions when it comes to what God they obey and what they wish to do in the privacy of their own bedrooms.

What I said in that column was that superstition and the biases of one religion should not be allowed to influence legislation, because it has an effect on the lives of many people of different faiths and backgrounds. The State’s duty is to care for all its people, not just for one group.

I suppose I was misunderstood because I did not put my point as elegantly as did fellow MST columnist Father Rannie Aquino, who eloquently wrote in his last column, “We have no right to expect the public nor the legislature to accept Catholic premises. We then have no right to expect them to draw the peculiar Catholic conclusions that we draw…we have no right demanding of our legislature that it adopt our religious arguments.”

He also said, “When one insists that things be done as one reads his scripture (be these Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu scriptures), the one is immediately confronted by the fundamental conviction of modernity – that the State should be neutral towards world-views, that all enjoy equal religious freedom, and that science be emancipated from religion.”

Legislators, then, as statesmen, are in an unenviable position. They have to make impartial decisions for the good of everyone, but they are human beings swayed by their mindsets, experiences, and prejudices.

Take Senator Tito Sotto. He used a rare legislative tactic called turno en contro to air his lengthy anti-RH views. Among the reasons he gave in an effort to prove his point was a personal experience related to his baby son’s  death that was blamed on his wife’s contraceptive use.

I understand the senator’s pain. I have also lost loved ones and will never stop grieving for them. He receives our commiseration and sympathy. But the fact is this is just one person’s experience.

In our highly populated society, there are a myriad experiences, both positive and negative. In the same way that we should not allow one group’s biases to influence law, neither should we let one person’s experience be the basis for legislation that will impact the lives of millions of Filipinos for years to come.

If we’re talking about personal experiences, here’s the story of Mina Capote, who worked as my household helper some years back. She has 13 children by two husbands. She only had a third-grade education; neither her husbands finished high school. The first was unemployed. The second was a groom in horseracing.

The eldest daughter, “Fanny”, was, at 10 years old, tasked with caring for her siblings. Being only a child herself, she could not keep an eye on all of them, so “Sam”, eight, lost an eye in an accident, while others suffered various mishaps. They usually went hungry. I sent them extra food and used clothes when I could.

To augment the family income, Fanny worked as a helper when she turned 15. Her employer raped her. Later I heard she found work in a bar.

When I asked Mina once why she does not use contraceptives, she replied, “They say it’s bad for the health.” I asked her who “they” were. She shrugged. “Sabi lang nila.” (They just said.)

It is the height of irresponsibility to bring children into the world that one cannot care for properly, that one cannot adequately feed, shelter, send to school, and keep safe. No one disputes that educated women of means use various family-planning options such as contraceptives, sterilization, natural method, and so on. But these options are not available or even known to women like Mina, whose ignorance constrains them from planning a better life for themselves and their children.

But when knowledge and opportunity are available, women are able to make informed decisions for themselves to plan their family size. In the news recently was a report about how over 4,000 women in Tagum, Davao, have opted for the free tubal ligation offered in that city as part of its own reproductive health program since it was launched in 2006.

Over that same period, only 76 men availed themselves of free vasectomies. This is a clear indicator of social and cultural norms that place the burden of family planning on the woman, rather than on the man.

Kudos to Tagum mayor Rey Uy who has continued the program despite Catholic opposition to it. The program has allowed the city to exclude itself from the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino program (4Ps) cash transfer campaign, because poverty incidence in Tagum has dropped to 15 percent. The national average is 27 percent.

The RH Bill willl inform more Filipinos, especially women, about the planning options that they have. If they decide to have many children, or few, or none at all, that is their choice.

It is illogical, unfair, and selfish to let one person or one group decide for everyone else the choices that they may have. Freedom of choice is a human right; let us ensure that everyone in our society enjoys this freedom.  *** 

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