PGTW: Terrible trifecta thumps 2015

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 8 January 2015, Thursday

Terrible trifecta thumps 2015

It’s a horrible start to the year when citizens are clobbered with price hikes of basic utilities – transport, power, and water  – that will further cut into salaries already heavily taxed.

Around the holidays, the Department of Transport and Communication suddenly announced fare increases for the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) and Light Rail Transit (LRT), both essential transport services in Metro Manila, just a couple of weeks before their mplementation at the start of the year.

According to an MST news item, the fare hikes ranged from 50 to 87 percent – no small matter for the average wage earner who depends on the train system to take them to and from work.

Earlier this week, it was revealed that the National Transmission Corp. (NTC), a government agency, will be charging consumers an additional four centavos per kilowatt hour, supposedly in line with the Renewable Energy Act of 2008 which provides for the collection of a feed-in tariff allowance (FIT-All).

The funds are to be used for the development of renewable energy. However, it seems the money is being collected in advance of its actual use.

Last Tuesday, Maynilad Waterworks, Inc. said it would be implementing a hike in water rates, to be staggered over three years, from 2015 to 2017.

The average increase in cost will be around P3.06 per cubic meter.

These unconscionable and unnecessary price hikes will further strain the Filipino purse already stretched thin with the cost of education, medical care, housing, food, and other needs.

Senator Francis Escudero slammed the DOTC for not informing Congress during budget deliberations that the agency would be imposing the MRT and LRT fare hikes.

He said DOTC had asked for a sum “saying it was what they needed,” and that it was given to them, but had the Senate known about the planned rate increases, a lower budget would have been allocated. Congress, he added, had already given DOTC a budget for MRT rehabilitation in 2015.

Several groups have filed requests for temporary restraining orders against the implementation of the train fare hikes.

Meanwhile, lawyer Remigio Michael Ancheta appealed to the Supreme Court to stop the Energy Regulatory Commission from allowing the NTC to collect the additional fees, questioning the propriety of the agency’s application of the Renewable Energy law.

It’s possible that complaints and lawsuits against the water rate hike are yet to come, once its implications have been better studied.

What’s painful is that despite these price hikes, we are still not assured of decent services, much less improvements. Last year, the MRT management figured in several scandals, and one of its trains crashed through its barrier at the end of the line. Long lines for the trains are now the norm, adding to the average commute time.

Power outages occurred with frequency in the Visayas and Mindanao, while supply is expected to be tight all over the country this year, prompting some officials to appeal to lawmakers for emergency powers for the President to deal with the forecasted scenario.

If rotating brownouts are implemented in Manila, this would spell doom for the slipping economy. From a growth rate of 7.2 percent in 2013, the second-highest in Asia after China, it dipped to 5.3 percent in the third quarter of 2014.

Coping with these additional utility hikes will test the patience and strength of a people already forced to be repeatedly resilient in the face of frequent natural disasters and other challenges.

Add issues such as the insane traffic in the metro, and corruption and incompetence in government, recently manifested in the Bilibid prison luxury scandal, and wonder if the breaking point is not far off.

Survey findings released late last month showed that more than half of the population – 54 percent of Filipinos or 11.4 million households – self-rate themselves as “poor.” Maintaining a household and raising a family are steadily becoming unaffordable.

Existence is now an extreme sport. This is not living; we’re just surviving. ***

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PGTW: ‘The genius of the poor’

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 25 December 2014, Thursday

‘The genius of the poor’

Thomas Graham’s “The Genius of the Poor: A Journey with Gawad Kalinga,” launched at Fully Booked-Bonifacio High Street last Nov. 29, is the story of how a foreigner fell in love with the Philippines and is now devoting his time to helping developing ways to uplift the Filipino poor, in partnership with development organization Gawad Kalinga (GK) and through his own initiatives.

Graham, who was in the country to write a business report, says he gained a revelation “on a large deck terrace in Rockwell, one of Metro Manila’s most exclusive areas.” Moving to the edge of the terrace to take a picture, he notices “a distracting blot on this otherwise grand vista…perhaps little more than 400 meters from the ‘luxurious’ [quotes his] towers where I am standing, there lies a slum area of shocking squalor.”

Graham then ditches his high-paying job and comfortable lifestyle to connect with the poor on the ground, his motivation to emulate the selfless young people he has met who are “not just complaining about the inequality in their country but doing something about it.”

GK co-founder Tony Meloto tells Graham about his belief in the “genius of the poor,” and how “investing in and partnering with the poor” can lead to inclusive nation-building.

Meloto suggests that Graham start his journey by visiting Silver Heights, a depressed community in Caloocan City, saying, “many foreigners who stay just a short time in the Philippines see the country only superficially. They notice only affluence jostling with poverty, while the human gems behind the dirt and the traffic remain undiscovered.”

This book contains Graham’s stories about some of those “human gems,” who, in their own little ways, have decided to make a difference in the lives of others.

Meloto tells Graham the country, blessed with abundant resources and talented people, has “no excuse to be poor.” Graham at first is skeptical, but later realizes that “Tito Tony was right: the Philippines, through bayanihan, has the potential to eradicate poverty.”

GK makes a difference in the lives of many. I’ve seen the GK housing units in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro that rose up only months after typhoon Sendong devastated much of the area on 16 Dec. 2011, when I was there with another group for capability-building of the community clinics.

Regarding Typhoon Yolanda assistance, according to GK’s website, the group has had 2,923 houses funded for the victims, of which 2,041 units (70 percent) are already completed (684 units) or under construction (1,357 units), the goal being to “raise funds and build 3,000 houses more by the end of 2015.”

“GK’s thrust for disaster preparedness,” the website adds, “is an anti-poverty campaign.” Reducing poverty would mean a people better equipped and prepared to handle crises and challenges.

Sad to say, but in comparison to GK and other non-government organizations, government is slow to respond and not as effective. We’ve seen how the ill-built shelters for Typhoon Yolanda victims blew down recently with Typhoon Ruby.

Which brings us to an unanswered question – why is poverty still endemic in the country? Statistics are lifting slightly but not so that the masses are feeling the change. Add to the existing burdens the new ones, like the announced increase in MRT fares on Jan, 4, and an escape from the trajectory of decline and destitution seems impossible for many.

An easy reply to this is that graft and corruption led to this state of things. This is true to a large extent, aided and abetted by the culture of impunity that allows the elected, so-called ‘public servants,’ to get away with it. Corruption will always be around as long as there is a benefit to anybody for being corrupt.

It needs an iron will to crush this out, but there is too much political accommodation. Moreover, we’re a gambling nation: you’re gambling your reputation if you are caught, but bahala na, with a shrug.

Meanwhile, individuals like Meloto, Graham, others in GK and in unheralded NGOs and aid groups work quietly and efficiently to restore hope, dignity, and a second chance in the lives of the marginalized.

On that note, it is in charity and compassion that the true spirit of Yuletide resides. To all, thank you for reading my column throughout the year. May you and your families be blessed with peace and joy this holiday season, and may you find within yourselves the genius – the innate talents – that will help you make the world a better, kinder, more loving place.

Merry Christmas! ***

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PGTW: Lotto prizes, present and accounted for

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 18 December 2014, Thursday

Lotto prizes, present and accounted for

            A remark made by Rep. Elpidio Barzaga at a Games and Amusements Committee hearing of the House of Representatives, of which he is the chairman, about unclaimed Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) Lotto prizes spurred a recent frenzy of suggestions on how to spend the funds.

At least two solons – Rep. Winston Castelo and Rep. Evelina Escudero – have filed proposed house bills on reallocating the unclaimed Lotto prizes.

Castelo’s HB No. 5257 seeks to transfer the funds to the Department of Social Work and Development. From the statements he has made to the media, Castelo refers to Rep. Barzaga’s remark and seems to have gone from there without checking PCSO’s charter or making inquiries with PCSO as to what is done with the funds.

The context of Barzaga’s remark is this: the Games Committee had been investigating the matter of the ironed Lotto ticket of Antonio Mendoza, who is claiming the jackpot prize of the 2 Oct. 2014 Lotto 6/42 draw. In the course of the inquiry, Barzaga requested PCSO to submit various Lotto-related data, including the amount of unclaimed prizes from 2006 to 2013, which amounted to P3 billion.

As a PCSO staffer, I attended all the Games Committee meetings related to this matter and I recall that the PCSO directors present at that particular meeting explained that unclaimed prizes revert to the agency’s Charity Fund after a year in accordance with PCSO’s founding charter, Republic Act No. 1169. However, this seems to have gone unheard and unnoticed.

RA No. 1169 as amended by Batas Pambansa Blg. 42 and Presidential Decree No. 1157 provides rules on the allocation of PCSO’s revenues from lotteries and other games – 55 percent goes to the Prize Fund, 30 percent to the Charity Fund, and 15 percent to the Operating Fund for the agency’s expenses, as it does not receive any funding from the national government.

The law also specifically instructs, in Section 6 (D), that the balances of any funds in PCSO, including the Prize Fund where lotto prizes are taken from, shall revert to and form part of the Charity Fund, which, according to the law’s Section 6 (B), shall be used for health programs, including the expansion of existing ones, and for medical assistance and services and/or charities of national character.

Escudero’s better-researched HB No. 2208 seeks to amend RA 1169 and provides specific allocations for the Charity Fund: 20 percent for ambulances, 20 percent to Philhealth, 20 percent to “charity clinic, medical assistance and service program, to private hospitals,” 20 percent to the Department of Health, and 20 percent “to the President’s Social Fund” (PSF).

The PCSO already has existing medical assistance programs. These include the flagship Individual Medical Assistance Program (IMAP) that subsidizes hospitalization bills of needy patients, as well as treatments such as dialysis and chemotherapy.

The charity agency also has its Ambulance Donation program, which provides ambulances to local government units and hospitals and other institutions; the Endowment Fund program that provides financial assistance to public hospitals; the Institutional Partner program that supports orphanages, homes for the aged, and the like; the Medical Equipment and Medicine Donation Program; and other programs of a medical- and healthcare-related nature.

PCSO also already has tie-ups with DoH for medical equipment donation (state-of-the-art diagnostic and imaging systems among them), kidney and liver transplant subsidy programs, and other medical-related programs.

 

An average of P8 billion pesos enters the PCSO’s Charity Fund each year. Around half of this goes to the PCSO’s IMAP and its other assistance programs.

Because of various laws that sought funding for other agencies, the other half of the Charity Fund goes to mandatory contributions that support government bodies such as the National Museum, National Book Development Board, Commission on Higher Education, and many others.

The amount that PCSO provides to beneficiaries has been increasing. Take the case of the IMAP. Last year, an average of P12 million daily was disbursed to individual beneficiaries nationwide. This year, the amount is P16 million per day.

In October 2014 alone, according to the PCSO’s Charity Sector, there was an increase of 64.98 percent in funds provided for assistance, or a total of P540.97 million for 20,831 beneficiaries nationwide. Again, these figures are for the IMAP alone for one month.

Under the present Board of Directors, expansion efforts to deliver its services and products to more areas nationwide have resulted in the opening of 17 additional branches in the provinces. From 25 in 2010, there are now 42, with more to be opened in 2016.

In my opinion (and these are my own as an individual, and do not reflect PCSO’s) PCSO is doing well enough on its own in providing medical- and healthcare-related assistance all over the country.

I wonder why Escudero inserted provisions for Philhealth and private hospitals in her bill. Philhealth gets its funding from a law that automatically deducts a certain percentage from the salaries of the employed, and private hospitals earn from the charges they set. Why should they be given additional funds from PCSO, or from any other agency for that matter?

And what is the reason for the provision of 20 percent for the PSF? This is not in the present PCSO charter, which prioritizes funding for needy beneficiaries.

Castelo and his staff, too, should do better research before drawing up their proposed bills. He was the same lawmaker who came up with the Anti-Planking Act of 2011 and the Jeepney Seat Act of 2012 that sought to mandate 14 inches of space per passenger in a jeepney, nanny-state bills that treat citizens as less than adults. ‘Nuff said.

PCSO has been a beacon of hope, the ‘takbuhan ng bayan,’ for 80 years. Thousands of beneficiaries through the years owe their lives to the agency that provides help in ways that no other agency can. Let it do its job.

***

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PGTW: Iron man

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 16 October 2014, Thursday

Iron man

A man might have lost his chances to claim a P12.39 million Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office Lotto jackpot after his daughter ironed his game ticket and rendered it unverifiable.

The media jumped on the story. Even Congress is going to get in on it. The Lower House Games and Amusements Committee scheduled a hearing for Oct. 21 and requested PCSO for the contact information of the ticket buyer, Antonio F. Mendoza of Calaca, Batangas, and of the Lotto agent at whose outlet the ticket was said to have been purchased. Whether or not these people will be actually summoned to the hearing is not known as of presstime.

Here’s the background:

Mendoza submitted to PCSO an affidavit dated Oct. 7 claiming to be the lone jackpot winner for the Oct. 2 Lotto 6/42 jackpot prize. He said at at 4:06 pm he bought a ticket at a Lotto outlet in Calaca, with three six-number combinations.

He further stated that when he learned he won the said draw, “to my shock I discovered that the “Lotto ticket” I purchased…was accidentally “crampled” by our one (1) year old granddaughter and with such tense situation my daughter immediately “pinalantsa” the said ticket to straighten the same, but to her amazement and dismay the number appearing thereon got “blackened” rendering the numbers unreadable [sic].”

About three-quarters of the ticket is black. It is not readable by visual examination nor by barcode scanner. Virtually no information remains – not the combinations, not the barcode, not the terminal (hardware) code, not the agent code, not the ticket serial number (TSN).

The TSN is perhaps the most important information on the ticket – it’s the string of numbers on the lower right corner, and is unique for each ticket. Even if only that remains, manual verification can be achieved after the numbers are keyed into a Management Information Workstation at PCSO.

According to PCSO’s validation procedure, the original ticket must be checked “for signs of mutilation, i.e., torn tickets, or signs that it has been exposed to hear, water, oil, prior to validation in the terminal…Ticket validation can be done through the use of the tickets (inserting it in the input hopper) or through the keyboards by entering the TSN.”

Going by these guidelines, the ticket is unacceptable because it cannot be verified by machine nor through manual checking of the TSN.

“We have a general policy of no ticket, no payment,” said PCSO acting Chairman and General Manager lawyer Jose Ferdinand M. Rojas II. The ticket, he said, “is like money or a check – if the money or check is mutilated, you are not going to accept it.”

In the case of Mendoza, the PCSO Legal Department will be providing an opinion soon regarding the agency’s official stand on the matter.

PCSO has noticed an increase this month in such claims, said a PCSO employee. Last Oct. 3, a claimant in Cebu presented a PCSO Suertres ticket that had also been ironed. On Oct. 12, a woman tried to claim on a Suertres ticket purchased in Quezon City that had black burn marks from being placed on the lid of a pot on the stove – she tried to dry the ticket because it had gotten wet.

The back of PCSO Lotto tickets clearly states game rules for the information of players, among them: “Prizes will not be paid if the ticket is altered, defaced, torn, damaged, or has failed any of the validation tests by PCSO.”

PCSO also reminds players to take care of their tickets by announcing on the nightly PCSO live draw coverage on television, “Ingatan mabuti ang mga ticket. Bawal pong mabasa o mainitan ito. Heat-sensitive po ang mga Lotto tickets.”

Such rules are general for all important documents – money, checks, birth certificates, drivers licenses, passports, and so on. Would you expect local airport officials, much less those of a foreign country, to honor a burnt or damaged passport? Why expect PCSO to accommodate “paki-usap” and “baka puede naman…”?

Claiming prizes is not transaction based. A player can’t expect to just be able to say, “Here’s my damaged and unreadable ticket. But since I can tell you when and where I bought it, I can still claim my prize,” and receive payment. The claim is based on the actual physical ticket – no readable and verifiable ticket, no prize. This is true for other things as well, such as horseracing bet tickets that are also printed on thermal paper.

These incidents serve as reminders to take seriously the PCSO rules on tickets: Sign the back of your Lotto ticket so no one else can claim if it wins. Do not let it be damaged in any way. Keep it in a safe place so it won’t get lost or stolen. These rules are very simple. There is no reason they can’t be followed. ***

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PGTW: Copycat campaign

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 11 December 2014, Thursday

Copycat campaign

The issue of plagiarism surfaces again, this time in connection with a government agency’s anti-teen pregnancy video released early this month.

The public service announcement (PSA) of the Department of Health (DOH) targeted young people, and to make sure it would be attractive to its audience, employed a music video format with talents cheerdancing to catchy pop music.

The lyrics of the three-minute PSA repeated the lines “gaga girl, bobo boy” in the refrain, implying that teenagers who engage in premarital sex and get pregnant are stupid. Another line referred to premarital sex as kasalanan – “sin.”

Unfortunately for DOH, netizens on the whole reacted negatively to the infomercial. On Twitter, @thenomad said: “nawalan ako ng gana kumain dahil sa DOH teen pregnancy campaign video nay un. kung sinuman nakaisip nun, isa kang Gaga Girl/Bobo Boy.” Another Twitter user, @mr0hsehun, was more succinct: “But yeah…DOH… ”gaga girl bobo boy” I think that’s very offensive.”

Not only were the lyrics insensitive, it turns out that the music may have been copied from Korean girl band f(x)’s tune “Rum Pum Pum Pum,” one of the tracks from their 2013 album Pink Tape. A comparison of the two tunes shows a similarity that is too great to attribute to coincidence.

SM Entertainment, the mother agency of f(x), was quoted by Korean websites No Cut News and My Daily on Dec. 8 to have said, “By no means have we permitted the use of the music “Rum Pum Pum Pum.” The original publisher [of the song] confirmed that the music used by the Philippines’ public service campaign in question is indeed plagiarism, so we already started taking action.”

Criticism came from another source – another government agency, the National Youth Commission (NYC). Commissioner Percival Cendaña said in a Dec. 3 letter to DOH Acting Secretary Janette Garin that the PSA’s core messages “reinforce stigma, discrimination, and sex-negative attitudes among the youth and society in general,” and urged the DOH to “permanently remove the said material from various official platforms.”

The DOH’s National Center for Health Promotion was supposed to have issued a statement on this matter yesterday, but none was released yet as of presstime.

There are two main issues here – the poorly-crafted message of DOH, and its alleged plagiarism.

Referring to sex as a “sin” is judgmental. The Constitution clearly calls for the separation of church and state and inserting a religious admonition in a government PSA is discriminatory against those of other faiths and the non-aligned.

Centuries of admonition from the pulpit have failed to eradicate or even reduce the incidence of premarital sex. What made DOH think using the same tactic would work this time?

Teen pregnancy is a societal problem, and what’s been proven to work is awareness of reproductive health and contraceptive methods. The social strictures against premarital sex are arbitrary and vary from culture to culture and across time. Given that, it’s time to create messages based on science and reason, not superstition.

And to talk down to an audience, calling them “gaga” and “bobo” is to disrespect their intelligence and capacity for thought. This is not a matter of stupidity but of ignorance. Teach the youth about reproductive health, make them aware of their options, and behavior change should follow.

To be credible, government agencies need be consistent with their messages. As Cendaña said, “convergence among government agencies…in the development of strategies, campaigns, and programs [is] critical.”

The NYC has offered to assist DOH in creating youth-friendly messages that address the issue of teen pregnancy. Other agencies that need to reach young people should coordinate with the NYC too.

As for the copycat allegations, it appears that previous cases of plagiarism that have surfaced in the news – businessman Manny Pangilinan’s graduation speech that used unattributed material (for which he handsomely apologized), Senator Tito Sotto’s lifting of material from researches and speeches (which he defended), the Department of Tourism’s adoption of another country’s palm-tree logo – have had little effect on public perception of plagiarism as a no-no.

If lessons are not learned from these cases, it’ll happen again, with the same embarrassing consequences.

DOH pulled the controversial ad in less than 24 hours after release. Still, they are left with the fallout from this debacle and a loss of face. This is too bad, because their campaign could have been helpful had it been more sensitive and all its elements thoroughly vetted.

But mistakes happen – tao lang – and DOH can get over this by acknowledging its misstep, moving forward with lessons learned, and continuing its mission of caring for the people’s health. ***

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PGTW: The art of making do

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 4 December 2014, Thursday

The art of making do                                  

It was a display of skill, talent, and physical prowess, when several groups of young people from the City of Manila competed in a cheerdance contest yesterday in the Ninoy Aquino Stadium.

The occasion was the birthday celebration of Manila 5th district Rep. Amado S. Bagatsing and the 29th anniversary of his KABAKA Foundation.

The stadium was filled almost to the rafters with spectators rapt at the teenagers’ acrobatics. Flips, cartwheels, and tumbling runs were executed with near-flawlessness, speaking of hours and hours of practice. Lifts and one-legged poses showed physical strength. The use of props such as outsize paper fans, crepe paper streamers, and hand-painted signs displayed ingenuity and imagination and the art of making-do with limited resources.

This is another facet of the vaunted resilience of spirit of the Filipino people. Resilience doesn’t only mean bouncing back after being pummeled by adversity. We often use the term right after a natural disaster or other emergency where we describe as ‘resilient’ those who manage to survive and even thrive in the face of what seems like insurmountable challenges.

But ‘resilient’ also means using materials to hand, making a small budget fit the bill, crafting what’s needed instead of buying. It’s a skill that can be learned, because it can be taught at home. “Waste not, want not,” our parents told us.

That’s why people of our generation write on the back side of used paper, re-use plastic bags to line wastepaper baskets, and save the containers that ice cream or take-out food comes in.

This attitude isn’t so much about money but about not wasting perfectly good and usable resources. It’s what we learned from our parents and grandparents who lived through the war years and from their deprivation learned lessons about prudent use of money and objects.

As the earth’s reserve of resources shrink, as multinational conglomerates tout overconsumption and spending to chase an elusive, impractical, media-created idea of the ‘good life’, as the Philippines seems no nearer to food self-sufficiency and efficient power and transport infrastructure, people would do well to tighten their belts.

Hard times are upon us. This is true no matter what the economic experts say, because what we’ve learned is that there is no such thing as ‘trickle-down’ and that the only certain thing in this world apart from death is the 32 percent tax.

As it is, the youngsters who competed in the KABAKA cheerdance yesterday, who made do with eyeliner to draw on cat noses and whiskers on their faces and tied paper streamers to their arms and legs as part of their costumes, are the kind of people who have the survivors’ edge.

* * * * *

Congratulations to lawyer Jose Ferdinand “Joy” M. Rojas II, one of ten artists featured in “Petits Fours,” a group art show at Galerie Francesca Megamall.

“Petits Fours” features four works from each of ten artists – Rojas, Carlo Magno, Karina Baluyut, Ross Capili, Salvador Ching, Robert Deniega, Roel Obemio, Herbert Pajarito, Eman Santos, and Pinggot Zulueta.

Rojas’s works were all sold out upon the show’s opening. They reflect his background in horseracing, and two of them have actual horseshoes nailed upon them, making for interesting conversation pieces.

Each of the works displayed, which reflects the particular styles and sensibilities of each artist, are sized 12 by 12 inches.

I’ve heard that it’s harder to render art in miniature, which is what some of the artists did, such as Roel Obemio. Known for his Botero-esque figures depicted in fanciful poses, they are all the more eye-catching, being similar to his larger works in theme and composition save for the much smaller scale; it’s like the full-size work was shrunk to the size of a mobile phone screen, while still retaining all the details.

“Petits Fours” runs until Dec. 7.  ***

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PGTW: On subcultures

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 27 November 2014, Thursday

On subcultures                                            

There are worlds that exist beneath the radar of people in the mainstream, worlds that have their own norms, values, even language, the meanings of which are impenetrable to the outsiders – “subcultures.”

While a culture implies a national scope, the term subculture refers to a group of people with a way of life that bears slight to major differences from the mainstream culture they are a part of.

This culture may be either open or hidden, and may be distinguished from the larger culture by a distinctive fashion, jargon, or set of mannerisms. Sarah Thornton, a sociologist of culture, says there are “groups of people that have something common with each other (i.e. they share a problem, an interest, a practice) which distinguishes them in a significant way from the members of other social groups.”

Some examples of these subcultures are those in music and fashion – Jpop (Japanese pop music), Kpop (Korean pop), and their various permutations – and in gaming and sports – casino gamers, cockfighting enthusiasts, and horseracing aficionados.

It is the last group that is my personal interest.

Few readers of this column know that I also write another column about an entirely different topic for this paper. It’s a racing column, “The Hoarse Whisperer,” that comes out every Wednesday in the sports section of editor Riera Mallari.

I’ve been involved with the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry in various capacities since 1990, and what interests me about it until now is the fact is that it is practically unexplored by others in the mainstream. Hardly anyone on the street knows about it; those who have say they’ve come across the live cable television racing coverage by accident it from their occasional channel-switching, or have heard stories about it from officemates or friends.

Yet it is an industry that earns gross revenues of almost P10 billion each year, remits over P1 billion in direct taxes to the national treasury, employs an estimated 5,000 people, and is built on around P5 billion of capital investments.

As members of a tightly-knit community working in a highly-specialized field over a long period of time, and because of its growth and expansion in relative isolation as an activity, the racing community has developed its own particular culture – kulturang karera – which differs in two ways: externally, as opposed to mainstream Filipino culture while still being a part of it; and internally, between taga-karera and karerista (the racing audience), and between taga-San Lazaro, taga-Santa Ana, and taga-Malvar (the racetracks) and taga-rancho (the breeding farms).

While face-to-face communication and daily interaction among the taga-karera have bonded them as a community, it is mass media and computer-mediated communication that has contributed to spreading a sense of community among karerista, creating among them what political scientist Benedict Anderson calls an “imagined community,” with the concept of a bond between its members largely a construct of and held in their minds.

There is much more to discuss about subcultures in general and the racing community in particular, but that’ll have to be for another day.

* * * * *

There are few artists within the horseracing community, and the only visual artist I know who is also taga-karera is lawyer Jose Ferdinand “Joy” M. Rojas II, who used to own horses before he entered public service (he served as Philippine Racing Commission chairman and is now acting chairman and general manager of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office).

Most of Rojas’s works feature images of jockeys, silks, and racing programs, while other pieces have actual aluminum horseshoes nailed to them. The themes he employs are deeply rooted in the context of Philippine racing, and the works, embellished with earthy and vibrant colors evocative of the sport and its environment, are glimpses into the meanings and symbols of this subculture.

Rojas will be showing four of his recent 12” by 12” works in a group exhibit entitled “Petits Fours” that begins tomorrow, Nov. 27, and runs until Dec. 7 at Galerie Francesca, SM Megamall.

This is Rojas’s second show. His first was also a group show, “Horse Power,” held last September.

* * * * *

An artist who specializes in equine and gamefowl art is Salvador “Dodong” Arellano, who immortalizes famous racehorses and fighting cocks on canvas.

Now based in California, he flew in a few days ago to mount an exhibit of his works at the MARHO Ruby racing festival this weekend (Nov. 29-30) at the Manila Jockey Club’s San Lazaro Leisure Park in Carmona, Cavite.

Arellano has executed commissions for Filipino horseowners and breeders Eduardo M. Cojuangco Jr., Aristeo G. Puyat, and Herminio S. Esguerra, among others.

His other clients include the Sultan of Brunei, US trainers Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas, actor Sylvester Stallone, and other celebrities and horse lovers.

**

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PGTW: The New Standard

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 19 November 2014, Thursday

The New Standard

As a columnist of this paper, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an invitation to an event last Nov. 18 at the New World Hotel, to “take part in the unveiling of The New Standard {in delivering the news}.”

It was the first time that columnists were invited to an MST gathering of any kind, so I went. I couldn’t find out what was to be discussed; nonetheless, I took the opportunity to meet fellow columnists Emil Jurado and Beth Angsioco.

Finally, an AVP was played, announcing the emergence of The New Standard (absent any information on the matter, I’m calling giving it the acronym ‘TNS’), which presumably replaces the present name ‘Manila Standard-Today’, that reflects the merging years ago of the newspapers Manila Standard and Today.

TNS will be published, starting weekends in December, in a tallboy format of 11 inches by 17 inches. This is larger than a tabloid but smaller than the traditional broadsheet size of MST. The complete shift to tallboy size will be implemented in February next year, around the time of the newspaper’s anniversary.

A mockup of the front page of TNS was shown, emphasizing a bold design: a photo dominates the front page in an eye-catching layout that draws attention.

What’s interesting is that TNS will be linked to an online platform called The Social Standard. Here, content will be aggregated and updated quicker and faster. Readers will be able to interact through comments section and through other means as yet unrevealed. I think there might even be “an app for that,” based on what I saw in the AVP.

In any case, what’s certain is that there will be changes in the way this publication delivers its content to readers.

This is an interesting development. With the decline of the print format abroad, news organizations are scrambling for ways to remain relevant by shifting to digital. Innovation and adaptability are key to surviving in these times when rapid advancements in technology make communication faster, easier, more convenient, and more inclusive in terms of usage.

It used to be that only media organizations, heavily capitalized and thus few in number, with their content broadly distributed, were able to provide news to the public; because of this structure, these organizations were able to frame their presentation of the news.

But in today’s communication landscape, anyone with Internet access can be a journalist. This decentralizes the control and flow of information and places it in the hands of the people. Other news companies are harnessing this phenomenon by making available “citizen journalist” platforms where anyone may upload photos and text regarding breaking news of which they are witnesses – this multiplies the organization’s reporter and correspondent pool to an almost unlimited extent.

TNS, through The Social Standard, will be a part of this shift in information dissemination strategies.

I’ve always been partial to the tallboy format myself – it’s easier to hold and, I assume, uses less paper because of its smaller size. In the United States in recent years, I’ve only ever seen papers in this format, and wondered why this has not been adapted by local publications. This is a long-overdue move and TNS breaks ground in this sense. This and the increased reliance on the digital platform will be good for the environment.

I also trust that this publication, no matter its name, format, or platform, will continue to provide the same high-quality journalism and writing that you have been used to reading in these pages. ***

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PGTW: Spotify: music for free

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 6 November 2014, Thursday

Spotify: music for free

Stream Christmas carols in July, bring back your childhood by listening to your parents’ favorite music, find out what this K-Pop is that your teenagers are crazy about – in short, listen to almost any music you want, whenever you want.

Sounds like a music lover’s dream?

Fortunately we live in a day and age when current communication technologies give us services that once were the stuff of science fiction. Musicphiles will enjoy Spotify, a downloadable app for your mobile, tablet, and laptop, that gives you online access to to a virtual library – “music for everyone,” as the website (Spotify.com) says.

I’m not affiliated with Spotify in any way – what I am is a satisfied user (my kind of music when I want it), an amazed user (“millions of songs,” they say – how is this possible? Magic!), an ecstatic user, because the app has opened up an entire archive to the public and I can now listen to music I would never have been able to hear otherwise.

Spotify was established in October 2008 by Sweden’s Spotify AB and is currently available in 58 countries. As of May this year, it has 40 million users worldwide. The app was pre-launched in the Philippines on 25 March 2014 and was fully launched on April 8.

There is a free service, and a Premium service (no ads, highest quality audio, listen offline) that costs only P129 per month – it’s $9.99 in the US (P450). You can Google the technical specs and features, but here’s a briefer of how the app works:

The music, arranged in playlists and by album, is available for you to access several ways. First, by using the Search bar. Need to hear more Sugar Pie Desanto than you can get on Youtube? Just enter her name or that of any other artist.

Second, through the Menu bar at the top, or through Browse in the sidebar. In the Menu bar, the Overview tab shows icons of popular playlists; Top Lists give you the top 100 R&B, country, “in the Philippines,” and so on; and Genres and Moods sort the playlists and albums into categories such as Mood, Party, Pop, Workout, Focus, and more.

The tabs New Releases, News, and Discover help you find new music, what’s popular, and music similar to what you’ve already listened to.

Under a Genre – say, “Workout”, there are Subgenres – “In the Gym,” “Running/Walking,” and “Misc.” Icons of the different playlists in that genre (they look like album covers) will help you narrow down your choice – “Hip Hop Workout,” “Latin Dance,” “Namaste.”

There’s something for everyone, even a “Manny Pacquiao Training Camp” playlist with 4,213 followers, featuring energetic pop hits such as Lorde’s “Royals,” the aptly-named “Six Directions of Boxing” by the Wu-Tang Clan, and Willie Wilcox’s “Pac Man Punch” featuring none other than the Super Pac himself.

The app adjusts to your tastes. Because I listened to Ray Conniff’s Yuletide songs, the Discover tab pointed me to “Easy Listening Jazz Standards”; after I played Coltrane, it suggested I check out Herbie Hancock’s greatest hits.

Spotify helps you learn about a particular genre of music. Want to know more about Bollywood music? Tibetan bowl and flute tunes? The roots of the blues? All here. For the latter, check out the “Blues Masters” playlist in the Jazz and Blues category – it’s where I first heard Muddy Waters’ version of “Hoochie Coochie Man” and John Lee Hooker’s take on “Boom Boom.” Aural gold.

You can also follow friends and artists to widen your musical range.

Spotify not only has music, it also has spoken word. Visit the Word section for audio books, lectures, poetry readings, stand-up comedy, and more.

The app extends your library beyond what you can afford to buy or have the time and patience to acquire. Love disco, ‘80s, classical? Want to fall asleep to the sounds of falling rain or waves crashing on rocks? Need to entertain your kids with fairy tales read by Boris Karloff? They’re all here. There is even a growing collection of OPM (original Pilipino music) tunes.

Excuse me, I gotta get up and dance. “Do you remember?…”  ***

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PGTW: Dead to rights

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 30 October 2014, Thursday

Dead to rights

“The Navotas municipal cemetery is located in an area of crippling poverty. Pictured are human skulls lying in mud.”

This caption accompanies a photograph in a photo essay dated 28 Oct. 2014 bylined Corey Charlton that appeared on the UK Daily Mail’s website.

The article’s title sums up the content: “Playing among the stacked graves of a Manila slum, the children preparing for annual Filipino Day of the Dead festival.”

This particular image (all photos are credited to Ezra Arcayan/Barcroft Media) is a closeup of a cemetery lane, awash in black mud and garbage. In the background are rows of graves stacked four or five high, “condominium-style.” In the foreground are two cracked human skulls lying on their sides.

Next is a photo of two ill-clad boys of seven or eight, one carrying a bamboo ladder more than twice as tall as himself. Their bare feet sink into the filthy, decaying matter on the ground.

The other images are as harrowing – a man climbing a stack of graves, Spiderman-style; a family relaxing in their shack of galvanized iron and fiberboard; a child dancing in all innocence. All these happen on top of or against a background of tombs and grave markers.

Nearly everyone is barefoot. The few who are shod wear flimsy rubber flip-flops.

These scenes of life amid death, worse than in any in a horror movie because they happen in real life, are played out in many public graveyards in the metropolis.

A cemetery’s denizens may earn from collecting and selling junk and garbage, or from services such as gravedigging, maintaining graves or mausoleums, and praying for the dead. Like other slum dwellers, cemetery folk suffer from a lack of or inadequate sanitation, employment, shelter, education, and healthcare.

Public awareness about this issue is not lacking. Each Undas will not be complete an article or news feature related to this in the local and foreign media. A brief flurry of attention, a spurt of indignation – then the moment dies again, and is buried, to resurrect next Halloween.

Thomas Hobbes postulated in Leviathan that in without a government – what he called “a state of nature” – human lives would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Under such a condition, people would not have access to the things that assure comfortable living.

Hobbes wrote this in 1651, 363 years ago. But for these people in the present-day, living with the dead in, to quote Charlton’s article, this “human-remains-strewn cemetery” and others like it, “one of the country’s worst slums,” in “crippling poverty,” having a government has not improved their plight.

In fact, their condition is worse – because a political community should be able to assure the basic needs of its members.

The United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides, in Art. 25, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services…”

How does our government interpret these basic human rights? This endemic poverty is our national shame. For January to June 2013, poverty incidence was at 24.9 percent. For the same period in 2012, it stood at 27.9 percent, a three percent reduction.

In the Philippine Development Plan for 2011-2016, under the government’s Millenium Development Goals, the aim is to bring poverty from 33.1 percent in 1991 to 12.6 percent in 2015.

Given these figures, can the government reduce poverty by around 12.6 percent by next year, to meet this goal? A 10 percent reduction would be a huge achievement – but is it likely? Is it doable?

Meanwhile, the graveyard inhabitants plod along as best they can, scrounging their subsistence from the opportunities that come their way, living among the dead.

***

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