Posts Tagged ‘noynoy aquino’

pop goes the world: the culture of negativity

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  28 July 2011, Thursday

The Culture of Negativity

This being a column that looks at the world from a cultural perspective (in the social anthropological sense), I am attracted to descriptive terms using the formula “culture + (trait) = label for social phenomenon.”

Last week I wrote about the culture of impunity. This time we look at negativism, and how endemic it is in our culture.

Doomsayers abound – the media are full of them, as are street corners. This is not to say that their points are not valid; more often than not, they are. And it is often strong negative emotions that elicit the strongest reactions, and make people discuss them with force and spirit.

Perhaps it is our superstitious side that does not wish to dwell on good news, because to be humble about such things is considered better than talking about them lest disaster and ill luck follow. The strong collective nature of Filipino society also regards talking about one’s achievements as bragging. People who do so are considered show-offs – mayabang - and through various forms of social sanction are taken down a peg –  being shamed or criticized in public is one such way.

About the only achievements that may be celebrated publicly are in sports (Manny Pacquio and the Azkals’ victories), academics (the annual crop of the universities’ summa cum laudes), and showbiz (Charice and other Filipino performers doing well abroad).

However, what is sad and counter-productive is when good news, especially in government, is disbelieved or taken for granted. Achievements are shrugged off and gains set aside as only to be expected. “Dapat lang,” is often the response, with a disdainful sniff.

President Aquino mentioned this in his State-of-the-Nation address the other day, when he said, in Filipino, “Let us end the culture of negativity; let us lift up our fellow Filipinos at every opportunity. Why do others delight in looking for whatever is ugly in our country? And is it so difficult – almost a sin – to say something good?”

After his speech, brickbats were hurled at him left and right, with the exception of some columnists. He left many issues unaddressed, they said. Yet has he done nothing right?

This is not to say everything has gone as it should. There is still much work to be done. The reality of poverty, the inequality of wealth distribution, the lack of local jobs that has led to the Filipino diaspora, is something that we have to confront.

Says an American friend, who has made many Pinoy friends online and because of its people has come to love the Philippines: “I know how sad the state of the Philippines is. It saddens me so much. I see the poverty and how cheap human life is. I see a culture of privilege and caste. I see a bankrupt philosophy buried in a religious dark age. It’s as sad as anything you might find anywhere.

“What is even sadder is how the people could have had such a different path.”

We could have been on a different path a long time ago, if we had chosen to take one before, if we had not deviated from the progressive path we were on in the ‘60s;

If Marcos and martial law did not take us down a dark and bloody road that set our nation back decades, and from which we are still trying to recover. While he and his First Lady built much massive (and blocky and boring) infrastructure, that is just window-dressing compared to the ills of the culture of impunity they embedded and that we are still suffering from, and the lives lost during the First Quarter Storm and well into that regime that we are still mourning;

If Gloria Arroyo and her ilk did not set out upon a path of greed and drain our nation’s coffers almost dry.

Now, after decades of abuse at the hands of such leaders and their cronies, how can we expect President Noy, now taking our country upon the daang matuwid, to fix all these societal problems in a matter of 365 days?

Some analysts say the gains he cited in the SONA as current were taken out of context. Are there then no achievements that may be attributed to this administration? To say that is to negate all the hard work put in the past year by the current crop of government leaders and workers, which is not fair to them.

In short, di na tayo na kuntento. Shouldn’t we be grateful for something at least, rather than the nothing that we might have had if things hadn’t gone as well as they have, considering?

In the end, it’s a question of what we truly want and how badly we want it, and if we are willing to work together – rather than against each other – to achieve it.

But then again, do we know what we really want? And what is it that we should want?

Here’s a story about that, from Hong Kong writer Nury Vittachi’s mystery novel The Feng Shui Detective (2000):

 Blade of Grass, the things you want are the things you do not want. Hear the ancient story of the man who knew what he wanted.

He was walking by the riverside when he saw an Immortal. The man was very curious. He looked at the person from Heaven.

“I suppose you want something from me?” said the Immortal.

“Yes,” said the man.

The Immortal touched a stone with his finger. It changed to gold. He said: “You can take.”

The man did not go. He stayed.

“Do you want something more?” said the Immortal.

“Yes,” said the man.

The Immortal touched three rocks nearby. They turned to gold. He said: “You can take.”

But the man still did not go.

The Immortal said: “What do you want? What is more valuable than gold?”

The man said: “I want something very ordinary.”

The Immortal said: “What do you want?”

The man said: “Your finger.”  ***

Azkals image here. President Noy here. Marcoses here. Book cover here.

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pop goes the world: a nation of palengkeras

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 20 January 2011, Thursday

A Nation of Palengkeras

We are a nation of gossips and scandal-mongers.

We have the chismis gene embedded in our DNA. Nothing pleases our collective temperament more than hearing the latest rumors about celebrities – the dirtier and nastier and more likely to result in a bad outcome, the better.

This tendency is also linked to our talangka mentality – crabs in a pot pulling each other down, afraid one will reach the top before they do.

One of the vernacular terms for a gossip is palengkera, referring to the strident tones of market vendors as they fight for customers’ attention. The term further connotes ill-breeding and vulgarity. I’d say real-life palengkeras are getting a raw deal here, though certainly gossip is denigration and is a pastime of the vulgar, bad-mannered, and ill-bred.

Perennial headline-hoggers are President Noynoy Aquino’s lovelife and hobbies. There are people who spend much time and effort gathering information on his romantic life. Is that any of our business? Why should we care who he’s dating?

Several ladies have been linked to him so far, and none of the dates seem to have blossomed into full-blown relationships – and why? Has anyone figured it’s because the President and his ladies aren’t getting any privacy, with the entire country peeping in on their private lives? How will our bachelor President ever find a wife, at that rate? Come on. Give the man a break. Yes, he is the elected president. But he is also a human being looking for love. Can’t we give him some space?

Not only that, his purchase of a third-hand Porsche sportscar has got critics in a tizzy over alleged ethical violations at the worst and insensitivity to the country’s teeming poor at the least. First, everyone agrees he has not broken any laws. It’s not even a new car. Did anyone raise the issue during the terms of former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo, who by all accounts owned fleets of brand-new vehicles? There should be consistency; we shouldn’t pick and choose who to pick on.

The problem is not only that gossip is a favorite pastime but that societal standards of manners in general have declined. Gossip is just one aspect of this. We are treating each other like crap. Whatever happened to “good manners and right conduct”, the credo many of us of a certain age grew up with? Delicadeza? Common sense and logical thinking, for that matter?

Take the case of Alliance of Volunteer Educators partylist representative Eulogio Magsaysay. I wrote in my column last week about his churlish and ill-mannered hurling of invectives – “Menopausal bitch!” – at Philippine Airlines ground attendant Sara Bonnin Ocampo.

Calling someone a bitch in public just because you didn’t get your way? That is bastos. Spoiled. That is not the way an elected lawmaker should behave. If he does, he no longer deserves respect.

Ocampo has since filed a complaint against him with the House of Representatives committee on ethics. Rep. Magsaysay has apologized, but to the media, not to Ocampo – he claimed he does not know where to reach her.

The plot took a disgusting twist when PAL recently wrote a letter to Rep. Magsaysay’s wife, distancing themselves from Ocampo, who is now on leave from PAL, apologizing for Ocampo’s handling of the situation. When the contents of the letter leaked to the media, PAL later backtracked, calling it a letter of “regret” rather than an apology.

PAL is clearly showing its anti-worker stance, allowing its employees to be verbally abused, and siding with the ill-mannered customer. Rep.Magsaysay could have kept his cool and come out of the fracas on top. Instead, he lost it; his wife even said she would have Ocampo fired. The verbal abuse and ill-temper was compounded with threats and intimidation.

And PAL kowtowed to him and his wife. Why, just because he is a congressman? Such is the arrogance of entitlement. Rep. Magsaysay and PAL’s management must think we are still living in the feudal ages. Oh, wait, apparently, in the Philippines we are.

What a contrast to the way Southwest Airlines defended one of its pilots that delayed a plane’s departure for one man. The story hit the Internet a few days ago. A man’s three-year old grandson had been assaulted by his daughter’s live-in boyfriend. The child was to be taken off life support, and Grandpa was racing to see his apo in Nevada one more time before the plug was pulled.

Reaching the Tucson airport in plenty of time, the man was delayed by security procedures. He swept up his shoes and bag and ran to the terminal in sock-feet, almost in tears, certain the flight had left without him.

Instead, he found the gate agent and the pilot waiting for him. “We held the plane for you and we’re so sorry about the loss of your grandson,” the pilot reportedly said. “They can’t go anywhere without me and I wasn’t going anywhere without you. Now relax. We’ll get you there. And again, I’m so sorry.” The 12-minute delay was an eternity in airport operations; Southwest can turn around a plane in 20 minutes.

And Southwest Airlines’ response to their pilot’s compassionate act? “We are proud of him.” What a contrast to PAL’s lack of support for Ocampo, their employee.

Gossip and bad manners? We’re just scratching the surface here. How badly are we treating each other? The increase in heinous crimes are indicators that things are going very wrong. The recent spate of kidnappings, rapes, and murders point to an escalation of evil. Emerson Lozano and Venson Evangelista’s cars were recently stolen in separate incidents; they were tortured, murdered, and their bodies set on fire. The corpses are charred beyond recognition; the families of both men had closed-casket wakes as a consequence.

What about the case of the young woman who was found the other day not only brutally raped but also beheaded? What is this, America? Mexico? In those countries, heinous crimes such as these are almost common-place. But this is the Philippines. Why has peace and order deteriorated so much?

There are other pressing concerns that deserve our attention. Take the poverty issue. One-third of the nation’s over 90 million population lives below the poverty line. Apart from stop-gap measures such as the conditional cash out program and other similar “hand-out” programs of the government, why not address the roots of the problem, starting with economic issues, food security, jobs generation, a favorable investor climate, and so on?

Instead of focusing on what’s important – the economy, peace and order, social justice – why are we sticking our noses into the President’s private life and calling each other bitches?

Because we’re a nation of palengkeras, that’s why.   ***

Pnoy Porsche image here. Screenshots of Magsaysay and Ocampo from here.

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pop goes the world: not about the SONA

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 29 July 2010, Thursday

Not About the SONA

This is not about President Noynoy Aquino’s recent State of the Nation address. That’s been analyzed and deconstructed from Batanes to Jolo and back by other pundits. This column is about the theory of linguistic relativity – that language shapes the way we think and acquire knowledge, and thereby forms our culture as well.

LR is also known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and states that the structure of a culture’s language determines the behavior and habits of thinking in that culture. In her recent Wall Street Journal article, Stanford University psychology professor Lera Boroditsky gives examples. “Russian speakers, who have more words for light and dark blues, are better able to visually discriminate shades of blue. Some indigenous tribes say north, south, east, and west rather than left and right, and as a consequence have great spatial orientation. The Piraha, whose language eschews number words in favor of terms like ‘few’ and ‘many’, are not able to keep track of exact quantities.”

The Piraha of Brazil have no numbers, colors, fiction, and art. Image here.

Boroditsky says about the new research in the field, “It turns out that if you change how people talk, that changes how they think. If people learn another language, they inadvertently also learn a new way of looking at the world. When bilingual people switch from one language to another, they start thinking differently, too.”

How is this significant for Filipinos? Let’s look at the word dilihensiya. It’s been said that much is lost in translation – there nuances of meaning are often untranslatable. What’s English for makulit, and other words like pitik and pasma? Dilihensiya has connotations of being savvy and street-smart; it is what is done to gain something, usually for survival. Yet these English terms inadequately convey the full meaning of the word; instead, more Tagalog words come to mind – maabilidad, magulang, matinik. These words in turn are also difficult to translate.

It’s also been said that you can put a Filipino anywhere on the planet, under any conditions, and he or she will find a way to survive. Does the fact that these words exist in our language make us Filipinos more resilient and able to withstand hardships to eke out a living where others cannot?

Take the words siya, kapatid, asawa. In English, siya is ‘he’ or ‘she’; kapatid, ‘brother’ or ‘sister’; asawa, ‘wife’ or ‘husband’. Tagalog and other Philippine languages are non-gendered, implying that there was time of sexual equality among the inhabitants of these islands before Spaniards and Americans came with their gendered languages and patriarchal religions (that includes Islam). In William Henry Scott’s Barangay: Sixteenth Century Philippine Culture and Society, it is shown that either sex could inherit; property, including inheritance, was not conjugal; “divorce was easy”, and there were no stigmas attached to premarital sex.

“A Tagalog couple of the Maharlika nobility caste depicted in the Boxer Codex of the 16th c. By the 9th c., a highly developed society had already established several castes with set professions, as well as trading links with China, India, Arabia and Japan.” Image here.

Which reminds me of P-Noy’s SONA of Monday. He gave the speech in Tagalog, which touched the hearts of an audience used to hearing past presidents deliver theirs in English. Yet the language of law and governance is primarily English; will there be contradictions? Missteps in policy formulation?

P-Noy said on the water crisis: “…kinilusan agad ni Secretary Rogelio Singson at ng DPWH. Hindi na siya naghintay ng utos, kaya nabawasan ang perwisyo.” An English translation on Manuel Quezon III’s tumblr site goes:Secretary Singson did it without prodding, which alleviated the suffering of those affected.” Kinilusan is more of ‘moved on it’, while naghintay ng utos is ‘wait for a command’, not the same as ‘prodding’; nabawasan ang perwisyo simply means that bother was reduced – it is not the same as ‘alleviating suffering’. Yo, P-Noy, I’m really happy for you, and Imma let you finish, but being without water is not just perwisyo, it is pagdurusa.

Does the difference in language matter? It can. When the mindset of a people, as influenced by and manifested in their language, is that responsibilities need to be utos and suffering is mere perwisyo, how can you expect them to do their jobs properly out of concern for their fellows? Government fails to deliver service to the people in so many ways. That is why Filipinos are forced to make dilihensiya and to be maabilidad.

“After power, water shortage: Residents of San Dionisio, Parañaque, line up their pails to receive free water from the city government.” Image here.

A friend said in an email about the Boroditsky article, “After the initial description, what sort of ancillary artifact (culture) might form around that self-same description, that also delineates its function within a certain construct? Perhaps, in that sense, the language that arises reinforces culture accordingly in a cyclical fashion. I think of language and culture as both integral parts of the natural DNA of sentience.”

After I read his remark and wiped the blood streaming from my nose, I saw that he had a point. Language can reinforce habits, whether good or bad. Being sentient creatures, now that we possess the knowledge that this can be so, we can now be more vigilant and self-aware of our actions and behavior, not only on the national scale but as individuals, striving to make this country a better place to live in, to reduce the need for dilihensiya and to alleviate pagdurusa.

Well, what do you know – this column is about the SONA after all. ***


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pop goes the world: a culture change is in the wind

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 8 July 2010, Thursday

A Culture Change Is In The Wind

Even before his proclamation, when it became clear that one Benigno Aquino III won the most votes in the recent national elections, a torrent of well-meaning advice and suggestions by way of mass media flooded him, most of them having to do with much-needed societal and governance reforms.

In the newspapers, on TV, and in the social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), the issue of government corruption tops the list of items that need to be addressed. Commenters unite in saying, “President Noynoy, crack down on the corrupt!” For changes to occur in the structure, the leader has to bring them about both by mandate and by example.

It is inspiring to see how P-Noy started with simple changes that had a personal impact – no wang-wang (sirens) and other traffic privileges for himself; no more presidential plane, he says he can fly commercial (in contrast to his unlamented predecessor who was prevented from buying a P1.2 billion executive jet by public outcry). He arrives early for appointments and beats traffic by leaving his house earlier than he’s used to.

It is appalling to see how the new vice-president, Jejomar Binay, was caught by news media blatantly ignoring traffic rules by running a red light and turning left on a “No Left Turn” street. His comment? “But I didn’t use wang-wang.” He also said that even if he left early, traffic would have been heavy anyway. Yeah, right. Seems to me someone just doesn’t want to give up the “privileges” he’s been used to. Ignoring the rules mandated for others sets you apart from the majority and makes you feel special and powerful. Insecure much?

Binay with Erap on the campaign trail in 2010. Image here.

P-Noy has been criticized for focusing on “insignificant” matters while bigger issues require solutions, now na! Come on, give the guy a break. It’s his first week on the job, yet already his actions have triggered a perceptible shift in the culture of privilege. Hope for fairness has lifted many hearts. Ordinary citizens are using digital technology to take pictures and videos of wang-wang and traffic violators and uploading them to the Internet. Perhaps public shaming will result in a change of behavior. For a test case, we’ll see if it has an effect on V-Nay.

University of the Philippines communication professor Dr. Joey Lacson calls this “a shift in the communication environment” – policies emanating from the top will trickle down and bring about changes in society, where new knowledge and awareness may lead to a change in attitude and practice.

Yet how effective as a catalyst for behavorial change can P-Noy’s example be? To return to the issue of endemic government corruption, will the way the president lives his life be enough to foster better behavior among unscrupulous government officials and employees?

My sister Aileen arrived for a vacation last week from Dubai, where she has been based the past 15 years or so as an overseas foreign worker. She went to the National Bureau of Investigation in Quezon City the other day to obtain a police clearance and was dismayed to see the shabby building, obsolete fingerprinting equipment, and long lines that snaked in three coils to another building. “On what does the NBI spend its annual budget?” she asked.

At Window 1, she was required to pay a fee for the clearance. At the next window, she was assessed another five pesos for “fingerprinting”. “The man taking the money,” she said, “had stacks of coins in front of him. And he wasn’t behind the counter. He did not issue a receipt. What was the extra five bucks really for and why is it not included in the amount I was charged at the first window?”

Fixers asked for P350 to enable her to jump the line and get her clearance faster. They swarmed around her and the other people in line as security guards and employees watched, obviously aware of the system. Since they do nothing to stop it, it leads one to assume that at least some of them are in on it too.

I rode a cab to school yesterday. The taxi driver, Virgilio T., complained that when he went to the Land Transportation Office at N. Domingo to renew his driver’s license, he was told to return after ninety days for the card. At the same time, he was approached by a fixer and told that for a fee, he could get his license in just two weeks. “If they can print the card in that short a time,” he said, “why do they make us wait three months? Why do they have to extort money from us for them to do their job?”

These are just two instances of how deeply embedded the culture of corruption is in government, at all levels from top to bottom, the difference being a matter of scale – the big fish take billions from government contracts, the small fry are content with the steady trickle of coins.

How do you tweak the communication environment in this situation to bring about a positive cultural change? For starters, P-Noy and his team need to craft clear policies that spell out the types of unethical behavior and their corresponding penalties, then strictly enforce them without fear or favor. Consistency in implementation is necessary for credibility.

Next, P-Noy needs to be true to his policies by living a squeaky-clean life and continuing to be a good example, to enable changes in organizations to occur via the trickle-down effect. It’s a tough act, but then who said being president was easy?

We as citizens can to do our part by not giving in to the desire for convenience by refusing to engage in graft and by exposing the corrupt. Like P-Noy, no more wang-wang, no more fixers, no more getting out of traffic violations by showing the card of this or that government official. Or showing the face of a government official – that means you, V-Nay.

“A change is gonna come,” sang Sam Cooke, and we can share that optimism, for we can already feel the winds of change blowing. How refreshing they are.    ***

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pop goes the world: signs of the times

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 1 July 2010, Thursday

Signs of the Times

With yesterday’s inauguration of the country’s new president, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, and vice-president, Jejomar Binay, a wave of hope washed through the nation, borne on tides of symbolism centered around Aquino.

This phenomenon made his presence ubiquitous and insinuated into the fabric of everyday life, whether or not you thought about it consciously.

The most obvious signs were on a direct level – his photographs plastered on the front pages of newspapers and the covers of magazines, which were filled with stories about his future plans for the government and anecdotes about his personal life. Television shows spent hours speculating on what his administration would accomplish. Billboards sprouted left and right, bearing congratulations to “Noy-Bi”. Merchandise bearing his face and that of his parents – former president Corazon Aquino and the late senator Benigno Aquino Jr. – were available at every price range, from cheap umbrellas and bandannas to pricey Parker and Lamy rollerball pens.

On a more abstract level, the signs also abounded.The color yellow, campaign motif of his mother, was everywhere. Publication editors carefully chose photographs and layouts awash in the color. Shop windows in malls displayed mannequins wearing yellow clothes.

At the Quirino grandstand yesterday, the sea of yellow-wearing spectators lapped to the fringes of the public park. While Noynoy himself chose to wear a traditional ecru barong tagalog, others close to him wore yellow – among them his sister, Kris Aquino, and significant other, Valenzuela councilor Shalani Soledad, who wore a simple yellow gown designed by Rajo Laurel.

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Laurel had asked Soledad if she wanted to wear another color, but she declined. In doing so, she, and others similarly clad, reinforced yellow as a symbol standing for Noynoy. By extension, to a deeper level of signification, yellow also serves as a sign for what he stands for and has promised – hope and change.

Apart from the existing signs to which society has attached meanings, new signs are being created. For one, the nickname “P-Noy” (President Noynoy), that he uses as a way of branding himself. Being informal in tone, it also makes him seem more approachable, “one of us”, and connotes trustworthiness and humility.

Meanings may be found not only in artifacts (things) but also in actions and behavior. P-Noy has time and again declared that he will not live in Malacañang Palace or the Arlegui mansion, where he resided with his siblings during the presidency of his mother. He says he will continue living at their small family home in Times Street, Quezon City.

P-Noy’s refusal to dwell in homes heavily associated with his unpopular predecessors – Ferdinand Marcos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – may be seen as a way of distancing himself from their negative actions, eschewing luxury and grandeur, and carving a fresh start for himself as he remains rooted in the tradition of family.

It is interesting to note how an entire system of signs has sprung up around P-Noy and the phenomenon of his rise to power – something that did not occur to this extent for Marcos or Arroyo, perhaps because of their unpopularity.

A society’s system of signs and symbols, which is constructed within its culture, performs an important role in social life. It impacts the way people communicate by providing another “language” through which ideas and concepts are exchanged, and actions and behavior influenced. This links to the concept proposed by some communication scholars that communication not only helps people navigate within reality, it also creates reality.

Communication scholars and those interested in semiotics may look forward to interesting times as the culture of P-Noy, his family, and his administration will certainly continue to provide fodder for study.

Yet the pressing concern for citizens is whether President Noynoy will live up to the virtues carried in these signs we’ve mentioned. In his inauguration speech, he promised to carry on the legacy of his parents (again using this reference as a sign pointing to the accomplishments of his parents, and associating himself with those). Again, another layer of meaning may be discerned, pointing to P-Noy as “the good son”, “the champion for change”.

But will he uphold democracy and deliver change and reforms as promised? Or will promises again be broken, and the meaning of the signs be rendered naught or shifted to the negative? Will P-Noy be able to create an improved reality for Filipinos? The whole nation anticipates that the signs of the times will point to a brighter and better future for all. ***

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pop goes the world: we are family

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 10 June 2010, Thursday

We Are Family

If the Philippines had a theme song, it would be Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family”.

Taking yesterday’s proclamation of senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III as president –elect and of Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay as vice-president-elect at the Batasan Pambansa from a semiotic viewpoint, the theme of ‘family’ emerged as one of the dominant signs.

Present were children and babies held by nannies or parents, because it is part of Filipino traditional culture that significant celebrations be held with family.

Also in the hall were members from the several dozen ruling dynasties of the country. Some were incoming, others outgoing, elected or appointed public officials. Their faces and genders and credentials may change, but the names stay the same, election year after election year. We might as well be a monarchy with a hierarchy of nobility and aristocracy.

The Aquino family members received much on-camera exposure during the television coverage of the event. Noynoy’s sisters Ballsy, Viel, Pinky, and Kris were seated in a row, clad in black, showbiz celebrity Kris in a glamorous off-shoulder number, her older sisters dressed more conservatively. Apart from showing the difference in their personalities and fashion taste, the clothes were a sign of two things: that the customary one-year mourning period for their mother, the late president Corazon Aquino, is not over; and of just who their mother was, and her place in history.

President-elect Aquino, Enrile, and Nograles are joined by Aquino’s sisters and brothers-in-law. (Photo by Voltaire Domingo/NPPA).

By extension, their dark garb was also a reminder of the other family member they lost – their father, former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., whose assassination may be said to have set this wave of events in motion, bringing an entire country to this point, where his only son holds the highest office in the land, borne to power on the crest of public sentiment for his parents.

This image references Kris’s hosting of game show “Deal Or No Deal”, which ended 2009.

Seated near the Aquino sisters was Shalani Soledad, Noynoy’s significant other, speaking to singer Ogie Alcasid. The showbiz family of Kris Aquino was well-represented too. It is from their ranks that the incoming president considers recruiting heads of government agencies – Boy Abunda for Tourism, Dingdong Dantes for the National Youth Commission, and Grace Poe for the MTRCB are some of the names he mentioned. Of course he makes these choices based on their qualifications, because it can’t be out of gratitude, can it, for their help in his campaign?

Shalani Soledad being interviewed by a radio news reporter. (Photo by Voltaire Domingo/NPPA)

In behalf of yet another prominent family, Senate President pro tempore Jinggoy Estrada read a message from his father Joseph. The senator extended his father’s “humble” acceptance of his defeat to Noynoy in the elections, and wished him well. From there the speech degenerated into a rant, citing the “failures” of Comelec and Smartmatic, stating again, as if we didn’t know, that the elder Estrada once served as president, and warning the Filipino people to guard against the corruption in government which he was unable to stem during his own administration.

There too at the Batasan were the Binays of Makati City. With son Junjun taking over from his father as Makati mayor, and daughter Abby the new congresswoman of the second district, they carry on decades of Binay administration in one of the country’s richest cities. The same goes for the Belmontes of Quezon City – father Sonny moves up from mayor to Congress while his daughter Joy steps in as vice-mayor to Herbert Bautista, who for years has held that same position.

We could go on and on.

But what about the families of the millions of people who gave the reins of government to these people via their votes? Who thinks of them?

As a citizen of this republic and the head of a family of my own, I lay this solemn charge upon the incoming set of political leaders – remember the families.

Think of the overseas contract workers who endure separation for years from their loved ones to toil in foreign lands to ensure the survival of their children in a country that cannot provide jobs and better life opportunities for them and their parents, while the government brags of a high GNP pumped by the billions of dollars they remit, ignoring the social cost and its consequences.

Seek to improve the lot of the widowed and children of those murdered in the Ampatuan massacre; those who die fighting on both sides of the insurgents’ war; those who live in hovels mired in abject poverty in sight of your grand mansions; those who cannot continue their education because of financial constraints.

Rescue those who are victims of abuse by the military and private armies and by those who because of the inflated condition of their pockets and egos assert their power over those who have little or none, since they thrive unpunished in a culture of impunity.

Filipino culture values family above all, even above God and country. The way we address each other reflects this – kuya or manong security guard, ate or manang food vendor, nanaytatay this or the other. And how often have we heard someone say, “Gagawin ko ang lahat para sa pamilya”? A Filipino will do, endure, and sacrifice all, for the sake of family.

To our new leaders, do not forget you are Filipinos, imbued with this land’s culture and norms. Accept that you are members of a larger family – the nation. Perform your mandated tasks, bearing in mind that you have our trust, because we have nowhere else to put it.

Remember the Filipino families – not only your own.   ***

“My Brother’s Keeper” by Ronnie T. Tres Reyes. Top Five finalist, 2008 Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office “Isang Pitik sa Charity” photo contest. Reyes describes his photo: “Taken one chilly night outside a McDonald’s along Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City. For over a year, this five year old boy has been taking care of his baby brother every night on the steps of the restaurant. Sometimes he lies on the concrete and allows himself to be the baby’s bed and source of warmth.”

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pop goes the world: do we need another hero?

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 3 June 2010, Thursday

Do We Need Another Hero?

President-elect Noynoy Aquino has come under public scrutiny lately for not wanting to quit smoking and for short-listing television talk-show host Boy Abunda for a high government position.

Stop laughing, this is serious. The smoking thing started when Aquino was asked if he would quit for World ‘No Tobacco’ Day on May 31. Obviously uncomfortable with the question, he said he is not inclined to give up the habit as it would pressure him more – and forget about the promise he made to quit smoking if he wins the elections.

Aquino steps outside Carmel church for a smoke. Image here.

In a recent speech, United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki Moon called tobacco use “ugly and deadly” and urged “all governments to address this deadly threat.” The World Health Organization says tobacco-related diseases are the second-highest cause of death globally after hypertension, killing one in 10 adults. It is an epidemic that is “preventable” with the strong support of government.

For this reason, Department of Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral and several non-government organizations have urged Aquino to kick the vice, citing “leadership by example” and the difference he could make in the lives of the country’s smokers via his example. However, Cabral acknowledges that it’s Aquino’s choice to continue, “as long as he does not smoke in front of others or harm them with his smoking.”

Come on, he’s not going to light up in the bathroom or closet. He’s the president and he’ll smoke where he pretty darn pleases.

Cabral perceives Aquino as having influence as a role model, which is a symbolic function. A role model is a person whose way of life serves as a source of inspiration for others to transform themselves for the better. He becomes a sign for what is good and worthy of emulation.

Why is he seen as such? As a public figure, he lives his life in the media, his behavior and actions subject to everyone’s observation, deconstruction, speculation, and outright fabrication. That comes with the territory. Don’t complain. You can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Yet Aquino remains cool and unflappable. He makes decisions as he deems fit. For one, he mused on tapping Abunda’s media and marketing expertise for the government, also citing his stature as an “icon” and his effectivity in communicating ideas to his audience. Noynoy has said he wants to offer Abunda a position as undersecretary or assistant secretary – pretty high up the food chain for someone who is not career government.

Pundits criticize this choice, saying there are many other candidates better suited for the position. Abunda himself has defused the situation by saying that he wants a “simple life”, and that he is still under contract to the ABS-CBN network. A successful businessman, he certainly earns more in entertainment and through his other entrepreneurial activities.

Boy Abunda: celebrity icon. Image here.

Apart from the connection via friendship (Abunda is very close to Noynoy’s sister, talk show host Kris Aquino, and was also the family spokesperson upon the death of Kris and Noynoy’s mother, former president Corazon Aquino), the president-elect is showing just how powerful the influence of popular culture is. Because Abunda, by dint of his engaging performance on air, has become wildly popular among his viewers, he is seen as an “effective communicator”. For running a successful talent management company, he is deemed to have marketing and business skills of the caliber to run a government agency.

What does that say about the Filipino, when the incoming head of state – his image also largely a product of popular culture – relies upon the icons of media to help with the “marketing” of a country?

It says that the power of popular culture should not be underestimated, and that those who wield it have immense responsibility, for they can use their influence for good – or evil.

Looking at Aquino’s choice of Abunda from another angle, it is the acquisition of the talents of people from showbiz (and other private industries) for the public good, or “privatization”. In the US, a comedian wants Steve Jobs to become president and reverse the economic meltdown. He did it for Apple – two million iPads have been sold since it was launched two months ago, and its market capitalization has surpassed Microsoft’s, for years the giant in the IT world. The idea is, if it works there, it’ll also work here. But that’s not necessarily so. Private success does not always translate into public effectivity.

To sum up, Aquino is not a “good role model” for refusing to ditch cancer sticks and for being swayed by popular culture and personal agenda when making some decisions that have national repercussions.

But we didn’t elect him to be the national role model or hero. That’s Jose Rizal. We voted Aquino in as president. His job is to make the right choices, set the right priorities, and do what needs to be done. Government corruption, poverty elimination, culture of impunity – the list of issues that need reforms is inexhaustible.

The National Hero’s image on a banknote.

Good governance is the toughest job of all – harder even than quitting smoking. And if the president struggles, we all struggle – the political equivalent of inhaling second-hand smoke.

A Wise Guy friend says, “Stop looking for messiahs. Wala sa Wowowee at Star Talk ang pag-asa. It’s not the president’s job to create co-dependents; dapat lang maiahon niya ang bayan sa kahirapan.” And it is our job as citizens and members of media to keep him on track, give him feedback from the grassroots, and tell him whether or not he’s doing the job we elected him for. ***

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pop goes the world: election theme song

Welcome to a new interactive reading experience. This column comes with its own background music! Click ‘play’ to begin.

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  13 May 2010, Thursday

election theme song

“I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes, I saw the sign…” ‘The Sign’, Ace of Base (1994)

The recent elections showed with startling clarity how Filipinos choose their leaders. In the United States, which has a two-party system, people side with one or the other based on the principles each embodies. The Republican Party is seen as traditional, conservative, religious; the Democratic Party, liberal, progressive, secular. Their action plans and policies are in line with these characteristics.

In the Philippines, political parties are merely groups of politicos with the same agendas, not necessarily platforms, loosely cohering because of mutual need and perceived or contrived advantage. That is why jumping ship is done as expediency dictates. Since parties do not stand for a particular set of principles, neither then are voters used to electing leaders based on these criteria, but rather on personalities.

Our elections are, like American Idol, a popularity contest.

Logically, we should select leaders based on what they stand for, what they’ll fight against. Are they pro or anti the Reproductive Health Bill? Divorce? Secularization of the state? How shall they resolve corruption in government? The entrenchment of familial political dynasties? Obtaining justice for the victims of the Ampatuan massacre?

According to one of my professors at the University of the Philippines, an expert on political communication, it’s the masa (masses) vote that is crucial, via their sheer numbers. “There’s no such thing as a ‘middle-class’ vote,” she said. It is the masses that campaign managers woo with their eye-candy ads, celeb endorsements, and earworm jingles. Given that, did we vote based on how candidates will deal with issues?

Our elections were, like cars on weekdays, color-coded.

“I saw the sign…Life is demanding, without understanding…”

In semiotics, signs and symbols are codes that, when interpreted, may connote or convey a certain meaning in a particular context and culture. The French semiotician Roland Barthes further postulated various levels of meaning. For example, on a primary level, a label with a picture of a bottle of wine means ‘wine’. On a secondary level, ‘wine’ may connote ideas such as ‘health’, ‘luxury’, ‘fine dining’.

A young Roland Barthes. In his later years, he probably would have analyzed the signs in this photo – what do the robe and mustache signify?  Why was the shelf of books used as the backdrop?

During these past elections, more so than at any other time except during the 1986 snap elections, we have seen how the candidates were defined by their media machines and tagged with sometimes essentially meaningless ‘motherhood statement’ taglines to effect maximum audience recall.

These ideas as portrayed in ads were then further abstracted by voters into concepts until the realities of the candidates’ personalities dissolved. These were replaced by symbols stemming from people’s understanding of the how the candidates were portrayed in their own ads, and what roles these candidates may play in government and in their individual lives.

“I saw the sign…No one’s gonna drag you up to get into the light where you belong…”

In 1986, Corazon Aquino symbolized reform, change, and the overthrow of the dark and oppressive Marcos regime. Though her qualifications were assailed – “Just a housewife” – in the end it was the virtues that people perceived she stood for – “heroism, courage, martyrdom for Inang Bayan” – that carried her to victory in the polls and impelled the People Power movement.

In similar fashion, Noynoy Aquino as a person was reduced to a concept: “The only son of hero parents who will continue their struggle”. We don’t know that he will actually do this, but for many of us this is what he represents. Manny Villar was “The man once poor who will lift us out of poverty and give us houses while swimming through seas of garbage.”

Noynoy Aquino and his mother, the late president Corazon Aquino.

These ideas were further abstracted to symbols and colors. As mnemonics for easy recall, it was a good idea. But the tactic further distanced the person from the sign that connoted him. Aquino was yellow and the “L” sign; Villar, the orange check; Gilbert Teodoro, green. People asked each other, “Who are you voting for? Yellow or orange?” The idea of voting for the principles and platforms of people was mislaid along the way. Tossed, perhaps, into those seas of garbage.

Manny Villar, orange shirt, ‘check’ gesture, tagline…check.

Artifacts also became signs. One strongly identified with the Aquino-Roxas camp was the Collezione Philippine map shirt. I wore such a dress weeks ago – black with a yellow map – but not for political reasons. I simply thought it comfortable. A friend said, “So you’re for Noynoy!” I may or may not have been. But it struck me that my friend assumed whom I was backing in the polls by extracting meaning from the sign he took my dress to be.

Aquino wearing Collezione shirt with yellow Philippine map embroidered logo, fingers flashing ‘L’ (Laban – fight). If the shirt were longer and reached to his knees, you’d have my dress.

With the election results in, one Aquino supporter exclaimed, “Our country is now yellow!” A clueless listener might think this means our land is awash in urine. (True, if you consider those pink MMDA roadside urinals.) But to those aware of the context of the remark, it merely indicates that our new president belongs to the political team symbolized by that color.

Pink MMDA urinal. It has nothing to do really with the column. I just thought you might want to see what one looks like.

In this particular social exercise, signs and symbols played a highly significant part in fixing in voters’ minds characteristics ascribed to the candidates, whether or not these characteristics were actually possessed by that individual. Full spin is deployed in ad campaigns, that’s granted – they say what they want you to know. Yet there were deep levels of abstraction here that further obscured reality.

In the future, seek to discern the symbology and peel off the conceptual layers, from apparent to hidden, until you get to the true meaning at the core. Then you will know if you voted for a color, or for leaders with platforms and principles.

“It opened up my mind, I saw the sign!”   ***

(Photos from all over the Net, collected over time. My apologies for not being able to give individual photo credits.)

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