Posts Tagged ‘pop goes the world’

pop goes the world: communicating democracy

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  8 November 2012, Thursday

Communicating Democracy

As I write this, the exterior lighting of the Empire State Building in New York City turned a brilliant blue to signal the election victory of President Barack Hussein Obama.

The display on the Empire State Building was courtesy of CNN. Image here.

It was a unique form of communication – call it “architectural”. The usual definition of the term is to find meaning in physical buildings, in their bulk and their spaces, landscaping and lack thereof, and so on, applying hermeneutic approaches to a building as to a text.

But turning part of an entire building blue to announce an Obama win – red would have been used for Romney- and an iconic structure in one of America’s greatest cities at that, shows how technology + innovation = a good idea to further share information.

Using signals, in any case, is nothing new, from the smoke signals used by native Americans to the lighted Batsignal in popular culture; all are ways to communicate simple concepts over long distances.

This is an example of how certain channels enable the fast and efficient dissemination of Information, key to the zeitgeist aptly called the information age.

This US election provided many other instances that illustrated how pivotal the role of communication is to all human activity nowadays, especially with today’s technology that provides instantaneous feedback and real-time discussion online.

It was a concretization of the power of mass communication when placed in the hands of many, rather than few as formerly, when the only media outlets were the tri-media – television, radio, and print – which were in the hands of a few networks that performed agenda-setting to varying degrees.

With power now in the hands of the people to inform and persuade, came also the power to move to action, the classic “AKAP” theory come to life – awareness leads to knowledge to attitude change to practice.

More often than not, it is the jump to that last element where a snag usually occurs. People have been bombarded with anti-smoking information for decades, yet this has not made a dent in the number of smokers worldwide, which in Asia is in fact rising.

In the case of politics, though, with a concrete action easy to perform – go out and vote – the call to action is often heeded.

Within minutes of media reporting that he had won more than the required number of electoral votes, this email from President re-elect Obama was sent to his supporters:

“I’m about to go speak to the crowd here in Chicago, but I wanted to thank you first.

I want you to know that this wasn’t fate, and it wasn’t an accident. You made this happen.

“You organized yourselves block by block. You took ownership of this campaign five and ten dollars at a time. And when it wasn’t easy, you pressed forward.

“I will spend the rest of my presidency honoring your support, and doing what I can to finish what we started.

“But I want you to take real pride, as I do, in how we got the chance in the first place.

“Today is the clearest proof yet that, against the odds, ordinary Americans can overcome powerful interests.

“There’s a lot more work to do.

“But for right now: Thank you.

Barack”

Michelle and Barack Obama in a victory hug. The image, captioned “Four more years,” is now the most posted photo on Facebook and most Tweeted ever.

The message here is: you found out what needed to be done, and you made it happen.

It can be the same in the Philippines. For instance, given information that there are such things as epal politicians and who they are (awareness and knowledge), the logical thing would be to have an attitude change or reinforcement (either you agree or not that such behavior is appropriate) leading to practice (in other words, action – vote for them or not).

Photo of this epal tarp from the Anti-Epal Page on Facebook.

The thing is, we Filipinos tend not to be discerning about what kind of information we use to make decisions on such important things as elections. Many of us are content with knowing whether or not the candidate can belt out a passable rendition of “My Way” or dance “Gangnam Style” on the campaign platform.

“Being showbiz” or rather being a good sport should not be our main criterion for electing public officials. Let us take a leaf from American democracy, the model of our own, and hinge the results of elections on things that matter – stands on issues and proposed solutions to challenges – with candidates communicating this to the people via debates and forums.

If this were what the public expected from its election procedure, there would be a change in the system.

Because if intellect, integrity, and a genuine desire to serve were to be what we require from our candidates, a lot of candidates would drop out of the running, and perhaps then we would finally have the leaders we need and deserve.

Epal tarps at a cemetery for Undas 2012. Image here.

But given the cultural dimension we operate in, is this likely to happen?

Pessimists will say, there is no hope for the Philippine political situation to improve. Is this true forever? Or can we at least try to make the AKAP journey to heed what we already know and practice what we believe is right?

As John F. Kennedy said in his 1960 inaugural address, “All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet.

“But let us begin.”  *** 

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pop goes the world: todos los multos

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today1 November 2012, Thursday

Todos Los Multos

It was “All Hallows’ Eve” last night, which the ancient Celts called Samhain (sow-een).

The festival marked the beginning of their winter season, which they observed with sundown-to-sundown rituals from October 31 to November 1 as their equivalent of New Year’s Day.

The Christians adopted the pagan festival into their religious calendar, and made November first a feast day to honor all the saints, todos los santos, known and unknown; November second, a day to remember the departed.

For Filipinos, these three days are a time to reflect on family ties that bind in life and death, a time to visit the sleeping dead who lie forever, a time to keep vigil and pray for their souls.

And where some are gathered on such a night as this, perched by beloveds’ gravestones in the dark fitfully illuminated by guttering candles, one might step forth, he or she a teller of tales, to spin stories such as these…

* * * * *

This happened three years ago.

There were only four of us students in a PhD class at the College of [redacted] in the University of the Philippines-Diliman.

We were seated with our professor at a conference table in the graduate studies department having an animated discussion at eight o’clock one night when the door creaked open, very slowly.

That in itself was unusual because the door was outfitted with a heavy brass automatic door closer that made it difficult to move.

We froze. It was late and there were no other people around. We watched as the door opened about eight inches, then, just as carefully and slowly, closed.

We stared at our professor in fright.

He nodded matter-of-factly. “Yes, there are ghosts here at the College.”

He told us about something that regularly occurred to him in a certain classroom off the main building lobby. This room was constructed like a mini-ampitheater, with students’ seats rising in tiers toward the back.

“Sometimes when I’d call the roll during evening classes,” he said, “there would be a shadowy figure at the back whose face I could never make out. When I’d count those present, there would be one more than the number of enrolled students.”

Which is why our tiny class had ended up holding our sessions in the graduate studies department instead of that classroom in the first place. I am not superstitious. The moment the door shut upon our unknown visitor, I jumped up and peered through the large glass inset in the door.

There was no one outside.

I pulled open the heavy door and went out into the corridor and lobby.

The place was deserted and quiet.

Another student, who said she attended MA classes at the department also at night, said they would sometimes see shadows peering through that glass inset.

They’d get up to inspect, like I did.

But there was never anyone there.

* * * * *

We live in an abandoned racehorse stable beside the former Santa Ana Park racetrack in Makati. It is falling into ruins; the horses were moved to the racetracks in Cavite three years ago. My househelper claims to see ghosts and shadowy figures lurking in the darkness of the stalls.

One side of the stables by day. 

I’d tell my ex-husband, and he’d snort in derision. “Tell Gay she’s being superstitious,” he’d say. We’d have ourselves a good laugh over her “sightings.”

Then, a year ago -

“Guess what Gay’s come up with this time,” I said. “She said – get this – that she saw a man wearing white hanging by the neck from one of the horse stalls!” I chuckled.

This time my ex didn’t smile. “Which stall did she say?”

“The last one beside the paliguan. Why?”

“When we bought this property in the ‘80s, we were told that during World War II  Japanese soldiers hanged a man on that same spot. He was said to be wearing a white shirt when he died.”

* * * * *

There’s a diwata that lives in the tree right outside our front door, or so I was told by an acquaintance who said she has the “third eye.”

She described this nymph for me as wearing white (also), nestled in the tree, glaring balefully at humans, but, being an elemental, not likely to cause harm.

The tree outside my front door, where a diwata may or may not be in residence. On the horizon, Mandaluyong City office buildings rear up against the clouds.

She also told me that the spirit of another elemental, who takes the form of a child, lives inside my house.

“She loves it here,” my psychic friend said. “Your children have plenty of toys for her to play with.”

This must be “Beech”, a spirit my former mother-in-law claims they brought along with them when they moved here from Calamba thirty years ago.

“Once there was a racehorse owner,” she said, “who came to our stables to visit his boarded horses. He pissed in the garage below where your home is now. Some weeks later he came back to us in great distress.

“His private parts, he said, had swollen to abnormal size. He visited doctors who told them they could not find anything wrong, aside, of course, from the fact that his Jockey shorts could barely contain his inflamed genitalia.

“He traced the beginning of his condition to that afternoon he visited our stable. Daddy [my former father-in-law] told him, “You offended Beech. Probably pissed all over her, I wouldn’t be surprised. Make an offering of a gallon of ice cream at the scene of the crime and apologize.””

“The horseowner did, and the problem, err, shrunk within a couple of days.”

When there is something missing at home that won’t turn up after an assiduous search – keys, a box of colored pencils, a book – my children and I have a habit of going, “Give it back right now, Beech!” Oh, wait, that’s me. My kids say, “Please.”

Almost immediately, that item will be right where you’ve already looked.

* * * * *

I am not sensitive to the supernatural; indeed I do not believe there exists a realm beyond that of science, except that fashioned in our lively and infinitely creative imaginations.

Yet I have experienced things which science and logic cannot account for.

Perhaps you have too, during these same days when the Celts said the “veils between the worlds” grow thinner.

A blessed Samhain, and keep safe on your Undas journeys. *** 

Photos taken with an iPhone 4S.

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pop goes the world: it takes a village

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

It Takes A Village

“It takes a village to raise a child.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garie Concepcion (daughter of actor Gabby Concepcion) sings.

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

Tahan-Tahanan photos taken with an iPhone 4S.

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

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

And A Little Child Shall Lead Them

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

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

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

Also injured were her schoolmates Kainat Ahmed and Shazia Ramzan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Salt Lake Tribune editorial cartoon here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Activists denounce the attack on Malala. Image here. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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pop goes the world: house rules

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

House Rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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pop goes the world: we the people

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

We the People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot of home page of pifa.ph. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And with action follows change.

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

Guy Fawkes mask image here.

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pop goes the world: the secrets that we keep

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

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

The Secrets That We Keep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of Mr. Christy here

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pop goes the world: cybercrime law

POP GOES THE WORLD   By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  20 September 2012, Thursday

Cybercrime Law

Is the new cybercrime law oppressive?

Republic Act 10175, signed by the President into law a week ago, lists “punishable acts” related to hacking, “misuse of devices”, frauds and cons, spam, and pornography (specifically child porn and “cybersex”).

But what alarms bloggers and Internet-based news outlets most is a section that includes libel as one of the punishable “content-related” offenses:

“Section 4 (4) Libel – The unlawful or prohibited acts of libel as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future.”

Art. 355 of the RPC punishes “libel by means of writings…” 

Libel is defined in Art. 353 as the “public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.”

This definition of libel is rather vague and subjective to begin with; and as usual with lawmakers, as a former congressman explained to me, they add all sorts of catch-all phrases to cover the possible situations that might arise in relation to that law. So libel and defamation cases hinge on either side’s claim of what is “malicious”, “vice”, “defect”, “dishonor”, the definition of keywords such as “privacy,” and so on.

(There is also the matter of the libel provision being inserted after the bill passed the Senate, when this is not allowed after the second reading. That was illegal to begin with.)

As a writer being regularly published in several newspapers, I have to be cognizant of libel laws. As far as I can recall, I was told in j-school at the University of the Philippines that criticism of public figures is not libelous as long as it is directed to their actions in their capacities as such. Bloggers are, in effect, self-published writers, who in the main have not taken a mandatory class in the law of the mass media.

And with the freedom to publish afforded by the Internet, we are treated to a gamut of content, all the way from legitimate news to scurrilous gossip. Public figures and their foibles are among the favorite topics for discussion and comment.

The first case I recall of a blog that was imputed to contain malicious content occurred in 2007 with the anonymously-penned “Chikatime”. It exposed the scandalous behavior of high-profile socialites, who heaved a collective sigh of relief when the blog’s writer stopped posting after a few months.

This was followed in 2008 by the “Gucci Gang” controversy, where Brian Gorrell, blogging from his home country of Australia, regularly posted juicy gossip about Manila’s elite crowd, alleging theft, drugs, and general bad behavior all around. The case taxed legal minds on how to extend existing libel laws into the wild wide world of the Internet.

Is RA 10175 the solution to similar “loose cannon” bloggers”? You have to first catch them, but how do you even police a virtual domain? While RA 10175 provides for the creation of a “Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center” under the Office of the President (Sec. 24) and for the designation of “special cybercrime courts manned by specially trained judges to handle cybercrime cases” (Sec. 21), how long will it take to set all this up and train all these people before the CICC becomes truly effective?

Sec. 27 appropriates “fifty million pesos…annually for the implementation of this Act.” Is that adequate? I don’t think so, given the cost of computer equipment alone. We’re not talking just desktop PCs but server farms.

How about the budget for manpower? How many people do you need straining their eyes on the computer 24/7 to read every blog, Tweet, and Facebook status emanating from the Philippines or written by a Filipino national anywhere on the planet?

How about in the case of libelous material posted anonymously, under an assumed user name? How are you ever going to find out who done it?

Second, you have to prove the posted material was actually libelous and/or defamatory. As I mentioned earlier, that is subject to interpretation and argument by both sides.

Third, what’s to prevent abuse of the law? In this country, money is persuasive and just might convince a band of enforcers to swoop down on the office of a webhost to shut down its servers without due process.

The Internet serves as a bastion of free speech. Dissidents who might be harassed or persecuted use it to promote advocacies, as in the case of the “Arab Spring” nations to turned to Twitter to let the world know about their struggle for freedom. New media has earned a place in legitimate journalism and activism.

Netizens have their own way of dealing with negative and libelous comments in general. They recognize the “haters” and “trolls” for what they are and quite rightly ignore them.

This, however, has not been successful in the instances of true cyberbullying. As I said in my last column, cyberbullying is mean, cruel behavior by online commenters that pushes the person in question to the extreme – to attempt or commit suicide. There isn’t even a provision against that in RA 10175, meaning the law is inadequate right out of the starting gate.

So, back to my original question – is RA 10175 oppressive? Yes, it could be, as with any law or power wielded by any entity. As always, it is up to citizens to be vigilant and make sure that abuse is never perpetrated.

Should we bloggers and social media users worry? Common sense and a working knowledge of libel laws should dictate our actions. Other than that, there shouldn’t be a problem.

But if there is, we bloggers and Tweeters know what to do, and we will do it without fear in order to protect our right to freedom of speech.   *** 

All photos taken with an iPhone 4S.

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

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

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

B-ball and the Bigger Picture

“Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”

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

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

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

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

Rafe Bartholomew. Image here.

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

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

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

A game on a barangay basketball court. Image here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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pop goes the world: sotto controllo

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

Sotto Controllo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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