Friday, May 18, 2012


In 21st century Philippines, there are still medieval forces lurking and attacking the very halls of freedom this country stands for.

Photo courtesy of
I am talking about religious fundamentalism: the kind of religious fanaticism that attacks religious freedom and shoves their own religiosity down people’s throats. And with recent developments such as President Obama’s same-sex marriage stance, and the debate on the Reproductive Health bill, these medieval forces are once again volting in behind the guise of morality and respect for religious beliefs, to attack the very thing that makes this country liberal.

Its most prominent victim today is Lady Gaga. These medieval forces claim that the Grammy-award winning singer is the epitome of Satanism. From the lyrics to her famous hits, down to her flamboyant, rebellious fashion statements, it all cries foul with pagan and satanic stench. Not to be outdone by their counterparts in South Korea and Indonesia, these forces have also called for a ban on the singer’s “Born This Way” concert at the Mall of Asia Arena this weekend. Their approach may not be medieval at all, with placards and press conferences replacing stones and pitchforks, but the obsolete, if not redundant, ideology that goes with it is still very much potent. It is the same potent ideology that drove a certain “national hero” and “public servant” to issue anti-gay marriage comments when he is supposed to be training for his next fight. It is the same potent ideology that drove a certain beauty queen to bash the LGBT community on Twitter. It is the same potent ideology that brought hurt and discrimination to the hearts and minds of many innocent gays and lesbians, exterminated suspected witches and wizards in many parts of Europe in the medieval courts of Inquisition, and brought to life notorious criminals like the Ku Klux Klan and Osama bin Laden.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


You’re waiting for a call, a call that would give you your biggest cheer in months. A call that would once again be delayed or would never come just like the rest you’ve waited for to arrive.

Your fingers both in your hands and feet are no longer enough to count the resumes and cover letters you’ve sent, or the walk-in applications you made which cost you time, effort and resources you’ve been trying to conserve. In no time, you’ll be begging from your parents once more, an ordeal that eats away the manliness in you. You have a degree and have done well in your craft, and yet here you are, been stuck at home for the last six months. The only consolation you at least have is that just like you there are around 2 million people in the same situation you are right now.

Friday, May 11, 2012


We, the Filipino people, own Panatag Shoal. Or at least, some of us believe.

The rest of this nation of almost 100 million is still divided on this issue. While some of us have joined mass protests today in various Chinese embassies and consulates worldwide, most of us are still weighing the consequences of such actions towards our relationship with our commie neighbour. And as such reservations continue to divide this nation rather than create a sold stand on the issue, the Chinese are continuing its united, armed incursion in Panatag Shoal.

United is the key word here. What makes China ever more confident about taking claim over Panatag Shoal is not just the fact that they have the largest military in the world, but also the fact that majority of Chinese society are behind the Communist Party and the Armed Forces in this endeavour. You can see it in the way they respond in Internet forums or in interviews on Chinese media: how ordinary Chinese netizens, with their substandard English, would bash and threaten Filipinos in forums; or how Chinese hackers have the audacity to attack and maim our websites. Even as their claims lack substantial proof, Chinese society has shown that unique fervour that Panatag Shoal and the rest of the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea are theirs. They are aware of their strength and capability as a people. Hence, with the people’s mandate, the Chinese government has the guts to draw out the big gun and threaten us in our own waters, and dictate the course of this crisis.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The People vs. SM Baguio: Barking Up The Wrong Tree (Part 2 of 2)

Continued from Part 1...

The campaign by Baguio residents to save 182 Benguet pine trees from the SM Baguio expansion complex is a move too little, too late, and bears the hallmarks of double standards.

Double standard

When the MMDA earth-balled some 20 palm trees and placed them in the middle of EDSA prior to the ADB Summit last week, we didn’t see environmentalist crying foul. The same is true when the same agency earth-balled some aging trees along Quezon Avenue a few years back to give way to road widening projects. And yet, here we are in face of losing 182 Benguet pines that are not even listed as endangered or threatened by the IUCN, there is too much backlash. (Not that I'm justifying the need to cut or earth-ball them. All I'm saying here is, why defend only one specie of tree, when there are other threatened, even endangered trees out there.) And even when the facts have been explained that these trees won’t be cut, and that 50,000 saplings of Benguet pine will be planted in and around Baguio coinciding with this move, they won’t back down. I don’t see the consistency in these actions. Let alone, I don’t see where this is heading. Will it lead to civic actions to control migration in and around Baguio’s hills? Will it lead to civic effort to promote a ban on plastics and Styrofoam? Will it lead to a civic movement to stop further commercial development by other big companies? Or are they really just targeting SM on this one? I wish they could pinpoint other violators if there are. Furthermore, I hope some of these protesters won't be hypocrite enough to bash SM and shop in it afterwards.

Heritage issue, not Environmental

Thus, with the merits of their actions scrutinized, the movement to save 182 Benguet pine trees is no longer an environmental issue. It now only stands as an issue of heritage, about a local society trying to save what is left of its pride and heritage – the pine trees of Luneta Hill. Will earth-balling these trees make Baguio less worthy to be called the City of Pines? Aren’t there other groves of pine trees in this bustling, overcrowded city? Isn’t SM even trying to revitalize such status by planting 50,000 saplings?

This campaign is too little, too late. They may win the battle to save 182 Benguet pine tree, but lose the war against continuous human encroachment in other areas in Baguio City. I suggest the movement to focus their energies in other bigger issues such as controlling migration, waste management, watershed protection, creation of more protected areas in and around the city, reforestation efforts, and balancing urban development with environmental sustainability.

Human Encroachment: Isn't this a much pressing issue in Baguio City? | Photo courtesy of Flickr

Barking up the wrong tree

Baguio residents are barking up the wrong tree in this issue. I’d say enough with passing the blame on progressive companies who are simply trying to balance development with the environment. If they really want to pinpoint what’s causing the degradation of Baguio’s natural beauty, they should look at themselves in the mirror and be humble enough to admit that such degradation is their own working as well. In the end, they must commit themselves to much bigger, long-term solutions to this problem, perhaps even work with big companies on this endeavour rather than berating them. After all, neither Baguio residents nor SM wants to see this place lose its crown as the City of Pines. TSS

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The People vs. SM Baguio: Barking Up The Wrong Tree (Part 1 of 2)

The People vs. SM Baguio: Do We Really Know All The Facts? (Photo courtesy of Save 182 Baguio)

 I’d like to hit a different nerve this time. And it involves going up all the way to the City of Pines.

SM is seen right now as the devil out to destroy Baguio’s natural beauty and charm. By building its first mall in the City of Pines, SM damaged what was one of Baguio’s most iconic landmarks next to Mines View Park and Burnham Park. By earth-balling and cutting the remaining Benguet and Alnus pines in the area, the mall operator cemented its reputation as one the leading environmental destructors in the country, at least according to environmentalists and Baguio residents.

However, I feel that the way environmentalists are portraying SM in such a bad light is bordering to cruelty against one company who has also committed itself to promoting environmental awareness and preservation while at the same time advocating economic progress and development. If there is a demonic entity here, Iit’s the citizens of Baguio themselves. They are the ones who allowed this kind of encroachment to happen to the city since American period. They’re the ones who promoted Baguio as the “Summer Capital” due to its cool climate and clean environment. They’re the ones who elected the local officials who in turn granted liberty to business owners, both local and foreign, to set foot in the city and build anything from inns and bars to hotels and shopping malls. They’re the ones who allowed the influx of migrants to go on unchecked without much awareness of its consequences to the city’s resources and surroundings.

When Daniel Burham and the Americans carved out Baguio’s hills to erect The Mansion, Burnham Park and the rest of what are now iconic landmarks in the city, we didn’t have this kind of public clamor. When hotels such as the old Diplomat Hotel, Hyatt Hotel, or even the new ones such as Mines View Hotel or Hotel Veniz, we didn’t hear anything to that effect. Why? Because we felt that these acts are just small that it won’t harm the environment? And now that we see something big like SM’s planned SkyGarden, we throw stones at it? This is indeed the epitome of the saying, “Ang punong hitik sa bunga, madalas pinupukol.”

To be fair to SM, it has done its fair share to promote sustainable use of natural resources such as introducing their M.O.B or “Bring My Own Bag” on Wednesdays to promote the use of cloth and recycled paper bags instead of plastic. It contributes a certain amount to environmental causes for every SM mineral bottle you buy. And now, SM is trying to balance its urban presence with natural environment by promoting green architecture, which we saw in its successful SkyGarden in SM North EDSA. Such initiatives had become models for local governments to emulate such as the successful banning of plastic and Styrofoam in places such as Tagaytay, Muntinlupa and Bacoor, and the Pasig Rainforest.

A Balance of Urban and Natural: SM Baguio's SkyGarden Expansion. (Photo courtesy of
And in the planned expansion of SM Baguio, documents from the DENR show that the company has also committed itself in rehabilitating and preserving the city’s natural environment. According the urban forestry practitioner Armando Palijon, the expansion project will only occupy 1.1 hectares of the total 8 hectares of the Luneta Hill property. Thus, including the 1.9 hectares of the already existing mall, the entire project will only use up 3 hectares, and will leave an entire 5 hectares of open space for trees. Aside from this fact, SM has also committed itself to planting 50,000 saplings of Benguet pine and other native trees in and around Baguio as replacement for the 182 trees to be cut or earth-balled. The design of the Baguio SkyGarden itself showcases environmentally-friendly facilities such as rainwater harvesting systems and lush gardens. Both these  facts can compensate for increase in C02 levels, which environmentalists are claiming will occur once the 182 pine trees are cut.

The development of Baguio is a running train that is difficult to stop. But it's not caused by one company alone. It's caused by an opportunistic and indiffent local society which allowed the train of development to run amok, and then blame it on train itself. I know everyone might not agree with me, but the environmentalists and the others involved in this campaign are barking up the wrong tree.

To be continued...

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Photo courtesy of AP/Bullit Marquez.

This is sort of a follow up to my previous post: "Putting Our Best Foot Forward" last May 2, 2012.

“The government should face reality." It's funny he could say that without realizing the relativity of the concept.

Who should face reality here? Is it the government, who spends billions on a Conditional Cash Transfer program to help the poorest of the poor, arise from their destitute condition? Who works with financial institutions such as the Asian Development Bank (among others) to curb rampant poverty and deprivation in this country? Oh, we’ve seen reality alright. We see it every day, and I think the ADB sees it too throughout their years of being headquartered behind their walled compound in Ortigas Center. In fact, we are already saturated by images of this reality on our TV channels because they made an industry out of documenting about such reality. Hence, I think it would be unreasonable to say that the government is not facing reality. In fact, it is a belated statement, one that was made when some solutions have already been implemented and are still being implemented today. It must be outrageous to think that poverty would disappear in the days leading to the ADB summit, right Mr. Reyes?

Back to my earlier question. If it isn’t the government, who then should face the reality? Is it the upper class who has invested heavily on our country’s economy, provided jobs for the majority, and are taxed heavily? Is it the middle class, who has toiled to get and finish a degree in order to contribute brains, sweat and time to the progress of family and Motherland so that it may not live in indigence? Or is it the poor, who are very much aware of the reality they are stuck with and yet have acted little in the face of such poverty?

Take the case of that community under the bridge, whose view from the street was covered by sheets of galvanized iron by the MMDA. Have they faced the reality that by living on those banks, they are endangering themselves to floods and diseases, as well as contributing to pollution because of the lack of proper sewage system for their homes? I don’t think so. Have they faced the reality that by moving from the province to this already crowded city they would live worse than their subsistence existence in the province? I came from a tiny island in the Visayas whose people have relied on farming and fishing for years and yet were able to send their children to school and improve their lives. That is how we faced reality there. I wonder how these poor people could simply look at reality in the eye and do nothing.

The problem lies on the fact that the poor think that it’s not their choice to be poor. Such belief is not just passé, but also a huge moral flaw on their part. Exchanging a content and sufficient agricultural life in the province is their choice. Getting in to marriage without any plans early in life is their choice. Having sex without protection, having too much sex and kids in the process – it’s all a choice. The government, the upper class, and the middle class were not conspiratorial to all these choices. And even if they are at some point, the choice is still theirs. Do I want to be stuck in such reality for the rest of their lives or am I going to exhaust all possible means to get ahead and rise from the ladder? Such belief statements in life have to be let go by the poor if they are to elevate themselves from the reality of poverty.

The odds are in favor of those who dare. For decades, we, as a people have supported our brethren who  dared to rise out of poverty. Whether people in government, the upper class, the middle class -- we have made steps to assist and support those who are willing to face the reality and solve it. But this doesn’t mean the end is on sight. While ironic, Mr. Reyes’ words do serve as a wake up call. There are still a lot of things to be done aside from covering the blemishes. But the truth remains: those who saved themselves rather than waiting to be saved have been rewarded well. Those who are eager to be saved have been given a helping hand.

I wonder where Mr. Reyes was when all of that was happening.

In another reality, I suppose. After all, they are other group here who’s not facing reality (or rather, facing a different reality – a rather violent and fast-paced one). Those in the left-wing are well aware of such reality and yet what part have they done in order to solve the problem? Have they organized fundraisers or charities for the construction of homes for informal settlers? Have they worked with our system of governance in order to put to justice elements in our society that maligns the poor? Have they been kind to our benefactors in the fight against poverty and deprivation? Are they merely spotlighting the cons instead of highlight what is good in what we’ve done as a nation too?

The left movement should face reality. It’s time that they contribute to nation-building instead of nation-tearing. It’s not that that they should turn 180 degrees on their beliefs. All I’m saying is that they should try meeting the rest of the nation halfway. After all, we only have one common goal in mind, to convince the rest of the world that "It's More Fun [to live] in the Philippines!" TSS

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Photo courtesy of Sec. Cesar Purisima's Facebook page.

We've got visitors this week.

You can tell by the way the landscape is being refreshed in major thoroughfares like EDSA and Roxas Boulevard -- palm trees earth-balled and replanted in the center island -- making it look like Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Sidewalks, flyovers, overpasses, even urinals -- all have been repainted. Corrugated sheets of aluminium were put up on the sides of bridges to cover the smelly, dirty mess of the estuary and the informal settlers below. The usual truck ban just became unusual as it was expanded to a total day time ban. These are just few of the things the Philippines is doing to put its best foot forward to the 45th Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors of the Asian Development Bank from 2-5 May 2012.

There’s nothing wrong with all these preparations. It’s common sense for any country to do some housekeeping in anticipation of visitors, especially foreign ones. We can say that our country is like a good homeowner, who makes his house clean and tidy in time for fiesta season. S/he will put her/his best foot forward to make sure that there won’t be any inconvenience to the visitor within their stay. This kind of attitude is also reflected in the way we attend meetings, conferences or even weekly worship service – we come in our best clothes, making sure we look clean and tidy in the presence of others. Thus, it is excusable if the government spends tax money, time and effort for this event. Failing to prepare for this event will do more damage to our pride and reputation as a nation, compared to the inconvenience of a total truck ban or sheets of galvanized iron to temporarily cover squatter shanties.

Consequently, it is unreasonable for trucking companies or informal settlers (or anyone else for that matter) to complain how they are being affected by these preparations. Their actions are tantamount to a child complaining about having to keep his/her toys in the toy box because Uncle Sam or John Bull is coming to visit. Much like in the household, all stakeholders in this nation must understand the need for these arrangements. For a country trying to convince the world that “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”, cooperation, not obstruction, is ever more important right now. Regardless of what ever issue we have over the Asian Development Bank (especially over loaning practices and influence over national economic policies), in keeping with being a good host putting her/his best foot forward, we must avoid acts that could set a negative impression such as unrest, illegal rallies and demonstrations, and the likes. (This is one call I am directing most specifically to our friends in the Left Movement out there.) After all, despite what they have to hurl against ADB, we cannot deny that it is one of the country’s biggest benefactors in the fight against poverty in the country.

Nevertheless, even as we exceed in this task of hospitality and generosity towards our foreign visitors, we must keep in mind the principle of Occam’s Razor: “It is vain to do with more, what can be done with less.” We can be welcoming and cordial, without having to pompous and extravagant. It doesn’t have to take beyond the capacity of our meagre resources just to appease our guests to the highest level. Our target is simply to make their stay secure and comfortable, and their mission, successful and fulfilling. And if we are to extend that best foot forward, I sure hope we could continue extending it after the visitors have come and gone. After all, a host who is kind to the guest, but is cruel to waiters and servants is NOT a great host. If we can be a good host to our neighbours, then we must be good host to our own people, who expect the most from our hosts, as well.

The 45th Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors of the Asian Development Bank will be from 2-5 May 2012 at the Philippine International Convention Center, CCP Complex, Pasay City. TSS

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