Saturday, October 18, 2014

FILIPINO | "Jennifer"


Anak siya ng kanyang mga magulang. Kaibigan siya sa kanyang mga kabarkada at kakilala. Nais lamang niya makaraos nang may kakanin sa araw-araw. Marahil, minsan, sa kaibuturan ng kanyang kamulatan ay pinagsisihan niya ang mga kanyang piniling daan. Marahil, naghahanap rin siya ng kaunting pang-unawa at pagtanggap ng lipunan.

Subalit, hindi na mahalaga ang lahat ng ito ngayong patay ni si Jeffrey Laude, o “Jennifer”, sa mga nakakakilala sa kanya. Sa isang iglap, naglahong parang bula sa ating hinagap si Jennifer. Nawalan ng ulirat sa maruming tubig-inidorong sumulasok sa kanyang hininga dahil sa pagngudngod ni Joseph Scott Pemberton sa pagmumukha niya.

Ang tanging kasalanan niya: Dahil binabae siya

Ngunit hindi nagtatapos sa loob ng isang kubeta sa Lungsod ng Olongapo ang pagpatay kay Laude—ito ay isang krimen na patuloy na isinasagawa. Pagkat matapos siyang tanggalan ng buhay at puri sa kamay ng isang banyaga, heto’t tangan ng nakararami sa ating lipunan ang patalim, inuundayan ng saksak ang dangal at pagkatao ng isang namayapa.

Nakapandidiri. Nakasusuka. Ngunit di nakapagtataka. Pagkat hanggang ngayon, ang lipunang ito na ginupo ng kanser ay patuloy na sumisira sa kanyang sariling mga kababayan; humahawa, kumakalat, gaya ng walang lunas naEbola.

Sa isang lipunang nabubuhay sa tsismis, intriga, at kathang isip, asahan na ang pagkutya at panghuhusga sa biktima kaysa sa may-salà. Sa isang lipunang hibang sa banyagang impluwensiya, na mas pipilahan pa ang pagbubukas ng una’t bagong sangay ng H&M o ang pagrampa ng mga babaeng modelong tinaling parang aso, hindi nga naman katawag-tawag na kriminal ang isang puting Kano tulad ni Pemberton.

Si Pemberton ang kumakatawan nga naman sa ating kaligtasan laban sa ating mga kaaway, kaligtasang hatid ng EDCA at ng Amerika. Wala tayong kalaban-laban kapag sinalakay tayo ng Pulang Tsina at sakupin ang ating mgaisla.

Walang ring kalaban-laban si Laude nang i-ngudngod sa inidoro ng puting banyaga. Subalit sa nakararaming Pilipino, hindi naman na ito mahalaga.

Bakit nga naman natin pag-aaksayahan ng panahon ang isang binabaeng mababa ang lipad? Kinalakal niya ang sariling katawan sa mga kalalakihan nang lingid sa kaalaman ng kanyang Aleman na katipan. Isa siyang haliparot. Isa siyang kawatan. Isa siyang salawahan. Dapat lamang sa kanya’y kamatayan!

Kristiyanong sambayanan! Walang dungis o kapintasan! Sige’t ipukol niyo ang bato sa binabaeng mangangalunya!

Bayan kong may kanser, ganito tayo nabubuhay. Umiinog tayo sa nagpapatuloy na nakaraan. Oo’t wala nang mga prayle. Kayumanggi na ang simbahan at pamahalaan. Subalit nakagapos pa rin tayo sa mga dating mananakop at ang mga alipin ng kahapon ang siya namang mga mapang-alipusta ng kasalukuyan.


Ngunit marahil, kumpara sa nakararaming Pilipino, mas mapalad pa rin si Laude, pagkat payapa na ang kalooban niya. Habang binubulabog pa rin ang galit at suklam ang puso ng mga kumukutya sa pagkatao at kasarian niya. Mahimbing ka Jennifer, pagkat sa langit ay di ramdam ang masidhing init ng impyernong lipunang ito.

Gaya ni Jennifer Laude, anak ka ng iyong mga magulang. Kaibigan ka ng iyong mga kabarkada at kakilala. Nais mo lamang na makaraos nang may kakanin sa araw-araw. Marahil, minsan sa kaibuturan ng iyong kamulatan ay naghahanap ka rin ng kaunting pang-unawa at pagtanggap ng lipunan—ng kaunting katarungan sa buhay.

Nakikiisa ang The Social Scientist sa pambansang panawagan para makamit ni Jennifer Laude ang hustisya at kabuuang pagtanggap ng lipunang Pilipino sa mga LGBT. #JusticeforJenniferLaude

Photos courtesy of SocialAlerts.com and BeechwoodCross.blogspot.com

Thursday, October 16, 2014

OPINION | Of ladies and gentlemen (chivalry must die!)

This story is so hot right now it’s like a jam-packed jeepney.

On Wednesday night, Top Gear Philippines posted on their Facebook page a photo of two female students piggybacking on a public utility jeepney (PUJ) in an unidentified street somewhere in Metro Manila. Top Gear Philippines captioned it as “Is Chivalry Dead?”

Upon its release, netizens were quick to pounce on the story, with most comments decrying the “death” of chivalry and the lack of “gentlemen” inside that jeep. Some have channeled traditional family values in the issue, by saying, “Would you let your mother, wife, or sister experience this?” Others have even resorted to homophobic remarks, calling the men inside the jeep, “gay”, or labeling male supporters of gender equality, as “more female the women.”

But there are those who saw empowerment in the photo. Several netizens cheered the subjects for doing what men can do. Some said it shouldn’t be uncommon to see scenes like this as we are living in the era of gender equality and women empowerment.

The uproar from the photo points to very obvious reasons.

The two subjects wore all-white uniforms composed of a blouse and skirt; one was wearing a pair of flats, the other, leather shoes. The fact that the photo exists obviously says that the driver had allowed the women to piggyback on the jeepney and that they willing did so. Since the two women were blocking the view from inside the jeepney, it cannot be said if there were other passengers in the jeep, whether men or women.

Being a conservative, traditional, quasi-patriarchal, quasi-matriarchal society, a large demographic of Filipinos would definitely decry this situation upon seeing even just the uniforms. Despite the possibility that these women have acted willingly, the initial response is that anyone wearing a skirt shouldn't be put through this kind of situation. For them, a woman should be innocent, prim, proper, elegant, poised, and demure—the archetypal Maria Clara.

Consequently, our society believes that men are like Crisostomo Ibarra: dashing, handsome, courteous, polite, respectful, and honorable—a chivalrous gentleman. As such, they must do all women a favor by giving up their seats inside public transportation, opening and holding doors for them, holding bags and umbrellas for them, among others, and be rewarded with “pogi points” for doing so.

With these rewards, it isn’t hard to see why this won’t be seen as sexism.

But it is sexism for the mere fact that being a gentleman ingratiates men to women, thereby, entitling themselves to a woman’s approval, desire, and love, while deducing that women cannot do such services for themselves. Perpetrating chivalry is to define women as needy, frail, incapable, and lacking in power.

With this reasoning, I do not see anything wrong with women piggybacking on jeepneys and men refusing to give up their seats to strong, equally capable women (if there were indeed men inside the jeepney).

In this era of gender equality and women empowerment, chivalry, as a male construct, must die. Men do not have a monopoly of strength and endurance, and therefore, do not have a monopoly of being courteous, polite, and respectful. And women do not have a monopoly of being at the receiving end of such noble actions. Chivalrous acts must be done by everyone to everyone, but most especially to the elderly, PWDs, pregnant women, children, and those suffering from physical pain, regardless of sex/gender.

In the end, what should be decried instead in this photo is the shabby state of public transportation in the Philippines. Nobody should be left to with just the choice of piggybacking on jeepneys, buses, and trains, whether men or women. We all deserve a safe, comfortable, and decent ride, which should have been Top Gear Philippines’ slant and caption.

Postscript: Top Gear Philippines responded to netizens with a comment, which says:


The catch here is: "We are 100 percent for gender equality, but we will definitely give up our seat for a lady. It's not being sexist. It's not implying that a woman is weak or that she needs to be helped at all times. It just feels right."

Talk about being selfless and self-serving at the same time! 

With that argument, if anyone from Top Gear Philippines, or even "chivalrous" men, were inside that jeep, these women wouldn't be hanging outside in the first place, which obviously proves that they chose to do it because they can. Such comments give us a glimpse of the understanding (and acceptance) Top Gear Philippines has of gender equality.

In a gender fair world, you need not offer your seat to a lady to feel right, nor feel guilty about not giving up your seat, because there is no harm done.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

SOCIETY | Caught in the act of helping

Should we put on the spotlight people who commit good deeds?

This is the question that came to my mind in lieu of recent events. For the past two weeks, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has been making the rounds of news programs and the Internet. Yesterday, I covered The Philippine STAR’s awarding of aid to 28 individuals and groups it featured on its 28 Stories of Giving anniversary campaign.

On my way home from SM North EDSA after the STAR event, I took a passenger van, a Toyota Hiace Grandia with foldable jump seats and a removable stool, which you can place between the normal seats and jump seat so it can comfortably sit four people on the third and last rows.

I was seated on one end of the third row. When the passengers beside me have alighted at their destination, I took the liberty to remove the stool and place it on the empty seat beside so that the people at the last row could easily alight from the vehicle.

After doing this, it dawned on me: What if we thanked and honored every person who committed even small acts of kindness? You know, just tell that random person, “Hey, thanks! You’re my hero!” just others who have witnessed the act can emulate it in the future.

This kind of recognition is, in fact, being done already. When I attended the Social Media Day celebrations at the Samsung Hall of the SM Aura  Premier in Taguig City last June, I met Tim Humangit, founder of the social media enterprise, “Hero of D Day.”

What “Hero of D Day” basically does is it crowd sources stories of small acts of heroism and kindness--a random person helping the elderly cross the street, giving spare food to the homeless, returning lost items to its owners, and so on. I felt it is a good advocacy, especially in a time of too much negativity in social media. It’s a good addition to the growing number of good news that’s been proliferating on the Internet and it does make one have hope in humanity.

That is until the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went viral.

Pouring a bucket of iced water on yourself to raise awareness and funds for a debilitating disease and getting it all on video isn’t a bad idea initially. But if everybody’s doing it just to get attention for themselves, it does give you doubts about these people’s true intentions.

Which brings me back to my question: Should we put on the spotlight people who commit good deeds?

If we’re keen on helping others and not keen on drawing attention to ourselves, then we should shun whatever form of attention placed on its by others, especially the media. We must keep in mind that we are helping others to feel good and not to look good. Let me elaborate the difference.

If you help the elderly cross the street, you’re doing it because not doing so won’t make you feel good. You’ll worry that something unfortunate might happen to that person. The same thing goes to giving spare food to the homeless. You know what it feels like to be hungry for a very long time, you must understand what these vagrants are going through as well. It doesn’t make you feel good that other people are suffering while you are living comfortably.

Those who help to look good would do good deeds to draw attention to themselves. It’s a classic act in the book of public relations. They want to be known for helping others; they want their names or brand to be tied to the act of lending a helping hand. That’s why when the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went viral, fame-hungry pop stars and politicians trying to mend their damaged image were quick to catch the trend.

But how about those foundations and non-government organizations engaged in truly helping others? If they advertise their good deeds, does that mean they are doing it just to draw attention to themselves i.e. to attract more donors and members to their organization or is it to inspire others to do the same, sort of a “pay-it-forward” mechanism?

The tendency is to see such as a way to inspire others to do the same. But isn’t the act itself already inspirational that it no longer necessitates advertisement?

It could be argued that advertising such good deeds can inspire a bigger audience. But arguing so is to assume that the bigger audience does not have the ability to discern and perform good deeds. It is to assume that humans in general are incapable of doing good and need to be provided a stimulus in the form of an advertisement just to act.

Take the case of those donors donating anonymously to various causes, or those Secret Santas who would leave gifts to orphanages and homeless shelters. They help without drawing attention to themselves. And yet their actions still inspire others to do the same.

You see, in a time when everyone has become rather individualistic than social--using headphones to prevent you from hearing other people’s music, voices, or noise, movies you can watch alone in your mobile phone, even silent concerts where participants wear headphones--even the act of helping others involves an individualistic motive of getting rewards, such as attention, fame, a better image, or material rewards. 

No longer is helping about empathizing with other people’s plight, putting yourself in other people’s shoes, and feeling good about how good the welfare of others have been. Have we successfully evolved and transcended the focus of our existence from inside going out? Not yet. But I have hope that humanity can still do so.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

OPINION | Aquino's combative stance breeds more Noytards

By now, you’ve noticed how onion-skinned President Benigno S. Aquino III is. He has become alarmingly combative of his critics, as if he’s in a shooting rampage in a target range. And the list of individuals and institutions he has attacked is growing longer each week, including TV broadcasters, corrupt senators, former justices, a New York-based newspaper, and even an independent, co-equal branch of government. 

If he continues this combative stance, it might even become the only legacy he leaves behind. “The Complaining President”, we might read in textbooks in the future, for being such whiner, like a slacking, blue-collar worker complaining to his “Boss” when his indolence is pointed out. 

The proliferation of Noytards

I don’t worry at all if this is what he leaves behind. What I am more worried about is his loyalists, these so-called “Noytards”, are becoming more like him each day. If PNoy was a god, then he had created these clones in his “image.” 

These imbeciles loiter the hallways of social media, bullying or picking a fight against any netizen expressing their disgust or disapproval of Aquino. To be fair, there are a lot of imbecile anti-PNoys out there who disapprove without knowing exactly what to disapprove of and why. But these imbecile pro-PNoys do not discriminate their targets; they attack anyone, even those with reasonable grounds for dissent.

Take the case of one Noytard who came lingering in my blog’s Facebook page the other day.

He responded to my comments regarding a piece of news about Aquino’s comments regarding the passage of the Anti-Political Dynasty Bill (APDB). He is questioning if I had taken Aquino out of context when I opined how shameless the President is for questioning the scrutiny politicians like him could get once the Anti-Political Dynasty Bill. 

Let us take another look at what PNoy said in the article:
"Ang hirap nga nito 'yung kawawa na rin kaming mga pulitiko kung tutuusin," Aquino said. "Kapag pulitiko ka dapat bawasan 'yung karapatan mo, dapat mas mataas 'yung scrutiny sa'yo, 'di ba? 'Pag papanatili ng magandang pangalan, 'pag sa pulitiko ka, mali [ang] dynasty," he added. (Source: PNoy on anti-dynasty law: “Kawawa kami”)
Headlines ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1
Why is this statement shameless? Because the President is using a defensive tone and wording in favor of politicians like him when it comes to public scrutiny of their actions. He described politicians like him as, "kawawa" (pitiful) once their right or "karapatan" are limited by the potential passage of APDB.

What made his statement even more defensive is what succeeded the aforementioned quote, which did not come out in the Philippine STAR article, but in a GMA News Online article:
Pero kunwari, sa medicine, magretire ang doktor mo. Doktor ang anak niya. Una mong susubukin ang anak niya," he added.
If the President is really committed to reform, he wouldn't use examples like this one. If a doctor retires, even if the successor child is a doctor, you wouldn't want to be treated by that person if you don't know his or her professional track record, right? Some apples fall far from the tree, just as the current president has exhibited in refusing to certify APDB as urgent and allowing it to linger in a Congress dominated by political dynasties. Aquino's actions are as doubtful as the bill's passage in the House of Representatives.

The intolerance of others' opinion

Back to the Noytard: Perhaps he has limited understanding of contextualization, that's why he was shameless enough to question if I interpreted Aquino's statements correctly. He also accused me of being "subjective" in my opinion for calling the President shameless and not true to his word. This is despite the fact that both the Philippine STAR and GMA News Online noted PNoy's apparent defense of politician's rights.

This Noytard must have been unaware that as we look at facts from different realities, there can be no single, comprehensive, and correct interpretation of a statement. Subjectivity is the very nature of opinions, and while opinions are informed by facts, I have not failed to state such facts.

As his comments are already offensive and bordering towards personal, I opted to delete them and ban the user from my Facebook page. Instead of stopping, he resorted to attacking my blog in his timeline.

This is just one evidence that Aquino is breeding netizens as shameless as him. When he is banned for his inappropriate actions on Facebook, this imbecile netizen calls me an enemy of democracy, even as he himself bastardized democracy by opting to silence my opinions.

Opinions as hallmarks of democracy

What every Noytard and even President Aquino has to realize is that in a true democracy, opinions are crucial and tolerated, regardless if they're positive or negative. It is a feedback mechanism from which the government can draw ideas for improvement of performance.

Tolerance means allowing something, such as a belief, to exist even though we dislike or disagree with it. Tolerance does not mean never disagreeing with anybody. The word implies disagreement. True tolerance means allowing differing views to coexist without necessarily agreeing with them or claiming that all views are true.

But if a President has the nerve to dismiss criticisms, it should be worth questioning if he is indeed listening to his "bosses." In a true democracy, a president is humble enough to admit mistakes and lapses committed, instead of stubbornly defending policies that have been declared unconstitutional and making excuses for his allies and political party.

With the number of netizens adopting Aquino's combative stance growing each day, having second thoughts on posting one's opinions is now becoming a grim reality. This kind of intolerance is a form of bullying and dictatorship, as it pushes one's opinions down another's throat and proclaims a sense of infallibility among those imposing their frame of mind.

Hence, a reminder to my readers: it is your choice to visit and read my opinions in this blog. You are free to disagree and express your disagreement to my opinion as long as you maintain your decency in expressing so. In a tolerant world, there are no negative or positive opinions, just opinions.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

OPINION | Enough with this Ice Bucket Challenge

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is perhaps the most viral campaign of 2014. The Challenge, which aims to raise funds and awareness for ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, started in North America around May of this year and has now invaded the Philippines.

As of writing, I am watching TV Patrol's "Mga Kwento ni Marc Logan" has just finished featuring who among the country's TV personalities have joined the campaign. Both Kapamilya, Kapuso, and Kapatid artists have done the challenge, including actors Dingdong Dantes and Marian Rivera, singer Lea Salonga, Black Eyed Peas frontman Apl.de.Ap., newsanchors Korina Sanchez and Noli De Castro, and even DILG Secretary Mar Roxas.

The challenge involves a dare to pour a bucket of iced water over someone and donate money, $10 to $100, to The ALS Association and other non-profit organizations advancing awareness and research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The disease, which also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, is characterized by muscle weakness due to motor neuron damage, leading to a patient's inability to move, speak, swallow, and perform other motor skills, or worse, may lead to death due to respiratory  Ever since the Challenge has gone viral, The ALS Association has doubled the donations it received to $41 million, from $19 million last year.

But the campaign is not without criticism.

Writing for The Daily Telegraph, Willard Foxton criticized the Challenge as a "middle-class, wet t-shirt contest for armchair slacktivists," noting that participants, most of which only wore swimsuits and Speedos only did it to look good while soaking wet.

Writing for SBS, William MacAskill, Vice-President of Giving What We Can, suggested that the challenge encouraged "moral licensing", meaning that some people might use taking part in the challenge to justify future unethical acts. He also proposed that by attracting donations for ALS, the challenge was "cannibalizing" potential donations that otherwise would have gone to other charities instead.

In the Philippines, The Apprentice Asia winner Jonathan Allen Yabut slammed the Challenge in Rappler as "normalizing a behavior in which the cool or the sexy must first take precedence before action," and encourage people to take a few minutes to talk about the disease to other people, other than just doing the Challenge.

Actor and comedian Joey De Leon, meanwhile, posted on his Instagram account a picture, wherein he is holding a sign that says "Don't nominate if you don't donate," noting that some of the participants are only doing the Challenge to look good, or merely for fun, but are not giving money to ALS charities. The same sentiments were earliers stated by stunt performer Steve-O.

For my part, I believe people shouldn't be "forced" to participate in the campaign, just because of its popularity and bandwagon effect.

Remember that Starbucks "Pay-It-Forward" campaign in Florida that was really sabotaged by a man who refused to having his coffee paid by the previous customer? The man, Peter Schorsch, declined, saying he felt the phenomenon was a marketing ploy for the company and no longer a spontaneous act of kindness when the barista asks the customer to pay it forward.

The same logic applies to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Yes. I recognize that ALS is a disease that requires much needed attention and funding. I recognize that more needs to be done to spread awareness on this disease. But so are other equally pressing matters like the Ebola virus, the Gaza-Israel War, the Syrian Civil War, the crisis in Ukraine, the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, or even local issues like PNoy's plans for term extension or corruption in government ranks.

We all have advocacies that are dear to us. If I choose to participate in a different advocacy other than the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, does that make me indifferent to the plight of ALS patients? 

I think we have a choice whether or not to participate in any advocacy.

Photo from Twitter/@RebelMouse

Friday, August 1, 2014

FILIPINO | Ang pananaw ng Pilipino sa pera

Kagabi, habang nanunuod ng State of the Nation with Jessica Soho, nabalitaan ko ang pagkakahuli ng mga tao sa likod ng isang panibagong investment scam.

Naloko umano ng Upwarm Limited Co. ni Rodolfo Miranda Jr. ang mahigit 100 katao at nagkamal ng mahigit P100 million mula sa ipon nila. Ginamit umano ng grupo ni Miranda ang Facebook upang maka-engganyo ng mga mamumuhunan sa kanyang network marketing investment scheme at nangakong dodoblehin ang pera ng mga kasapi sa loob lamang ng ilang araw.

Kung tutuusin, hindi na bago ang mga ganitong balita.

Kasaysayan ng mga investment scam sa bansa

Nitong 2012 lamang, libu-libong mga resident ng Visayas at Mindanao ang naloko ng Aman Futures Group ni Manuel Amalilio. Nakakuha si Amalilio ng halos P12 bilyon mula sa mahigit 10,000 mga mamumuhunan.

Dalawang taon bago nito, noong 2008, nabunyag naman ang investment scheme ng Legacy Group ni Celso De Las Alas, na nakapagdispalko ng P30 million. Subalit, mas nauna naman dito ang Multitel Corporation ni Rosario “Rose” Baladjay noong 2002, na nakapanghuthot ng P25 million.

Kung paulit-ulit na nalolok ang madla ng mga ganitong klase ng investment scheme, di kaya may sinasabi na ito tungkol sa pagtingin ng mga Pilipino sa pera at sa mismong pag-iisip ng mga Pilipino?

Madaling magtiwala ang mga Pilipino

Sa isang ulat ng ABS-CBN News.com, ipinaliwanag ni kalihim Gerald Lukban ng Securities and Exchange Commission ang operasyon ng mga investment scams na ito.

“Ang una nilang ginagawa ay ang mang-akit ng mga mamumuhunan sa pamamagitan ng pangako ng malaking tubo o returns—tubo na masyadong malaki para maging totoo,” ani ni Lukban.

Idinagdag pa ni Lukban na imposibleng mangyari ang malaking tubo na ipinapangako ng mga investment scam, na madalas ay nasa pagitan ng 4% hanggang 60% na interes. Idinagdag rin niya na karamihan sa mga Pilipino ay madaling magtiwala kaya sila naaakit ng mga investment scam.   

“Nakita namin sa mga gawain ng Legacy Group at iba pang investment scams ang kalakaran. Sa una’y pinapadama muna sa iyo yung resulta para lalo kang ma-engganyo at maka-engganyo ng iba pang mamumuhunan. Ipakikita sa iyo na tumubo nga talaga ang pera mo, bibigyan ka ng bagong sasakyan—talagang ipadadama sa iyo na mabisa ang kalakaran. Pero ang di nila sinasabi ay ang sasakyang ibinigay sa iyo ay inutang lang pala at di pa nababayaran. Kapag nalugi na ang investment scheme, dun mo lang mapagtatantong naloko ka,” sabi ni Lukban.

Ganito-ganito ang nangyari sa Upwarm Limited Co. Sa ulat ng GMA News Online, inihayag ni Eric Carreon, isa sa mga nabiktima ng naturang scam kung paano siya naakit na mag-invest.

“Nagsimula ako mag-invest ng P9,200 tapos tumubo siya, naging P18,000. Nakuha ko yung P18,000 kaya syempre na-enganyo ako, dinagdagan ko,” ani ni Carreon. Tinatayang nasa P250,000 ang nakuha ng Upwarm sa kanya.

Ang kababalaghan ng pera

Ang mabilis na pagka-enganyo sa perang mabilis tumubo ay tanda ng mga maling paniniwala ng mga Pilipino sa pera, na marahil ay bunga na rin ng paniniwala at pananampalataya natin.

Bago pa man dumating ang Kristiyanismo sa bansa, malakas na ang pananalig ng mga Pilipino sa mga kababalaghan. Nariyan ang paniniwala sa mga agimat, birtud, at anting-anting na nakapagbibigay umano ng kapangyarihan. Nariyan din ang kulam at gayuma na kaya umanong maka-impluwensya sa taong paggagamitan nito.

Sa kasaysayan, palasak na ang mga milagrosong pangyayari gaya ng aparisyon ng Birheng Maria sa Agoo, La Union, at Lipa, Batangas.

Tila nasobrahan sa pananalig at pagka-relihiyoso ang mga Pilipino kaya naman pati ang “kababalaghan” ng perang madaling lumago ay agad na sasamantalahin ng ating mga kababayan.

Subalit may mas malaki pang imahe sa likod ng mga pangyayaring ito, pagkat sumasalamin rin ito sa pananaw ng Pilipino kung ano nga ba ang tunay na pag-asenso sa buhay.

Easy money at One-Day Millionaire

Marahil, ang tingin ng mga Pilipino ay madali, biglaan, at di nangangailangan ng malaking hirap o puhunan. Patunay rito ang milyun-milyong Pilipinong manggagawa sa ibayong dagat (OFWs) dahil sa pangako ng mas mataas na sahod at mas malaking halaga ng pera bunga ng mas mataas na palitan ng piso at salapi ng ibang bansa.

Patunay rin dito ang araw-araw na pagtaya natin sa sari-saring mga sugal, mula sa mga iligal na pustahan ng jueteng, masiao, at mah jong, hanggang sa mga legal na pasugalan gaya ng sa mga casino at loterya ng PCSO.

Sa madaling sabi, mataas ang pananalig ng mga Pilipino sa Easy Money. Di lang yan. Ang depenisyon rin nila ng tagumpay ay magarang bahay at sasakyan at ang kakayahan na mabili ang kanilang mga luho at layaw sa buhay. Mapamayaman, mapamahirap, ganito ang pagtingin sa pera. One-day millionaire, ika nga.

Tingnan mo na lang sa mga mahihirap na komunidad sa kalunsuran. Kapag nakakuha ng mataas na sahod, bonus, o pautang si Tatay, ang unang binabayaran niya ay ang mga negosyante sa pamamagitan ng pagpapainom sa kanyang mga kaibigan, paglibre sa kanyang pamilya at mga kamag-anak, o ang pagbili ng bagong DVD player para magkasama nga namang makanuod ang mag-anak ng mga bagong pelikulang pinirata.

Ganun din naman, sa mga nakakaalwan ang buhay. Pag may promosyon si Daddy o si Mommy, ang nasa isip nila eh, “Bakit kailangan kong mamasahe papuntang trabaho kung pwede naman akong bumili na ng kotse? Bakit kailangan kong magtiyaga sa ordinaryong cellphone kung kaya ko naman nang bumili ng mamahaling iPhone?”

Kapag may pera ang mga Pilipino, ang unang nilang binabayaran ay ang iba kapalit ng mga materyal na bagay na di naman makapagpapasaya sa kanila ng pangmatagalan. Sa halip na mag-impok sa isang magandang kinabukasan, nag-iimpok sila para gumastos sa mga bagay na walang kapararakan.

Patunay ng pag-iisip na ito ang pinakahuling Consumer Finance Survey ng Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas nitong 2012.

Ayon sa survey, walo lamang sa 10 pamilya sa Pilipinas ang may bank account. Dagdag pa rito, 3.7% lamang ng mga pamilyang tinanong ang may hinuhulugang bahay, 5.8% lamang ang may hinuhulugang real property (gaya ng lupa, apartment, o condominium unit), at 13.5% lamang ang may binabayarang utang o consumer loan (maaaring sa sasakyan o kagamitan). Samantala, 20.9% naman ang may personal na pagkakautang at 3.9% naman ang may binabayarang utang sa credit card.

Bagong pananaw sa pera at pamumuhunan

Matagal nang nangangailangan ng pagbabago sa ating pananaw pagdating sa pera at pamumuhunan. Sa halip na gumastos, kailangan na mas bigyang prayoridad ng nakararaming Pilipino ang pag-iipon, hindi sa alkansya, kundi sa bangko. Nakatutulong ito sa kabuuang daloy ng ating ekonomiya.

Kung nakinig kayo sa inyong guro sa Economics noong hayskul, alam na ninyo marahil na kapag ang pera ay nasa bangko, bukod sa tumutubo ito ng interes, ito ay maaaring gamitin ng mga bangko upang mag-invest sa mga gawaing nakapaglilikha ng trabaho at nakatutulong sa mga mamamayan.

Ang pautang na ibinibigay ng mga bangko sa gobyerno para sa pagpapatayo ng mga kalsada, tulay, at iba pang mga imprastruktra at nakapagbibigay ng trabaho sa mga enhinyero, karpintero, at iba pang manggagawa ay galing sa perang iniimpok natin. Sa madaling sabi, kahit natutulog ang pera mo sa bangko, may mga di-materyal na biyaya naman itong dala.

Subalit, kung mahalaga sayo ang halaga ng pera mo, di mo hahayaang matulog sa ito bangko dahil sa inflation o ang pagtaas ng presyo ng mga bilihin at serbisyo, bumababa ang halaga ng iyong salapi. Kaya nga kung ang piso noong panahon ni Cory Aquino ay nakakabili ng apat na piraso ng kendi, ngayon, kailangan mo ng apat na piso para dito.

Maaari mong ibalik sa daloy ng ating ekonomiya ang iyong inimpok na pera pamamagitan ng:

(1) Pagnenegosyo, pagkat ito’y makapagbibigay ng kita, makapaglilikha ng trabaho, makapagbibigay ng buwis, at makapagtatayo ng mga bagong produkto at pamilihan,

(2) Pagmumuhunan sa stock market, kung saan maaari kang bumili ng porsyento sa isang kumpanya at makakuha ng buwanan o taunang dividends sa kita ng kumpanya,

(3) Pamumuhunan sa mutual funds, kung saan nililikom ng mga bangko ang puhunan mo at ng iba pang mga investor upang i-invest sa mga gawaing makakapagpalago ng inyong puhunan,

(4) Pagbili ng government bonds, kung saan para kang nag-iimpok sa gobyerno habang binabayaran nila ito ng interes.

Di naman nawawala ang panganib sa anumang uri ng pamumuhunan, kahit maging sa apat na nabanggit  na. Subalit, kumpara sa mga investment scam na tulad ng Upward Limited Co., Aman Futures Group, Legacy Group, at Multitel Corporation, ang mga pamumuhunang nabanggit ay mas ligtas at kakaunti ang panganib.

Nasusubaybayan ng gobyerno sa pamamagitan ng Securities and Exchange Commission at iba pang mga karatig na ahensiya ang operasyon ng stock market, mutual funds, at government bonds.

Bukod rito, nagbibigay ang mga bangko at mga kilalang financial institutions ng kaalaman kung paano ka mag-iimpok sa mga ganitong pamamaraan nang di dumaraan sa matinding panganib. Mahalaga rin na ikaw, bilang mamumuhunan, ay nagsasagawa ka ng sarili mong pag-aaral sa pahawak at paggugol ng salapi, at pagsisiyasat sa mga pinalalagakan mo ng iyong pera.

Ang tunay na tagumpay, pinaghihirapan bago marating. Bagamat mas mabagal ang tubo ng iyong puhunan sa ganitong mga legal na uri ng pamumuhunan, sa iyong pagreretiro, di ka naman magsisisi kapag inani mo na ang paglago ng iyong salapi.

Mga batayang batis:
Colayco, Francisco (2004). Wealth within your reach: Pera mo, palaguin mo! Manila. Colayco Foundation for Education

Sunday, July 27, 2014

FILIPINO | Paano natin nakalimutan si Marcos?


Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” ang sabi ng Espanyol na manunulat at pilosopo na si George Santayana.

Ang kasabihang ito ay tila nagbabadya ng katuparan sa ating lipunan ngayon. Sa dami ng mga taong tila nakalimot na sa ating pinagdaanan mahigit 40 taon na ang nakakaraan, malamang ay makakakita na naman tayo ng isang Ferdinand Marcos sa Malacañang.

Sa mga dumanas ng kaliputan sa ilalim ng Batas Militar, para bang kahapon lamang nang maganap ang mga karumal-dumal na pagpatay, ang walang habas na paniniil, at ang mala-kamay na bakal na pagpigil sa ating kalayaan matapos ang ika-23 ng Setyembre, 1972 (Nilagdaan ni Marcos ang Proklamasyon Blg. 1081 noong ika-21 ng Setyembre).

Subalit sa tinaguriang Facebook Generation—mga Pilipinong ipinanganak matapos ang rehimen at rebolusyon—ang mga pighati, sakripisyo, at pag-aalay ng buhay na ito ay tila wala nang saysay sa kanila.

Bakit nga ba tayo humantong sa ganito? Paanong nakalimutan ng bagong henerasyon ang ating mga ipinaglaban sa kabila ng taunang paggunita dito? Ano ang maaari nating gawin upang di tuluyang magkatotoo ang mga salita ni George Santayana sa ating panahon?

Ang pagkalimot ay nakasulat na sa kasaysayan

Ang kasaysayan ay puno ng mga pangyayari na kung saan tila ba nakalimot ang isang bansa o lipunan sa kanilang ipinaglaban ilang taon o dekada ang lumipas matapos ang pangyayari.

Isang halimbawa ay ang Rebolusyong Pranses mula 1789 hanggang 1799. Sa loob ng sampung taong panahon na ito, pinatalsik ng lipunang Pranses ang kanilang hari na si Louis XVI at nagtatag ng isang malayang republika na kumikilala sa karapatang pantao.

Subalit, ang kaguluhang dala ng tinaguriang Reign of Terror mula 1793 hanggang 1794 ay nagdulot ng pagkakawatak-watak ng republika at ang pagluklok ng mga Pranses sa isang panibagong hari, si Napoleon Bonaparte.

Isa pang magandang halimbawa ay ang Una at Ikalawang Digmaang Pandaigdig (1914-1918 at 1939-1945). Matapos matalo ang Imperyong Aleman at mga alyado nito laban sa pinagsamang pwersa ng Amerika, Britanya, Italya, at Pransya noong 1918, tila nakalimot ang mga Aleman sa mga aral ng digmaan.

Sa loob lamang ng 15 taon ay nailuklok naman sa pinakamataas na pwesto ng Alemanya ang diktador na si Adolf Hitler na nagdala sa daigdig sa isang panibagong digmaan.

Tila ba di makakalimutan ng mundo ang malagim na Final Solution ni Hitler, isang sistematikong programa ng paglipol sa milyun-milyong Hudyo, Gypsies, at mga Komunista, at hanggang ngayon ay isa sa pinakamalagim na bahagi ng kasaysayan ng daigdig.

Ngunit matapos ang Ikalawang Digmaang pandaigdig, sumulpot sa Alemanya noong dekada 50 at 60 ang mga Nachgeborenen o mga Alemang ipinanganak matapos ang digmaan.

Sa kabila ng masalimuot na kasaysayan ng kanilang bansa, nahirapan ang bagong henerasyong ito na makamit ang Vergangenheitsbewältigung o ang proseso ng pagtanggap sa kanilang nakaraan. Maraming kabataang Aleman ang tila di batid ang mga ginawa ng rehimeng Nazi, habang ang iba pa’y pinuri at binigyang pugay ito (ipinakita sa atin ito ng aklat ni Bernhard Schlink na The Reader).

Ang lipunang Pilipino sa ilalim ng makabagong henerasyon ay nakararanas din ng kabiguang matanggap ang kanilang nakaraan. Kaya di nakapagtatakang marami sa kanila ang hindi alam ang saysay ng Batas Militar at ng Rebolusyon sa EDSA.

Marami sa kanila ang aktibo pa nga sa pagpuri at pag-idolo kay Marcos at sa mga ginawa niya sa kabila ng malagim na resulta nito.

Paano tayo humantong sa ganito?

Ang mundo ay higit nang nababalot sa impormasyon. Ang Information Age ay nagdulot ng pag-usbong ng mga makabagong midyum kung saan ang impormasyon ay madaling likhain at palaganapin.

Sa halip na mga aklat at pahayagan, ang tangan ng mga kabataan ngayon ay ang Internet: isang alkansya ng kaalaman sa dulo ng ating mga daliri.

At dahil sa dali ng paglikha at pagpapalaganap ng impormasyon sa Internet, naging pagkakataon ito sa mga loyalista ni Marcos upang magpakalat ng mga kasinungalingan at iretoke ang imahe ni Marcos.

Isang Marcos na taga-pagligtas ng demokrasya laban sa komunismo. Isang Marcos na nagpaangat sa Pilipinas upang maging pinakamatatag na ekonomiya noong panahon niya.

Sa kasamaang palad, madaling maniwala ang bagong henerasyon, nang walang pagsusuri sa pinagmulan ng impormasyon at sa katotohanan sa likod nito.

Ang sitwasyong ito ay lalo pang pinalala ng ating masalimuot na sistema ng edukasyon sa bansa. Dahil sa pagbibigay-diin sa mga paksang gaya ng Matematika, Ingles, at Siyensya, napabayaan at di nabigyan ng sapat na pansin ang pagtuturo ng kasaysayan.

Ang mga pangunahing subject na ito ay may mas mahabang oras ng pagtuturo at mas malaking unit sa pagmamarka. Kadalasan pa nga’y nabibigyang diin din ito ng mga kaakibat na elective subjects.

Ang kasaysayan ng Pilipino ay naibaba bilang isang minor subject at itinuturo na lamang ng tatlong beses (minsang pa nga’y isang beses) sa isang linggo, sa loob lamang ng 40 minuto hanggang isang oras.

Dahil kulang ang oras, sa pagtatapos ng taong pampaaralan, ang pagtalakay sa kasaysayan ay kadalasang umaabot lamang sa panahon ng mga Amerikano o ng mga Hapon. Ang panahon ng Ikatlong Republika, Martial Law, at Rebolusyong EDSA ay mga pahina sa mga aklat na di man lang nabubuklat.

Hindi rin itinuturo ang kasaysayan batay sa mga pangunahing batis o primary sources. Hindi tuloy nalalaman ng mga mag-aaral kung paano magsuri ng mga batayan ng impormasyon, kung totoo ba ito o may kinikilingan. Walang matinong pagsasanay ang mga mag-aaral sa historyograpiya.

Kaya naman paniniwalaan ng mga kabataan ngayon ang anumang maganda tungkol kay Marcos, basta't nasa Internet ito.

Malaking balakid din ang pagkakaroon ng mga gurong walang tamang pagkakaunawa sa kasaysayan. Sa Ilocos Region at sa lalawigan ng Leyte, may mga gurong itinuturo ang Martial Law at Rebolusyong EDSA ng taliwas sa sinasabi ng kasaysayan.

Paano maaalala ng bagong henerasyon ang malagim na bahagi ng ating kasaysayan kung heto’t ang mga natuturo sa kanila ay mga loyalista ni Marcos na handang baluktitin ang mga pangyayari sa nakaraan?

Ang pag-aaral ng kasaysayan ay tungkol na lamang sa pagmemorya ng mga pangalan, pangyayari, mga pook, at petsa. Hindi na ito tungkol sa pagsusuri ng mga dahilan, ng pagtitimbang sa mga pagkilos ng mga grupo at indibidwal.

Sa kasalukuyang K to 12 Curriculum, higit na naibaba ang estado ng pagtuturo ng kasaysayan. Ang pagtuturo ng kasaysayan ng Pilipinas ay ibinaba na lamang sa Grade 5 at 6: mga baitang ng mga mag-aaral na wala pang kakayahan na malalimang suriin ang mga pangyayari sa nakaraan.

Sa madaling sabi, sa K to 12 Curriculum, tila ang kasaysayan ay nawalan ng saysay.

Nakalimutan nating magbantay

Subalit, kung may pinakamalaking dahilan upang makalimot ang bagong henerasyon tungkol kay Marcos, ito ay ang kalagayan ng bansa natin ngayon.

Apatnapung taon mula nang ideklara ang Batas Militar at halos tatlumpung taon mula nang maibalik ang demokrasya noong Rebolusyong EDSA, nananatili ang mga suliranin na kinaharap natin noon at siyang rason ng bagong henerasyon ngayon upang ikarangal ang palalong si Marcos.

Kahirapan. Kawalan ng oportunidad. Tatsulok na lipunan. Kriminalidad. Katiwalian. Political Dynasties. Padrino System. Ang maruming pulitikang ipinakilala sa atin ni Marcos ay nagpapatuloy sa kabila ng panunumbalik ng demokrasya.

Ito ay sumasalamin sa kabiguan ng ating lipunan na matutunan ang mga aral ng Batas Militar at EDSA. Inakala natin na sa pagpapalit ng administrasyon nagtatapos ang laban.

Nagkamali tayo ng akala. Hindi natin pinanatili ang pagbabago. Bagkus, hinayaan natin na ang halimbawang ipinakita ni Marcos ay magpunla sa puso ng ating mga lider at higit pang lumaganap hanggang sa ang buong sistema ay maging halos permanente na.


Hindi natin tinuruan ang bagong henerasyon na maging mapanuri, magmatyag, at magbantay. Hinayaan natin silang lumaki sa layaw, gawin ang mga walang kapararakang bagay, at maging bulag sa kanilang nakaraan.

Nabigo tayong magbantay. Nanumbalik tayo sa ating mga trabaho, sa ating tahimik na buhay.

Pagpapanatili ng pagbabago

Hindi pa naman huli ang lahat upang labanan ang mawalakang amnesia na ito sa ating bansa. Kung talagang gusto ay may paraan at may mga grupo at indibidwal na sumasabay sa nagbabagong panahon upang patuloy na ituro ang mga aral ng nakaraan.

Suportahan natin sila. Makibahagi tayo sa pagpapaalala at pagpapalaganap ng katotohanan. Palaganapin ninyo ang pahayag na ito, sa inyong mga kaibigan, kakilala, lalong lalo na sa kabataan. 

At higit sa lahat, kumilos tayo upang makamit ng ating bansa ang pangarap nito na maalis ang kahirapan at kawalan ng oportunidad, sa pamamagitan ng patuloy paglaban sa katiwalian at maling gawain, nang naaayon sa katotohanan, katwiran, at katibayan.

Pagkat habang nananatili ang mga suliraning nagmula pa sa rehimeng Marcos, mananatiling siyang buhay bilang isang bayani sa mga mang-mang at walang muwang. Huwag ninyong hayaan na magpunla at mabuhay si Marcos sa puso nating lahat.

Sabi nga ni George Santayana: 

“Ang pag-unlad ay di lamang pagbabago; ito ay nakasalalay sa pagpapanatili ng pagbabago. Kung ang pagbabago ay tiyak, walang daan o sinuman na kailangan pang baguhin; at kung hindi mananatili sa atin ang alaala, gaya sa malulupit na tao, ang kawalan ng muwang ay habambuhay.”

Mga batayang batis:
Kennedy, Emmet (1989). A Cultural History of the French Revolution. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Evans, Richard J. (2003). The Coming of the Third Reich. New York; Toronto: Penguin.
Herf, Jeffrey. (1997) Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Bonner, Raymond (1987). Waltzing with a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American PolicyNew York: Times Books.
Seagrave, Sterling (1988): The Marcos Dynasty, Harper Collins

Monday, July 21, 2014

FEATURE | Life Without Water #28StoriesofGiving

By EPI FABONAN III
Yay Ortega, 41, is the typical outdoor junkie.
As a certified mountaineer, she has climbed the Philippines’ tallest peaks, as well as mountains abroad. When she’s not climbing, she tends to her mountaineering equipment shop in Cartimar, Pasay City, and is also fond of biking, jogging and other fitness activities.
She also serves as incumbent president of the Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines Inc. (MFPI), the largest umbrella organization of mountaineering groups in the country. Officially incorporated in 1979, it is composed of over 60 member-organizations representing 15,000 mountaineers and outdoor enthusiasts from all over the country.
The federation, Ortega shares, is slated to hold its Mountaineering Congress this year in Sagada, Mountain Province.
But aside from being passionate about mountaineering and life in the outdoors in general, she is even more passionate about environmental conservation – a necessary offshoot of responsible mountaineering that the federation espouses.
Part of this is the protection of mountain ecosystems, thus MFPI actively leads efforts to combat forest degradation and conserve a vital natural resource: water.
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“I cannot live without water; I’d rather live without electricity, and I don’t like the idea of paying a lot for it,” Ortega says.
One couldn’t agree more. Water – being a basic human need – is perhaps more important than electricity and is as important as food, shelter, clothing and air.
It’s a fact we realize even more in the aftermath of a strong typhoon that has managed to topple power lines and disrupt our water supply, throwing our convenient routines into disarray.
Preserving the watershed
Every day, we open our faucets to accomplish a variety of activities and tasks.
We only twist the faucet open; little do we know where the water comes from and the danger the precious resource faces.
Ninety-seven percent of Metro Manila’s water supply comes from the Angat-Ipo-La Mesa water system. Every day, a total of 4,000 million liters of fresh water flow through this system and is filtered in treatment plants in La Mesa and Balara to serve 15 million residents of this ever-expanding megacity and its suburbs.
We owe the fresh, clean water this system provides to its watersheds – acres of untouched forest cover that serve as the system’s natural barrier against human activities that threaten to pollute it.
One particular watershed within this system is the 6,600-hectare Ipo Watershed located in Norzagaray, Bulacan, which has thinned in recent years due to various human activities in the area.
MFPI is one of several civil society organizations involved in the protection and reforestation of this important watershed.
“Our biggest challenge right now is the continued presence of small-scale illegal loggers. Unlike large-scale loggers whose operations are easy to detect, small-scale loggers are harder to monitor and catch. They could cut and haul one or two trees in a day, but if they do it on a daily basis, they’re just as destructive as large-scale operations,” Ortega explains.
She estimates that about 30 percent of the watershed has been cut down in recent years by informal settlers from the lowlands scouring the area for livelihood. The settlers cut down trees to make way for farming and use the timber to build their houses or to make charcoal or furniture.
The Dumagats, the indigenous people living in these foothills of the Sierra Madre, have reported seeing lowlanders with weapons operating in the watershed.
Ortega describes possible scenarios if these activities in the watershed continue unabated.
“If our watersheds become contaminated by human activities, water prices in Metro Manila could go up. To fill the demand, governments or private companies will have to build more dams and reservoirs in the future, which is bad, because it will forever change the natural landscape of the place where these dams will be built.”
To address the issue of deforestation throughout the Philippines, including the Angat-Ipo-La Mesa watershed, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources launched the National Greening Program, a reforestation initiative that aims to plant 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million hectares of land from 2011 to 2016. Since 2011, almost P11 billion has been released to fund this initiative, the NGP website states.
Under the program, the DENR and other related agencies coordinate with local government units, civil society organizations and private companies to plant endemic and non-endemic trees in deforested areas in the country. Locals living in these deforested areas are paid to plant and nurture these trees to maturity, providing them an alternative livelihood.
Despite the initiative, the Ipo Watershed continues to thin out. Recent forest fires – one in March and another in April this year – destroyed some 250 hectares of reforested land. Authorities and civil society organizations suspect that locals may be burning reforested land to allow the continuous release of reforestation funds from which they get their livelihood.
Ortega is alarmed that the very people involved in the reforestation of the watershed may be involved in its destruction.
This is why MFPI is determined to continue replanting the forest and calls on the government to do more to protect the area from destructive human activities.
“When you’re a nature and outdoor lover, conservation becomes innate, out of your need to continuously enjoy your playground. If you want to be able to do it again and be able to take a nice picture of the surroundings with your friends, you wouldn’t want to see garbage there. You want the experience to be the same each time,” Ortega says.
The Ipo Watershed needs your help. On July 26, Ortega and MFPI will return to replant a deforested part of the watershed with the help of The Philippine STAR.
To learn more about how you can volunteer for MFPI’s reforestation activities, contact Yay Ortega at (0908) 8940691 or visit their Facebook page.
This post was originally published in the front page July 18, 2014 issue of The Philippines STAR as part of its "28 Stories of Giving" anniversary special.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

FEATURE | A state of grace for the elderly #28StoriesofGiving


By EPI FABONAN III. To grow old with dignity is the ultimate geriatric dream all of us have. We want our bodies to turn wrinkly, fragile, and senile under the best care of our loved ones. The worst nightmare would be a state of utter deprivation and isolation from the very people we reared and loved our entire lives. This is why, for a country that takes pride in close family ties and respect for the elderly, it is common for families to keep on living with and caring for grandparents until their last breath.

But behind the Philippines’ largest shopping mall—hidden from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives—lies a place where some of the country’s elderly go to wait for absolution. No, they are not sinners; these senior citizens were once lost in the streets of megapolitan Manila in search of missing loved ones or of a dignity they wish to regain; some of them, imprisoned by their very minds or frail bodies.

The place they live inwas once called Golden Acres or Ginintuang Paligid, a facility for the elderly established in 1969 as part of the Marcos administration’s social welfare program. Now, it is called GRACES or Golden Reception and Action Center for the Elderly and Other Special Cases. The original Golden Acres has been transferred to Tanay, Rizal, and is now named Haven for the Elderly.

Every day, the facility receives a number of senior citizens rescued from the streets by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) or by different LGUs. But sometimes, families themselves turn over their elderly to the facility as they could no longer bear the responsibility of taking care of them. A total of 175 older persons are housed in the facility with a capacity of only 150.

Johnny Reyes, 82, is one of the elderly recently admitted at the facility. He was found sleeping in the area of Quiapo Church on May 17.

Nagpunta ako dito sa Manila kasi hinahanap ko yung anak kong lalake. Sabi sa akin nasa Meycauayan (Bulacan) daw siya. Pero nung nagpunta ako doon, di ko naman siya nakita. Nakitira ako sa pinsan ko sa may Quiapo pero di rin ako nagtagal dun kasi nahiya din ako,” Reyes says.

Reyes once worked as a furniture maker in Canada for a large office and home furniture company before returning to his hometown of Aloguinsan, Cebu, where he continued his craft until retirement. He says he has not seen his son for 25 years after the latter left Cebu. He also left a daughter in Canada who he hasn’t seen in 32 years. His relatives in the province are not aware that he has been staying at GRACES.

Handling Reyes’ case is Abi Nur Haqq Alonto, 26, one of five social workersin GRACES working to bring the elderly backto a state of grace. He has been with the facility for two years now. Aside from Lolo Johnny, he also handles 43 other senior citizen cases. He explains that since GRACES is only a diagnostic/assessment and processing center, admitted older persons cannot stay long in the facility and that part of his job is to trace the relatives of older persons so that s/he may be reunited with them and reintegrated to society.

“Our biggest challenge right now is locating the relatives of senior citizens turned over to us. While we coordinate this with the DSWD and different LGUs, more often than not, we don’t get results from our inquiries. Sometimes, we get disheartening results, such as when a relative refuses to take back an older person,” says Alonto. He adds that they have already coordinated with the Aloguinsan LGU who has located Lolo Johnny’s brothers-in-law.

When asked what inspired him to become a social worker, Alonto says, “I come from a family used to serving, being around people. Both my mother and sister are social workers while my father is a police colonel. I guess their experiences are what inspired me to take up social work in the first place. The dynamics of working with different people in various communities enlivens me.”

Some of GRACES’ buildings are already dilapidated and abandoned. The elderly and the paraplegic sleep in cottages with leaking roofs that bring cold nights and sweltering days. More often, the lack of decent beds forces them to sleep in makeshift cots, woven mats, or even pieces of cardboard. One can count with their fingers the number of working electric fans, fluorescent light bulbs, and wheelchairs. In a facility where the quarreling scents of sterility and old age can dampen one’s spirits, it is a wonder how Alonto remains steadfast.

“Sometimes it’s painful when some of the elderly would approach me, saying they want to go home. But because of our tracing limitations or their failing state of mind, we cannot let them go. There is only so much I can do. If only I have the power to bring them back to their families with just one click,” Alonto laments.

“Luckily, I have a family that is always understanding of what I do. Aside from the Lord God, they are my source of strength and inspiration not to give up.”

Such is Alonto’s passion in caring for the elderly that even as he supports the studies of a younger sibling and a nephew with his meager salary, he still puts a premium on his continuing mission with GRACES. Once, he was offered a clinical social worker job in New Zealand, but he immediately refused it out of love for the facility’s senior citizens. He even professes big dreams for the facility and the people it houses.

“Hopefully, in five or 10 years time, GRACES would be recognized in the Philippines as a diagnostic/assessment and processing facility and as an instrument for the empowerment of older persons (OPs) and persons-with-disabilities (PWDs),” Alonto says.

However, to realize Alonto’s dream for GRACES, entails restoring the facility to a state of grace. With their government funding depleted just for maintenance and operating expenses (such as food, medicines, utilities, and salaries), the facility needs additional financial support from private donors in order to improve the quality of life of older persons in the facility.

“It’s really hard for us when an older person gets sick or has an accident because we don’t have enough resources to pay for their hospitalization. We only make do with discounts we can tap from the social service units of every hospital, such as PCSO and PhilHealth, to save or revive our older persons and lessen their hospital expenses,” say Maria Cielo Agotilla, supervising social worker at GRACES.

“Aside from additional funding, the facility and its people can benefit from additional hospital beds, fans, PWD equipment (like stretchers, wheelchairs, canes, walkers, and crutches), tools for productive activities for the elderly (like sewing machines and gardening tools), as well as basic needs like food and toiletries. We are also looking for kind-hearted individuals who can sponsor the repair and rehabilitation of our dilapidated cottages, or even the donation of an ambulance to transport older persons to hospitals,” Agotilla adds.

But the social workers at GRACES know that more than material needs, the best gift donors can give to the facility’s elderly is time. Right now, only a few volunteers and some seminarians visit the facility on a non-regular basis.

“We encourage competent individuals with a background on elderly care to volunteer their time and services with us. Hopefully, we could also get volunteer doctors to visit twice or thrice a week to check-up on our patients,” a hopeful Agotilla expresses.

In a country that takes pride in having close family ties, it is disappointing to see how the elderly and the impaired have been neglected, even refused by the very peoplesupposed totake care of them. To praise and admire the devotion of the social workerskeeping the facility running is an understatement. The collective action of a just and concerned society is the only way we could dignify these heroes and bring GRACES back to a state of grace.

To learn more how you can help GRACES, you may call (02) 929-1187 or (0949) 361-0731. You can also email your inquiries at graces_ncr@yahoo.com or graces.ncr@gmail.com. More information is available in their Facebook account, GRACES DSWD-NCR.

Postscript: This is the unabridged edition of The Social Scientist's article in the Philippine STAR dated July 9, 2014. You may read the edited version here.
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