Asian Correspondent » Carlos H. Conde http://asiancorrespondent.com Asian Correspondent Wed, 27 May 2015 15:00:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Philippines closes down ‘blasphemous’ art exhibit http://asiancorrespondent.com/62026/philippines-closes-down-blasphemous-art-exhibit/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/62026/philippines-closes-down-blasphemous-art-exhibit/#comments Tue, 09 Aug 2011 05:16:07 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=62026 The Philippine art community was dealt  a bombshell today when the Cultural Center of the Philippines closed down its main gallery where a controversial art exhibit is being shown. The exhibit features an artwork that many conservatives in the Philippines find offensive and blasphemous. Among others, it shows Jesus Christ with a penis.

To learn more about the controversy, check out this story and this story.

As it turned out, President Aquino has expressed displeasure himself toward the exhibit and admitted to talking to the CCP’s board members about it. A short time after this, the closure was announced. Although the CCP claimed that the closure was because of the threats it received, the statement of the president seems to suggest that his displeasure may have something to do with it as well.

Below is the statement from the CCP:

Due to numerous emails, text messages and other letters sent to various offficers of the CCP, and to the artists themselves, with an increasing number of threats to persons and property,  the members of the Board of the Cultural Center of the Philippines have decided to close down the Main Gallery where the Kulo Exhibit is on display.  This decision was made amidst controversy and deliberation by the Board as to what steps are necessary to avoid future similar incidents.

In the light of the foregoing developments and recent experience,  the CCP management has reviewed its policies and are now taking steps to enable its officers and staff  to make more informed decisions in the future.

The  CCP shall continue to act as catalyst for free expression of  Filipino artists.  It thanks all those who have, in one way or another, contributed to the dialogue about art, and the different ways it affects society today.

Backgrounder:   KULO’ opened  on June 17  at the CCP Main Gallery,  a compilation of work by 32 artists, meant to be part of the Center’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of Jose Rizal. Because all the participating artists had a common educational background, all having studied at the  UST, they felt it fitting that the theme of Jose Rizal also reflect the heritage and culture represented by the 400-year old university.

Each artist participated with one installation. It was curated by J. Pacena II.  In keeping with previous practice to evaluate merits of art works on the basis of established parameters,  the CCP Visual Arts Division,  headed by Karen Ocampo-Flores,  approved the  proposal to exhibit on the basis of an evaluation of their proposal as well as the background qualifications of the participating artists.

Publicity on the exhibit only happened after a major network covered it in the news. Particular focus had been put on one specific art work,  “Politeismo” By Mideo Cruz.  Politeismo has been exhibited since 2002 in such venues as the  Ateneo de Manila, UP Vargas Musueum and Kulay Diwa Galleries.

Threats  to security became most alarming on Aug 4 when security reported that a couple had vandalized the art works and attempted to set fire to the exhibit but had been unsuccessful.  Subsequent hate mails and  threats to members of the Board intensified following this incident. Following serious discussion,  the Board members agreed on the common objective, to nurture freedom of artistic expression, while recognizing the responsibilities that go with it.

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What GMA News can do to help Christopher Lao http://asiancorrespondent.com/61950/what-gma-news-can-do-to-help-christopher-lao/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/61950/what-gma-news-can-do-to-help-christopher-lao/#comments Mon, 08 Aug 2011 07:34:28 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=61950 I know there are far more important events and issues going on right now in my country but indulge me one last time on this Christopher Lao controversy.

In response to criticism of its recent statement that practically sided with GMA News, the network that aired a report that in turn caused the vicious online bullying of Lao, the media watchdog Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility sent out this  tweet:

Re: Lao controversy- @cmfr did point out that @gmanews focused solely on Lao in its report. But please note that @gmanews recognized its mistake, apologized for it, & withdrew the report in accordance with the ethical principle of recognizing & correcting errors promptly.

Fine. (Although, again, GMA News deserves at least “jeers” for its handling of this story. Just because the network recognized its mistake, apologized for it and withdrew the report doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be criticized for it.)

But if GMA News were really contrite, it should now do several things to help Lao put his life back together.

* The network can start by pulling that silly “Think before you click” in-house advertisement. Showing that ad in the middle of the Lao controversy is either hypocritical on GMA News’ part or it shows that the people running the network are tone deaf about this whole thing.

* In lieu of the “Think before you click” ad, it might want to air an in-house ad against online bullying, which is becoming increasingly common in the Philippines.

* The network might also consider appealing directly to Facebook to remove the hate page against Lao.

* I don’t know if the network already interviewed Lao but it should try. Let him open up about this whole thing, allow him to explain the context of his comments. The guy obviously has a story to tell.

This whole Lao controversy offers invaluable lessons to the mainstream press. It underscores the fact that, as journalists, our way of doing things is no longer the same. For one, obviously, we cannot just file a report without considering its impact on other media.

I’m also stating the obvious here, of course, but the social media has not only broken down barriers in communications — it has demolished certain assumptions in newsrooms, among them the idea that the public will silently consume what we feed them. As this controversy has shown, they also bite back.

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Christopher Lao: Meat thrown to the pack http://asiancorrespondent.com/61803/christopher-lao-a-meat-thrown-into-the-pack/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/61803/christopher-lao-a-meat-thrown-into-the-pack/#comments Fri, 05 Aug 2011 11:59:07 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=61803 I have to disagree with my friends over at the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, which publishes the PJR (Philippine Journalism Review) Reports, on the Christopher Lao controversy.

Lao, as you know, is the Filipino motorist who drove his car into a flooded street and later complained in front of the camera that he did not know the floodwater was that deep, that he did not see a sign warning him not to wade in, that there was no roadblock that could have prevented him from taking Mother Ignacia Avenue in Quezon City, which was flooded one stormy day recently.

GMA News, one of the country’s largest networks, aired the report. As a result, Lao got a serious beating online, with Filipinos acting like teenagers in the locker room, ridiculing him, depicting him as  a moron for driving his car into flood water, and for being an arrogant fool for blaming everybody for his misfortune but himself.

It is clear in the video that Lao merely responded to a question from the reporter. What it was, was not clear in the video. But the online opprobrium Lao got as a result of his comments was such that many have described it as cyber-bullying. A hate page set up on Facebook, for instance, was being liked every second, literally, when I checked it last night.

I blamed GMA News partly for the online lashing Lao received, mainly because it  was clear that Lao was upset after he got out of his waterlogged car and was understandably fuming mad when he was practically ambushed by the network’s crew. To record it and broadcast his rant was simply unfair in my opinion. Lao is a private citizen who had just survived a mishap. The last thing he needed was some nosy reporter questioning his judgment and miscalculation and then broadcasting it later to the world. No wonder the juveniles online piled on him.

In fairness to the network, it has taken down the video and has released a statement urging the public to stop bullying Lao. But that’s like putting the genie back inside the bottle.

In a statement released today,  the CMFR concluded that “what happened to Christopher Lao is an issue of social media excess more than it is of journalism ethics.” (Read the full statement here)

While I wouldn’t go so far as to accuse my friends at GMA News of unethical behavior in this case, I think they mishandled the story. (By the way, just so you know, I also work at the website of News5, a GMA News competitor)

CMFR, in its statement, defended GMA News: “Who really knows if the intention of the reporter was to ridicule the person? GMA News could not have known that the report would elicit such an over the top public reaction.”

I find this conclusion hard to accept.

First, the video and Lao’s comments are clear and should speak for themselves. Here was a man that was so upset he mouthed those possibly ridiculous lines that would surely expose him to ridicule, if not outright spite. The question the GMA News editors should have asked themselves is – is it fair to use that interview under the circumstances and expose Lao to ridicule and spite?

Couldn’t the editors of that report know the impact and implications of Lao’s comments? If they couldn’t, the network should fire them. Editors are editors for a reason. There’s a reason they’re higher in the pay grade  than the reporter who interviewed Lao.

And how couldn’t they know when the network, just recently, launched a campaign called “Think before you click” – the assumption being that before GMA News posts or airs anything, it has weighed and gauged its impact and implications. That they’re the ones who launched the campaign suggests that they’re better at thinking than their competitors.

I have long ago accepted the fact that the denizens of the online world can be a rowdy and chaotic bunch and that if presented with an opportunity to have a little fun at the expense of others, they would do so without hesitation. Frankly, I have no problem with that. That’s the nature of the Internet and the social media. They’re like wolves who were thrown inside a coop and then proceeded to devour the chicken; you just can’t blame them.

But it’s another matter  altogether when journalists are the ones throwing the meat to the pack.

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Christopher Lao: A flood of mean, vicious online insult http://asiancorrespondent.com/61702/christopher-lao-a-flood-of-online-insult/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/61702/christopher-lao-a-flood-of-online-insult/#comments Thu, 04 Aug 2011 06:34:58 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=61702 Christopher Lao has become the latest online sensation in the Philippines. And for all the wrong reasons.

The news report  below shows a car practically diving into the water. It turns out that this was in Mother Ignacia Avenue, in Quezon City, that was  flooded this week because of the typhoons, storms and heavy rains that benighted my country.

Based on what I see in the video, Lao apparently took a gamble when he decided to go straight and wade his car into the water. After all, it would seem to me that he had no way of knowing how deep the flood water was because 1) there were no other cars in sight, 2) there was no road block or sign to warn him  and 3) nobody, as he later exclaimed in the report, informed him that the floodwater was deep enough for his car to actually float.

However, the ridicule Lao has been subjected to since the airing of the report has less to do with the fact that he dived into floodwater and damaged his car. It has more to do with his comments in reply, it would seem, to the question of the GMA News reporter.

When he cried “Why me?” and “Nobody informed me!”, he sounded like a spoiled brat and an idiot who probably forgot that he was living in a third world country. Hence, the barrage of disparaging comments online, with somebody even putting up a hate page on Facebook.

But, again, his comments were in reply to the reporter’s question. I am curious now what the reporter asked him and how the question was asked.

I think GMA News mishandled the report on Lao. It should have stopped at showing Lao’s car floating, just to emphasize the severity of the flood. It should have cut out his comments that made him look like an idiot.

We make mistakes all the  time. Unfortunately for Lao, when he made his, a GMA News crew was on the other side ready to ambush him about his embarrassing miscalculation.

If you ask me, GMA News should produce another report on Lao, this time castigating the online community for being harsh on him and for being a bunch of juveniles and, this time, put in context his mistake. For instance, his friends in the UP community are now saying that he was rushing home to his three-year-old daughter because his wife was stuck in her office due to the storm.

It’s outrageous enough that we have a government that is so inept it cannot even block flooded streets, let alone put in place a functioning sewerage system. It makes me even angrier that we victimize citizens like Lao twice over.

(Disclosure: I work at the online news portal of News5, a competitor of GMA News.)

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Philippine senator’s resignation raises more questions http://asiancorrespondent.com/61686/philippine-senators-resignation-raises-more-questions/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/61686/philippine-senators-resignation-raises-more-questions/#comments Thu, 04 Aug 2011 03:13:03 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=61686

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Torture as ‘standard operating procedure’ in the Philippines http://asiancorrespondent.com/61585/torture-as-standard-operating-procedure-in-the-philippines/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/61585/torture-as-standard-operating-procedure-in-the-philippines/#comments Tue, 02 Aug 2011 16:02:34 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=61585 Last week, an NGO in Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, disclosed a torture case involving a baker in Basilan province who was allegedly brutalized by soldiers. What allegedly happened to Abdul-Khan Balinting Ajid was  particularly  inhuman, as can be gleaned from  the fact sheet prepared by the NGO  Mindanao People’s Caucus.

On July 23, 2011 at around 5:30 in the morning alleged members of Task Force Basilan belonging to the Brigade of the Army Scout Rangers under the command of Colonel Alexander Macario forcibly abducted Abdul-Khan Balinting Ajid from his house in Barangay Libug, Sumisip, Basilan Province.

According to Ajid’s wife, while his husband, a baker by profession, was preparing the dough that will be used for the bread which they would sell for the day, soldiers suddenly kicked open the door of their house and stormed inside the room. Upon seeing Ajid the soldiers grabbed him and took him down to the floor where they then tied his hands behind the back with a plastic straw rope.

Two of Ajid’s children a 15 year old boy and a 10 year old girl, who were present during the incident, fainted due to the fear and trauma of seeing fully armed soldiers storming their home. Ajid’s wife was likewise stunned by the events and could not react to what is happening. She remembers being asked by a soldier if they were keeping guns in their house to which she replied that they don’t own any gun. During the commotion some of the soldiers proceeded to search every part of the house wrecking their household possessions and destroying all the ingredients and materials that they use in their bakery.

After searching the house the soldiers then grabbed Ajid, who they left laying face down on the floor, and dragged him out of the house where he was made to walk towards an approaching six-by-six truck. The soldiers made him board the truck; Ajid’s wife also tried to board the truck but the soldiers stopped her from doing so. The soldiers did not mention where they were taking Ajid and why he was being abducted.

When the soldiers left with her husband, Ajid’s wife along with Ajid’s sister hired a tricycle so that she could go to the Mayor’s office to ask for help in locating her husband. She arrived at around mid-morning of July 23 at the City Hall and met with Mayor Gulam Hataman to whom she reported the ordeal she just underwent. According to Ajid’s sister, Mayor Hataman called up somebody from the Scout Rangers Brigade. She also says that she overheard Mayor Hataman asking the person who answered on the other line if they have custody of Ajid, and if they do that they should bring him to Isabella; to which the person reportedly said that they do have custody of him but he is still in Tipo-Tipo.  When asked by Mayor Hataman why Ajid was arrested, the person answered that it is because Ajid is a member of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

On July 26, three days after the abduction, Ajid’s familiy decided to seek the help of a lawyer to search for Ajid who by then was still missing. Ajid’s sister tried to approach every lawyer both in private and public practice in Basilian but everyone refused due to fear of reprisals from the military. She then tried to ask the help of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) based in Zamboanga but she was advise to get a lawyer for the case first; at this point she met Atty. Rey Bongabong who took the case and filed a Writ of Habeas Corpus  Regional Trial Court of Isabela, on July 27, 2011.

At around three in the afternoon on the same date mentioned above; a copy of the writ was delivered to the Brigade Camp by a representative of Judge Leo J. Prinsipe. The copy of the Writ was received by a certain Major Alano. An hour or so after receiving the Writ, Abdul-Khan Ajid was resurfaced by the military. Ajid’s family was informed that Ajid was delivered by soldiers to the Provincial Jail and is now facing charges of kidnapping in connection with the Abu Sayyaf Group. Although as of the time of writing there is still no information as to the nature of charges against Ajid is.

When Ajid’s family arrived at the detention center they saw that Ajid has been tortured. He was suffering from severe burns on his face, chest, lower torso, and genitalia. He also showed severe bruises or hematoma on his chest and lower ribs. He could not stand without assistance and he was withdrawn and did not talk too much. He also suffered from a partial loss of hearing, and whenever he would try to sit down he would suffer from pain and discomfort.

Recounting his condition to his wife and sister, Ajid said that the reason for the burns is because while under interrogation somebody poured gasoline over his head, inside his ears, and on his face. He could not sit without feeling pain because his interrogators also rubbed red chilli into his anus and they also forcibly placed a bottle of gasoline inside his anus. Gasoline was also poured over his lower abdomen and genital region. After pouring gasoline Ajid’s interrogators set him on fire. (Further details of the ordeal Ajid suffered from the hands of his interrogators are still being finalized based on the medical documentation being gathered).

Due to his physical state, Judge Prinsipe granted the family’s request that Ajid be given medical treatment. He was brought to the Basilan Community Hospital last July 29, 2011, a day after being surfaced. However the attending physician failed to record all the physical menifestations of his torture. In the medical report the attending physician only stated that the patient Abdul-Khan Adjid was suffering from flame burns – no mention was made of the burns on his genitals, his internal injuries, and the bruises he suffered.

If true, these allegations  only show that, despite the rise to the presidency of President Aquino, who promised to take the straight path in his governance, the military has not changed its ways. To be sure, it would be naive to think that the military establishment would change overnight. This exerts pressure on Aquino to really deliver on his promises, particularly with regard to human rights.

What happened to Ajid is simply a manifestation of the fact that torture is standard operating procedure (SOP) in Philippine law enforcement.   Who can forget that cop who tortured a crime suspect by tying a rope around the suspect’s penis and tugging it? The cop was fired from his job but he now teaches criminology, and will surely teach his students this sort of SOP.

Then there are the old but still unresolved cases of torture against the military, more infamously the case of Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno, two University of the Philippines students allegedly arrested and tortured by soldiers.

For more reports on allegations of torture, visit bulatlat.com, an alternative news website in the Philippines.

It must be pointed out that Ajid was not the first to be tortured by soldiers who wanted him to  admit he’s an Abu Sayyaf member. According to this report, about 200 Moros (Filipino Muslims)  have been arrested and jailed, several of them tortured and accused of being Abu Sayyaf members, since 2002. They are right now languishing in jail, awaiting the resolution by the courts of their cases for nearly a decade now.

The larger context, of course, is that the human-rights situation in the Philippines in general barely improved under Aquino. A recent Human Rights Watch report castigated Aquino’s government for the continuing reign of impunity in the country.

Clearly, Aquino needs to do more to protect human rights. As Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, put it:  “The Philippines can only bring an end to these horrific abuses if it is clear that anyone who orders or commits them will be jailed and their military careers will be over.”

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20 years after his death, Filipino filmmaker Lino Brocka endures http://asiancorrespondent.com/55715/20-years-after-his-death-filipino-filmmaker-lino-brocka-endures/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/55715/20-years-after-his-death-filipino-filmmaker-lino-brocka-endures/#comments Wed, 25 May 2011 04:33:00 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=55715

Last Sunday, May 22, was the 20th death anniversary of Lino Brocka, one of the Philippines’s greatest filmmakers who helped put the country on the map of world cinema. He was known for his powerful melodramas but more so for his politics that often dominate many of his movies. Brocka was among the many artists during the martial law years who challenged the regime of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Apart from making socially relevant movies, he was always in the streets, protesting alongside  peasants and workers.

In a special package on the late filmmaker, InterAksyon.com highlighted Brocka’s legacy and his enduring relevance to Philippine society and today’s generation of filmmakers.

Filmmakers and film critics agree that Brocka continues to be relevant because the issues he tackled in his films in the ’70s and ’80s are the same issues that confront Filipinos today.

Pepe Diokno, a 23-year-old filmmaker whose first film Engkwentro deals with human rights, poverty and injustice – themes that are familiar in many of Brocka’s movies – says Brocka remains relevant because “if you look around you, the poverty that Brocka saw 20 years ago is still the poverty that you see now.  We haven’t really progressed since then, which is why filmmakers today are still tackling the problems that he was tackling.”

Rolando Tolentino, chairman of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino and dean of the UP College of Mass Communication, agrees. “To a large extent, the issues that Brocka fought against did not disappear. Corruption, political disenfranchisement, poverty, foreign domination. These are problems Brocka faced and it is clear that they remain and are ingeniously being taken on by independent filmmakers.”

In this special package, you can listen to podcasts of interviews with Diokno, Tolentino and screenwriter Bonifacio Ilagan about Brocka and what he and his films mean for today’s filmmakers.

Below is also a short video I and Ayi Muallam, a multimedia journalist, did for the package. (Some of the language is in Tagalog so bear with us.)

Brocka Lives from Carlos H. Conde on Vimeo.

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Freedom of expression under attack again in Philippines http://asiancorrespondent.com/55716/freedom-of-expression-under-attack-again-in-philippines/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/55716/freedom-of-expression-under-attack-again-in-philippines/#comments Wed, 25 May 2011 02:01:07 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=55716 There is no denying that, in the Philippines, the wheels of justice grind slowly. We have a judiciary that is encumbered by an overwhelming number of pending and unresolved cases. We have justices, judges and prosecutors who can be bribed. We have judges, prosecutors and lawyers who can be intimidated and, often, killed. We have witnesses who are often targets of assassination.

The justice system is heavily tilted in favor of the rich and powerful. Perhaps nothing illustrates this best than the recent case of a former provincial governor, the ex-husband of a current senator, who was supposedly imprisoned at the national penitentiary in Metro Manila but who, it turns out, could leave the prison anytime he wished — as though he is not serving a jail term for killing another person.

Victims of injustice, therefore, stand little chance of winning against powerful enemies. It is in this context that those who search for justice often go to the press, to the civil-society community to air their grievances and seek help. They have little recourse.

So it is quite alarming that the Court of Appeals in the Philippines has come up with a resolution citing in contempt Rowena Paraan, the secretary-general of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, and Monette Salaysay, widow of one of the victims of the infamous Ampatuan Massacre.

This contempt charge will have implications, that’s for sure, on the families’ quest for justice. As it is, the families of the 58 victims in the massacre are outraged that the suspects in the killings, who belong to the powerful Ampatuan political dynasty in Mindanao, are reportedly afforded special treatment while in detention and that the case, despite the government’s efforts to expedite it, seems to move slowly.

An immediate effect would be to gag support groups like the NUJP and the families of the victims from expressing their thoughts on the case through the media.

I’m posting in full below the NUJP’s statement on the contempt charge.

NATIONAL UNION OF JOURNALISTS OF THE PHILIPPINES (NUJP)

STATEMENT

Defend the freedom of expression! Remain steadfast in seeking justice for all victims of the Ampatuan massacre!

On April 12, 2011, a special division of the Court of Appeals (CA) issued a resolution charging Rowena Paraan, secretary general of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), and Monette Salaysay, widow of Ampatuan massacre victim Napoleon Salaysay, of contempt.

The five justices of the CA who issued the resolution accused the two respondents of “foisting bias and corruption” against the court for their statements quoted in a news article where they expressed concerns on the slow pace of the case.

The two were also charged after they pointed out that Associate Justices Danton Bueser and Marlene Gonzales-Sison did not inhibit themselves from deliberations on the pending petition for release of former Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, one of the principal accused in the case.

Zaldy Ampatuan has a pending petition before the CA special division for the court to uphold the April 17, 2010 order of former Department of Justice Secretary Alberto Agra which cleared him from the massacre.

The two CA justices had earlier voluntarily inhibited themselves from a similar petition filed by Andal Ampatuan Sr., the family patriarch accused of ordering the killings.

The contempt charges are alarming and may have a chilling effect especially on those at the forefront in the struggle to find justice for the victims including the families of the victims and media organizations.

The charges will impact not only against Rowena Paraan and Monette Salaysay but on the victims’ families, media groups and other organizations and individuals who remain vigilant against continued efforts of the perpetrators and brains of the massacre to escape culpability.

Having said this, we will not be cowed into surrendering our right to free expression for we cannot afford to be silent as we monitor the progress of a case that is crucial not only because it involves the loss of so many of our colleagues but even more important, because its outcome may well determine whether we can continue to consider ourselves a democracy, a nation, a people.

Many Filipinos are disappointed on how the Ampatuan massacre case has proceeded a year and a half after 58 persons including 32 media workers were murdered in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao on November 23, 2009.

A survey of the Social Weather Station conducted on May 4 to 7 showed that more than half (51 percent) of the people are dissatisfied with how the government is handling the case, up from 46 percent in November last year.

An overwhelming number of people (75 percent) believe the case is proceeding “too slow,” according to the survey.

More than ever, there is a need to remain vigilant on the conduct and proceedings of the case amid continued reports of threats against the victims’ families and legal maneuvers of the accused.

We call on the special division of the CA to withdraw the order, uphold the people’s freedom of expression and heed the people’s demand for a speedy and impartial trial.

We urge the families of the victims, colleagues and friends to remain steadfast in ensuring that justice will not be sabotaged.


Nestor Burgos, NUJP chair
Alwyn ALburo, NUJP vice-chair

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Understanding the plight of Filipino workers in Libya http://asiancorrespondent.com/51022/officials-should-be-more-understanding-of-filipino-workers-in-libya/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/51022/officials-should-be-more-understanding-of-filipino-workers-in-libya/#comments Wed, 23 Mar 2011 19:40:28 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=51022 It distresses me no end that some Filipino officials can be so insensitive to their compatriots facing risks while working in other countries.

Yesterday, one such official told a television station in Manila that the Philippine government has tried everything it could to convince Filipinos in Libya to go back home but most of them chose to stay despite the danger. They’re on their own now, the official said in effect.

In fact, I find this not only distressing but totally outrageous.

It is the duty of the government to make sure that Filipinos abroad are protected and being taken care of, even if officials assume that these OFWs seem to have defaulted on this “privilege” when they chose to stay. I thought this duty has always been clear to the Philippine government, given that the Philippines, perhaps more than any other country in the world, is a nation of migrants and overseas workers.

In case these officials in the labor and foreign-affairs department don’t get it, perhaps because they’re too comfy in their air-conditioned offices, Filipino workers abroad will always, and I mean always, resist the idea of repatriation if their job is at stake. And it’s not difficult to see why.

They spent their life savings or incurred massive debts just to be able to work abroad. There are no sufficient jobs back home. To many of them, working abroad is possibly the best thing that ever happened to them and their family.

Of course, the government has been trying to help these OFWs when they are in distress. That, frankly, is the least that it can do.

But officials should stop issuing statements that not only insult these OFWs but add to the anxiety of their families back home. They should be more understanding and patient. And they can only do that if they try to put themselves more often in the shoes of these hardworking “modern-day heroes.”

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Philippines impeachment: Aquino must transcend partisan politics http://asiancorrespondent.com/50940/aquinos-party-must-transcend-partisan-politics-in-impeachment-of-ombudsman/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/50940/aquinos-party-must-transcend-partisan-politics-in-impeachment-of-ombudsman/#comments Wed, 23 Mar 2011 01:46:02 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=50940 This week, the Philippine Congress, voting overwhelmingly, impeached Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, the country’s main anti-corruption investigator. Gutierrez  has been accused of sitting on numerous corruption cases involving former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her family, who are supposedly her friends and allies. Gutierrez now faces the prospect of being tried in an impeachment trial in the Philippine Senate.

To be sure, Gutierrez’s impeachment and impending trial have sent a signal that, in a country notorious for officials who wiggle themselves out of corruption scandals with ease, even an extremely powerful position as the ombudsman — a position that is constitutional in nature and thus he or she can only be removed through impeachment — can and should be held accountable. This, doubtless, is an important milestone for accountability and transparency.

But let’s not kid ourselves.  Gutierrez was  impeached because her patron, Arroyo, failed to gather enough votes to oppose the move to impeach her. The challenge, therefore, for  the notoriously factionalized and corrupt Philippine Congress is to transcend the partisan nature of Gutierrez’s impeachment.

The administration’s political party, Liberal Party, now likes to brag that it has become dominant, which is true. There’s nothing spectacular in it, however, because  the administration party almost always manages to get the majority in Congress. That is so because Filipino politicians are, by nature, turncoats. Party ideology or principle is practically nonexistent in the Philippines.

Again, the challenge is to to make sure that the Gutierrez impeachment goes beyond partisan politics. This means observance of due process and an  appreciation of the case against the ombudsman based on evidence.

The Liberal Party, whichPresident Aquino heads, is known for its probity and integrity, at least when compared to the other political parties. The Gutierrez saga is the party’s chance to show that those descriptions are deserved. It should not make a mockery of this constitutional exercise. Our political maturity and the integrity of our democratic processes are at stake.

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Filipino bloggers’ association a good way to deal with ethical issues in blogging http://asiancorrespondent.com/49940/filipino-bloggers-association-a-good-way-to-deal-with-ethical-issues-in-blogging/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/49940/filipino-bloggers-association-a-good-way-to-deal-with-ethical-issues-in-blogging/#comments Wed, 09 Mar 2011 22:47:46 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=49940 My friend and fellow Asian Correspondent blogger  Tonyo Cruz, along with other bloggers, recently proposed the creation of a National Bloggers Association of the Philippines. Its objectives, as enumerated in this manifesto, are commendable.

The proposal has since elicited reactions that are both positive and negative. You can read the tweets about this proposal here.

I was initially wary of the idea, knowing how diverse and freewheeling the blogging community in the Philippines is. As you can glean from the reactions, one of the reasons why many oppose it  is that they fear it would undermine the very principle of blogging as a medium of expression. Blogging, these critics argue, was invented precisely to counter the mainstream media monolith. A “national association,” therefore, contradicts that very idea. I agree, but Tonyo and company’s proposal is not to  create  a super-body that would govern bloggers. Far from that. If anything, the idea is to come up with an entity to protect the interests of bloggers.

This proposal should also be viewed in the context of Philippine politics and current events. We are a country where government and politicians often devise ways to curtail freedom of the press and of expression and where the mainstream press often fails in its duties to inform and empower the public. Taken in this context, blogging should be viewed as an alternative medium, which it is to a large degree, as has been proven in several recent instances when bloggers weighed in on important political and social issues.

Wouldn’t it be nice if blogging remained as something that we only do to rant about the lousy service at the restaurant, to post pictures of our pets, or to ruminate about how great or lousy our life is? But in reality, blogging is no longer just a hobby among many. It has evolved, it has become influential, it has become a potent force in the public discourse.

A look at how blogging has developed over the years necessitates the formation of the NBAPH or some such organization. Tonyo and company’s manifesto recognizes this, albeit delicately. “A long time has passed since the first blog posts and first blogging events,” the manifesto said. “We are now a bigger, stronger and influential community. Businesses, causes and government have started to organize themselves to interact and engage with us. And we also face challenges within and outside our growing community.”

Not surprisingly, there are forces that seek to ethically compromise bloggers, the same way that they seek to compromise journalists. Precisely because of the looseness of the medium, which admittedly is its main attraction, the ethical terrain in blogging is much more slippery than in journalism. But the impact of bloggers on the public discourse cannot be ignored or underestimated.

This is where standards — not rules, mind you — come in, the same way that journalists’ group have come up with their own set of standards. No one blogger can devise this set of standards — it has to be the community itself. The bloggers themselves — or at least those who harbor the conceit that what they do is important to the public discourse — should ensure that they are not compromised ethically. And they have to do it themselves and not wait for the government or some other entity to step in.

I don’t think the NBAPH is going to dictate on bloggers how to blog, what to blog about, etc. But if a blogger signs up, he or she should strive to live up to the principles of the group, as you would with any organization you sign up with. Membership should be voluntary and this association should not claim to represent all bloggers, or even the blogging community — the same way that the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines or the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines or National Press Club cannot claim to represent all journalists.

Having said that, online marketers, advertisers and PR people should not be involved in the formation and in the administration of this association. The same way that advertisers and marketers are not part of journalists’ groups such as the NUJP or the Focap. (Advertisers, marketers and public relations people can join the Focap, by the way, but only as so-called “associate members,” with no electoral or voting rights and are not involved in policymaking.)

The NBAPH (or whatever it’s name will be) should distinguish the bloggers from the marketers/advertisers/PR people and not accept the latter as regular members. In the Philippines and elsewhere, online marketers are using blogs to peddle their ware, disclosures and ethical considerations be damned, and many are known to pay off bloggers to promote their products and services, as the recent brouhaha over “big, bad blogger” showed.

For instance, the proponents of the NBAPH has to face squarely the issue concerning one of their own, Janette Toral of  Digital Filipino. She is one of those who pushed the formation of this association and, in fact, the tempest online about NBAPH seems to have started when somebody who calls himself “Janitor Al” posted this rant about the proposal.

“Janitor Al” railed against the supposedly arrogant and pompous notion of gathering “millions upon millions” of Filipino bloggers. He may have a point there but my beef about Ms. Toral is not that — it is the conflict of interest that I see in her involvement in NBAPH. A look at her website indicates that she is involved in online marketing and public/business relations. The Digital Filipino Club’s About Us section reads: “What makes the club unique is its business promotion focus and knowledge sharing culture.” Its products and membership categories are geared toward this. (Update: Ms. Toral has responded to this blog and asked me to link to a FAQ that explains her involvement in NBAPH.)

Now, I don’t know Ms. Toral personally, I have never met her, I don’t have any quarrel with her and I write this without any malice. I have no issue with what she does or what her business does. She will become an issue, however, and only as far as I’m concerned, if she becomes a regular member or officer of the NBAPH. Ms. Toral  is already an officer of the Internet and Mobile Marketing Association of the Philippines, a relationship that should have stopped her outright from even thinking of the NBAPH idea.

In fact, I think for delicadeza’s sake, Ms. Toral and other marketers pushing for the NBAPH should inhibit from the initiative. If they don’t, consider the NBAPH dead even before it is born.

Personally, I cannot be part of a group that has both bloggers and marketers as members of equal status, obviously because of the conflict of interest involved. But I signed up with NBAPH just the same because being a member would be the best way for me to take part in the process.

I don’t think the NBAPH could gather these “millions upon millions” of bloggers — and I don’t believe that it should — but it has to take this first step. And the only way for bloggers to make sure their interests are protected by the NBAPH, or whatever group that I’m sure will be formed sooner or later, is to take part in the process and not lose by default. If you find out later that it doesn’t do you any good, you can always quit. At least you can say you tried.

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With new military appointments, is Aquino doing an Arroyo? http://asiancorrespondent.com/49913/with-new-military-appointments-is-aquino-doing-an-arroyo/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/49913/with-new-military-appointments-is-aquino-doing-an-arroyo/#comments Wed, 09 Mar 2011 11:09:49 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=49913 Last week saw the Philippines going through another one of those déjà vu moments.

President Benigno S. Aquino III, rejecting calls for him to appoint a military chief that would stay on the job for at least two years in order to implement needed reforms, appointed instead Lt. Gen. Eduardo Oban Jr., who will only be chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines for nine months.

By most accounts, Oban is a top-notch soldier known for his integrity and dedicated service. But with only nine months on the job, many wonder what he can accomplish. During the turnover ceremonies this week, Oban promised reforms, among many other things. But, again, what can he do in so short a time?

The Philippine military is under fire right now because of corruption and the clamor is for it to be reformed thoroughly, something that cannot be done in a few months’ time. As Glenda Gloria, a military analyst and journalist who exposed many of these corruption activities in the armed forces, said in a recent column:

The military needs new energy and new thinking. Someone who will stay for the long haul and see crucial reforms through.

There is logic behind an existing AFP policy that bans officers with less than a year remaining in their term from being named commander of a major service command (Army, Navy, Air Force). If the attrition rule can’t entrust a command to an officer with less than a year in service, how can it entrust the entire institution to the same?

The so-called revolving door policy in the appointment of military chief was exploited to the hilt during the presidency of Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. She appointed 10 chiefs of staff in the nine years she was in power in order to curry favor from the generals who supported her very unpopular regime.

When Aquino ran for president, he made a promise to be different from her, the anti-Arroyo. But resorting to the revolving-door policy exposed that promise to be a lie.

But that’s not the end of it. Today, the government announced that the military chief Oban replaced, General  Ricardo David, has been appointed as the new commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration. My first thought upon hearing this news was, “Is the bench of the Aquino government this shallow so as to recycle military officials into civilian bureaucrats?”

Appointing ex-generals to government positions is, of course, not new. It started decades ago, worsened under the dictator Marcos and never really stopped. Arroyo did the same thing. And Aquino, the supposed anti-Arroyo, has did it in the case of David and another ex-general who Aquino appointed as ambassador to Brunei. With more generals soon to retire and waiting in the wings, I’m certain these two appointments will not be the last.

What other promises Aquino will break?

As I’ve pointed out in a recent tweet, the more Aquino changes, the more the Philippines stays the same.

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Cory Aquino’s betrayal of ‘People Power’ http://asiancorrespondent.com/49145/cory-aquinos-betrayal-of-people-power/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/49145/cory-aquinos-betrayal-of-people-power/#comments Fri, 25 Feb 2011 23:33:07 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=49145 In 1986, I joined a group called “Youth for Cory and Doy” in Cagayan de Oro City, where I grew up. It was my first taste of political activism, and it was exhilarating. There I was, a freshman in college, staying out late at night at the city plaza, singing decidedly subversive songs, joining other activists to denounce Ferdinand Marcos. Like many Filipinos at the time, I was convinced that Cory Aquino, the widow of the assassinated Marcos foe Sen. Benigno Aquino, was definitely better than the dictator; that, although she was what Marcos had derisively called a “mere housewife,” she represented a moral, honest leadership. She promised a new beginning for all of us.

Twenty-five years after the Filipino people toppled the dictator, I am not sorry that I joined the struggle to oust Marcos and install Cory to the presidency – despite the fact that Cory, for all her much-vaunted success in restoring democracy and all that, turned out to be one of the worst presidents we have had.

I am not sorry because ousting Marcos was the right thing to do, regardless of how it turned out later, regardless of how Cory and her minions bungled every opportunity to make this country great.

Cory Aquino in 2003 (Photo by Carlos H. Conde)

I wished Cory had thought as well that ousting Joseph Estrada in 2001 was the right thing to do, an act that should not be second-guessed just because of how Estrada’s successor, Gloria Arroyo, performed later.

But by apologizing to Estrada in December 2008 for leading the movement to remove him, Cory virtually proclaimed that the Filipinos in Edsa Dos were all wrong in ousting a corrupt president.

Make no mistake – Estrada did not deserve to be president. He was corrupt, he was incompetent. He is a convicted plunderer later pardoned by an equally corrupt regime.

Corazon Aquino, who died in 2009, is viewed as a saint because we often compare her to the monster that was Marcos. But a look at what she had done as president should tell us that she was one deeply flawed saint.

Debt repudiation

When Cory took power, the Philippine foreign debt was around $26 billion. As a supposedly revolutionary government, her regime was well within its right to repudiate that debt, most of which were odious debts anyway. But Cory did not.

She succumbed to the pressure of international creditors, like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as well as governments such as the US, which propped up the dictator Marcos (a support that, in turn, allowed him to amass all that debt) and then later propped up Cory. The pressure was such that even Cory’s finance secretary at that time, Jaime Ongpin, threatened to resign if Cory repudiated our debts.”I don’t want the responsibility for a debt repudiation policy on my shoulders, because in my judgment the consequences would be beyond the ability of this government to control,” Ongpin said, according to a New York Times report.

Aquino with her close adviser Jaime Ongpin, who resisted debt repudiation and debt caps, even threatening to resign if Aquino did any of those (Photo from Makati Business Club website)

She and her advisers, as well as the central bank, even resisted attempts by legislators and economists to put a cap on debt repayments, to allow the country more breathing space as it tried to pick up the pieces caused by Marcos’s devastation of the Philippine economy. Ongpin said Cory “would have to find someone else to administer the new policy” if the debt-cap proposal was implemented. (Twenty-five years later, Cory’s son, President Noynoy Aquino, also refused any limit on debt repayments, vetoing a provision in the 2011 budget that restricts the government’s borrowings by up to 55 percent of the GDP.)

To be sure, repudiating the debt would have had serious consequences, something that Ongpin and his friends at the IMF and World Bank had warned about (then again, Ongpin et al were also against the idea of a debt-repayment cap of at least 10 percent of export earnings). There are arguments, however, that the advantages to a nation of debt repudiation far outweigh its cost and that, in any case, given the extreme popularity of the Edsa revolt worldwide, the Philippines would have no trouble finding other creditors. Besides, the Philippines was under a revolutionary government at the time. Such a repudiation, or at least a repayment scheme that would be easy on Filipinos and the government, would have been the right thing to do. But Cory did no such thing.

And so, to this day, we are saddled by the effects of this (in)decision, with the largest chunk of our national budget going to interest payments alone, taking away money that should be going to education, health care and other basic services.

Perhaps more than anything else, these debts prevented the Philippines from developing, from breaking from its past. In fact, if there’s one thing that makes Edsa an ersatz revolution, it’s Cory’s failure or refusal to repudiate Marcos’s onerous debts.

Human rights

Members of a notorious cult that Aquino's military unleashed on leftists, resulting in horrendous human-rights abuses (Photo from Life.com)

While the Marcos dictatorship was responsible for horrendous human rights abuses, it was during Cory’s term that the “total war policy” against leftists and their perceived supporters was launched systematically and cold-bloodedly – a policy that continues to this day, albeit going by other names like Oplan Bantay Laya. It was during her term that cannibal vigilantes went on a rampage in the provinces, used by the Philippine military to terrorize villagers and activists.

Again, as a president whose ascent to power was partly made possible by a broad people’s movement, the “total war policy” against the Left was a betrayal, to say the least. (Don’t believe the myth being peddled by some that the Left was not at Edsa during the first people power. For one, many of them were not there because they were busy fighting the dictator’s army in the hills, their victory in the countryside no doubt helping to cripple the dictatorship. For another, they had been in the streets, braving Marcos’s water cannons and batons and bullets way before the middle class and the “snooty members” of society that supported Cory decided it was cool to march to EDSA, rosary in hand).

She had been taken hostage by the military establishment, which later developed a sense of entitlement to “people power” as shown by their later assertions that such a revolt can only succeed if the military “withdraws support” from the sitting regime. This was evident in the movement to oust Estrada and the attempt to topple Arroyo.

Agrarian reform

Never able to rise above her class interest, Cory was also responsible for the monumental failure of the country’s agrarian reform program. She promised to make it the centerpiece program of her administration and she failed at it miserably, as we can see now. Then again, to believe that a landlord would give away her land just like that is to believe a liar when he says “Trust me.”

Cory's agrarian reform has been denounced as bogus, with farmers and peasants still unable to own land. To this day, her own family has resisted the government's effort to put their sugar estate under land reform. (Photo from bulatlat.com)

It was Cory’s regime that crafted and passed a faulty agrarian-reform law that gave too much leeway to landlords, allowing them to duck the program, and not enough resources to peasants and farmers that would allow them to develop whatever land they would get out of it.

The program was a failure because the Congress was, and still is, dominated by landlords. It was designed to fail. Cory, of all people, should know how silly the idea that landlords would just easily give up their lands. Proof: Hacienda Luisita remains in the hands of her family, when it should have been the first one to be parceled out to farmers if she really wanted the program to succeed.

(Need I point out that the Mendiola Massacre and the Lupao Massacre – atrocities that victimized peasants and farmers mainly — occurred during Cory’s term as well?)

Make no mistake: I believe in what many say that Cory was honest and was never corrupt. But she was way too naive and way too vulnerable to the pressures brought to bear on her. More importantly, she simply failed to transcend her own and her family’s interest for the larger good.

Apparently, she was also conflicted about the principle of “people power” itself. This was evident in her 2008 apology to Estrada. Filipinos who struggle for good governance and accountability should take that as an insult and a repudiation of what they stand for.

Corazon Cojuangco Aquino an icon of democracy and moral leadership? To many, perhaps. But to me, she is an icon of everything that is wrong with this country.

(This is a slightly revised version of an entry I posted on my former blog at www.gmanews.tv, a reaction to the December 2008 apology by Cory Aquino — the Philippines’ “icon of democracy” and leader of the anti-Marcos People Power revolt 25 years ago — to Joseph Estrada, the president who was ousted in the second People Power uprising in 2001 due to corruption).

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The unsung heroes of the Philippine “People Power” http://asiancorrespondent.com/49113/the-unsung-heroes-of-the-philippine-people-power/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/49113/the-unsung-heroes-of-the-philippine-people-power/#comments Fri, 25 Feb 2011 09:15:00 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=49113

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Why does Aquino allow Beijing to bully Manila? http://asiancorrespondent.com/48572/why-does-aquino-allow-beijing-to-bully-manila/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/48572/why-does-aquino-allow-beijing-to-bully-manila/#comments Wed, 16 Feb 2011 23:44:37 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=48572 In December, there was a brouhaha in the Philippines over the decision by the Aquino government to skip/snub/boycott — take your pick — the Nobel Peace Prize awarding ceremony in Oslo for Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Initially, the Manila government offered different explanations for the skip/snub/boycott —  the attaché in Oslo had a prior appointment, that Manila was not required to attend the event, etc. — but eventually settled on one: that it was in the Philippines’s best interest to skip/snub/boycott the event because there were five Filipino inmates on death row who were going to be executed soon and that, supposedly, Manila was working hard to save the five criminals from death.

Although many Filipinos suspect the government came up with that line only when it was clear that the skip/snub/boycott was becoming a real embarrassment, many swallowed it. After all, lives were at stake.

Now comes the news that Beijing will, after all, execute three of the five criminals and that that decision is final. Whoa! What the &^%^ just happened? Beijing stopped short of saying that Aquino can pretty much go %$#& himself.

Beijing stopped just short of telling Aqino to go &*@# himself. Pic: AP.

Questions inevitably arise. Did Aquino get an earlier assurance from Beijing that these convicts or some of them would be spared? (We thought so; he sounded like he was promised that when he was explaining all of this.) If so, what happened? Did Beijing renege on that commitment? Is it just messing with us, just as it messed with us in the case of the 14 Taiwanese that Manila authorities allegedly and surreptitiously rendered to China at the behest of Beijing?

Or was Aquino fed the let’s-boycott-Nobel-Prize-so-we-can-save-the-convicts canard by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, a holdover from the Arroyo regime? In December, a source in the Palace told me that Aquino and Romulo do not see eye to eye on foreign policy, particularly on China. Romulo, the source said, is just too cozy with the Chinese — too cozy for our nation’s own good. (I can almost see Romulo’s hand in the case of those 14 Taiwanese.)

I was told, too, that Romulo would be out by end of January. He is obviously still there, although reports this week say he was going out, which President Aquino practically confirmed when he said this week that he’s considering another post for Romulo. (One report speculated that he could be the next chairman of the Commission on Audit. With all this corruption scandals involving Romulo’s former boss, Arroyo, I wonder whose bright idea was it to consider Romulo for the post? But that’s another story.)

I get it that we need to appease the Chinese after that hostage crisis in August but, surely, there’s got to be a point when even the most supplicant of leaders can cry enough is enough.

In any case, this is I guess what happens when a small country like the Philippines allows itself to be bullied by a toughie like China. And you know bullies. The moment they see you are weak, they bully you even more.

Unfortunately, it’s not a question on when or whether the Chinese will stop bullying us; they can’t help being a bully  because —  like that scorpion hitching a ride  on the back of a frog while crossing a river and then stings the frog, killing both of them — that’s their nature right now and they can get away with it. It’s more a question on when the bullied will grow some balls and starts hitting back. He will be scathed, that’s for sure, but at least he can proudly hold his bruised chin high.

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Aquino’s broken promises http://asiancorrespondent.com/48480/aquinos-broken-promises-2/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/48480/aquinos-broken-promises-2/#comments Tue, 15 Feb 2011 08:07:31 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=48480

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The Philippines as a model for Egypt? Get real http://asiancorrespondent.com/48381/the-philippines-as-a-model-for-egypt-get-real/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/48381/the-philippines-as-a-model-for-egypt-get-real/#comments Mon, 14 Feb 2011 02:47:07 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=48381 One of the most preposterous things I’ve heard in the aftermath of the ouster of Hosni Mubarak was that the world failed to credit the Philippines’s own “People Power” for what happened in Egypt. It is as outrageous as the claim  that we Filipinos invented “people power.”

This is not to belittle what Filipinos did on Edsa and elsewhere during those dramatic days in February 1986 and again in Janaury 2001. What they did remains a source of pride and inspiration to many.

But as far as models go, we sucked and continue to suck at it. We are a model, in truth, of  failed revolutions. If anything, a more accurate perspective that I’ve heard is how the Egyptians should take lessons from us, how they should always remind themselves that, while People Power is good, it doesn’t stop on Edsa or in Tahrir Square.

We have had two such uprisings before — and all failed to lift Filipinos from poverty, and free them from the bondage of our own feudal-like politics. Indeed, to call these Filipino uprisings “revolutions” is a disservice to the real revolutions in history and a diminution of the word’s meaning.

So let’s stop kidding ourselves, shall we?

I mean, consider what our president, Benigno S. Aquino III, did — or did not do — while Egypt was on fire. He, the son of “people power,” practically said or did nothing in those three weeks, not even to humor us and the Egyptians about how the revolt in Tahrir Square reminded him of his parents and those days in 1986. But after the Egyptians came out triumphant against a despot, you suddenly hear him praising them for their revolution. If he had remained quiet, I would have praised him for at least being consistent.

How on earth can we proclaim to the world that we are a model of revolutions when we failed in our own, when our president, the heir of supposed icons of democracy and whose rise to the presidency can be traced directly to people power, is a spineless fence-sitter who was probably playing with his favorite guns and Porsche while the Arab world was burning?

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Angelo Reyes and corruption in the Philippine military: Coming clean? http://asiancorrespondent.com/48322/angelo-reyes-and-corruption-in-the-philippine-military-coming-clean/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/48322/angelo-reyes-and-corruption-in-the-philippine-military-coming-clean/#comments Sun, 13 Feb 2011 02:16:44 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=48322
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism published yesterday a “note” by Angelo Reyes, the former military chief who killed himself after being implicated in a corruption scandal. The note was supposedly written by Reyes two days before he shot himself in the heart in front of this parents’ grave. In it, Reyes, who was accused in a Senate hearing of having pocketed tens of millions of pesos while he was chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, rambled on about his thoughts on corruption, his life in the service, etc. He said he was coming clean.

The final words of Angelo T. Reyes: A warrior comes clean in last battle for honor – http://bit.ly/fAcuql

But did he, in fact, come clean?

The note left me hanging because it was, per my estimation, nowhere close to coming clean. It  infuriated me because the note was clearly an attempt by Reyes at damage control. As I pointed out in a tweet last night, to the very end, Reyes was being shrewd.

twitlonger.com
Somebody suggested that it’s a slap in mainstream media’s face that Angelo Reyes released his “notes” to the PCIJ. Well, you can also look at it this way: To the very end, Reyes was being shrewd. He knew his reputation and legacy were in tatters. What better way to try to repair these than by having the Philippines’s most credible team of journalists as a platform for a last-minute attempt at damage control?
In his note, Reyes did not own up to anything, particularly concerning the recent allegations against him, which he had earlier lamely denied by asking his accuser, his former budget officer George Rabusa, if he had ever been greedy, as if greed was the issue at the hearings.
abs-cbnnews.com
MANILA, Philippines – If only Angelo Reyes did not take his “pabaon,” he would have been a good Armed Forces chief of staff with a legacy of being a generous provider, military corruption whistleblower George Rabusa said on Friday.
Reyes instead regurgitated sound bites that are obviously designed not just to spruce up his battered image but to obfuscate the issues of military corruption as well.

“I did not invent corruption. I walked into it.” – final notes of Angie Reyes via PCIJ. “Tinyente pa ako, ganyan na ang sistema…”

KakanTuring

Well, was Reyes sickened by what he found out? If he was what did he do about it? Apparently, nothing.

If he became sick by what he found out, he would have known about it. And  it would be interesting to find out what exactly it was he did when the  Garcia scandal erupted, when “Hello Garci” erupted, when the NBN-ZTE   scam erupted…

“Entire comptroller family-Rabusa, Garcia, Ligot, & Antonio Lim-enjoyed confidence & protection of Reyes” http://t.co/6Bf6rbB @newsbreak_ph

As far as I can tell, he did not speak out  against these issues and he remained loyal to his patron, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, to the very end.
twitlonger.com
Of all the quotes in Angelo Reyes’s “note” to the PCIJ, this one takes the cake: “I stuck it out with the GMA administration for 9 years, not under the banner of loyalty; I could have deserted GMA, but I did not want to be branded as someone who abandoned his superiors…” He did not desert Arroyo because he did not want to be branded as disloyal? If he had said he stuck it out with her because he believed she was innocent of all the corruption allegations, I would get it. But to ignore overwhelming proof and evidence of her wrongdoing just because of a fear of being branded as disloyal, that’s just not right. That quote damns Reyes because it contradicts his avowals of integrity and honesty.
If Reyes and his supporters hoped that the note would salvage the man’s image, they’ve got another think coming.

Not quite coming clean. scaRRed_cat: THE ART OF CLEANSING http://t.co/ra2nsmZ

RT @nerveending: If Angie Reyes’s last words mean anything, it’s that to the conscience, the sin of omission is just as large as the sin of commission.

***

on Reyes: I truly sympathize with those in pain for the loss of a relative or a dear friend but they should NOT obfuscate the issue.

aupijuan

***

Sayang ang moment ni Angelo Reyes. Sana man lang nag iwan sya ng suicide note saying. Bilang pagmamahal ko sa bayan at sa labis na kahihiyan sa pagkakasangkot ko sa korupsyon sa AFP ay tinatapos ko na ang aking buhay. Nawa’y tularan ako ng iba pang sangkot sa maanomalyang transaksyon sa gobyerno. Parang “harakiri” ng hapones. Gaya-gaya pa naman ang Pinoy. Malamang katiting na lang ang matitira sa gobyerno. Kampai!!!!

undefined

***

condolence to the family of mr. angelo reyes pero sana gumawa sya ng suicide note at ibinunyag ang mga sangkot pa sa AFP fund scandal…tsk..

Of course, just as there were those who didn’t bite his evidently self-serving words, there were those who were willing to swallow them.

Let us not cast judgement on Angelo Reyes. He will be judged by the One up there. Let us pray for his soul and allow his family to grieve.

juliusbabao

In the end, however, Reyes damned himself with his note, particularly this quote:

“Living life without honor is a tragedy bigger than death itself” – Angie Reyes

undefined

When that kind of realization sets in, would death follow? In Reyes’s case, it did.

But the real tragedy here, in my view, is that Reyes did not redeem his honor and, in fact, by killing himself without first coming clean to the Filipino people who he claimed to have served honestly and honorably, he dishonored himself even more.

Coming clean because you have been exposed for a wrongdoing is not the same as coming clean because you realized you did something wrong.

****

A final note:

Angelo Reyes’s longtime friend, Rex Robles, says the Senate hearings are a moro-moro. He might be right. But think about this: When all the mechanisms to ferret out the truth in the Garcia corruption case have failed or have been compromised (Sandiganbayan, Ombudsman, the supposed “Truth Commission”), we should be thankful at least that the Senate is stepping up to the plate to hold some people accountable.
twitlonger.com
Or, as Alan Robles of HotManila put it:

Corruption didn’t kill Reyes, investigation of corruption did. Without that investigation he’d be living a wealthy happy life

hotmanila

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As Egyptians savor freedom, Filipinos reminisce about their own revolution http://asiancorrespondent.com/48295/as-egyptians-savor-freedom-filipinos-reminisce-about-their-own-revolution/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/48295/as-egyptians-savor-freedom-filipinos-reminisce-about-their-own-revolution/#comments Sat, 12 Feb 2011 03:27:09 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=48295 This month marks the 25th anniversary of the first People Power uprising in the Philippines that ousted the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. There is perhaps no fitting reminder of that event’s impact on Philippine history than the uprising by the Egyptian people against the despot Hosni Mubarak.

View this story “As Egyptians Savor Freedom, Filipinos Reminisce About Their Own Revolution” on Storify

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Azkals and the end of basketball’s reign in the Philippines http://asiancorrespondent.com/48115/azkals-and-the-end-of-basketballs-reign-in-the-philippines/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/48115/azkals-and-the-end-of-basketballs-reign-in-the-philippines/#comments Thu, 10 Feb 2011 00:07:52 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=48115 Like many Filipinos last night, me and my family were glued to the TV set watching the Philippine team called Azkals battle Mongolia’s Blue Wolves, and tweeting about it as though it were a breaking news story.

The game, which was won by the Azkals 2-0, was exciting, brisk and very rugged. But the thing that stood out was the crowd, which was just awesome. It may have been because most were probably students who were perhaps there not for the game but to ogle at the Azkals, who have  become heartthrobs here. (According to earlier reports, the Azkals had trouble practicing in that fabulous city in the central Philippines, Bacolod, because the fans just wouldn’t let them.)

If Filipinos can be as supportive and encouraging as the Bacolod crowd, soccer should have no problem becoming  popular in the Philippines. As many Twitter users pointed out last night, soccer is more suited to Filipinos than basketball and that given the right training and support, we can excel at this, just as the Malaysians and the Indonesians have.

(Another improbable thing also happened last night, as pointed out by Ayee Macaraig:  TV Patrol, the country’s most popular primetime newscast, led the news with the game. How cool is that, right? And folks were exchanging jokes about the future of the Philippine Basketball Association. Journalist Kenneth Guda wrote on Facebook:  “Suddenly lots of Pinoys have become football fans. By the way, there’s a PBA tonight. Anybody watching? ;-). To which a friend replied: “Basketball? What’s that?” )

The only problem, of course, is that soccer is not practical, logistics-wise, in a poor country like the Philippines. I mean, we can’t just put up a soccer field  in the middle of the street, as we do with basketball. If there’s one thing going against soccer — perhaps apart from the perception that it is a rich boy’s game — this would be it.

So, okay, the title of this post is an exaggeration but you get the point.

***

Below are some photos of the game I took off our TV set using my phone, courtesy of Studio 23, which broadcast it live. They’re not very good, sorry.

Part of the awesome crowd at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City

Emilio Caligdong's kick that scored for the Azkals

The airforce man flies high

Remember this name: CALIGDONG.

The Azkals whoop it up

Emilio Caligdong: Man of the moment

The Philippine colors fly high

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Photojournalism and video journalism alive in the Philippines http://asiancorrespondent.com/46987/photojournalism-and-video-journalism-are-alive-in-the-philippines/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/46987/photojournalism-and-video-journalism-are-alive-in-the-philippines/#comments Wed, 26 Jan 2011 02:28:26 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=46987 A friend on Facebook posted a status update this morning that links to a slideshow published by  Life.com about the violent demolition yesterday of an urban-poor community in Manila. “And did you say photojournalism is dead?” Jimmy Domingo asked rhetorically.

By way of a reply to Jimmy, I posted this on my Facebook page: “Philippine photojournalism is not dead. It lives in the hearts of these courageous men and women who risk life and limb out there, in the streets, to bring us images that remind us of the injustices that continue to plague Philippine society.”

Hats off to this new breed of Filipino photojournalists (who are too many to mention here) and the veterans of the trade who continue to guide and inspire them (you  know who you are).

Jes Aznar (left), one of the finest photojournalists today that I had the pleasure to work with. (Photo by Iris Cecilia Gonzales)

Hotshot Filipino photojournalist Veejay Villafranca covering yesterday's violent demolition. (Photo by Iris Cecilia Gonzales)

And let’s not forget the Filipino video journalists who strive to be much closer to the action. Their coverage of events, particularly people’s issues — news and stories that are often ignored by the mainstream press — has been outstanding and, with new technology, their work are improving by the pixel and by the frame.

A few recent examples are Luis Liwanag’s video of yesterday’s demolition.Tudla Production and Kodao Production, two progressive media outfits, already have dramatic videos of the demolition circulated on Facebook but they have not yet published these on their respective sites.

Bulatlat.com, whose multimedia work in the past year has grown extensively, also put together  a riveting video of the demolition, which can be viewed here. Included in this video are dramatic footage not just of the confrontation between the soon-to-be-homeless residents but of  journalists caught in the crossfire as well. The video was shot by reporter Janess Ann J. Ellao using a standard-definition Flip video camera. (If you need proof, by the way, why Flip is one of the best tools for multimedia journalism, Janess’s video would be it.)

An additional, probably useful, bit of information: Ayi Muallam, the multimedia editor of Bulatlat, used not some fancy and mind-blowingly expensive video editing software such as Premiere or Final Cut but the  iMovie software that came with her Mac to edit this video, mainly because it was easy to use, fast and has the features needed for a video of this nature.)

And who can forget the footage taken by Tudla Production of the Hacienda Luisita massacre in 2004? The video is online somewhere but Bulatlat’s Muallam used it most effectively in this video documentary about the massacre and the new president, Benigno S. Aquino III.

So, you see, photojournalism and video journalism in the Philippines are thriving, and it makes me happy that these are being used to highlight the many social issues in my country.

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‘Wake-up call’ for abusive mining companies in the Philippines http://asiancorrespondent.com/46486/wake-up-call-for-abusive-mining-companies-in-the-philippines/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/46486/wake-up-call-for-abusive-mining-companies-in-the-philippines/#comments Wed, 19 Jan 2011 09:49:10 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=46486 “This entire case makes us ask for whom is national development for. Does it serve national development to throw away the cultural identity of our indigenous brothers and sisters? The policies that allow corporations to mine or harvest our country’s natural resources should be regulated for the sake of the indigenous peoples and even those who do not belong to indigenous groups. We should say a firm ‘no’ to giving blanket authority to any agency to allow mining firms to operate without seeing first what is best for communities, for residents, for the environment.”

Human rights commissioner Jose Manuel Mamauag (Photo by Ina Alleco R. Silverio, bulatlat.com)

These were the words of Jose Manuel Mamauag, a courageous human-rights advocate who is a commissioner of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights. Mamauag made this comment on the day the commission came out with its findings that an Australian mining company, OceanaGold, has been violating the human rights of indigenous peoples in its mining project in Nueva Vizcaya province in the north. The commission, according to reports,  will seek the withdrawal of the mining rights that the government had given to OceanaGold.

Among the allegations leveled against the company were the forcible and illegal demolition of 187 houses in Didipio town, which is populated mainly by the Ifugao tribe; the harassment of residents using the police as allegedly the company’s “security guards” and the contamination of the water system.

The CHR began investigating the allegations sometime  ago, after environment, tribal and human-rights groups complaine about the abuses. Last year, then CHR chairperson Leila de Lima, who is now the secretary of justice, visited the communities affected by the mining project and heard the complaints of the tribal folk.

On Tuesday, Mamauag said the CHR’s findings and the commission’s subsequent revelation of these should serve as a “wake-up call” to mining companies.

If only these abusive mining companies would care to listen.

Then CHR chairperson Leila de Lima (right) visiting the affected communities in Nueva Vizcaya last year. On the background are what remains of one of the houses demolished allegedly by OceanaGold. (Photo by Alyansa Tigil Mina)

Abuses by mining companies are not new in the Philippines. Destructive mining have, for decades and in tandem with wanton logging and the equally destructive building of dams, destroyed and poisoned whole communities. Mining companies have been shortchanging these communities. Worse, these firms have been using the police, the military and paramilitary units as their security guards, leading to human-rights abuses such as those suffered by the Ifugaos in Nueva Vizcaya.

Mining has become synonymous with what activists call “development aggression” in the Philippines.

Didipio residents protesting OceanaGold. (Photo by Alyansa Tigil Muna)

This is not to say that the Philippines should stop mining. There is no question that mining should help the country grow. But that can only happen if Filipinos, particularly those directly affected, reap first the benefits of mining.

It remains to be seen what impact the CHR’s findings will have on the future operation of OceanaGold in the Philippines or whether mining companies will now think twice about investing here. But based on past experience with these companies, allegations of abuses and even threats of prosecution did not stop them from their rapacious ways, so I’m not holding the breath.

The Aquino administration, however, should heed the recommendations by the CHR. It should not turn a blind eye to these abuses and it should not coddle and protect these erring companies to the detriment of Filipinos, as other regimes had done in the past.

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‘Pro-Porsche’ betrays real Aquino, drives Filipinos nuts http://asiancorrespondent.com/46301/pro-porsche-betrays-real-aquino-drives-filipinos-nuts/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/46301/pro-porsche-betrays-real-aquino-drives-filipinos-nuts/#comments Mon, 17 Jan 2011 00:31:37 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=46301

There’s a joke doing the rounds in the Philippines’s hyper-active text messaging and social media community – that when President Noynoy Aquino swore to Filipinos that he was “pro-poor,” he actually said “pro-Porsche.”

The joke began circulating after the presidential palace confirmed  that the president had sold his old BMW so he could buy a used white Porsche, which has been described as “third hand.”

There’s nothing really inherently wrong with this. The president, after all, deserves to have some fun and needs to get his hands on something other than the steering wheel of a video game that he supposedly plays often with his nephews. He is a 50-year-old bachelor who, I imagine, has time on his hands and perhaps finds the need for speed once in a while.

But taken in the context of the Philippines, where political propriety often dictates many tough issues Filipinos face, the president’s decision to spend a reported 4.5 million pesos  ($100,000) on a car brand that is the epitome of luxury and perhaps wanton fun doesn’t sit well with many Filipinos.

This is Porsche that Aus Auto Index says Aquino bought. (Photo from http://ausautoindex.com.au/news/)

This is Porsche that Aus Auto Index says Aquino bought. (Photo from http://ausautoindex.com.au/news/)

It reminded people of his predecessor’s million-peso dinner at Le Cirque in New York, an act of mind-blowing extravagance  by officials from a poor Third World country, where a good portion of the population lives on less than $2 a day. Aquino himself denounced it and in his trip to the US shortly after he became president, he reinforced the notion  that he is different from Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo by eating hotdogs in the streets of New York. It was, of course, a publicity gimmick.

What is so wrong with the Porsche purchase is that it occurred at a time when Aquino’s government is foisting on Filipinos some more hardships and belt tightening in the coming days. Apart from the non-stop increase in gas prices, the government has increased toll fees, and the fares for taxi and the railways in Manila. This has had a chain reaction that inevitably affects the poor and the middle class. As Shirley Pascua, a housewife, put it about Aquino in this story: “He is proving to be a disappointment. The price of everything is going up.”

It would be so easy to dismiss all this as another one of those communication gaffes that have been hounding Aquino’s presidency, but I think it’s more than that. I think this betrays the real Noynoy Aquino, a scion of one of the richest political families in the Philippines and who has been having a tough time trying to be what he is not — a president who supposedly understands the poor —  so that when he does the comfortable things that his class and pedigree provide, he contradicts himself and creates a political storm.  The kind that, like that Le Cirque dinner, will be remembered for a long time and will undermine whatever pro-poor rhetoric he will say from now on.

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Pakistan top, Philippines down in ‘deadliest country for journalists’ list http://asiancorrespondent.com/45376/philippines-improves-rank-in-%e2%80%98deadliest-country-for-journalists%e2%80%99-list/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/45376/philippines-improves-rank-in-%e2%80%98deadliest-country-for-journalists%e2%80%99-list/#comments Wed, 05 Jan 2011 03:57:39 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=45376 Here’s a bit of good news, at least about Philippine journalism: The Philippines’s rank as the deadliest country in the world has fallen from No. 1 in 2009 (and No. 8 in 2008) to No. 11 last year.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), only two Filipino journalists were murdered in 2010. That, of course, is still unacceptable in a supposedly democratic country like the Philippines.

An analysis by the CPJ of these cases between 1992 and 2010 provides some clue as to why journalists are being killed. Often, it’s about the beat they cover.

(Photo by Ayi Muallam)

(Photo by Ayi Muallam)

In Pakistan, which took the No. 1 spot as the deadliest country for journalists in 2010 because of the murder of eight, most of the victims covered politics (44%), war (39%) and corruption (22%).

In Iraq, where five journalists were killed last year, most of the victims covered war (75%), politics (39%) and, curiously, culture (15%).

In the Philippines, the  scenario is different. Most of the victims covered politics (60%), corruption (41%) and crime (24%.)

War reporters were mostly the victims in Pakistan and Iraq. The percentage of victims who covered war in the Philippines is an almost negligible 1%.

Journalists get killed while covering war. Tragic as these deaths may be, most journalists accept this risk. One is not supposed to expect the same thing from covering politics or corruption. Covering these beats, in a functional and true democracy, should carry with it minimal danger, if at all.

The fact that Filipino journalists die more from covering corruption than war — and there are wars going on in the country — is a testament to the poor state of  freedom of expression in the Philippines and an indictment of the failure of the state not just to protect press freedom but to uphold the rule of law.

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Asian men who cook: Stepping up to the (hot) plate http://asiancorrespondent.com/45274/asian-men-who-cook-stepping-up-to-the-hot-plate/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/45274/asian-men-who-cook-stepping-up-to-the-hot-plate/#comments Tue, 04 Jan 2011 01:49:11 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=45274 Every night right before 7.30, my eldest child, who is three years old, would drag me and my wife into the bedroom. “Sleep, sleep,” he would say. “Ey Food Cha-know,” he would add.

That would be the Asian Food Channel, one of my household’s favorite stations on SkyCable. And it shows “Chef at Home” featuring the Canadian chef Michael Smith at exactly 7:30 p.m. My son knows that his parents love Smith’s show and, over time, he has figured out that sleep time with the both of them means watching Smith whip up his culinary delights (and, right afterward, his TV nightcap, “Artzooka” on Nickelodeon). Watching a cooking show might be an odd way to bond with your child but it works for us, see.

Why am I telling you all this? Because of this story in today’s Inquirer, where it says that Asian men “are taking over the kitchen” from women.

A gender shift is taking place in the kitchen in the Philippines and the rest of Asia, according to the Electrolux Asian Food Survey 2010.

Women have traditionally ruled the kitchen but these days, more men are spending time in the kitchen and becoming “connoisseurs of epicurean pleasures.”

Results of the online survey that covered 4,000 respondents show that about 66 percent of men enjoy or are passionate about cooking with the fairer sex falling behind at 63 percent.

I wouldn’t say that I have taken over our kitchen; my wife and I share kitchen chores quite equitably. But there’s something about the story that got my attention. It says that most of the Filipino respondents in the survey  liked to cook sinigang, a sour soup dish traditionally made with vegetables and pork or fish, although some have experimented with beef, even corned beef.

This bit of information somehow jibes with my own experience: my wife says my sinigang is the best she’s ever tasted, nudge-nudge-wink-wink. (My not-too-secret ingredient? Lemon grass or tanglad. Traditional sinigang doesn’t have lemon grass but I decided to use it one day and found that it gave the dish a kick and an excellent aroma. Been using tanglad ever since.)

My version of the sinigang has lemon grass in it.

My version of the pork sinigang has lemon grass in it.

But back to the Electrolux Asian Food Survey 2010.

Because it was commissioned by an appliance maker, the survey’s slant is, of course, to promote appliance use by this supposedly growing  market of men in aprons. (We should probably call the survey for what it is — market research.) As a result, it makes questionable assertions and assumptions. “Considered to be sensitive and metrosexual, men who cook are ‘in’ and sleek kitchen appliances are now his power-tools; a tantalizing meal is now his pet project,” the Inquirer story said, quoting the report.

I’d like to think I’m sensitive enough but a metrosexual?! Does Electrolux even know what metrosexual means? It means supposedly straight men who like to prettify themselves.

(The story doesn’t say whether the respondents were all single; metrosexuals are thought to be mostly single men. The fact, too, that the survey was done online may have skewed the results; only a fraction of the Filipino and Asian population is online and those who bother to answer surveys like this are probably the metropolitan type  — definitely not the tricycle driver in Tondo who cooks a mean kaldereta, a beef, goat or, in some instances in the poor sections of the Philippines, dog-meat stew.)

And I wonder if the survey did ask the respondents about  their preferred  power tools these days and that they replied, “Sleek kitchen  appliances”? It sounds to me like a self-serving thing to say. As far as I can tell, tech gadgets and anything that has to do with speed remain the power tools of choice by men.

But my main quibble with the survey, basing on the Inquirer report, is that it doesn’t say exactly why men are drawn to the kitchen these days and why the “fairer sex are falling behind,” as the Inquirer put it.

It clearly has more to do with necessity than choice on the part of men. More and more women are out of the kitchen because more and more of them are in the workplace and in the boardrooms. The men had no choice but to step up to the (hot) plate at risk of starvation. Pretty soon, they began enjoying it. That, of course, is always a good thing.

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