2010.12.30    In search of the real Betis

I don’t mean the world-famous Spanish football club; I mean the little town in Pampanga made famous by its well-preserved church and its furniture makers. Today, December 30, is when Betis celebrates its town fiesta. In the rest of the country, as we all know, this special day is set aside to mark the anniversary of the martyrdom of the national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, whose writings kindled our awakening as a modern nation.

2010.12.26    The narcissism of minor differences

This captivating phrase is from the book “Civilization and Its Discontents” by Sigmund Freud, the famous psychoanalyst and philosopher whose writings aimed, in his words, “to agitate the sleep of mankind.” It is to him that we owe ideas that are now part of the educated layman’s vocabulary—defense mechanism, wish-fulfillment, repression, narcissism, Oedipus complex, etc. 

2010.12.23    A little book on depression

A few years ago, sex therapist and clinical psychologist Dr. Margie Holmes, my colleague at the University of the Philippines, told me she was researching a book on depression. She asked if I knew anyone who had had an experience with depression and was introspective and open enough to talk about it. I’m not sure now if it was her subtle way of inquiring if I had had one myself. But, I suggested one or two people, none of whom, as I expected, was willing to be interviewed. Even among educated Filipinos, depression is shunned as a topic. I didn’t think Margie would be able to write her book.

2010.12.19    Jacinto 

Other than that he was Andres Bonifacio’s brain trust, the one who fought by his side, little else is known of this Tondo-born Katipunero who went by the nom de guerre “Pingkian” (friction or flint). The Supremo, who was 12 years older, called him the “soul of the Katipunan.” A letter Bonifacio wrote to Jacinto, dated April 24, 1897, one month after the fateful Tejeros assembly, might have been among the Supremo’s last. He wrote it just three days before his arrest for sedition by Emilio Aguinaldo’s forces, and 16 days before his execution. 

2010.12.16    Justice and pubic opinion

More than at at any other time perhaps, ours is a society that is desperately seeking to recover its faith in the legal system as a source of impartial judgments and stable notions of what is right and what is wrong. Politics has greatly tarnished the credibility of our courts. Our people have become cynical, seeing these primarily as instruments of the powerful and the wealthy. In their anger, they sometimes turn to the media to remedy this perceived imbalance. Yet this is not media’s role: it is not for media to dispense justice. 

2010.12.12    Reading Benedict

If asking the Pope about condoms was nothing more than an author’s way of drumming up interest in a new book on Pope Benedict XVI, one would have to say: how very clever. Featuring the sacred and the profane on the same page is a compelling casting coup. But having just read “Light of the World,” I can say without reservation that the highlighting of the papal statement on condoms is a great disservice to an important book. I am not at all surprised that Peter Seewald, the German journalist who had the rare privilege of interviewing Benedict XVI for this project, has expressed grave disappointment over the manner in which the book has been publicized. 

2010.12.08    Poor Gloria 

By a vote of 10-5, the Supreme Court struck down President Aquino’s Executive Order No. 1 creating the Truth Commission as violative of the constitutional right to equal protection. The Court bars the commission from investigating unresolved high-profile cases of wrongdoing committed under the previous administration. To do so, says the Court in effect, would be to discriminate against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Shakespeare was right: “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.” 

2010.12.05    Diplomacy after WikiLeaks

For some people, ethical diplomacy is an oxymoron, a self-contradicting idea. Foreign policy, of which diplomacy is but an instrument, is supposed to be driven by the self-interest of nations, not by any notion of what is good for the world or for humanity. Accordingly, no one should be surprised or find offense in the ruthless selfishness with which the United States pursues its interests, as shown by US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks. It is just the way foreign relations are conducted by nations everywhere. 

2010.12.02    The underlife of US foreign policy

Wikileaks is digital guerrilla struggle in its most lethal form. It aims to fight those who dominate and oppress the world by showing exactly how they operate. Its one and only weapon is information. Its sole technique is disclosure. The only ideology it professes is truth and its associated virtues: transparency, democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of information. Not surprisingly, its principal target has been the most powerful government in the world, the United States of America.

2010.11.28    Araw ni Bonifacio

Ang Nobyembre 30, kapistahan ni San Andres, ay ipinagdiriwang taun-taon bilang “Araw ng mga Bayani” o “National Heroes Day.” “It is not,” sabi ni Carmen Guerrero Nakpil. “It is the day sacred only to one hero, the one called Andres who had guts and gumption like no other.” 

2010.11.25    Television against violence 

The arguments against allowing the mass media, particularly television, to do live reports of courtroom proceedings are well understood. Live reports of testimonies and material evidence, unfiltered by legal norms of admissibility, may lead the public to prejudge a case. The sheer presence of television cameras inside the courtroom can affect the flow of the trial and alter the demeanor of the judge, lawyers and witnesses. But, all these considered, the long-term positive effects that a televised trial of the Maguindanao case promises far outweigh the injury that the accused may suffer in the process. 

2010.11.21    Writ of Kalikasan and judicial activism 

Responding to a petition filed by affected residents, Chief Justice Renato Corona the other day issued a “Writ of Kalikasan” requiring the owners of a leaking petroleum pipeline to respond to concerns about the effects of the leak on the public’s health and the environment. It is the first time such a writ has been issued. “Kalikasan” came with a “TEPO”—a temporary environmental protection order—also directed against the First Philippine Industrial Corp. (FPIC) and the First Gen Corp., both part of the Lopez group of companies.  

2010.11.18    The connectivity society 

There’s a theory in the study of social relationships that became quite popular in the 1960s. It was called “dramaturgical sociology.” Its author, Erving Goffman, adopted the Shakespearean insight that “all the world’s a stage,” and worked out a cool set of concepts that view human actions as sequences in the elaborate art of impression management. We want other people, he said, to see us according to how we wish to portray ourselves. Instead of leaving it entirely to chance, this is something we can control to some extent. Success is never assured. But we are not crushed when we falter: the audience is usually polite and helpful. 

2010.11.14    Choosing the next UP president

Choosing a president for the University of the Philippines, the country’s national university, is a complex process. The UP Charter provides that the president of UP is to be chosen by its board of regents. But, many assume that the regents’ vote merely formalizes a choice made by the president in Malacañang. The general public regards this as just right: the UP after all is a state institution, funded by the people’s taxes, and invested with a crucial role in the nation’s development. Others believe that the university, if it is to properly carry out its tasks, must be shielded from direct political interference by entrusting the selection process to the regents. 

2010.11.11    Mired in poverty

When families are mired in poverty, it’s the children—in all their innocence—who become the principal victims. Their future is at once compromised. They grow up without proper nourishment, their young bodies battered by disease and parasites against which they have little protection. Their schooling, even if free, becomes a haphazard experience, marked by interruptions beyond their control. Often they’re too hungry to walk to school, or too busy foraging for food that will tide the family over till the next day. Food is always the first priority under these circumstances. 

2010.11.07    Blindsided by allies

We cannot question the right of governments to warn their citizens of the dangers they may face when they travel to particular places abroad. Indeed, the failure to warn, especially when warranted, makes a government vulnerable to possible class suits by their citizens. But, if these governments are our friends, then the safety of their citizens who are our guests is as much our concern as it is theirs. And we assume they feel the same way about the security of our own people. 

2010.11.04    The other side of euphoria 

When Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 after a stunning electoral campaign, the tidal wave of optimism this sent throughout the United States and the rest of the world completely eclipsed the financial crisis whose dimensions were only then beginning to be known. I remember saying how lucky America was to have an intelligent and inspiring leader like him at that critical moment. At the same time, I worried for him, the first African-American to be elected president of the United States. He could be killed, or he could be found miserably ill-equipped for the kind of problems he was expected to fix. 

2010.10.31    The picture of Delfin Lee

In a column I wrote in July this year (Inquirer, 07/17/10), I tried to interpret an intriguing photo that appeared in the Inquirer showing Globe Asiatique’s Delfin Lee with top officials of Pag-Ibig (Home Development Mutual Fund). The photo carried the following caption: “Globe Asiatique and Pag-Ibig Committed to Working Together.” If this was a news item, I said, what was it doing in the foreign section? If it was a paid advertisement, why was it not labeled as such? The main point of that article was to argue why it is important to mark the boundaries separating the news from advertisement and entertainment. 

2010.10.28   Poverty and conditional cash transfers

It is quite obvious, from the way it seeks to double the magnitude of the previous administration’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or 4Ps, that the P-Noy government has decided this will be its immediate response to poverty. Whether conditional cash transfers will also define its strategic approach to this nagging social problem is not yet clear however. My hope is that the new leadership has bolder ideas for solving poverty in the long term. 

2010.10.24    Plagiarism: a tale of two cultures

In a recent ponencia, Supreme Court Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo used citations from journal articles without attribution. And so they appeared in the document as if they were the product of his own reflection. Law professors from the University of the Philippines called attention to the fact that these were actually lifted from the writings of foreign scholars. An ethics committee of the high court investigated and declared the lapse to be inadvertent. There is no plagiarism here, the Supreme Court justices said. That should have ended the matter. 

2010.10.21    The passing of courteous society

There was a time in the development of our society when it was not necessary to invoke written contracts and formal laws to enforce rights and obligations. Courtesy and honor made people act according to what was generally expected of them without waiting to be prompted by anyone.

2010.10.17    Judicial courtesy

Two separate orders by the Supreme Court, temporarily restraining co-equal branches of government from proceeding with their actions until a judgment on pending cases challenging these has been issued, have once more raised the specter of a constitutional crisis. 

2010.10.14    No place for buddies

Outside of the small group of gun lovers who had trained with him at the firing range, only a few people knew anything about Interior Undersecretary Rico E. Puno before he was appointed presidential liaison for the Philippine National Police. Despite his position as the President’s alter ego on police matters, he kept a very low profile. His name surfaced only in the course of the investigation of the August 23 hostage-taking incident, when it became known that he, rather than the head of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Secretary Jesse Robredo, was in charge of the police. 

2010.10.10    The Church in public sphere

People who profess a religious faith but find themselves frequently at odds with the position taken by their religious leaders on matters of public concern may sometimes contemplate giving up their faith altogether. They should find comfort in William James’ notion of religion as “what you do with your own solitude.” There is in this definition a preference for a religion that confines itself to the private sphere, something strictly between yourself and your God. 

2010.10.07    The uses of vocational education 

A year ago, my wife Karina decided we needed a new bathroom mirror. The reflective surface of the old mirror had started to crinkle in many places, projecting images that were not exactly flattering. Coming home that day with a brand new mirror, I realized that mounting it on the wall was not as easy as I thought it would be.

2010.10.03    Modernity’s pains

A lot of confusion and recrimination has attended the discussion of vital current issues in our country. Some of it is avoidable, but a great deal of it constitutes what we may call the pains of modernity. Recent events – the controversial remarks of Bishop Nereo Odchimar, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), and the stunning one-person picket staged by the reproductive health activist Carlos Celdran during a Mass at the altar of the Manila Cathedral – foreground once again the undying issue of the relationship of Church and State. 

2010.09.30    Public intellectuals

We may be familiar with what academics and professors do. They lecture, they do research, they advise students on their thesis, and we hope, they also publish. Some -not all- are scholars in the sense that they commit their entire lives rigorously working and writing on the same problems and questions.  

2010.09.26    Time, the mass media and the presidency 

Manila, Philippines—In retrospect, President Benigno S. Aquino III needed to make that trip to the United States if only to give himself time to study the report of the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC) on the hostage-taking incident. Time, as he is finding out for himself, is the first casualty of mass communication. 

2010.09.23    Jueteng in disguise

After the disgraceful exit from the presidency of Joseph “Erap” Estrada in January 2001, the new government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo went through the routine of waging a war on illegal gambling. Estrada had been charged with, among other things, taking bribes from gambling lords. Ms Arroyo wanted to show she was different, notwithstanding the fact that her staunchest political ally and supporter in her home province of Pampanga was Lilia “Baby” Pineda, the wife of the alleged gambling lord, Bong Pineda, who was implicated in the case against Estrada. 

2010.09.19    Faith and reason

It is fascinating to read Pope Benedict XVI’s speech the other day before members of the British parliament. The poke spoke on “the proper place of religious belief within the political process.” Having just visited Ephesus and Urfa, two of the most important religious sites in Turkey, I could not have been more primed to appreciate the significance of this message.

2010.09.16    Turkey’s turning point

ISTANBUL. BY a stroke of luck, I have found myself in Turkey, enjoying a ringside view of a political event seldom seen in this part of the world—a democratic referendum aimed at erasing the last vestiges of authoritarian rule. This delicate exercise is bound to change the way this staunchly secular nation with a multi-ethnic but predominantly Islamic population will govern itself in the coming years. If this bold initiative succeeds, it will chart a new path to Islamic modernity. If it stalls, it could plunge Turkey back into a cycle of political instability and military rule. 

2010.09.12    9/11

I am writing this on Sept. 11, nine years after the tragic attacks on American civilian targets by religious fanatics belonging to the al Qaeda movement of Osama bin Laden. I’m in Istanbul, the ancient former capital of the Ottoman Empire. I woke up this morning to the first call for prayer coming from a nearby mosque. It is still dark outside, and I’m filled with thoughts I’m struggling to sort out.  

2010.09.09    Madness and accountability

Rolando Mendoza, the gunman in the Aug. 23 hostage-taking incident, had lost control of his mind. We don’t need a psychologist or a psychiatrist to tell us that. Anyone who hijacks a tourist bus at gunpoint and holds its passengers hostage—only to demand that he be restored to the job from which he had been dismissed—is not just committing a crime. He has gone mad. If he’s not killed, he would be spending the rest of his life in jail. 

2010.09.05    Information Entropy

Entropy, a concept from physics, has found its way into information theory. Melanie Mitchell who writes about the science of complexity defines entropy as “a measure of the energy that cannot be converted into additional work but is instead transformed into heat.” Analogously, a lot of information can produce more heat than light.

2010.09.02    Leadership in a transitional society

In our society, when something goes wrong, people ask: who’s to blame? Remedy is instantly sought in the replacement of officials rather than in the review of systems. In other societies, the prior question that is asked is: what went wrong? Only after this answered do heads roll. The focus on personalities is not something unique to us, nor is it inherent in Filipino culture. It is just what differentiates a traditional from a modern society. 

2010.08.29    Mediated views

The day after the hostage crisis involving tourists from Hong Kong ended in tragedy, nearly everyone who had anything to say on the incident became an instant specialist on police matters, hostage situations, weapons, governance, dilpomacy, law, psychology, communications, mass media coverage, etc.

2010.08.26    Hostage situations and the police

Anyone who has ever traveled abroad as a tourist would know what it means to be vulnerable.  You cannot tell what is unusual from what is ordinary.  You are unable to get into the rhythm of the society; you can neither understand its language nor figure out its manners.

2010.08.22    The other side of surveillance   

Imagine a world where everything we do, or say, or write can be seen, heard, or read on the Internet — in short, a world that has become the global equivalent of Big Brother’s house. Such a world will not allow any space for solitude or privacy, except maybe a tiny cubicle in our minds in which we keep under lock and key what remains of our innermost personal thoughts.  

2010.08.19     Language matters

It is that time of the year when we are prompted to revisit language issues in our society. In what language should we educate our children? What language should the government use to communicate with our people? What language should the courts in our country use? Is bilingual policy that makes Filipino and English the official media of communication and instruction serving the national purpose? Are we doing enough to develop and enrich Filipino as the national language, as mandated by the Constitution? These issues have remained contentious and unresolved.

2010.08.15    The inception of dreams

There are movies we like to watch more than once. We go back to them for any number of reasons – to enhance the specific sensation triggered in us the first time, to understand them better, to see how the film was put together, or perhaps to observe the disciplined consistency in which the actors performed their roles, etc. In other words, there are many levels at which we can watch a film.

2010.08.12    When casinos came to Singapore

On a visit to Singapore in April this year, I learned that this prosperous city-state, known for its ethic of hard work and clean living, has finally opened its doors to casinos. 

2010.08.08    Barriers to reform

President Noynoy Aquino’s mission as president for the next six years is startling in its simplicity: To wipe out corruption in order to make government more effective in solving the basic problems of the Filipino people — mass poverty, unemployment, poor education, poor health, inadequate living conditions, etc. 

2010.08.05  The promise of closure

The much-awaited executive order creating a special body to investigate scandalous cases of graft and corruption committed during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is finally out.

2010.08.01    When trustees take advantage

What are we supposed to do when the directors or trustees of government corporations award themselves huge compensation packages unheard of in public service and totally out of proportion to the actual services they render? It will not be enough to shame them into moderating their greed, or resigning. The state ought to sue them and reclaim the perks they have awarded to themselves. 

2010.07.29    Swimming in unfinished roads

After hearing President Aquino’s reference to the inordinate amounts of calamity and public works funds allotted to Pampanga, particularly its second district, the rest of the country will probably think what a privileged tribe the Kapampangans have been under their cabalen, the former President and now Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. 

2010.07.25    How to listen to a Sona

Every year, at the opening of its regular session, the President is required by the Constitution to address Congress. 

2010.07.22    The prince of security guards

Nothing perhaps demonstrates more clearly the bankruptcy of our political life than the sight of the former Pampanga Representative Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo re-entering Congress wearing another hat – that of party-list representative of a group of security guards.

2010.07.18    News, advertisements, and entertainment

These are the types of programs we find in today’s mass media. The stuff of which they are made is information.

2010.07.15    Marching orders

In an orderly transition, a new government is expected to “hit the ground running.” This idiom became a mantra in 1992 when President Fidel V. Ramos took power on a slim electoral mandate.

2010.07.11    Suddenly, the Ombudsman

The word “Ombudsman” formally entered our legal vocabulary when the 1973 Constitution mandated the creation of an office to be known as “Tanodbayan.”

2010.07.07    The task of a truth commission

Of the many campaign pledges that President Noynoy affirmed in his inaugural speech, the formation of a truth commission to be headed by former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. is likely to be the most challenging.

2010.07.04    Life without ghosts

Her name continues to flash like an unwanted reflex each time the word “president” is uttered. She has left the stage yet she haunts our collective psyche.

2010.07.01    Decency and the presidency

Today belongs, of course, to our new president, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III. That means it is also the first day we don’t have Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as president.

2010.06.27    After Gloria

Ferdinand Marcos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo share the dubious distinction of having ruled this country longer than anybody else. But unlike Marcos who was ousted by people power, Ms Arroyo will leave Malacañang through the front door, formally escorted by her duly elected successor.

2010.06.24    Sex education and family autonomy

On the ground that it promotes promiscuity, a learning module on sex education being piloted in public primary and high schools has come under attack by a group of parents and Catholic bishops.

2010.06.20    Rizal’s sociology of colonial society

Jose Rizal lived in Europe at a time when sociology, the scientific study of society, was just beginning to be formalized. It is interesting that he did not seem to have made the acquaintance of this new discipline.

2010.06.12    On our nation’s birthday

Whoever came up with the small-minded idea of using this year’s Independence Day celebration to trumpet outgoing President Macapagal-Arroyo’s alleged achievements has done the Filipino nation a great disservice.

2010.06.05    Education and its purposes

After I finished high school, there was only one career that my father had in mind for me: law. And there was only one school in which he thought I should get an education: the University of the Philippines.

2010.05.29    Chief Justice Corona’s appointment

Outgoing President Macapagal-Arroyo’s appointment of Renato Corona as the new chief justice was burdened from the start by the public perception that she was putting him there to protect her when she is no longer president.

2010.05.22    Thailand’s Edsa 3

Having just survived a risk-filled election week, during which we suspended disbelief and reposed our collective trust in an untested automated system, we Filipinos can be forgiven for paying scant attention to the political violence that is rocking neighboring Thailand.

2010.05.15    Filipinos carry on love affair with PCOS machines

The precinct count optical scanner (PCOS) did what it was supposed to do—read the votes from the precincts and rapidly transmit the results to computers that automatically add them up at both local and national levels.

2010.05.15    The family in politics

If anyone is still looking for confirmation  of the determining role that the Filipino family plays in the nation’s political life, he will not find better proof than the results of this year’s national and local elections.

2010.05.07    Risa’s generation

Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel is running for senator. The latest surveys show her to be hovering between 13th and 15th place—still outside the winning circle of 12, which includes the likes of Bongbong Marcos and Lito Lapid.

2010.05.01    Why trust remains crucial

As in previous elections, political programs once more took a backseat to issues of personal character in the current presidential campaign.

2010.04.24    Modern governance and the Constitution

The most important testament to our aspiration to be a modern democratic state is the Constitution no less.

2010.04.17    Political parties and grassroots movements

In modern democracies, the ideal role of political parties is to listen to the problems and aspirations of citizens and, in the course of this, to organize and empower them.

2010.04.10    How to live at 90

At the annual Lenten gathering of the David family on Black Saturday, I asked my brother Bishop Ambo if he could lead us in a collective reflection on death—not Jesus’ but our own.

2010.03.27    Who will save the Supreme Court?

The Supreme Court is the highest court of the land. It is the final interpreter of the Constitution-the basic law that constitutes us, the Filipino people, into a distinct nation-state.

2010.03.20    The Supreme Court’s way of seeing

The Supreme Court has ruled that President Macapagal-Arroyo can exercise the power to appoint any member of the judiciary—if the occasion arises, even up to the very last day of her presidency. The constitutional ban on presidential midnight appointments does not apply to appointments to the judiciary.

2010.03.13    Political change

Approaching the end of its protracted term, after wielding power for more than nine years, the Arroyo administration is now engaged in what can only be called a pathetic effort to banner its achievements.

2010.03.06    Money and the presidency

In more ways than one, Noynoy Aquino, Manny Villar and Erap Estrada—the current front-runners in the 2010 presidential race—represent the three distinct faces of Philippine politics. Aquino draws heavily from the charisma of his illustrious parents.

2010.02.27    A note on trust

Trust is an interesting concept. It is what people use as a basis for making quick choices and taking risks in a complex field of selections.

2010.02.20    A legacy of instability

President Macapagal-Arroyo can make all kinds of claims about the accomplishments of her presidency, but what she will be long remembered for is the legacy of political instability she leaves behind.

2010.02.13    Fair elections and the ethics of modernity

The law has been there since 2001, but its provisions have been unevenly enforced.

2010.02.06    The UP academic congress

In 15 measured sessions, the University of the Philippines last week held what it billed as an “academic congress to challenge our next leaders.”

2010.01.30    A preventable massacre

He was only attesting to the instinct for violence of the Ampatuans—and surely had no intention of putting the latter’s political allies in a bad light, certainly not the administration presidential aspirant, Gilbert Teodoro, with whom he is now aligned.

2010.01.23    Those cheap Chinese products

Fascinated by the growing number of Filipinos who have found instant—sometimes suicidal—mobility in very affordable motorbikes from China, I recently got myself a new Chinese-made 125cc underbone for the price of a branded Japanese helmet.

2010.01.16     How useful are presidential debates?

Most questions asked of candidates in presidential debates take the form “What will you do about…?” or “How do you intend to solve the problem of…?” More often than not, such questions only elicit silly responses to what, in truth, are very complex issues.

2010.01.09    Warlords in a weak state (Part 2)

The creation of a special commission to investigate the existence of private armed groups, and to recommend ways of dismantling them, would be nothing short of revolutionary, if the commission were to seriously do its work.