Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Culture of Violence and Impunity

Sometimes I induce laughter whenever a new friend adds me on Facebook and I say, "I'm the black guy. As in, my profile photo is plain black." When asked why, I say because I've found that there's always something to mourn about these days--my country, the world, idiots running and ruining the government, greed, etc. But last week, after a good break from my ongoing bout with a certain black dog that refused to stop following me around for weeks on end, I finally considered posting a real photo of myself.

Why not, right? Celebrate life one awesome Facebook profile photo at a time.

Alas, it's not going to happen anytime soon. While the murder of more than 7,000 other people (for various reasons) over the last 7 months does anger me, nothing quite fuels the fire like something not just close to home but is, in fact, home.

Two days ago, one of Bohol's most able and prolific human rights and women's rights defenders was shot. A close family friend. A lawyer. A mother. She was in her car with her children after picking them up from school when two men on a motorbike gunned her down. Her eldest daughter was hugging her while her body took several bullets. She was taken to hospital but she did not survive. My whole family is shaken. My friends who also knew her are shaken. One of my aunts who is a judge, one of her best friends and her contemporary in law school, rushed to the hospital to see her but she was too late. Her wounds were too severe. She succumbed to death quickly. With very little suffering, we hope.

This makes us feel so goddamn defeated and devastated not just because of the fact that we lost a good human being but because this has become the new norm for my country. This is the new Philippines. A place where a blatant culture of retribution has grown stronger and stronger over the last half a year.

This culture of violence--this reliance on the perceived gifts of impunity--must end. We, as a nation, have revelled in it--basked in it--for too long and we seriously need to stop. And SHAME on those who suggest that the same fate must befall the perpetrators of this heinous crime. Have you not learned that an eye for an eye would only make the whole world blind?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

So, what else is in Bohol?

Some tips on places to see...

- Chocolate Hills Adventure Park (nicknamed CHAP) in the town of Carmen. There, you will have a good view of more than 1000 hills and you can do sporty things like ride a sky bicycle from one hill to another, walk on hanging bridges and ride a zipwire. There are two Chocolate Hills viewing areas in the town. If you take a bus from the "Dao bus terminal" at Dao District near Dao Public Market and Island City Mall (ICM), ask the driver to drop you off at CHAP and not to the old resort.

- Abatan River in the town of Cortes. There you will be able to do kayaking or do a river tour on a boat with a bigger group. If you come in the daytime, you can kayak the river and enjoy the view of palms, plants, houses and everyday life. If you come in the evening, you can kayak and watch FIREFLIES peacefully resting or dancing on some trees. It's a very surreal and magical experience for some. Ask for Sherwin or Beryl. They are the best guides there. If they are not there, all the other guides are also good. You may take a jeepney from Dao Bus Terminal near Dao Public Market and Island City Mall (ICM).

- Pahangog Falls in the town of Dimiao. A hidden gem in the mountainous parts of a coastal town in teh eastern part of Bohol. Take a dip at the fall-drop lake or climb the mossy rocks up the waterfall and get a massage from all the water rushing towards you. It's nice and serene and there are not many people since it is not yet well-developed and the accessibility is quite limited. It's quite an experience, really. To get there, go to the Dao Bus Terminal and take a bus or jeepney to the town of Dimiao. Ask to be dropped off at the main market near the old church. From there, take a hired motorbike and tell your driver that you want to go to Pahangog Falls. The fee is 80-100 pesos for a return trip for one person. You will be dropped off at a small single-ring make-shift basketball court. From there, you will need to hike the rest of the way. A little less than 2km. You can ask for directions from the people living in nearby houses. If they can't communicate well in English or you are concerned about a potential accent issue, just say "falls" and make the raindrops sign with your hands.

- Kawasan Falls in the town of Balilihan. When you are in Abatan River either kayaking or on a motorised boat, you may tell your guide that you want to visit Kawasan Falls if it's possible. On high tide, you can definitely go but it will be a bit difficult especially for a motorised boat to go if the tide is too low. Just try to ask. Water coming out of it will depend on the rainfall of the season. Sometimes it is strong when there has been a lot of rain, but sometimes it's also not so strong if the season has been dry. Also, it used to have very nice rock formation but it has been changed by the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck Bohol in 2013. It's still nice, though, so you may still want to try to visit. You can go swimming there in the pool near the fall.

- Mag-aso Falls in the town of Antequera (pronounced: an-ti-ke-ra). It's a beautiful waterfall where you can go swimming, too. Take a tricycle from anywhere in the city and go to the main terminal in Dao (pronounced: da-o). Ask for a bus or a shared van (called V-hire) to take you to Antequera market or say "Antequera proper" to take you to the town centre. The ride is approximately 30 minutes. Once you are there, look for a motorbike for hire called "habal-habal" and ask the driver to take you to Mag-aso falls. It's about 2km away from the centre of town on a rocky dirt road. Bargain the price with him but do not pay more than PHP 200 for a one-way ride on one motorbike. That is already very high. Try bargaining to pay for just PHP 100 for a one-way trip. You can ask the driver (or drivers, if you take 2 motorbikes) to wait for you until you finish swimming and enjoying yourselves or you can ask for his mobile phone number so you can contact him when you are ready to go back to the town centre. Make sure you are back to the centre before 4:30pm because it will be hard to find a bus or van back to the city after 5pm.

- The powdery white sand beaches in the town of Anda. If you enjoy a provincial setting where people from rural areas of Bohol usually go, you will enjoy Anda because not much is happening there except occasional family beach parties and some karaoke singing in the background. You can take a bus or a shared van from the main terminal in Dao and it will take you to Anda on a 3-4-hour trip. Ask to be taken to Quinale Beach (pronounced: ki-na-le). It is near the public market and free for the public. There are shops nearby where you can eat and order beer and there are also lots of cheap places to stay by the beach if you decide that you don't want to go back to the city on the same day. Aside from Quinale, there are other beaches in Anda which are more quiet and peaceful but they are privately-owned and they will be more expensive in terms of food and accommodation.

- The white sand beaches of Panglao Island. If you like beach-side parties, having lunch beside the ocean or having dinner while watching people dance with fire, you will enjoy Panglao. It is the more touristy beach in Bohol where you will meet lots of expats, backpackers and probably Couchsurfers. You can take a tricycle or a motorbike for hire (habal-habal) and ask to go to Alona Beach in Panglao. 250 pesos is the maximum pay. Do not pay more than this. You can also take a jeepney near the President García House (Old Bohol Museum) that goes to Alona. Just go to the plaza and ask where you can find a jeepney that will take you directly to Alona. The fare is 25 pesos for each person. Alona Beach is the party scene in the island where there are many bars, pubs and restaurants, both local and international. There are also many places to stay there and nearby that range from cheap (PHP 300 in a backpacker hostel with hammocks and tents and complementary breakfast) to very expensive (PHP 15,000 in a 5-star hotel with everything you can imagine). I recommend NOT to stay in the expensive places because they don't feel like real life. I have stayed in a lot of them (just to try it) and they felt like a fantasy but they were not really good for my young spirit. They are good for people in their 60's who only want comfort in life but not for true adventure-seekers.

In Alona Beach, there are also lots of SCUBA diving shops where you can just try diving OR get your diver's certification license if you want (but it takes 1 week of training so maybe you will just want to try it without getting licenses). All of the dive shops there are legitimate and registered with international diving organisation. The most common and most trusted is PADI (the Professional Association of Diving Instructors), the biggest diving association in the world. I got my license from them.

- Balicasag Island off the coast of Panglao Island. Balicasag is a smaller island famous for its coral reefs and underwater cliffs. You may go there for SNORKELLING or for SCUBA DIVING. If you just want to snorkel, you can ask any of the tourist touts walking around and asking people "Island hopping, ma'am? Island hopping, sir?" They can take you to the island on a boat and you can go snorkelling there. But this is quite unnecessarily expensive because if you want to snorkel there, you will have to pay an additional fee for the boatman for small boats that will take you around the reef and another fee to rent your snorkels and masks. However, if you want to dive there, you may just go to any of the dive shops in Alona and ask if you could dive in Balicasag Island. Most likely, they will ask for a fixed fee per person and they will put you with a group of other divers or first-timers who will go there and you will dive together--with instructors and guides, of course. You will not regret it. Diving is one of the most magical experiences on Earth.

- There is another famous touristy river called the Loboc River. It's more famous to tourists than Abatan River but there is a clash of monopolies and political entities operating the boat and catering companies there. Also, they run a night cruise and they have installed lights on the riverbanks. Over the years, these incandescent lights have caused great stress to the riverbank ecosystem. The animals cannot sleep in the night and most of the fireflies have gone away already. It's not a healthy business. But perhaps you can visit Loboc River in the daytime when you are on your way to the Chocolate Hills.

- The tarsiers. Small primates. There are two organisations who are running a business to show tarsiers to the public. One in the town of Corella and one in the town of Bilar. They are supposed to be non-profit foundations and conservation organisations but they are really businesses. These two companies are not treating the tarsiers very ethically. It's not too horrible, though. I will not go into too much detail. It's basically about noise management, disturbances, proper handling and caring for their living environment... And a few other issues. Anyway, I think you should still go see the tarsiers because this opportunity to see them is rare. I recommend the Tarsier "Sanctuary" in Bilar. If you go to the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park, you will pass by it since it's just beside the highway. It is a few kilometres after passing by Loboc River and central town Loboc. It is more accessible to the public and the enclosure is bigger. The entrance fee is about 50-70 PHP. Like 1 to 1.5 EUR.

These are not the only things you can do in the province of Bohol. There are many others. But for first-timers who will only stay for a few days, this is a good list to choose from.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Sense of Entitlement

Is it possible for one's sense of entitlement to become a positive thing? Or are there some things that are okay to feel entitled to?

We often babble endlessly about certain people's sense of entitlement and how it bothers us. I'm reminded of an interview with one prominent Filipino artist who remarked that Filipinos were so much more pleasant to critique during auditions for the country's version of the "Got Talent" franchise in comparison to U.S. Americans who often oozed with a sense of entitlement. That, for me, triggered an eyeball roll since I thought Filipinos had just as much of this sense of entitlement that Americans. The main difference is that we are generally raised to defer to figures of authority and put on a facade of utter submission and respect as much as we can. However, in a situation where Filipinos address people whom they perceive as socio-economic or intellectual equals, this deference would usually be absent.

I digress. This is not about what nationalities have this sense of entitlement. This is whether this is necessarily a negative thing. It certainly is perceived as such. I, for one, have never encountered anyone use this term in a positive way. It usually points to someone's expectation that they are "supposed" to receive something no matter how undeserved. But what of things like justice and peace and freedom?

If people fleeing their lands in search of better places to build their lives and raise their children were to demand peace... If indigenous peoples assert their rights over their ancestral domains and demand justice for the damages that settlers and greedy institutions have brought upon their lands... Or if a Saudi woman were to reclaim her right to drive her own car or show her neck in public... Are these not examples of a sense of entitlement for something? Yes, these are very specific demands that the sensible ones among us would deem no-brainer things to affirm and support, but they are still entitlements and those who raise their voices to claim it have a sense for it. So does this then make a sense of entitlement less negative or neutral?

Maybe I'm just being nit-picky about an age-old expression.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Cinema DON'Ts

One of the ways you measure how civilised people are is by observing their behaviour in places of solemnity. You might think churches and temples. Sure. But for a country like the Philippines where, for many, piety and reverence are fruits of fear of the unknown rather than love and genuine reverence, you look elsewhere for answers. The theatre (plays, musicals, ballets, etc.)? Maybe but hardly. They are places for people with a certain taste. Those who are generally not lovers of the dramatic performance arts will not make an effort to visit the limited number of theatres in the Philippines. Besides, prices for seats are loftier than most can afford, so it is likely that a person who goes to a theatre walks through its doors with love in the heart. It can, therefore, easily mean that only the truly indecorous have the audacity to violate the rules, and they are rare.

If you wish to observe how Pinoys behave in a solemn place, the cinema is where you go. There you will see people of every shape, size and place in the hierarchy of financial capability. Sad to say, we fail miserably. Even the privileged ones and those you would perceive as well-educated. I once (anonymously) hissed at the husband of a former teacher of mine who simply refused to shut up during a screening of a David Yates film. I don't know if I'm under some sort of horrible curse, but never have I ever entered a cinema in this country where everyone acted how they were supposed to. There's always someone loud and obnoxious.

Over the years that I've been watching films in cinemas, I've developed a number of peeves. So in the interest of speaking my mind, here are my top cinema "don'ts".


DON'T...

- talk. It's not a coffee shop. You can tell your friend about how lovely your orchids are after you exit the cinema's doors. And don't worry, you don't have to wait for the film to finish for you to leave.

- giggle at inappropriate instances. Some of us like to bathe in feels during touchy scenes. We don't want to hear your laughter while Sam Claflin and Emilia Clarke are having a heartbreaking conversation. Cover your mouth with a thick piece of fabric or leave.

- bring a baby and not take it out no matter how loud its cries get. Babies should not even be in the cinema in the first place. What are they gonna get out of it? Poor eyesight and ruined eardrums? Oh, what's that? You can't get anyone to take care of your baby? Well, if you can't get someone to take care of your infant while you watch a movie, you shouldn't be in the cinema.

- give commentary. Yes, I'm looking at you. I came to watch a film, not to listen to your wise words about how an object in it is a conduit for God's protective powers. Also, we can all see that mister-sexy-dude-raised-by-an-awesome-gorilla-troop's enemy has super strong rosary beads and we don't need to hear it from you. If you can't contain your body's reactions to Alexander Skarsgård's sheer hotness, leave. Don't let steam out of your pie hole by blabbering endlessly.

- answer phone calls. So your sister forgot to turn the gas tank off and your house is probably on fire now. OK. Sure. Guess what? We don't need to know about it. You want us all to panic with you? We don't. Take that conversation where we couldn't hear it and do something about it. Call your neighbour or the fire department or something. Don't get us involved because we obviously can't do anything. Also, the only disasters we're willing to know about are those that happen in the movie.

- make unremorsefully loud sounds with the stuff you brought in. You and your food need to pipe the fudge down! We want to listen to Tilda Swinton lecturing Benedict Cumberbatch about his arrogance and refusal to believe in anything other than what the scope of his ego can come to terms with. We do not want to hear the sound of your Piatos packet; we do not want to hear the ruffle of the plastic bag containing the plethora of snacks you brought into the cinema; and we certainly do not want to hear your horrendous eating sounds.

- kick my chair. Unless you can prove that you are genuinely at risk of hampered blood circulation or deep vein thrombosis and you really could not avoid hitting the back of my chair when you stretch your legs every 5 minutes, you will not be forgiven. And, please, if you have ADD or Tourette Syndrome, ask the mysterious people with the torches to transfer you to a vacant seat in the front row or tell me in advance so I don't think you're just doing it for the kicks.

- enter and/or leave in the middle of a film. So the people at the entrance doors let people in even if screening has already started. Do you really have to? Are you just alright with starting from middle through end and then piecing the story together after you get to see the first half? OK. That's a neat skill. Good for you! But what's not OK is large groups entering and leaving in the middle of the damn film. It means my view of the screen will be blocked for a time and that is NOT OK. I exercise patience and tolerance enough in the real world. Don't make me have to do it in the cinema, too. This is a thing that Filipino cinemas are notorious for. I don't know if this happens in other backward countries, but this is definitely very Filipino.

- use your phone (unless you absolutely have to). If you want to check your Instagram or Facebook feed, go ahead. Outside. Not in the cinema! You're not in your private space. The cinema is dark (and full of terrors) and we can see the glare of light emanating from your phone's display screen. If you absolutely have to read or respond to something, limit it to short messages. Don't read or type an effing email! Also, make sure your phone's brightness is set to the absolute minimum. We want to see the cinema screen. We want to see shirtless Ben Winchell try to hit a levitating robot with a baseball bat, not that Cracked-dot-com link on your Cherry Mobile. The 7 Famous Horror Movies You Didn’t Know Got Hilarious Sequels can wait. It's not going anywhere, but my patience sure is.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Collateral Damage

A cousin posted this on Facebook...

Just a passing thought:  I wonder if I die as collateral casualty, will my family and friends say that it was inevitable because some people are really bound to have it for the greater good of the country? "Anyway, the number of criminals killed are way more compared to the innocent that got caught up in the fire. Their statistics is insignificant compared to the progress this war is leading." Or is it really? Will my death be worth the sacrifice?

My response, roughly:

This is really not something I want to think about at an ungodly hour in the morning, but I know people contend with this as part of their reality. Heck, I've asked this question myself, just like others do. And I know, for some, it can only remain a hypothetical question for too long. It actually happens.

Here's the thing, though: Criminals shouldn't even be murdered in the first place. What don't people understand about the fact that each person has the right to live? There is no clarification clause in that statement that says "except criminals" or "except drug-abusers" or "except people I don't agree with" or "except poor people." People who believe solely in retributive "justice" (as opposed to real rehabilitative justice) and in the idea of a culling as a means to an end shouldn't be allowed to hold power or have a say in anything at all. And the obscene thing is that they consider themselves men of God. They invoke God so much, it's sickening. What God??? Christians, my ass! People of God, my ass! Hypocrites, this country is full of!

Truthfully speaking, if anything at all happens to anyone I love, I will probably lose it completely. I may even become the very kind of murderous monster I so strongly speak out against. Or perhaps not. Let's just hope for the best. Let's hope nothing happens to anyone we love and let's hope this all stops. If we have anything at all right now, it is hope. Mine is incredibly slim and fading fast, but it is still there. I cannot lose it. While it may be easy for me to remove myself from this country to try to find a more ideal situation, I am in no position to whisk away everyone I love and care about, so I must have hope. We all must. Let's be steadfast in being advocates for good. Let's be faithful that the people of this (almost) goodnessforsaken country will take another glimpse at their moral compass.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Give Us This Day Our Daily Rice

Time for some BIBLE STUFF!

It amazes me how when the Lord's Prayer is translated into Visayan/Cebuano and Filipino/Tagalog, bread becomes rice.

"Give us this day our daily bread" translates as "Ang kalan-on namô sa matag-adlaw, ihatag kanamô karo'ng adlawa" and "Bigyan mo kami ngayon ng aming kakanin sa araw-araw," respectively.

While some would argue that the words "kalan-on" and "kakanin" may directly translate as "food," in the context of the original prayer where a specific staple is mentioned (i.e. bread), it should then follow that an equivalent local staple be used in the context of what is common for the people who use the languages that the prayer is translated into. In this case, rice. And as "kalan-on" (or "kan-on" in modern standard Cebuano) and "kakanin" (or "kanin" in modern standard Filipino) are actually the words for cooked rice, I believe it actually means rice in the prayer.

Nevertheless, I am well aware of how deep dissection by a lot of biblical scholars has led to the inference that the Epiousios Bread referred to in the prayer is actually the Bread of Life, the Christ Jesus. Interestingly, however, if Jesus were not Middle-Eastern (West Asian) and if the events of the New Testament had not taken place in Israel and Palestine, but in East or Southeast Asia, he would be called the "Rice of Life," which I personally have no qualms with.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Education, Education, Education

Sharks in a basin at a food market in Xiamen, Fujian, China


A lot of Filipino householders burn plastic along with the dried leaves and twigs on their 4 o' clock habit pile.

A lot of fisherfolk unapologetically yank sharks, rays and whales out of the water. Many even use dynamites and cyanide.

They persist even though they are perfectly aware that it's illegal. They end up being fined or thrown in jail if they are caught. If you ask them why they did it, the answer always has something to do with either lack of awareness or necessity.

"Why did you incinerate those plastic bags?"
"Well, why not?"
"It causes harm to the environment."
"Why should I care? (Sus, tuo man ka!)"

"Why did you yank up that shark/stingray/dolphin?"
"There's not much tamarong this season. Also, these things cost more than the average fish and I have eight children to feed."

It's not that people are innately evil, it's that a lot of people lack education. And I'm not talking about elementary and high school rudiments on environmental concerns; I'm talking about real education--making people aware of how each small action is consequential to every other thing that happens on Earth. Bringing to their attention that the reasons behind the hardships they are going through is because people started doing what they are doing in the first place. We need to make people come to terms with the fact that everything has consequences that extend beyond the walls of their homes. And we need to find a way to really make them feel it.

AND WE NEED TO STOP LAYING BLAME SOLELY ON THE THINGS THAT ARE IMMEDIATELY VISIBLE TO US.

Educate the rich as much as the poor. They need it, too. If they are smug enough to say they don't need to be told again, then that just means they don't know shit. We are only able to take photos of violators who emerge from fishing trips directly onto beach shores. These are small-time fishermen. The bigger moguls commit much larger atrocities but we can't take photos of the wrong things they do because they have developed ways to shield themselves from us. They have dedicated ports, freezers in their boats and such.

We need to stop laying all the blame on the poor and start scrutinising higher up the echelons if we are to change things. And we need to stop relying on punitive measures to get things done. "Make a law. Pass an ordinance. Ban this. Make that illegal." It seems preventive on the surface but it always ends up being punitive. For most people, the implementation of a law entails policing and arresting violators rather than to allow people to understand why laws are in place in the first goddamn place.

We need to stop the notion that we have to cause people more suffering to effect change. It doesn't work. It never works. We need, instead, to start finding ways to effect change by making people realise that they are already suffering by their own deeds. We need to instill values in people rather than create more prison cells or instigate a culling.

When has a society run by fear and anger ever been considered effective?


Sharks fished off the coast of Panglao, Bohol, Philippines
Photo:  Holger W. Horn (Facebook)