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.


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)

Monday, May 16, 2016

Marine BDSM

Here you see me awkwardly resisting the strong current
 and doing my best not to die right before going 27 metres down the reef drop-off

You visit one whom you love so much and spend nearly a full day in that familiar embrace. Sometimes you are hugged too tight that you struggle to breathe. Sometimes you accidentally ingest something that human beings are not supposed to have too much of. Sometimes you end up violently flailing your arms and legs to resist the things done to you. Being there entails the use of various instruments--apparatus that help you spend time together, but at the same time, risk weighing you down and causing you to become completely consumed if you're not careful. Either way, you feel ecstatic even though there are moments when you feel like you're barely an inch away from death.

You are not alone. There are others there, too. Some just visit to enjoy the company; some people visit to experience the same embrace you get; while some are there as devoted worshippers of this awesome deity.

When you part ways, you head home happy. In the evening, nearly every single muscle in your body hurts like hell. One consolation is that at least your sleep is absolutely wonderful. Then you wake up in the morning to find everything three times more painful.

But, dear ocean, you are still my #1 and I love you infinitely.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Fei Lu Bin

Linked image:

Less than a year ago, at a market in Ramallah, the West Bank, Palestine, a man came up to me and greeted me in Mandarin. "Nǐ hǎo," he said. That was the fourth time it happened since I arrived in the Abrahamic Holy Land. The first two instances were in Jerusalem where I actually took time to explain that I was from the Philippines. While having tea at a cafe in the Old City near the Damascus Gate, having just dealt with an old man trying very hard to convert me to Islam, a little Arab boy approached me saying "China? China?" followed by a few short sentences in Arabic. He didn't seem to speak English at all. I tried saying "Laa, laa (no, no)," but he just went on and on in Arabic. I grew impatient so I just responded with a nod, saying "Na'am. China. (Yes. China.)" That got rid of him.

Now, back to the Palestine incident. Having had a long day, recently coming back from Jericho and having no patience to explain that I was not Chinese, I just responded with the same greeting."Nǐ hǎo," adding "Wǎnshàng hǎo. (Good evening.)" I thought it would make him go away. Big mistake! He then grabbed my wrist, called people over and started taking selfies with me. I was an instant celebrity! The commotion caught the attention of my Spanish and German companions, who then explained to the locals that I was actually not Chinese. Disappointed, they let me go. Kind of like if people looking to catch a cheetah caught a leopard instead. Close enough, but not quite what they were searching for.

Little did I know that an anchorwoman from China Central Television (CCTV) claimed, four years ago, that that Palestinian man was actually right. If Ms. He Jia were to be believed when she stated the "indisputable fact" that "the Philippines is China's inherent territory," I actually am Chinese. Not even Filipino-Chinese, but actual Chinese from China, being that the Philippines is supposedly part of China.

So how is this supposed to work? Kind of like how Puerto Rico's relationship is with the United States of America? Does this mean I get statutory Chinese citizenship? Does this mean I don't need to apply for a visa the next time I wish to visit the "motherland," unlike the last two times I did. I guess that's one perk, because sitting in a queue at a Chinese embassy isn't exactly pleasant. And speaking of queues, does this mean it's now socially acceptable for me to jump queues* wherever I go? Tell me, He Jia, what does this mean for me? What does this mean for my country? Do we still get to call our land "the Philippines" or is there a mandate from Beijing that we now have to start calling it "Fēi Lǜ Bīn"? What if we don't comply? Do we get thrown in a labour camp?


Thursday, May 12, 2016

They Hurt

They hurt--my eyes.
Seeing you just lying there,
Drifting away to sleep,
Not a care in the world.

Watching you ignore me.
With not an idea that here,
Lies a heart that beats,
Spelling out your name.

They hurt--my ears.
Listening to your sleeping sounds,
Wondering if between a snore or two,
The deafening silence hides "Ludwig,"
Or acknowledges that I am here.

Sometimes you say things.
You sigh and whisper soft words.
And I wonder if they are for me,
Or another man you dream of.

It hurts--my heart.
That I cannot tell you how I feel,
Because I am too scared to mean it,
And give myself away again.

Feeling strongly like this,
Seems as though I am building myself,
A trap without killswitch or way out.
And I jump in with a smile.

And then I die.
Damn it!

Is the Filipino truly worth dying for?

One of the things that bother me about Miriam Defensor-Santiago is her proclivity to pander to ideas of intellectual elitism and the innate superiority of the intelligentsia over the rest of the population. According to her, a vote by an uneducated person must not be regarded as equal to the vote of a university graduate.

In a democratic country such as ours that is trying (at least on paper) to gear itself towards becoming a fully egalitarian society, this idea does not sit well. Supposedly, each citizen's voice is equal to every other's. However, with the results of our most recent national elections where we elected Manny Pacquiao, an athlete (and current congressman who knows close to zero about legislation or constituency representation), into the senate and we almost elected the son of a brutal dictator as vice-president, one almost gets pushed to reconsider one's stance on the whole "every vote is equal" rhetoric.

I'm aware that the solution is not to reduce anybody's right to choose leaders but instead to fulfill each person's right to an education. But are we actually capable, as a nation, of doing it properly? A lot of defenders of the Marcos regime are actually educated. A lot of them have bachelor's degrees, while a number have master's degrees and doctorates. Heck, my own grandmother, a retired judge, even voted for Bongbong because, allegedly, his father did the country a lot of good. I had an argument with her over breakfast yesterday, from which I had to restrain myself before I got too passionate. Was she genuinely blind to the plight of the underprivileged during his hegemony? Was she willing to dismiss every evidence of his evil doings as fabrications in favour of the pretty picture she has in her head just because she and her husband benefited from his rule?

In an age when Holocaust denialists among extremist groups in Germany are a pathetic minority ridiculed for their refusal to acknowledge overwhelming evidence debunking their cause, the Philippines has over 34% of its voting population either saying the Marcos regime was A-OK or that the atrocities that the brutal dictator committed, for which there is overwhelming evidence, didn't happen at all. And how can you blame people? What did the government do when the Marcoses returned from their time in exile? Did it put them behind bars? Did it hold them accountable for the billions of dollars they stole from the country's treasury? No! The government allowed them to continue living luxurious lives.

What's worse: The government allowed the Marcoses to get back in power and slowly make their way to the top again. What the hell? I've asked this countless times before and I'm asking this again: Why is Imelda Marcos not in prison? Why is she in the Philippine Congress?

Seeing this, a lot of people today who never lived through Martial Law might be led to believe that because there have been zero repercussions against the Marcoses for what a lot of people--scholars, historians and ordinary citizens alike--vehemently insist were two decades of sheer brutality, they must be alright. Everyone else must be misinformed and the Marcoses are just misunderstood well-meaning, good-natured people. This notion is so strong and so prevalent that what used to be two words that meant complete terror is now simply worth describing as nothing more than some sort of "thingy" that a lot of people just have a fixation for. "That Martial Law thingy," as one Twitter user put.

Ugh! I don't know, Philippines. Fuck this! Fuck everything!

Anyway, while all these weighty disappointments about the Philippine citizenry won't cause me to let go of the principles of social egalitarianism that I hold very dear, I am instead led to ask the question: IS THE FILIPINO TRULY WORTH DYING FOR?

Friday, May 6, 2016

Embracing the Red Sea

When Miriam Defensor-Santiago announced that she was running again, I thought I would end up voting for her. She is a feisty and intelligent woman with quite a track record. Sure, she isn't perfect, but who is? Right?

I didn't really find anything hugely despicable about Noynoy Aquino; I just genuinely thought this woman would be a good alternative because of her intellect and her extensive experience in public service. Sure, she has done some rather horrid things (case in point: playing crony to both Estrada and Arroyo), but she has hilarious pick-up lines and she was one of the most active proponents of the Magna Carta of Women. She may have a foul mouth and a patronising attitude, but she championed the Reproductive Health Bill. See my dilemma there?

I was contemplating, for once, jumping off the political mini-bandwagon of the family and the party it supported. For the sake of being true to myself, I thought. I even pondered on coming out as a Miriam-supporter a day after elections. It would have been my second coming out.

And then she chose Bongbong Marcos as her running mate. I was shattered. For years within the period of Ferdinand Marcos' Martial Law, when they were in university, my parents risked their lives to raise public awareness on the atrocities he had committed. They took to the streets and participated in demonstrations against his violent regime. And now, here's this woman, for whom I had great admiration, peddling the son of a criminal. Here she was presenting Ferdinand Marcos Jr--who indubitably benefited from the wealth his parents amassed by pillaging the country's treasury--as her choice for the country's second highest position. Here she was putting a virtual pedestal below the feet of a man with an indomitable will to deny that his father ever committed any crime against the Philippines and its people.

To add insult to injury, she had this to say: “If I die before I finish my 6-year term, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr will be able to fit that blank.” I was fuming for days. I was not angry at Miriam but at myself. I was angry at how I was less than three centimetres away from voting for the wrong person. It certainly doesn't help remedy the occasional bouts I have with my propensity for self-slapping that Bongbong Marcos is a front-runner for the vice presidency.

I was at a loss. At the time, I was brainwashed by the rhetoric that Mar Roxas was worth flipping off due to his alleged incompetence at handling the responsibilities of the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government) concerning the relief efforts for victims of Typhoon Haiyan. Binay is corrupt; Poe is inexperienced; and Duterte is a mass murderer. I gave serious thought to abstention. I filled my idle hours with beautiful daydreams about Leni Robredo becoming president with Risa Hontiveros as vice.

Then I asked, "Why would a person as noble as Leni Robredo consent to becoming Mar Roxas' running mate if she didn't genuinely believe in him?" And before you insinuate that I am on a weak bandwagon of people who only think Leni is clean because of public perception, I'll tell you that I actually have very strong connections with people who have known her personally for a long time. Vicente R. Hao-Chin Jr, a good personal friend and spiritual mentor of mine, a philanthropist, former president of the Theosophical Society in the Philippines--of which I am a member, co-founder of the transformative school called Golden Link College, and a person whose friends and acquaintances regard as one of the holiest and most noble people in the Philippines, is a first cousin of Jesse Robredo, Leni's late husband who died in a plane crash in 2012. He has known Leni for years and can attest to her genuine kindness and integrity.

I decided to actually do some reading and discovered that the accusations against Mar are largely baseless. On the issue about fund misuse, audit reports prove that the 4 billion pesos that passed through his office has been completely disseminated to local governments whose approved rehabilitation projects are now over 90% complete. And if you know me, you know I can be monstrous when I read so you can bet that I didn't cheat myself. Believe me, I even took time to read loads of articles slamming Roxas. Still, none of the accusations of corruption checked out. They all proved to be baseless and, if not deliberate fabrications for the sake of ruining his name (because I'd like to think the best of people), simply misinformed.

Still, though, he is not the most charismatic of leaders. He does not seem to me like the kind of man capable of rallying a crowd towards a common goal. Add these, too: He still thinks there's a chance that clean coal might exist; he maintains a capitalist mindset that supports some of the big corporations that I find absolutely abhorrent; he was born into privilege and is largely detached from the conditions that poor Filipinos experience on a day-to-day basis. I was only just getting to know him, so it would take a stronger push for me to actually declare (even to myself) that I would be voting for him. It was different with Miriam because she has been an object of fascination for me since I was a child. Mar Roxas, on the other hand, lacked the force of personality to even warrant an effort to type his name on a Google search bar. I only ever looked him up once when he ran for the vice presidency in 2010. I read one article, watched one YouTube video and then chose to ignore him in favour of Loren Legarda.

This time, I do not have the luxury to be complacent or to abstain. Running for the same position is a mass murderer who has gained a following whose chest voids his false messages of hope have filled instead of allowing them to regain their hearts. They ooze with fanaticism, praising and justifying every single thing he says and does like they have been possessed, banking on the possibility that maybe the country can be molded into a large version of the orderly Davao City. Nevermind that it may only be achieved through the death of hundreds of people and the trauma and insanity of thousands more. Nevermind that we might, for six years, live in fear of the unchecked power of institutions supposedly charged with our protection.

I was now vacillating between abstention and pragmatism. Should I declare that nobody deserved my vote or should I go for a lacklustre candidate that I didn't know enough about to trust with the job of serving as the country's commander-in-chief for the next six years? On Christmas eve last year, my answer manifested itself. With my mother and grandmother, I visited a Mosque in Sabah, Malaysia and sat silently for about ten minutes mentally chanting "Abstain or Roxas?" And then I said to myself, almost as if prompted by an external force, "Come on, who are you kidding? You know you're voting for Mar." The night of the 25th of December, a foreign friend asked me whom I was voting for and I found myself saying "Roxas" with absolutely zero hesitation. It was then that I truly knew he was getting my vote.

In spite of my mother and father's strong words of encouragement early on that I pick Manuel Roxas III, I still took days and days to ponder long and hard. Any other election without this much pressure and I would probably abstain, having learned my lesson from back in 2010 when I voted for Gibo Teodoro who turned out to be an Arroyo crony that opposed the RH Bill. My consolation was that he lost but I can't help but pound on my noggin a bit for picking him without knowing much about him, just because my maternal family prescribed it. This Sunday, it's a different story. It's not that I strongly want Mar Roxas as the next president; it's that I dread the idea of Rodrigo Duterte rising to power. I have visited places where murder is an everyday occurrence. I have been to countries where living in fear of the military and police is the norm. I don't want the Philippines to be that way. Not this year, not ever!

For a moment, let's disregard the fact that his real name is Manuel and pretend it's just Mar. In Spanish, "mar" means "sea" and "roxas" is an ancient spelling of "rojas," the feminine form of "rojos," plural for "rojo," which means "red." I am voting for a man whose name means "Red Sea," not thinking of a bloodbath, but a body of water that I, a drudge, must traverse to reach the promised land and be freed from vassalage, just as the Hebrews did thousands of years ago when they left Egypt. He isn't the promised land. He will merely help us but we don't have Moses so we're going to have to do our part. We must row or swim as hard as we can if we are to get what we want. This man has neither messianic promises nor deluded predictions. All he said was he would help and he would do it in a civil and decent way. And we know it won't be easy. But at least, instead of perishing over a few rectifiable mistakes, the vast majority of us have hope of being alive to see whatever fruits our labour might bear.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

We Need a Doctor, Not an Executioner

Edmundo lee, a friend of mine, wrote about a woman who was recently killed for having robbed several houses in a neighbourhood in Catarman, Samar, Philippines. He then proceeded to ask:

Does championing change have to mean death for wrongdoers who could be rehabilitated? What warrants death, and why do we take it upon ourselves to decide who dies? Who the fuck do we think we are?

It is malcontent that drives people to clamour for extreme measures. They are tired of the social system in place and the sluggish speed at which justice is served if due process is to be followed. People draw inspiration from divergent societies that elect to take justice into their own hands rather than rely on the courts and spend what probably feels like an agonising eternity of waiting for a decision to be arrived at. From a sociological point of view, they are doing this because they feel that they are in an extreme situation.

Let's examine historical cases of extremes:

When Poland left the clutches of the Soviet hegemony that imposed a violent Leninist and Stalinist brand of purely materialistic communism, they gradually took an acute shift into what it is today--a very right-wing nation that has removed the right of a woman to make decisions for her own body and has a Foreign Affairs Minister, Witold Waszczykowski, who dismisses vegetarianism and the usage of bicycles as socialist habits! They struggled to rise from the fire but have ended up causing themselves to freeze half to death. This is still happening right now.

As a result of Spain's long and violent struggle against its monarchy, they ended up with a totalitarian dictatorship under General Francisco Franco. Guess how well that turned out. The violence only ended with the return of the monarchy where the new ruling king took it upon himself to overhaul the country--seeking the people's help in turning it into a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament.

The Buddha left a life of wealth and luxury when he felt that it was not giving him true happiness. He shifted to one of severe austerity and allowed himself to be reduced to an emaciated mendicant, which nearly killed him. He left this life, too and later learned where the balance was. There, he found happiness.

If history teaches us anything, it's that jumping from one extreme to another only tips the scale the other way. It does not create balance at all. So, yes, the people clamouring for such extreme changes to the way our society works have their reasons, but their experiences do not, in any way, justify slaying our democracy and refusing to honour each person's basic human right to live. Retribution and violence are means to an end. True. But they are NOT ways to bring about justice. They are lazy short-term solutions that will not cure our social illnesses. Our country needs a doctor, not an executioner.

Remember:  One does not stop a disease outbreak by killing the afflicted.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

So I Should Be Killed for Thinking Differently?

A few days ago, I was sitting alone at a coffee shop when I spotted an old acquaintance who was, for years, a vehement opponent of the Philippine Reproductive Health Bill before it became a law. Her reason? She feared that it would become a precursor to the legalisation of abortion in the country and, to her, that was unacceptable because she said she honoured the sanctity of human life. I then noticed she was wearing a Duterte wristband. See the irony there?

I approached her with a greeting and after less than a minute of pleasantries, she said, "Duterte ta ha? (Let's go with Duterte, ok?)" I hummed a deep note and smiled. She then went on a three-minute speech about how she admires the fact that her choice for a president has "eliminated the scum off the streets of Davao City" and it would make her happy to see the same thing happen on a nation-wide scale. "Kinahanglan hinlo-an na ni'ng Pilipinas kay hugaw na kaayo. Angay na pamatyon ni'ng mga kriminal. Ang di mobotar ni Duterte, angay apilon! (The Philippines needs to be cleansed because it has become too dirty. These criminals should be killed off already. Those who don't vote for Duterte should be killed, too!)" In response, I nodded slowly and gave her a sarcastic giggle. I asked who her choice was for the vice-presidency, to which she quickly responded, "Aw, Marcos jud. Wa na'y lai'ng puede. (Marcos, of course. No one else will do.)"

Every single thing that came out of her mouth made my skin crawl in utter disgust that I had to excuse myself. I stood up, cleaned my side of the table and picked my bag up. But just before I walked away, I asked her, "Hey, weren't you against the RH Bill a few years ago because you said you honoured the sanctity of human life?" Her mouth opened, presumably to respond, but there were no words. A faint "ha" sound came out, punctuated by a glottal stop, a clearing of the throat and a gulp. She could not answer me. She clenched her jaw and furrowed her eyebrows as her breaths got audibly deeper. Still nothing but disdainful and bitter silence. I gave her another smile and left.

I am pro-choice--a staunch supporter of the recognition of a woman's right to make decisions for her own body--so that disqualifies me from carrying the label "pro-life," as it is conventionally understood. With the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill being a hot national issue some years ago, I made lots of enemies--mostly from evangelical Christian and conservative Roman Catholic circles. In 2012, I embarked on an "unfriending spree" for people who were against the RH Bill. I regarded everyone who didn't support it as stupid. I ended my spree, however, when I realised that too many people close to my heart didn't share my views. If I had chosen to continue it, I would have lost lots of friends, so I decided that these people were misinformed, at best, and left them alone. Then again, if I had gone on, that woman I bumped into at Bo's Coffee Club would have been kicked out of my social media sphere sooner. Thankfully, what was supposed to happen four years ago eventually caught up and our association has finally been severed. The evening thereafter, she unfriended me on Facebook. Good riddance!

Again, I respect people's choices, but to insinuate that I should be killed just because my opinions differ from yours? Honey, you don't deserve me in your life and I certainly don't deserve you in mine.