Thursday, January 29, 2015

Remembering the Fallen: The PNP-SAF

Tomorrow will be a National Day of Mourning for those who gave their lives in the bloody encounter of the PNP-SAF with elements of the MILF and the BIFF. For remembrance's sake, I am reposting the list one of my friends posted of the fallen. May their souls be with God, and may their families and loved ones find peace in their hearts.

Members of the PNP-SAF, we salute you!

1. PO2 Omar Agacer Nacionales
2. PO2 Ephraim G Mejia
4. PO3 Andres Viernes Duque
5. PO1 Loreto Guiyab Capinding II
6. PO3 Rodrigo Fernandez Acob
7. PO3 Robert Dommolog Allaga
8. PO2 Franklin Cadap Danao
9. PO2 Joel Bumidang Dulmuan
10. PO2 Richelle Salagan Baluga
11. PO1 Oliebeth Ligutan Viernes
12. PO3 Junrel Narvas Kibete
14. PO1 Windel Llano Candano
15. PO1 Romeo Cumanoy Cempron
16. PO3 John Llyod Rebamonte Sumbilla
17. PO1 Joseph Gumatay Sagonoy
18. PO2 Nol Nebrida Bacala
19. PO2 Rodel Eva Ramacula
20. PO2 Glenn Berecio Bedua
21. PO1 Mark Lory Orioque Clemencio
22. PO2 Amman Misuari Esmula
23. PO3 Jedz-In Abubakar Asjali
25. SPO1 Ladao Lover Inocencio
28. PO3 Victorio Nacion Acain
30. PO3 Virgel Serion Villanueva
31. PO2 Chum Goc-ong Agabon
32. PO2 Godifredo Basalo Cabanlet
33. PO2 Romeo Valles Senin II
34. PO1 Gringo Charag Cayang-o
35. PO3 Noel Onangey Golocan
36. PO2 Walmer Faustino Danao
37. PO2 Nicky De Castro Nacino, Jr
38. PO1 Angel Chocowen Kodiamat
39. PO3 Peterson Indongsan Carap
40. PO2 Jerry Dailay Kayob
41. PO2 Noble Sungay Kiangan
43. PO1 Russel Bawaan
44. PO2 Roger Cordero

Requiescat in pace. 

Nasaan Ang Pangulo? President Aquino's Absence at Villamor

The social media was abuzz over the news that President Noynoy Aquino was not present when the bodies of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) police commandos arrived today at  the Villamor Air Base; as a result, the hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo was trending on Twitter. Netizens were then enraged to discover that, instead, President Aquino, was attending the inauguration of a Mitsubishi car plant in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

Admittedly, it has not been a stellar month for the President in terms of political statesmanship. Earlier this month, during the visit of Pope Francis to Malacanang, the President, in his address, decided to use the opportunity to attack the clergy, decrying their alleged silence during the excesses of the previous regime. The speech drew condemnation from netizens who felt that it was in bad taste to do so in front of the Pope. Pope Francis, for his part, did not seem to be affected by the President's address, and continued to stress the clergy's role in fighting corruption.

Yesterday, in his address to the nation about the massacre of the PNP-SAF forces, the President appeared to distance himself from the massacre, and said that, while he was aware of the SAF operation,  the SAF commander Police Chief Supt. Getulio NapeƱas was responsible for giving the go-signal for the tragic operation. His seeming  washing of hands off the matter did not sit well with people, although Communications Secretary  Herminio Coloma claimed that, based on their own assessments, majority of people did not think the President was avoiding responsibility over the tragic incident.

Coloma also tried to downplay the President's absence at Villamor, saying that it was not part of the President's schedule; one of the President's spokespersons Abigail Valte, said that the President instead be at the services for the 44 fallen policement on Friday.

This, however, did not go over well. As one netizen Markk Perete observed,

"I am bothered by the justification being peddled for the President's absence at the arrival honors for the fallen police officers at the Villamor Air Base.

"His absence cannot be explained away by merely saying that he was not scheduled to be there. I fail to understand how, with the immensity of its powers, the Office of the President cannot organize the arrival honors with him in attendance.

"Neither can it be justified by saying that the majority were not averse to the President's absence. As I stated elsewhere, the issue is not the number of critics or the extent of criticism for the absence, but whether the absence is, in the first place, justifiable.
It would, of course, be a different matter, if the possible repercussions to the peace process of the President's presence in the rites were considered. But even then, I do not think the MILF is too short sighted to equate the President's presence in Villamor as a renunciation of the peace process.

"Or is there a security threat to the President because of what happened? Is there a brewing conspiracy to instill political instability? If so, are we not entitled to know?

"His absence is perplexing, painful even to a public needing comfort. And it does not help that those who are supposed to manage the public perception about the current leadership are underestimating the deluge of sentiment generated by the atrocities in Maguindanao.

For our sake, I hope they soon get their acts together. The tolerance of those who observe from the margins is not endless. And there is no telling how close those with vested self-interest are to realizing their schemes."
I couldn't have said it better. By raising the issue of scheduling and by belittling the rage over the President's absence, the President's handlers may have unleashed a wave of disgust and anger that may make President Aquino's last year a difficult one, indeed. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Second Maguindanao Massacre

In the wake of the bloody encounter between police special forces and elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), wherein at least 49 police commandos (the MILF claims 64.) were killed, a lot of finger-pointing is being made as government officials and MILF commanders attempt to ascertain what happened, and, if ever, who is to blame for the horrific massacre.

The members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) were hunting down a Malaysian bombing expert Zulkifi bin Hir, a.k.a. Marwan, as well as another terrorist Abdul Basit Usman, in the area of Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Apparently, the SAF managed to kill Marwan, although this remains to be confirmed, but, as they were leaving the area, they were attacked by a group suspected to belong to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway splinter group of the MILF. While trying to evade the MILF, it appears that the SAF entered MILF territory, which triggered another firefight. Outnumbered and outgunned, the SAF policemen were slowly obliterated.

MILF chief peace negotiator Mohaquer Iqbal was quick to blame the SAF for not coordinating with the MILF, since the area which the SAF entered was under MILF control. Said Iqbal,
It is unfortunate that some people died. It cannot be undone. Next time, it is important to have coordination so that these things won’t happen again.
What I found distasteful with Iqbal's statement is the apparent lack of compassion and concern for the slain SAF police. Coupled with a survivor's account that guerrillas belonging either to the BIFF or the MILF finished off wounded policemen by shooting them where they lay, it's unfortunate that Iqbal didn't choose his words more carefully. Unfortunate? Tragic is a closer word. Also, for Iqbal to assert that the ceasefire between the government and the MILF still holds is laughable in the face of the bloody encounter.

One also has to wonder what the MILF has to say about the BIFF, which is currently an outlaw group. For the MILF forces in Maguindanao to join up with the BIFF raises all sorts of questions.

What made the encounter even more tragic was that military forces knew about the SAF operation, but were unable to lend aid or reinforce the police to the ongoing peace process. Admittedly, if the SAF did coordinate their efforts with the MILF, perhaps the police forces could have gotten reinforcements from army units; instead, those forces were unable to assist the police. The inability of the armed forces to protect what are essentially civilian forces adds another dimension to this tragedy.

While it's likely that negotiators on both sides will continue to work on the peace process, it is the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that may be a casualty of the Maguindano encounter. Already, Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and J.V. Ejercito have withdrawn support from the BBL, making its passage in the Senate problematic. Add to that the Philippine Constitution Association's (Philconsa) assertion that the BBL violates constitutional provisions, and it looks like a rocky road ahead for peace in Mindanao.

It's disheartening to realize that this is the second massacre to occur in the province of Maguindanao in five years, the other one being the infamous Maguindanao Massacre in 2009, wherein armed thugs led by the Ampatuan clan waylaid and then massacred 40 people, including women and journalists. Up to now, the victims of this heinous crime have yet to receive justice. How long will it take for the families of the slain SAF policemen to receive theirs?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Hiding the Poor?

In the aftermath of Pope Francis' visit to the Philippines comes a disturbing issue regarding how the Aquino administration dealt with some of the poor during the visit.

The issue cropped up after the British tabloid The Daily Mail ran a story which claimed that street children were being rounded up and 'caged' in preparation for the Pope's visit. Government officials, including Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, denied the report; Roxas, who also heads the National Police Commission, which oversees the police, said that there were no such reports that were made to the police regarding the issue. Secretary Corazon "Dinky" Soliman, head of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), also echoed Sec. Roxas' denials, and said, "We do not tolerate this practice, we put child abusers in jail."(sic)

However, the DSWD was compelled to admit that a group of poor families, numbering around 600,  were brought to Chateau Royale, a luxurious resort in Nasugbu, Batangas, during the days when Pope Francis was here in Manila. Sec. Soliman claimed that the event was part of the modified conditional cash transfer (MCCT) program of the government, Sec. Soliman also said that the families were brought out of Manila for their own safety, as she noted,
"It’s not to keep them out of sight, but this is an LGU effort to take them from the areas which were identified where people will be mostly congregating. For safety. They didn't want these families to be in those areas.
"But no, it was not for keeping them out of sight. We do reach out to families even before the announcement of the pope coming."
While the move may have been well-meaning, it was ill-timed, and the motives behind the event were soundly questioned, since it was scheduled to coincide with the Pope's visit.

Senator Bongbong Marcos was in full revisionist mode when he questioned the government's move, ignoring the fact that his mother, former First Lady and Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos, did worse when Saint Pope John Paul II visited the country in 1981. During that visit, walls were erected in front of the squatter shanties in Metro Manila, so that the Pope would not see the poor during his visit. At least, some of the homeless were given a plush vacation; the Marcoses helped put many into poverty with their plunder of the country.

Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon was also livid, and rejected the DSWD secretary's explanation, saying,
"In an effort to look good while under the international limelight, the government just swept the problems it cannot solve under the rug. Jailing street children or stashing their families away in a resort speaks volumes of the Aquino administration’s stage-managed style of leadership."
It should be noted, though, that, aside from the Chateau Royale controversy, Pope Francis was able, not just to glimpse, but to experience the poor of the Philippines. After he celebrated Mass at the Manila Cathedral, he managed to squeeze in a visit to an orphanage, and hundreds of street children performed for him. He was speechless when a young girl asked him why God allowed people to be poor. Thus, it cannot be said that, as Rep. Ridon implies in his statement, the poor were completely concealed from the Pope.

Inquirer columnist Rina Jimenez-David seems more sympathetic with Sec. Soliman, and notes
One of the motivations for organizing the outing, it was explained, was to evaluate the families and see who could be eligible for the Pantawid or 4Ps program. The program provides monthly subsidies for poor families with school-age children, to enable the children to go to school, and the mothers (especially those who are pregnant) and children to receive regular healthcare and follow-up, and then gather the beneficiaries to regular sessions on different aspects of family life and gender relations.
In other areas of the country, the evaluation is done on site, with DSWD personnel visiting the homes of potential beneficiaries. But perhaps because the folks brought to the resort are street people and thus don’t have permanent addresses, there was a need to gather them in one location, one occasion.
Perhaps there is merit to what Sec. Soliman claimed the Chateau Royale trip was. It will be interesting to see what happens now, considering Sec. Soliman claimed that the resort visit was just an initial step in helping the poor. It will be important for the media to follow up on these families, and see whether whatever help was promised to them was given.

At the same time, the government could have been more conscious of the timing of its events, so that it does not have to waste time having to answer for its actions.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Requiem, Mr. Cub

Just as the late Tony Gwynn was "Mr. Padre," Chicago Cubs great Ernie Banks was "Mr. Cub." Known for his ebullience on and off the field, Banks brought a liveliness to the game, which was probably necessary for the Cubs, who were hapless during Banks' tenure with the team. His personality made him popular with the fans, proof of which was his being part of 14 All-Star teams.

On the field, where he played both shortstop and first base, he brought surprising power; he was the eighth player to crack the 500-home run barrier. Aside from power, he was also graceful as a fielder; his Gold Glove is testament to that.

Here's what the Yahoo! news report had to say about Banks as a power hitter:
Tall and thin, Banks didn't look like a typical power hitter. He looked even less so as he stood at the plate, holding his bat high and wiggling it as he waited for pitches. But he had strong wrists and a smooth, quick stroke, and he made hitting balls out of the park look effortless.

When he switched to a lighter bat before the 1955 season, his power quickly became apparent. He hit 44 homers that season, including three against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Aug. 4. His five grand slams that year established a major league record that stood for more than 30 years before Don Mattingly hit six in 1987.
During his career, Banks was voted Most Valuable Player in both 1958 and 1959, becoming the first National League player to win the award back-to-back. After he retired in 1971, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977, his first time on the ballot.

Even after his career, Banks was a person who looked on the brighter side of things. According to Cubs chairman Tom Rickett,
"Approachable, ever optimistic and kind hearted, Ernie Banks is and always will be Mr. Cub."
Sadly, Ernie Banks passed away yesterday at the ripe old age of 83. To his many fans, he will be missed.

Requiescat in pace, Mr. Cub.

Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks dies at 83
AP File photo - Banks posing in 1970

Monday, January 19, 2015

Pope Francis' Visit: What Happens Now?

I've been trying to figure out how to parse the visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines, because it's simply impossible to get everything down into one post. I'll probably wind up writing several posts so that I'm able to express everything I want to write about the visit.

Earlier this morning, Pope Francis boarded his plane back to Vatican City, and, with him, he brings back some incredible memories, including his saying Mass in Tacloban and in Luneta in the middle of the pouring rain. At the same time, we Filipinos, at least those who were affected by the Pope's visit, are currently experiencing a state of euphoria due to the wonderful experience of meeting the Vicar of Christ, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, in the flesh, and of the many words of wisdom he imparted during his various appearances.

It's at this time we have to be wary of this euphoria, because there's still the daily grind of everyday life to go back to. Those of us who have gone through the "Days with the Lord" know this, and have a term for it: the fourth day.

In a nutshell, the "Days with the Lord" is a weekend seminar-retreat that high school juniors and seniors went through in the Ateneo High School, and in other schools. During that weekend, the participants are reintroduced to the love of Christ, and experience a euphoria similar to what Filipinos experienced during the Pope's visit, and probably similar to what the devotees of the Black Nazarene felt earlier this month. However, on the last day of "Days," participants are reminded of the so-called Fourth Day. One of my high school friends, Jay Javier, sums it up in a recent FB post:
"Good luck sa 4th day, mga kababayan," sabi ng kaibigan ko.
Ito'y bati nuon pagkatapos mong maraanan ang tatlong araw ng Days with the Lord. Oo, high ka sa saya at hiwaga sa luob ng tatlong araw na 'yun. Kung anu-anu ang makikita mo. Mauunawaan mo. Ipangangako mo.
Pero ang tunay na pagsubok ay magsisimula lamang duon sa binanggit na "ikaapat na araw." Ito ang mga susunod na araw at gabi kung saan tapos na ang recollection. Babalik ka na sa realidad ng pangkaraniwang buhay.
Kung saan wala na ang "high."
Kung kelan tumigil na ang kantahan.
Kung kelan ubos na any drama.
Kung saan haharapin mo araw-araw ang pagtupad o pagbale wala sa mga ipinangako nuong tatlong araw na nakalipas.
Ngayong nakalipad na pabalik ng Vatican ang Santo Papa, magandang bati ang nagpaalala sa akin ng kahalagahan ng ika-apat na araw.
Good luck sa 4th day mga kaibigan. Kaya natin ito.
In short, the real challenge for us Filipinos is what happens now, now that Pope Francis has left us. Do we take his words to heart, and make a palpable change in our lives for the better? Or, do we just go back to the humdrum and just continue to accept the poverty of the soul that has pervaded our society?

The Bukas Palad Christmas song, "The Work of Christmas," echoes the same message as the Fourth Day. The lyrics of the song go:
When the song of angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost, to heal the broken,
To feed the hungry, free the prisoners,
To rebuild nations, to bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.
That is the big question: are we just caught up in the euphoria of Pope Francis' visit, or are we fired up enough to make his words a reality?

The optimist in me is hopeful that we will rise to the challenge. Of course, the realist in me remembers that we had two visits by Saint John Paul II, and we are still in the same boat.

It's a reminder to me that change, especially social change is hard. Here's hoping that Pope Francis' visit bears real fruit.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Pray for Nigeria: The Baga Massacre

While world leaders marched in solidarity with the killings of the journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, they have been largely silent about the brutal massacre that happened in Baga, Nigeria. There, almost two weeks ago, armed members of Boko Haram,  an Nigerian Islamic fundamentalist group, attacked the small town of Baga, resulting in a death toll estimated to be around 2,000, composed mostly of women, children, and the elderly. The attack is said to have been a strategic one, as it allows  Boko Haram access to neighboring Chad.

Boko Haram was the center of attention last year, when it attacked a Nigerian school in April, and abducted 276 schoolgirls. Many of those abducted were reported to have been married off to Boko Haram members. As a result of the abduction, the hashtag #bringbackourgirls trended worldwide, although to little avail.

It's only now, two weeks after the massacre, that attention is being paid to the issue, due in part to the sketchy bits of information coming out of Nigeria, whose leaders have attempted to downplay the scope of the massacre. Others question the attention given to the Charlie Hebdo murders, and ask why no outrage or media focus has been done for the victims of Baga.  Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, the president of the Nigerian Bishops Conference, accused Western leaders of showing "solidarity," but doing not much else.

 The Guardian, in an article, explored this lack of attention, and identified several factors for this seeming indifference, which include: the apparent lack of concern from Nigerian politicians, and an indifference from the West. There are some who dismiss the Baga massacre as a local problem, although Archbishop Kaigama fears that, like ISIS, the terror of Boko Haram has the potential to spread out from Nigeria.

For us Filipinos, as we prepare for the visit of Pope Francis, perhaps we can include in our prayers all those who have been affected, not only by Boko Haram, but also by any terrorist group which has not hesitated to include civilians in their depredations. Fortunately for us, the terrorist groups present in the country have been unable to manage attacks on the scale of Boko Haram and ISIS, but, that should not make us complacent to possible terrorist attacks on Philippine soil. We are also affected by the Baga massacre, because there is still a possibility, however remote, that such a horrific event can occur in our country.

Je suis Baga.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Pacquiao's Accomplishment: Most Absent Congressman

It's really a plum job when one is a Philippine Congressman. One of the perks is that one only has to be present in Congress 70 days out of the 365 days in the year, less than 20% for the entire year. And yet, despite this, only 65 members of Congress, out of the 290-strong Congress (22%), were able to register perfect attendance.

Excused from having to be present are Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo, who has been under hospital arrest since 2012, and Lanao del Norte Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo, who has been under hospital arrest since 2013.

The most glaring absences are those of Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao and Negros Occidental Rep. Julio Ledesma IV, who only registered attendance for seven of the 70 session days. The two are among 36 lawmakers who have double-digit absences.

Attendance in Congress is necessary, since the legislative body requires a quorum in order to get any work done. By being absent, the district representatives are unable to participate in the crafting and passing of laws, and, as a result, do their constituents a disservice by not adequately representing them in Congress. Important laws, such as the national budget, cannot be passed if there is no quorum.

Former Sen. Rene Saguisag stirred a hornet's nest when he wrote a letter published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, calling for Pacquiao's suspension. In particular, Sen. Saguisag criticized Pacquiao for treating his work in Congress as "a hobby or a sideline." In addition, Sen. Saguisag took Pacquiao to task for damaging both the House and the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), where Pacquiao currently plays and coaches for Kia Sorrento.

The head of the Sarangani Mayors' League, Glan mayor, Victor James Yap, scored Sen. Saguisag for calling for Pacquiao's suspension, and proceeded to enumerate Pacquiao's acts of patronage for Sarangani. In doing so, Mayor Yap simply exposed the culture of patronage present in Sarangani, as well as his ignorance of a Congressman's actual duties, which is to consult his constituents and propose laws in Congress that will help not only his/her constituents, but Filipinos at large.

Two Congressmen were quick to defend Pacquiao's absences.  Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez cited Pacquiao's boxing training as the reason for his absences, and called on people to be more understanding of the Filipino boxer, also known as the "Pambansang Kamao." If Pacquiao is more focused on boxing, why did he run for Congress in the first place? His absences leave his constituents without any proper representation in Congress.

Pampanga Rep. Joseller Guiao shifted responsibility of sanction to Pacquiao's constituents, since they voted him into office to begin with. So, for Rep. Guiao, it's okay to abandon one's responsibilities to Congress, if the people want that person in Congress?

If anything, the various absences, that of Pacquiao, Ledesma, et al, should be a wake-up call for House leaders, especially House Speaker Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte, to impose strict sanctions on all House members who are frequently absent, if only to remind them that their work in Congress is important, and should not be cast aside.

Of course, it'll probably be a pipe dream if that happens, since Congress has been notorious for closing ranks around their erring members. It's likely that the current state of affairs, the absenteeism, will continue, since both House leaders and voters condone such behavior.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Charlie Hebdo Attacks: An Attack on Free Expression

There really is something about the start of each month that makes it practically impossible for me to post anything.Oh, well. C'est la vie.

Whenever journalists are attacked and murdered, it is an extreme form of censorship. In order to stop the writer/artist/photographer from having his or her work published, those who are offended by the possible publication simply murder the journalist. Such is what happened last Wednesday, when two armed gunmen entered the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo (or simply Charlie to its followers), and proceeded to murder 12 people, among them the editor and several cartoonists.

The gunmen were Islamic extremists who were probably expressing in the most brutal way their opposition to the magazine's portrayal of the prophet Mohammed; according to a CNN report, for Muslims, any frontal depiction of the Prophet is apparently considered to be possible idol worship, which is why there is a prohibition.

According to Philippine Star columnist Alex Magno, Charlie Hebdo, has had a long history of irreverent satire, which, in turn, has a long history in the country of France. After the attacks, other publications, as well as those in social media, published or posted examples of Charlie Hebdo's satirical cartoons. I will have to say that they are not to my liking. I do find some of them to be too offensive and insulting, but, at the same time, I would not go as far as to murder the ones who created these cartoons. There is still such a thing as freedom of expression.

Writes Magno in his column today,
This is not just an attack on an irreverent magazine. This is an attack on free expression everywhere. This is therefore an attack on all who dare think freely.

The extremists who mounted this attack intend to inflict fear on all who dare question their most morbid beliefs. This is censorship by the barrel of a gun, literally. They intend not only to silence a band of irreverent cartoonists. They intend to silence all who might question what they stand for.

There is evident irony here. The attackers might justify their actions by saying their creeds were not respected. But by shooting their critics, they show incapacity to respect adverse opinion. 

If we all succumb to fear of fanatical reprisal, then free thought will not be possible. That runs against the core ethic of liberalism that guides modern civilization: question everything.

This heinous attack on Charlie Hebdo should be an opportunity to reaffirm our faith in a free press and reinforce our defense of free thinkers. Inconvenient they may be, satirists have a special place in our civilization.

Our freedom rests on a fragile foundation: the acceptance that everything should be subject to ridicule. Otherwise we are enveloped by dogmas held as unquestionable.
Over two thousand years ago, a Greek philosopher set down the maxim that defined modern civility: the unexamined life is not worth living. Unfortunately, there are those who fear constant examination of whatever belief they hold dear. They are only too willing to inflict violence to prevent any such examination.
At this point in time, the two gunmen who perpetrated this massacre have been killed by French authorities; they were cornered in a printing shop, and apparently died in battle with the police. A third person who claims he was involved in the attacks has surrendered to the police.

The Charlie Hebdo massacre was not the only violent crime committed by an Islamic extremist in France this week, as a French policewoman was shot and killed by two people, who have been shown to have ties with the two Charlie attackers. One of the two was killed, unfortunately with four hostages he had taken, in a battle with police; the other, a woman, remains at large.

These attacks strike very close to home, since we do have an active Muslim uprising, which has led to similar violent incidents, although, thankfully, we have not had any suicide bombers launch attacks here. Also, attacks on media are, sadly, fairly common, with some media personalities paying for their outspoken views with their lives.

These attacks should not be used to paint the entire Muslim community as a bunch of violent, radical extremists; majority of Muslims are peace-loving and God-fearing, the same as Christians are. These attacks should also not cow us into not expressing our views, for fear of violent reprisal.

Unlike Magno, however, I am hesitant to use the slogan, "Je suis Charlie," ("I am Charlie.") as a display of free expression. Like it or not, some of Charlie's work was still offensive, and I am loath to be associated with it. I will defend the slain journalists' right to publish, though.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Baseball Hall of Fame: Three Pitchers and a Catcher-2nd Baseman

It's fitting that the first post of the year revolves around baseball, one of my favorite spectator sports.

The Baseball Hall of Fame has released the results of the voting, and, for the first time in decades, four players, July, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Craig Biggio, three elite pitchers and one catcher-second baseman, will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame come July.

It's a excellent group of enshrinees.

Johnson, also known as the Big Unit because of his height (6' 11"), was a five-time Cy Young Award winner, and is a member of the 300-win club.

Martinez, a three-time Award winner, had a career winning percentage of 69% (219-100), and was instrumental in helping the Boston Red Sox win their first World Series in 86 years.

Smoltz, the 1996 Cy Young Award winner, is the only pitcher with 200 wins and 154 saves, and he joins his former Atlanta Braves teammates Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, with whom he formed Atlanta's Big Three group of pitchers. 

The accomplishments of Craig Biggio, who made it on his third try, are as unique as Smoltz's, as Biggio is probably the only player who played effectively both as a catcher, and as a second baseman. He is also a member of the elite 3000-hit club, having accumulated 3,060 hits over the course of his career.

While I'm happy about the results, there are at least four players I'd like to see voted in, although one of them has virtually no chance. Catcher Mike Piazza fell short by 28 votes, but could possibly make it in next year. First baseman Jeff Bagwell (55.7%) and centerfielder Tim Raines (55%) still have an outside chance to make it in, but shortstop Alan Trammell (25.1%) isn't likely to make it, which is a pity.

So far, the group of players who have been accused of steroid use has not gained any traction in the voting. For Barry Bonds (36.8%), Roger Clemens (37.5%), Sammy Sosa (6.6%), and Mark McGwire (10%), it's clear that majority of baseball writers believe that their gaudy numbers were artificially inflated because of their steroid use. It's very likely that none of them will make it in.

Next year, outfielder Ken Griffey, Jr., and closers Trevor Hoffman, and Billy Wagner, will be on the ballot. It's very possible that Piazza will probably join Griffey, Jr., and Hoffman, as inductees next year.

Congratulations once again to this year's Hall of Fame inductees!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Looking Forward to 2015: Resolved

It's the last day of 2014, and, as the year comes to a rousing end, it's time to look forward to the year 2015, and make resolutions in preparation. While there's always a possibility that these resolutions will not be met, resolutions are important, in the sense that they serve as a rough road map to follow. Planning for the year is key. 

Off the top of my head, the following are my resolutions for the coming year. I may continue to add to them, but these are the ones which stand out.

1. To lose weight and get back in shape - I started on this in November, when I rejoined the UP Judo Club and started swimming again. I'm hoping to regain a modicum of the fitness level I used to have. Of course, this also means that I have to begin watching my diet; between this and exercise, this is the harder resolution. There's just too much good food out there, but I just have to be more disciplined about my eating habits. Here's to a healthier me.

2. To always maintain a positive outlook on life - I'm an optimist by nature, but, sometimes, the events in the news and in life can be overwhelming. I just have to look on the bright side, and keep on going.

3. To practice my faith more - the coming visit of Pope Francis is a reminder for me to keep my faith life in order, but it shouldn't take his visit to spur me. Practicing one's faith is a constant effort; we're only human, after all, and prone to mistakes. We fall, but we get up and go on.

4. To write more often - I'm happy that, with my last few posts, I've actually managed to increase my posting from the previous year, albeit by a little. For a blog entitled,"Daily Musings", though, I do have to try to put more effort into it. We'll see if I'm able to be more productive next year.

5. To be more organized - this will be a boon if I can keep this resolution, as there are a number of things in my life that need to be more organized. Here's hoping that being more organized will help me to be more productive next year.

Five resolutions should be enough for now. If more come to mind, I'll write them down in my notebook, and, come the end of 2015, I'll revisit them and see how well I was able to keep my resolutions for the year.

This should be the last post for the year 2014, so, to all who visited this blog this year, a most Happy New Year to all! May your own New Year celebrations be safe and joyful!

Looking Forward to 2015: Expectations

With 2015 just a little more than a day away, one can only wonder what the new year will bring. From my vantage point, these are probably some of the few items we'll can expect from the coming new year.

1. Gearing up for 2016

We can probably expect that those politicians who have an eye for the Presidency in 2016 will be gearing up their efforts, both in propping themselves up, and tearing their opponents down. Already, some of the potential candidates have already seen their fortunes rise or fall this year. Expect more of the same for next year.

2. The Pope's visit to the Philippines

So far, Pope Francis has inspired the faithful with his clear words and actions of humility and love. His visit to the Philippines this January is likely to attract millions to attend his Masses and listen to his speeches. It would be nice, though, if the Pope's message truly reaches the hearts and minds of our countrymen, and inspire them to real action. Here's hoping his visit will help that, although in the back of my mind, the parable of the rich businessman and Lazarus comes to mind. Well, here's hoping for hope.

3. Continuation of low gas prices

This year saw a perceptible drop in gas prices, which shed an average of 15-16 pesos in value, apparently because of the oil price wars between the members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the U.S. While this has been a boon for drivers, we have yet to see this translated into lower prices of consumer goods. Predictably, supermarket and grocery owners have stated that there are other factors besides the price of oil which affect consumer goods, but, since prices of goods seem to go up almost immediately after gas prices go up, that statement is an empty one. Considering the huge drop in gas prices, we should see a lowering of the cost of consumer goods, as well.

4. Continuation of Pacquiao-Mayweather teasing

Boxing fans have been clamoring for the fight between Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and Manny Pacquiao for years, but, the go signal has yet to come, particularly from Mayweather, Jr., who has done everything he could to avoid this fight, from putting all sorts of requirements to quibbling over purse money shares. He has even gone on record as saying he would rather be a "rich coward". So be it. While Mayweather may have that spotless record to boast of, as long as he ducks Manny Pacquiao, he will always be a diminished unbeaten fighter; there will always be that asterisk with the label, "was afraid of fighting Pacquiao."

5. Continued inaction by the President and other flaws

While, personally, I don't think the President has done all that badly, if he has one gaping flaw, it's that he will not call for the resignation of those who are close to him. While he was relatively quick to accept Health Secretary Enrique Ona's resignation, he dilly-dallied on Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima's removal; as it is, Purisima is only suspended for the moment. President Aquino's loyalty to his friends has made his "tuwid na daan" a running joke, since there are obviously two standards to which government officials are held: one for his friends and allies, and one for his enemies. I'd like to hope that this will change in 2015, but, given that he's already in the twilight of his presidency, I doubt it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Year-Ender: Saying Goodbye

WWith 2014 rapidly coming to a close, it's time to look back on what we will miss about the year.

One of the things we will miss about the year 2014 are all those who left us, leaving us sadder for their loss.

From comedian Robin Williams to MMDA traffic enforcer Sonny Acosta, from the great to the less-great, from the prominent to those not as well known, death is something that is always with us, and we look back fondly on what those who left us this year leave behind as their legacy.

On a personal note, this year, I said goodbye to a dear neighbor, a former teacher, my wife's cousin, my sister's mother-in-law, and my daughter's dog of eight years. They will all be missed.

Particularly, for 2014, I remember the following:

1. Jerry Coleman, baseball player and sportscaster
2. Philip Seymour Hoffman, actor
3. Arvin "Tado" Jimenez, comedian
4. Justice Serafin Cuevas, former Supreme Court Justice and lawyer
5. Shirley Temple Black, actress and diplomat
6. Roy Alvarez, actor
7. Ralph Kiner, baseball player and sportscaster
8. Harold Ramis, actor, writer, and director
9. James Rebhorn, actor
10. Harry Gasser, newscaster
11. Bryan Gahol, basketball player
12. Mickey Rooney, actor
13. James Hellwig, the Ultimate Warrior, professional wrestler
14. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, writer ("100 Years of Solitude")
15. Bob Hoskins, actor
16. Jack Ramsay, basketball coach
17. Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, boxer
18. Maya Angelou, writer and poet ("I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings")
19. Chester Nez, WWII Navajo code-talker
20. Casey Kasem, disc jockey and TV personality
21. Tony Gwynn, basketball player
22. Daniel Keyes,  writer ("Flowers for Algernon")
23. Fr. Jack Carroll, S.J., Jesuit priest
24. Robin Williams, actor
25. Stan Goldberg, cartoonist
26. Mark Gil, actor
27. Jimi Jamison, singer, Survivor
28. Kurt Bachmann, basketball player
29. Richard Kiel, actor
30. Luis Avalos, actor (Luis in "The Electric Company")
31. Lee Chamberlin, actress (Brenda in "The Electric Company")
32. Elizabeth Pena, actress
33. Jan Hooks, comedienne
34. Sen. Juan Flavier, politician and Doctor to the Barrios
35. Joe Cocker, singer
36. Sonny Acosta, MMDA traffic enforcer
37. Steve Viksten, writer and voice actor (Oskar from "Hey, Arnold!")
38. Tommy Ramone, musician (The Ramones)
39. R. A. Montgomery, writer ("Choose Your Own Adventure")
40. Hiroo Onoda, Japanese WWII straggler
41. Bob Casale and Alan Myers, musicians (Devo)
42. Ben Starr, comedy writer, director and playwright ("The Facts of Life", "Silver Spoons")
43. Ildefonso Santos, Jr., landscape architect, National Artist
44. Arthur Rankin, Jr., writer, director, and producer (one half of Rankin/Bass productions)
45. Nelson Frazier, Jr. a.k.a. Viscera and Mabel, professional wrestler
46. H.R. Giger, artist ("Alien")
47. Mitch Leigh, composer ("Man of La Mancha")
48. Dave Trampier, artist and cartoonist ("Dungeons and Dragons", "Wormy")
49. Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., actor
50. Walter Dean Myers, writer
51. James Garner, actor ("Maverick", "Space Cowboys")
52. Joan Rivers, actress and comedienne
53. Edward "Buster" Jones, voice actor ("The Real Ghostbusters", "Superfriends", "Transformers")
54. Carol Ann Susi, actress ("The Big Bang Theory")
55. Christine Cavanaugh, voice actress ("Rugrats", "Babe", "Dexter's Laboratory")

Looking at the list, I wish I had been able to write requiems particularly for Trampier, Garner, and Jones, but, lacking time, I'm including them in this list of people I'll miss.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

2014 Year-Ender: Feeding My Mind

Admittedly, I don't think I got much reading done, although I was able to watch a passel of movies and TV shows. Here's my list of favorite reads and views for the past year.


1. Only Human by Gareth Roberts
2. Beautiful Chaos by Gary Russell
3. The Silent Stars Go By by Dan Abnett

The three books are part of the 11-book celebration of the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Each Doctor had his own story;  the books above are those of the Ninth to the Eleventh. Relatively light reading, but engaging, because each writer was able to capture the essence of each of the three Doctors; to me, at least, the books read as separate episodes in the series.

4. The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

While "The Fault in Our Stars" was a tearjerker at the end, it presented very real characters, fleshed out by John Green, with whom I'm more familiar because of his "Crash Course History" web series.
5. Divergent - Veronica Roth

Dystopic young adult books have long been in place ("The Giver" and "The House of the Scorpion" come to mind), but it seems to be only after "The Hunger Games" came out that the genre truly went off. "Divergent" is engaging, although I've been warned about its sequels, "Insurgent" and "Allegiant", which I have yet to read. We'll see how it stands up in the genre.


1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
3. Big Hero Six
4. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
5. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
6. How to Train Your Dragon 2
7. Malificent
8. X-Men: Days of Future Past
9. Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno
10. Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends

When I go to movies nowadays, I'm more of the mind for light entertainment; I'll catch the deep Oscar-pick ones on the small screen. Of the movies above, "Guardians" and "Big Hero Six" are the two best ones.

TV Shows/Series

1. Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin)
2. Rurouni Kenshin
3. Gundam Wing

It's been a year of being introduced to anime; "Rurouni Kenshin" and "Gundam Wing" are old series, for one. "Attack on Titan" is a bloody gorefest, but it's also very engaging.
4. Doctor Who (Series 9)
5. Legend of Korra (Books 3 and 4)
6. Big Bang Theory
7. Marvel Agents of SHIELD

If some of you are going to ask, no, I haven't gotten around to watching any of the DC shows ("Constantine", "The Flash", "Gotham" and "Arrow"). There's just not enough time at the moment.

This coming year, I am planning to increase my reading list; hopefully, I'll actually be able to read more next year.

Friday, December 26, 2014

2014 Year-End: Most Viewed Posts

With the year almost over, it's time to start looking back at what was memorable this year of 2014.

In terms of posts, I just have to be resigned to the fact that it is just impossible for me to get out a post on a daily basis. There is just too much going on, and this is really more of a hobby for me than something I'm truly focused on.

With that in mind, though, I'm happy to say that I've managed to hold my own this year, and I've been able to keep close to last year's post total, with a mind to surpass it.

At the same time, I'm not sure what the reason is, but there's been an uptick in the number of views my blog has been getting. After toddling around at around 30 views per post, last September, the views more than doubled to around 70-80 views, with a high of around 500. Of course, that's still miniscule compared to other blogs, but, for me, it's a bit gratifying to know that there are more people looking in to what I write.

That being said, these are the most viewed posts for this year:

1. 'Mario' Musings

It's a good thing "Ruby" weakened as it hit landfall, or else it would have done as much damage as "Mario" or "Glenda". Still, the increasing frequency of these super-storms should compel our government to reassess how we deal with these weather disturbances.

2.  So, You Think You Can Coach?

 One of the challenges any coach must face is the fact that he or she will always be second-guessed by those who think they can coach. Pio Garcia's bratty rant on the Philippine Star is one such second-guesser, but he did it in a way that I, at least found, offensive.

3.  Estrada's Graduation Speech: Classless

It's never a good thing when a person accused of a crime is asked to give a speech; invariably, it seems, he or she will weave in details of the case into his or her speech. Sen. Estrada did so, and it was a disservice to those graduates who deserve better than a self-serving speech.

4. In the Aftermath of Imelda's Visit

I would like to think that Imelda Marcos' visit to the Ateneo sparked some reflection as to how we should treat the Marcoses, and how the current generation sees them. Sadly, owing to the Filipinos' fleeting memories of history, all the Marcoses have to do is wait it out, and, when the dust settles, they will have been completely rehabilitated into society without any admission of their crimes.

5.  The Hijacking of the Jennifer Laude Case

Even with Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton being recently charged with murder officially,  there was no guarantee that the U.S. would release custody of him to the Philippine government. Unfortunately, the anti-Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) crowd focuses on that issue rather than on the gruesome murder of Laude, which tells one where their actual priorities are.

6.  Charter Change? Say It Ain't So, Mr. President

Charter Change has always been a contentious issue in the Philippines, even more so when the reasons for it appear to be self-serving. Because of this, it's unlikely that Charter Change will ever fly. 

7.  UAAP 77: Do-Or-Die Wednesday

The run-up to the UAAP men's basketball finals was rife with drama, and it was interesting to explore the possibilities.

8.  Musings on the DAP and President Aquino

How one views the President will color one's opinion of him, but his defense of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) seemed aimed at threatening the Supreme Court. Even if I am nominally supporting the President, I will have to say that that speech was out of bounds.

9. Carmaggedon in Katipunan

When the MMDA decided to forgo the U-turn slots, and restore the traffic lights along Katipunan Ave., as well as other major roads, there was quite a bit of anxiety coming from those who regularly travel along Katipunan Ave., including myself. The initial implementation was a nightmare, hence, the carmaggedon, but, after tweaking the system, and adding traffic enforcers during rush hours, traffic has been more manageable since that fateful day. However, there has got to be a way to reduce the volume of vehicles, and the MMDA, and the schools along Katipunan Ave., have yet to figure that out.

10. UAAP 77: Ateneo's Stunning Comeback

After missing out on the Final Four last year, the Ateneo men's basketball team managed to bring the school back, with a stunning overtime win over FEU. Of course, Ateneo eventually bowed to NU, but seeing the team back in the Final Four, and with a twice-to-beat advantage to boot, was an uplifting experience.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Musings

Nine days of waking up at 3:30 in the morning, and it's finally done. With the grace of God, I managed to complete my attendance of the Simbang Gabi novena Masses this year. While there is a tradition of having one's wishes come true if he or she can attend all nine Masses here in the Philippines, that wasn't the main purpose of my trying to attend the Simbang Gabi. Rather, it's a way for me to end the year with peaceful reflection as I made my preparations to attend the Masses. It's a way of reconnecting with God and recharging one's spiritual batteries for the coming year.

I'm particularly happy, since this is the first time in several years that I've managed to complete the Simbang Gabi. When it started last December 16, I had no thought that I would be able to complete it; even attending 6-7 of the Masses would have been sufficient. As luck would have it, I was able to manage my time and rest, and made it to the end. 

As I write this, it is raining fairly constantly; it'll be a wet Christmas. Still, even that is a blessing, as the rain delivers needed water to plants and people.

With Christmas literally upon us, I'd like to take the opportunity to thank all who have come to read my posts on this blog. There aren't many, but, even so, there was a slight uptick in the number of views in the latter half of this year. Does this mean that my readership has increased? I'd like to think so.

At the same time, I'd like to wish every one and all a merry Christmas. May we all come together to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, and, in doing so, may we all receive the blessings we need to face the everyday challenges of life.

Once more, merry, merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Suspension for Absenteeism?

This will be my last current events post for the year, unless something really, really interesting happens between now and 2015. For the rest of the year, I'll be focusing on year-enders and other lighter fare.

A few days ago, former Sen. Rene Saguisag wrote to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and suggested that Saranggani Rep. Manny Pacquiao should be suspended for being regularly absent from Congress.

Sen. Saguisag notes,
The House should consider suspending Pacquiao up to the end of his term as he treats House work as a hobby or sideline. He just led his PBA (Philippine Basketball Association) team to elimination, which might have been avoided had his slot been given to a younger player; he is arguably the PBA’s oldest rookie. He is 36, the age when serious less materialistic NBA and PBA players think of retirement. Can one imagine Floyd dazzling the NBA and playing for Detroit at 37? But respect matters in the NBA, not only money, which blinds the PBA poo-bahs.
Manny has severely damaged the House and the PBA and is widely expected to run for the Senate in 2016. If so, he should retire now from the “Manly Art of Modified Murder on Installment Plan” and start studying. We do not underrate his capacity for subjective growth. He should read the Constitution now and confirm that he cannot run for president until 2022, when he will have met the age requirement.
Strong words coming from a veteran politician. It's clear to Sen. Saguisag, at least, that Pacquiao should focus on either boxing or politics, and forego basketball altogether. By holding all three jobs, he is showing great disrespect to at least two of them, that being a Congressman and a basketball player.

A mayor of one of Pacquiao's constituent towns, Glan mayor Victor James Yap, also the president of the provinces Mayors' League, wrote what he hoped was a scathing rebuttal of Sen. Saguisag's criticism of Pacquiao, but, in actuality, all Mayor Yap did was to expose Pacquiao's embracing of the "trapo" patronage system that has bedeviled our country for decades.

Mayor Yap is quoted as saying
“Other congressmen can no longer be seen in their respective district after election. Maybe because they are avoiding solicitations or requests for help from their constituents. Cong. Manny Pacquiao is different. He’s always there every time we need him. He’s not hiding from us,”
Note that Yap does not say anything about Pacquiao's legislative duties. All the good mayor is focused on is all of the financial aid Pacquiao  has given the province.

In the same article, Pacquiao is open about the fact that he is spending his own money to help his province. While this is laudable, it is still not the primary reason why Pacquiao is a congressman. His absence, along with other absentee congressmen, hampers Congress' ability to pass laws. House Speaker Sonny Belmonte himself has requested the presence of Pacquiao, and other congressmen, to be present for deliberations on various laws, including the national budget. If Pacquiao is not present during national budget deliberations, how can he actually help his constituents if he is not there to state to Congress what his province needs in terms of basic services?

Both Mayor Yap and Rep. Pacquiao cannot seem to wrap their heads around the idea that the members of the legislature are elected to craft laws that will help the representative's district, as well as the country at large. If Pacquiao wanted to directly involve himself in Saranggani's affairs, he should have run for Saranggani governor, instead of the district's representative.

If there is one valid point that Mayor Yap makes is that Sen. Saguisag is silent about the top Congressional absentee, Negros Occidental Rep. Jules Ledesma. If Pacquiao should be suspended by the House (which it won't do, of course), then Rep. Ledesma is even guiltier than the boxing congressman.

It's unlikely that Sen. Saguisag's proposal will gain traction in Congress, since the House is very protective of its members. Still, Pacquiao's absence in Congress is something voters can look at when he decides to make his run for the Senate.

Requiem for a Traffic Enforcer

It's a tough job being a traffic enforcer in Metro Manila. On one hand, a traffic enforcer has to make sure that motorists follow the rules of the road, and, if necessary, apprehend and charge those who don't follow the rules. At the same time, a traffic enforcer's job is a thankless one: he or she must live under the constant suspicion that he or she is corrupt, and some motorists will resent the enforcers for simply doing their jobs.

A number of traffic enforcers have experienced violent actions from drivers recently, one of which has just resulted in the enforcer's death. Robert Blair Carabuena was captured on video assaulting MMDA constable Saturnino Fabros in 2012, and, just this year, Maserati driver John Russell Ingco broke the nose of MMDA constable Jorby Adriatico, in an altercation in where who is liable is still under question.

Then, just last week, the violent actions became fatal. Last Friday, MMDA constable Sonny Acosta was run over by red Isuzu Sportivo driven by Mark Ian Libunao, leaving the traffic enforcer comatose in a bloody mess. Acosta had flagged Libunao for an alleged traffic violation in a bus loading area. What happened afterwards is unclear, it is seems that Acosta was somehow knocked over and then run over by Libunao.

Through the efforts of Acosta's partner enforcer Liberty Tongco, who was able to take down the Sportivo's license plate, police were able to ascertain the Sportivo's owner as Dante Borgueta, who apparently is the father-in-law of Libunao. Both Libunao and Borgueta have been arrested, and Libunao charged with reckless imprudence resulting in serious physical injuries.

Those charges will soon be upgraded to homicide or murder, as, according to ABS-CBN's Twitter feed, Acosta died today. Here's the Philippine Daily Inquirer's report on Acosta's death.

Libunao has denied having run over Acosta, but his statement is puzzling. According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer report, Libunao was quoted as saying, "I never hit anyone. Our vehicle doesn’t even have a single scratch. But if there’s a CCTV footage then there’s nothing I can do.” Does this mean that Libunao was unaware that he had run over Acosta, since he appears to be afraid of the CCTV feed?

Libunao should answer for his deeds; whether accidental or not, his actions still caused Acosta's death. Acosta leaves behind a wife and three daughters, the youngest of whom is only six months old.

At the same time, the MMDA, and its head Francis Tolentino, should look into how traffic enforcers can be protected against these actions.

Prayers and condolences are offered to Sonny Acosta's family. Here's hoping they do not have to wait long for justice to be served.

Requiem, Joe Cocker

Most of us who grew up in the late 80s and 90s will remember the TV series "The Wonder Years". Starring Fred Savage, Danica McKellar, and Josh Saviano as the main characters, the series revolves around the reminisces of the main character, as he looks back at his childhood years and about the trials of growing up.

Fans of the show will remember Joe Cocker's poignant cover of "With a Little Help From My Friends" originally by the Beatles. Cocker's raspy voice captures that note of nostalgia that probably helped reel in the viewers, making "The Wonder Years" a solid hit.

I remember Joe Cocker also for two other songs: "You Are So Beautiful", which was released in 1974, and "Up Where We Belong", a duet with Jennifer Warner that was the theme song for the movie "An Officer and A Gentleman". The second song, in particular, is one of my many favorites because of its uplifting note.

Sadly, Joe Cocker died of lung cancer Monday.

Requiescat in pace, Joe Cocker. You are now up where you belong.

"The Legend of Korra" Ending

When Nickelodeon first aired "Avatar, The Last Airbender" almost ten years ago, it's likely that few could predict this series' runaway success, as well as its impact on pop culture. As it turned out, "Avatar" won the hearts of millions as one of the truly great cartoon series of its time. Aside from creating realistic and believable characters, the show's writers, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, wove in mature themes into their show's stories, ranging from the corruption of politics to spiritualism. In doing so, DiMartino and Konietzko created a series for the ages.

Four years after "Avatar" wrapped up, the two creators followed it up with "The Legend of Korra". At first, the series seemed a little less than "Avatar", as it had fewer episodes, for one, which made it difficult to adequately flesh out the world 70 years after the events of the first series. At the same time, Korra, the main character, was arrogant and a little selfish, as compared to the youthfulness and vulnerability of Aang, which made it difficult for me (at least) to relate or sympathize with her.

However, as the series progressed over its four seasons (released within three years), Korra matured as she faced a plethora of foes more devious, or dangerous, or complicated than those whom Aang faced. Her rough edges were smoothed out as she faced these foes, and, by the time the series ended last week, she had learned the value of compassion and she was more in touch with her spiritual side. Her journey of self-discovery is analogous to the journey each of us takes to find ourselves, which makes "Korra" a series for adolescents looking for themselves.

And, of course, there's the matter of the ending of "Korra", which seems to have touched off a flurry of discussion and reactions.


At the end of the series, Korra and Asami decide to undertake a journey into the spirit world together, and, as they enter the portal to the spirit world, they face each other in an almost-mirror of the ending of "Avatar", wherein Aang and Katara faced each other and finally let their feelings for each other known in a tender kiss. When the series ended, there was a lot of speculation as to the nature of Korra and Asami's relationship.

The speculation ended when DiMartino and Konietzko, confirmed the relationship in their respective blogs. Here are the portions of each of their blogs which I found relevant to the discussion.

Our intention with the last scene was to make it as clear as possible that yes, Korra and Asami have romantic feelings for each other. The moment where they enter the spirit portal symbolizes their evolution from being friends to being a couple. Many news outlets, bloggers, and fans picked up on this and didn’t find it ambiguous. For the most part, it seems like the point of the scene was understood and additional commentary wasn’t really needed from Bryan or me. But in case people were still questioning what happened in the last scene, I wanted to make a clear verbal statement to complement the show’s visual one. I get that not everyone will be happy with the way that the show ended. Rarely does a series finale of any show satisfy that show’s fans, so I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the positive articles and posts I’ve seen about Korra’s finale.
and Konietzko:
Was it a slam-dunk victory for queer representation? I think it falls short of that, but hopefully it is a somewhat significant inching forward. It has been encouraging how well the media and the bulk of the fans have embraced it. Sadly and unsurprisingly, there are also plenty of people who have lashed out with homophobic vitriol and nonsense. It has been my experience that by and large this kind of mindset is a result of a lack of exposure to people whose lives and struggles are different from one’s own, and due to a deficiency in empathy––the latter being a key theme in Book 4. (Despite what you might have heard, bisexual people are real!) I have held plenty of stupid notions throughout my life that were planted there in any number of ways, or even grown out of my own ignorance and flawed personality. Yet through getting to know people from all walks of life, listening to the stories of their experiences, and employing some empathy to try to imagine what it might be like to walk in their shoes, I have been able to shed many hurtful mindsets. I still have a long way to go, and I still have a lot to learn. It is a humbling process and hard work, but nothing on the scale of what anyone who has been marginalized has experienced. It is a worthwhile, lifelong endeavor to try to understand where people are coming from.
Konietzko also quotes anime great Hayao Miyazaki in tackling the issue:
“I’ve become skeptical of the unwritten rule that just because a boy and girl appear in the same feature, a romance must ensue. Rather, I want to portray a slightly different relationship, one where the two mutually inspire each other to live - if I’m able to, then perhaps I’ll be closer to portraying a true expression of love.”
By portraying a relationship that is real and possible, DiMartino and Konietzko have opened up a multitude of possibilities for gender equality in American animated series or movies. While it took a while for me to warm up to "Korra", the writers' commitment to storytelling reeled me in by the end.

Still from the last episode of "Legend of Korra"

Related article: How A Nickelodeon Cartoon Became One of the Most Powerful, Subversive Shows of 2014 by Joanna Robinson, Vanity Fair

Simbang Gabi Musings

As we approach Christmas Day, many Filipino Catholics around the world attend the Simbang Gabi, also known as Misa de Gallo or the dawn Masses, as they prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. The nine Masses, starting on December 16 (or 15, if the Masses are held in the evening rather than in the early morning) until Christmas Eve, is one way of demonstrating one's devotion.

Since my subdivision's chapel is on the same street as my house, it's difficult not to miss attending Simbang Gabi every Christmas season. At around 3:30 in the morning, the chapels bells begin ringing, pealing out their invitation to Mass; the bells ring again at 3:45, as a second reminder to the faithful.

From my house, I can hear the bells, although my alarm goes off a minute or two before they start ringing. Once I'm awake, it's a simple matter of dressing up and walking to the chapel, and, in my case, joining the choir in the loft to lead the congregation in singing the Mass songs.

Of course, the main challenge to one's being able to complete the Simbang Gabi is that the Masses are held at 4 in the morning, which means that waking up early, especially in the middle of the Christmas shopping rush, can be a tad difficult. It's happened to me in the past, wherein I would wake up with the purpose of getting ready for Mass, only to find out that it was already five in the morning, meaning I'd slept through the Mass.

This has been the case for the past three or four years, as I would always wind up missing one or two Masses due to not waking up. Last year was probably the worst, as I only managed to attend five of the nine mornings.

This year, however, seems different, as it's already the eighth day, and I've been able to attend all of the Masses so far. Here's hoping that, by writing about it, I don't jinx tomorrow's Mass.

If there's one thing that has changed over the years, it is that more and more people, some of them coming from outside the subdivision, have joined the Masses. It's gratifying that more people are letting Christ into their lives, unless, of course, this is a matter of Filipino spiritual superstition about one's wish being granted if one completes the Mass. Still, whatever the reason, it's wonderful to see Filipinos actively participating in their faith.

For me, I enjoy the Simbang Gabi because it's a time to reflect on the year coming to an end, and to make resolutions for the coming year to be better than the last. While I have been really drowsy the last two or three mornings, I do try to listen to the priest's homily, to seek out the nuggets of wisdom inserted in the priest's talk, as these help aid me in my own reflection.

Completing the nine morning Masses gives one a sense of completion, that one has demonstrated his or her faith by attending all of the Masses. Of course, this devotion must be translated to one's works as well, lest it simply become a self-righteous and selfish action, especially if one's main goal is to have one's wish fulfilled. Attending the Simbang Gabi should be a spiritual affair, not a materialistic one; attending the Masses with the right frame of mind will help one grow spiritually.

So, here's to the last Mass tomorrow; here's hoping that I manage to wake up early one last time this Christmas season.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Quick Hits: A Look at the News

I guess I'll just have to be resigned that I'll be writing whenever the opportunity presents itself. The Christmas rush is in full swing, and there are still people on my Christmas list whom I haven't gotten gifts yet. Argh.

In the meantime, the news continues.

"The Interview" controversy

Depending on whom you believe or listen to, the pulling out of the comedy "The Interview" by Sony is either the result of Sony's executives caving in to a hackers' attack which left their files in shambles, and their inner secrets possibly exposed, or the result of distributors refusing to show the film in their theaters. Either way, it's a chilling reminder of how cyber-terrorism works, and how widespread the damage can be.

The movie, which featured James Franco and Seth Rogen as reporters who were going to interview North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and then assassinate him, drew flak from North Korea, and apparently hackers from North Korea, or hired by North Korea attacked Sony's servers.

American politicians from either side of the political spectrum castigated Sony for its seeming weakness in giving in to the North Korean hackers' demands. Of course, one pundit scored the political right for its hypocrisy, since some of its members criticized a movie in which then-President George W. Bush was assassinated.

Still, all is not lost for the film, as Sony is reportedly looking at other means of showing the film after distributors pulled the film from their play list.

The Bilibid Condominium Controversy

In the wake of the DOJ-NBI raid on the New Bilibid Prison, calls for the resignation of Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) head Franklin Bucayo continue, to which the BuCor head has adamantly ignored or refused.

There is something in the culture of our country that makes our government officials impervious to shame, unlike in neighboring countries South Korea and Japan, wherein the officials are not shy about apologizing or even resigning when they get embroiled in controversy.

In this case, I add my voice to the choir calling for Bucayo's resignation. It's unlikely that the structures and items found during the raid, such as jacuzzis and guns and drugs, were only brought in during his time; it is almost certain fact that these illegal items were already there. The sheer scope of the raid's results exposes a serious flaw in our prison system; is Bucayo the one who will start reforms in it? I sincerely doubt it.

The Trend of Worldwide Violence

It's saddening to realize how much violence is happening as we approach Christmas. With the Sydney Siege and the Pakistan Taliban's horrific carnage in Peshawar, other violent acts continue to be reported. The more recent ones are the massacre of eight children in Cairns, Australia, and the massacre of the elderly by Islamic extremists in Nigeria. Both countries are still reeling from recent events: the Cairns massacre comes less than a week after the Sydney Siege, and, in Nigeria, the abduction of 219 girls by the Boko Haram last April still remains fresh in people's minds.

Prayers and condolences are offered for the victims of these senseless acts. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Two Events: Sydney and Peshawar

In the span of two days, extremist Muslims have reminded us how much of a threat they pose to the world at large.

On Monday, in Sydney, Australia, Man Haron Monis, an 50-year old immigrant from Iran with a long history of crime and mental instability, held people in a cafe hostage at gunpoint, and kept police at bay for 16 hours. The hostage situation ended early Tuesday with the police storming the cafe after hearing gunshots coming from inside. Monis, along with two hostages, Katrina Dawson, a lawyer, and Tori Johnson, the cafe manager, were killed; unconfirmed reports indicate that Dawson and Johnson were killed trying to protect their fellow hostages.

It's speculated that Monis was either a lone wolf terrorist, or just a madman using the terrorist tag to justify his actions. At this point in time, it's still unclear what Monis hoped to achieve with his actions. CNN has posted key questions regarding the hostage taking here.

In Pakistan today, gunmen belonging to the Pakistan Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar, in northwestern Pakistan. At least 126, mostly students and children, were killed in the attack. (UPDATE: According to the CNN report, 141 people - 132 children, plus 9 school staff members, were killed. The seven militants who perpetrated this atrocious act were also killed.)

Both incidents are shocking in their scope and location; in the Peshawar attack, teenagers and children were targeted, indicating that the Pakistan Taliban are not discriminating in their attacks. Anyone is a target.

The two incidents are just the continuation of the narrative of extremist Muslim attacks on civilians, and, until something is done about it, sadly, it is likely that there will be future incidents with more deaths.

The challenge of dealing with individuals such as Monis is that, as a lone wolf, such terrorists are difficult to track; I doubt any government has the necessary resources to keep track of every possible terror suspect.

President Noynoy Aquino was quick to condemn the Pakistan attacks, saying it was “an act of terror and savagery (that) deserves nothing less than our condemnation.” Furthermore, the attacks "dishonored Islam." At the same time, the Philippine government extended its condolences to the victims of the Sydney siege.

I'm hoping that our local Muslim leaders will join the President in condemning these horrific incidents, and stress that violence should never be the means to effect change. At the very least, it would send a clear message to those in our country who may be thinking of committing the same atrocities as Monis and the Pakistan Taliban, that such actions will not hold favor with the Filipino Muslim community.

Corruption in Bilibid

The recent raid by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on the national penitentiary simply validated that the rich and powerful remain rich and powerful, even in jail.

In one detention area, there was a jacuzzi, while, in another, a sauna. As the Inquirer story put it, the quarters "could pass for high-end condominium units".  Furthermore, many of the high-profile inmates, a number of them drug lords and gang leaders, appeared to be living it up in the New Bilibid Prison, as they were discovered to have wads of cash on their person, and their living quarters showed obvious signs of luxury. 

What's worse is that, for the drug lords, their criminal activities were apparently not curtailed by their incarceration, as they continued operating their drug syndicate from behind bars.

As a result of the raid, 19 inmates were moved to the NBI headquarters in Manila, their communication devices taken from them, and their visiting privileges suspended. Here's hoping that they be properly imprisoned, without any of the luxuries with which they surrounded themselves.

At the same time, the Justice Department, the NBI, and the Bureau of Corrections, which oversees the prisons, should conduct a thorough investigation to determine the prison officials' culpability in this sorry state of affairs, because this would not have happened if the officials had not allowed it to happen. As it is, the officials in the Bilibid Prison should already be relieved of duty, and replaced, so that any investigation can push through without any hindrance. 

The revelation of luxurious living in prison is a blow to the correctional system, since it's apparent that those who should be punished for their crimes have found a way to corrupt and circumvent the system. It's clear that serious reforms are needed to cleanse the system of corruption.

One of the challenges here is that it's likely that these drug lords have powerful backers, either in politics or the military or the police, so any reform to the prison system will probably face strong obstacles. However, if we, as a society, want to demonstrate that crime does not pay, then we have to compel our leaders to institute these changes.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Musings on "Ruby"

There's really something about the start of the month that makes it difficult to impossible for me to get any writing done. Throw in Christmas and a much-hyped and awaited storm ("Ruby"), and December is doubly challenging. It's a pity, since there are a number of events and issues to comment on.

The week before "Ruby" (International name: "Hagupit") made landfall, much was made of its strength, which was comparable to last year's "Yolanda", which is the strongest storm ever to make landfall. The strength of the storm evoked memories of the horrors "Yolanda" wrought on the Philippines, particularly the Visayas region; as it is, the areas hardest hit by "Yolanda" are still in the process of rehabilitation.

While the Aquino administration's response to "Yolanda" was weak, for which the President and his closest advisers were heavily criticized, the government made sure that, this time, it would be prepared for the wrath of "Ruby". Response teams were prepped, and relief goods were better secured. People living in the predicted path of the storm's fury were evacuated, and, instead of resisting evacuation, they readily complied. "Yolanda" had provided an extremely bleak lesson.

Of course, stupid is as stupid does, and ABS-CBN media personalities Korina Sanchez, Noli de Castro, and Ted Failon, drew heavy social media flak for their response to "Ruby", especially Sanchez, who hoped that "Ruby" would just go straight north and hit Japan instead of the Philippines, because, she opined, the Japanese were better prepared to face the storm. Sanchez's faux pas was exacerbated by the fact that: one, she had been pilloried last year for criticizing CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper, and, two, she is married to Interior Secretary and possible 2016 presidential candidate Mar Roxas, who had his own set of stupidities dealing with "Yolanda" last year.

My Facebook feed was inundated by calls for prayer, that "Ruby" spare the Philippines. Whatever one's beliefs may be, the prayers must have worked, as "Ruby" weakened as it made its way across the Philippines. By the time it passed close to Metro Manila, it was downgraded into a tropical storm, and its presence was hardly felt by a metropolis that had hunkered down in anticipation of a strong storm.

The amount of preparation, both by the government and by the Filipino people, is laudable, as it demonstrated our ability to learn from mistakes, and prepare better for the storm's wrath. It is an ability that will be needed in the future, since it is likely that storms such as "Yolanda" and "Ruby" will continue to affect our country.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

UAAP 77: The Coming Foreign Players' Ban

One of the issues hounding Philippine sports is the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP)'s decision to gradually ban foreign players from the league. While the obvious targets of the ban are those players playing in the men's basketball division, the ban has far-reaching consequences, since the ban's impact will not only affect men's basketball, but also all other sports. Once more, the league's board has managed to come up with a rule that goes backward instead of forward.

While it's not the only questionable rule the UAAP has formulated, the two-year residency ban on students transferring between league schools from high school to college is the most recent example of the league's backward-thinking. As with the ban on foreign players, the residency rule was made to affect    FEU high school player Jerie Pingoy's transfer to the Ateneo, but it also affected players such as swimmer Mikee Bartolome, who went to court to obtain a temporary restraining order (TRO) so that she could compete in the swimming competition last school year, only to be met with a boycott from the other member schools.

A number of sports pundits have weighed in on the matter. Bill Velasco in his Philippine Star column last week questioned the message being sent by the ban, saying,
What are we saying to our students? We are patronizing them simply because of their nationality. We are not teaching them to be globally competitive. Rewarding mediocrity is not an act of patriotism. It is sending the message that it is okay to achieve less, simply because you are a Filipino. It is condescension. Elsewhere in the globe, you see student-athletes contributing mightily to their school programs even if they are foreigners: Japanese leading the way in judo and karate, Koreans doing likewise in taekwondo, Cubans in baseball, and so on. What is wrong with that? We are teaching the next generation to feel entitled. Entitlement already plagues our country in politics and business, which is why we have term limits and anti-dynastic laws, even at the price of lumping together good eggs with the bad.
Enzo Flojo, the Hoop Nut, weighed in on the issue in his blog, and summed up the effects of the ban in three points, but his last point warrants repeating:  
More Pressing Issue #1 is unregulated recruitment. Let’s not kid ourselves. Complimentary condo units? Six-figure allowances? Guaranteed jobs for relatives? We’ve all heard the stories, right? I’m not outright saying that these are wrong, but that’s simply because there aren’t any rules with which we can work. Who’s to say offering a condo violates any rule when there are no rules in the first place? Should there even be rules? My answer is YES. Collegiate leagues should regulate recruitment because making offers that are way above and beyond educational scholarships and student-level allowances tend to make cutting corners as a student-athlete a lot easier. After all, why should a student-athlete who already has all the fruits of being a professional (e.g. a residence, a car, regular income) continue studying in school? The intrinsic motivation to finish school and earn a degree is diminished to a great degree. For the record, I’m not against student-athletes earning income from, say, endorsements, but getting them straight from schools (or their boosters) is another thing altogether.
Rick Olivares, of Bleachers' Brew, noted that the influx of Fil-foreign players into the PBA improved the level of play. Olivares notes
In the 1990s, when people were up in arms about the presence of Fil-Americans playing in the PBA, there were all sorts of rules about the number of Fil-Ams. But they arguably improved the league much more than the imports ever did. They significantly raised the level of play to the point that the homegrown players got better.
 Itunu Kuku, an alumnus of the Ateneo who hails from Nigeria, shared his thoughts on the issue last year. Kuku notes
Another element to this debate that is quite problematic is how the presence of imports is immediately seen as a threat and never as an opportunity. Perhaps this has to do with an unfortunate Filipino characteristic of underestimating Filipino abilities or a colonial mentality that sees anything foreign as inherently better. I don’t believe that a foreign center will automatically be a better player than a Filipino center, or that an import’s presence will instantly challenge the local’s place on the team. Controlling for size and experience, it will be hard work that makes the difference between the two athletes and not their nationality. If indeed the foreign player is better, then the local ones can learn from their teammate and improve their skills by matching up against him in practice. As this practice begins to pay off, surely a smart coach will reward it with increased amounts of playing time in the games that count.

The reactionary nature of the manner by which the UAAP formulates its rules brings to mind an analogy of the American South before and after the Civil War. First, the residency rule smacks of slavery, wherein a school can control a student's fate as early as high school and treat him/her as a commodity, and, second, the foreign players' ban is akin to the "Whites Only/Blacks Only" rule perpetuated in many areas in the South after the Civil War.

As it is, there are already rules which limit the entry of foreign players into the UAAP; before the change, each school was allowed to add two foreign players to their teams. To limit it further will only push the UAAP backward in its development as a premier collegiate league.