Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Carmaggedon on Katipunan

When the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) decided to bring back traffic lights along Katipunan Ave., I initially welcomed the decision, since traffic on Katipunan had gotten to the point wherein it had become a nightmare for all who traveled its distance. Any possible solution was welcome. 

A quick look back: Back in 2004 ( the earliest article I can find about the U-turn slots on Katipunan is one by noted architect Paolo Alcazaren), then-MMDA head Bayani Fernando replaced traffic intersections on major thoroughfares across Metro Manila with U-turn slots, including Katipunan Ave. At first, as noted by observations in Alcazaren's article, the U-turns were met with a lot of resistance, but most motorists eventually got used to the scheme.

Dial forward to 2014, at a time when vehicle volume has probably increased considerably since 2004. It appears that the U-turn slots on Katipunan, especially the one in front of Miriam College, were now a source of congestion, as the slots took up road space which created bottlenecks, slowing vehicles down. As a result, the MMDA made the decision to switch back to traffic lights. There would be one in front of Miriam, and another in front of Ateneo's Gate 3. 

The traffic lights became operational last Saturday, and, heading south for a birthday party, I was able to get a first hand look at how the traffic flow was affected. For some reason, Saturday traffic along Katipunan remains heavy even without classes in either Ateneo or Miriam, and last Saturday was no exception. It was difficult to gauge if the traffic lights would decrease congestion, since it was still slow going until Gate 3, after which traffic seemed to lighten. On the way home, though, traffic was heavy enough for us to be stopped at the top of the Katipunan flyover. Still, traffic was moving, albeit slowly, but it remained heavy all the way to U.P. Town Center.

Yesterday, classes were suspended due to typhoon Luis, and I took the opportunity to run some errands. Due to the lack of any classes, traffic along Katipunan at around noon was light.

Today was the acid test for the return of the traffic lights along Katipunan, as classes resumed at the Ateneo. Considering that Miriam Grade School didn't have any classes, I assumed that traffic would be manageable. 

It wasn't.

Traffic inside and outside of the Ateneo was so bad that records for late students were broken: in the high school, around 317 students arrived late, while, in the grade school, 500 students were late. Some of my co-teachers were caught in the carmaggedon, and took about an hour and 40 minutes to get to school.

I'm not sure what I did right, but it took me only 40 minutes to get to school. Credit probably goes to me leaving early enough to avoid the crush. 

Going out at dismissal was also bad, with traffic lasting more than an hour before it was clear enough for me to make my exit. I was lucky that I was heading north, as I couldn't imagine how south-bound travelers managed the one-lane left turn out of the Ateneo.

I'm not sure how traffic is like when it's not rush hour on Katipunan, but, based on the number of late people, and the angry posts on Facebook and Twitter, rush hour on Katipunan is a true carmaggedon.

Adding insult to injury was a Radyo Patrol report that the traffic light scheme seemed to improve traffic along Katipunan. This made me wonder aloud on Facebook as to what the MMDA people were smoking, although, after rereading the report, I should correctly attribute the smoking tag on the Radyo Patrol people. 

One of the problems with the traffic light placement is the short distance between them. Ateneo-bound traffic will be snarled by the Miriam intersection, since there's only a short holding space for cars waiting to turn left into the Ateneo. The reverse is true for north-bound vehicles, which will be snarled in front of Miriam. 

The other, of course, is the sheer volume of vehicles coming in and out of the university. A lot of vehicles are carrying only one or two people; this adds to the congestion along Katipunan.

So, what are alternatives to the current situation?

A possible solution is to retain the traffic light at Miriam, and reopen the U-turn in front of National Bookstore. That way, there'll be enough holding space for cars heading into the Ateneo. Another would be for the Ateneo to rethink its one-way scheme inside the university. At this point, I'm not sure what changes can be done, though.

Another solution is for schools such as the Ateneo to put more emphasis on encouraging community members to carpool in order to reduce the vehicle volume. 

Of course, the government can do more by looking into implementing more efficient and effective mass transportation, instead of encouraging Filipinos to buy cars.

There are probably other solutions to the traffic mess, but these are the ones I can think of at the moment.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

UAAP 77: Ateneo's Stunning Comeback

I wasn't able to watch the Ateneo-FEU game, since I was attending a party, but I was getting updates from my friend Enzo the Hoop Nut. When he texted me that FEU had a commanding 15-point lead with about three minutes to go, my heart sank. It seemed that FEU was going to run roughshod over the Blue Eagles, and get the twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four. It seemed that the flat-start style Ateneo seemed to have this season was going to catch up with them, at a point in the season when a win was crucial.

Dejected, I texted Enzo again when I thought that the game was over, only to receive a message saying that the game went into overtime, with Ateneo in the driver's seat. I was flabbergasted. How did Ateneo manage to find the will to come back from what seemed to be an insurmountable lead? It was with great unimaginable joy, then, that I received the news that Ateneo had completed the comeback, with a 68-64 overtime victory. I said to myself that I would watch the replay later in the night.

That night, I had forgotten that I was going to watch the game, so I missed replay of the first quarter. With dismay, I saw how FEU's stifling defense broke up play after play after play. Hampered by the Tamaraws' sticky defense, King Eagle Kiefer Ravena could not get his game going, Still, the Blue Eagles managed to keep the lead down to seven by the half, although they had only scored 18 points, by far, the lowest output in a half by Ateneo this season.

When the second half started, the FEU Tamaraws continued to pour it on both in offense and defense, and their lead ballooned to 19 at one point. In the third quarter, the Blue Eagles looked lost and forlorn, completely intimidated by FEU. 

In the fourth quarter, Ateneo started scoring to make its comeback, although in the early going, FEU's offense was still firing to keep the Blue Eagles at bay. In fact, with six minutes to go, FEU was still leading by 19 points.

At this point, a normal team would've lost heart, but not Ateneo. The Eagles, led by Ravena, Fonso Gotladera, and Chris Newsome, continued to chip away at the daunting FEU lead. Down the stretch, FEU seemed to have lost focus, as they made misplay after misplay that allowed Ateneo to get back into the game. By the end of the fourth quarter, Ateneo managed to tie the game at 59-all to send it into overtime; in the fourth quarter, Ateneo outscored FEU 33-14 to send the game into overtime. 

The pressure apparently got to FEU, as guard Mike Tolomia missed two straight free throws with 2.8 seconds to go, that could have won it all. 

In the extra period, Ateneo guard Nico Elorde put Ateneo in the lead for the first time in the game with a resounding three. Kiefer Ravena, who was perfect from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, continued to wax hot, and made both his free throws in the play that followed Elorde's three.  Chris Newsome added two more to pad the lead to seven, and Ateneo never looked back from that, winning the game 68-64. 

Even though I already knew the result, watching Ateneo rise from the grave into which it had dug itself was thrilling and exciting. This was a team that, like the national Gilas Pilipinas, had a lot of heart, and it proved that it could hold together in the face of extreme adversity.

With the win, Ateneo clinches the top spot, and the coveted twice-to-beat advantage, a commanding return to the Final Four after missing it last year. FEU will now play a one-game playoff with La Salle, which destroyed the NU Bulldogs in the second game, to determine which will get the twice-to-beat advantage, although it'll essentially be a best-of-three series for the two teams. NU, on the other hand, will have to wait for Tuesday, and hope that the UE Warriors lose to the UST Growling Tigers. Otherwise, NU and UE will play a one game playoff to determine who gets into the Final Four to face Ateneo.

Along with the UE-UST match-up is the UP-Adamson cellar dweller match, which also has its own drama, as UP is determined to celebrate a second bonfire this season.

As the men's basketball regular season draws to a close, there's still a lot of excitement left all the way to the last game.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Requiem, Jaws

I can't remember if I had watched "The Spy Who Loved Me", but I'm pretty certain that I watched the next James Bond movie "Moonraker". In the movie, one of Bond's key adversaries was Jaws, a giant with jaws of steel, who could bite through quite a bit of stuff. While, in the "The Spy Who Loved Me", Jaws was an outright adversary, in "Moonraker", he was shown to have a soft side, and, if I remember correctly, he switched sides and helped Bond defeat the main enemy.

The role of Jaws was played by Richard Kiel, a 7-foot, 2-inch actor.

I also remember Kiel from "The Cannonball Run 2", wherein he was paired off with Jackie Chan. While the movie was not particularly noteworthy, it was still something I remember enjoying.

I didn't watch "Happy Gilmore", but I was surprised that Kiel apparently lent his voice to Vlad, the big toughie who collected ceramic unicorns in Disney's "Tangled". I guess he provided the roar that Vlad let out as he demolished the palace guard.

The reason behind Kiel's great height was that he was suffering from acromegaly, a condition which causes the pituitary gland to produce excess growth hormones.

Kiel passed away yesterday at the age of 74.

Requiescat in pace, Jaws/Vlad. Your long journey is at an end.


10 Books That Have Stayed With Me

Still feeling under the weather. I was supposed to be working on a Ray Rice piece, but my mind just won't cooperate.

Facebook is currently rife with people's lists of 10-15 works, whether books, movies, anime, games, and what-have-you. I thought I'd take one of the lists I posted, and give the background of each choice in the list.

Today, I'll tackle the book list. The list is supposed to be composed of books that have stayed with me one way or the other; I'm not supposed to have thought too much about the books.

Here's the more detailed look at the list (do note that there's some cheating involved, since I squeezed in two series. Also, I've altered the order a bit, although it's still not according to rank. Finally, I'll probably do another list, since, as I write this entry, there are books coming to mind.):

1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

"The Lord of the Rings" trilogy was my introduction to fantasy literature. When I missed the Ateneo Children Theatre's production of it due to mumps, I asked for a copy of the trilogy as my pasalubong from a relative who was going abroad. As soon as I got it, I devoured it, and was immediately hooked. Tolkien had a lyrical way with language as he wove his grand tale of good versus evil, and, with every passing page, I was drawn into the world of elves and orcs and hobbits and dwarves, and, the One Ring of Sauron. I've probably read the trilogy, along with its prelude, "The Hobbit" and Tolkien's magnum opus "The Silmarillion" more than a dozen times, and I've never gotten tired of them. There's always something new to appreciate.

2. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

"The Silmarillion" was published after Tolkien passed away; it was his unfinished magnum opus. His son Christopher was tasked with putting together his father's notes, and, while "The Silmarillion" lacks some of the style Tolkien infused into "The Lord of the Rings (LOTR)", it's no less powerful. "The Silmarillion" provides the mythology and the background of "LOTR", and comes off as something similar, but not quite, to Edith Hamilton's "Mythology". The scope of "The Silmarillion" is much greater than "LOTR", and each chapter, had Tolkien but the time to write, could actually be an epic tale in its own right. As fruitless as the quest of the Noldor to retrieve the Silmarils from Morgoth was, it does not make their deeds, and the deeds of their human allies, any less great. Like "LOTR", I always go back to "The Silmarillion", and I always find it a fascinating read.

3. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

Both the book and the movie are powerful in their own right, but the book has the meat of the material. It's in the book wherein one finds out why the Archdeacon spoke in that funny way of his ("Mawwidge. Mawwidge is what bwings uhs tohgethah tohday!"). It's in the book that one finds out how Wesley became the Dread Pirate Roberts, and why Inigo Montoya searched for the six-fingered man, and why Fezzik couldn't defeat Wesley. The fact that this was a book within a book made the reading all the more enjoyable.

4. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

This book, along with Lost Horizon by James Hilton, the Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, comprises the tetralogy of classics that almost every student of Mr. Onofre Pagsanghan knows; Lowry's "The Giver" is a more recent addition to his line-up. Of the four, "The Little Prince", despite it being the simplest read, has the most life-lessons to impart. From the various persons on the other asteroids, to the conversations with the fox, Mr. Pagsi hammered the life-lessons into our heads, and there they have stayed, to infect our very being.

5. The Giver by Lois Lowry

For regular Ateneo students since the mid-90s, the book that they seem to remember well is Lowry's "The Giver", a young adult book about a dystopic future. Before Lowry came out with the other books that continued the story, students would analyze what the cryptic ending meant; some even wound up emailing Lowry about it. Of course, now, with "Gathering Blue", "Messenger", and "Son" in print, we know now what happened to Jonas and Gabriel. For me, it has been a pleasure going over the story year after year with my students.

6. Dragonflight  by Anne McCaffrey

On further reflection, this actually should have been Dragonsinger, which was the very first McCaffrey book I read, but Dragonflight is no less precious, as it helps introduce to me the world of Pern, with its idyllic pastoral setting, and the constant danger of Thread, and the dragons which burned it out of the sky. The desperation of a Weyrleader facing Thread for the first time in a long time, and the bravery of his Weyrwoman, was a compelling read, and still is.

7. Feet of Clay by Terry Prachett

While "Small Gods" and "Eric" were my first introductions to Prachett's Discworld, it was "Feet of Clay" which introduced me to the Night Watch of Ankh-Morpork, by far my most favorite part of the Discworld. It was "Feet of Clay" which compelled me to continue my journey into the Discworld, and I have not been disappointed, for the most part.

8. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett

For many, it's Gaiman who's more recognizable to readers than Prachett, but their collaboration, about the end of the world, was an enjoyable read from start to finish. Those familiar with both writers can probably pick out which part was written by whom. I'm betting, though, that Death is probably not the Goth girl.

9. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing  by Judy Blume

While my general love of young adult literature came a lot later, Judy Blume's books stood out because they didn't sugar-coat the world, and faced young adolescent's problems head-on. This, of course, made her books some of the most challenged ones in U.S. libraries and schools. Still, Blume dealt with youngsters and adolescents frankly, and that's probably why I enjoyed her books immensely.

10. The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander

The younger generation can have their "Harry Potter". For me, the definitive "young man growing up" series was Alexander's Prydain Chronicles, of which the main protagonist was Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper. From "The Book of Three" to "The Black Cauldron" to "The Castle of Llyr" to "Taran Wanderer" to "The High King", we see Taran start out from being a brash youth to becoming a wiser, more mature adult. "Taran Wanderer", in particular, seems to be Alexander's take on "The Little Prince", as Taran journeys from land to land in Prydain, and meets the people of Prydain, and takes in their own insights on life. It's an enjoyable read, from start to finish.


As I mentioned at the start of the list, this will probably be just the first of a number of lists I'll be posting from time to time, about stuff that I love, and, hopefully, stuff, the readers will come to love as well.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Be Back After the Break

It's been a hectic week in school, which explains the absence of any posts. Also, I've been battling what appears to be the flu for the past three days, so my nights have been spent recuperating in bed rather than putting together my thoughts for the blog.

It's a pity, since there's been a lot of fodder for writing, from the escape of the U.N. peacekeepers, to the tremendous effort of the Gilas Pilipinas basketball team, to the corruption of the possible future President, to the brutality of Ray Rice, to the horrendous traffic in Metro Manila, to the passing of Joan Rivers. I'm hoping that, once I get in gear once more, I'll still be able to write about at least two of these issues, but, first, I've got to get well.

This is just a placeholder post to let people know that I'm still around, and will be back after the break.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Requiems

It'll be a few requiems for today, as the past few days saw a number of celebrities pass away.

Stan Goldberg

StanGoldberg11.15.08ByLuigiNovi1.jpg
Image from Wikipedia
When I was a kid, one of the comics I was into was Archie Comics. I loved following Archie's adventures and misadventures, whether as a teenager or as Little Archie.

While the late Dan DeCarlo was my default Archie Comics favorite, Stan Goldberg was no slouch either, drawing the American teenager and his friends from Riverdale for more than 40 years. Along with DeCarlo, Goldberg's interpretation of Archie would be the iconic ones, the images most remembered by readers.

Aside from drawing Archie, Goldberg is also best known for his coloring work for Marvel and DC comics; it was Goldberg who helped Marvel creators such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko develop the color designs for Spider-Man and the Hulk, among others.

Goldberg passed away last Sunday. He was 82.


Mark Gil

Image from Showbiznest
While I don't watch many Filipino films (mea culpa), I do remember watching "Batch '81" many years ago. It was a powerful and violent film, about the activities of a fraternity. Among its co-stars was a young Mark Gil, who played the role of Sid Lucero.

Gil, whose real name is Raphael Joseph de Mesa Eigenmann, would go on to be a mainstay of Philippine TV and film, essaying role after role after role.

Gil is also known for being part of the influential Eigenmann clan, which includes Cherie Gil (sister), Michael de Mesa (brother), Andi Eigenmann (daughter) and Sid Lucero (son Timothy, who took his father's screen persona in "Batch '81" as his screen name).

Sadly, Gil died yesterday from liver cancer, which he had been quietly battling for two years. He was 52.






Jimi Jamison

While I was growing up in the 80s, the movie "The Karate Kid" came out. Starring Ralph Macchio and the late Pat Morita, "The Karate Kid" was a growing up movie, wherein the main character learned how to stand up to his tormentors.

Image from Examiner
Part of what made the movie good was the soundtrack, which was headed by the band Survivor's "The Moment of Truth", an anthem for discovering one's inner strength. The song was stirring and inspiring, and, for a young judoka such as myself at the time, it was a song which taught me to rise up and do the best I could.

Survivor would be known for other stirring anthems, such as the Rocky movies' "The Eye of the Tiger" and "Burning Heart". During the 80s, Survivor would also come out with the rock love song "The Search is Over" which was a top 40s hit.
 
The lead singer for Survivor for many of these songs was Jimi Jamison, who was both the frontman and the songwriter for the band.

Jamison died last Sunday of a heart attack. He was 63.

Kurt Bachmann

One of the icons of Philippine basketball, Kurt Bachmann was part of the 1956 NCAA La Salle championship team, and represented the country in 1959 (FIBA World Championship) and in 1960 (Rome Olympics). He is also the father of former La Salle player and current Alaska team manager Dickie Bachmann.

Kurt Bachmann died last Friday of a lingering illness. He was 78.

Image from Facebook, via ABS-CBN



Monday, August 25, 2014

Quick Shots: A Look at the News

As I've said, time and time again, one of the difficulties in writing about the news is that one must be prepared to write as the news develops. When a news story becomes stale, it's difficult to write about, since few will care about it.

When I can, I may write about these news stories in more detail, but, for now, I'll just be satisfied with being able to do quick commentary on them.

Filipino ISIS Members?

Davao City Rodrigo Duterte, who has been in the news lately, and not for good reasons, has stirred the pot once again, and stated recently that the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has recruited Davao residents. While the reports are, as of yet, unverified, what makes the news troubling is Duterte's take on the issue. According to the news report, Duterte "does not condemn the decision of those who joined ISIS as long as it would not wreak havoc in the country."

Considering that ISIS has been condemned for its brutal and atrocious acts, which include beheading of children and crucifixion of non-believers, Duterte should be more judicious with his comments. Then again, having gotten a comedian declared persona non grata for an inappropriate joke, and defending his police chief who was videoed hitting his wife, Duterte seems to be oblivious about what's right and wrong anymore.

Of course, there's the off-chance that the outspoken Davao City mayor was simply misquoted, although, given his record, I doubt it.

Pacquiao a PBA Player

In a move that was both unsurprising and unsettling, boxer and Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao officially became a Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) player, having been picked 11th by KIA Motors in the recently concluded PBA rookie draft. Rep. Pacquiao will also assume the coaching duties for the expansion team.

I guess KIA officials were afraid some other team would draft Pacquiao, although why an established PBA team would want a 35-year old, 5'6" rookie guard is beyond me. It's clear that KIA is going for celebrity drawing power, rather than building a competent team; for good measure, Manny's cousin Rene was also drafted by KIA.

It's also possible that KIA is hoping to build a fan base first, which may then attract good players to be part of the team in the future. Only time will tell whether it's a good move or not.

At the same time, expect that, because of this, Pacquiao will be undisputed as the most absentee congressman, a title he has held for some time now.


No-El? No Way!

The LP, seeing VP Binay's coming ascendancy, has been unable to find a suitable candidate to face him; Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, the LP's nominal flag-bearer and one of those moving for the President's reelection, becomes more and more insignificant as the days pass. The apparent lack of a viable candidate against the Vice-President in the upcoming 2016 presidential elections, explains the Party's current moves to float the idea of having President Noynoy Aquino run for re-election.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda did not help matters when it appeared that he hinted that elections may not happen in 2016; in a press conference, he was quoted as saying, "“Let’s wait for the endorsement of the President kung sino ang kanyang kandidato sa 2016 kung sakaling itutuloy (boldface mine) ang 2016 elections." "Kung," of course, in Filipino, means "if," which caused a lot of furor. Later, another spokesperson, Abigail Valte, tried to absolve Lacierda, and said that he was not that well-versed in Filipino, an ironic statement, considering that it's the month of our national language. At any rate, Lacierda's gaffe has strengthened suspicions that a possible fix is on for the 2016 elections.

Now, the President will be forced to take attention away from the more important matters such as governing the country and fighting corruption and poverty, in order to address this issue. The anti-Aquino crowd, having finally found a rallying cry for their cause, will dig in, and make it more difficult for the President to govern and push whatever initiatives he may still have in the last two years of his presidency. Even if, for the most part, the anti-Aquino crowd is all noise and little else, it is still a significant chunk of Philippine society, which the President cannot ignore, especially with his popularity ratings dropping.

Because of this distraction, necessary legislation and reforms, such as the freedom of information bill, might not prosper. It would be nice if the anti-Aquino crowd would propose viable alternative solutions, but much of its protest just focuses on the ouster of Aquino.

The moves to extend President Aquino's rule will also turn off a good number of his supporters, myself included. We've seen how a President can abuse his power just by staying in power, and there is no way that I will support term extensions. It's not as if this administration has been able to rule as competently as it should; therefore, why give it a chance to extend its rule?

That being said, I still support President Aquino, despite all of the missteps and the incompetency of his subordinates, mainly because I agree with his moves to reform the government, and I don't see anyone who is capable of continuing the crusade of reform. It's highly likely that, should the VP gain the presidency, he will undo the reforms that President Aquino has installed, especially since those reforms have hit the VP's allies hard.

At the same time, I do not recommend any move to change the Constitution in order to perpetuate those in power. Let's not kid ourselves: any move to allow the President to run again will have a trickle effect on other elective positions. A move to change the Charter to allow President Aquino's running will allow the political dynasties to strengthen their stranglehold on Philippine politics.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Musings on the Jardeleza Appointment

The appointment of Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza to the Supreme Court has raised concerns that may make this appointment the equivalent of former President Arroyo's appointment of Renato Corona as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

First of all, Jardeleza was originally excluded from the shortlist prepared by the Judiciary and Bar Council (JBC), the body which vets nominees for the courts. This was done apparently because of the opposition of Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno, the issue being Jardeleza's "integrity."

The basis for this, according to Rappler, is Jardeleza's supposed mishandling of the memorandum of the Philippines to the United Nations regarding our claim to islands in the West Philippine Sea, which is being bulldozed by China. Jardeleza allegedly deleted the portion of the memorandum referring to Itu Aba, the largest island in the Spratly chain of islands, which is claimed by Taiwan. According to the Rappler report, the deletion would have been "a 'colossal mistake' undermining the country’s legal claim and territorial integrity."

It was Justice Secretary Leila De Lima who intervened and had the deleted portion restored to the memorandum, but it was that deletion that called Jardeleza's integrity into question by Chief Justice Sereno.

Because of this exclusion, Jardeleza sued the government, and asked the Supreme Court to intervene and restore his name to the JBC shortlist; Jardeleza did garner 4 out of the 6 JBC votes, which would have necessitated his inclusion in the list, if it weren't for Sereno's objection and invocation of rule 10, section 2. The section requires a unanimous vote if the nominee's integrity was placed in question.

Jardeleza's assertion was that he was not given due process, and was unable to respond to Sereno's objection. The Supreme Court apparently agreed with him, voting 7-4 to restore his name to the shortlist.

As it turned out, Jardeleza was the President's preference, and, on the last day of the 90-day required time limit, the President named the Solicitor General as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

The reaction of some of the President's critics was predictable, with the militant Left slamming the decision, and questioning the independence of Justice Jardeleza. Like Corona before him, Jardeleza faces a tough road in proving that he can act independently of the President's desires. The first acid test will be the deliberation on the motion of reconsideration over the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which Justice Jardeleza defended as Solicitor General. It is expected that the newly-minted Justice will inhibit himself from the deliberations.

It really remains to be seen as to how Justice Jardeleza will decide in cases involving the government. As it is, the other Aquino appointees have demonstrated some independence from Malacanang in their decisions, a far cry from the perception that those appointed by Arroyo were more subservient. Like everything that happens in this country, vigilance is called for, in order to make sure that those in power hew to the straight road.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Remembering Ninoy

I was in Grade 7 when Sen. Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino was assassinated on August 21, 1983. Back then, the significance of the event passed me by, but I remember how my parents were galvanized into action by the event. Because of the Aquino assassination, my parents made it a point for me to be more aware of the political realities around me.

When one reads and rereads the story of Ninoy Aquino, one is struck by the transformation in the man. Before he was arrested in martial law, he had appeared to be like any other traditional politician, with a gift for gab. After having spent seven years in prison, he emerged a changed man, having been stripped of all of the amenities and privileges we take for granted. Instead of thinking of himself, he came out of prison with a renewed concern about his fellow Filipinos groaning under the burden of martial law.

There must be something positively transformative about prison; the late Nelson Mandela also underwent a similar change after he was jailed, albeit for a much longer period than Aquino. Like Mandela, Aquino demonstrated a great love for his country, so much so that, even though he was undoubtedly safe in exile in the U.S., he made the fateful decision to go back to his country. Even if he knew that it would lead to his possible arrest or even death, Aquino risked coming back to confront the dictator and lead the fight in bringing him down.

As we know, Senator Aquino never lived to set foot on his homeland; felled by the assassin's bullet, his body hit the tarmac of the Manila International Airport, bereft of life. However, his death, his sacrifice helped spark off the series of movements and protests that eventually led to the dictator's ouster.

On this, the 31st anniversary of his death, we remember this great man, whose supreme sacrifice led to our people's freedom. Thank you, Ninoy, for reminding us that corruption and tyranny must always be fought, no matter the cost. It is something that we, as a people, always have to be conscious of, else another dictator rises.

Image from ABS-CBN

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

To Joke Or Not To Joke

Before this week, I'd not known that the Filipino term for shrimp is used to connote something derogatory.

Now, thanks to Dutertes of Davao City and the Davao City Council, I do.

Over the weekend, Last Saturday, comedian Ramon Bautista got himself into hot water when, while appearing at a show in Davao City, he said, "Ang daming hipon dito sa Davao!" He then proceeded to encourage the audience to chant "Hipon!"

As it turned out, "hipon" is Filipino slang for a woman who has a sexy body, and a not-so-pretty face. It's a rather crass joke, but Bautista apologized for using the term later that night, after being reprimanded by Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte.

Apparently, that was not enough for the Davao City Council, which declared Bautista as "persona non grata", a declaration that appears to be more symbolic than enforceable, although, given the fact that Davao City is controlled by the Dutertes, Bautista should probably stay away from the City.

A number of netizens have found the Council's declaration as excessive. I agree. It's not as if Bautista was unrepentant for his actions; he has apologized again and again over it. I would be more understanding if Bautista had ignored his gaffe, and acted arrogantly about it.

While inappropriate, Bautista's joke still falls under the aegis of the freedom of expression, an aegis the City Council has ignored.

The Mayor's daughter Sara Duterte took to social media to air her outrage, and, having said that the city councilors are her friends, went on to call for Bautista's ban from the city, after, of course, in classic Duterte style, cursing Bautista for his joke. What a wonderful show of power by the Dutertes.

It should be recalled that Sara Duterte, when she was Mayor of the City, was videotaped assaulting a court sheriff who was implementing a legal court order. While the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo found her at fault for her actions, I don't recall any sanctions being levied against her. She was even unrepentant about her actions, and threatened the local judiciary that she would cut off their budget if they would cite her in contempt of court.

It should be noted that Bautista has repeatedly apologized for his inappropriate joke; it should also be noted that Sara Duterte has never apologized for her assault on a court official.

The Council action, of which the Dutertes have conveniently washed their hands, saying that it is the decision of the Council, not theirs, is a demonstration of the type of leadership the Dutertes will bring if they take their act to the national level.

On one hand, one may argue that, should Rodrigo Duterte be persuaded to run for a higher office, he could be the Lee Kwan Yew the country needs to shape up and become greater. It is true that he and his family have not enriched themselves, and have built up Davao City to be a model city, albeit one founded on fear. It's very possible that, given a higher office, Rodrigo Duterte could clean up corruption more effectively than his ally, President Noynoy Aquino. Just don't ask where the bodies will be buried.

Of course, the flip side is that Duterte could very well be the next Marcos should he rise to higher office. The adage of absolute power corrupting absolutely is applicable to Duterte, since criminals in Davao seem to rarely make it to court, and find themselves summarily executed. Should Duterte gain the presidency, it's anybody's guess how he will act, and what he will do with all that power.

Monday, August 18, 2014

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

It's interesting looking at the social media, and seeing what issue is trending. 

Among the politically-minded in the Philippines, the current issue is Charter Change, as President Noynoy Aquino has indicated that he was interested in it, particularly for allowing a second term, and setting limits to the powers of the Supreme Court. 

Even those of us who have supported the President over past controversies (the Disbursement Acceleration Program, or DAP, in particular) are dismayed by this. The first reason, getting a second term, has been a touchy issue insofar as Charter Change is concerned, because it has always been seen as a self-serving move. 

It's touchier now because of the President's lineage. President Aquino's parents, the late Sen. Ninoy Aquino and the late President Cory Aquino, helped spearhead the fight against the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who perpetuated himself in power for more than twenty years, and, now, here's the Aquinos' son indicating that he is interested in extending his term. 

While the President has made some significant gains in the fight against corruption, he has also made a number of missteps, for which he has been roasted by his critics. By indicating even an interest in term extension, the President may wind up setting back all of the reforms he has put into place, and will find it difficult moving forward as he approaches the end of his term. If he does not step away from this precipice, he will most likely find himself wasting valuable political capital on this issue, instead of using it to strengthen reforms in government. If he does not back off from the issue of Charter Change, he risks throwing away the legacy his parents have put in place.

The second reason, clipping the Supreme Court's powers, is even more insidious. Admittedly, the President must be feeling ticked off with some of the Supreme Court's decisions, such as the unanimous one on the DAP. Still, it is no excuse for going after the Court hammer and tongs, with his allies in Congress itching to take down the Court over its Judiciary Development Fund (JDF), which, the allies claim, is supposed to be the 'pork barrel' of the Court. Some have even gone as far as to threaten impeachment, not an empty claim, since the ruling party undoubtedly has the numbers to push it. 

However, the Supreme Court is the last resort of those who are in need of legal succor. The Supreme Court is part of the check-and-balance system of government; it has to be free to rule on issues, in order to check the excesses of the other two arms of government (executive and legislative). By suggesting to clip the Court's powers, the President gives credence to those who accuse him of wanting to control all of the arms of government. 

Granted, the Supreme Court has stumbled at times (the del Castillo plagiarism case and the allowing of the midnight appointment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona come to mind.), but, by and large, the Court has served as a bulwark against government corruption. It is to the President's credit that his appointees have proven to be more independent-minded than expected; it is proof of the even-handedness of the President's appointing powers. The DAP decision, for example, was unanimous, and, for its independence, the President wants to reward the Court by emasculating it? Say it ain't so.

The other dangerous effect of the President's move for Charter Change is that it will wind up alienating those who supported him through thick and thin. I know it's a small sample, but, having talked to my co-teachers who are Aquino supporters, we are unanimously against the move to extend his term. The lessons of martial law still burn bright in our hearts, and we do not want to see another possible dictator rise to power.

From the looks of it, the move for term extension via Charter Change may stem, in part, from the inability of the Liberal Party (LP) to promote its main candidate for 2016, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who has not distinguished himself as a potential successor to Aquino. Based on the surveys, Vice-President Jejomar Binay is firmly in the lead for 2016, and perhaps the LP controllers feel that only an Aquino run will prevent that. Well, the LP had better let go of that notion, because people are likely to revolt if they press the issue.

There's a part of me hoping that this is a mere trial balloon, to test public sentiment on the issue. Hopefully, the reaction is enough to stop the President and his merry men from embarking on a ruinous course for our country. If not, we had better be ready to fight another potential dictator.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Oh Captain, My Captain!

Image from grandes personages

One of Robin Williams' iconic roles is that of the teacher Mr. Keating in "Dead Poets Society." In the movie, Mr. Keating teaches more than the everyday academic lessons; he taught his students how to live. 

In the movie, he teaches his students the poem "Oh Captain, My Captain," Walt Whitman's lament for the assassinated U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. With Robin Williams' passing today, and the manner by which he died, the poem is even more linked with Williams.

I thought I would post the poem below, since it captures my feelings about Williams. I shall miss him.

O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! My Captain! rise up and hear the bells;Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

Requiem for a Master Actor and Comedian

The Genie from "Aladdin"

Popeye

Adrian Cronauer ("Good Morning, Vietnam")

Parry ("The Fisher King")

Peter Pan ("Hook")

Sean Maguire ("Good Will Hunting")

Patch Adams

Mrs. Doubtfire

Mr. Keating ("Dead Poets Society")

Mork from Ork

I can't imagine what my life would have been like without Robin Williams. Over the years, he has portrayed an amazing array of characters, all of them larger than life. I have a knack for memorizing lines, and there's probably a huge chunk in my head that's reserved for Robin Williams' quotes.

Some of the more memorable:

  • "Goooood morning, Vietnam! This is not a test; this is rock 'n roll! Time to rock it from the delta to the DMZ!" ("Good Morning, Vietnam")
  • "Phone call from God. If it had been collect, that would have been daring." ("Dead Poets Society")
  • "Well, Ali Baba had his forty thieves, Scherazade had a thousand tales, but, master, you're in luck, 'cause up your sleeve, you've got a brand of magic that never fails!" ("Aladdin")

And his comedy, oh, his comedy was sharp, biting, and hilariously funny. I remember buying a cassette tape (yes, that long ago) of one of his performances on Broadway, and I probably wore out that tape listening to it over and over and over.

Image by Dolores Freeman on Fanpop
I also remember his spiel on one of the "Comic Relief" shows, which was put up by Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg, to help the homeless. During the spiel, Williams gave a uproarious rendition of what he called porn using Shakespearean actors:

"Now, let me part you like the Red Sea and drive you to China!
Behold, your golden orbs! I shall mount you like Kilimanjaro!
Now let my mighty steed rush forth from its stable of joy!
Now, cry, 'By God and King Henry!'"

There are many memories I have of Williams' performances, but that one was one of my personal favorites.

Robin Williams was a genius, but, apparently, that genius had a dark side.

It came as a shock this morning to learn that Robin Williams had died, apparently due to suicide. Apparently, he had been battling depression, although I'm not sure what might have caused it. I do remember that, back in the 70s and 80s, Williams was heavily into drugs, but, he managed to beat the habit. I guess there are demons and there are demons; I don't know what demons were driving him, but, I hope and pray that, with his passing, he is finally at peace with himself.

Requiescat in pace, Robin Williams. Thank you for all the memories. You shall be missed.

Image from The Guardian (2009)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Impeachment Blues

The purpose of impeachment in the Philippine setting is to remove national officials who have committed grave offenses, such as, among others, culpable violation of the Constitution, graft and corruption, and betrayal of public trust.

According to Article XI, section 2 of the Philippine Constitution, the following may be removed via impeachment: the President, the Vice-President, members of the Supreme Court, members of Constitutional Commissions (such as the Commission on Elections), and the Ombudsman.

So far, in our history, there have been two impeachment trials: the trial of former President and convicted plunderer Joseph Estrada, which was aborted by EDSA 2, and the trial of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, which led to his removal from office. There was also the attempted impeachment of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, which did not materialize because Gutierrez opted to resign rather than face the impeachment court.

It should be understood, though, that impeachment is a serious process, and something that should be resorted to at the drop of the hat, such as what is happening now, with two possible looming impeachments, that of President Noynoy Aquino, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno. Let's take a look at each impeachment.

President Aquino's impeachment complaints are being driven by two things: the Supreme Court's having declared the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as partially unconstitutional , and the government's Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States government. Both are considered as betrayal of public trust, and the DAP is considered to be an example of culpable violation of the Constitution.

The main drivers behind the impeachment complaints are the leftist party-list representatives under the Makabayan bloc, whose most vocal proponents appear to be Rep. Terry Ridon (Kabataan) and Rep. Neri Colmenares (Bayan Muna).  Based on Reps. Ridon and Colmenares's statements, the DAP constitutes a culpable violation of the Constitution on the strength of the Supreme Court's decision; "culpable," in this instance, means that the violation of the Constitution was deliberate and wrongful.

Of course, therein lies the question of impeachment. Did President Aquino and Budget Secretary Abad willfully violate the Constitution when they implemented the DAP? Through the presidential spokespersons, the two have asserted that the DAP was done in good faith, and such has been supported by a number of columnists and businessmen.

Unfortunately, two of the most senior Associate Justices, Antonio Carpio, and Arturo Brion, have cast doubt on this stand. Justice Carpio noted that it was surprising that Congress allowed the DAP, considering that DAP, according to Carpio, "castrates the power of the purse of Congress." Brion, on the other hand, scored Abad, saying, "As a lawyer and with at least 12 years of experience behind him as a congressmen who was even the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, it is inconceivable that he (Abad) did not know the illegality or unconstitutionality that tainted his brainchild."

Of course, these are just opinions of the two Justices, but the militant party-listers have latched on to them as gospel truth, and this is what is fueling their impeachment moves.

It'll be an uphill climb, since the President currently controls  Congress. At least a third of Congress must sign an impeachment complaint in order to convene the Senate's impeachment court, so, unless the minority has the numbers to sign the complaint, it's highly unlikely that the impeachment complaint will prosper.

As for Chief Justice Sereno, several lawmakers, including those who were involved in the prosecution of former Chief Justice Corona, are threatening impeachment over what they perceive to be the Supreme Court's intransigence in not explaining the Court's use of the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF), a source of court employees' allowances. Representatives Rodolfo Farinas (Ilocos Norte) and Niel Tupas (Iloilo), two members of the House prosecution team during the Corona impeachment trial, have taken the Chief Justice to task for not appearing in the House Justice Committee hearing on the JDF.

If there is a smidgen of possibility in the Aquino impeachment, there is even less reason in impeaching Sereno. The lady Chief Justice has shown that, despite her being appointed by President Aquino, she is capable of independent thought, and has decided against the Aquino government in a number of cases, particularly that of the DAP.

The House threat seems more a means to get the Supreme Court to bow to its will, rather than an actual serious case against the Court. It's also clear that the House initiative to impeach is based on the removal of its pork barrel funds by the Court, a retaliatory punishment for having taken away the representatives' play money.

The two impeachment complaints demonstrate how impeachment can be cheapened as a tool to intimidate and coerce officials. Impeachment is a serious business, and the leftists and other House representatives have no valid reason to threaten impeachment at this point in time. At this point in time, I would rather they spend time doing what they're supposed to do, which is to craft laws to benefit our countrymen.

Around the World: A Quick Look

While we go about our daily lives, around the world, things aren't as routine. Here's a rundown of the various hot spots:

1. Ebola outbreak

Thanks to the movies and other media, people have a very graphic reminder of what the Ebola virus can do to a human body. In West Africa, the threat is very real, as Ebola has broken out in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, causing hundreds and hundreds of deaths. As it is, even Americans have been infected by it, as two missionaries have been airlifted home to the U.S. to be treated there; I can imagine that the security surrounding that operation must be airtight. (What to know about Ebola.)

Because of our globalized context, it is now much easier for viruses such as Ebola to spread, even more so since the initial symptoms of Ebola aren't that noticeable as Ebola. At this point, even the Philippines is at risk, as there are around 3,000 to 5,000 Filipinos working in the three African nations, and there are Filipino peacekeepers in Liberia. Hopefully, our local and national health officials are on the ball on this crisis, as I can't imagine an Ebola outbreak here in our country.

2. Israel-Gaza conflict

The Israel-Gaza conflict is entering its fourth week, with little indication of any resolution. The conflict, which started over the abduction-killing of three Jewish teenagers, has now claimed the lives of around 1,875 people, most of whom are civilians.

While Hamas, the terrorist group suspected of the teenagers' murders, has fired numerous rockets indiscriminately into Israel, Israel has been no less destructive, given the fact that most of the casualties in this latest conflict are civilians. It is not clear that it will face severe sanctions because of this, as its main ally, the U.S., seems reluctant to condemn Israel for its actions.

It's also not clear as to how this conflict will end, since both sides are unwilling to make any concessions. This means that the bombings, as well as the deaths, are likely to escalate as the conflict continues.

3. ISIS depredations

The links to images on social media are gruesome and horrifying: the bodies of decapitated children, crucified bodies, and bloodied corpses. Such as the depredations of the terrorist group known as ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), Sunni Muslims who are intolerant of any other religious groups, particularly Shia Muslims and Christians.

Currently, ISIS is operating in Northern Iraq, and appears to be bent on eradicating the Yazidi, which are, according to a CNN news report, "an ancient religious sect, that worship an angel figure held by many Muslims to be the devil." Around 50,000 Yazidi remain trapped on the Sinjar Mountains, with deaths occurring due to dehydration and exposure. Kurdish forces have managed to create a corridor of escape, but it is by no means secure, something for international forces to consider should they decide to come in and assist.

The U.S. has begun airstrikes on ISIS targets, in order to contain the activities of the group, although it's also unclear as to how this crisis will be resolved.

As with the Israel-Gaza conflict, children are the helpless victims of this horror.

While these are events happening far away from us, they are still events to be concerned about, to learn from, so that we can prepare for or even prevent these situations from happening in our country.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

UAAP 77: A Quick Look

It's been a while since I've managed to watch a UAAP basketball game from start to finish, but it's nice that I've been able to catch the last quarter of several games this season 77.

The first round ends on Wednesday, with the Ateneo Blue Eagles leading the pack, with a 6-1 card, the one loss coming at the hands of the NU Bulldogs. After the loss to the Bulldogs, the Blue Eagles then went on a three-game winning streak. However, it should be noted that each win was very close, with the last one, against UE, coming from behind a 21-point deficit to win it in overtime, 93-91.

Leading the Blue Eagles in the UE win was King Eagle Kiefer Ravena, who scored a career-high 38 points to seal the win. Von Pessumal and Chris Newsome scored 19 and 18 points, respectively, to help support Ravena.

One of the dangerous factors is the seeming reliance Ateneo has on Kiefer Ravena, who has played his heart out in each of the Blue Eagles' wins. In the lone loss to NU, Ravena was held to just 13 points, and barely got a point in the second half, a tribute to the Bulldog's gutsy defense. It's apparent that the other players have to step up, or else risk burning out Kiefer before Ateneo reaches the Final Four. 

In other developments, the UP Fighting Maroons finally broke a 27-game losing streak yesterday, with a 77-64 win over the hapless Adamson Soaring Falcons. As promised, there was a bonfire last night at the UP Sunken Garden to celebrate the win. As a UP alumnus, I am happy that UP finally won, but, at the same time, I wish there was some way to make the team more competitive and more of a threat in the UAAP men's basketball scene.

The FEU Tamaraws have a chance to create a logjam at second place, alongside NU and La Salle, by winning against Adamson this Wednesday, which, given the Falcons' showing so far, should be a lock. UST and UE will go up against each other, with both teams fighting for a favorable position going into the second round of eliminations.

However, it's clear that, after missing the playoffs completely last year, due in large part to Kiefer Ravena's absence because of injury, Ateneo is back in the championship hunt, and, going into the second round, is the team to beat. 

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Whoops! Tiglao Does It Again

It would be nice if Manila Times columnist Rigoberto Tiglao would stop twisting facts in order to push his anti-Aquino agenda.

In his latest column, he takes the President to task for having said in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July that the Aquino administration had built over 12,000 kilometers of road, which, Tiglao estimates, "could stretch from Manila to Los Angeles." Tiglao then points to a part of Aquino's SONA where the President supposedly said,
“Hanep po talaga: …(N)aipagawa (ng DPWH) na kalsada mula nang maupo tayo, umabot na sa 12,184 kilometro. (boldface mine)  Nung nakita ko po itong numerong ‘to, napag-isip rin ako: Paano ko ba maipapaliwanag ‘yung labindalawang libo? Sabi po sa atin: katumbas ito ng apat na kalsadang nag-uugnay sa Laoag hanggang Zamboanga City. National roads lang po ito; wala pa rito ang mga local farm-to-market roads o tourism roads.”
The rest of Tiglao's column is devoted to ranting and raving about the President's supposed lies, about how the President's staff is misleading him, and how inept this President is.

Of course, it takes a sharp reader (Raymart Anthony Hernaez) to comment how Tiglao seems to have dropped a portion of the President's SONA, and points out that, in the official Presidential website, the text of the SONA reads
Hanep po talaga: Kasabay ng mga natipid ng DPWH, ang nailatag, napapaayos, napalawak, o (boldface mine again) naipagawa nilang kalsada mula nang maupo tayo, umabot na sa 12,184 kilometro.  Nung nakita ko po itong numerong ‘to, napag-isip rin ako: Paano ko ba maipapaliwanag ‘yung labindalawang libo? Sabi po sa atin: katumbas ito ng apat na kalsadang nag-uugnay sa Laoag hanggang Zamboanga City. National roads lang po ito; wala pa rito ang mga local farm-to-market roads o tourism roads. 
"Nailatag, napapaayos," and "napalawak" translate into "laid out, fixed," and "widened."

Hernaez goes on to point out that the 12,000 km of roads includes those that were laid out, fixed, or widened, and wonders why Tiglao seems to have dropped that part of the SONA.

While Hernaez is polite and hopes that Tiglao was as misinformed as he claimed Aquino was, given Tiglao's checkered past in his columns about Aquino, I sincerely doubt it. With this latest column, Tiglao simply reminds me that he has no credibility, nor does he have the moral high ground to criticize the current administration.