Thursday, August 27, 2009

How Thick Must a Philippine President’s Skin Be?

To go about her duties as the highest leader of the Republic of the Philippines, it is essential for the President of the Philippines to have layers of security personnel around her to shield her from physical attacks. A threat to her life is a subsequent breach of security to the Philippines. Such a position earned her a large group of political allies, but at the same time a number of foes whose self-restraint may not be adequate to stop them from translating their grievances against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo into physical aggression.
But what if the attacks are non- physical?

With the successive blows by media against PGMA’s controversial Le Cirque dinner, an army fought a relatively long verbal battle in the frontier. In my previous blog I call them Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Damage Control Team, in the persons of Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, legal adviser Atty. Romy Macalintal,Presidential Spokesperson Lorelie Fajardo, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita ...., to name a few I have identified. The weapon they used that struck my funny bone most was Atty. Makalintal’s “tu quo que”.

Despite this “populated” defense team, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was vulnerable to the attacks and media this time commented on her being onion-skinned despite being in the public office for several years already. Media people reasoned that taking a seat in public office, the highest seat at that (not necessarily because she is short and needs a high chair) she must be accountable to the people she sits in front of. And true enough, the verbal bullet landed on target. Arroyo’s camp promised that there will be no more Le Cirque dinners and a smaller contingent will be joining her when she goes back to New York in September. The outer crust must have crumbled.

Or perhaps she must have heeded the suggestion of Ralph Pena, artistic director, Ma-Yi Theater Company, New York, to moisturize. When asked to define or explain delicadeza by the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug. 23, 2009), he said, “Delicadeza is about moisturizing daily. When you moisturize daily, you lessen the chances of developing thick, calloused skin. This can have several benefits: a) Pick qualified National Artists, b) Say “no” to Bacchanalian excesses abroad, since most of the people you are supposed to lead are living below the poverty line, c) Excuse yourself from being considered for awards when there is clear conflict of interest, d) Make you think twice, thrice, and even four times before taking credit for illustrations you did not do. That is why moisturizing daily can help instill more delicadeza.”

But the silkiness of the Philippine President’s skin had been gauged many times already, not just recently. And many times we had seen it to be thick, hard, and scaly. Probably, it has been her best defense against all the non-physical attacks, or perhaps just second to her complex networks of political allies.
So, to those who want to be President, this advice plus one more:
1) If you want something done, do it hard, do it well.
2) Don’t pussyfoot. Just do it.
3) Don’t say bad words in public.
4) Moisturize. (NEW)
5) Otherwise, develop a crocodile skin. (OLD, TRIED AND TESTED)

The most “superior” specie of the land, she being the highest leader of the Philippines, is a tiny curiosity recently under relentless microscopic scrutiny with media as the microscope by her critics, the opposition, the militant groups and the general public which includes you and me. Media may be following and magnifying her actions because that is what sells. But what if media just let her be? How will the public learn how such intriguing organism function and affect our lives? We look into the microscope not just because we are curious, but also because her actions affect us and the entire nation. So to the President of the Philippines today and in 2010, do not be surprised or feign onion-skinned if media and the public get under your skin.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Manalo Fails to Make It To the Top 15 Miss Universe Finalists

RP bet fails to make Miss Universe Top 15 finalists
08/24/2009 | 09:58 AM
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Pamela Bianca Manalo, the Philippines’ bet to the prestigious Miss Universe 2009 beauty pageant, did not make it to the Top 15 finalists vying for the highly-coveted crown.

The Philippines last won a Miss Universe title in 1973 with Margie Moran, a long drought which Manalo failed to break.

This year’s top 15 finalists include the contestants from the following countries: United States, Puerto Rico, Iceland, Albania, Czech Republic, Belgium, Dominican Republic, Sweden, Kosovo, Australia, France, Switzerland, South Africa, Croatia, and Venezuela.

The pageant is being held in the Bahamas in the South American region.

A winner will be crowned by reigning Miss Universe Dayana Mendoza of Venezuela.

The Associated Press reported that some 2,700 tickets had been sold by late Saturday out of the 3,100 available, according to tourism officials.

The televised event includes musical performances by Flo Rida, Heidi Montag, David Guetta and Kelly Rowland. Judges include actor Dean Cain and supermodel Valeria Mazza.

Manalo, a 22-year-old native of Manila, is an advertising graduate of the Assumption College who now works as a flight attendant.

She is the sister of Katherine Anne Manalo, a Top 10 finalist in the Miss World pageant in 2002. Bianca Manalo is also the niece of Nini Ramos-Licaros, who was a Miss International semi-finalist in 1968. - with reports from AP, GMANews.TV

It is disappointing to listen to Billy Bush and Claudia Jordan announce the last of the Miss Universe contestants who made it to the list of the 15 finalists and not hearing the name of Miss Bianca Manalo announced. Despite not making it to the Miss Universe Top 15 finalists, Manalo remains composed and gracious in accepting defeat. For many Filipinos, especially those who had witnessed the Miss Universe pageant in the Bahamas, she reamains our Miss Universe because after all, she is the country's reigning Bb. Pilipinas-Universe.

Indeed, beauty is subjective. In this year's Miss Universe pageant, the judges tend to prefer the Caucasian beauty except for Miss Dominican Republic. Not a single Asian placed in the Top 15 slots. However, the Miss Congeniality and Miss Photogenic bagged by Miss China and Miss Thailand, respectively, were sort of consolation to the hopeful wanna-be's.

Well, there's always next year.

Bianca Manalo and Miss Universe

Friday, August 14, 2009

"Look Who's Talking?"

They were not as lethal as Professor Snape’s “Avada Kedavra” or Sectumsempra but his defensive words sparked a vague memory of some foreign sounding phrases I learned in my Philosophy I class:

“Argumentum Ad Hominem!” and “Tu Quo Que!”

I am no expert to carelessly use such Harry Potter wizardry-sounding terms especially since my Philosophy professor’s cigarette puffs somehow clouded my learning of this cerebral subject. This is Atty. Romy Macalintal’s turf, but it came as a shock to me when he verbally pivoted the accusing finger to the media naming the networks’ (specifying ABS CBN as an example) acceptance of premature political campaign ads as also immoral vis-a-vis the controversial $20,000 Le Cirque dinner of Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with her entourage amidst former Pres. Cory Aquino’s death and the widespread poverty in the country. And reminiscent of a “Philo” Identification Test, while watching Punto por Punto of Anthony Taverna, I subconsciously tagged Macalintal’s argument as this kind of fallacy.

To validate my subconscious thought, I sought the virtual memory of the internet and borrowed the

definition of About.com of such Latin terms:

· Argumentum Ad Homineman argument based on the failings of an adversary rather than on the merits of the case; a logical fallacy that involves a personal attack.

· Tu Quo Que - A type of ad hominem argument in which a person turns a charge back on his or her accuser: a logical fallacy; Latin phrase that literally means “you too” or in today’s parlance, “Look Who’s Talking!”

Quoting him through the report of ANC’s Karen Caringal (Aug 13, 2009), Atty. Macalintal delivered his tu quo que in Tagalog,

Kayo rin taga media companies, hindi ba yung moral issue is also involved dahil kung alam ninyo na yan ay mali, kung alam nyo na yan ay indirectly campaigning, kung alam na ninyo na yan pala ay imoral, bakit nyo inaadvertise? Why accept their advertisement? Hindi ba bahagi rin kayo ng pagiging immoral? (You in media companies, isn't it also a moral issue if you know it's wrong, if you know it's a form of indirect campaigning, if you already know it is immoral, then why advertise? Why accept the advertisement? Doesn't that also make you immoral?),"

Notice his first two words. Are they not somehow the Tagalog translation of “you too” or in Latin, tu quo que?

While GMA may now be wishing that to get out of this dinner controversy is as easy as spitting out what she and her entourage had luxuriously swallowed, (or simply let her damage control team do the explaining until the public appetite for details about it dies down) Atty. Macalintal may now be wishing that he can simply swallow back what he has spat out during Taverna’s phone interview. That is, if he realizes as a lawyer, that his argument to defend the morality in question behind the Le Cirque dinner of the highest-ranking official of the land with her entourage despite poverty in the Philippines: by attacking the ethics of media in accepting premature campaign ads, can be summarized in four childish words, “Look who’s talking.” Is this a sign that the Arroyo camp is running out of arguments?

Whether media is indeed unethical in gaining from the ads of the political aspirants or not (this is another topic worth discussing), the main issue here still lingers while their camp continues to dodge the clamour for transparency, and the question that still begs to be asked is: Was the S20,000-Le Cirque dinner of GMA with entourage consumed in “good taste”?

And there is more seasoning for the good lawyer to eat back what he had said. By questioning the ethics of the networks, he was also unintentionally questioning at the same time the ethics of the politicians with the ads, many of whom are from the Arroyo camp, using government funds in advertising themselves in the guise of promoting the government agency they head. It is funny how temper can roast you in your own heat.

It is one thing to judge a person’s morality; it is another to pass on verdict to a public institution’s ethical behaviour. And the Presidency is an institution that requires great ethics and propriety, a very powerful position that entails tremendous helpings of accountability to the people who entrusted her this power. An accountability which when paired with transparency can save her from such sizzling public query and scrutiny with media in the lead. Why can she not just lay out the facts in black and white if indeed she sees nothing wrong with the dinner?

What has happened to a Filipino trait they used to inculcate in our minds as students – delicadeza or the sense of propriety? It is now as alien-sounding as the curses in Rowling’s books, worse, this generation may be more familiar with these curses than the Spanish equivalent of the word propriety which this nation badly needs.

An interesting blog (http://vaes9.codedgraphic.com/posts/the_deal_with_delicadeza) about delicadeza by Eugene Alvin Villar pointed out ways of mitigating conflicts of interest:

In times when delicadeza might not be appropriate or too drastic to apply in a particular situation, there are a few other means, listed below, that can be used to help reduce the negative effects of conflicts of interest.

· Disclosure. Disclosure is probably the most popular means of mitigating conflicts of interest. By self-disclosing that you have a conflict on interest in a process you participate in, you submit yourself to the court of public opinion (or at least the stakeholders) to judge whether your actions were fair or not.

· Transparency. This is related to disclosure in that you are revealing to the public something but instead of, or in addition to, revealing to the public your conflicts of interest, you make the whole process transparent so that the public can judge for themselves whether it was conducted fairly or not.

· Third-party audit or oversight. In certain processes where expertise is needed such as in finances, conducting an audit by a third party or having an oversight committee would be a good, though expensive, way to mitigate the effects of conflicts of interest. In this method, you subject the process to independent expertise to provide an objective or authoritative proof that, despite your conflict of interest, the process was fair. You might say that this method is a very specialized case of transparency.

With the action to be taken now by our lawmakers of reviewing the use of the Presidential budget, I believe they are now implementing the third way of mitigating such conflict of interest.

If faultlessness is the qualification to be able to assess the conduct of our public officials or institutions, what will happen to check and balance since nobody is perfect, not even Tita Cory? If no one is moral enough to have the privilege to comment on what our public officials are doing, then do we just let them be and let our nation become amoral because no Filipino is moral enough to bring to our attention the things we suspect as immoral?

Another point about our morality or ethics as a nation which seemed to be put askew after the accusing finger has been pivoted is: who bears the cross of moral leadership, especially now that former Pres. Cory Aquino is gone? Should media be the forerunner of morality in the country superseding the highest leader of the land in modelling the conduct of good ethics? Is it not supposedly the 180 degrees scenario? While media plays a very vital role in our nation’s morality, but still who should we supposedly look up to (even if she is not that tall enough)?

A third matter that disturbed me about our grasp of morality is the defense of Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility Board of Trustee Vergel Santos for the morality behind acceptance of media to air premature political campaign ads. He was confusing unethical and immoral with the term illegal? Is our society this numb to ethics and morality already that we easily get mixed up? (from ANC’s Top Stories)

These confusions are but symptoms of a near-fatal social disease - moral decay. What we badly need is a moral leader.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said that the media is just making a big issue out of the Le Cirque dinner. For me, there is no need for media to enlarge it because the issue in itself is already huge involving: a relatively big amount of money, the person with the biggest share of power in the land, big dinner party in a restaurant where big names dine in the Big Apple, with a big delegation, while one of the biggest mourning in the country was taking place.

A big question in ethics begs to be answered. And certainly not with a lame childish defense of “Tu Quo Que” or ”Look who’s talking!”

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Rebirth of a Filipino

Pres. Cory Aquino, Mother of Philippine Democracy, image by Desktop Inspirations

I once was a Filipino. But stricken with the only communicable form of cancer - social cancer - I breathed my last Filipino breath, while coming to blows with the malignant disease’s complications of moral decay, shame, apathy and cynicism. From then on I breathed in alien gasps that allowed me to subsist in the miasma that dominates Philippine air.

But President Cory Aquino’s death days ago gave birth to my being a Filipino once more. As I witnessed a Pinoy proud moment on TV, swathed in goose bumps, I cried in affirmation to myself that I am a Filipino and I love my country, like a newborn bathed in amniotic fluid, crying to announce to the world that he or she is alive. I am proud to be a Filipino once more. While grieving her death, many professed to have deemed her to be their mother. Perhaps they are Filipinos reborn too.

A couple of decades ago, when I was young and unscathed by the thorns of reality, the death of her husband, martyred Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr., sired, while she labored and gave birth to a once dying nation. As a widow, she single-handedly mothered several prodigal sons and daughters, but the ever selfless mother that she was, she continued to love, forgive and protect them.

Now, as we, her children, lose her, it is then that we realize how much she meant to us. She united us as a family, in prayer, and in pacifying factions. She reproved us in our mischief, lived out an exemplary life for us to emulate, and was always ready to suffer and sacrifice her life just to protect us and our democracy. What more could be so motherly?

Like any loving mother who always believes in the best in her brood, she brings out the best in the Filipinos. Back then they called it the EDSA spirit or Cory magic, helping and taking care of one another during the People Power. During the past few days, this same spirit and magic filled the air that once choked my being a Filipino to death. I marvel at the voluntarism and self-discipline of the Filipino people, patiently waiting in an unending queue for their turn to bid their beloved mother goodbye. Nowadays, patience is a trait as endangered a species as the Tamaraw, of a people who bully each other as they maneuver their busy lives in traffic-jammed streets and highways and who bribe their way just to avoid a red tape piled up by bureaucracy in government offices. Mundane, and sometimes petty, but very telling of the moral decay. During this glorious moment, let's skip the mention of grosser symptoms

I did not expect to live the day that I can be proud, even for just a moment, that the Marcoses are Filipinos. But when they braved the uncharted yellow sea of people that encompassed the territory of their clan’s nemesis to sincerely offer their sympathies, and were received by the Aquinos with graciousness that was President Cory’s, boy, it makes me even prouder that I am a Filipino. But then again, a handful of black sheep in the Filipino family would always bleat exasperatingly somewhere, the true color of their wool conspicuously showing. But they are also not worth mentioning here, lest I suffocate in my freshly-recovered Filipino breath.

In her deathbed she bequeathed to us the greatest legacy a national mother could ever give – Democracy, and the noble heritage of her entire moral estate – Love of God, Love of Country, Integrity and Character, Courage, Humility, Moral and Principled Leadership, Sincerity, Simplicity, Undying Faith in God and the Filipino people, and many more unaccounted yet by the family bookkeeper. It is this democracy that we enjoy, sometimes take for granted, and is being threatened today. It is the same blood-stained democracy through which she lost her dear Ninoy, and a legacy she so guarded with her own life. I hope that the past days’ events brightened by Cory’s yellow will not fade into brown oblivion in some hidden dusty family album. May we truly guard and live out the legacy and inheritance President Cory Aquino had given us so that we may truly deserve what the Aquino couple declared: “The Filipinos are worth dying for.”

I once was a sickly alien in the land I mentally deserted. But soothed by a mother’s love and afflicted with a very contagious outbreak of nationalism, I exhaled my last alien gasp and panted for that Filipino breath to breathe in the Philippine air sweetly scented by a yellow stargazer that is subduing the stench of the nation's socio-political and cultural pollution. And so I breathe again as a Filipino...

Filipinos, please help in resuscitating the Philippines.