Monthly Archives: April 2007

No comfort

Storycomfortap Reading an earlier version of this Associated Press report in the newsroom this afternoon (’s more comprehensive version has pictures and a summary) gave me the chills. Apparently, US occupation troops in Japan used a network of “comfort stations” from September 1945 to at least February or March 1946.

Kudos to AP for breaking 60-year-old news.

Photo from CNN (it shows American servicemen outside one such comfort station in Japan).


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Sego and Sarko

It just so happens that I am still awake, at seven minutes to two in the morning, so I turn to CNN to check on the first round of the French presidential election. Hala Gorani is hosting a special program, and counting down the minutes to 1800 GMT (an hour, I think, after the polls closed) to announce the results.

I think: Okay, I’ll wait up for the results too. It looks like there will be no major surprises, unlike, say, Le Pen’s surge in 2002. So will it be Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal in the second round, as the polls have suggested all along?

Yes: Sarko has 29.6 percent; Sego 25.1 percent.


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The philosopher Father Roque Ferriols once spoke slightingly of the pedagogical value of debates. He wondered aloud (or so I remember; it happened a quarter of a century ago, in a classroom at the Loyola School of Theology) about requiring debaters to defend a position chosen by flipping a coin; how can this method help one find the truth, he asked.

Well, I don’t know about that, but I can think of one more limitation: debates, especially the kind conducted in writing, have the tendency to simplify, well, most everything: the issues, even the arguments.

Consider my latest attempt to engage Manolo in our cult-of-the-market/myth-of-the-state debate. I started out with many good intentions: I wanted to define terms even more tightly, talk about common ground, dispute certain assertions that were made based on a different reading of points I had raised, and so on and so forth. Instead, I ended up merely substantiating my original thesis, that Filipinos are in fact not yet market-oriented enough, with two examples.

Oh, well.

I’m including the post in its entirety here, because the WordPress format Inquirer Current uses seems to be asleep. It is well past midnight.

Oil and water

I’m glad Manolo brought up the example of the Oil Prize Stabilization Fund. With deregulation now in place, the consuming public (a phrase I hated on sight, when I was editing copy in an economics think tank, but which even I must admit has its uses) has learned to contend, or at least to accept, “market forces” at work. Yes, as Manolo pointed out, some subsidies are still part of the mix, but by and large it’s the market that now dictates pump prices in the Philippines.

But does this partial success —- and I think it must be considered a success, because the government no longer needs to run up an enormous bill merely to cushion the public from oil price fluctuations —- mean that the public no longer sees a role for the government in oil price setting?

Last Saturday, I saw the usual man-on-the-street interviews the TV networks run when presenting an economic story; in this instance, the story was about a new increase (an average of 50 centavos) in oil prices. The various people interviewed for their reaction had the usual things to say: a number of them, however, complained that there was no adequate advance notice. The increase took them by surprise, they said; they should have been warned in advance.

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Somewhere on the Asingan detour

Dscf0429_2 We missed the fire trees of Pangasinan, because we took the Asingan detour, but the sight of a hundred sacks of newly dried palay, lining the highway somewhere in Sta. Maria, almost made up for our loss.

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In Baguio, yet again.

At the Cathedral, the “Ama Namin” is still the older Fr. Hontiveros version, more kundiman than pop.

At Pizza Volante, on Session Road, the “carrot salad” is described in the menu as “outrageously healthy and delicious.” It is, too, as this meat eater can attest. (The waiter said the resto is opening a branch somewhere in Makati City, in June.)

At Book Sale in SM, fiction by V.S. Pritchett, for P77, and Mary McCarthy’s memoirs, for P70. Tasty bait; of course I bit.

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Market vs State

Manolo had a really provocative post over in Current, the blog we take turns writing for the Inquirer.  He raised many intriguing points, such as the changing face of the powers-that-be (This is not your grandfather’s elite!), but his main argument was bracing: Too many Filipinos have joined what he calls the Cult of the Market.

As it happens, I happen to think otherwise: Too many Filipinos continue to depend on the State (and, in its absence, on its surrogates in media, but that, as we are learning to say, is another post).

Husbanding my meager ammunition, I decided to concentrate fire on the main argument. Please, if you have time, tell me — tell us — what you think.

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April 3-5 Pulse

I think beat me to it, posting an item on the latest Pulse Asia survey, based on the news release, at 4:23 pm. I had to double-check with Pulse Asia regarding the dates of the survey (there was, as it turns out, a mistake in the release). At any rate, at about half past four, I posted a quick analysis of the latest poll, together with an update of the crude trend chart I put together some time ago, in Inquirer Current. The title ("Joker slips, Sonia soars, Loren pulls away") serves as a rough summing up.


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April 9

Dscf0100_2 As it turns out, the Kilometer 0 marker we were looking for was right at the last junction on the road to the resort, in Bagac town, Bataan. This, we had found out only recently, was one of the two surrender sites of April 9, 1942 (the other was somewhere in Mariveles); it was where the Death March started.

The valiant effort by US and Filipino forces to keep the Japanese Imperial Army at bay (which delayed the invaders by as much as four months, despite the defenders’ lack of preparation and resources) was punctuated by military successes. We found this simple, moving memorial to one such engagement. Dscf0080


We were also struck by the enormous mango trees that lined the road, some of them weighed down by hundreds of mangoes, ripe for the picking. I wonder: Did the peninsula’s famous fruit help feed the Battling Bastards of Bataan? Dscf0091

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Ceres, Patricia, Gilda

The persistent lover as metaphor.


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The myth of the El Shaddai vote

I meant to post this op-ed earlier this week, as prep for a piece I wanted to write about Bro. Mike Velarde’s political clout for Inquirer Current. I wrote it more than six years ago, some time before I joined the Inquirer, so it was published as a contributed Commentary.

Tonight, Velarde will start giving hints about the 18 candidates he intends to support; perhaps this six-year-old thumbsucker may not prove all that outdated.

The myth of the El Shaddai vote


By John Nery

March 4, 2001

THIS much we can say about the political clout of Brother Mike Velarde and the El Shaddai religious movement: At best, it is untested; at worst, it is the political equivalent of faith-healing quackery. It requires an act of self-deception on the part of the alleged beneficiary.

To be sure, Brother Mike can summon huge crowds to assemble. Every Saturday, hundreds of thousands troop to the grounds of the Philippine International Convention Center, in what was once routinely referred to as the “reclaimed area,” to pray with him and listen to him.

A 1996 article in Asiaweek magazine called it right: “No church can contain the El Shaddai congregation. Soon, perhaps, no urban space will either.”

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Remembering Schumacher

Tinkering around with the Philippine election map on was, at least for this unreconstructed political animal, a productive “waste” of time. But I must confess that, in the middle of play, this child of the 1970s was forcefully reminded of an icon of that decade, whose books were must-reads.

E. F. Schumacher began his Guide for the Perplexed with a consideration of the limitations of maps. The first paragraphs had made a deep impression on me, when I first read the Guide in the early 1980s; when the thought came to me, I stopped reading the map and rooted around on the Internet for the prophet of appropriate technology (his most famous book, of course, was Small is Beautiful). I found this introductory chapter of the Guide, which truly left me less perplexed.

It then occurred to me that this was not the first time I had been given a map which failed to show many things I could see right in front of my eyes.


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