Published on July 1, 2014.
In the eighth chapter of “Noli Me Tangere,” we see balikbayan Crisostomo Ibarra ride through “Manila’s busiest suburb” in a carriage. The drive turns into a trip down memory lane: “All the noise, movement, even the sun itself, a particular odor, the motley colors, awakened in his memory a world of sleeping remembrances.” (This and other passages from the novel are from the Soledad Locsin translation.)
The memories are those of his life before he left to study in Europe—until he passes a familiar landmark. “The sight of the botanical garden drove away his gay reminiscences: the devil of comparisons placed him before the botanical gardens of Europe, in the countries where much effort and much gold are needed to make a leaf bloom or a bud open; and even more, to those of the colonies, rich and well-tended, and all open to the public. Ibarra removed his gaze, looked right, and there saw old Manila, still surrounded by its walls and moats, like an anemic young woman in a dress from her grandmother’s best times.”
The sight of the landmark prompts more remembering, then, but of an outsider’s life in the cities of Europe and (“even more”) of a traveler’s passage through colonies like Singapore. The expatriate had returned, and found his country wanting. Continue reading
On police theater, reenactment drama–and the uses of YouTube. Published on February 5, 2013.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas’ initiative to ban the presentation of suspects without their consent has largely gone unremarked. I happen to think, however, that it is a genuine advance in civil liberties, and may even help improve police performance.
To be sure, it is long overdue; the police practice of presenting suspects in a public setting, with members of the media usually standing in for the public, started many decades ago. Pushing the ban through must have taken considerable political will: There is no groundswell of popular support for the change, and the country’s police culture sees the tradition not only as unproblematic, but indeed as a necessary marking of a procedural milestone.
Published on April 5, 2011.
IT IS 75 days to Jose Rizal’s 150th birth anniversary, and I thought I’d mark the date by reading FHM magazine—the February 2011 issue of the Philippine edition, to be exact, with Misa Campo on the cover and a great tease of a sub-headline: “Jose Rizal was pro-Spain—and 12 other historical facts you must know.” Continue reading
In which I criticize one beloved icon and source of Rizal studies. Published on October 19, 2010.
I apologize for writing, yet again, about Rizal. The feedback I got from last week’s column on Padre Damaso and the rape of Pia Alba persuades me that the Philippines remains incomprehensible without reference to the national hero. (To be sure, I am writing a book on Rizal, and the very act of writing makes me susceptible to just the sort of feedback I got last week!) Continue reading
After Carlos Celdran pulled off his cinematic Damaso protest on the altar steps of the Manila Cathedral, opinion writers (myself included) joined the fray. Published on October 12, 2010.
Two columns in the wake of Carlos Celdran’s Damaso protest got me thinking about the vexing relationship between Maria Clara’s mother and Padre Damaso, and about the meaning of Damaso himself. On reflection, I must say it was the historian Ambeth Ocampo who got it wrong, and the anthropologist Michael Tan who got it right. Continue reading
Published on June
16 23, 2009. The occasion was also a book launch, but since I had not yet read the book (the groundbreaking Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion), I thought I’d defer comment.
Question: Are (most) Muslims in the Philippines Shia or Sunni? I do not recall this distinction ever being used or considered necessary in any news report about Muslims in the Philippines, before September 11 or even after it. Question: Is “Among Ed” Panlilio, governor of Pampanga, a priest-on-leave? The term—a label created by journalism’s driving rage for simplification—creates the perception that he is temporarily suspended from the Catholic priesthood. Question: Is Brother Mike Velarde’s massive El Shaddai Movement a Catholic or a charismatic renewal group?
These and similar questions would be second nature to a wonderful website I’ve been reading the last several years, if it ever got around to pounding what it calls the GodBeat in the Philippines. GetReligion (at, naturally enough, getreligion.org) is a website dedicated to tracking the “ghosts” of religion in news stories. Often this means taking news organizations to task for misunderstanding stories about religion; many times this means pushing for greater coverage of the way religion shapes the news.
The site gets its name from something CNN political analyst Bill Schneider once said: “The press … just doesn’t get religion.” But I would think the phrase finds additional resonance in the older formulation of “finding” or “discovering” religion. GetReligion is a group blog, and what a group it is. But one blogger stands out: Terry Mattingly, or tmatt as he is more popularly known, is GetReligion’s daily avenging angel. (He may be familiar to some of us as the writer behind the widely syndicated “On Religion” column of the Scripps Howard News Service.)
Published on June 16, 2009. A modest tribute to a school that turned 150 years old two days before the column came out. Contrary to the view of some of my more assertive readers, however, I did not criticize the erasure of “el Ateneo” from the Penguin edition merely because I was, I am, an Atenean. Give me a little more credit than that.
In the Penguin Classics edition of “Noli Me Tangere” (2006), translator Harold Augenbraum renders the title of the seventh chapter, “Idilio en una azotea,” as “Idyll on a terrace.” I think I can understand why; the meaning of “azotea” would still be transparent to a Filipino reader today, but to the international audience of Penguin-reading English readers, it would be opaque. “Terrace,” on the other hand, falls trippingly off the tongue.
But something else is lost too, when Juan Crisostomo Ibarra and Maria Clara de los Santos meet for the first time since the young gentleman’s return from seven years of study in Europe. In the famous balcony scene (“balcony,” in fact, is how Leon Ma. Guerrero, translator of the popular 1961 edition of the “Noli,” renders “azotea”), the two lovers exchange gigabytes of information without saying a word, through what Augenbraum, a Latino expert in the United States and the executive director of the National Book Foundation, describes as “the language of their eyes.” But they also talk, both teasingly and in earnest.
At one point, Maria Clara responds to Ibarra’s effusive declaration (“Could I ever forget you?”) with a modest recollection (“Unlike you, I haven’t traveled.”) She then says: “We were still children; your mother would take us to swim in that creek in the shade of the sugarcane. So many flowers and plants grew on the banks, and you would recite their names to me in Latin and Castilian, since you had already begun your studies at the athenaeum.” Continue reading
Some kind soul uploaded the original, Berlin edition to Scribd.
Published on December 18, 2007
A couple of days after the poll group Pulse Asia released additional results of its October 2007 “Ulat ng Bayan” survey, I rang up Ana Maria Tabunda, its executive director. She confirmed my initial guess that the three questions on “corruption-related issues” (as she described them in the cover letter to the second release) were “riders” — that is, additional questions proposed by survey subscribers. (The use of the term, if I am not mistaken, is borrowed from legislative practice.)
The use of riders is standard, of course, as even those in Malacañang who now deny the very possibility of science (a denial Randy David warned us about last Saturday), would have to agree. Riders help make opinion polling a little more cost-effective; at the same time, because the main survey is completely its responsibility, Pulse Asia can claim, as it does, that it “undertakes Ulat ng Bayan surveys on its own without any party singularly commissioning the research effort.”
But even riders are subjected to the same strict standards of survey design and analysis. Dr. Tabunda was emphatic on this point. The questions from ex-senator and regular survey subscriber Serge Osmeña could not be included in their original form, she said. It was only after Osmeña signed off on Pulse Asia’s revised version that the questions (available online, as footnotes in the tables of findings) were included in the October poll. As I hope all reporters learn in their first few months on the job, there is a science even in the phrasing of questions.