Published on July 21, 2015.
THE LAST two columns—a consideration of the returning Filipino’s frustration that the Philippines is “being left behind,” followed by a discussion of the “deadly” Filipino habits that help explain why—lead us to the necessary question: What can we do about it? The several hundred comments on both Disqus and Facebook (I have tried to read every single one) have mostly been thoughtful if pained responses: elaborations of the argument, illustrations from personal experience. Continue reading
Published on July 14, 2015.
THE HUNDREDS of comments in response to last week’s column, on “The misery of the Filipino,” were largely empathetic; many shared the same deep sense of possibility and the same sense of sharp frustration. The response inspires me to take the next step and ask the unavoidable question: What are we doing wrong?
A Malaysian academic swears some of the best medical doctors in Singapore are Filipino. (I think some of the best bankers, too.) A Thai media executive investing in digital believes, or rather simply assumes, that his regional website should be developed by “creative” Filipinos. A famous New York City-based newspaper designer describes a Filipino colleague as “the best art director in the world.” I know a Filipino manager who is the consultant of choice of one large American enterprise doing business in different parts of Africa. Many of us can offer our own examples of Filipinos doing excellent work abroad.
The pattern of excellence can assume large-scale form, on the level of entire countries or industries. Indonesian companies have Filipino corporate executives working at the highest levels. Some of the world’s best universities have Filipino students at the top of their class or doing pioneering research work. Filipino architects have helped shape the skyline in Brunei; Filipino engineers have helped tame the deserts of the Middle East; Filipino mariners have helped define the modern maritime industry.
And yet, back home, this pattern of excellence is difficult to find. The continuing MRT fiasco and the unresolved scandal of the Mindanao blackouts are defining failures of the Aquino administration, but the cause of the “misery of the Filipino” I wrote about—“the unhappiness of a citizen seeing her country being left behind”—is not merely political, goes beyond the lifespan of single administrations. The endemic corruption, the absence of “gleaming infrastructure” to match those of neighboring countries, even the lack of discipline at traffic intersections or indeed on any road where jeepneys and tricycles can load or unload passengers anywhere, at any time: These and similar conditions of life in these islands go way back, some right past Rizal’s generation. Continue reading
Published on July 7, 2015.
TRAVEL BROADENS the mind; for the Filipino tourist or scholar or worker abroad, it must also deepen the misery of being Filipino. Do not get me wrong; Filipinos are a famously happy people, with an extraordinary capacity for both work and play. I can also attest, from my own happy experience, to the resurgence in patriotic pride since the late 1980s.
Whether it was the People Power revolution in 1986 which electrified the world, or the 1991 Southeast Asian Games we hosted and nearly won, or the decade and a half of uninterrupted economic growth since 2001; whether it is the worldwide fame of a boxing all-time great, or the phenomenal rise of a completely new industry in business process outsourcing, or the determined challenge against an expansionist superpower in the West Philippine Sea, or the continuing celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of a heroic generation—I share the sense that many Filipinos are proud of their country, with an uncomplicated sense of pride. It is a pride different in degree from the identity-anxious nationalism of the 1960s, different in kind from the sham Filipinism promoted by a dictatorial regime in the 1970s.
At least that is my sense: There is today a greater clarity about our place in the sun. Continue reading
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
The last column I wrote in 2011, before I left for a year-long fellowship with the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. The feedback–to the subject of the column, not to my departure (or so I think!)–was overwhelming. Published on August 9, 2011.
The scene was surreal: the old cheat was visibly moved by the resignation of the young cheat, and praised the young man’s moral courage and sense of dignity. Apparently, there really is honor among election thieves.
For those of us with a long memory, Juan Ponce Enrile is the unlikely but altogether fitting benchmark for Juan Miguel Zubiri’s act of resignation. Even though Enrile did not lose the first dagdag-bawas case filed against him by Koko Pimentel’s father, involving allegations of cheating in the 1995 elections, Enrile did own up to massive election fraud—in 1986, during the heady four days of the Edsa revolution, when circumstance and strategic candor made him admit that he had cheated for Ferdinand Marcos in the snap election.
That made his reluctance to accept Zubiri’s resignation both an acute reflection of Philippine realpolitik, and an apt reminder of the many times our country has lost its way. Continue reading
This piece on the hostage-taking tragedy in Luneta was published on August 31, 2010.
Imagine, for a moment, that criticism of media coverage of the Aug. 23 tragedy extended to the whereabouts of network CEOs on that fateful day. In reflecting on the work of the ABS-CBN news organization, for instance, people would then demand to know, “Where the hell was Gabby Lopez?” And however Lopez (or Felipe Gozon of GMA, or Manny Pangilinan of TV5) would choose to answer, perhaps by talking about operational responsibility, or the division of labor that allows a news and entertainment enterprise to do its work, or the daily reality of editorial independence, the answer would always come across as so much defensive posturing.
This absurd, where-is-the-network-CEO scenario is, of course, meant to provoke reflection on the assumption, held by many Filipinos, that President Benigno Aquino III should have been “present” (either physically or through sheer force of character) during the developing crisis. Both Conrad de Quiros and Jarius Bondoc have already answered in the negative. I share their view, but I am more interested in the fact that it was a common assumption. Common, but still erroneous. Continue reading
The epilogue of John Schumacher SJ’s Revolutionary Clergy begins with a summary of four “certain stereotypes”, or partial views, or (if understood ideologically) outright myths of the Revolution that in my view is a marvel of lucidity and precision. Immediately after the summing-up, he hastens to clarify that “all of them contain some greater or lesser portions of the whole picture of the Revolution” (and all ignore, to a greater or lesser extent, the role of the Filipino clergy as “an essential element” of that same Revolution).
I thought it might be worth our while to run those four paragraphs (from Schumacher 1981: 267-268) here, as a reminder, in Schumacher’s words, of “the one Revolution and the many revolutions.” Continue reading
Published on June 8, 2010. I forgot to include in my short list in the first paragraph one unexpected encounter with a Pacquiao fan: In Hong Kong, a Sri Lankan war reporter asked me: So, do you know Manny Pacquiao? When I told him that as a matter of fact I had covered a training camp of his in Los Angeles, his eyes lit up, and he started talking, in fascinating detail, of Pacman’s most recent fights.
On business trips in recent weeks, I got a first-hand look at the worldwide fame of Manny Pacquiao. Whether it is a banker in Hong Kong or an airline employee in Jakarta or a taxi driver in Singapore, Pacman is now “top of mind,” when talk comes round to the Philippines.
It was in the last encounter, with a pleasantly loquacious cab driver on the (relatively) long drive to Nanyang Technological University [in Singapore] last Friday, that I began to see a pattern—and an idea began to seize me. Continue reading
Published on June 1, 2010. When this came out, a colleague of mine in the newsroom said to me: “Marunong ka palang magalit.”
The pompous Pastor “Boy” Saycon presumes to teach me a lesson about unbiased sourcing, but all he really wants to say is, when it comes to the Noy-Bi operation and his participation in it, every source is biased—except for him and those who share his view. Thankfully, he has written a demonstrably erroneous letter; we can profit from his errors by parsing it. Continue reading
Published on May 25, 2010.
I FOUND THE MAY 20 column of colleague and friend Conrad de Quiros most instructive. (I have been reading Conrad for over 20 years; I still get a kick, now that I can refer to him as both colleague and friend, each time I do so.) His column of May 20 sought to straighten me out on the rifts that have started to appear on the surface of the Noynoy Aquino campaign. On some points, I stand happily corrected.
His explanation is illuminating, in large part because of the perspective from which it was written. He has provided an up-close-and-personal view whose authoritativeness is unmistakable. My sourcing, on the other hand, is strictly secondary; I was never at the key meetings or most of the events. My sourcing, too, is a work in progress; I am still gathering all the necessary facts. But I do have many sources inside the Noynoy camp, and they come from more than one side. And they include volunteers bewildered by the turn of events, including the sudden emergence, from within the campaign, of the Jojo-Binay-for-vice-president option (Noy-Bi, in current political shorthand). Continue reading
Published on May 18, 2010.
The iconic Conrado de Quiros and the redoubtable Billy Esposo, two columnists I look up to and who have never been less than generous with me, have written recent columns that strike me as more partisan than necessary, or indeed as intended. On the junking of Mar Roxas, Noynoy Aquino’s running mate, Conrad has written much the more nuanced analysis; Billy’s defense of this political maneuver is ruder and rawer, and thus harder to digest. But I hope I am not mistaken in taking their columns (the second part of Conrad’s is in today’s edition) as all of a piece.
I trust they will forgive my temerity. Continue reading
On the same day this column came out, Agence France Presse ran the following story. I got my copy through the ABS-CBN news website, which ran the story under the head: “Internet fuels RP election smear campaigns.”
MANILA, Philippines – Philippine politics has plunged to ugly lows ahead of next month’s presidential election as candidates take advantage of the Internet and mobile phones to smear their rivals, analysts say.
Among the worst examples, front runner Benigno Aquino has had to deal with a hoax psychiatric report claiming he is mentally ill and took drugs, while his main opponent, Manny Villar, has been accused of lying about his dead brother. Continue reading
Published on April 13, 2010.
It was a real privilege to serve as a resource person at a roundtable conference organized by the National Academy of Science and Technology last week. I hope to set aside some space sometime soon to discuss the provocative insights of eminent economist Emmanuel de Dios, the other guest speaker; for now, allow me to acknowledge the stimulating company of National Scientists Gelia Castillo, Mercedes Concepcion and Teodulo Topacio Jr., as well as (ceteris paribus!) of Deans De Dios and Raul Fabella of the UP School of Economics. Continue reading
Published on March 23, 2010. After this came out in the newspaper, a friend asked me online: Are you still friends with Caloy (Conde, the NYT’s Philippine correspondent)? My answer, then as now, almost four months later, is the same: Why ever not? We both believe in robust public discourse.
My apologies, in advance. The column title above is a shameless attempt at a rhetorical stunt: to show a form of the so-called media filter at work.
Headlines, you see, are an information-compression device. A headline packs an entire story, or more, into a few words. But who was it who said that to summarize was to betray? Sometimes a headline, or a column or a report, or even an entire series, can betray the truth itself, by giving a distorted picture of the subject of the coverage or commentary. A reader who has time to read only today’s column title may likely end up with a distorted picture of the column’s thesis or of the column itself. Continue reading
The second of three “inside-their-head” profiles of presidential candidates, after Villar. Published on March 16, 2010.
I understand that Cathy Yang has left Bloomberg; a great pity. I thought she was one of the best business anchors on air, not because she was one of our own, but because she was the sort of deeply competent but self-effacing journalist the on-air reporting of business news requires. She wasn’t cast in the Betty Liu mold: flick your hair every few seconds, insinuate your personality into the interview, and so on. Maybe that was the problem, at least in the eyes of Bloomberg executives. Well, they need new glasses.
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In response to my critique, Tatad wrote a lengthy letter explaining his attack on surveys of the SWS and Pulse Asia kind. My counter-reply. Published on March 9, 2010.
Ex-Senator Kit Tatad wants an “intelligent debate” on the uses of surveys. I am happy to oblige.
In reply to my Feb. 23 column mocking his new-found anxiety over the perfidy of political pollsters, he wrote me a lengthy letter; I am reprinting it below, albeit with some editing in (missing commas, etc.) and some editing out (three less-important paragraphs, etc., to give me space, about 1,500 characters worth, for my response). But I have refrained from inserting my answers into his letter, reserving them for the end. Continue reading
Published on March 2, 2010. As it turned out, core support for Manny Villar proved to be much weaker than I thought. And Erap himself turned out to be “the Erap of 2010.”
The January 2010 Pulse Asia survey tells me the fates of Senators Manny Villar and Noynoy Aquino are intertwined. Of the 10 presidential candidates, only the two of them have majority trust ratings. Randy David has already written about the meaning of this survey, or at least the trust ratings part of it (this is also the survey which found the two leading candidates in a statistical tie). But a poll is a snapshot of public opinion at a certain moment in time; it is defined by its limits. Allow me to draw some necessarily limited tactical lessons from the survey’s numbers on trust. Continue reading
Published on February 23, 2010.
Former Sen. Francisco Tatad is shocked —shocked!—that surveys in the Philippines, the same ones that show him lagging behind in the Senate race, are, in his words, “fatally flawed.” He told a media forum last week: “We are shocked that survey methodologies, techniques and practices that have failed and been completely discarded in the United States and other advanced countries are being used in local opinion surveys without any mention of their limitations.”
His attack came as a surprise to journalists and other survey-users who have made it a habit to read the Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia websites when new surveys are released. But Tatad did not mean just margins of error and confidence levels. He meant something even more fundamental: the practice of face-to-face interviews. Continue reading
After almost five months of inactivity (!), allow me to resume “blogging” (I have to put that in quotes) by first uploading the missing columns. There was none for February 9, on account of the first Inquirer presidential debate. The following piece was published on February 16, 2010.
Following in the self-critical steps of Amando Doronila, who gave the Inquirer presidential debate a negative review, allow me to criticize the contributed commentary of the controversial marketing executive Winston Marbella, which appeared on Monday’s front page. In the first place, an analyst ready to judge “the Internet and social networking sites” as the “technological weapons of choice” in the 2010 presidential election ought to leave some kind of trail online. Google his name and the name of the think tank he founded, however, and you get—links to Monday’s contributed commentary! Continue reading
Last November, the Japan-based correspondent of Le Monde, Philippe Mesmer, spent several days in the Philippines researching Ondoy/Pepeng stories. Because of something he thought I wrote, his host set up a meeting with me; I also invited him to an Inquirer Briefing on the great flood.
Last week, he sent me copies of the two stories Le Monde published. They are in French, and because my scanty knowledge of Romance languages can only take me so far (in other words, all nuance escapes me), I have had to “read” them in Google translations.
But in case a French reader happens to drop by (in the wooly world of the Internet, one never knows), I thought it might be an interesting exercise to re-publish (with Philippe’s permission) at least one of the stories here. (With links to the online translations.)
Dans les bidonvilles de Manille, où six millions de pauvres survivent Continue reading
Published on December 29, 2009.
AT LEAST TWICE A YEAR, I SEIZE THE CHANCE to write about Rizal. As an opinion writer, I have long since come to the conclusion that the Philippines is incomprehensible without reference to the patriot and polymath. I have also belatedly come to realize, in the last two years or so, that Rizal is indispensable to an understanding of the modern democratic project.
One quick example: the classic arguments for a free press are derived from American constitutional history. But I have only lately come to appreciate the difference in Rizal’s own home-grown arguments (and those of Del Pilar too) for freedom of the press.
It is vital, then, to save Rizal both from the “veneration without understanding” that Renato Constantino warned us against a long time ago, and the “understanding without relevance” (to coin a phrase) that alienates younger generations.
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Published on December 1, 2009.
“Impunity” will not do. It does not translate well. It seems to me we need a better word to reflect, to evoke, the brazenness, the sheer shamelessness, the “kawalanghiyaan,” of the flagrant abuses committed, perpetrated, indulged in, by those who consider themselves untouchable.
I mean, does “culture of impunity” really capture the scale of the atrocity in the Ampatuan, Maguindanao, massacre? Continue reading
Published on November 3, 2009.
In the run-up to the 2010 elections, I hope to write in-depth pieces on the leading candidates, paying particular attention to their electoral strategies. I have already begun conducting one-on-one interviews. I will supplement these with the usual tools: tracking the candidates on the campaign trail, conducting background research on their campaign staff and organization and, well, just plain hanging around. Continue reading
Published October 6, 2009.
Distance magnifies everything, or so we have often heard. We may have used this principle ourselves. The disproportion, for instance, between life as it is lived on the “great island” of Mindanao and as it is perceived through the prism of TV news in “imperial Manila” or the mirror of newspaper pages in foreign capitals can be attributed to sheer distance.
Distance magnifies (to choose only one example) the kidnappings the Abu Sayyaf perpetrates, until the entire island (larger, according to Wikipedia, than the territory of 125 countries) is conflated in public opinion outside Mindanao with the bandit gang. The farther from Mindanao, the tighter the conflation.
In the case of “Ondoy,” however, distance failed to suggest the true scale of devastation. I was out of the country at the time; I feared the worst; and yet my fears did not, could not, imagine the apocalypse that actually came to pass.
Imagination proved unequal to reality.
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Published on September 22, 2009.
As some readers know, Koko Pimentel is a childhood friend. It isn’t mere friendship that leads me to believe Migz Zubiri stole his seat in the Senate, however; the masses of evidence, and history, are on his side. When he is declared the first winner of a Senate election protest in 57 years, after the great Claro M. Recto, I believe the country’s democratic project will receive a necessary, and generous, infusion of hope.
But Koko and I do not always see eye to eye. Koko thinks pardoned plunderer Joseph Estrada can run for president again; I don’t. Recently, in a lively series of posts to an e-mail group we both belong to, he conducted an intriguing experiment. What does the “basic English” of the Constitution say about the possibility of Estrada’s reelection, he asked the group. The main provision from Section 4 of Article VII is by now familiar: “The President shall not be eligible for any reelection.” But he asked the group to consider the entirety of Article VII as well.
He got some arresting answers. Continue reading