Thursday, June 29, 2006

"Tampipi" by BenCab
A part of the National Artist's Larawan series.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Photocopying History

What was the world like the day you were born?

That was the premise behind the piece reproduced below which was submitted to my history class under Ambeth Ocampo.

WHEN I LOOK back to the day I was born 21 years ago, I’m left with a schizophrenic feeling of amusement and concern. Behind the different names and faces in the news, there also lies a reality that is not altogether unfamiliar.

On Wednesday, October 23, 1985, the Bulletin Today reported that President Ferdinand Marcos had signed a Php67 billion national budget. The biggest allocations were given to defense (Php10.5 B), education (Php9.16 B), public works (Php5.6 B), and health (Php3.46 B).

A statement from Corazon Aquino was also released that Wednesday, which announced that she would challenge Marcos in snap elections if there’s a draft with a million signatures for her candidacy.

It was a time when public discontent with government was prevalent; mass action was a natural manifestation of it.

Marcos had approved the Public Assembly Act, which designated “freedom parks” where rallies and demonstrations could take place peacefully. This announcement came in the heels of a violent rally among farmers a couple of days before, which resulted in a death and injuries to many. This event epitomized the restlessness of the times.

Pat H. Gonzalez, Editor-in-Chief of the Bulletin Today at the time, commented about mass action in his editorial. He wrote about how the recent demonstrations in the country have been massive yet peaceful because of “the ability of protest groups and the peace officers to regulate the element of hate.” He called the violence in the rally of a couple days before an “exception.”

Wednesday, October 23, 1985 also marked the killing of Surigao del Sur Governor Gregorio Murillo by a gunman who escaped on motorcycle. Authorities pointed to political rivals and the New People’s Army (NPA) as possible culprits.

On the international front, the United States accused the Russians of hypocrisy because they had broken a previous agreement of not developing anymore new missiles. Russians claimed their new missile was not an entirely new model, rather an improvement of an older model.

It was a time when Apptown’s Appliance Plus was offering a two-gas burner stove for Php3,650, and Php5,200 for a three-gas burner. And they’d throw in a free Cubie AM radio with any purchase.

Metro Motors was offering Php3,000 worth of free accessories with every purchase of the new Nissan Stanza. Fiesta Tours was offering five days and four nights in Boracay for Php2,450, with a “Special Halloween Package” (for those who like to dress up in costume at the beach, I suppose).

Kankunis Herbal Slimming Tea was offering a panacea for fat women (and men), a Filipino doctor claimed to have a cure for AIDS, and the family of Domingo Banzon Paguio, Sr. of Pilar, Bataan was celebrating his first death anniversary (di ko kilala pero ang laki ng obituary box niya).

And finally, in entertainment news, Ramon Revilla, future senator, was starring in Kumander Eber: Kilabot ng Visayas, and Michael J. Fox was promoting his role as Marty McFly in Back to the Future.

Let’s take a cue from Marty and fast-forward back to today.

Prices are different, cars have changed, films have come and gone, and Boracay has become (sadly) a mainstream party place. But the world isn’t that different, neither is our country.

Discontent with dictatorship has reincarnated; snap elections are being called for by certain oppositionists today as well (among numerous efforts to get rid of the current administration).

Mass action is now challenging bad weather as the king of cancellation of classes, while the true peacefulness of such actions can also still be questioned.

The voice of that same widow from ’85 is still being heard, as well as the voice of another widow who has also flexed the Filipino Widow’s power of influence.

Killings related to politics or allegedly to the left have become a headline staple.

And finally, on the international front, are we not witnessing a child of the old Cold War? Russia is no longer as big of a super power threat, but countries such as Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan have recently emerged as new threats to unleash nuclear weapons. And ironically, the nation that has always been cast as the good guys, the United States, has now become, in its own way, today’s Soviet Union.

The cyclical nature of history can be a funny thing. And yet, isn’t history then doing the laughing—laughing at us for repeating a lot of the mistakes we’ve made? I find it hard to believe that our fate is so fixed—that there exists such an esoteric force—that it makes breaking the cycle impossible. But still, if one asks how to stop that sense of inevitability, the proposed answer never appears quite as lucid as the question.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

"Painter and Knitting Model" by Picasso
This was supposedly drawn by the master when he was still a child.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Values 101

ONE OF THE advantages of having lived abroad was being able to attend an international school that was truly international, where the majority of the students weren’t children of prominent locals rather children of expatriates from all corners of the globe.

With teachers also of varying nationalities, Jakarta International School had a level of cultured diplomacy in the way things were run. A diverse student population entailed the grooming of open-minded students who knew how to appreciate, interact, and work with others from different cultures.

Our knowledge of Islamic Culture was not stained by extremists in the news; it came from learning the devout intricacies of the religion after witnessing many of our classmates sitting in the library for lunch during Ramadan.

“US soccer mom” culture was experienced when intramurals took up the weekends.

Yitzak Rabin, Jimmy Carter, and the French Open were introduced to me by my fourth-grade teacher from New Zealand.

Our American music teacher taught us how to play the gamelan and how to sing Javanese hymns.

I was taught the moral dilemma behind a sheep named Dolly, how I contributed to the hole in the ozone, the teachings of Buddhism, and the sounds of Dave Matthews by a middle-aged hippie who was my sixth-grade teacher.

Modules for mathematics and science were American, which isn’t exactly an advantage, but the trade-off was a truly holistic education in an environment where amidst cultural and religious differences, the universality of tolerance, righteousness, and generosity was stressed just as much as triangles, tables, and square-roots.

Humanity and goodness broke the barriers of obvious differences. Learning our roles and functions overshadowed global dysfunction.

Much has been said of the struggles of Philippine Education. Because of bad facilities, underpaid and under-qualified teachers, and a lack of direction and organization, we are statistically underperforming in all major subjects.

As we try to fix these academic problems, perhaps values need to be at the forefront. Educators may argue that values are parental jurisdiction, but how many parents can we truly say exemplify the right values? The sound values of our culture are “enhanced” by less-desirable, more heavily exemplified values of surviving at all cost, settling for lesser-of-evils, and just finding ways (gawa ng paraan), regardless of order and righteousness.

We’re pretty good at our “institutionalized” lessons (such as respecting elders and saying thank you), but there’s much to be learned in the aspect of personal accountability, discipline, abiding law, appreciating rights, and fighting against abuse.

Whether creating a formal Values Subject in the curriculum or incorporating it within the existing subjects, values need a fair share of discussion time. This needs to be emphasized just as much as memorizing formulas, theories, names, and dates.

Primary-level students need to learn accountability for personal actions as simple as throwing away candy wrappers in the gutters. (My parents were never taught cleanliness of public areas, much less complex issues of segregation of trash. Hence, our environmental mess.)

Secondary-level students need to understand the virtues and responsibilities of leadership, and tending to the needs of others. This will allow them to become good leaders in their own way, and it will enable them to fairly judge the performance of the existing leaders they see.

Giving kids the proper values allows them to most effectively use their personal decision-making powers. Regardless of intellect, morally-sound people become empowered to proactively affect positive change simply by making good decisions about things like approaching work, treatment of family, treatment of neighbors, garbage, abiding law, and choosing leaders (things that are now neglected or mishandled).

Politically-speaking, a public school graduate who repeated three science classes is still equal to a private school valedictorian. One dumb vote is still a vote. But it doesn’t take an A in English to identify the best candidate to vote for—one whose intellect is not stained by selfish intent.

Medium term: a morally-sound electorate will result in better leadership (or at least the least damaging).

Long term: a morally-sound citizenship means a nation of order, powered by good-hearted, well-intended, and disciplined people. Only then can we truly tackle our D’s and F’s.

Education is the key to a better future, but we must be reminded of what lessons need to be urgently taught.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Manila's finest, I hope

NEW YORKERS CALL NYPD officers “New York’s finest.” These officers are respected. Respect from Americans comes from their confidence in the officers’ competence and courage.

Personally, I don’t have much confidence in our PNP. Respectfully, I hesitate to call our policemen “Manila’s finest.”

My image of the Filipino police officer is that of what I see in primetime network news where he is seen mocking arrested criminals in precincts.

I think of policemen who are seen hitting certain protestors with their batutas during rallies. Dispersal is dispersal but must we go “Guatanamo” on them?

I think of news footages of PNP officers learning to ride motorcycles in Crame. Many fell off their bikes when going through the obstacle course, making some of their peers too scared to go through with it, while others laugh and result to prayer or machismo group huddles (creating a ring of pot bellies) to psyche themselves up.

I think of the recent bombings supposedly by the enigmatic “Taong Bayan at Kawal” and how the case has no leads. And I think of how the first bombing didn’t prepare the PNP for the succeeding ones.

And I think of high-level officers like NCRPO Police Chief Vidal Querol, who are quicker to respond to television news agencies than to crimes, and who always manage to have press persons with them while they “inspect” the safety of places like the university belt. This screams “politics” rather than “protection.”

I hope the PNP is not as bad as I perceive. If ever there’s a break-in at my house, make no mistake about it, I’ll be calling the police. I just hope that their competence is greater than my confidence.

MV recommends: Another joint

TWO OF MY recent favorites by him were still set in his playground of New York City, but they didn’t revolve around African-American characters and African-American issues. In a sense, Inside Man and 25th Hour are the most mainstream he’s ever been. But still, when the opening credits rolled, the signature line flashed on screen: A Spike Lee Joint.

Inside Man stars Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, and Jodie Foster (can’t go wrong with those three). The story revolves around a hostage situation at a bank. Washington plays a street-smart police negotiator who faces off with an intelligent criminal (Owen) who has deeper motives than money and attention. This criminal has a score to settle on behalf of his once persecuted race. Far more valuable than the millions of dollars is a secret from the past—skeletons from closets long locked by the bank’s principle owner.

Writer Russell Gewirtz gets high marks for his smart, multi-layered script. Owen reaffirms his innate ability to play the smart tough guy with immense depth and sensitivity (like that of his role in Closer). And Washington is still the coolest motherfucker on the silver screen today (high praise considering this role required him to wear a ridiculous looking top hat and occasionally a bow-tie).

This Spike Lee Joint comes off the memory of 25th Hour (Edward Norton), which is a favorite of mine. Even if he’s gone a bit more Hollywood on us, Lee’s success in depicting complex stories with political nuances solidifies him as a quintessential American filmmaker, and a leader in social commentary on film.

Personally, I look forward to seeing him back in the writing credits. Many writers would love for him to direct their scripts, but I miss Lee’s own stories—the edgier ones like Mo’ Better Blues, Jungle Fever, and He Got Game.

Loved Inside Man, but take us back to the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Coney Island, Spike!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Brown salesman, where art thou?

IN ONE OF those awkward occasions I let my guard down to be pathetically coaxed by Mom and Tita Chi-Chi to go with them to the mall, I faced a moral dilemma upon entering Mom’s new favorite store Zara (with branches in Glorietta, Powerplant, and probably in other malls).

I don’t know the history behind this chain of stores, but from this ignoramus’ observation (of price tags), Zara seemingly caters to high society (and those who aspire to be) in their attempt to transplant European mod to our 33-degree weather.

The thing I noticed about Zara (in Glorietta) was their sales attendants. Clad in their hip slim suits and spread-collar dress shirts with necktie knots the size of Pacquiao’s fists, these Filipinos walked in a cool, calm, and collected gait.

Their mannerisms were measured but unpretentious. Their hands moved easily and proficiently as they took pens out from the inside pockets of their jackets, or while handling the particular blouses of specifically requested sizes (XL for Mom).

They talked and listened in a gentle and attentive manner. Their overall demeanor was that of an aristocratic butler, only less high-browed.

I thought the whole thing was a sham. There was something I couldn’t accept about it—something that just screamed WRONG!

When I think rationally, my angst was unwarranted. The yuppies who roam around Greenbelt are much more pretentious. Self-conscious fellow collegians are more “fake”.

Then why such a negative attitude towards these sales attendants? After all the years of hearing Dad talk about good customer service, why do I still hesitate to approve of its manifestations?

Is my view of Filipino salesmanship so stained that I’ve lost sight of how things are supposed to be done?

It’s that last question that pointed me to some sort of answer.

The sales attendants of Zara weren’t Pinoy enough. I’m not talking about the kabastusan or “hustle” motives of certain tinderas. (Regardless of place, certain virtues of salesmanship are universal.) I’m not even talking about the Pinoy tendency to be jovial—the jokes and innocent flattery shared between sales attendant and customer that can be annoying.

I was looking for the sense of familiarity Pinoys can display to strangers—that innate ability to become instant acquaintances.

As the professionalism of Zara is exemplary, I wonder: can’t professionalism be more pleasant? In a weird way, the “natural” manner in which they [Zara sales attendants] conduct themselves looks foreign and rather “rehearsed”—like award-winning method actors portraying something outside their usual character.

I remember a couple years ago, in another high-end boutique in Greenbelt, Mom, Tita Chi-Chi and Lola were snubbed by attendants because they were conversing in the local dialect of Antique. (Apparently, only English or Tagalog speakers merited their attention.) Now that’s universally foul and discriminatory.

Zara attendants were nothing close to that. In fact, they were close to being how sales attendants should ideally be. Their training should be commended. In many ways, they lived up to the brand name.

And still I can think negatively.

I don’t know…but the Pinoy was missing.

As polite as they were, they lacked the personal touch. They achieved their goal in maintaining the image of the brand, but who are they selling that brand to?

P.S. I’m in no way a frequenter of fashion boutiques (much less Zara) so my opinions might all be based on the grumpy mood I was in. All you fashionistas may react freely (violently even).

In the mean time, I’m off to SM to buy me some socks. Sana may back-to-school discount.

Monday, June 12, 2006

independensiya? kalayaan?
Today we may celebrate...
but let us not forget.
De Quiros, Conrado. Manifesto of independence.
Quezon, Manolo III. Indepedence days.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Musings on politics and the arts by a professor and his accidental student

Below is an excerpt from Ambeth Ocampo's article "When politics threatens art and culture" from the Philippine Daily Inquirer (9 June 2006).

THIS morning in Malacañang, there will be a gathering of Filipino artistic and intellectual talents that has not been seen there since Jose Rizal sat in a small antechamber all by himself, waiting to see the Governor General. For today, the Order of National Artists will be officially conferred on seven individuals whose life and work have enriched our lives. However, it is a sad commentary on the Philippine media that they have focused their sights on only one awardee -- Fernando Poe Jr., sidelining in the process the other six. Just for the record they are: Bienvenido Lumbera (Literature), Benedicto Cabrera (Visual Arts), Ramon Valera (Design and allied Arts), Abdulmari Imao (Sculpture), Ramon Obsuan (Dance) and Ildefonso Santos (Landscape Architecture).

The worst message of the story is that politics destroys anything it touches, including culture and this highest of artistic awards. The media should give us good news through these newly minted national artists, but they have chosen to make news of whether or not Susan Roces would go to Malacañang to receive the award from someone whom she accused of stealing the presidency not once but twice.

If Poe, popularly known by his initials FPJ, did not get the award, partisans would have howled that he deserved it and that politics kept the award from him. Now that he has been given the much coveted award, the partisans are howling anyway that the award is “consuelo de bobo” [consolation token] or “pampalubag loob” [consolation] and Ms Roces should not accept it.

Ms Roces should see beyond the President and realize that FPJ got the award after a contentious screening process. He was selected to receive the award by the joint boards of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The National Artist Award is being given by a grateful nation. To reject it is our collective loss.

I couldn't agree more with what Mr. Ocampo is saying with this piece. But I would also like to suggest that maybe Malacanang's involvement with the situation is unnecessary to begin with. Readers might want to revert back to "Artists need not be legitimized by government" (April 2006) in the archives of this blog for an explanation of my disgust with politics and the arts.

Incidentally, I just realized why Mr. Ocampo's name is so familiar to me. According to my registration form, I had signed up for his Hi165 class for the semester. He was not my first choice for the class, and truthfully, I didn't even know who he was. But hopefully we see eye-to-eye with regard to my grade as we do with regard to the topic of his article.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

12-Duke (Class of '04) -- representing 24 of the most influencial people that
helped get my life back on track in one of the most important years of my life.
(ME far right, BELARMINO seated next to me, LIM dead center)

Of first-weeks-of-June gone by

FOUR YEARS AGO at this time of the year, I was preparing to attend regular classes for the first time in just over three years. My last memory of regular high school life (at the time) was of “dreaded” days not knowing my native tongue with a skin tone that made my heavy accent inexcusable for my peers back then.

I was fresh off of an emotional breakdown and therapy sessions with a clinical psychologist (which always ended up like having an argument with the guy). I was two years removed from the “battle of my life”—a battle fought in hospital rooms with IVs plugged into me.

THREE YEARS AGO at this time, I prepared for my shift from a section called Princeton to one called Duke. My junior year had gone well—not bad for my first year back in school. Finding myself was a challenge in Princeton, though; unwanted labels (like “inspiration”) were an annoying inevitability. My image was positive but based on a past I’d rather forget. Going into my senior year with Duke, I looked forward to a fresh start.

TWO YEARS AGO, college loomed, which didn’t sit too well with me. I turned down culinary school for the school I vowed never to attend (The Ateneo), a certain someone hadn’t been replying my texts for weeks, and the afterglow from the best senior year I could’ve ever hoped for was overshadowed by the reality of moving on.

My welcome to college? An orientation seminar that saw irritating upperclassmen barking at me to move faster in the rain.

A YEAR AGO was on ode to important people from my past. I was given the task of planning a video for the debut of a beloved sister from Duke (Regalado), while the then boyfriend of my favorite Duke sister (Lim) asked me to gather the rest of the group for a surprise birthday party.

Fresh off the success of a nationalistic play (para sa bayan), I was itching from having been bitten by the directing bug. After getting a blessing (of sorts) from Duke’s revered filmmaker (Belarmino), an enigma called Apak sa Damo was born with the aspirations of a few from E behind it.

TODAY—this year—if it weren’t for Lim’s birthday (Happy Birthday, Liana) Duke seems like a distant memory, and Apak has remained an enigma. But I’ve become a published writer (sort of…well, not really) with an award in my back pocket, I’m the newest writer of an independent publication (Katipunan), and my random number isn’t all that bad (66).

I’ll have to report my feelings at a later date; I’m not really sure what they are right now.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

An ode to Lope de Vega

LA SALLE BEGAN classes last week. Most schools start classes tomorrow. This week is Ateneo’s registration week. And while we ask around for which teachers to avoid and complain about our random numbers, and as presidents and education officials go on grandstanding sprees to project an image of concern, the Inquirer today (Sunday, June 4) gives us a story about a tiny school in Northern Samar that we can all learn from. Their heroics is beyond People Power proportions.

Lope de Vega National High School is a public school in the mountains of a rural provincial area. But instead of wallowing in what such credentials normally entail, this high school and its students have flourished. It was nationally rated as the best public high school in the 03-04 school year based on the National Achievement Test, beating out all the bigger public schools in Metro Manila. The average test score from Lope de Vega was 86.7%; the national average was below 50% (44.6%). In the 04-05 school year, they dropped to seventh among all public high schools. ("Off" year, perhaps?)

The student-teacher ratio is 63 to 1. The student body consists mainly of children of farmers who don’t own the land they work on. Many of these students walk two hours to school everyday. When it’s raining, well they can pretty much forget about school.

And yet with all these things working against them, these students excel. Why? Because they want to. They believe in education, however low in standard. They want to learn. And instead of being victimized by the prolonged crisis in Philippine education, and while “leaders” argue over the definition of “classroom shortage,” the students of Lope de Vega make the best of what they have. They find their own ways to excel.

Because desire and determination exists, parents and teachers have rallied behind these students. Teachers supplement lessons by offering Saturday classes for free (and they are heroes for doing so). Parents and school administrators hold regular “town hall” style meetings to discuss the needs of the school. And instead of waiting for government funding (however little), they put together whatever meager resources they have to shoulder their needs immediately.

The local government (to their credit) has recognized the efforts of these students and how their teachers and families have rallied behind them, so they have contributed more financial resources into the school. Smart Telecommunications has also recognized these kids and have offered free internet use, educational resources, and teacher training. (This Globe user commends them.)

The system doesn’t work. Too many factors (most of which are unnecessary) prevent educational rights to trickle down to small schools in small provinces. So this community has turned their backs to the system. If neglect is what the government gives them, they choose not to rely on government.

The Lope de Vega community is a true example of the bayanihan spirit. It’s a cooperative spirit based on the personal will of individuals and the desire for better quality of life for all. Instead of being victimized by broken promises, they’ve taken power into their own hands.

In their own way, they’ve created a Utopia. Because of the strong positive values of young individuals, the community, the local government, and the private sector have responded. That’s a blueprint for all Filipinos to follow.

The best thing about it is that these kids from Lope de Vega will grow up to be responsible, talented, and disciplined citizens. They will become leaders in their own right, because they didn’t let the leaders of today dictate their demise. They will see where today’s leaders have failed them and they will be the kind of leaders that they deserved when they were growing up.

In Lope de Vega we see the new revolution. This is the new way for citizens to respond to their difficult circumstances—a more responsibly proactive way. From the revolution of the self comes the evolution of cultural values. The result is true change of leadership based on a change in our cultural thinking, while still maintaining the traditional bayanihan spirit.

True People Power can affect a village, and then a town, a province, and eventually the entire country. But it starts within. We should thank a small school in Northern Samar for showing us how it’s done.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Baptism of a writer

I FEEL LEGITIMIZED as a writer now. One of Pope’s (my cousin) officemates had some questions about my piece in Youngblood. It’s my first reader reaction. Nabinyagan na ako!

Following the publication of “A vision of Utopia” (see previous entry), all I’ve been receiving was congratulations and no feedback. It’s not that I’m against people congratulating me, but I was irked by how the achievement of being published seemed greater than the achievement of the actual piece (in terms of its message). “Martin getting published” overshadowed “Martin made good points in that piece.” I’m not even looking for readers to agree with me; I just want them to have actually been provoked in some way by what I wrote.

Don’t get me wrong, this was my first nationally published article and I am happy because of that. But a by-line is not the main reason why I write. There’s more to this game for me.

But I kept quiet. I allowed my parents to boast of me (my success seemingly their only source of shared joy these days). I played the game, bit my tongue, said my thank-you’s, avoiding the “let us be proud of you” sermon. I even received a text from a certain Ms. Trinidad because of the article, which was a pleasant surprise considering she and I haven’t spoken in months. But the whole time, while allowing others to do the “happy dance for me,” I yearned for affirmation—any sign of an actual reaction towards what was said in the piece.

I was looking for a sign of true achievement.

Then came Pope’s colleague, whom he described as a forty-year-old Ateneo alum. She’s my first critic of sorts, despite the inadequacies of her response.

She proposed that the criticism given to today’s middle-class youth was the same criticism met by her generation when they were still in college. She questions what our generation is doing about it. Apparently, in her eyes, this is where my piece was lacking.

I invite this reader to reread the piece, for all the answers to her questions are in there and are, in fact, the very point of the piece. Comparing our generation to the previous was not the intent of the piece nor did I want it to be. The intent was to discuss the here and now. It’s a proactive plea for previous generations to understand us.

If my critic were to raise the point that her generation was the victim of the same criticism, then all the more that she and her peers should understand why a member of the current generation can react to such criticism. Just because our predecessors underwent the same criticism, it doesn’t mean the criticism towards the current is legitimized.

What are we doing in these times? the reader asks. It’s written in the piece, ma’am. The answers are there in black and white.

As I understood through my cousin’s relating to me, the questions asked (whose answers are already answered in the piece) appeared to shift the argument back to generational battles. That is exactly the opposite of what the intent of the piece was. The piece took criticism from the previous generations and responded to them fairly, concretely and respectfully. Then it speaks of generations working together to try a new solution to problems that have transcended generations. The piece proposed that we’ve never addressed the root of all our political problems which is our cultural behavior as individuals. To bring it back to generational comparison and debate is lowering the argument instead of raising it.

If the points in my piece were to be argued constructively and intellectually, this writer would like to suggest taking a crack at the “as we build a strong citizenship rooted in strong, morally-sound individuals for the future, how do we solve the immediate problems of today?” angle. That line of reasoning raises the argument provoked by my piece, and then true constructive dialogue can take place.

I invite my first critic to calm down and reread “A vision of Utopia” with an intellectually constructive mindset, and see it for what it is truly trying to say. Agreement is not my goal; understanding is.

There was concrete thought and sincere reflection behind those words published last Saturday. I write in no other way. Criticism is welcomed, but the critic better come equipped.

I think “A vision of Utopia” makes its points clearly. What should be discussed are those points, not whether they were made. This is not a cocky writer speaking, rather an insecure one looking for constructive ways to excel.

So to my first critic and those in my future, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Though my maiden voyage in receiving criticism from the public appeared to be rooted in skimming through words as opposed to focused reading, my piece’s mere provoking is appreciated and heartfelt for a writer like me who truly takes his pieces seriously.

To my first critic, nabinyagan na ako at ikaw po ang aking ninang.

Maraming salamat, Ninang mula sa iyong Inaanak, kapwang Atenista, kapwang burgis, kapwang Filipino.
Photograph by Herb Ritts

Thursday, June 01, 2006

In defense of the "apathetic middle-class youth"

(Retitled "A vision of Utopia" and published in Youngblood of the Philippine Daily Inquirer last Saturday, May 27, 2006.)

THERE’S a group of social critics, many of them veterans of failed administrations or former youth activists in their own right, who have taken to task the present generation of middle-class youth for their shortcomings. They take our seemingly nonexistent reaction to the political turmoil as a sign of a generational disease variously called ignorance, apathy and indifference.
I am a young man myself, I come from a middle-class family and I’m tired of the criticism being directed at me and my peers.

Don’t be misled by our seemingly nonexistent anger in the face of the country’s problems. To believe that we are blind to our country’s situation is frankly insulting. We know, we’re disgusted and we’re turned off. And this is the reason for our “nonexistent” reaction.

Are we not a passionately nationalistic generation? they ask. Well, in defense of my peers, many of us were among the middle-class youth who were in Edsa People Power II. Whether we like it or not, this was our generation’s People Power. Excuse us for not taking to the streets again this time, especially when we see the ridiculous redundancy of this practice of holding mass actions, which have produced so little change. Pessimistic we may be, but this definitely cannot be described as apathy. In fact, I regard this as a sign of maturity.

We’re sick and tired of investing our energies in fighting a system that has never translated criticism into change. Naturally, we drift back to our own interests. If this is a fault, it’s a fault we share with others who are no longer young and who do not belong to the middle class. For every underprivileged Filipino who takes to the streets to fight for change, there are many more self-absorbed Filipinos who happen to be unproductive employees, vice-addicted spouses, abusive parents and undisciplined citizens.

At least the “lack of involvement” of the young middle class that I interact with can be rationalized as a proper way to channel our energies. Some of my college friends are prone to saying, “We have no time to rally.” But behind such seeming indifference is a genuine concern to strive to meet our obligations. Many of us simply want to fulfill our primary duty as young citizens, which is to be good students. And by doing so, we seek to seize the opportunity most young men and women of our generation do not have.

Taking this course puts us in a better position to help the country in the long run. Business majors go on to create their own enterprises that help our economy while creating more and better job opportunities for our countrymen. Science majors continue to make possible progress in their field that improves the quality of life. Liberal Arts majors (myself included) continue to study and promote the humanities, which help enrich our arts and our culture. (Consider the youth’s contributions to the resurgence of OPM and Philippine cinema, for example.)

Sure, we keep to our own world and often just pursue our personal inclinations. But by giving the system a cold shoulder, I think we are helping build a self-sustaining citizenry. And that is true People Power.

The outrage toward and protest against an oppressive system by the youth of the 1970s and 1980s are very well known. Their actions and the consequences they had to suffer made them heroes. But if the ways they tried to solve national problems were the most appropriate and the best, why does our own generation have to deal with the same problems of the same formidable magnitude, with only the principal characters changing?

The germ of the conflict is not only alive, it continues to flourish. Even as time changed, one constant has remained to block the process of healing: our reluctance to change our own ways. Our own generation (or at least the young men and women I interact with) sees this, and we’ve subconsciously decided to attack the problem in another way.

When we point an accusing finger at corrupt government officials, we want to be sure that we ourselves aren’t corrupt citizens. We, the middle-class youth, are trying to right the wrongs of a tainted culture by doing our own thing, making sure we can handle that reality before we start blaming other people, like those in government.

Is this extreme? Perhaps. Is a self-interested culture good? Maybe not. But with the proper guidance that our predecessors are supposed to give us (as opposed to criticism), this radical approach might work. Maybe we can become citizens working primarily for the betterment of self and family at no expense to the quality of life of our fellow Filipinos. That’s an ideal worth striving for.

This is where many of us “young, apathetic, middle-class Filipinos” stand. Times are different, so we’re doing things in a different way. We’re trying to create an ideal world where government’s power over us is minimal. I think many of us, regardless of age and social status, would love to create and live in such a Utopia.