Paris in a Hurry (asianTraveler)

Words by Niña Terol-Zialcita

Images by Niña Terol-Zialcita

Photo by Nina Terol-Zialcita
Photo by Nina Terol-Zialcita

I have to admit: it was a rather foolish decision to make Paris only a short pit stop between my trip to Prague, Czech Republic, where I had spent a week on a scholarship program, and the French seaside town of La Rochelle, where I was set to make a long-awaited visit to friends. Divided into 20 arrondisements (administrative districts), Paris is certainly a city that takes days—even weeks—to fully explore and enjoy. Even with enough time and cash on your hands, you will never run out of new experiences to savor in the City of Lights.

Still, my itinerary specified that I had less than a full day to enjoy Paris, so with my (broken) luggage in tow and with my spirit resolute to make the most of my Parisian experience, I set off to explore the city like a soldier on a mission.

Photo by Nina Terol-Zialcita
Photo by Nina Terol-Zialcita

The must-sees: The Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe, the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, the Paris Opera House, and the Musée Louvre

I planned my trip around courtesy calls to the royalty of Parisian monuments. From my hotel in rue Cambronne (on the light-green Nation-Charles de Gaulle Étoile metro line) I took a long, leisurely walk to the École Militaire, the military school whose walls still bear deep, visible scars from the Second World War. The école sits right across Champ de Mars, a large, expansive park from where you can get an unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower. Although named after the Roman god of war, the park is tourist- and family- friendly and also boasts a large Wall of Peace.

After ogling at the Eiffel Tower and snapping away with my camera for about an hour or so, I found my way to the Invalides metro station to take the train to Avenue des Champs-Élysées (where I was lucky enough to catch the tail- end of the Tour de France). The strip is also the city’s shopping district, home to many of the world’s most famous brands such as Louis Vuitton, Maison Guerlain, Zara, Adidas, Benetton, Sephora, and even the Disney Store, among many others. during the summer months, almost all on sale-up to 70% off, during the summer months. Right at its end sits the tall and proud Arc de Triomphe, which Napoleon had commissioned in 1806 to celebrate the victories of his army. Completed in 1836, it had once been called by the French literary great Victor Hugo as “a heap of glory.”

Photo by Nina Terol-Zialcita | Special thanks to Pierre et Mimi Duhamel
Photo by Nina Terol-Zialcita | Special thanks to Pierre et Mimi Duhamel
Photo by Nina Terol-Zialcita
Photo by Nina Terol-Zialcita
Photo by Nina Terol-Zialcita
Photo by Nina Terol-Zialcita

This is an excerpt only. To read the full article, visit the asianTraveler website HERE.

7 Resolutions You Can Do for RP While Sitting Down

By Niña Terol; published in Good News Pilipinas.com (originally posted in the blog Out of the Universe)

Whether you’re an office worker glued to your desk for most of the week, a Net junkie who loves blogs and social networking sites, an overseas Filipino looking to connect back to home, or simply someone with something to say, the power to set this country right is within your reach.

In these times of social unrest, when media focus hops from one controversy and “crisis” to another, Filipinos everywhere are saying, “I don’t want to condone these actions, but I don’t know how I can help.” They resign themselves to the fact that corruption exists everywhere, that their well-intentioned actions may not amount to anything, and that it’s perhaps best to leave political action to the politicians. After all, they would reason out, politics is dirty business.

But it wasn’t meant to be that way. In his 350 B.C. work, Politics, the Greek philosopherAristotle wrote: “Every state is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good; for mankind always act in order to obtain that which they think good. But, if all communities aim at some good, the state or political community, which is the highest of all, and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than any other, and at the highest good [italics mine].”

Maybe politics has become the dirty, bastardized creation that it is today precisely because we, the citizens, have let go of it. We left it up to the crooks, the unscrupulous, the malicious, and the ethically ignorant to take hold of it—thereby strangling us and taking the power away from the real state: the people. In a supposedly democratic government such as ours, we should be part of the political process—and this doesn’t end during elections.

We have the power to save the Philippines. And we can do it even while sitting down.

1. Be informed. The first step to conquering anything is to know what it is. Wherever you are in the world, stay in touch with the Philippines through online news sources. You can check out good, positive news about the Philippines through www.goodnewspilipinas.com, or www.inquirer.net for comprehensive news articles, podcasts, and blog entries. If you want meatier stuff, check out www.newsbreak.com.ph. This hard-hitting publication may have ended its print run, but its online presence shows that nothing will stop Marites Vitug and her staff from getting to the bottom of the news. If you want something with a dose of TV on it, log on to www.abs-cbnnews.com or www.gmanews.tv.

There are also some great non-news sites that offer bite-sized, thought-provoking content. My favorites include www.ted.com, our very own WhyNot? Forum (www.whynotforum.com)ChangeThis (www.changethis.com), and even SlideShare (www.slideshare.com). Who ever thought Powerpoint presentations could be THAT interesting!

2. Share your thoughts and ideas over the Web. Now is probably the best time in human history to be expressive and outspoken. The Internet has given us tremendous power, and we can harness it by broadcasting our thoughts and ideas over the Web—which is the most democratic space we have seen so far. If you want to develop your own “fan base” and position yourself as a thought leader, start a blog. (Just be a tad more productive than Brian Gorrell, please.) If you think blogging is too tiresome, post your comments to news article, features, blog entries, etc. People do pay attention to comments, so go ahead and make them.

3. Read other people’s blogs. Tit for that: if you want people to listen to—er, read—what you have to say, return the favor. Technorati’s Top 100 Filipino blogs include:
Jessica Zafra’s (http://jessicarulestheuniverse.com/)
Manolo Quezon’s The Daily Dose (http://www.quezon.ph/)
Inside PCIJ (http://www.pcij.org/blog)
Jim Paredes’s Writing on Air (http://haringliwanag.pansitan.net)
Butch Dalisay’s Pinoy Penman (http://homepage.mac.com/jdalisay/blog/MyBlog.html)
Newsstand (http://www.newsstand.blogs.com)

Some other blogs that haven’t quite made it to Technorati’s list, but which I love anyway (aside from them being my friends’ blogs) are Reese Fernandez’s The Passionista (http://thepassionista.wordpress.com)Mark Ruiz’s Gamechanger (http://markruiz.typepad.com), and Benjie dela Peña’s Hundred Years Hence (http://hundredyearshence.blogspot.com/).

4. Participate in online discussions. Back to Aristotle: “Now, that man is more of a political animal than bees or any other gregarious animals is evident. Nature, as we often say, makes nothing in vain, and man is the only animal whom she has endowed with the gift of speech… the power of speech is intended to set forth the expedient and inexpedient, and therefore likewise the just and the unjust. And it is a characteristic of man that he alone has any sense of good and evil, of just and unjust, and the like, and the association of living beings who have this sense makes a family and a state.”

Let’s face it—whether you openly admit to it or not, you have political opinions, and would love to share them with others who would care enough to listen. Online discussions allow for a democratic sharing of ideas, encourage critical discernment on issues, and allow for an emergence of various viewpoints which are essential to critical decision-making. As a people, we need to listen to each other and consider each other’s perspectives if we are to arrive at intelligent decisions and actions.

Now that 2010 is just around the corner, perhaps we should start discussing among ourselves what qualities we think are important for a true leader, and which of the public figures around us really do exhibit and live out these qualities.

5. Sign online petitions and campaigns. Online petitions and campaigns have the potential to wield great power over political and social action because they help educate people about issues and gauge public opinion. A successful signature campaign trains media’s lenses on particular issues and forces public figures to make important decisions or stands on concerns that would otherwise be left in the back burner. It encourages discourse and debate, legislative action, and policy reforms. You can play an active role in strengthening Philippine policies by signing such petitions and campaigns. It won’t even take you two minutes.

6. Share information with your friends and online buddies. Don’t you hate it when friends forward useless chain letters? (”If you don’t pass this on to 5 people within 5 minutes, something bad will happen to you.”) I do—I really do, and I find it amazing that people actually believe that stuff like this works. I would rather forward information that people will find useful and relevant, such as news about new rules and policies that will affect their industries or their daily lives, information on breakthrough ideas or movements that will benefit a great number of people, new causes and organizations that people can support, or even trivia and tips that will make people think and, perhaps, help them make small but useful changes in their daily routine. Information is power, and it is something that we cannot take for granted. When you’ve got useful information, pass it on and spread the love.

7. Use the power of the Net to recruit members and solicit donations to worthy causes.

There are so many great and worthy causes out there that need all kinds of support—from volunteer time, to material donations and in-kind support, to donations and financial support. Likewise, there are many of us who are looking for “something to do” or something to which we can contribute, but we just don’t know where to look. We can do both cause-oriented groups and do-gooders a favor by patching them up online. It won’t take much time or effort: simply forward messages about causes and movements to friends, family members, and online buddies, then let them build their “relationship” on their own. Who knows? Something great might come out of it someday—and they’d have YOU to thank for it.

It really doesn’t have to take so much of your time, energy, and resources to help save the Philippines. Each of us can realistically do only what is accessible and interesting to us, so take advantage of online resources to do as much good as you can with the least amount of effort. You’d be surprised at how the daily act of contributing and sharing information can make a big difference in a country that is still enveloped in ignorance and intellectual poverty. And you won’t even have to get up from your chair.

(Revised from an blog entry originally titled 7 Ways to Help the Philippines While Sitting Down)

Within the Joker’s Grasp (Out of the Universe)

By Niña Terol (originally posted in the blog Out of the Universe)

 

And now we face yet another hundred-million-peso scandal, unfolding in real-time in the august chambers of the Philippine Senate, involving yet another fall guy who is now the country’s hottest topic (and butt of jokes) but who will later on be forgotten. The moment I heard his name—a few years ago, when my mom casually mentioned the name of the Rotary’s then-District Governor—I immediately felt that there was something fishy about a man named Jocelyn, who called himself Joc-Joc. I think that any public servant who respects his position enough should at least find a more suitable nickname upon assuming a position of great responsibility. Don’t trust a man who calls himself a joke—or, perhaps more accurately, a two-faced joker.

But I digress. This latest scandal to rock the Philippine shores—er, fields—paints yet another ugly caricature of this present administration and its cohorts and once again makes the Filipino nation look like a bunch of idiots. How can anyone justify distributing funds for agricultural inputs that are of the wrong kind, given at the wrong time, for the wrong districts? (And, oh yes, they were grossly overpriced, too.) I felt a brief moment of admiration for Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago when she admitted that, although she is an administration ally, Joc-Joc Bolante was simply “defending the indefensible.”

Former Agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn "Joc-Joc" Bolante at today's Senate hearing. (Inquirer.net)
Former Agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante at today’s Senate hearing. (Inquirer.net)

There is simply no way of getting around this. And we cannot let these corrupt, unscrupulous officials get away with it. If I were a guy, I’d say that “nakakalalaki na ‘tong gobyernong ito (this government is challenging my manhood–or something to that effect).”

This whole episode reminds me of Dr. René Azurin’s book, aptly titled Power Without VirtueIn his introduction, he exhorts us to exact accountability from government, saying that “their powers should be strictly limited, constantly monitored, and held always in check.” Allow me to share some excerpts from his book’s introductory essay:

 “… Tremendous discretionary power over public funds, public resources, and public policies is vested in those who capture control of government, and that power has been consolidated, increased, refined, guarded, and avariciously used over the years by the nation’s politicos for their own private and personal gain. Irrespective of any labels or party names that presidents, senators, congressmen, and local government officials have attached to themselves over the more than hundred years since [Mabini’s time], all have been joined… by the notion that the positions they occupy are opportunities ‘to grasp’ and not ‘to serve.’

“By its very nature, of course, it is inescapable that power is vested in government and, by extension, in government officials. Because, however, it is not reasonable to expect that our public officials will be as moral or as ethical as the ‘sublime’ Mabini [whom Dr. Azurin refers to early on in his essay], their powers should be strictly limited, constantly monitored, and held always in check. Discretionary allocations in the national budget—like the huge presidential discretionary funds and legislative pork barrel—should be eliminated altogether. The decisions to award public projects should always be minutely scrutinized, publicly justified, and never cloaked in ‘executive privilege.’”

Joc-Joc Bolante has yet to invoke “executive privilege”, but he has asked that his right against self-incrimination be upheld, even if this is a right extended only to the accused and not to witnesses. He insists that he never knew who recommended him as Undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture, even if he later on admits that the only one he knows from the upper echelons of Malacañang is First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, a “good friend” of his. He apologizes for having made the Senate wait for three years for him to surface and offer his testimony, even if he has had plenty of opportunities to surface before his incarceration in the United States. Moreover, he is adamant that the President had nothing to do with this scandal, although incumbent officials acknowledge that Mrs. Arroyo is a micro-manager who dips her fingers (or those of her husband) in practically every matter in this government. Nobody believes that P728 million could be disbursed to over a hundred districts in the country without this president’s knowledge.

Clearly, what we have in front of us is a joker who cannot be trusted or given the benefit of the doubt. He is one of those avaricious men whose primary motivation for joining government is to enjoy its many under-the-table perks. Now that he has surfaced, we will have to bear with days—possibly even weeks—of a live telenovela that makes the Filipino people look tanga (idiotic) in the worst possible way. How much more of this will we take? Aren’t we tired of scandal after scandal, and of government officials who think that we’re stupid, apathetic, and callous, even?

More importantly, what are we going to do about it? I once more refer to Tito Rene’s introduction to show an alternative I do not want to see:

“In theory, the extent of government power is specified by the role the people assign to it. In practice, that role is actually determined by the latitude the political class is given to arrogate powers unto themselves. Unfortunately, ‘the people’—being a dispersed, diffuse mass—have no real ability to limit that latitude. It is therefore left to other organized institutions of society—such as civic groups, business groups, advocacy movements, professional associations, religious institutions, academic institutions, and media—to try to circumscribe (if they are so inclined) the role of government and the powers of government officials, and then hold them to account.

“A community holds together, I believe, largely because there are reasonable expectations that a system exists for ensuring that each member of it will be treated fairly and justly by the community itself, if not necessarily by every other member of it. Without this conviction, I think that communities will inevitably break apart (unless held together by force, in which case a revolt will eventually become inevitable). If the privileged few who exercise power in the community use this power to plunder and exploit, and they vulgarly display themselves as exempt from the rules imposed on the ordinary many without power, there is no compelling incentive for the powerless and unprivileged to stay within the community or, if they do, to follow its rules.”

If we want to keep intact what is left of the Philippine community, we need to demand accountability from our public officials NOW. The jokers in government have already taken too much from us—what else are we going to allow them to grasp?

___

Niña Terol, 28, is an officer of Team RP and YouthVotePhilippines and a member of other reform-oriented groups. She hopes to make real, positive change happen in the Philippines within her lifetime.

Profiles in “Out of the Universe Leadership” (part 1)

(Originally posted in the blog, Out of the Universe)

I consider myself fortunate to be one of the radio anchors of Lider Totoo, the Saturday-morning program on Radyo Veritas that tackles servant leadership through the experience of real leaders working in different fields and different parts of the country. There are few things I enjoy better than listening to great minds sharing their experiences, challenges, and aspirations, and working on this program makes it worthwhile for me to wake up early on a Saturday morning and trek all the way to North Avenue. (And I live in Pasay… so you can get the picture.)

My first interview, held on 11 October, was with Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo, who started public service at the age of 29 (!) and introduced many innovations in government service, including running a website where Nagueños could log in to learn anything about their government and the services that they needed. Through the website www.naga.gov.ph, the people of Naga could look into ordinances and executive orders, view public biddings and government transactions, and gain free access to information that they, the public, had the right to know.

Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo (photo taken from Naga.gov.ph)In 2000, Mayor Robredo won the highly prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, where this citation was presented:

It is sad but true. Democratic government is not necessarily good government. Too often, elections yield power to the few, not the many. Injustices linger beneath the rhetoric of equality. Corruption and incompetence go on and on. Voters, alas, do not always choose wisely. And yet, in Asia and the world at large, much is at risk when democracy founders, because democracy is the hope of so many. Jesse Manalastas Robredo entered Philippine politics at a time when hope was high. As mayor of Naga City from 1988 to 1998 he demonstrated that democratic government can also be good government.

In the wake of his country’s People Power Revolution in 1986, Jesse Robredo responded to President Corazon Aquino’s call to public service. He abandoned his executive position at San Miguel Corporation to head the Bicol River Basin Development Program in Naga, his hometown. In 1988, he stood for election as mayor and won by a slim margin. He was twenty-nine.

Once the queen city of the Bicol region, Naga in 1989 was a dispirited provincial town of 120,000 souls. Traffic clogged its tawdry business district and vice syndicates operated at will. City services were fitful at best. Meanwhile, thousands of squatters filled Naga’s vacant lands, despite the dearth of jobs in the city’s stagnant economy. Indeed, Naga’s revenues were so low that it had been downgraded officially from a first-class to a third-class city.

Robredo began with a strike against patronage. He introduced a merit-based system of hiring and promotion and reorganized city employees on the basis of aptitude and competence. He then moved against local vice lords, ridding Naga of gambling and smut. Next, he relocated the bus and jeepney terminals outside the city center, ending gridlock and spurring new enterprises at the city’s edge. In partnership with business, he revitalized Naga’s economy. Public revenues rose and by 1990 Naga was a first-class city again. Robredo’s constituents took heart and reelected him.

Spurning bodyguards, Robredo moved freely among the people. By enlisting the support and active assistance of Naga’s NGOs and citizens, he improved public services dramatically. He established day-care centers in each of Naga’s twenty-seven districts and added five new high schools. He built a public hospital for low-income citizens. He set up a dependable twenty-four-hour emergency service. He constructed a network of farm-to-market roads and provided clean and reliable water systems in Naga’s rural communities. He launched programs for youth, farmers, laborers, women, the elderly, and the handicapped — drawing thousands into civic action in the process. No civic deed was too small, he told the people, including the simple act of reporting a broken street lamp. He sometimes swept the streets himself.

Consistently, Robredo prioritized the needs of the poor. Through his Kaantabay sa Kauswagan (Partners in Development) program, over forty-five hundred once-homeless families moved to home-lots of their own. They became part of Naga’s revival. So did a revitalized city government. Applying techniques from business, Robredo raised performance, productivity, and morale among city employees. As a culture of excellence overtook the culture of mediocrity at City Hall, Naga’s businesses doubled and local revenues rose by 573 percent.

Reelected without opposition in 1995, Robredo urged the Naga City Council to enact a unique Empowerment Ordinance. This created a People’s Council to institutionalize the participation of NGOs and people’s organizations in all future municipal deliberations. When obliged by law to step down after his third term, the popular Robredo made no effort to entrench his family. His advice to would-be leaders? “You have to have credibility.”

In electing Jesse Robredo to receive the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the board of trustees recognizes his giving credence to the promise of democracy by demonstrating that effective city management is compatible with yielding power to the people.

What struck me most during the interview was Mayor Robredo’s answer to our question about the legacy that he wanted to leave the people of Naga, and whether he feared that, as a last-term mayor, his achievements would be overturned by future city executives who might have different priorities and agenda items from those which he had promoted in Naga City since he first took office in 1988.

He said that the milestones they had achieved in Naga City were not his alone–they were achievements of the Nagueños themselves, who now had the power to work with their government because of the systems that had been institutionalized in the city. He said that if anyone tried to wrest power from the people and try to undo all the good work that they–the government and the people, together–had done over the past 20 years, then the people themselves would not allow it. They would not stand for a government that would trample over their rights, and they would make sure that whatever progress they had achieved over the past two decades would not go to waste. Mayor Robredo expressed his faith and belief that the people of Naga would remain vigilant and ensure that good, participatory governance would continue to rule over Naga even long after his term.

Why did the answer strike me? One reason was the mayor’s sincerity in his belief that his constituents are, first and foremost, not stupid. He knows that they had worked just as hard as his government had in ensuring a better life for themselves and their families. He relates that when a tax hike was being considered, residents and landowners even agreed to a tax hike in support of better social services. When citizens agree to a tax hike, it means that they know where their money is going.

Another reason was the mayor’s belief that participatory governance, because it had now empowered the people of Naga, will not end when his term does. Of course, there are risks that a city government with a drastically different agenda will alter Naga City’s course, but again, the people are not stupid. Having experienced their city’s transformation over the years, they will most likely vote for someone who can build on the city’s success. Perhaps, their participation in governance has also made Nagueños more mature than other segments of the electorate.

I admit to learning about Mayor Robredo’s accomplishments very late into my socio-political involvement, but now I am more eager to learn about the systems that have been established in Naga City as a result of his tenure. How much of a role does enabling technology truly empower people? What offline processes are essential to building a truly enabling environment? What management skills must one possess in order to make this happen? Is this kind of leadership replicable, and on a greater scale? Is this the kind of leadership that the Philippines needs? I don’t know the answers to these questions yet, but I will try to find out.

I suggest that you–believers and skeptics alike–try to do the same.

Stop Wasting My Time (Out of the Universe)

(Originally posted in the blog, Out of the Universe)

I know we’ve all encountered this at one time or another: being made to wait so g**dam* long for a meeting that turns out to last for only a very short while, with people whom you realize you don’t want to deal with at all–even if they paid you a million bucks to show up next time.

This is actually my first work-rant post in any blog, but I’m doing it here and now because an idea hit me during that 90-minute wait.

So I was in the lobby of a government agency, after having gotten up quite early and on the wrong side of the bed, and after having ridden a cab that was caught by two traffic cops for no apparent reason (save for the P50 that the poor cabbie willingly parted with that morning). My mom was with me because she had met these potential clients a couple of days ago, and she brought up to them an idea that I pitched to her a couple of years ago, and these “gentlemen” seemed open to the idea. (See, my mom’s kind of like a stage mom when it comes to me and my career, and she will introduce me to anyone who will agree to it. But I’m not complaining; I love my mom.)

BUT.

Hint #1: Government agency.

Hint #2: “Gentlemen”, who turned out to be a lawyer who was placed in a position he had admitted to knowing very little about, and his two cohorts who seemed to be the certain official’s gatekeepers but who had no official post in the said agency.

Back to the story: while waiting, and waiting, and waiting, it irked me that these people had no decency to even respond to my mom’s messages about us already being there at the lobby, or telling them about our other appointments and asking how much longer we should wait, and so on. To these people, the minute you step into their little fiefdoms, you’re trapped there until they decide to open their locked doors and grant you the privilege of their appearance. It doesn’t matter that you have other meetings lined up that day, or that your time is also worth quite a lot. NONE OF THAT MATTERS. In their world, they are the kings–even if they technically should be working for YOU because they are in government, and you help pay for their perks.

So the idea is this: Is there a way for consultants like myself to have meter widgets installed in our mobile phones, PDAs, laptops, etc. so that we will know exactly how much time our meetings (and the waiting in between) are worth? Not only that–can it PLEASE become reasonable for us to bill these people for our waiting time once it exceeds 30 minutes?? Corollary to that, if I make you wait for more than 30 minutes, then deduct that amount from my fees. REALLY. Just so we can all get a sense of how much each other’s time is worth, and for us to realize that wasted time IS wasted cash. Especially for freelancers like myself.

And the story doesn’t end there.

After 90 minutes, when the cohorts finally had time for us (the official in question was still not in), my mom started to pitch the idea. I was really just there to prove that the idea can happen because it’s something I’ve done for other companies already so many times in the past, and to show that I had the competency and the expertise to get it done. I was going to come in as a consultant, as is usually the case, and my main role was to oversee the project, provide the expertise, and get paid a standard professional fee.

But my radar went up with certain key words and phrases:

“Are you single? I am too.” (Uh, Tito. I don’t care if you’re single. It’s irrelevant. And you’re probably of the same age as my dad. )

“We can just set up a corporation for this and you’ll be part of the board.” (Uhm, I was pitching a PROJECT to a government office–not a racket entity to make money for YOU.)

“What’s the point if we don’t make money?” (Nobody’s SUPPOSED to make money on this, except for sponsorships for the project itself.)

“Are you sure you don’t need a ride? I can head in your direction.” (I’d rather walk from Makati to Cubao than sit within a foot away from you, thank you very much.)

In the end, I think I struck them as an uptight, prissy, idealistic do-gooder who didn’t understand the ways of the government’s underbelly. But it’s precisely because I DO understand it that I choose to NOT speak their language.

So, in the end, thank you Mom for the intro–but I think you and I will both be better off without those sleazeballs. I’ve got only four months left before I leave for my studies, and they are sooo not worth these next four months.

Lessons in Failed Leadership (Out of the Universe)

(Originally posted in the blog, Out of the Universe)

I committed one HUGE mistake that proved almost-fatal to my political career when I was in college: I wanted to emulate someone whose position I was aspiring for, and when I finally reached that position my intentions failed to translate into effective actions. It wasn’t because I didn’t care about the responsibilities that were entrusted to me or about the constituency that voted for me—in fact, my involvement in the student council meant pretty much everything to me in those days. In hindsight, I now see that my failure then was caused partly by my failure to understand WHY my “idol” did things the way he did, what he was trying to work towards, and what particular strengths I brought to the table that would have been my own unique contribution to the organization.

In short, I tried so hard to be someone I was not—and that caused so much grief for me and especially for the people I worked with.

In trying to be like my idol I wanted to copy everything that he did—even if it wasn’t working for our batch’s “mix” and our particular circumstances. In wanting everything to be “perfect” I sometimes failed to even begin because I was already bogged down by too many unnecessary details. In focusing on my position instead of on my responsibilities I lost sight of the reason why I was there in the first place.

That guy was a hero of sorts for me. But because I didn’t try to understand his motivations and because I still had a very shallow understanding of myself and my roles, I failed to become the leader—the hero—that I also wanted to be.

* * *

I am sharing this at the wake of the launch of the I Am Ninoy campaign and on the celebration of National Heroes Day because I have seen youth’s folly of trying to follow in the exact same footsteps of our elders and our heroes—only to be defeated and heartbroken because we assumed so many things and forgot so many others.

We assume that just because certain things worked for our elders and heroes (e.g., People Power) that those things will work for us as well. We forget that times differ, circumstances and personalities involved differ, and so outcomes will most likely differ as well.

We assume that just because they did certain things that those things “must have” worked. We forget that behind every story of victory are countless, untold stories of defeat and shame. (Imagine what could not be written in the history books!)

We assume that our heroes are infallible, perfect. We forget that, like us, they stumble and fall, they have their own failures and weaknesses, and that they, too, are subject to ego, pride, and all the nasty little things that can cause a human being to briefly swallow his principles and ideals. (Ever wonder why many heroes die young? Maybe because if they had lived to grow old they would have crossed over to the dark side as well.)

We assume that everything our heroes did was for “love of country.” We forget that, sometimes, life sets in and forces people—people like us, people like even our heroes—to choose practicality, pragmatism, convenience, or their own comforts and preferences. (I’m sure that whenever Rizal would profess his love for a woman it wasn’t necessarilypara la patria adorada.)

We assume, most dangerously of all, that we can fit into any leader’s or hero’s mold if we put our minds, hearts, and souls into it. We forget that we have our own strengths, talents, and capabilities and that we can be heroes in our own mold. (Yes, it’s easier to copy-and-paste, but that’s plagiarism. Be your own, beautifully written, original piece of work.)

* * *

And while it’s great that we are now being reminded of who Ninoy was and what he has done for the country, I exhort every young Filipino here: FIND YOUR OWN STRENGTH AND BE YOUR OWN HERO. Don’t be a “second-rate, trying hard copycat” of someone else; be the ultimate version of yourself that you can possibly be. Because if you can’t even be the best version of yourself in this planet, then what makes you think you’ll be a great version of someone else?

I Am Ninoy campaignSo if you want to be a Ninoy, by all means, GO AHEAD. But be clear, first of all, about what Ninoy means to you; about what qualities he has that you think this country needs now, in 21st-century Philippines; about what YOU have that you can contribute to this country; about why you’re doing this, and so on. Don’t believe everything that you hear or read about—do your own research. Don’t swallow everything that people tell you about what you should and should not be doing—go ahead and discover your own, authentic truths.

As the old adage goes, “First, know thyself.” It is only after that when you can unleash your true heroism and truly make a difference.

And now that I’m a tad older—hopefully a tad wiser—I can now confidently say: I am Niña, not Ninoy. And it’s perfectly okay; I’ll go and make a difference anyway.

Why We Need The Joker… and 4 Other Political Lessons I Learned from The Dark Knight (Inquirer Blogs)

(Originally published in the blog Out of the Universeand in Inquirer Blogs)

 

The Dark Knight: The Joker
Photo from Filmsketchr.blogspot.com

In his piece on Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight for Time, Richard Corliss writes, “Nolan has a… subversive agenda. He wants viewers to stick their hands down the rat hole of evil and see if they get bitten. With little humor to break the tension, The Dark Knight is beyond dark. It’s as black—and teeming and toxic—as the mind of The Joker.”

Having watched the film twice—first on Imax and next on a regular theater—I can’t help but agree that The Joker is a better reference for the film than its real protagonist, Batman. Spawned right from the center of Limbo, with all the qualities we find loathsome, pitiful, and yet terrifying, The Joker is a reminder of everything we DON’T want human beings to become. Quoting Corliss again, the late Heath Ledger’s Joker “observes no rules, pursues no grand scheme; he’s the terrorist as improv artist.”

But I’d take it a few notches further and say that The Joker is the film’s “inverted social conscience,” the dreaded, deadly disease that makes society work together to find a cure. It is he who asks the hard questions, he who challenges the taken-for-granted assumptions, he that pushes humanity to see how low they would really sink—or how far they could really rise. He is the ultimate “necessary evil” that forces us to see just what we’re really made of. A composite of everything that is wrong, perverse, and twisted in our society, it is he who nonetheless shows us our true potentials for greatness.

It just goes to show that, in the movies—as well as in politics and the rest of real life—there’s a lot we can learn from the bad guys. We cannot simply turn our eyes away from them, or pretend they’re not there, or make believe that they will simply go away. They will not—for they are here to stay. But instead of ignoring them because they’re such “bad examples,” we should study them, dissect them—even if we don’t understand them—and see how we can stop the rest of the world from joining their ranks.

Crooks (trapos included) DO have a purpose. They’re there to show us what can happen if we let ourselves slide too deeply.

Which brings us to Lesson # 2: Harvey Dent.

The Dark Knight: Harvey DentGotham’s fearless, charismatic new district attorney is the ultimate tragedy of human potential. He starts out as everyone’s hero, Gotham’s “White Knight” who has come to save the day—except that when he collides with the dark forces we find that his foundation was too weak to stand against the very forces that ultimately subsumed him. This is what happens when we depend on one person to be our Messiah. People are people—even in this age of celebrities, icons, and “modern-day heroes”—and they will slip, or slide, or sink (sometimes very, very low). When we pin all our hopes on just one person (or one entity, or one ideal), the results can be tragic. The solution is to empower everyone to be the source of the solution. (Which, ironically, is what The Joker attempted to do in the hospital and ferry scenes—regardless of his twisted definition of the “solution”.)

Lesson #3: When push comes to shove, trust people to do the right thing.

Speaking of the ferry scene, another point the movie made very well was that everyone, even the lowest scoundrels of society, has some emergency button of goodness within them that they can access and activate even at the most desperate times of their lives. Just give them a compelling reason and just enough time (but not too much) to think through their decision, and people will almost always gravitate toward the good. I’m no expert in human behavior and so I cannot vouch for this as truth, but I believe that when we put our faith in people—and they know how important their choices will be for everyone else on board—they will do their best to make the right decision. It won’t be easy, but it’s possible, even outside of Hollywood.

Lesson #4: Sometimes, the “right thing” (or person) is difficult to understand, or even recognize.

How will you know that you’ve done the right thing? How will you know that you’ve chosen the right person? You won’t—not at the onset, or not always. Because, sometimes, the person whom you thought was the answer will leave you disappointed and asking more painful questions. If Harvey Dent had lived and had been allowed to unleash the fullness of his newfound glory upon Gotham, what would have happened? We don’t know for sure, but we do know that we cannot allow something like that to happen HERE. We cannot allow ourselves to be bought by the winning smile, the boy-next-door look, or the Messianic pronouncements. Even when looking at one’s track record (as in Harvey Dent’s case), we have to go over every detail very, very carefully.

Conversely, we also cannot simply discount the “dark horse” as a nuisance entity or a subversive force that must be stopped. It’s possible for the totally misunderstood rebel to be exactly what we need. Sometimes, collective understanding arrives so slowly that we are not able to recognize a hero when we see one. So we cannot trust our gut or our intellect alone. When looking at people we need to understand the context of their actions, and also the context of the decisions we need to make. In Gotham, as in real life, nothing is truly black or white.

Lesson #5: Sometimes, we need to live with lies in order to find our truth.

The Dark Knight: BatmanNobody understood this better than Batman himself. He has had to perpetuate a lie in order to allow justice to prevail, even allowing Two-Face to be seen as the Knight in Shining Armor that everyone needed him to be. Sometimes, we need to live with a lie in order for truth, justice, and goodness to prevail—so that the delicate threads that weave our social fabric do not disintegrate and explode into chaos.

The challenge, then, is discerning which lies we need and which ones we should never entertain.

Filipinos dared to ask: Why not?

(Originally published in Inquirer Blogs)

 

It was an ordinary Thursday night, and yet Warehouse 135, the hip warehouse-turned-club on Yakal Street in Makati, was filled to capacity. Only it wasn’t filled with clubgoers and party scenesters—it was filled with young professionals, creative minds, thinkers, and dreamers who all dared to ask a question that would set the tone for the entire evening’s talks: Why not?

The WhyNot? Forum, according to founders Mark Ruiz and Bam Aquino, is a “smorgasbord of great, brave ideas—an open-source innovation soup that will hopefully inspire other Filipinos all over to connect adjunct thoughts, take impactful action, and weave together new breakthrough ideas.” Inspired by the TEDTalks of the United States (www.ted.com), it is based on the simple idea of gathering some of the best minds in the country to share their respective ideas for 15 minutes each. By asking The Question and challenging outmoded assumptions, it is hoped that WhyNot? Forum will spark a thought revolution that will encourage people to “think new thoughts, share big dreams, do brave things.”

Seven Great Minds, One Big Question

The first WhyNot? Forum, held on September 27, gathered a group of leaders, achievers, doers, and dreamers from diverse fields. There was Dondi Gomez, the “Marketing Maverick,” who is the youngest-ever Managing Director of Unilever Philippines at age 35; Gang Badoy, the irrepressible and bubbly lady behind RockEd Philippines, tagged the “Alternative Educator”; Professor Jay Bernardo of the Asian Institute of Management, the “Rainmaker” and “Entrepreneurship Guru” who owns the distinction of being the first-ever Filipino to have been named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World (TOYP) by the Junior Chamber International; “Technologist” Dr. Greg Tangonan, who teaches Innovation and Technology at the Ateneo de Manila University and has garnered 49 patents and numerous awards for his inventive work; Brian Tenorio, the creative genius behind the designer shoe label Tenorio Manila; Quark Henares, the “Filmmaker-on-the-Edge” who directed his first feature film at age 21; and Fr. Ted Gonzales, SJ of the Center for Family Ministries (CEFAM), labeled the “Dreamer Priest.”

Even the creative forces running the event are achievers themselves: Ruiz and Aquino are part of the visionary group behind Hapinoy, an aggregated value network built around sari-sari stores, microfinancing institutions, and key partners in industry and civil society; event documenter Ditsi Carolino is an internationally acclaimed filmmaker ( Minsan Lang Sila Bata, Bunso, Riles); and guest performer Radioactivesago Project is a groundbreaking musical act that fuses jazz, funk, and spoken-word poetry in discussing a variety of social issues. Supporting the project from behind the scenes are industry giant Smart Communications, Web and multimedia company Softrigger Interactive, and Young Public Servants (YPS), a group of young, dynamic individuals focused on promoting “Good Governance and Democratic Citizenship among the youth.”

In opening the forum, Ruiz asked the audience, “What does the world think of when they think of the Philippines? … Maybe the WhyNot? Forum can be our megaphone to the rest of the world [to showcase the ingenuity and the innovative spirit driving us Filipinos]… Why not?”

Of challenges, opportunities, irritants, rock, beauty, passion, and baboy

Gomez, in defining “maverick marketing” in the experience of Unilever Philippines’ groundbreaking campaigns for Rexona, challenged the audience to adopt a non-conformist stance when it came to developing and presenting their ideas. “Great marketing gives people a taste of what could be… It provides imagination and courage to hope and to dream.” He cites the worldwide success of the out-of-the-box campaigns First Day Funk and its follow-up, First Day High, which set record sales figures, won for Unilever Philippines numerous global awards, and established Rexona as the market leader in deodorants.

Dr. Greg Tangonan, for his part, discussed the worldwide movement marking the early 2000s the “Decade of the Mind Initiative.” He shared experiments in mind control, mind mapping, “out of body experiences” in the virtual world, and other brain experiments. He ultimately asked: “[If brain activity could be measured,] could the Filipino concepts of hiya (shame) or pakikiramay (empathy) also be measured? Can this be our contribution to the ‘Decade of the Mind Initiative?’ Why not?”

When it was Gang Badoy’s turn to speak, a technical glitch disabled her from using her Powerpoint presentation, but she masterfully held her own and gave the crowd an entertaining and engaging talk about the experiences that led her to found, and therefore commit herself to, RockEd, an alternative education movement that seeks to get young people involved in social issues through music. “We don’t have to unite to progress,” she challenges. “Even if we don’t get along, as long as we get the job done, it’s okay.”

True to her signature style, Badoy brought along a group of musicians to drive home her point and entertain her audience. Radioactivesago Project rendered the thought-provoking intermission number, singing their hit songs “Gin Pomelo” and “Gusto Ko ng Baboy (I Like Pig),” among others.

The next speaker, Fr. Ted Gonzales of CEFAM, seemed to have been struck by Sago’s quirky lyrics, often quoting them in his talk about integrity, passion, and “[embracing] the inner movements of your heart.”

Hindi tayo mga baboy (We are not pigs),” he asserted. Fr. Gonzales was the obvious crowd-drawer in the room, as many of the audience members were “graduates” of his hit retreats Life Directions, Agimat, and On Fire.

During designer Brian Tenorio’s 15 minutes, the audience was transformed into an intimate group that listened closely to his ideas on love, luxe, lust, and beauty. Ironically, this shoe meister, who has gained fame for his beautiful and bewitching creations, maintained that it’s not what you wear or the details that you place on yourself that matter as much as what’s going on around you. “Beauty is not oppressive,” he states. “Beauty unifies… It should allow growth. Beauty should allow love.”

Unfortunately, the natural beauty around us is constantly being threatened by natural and man-made disasters. Mr. Ramon Isberto, Head of Public Affairs at Smart Communications, disclosed a groundbreaking project meant to help local communities around the country prepare for storms. “The Philippines has the highest number of Category 5 typhoons in the world,” he reveals. “Why not be prepared for it?”

Likewise, entrepreneurship guru and AIM professor Jay Bernardo encouraged budding entrepreneurs to develop business ideas by seeking solutions to “irritants” around them. Citing the Chinese word and symbols for the word “crisis,” he urged his listeners to “look at the opportunity before looking at the dangers… because once you see the opportunities, you will no longer see the dangers.”

Quark Henares might not have been a student of Prof. Bernardo, but he exemplified the attitude of risk-taking in his talk about the experiences that brought him to the forefront of the filmmaking world. From the psychologically disturbing movie that he saw at age 11 (David Lynch’s Eraserhead), to his “Eureka moment” after watching the cult classic Pulp Fiction, to making the movie that bombed at the box office but was praised by his idol, Quentin Tarantino ( Keka), Henares’ candid insights proved to the audience that some rewards can simply never be equated to fame or fortune.

Why not more?

Although this event is only the first of what promises to be a long-running series of thought-provoking discussions, it seems to be coming in at the right time. Regardless of their inclinations, educational backgrounds, or lifestyles, Filipinos simply have become tired of turning to the government (or to the streets) for answers to society’s nagging questions; they are now looking to themselves to develop long-term solutions to problems that have unfolded over several generations.

Indeed, the world is teeming with opportunities. Prof. Bernardo cites the “kanto boys” whom people look down upon during ordinary days, but who become reliable comrades and trusted allies in times of calamity, pushing cars and shuttling pedestrians over flooded waters for a small fee that anyone would be willing to pay. Anyone can achieve great things; anyone can make a difference. It only takes one simple question, and the guts to embrace the answers.

 

The next WhyNot? Forum will be held in November 2007. For more details, email[email protected], call (0928) 5055713, or  SMS ‘whynot’ to 2948. All videos from the WhyNot? Forum will be posted on www.whynotforum.com and may be viewed free of charge.