Islam on My Mind (ProPinoy.net)

I have always been fascinated with Islam, this richly colorful and grossly misunderstood religion and culture that has formed a large part of our history and identity as a nation.

Growing up, I often found myself wondering about the veiled women that I would see on TV and in the streets, and our yayas’ and neighbors’ derogatory remarks about “the Muslims”, wondering what was so bad about this group of people that they (and “the Bombays”) were often used to scare us into obedience. When I would see images of mosques and Islamic architecture on TV and in the encyclopedias that kept me company as a child (yes, kids—we had those at home), I would stare at them in awe, thinking about the kind of work that went into them and the architectural genius that it took to create such intricate details. Shifting my attention between Islam and Buddhism, I would ask my mom why kids couldn’t choose their religions and had even asked, ever so innocently, if it were possible to choose my own religion once I was grown up. (In fairness to my mother’s open-mindedness, she didn’t panic when I asked that question and even said “yes” in response.)

I didn’t end up converting to Islam, but the fascination continued on to adulthood. In university, where I had minored in Hispanic Studies, I often found myself daydreaming about Granada, Andalusia, and the Alhambra, telling myself that I would someday visit these enchanting places. To this day, I am enamored of the rhythm and the seemingly rich textures of the Arabic language, enjoying Persian and Arabic music as much as I enjoyflamenco (which was also rooted in the Moorish and gypsy cultures), and wanting, in all earnestness, to learn more about this culture that we in urban Philippines (and many parts of the Westernized world) know so little about.

The Alhambra in Granada, Spain | Image by jamesdale10 (www.Flickr.com'HappyTellus.com), under the Creative Commons 2.0 License (By 2.0)
The Alhambra in Granada, Spain | Image by jamesdale10 (www.Flickr.com’HappyTellus.com), under the Creative Commons 2.0 License (By 2.0)

This is an excerpt only. To read the full article, visit ProPinoy.net HERE.

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.

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.