THRIVE: Where Manila’s cool changemakers converge (Inquirer.net)

(Originally published in Inquirer.net on October 16, 2015)

THRIVE MANILA | October 17 to 25, 2015 | Click on the image to visit the THRIVE Facebook page and learn more about this inspiring event
THRIVE MANILA | October 17 to 25, 2015 | Click on the image to visit the THRIVE Facebook page and learn more about this inspiring event

It’s a curious kind of convergence, happening in one of the world’s most complicated cities to navigate and live in. Artists and designers will get to hang around startups, who’ll also get to meet social media mavens and social enterprises, who’ll most likely be enjoined by bike advocates and environmentalists to support their causes. There will be art, music, green and healthy food, bikes, left and right brains, and more conscientious shopping.

THRIVE's "GreenTech Startup Studio Session", just one of the many cool satellite events happening this week | Click on the image to visit the event page and learn more
THRIVE’s “GreenTech Startup Studio Session”, just one of the many cool satellite events happening this week | Click on the image to visit the event page and learn more
Another cool THRIVE satellite event, this time, in the outdoors and on bicycle: THRIVE Open House with VivaManila and Bambike | Click on the image to visit the event page and learn more
Another cool THRIVE satellite event, this time, in the outdoors and on bicycle: THRIVE Open House with VivaManila and Bambike | Click on the image to visit the event page and learn more
How about ethical, sustainable shoe-making? THRIVE has that, too! Learn more about THIS event with Risque Designs by clicking on the image
How about ethical, sustainable shoe-making? THRIVE has that, too! Learn more about THIS event with Risque Designs by clicking on the image

Welcome to THRIVE, a first-of-its kind event series that “celebrates creativity, entrepreneurship, and design for social good and sustainability.” More than just an arts festival, a conference, or a bazaar, THRIVE aims to connect the many dots that make Manila the energetic hub that it is—but all focused on creating a more sustainable future for this megacity and its citizens.

According to Jen Horn, THRIVE director and founder of MUNI, “Manila is brimming with creativity, and dreamers and doers out to create a better world, and I wanted more of these groups to learn about each other’s initiatives, connect, and collaborate.”

This is an excerpt only. READ MORE in Inquirer.net.

My weight loss journey: 12 weeks, 20 lbs, no fad diet (Rappler.com)

(First published on August 16, 2014 on Rappler.com)

Here are some of the things that the writer did to make that change happen for the long haul.

SOURCE: Rappler.com
SOURCE: Rappler.com

Three months ago, I was 40 lbs. overweight, addicted to chocolates and sweets, and hardly able to walk up 4 short flights of steps without running out of breath. I had just moved into a new job, and my medical test results showed that my cholesterol and triglycerides were high, and my blood sugar levels were above normal.

And don’t get me started on my body-mass index (BMI). At 5’2.5”, my highest recorded weight was 150 lbs., and my BMI category was “Obese I.” Although childless, I had been asked a few times if I was expecting or had already given birth, since I had gained 40 lbs. in 4 years.

No matter how my family and friends tried to reassure me that I still looked okay despite the overall roundness, I knew deep inside that this wasn’t how I was supposed to be.

Fast-forward to 12 weeks later, and I had lost exactly 21.5 lbs. without going on some fad “diet,” surgery, or anything extraordinary.

BEFORE AND AFTER. Happier in the process. Photos provided by Nina Terol
BEFORE AND AFTER. Happier in the process. Photos provided by Nina Terol

did make the decision to completely change my routine, lifestyle, and overall outlook on my health and life. Here are some of the things that I did—and still do—to make that change happen for the long haul.*

1. Walk to work. When I moved into a new job, I also made the decision to move closer to my new office for two reasons: (1) to avoid the horrendous cross-city traffic that would waste so much time and money; and (2) to start walking to work every day. It was one of the best decisions I had ever made.

My daily walk takes around 20 minutes both ways, acting as my warm-up and cool-down for the day. It also jump-started my entire system to get moving again from what used to be a completely sedentary lifestyle.

2. Move, move, MOVE. Once I had gotten used to walking to and from work, I also made the decision to move about as much as I could. I followed expert advice to get up from my desk every 90 minutes—time that I also use when I need a writing break or when I need to talk to some colleagues on the other end of the office.

I’ve also tried editing material while standing up—just to keep myself awake and alert while reading otherwise sleep-inducing drafts.

I’m also fortunate enough to work in an office with a (free) gym just in the same floor, so I started out by doing some slow cycling on the exercise bike—while reading a work-related book—either during the lunch break or after work.

Once my body felt strong enough, I moved to the treadmill and did 30-minute power walk sessions after work. I have since “graduated” to running on the treadmill for 30 to 40 minutes per session, at least two times a week on weekdays.

On weekends, I make sure to wake up early enough to catch the morning sun and jog around the neighborhood by 8AM.

SOURCE: Rappler.com

3. Get fit with friends. Thanks to a friend who invited me to check out a Zumba class, I now get to dance Zumba at least once a week—burning a lot of calories while getting fit, making new friends, andhaving fun.

I also realized in the process that I enjoy dancing even if I don’t have a dance background and am not even very good at it. So aside from Zumba, I’ve also started dancing salsa with friends—and taking every possible opportunity to just dance and move to good music.

Aside from that, I have a best friend who’s a yoga teacher and a cousin who used to be a personal trainer. Once I opened up to their guidance and support, I’ve been able to incorporate more balanced practices into my everyday routine and lifestyle.

4. Junk the (bad) carbs. This is important: No matter how much you move, you won’t get healthy enough unless you junk the bad carbs from your system. This includes such Filipino staples as white rice, white bread, white pasta, and all sorts of sweets, pastries, andmerienda fare. For me, cutting the rice, bread, pasta, and pizza was easy—it’s cutting out the chocolates and the sweets that continues to be a challenge.

This is also where the conscious, active decision to be fit and healthy kicks in: I’ve realized that for our bodies to change, we first have to change our minds about “the way things have always been done.”

This has meant redefining what constitutes a “good meal”, as well as getting my family on board about healthier options during family get-togethers.

SOURCE: Rappler.com

5. Train your taste buds. Substitute. So if you can’t eat white rice, white breads, and pasta, what can you eat? Some prefer eating red or brown rice, or whole grain bread and pasta, which contain more nutrients than their whiter, refined counterparts.

I, on the other hand, have decided to junk those altogether and instead use salads and vegetables for my everyday meals.

I love the fact that pre-washed salad packs are now readily available in supermarkets and convenience stores—it takes the guesswork out of my meals and makes it easier for me to eat healthy. For me, “lettuce is the new rice.” (It looks prettier on Instagram photos, too!)

Also, if you must absolutely use sweeteners for your drinks, go for stevia or agave instead of white sugar or even artificial sweeteners with aspartame. Both stevia and agave are plant-based, are sweeter, and have a lower glycemic index than white sugar, preventing a “sugar crash” and nasty cravings later on.

Other substitutions you can make: tea instead of coffee, dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) instead of milk chocolate, lemon water instead of fruit juices (which are also high on sugar, especially if they’re processed and artificial), vinaigrette instead of heavy dressings, clear soup instead of creamy soups, and herbs and spices instead of artificial flavors. All those little choices add up, and will contribute to a healthier you in the long run.

6. Redefine “happy meals.” Apologies to the big, corporate fast food chains out there, but my new idea of a “happy meal” is a meal that: (a) is good for me and my body; and (b) I’ve lovingly prepared for myself, right from my own kitchen.

I used to think that cooking my own baon was such a hassle—especially since I cook for just one. But once I realized that cooking for myself was an act of self-love and self-nurturing, I’ve come to enjoy preparing my own meals and see it as my way of taking care of myself. (If I don’t do it, who else will?)

7. Reimagine trips and buffets. My big test came when I had three consecutive weekends of out-of-town trips and access to buffets. Instead of enjoying the fluffy hotel linens and sleeping in like I used to do, I chose to enjoy early-morning beachside jogs, laps in the pool, and detoxing in the hotel sauna—aside from the off-site trips where I walked and moved around as much as I could.

I also used the buffets as opportunities to choose healthier dishes that I normally don’t get to prepare at home.That meant muesli and fresh fruits for breakfast, and different kinds of salad and seafood for lunch and dinner. The takeaways: more confidence to wear a bathing suit and a good, lasting tan.

8. Move on from a heartache. There truly is nothing like a major heartache to motivate you to lose weight, get fit, and take better care of yourself.

But instead of gorging on ice cream and chocolates while watching sappy rom-coms, I did the opposite: I went out there and rediscovered the things that truly meant so much to me but were just buried beneath a gazillion other obligations. I used the space left by the old to make way for the new, and I’m healthier and happier because of it.

A bonus: when someone new comes along to inspire you, you’re already a much better version of yourself—inside and out—than you used to be.

SOURCE: Rappler.com

9. Set measurable goals. There’s a saying that goes, “What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done.” At the start of the 12 weeks, I challenged myself to lose 40 lbs.—without spending on expensive diets and programs—in just four months. I set certain special occasions as milestones, and I’ve kept my eye on the ball since then.

I’ve also challenged myself to run a 3K race next month and a 5K race by December, with guidance from my trainer-cousin.

I obviously won’t be able to lose the extra 18.5 lbs. in just four more weeks, but I know that I’ll at least come close to my goal and will end up much healthier and happier than when I started out.

10. Cut yourself some slack. I admit—there were two weeks out of the 12 when I really indulged in a lot of dark chocolate goodies, some heavy red meats, and paella (my all-time favorite dish). I’ve also had the occasional pizza and (again, dark chocolate) cake slice for colleagues’ birthdays.

I still drink wine and craft beer when going out. But that’s the beauty of this new lifestyle I’m on: I am not on a “diet”, which means I’m not going to deprive myself of little indulgences when the occasion calls for it.

Sustainable path

I’d like to believe that I’m on a more sustainable path to health and wellness—which means no feelings of deprivation, no mood swings, no hunger pangs, and no cravings. I’m eating well, taking better care of my body, but also listening to myself when I need a cup of hot cocoa.

I’m also enjoying life and the company of family and friends, and I’m not going to be the party pooper just because there are bad carbs on the table. Life is about balance, after all.

I’m pretty confident that, with a more loving attitude toward my body and soul and with the support of family and friends, I’m not only going to reach my ideal weight, I’ll also be able to keep it off and live healthier for the rest of my life. – Rappler.com

10 lessons I learned from having a lesbian sister (Rappler.com)

(First published on March 12, 2014 in Rappler.com)

My sister came out to the family when she was in her teens – although she says she knew as early as 5 or 7 years old that she did not have a girl’s heart. It took a while for our family to accept and adjust to this reality even if the signs were there very early on: Kens over Barbies, cars over dolls, crying whenever she would be asked to wear a dress, challenging guys to “one-on-one” on the basketball court instead of entertaining suitors.

My mom would say that she was just “boyish” and “athletic” (which was true because she was a star athlete in her youth). My dad thought she would “outgrow” it by the time she would have gotten her period. I, on the other hand, was pleased because she was the fairer, prettier daughter, and I wanted her to “be a boy” so that I could “eliminate the competition” in the family. Meanwhile, my brother was pissed because he was supposed to be the only boy in the family.

It’s been around 20 years since that time, and our family’s relationship with my sister has taught us many things. I wish to share some of them here in case it helps others who are processing their own “modern families.”

1. Your inability to process and accept reality is reflective of your issues, not hers.

From what I remember, my sister was very confident about coming out. She knew who she was and what she wanted, and she was simply stating her truth. I was the one embarrassed to accept it. My feelings then oscillated between pity and disgust – simply because I didn’t know any better. I was at an age where labels and public perception meant so much, and it hurt me to have a lesbian sister on top of coming from a “broken family.” (This was the early 90s, when such realities were still taboo in the Philippines.)

I didn’t want to have the label “dysfunctional” attached to me and my family, so I faced the facts with a lot of anger. In the end, my anger hurt me and my ability to be loving more than it did her.

2. The sooner you can accept the truth, the sooner you’ll understand what “family” is really all about.

My siblings and I are lucky to have been raised by fairly liberal parents – especially my mom, who had traveled the world and had been exposed to life’s realities at an early age. I think she was the first to accept my sister’s choices, and she chose to still love my sister with open arms. It didn’t mean it was easy or that there weren’t any issues and fights in between, but the love and acceptance were there. That example of my mom showed me what family is really all about – you’re not just a group of people bound by blood and genes; you’re there to accept and love each other no matter what.

3. Love is love.

Speaking of love: seeing the relationships within my family, and seeing my sister and her (many) partners through the years also showed me that love is not (and should not be) gender-based. Love is love – it’s either there or it isn’t. A heterosexual relationship can have just as many issues as a homosexual relationship. If people want to cheat and/or be assholes in their relationship, they will cheat and/or be assholes. If people want to be faithful, they will be faithful. I’m sure some quarters don’t agree with this, but if love is truly unconditional, then it will know no boundaries.

4. Children are more “gender-blind” than adults and will accept their parents just the way they are.

My sister has a 14-year-old daughter, and where the adults have been quick to question and judge, my niece has been nothing but loving and loyal to my sister. Sure, they have their fair share of mother-daughter issues (who doesn’t?), but my niece has shown us how fiercely she loves her mom – no matter what. I guess it’s a testament to the kind of loving family environment in which my niece was raised, which I again credit to my mom’s own example of unconditional love and acceptance.

5. She makes for a great travel companion.

Now on to the “more fun” stuff. My sister and I, being a freelance writer and a freelance photographer, respectively, have had the privilege of traveling together to cover foreign events. Because my sister is the chivalrous kind – and maybe because I’m the older sibling – she offers to carry my luggage, give me the more comfortable seat, and generally make sure I’m okay when we’re moving about. It also means that I get a free bodyguard because she’s quick to block any jerk that tries to make a pass at me. And because she’s generally funny and loves being a clown, she makes for great entertainment even during the most exasperating of travel mishaps.

6. I get a stylist and a wardrobe critic in one.

My sister is the stylish kind, and she’s great at deciding what goes best with what. She’s even done my hair and makeup on some occasions, which is great when you don’t have the proverbial gay best friend to do that for you. Since she also looks at women with a guy’s eye, she can tell me straight up if a particular look doesn’t work. But because she still (sometimes) thinks and feels like a girl, she’s sensitive enough not to blurt out anything about my weight.

FAMILY LOVE. The author (leftmost) says unconditional love defines a truly "modern family."
FAMILY LOVE. The author (leftmost) says unconditional love defines a truly “modern family.”

7. She may act tough, but she’s a softie, too.

My sister can be a toughie, but there are times when she reminds you (or you remind yourself) that she’s still a girl. There are still some things that affect her the way it would affect any girl, and there are still times when she gets all “Mother Hen-ny” on the people she loves.

8. Just because she looks like a guy doesn’t mean she doesn’t get PMS.

I always kid my sister that her period is Mother Nature’s way of reminding her that she’s a girl. She gets the mood swings and the cravings and all these other PMS-y things the way any biological female would. That said, be more sensitive around her when it’s the time of the month.

9. Whatever she may look like, a sister will always be a sister.

Even after she stopped being “competition” to me in the looks and boys department, my sister and I continued to be like cat and dog. We’ve had our fair share of big wars and little skirmishes, but love and sisterhood would always prevail, and we would always find our way back to each other. The most important thing that I learned from my relationship from my sister is that, while we may never have braided each other’s hair (we pulled them, more often that not), may never have talked about boys, and may never be able to completely understand each other, we will always be sisters – with that inexplicable bond that will stay with us forever.

10. Forgiveness will heal even the deepest, most painful wounds.

My sister and I have had a most unconventional childhood (to say the least), filled with enough traumatic experiences and painful lessons to last us several lifetimes. We’ve faced betrayal in the face several times, and we’ve had to deal with a lot of anger and bitterness in the family. It has taken decades to get over these issues, and there are times when we still find ourselves in a process of conscious healing. Through it all, what has saved us is forgiveness – of others, of each other, of ourselves.

If unconditional love is the bedrock of each family, then I think forgiveness is the first necessary ingredient of that love. None of us is perfect – we know that all too well in our family – but because we were all willing to forgive, to love, and to move on, we’ve become a stronger family, capable of even so much more love than we thought we could give. – Rappler.com

Lessons from a conversation with best-selling author Mitch Albom

Perhaps my best assignment ever as a writer has been getting to meet and chat with one of the world’s most beloved authors, Mitch Albom. Unknown to many, Albom was a musician and an award-winning sports journalist before he captured hearts and minds all over the world with the #1 New York Times bestseller, Tuesdays with Morrie.

After having published his latest novel, The First Phone Call from Heaven, Albom took the opportunity to visit the Philippines not only to promote his book, but also–and more importantly–to help rebuild libraries in the towns most heavily hit by supertyphoon Haiyan (local name: Yolanda).

For this series of articles on Rappler.com, Mr. Albom and I talked about his library-rebuilding and charity efforts; his thoughts on success, fame; and happiness; and his candid thoughts on death, hope, and making every minute count in this life.

MEETING MITCH ALBOM IN MANILA: Niña Terol-Zialcita with best-selling author Mitch Albom & freelance photographer Toni Alvarez
MEETING MITCH ALBOM IN MANILA: Niña Terol-Zialcita with best-selling author Mitch Albom & freelance photographer Toni Alvarez | Photo courtesy of JB Roperos of National Bookstore, Philippines

I’ll be sharing some quotable quotes here, but please feel free to read and share the original features. (And please remember to vote on Rappler’s Mood Meter! :))

Part 1: Here to help: Why Mitch Albom decided to visit PH

"DONATION. The author aims to bring back reading materials in the typhoon ravaged area so children can enjoy books once more." | Photos courtesy of Toni Alvarez and National Bookstore, posted on Rappler.com | Click on the image to view the original post
“DONATION. The author aims to bring back reading materials in the typhoon ravaged area so children can enjoy books once more.” | Photos courtesy of Toni Alvarez and National Bookstore, posted on Rappler.com | Click on the image to view the original post

“Not only do I want to call attention to these efforts to rebuild these libraries… I’ve [also] called upon my fellow authors in America to donate 10 books apiece of their own books.”

In just one day, he got pledges from “a good 10 to 12” authors, including Stephen King (The Shining), Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club), Scott Turow (Presumed Innocent), James McBride (The Good Lord Bird), and Ridley Pearson (The Kingdom Keepers series).

“I’m also going to go after (John) Grisham, James Patterson…I’m not going to stop until I get them to say yes. I’m pretty sure they will. So I want to be able to go there on Monday and say that… all of these American authors want to show their support for getting back to regular life, which for us is being able to go and take a book from the library.”

Read the full post HERE.

Here’s another quotable quote from this piece that I love:

A quotable quote by Mitch Albom, shared with Niña Terol-Zialcita (@ninaterol) | Designed on Canva.com
A quotable quote by Mitch Albom, shared with Niña Terol-Zialcita (@ninaterol) | Designed on Canva.com

Part 2: Finding meaning in work, life; 5 lessons to learn from Mitch Albom

"REMARKABLE. Mitch Albom would not 'cheapen' Morrie by writing a sequel. Instead, he explored his own skill set and listened to his instincts – just like Morrie taught him. Photo by Toni Alvarez" | Posted on Rappler.com | Click on the image to view the original post
“REMARKABLE. Mitch Albom would not ‘cheapen’ Morrie by writing a sequel. Instead, he explored his own skill set and listened to his instincts – just like Morrie taught him. Photo by Toni Alvarez” | Posted on Rappler.com | Click on the image to view the original post

A lot of quotable quotes from this article! Watch Mr. Albom share his thoughts on failure, success, fame, and happiness in his own voice 🙂

Here’s another quote that I love from this second piece:

A quotable quote on success by Mitch Albom, share with Niña Terol-Zialcita (@ninaterol) | Created with Canva.com
A quotable quote on success by Mitch Albom, share with Niña Terol-Zialcita (@ninaterol) | Created with Canva.com

Read the full post HERE.

Part 3: Mitch Albom: Thoughts on death, making every minute count

"MITCH ALBOM. 'I’m not ready for it; I don’t think anybody’s ready for it… Nobody knows until they face it,' he says, about death and dying. Photo by Toni Alvarez | Posted on Rappler.com | Click on the image to view the original post
“MITCH ALBOM. ‘I’m not ready for it; I don’t think anybody’s ready for it… Nobody knows until they face it,’ he says, about death and dying. Photo by Toni Alvarez | Posted on Rappler.com | Click on the image to view the original post

For this piece, Mr. Albom shared some candid thoughts on death and “leaving too soon”, but he also spoke of despair and hope. Watch this video for more insights:

Here’s another great quotable quote:

A quotable quote on death and making life count by Mitch Albom, shared with Niña Terol-Zialcita (@ninaterol) | Created with Canva.com
A quotable quote on death and making life count by Mitch Albom, shared with Niña Terol-Zialcita (@ninaterol) | Created with Canva.com

Read the full post HERE.

Liked what you saw and watched here? 🙂 Feel free to share it with those who need a little picker-upper in their days. 🙂

P.S. To learn more about Mitch Albom’s charity work in the Philippines, read his latest website post, or visit A Hole in the Roof Foundation.

Answer these questions and define your own passions

Over a year ago, I was asking myself some life questions and came up with this doodle.

"PASSION" | Scribble by Niña Terol-Zialcita (2012)
“PASSION” | Scribble by Niña Terol-Zialcita (2012)

I’d like to invite you to answer these same questions and reflect on what it says about you, your life mission, and your current priorities. I feel like for me, NOW is the perfect time to answer this again and see how things have changed since the time I drew this.

I’ll definitely be sharing my answers on this blog. In the meantime, consider this my way of wishing you all a HAPPY WEEKEND! 🙂

 

In the News: ‘The tweet is mightier than the sword’ (Rappler)

In September 2012, I was fortunate enough to have been one of the panelists of Mashable and Rappler‘s “Social Good Summit” in Manila. Here’s an excerpt of a feature about some insights that I and fellow netizen Jane Uymatiao shared with the audience.

To view my full segment, please watch the video on the right sidebar. To view a summary of the  Social Good Summit, please click HERE.

Hope to see more of you “super citizens” online! 😉

‘The tweet is mightier than the sword’

Writter by Paterno Esmaquel II, originally published on Rappler (September 22, 2012)
NETIZENS' SUMMIT. Representatives from various media outfits attend the Social Good Summit co-organized by Rappler. Photo by Paterno Esmaquel II
NETIZENS’ SUMMIT. Representatives from various media outfits attend the Social Good Summit co-organized by Rappler. Photo by Paterno Esmaquel II

MANILA, Philippines – The government should step up to protect Filipino “super citizens” who, through cyberspace, slam politicians and help their disaster-stricken countrymen, said a panelist at a netizens’ summit Saturday, September 22.

This is needed at a time when the tweet, in the words of another panelist at the Social Good Summit Manila 2012, has become “mightier than the sword.”

The Philippine government, in particular, needs to legislate a Magna Carta for Netizens, said Pipol Power Institute executive director Nina Terol-Zialcita at the summit organized by Rappler and Tweetup Manila.

In an interview, Zialcita told Rappler that various netizens have drafted a proposed Magna Carta, and will consult legal experts and legislators about this. She said the law would “protect netizens’ rights” and provide a framework “upon which we should guide how we regulate ourselves.”

“We feel that as netizens, we have a tool in our hands that is very powerful. We have to learn to use it responsibly. We want our freedom. We want to be able to act and share information in a certain way. We want to be able to deliver information in a certain way. But we also recognize that we also have a responsibility,” Zialcita explained.

This is an excerpt only. To view the full post, as well as the video interview about the Magna Carta for Internet Freedom, click HERE. To view a summary of the  Social Good Summit, please click HERE.

Dreamboarding: Cutting and Pasting Dreams onto Reality (Homegrown.ph)

Dreamboarding: Cutting And Pasting Dreams Onto Reality

Published on February 7, 2013 in Homegrown.ph

To make a dream come true, some action is required. Creating a visual plan may be what you need to help you achieve your success goals.

/ by Niña Terol-Zialcita /

Much has been said and written about visualizing your goals in order to make them real. The late great Stephen Covey, whose Seven Habits of Highly Successful People has guided millions of driven individuals on the path of success, said it best when he said, “Begin with the end in mind.”

You need to know what success looks like for you to know when you’ve already achieved it—much like an architect needs to first create a blueprint, then a 3D rendition or a scale model, of the structure he or she wants to build before the actual construction takes place. Similarly, any traveler will need a map to locate his or her destination and to know the pit stops and potential pitfalls along the way.

It would be difficult to get exactly what you like or where you need to go if you don’t even know what it looks like.

The first step, then, to creating a blueprint or a map for your goals is to create a dreamboard.

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This is an excerpt only. To read the full article, visit the Homegrown.ph website

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.