If we really want SK beyond 2020…

 

Sharing with you the thoughts of Commissioner James Ceasar Ventura of the National Youth Commission regarding Pagudpud’s Paloma beauty pageant that the town’s SK willingly got involved in, and in general how SKs around the country have been doing by far. Note though that here he is giving his personal position as a young leader, and his statements should not be taken as the position of his agency. It would be worthy to listen to his thoughts because James is sincerely one of those who truly want the SK to succeed.

james Ventura
James Ceasar Ventura

“At a personal level, Sir, I don’t believe we really need pageants right now. It’s too costly for entertainment. Waste of resources. That’s regardless of SK man yan o Buwan ng Wika, Tourism, whatsoever.

“Plus there are too many things we need to prioritize. In Ilocos, it would be teenage pregnancy, jobs, access to quality education, life skills kung kabataan ang pag-uusapan.

“I appreciate the SKs for helping their LGU implement its programs and activities, but I would have appreciated them more if they opposed the Paloma pageant for these reasons:

“1. They could have asked LGU to give them the funds which could be used for a scholarship or a training on crime or illegal drugs prevention.

“2. By supporting the activity, even without paying for it using the SK funds, the SK officials consented on inefficient budget use, and tolerated the culture of reducing gender issues as a laughing matter.

“I’d be honest, Sir. Many SKs are at a loss hanggang ngayon. They do not know what to do while they are also under pressure to do something ASAP. Hence, they become welcoming to proposals such as pageants and sports activities. Templated na kasi at madali nang gawin.

“I hope there were more of us at NYC to really guide them on the ground. I pray that their Youth Development Officer, their LGU and other youth leaders are already sitting down to plan for their kabataan. If that doesn’t happen, I don’t look forward for another SK election by 2020.”

I thank James for making me believe in youth power despite my cynicism. I was hoping the reformed SK would produce more noble young Filipinos like you, but what we have now, as in the past, are many SK officials and federation presidents elected not on the basis of their skills and zeal to serve, but on the strength of their blood relations. Trapo manipulation of the youth remain strong. And, as you said, SK officials are at a loss on what to do.

My humble advice to them is to carefully craft relevant, high-impact, and sustainable programs instead of falling to the allure of tokenism and Instagram fame. SKs have been in the position for only a few days and there have been activities done here and there and more lined up in the coming weeks. Coastal clean-ups, blood letting activities, sports programs are good, but they must be a part of honest-to-goodness programs and not turn out as sporadic activities that only look good on Instagram.

I don’t believe in the necessity and relevance of SK, not anymore at this time in our national life, as it was a bane in the past two decades. It was a nice idea that belonged to another era. It’s a dead intervention that should have remained peacefully in the grave of our collective political memory. But because the SKs are here and they are given public funds, let us, with all we can help them succeed. If this be the last batch of SK, may they build good memories before we bury this idea back to the grave of ignominy.

 

SK is back with a blast! Ilocos Norte town SK get busy with beauty contest

Pagudpud SK
Pagudpud SK Officials pose with their winning bets.

THE REFORMED SK is back. It’s officials in Philippine barangays assumed office on July 1.

Much has been said about the reforms made in the new edition of the Sangguniang Kabataan, through Republic Act 10742 or the SK Reform Act,especially on how youth leaders have been empowered to better contribute in national development, thereby erasing the reputation it has sadly earned in years past—that it is irrelevant, corrupt, and a bane to an already bloated bureaucracy. Bringing SK back to life was a big challenge, but its believers, including my friend James Ventura, who is commissioner-at-large of the National Youth Commission, are holding their hopes high.

It seems like the youth leaders of Pagudpud town here in Ilocos Norte are up to the challenge. In their first days in office, they got themselves busy with their first assignment, their baptism of fire: a beauty contest. The town is celebrating its 64th Founding Anniversary, and SK officials in the different barangays were in charge of scouting for candidates and preparing them for competition, and in serving as ushers and production staff during the competition proper. I learned from my interview with Rex Benemerito Jr., the SK Federated President of Pagudpud, that these assignments were given to them by the Municipality’s Tourism Office. What kind of competition did they get busy with?

It’s actually the brainchild of the town mayor. Straight males get dressed and made up as women, inspired by the Paloma character in the epic television soap, Ang Probinsiyano. Ten contestants from different barangays vied for the title, Miss Paloma 2018. While the competition is already on its third year, Kevin Riveral, the SK chair of Brgy. 2 explained, “Kami po yung partner ng LGU para maging possible ulit ang Miss Paloma 2018.” (As the partner of the LGU, we—the  SK—made possible the restaging of Miss Paloma 2018.) Kevin said he is “so happy a naisabak kamin uray katugtugawmi pay laeng.” (We are so happy that we got to work immediately even if we have just assumed office.)

The event was a crowd drawer. Expectedly there was a lot of laughter as it’s an old, tried-and-tested formula to get Filipinos entertained by male cross-dressing. But what actually did Pagudpud achieve with this? Well, organizers say, it gave men the rare opportunity to experience what a woman goes through.  But isn’t it lame to have that mindset? Being a woman is certainly more than wearing heavy make up and high heels. You could, in fact, be a woman even if you have a different sense of fashion.

If at all, the pageant only perpetuates gender stereotypes. “It doesn’t promote gender sensitivity because the candidates are being a laughing stuff,” PJ Quitoriano, a well-distinguished young transgender from Pagudpud, notes. He also lamented that the show fell short of promoting neither the empowerment of women nor the LGBT. The same sentiment was echoed by the Head of the Committee on Gender and Development of the nationally acclaimed Sirib Ilokano Kabataan Association: “It only promotes the culture of domination because participants are reduced to being objects of laughter.”

I will leave it to you, dear reader, to assess the merits of the first activity Pagudpud’s youth leaders embarked on. I will be cruel if I don’t give them credit for their effort. Some of them (and I know this because I was their speaker on Public Service ethics during their mandatory SK training held in May) may actually be truly eager to serve and make a difference.

But they started on the wrong foot.

While SK is back to life, I maintain that there are things that should have remained dead.

I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

Demonizing our tricycle drivers

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ONE OF THE favorite punching bags of netizens, at least those in my social circles, are tricycle drivers. The most common complaints include overpricing, refusing to convey, and rudeness.

While I believe that some passengers do have legitimate concerns on certain instances, and it is well within their rights to file a formal complaint ant to rant on social media, I lament that tricycle drivers have, in general, been treated contemptuously and have been “othered” as if they are cruel predators from another world.

I have read a fair amount of literature on tricycle drivers, particularly because one my past thesis advisees, Ralph Lasaten, had the tricycle drivers of Batac City as the subject of his sociological study. Among the observations that struck me was of Colbert Bellevue, an American. He said that because tricycles are in demand in most cities and towns in the Philippines, “tricycle drivers can command and exact chartered fare prices without any room for bargaining or haggling for a fair fare.” He went on to say that “the glitter of money in the heart and soul of a tricycle driver extinguishes the human kindness, compassion, helpfulness and goodwill to strangers; and henceforth, he becomes a ‘crocodile’ and a ‘wolf’ waiting for a prey at a corner of the road.”

I wouldn’t dispute Colbert’s observations. Indeed, the world is filled with opportunistic beings, and some of them happen to be tricycle drivers. In Batac where I work, complaints against tricycle drivers are also aplenty, and the famous line, “Dobliemton, ading” (Please double the fare) is met with revulsion. In Vigan and elsewhere, there have been cases as well of overcharging.

I usually have a great deal of tolerance with people ranting on social media, and this includes their ordeals with tricycle drivers, but a young lady’s Facebook post particularly caught my attention. You be the judge if the tricycle driver deserved the badmouthing he got from the lady’s sympathizers.

The young lady, a college graduate, rode a tricycle in queue (nakapila) at a shopping store in downtown Laoag. The tricycle driver said that if the lady was willing to pay twenty pesos, they would go immediately. The lady complained that it was too much and that with twenty pesos, she could already pay a bus fare to Batac. She noted that the jeepney terminal she was going to was just near. “It’s okay, but would you be willing for another passenger to go with you?” the driver asked. The lady agreed. But perhaps because of her impatience, she later told the driver, “nayunak to lattan,” she will just give an extra amount. So they went. Upon reaching the destination, the lady paid the driver 15 pesos. It is four pesos more than the regular 11-peso fare. However, the tricycle driver demanded 20 pesos because that was the amount she had earlier asked from the passenger. The lady reasoned out that she never promised to pay twenty pesos, and that she only offered to give something extra. After the short spat, the lady grudgingly paid 20. Shortly after, she ranted on social media, there posting the tricycle’s sidecar number.  The lady gained support from her friends who branded the tricycle driver as “abusado.” Many suggested that the tricycle driver be immediately reported to the police, to which the lady agreed.

As I said, there’s no denying that some tricycle drivers may be rude, some are choosy with their passengers, while others demand for more than the usual fare. But let us analyze the case of the young lady.

The tricycle driver was in a queue. He may have been in the line for at least half an hour. When passengers are scarce, the wait for a tricycle driver’s turn to get passengers could take an hour or more. It is definitely justified for them to have at least two passengers. But the young lady wanted special accommodation (she wanted to have the tricycle go pronto and all to herself) and that is why she offered to pay extra. The tricycle driver thought the young lady was willing two pay 20 pesos, but it turned out she would only give 15. I am not good in math, but I am sure that if only the lady was willing to wait, she would have paid only 11 pesos, and the tricycle driver would have earned at least 22 pesos, 33 if there were two other passengers, and even more if their destinations were farther, as 11 pesos was only good, according to the official fare guide, for the first one kilometer. Pray, tell me, how could the lady, in good conscience deprive the driver, who waited a long time for his turn, with the earning he rightfully deserves?

Five pesos. That’s the difference between what the lady was willing to pay and what the driver expected. Five pesos. The reason why the tricycle driver was portrayed as a monster, a crocodile, a dirt and abomination of society.

Hinay-hinay lang naman, mga kapatid. Please take it easy on them. Life is hard, yes. The tricycle drivers’ lives could even be more difficult than ours. Most of them do not have their own vehicles and have to pay a daily boundary to tricycle operators. In Laoag City, it’s around 250 a day, and that does not include expenses for gasoline. Only after they produce boundary and gasoline do they start earning for themselves. It should also be noted that the current minimum fare of eleven pesos was set by the Laoag City government in April 2011, that’s over seven years ago when prices of fuel and basic commodities were considerably lower.

“It’s not our fault that the queues are long, or that the driver does not have his own tricycle, or that transport fares have not been adjusted, or that life is unfair” one may justify, but it totally shows a lack of empathy for one’s fellowmen. Tricycle drivers, let me make this clear, are not our enemy.  They suffer like we do, and they even surely struggle more than the rest of us who can afford to spend a lot of time ranting on Facebook.

Because of scarce parking spaces, I prefer to commute when going to the centro, and tricycles have always made life easier. I pay more than what they ask. I pay more when the heat of the sun is punishing, or when the rains have the drivers soaked all day. I pay even more especially when they don’t ask for more. I do so not only because I can afford it, but because I want to. And each time I alight from the tricycle and hand them my fare, I say a word of thanks.

Like anyone, I could also be short-fused when the tricycle drivers are rude and in which case I don’t try to hide my disgust, but those are very rare instances, and as much as I could, I just take a deep breath and say a little prayer that God may help the fellow get past a bad day. I wouldn’t report anyone to the police—who already have more than enough in their hands—unless I am seriously aggravated. If it’s just my ego that’s hurt, I try to suffer a little, let it pass, and still keep my faith in my fellowmen.

It’s funny though that many professionals and high earners tend to be harsher in treating tricycle drivers. I know many of them. In stark contrast, Manang Glory, our help for  many years who has since retired, to this day refuses to use her Senior Citizen privileges, pays the regular fare, and most of the time gives even more. “Kaasida met” (I pity them), she would say. What a show of empathy. What a redemptive humanity!

This leads me to reflect on why tricycle drivers are easy targets of complaints both on social media and in the police station. And why people feel entitled to use the harshest adjectives on them.

While tricycle drivers are very much a part of our daily lives, we have become insensitive to their own concerns, blind to their sufferings, deaf to their pleadings, and while we ride their vehicles as they bring us safely to the comfort of our homes, we have only always seen them for their use but never for their worth. We have shamelessly “othered” them. And because they are disempowered and lowly, we easily pick on these tricycle drivers, for the smallest reasons, to be at the receiving end of both our personal frustrations and social disillusionments.

If only we could be angry with corrupt politicians as much as people verbally assault a tricycle driver for asking a few pesos he has rightfully earned, we could live in a better place. But no, we call our officials “honorable” even as they plunder millions from the public coffers. There is no enough outrage for inefficient and corrupt public works contractors, greedy capitalists who can’t let go of contractualization, no anger for the leeches in electric cooperatives and water distribution utilities, no disdain for big-time thieves and scoundrels.

For there is always the tricycle driver to hate and demonize.

And we could always feel better about ourselves.

God bless our trip.

Here comes the Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School

House of Representatives

RA 10965

Expected to open next year in Laoag City, particularly in Brgy. Vira—a hilly village where large Fariñas estates are located—is the Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School.  President Rodrigo in December signed Republic Act No. 10965, the law mandating its creation.

People had mixed feelings about this news. While the creation of a new, modern, well-funded science high school in Ilocos Norte is a welcome development, not a few are baffled with its name.

The most vocal critic is Board Member Vicentito Lazo who repeatedly pointed out in the sessions of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan that “a street, plaza, or government building could be named after a person only after 10 years after his death except when that person had attained highly exceptional achievements or when the cause of death is due to patriotism or in the service of men.” The new science high school is named after Congressman and Majority Floor Leader Rudy Fariñas’ son JR who perished in a vehicular accident in 2015.

I would not deal with JR’s worthiness for such an honor or whether other great men and women better deserve the distinction, lest I be accused of disrespecting the dead, something I am not inclined to do. The Fariñas family, through the good congressman known for being a devoted father, have all the right to honor their departed loved one by any means allowed by law. And the law creating this science high school is by no means a weak piece of legislation.

After all, it was the Majority Floor Leader together with no less than the Speaker of the House, Pantaleon Alvarez who introduced House Bill No. 5235 entitled, “An Act Establishing a National Science High School in the City of Laoag, Province of Ilocos Norte to be known as Laoag City National Science High School and Appropriating Funds Therefor.” Note here the originally proposed name of the school.

After going through the process in the Lower House, in August last year it was sent to the Senate, requesting for concurrence. After being read on First Reading, it was referred to the Committee on Education, Arts and Culture chaired by Senator Francis Escudero and the Committee on Finance chaired by Senator Loren Legarda.

The joint committee recommended the bill’s approval without amendment and was thus presented on December 6 to the plenary for Second Reading through its sponsor, Senator Escudero. It must be noted that on that day, the senator made an omninus  sponsorship speech for 17 bills that seek to establish, separate, convert, and/or rename one elementary school and 16 secondary schools—including the Laoag City National Science High School.

In his explanatory note, Escudero posited that “Laoag City, being the capital of the Province of Ilocos Norte, deserves to have its own science high school to cater the needs of its growing number of elementary school graduates every academic year. The establishment of the Laoag City National Science High School aims to offer courses that focus on the fields of science, technology and mathematics. These courses will enable its students to be equipped with the proper training and adequate education for a science-oriented career. Thus, the Laoag City National Science High School will not only provide free and quality education but will also facilitate better opportunities for the future of the city’s youth.”

Normally, senators are given time to review proposed bills before the period of interpellation, but considering that the 17 bills are of local application and that local legislators, in this case the members of Congress who sponsored the bills, are “better informed and better equipped to make a judgment on these proposed bills,” the senators proceeded with the interpellation.

But no one stood during the interpellation and no amendments were proposed for any of the 17 bills… save for one. Senator Franklin Drilon made a manifestation proposing that the Laoag City National Science High School be named instead as Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School. This proposal was accepted by the Sponsor, and there being no objection, the Body approved the amendment to House Bill No. 5235. It was approved on Second Reading that day, and was subsequently approved on Third (and final) Reading on Dec. 11 through a unanimous vote.

On Dec. 13, HB 5235 was sent to the Office of the President of the Philippines. A few days after, Dec. 19, it was approved and signed into law by President Duterte, and became Republic Act No. 10965.

What I wanted to show here is that the law creating the Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School clearly went through the process and had the overwhelming support of the legislature and the Philippine president.

Is it legal? Yes. Unless someone challenges R.A. 10965’s constitutionality in the Supreme Court where it is declared as unconstitutional, it is a law that must be enforced and respected. But will anyone challenge it before the High Court? And who?

I don’t think even Governor Imee Marcos will go at great lengths to challenge this in the Supreme Court. She is now busy in her senatorial run, and this is not the best time to be at loggerheads with Congressman Fariñas. The memories of the 7171 congressional probe are still fresh. In fact, the inquiry has not yet even been fully, finally terminated and thus remains a potent bargaining chip of Congressman Fariñas.

Granting that somebody brave would challenge the wisdom of the Legislature and the Executive Branches of Government and would actually file a case in the Supreme Court, such person would all be but a hopeless martyr, if not a fool, wasting time and resources, and not least because after the Sereno impeachment, who among the justices would wish upon themselves the ire of a major presidential ally such as Congressman Fariñas?

And so we can say now with certainty that the Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School, barring any major political upheaval or popular dissent, will open next year. According to news reports, the initial science building will cost at least P110-M and will stand on a three-hectare government lot. Indeed, I have no doubts that Congressman Fariñas–especially because their family name, his beloved son’s name is at stake–will do everything within his vast powers to make it a good one, a great one, one hell of a model science high school in the country. And if this happens, the Ilocano learner will stand to benefit.

But this science high school, having been named the way it was named, will also be a publicly funded monument of a family’s love for a departed member. It will moreover be an unmistakeable proof of something we in this country already know and are doomed to endure for a longer time, perhaps for eternity unless we move towards political maturity: that politicians do things because they could.

Discrimination in Mister Laoag decried

mister laoag 2018

Laoag City could be one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in the Philippines. A third of its elected councilors are openly and proudly gay. There’s Rbee Ablan who comes from a prominent political family, businessman Handy Lao, and Mikee Fariñas who happens to be a daughter of the power couple—the city mayor and vice mayor. All three city councilors ran on a platform of gender equality and promised to promote gender-sensitive legislation. True to their promise, they pushed for the passage of The Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Ordinance of Laoag City which is currently under review by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. Moreover, Mayor Chevylle Fariñas is known to be friendly with the LGBT community, and gay people are highly placed under her administration. Gender discrimination was unheard of at the Laoag City Hall…

Until lately. It comes as a surprise that there is much resentment among members of the local LGBT community at this time because of an issue surrounding an event spearheaded ironically by Councilor Lao—the Mister Laoag pageant.

One aspirant is believed to have been rejected on account of his suspected relationship with a gay person. The basis? A photo of him in an intimate pose with a transgender. Note that the picture showed no nudity or any taint lewdness, but did give event organizers a hint that the aspirant could be in a same-sex relationship. During the interview held open to the public, the controversial aspirant (CA) was asked by the seven-member panel if it is true. Out on the spot, he denied it. The panel also felt at liberty to ask CA what roles he played in bed. Note that these questions were not asked all candidates.

Thirty-six applicants vied for 16 slots, and CA did not make the cut. In an interview, Councilor Lao explained to me that every aspirant was assessed holistically and that total personality of each aspirant was assessed. While Lao belived that CA was not rated based on one issue alone, the councilor did not deny that the issue could have, indeed, hurt his chances. It was a split-hair decision. Of the seven members of the selection panel, 4 voted to reject CA while 3 wanted him in. Lao was with the minority.

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Laoag Councilor Handy Lao

According to insiders, the organizers were worried at how having CA would affect the reputation of the show. Lao said they also wanted to protect the candidate from possible bashing and ridicule. They felt it was not time to have a candidate like CA in Mister Laoag.

There was outrage among LGBT members in Ilocos. Feeling insulted and rejected, they cried foul. They were quick to point out about hypocrisy and double standards. They felt betrayed by the bigoted act, especially because it was committed by friends. Those friends send the messages loud and clear: Having a same-sex relationship will deny you opportunities;  LGBT relationships ruin credibility.

Lao was well-aware of the outrage, and, in an interview with me, he confessed to have shed tears over the controversy. While he stands for the collegial decision of the screening panel, he accepts that shortcomings and excesses may have been committed. These, he said, will be seriously addressed in the next editions of Mister Laoag. As of our time of interview, the councilor is yet to reach out to CA or the members of the LGBT community. He said he was still collecting his thoughts and planning how to proceed.

“Needless to say, yes, something like that happened,” remarked Councilor Fariñas, promising to look closer into the matter. As an advocate for equality and respect that is due all human beings in the city, the councilor says he is disturbed by the issue. “I don’t think anybody should be judged based on their relationships because acceptance and respect inspire human persons to perform better and do well.” He said that the mayor is bent on gathering parties concerned to shed light on the unfortunate controversy.

Councilor Ablan, for his part, stressed that he will never tolerate discrimination. “I, for one, suffered from discrimination almost all my life. I know how it feels and I know what a person in this situation goes through,” he shared before asking, “Do we all have to have the same lives to enjoy the same rights?”

Aian Raquel, provincial tourism officer, makes this sad note, “Everybody knows what’s happening. No amount of sugarcoating and euphemism can hide homophobia even within the bakla circles.”

It is my fervent and sincere hope, dear karikna, that this issue is properly addressed so that we can honestly advance the right of individuals to freely affirm their sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression.

As for Laoag City and its illusions of LGBT advancement, the bubble has been burst. Only if we successfully shrug off the medieval, parochial, bigoted tendencies of people—especially those who make decisions that bear an impact on our collective consciousness—can we truly move forward.

We wish the Mister Laoag pageant well, and its pure, immaculate, unsullied reputation, and I seriously pray that this issue is settled in the soonest time. There should be no place for hate and hurt, not only because we will be celebrating the Laoag City Fiesta and Ilocos Norte’s bicentennial in the next days, but more because everyday we struggle in a world already filled with manmade misery and conflict, to live and let live.

Congressman Fariñas, non grata

persona

BY A resounding vote of 8, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Ilocos Norte in their regular session on June 27 declared Rudy Fariñas as persona non grata. The congressman was expectedly piqued, but he was right to point out in his statement that referring to someone as persona non grata is to say that “he or she is ostracized, and that such a person is for all intents and purposes culturally shunned, so as to be figuratively non-existent.” That exactly is what board members have done to him.

The term “persona non grata” is Latin for “a person not appreciated.” It was originally meant for diplomats and foreigners who have been deemed undesirable or unwelcome, but it is not the first time a Filipino citizen has been declared non grata in his own country.

Ramon Bautista was declared persona non grata by the Davao City Council for his hipon jokes in a party in the city during the celebration of Kadayawan Festival in 2014. Bautista joked that many women in the city are “hipon” which is a derogatory term for a person with a sexually appealing body but with a less attractive face.

Last year, the Sagguniang Panlalawigan of Pangasinan also declared Dr. Dexter Buted, president of the Pangasinan State University (PSU) as persona non grata after he snubbed the board’s three invitations to him and other university officials to appear before an inquiry.

But this indeed could be the first time a sitting congressman is declared persona non grata in his own province. What are its implications? Continue reading “Congressman Fariñas, non grata”

Why Rudy Fariñas won’t probe Laoag’s missing funds

 

(Note: Publishing here the reply of Congressman Rudy Fariñas on my previous article taking him to task for diligently investigating the Ilocos Norte 7171 — and detaining six Capitol employyes in the process — while turning a blind eye on Laoag City’s missing funds under the administration of his relatives.)

Herdy, Laoag’s missing funds were the accountability of Elena Asuncion, and she is presumed to have misappropriated them. The loss of the huge amount of money is of public knowledge and the COA, NBI and Ombudsman are investigating it.

On the other hand, the case of the misuse of the funds from the excise tax on tobacco, was granted by law to the beneficiary for specific purpose. It is incumbent upon Congress to review the law, aside from the fact that the acquisition of the 115 motor vehicles was overpriced and made through cash advances without public bidding.

Worse, all the documents relating to the transaction could no longer be located. If I did not initiate the investigation, would we have known about such? Do you believe that the 6 provincial officials detained, especially those who requested, received and/or approved the cash advances amounting to P66.45M could not remember such transactions? And if, as claimed by Gov. Marcos, that the transactions were above board, they could easily prove that and show that the documents we have are spurious.

My thoughts:

Indeed, Elena Asuncion is solely responsible for Laoag’s missing funds, and her bosses don’t bear any accountability, if not direct participation, for the plunder. And the earth is the center of the Solar system. Maria Ozawa is a virgin. Elvis Presley is still alive. The Philippines remains a colony of Spain. Ilocos Norte Electric Cooperative is not corrupt. Hannah’s Beach resort did not ruin Pagudpud’s environment. And Leni Robredo did not cheat in the vice presidential race.

Why Senator Miriam chose MMSU

 

TRANSCRIPT:

Last month, nag-usap-usap kami ng aking staff saan kami mag-inaugurate o mag-launch ng aming presidential at vice-presidential. Some suggested the North, some the South because I come from the Visayas, some wanted the rally or whatever event might happen inside Metro Manila, some outside Metro Manila. Pero bandang huli, dahil marami na masyado ang nagsasalita, ka’ko, dalhin niyo ako sa campus where I have always been most comfortable with an audience, but only a campus consisting of ordinary students. I want a campus with a high IQ.

(Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago at Mariano Marcos State University, Batac City, Feb. 9, 2016)

 

And, of course, the obligatory pick-up lines here:

=) =) =)

 

Not just a beauty pageant: A review of Miss Ilocos Norte 2015

from the Miss IN Facebook page
from the Miss IN Facebook page

The Coronation Night of Miss Ilocos Norte 2015 held May 9 at the Centennial Arena before a crowd of around 6,000 measured up to the hype it generated in the past weeks. One can argue that it is one of the best provincial beauty pageants in the country and, no exaggerations here, probably among the world’s finest.

I offer the following review.

A visual feast The set design by Ohm David, a resident in big Ilocos Norte events, was stunning as usual. The images on a giant HD screen were carefully chosen and animated, providing ambiance to the competition’s various parts. For instance, flashed for the long gown competition were the buttresses of the Paoay Church on a starry night. Miniature windmills and huge harps also accentuated the stage in succession. I am amazed by the organizers’ eye for details from the grand set to the flower arrangements on the judges’ table. The lighting was perfect, but, given the inherent acoustic limitations of the venue, the sounds could have been better.

All the production performers were good, but the background dancers during the swimsuit competition nailed it best. Wearing avant-garde costumes that fused Ilocano and Japanese elements, the dancers’ vogue movements were a joy to watch. They delivered a fresh presentation that did not steal the show from, but instead trained the spotlight on, the real stars: the 23 beauties. I have seen a lot of performances choreographed by Christian Espiritu, but that one, a total work of genius, is yet the best.

The gowns and costumes created by our local designers were mostly remarkable, some of them even world class. In the evening gown competition won by Miss Pagudpud in an Amor Albano creation, the work of Jaynny Lao perfectly donned by Miss Laoag was also a hit. I am really glad of the fabulous display of artistry and talent. But organizers says some of these designers already have attitude problems even before they make it really big. Our source did not elaborate. One wonders, by the way, why Windell Madis of Batac, the third fashion designer from Ilocos Norte to make it to a fashion-oriented reality TV show, did not make anything for anyone, not even for his own town. Something, dear karikna, is amiss here.

Continue reading “Not just a beauty pageant: A review of Miss Ilocos Norte 2015”

My dream summer workshop for 2015

phone workshopI am grateful to my parents for sending me to workshops–mostly held during summer when the young kid’s mind is idle and is potentially a devil’s, well, workshop.

I remember being in a theater company and starring in two one-act-plays–Dionisio Salazar’s Makapaghihintay ang Amerika and another play which title escapes my mind, but I do remember that it was one heavy, very meaningful piece where all of us actors wore black. I was, ehem, best actor in that one-night-only performance, and you can check with my fellow actors–Dennis Raquiza and Philip Zenon Diego, two of the most sought-after Ilocano creatives today–about this claim. The summer heat was intense but it was no match to the sizzling friendships I forged both with my fellow trainees and our passionate teachers.

If I were to bring back the proverbial hands of time to that part of my life when I had no responsibilities but to prepare myself how to be a productive member of society, I now have in mind what workshop to attend. Obviously, dear karikna, it’s on the poster that goes with this write up.

I can personally guarantee of the excellent artistry, craftsmanship, and versatility of the three workshop trainors: Ms. Jane, former manager of Samtoy Books, have conducted a number of successful workshops and exhibits. Ms. Marianne is one of Ilocos’ most sought-after photographers who has put together an amazing picture book. The 3rd member is Russel Andrew Villena whose expertise in digital photography and graphics technology is difficult to match.

I can entrust my own kids to them, only that I don’t have any yet.

 

 

 

Continue reading “My dream summer workshop for 2015”

Why this time I am proud of Laoag

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All pictures, except the two below, are from the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals Facebook Page/ Alaric Yanos, PGIN

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(This is the second of a series of articles comprising my critique on the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals 2014 held Nov. 29 at the Marcos Stadium in Laoag City. Read also the article Batac a genius… no loser!)

It was the fourth edition of the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals, now considered as the biggest gathering of Ilocanos, having drawn almost 50,000 in the Marcos Stadium last Nov. 29 at the Marcos Stadium. Celebrating greatness in most creative forms, the show featured once more performances from each of the 21 municipalities and 2 cities of Ilocos Norte.

Tan-ok, arguably the most anticipated event organized by the province, has steadily led to a state of maturity, taking small steps since its debut in 2011.  Without blinking an eye, I’d say that last installment was the best ever. There were a lot of breakthroughs—not just steps but strides towards even greater planes for this phenomenon. Let me, dear karikna, detail my observations through this series of critical notes.

Truthful, clear stories

“Your stories are your wealth,” the judges posited during the debriefing meeting held the day after the competition. They expressed amazement over the clarity and richness of the narratives they saw unfold in most performances. Unlike the street-dance based festivals in the Visayas like the Sinulog and Dinagyang, the strength of Ilocano presentations indeed lies on our people’s tales.

Personally, I am glad that the stories presented this year were not only entertaining, but more truthful. Indeed, as confessed by Edna Vida Froilan, one of the country’s dance icons, who sit as one of seven Tan-ok judges coming from diverse backgrounds, judges are like “babies” who don’t know or know very little about the culture of the locality. They thus evaluate performances based only on what they see. The burden of determining authenticity, therefore, are not on their shoulders.

It was wise of the festival organizers headed by creative director Aian Raquel to hold a story conference prior to the big event. I am happy (and humbled) to have been invited to share my thoughts to choreographers and key people involved in drafting the storylines of every contingent. I would usually just write critiques after the show, just like this one. Interacting with our local artists early on was a welcome experience because it allowed me to talk more on the future, and ramble less about the past. During the conference, I already had a feeling that this year’s Tan-ok will be very different. That feeling was right, and it was very evident in the case of Laoag. Continue reading “Why this time I am proud of Laoag”

As self-aggrandizing ‘victims’ become dictators, Marcos is loved today more than ever

Portrait of Ferdinand Marcos(Note: This essay was originally titled, Loving Marcos as a right: in defense of historical revisionism)

It is sad when self-aggrandizing freedom fighters cry foul whenever anything good is said about Ferdinand E. Marcos.  To them, he is pure evil and that the youth must be constantly reminded about alleged misdeeds during his presidency. Students such as the Ateneans who joyfully had selfies with Imelda are criticized for having poor historical knowledge while artists like Chito Miranda who perform in Marcos-related activities are chided for glorifying the ‘dark side.’

These ‘freedom fighters’ consider Filipinos who recount positive personal experiences during the Marcos era as ignorant or stupid. Meanwhile, writers whose accounts of history diverge from what anti-Marcos folks believe to be Gospel truth are branded as revisionists and propagandists.

These are foul.

For how could you blame farmers who enjoyed strong government support in the 70s for loving Marcos?

How could you blame mothers whose children enjoyed quality education, and who had more food on their tables then for remembering the president well?

How could you blame artists whose respective crafts blossomed under Imelda’s patronage for dreaming for the same support?

How could you refrain people from wishing we have today a more stable power supply, a saner traffic situation, and an efficient transport system the way they were when Marcos was president and Imelda was Metro Manila governor?

How could you look down at our countrymen who wish we have today the same level of respect we enjoyed in the international community when Marcos was president?

And, how could you prevent Filipinos from feeling hungry for reform, and from rooting for the new society Marcos envisioned or something to that effect?

These “how could you’s” go ad infinitum. Point is, as a growing majority of our countrymen now realize that as our social ills have remained—and by all indicators have even worsened—in our post-1986 national life, Marcos is not the real enemy. If people feel they lived more decent lives during the Martial Law years, no historian or scholar or political analyst could contest that without insulting those who own that experience.

Continue reading “As self-aggrandizing ‘victims’ become dictators, Marcos is loved today more than ever”

No hope: When PAGASA can’t even count 1, 2, 3

pagasameme

I know typhoons pretty well, and my only credential is that I live in Ilocos Norte, a province most frequently hit by disaster. That and some gut feeling matched with common sense.

I have learned survival skills: keeping necessary supplies in the house (food, water, batteries), monitoring news on the radio, being alert all the time and not panic. Over the years, I have also learned one important survival mechanism: not to trust PAGASA, the Philippines’ official weather agency.

On Sept. 15, for example, PAGASA raised public storm warning signal No. 3, automatically cancelling classes in schools in all levels, and work in government offices as well. It turned out to be a fair and sunny day. Even malunggay leaves were still.

Last Friday, on the other hand, PAGASA raised only Signal No. 2 as Mario set its sights on Ilocos Norte. On Saturday morning, the people—at least those who were able to sleep—woke up to a great disaster. Trees have fallen, debris were scattered in the streets, many areas were flooded, and the province was enveloped in darkness. It is, by far, the strongest natural disaster to hit the province this year.

At mid-day, hundreds of families in in high-risk areas have been evacuated, some towns have become isolated, a number of roads and highways were rendered impassable (leaving thousands of travelers stranded), and agriculture has sustained millions in losses, even as Mario, by then infamously referred to as Super Mario, continued to intensify. PAGASA released at 11:00 a.m. another weather bulletin: it was still signal no. 2. Continue reading “No hope: When PAGASA can’t even count 1, 2, 3”

Some notes on Imee’s best SOPA ever

 

imee sopa 2014

 

Rosy but grounded. Ambitious but compelling. Elegant but inclusive.

By all indicators, Governor Imee Marcos’ 5th State of the Province Address delivered Aug. 25 at the Plaza del Norte Hotel located on a land area disputed by Laoag City and Paoay has been the best by far.

Riding on the notable transformation of Ilocos Norte in the past few years, the people’s very high morale and sense of pride, and the equally high levels of trust and confidence the governor enjoys from his constituents, Imee urged her people to dream bigger: Ilocos Norte as the country’s best province by 2020. The road map is creatively called IN2020.

More than just the usual detailing of the achievements in years past, the governor clearly spoke on the bright prospects of the future and what all sectors must do to help achieve it.

Let me quote some of the best parts of the speech that lasted 49 minutes and 49 seconds, interrupted 33 times by the audience’s generous applause:

On poverty alleviation

“Poverty in the coastal and mountain zones had climbed up from 21 % in 2003 to 24% in 2010. We responded aggressively—food packs in the lean months, 16,000 scholarships a year, barangay roads, fishing boats, tools, and new agricultural packages. 9.9% laengen ti nabati pay, nasapsapa ngem 2015 nga nagun-od ti MDG, nga mabingay iti marigrigat”

On good governance

“Hindi lihim na nakunsume ako sa sistema ng Capitolyo noon, nagngingitngit sa ilang empleyadong laging absent! Ngayon nagkakaunawaan na kami, at nakatutok ang bawat digital Ilocano citizen, sumbung nang sumbong ng text at tweet!”

On windmill developers abusing nature (and our hospitality)

“Going green is part of our provincial DNA. Last week, we constituted a multipartite monitoring team for renewable energy projects. Ironically, despite their mission to provide clean energy, wind construction sites have not always observed local ordinances on quarrying, coral preservation, and the protection of endangered plant and marine life. In Ilocos Norte, let it be known that even the country’s biggest companies have to comply with the law—the law of man and the law of nature.”

On transforming Ilocos Norte into a learning province

Let us take education beyond the classroom, beyond age and place. Let us convert Ilocos Norte into a learning province, so that every field and beach is a science lab, a Heroes Walk in Laoag or in Bacarra is a library in the park, and Sirib buses become learning movie houses.

On MMSU, garlic, and heritage conservation

Palagay ko panahon na ring pag-usapan ang MMSU.  Our premier educational institution has begun to rethink its role in a quickly-diversifying economy. Originally focused on agriculture and forestry, bigger enrollments are now found in business, engineering, tourism and computer sciences. Our farmers also await from MMSU research and innovation that will impact their lives— when can indigenous Ilocano white garlic be developed into weightier, sturdier, new and more productive varieties?

 The first conservation school in the country has been launched in Paoay CIT-MMSU, to revive the classic trades of carpentry and wood-carving, handloom weaving, bricks and stone masonry. NCCA, Spain’s Escuela Talleres, and the Betis, Pampanga workshops are behind us. We all watched with horror when the Bohol churches fell during the earthquake. Let us be mindful that after Bohol, our province has the most number of colonial churches. And only with long-term planning and fervent prayer can we safeguard them.

And, my personal favourite: On volunteerism

“In truth, 6 years is a very very short time to achieve all that we must IN2020. Government cannot go it alone, we need you to volunteer and assure help in continuing change and transformation. If we can set in motion a virtuous circle of generosity and volunteerism, awareness and participation will ensue, your volunteer work will generate savings for government, which will in turn fund more student jobs, more loans for women, work for tribesmen, fishermen and the handicapped. A virtuous cycle indeed!

“Sa ngayon, iilan ang nagvo-volunteer, mga suki ng kapitolyo sa barangay, Red Cross, ang Chinese Chamber. Lahat tayo ay abala sa trabaho at pamilya. Ngunit hindi ako naniniwala na ang Ilocano ay hindi matulungin. Dahil nakikita ko kayo sa barangay, naghihirap upang mabuo ang ating kalye, ang sipag-sipag ng mga magulang at titser tuwing Brigada Eskwela, at ang malasakit ng mga doktor tuwing kami’y mag-Capitol Epress. Damang-dama pa rin ang mga donasyon ng mga balikbayan sa bawat munisipyo, at maraming Ilocanong kasama kong tumulong sa Tacloban.

“Itan! Tapno awan ti maibati, awan ti maisiasi ken awan ti haan a maikkan iti tulong.”

I am glad that the governor urged the people to do their share in catapulting Ilocos Norte to the place where it should be. An extensive volunteerism campaign doesn’t also amount to savings but, more importantly, gives the people a sense of ownership of government programs. The are made to understand their roles not only as beneficiaries but as key actors in development.

*****

Other observations:

Language

There was a marked increase in Miss Imee’s use of the Ilokano language. Unlike before when Ilokano content did not exceed five percent of the entire speech, almost one-fourth of her 5,263-word 5th SOPA was in the vernacular. Here is the actual breakdown: 23% Ilokano, 33% Tagalog, and 44% English. Imee did struggle with speaking lengthy Ilokano, but its the effort to struggle that really counts. Mother tongue and plurilingualism advocates must be very happy with this development.

Attendance and seating arrangement

One thing that struck me was that some young people—youth leaders, provincial scholars, and other achievers—had even better seats than mayors.

Indeed, present were a lot of young people, including over a hundred collegians and some high school students who all looked their best. The oldest attendee was nonagenarian Magdalena Gamayo, the only master weaver of Abel in the country and a National Living Treasure. The audience was touched when the governor had a solo picture with her after the program.

Your karikna with some provincial scholars
Your karikna with some provincial scholars

The set was simple, nothing ostentatious, but very refreshing with a lot of plants in it. It is really green too as many of the stage props are reusable.

Fashion

The governor herself noted that in years past, some people gave more important to fashion than the speech itself. It was not true this year. There were no scene stealers, nothing outrageously good nor abhorrent..

I also noticed that more abel fabric has been used for the gowns. I particularly liked the uniform gowns of the ladies from the Provincial Tourism Office. It was designed by no less than their boss Aian Raquel (I always knew he is multitalented, but I never realized he knows decent fashion design as well). The sleek dress is multifunctional. Made of binakol, the top with structural paired sleeves may be paired with either pants or a short skirt.

Tourism abel

In contrast, a famous personality from Laoag City (not a politician) also wore an abel gown, but it really looked off. Done by a famous designer, the over-imposing top made the thirty-ish beauty look like a a cross between an overloaded ship and an old-fashioned spacecraft. In fairness, she still looked terrific regardless of what she wore. Still, the gown could have been better.

By the way, Imee’s blue gown is an Amor Albano creation. Its design makes a classic terno look contemporary with the play of silhouette and texture.

On a personal note, I wore a modest barong, actually a hand-me-down from my father, which Joel Dul-loog was so kind to repair on very short notice.

After-event food and refreshment

Attendees generally commented that food served at Plaza del Norte this year was slightly better than in past years. A group of provincial scholars remember enjoying the following: banana bread, cream puff, puding a kasla maja ti kolorna, bread a round a babassit nga adda meat idiay unegna, lechon baboy, and chicken a ‘dimi ammo’t lutona. 

A famous Ilocos Norte physician noted that of all the food served, it was only the lechon baka that he really enjoyed. It was unfortunate, he said, that before he noticed the roasted cow, he already had his tummy filled with forgettable pasta, pastry, and other meat dishes.

Me, I was so busog with Imee’s speech. And it was really all that mattered.

Empanada battle (Vigan vs Batac): and the winner is…

Batac vs Vigan
photos from foodsilkenhut.com and melovillareal

 

On the Yellow Corner: Vigan
On the Yellow Corner: Vigan (photo from here.)
On the orange corner: Batac
On the orange corner: Batac (cropped from a photo by blauearth)

While this popular delicacy is not an Ilocano original (It was introduced here by our Spanish colonizers), empanada has become as Ilocano as saluyot, marunggay, and baggoong. It comes from the verb empanar, meaning to wrap or coat in bread.

In the Ilocos dichotomy that is Norte and Sur, two versions emerged from two key locations: Batac and Vigan. It’s not the first time someone compared the two Ilocos empanadas, but I will be more upfront about my verdict.

This comparison results from a series of store visits, interviews with tourists and locals, online reviews, direct observation, and, of course, product tasting conducted this summer in various empanada stalls in Vigan, Ilocos Sur and in Batac, Ilocos Norte.

For purposes of this comparison, Batac Empanadas, particularly those sold at the young city’s Riverside Empanadaan, are considered as the Ilocos Norte standard. On the other hand, the Vigan standard are those sold at Plaza Burgos and stalls like Irene’s and Abuelita’s, which follow a common recipe. I have to make this clear because other variants have sprouted in both provinces, like the crispy empanada sold in Bacarra and the sweet empanada served at a stall in Laoag City, both in Ilocos Norte. Then there are the empanada variants sold at Insiang’s and Hidden Garden in Vigan City, and the Candon, Ilocos Sur version which, interestingly enough, looks every inch a poor clone of the Batac empanada.

How do we proceed with the comparison? Taste, I admit, is highly relative because one tends to prefer what she is accustomed to. This is evident in the response made by Malot Ingel, an anthropologist from Vigan.

Malot Ingel, well respected anthropologist from Vigan
Malot Ingel, well-respected anthropologist from Vigan

“Kahit nag-eexplore ako sa maraming iba’t ibang klaseng pagkain. I mean, kahit foreign food, halimbawa Italian, gusto ko rin naman ‘yun. Pero pagdating sa Ilokano food, napaka-conservative ko, na kung ano ‘yung alam kong lasa, mag-i-stick ako dun. Halimbawa, ang pipian ng Vigan, very particular ‘yan. Minsan nilalagyan nila ng butter to improve the taste supposedly, nagiging unacceptable sa’kin ‘yun. In the same way, kapag empanada, Vigan empanada lang ‘yung gusto ko. I mean, maraming beses ko nang nalasahan ang empanada ng Batac, sabi nila masarap, pero di ko matanggap-tanggap ang lasa ng empanada ng Batac.”

I fully understand Malot’s point, and this preference for what one has come to call her own is why I found it important to conduct interviews with people who are from neither of the two provinces. For proper disclosure, I am from Laoag but I tried to write this feature as objectively and balanced as humanly possible.

We’re now ready to dissect the two empanadas. Let’s get ready to rumble. Continue reading “Empanada battle (Vigan vs Batac): and the winner is…”

Rockstar Governor

If she wins as governor, her critics warned in 2010, she will probably spend more time in Metro Manila than in the Ilocos Norte Capitol.  “She will be bored here,” they said matter-of-factly. Sure, Imee Marcos had served as congresswoman for nine years but that job meant more time spent in the nation’s capital.

Four years and one reelection later, the cynics, or whatever have remained of them, are silent. Many may now even be singing a different tune. Looking at how things are going on for the province, it has become increasingly difficult not to admire Imee Marcos as a leader. Highly popular and well-loved, she has attained rockstar status never before seen in this part of the country. Here are 10 reasons why:

1.      Hands-on leadership, good governance

To begin with, Imee has consistently proven, both in moments of joy and in times of disaster, that she is a hands-on governor. Even young employees at the Capitol are having difficulty keeping pace with the lady leader who is known to work long hours even on weekends. “Her energy is unbelievable,” says a colleague at the provincial press corps.

Resulting from her hard work, Ilocos Norte has been constantly identified as among the best governed provinces in the country. It also holds the distinction of being the first Philippine province to attain full ISO certification.

Governor Marcos during a flag-raising ceremony
Governor Marcos during a flag-raising ceremony (NOTE: Most photos in this article are from websites and social media accounts maintained by the Ilocos Norte Provincial Government.)
Imee visits calamity victims.
Imee visits calamity victims.

Continue reading “Rockstar Governor”

Pasuquin’s Pride: oldest gay parade in Asia

Sunflowers
GOD SAVE THE QUEEN. Amor Albano is crowned as this year’s Queen of Sunflower Festival. Held in Pasuquin, it is the oldest organized gay parade in Asia. Richard Bumanglag, aka Kristina Cassandra (second from left), was adjudged as Miss Ilocoslovaklush 2014.
Richard Bumanglag, aka Kristina Cassandra, is Miss Ilocoslovaklush 2014  (photo by Inot Villanueva)
Richard Bumanglag, aka Kristina Cassandra, is Miss Ilocoslovaklush 2014 (photo by Inot Villanueva)
Queen Amor
Queen Amor

Pasuquin is arguably one of the most backward municipalities of Ilocos Norte. It is economically slow, unprogressive, and stagnant. The town’s tourist attractions, if any, are not as well-known as the mindless bickering of its political families. Its Biscocho, though good, has never made it big on a national or regional scale. Salt-making, once a pride of this town, is no longer exactly traditional as the rock salt they use is now imported by bulk from Australia. The town could have made it big if only they supported the idea of setting up a dragon fruit farm first broached by resident Editha Dacuycuy, but she instead set up her now-famous farm in adjacent Burgos town after Pasuquin officials showed little interest.

These said, Pasuquin may not exactly be a model town, but there is, dear karikna, one thing the town is proud of. Such is little known, little emphasized, but is actually huge: its gay pride.

The Manila Pride March bills itself as the “oldest gay pride march in Asia.” Its first edition was staged in 1994. But did you know that an organized gay parade is being held in Pasuquin for forty two years now, starting in 1975?

A group of successful gay professionals formed the Sunflower Organization in the 1972. Its first project was the Sunflower Festival, a drag parade that celebrates pride in gay identity and fosters camaraderie among its members. Surprisingly, the people of this small and tightly Catholic town welcomed the idea. Mothers and fathers were supportive of their gay sons. Town folks watched the festival participants not with ridicule or contempt, but only with respect and admiration. It was such an extraordinary phenomenon that led American filmmaker Shawn Hainsworth to produce the documentary “Sunflowers” which earned critical acclaim in the 1997 Chicago Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and other film fests in North America. The film brought the Sunflower Festival in the international gay radar.

It’s a puzzle, dear karikna, how gay empowerment has become ingrained in the culture and consciousness of Pasuquenos, but Benly Agudelo Academia, current Sunflowers Organization president, offers this insight: “Sunflowers was started by successful professionals who were respected members of the community.” That is why, he said, “at the end of the day, people looked at our talents and contributions, and not on our gender.” Truly, the organization, through its yearly parade, has shown everyone that success and honor is no monopoly of heterosexuals and so no gay must be forced to linger in the dark. Aptly, the organization is named after the Sunflower which is known to face the sunlight. Members call themselves “sunflowers.”

In the absence of any record that would prove otherwise, Sunflowers is the oldest gay organization in the Philippines, if not in Asia. The University of the Philippines Babaylan, the largest LGBT student organization in the Philippines, was oranized only in 1992 while Progay-Philippines was formed in 1994.

Continue reading “Pasuquin’s Pride: oldest gay parade in Asia”

We elected leaders, not parents

It is fiesta month in Laoag City, and each day is filled with activities initiated by various sectors. Naturally, politicians are everywhere grazing festivities and making themselves more visible than usual to the public eye.

It was in a beauty pageant held a few days ago (I am not, dear karikna, fond of beauty contests but I am fond of my relatives; my cousin’s daughter tried her luck in that competition) that I noticed how our city leaders have decided to package themselves.

Politicians calling themselves father or mother of a town, city, province, or the nation is not exactly unusual in the Philippines, but my city’s case is interesting. Chevylle Fariñas, the first-term mayor, succeeded her husband Michael, who was mayor for nine years and now the vice mayor. In that pageant, the welcome remarks was delivered by their daughter Mikee, the new chair of the Association of Barangay Councils and ex-officio city councilor. In her entire speech, from her customary roll call of the guests to the end, she repeatedly and proudly referred to the mayor and vice mayor, as “Mother of the City” and “Father of the City.” I felt both uncomfortable and saddened listening to that speech. And confused, too… should we now call this young councilor, Ate of the City? What about the other city officials? Do we call them Tito and Tita of the City? Who are our ninongs and ninangs?

Everyone knows that the young Fariñas is in office not really on her own merits, but because of her parents’ impressive achievements. The challenge for Mikee then is to prove that she deserves the position—that she is a good leader who just happens to be the mayor and vice mayor’s daughter. Surely, she deserves a chance to prove herself, but that would only be possible if she restrains from treating public events as family affairs. Continue reading “We elected leaders, not parents”

Farewell, Mayor Ventura. Be a good citizen of heaven now.

ceasr old selfVentura: One-man campaign teamcesar with me

When our newspaper was doing a feature on the Laoag City mayoralty candidates in this year’s local elections, I insisted on including Cesar Ventura, a former mayor who was regarded by many as nuisance. Naturally, my colleagues smirked at the idea of putting him side by side with whom they believed were legitimate candidates. I believed in fair play.

But I had respect for the man, the only politician to beat a Fariñas in Laoag City, for I grew up knowing him as a good mayor, a no-nonsense leader who made things work. He was a builder. During his term, I had a one-week stint as a junior city councilor. I was in high school then.

Even after his political glory has faded, he always had this burning desire for good governance. He would talk to me to make sumbong everytime he had the chance, and I always intently listened, and thanked him.

Last Wednesday, October 16, he succumbed to renal cancer after a long battle against the disease. He was reportedly confined for a long time at the St. Luke’s Medical Center until his family decided to bring the former mayor home to his beloved city. He died at the Laoag City General Hospital.

Farewell, mayor. Be a good citizen of heaven now.

And please make sumbong to God about the crooks down here.

riknakem.jpg

*****

Also, this post by blauearth, In Memory of Former Laoag Mayor Cesar A. Ventura.

International committee rejects Shah apology

(Statement issued on August 16 by The International Committee in Support of Bautista, Abadilla, and Respicio c/o Nakem Conferences International)
RESPONSE TO THE PUBLIC APOLOGY OF REV. DR. BRIAN SHAH
In his public apology, the Rev. Brian Shah conveys that he had already apologized to the parents of Carl Andrew A. Abadilla, Kleinee Xieriz Bautista, and Samuel G. Respicio, the three students he unjustly and unduly excluded from the Saviour’s Christian Academy (SCA) for violating its English-only policy.
While the apology may read sincere, it fell short of the more important aspect of a decent apology, i.e. the full recognition of all his misdeeds.
Firstly, Rev. Shah totally disregarded the school manual when he imposed exclusion on the 3 students for violating SCA’s English-only school policy the penalty of which calls for a mere reprimand according to the School Manual. That is gross abuse of discretion. For excluding the three students, Rev. Shah violated Sec. 135 of DepEd Order No. 88 s. 2010 which stipulates that “No disciplinary action shall be applied upon any pupil or student except for cause…AND after due process shall have been observed” and Sec. 136c which requires that “A summary investigation shall have been conducted.” Section 137 on Summary Proceedings stipulates that “Subject to compliance with the requirements of due process and school regulations the procedure for disciplinary action against a student shall be summary in nature. The student shall be assisted in the proceedings by his/her parent(s) and/or by counsel.” We believe Rev. Shah violated certain provisions of these sections of DO. No. 88 s. 2010.
Secondly, consider that Kleinee Bautista, one of the 3 students, recounted to Herdy La. Yumul, a reputable blogger, Ilocos Times columnist and professor at Mariano Marcos State University, that when Rev. Brian Shah confronted him (Bautista) on July 31, 2013, Shah was to have said in a raised voice: “You are not respecting my school!” Bautista then claims that Rev. Shah gestured as if he was going to smash his cell phone on the boy saying, “You want me to throw my cell phone at you, you bitch?” Whereupon, Shah advised Bautista to transfer out of Saviour’s Christian Academy effective July 31, 2013, ostensibly for violating the English-only school policy without giving the boy any other option or the benefit of due process. When the parents attempted to reach out to him, Rev. Shah refused to see them.
Thirdly, recall that the Rev. Brian Shah posted the following on his Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/osfi.acad) on July 30, 2013, a day before advising the students to transfer to another school effective July 31, 2013, for violating SCA’s English-only policy: “Insubordination and direct defiant (sic) among students is totally unacceptable and I don’t tolerate such nonsense. Tomorrow heads will roll. It took us many years to build the school to what it is today and just a few to destroy all our hard work.” For this reason, it is our contention that Rev. Shah’s actions against Kleinee Bautista on July 31, 2013 were premeditated.
Fourthly, Rev. Shah’s claims that the school policies of SCA, a part of which he knowingly violated, were crafted with the “best interests of our students in mind” and that their English-only policy is intended to make the students “competitive in the global village yet deeply grounded in and proud of the Motherland” are contradictory and a display of profound ignorance of the linguistic rights of students. We believe it would be in the best interest of students if their freedom of expression is fully protected, especially in schools where the medium of instruction is in English and where students’ “competitiveness in the global village”, we fear, may have been compromised at an early age.
Fifthly, that the issue has morphed into a war against “linguistic injustice and cultural disrespect” is an attempt at dilution and diversion. Rev. Shah must be told that the Ilocos Region is an exemplar of the Department of Education’s mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTBMLE) efforts and good practices for good measure. It is supreme irony that he claims to carry out initiatives to support the poor, the oppressed and marginalized while institutionalizing marginalization and oppression right in his own backyard, on the grounds of Saviour’s Christian Academy.
Last but not least, given our growing awareness of ethnic diversity and the importance of our indigenous languages as a result of recent DepEd directives to institutionalize the use of the mother tongue or dominant local/regional language or L1 as medium of instruction from kindergarten to grade 3 and the use of L1 as auxiliary medium of instruction to English and Filipino as the primary MOI from Grade 4 all the way through high school, the fact that parents and students are still overwhelmingly interested in the acquisition of English language skills to enable students after they graduate or drop out of school to qualify for local jobs in the public and private sectors and also to enable them to qualify competitively for jobs in the global community is comment on just how durable the English language is in the Philippines rather than a rallying point for language restrictions, such as English-only school policies. Besides, the imposition of restrictive English-only policies with penalties being dangled over the heads of students for violating them has the deleterious, sometimes irreversible effect of sowing in the students’ psyche low esteem or disrespect for their own mother tongue, low esteem for themselves, and low, if any, regard for their indigenous cultural heritage.
Wherefore, we respectfully call on the Commission on Human Rights and other relevant agencies to investigate and determine if a criminal case is to be brought against the Rev. Brian Shah in light of the verbal abuse and intimidating gestures allegedly committed by him based on the accounts of Kleinee Bautista and for violating the linguistic rights of SCA students. In the event Rev. Shah is found culpable for violation of any provision of DepEd Order 88 s. 2010 and other pertinent laws and regulations, we hereby strongly recommend that the Rev. Brian Shah be ordered to immediately relinquish control of Saviour’s Christian School and transfer same to a more reasonable, level-headed and culturally sensitive administrator who is a firm believer in inclusive democracy and education.
The International Committee in Support of Bautista, Abadilla, and Respicio
c/o Nakem Conferences International
2540 Maile Way, Honolulu, HI 96822
T. 808-366-9000, nakemconferences@gmail.com
August 15, 2013 PST/August 16, 2013 PHLT

Rev. Brian Shah issues Mea Culpa

Click the pdf file below
Click the pdf file below

Rev. Brian Shah – Public Apology

Rev. Brian Shah: It saddens me immensely that this issue of campus discipline has morphed into a war against “linguistic injustice and cultural disrespect” where I am pictured as chief enemy.
Rev. Brian Shah: It saddens me immensely that this issue of campus discipline has morphed into a war against “linguistic injustice and cultural disrespect” where I am pictured as chief enemy.

PUBLIC APOLOGY

With a deep sense of humility, allow me to express my sincerest apologies to everyone who has been caused pain and offense by the recent turn of events at Saviour’s Christian Academy. Personally, I have apologized to the families of the three students—Carl Andrew A. Abadilla, Kleinee Xieriz Bautista, and Samuel G. Respicio—during a dialogue held on August 8 at the office of the Department of Education – Divison of Laoag City.

As proper authorities are now looking into this controversy, I will refrain from discussing details of the issue, except to say that the policies we craft and implement in the school are well-intentioned and have the best interests of our students in mind. Through academic excellence and Christian formation, we have, in the past 24 years, laboured hard to help the youth become responsible and productive members of society, competitive in the global village yet deeply grounded in and proud of their Motherland.

It saddens me immensely that this issue of campus discipline has morphed into a war against “linguistic injustice and cultural disrespect” where I am pictured as chief enemy. I came to the Philippines in 1987 and have, since then, served as pastor, friend, and family to countless Ilocanos from all walks of life. I could never thus intentionally and willfully do anything that will demean Ilocanos—they who have accepted me as one of their own. Moved by their unparalleled hospitality, I always try, in the best ways I can, to carry out initiatives supporting local communities, especially the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. As a missionary, I fully realize the importance of the vernacular in getting the message across, and so majority of our church services are conducted in Iluko. At SCA, we take pride in a vibrant multicultural environment that has attracted students coming from various ethnolinguistic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Again, I apologize to everyone who may have been offended by the issue even as I reassure the public that all steps will be taken to review our school policies and our student handbook to seamlessly comply with existing government regulations and to be further sensitive to the cultural sensibilities of our people. We acknowledge this humbling experience as a learning opportunity that will allow us to serve our students in better ways.

We welcome the rich public discourse this issue has generated, and hope that at the end of the day all these will translate to courses of action we can collectively take in the pursuit of a truly responsive and nationalist education agenda.

I wish everyone God’s peace and blessing.

(SGD.) REV. BRIAN SHAH

President

Saviour’s Christian Academy

Laoag City, Ilocos Norte

August 15, 2013

Tunay na Nangingibabaw: Close Encounters with Daniel Padilla

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to cover Daniel Padilla’s Ilocos Norte concert last Thursday, June 20, from his arrival at the airport until the end of his concert at the Laoag City Centennial Arena where he performed in front of the biggest indoor crowd ever gathered in Ilocos Norte’s history. This is my report.

It was definitely not a usual day at the airport. Tarpaulin-bearing fans were already waiting before 7:00 a.m., almost ten hours ahead of the teen heartthrob’s scheduled arrival at 4:20 p.m. The girls knew their idol was arriving that day but did not know what time. When I interviewed them at 4:00 p.m., none of them had lunch yet. They were hungry, but no amount of food could have filled them. They wanted Daniel.

Fan groups

Two fan groups gathered behind the barricaded waiting area at the airport: ‘Daniel Rocks Ilocos Norte’ and ‘Ka Dreamers,’ which supports Daniel’s tandem with Kathryn Bernardo. Members of these groups, who come from various high schools in the province, said they asked permission from both their parents and their teachers to skip class that day. There was no competition between the two groups, only common love and adulation for the teen superstar.

Even when the plane was still out of sight, they were already shrieking at the top of their teenage lungs. My eardrums were shocked at the volume and pitch of their voices, but I knew I should get used to it. The action has not even begun.

fansA ten-hour wait for their idol

A ten-hour wait for their idol  (Thank you to the PGIN Media Office and Alaric Yanos for the pics)

Monette Manuel, 15, a fourth year student at the Ilocos Norte College of Arts and Trades, gave the top three reasons why they root for Daniel: effortless magpakilig, guapo, and mahal niya ang fans niya. The fans spoke as if they have known him for a long time and on a personal basis. They know his favorite colors (black and yellow), favorite food (lasagna and pizza), and the behavior he wants his fans to exhibit (ayaw niya ‘yung wild, dapat behaved). Continue reading “Tunay na Nangingibabaw: Close Encounters with Daniel Padilla”

Better Than Noise issues apology to Daniel Padilla’s fans, thanks public for lessons learned

Members of the band Better Than Noise has issued an apology to the public over offending remarks they made regarding Daniel Padilla who is holding a concert here in Laoag City on Thursday, June 20. This comes a few days after netizens expressed their wrath after reading an article from this blog about the Ilocos Norte-based quintet serving as front act to Daniel Padilla whom they continued to bash heavily on Facebook.

 “Sa lahat ng fans ni Daniel Padilla, sa mga naniniwala sa kanya, sa mga rumerespeto sa kanya, sa mga tumitingala sa kanya, sa mga taong naoffend namin, sa mga taong naniniwala sa amin, sa mga sumusuporta sa Better Than Noise; sa lahat ng nakabasa, nakigulo, at nagcomment:

Kami po ay humihingi ng taos-pusong paumanhin. Sa nangyari, marami kaming napulot na aral, lalung lalo na ang paggalang sa kapwa. Bagama’t hindi po naming layunin ang manakit, hindi po namin naisip na bilang mga musikero, kinakailangan naming maging mas maingat at maging mas responsable sa aming mga sinasabi at ginagawa sapagka’t kami ay nasa katayuan hindi lamang upang magpasaya ngunit upang maging mabuting ehemplo na rin sa aming kapwa. Salamat po kay Sir Herdy La. Yumul sa pagmumulat ng aming kamalayan patungkol sa responsibilidad namin bilang mga alagad ng sining.

Sana po’y patuloy ninyong tangkilikin ang mga musikerong sariling atin. Sa mga nagalit sa amin at galit pa rin sa amin hindi po namin kayo masisisi ngunit tao lang din po kami na nagkakamali at tumatanggap sa pagkakamaling nagawa.

Huwag nyo pong kakalimutan sa June 20, 2013. Centennial Arena, Free Concert ni Daniel Padilla!

Pagmamahal at kapayapaan po sa lahat!”

It really takes courageous human beings to own up a mistake. And, we salute Better Than Noise for this act of nobility. I have met them personally, and I vouch for their sincerity.

So, here’s to happy endings and spirited beginnings, dear karikna.

Peace  and love, indeed.

So long, Maestro

robert caluya

JUNE 3- Opening of classes. Mr. Robert C. Caluya must by then, as he usually does at that time of the year, be very busy checking his class list, meeting new students, making sure everything is in order for another productive school year.

But no, he will, on June 3, be sitting on a plane for a seven-hour flight to the World Down Under to join his siblings there. He took a leave of absence from work for six months, whatever that means.

While sadness fills my heart and that of many because of this news of yet another genius leaving, a sense of gratitude seems more apt, for there is really so much we should thank Sir Robert for. He who has given so much. He whose generosity and foresight can be seen in the vast sea of talents he has nurtured. His former trainees—including Hawaii-based Randy Leaño and the Cabrales twins Sherberk and Sherween—have also made names in their respective fields. His friends—including INCAT dance guru Noli Joaquin and The Ilocos Times Managing Editor Mitch Esmino whose association with the Maestro dates back to youth—attest to his caring and loving nature. Continue reading “So long, Maestro”

A teacher’s strange frustration

It’s a crazy feeling.. when you trained a student well, saw in him a lot of potential, believed that he is well-empowered to make a difference out there where the real action is, and actually felt excited on what and how he can contribute to humanity… but you suddenly see him in the hallway applying to be, just like you, a teacher.. right away.. fresh from graduation.. the rented toga still bearing sweat marks.

But doesn’t the world outside have greater need for good men and women? Not that I am saying we don’t need brilliant persons to be teachers. Not that I am saying teaching is of little worth (of course, not!). And not that I am minding the career plans of others more than I should (or maybe, I am). It’s just that, except for education graduates who are really meant to teach, you have a lot of good career options out there if you are really brilliant. And, if you end up wanting to be a teacher just because you’ve got no good options, all the more you should not be a teacher.. for no way should losers teach our kids. And the worst kind of losers are those who have not even tried enough, or at all.

Better to see the world, battle in the jungle, get bruised and struggle, gain some texture, determine what among those we teachers have taught you are real and what are lies and exaggerations. Then, if you still want to be a teacher.. good!

No offense meant. I know some who were fresh graduates when they joined the academe, and they eventually became excellent teachers, real treasures. I have respect for them. Just some random musings of this teacher too eager to see the youth make their mark elsewhere only to see them again in the same spaces where we all dreamed together.

Laoag: Conjugal City

photo from blauearth.com
photo from blauearth.com

Laoagueños saw a number of firsts in the recently concluded local elections. First time Fariñases clash. First time a woman was elected mayor. First time the city is ruled by a wife-and-husband tandem.

Roger, a full-blooded Fariñas, lost to Chevylle, a Fariñas only by affinity, in the mayoralty race. She is wife of Roger’s nephew, three-term mayor Michael, who also won as vice mayor. During the campaign, Roger positioned himself as an anti-graft crusader by exposing anomalies and excesses allegedly committed by the couple. In campaign rallies and media interviews, he presented documentary evidence apparently showing ill-gotten wealth–foremost of which is an P80-M house–and mismanagement of the city’s coffers.

Naturally, Michael and Chevylle denied these allegations, but without delving into sufficient details. They basically just let Roger spill whatever beans he had at hand. The couple focused on the basics: press as much flesh as they could, solidify their hold on barangay captains, and intensify their exposure in the various forms of media.

But if Chevylle and Michael were indeed corrupt as Roger claimed, why the overwhelming win? Are Ilocanos really ready for negative campaigning? Personally, I gave value to what Roger did: raise issues that we normally would not have any chance to learn about and probe into. Many people, however, took it against the self-styled crusader. They dismissed everything he was saying as “pamerperdi” (paninira). Indeed, exposés made during the campaign period bear lesser credence than usual, and this is because the crusader himself is bent to benefit from whatever damage his revelations could possibly inflict his opponent. Why didn’t he speak about all those before? Why did he keep mum? Roger argues that he came to know about those alleged shenanigans only recently. Hmmm… Let us, dear karikna, give him doubt’s benefit while carefully watching his next steps. What will Roger do now? Where does he go from here? Continue reading “Laoag: Conjugal City”

Five on Imee’s mind

While I am not exactly into numerology, the number five is meaningful to me. Herdy, Herdz, and Yumul each has five letters. I was born on the fifth of June. I am the fifth among five siblings. I weigh 55 kg. and stand 5’5”. I live in Brgy. 5 in a street named after a politician whose first and last names each have five letters, and our house number is, you guessed it, No. 5, too. When I published my first book, it had five chapters containing a total of 55 essays handpicked by The He(a)rd Mentality team which had five core members.

The number five apparently runs deep in Governor Imee Marcos’s consciousness these days. She has been campaigning (harder than ever before, say insiders) to ensure victory for all of her five candidates for board member in Ilocos Norte’s first district. Imee’s energy is unmatched even by youth volunteers who are literally panting in their effort to catch up with Manang as her team One Ilocos Norte hits the campaign trail, traversing town after town, barangay after barangay, home after home, pressing as much flesh as she humanly could.

imee

Congressman Rudy Fariñas, unopposed like the governor, is campaigning hard, too, but only for her daughter Ria who is eyeing a seat in the provincial board. Rudy is believed to be concentrating on Ria’s campaign which explains why the candidacy of his son Carlos for the Laoag City vice mayor’s post has been virtually shelved. While Carlos has not officially withdrawn, we have not heard any activity going for him over the past month.

You should remember, dear karikna,  that Rudy is now out of the “One Ilocos Norte” the Marcos and Fariñas families forged in 2010. Intramurals within the Fariñas Dynasty has led to an apparent showdown between Rudy and Imee. Continue reading “Five on Imee’s mind”

Keon withdraws; who benefits?

In an unexpected move, Michael Keon has withdrawn from the Mayoralty race in Laoag yesterday, saying he does not want to be the cause of division within the Marcos Family. It was widely believed that while Ilocos Norte Governor Imee, hugely popular and unopposed,  endorses thecandidacy of Chevylle Fariñas, incumbent mayor Michael’s wife, the rest of the family—Madame Imelda, Senator Bongbong, and Ms. Irene—are behind Keon. There were also speculations that Ms. Imee will eventually junk Chevylle and help pick up the political pieces for her first cousin whom she beat, with a thrashing margin, in the 2010 gubernatorial race.

Michael Keon’s candidacy was already gaining a lot of steam, especially among those who have grown tired of Fariñases, especially in recent months when family members have become fierce political enemies. Keon’s withdrawal is bittersweet news for the Fariñas Clan. While this would surely mean a more bitter infighting within them, Keon’s resignation also means one thing: the next mayor of the City of Laoag will still be a Fariñas.

So, who benefits from this development? For sure, the Marcos endorsement became stronger and more credible, and those who subscribe to the mantra of “One Ilocos Norte” and want to make sure that the mayor of Laoag is Governor Imee’s ally so that programs and projects in the pipeline can go without kinks might turn to Chevylle.

However, we also have to understand that supporters of Keon are not supporters of the incumbent. Meaning, the mere fact that they were supporting Keon and not the current mayor’s wife means they were looking for an alternative. Continue reading “Keon withdraws; who benefits?”