Christmas in the Philippines, 2009

So many stories you’ve heard and read about lately… stories about my country. In the past, we didn’t make it to the global news that much. CNN, BBC, NBC and Aljazeera would hardly have much time for a quiet, little poverty-stricken country like the Philippines. At best, we were famous only because of the famous showbiz and athletic personalities that either gave our country a good or a bad name. Sometimes, an abused domestic helper in Hong Kong, or a migrant worker caught cheating in Saudi Arabia would make it as a news sidebar. Nothing really major, and not even remotely close to being consistently on the headlines.

It seems this year changed that.

August 1st, 2009. The death of ex-President Cory Aquino. Known to the country as the mother of Philippine Democracy. The wife of the late Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. They were both the ultimate symbol of peace and freedom in the Philippines. Loved by many in their lifetime; and mourned by millions upon their death – even by the International community. Cory’s death would also trigger many beginnings. While I can’t foretell the future, I know that hope and the fight for democracy and freedom were reignited by her death. Who knows what will happen in the coming months and years?

September 26, 2009. Tropical Depression Ondoy (International Code Name: Typhoon Ketsana) ravaged Metro Manila and parts of Northern and Central Luzon. One month’s worth of rainfall in just 6 hours, leaving thousands of commuters stranded and forcing them to swim through the streets of Metro Manila in a futile attempt to get home. It left thousands of homes submerged under flood water – some for weeks. It was the first time that rich and poor alike had to quickly scramble to the roofs of their homes just to escape drowning inside their own homes. And they stayed on their roofs for several hours. Days, even. It left thousands homeless and mourning for the loss of loved ones.

September 30, 2009. Typhoon Pepeng (International Code Name: Typhoon Parma) ravaged the parts of Northern Luzon that Ondoy spared. Landslides in the Mountain Province Region; severe flooding in provinces of Northern Luzon; and many other things in between. Its aftereffects rendered cities and provinces on mountaintops isolated for weeks. Cut off from the rest of the country, food and aid could not reach them. And to the rest of the country, crops and produce that fed millions of Filipinos each day could not get through, leaving prices of basic goods skyrocketing to beyond the affordable range of the average Filipino barely eking out a decent living. And this, a few days right after Ondoy’s wrath.

November 24, 2009. And just when we thought the country had started getting a real breather so we could start rebuilding lives again… the Maguindanao Massacre shocked the whole country, and the whole world with the brutal barbarism that was witnessed that day. Women and children were maimed, tortured, abused and killed – all because they were on their way to file for the Padre de Pamilia’s certificate of candidacy. Journalists had their lives snuffed from them in that one instant. These are democracy and humanity at their worst. This incident had the Philippines dubbed as the “most dangerous place for Journalists to work”, toppling even Iraq and other countries swarmed by terrorists.

December 15, 2009 (today). At 12 noon, car explodes in a high-end mall/ residential community in Taguig City. (photo courtesy of tsikot.com) This was just at noon time today. No one knows for sure if this car was bombed, or a freak accident. But 1 person has been confirmed killed. While the number of deaths is nothing earth-shattering, this is the first incident that’s ever happened in broad daylight, in a relatively well-guarded community, and in a high-end community.

And if that’s not all, check this picture out.

That’s Mayon Volcano. Currently at Alert Level Number 3. Residents around surrounding villages and subdivisions have been asked to evacuate. Goodness, with a volcano spewing lava like that, it would take an idiot to not even start thinking about evacuating. Volcanologists say that the alert level is just 2 levels shy of a full-out eruption. Roughly 50,000 residents will be temporarily relocated to evacuation centers. Who knows what happens to their homes if this volcano really does erupt? And to think — it’s 10 days before Christmas.

This Christmas will be a little bit bleak for many. The sad stories to tell are those who will spend their first Christmas after all of these. The ones who will more potently feel the loss of loved ones in the season of family, love and togetherness.

But hope springs eternal for the Filipino heart. Never one to back down even in the midst of the toughest adversity. I wouldn’t be surprised to find news coverages of Filipino families spending Christmas in evacuation centers still laughing merrily and making the best of a bad situation. Much like the Filipinos madly waving and smiling at the cameras behind foreign on-camera correspondents who actively tracked the life stories of Pinoys on the days and weeks after the Ondoy tragedy.

I have sadness in my heart for all the things that are happening to my country, and my countrymen. I count myself as one of the few lucky ones who survived these events completely unscathed. But in the spirit of unity, compassion and oneness with my country, this Christmas is the first Christmas when I will share whatever blessings I have to give with those who need it more than I do. And I don’t mean my family and friends.

I urge you, dear readers, to do the same this Christmas. Let’s help rebuild the lives of our countrymen and make Christmas a little bit more merrier for those who need a tiny glimmer of hope and joy in this season of giving.

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The Battered Wife

There is a woman.

She is a young mother to three young children; a wife to a husband; a daughter to separated parents; a sister to a pair of siblings; an office mate to some many people; and a good friend to many.

I’ve known her for quite awhile, but I never knew in all the time that I knew her that at one point in her life, she was a battered wife. A victim to uncontrollable bursts of physical violence from her husband.

Her story is one that I always hoped I would never hear from the mouth of someone I personally know; and a story I wish I never had to tell. Sadly, as I get older, the things I used to watch only on TV or movies – have actually happened to people I know. This is the reality of life.

My friend’s story is quite simple, really. I don’t know how similar it is to the stories of many victims of domestic violence. It starts out as a relatively happy marriage. Then several years after they’ve been together, husband goes through some sort of personal crisis. His insecurities surface. His life falls apart. And then he starts blaming his wife for his inadequacies. He feels bouts of depression and uncontrollable anger – whether directed at her or not, the fact that she’s his constant companion – then she becomes the object of his frustration.

This is putting it very simplistically.

A lot of people have already told my friend to leave her husband for her sake, and for the sake of her kids. She’s tried leaving him, but she eventually came back. It seemed to have stop. But only time can tell, right?

While growing up I’ve been raised to believe that if a man hits a woman, the woman should leave him. Nothing justifies physical violence, especially on a woman. So this essentially should be a no-brainer.

One thing I realized though while talking to my friend is this: nothing is that simple. There are reasons why a woman chooses to stand by her husband, even if everyday she lives in terror of him and his bursts of temper. Sometimes the reasons may even be understandable. Not forgivable, but understandable.

The best thing we can do for women (or anyone) who has stories like these to tell, and especially when the story is far from over – is to just be there for them when they need us. Most women choose not to speak up for the simple reason that they’re afraid that telling someone else — means that other people will just pressure them to up and leave. Or maybe sometimes, they fear the judgment that others will bestow on the one inflicting violence.

The reality is – no one can force a woman (or anyone) to walk away from a bad relationship, a bad marriage, or even an abusive job – if he/she is not yet ready to do it. They will do it if and when they are ready to, and if they want to. But not one minute sooner.

And here’s the thing. Most abused women are not stupid, nor blind. They see what’s happening to them. The fact that they stay means they’ve thought it through, and probably have valid reasons for choosing to stick it out. Whether or not we agree with her decision is not what she needs to know. She just needs to know that when she’s at her lowest point, she has someone she trusts that she can run to.

There are people who fight for women’s and children’s rights. I am sympathetic to these causes. But personally, I think it would be more politically correct to fight for human rights as a whole. It is a myth that only women and children can be the victims of domestic abuse. It is also a myth that all people who exercise physical violence are bad people and should be condemned.

There are of course those who are simply born with the predisposition to perform violent acts and experience no remorse. The ones with no conscience. Those are the ones who are more likely to spend a life of criminality. The ones who become the Jack the Rippers and Ted Bundys of society.

But most violent behavior from normal people are usually because they themselves were victims of violence at some point in their lives. Either that or there is something genuinely wrong with them – usually, an intrinsic chemical imbalance that accounts for eratic moods and behavior.

So, with no intent for disrespect to organizations that champion women’s rights – there may be some merit as well in understanding people who commit acts of domestic violence and trying to understand the root cause of all the pent-up anger. Abused women/men need help. But the abuser needs just as much help.

So if you ever find someone in your life who may be either the abused or the abuser – do not judge. Just be there to help, and know who to call if things go out of hand.

DSWD 734-8635 or 488-3199

Womens Crisis Center 926-7744, 922-5235, 929-2590

Random Elections Thoughts (ver. 1)

I watched ABS-CBN’s special election feature “Harapan” last weekend.

10 random thoughts:

  1. My loudest laugh of the night was hearing Brother Eddie Villanueva merge the names of two spiritual icons into one name. Meet Mohammad Gandhi.
  2. Erap Estrada really cannot understand English well. It was a little bit sad watching him struggle to understand a simple question of one of the students. If I could only remember what question that was
  3. Noynoy is the fortunate beneficiary of the stellar and courageous reputations of his parents. He isn’t as ignorant of politics as I thought he was… but I still hold firm to my statement (since the death of Cory Aquino) that Noynoy is not Ninoy, nor will he ever be.
  4. But my fearless forecast is: he will win. My sentiments about this possible eventuality… his heart may be in the right place but the focus of his attentions seems to be elsewhere other than the more immediate and pressing problems of our country.
  5. Most Presidentiables right now (with the exception of Gibo Teodoro) seem to be single-mindedly focused on completely burying GMA six feet underground. Which begs the question: are any of them ever gonna take their eyes off GMA long enough to actually do their jobs and focus on what’s important?
  6. That conference confirmed my initial preference of voting for Gibo. Reading up on the platforms of the Presndentiables a few weeks ago through Cheche Lazaro’s documentary made me see back then that of all Presidentiables, he was the only one who (a) seemed to have a solid grasp of what it takes to run a country; (b) had a solid and clear platform; and (c) had his priorities straight. Most other candidates’ platforms were both unclear and essentially, non-existent. This latest coverage of ABS confirmed that Gibo indeed knew what he was talking about.
  7. But then it also got me to have doubts and second thoughts about voting for such a smooth-talking lawyer. Not that I don’t like lawyers. Sometimes, a person that intelligent could be quite dangerous. My husband seems to think though that in context of the political landscape of this country, he would more likely end up being a puppet.
  8. Manny Villar did not show up. Makes one wonder why. That was an important show, it got thousands of the voting public to talk about all that had transpired and all that was said in the show. He should not have missed it.
  9. Dick Gordon is another viable candidate. Personally, I also like Bayani Fernando. Call them hardcore traditional politicians – but at least they have integrity. If we’re talking about results, Dick Gordon has the clearest and most tangible results to boast of.
  10. Goodness. Every elections, we have nuisance candidates. JC delosReyes, Nicanor Perlas – who the hell are those??? I sometimes marvel at the infancy of our electoral process and how we comprehend the democratic process. It’s anyone’s right to run for office. But seriously now… that on earth makes them think they even have a chance in hell to win? Unless they decided to run for the simple reason that they wanted votes to be distributed between many different candidates. But what’s the point, and to what end??

As of this writing, I am still undecided about who to vote for. It’s still a toss-up between Gibo and Dick. Who knows though what else happens in the course of the next few months?

—–

What is unusual for me though is that this is the first elections where I’ve really taken the effort to know the issues, have a stand on what issues I think need to be prioritized, and choose candidates not simply on the basis of their reputation but on their genuine capacity to make this country a better place.

It’s not just about a squeaky clean reputation and image. Sometimes, people with a squeaky clean image tells me that maybe they’re never willing to get their hands dirty and take risks that could potentially overturn a bad situation. This is not to condone immoral and unlawful acts. It’s about a presidentiable who can exercise resourcefulness. To think out-of-the-box (pardon me, I’m in the Communications business) and consider all possibilities, especially possibilities that no one else had ever considered – in finding solutions to this country’s problems. And this presidentiable should have guts of steel to withstand all the negative publicity and criticism that he will get from a citizenry and political opposition who won’t stop at nothing to bring him down for taking unusual risks or exercising what some would call – unpopular measures.

I think after decades of watching this country sink deeper in poverty as the days go by, desperate times calls for desperate measures. So next year, when I place my vote on that ballot, it will be with the desperate hope that whoever it is I’m voting for will win, and will do what he can to try to make things better for all of us.

Paranormal Activity

I will always love the horror genre. And I say this even though I deliberately go out of my way to avoid watching horror flicks nowadays. In my younger years, I devoured horror movies like I devoured Pringles Original.

When hubby and I watched the famed “The Ring” movies (the Japanese version) in Cinemanila way before it became the famous, commercial movie that it is now — we sat way in front. While most had their eyes covered when our famous lady Sadako appears hideously from outside the TV, I was mesmerized more than anything.

Sixth Sense was okay. The Others had a fascinating theory.

I think the way I viewed horror movies changed because of the “Exorcist: Director’s Cut”. It didn’t help that we watched that late on a gloomy rainy (and stormy!) night in a cinema where the electricity suddenly went off in the middle of the movie, right after Linda Blair’s unforgettable spider walk (even writing about that damned spider walk still makes me uneasy). BBC calls this “still one of the most terrifying films.” And I can’t agree more.

For ever since then, I started becoming chicken.

Not too long after the “Exorcist” fiasco, hubby and I also watched the movie that most people I know barely even blinked: The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Most people I know said that it wasn’t scary at all. The movie was after all, made to resemble more of a courtroom drama and thriller rather than a horror movie. And I do agree. Watching the movie itself wasn’t scary nor terrifying.

It was the days that followed watching the movie that terrified me out of my wits. I couldn’t sleep for an entire week. The face of Emily Rose haunted me everytime I would close my eyes. And worse, just the thought, the possibility that something like that could happen and did happen – well, that’s frankly what freaked me out.

Monsters, goblins, ghouls, vampires and all those horrendous, physically deformed and outright terrifying creatures that go bump in the night have never really scared me. Deep inside I’ve always known that it’s unlikely to happen in this lifetime. So… creatures like Sadako, Edward Cullen, Count Dracula, and all those wall-scratching, floor-scraping, hideous hags with black, stringy hair worn over an old, lacy, antique dress — that’s pretty much nothing.

But the demon in ‘Exorcist’… the devil who possessed Emily Rose… even the unnamed and unseen demon in “The Shining“…. the things you can’t see but can hear and feel…. those can keep me up for an entire week or give me nightmares on the nights when I conk out.

That’s where I’m now filing this movie. “Paranormal Activity”. The movie which cost less than 50,000 USD but has been earning millions of dollars. Starring ordinary people; directed and produced by ordinary people. Quiet, unassuming, no frills, no fancy-schmancy lighting, acting and directing.

No goblins, ghouls and disfigured faces wearing the demonic eyes of the devil. No masturbating on a crucifix. No head twisting 360-degrees and vomiting acid, bile and slime.

If you didn’t know any better, you could actually stop and think about the possibility that’s it a true story. That was at least, what the producers had first done. So people who watched the movie without knowing that it was still mostly a work of fiction, were simply terrified out of their wits.

This is the kind of movie where while watching it, you kinda just partially hide under the blankets with the lights on (in our case we watched it in broad daylight) and your hand on the remote control. You wait for a truly terrifying scene, one that’s too scary you can’t even look at the TV set directly — but it never really comes. Not in this movie. Which is just perfect because at some point, you might start thinking – “I can’t take any more of this” cause your heart is just pounding so fast…

And finally when it ends, you just breathe a sigh of relief.

This was me yesterday afternoon. And I thought it was already over. But then when I lay down in bed at night, I could still see the house and the bedroom in my head… I can still see it now, more than 24 hours after.

Maguindanao

So let me take a break from telling my personal stories; or fictional stories that I watch on TV or read in books. For a few minutes, let me talk instead about a real life story that’s got the world abuzz and many thousands of people clamoring for justice.

I’m sure you’ve heard about it and read about it.

The Massacre in Maguindanao, occurred on November 23 in broad daylight. A massacre that left more than 50 civilians – including women, children and journalists – dead. Not just dead. They were raped, beheaded, mutilated and tortured. If you watch crime movies, you’d know this was personal.

The primary target of this attack: the family of a would-be candidate for the gubernatorial race for next year’s Elections in the province of Maguindanao. You’d know this were true… because the party that was massacred was his family.

I, like many, assumed that we’ve already seen the worst of the country’s violence, there in that Region that’s besieged with regular terrorist attacks in places where civilians converge. Regular bombings, civilians caught in the crossfire, kidnappings…we thought we’d seen them all.

The last thing any of us expected was something like this. A heartless, cruel, malicious bloodbath.

Political clan wars with blood feuds… these were things I always thought were just things I’d see only in movies about African countries where innocent children were recruited at a young age and taught to kill, main and mutilate fellow human beings as part of their immersion and exposure into acts of terrorism and brutality.

These are the kinds of stories I’ve never liked watching nor reading about, but I do anyway. These are the stories we need to know  as citizens of the human race. These are stories we need to share, in the hopes that someday, stories like these end with a happier ever after.

Share this story, and do your part in speaking out against such atrocity.

The full story here.

How Do You Think the World Will End?

Sunday was Post-Apocalyptic Movie Day.

After lunch, we decided to watch “The Day After Tomorrow”. We’d already seen this in the movie house before. I remember liking it, and I remember being fascinated by this theory of how the human race ends.

I did like it again.

Aside from liking Dennis Quaid, I have a fascination for the different scientific explanations and theories that revolve around the principle of Global Warming. In fact, someday I think I will put together a summary of all the different fiction materials (on books, movies, comic books) with the different theories on Global Warming.

That aside, imagine if a super storm did hit the entire world… and how timely, considering all the freak storms that hit various parts of the world this year. A super storm like Ondoy which in a few hours was able to bury most of the city in deep water. Only, this super storm in the movie brought not only flood but below freezing weather in the eye of the storm, enough to freeze anything moving in open air within just a few seconds.

Yes, the human race ends with the coming of another ice age.

After “Day After Tomorrow”, we hopped over to our next door neighbor to catch “2012”.

This time, the world ends a little bit differently than “Day After Tomorrow”. The story is a little bit different too..

(Spoiler alert!)

This time, the world ends because the earth’s core gets too hot. The balance of forces in the world has been massively disturbed throughout all these centuries and lifetimes. Somehow, the world now needs to correct itself and restore balance to itself.

So volcanoes erupt. Massive earthquakes split the ground open and swallow cities, skyscrapers, bridges and everything else in its path. Giant tsunamis devour everything else that the earthquake doesn’t destroy.

And when the earth’s land masses begin to break up, the earth’s continents, islands and countries move and shift. Suddenly, what used to be the North Pole is now Central America. What used to be the Siberian mountains is now China. And of course, being the nerd that I am, I found it fascinating once more.

Before watching this movie, I’d already heard mixed reviews about it. But I liked it. An original premise, brilliant acting by John Cusack and the hilarious Woody Harrelson. Awesome screenwriting (seriously, this is the only Post-Apocalyptic movie that made me laugh uproariously many times over).

I like watching movies like these simply for the entertainment value. I’m also a fan of science fiction, especially when the science fiction is more science than it is fiction.

The end of the world to me has always been a vague notion  of something that either physically happens sometime in this world’s lifetime… or happens in the metaphorical sense of death and spiritual rebirth.

For believers, many fear this day of reckoning when the world turns to black, and calamity befalls the earth in succeeding bursts, enough to wipe out most of the human race.

But to me, I’ve always felt that if the world ended today, it would be a fate that’s far too kind for mankind and all its imperfections. (But this sentiment is one which comes from a person who believes that in death is where we will receive our reward of light, love, hope and peace from a life well-lived and well-loved.)

Hence, I’ve never believed the world will end in the physical, literal sense that we think… not in this lifetime. Which is why I was a bit taken aback when someone asked me,  “do you believe 2012 is gonna happen?

I first answered by saying, “who knows?” And I think moments after pondering the best way to answer this question – that’s the response I still have and will stay with.

Who knows? Who knows really how the world ends? Who knows how the human race faces extinction? Or if it will ever will? Who knows, maybe by the time our physical earth falls apart, space travel would already have been made possible, and other planets and galaxies would already be inhabitable by the human race? Who knows, really?

No one.

That’s why if there is a lesson to learn from Post-Apocalyptic pieces of fiction such as these… it’s simply to keep living each day as though it were your last. You’ll never know what comes tomorrow… if it will even come.

Sage wisdom through the ages. Works everytime.