Of Votes and Speeches

Exactly six years ago, it was Noynoy Aquino’s inauguration as the new President of the Republic. I had goosebumps then when Charice sang the national anthem. And I was teary-eyed as the Madrigal Singers sang Bayan Ko especially when I saw the crowd in their symbolic “L” hand gestures.

Six years down the road, another inauguration, another fresh start for the nation. While most of the people are now looking forward to the realization of President Duterte’s idealistic yet encouraging promises, very few are looking back at the Aquino administration’s achievements.

Political analysts and the common people were all amazed by President Duterte’s inaugural speech. But can anyone still recall right on top of their head at least three key things that PNoy promised back in 2010? Not easy, right? So, at the end of the President’s term, it is not really the specific promises in the inaugural speech that we tend to use to measure his/her achievements. Rather, it is the transformations that bring the country one step forward or backward that remain in our thoughts.

Asking if PNoy did well as a President equates to asking ourselves if we voted wisely in 2010. After all, it was the majority among us who believed in his capabilities to transform the country.

We now satiate ourselves at the rate that illegal drug eradication seems to be happening, recognizing President Duterte’s influence even before he officially reigns. But do we still remember how thankful we were when PNoy eliminated the “wang-wang” (VIPs being given priority lanes on any road) from our streets right on his first day of office? It may not seem very relevant these days, but imagine yourself caught in stand-still traffic and one luxury car being escorted by police motorcycles would go counter-flow and leave you in disgust and frustration.

Many will always remember PNoy for his failures in SAF44, road congestion, unreliable mass transportation, and lack of major infrastructure projects. Hopefully, there will also be many who will remember how PNoy moved our economy to become the second strongest in Asia, increased our dollar reserves, recovered more than 75 billion pesos from the Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth, modernized the Armed Forces, and as a result, earned very promising economic outlook among global financial institutions and analysts. Indeed, Asia’s sleeping tiger has awakened!

 
All inn all, I guess PNoy’s biggest accomplishment was winning back the trust of the people in the government.

There is no perfect government. And there is no perfect administration. Nonetheless, the past six years have been much better than the previous 12 years before it. I guess the Filipino people have learned how to vote wisely.

Photoshop Politics

(I wrote this article in 2008 when I couldn’t contain my ire with the Arroyo regime.)

When I delivered a commencement speech to a batch of graduating sixth-graders a year ago, I emphasized the fact that there are more shakers than movers in this country. We barely grow as a nation because, as I said in Filipino, “maraming bumabatikos habang kakaunti ang kumikilos.”

Now I can’t help but to rant and rave as the inefficiencies and fiscal irresponsibility of the government become more apparent than ever. We had the controversial NBN ZTE, overpriced Macapagal Boulevard, fertilizer scam, Glorietta 2 bombing, Manila Peninsula siege, Oakwood mutiny and everything else that could not fit within broadsheet pages. Our children seem to have seen more bombs than books.

The rich and the poor are not equidistant from resources, opportunities, and the power to influence. The lack of insight resulted to severely congested roads, overcrowded trains, Band-Aid assistance to the poor through short-term subsidies, and economic growth we could not be proud of.

The government is busy with peace talks and in advocating Charter Change while the Filipinos just want to seek a safe home and to fill their grumbling stomach.

Our current situation is very reminiscent of the movie “Tears of the Sun.” No wonder we’re winning international film competitions — our daily existence is movie-quality in Hollywood.

Image editing softwares have gone through impressive innovations that their features are now a powerful tool in politics. Scams are being masked, public service is being cropped, government’s transparency is doubtful, decisions on controversies are rotated and political allies are favored like lasso selection. And for anything else that cannot be explained, there is the magic wand — in one blink of an eye, the witnesses are gone. I wonder if there will soon be a healing brush.

In the world of MacBooks and WiMax, the government’s performance is comparable to Commodore 64 with 56k modem. Unfortunately, the people’s memory about lessons from politics are just like RAMs — easily erased at the slightest power outage.

We had enough of Photoshop politics and Dreamweaver democracy. Don’t we deserve the Philippines Version 2.0?

Some of us cannot see the future of the Filipinos. I can. Despite redundant editing, it is still blurred. And no amount of digital editing can fake it. We need a new programmer.

Get More from Four

Time is gold. Each of us knows this all too well. Let me make it more striking by appending the clause investing it wisely is diamond. We know how precious diamonds are these days.

I am not going to talk about gold or diamonds anyway. I am here to talk about how the government can serve its people better by investing its time more wisely.

What I would like to advocate is the adoption of the four-day workweek by government offices. Otherwise known as the compressed workweek, this working arrangement alters the usual 8-to-5 job to a 7-to-6 job and compresses the office days to only four instead of five. The number of work hours in each week remains the same however — and so is the compensation.

How does this become beneficial? First, it will help the national government in its cost-cutting measures. Transportation costs such as fuel and maintenance will be brought down as the use of most government vehicles will be reduced by one day weekly.

Overhead office expenditures especially or utilities will also decrease significantly. Take for example the case of air conditioning units. If these appliance units operate from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., it sums up to 45 hours of electric consumption every week in the present working time arrangement. On the other hand, once the four-day workweek is implemented, this particular consumption will be reduced to 36 hours in a week provided that aircon units still operate within the same timeframe (8:00-5:00) when they are most practical to be used. This also applies to all other office equipment like computers and lamps.

In fact, the House of Representatives adopted the compressed workweek in June 2003 and reported having saved 50 million pesos from it. It was experimentally implemented from April 1 to May 31, 2002 in all GSIS offices as prescribed by the President’s Administrative Order Number 32 and the outcome was also positive. I do not know, however, why they did not make the implementation continuous. Imagine how much the government will save if most, if not all, of its offices implement this.

But let me clarify that when I say government offices, I do not mean all government offices. What I’m referring to are the government offices whose functions are not time-critical. I do not  therefore mean to include such special government branches such as police outposts and fire departments, among others.

Aside from the government itself, the employees working for the government will also profit from this. Obviously, they will have an opportunity to spend more time with their families. Three-day weekends are long enough to enjoy quality time with their loved ones; they might as well engage into part-time jobs or other worthwhile activities.

Now that you know how the four-day workweek will benefit both the government and its employees, you may wonder why the general public should support this.

One reason why we should endorse this is that it will allow us to transact business with the government in a more convenient time for us. Government offices will be open from 7:00 a.m. up to 6:00 p.m. That will give us more flexibility in choosing the time to go to these offices. And because they will be opened earlier and closed later than most private companies, even corporate employees who work from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. will be able to drop by any government office without being absent from their jobs.

Moveover, the four-day workweek will also ease up our road traffic since majority of government vehicles will only be used for four days every week. Those that will be used during the regular working days will less likely be on the road during the normal rush hours.

I am ending this message with a reminder that the greatness of a government depends on the quality of services it renders to its people. By adopting the four-day workweek, the government will be able to get more things done with less effort and in a shorter period of time.

This is a persuasive speech piece that I wrote and delivered as a requirement in my Speech Communications class back in 2003, unearthed from my heaps of old files. Thanks to Prof. Cleofe Ciar for that wonderful class!

A Second Look at College Life

“It is defeat which educates us.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Fight the tendency to quit while you’re behind.” — Dave Weinbaum

Life is what we make it. This has long been my conviction that makes me feel accountable for the dilemma I am facing right now.

I’m already 21 but still an undergraduate. After having spent six semesters in UP and reaping a handful of failing grades, I left the country’s premier state university. I spent twelve relaxing months sulking in the comfort of my family’s home without anything to do aside from occasionally visiting our farm, surfing the Internet and watching VJ Heart Evangelista on Myx. For one whole year, I enjoyed and never longed for the tranquility of life and the unique panorama on the threshold of Mount Banahaw.

Later on, because of people and events that seemed to conspire in compelling me, I realized that I had to go back to UP and be an Iskolar ng Bayan again. It’s not that I was sick and tired of the countryside life; I just had to ascertain if I could get up where I fell down.

Returning to the institution I abandoned before was more difficult and challenging than chanting “Open Sesame!” a thousand times. It took me triple my pre-college “admit-me-please” effort to convince UP to accommodate and give her prodigal son a second chance. This therefore verifies the cliché that trying to be admitted to UP is tough, surviving as a student is tougher, and attempting to graduate is the toughest.

I am optimistic though that I can make up for my failures on my second try in the university. I know that nothing much has changed in the institution I am returning to — including the brain-whacking academics — but I am better equipped now, prepared to exhaust all possibilities and not to settle for mediocrity as I did before.

When I was still in high school, I thought college life would bring me self-fulfillment, grant me independence and magnify my self-worth. It gladly did. But the side-effects are more potent, more obvious and somehow painful. My limitations were uncovered and my weaknesses were exposed. All in all, college life made me realize that my intellectual armor is not bullet-proof. When I learned the tricks of the trade, I was already far down below.

I still remember (and will never forget) when my high school music instructress wrote me a letter on my first month in UP reminding me that, besides other things, I should keep counting my blessings and thanking God. Let me do those now.

Yes, I always got first honors from elementary to high school; I got 18 gold medals for academic achievements, 16 of which are gold; I was admitted to UP where I was granted two simultaneous scholarships; I can design webpages and do some computer programming; I eat three meals a day; and I have the most supportive parents. And I really thank God for these.

But look at me now: I won’t graduate on time nor with flying colors as most people from my hometown expects. My medals stopped accumulating. One of my two scholarships was terminated due to my academic skills downgrading. The meals I am eating don’t seem to compensate for the weight I am losing. Worst, there is no guarantee that my parents (or I myself) can financially support my studies until my diploma sees the light of the day.

The alerting sound of an alarm clock and the voice of the pandesal vendor bring me to the starting line of yet another day’s academic version of a Formula 1 race, without ever expecting a second runner-up trophy.

For sixteen years since birth, I was the king of the hill. The world used to go around me. Things could happen at a flick of a finger. I could bravely face the mirror and see someone confident and respectable standing before me.

Now, I realized that my life is not all about getting high grades, winning competitions and garnering gold medals. Unfortunately, I learned this lesson the hard way. Like a house that needed renovation, I had to look uglier before I could look better.

But there is not even a slightest regret on my part. UP was my only choice when I was about to enter college because of financial consideration. It proved itself to me that it must be my only choice then and now.

Amidst all the discouragements that are coming my way, I can’t help but miss the adventurous high school days I had.

I wish I were still in high school where I was carefree and lighthearted, not worrying about which subjects to enroll, who my Math teacher would be, what books to buy and how my parents would react when they finally got hold of my class cards.

I wish I were still in high school where I could top exams even without actually taking a glimpse of my lecture notes.

I wish I were still in high school where despite being the Science Club president, the school paper’s editor-in-chief, the class president and a CAT officer all at the same time, notwithstanding my hosting of quiz bees (sometimes also competing in them) and of other school events like Christmas parties and Junior-Senior prom, I nevertheless found time for academics.

I wish I were still in high school where garnering as many as nine gold medals in a year was as easy for me as merely being who I was and doing what I could normally do.

I wish I were still in high school where I would be the least bothered when the principal or the Home Economics teacher would suspect and ask me if I was courting or the boyfriend of so-and-so because she was leaning and resting her head on my shoulder during class hours.

I wish I were still in high school where I wouldn’t mind revising an essay ten times just to make it qualified for publication in the school paper.

I wish I were still in high school where I was not taught Microsoft Windows yet managed to encode research papers with WordStar and NewsMaster and to print them using a noisy dot-matrix printer.

I wish I were still in high school where I wouldn’t have to attend the exhausting ROTC drills and to shamefully don a muddy “Type A” uniform while riding public transport on my way home.

I wish I were still in high school where I could boast of my trademark self-esteem and wouldn’t feel slapped whenever someone asks me if I’m in the Dean’s list or when I’m going to graduate.

I wish I were still in high school where I was enthusiastic and always looking forward to every tiring yet fulfilling school day (“Carpe diem” was my motto back then).

I wish I were still in high school where I was not worried about what the rest of the world expected from me.

I wish I were still in high school where I was who I still am except that I am now wishing for impossible things like these.

Of course, I do wish I were through with my bachelor’s degree. After the rocky detours that I marched upon, I hope that my remaining months in college will be a smoother voyage. Be it smooth or rough though, I will try to appreciate or at least not take it for granted for I know that later on in my life, I will also miss my college years.

After all, there’s more to love in college life. I don’t want to miss the sights.

Note: I wrote this essay in 2002 when I was on my survival years in the University of the Philippines. This is the first time I’m publishing it though.

Found and Lost

This is my book review of Alfred Slote’s Finding Buck McHenry. I wrote this back in 2008. I like best my last paragraph here.

Most of us see life as a search for meaning, a realization of dreams, and a journey to self-completion. Gifted with innocence and armed with enthusiasm, we pipeline our vision toward a masterplanned future. But in the event of downfall, we usually tend to forget that for as long as we are alive, every point in our life is a starting point. Nothing is too late to do or to change until we lie on our death bed. This is one of the biggest lessons that I learned from my favorite childhood book, Finding Buck McHenry.

Alfred Slote specifically wrote Finding Buck McHenry for youngsters aged 8 to 12 but his novel continues to own me until now in my mid-20s. The story begins with eleven-year old Jason getting cut from his baseball team. He was tasked to form a new team with other “reject” players from different teams in the Little League.

Jason was emotional at first but being a baseball card collector, he found refuge in peeking at new cards. He was even delighted when he came across a rare Buck McHenry card. The card says that McHenry was a known pitcher decades ago. He won over 90 games in three seasons but quitted early from baseball and worked as a school janitor after committing unlawful offenses. It could have been just another card for Jason had he not meet Mr. Mack Henry, the old custodian in his previous school.

Mr. Henry once volunteered to teach Jason an effective baseball trick but Jason got more interested in the custodian’s impressive firsthand knowledge about legendary baseball players. Since he found the McHenry card, he could not help but preclude that the custodian and the famous pitcher were the same person. The card has the clues, including the state where McHenry worked. The name alteration from Buck McHenry to Mack Henry could be attributed to his “scrapes with the law.”

For Jason, everything linking the two was implied but never spelled out. So he pursued Mr. Henry to be his new team’s coach.

Jason couldn’t get Mr. Henry to confess his “McHenry” past at first. But the custodian later gave a condition: if his grandson would play in the team, he would coach it and admit the truth. The next things happened to Jason’s favor.

The plot reminded me of my childhood feats and misadventures, carefree curiosity, and the luxury of making things happen as a prize for persistence. I somehow see myself through the pages of the book playing with the paradoxes and compromises of a child’s life.

Upon Jason’s notice, the new league director who is also a sportscaster quickly set up for a televised game and interview with Mr. Henry, knowing that uncovering an old famous player would be a scoop. But Jason could not recruit any other players since Mr. Henry did not want others to know beforehand about him coaching the team. In the end, there were only three in the new team: the custodian’s grandson, the sportscaster’s daughter, and Jason.

During the interview, Mr. Henry hesitantly narrated his life before leaving his baseball career and how he became a school custodian. As the TV crew continued taping, he went on to coach his three-player team against Jason’s former teammates, surprising everyone when the former beat the latter.

But the supposedly happy ending got preempted. The sportscaster’s daughter and Jason later overheard Mr. Henry crying and confiding to his wife about the pretenses he did in the interview telling his own stories as if they were McHenry’s. They realized he was not really Buck McHenry at all. He coached them just so his grandson would get into sports again instead of grieving the loss of his whole family to a fatal car accident. Ironically, Mr. Henry was put on the spot and had to invent lines on camera.

We occasionally go through the same episodes in our life in which, like Jason’s experience, the ideal becomes real. We then see that life is full of hope and color. But all too soon, reality kicks in and kicks us off our high horses much to our dismay. Then it becomes a true test of our strengths and weaknesses. This is where we usually fail as our pessimism blinds us from the lessons we ought to learn.

Contrary to Jason’s fear though, the taped interview of Mr. Henry’s lies was not aired on TV. Last-minute editing saved all of them, including the sportscaster himself, from a humiliating assumption they all believed to be true. In lieu of the “lost-and-found-legend” storyline, the custodians’ coaching skill was highlighted in the TV program. The host even commented the Mr. Henry “was, if anything, something more” than McHenry because he “did something the great pitcher never did” — to coach three children to victory over nine presumably better players.

What I like best about this book is that it crosses it own borders. It is a tale for the young that also appeals to adults. It is a sports novel that non-sporty types can easily grasp.

Beyond its unrestrictive mold, the simplicity of its plot sheds away any literary clutter and delivers only what is essential. The ending is rather unusual for a story about searching. But if we look closely into its consequences for the characters, we can see that it is the better ending for them. Jason went uncovering the truth in a baseball card but he discovered a man. Finding Buck McHenry did not matter anymore because he already found a real hero in Mack Henry.

There are very few certainties in the world. Failure is one of them. For Jason, it was an honest mistake out of a dream to bring a legend back to life. For Mack Henry, it was a noble dream to bring a smile to his grandson’s gloomy heart.

Lies had been said. Excitement had gone awry. But a fresh discovery of themselves was their prize; a great new team was their bonus. If we will only be a Jason or a Mack Henry in every trial that we face, we can see more growth than breakdowns and appreciate the little nudges from inescapable potholes on our way.

Life is a journey with more detours than freeways. Success waits for us at our desired destination but happiness comes to those who make a destination out of every detour.

Perspective

Just when you thought everything was working fine, you would suddenly realize that the wall you’re leaning onto was the weakest spot you could ever depend upon.

I just wanted to leave a mark in this world not necessarily as successful as the world defines but as meaningful as true happiness can satisfy. Unfortunately, the world is designed to work as a non-utopia where you would have to deal with different people measuring you in different ways. You can satisy a few but never all of them.

It becomes difficult though when more people looking at you are seeing red than green. Self-worth then becomes an issue. And for a non-conformist with superiority complex like me, that’s a big deal.

I know the world is beautiful. Maybe I just have to see it from a different angle. Does that mean I need to be in a different place?

At Last

The yearend is the time to re-phrase New Year’s resolutions for most people. While excited for what the coming year has in store for us, we tend to forget to look back to the year that passed, see what were the things that we did best, and ask why some things went wrong.

I never set New Year’s resolutions for myself; I have this gratitude list instead:

1. At last, we have somehow weathered the oil and rice crises in the Philippines. Although 2008’s record-breaking inflation rate pumped up the gas prices and raised the demand for NFA rice, we were at least able to stabilize the production-consumption chain and to calm down the hypertensive market.

2. At last, the global financial slump is slowly fading away from news headlines and we are seeing an optimistic trend in the affected industries. Just a little more investor confidence here and political will there and the past year shall soon become just a memory of the past and a learning experience for the future.

3. At last, the Democrats are in, the Republicans are out. Enough said.

4. And at last, I’ve got a new job, my family is living somehow more  comfortably, and more people are beginning to appreciate what I can do and understand what I cannot.

2009 may look like just another year to spend, but you can make it how you want it to be.

Make it best. Make it happy. Make it your year!