Our Times

Writings of Susan Ople aka Toots, columnist of Panorama Magazine and Tempo, proud mother of Estelle and 7 dogs, namely, Picasso, Monet, Suzy, Miggy, Marty, Chandler and Joey. Daughter of the late war veteran, journalist, writer, labor minister, constitutional commissioner, senator, senate president, and foreign affairs secretary Blas F. Ople aka Ka Blas.

Friday, April 28, 2006

My dog Monet

Monet is the name of my dog. I named him after the famous painter because he is a work of art. He has huge leprechaun ears and eyes that bulge when mad, and a body that fits in my purse. Sometimes, he acts like a cat, rubbing his thin, sleek, black body against my skin. He also likes to curl up like a cat on top of my pillow.

He is a chihuahua wrapped in black satin with tiny white specks in the most delightful areas. Think of a domino with four legs and a wagging tail.Monet impresses with his distinguished, rolling growl. Quite unique in the canine world, I say. If there was a call center for dogs, my Monet would be on top of everyone's hiring list. Why, the pizza delivery man thought the dog behind the screened door was a doberman, because of Monet's Pavarotti-like growl!

My dog is a healthy eater. He dislikes white bread and is choosy about breakfast. Spam is okay, and he likes his eggs sunny side up like me. But don't even think of feeding him junk food. He'll just stare at it until the chips wither and die.

If he had time to blog (Monet leads a hectic life), his entries would be about the future. Like Nostradamus, my dog has the gift of prophecy. He knows when my car has entered the subdivision. He senses my arrival even before I pressed the doorbell. He rallies everyone else (Monet is husband of Picasso and dad of 5 puppies and all except one are bigger than him) to form a half-circle right behind our back door.

God gave Monet to me for a reason: to remind me who's boss. Because in truth, I don't own Monet; Monet owns me.

Pretty in Pink!

Fickle-minded me has decided to maintain two blogs after discovering this blogger template. Pretty in pink, isn't it? My scarlet wordpress blog (www.susanople.com) is my official home, but this site -- frilly, fancy, flaky and deliciously candy-colored -- shall be my cyber condominium. Two blogs, two homes. The blogosphere provides the space for free, for fickle-minded me. How lucky am I?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

UP Professor Rene Azurin's Speech on Charter Change

(My new blogsite, www.susanople.com,is down but no worries, let me post here the speech of UP Professor Rene Azurin delivered before the Makati Rotary Club. Topic is on Charter change. Rene authored the minority report of the Consultative Commission. Please pass this on to your friends to give them the other side of the argument on this vital issue. Thanks.)

The politicos who are pushing for charter change do not like to admit that the core question around the whole charter change issue is this: how will the proposed change alter the distribution of power in our society? These politicos do not like to admit that what they are really pushing for is for more power to be allocated to them and less to the rest of us.

It should be made clear that the only change that the pro ‘cha cha’ politicos are really interested in is the shift from the presidential form of government to the parliamentary form of government. Notwithstanding their loud assertions all over the media that they are for charter change because they want to open up the economy and create more jobs, their “Peoples’ Initiative” proposal in fact only petitions for revisions in Articles VI (Legislative Department), VII (Executive Department), and XVIII (Transitory Provisions) of the Constitution. In no part of the scrap of paper that they are asking people to sign is there any mention of amendments to the sections in Articles XII (National Economy and Patrimony) and XVI (General Provisions) that actually contain the restrictive economic provisions. This is disingenuous on their part. On this matter alone, it is hard not to conclude that this is not all part of a deliberate attempt to mislead and deceive the Filipino people.

The pro ‘cha cha’ politicos do not tell the people the real and practical consequences of the parliamentary system’s fusing of the executive power now vested in the President and the legislative power now vested in Congress into a single body (Parliament). They do not tell the people that this fusion of executive and legislative powers – the distinguishing feature of the parliamentary form – means that the same set of people choose the programs of government, appropriate the funds for these programs, and execute these programs. In a business organization, this is analogous to combining in a single unit the functions of the purchasing department (the one who chooses the supplier), the functions of the finance department (the one who pays the supplier), and the functions of the operations department (the one who uses the items supplied). This means that the built-in control mechanism of having different units act on different parts of the same transaction is lost. Such a system therefore has inherently weaker controls and is more prone to abuse and corruption. This is why no company that has grown sufficiently large as to require formal systems of control ever fuses purchasing and finance and operations. It is simply bad systems design. Now, if this isn’t done in comparatively small organizations like business enterprises, why should the pro ‘cha cha’ politicos propose to do this in the very large entity that is the Philippine government?

The pro ‘cha cha’ politicos do not tell the people that a parliamentary system discards the system of checks and balances that is an excellent feature of the presidential system. They do not tell the people that the Prime Minister and the members of Parliament – especially in the unicameral system being proposed – will be far more powerful than the President and the Cabinet in a presidential system. The Prime Minister and his ruling coalition can decide on any program they want, allocate funds to it, and implement it in any way they want. So consider this: if the P2.8 billion agricultural fund anomaly could happen in a presidential system despite its built-in controls, what might be possible when there are no such controls and some politicos decide to go on a public spending rampage?

The pro ‘cha cha’ politicos do not tell the people that, in a parliamentary system, the entire national budget (except of course for certain fixed expenditures like debt servicing and salaries) is the ‘pork barrel’. They do not tell the people that there is no check for the power of the Prime Minister and his ruling gang to do what they want except to resort to the judicial system, but that is an after-the-fact control device and assumes that kickbacks can actually be documented and proven in a court of law. I know that we all are disturbed by the level of graft and corruption that occurs in the limited pork barrel system we now have. Now imagine what might happen after we've expanded the pork barrel and done away with the controls. Graft and corruption – and cronyism – flourishes more easily in parliamentary governments, even in mature ones.

The pro ‘cha cha’ politicos do not tell the people that, in a parliamentary system, ‘horse trading’ – or the ‘I’ll go along with your project if you go along with mine’ system – is enshrined as the way of governance. This is a natural consequence of the fact that the Prime Minister and his/her cabinet are dependent for their continued stay in office on the votes of members of Parliament, and such votes can be withheld at any time. The fact that the government in a parliamentary system can fall any time there is a ‘no confidence vote’ is loudly touted by the pro ‘cha cha’ politicos as a virtue of the system. Actually, it is a very serious shortcoming because it essentially implies that the special interests represented by every member of Parliament will always be served, often at the expense of the national interest. Of course, all politicos in representative democracies – whether in presidential or parliamentary governments – represent special interests. The problem however is compounded in parliamentary systems because too much power is placed in the hands of the members of Parliament and, as a result, they can do virtually anything to promote those interests.

The pro ‘cha cha’ politicos do not tell the people exactly how their desired shift to a parliamentary form of government will benefit the country. All they do is point to other countries that happen to be parliamentary and more economically successful than we are, and then make the sweeping statement that we would be as economically successful as those countries if only we changed to a parliamentary government. They conveniently do not mention that there many other countries that are performing better economically but do not have parliamentary governments, or that there are many other countries that have parliamentary governments but are not performing well economically. These pro ‘cha cha’ politicos do not tell the people that there is no demonstrated correlation between form of government and economic performance, or between the parliamentary form and the rate of economic growth. In fact, economic performance is a function of a country’s economic policies, its resource endowments, and the set of environmental conditions, not its form of government.

Finally, the pro ‘cha cha’ politicos do not like to tell the people that, in a parliamentary system, we ordinary citizens – already bereft of any real power – will be further deprived of the power to vote for our choice as leader of the country. In a parliamentary system, only the members of Parliament will have a say in who will lead the nation. Sila sila na lang ang mag-didikta. Props na lang tayo.

It is worthwhile perhaps to remember that the US-style presidential system is a later iteration of the British-style parliamentary system of democracy. If we try to recall a little bit of history, we will note that the parliamentary form was really a late 17th-century power-sharing concoction of British feudal lords whose primary concern at the time was mainly to maintain the balance and prevent any one lord from acquiring enough power to install himself as monarch. These aristocrats, who were absolute rulers in their individual fiefdoms, did not feel any need to make an accounting of their actions to their subjects and thus felt no compulsion to install systems of ‘check and balance’. In contrast, the people who migrated to North America were mainly the oppressed working classes of Europe who were naturally more conscious of limiting the powers of those who would ‘rule’ over them. Thus, they produced the formula of dispersing and distributing powers among three separate, independent, and co-equal branches of government, and allowing the people to directly elect their leaders for fixed and limited terms of office. The American system actually must be considered an improvement over the British system because it diminished the power and prerogatives of ruling elites and retained more power for the people.

I consider it absolutely essential that we maintain the separation of executive and legislative powers and retain the system of ‘checks and balances’ because the powers already vested in government officials are enormous and easy to abuse. Giving more power to politicos and then removing the restraints cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be the solution to this country’s problems. In fact, this will make the situation in the country worse than it already is. Graft and corruption is a real and serious problem in this country and shifting to the parliamentary form will aggravate it. ‘Legislative gridlock’ – the problem that the pro ‘cha cha’ politicos say they want to solve – is a minor (even imaginary) problem whose elimination will not make any perceptible impact on the country’s economic growth rate.

From a systems design point of view, it does not make any sense – given the realities of the Philippine situation – to change from a system with comparatively strong controls to a system with comparatively weak controls. On the contrary, the direction of change should be toward even stronger controls. When you are already experiencing burglaries in your neighborhood, the correct response is to install a more sophisticated security system, not to remove the locks from your front door.

What, in effect, we are being told by the pro ‘cha cha’ politicos is, ‘Give us more power and the problems of the country will be solved, and we will be economically better off’. One could very well wonder if the ‘we’ in that statement includes us ordinary citizens. A somewhat cheeky translation of that previous statement might be, ‘Remove the locks from your front door and we promise not to ransack your house, and we will see to it that you will get a new flat screen TV’. The question we must ask ourselves is: given our past experience with these politicos, should we believe them? The problem with the systems design of the parliamentary form is that it requires the presumption of good intentions for it to work well. Are we prepared to make this presumption? Frankly, I am not. I don’t believe that most of you are either.

It should be obvious that the change to a parliamentary system is being railroaded by politicos because it will give them virtually unrestricted power to promote their special interests. The lengths to which they will go and the means that they are prepared to employ to ram through this change is a clear indication of how very much they want this kind of power. Both modes of change that they have put into play – the Constituent Assembly without Senate cooperation and the People’s Initiative option – raise serious legal questions, but the ‘cha cha’ proponents speak confidently not only of the Supreme Court ruling in their favor on these questions but of it ruling on these in record time. Why are they so sure? Are they implying that even the Supreme Court is already on board their railroad train?

By July this year (or in about three months from now), some politicos are assuring us with absolute confidence that we will have a new parliamentary system in place. The resources that they are using to meet this timetable and the haste with which they are forcing through such a major structural change in our society seems not only indecent, but actually grotesque. The interests of the very few are once again about to triumph over the interests of the country as a whole. It is easy to imagine these ‘cha cha’ proponents enjoying laughs in private at the ease with which they are putting one over us.

My friends, we certainly need judicial reform. We need electoral reform. We need economic reform. What we do not need is a change in our form of government.

My friends, it is up to you and me to tell the people what this proposed change to a parliamentary system really means. We need to spread this message and persuade the various groups and organizations that we are members of – civic, professional, social, and religious – to make a public stand against this brazen attempt to put one over the Filipino people. I believe that we urgently need to raise the level of public awareness and, more importantly, the level of public outrage in order to derail their railroad train, if derailing it is still at all possible. In any event, we must try. If we don’t do this and if we don’t fight this politico initiative now, then we – you and I – must bear responsibility for the problems and the pain this will cause our children, their children, and future generations of Filipinos.

We started by saying that the proposed charter change is really about the re-allocation of power. Who gains? Who loses? In the shift to a parliamentary system, the politicos will gain power. We ordinary citizens will lose what little power we still have.

Is that what the Filipino people want? Do we really want to give our politicos more power? Do we want to give them the key to our national treasury’s front door? I definitely don’t. Do you?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Job Announcements

Andito pa ka pa din? Lumipat na ako. Dumalaw ka naman sa www.susanople.com. May job announcements
doon kahalo ng aking mga tula at samo't saring mga sinulat. Dalaw ka, ha? :-)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Moving out

Dear Readers,

I'm moving out of Blogspot and into my new home: www. susanople.com.

Am fixing it up so it would include an OFW Corner and Jobs Vacancies among its Categories .

This way we can interact and help each other out.

Hope to see you there!

Toots

OFWs back Cha-cha?

Sigaw ng Bayan does it again. It issued a press release stating that more overseas Filipino workers are backing the administration's move to shift to a parliamentary form of government. Ludicrous, of course, but unless challenged by genuine OFW groups, the politically naive might just accept this as gospel truth.

What is the basis for this latest assumption by SnB? The news story goes: "Lambino revealed in Davao the positive responses that its website has received nationwide and even from overseas Filipinos who have similarly supported people's initiative." It then cites two quotes from a Filipino based in Riyadh and another who lives in Hong Kong, based on website hits.

The truth is Filipinos everywhere have such a difficult time making ends meet that they have little energy and intellectual leisure time left to dissect the political issues of our times. The truth is that many OFWs don't even realize that when the shift happens, the Overseas Absentee Voting Law that many of them lobbied for so long to be approved, becomes inutile. The truth is that in the administration's haste to bring about a new Constitution, they are willing to forego the passage of an amendment to the OAV Law that would allow our OFWs to vote in any plebiscite or referendum. I have no problem if genuine OFW groups and their families do openly come out in favor of Charter change after they receive the right kind (meaning honest) information needed to arrive at such a decision.

OFWs back Cha-cha? Does a handful of website hits represents the sentiments of over 8 million Filipinos overseas? To SnB, I ask: please respect our OFWs. Leave them out of your propaganda blitz. So many of them already suffer from emotional stress from having to work and live in extremely difficult circumstances. Do not claim to have them on your side based on something as trivial as website hits. Do not take their sector's name in vain. And do not make a political exercise out of cobbling up the most vulnerable and thus gullible lot of them in order to project a united OFW front for an agenda that is as distant to their hearts as their own physical distance to the loved ones they have left behind.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Iblog2: A Newbie's Perspective

My day at Iblog2 started later than most. I caught the middle of Manolo Quezon’s talk on a blogger’s rights and his or her readers’ expectations. I appreciate the generosity of spirit behind his advice for established bloggers to point the way to lesser known but equally deserving blogsites. Davao City councilor Pete Lavina expressed optimism that the blogosphere will be the cyber haven of participatory governance. I was amused by his remark that a great number of those who posted comments on his site were foreigners and Filipinos overseas. Dean stood up at the open forum to emphasize (mild word) the need for Pinoy bloggers to be deadly serious in promoting the search for great, powerful ideas.

Lunch was simple but delicious. Not bad for a free conference! (Hooray for Janette, Rissa, UP ISP, and Iblog2 sponsors!)

The afternoon sessions entailed difficult choices. I attended the session on Art and Literary Blogs. Palanca awardee Dean Alfar held the audience in the palm of his hand with his impromptu lesbians-at-Starbucks dialogue and succinct PowerPoint presentation. Jonas Diego showed how graphic design helps enliven one’s blog. In his case, the comic strips he posted also paved the way for others to discover his creative talent and even tap his services. Equally deserving of applause was the third presentation on Blogging as an Educational Tool by Zarah Gagatiga.

I felt torn between attending Ellen Tordesillas’ talk or that of the probloggers' session. Thoughts about my electric and telephone bills finally resolved the matter in favor of the man called Yuga (so sorry, Ellen!). I had fun listening to the panel composed of professional bloggers who were kind enough to share their experiences in dollars and cents transactions. This opens the gateway to new fantasies, of course. Now if I can only figure out how to add Adsense on my own blog! (Don't smirk. I’m a newbie, remember?)

For a new mommy blogger like me, Iblog2 was an eye-opener. I sat in a classroom with a crowd of mostly young people who bring to the blogosphere the many pieces of their sun-drenched lives. There were parents, too, and professionals in various fields who have found a second home in the vast digital universe. It was my first time to set foot inside the Pinoy blogging community. I started my blog several days ago. When my nephews picked me up from Malcolm Hall, they asked me how the summit went. I smiled and told them about fellow writers who blog, bloggers who earn, nice people like Dean Jorge Bocobo and Pete Lavina, and seeing friends like Annalyn, Manolo, and Jove.

I emerged from Iblog2 refreshed and ready to take on the challenges of maintaining my blog. Because, more than anything else, I now realized what blogging is all about: freedom to write, freedom to choose, freedom to simply be the person that you are, and freedom for creative and out-of-the-box ideas to swim in the wide and open sea of intellectual discourse. In the battlefield of ideas, the biggest losers are those who believe this battle should not even be fought at all. Clearly, there were no such losers at Iblog2. Freedom lives in Blogland!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Missing father and a poem

I was searching for a poem. I wrote it a few months after my father died. I can’t recall specific lines but it was about missing the sound of his pen on paper. I stored it in my laptop and now it’s gone. Did I delete it by mistake? Or perhaps someone who borrowed my laptop did, by accident. It’s beyond me now. A stroke which occurred in 1994 weakened my father’s left hand thus ruling out the use of a keyboard for his column writings. Since his stroke, he used a fountain pen to write his columns by long hand on standard yellow paper with a cup of brewed coffee and a pack of cigarettes by his side. I would have to look for those handwritten columns soon. I miss the sound of my father’s pen on paper. He is never coming back. Like the poem I wrote. Gone forever.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Important Food For Thought from Vaclav Havel

Excerpt from "The Power of the Powerless", an essay written by Vaclav Havel during his days as a "dissident" in Czechoslovakia. Havel's essay has had a profound impact on Eastern Europe and the Solidarity Movement during the Cold War era.

"Between the aims of the post-totalitarian system and the aims of life, there is a yawning abyss: while in life, in its essence, moves toward plurality, diversity, independent self-constitution, and self-organization, in short, toward the fulfillment of its own freedom, the post-totalitarian system demands conformity, uniformity, and discipline. While life ever strives to create new and improbable structures, the post-totalitarian system contrives to force life into its most probable states. The aims of the system reveal its most essential characteristic to be introversion, a movement toward being ever more completely and unreservedly itself, which means that the radius of its influence is continually widening as well. This system serves people only to the extent necessary to ensure that people will serve it. Anything beyond this, that is to say, anything which leads people to overstep their predetermined roles is regarded by the system as an attack upon itself. [...]"

"Ideology, in creating a bridge of excuses between the system and the individual, spans the abyss between the aims of the system and the aims of life. It pretends that the requirements of the system derive from the requirements of life. It is a world of appearances trying to pass for reality."

"The post-totalitarian system touches people at every step, but it does so with ideological gloves on. This is why life in the system is so thoroughly permeated with hypocrisy and lies: government by bureaucracy is called popular government; the working class is enslaved in the name of the working class; the complete degradation of the individual is presented as his ultimate liberation; depriving people of information is called making it available; the use of power to manipulate is called the public control of power, and the arbitrary abuse of power is called observing the legal code; the repression of culture is called its development; the explanation of imperial influence is presented as support for the oppressed; the lack of free expression becomes the highest form of freedom; farcical elections become the highest form of democracy; banning independent thought becomes the most scientific of world views; military occupation becomes fraternal assistance. Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything. It falsifies the past. It falsifies the present, and it falsifies the future. It falsifies statistics. It pretends not to possess an omnipotent and unprincipled police apparatus. It pretends to respect human rights. It pretends to persecute no one. It pretends to fear nothing. It pretends to pretend nothing."

"Inidividuals need not believe all these mystifications, but they must behave as though they did, or they must at least tolerate them in silence, or get along well with those who work with them. For this reason, however, they must live within a lie. They need not accept the lie. It is enough for them to have accepted their life with it and in it. For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system." [....]

"If ideology is the principal guarantee of the inner consistency of power, it becomes at the same time an increasingly important guarantee of its continuity. Whereas succession to power in classical dictatorship is always a rather complicated affair (the pretenders having nothing to give their claims reasonable legitimacy, thereby forcing them always to resort to confrontations of naked power), in the post-totalitarian system power is passed on from person to person, from clique to clique, and from generation to generation in an essentially more regular fashion. In the selection of pretenders, a new "king-maker" takes part: it is ritual legitimation, the ability to rely on ritual, to fulfill it and use it, to allow oneself, as it were, to be borne aloft by it. Naturally, power struggles exist in the post-totalitarian system as well, and most of them are not open, regulated by democratic rules, and subject to public control, but hidden behind its scenes."

"Because of this dictatorship of the ritual, however, power becomes clearly anonymous. Individuals are almost dissolved in the ritual. They allow themselves to be swept along by it and frequently it seems as though ritual alone carries people from obscurity into the light of power. Is it not characteristic of the post-totalitarian system that, on all levels of the power hierarchy, individuals are increasingly being pushed aside by faceless people, puppets, those uniformed flunkeys of the rituals and routines of power?" [....]

"It can be said, therefore, that ideology, as that instrument of internal communication which assures the power structure of inner cohesion is, in the post-totalitarian system, something that transcends the physical aspects of power, something that dominates it to a considerable degree and, therefore, tends to assure its continuity as well. It is one of the pillars of the system's external stability. This pillar, however, is built on a very unstable foundation. It is built on lies. It works only as long as people are willing to live within the lie."

"There is obviously something in human beings which responds to this system, something they reflect and accommodate, something within them which paralyzes every effort of their better selves to revolt. Human beings are compelled to live within a lie, but they can be compelled to do so only because they are in fact capable of living in this way. Therefore not only does the system alienate humanity, but at the same time alienated humanity supports this system as its own involuntary masterplan, as a degenerate image of its own degeneration, as a record of people's own failure as individuals."

"It seems that the primary breeding ground for what might, in the widest possible sense of the word, be understood as an opposition in the post-totalitarian system is living within the truth. The confrontation between these opposition forces and the powers that be, of course, will obviously take a form essentially different from that typical of an open society or a classical dictatorship. Initially, this confrontation does not take place on the level of real, institutionalized, quantifiable power which relies on the various instruments of power, but on a different level altogether: the level of human consciousness and conscience, the existential level. The effective range of this special power cannot be measured in terms of disciples, voters, or soldiers, because it lies spread out in the fifth column of social consciousness, in the hidden aims of life, in human beings' repressed longing for dignity and fundamental rights, for the realization of their social and political interests. Its power, therefore, does not reside in the strength of definable political or social groups, but chiefly in the strength of a potential, which is hidden throughout the whole of society, including the official power structures of that society. Therefore this power does not rely on soldiers of its own, but on the soldiers of the enemy as it were - that is to say, on everyone who is living within the lie and who may be struck at any moment (in theory, at least) by the force of truth (or who, out of an instinctive desire to protect their position, may at least adapt to that force). It is a bacteriological weapon, so to speak, utilized when conditions are ripe by a single civilian to disarm an entire division. This power does not participate in any direct struggle for power; rather, it makes its influence felt in the obscure arena of being itself. The hidden movements it gives rise to there, however, can issue forth (when, where, under what circumstances, and to what extent are difficult to predict) in something visible: a real political act or event, a social movement, a sudden explosion of civil unrest, a sharp conflict inside an apparently monolithic power structure, or simply an irrepressible transformation in the social and intellectual climate. And since all genuine problems and matters of critical importance are hidden beneath a thick crust of lies, it is never quite clear when the proverbial last straw will fall, or what that straw will be. This, too, is why the regime prosecutes, almost as a reflex action preventively, even the most modest attempts to live within the truth."

"Why was Solzhenitsyn driven out of his own country? Certainly not because he represented a unit of real power, that is, not because any of the regime's representatives felt he might unseat them and take their place in government. Solzhenitsyn's expulsion was something else: a desperate attempt to plug up the dreadful wellspring of truth, a truth which mightt cause incalculable transformations in social consciousness, which in turn might one day produce political debacles unpredictable in their consequences. And so the post-totalitarian system behaved in a characteristic way: it defended the integrity of the world of appearances in order to defend itself. For the crust presented by the life of lies is made of strange stuff. As long as it seals off hermetically the entire society, it appears to be made of stone. But the moment someone breaks through in one place, when one person cries out, "The emperor is naked!" -- when a single person breaks the rules of the game, thus exposing it as a game -- everything suddenly appears in another light and the whole crust seems then to be made of a tissue on the point of tearing and disintegrating uncontrollably. "

"When I speak of living within the truth, I naturally do not have in mind only products of conceptual thought, such as a protest or a letter written by a group of individuals. It can be any means by which a person or a group revolts against manipulation: anything from a letter by intellectuals to a workers' strike, from a rock concert to a student demonstration, from refusing to vote in the farcical elections to making an open speech at some official congress, or even a hunger strike, for instance. If the suppression of the aims of life is a complex process, and if it is based on the multifaceted manipulation of all expressions of life, then, by the same token, every free expression of life indirectly threatens the post-totalitarian system politically, including forms of expression to which, in other social systems, no one would attribute any potential political significance, not to mention explosive power." (Excerpts from "Open Letters, Selected Writings 1965-1990", Vaclav Havel, First Vintage Books Edition, June 1992)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Berong was his name

Berong was his name. He had a patrician nose, eyes that have that faraway look, and a built that was stocky yet capable of stealth. He used to be a boxer or so he claimed during his Ilocano youth. Berong Ople, that was his complete name. No relation by blood to us Oples of Bulacan. He was my father’s driver when Blas F. Ople was Minister of Labor. And like his boss, Mang Berong, as we fondly called him, was a legend of his time. All the bonafide members of the Ople Club (mostly made up of people who worked previously with my dad during his labor days) know these tales by heart, and I thought that with my father’s second death anniversary coming up, it is time that I share these stories with you.

So fasten you seatbelts and listen to the legendary tales of Mang Berong.

An Intercon Anecdote

My father was one of the original members of Hotel Intercontinental’s 365 Club. At that time, hotel paging system for drivers were a big thing and door men would speak into a big microphone like they were just about to make a major announcement. After his usual afternoon coffee fix, my father stepped out of the hotel lobby and was immediately approached by the alert doorman. “Sir, what is the name of your driver?,” he asked. “Berong”, was my father’s curt reply. “Driver Berong, Driver Berong, please come over,” the doorman’s voice boomed.

After a few minutes, Berong came running, huffing and puffing, from the carpark area to the hotel driveway where my father stood. “Sir, you called?,” he asked. He had left the car behind and came over – which was exactly what the doorman had asked. Of course, after realizing his folly, Mang Berong had to go back and get the car to pick my father up.

Urdaneta where?

The backseat of my father’s car was always filled with books. Labor Secretary Ople was known to pick up a book and read while riding in his car.

One glorious morning, my father had a meeting to go to at a friend’s house in Urdaneta Village of Makati. He entered his car, and told Berong to proceed to Urdaneta. As his wont, the Secretary then picked up a book and started to read while the motor was running. After a long spell, my father looked up and was surprised to see a tollgate looming ahead. “Where are we, Berong?,” he asked. “We are on our way to Pangasinan, Sir.” Peering into the rear view mirror, Berong noted my father’s puzzled look. “Sir, didn’t you say Urdaneta?”

It took some time but my father did make it to his meeting at Urdaneta Village in Makati, not Pangasinan.



Cemetery, not the Park

A colleague of my father died and ever the thoughtful friend, he decided to go to the burial. Secretary Ople’s secretary gave clear instructions to Mang Berong that the boss was to be brought to Himlayang Pilipino.

The Secretary missed the burial completely. It was completely not his fault. Instead of Himlayang Pilipino, Mang Berong had brought him to Nayong Pilipino.

The One with the Salagubang

It is said that there is a child within us. In Mang Berong’s case, the child in him often was in command.

In an out-of-town trip, Mang Berong caught a native beetle or “salagubang”, placed the hapless creature in a plastic bag, which he gripped tightly with his hand. When Secretary Ople entered the car, Mang Berong forgot about his little pet and proceeded to drive.

While on the road, the beetle decided to escape. He flew this way and that, unmindful of the other occupant who was busy reading a book. Mang Berong drove with one hand while trying to catch the flying beetle with the other. It must have been a spectacle for the other cars on the road, seeing the Secretary’s driver trying to catch what seemed to be an invisible insect, in the very style of a stereotyped mental patient.

Facing the Sea

As a Cabinet Secretary, my father had meetings all over the place. One day, it was an afternoon meeting at Sulo Hotel in Quezon City. “Berong, we are going to Sulo,” my dad said. “Yes, sir!,” Berong replied. And off they went.

Curious that what should have been a quick trip turned out to be longer than expected, Secretary Ople decided to look up from the newspaper he was reading. Right in front of him was a pier. Mang Berong took his boss to the North Harbor. The car was on idle while the driver was figuring out which ship his boss should board.

Exasperated, my father asked him why they were parked in front of a pier. Berong replied, “Sir, didn’t you say you were going to Sulu?” My father was an infinitely patient man. He sighed and gave his driver a new set of instructions. While another boss would have rolled up his newspaper and hit his driver on the head with it, my father merely resumed reading it.

There are more Berong tales than this space can hold. When my father died on December 14, 2002, I thought of all his relatives and friends who would be in heaven to meet him. Mang Berong was among the first to come to mind.

I only hope that when my father requested Mang Berong to lead him to San Pedro, they didn’t end up in Laguna. (Reprinted from Panorama Magazine)

Monday, April 10, 2006

Shifting Gears

On a daily basis, my inbox receives dire messages from readers seeking employment. Some readers make it a point to attach their resumes complete with photos perhaps hoping that I can pass these on to my own contacts. Unfortunately, my personal network is composed mostly of friends who are gainfully employed but not in a position to employ others. A lot of them serve government for a wage that can only be described as a pittance given the load of work and pressures involved.

When I left government, I was suddenly thrust into the very same predicament most of my readers found themselves in. For eighteen years, I had a salary to count on to maintain my simple needs. Although I voluntarily relinquished by position in order to remain true to my principles, it was still a major change to wake up one morning fully aware of the uneventful day ahead of me. Change is always tough especially because I did love working for my bosses and enjoyed the camaraderie of several friends in government service. Nevertheless, I conducted an inventory of my own personal skills and sought the advice of well-meaning friends on how best to proceed with my life. I decided to handle the daily affairs of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute while taking on writing jobs and consultancies on the side.

Today, I have settled into a daily routine with a small, competent staff that I can count on through thick and thin. My days are just as hectic as before but there is a real sense of pride and freedom in finally being on my own. Looking back, I recall a life-altering conversation with a wonderful lady named Tupao Lindberg. It was our very first meeting and I came away from that encounter less worried about my future. By sharing with me her own personal experience, she encouraged me to take the leap from a fixed salary to the more uncertain life of a communications consultant. She told me,” don’t be afraid because I know you have what it takes to make it.” With a giant leap of faith, I decided to let go without a safety net to cling to but with a clear vision of how to create one out of nothing.

I am writing this down for a purpose. I am sure that some of you out there may also wish to shift gears, change lanes, and look for an alternative career or to be self-employed. There is nothing wrong with exploring one’s options and dreaming of a better future in some other place, in a different company or even from your home. Change is tough but in some cases, inevitable. If what you have in mind is a career change, let me cue you in on some strategies that helped me along the way.

One, be candid in assessing your own personal skills and experience. If you are an accountant and you see little potential for growth in your company, you can try to see if there are opportunities for more decent employment elsewhere. Ask around, check with your contacts, spread the word that you would not mind receiving information about companies or individuals who may have accountancy problems that you can help resolve.

Two, be bold in defining your vision. Do you see yourself working abroad as an OFW or holding a job in a huge company? Would you rather be self-employed as a freelance writer perhaps or operating a home-based business like a small catering outfit? This is your vision; let your imagination run wild before checking all ideas against present realities. Some of the best businesses came from having what initially seemed as an outlandish idea.

Three, once you have settled on your vision, do the spadework on how to achieve it. Read books, ask around, interview people who clearly have “been there, done that.” Get all the information that you need to make an informed decision on whether to take that leap of faith or not.

Richard Bolles, in his book “What color is your parachute?” offers this advice:

“In evaluating any ideas that you pick up, the first thing you ought to look at are your dreams. What have you always dreamed about doing? Since childhood? Since last week? Now is the time to dust off these dreams. “

“And please don’t pay any attention, for now, to whether these dreams represent a step up for you in life, or not. Who cares? Your dreams are yours. You may have been dreaming of earning more money. But then again, you may have been dreaming of doing work that you really love, even if it means a lesser salary or income than you have been accustomed to. Don’t judge your dreams, and don’t let anyone else judge them either.”

Life is short and unpredictable. The Lord has given us the same share of minutes to either waste or put to good use. To those of you who are contemplating any kind of change, I say don’t feel guilty about even considering it. And after carefully exploring all options and undertaking a candid appraisal of your own talents and skills, once you have decided to shift gears, change courses, and take flight – I say, go and be fearless because you have a right to flap your wings and deviate from a life plan that may have been imposed on you by others. Have faith in yourself and in the goodness of the Lord. Good fortune is really all about preparation, hard work, and a determination to make your dream finally happen. For those who wish to seek friendly advice, write to me. I am here for you.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Because I write

Because I write,
I live with extraordinary people
Who don’t exist
Except upon my say so.

Because I write,
Words come and go
Like happy tourists
Travelling without a map


Because I write,
I ponder, and in the melancholy
Of my dreams, I cry

Because I write,
A choir of words
Give music to my pen

Because I write,
I can tuck the world
In bed and create a new one

Simply because,
I write.

Why I am against charter change

A Constitution must reflect the basic principles that keep our nation together. Every time a new official is sworn in to serve government, he or she is asked to uphold the Constitution. It is the spoke in our wheel; the compass by which we all set our eyes on whenever the nation feels adrift. Opening up the Constitution now to amendments and revisions would be like asking a child to stand in the middle of a lion’s den. Our present Charter will be pawed at, scratched, torn, and devoured by lions of all sizes. At this time of political uncertainty and divisiveness, it may not be wise to subject our Constitution to such a masticating experience.

The administration argues that Charter change is the solution to perennial political gridlock. This magic wand will unravel the knots that prevent us from taking off. This argument is premised on the idea that under a parliamentary form of government there will be less dissent, since the system will be unicameral and the Prime Minister as well as members of Cabinet will be coming from the same body.

I do not see the cost of electricity tumbling down because we shifted to a parliamentary form of government. We will continue to pay for debts incurred since the time of a mothballed Bataan Nuclear Plant to the present Napocor. I do not see how millions of jobs can suddenly exist because we have a Prime Minister. Investors shy away because of political instability, red tape, corruption, and rules that change all the time.

Under such a system, they say, a poor person from the boondocks who, by a stroke of fate, is able to win a parliamentary election can someday become Prime Minister. Yet, that very poor person, if the Consultative Commission’s report is to be followed, must have a college degree. To equate brilliance or even competence with the attainment of a college degree is similar to associating dumbness with blonde hair. Poverty is the major barrier to a college or university degree, not stupidity. The last time I checked, more than 80% of our population is poor.

What is apparent is that the poor will no longer be courted by whoever wants to be the country’s next head of state. Under a parliamentary system, the members of parliament elected by the people will in turn elect the Prime Minister. This means a presidential candidate will no longer come bouncing up and down on the back of a pick-up truck through the dusty, rough roads of Camarines Norte, or Samar, or Sulu, or the Cordilleras to campaign for a handful of votes. A Prime Minister will owe his position to the majority of his co-parliamentarians, not to the fishermen of Davao or fishball vendors of Manila. A parliament composed of political warlords and wealthy scions of established dynasties wouldn't give a hoot about the gripes of national organizations such as the FFW, TUCP, CBCP, ECOP, and PCCI since they can win a re-election anytime simply by making sure the voters in their districts are under their control.

In a unicameral system, the likelihood of public hearings on delicate issues that could offend the powers-that-be ranges from dim to nil. The Filipino is usually averse to any kind of confrontation. We are quite forgiving of each other’s follies especially if it means a favor or two in return. In a system driven by political patronage, conformity is often rewarded while those who roil the waters are quickly dispatched to distant shores. A presidential system has stronger checks and balances and has enough windows for the public to peer in to see whether governance has gone astray. The Lower House can be as parochial as needed since the Senate will be there to adopt the larger view.

I am against Charter change at this particular time because when future generations study the reasons behind this change they would have to revisit these befuddling times when there are so many “truths” except the kind that do matter.

They would have to learn about Garci, and grapple with questions such as how an incumbent president and the Senate were bugged without anyone being jailed for it. A new Constitution must be drawn from a position of strength and wellspring of optimism. We must earn the right to a clean slate and new beginning that Charter change would eventually bring. A mother would want to bring a child into the world for all the right reasons and at the right time. So must it be for a new Constitution. It must be the embodiment of the principles that all Filipinos, both here and overseas, believe in. Yet, if there was to be a plebiscite, more than 8 million overseas Filipinos are excluded by law to weigh in on such a vital decision.

I realize that the present Constitution is not without flaws. For example, I agree that elections must be held farther apart. I also agree that some economic provisions can withstand scrutiny and debate. However, unlike most passengers on the Cha-cha express, I do not agree that we must have a new Constitution on or before July of this year. If there was a political ruckus because some sectors questioned the legitimacy of the president's victory in the 2004 polls, imagine the kind of conflagration that would result from a doubtful, hastily-drawn, unpopular Constitution. We live by laws derived from the Constitution. We must be able to trust that the Charter is reflective of the principles that we, the people, all agree to live by. A weak constitutional foundation makes for an inherently unstable society.

On January 16, 2006, after a two-month leave, I quietly handed in my resignation to my direct superior, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita. It was difficult for me to end 18 years of government service, most of which I spent serving under my late father. However, I felt it was but fair to everyone for me to leave the Office of the President as Undersecretary since I hold a contrary view on an issue that is very close to the President’s heart. Despite this policy difference, I do respect President Gloria Arroyo and sincerely wish her well. (based on a previous column which appeared in Panorama Magazine)

Dear Graduates

I write to congratulate you as you begin a new chapter in your young life. With diploma in hand, you must gaze into the future no longer as a sheltered student but as an individual who in time is expected to make a family, build a career, and act responsibly as a law-abiding citizen of our Republic. For now, you are giddy with excitement and bursting with pride at what you have accomplished and rightfully so, because the number of Filipinos who finish college is such a small minority.

The survival rate for students from the elementary to college levels is quite low. Based on DepEd statistics, out of 100 students who enter elementary school, 65 are able to proceed to secondary or high school. Out of the 65 entrants to high school, 46 are able to graduate. From out of the 46 high school graduates, 33 of them go to college. Out of the 33 college students, only 15 end up actually getting a degree.

So you see, becoming a graduate whether from elementary grade, high school or college, is really a big deal. It is a stamp of approval, a seal of success. Graduation Day is a celebration of the team spirit within your family and among your friends that helped you through the academic grind. You were not the only one that was being tested by your educational institution – your family was, too. That diploma now displayed in a place of honor in your house is a testimony to how much you are loved by your family.

Graduation is also about letting go. For four years, you endured hectic schedules, late night cramming sessions, and writing long papers with adjustable margins and bigger than average font sizes. You have survived your teachers: the smart, the funny, the boring, and the utterly forgettable. You have formed a special bond with your classmates, those who knew who your “crushes” are, and those who actually are your “crushes”. Graduation is the wind that scatters all of you like seeds to an open field, empty and waiting for crops to grow. You may have started out as the most promising because of built-in advantages that come from having a prominent name, a wealthy family, or good connections. Nevertheless, in the end, your personal habits, attitude, and behavior will help shape your destiny.

Because you are a college graduate, you can search for a job or start a business of your own. You can also go to graduate school or study to be a doctor or a lawyer. Your degree legitimizes any aspiration you may have in life. It expands your menu of options. Your diploma is a well-deserved badge of honor; but like all kinds of badges, it can gather dust or worse, be stained. It gathers dust when you do not use it, choosing idleness or mediocrity to a future of growth and excellence. Association with the wrong sort of people can stain this badge and the institution that gave it to you. Be very careful in choosing your friends, and entrusting your future in the hands of others.

The litmus test of your initial success as a fresh college graduate is not in the amount of your starting salary, or the title of your new position. It is in how you are seen by office colleagues as respectable, reliable, trustworthy, credible, and honest. To make a good and lasting impression, behave decently, be humble, and act with sincerity. Do not act like a spoiled brat. That may have worked in a school environment where being snooty can be cool, but a know-it-all around the office always ends up with knives and daggers in the back.

Learning must never end with school. Observe as much as you can from the successes and failures of others. This is how the franchising industry works – someone took his chances, made tough decisions, solved problems, and engineered a successful formula for a stable business that can be passed on so that others won’t have to go through the same pains and aches. Keep an eye out for those who paved the way for young people to follow.

My late father always said that education is for life. It never stops with a diploma. It never stops upon retirement. It only stops when a person arrogantly believes that he or she knows everything there is to know about life. Such a person – arrogant and contemptuous – is probably among the saddest people on earth. Be involved in shaping not only your destiny, but also the destiny and future of your country. Be proud to be Filipino, because despite our current state of affairs, it is still the best gift that one can ever ask for. Stay true to yourself not matter what the fashion trend is or what people prefer that you become. Be the star that steadily shines, not the comet that bursts into light and fades just as quickly. Congratulations, dear graduate and remember to check your inner compass from time to time. (previously appeared in Panorama Magazine)