Sunday, December 31, 2006

Ring out the Old

Last time I spent the eve of the New Year in the Philippines was in 1988. Now, with my two older daughters, we watched the city become shrouded in the gray fog of gunpowder. You see tonight is our equivalent of the Fourth of July. To scare off the evil and unlucky spirits, we detonate illegal firecrackers way before and way after the stroke of midnight. Millions of dollars worth of pyrotechnics go up in smoke on this night.

Despite all the corruption and pollution and overcrowding and murders and kidnapping we become a hopeful nation during the dying minutes of the year.

Saturday, December 30, 2006


Last day of what has been a year of great change. Spent half of the year in the US and the other half in the Philippines. My daughters have adjusted magnificently and they look forward to going to school each day. They have made many new friends and they are slowly learning the language of their parents.

We have spent much time with family members and we continue to rediscover the country we were away from for 17 years. All in all, a great vacation so far.

But what to do now and for the rest of our lives. There are opportunities to get actively involved, to join the political fray, a chance to become an agent for change. This will certainly crimp on our current vacation way of life and will mean less time spent with my daughters. And yet if I do not move now I will only strengthen the forces of inertia.

Nobody should live or die for oneself alone. That would be meaningless. The struggle to do good in a blighted world against very long odds is a noble cause. There is so much work to be done and we must start soon.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all of you. I'm still pretty screwed-up from attending my mother's side of Christmas (39 first cousins) and tomorrow, my dad's side with 41 first cousins. I am enjoying my first Christmas in the Philippines in 18 years!

May we all have a prosperous 2007.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Uphill Climb

There is nothing certain in Philippine politics. The May 2007 elections that had seemed a foregone conclusion last October was once again in jeopardy over the last few weeks. After the giant rally did not materialize, we again do not know if the election will take place. For now though, most everything stops because of the Christmas holiday. These fitful interruptions benefit the well-entrenched (what a surprise) and the uncertainty only heightens the cynicism of those outside the game.

I never imagined that this would be a blitzkrieg campaign. It will be a long, arduous uphill climb. But we need to persevere. Bill Moyers wrote: "We can't change the whole world overnight. There will always be heroes and villains. Let's just have some more heroes. And let's try to be a hero just a little bit more every day of our lives."

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Rule of Thumb

Sometime in the 15th century, a law was passed that regulated the dimensions of a man's implement used to beat his wife to a rod or a stick no thicker than the diameter of his thumb, hence the rule.

I use this example to demonstrate how predictable our government moves. Faced with a mammoth demonstration, they quickly backpedaled and totally conceded. One day after the tepid show of force, our president wastes no time in announcing that she was moving right ahead with those irrelevant charter changes once again.

The oldest rule of political scalawags has always been to beat the masses and stay in power for as long as you can get away with it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Forgiving People

Just as some golf clubs are known for their "forgiveness", we Filipinos have to be one of the most forgiving people anywhere. It takes a lot of heat to make us reach our boiling point. This is definitely not a bad national quality, it only allows us to be abused rather easily. Case in point is the rally that was scheduled to take place today. Half a million people were expected to join and about 20 thousand showed. Granted that our hardworking congressmen completely turned around from their far from subtle efforts to perpetuate themselves in power, I still expected a little more output from the perennially oppressed.

Now even the president has joined the church's call for "character change" in lieu of charter change. These politicians need to realize that they have become part of the problem. I guess it does take a certain amount of grace however, to be able to pause and think and view one's condition from a different perspective. All the more difficult if you've been immersed in politics all your life.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Church Protest

I am very proud of the Catholic Church. It is spearheading efforts to make government employees and elected officials to become conscious of their responsibilities towards the people that they should be serving. The Church had been complicit in allowing so many abuses to go unpunished in the past. We would never have been subjugated by martial law if we had a more active and responsible Church. I am glad that the Church was able to learn a lesson from all those many years of injustice.

The local Catholic Church has committed itself to a three-fold program of pastoral action including character building that seeks to form persons of faith and virtue through the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments, Catholic education, through programs of formation and spirituality. "To build the future, we need to deepen our sense of honesty and integrity, service and responsibility, stewardship and solidarity".

The Church is committed to building capacity. Poverty being not only about "not having" but also of "not being able". The Church plans to accomplish this through its various training programs, schools, charitable agencies, religious and lay organizations.

The Church is committed to building community by undoing the ruinous divisiveness in the country that is rooted in a culture "too focused on the good of small social groups". Through formation and education, the Church seeks to "promote at every level of society and Church a spirituality of citizenship, which is a concrete way of living out in our country the fundamental social virtue: solidarity. This spirituality of citizenship fosters a sense of patriotism and of being responsible for our country. It develops Filipinos into becoming active and constructive participants in social and political life. It enables the laity to take their rightful leadership role in the social transformation of the country".

We will see what happens tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Internet Trouble

Unable to post anything new because there was no internet access for 5 days on account of a storm that lashed through the country! Realized how dependent I had become on the internet--from email to the news to travel arrangements to banking and bill paying, I could never have returned physically home to the Philippines without the internet.

But now I am back. I wish I was in Manila so I could take part in a giant indignation rally on Sunday organized by various religious groups to protest the indecent manner in which our congressional representatives are trying to force changes in our constitution. Granted that the constitution can stand a few revisions, ordinary folk here are flabbergasted at the sudden burst of energy that some of our congressmen have exhibited, working late into the early morning hours just so they manage to get their way again.

Entirely forgotten once again are the innumerable poor. As always, political expediency and selfish, narrow self-interests rule the day.

Friday, December 8, 2006


He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy.
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sunrise.


Thursday, December 7, 2006

Along the Way

Along the way to the airport, or to the golf course, the Shangri-La Hotel, the posh subdivisions you will invariably pass by classic third world slums and whenever the pervasive traffic forces your airconditioned vehicle to a halt, you might be able to take a glimpse of how terrible the living conditions are of so many women and children.

You wonder how long these people have been struggling, whether they have ever even experienced substantial relief, if they still dream of better days. How much dehumanization can these people bear? Yeats wrote "Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart".

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Call Centers

I was astonished to hear inside an elevator chatter that was heavily accented with Santa Monica, California American English. Apparently, these young people are encouraged to keep on talking like Americans in between their breaks so as to polish further their communication skills.

There are hundreds of thousands of Filipinos working in "call centers". They provide technical support for Dell computers, travel advice for Expedia, billing inquiries for American Express, they "cold call" for innumerable mortgage companies as well as timeshare outfits.

This niche has allowed the country to earn quite a bit of money because our competition is relatively few, mainly India but if we don't watch it, other nations will try to take over with even better services at an even less expensive rate.

Nothing bad with this set-up. Just another reason why we need to continuously invest in educating the youth and teaching them skills that will enable them to compete in the world market.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

'Tis the Season

The flight from Tokyo to Manila was totally full of Filipinos returning home for the Christmas holidays. Quite a number were coming from Canada. There was not a single unoccupied seat in the entire 747. There was a cacophony of dialects and I was able to pick up a lot of tidbits from my fellow expatriates.

What unified all of us was that we were striving hard in other countries in order to make life easier for those left behind. Coming home for Christmas is the one luxury we all try to give ourselves. My family and I will be spending our first Christmas in the Philippines in 17 years.

You see, the Christmas season begins at the start of the "Ber" months, meaning September 1 and it lasts until the old Epiphany day which is January 6. Christmas songs have filled the airwaves for the past several months now. The dollar exchange rate consistently improves during this season secondary to the influx of money that pours into the country from the untold millions of overseas Filipinos.

The temperature dips to the high 70's early in the morning causing sweaters to come out of storage. I look forward to watching my daughters experience this unique Filipino tradition.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Back to the Philippines

Mea culpa. I have been remiss with my blog duties these past 2 weeks. My wife and I just arrived back a few hours ago from our Oklahoma sojourn. Our days in the panhandle were packed full and there was very little time to pause and post an entry. The 30 hour journey provided me with a lot of time to read, think and catch up. Most important was being able to give thanks to the many blessings that remain hidden in an unexamined life.

For 7 days, I started early at 6:30 am and resumed my gastroenterological responsibilities non-stop until 1 in the afternoon. Back to old times, Jody my trusted RN remarked. I really need these breaks, and revert to my subspecialty in order that I may see even more clearly. I am not making a lot of sense. Probably because I haven't slept in 2 days.