Friday, December 22, 2006

HAPPY HAPPY HOLIDAYS!


Typhoon Milenyo's wrath made us see things again. Sunsets, Mountains, the evening stars. One of those stars finally found by three lost Magi looking for an important baby.
Holiday Cheers, a Peaceful New Year and a more vigorous fight to end the billboard blight in our country.
John

Sunday, November 19, 2006

OUR TIMES: FOUR GENERATIONS THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHS



FRIENDS: YOU'LL HAVE A GREAT TIME AT MY OPENING. PHOTOGRAPHIC HISTORY, WITTY ANNOTATIONS, PHOTOGRAPHIC MASTERPIECES BY ME! AND TWO SHORT MOVIES ENTITLED "I HATE BILLBOARDS" AND HOW TO BE GAY IN TEN EASY STEPS.

SEE YOU THERE. Wednesday, 6:00 PM, January 22, 2006. Silverlens Gallery, 2320 Pasong Tamo Ext. Makati City. For further info, call 816 0044

JOHN

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A GOURMAND'S ISLAND PARADISE: ISLA NABUROT

(Given the recent oil spill in the Guimaras Straits, people may be shying away from visiting Guimaras. Don't. Isla Naburot, this island paradise has not been affected. Go and enjoy this wonderful jewel. This article was published in the April 7, 2002 issue of Philippine Starweek Magazine)

By John L. Silva


I had heard about Isla Naburot many times in the past. It’s different, they’d say. No electricity, not even a pesky sounding generator. Just kerosene lamps at night. The cottages recycled from old wooden floors. Really not much to do there. But the food, ah the food, is great, they’d all say.

I had a conference in nearby Iloilo City so that was the time to do it. After my speech and a round of courteous chit-chat after, I snuck out with a hotel car ordering the driver to head for the pier to catch the resort’s waiting outrigger.

I was leaving a city about to get into its yearly carnival called Dinagyang. Tens of thousands of competing high school kids face painted and dressed in aborigine wear but actually looking more Hollywood African, about to dance down the street with tens of thousands of revelers in attendance. It’s a major tourist draw but it wasn’t my thing.



I boarded the sleek green and white pumpboat called Isla and it chugged its way at 15 kph towards the large rocky island of Guimaras. Forty five lulling minutes later, the boat having skirted the island turned in the direction of a curious looking hillside house on little Naburot Island adjoining Guimaras.

I alighted onto a skinny bamboo pier, ascended a mound past the curious house. On closer view, the structure was a pastiche of old boards, old bricks, old doors, old windows all having been part of other houses long ago. My baggage carrier led me to the other side of the island, facing a lagoon and Guimaras across, to a hut mounted on tall concrete pillars jutting out over the water.

Perched on top amidst mature trees there was a breeze, intense at times, whiffing at intervals, but always enough to rustle the leaves and induce thoughts of siesta. Anne Saldana, the statuesque manager of the island and head chef had other plans for me. She had lunch waiting and after dropping my weekend bag, changing to my shorts, and combing my wind strewn hair, I descended my treehouse to walk a sandy beach front to one of the open cabanas where a place setting on a picnic table bench waited.

A thick yellow soup with Malunggay leaves and Kalabasa in coconut soup was first served by a native woman in a malong. It was divine. Just the right welcoming soup. Then came the grilled Blue Marlin, Torta Talong, (mashed eggplant dipped in egg batter), and grilled squid stuffed with onions and tomatoes. Each was delicious and just as I thought the delectable caravan over, the barbecued pork, in juicy succulence, made an appearance. I begged the malonged lady to make that the last dish and she enigmatically smiled.

Anne shuffled by to see how I was doing. I sat there, a satiated Cheshire cat dazed by what I’d just devoured. Since there was no electricity, she apologized for the all-grilled menu. No problema , I assured her. Love that additional carbon zing.

Fresh sliced mangos appeared for dessert. They were from Guimaras and known throughout the land for their sweetness. Mango experts from the other islands may poo-poo this claim. But as each sweet spoonful melted in my mouth, I became unshaken with my assertion.

How hard to rise from the picnic table. I not only looked silly with contentment but harbored the secret anticipation of having dinner that evening and a full round of meals the next day. Wandering to my tree house, I thought about other rustic hide-away resorts I’d been too. The others had a slew of activities, from aerobics to soap-carving. Fine dining would not be one of them. I reasoned to myself that good chefs would rather ensconce themselves in a well-appointed city kitchen than under a thatched roof, sharing the Oregano with hungry Geckos. But here, in this remote five-hectare isle, was incredibly scrumptuous dining.

I mentally noted to chat at length with the wizard chef as I crumpled on a floor mattress in my balcony where the breeze was strongest and caressing. It took little effort melting into sleep.

Afternoon siestas are always, upon waking, accompanied with a stupor, taking awhile to get into the swing of things. This siesta had none of that. I was, throughout my sleep, lulled hearing the gurgle of ocean entering the lagoon and the singing of hundreds of colorful birds flying and swooping in tandem or in all different directions. When my eyes opened, those soothing, cheerful sounds continued, assuring me that a troubled world had not blown itself up.

It was an hour before sunset so I walked back to the western side of the island where I first alighted, there where the curious house stood.

As the sun slowly descended, I pored over the inside of the house, examining the material that formed it. Two open windows were once upright door frames. Curved planks on the roof sill once the side of boats. Bannisters in a past life were the spokes of cartwheels. Brick sidings embossed with the names of old Iloilo families – Javellana, Javelosa, Jalandoni – onced sheathed mansions. Old thick poles of the sturdiest Narra once propped churches. The transluscent shell windows once slid on grooves of another era.

I sat on weathered tile steps, probably saved from a 1920’s kitchen that had recently gone linoleum, and watched an egg-yolk sun slide into the sea, the nearby Iloilo coastline more pronounced and turning vermillion.

I returned to my tree house to find little kerosene lamps on the pathway and several more on the stair landing for me to take upstairs. From my arm chair on the balcony, I could see similar lamps lighting pathways to cottages nearby. Beyond, past the lagoon and the open sea is the faint outline of a town with electric lights. The distant fluorescent and the twinkling yellow flames on our island was a study in contrast. No, there would be no CNN glare here, no humming airconditioner, no hotmail adverts promising enlarged penises.


A low sounding bell announced dinner. Back at the cabana, I feasted, under a gas lamp, on soup half full with striped nylon shells. It was perfectly tangy with lots of chunky ginger. Sauteed deep sea shrimps and a grilled Maya-Maya followed with a bountiful side dish of sauteed vegies.

The brilliant red shrimps were simply to die for. Anne explains these were not aqua cultured but caught right out there, her hand pointing in the direction of the dark sea. In the past decade, we’ve all been weaned on farmed prawns that when we taste the real thing, we’re astonished over its sweetness. All this time, our palates had gotten accustomed to shrimp tasting like, heavens, processed crabsticks!

Anne pauses at my table to check on her visiting food taster. I had exhausted exclamatory remarks given at lunch so I settled on a thoughtful explanation on the flavor nuances between ocean and fenced shrimp. I was stumped for words so Anne gave me a nurse’s pat ordering me to continue eating while the food was warm.

With a final lick of a Guimaras mango, I bade my good nights attempting still to let Anne know she was a marvelous cook. But, self-effacing that she is, shooed me in the direction of my cottage.

The sandy pathway glimmered in the dark and, at first, I looked around me to see where the light was coming from. I raised my head and found a nearly full moon lighting the whole evening sky in milky dark blue. I was awestruck, remembering a passage from the Hindu text, the Upanishad, “When before the beauty of a sunset or a mountain, you pause and exclaim ‘Ah,’ you are participating in divinity.”

Trance-like, I ascended my cottage stairs never leaving my eyes from the divine moon. I laid down on the balcony mattress transfixed on this beguiling orb in the sky, laced with a thousand blinking stars. Fragments of revelations drifted through me. Chinese intellectuals a millennium ago, inspired by the same moon, composing love poems in their courtyards. Intrepid Polynesian ancestors in their outriggers sailing at night in the limitless ocean, lit by a moonbeam and guided by stars.

There is not a single disruption or distraction tonight. The cell phone long buried in my weekend bag. The ivory moon with its speckled face, is center stage tonight and nothing, not a thing else really matters. The mosquito net had been lowered and tucked on all the sides of my bed while I was at dinner. I took one longing look at it and watched it billow in the breeze. I made a futile attempt to rise from my mattress and drag myself to bed. It never happened. I woke the next morning still on the mattress, my sunlit face still in the direction of the absent moon.

Intoxicated with one whole night of fresh evening breeze, I couldn’t get myself up and about as I normally do. There was no morning paper. And why should I want to read the world’s woes while in paradise? I rolled on the mattress to one side looking out onto the lagoon at low tide. I struggled to identify trees and shrubs and passing flocks of long billed birds but was rendered inutile. I rolled to lie on my back and stared at low buxomy clouds glide effortlessly across the sky. I rolled to the other side to contemplate on my tree house’s thatched inner roof and its meticulous binding. All visual curiosities but my vegged out brain provided no details.

I remember Anne telling me the night before that breakfast was whenever I pleased. I wanted the pleasing that instant so I made all effort to be vertical, look a bit more presentable than Robinson Crusoe and ambled downstairs to the cabana. By the time I was seated, aromatic coffee appeared. And after a second wakening sip, a platter of sliced mangoes and papaya was laid in front of me. Just as I had about contented myself with the fruit, the crispy deep-fried Lapu-Lapu, the sauteed shrimp in garlic, the sunny side up eggs, the little Longanissa balls, and garlic rice appeared. They know how to anticipate, I mentally noted. The sign of a well-run resort.

There was nothing to quibble about breakfast except to happily worry that if this repast was this good and plentiful, an awesome lunch and dinner were again in the cards. I had to earn the right to eat well so I decided to trudge all the island’s pathways to burn the calories. The first pathway was to a very tall wooden house containing a decent library, much of it left behind by travelers. For some people, reading meant-to-read books during a holiday is their vacation scenario. I take along a book for the long flights and for quiet reading just before bedtime. But my book remained uncracked and the dog-eared paperbacks in front of me seemed unappealing in a visual paradise. I left the tall house and climbed steep steps to an empty cottage at the very top of the island with a commanding view of both the western sea and the lagoon. A lone freighter, grey wisp from its funnel, inched along the horizon. Two muscled fishermen in an outrigger nearer the island were lowering their net. The breeze carried their sigh for a sizeable catch. With a brilliant sky and enervating clouds creeping across, it was a perfect moment to be brain dead and be simply pleased with following a ship’s course, or stare at a bobbing outrigger nearby. Marking time is futile in these parts as I gaze at the sea, freighter long passed, fisherman rowed away, hoping to spot a whale spout or the splash of dolphins. A clanging revives me. It’s the distant bell announcing lunch is served.

There is a party of visitors joining for lunch so there is much activity in the cabanas and I discreetly line up for the array of dishes on the long wooden serving table. A coconut soup with mongo beans, a free range chicken stuffed with lemon grass, sauteed slender legged crabs, numerous grilled Pompano slathered in butter, enormous looking shrimp and an assortment of sauteed vegetables with a bowl of bagoong dip. I loaded up on my favorites and sat at a distance but not far enough to escape the oohs and aahs and smacking lips punctuate the midday heat. Anne didn’t forget me: A large platter of shucked oysters were served to me first and I selfishly, quietly, pulled the platter inches to me. A signal to all that these oysters were not for communal consumption.

My daily fare in workday Manila would be a main entree with veggie on the side and nothing more. But here I was checking if the oysters went with piece of chicken thigh and a dab of rice in my mouth. If the crab meat went well with the bagoong. Or the Pompano dipped in the soup. The combinations were endless and the taste results dizzying in variety. The sensation was such a maelstrom in my tastebuds that I caught myself eyes closed, toes curled and buried in the white sand, moaning in gustatory ecstasy. Was this feast as good as sex or has advanced age altered my desires? I struggled to rise from the bench and praise the food gods and shuffle off to my tree house and a waiting wind-stirred hammock.

There was the coming dinner and the breakfast the next morning before I would leave. My notes meticulously cite the dishes, with annotations in a hurried scribble. The Grouper tasting of almonds. The fish Sinigang worthy of the Sikatuna Award. The crispiest squid rings known to gourmand kind. The barbecue chicken slathered in a secret marinade tempting one to hostage the chef until she squealed. The list continues with such superlatives and it should just please the reader that every meal was as consistently sensual as the last. There is, yes there is, a limit to the litany of praises before pagan idolatry sets in.

I am about to leave my tree house to head for the bamboo pier to board the outrigger that would take me back to “civilization.” I am morose, foul tempered, and indignant. Life’s so rude with nary a thought that I should suffer being banished from this isle of eating pleasure. Yes, the breakfast was again a delicious smothering of the palate, probably the usual sop thrown to a condemned man. Anne is at pier side giving me a hug while I purse my lips and mumble something about returning. It was hard to believe the engine started, hard to believe the once formidable island would become a speck behind me.

As I rued my fate in the salt sprayed air I opened a straw bag that Anne handed me. Sunlight poured out of the bag as the yellowest of mangoes sparkled. My funky disposition receded. I took one and there, in the middle of the bouncing sea, I slowly peeled it naked and plunged my yearning mouth on its pointed nipple working my way down its silky flesh, saliva and juices splattering all over the boat. I laughed aloud, my lips and face smeared with yellow lipstick. There will be a next time I vowed to myself, to the invisible stars above, to the hidden moon, the officious sun and all the food gods.

And that’s just what I did, barely a month later, returning to this paradise, up in my treehouse to write these last few lines. I’m back once again and dining with a vengeance. Not much to do. But ah! the food’s great.

John L. Silva is Senior Consultant to the National Museum.

Isla Naburot may be reached by flying to Iloilo Airport (55 minutes). Isla Naburot’s van will fetch and transfer you to their pumpboat for the 50-minute ride to the resort. For reservations and further information, call 033-321-1654 or 033-321-089.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A MUSEUM THAT DOESN’T DELIGHT

By John L. Silva
(published Newsbreak Magazine Nov. 6, 2006)

There’s just some museums that’s not going to be entertaining. You need to steel yourself for the Toul Sleng or S-21 Prison now called the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. When the Khmer Rouge finally entered victorious into the city on April 17, 1975, they announced that very same day that everyone had to leave. After decades of fighting the Americans and their installed regimes, they were now exacting their brand of ideological molding coupled with revenge. The city folk now branded as loyalists and class enemies were sent to work the countryside and die.

As you enter the grounds of the former three-storey high school turned prison, the place looks innocuous. Built by Cambodia’s premier architect Moly-Vannvan the school had the elements of sensible ’60’s architecture with shaded corridors and naturally ventilated classrooms. But that day of my visit, the air stilled and the quiet ambiance turned oppressive. It felt a lot of people cried there.


We were brought by the son of the Museum Director to the first building which housed political prisoners. Once they were the most loyal of cadre members who probably participated in the killing of many other citizens. On a whim or the paranoia of Angka (the name for the Khmer Rouge leadership) these same cadres were hauled to the prison to be tortured, to confess and then have their skulls battered from behind until they died. The rule was not to waste precious bullets on their victims.

The next building was more harrowing. The prison officials photographed every one they arrested, sitting them on stools that had a head brace behind them. This was to ensure their eyes were on the same level as the camera lens. You could see the fear and sorrow very clearly. Wives of prisoners, their children, relatives, co-workers, town mates, even casual friends, on the possibility that they too were infected with treasonous thoughts were taken in, photographed and eventually killed.

There were countless photographs on display one for each of the twenty thousand prisoners. All of them would later be brought to a site 15 kilometers out of Phnom Penh and systematically killed. They would call the site The Killing Fields.

My heart ached with every photograph. As a photography collector and curator of photo exhibits, I have been trained to seek images that were compelling, that needn’t explanations, that were hauntingly beautiful and mostly optimistic. But in this endless wall of photographs, it was so difficult to rest my eyes too long on any one image. They seemed like passport photographs, the sitters on a journey to their deaths

It was the images of children that made me slightly faint. Innocent beings caught in the web of a revengeful ideology, their faces conveyed queries and uncertainty. One moment they were playing games and the next moment they were in prison with their parents. They couldn’t yet fathom their impending deaths.

There were class rooms divided up into small cells made of brick or wood. To isolate the prisoners, each cell entrance faced only the wall of the next cell across. No talking was allowed. Those who were lucky had a cell that included a bit of window. At least they saw the sky.

Another room had hundreds of iron shackles that once wrapped around the legs of prisoners. Wall drawings showed examples of torture: hanging prisoners upside down, pushing their heads into excrement, pulling off the nails of prisoners, releasing scorpions on bloodied chests. The cruelty of the torturers knew no bounds.

In the past, the last room had a large wall sized map of Cambodia. Made of the skulls of prisoners. It has since been removed and stored in cabinets.

The tragedy of the Genocide Museum is uncomfortably reminiscent of events that happened in this country in the eighties when local communist party heads murderously squabbled with each other over ideology, loyalties, and turf. The killing fields happened here too and remains and skulls continue to still be uncovered in various parts of the country. The Khmer Rouge in four years, until the Vietnamese invasion of 1979 killed over two million of its people. One can only shudder what the communist party here - instilled then with that same I-Know-What’s-Good-For-You-Maoism - would have done if they had taken over the country.

Many of my generation opposed to American intervention in Indochina placed our hopes on the various revolutionary forces that eventually succeeded. The debauchery committed by the Khmer Rouge after they took over their country, their support from both China and the United States even as the killings were known are sobering lessons to many.


There is no escaping the almost suffocating feeling of tragedy and death in the Genocide Museum. Why visit such a place then? Because in a world replete with avoidance, denial, and escape from any painful subject, the museum is a witness to the implosion of a country and the release of an evil that senselessly killed so many. It is a lesson we see duplicated in many small and large wars that continually rages throughout the world. The greatest number of casualties are always innocent people. Visiting this museum develops a greater resolve to work for peace.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

HISTORY FOR TOURISTS


(This piece was published in the October 9th, 2006 issue of Newsbreak Magazine)

On the surface, it looked like a scholarly get together of 60 museologists from ten Southeast Asian countries holed up in the massive Cambodiana Hotel in Phnom Penh. For four days, Curators, archaeologists, cultural ministers and museum directors pored through documents and reviewed powerpoint presentations of their respective heritage and cultural projects. One of those days was an excursion to nearby temples and museums. After an exhaustive review, the whole group flew to Vientiane, Laos to repeat the same exercise.

“Cultural Mapping” was one of the themes of this workshop sponsored and led by the Paris-based International Council of Museums. In reality, it was to be a strategy planning session for museologists to aggressively position their museums and historical sites in the center of their country’s overall tourism development agendas.

The Asia/Pacific region despite SARS and the recent Tsunami continues to post impressive increase in tourist arrivals in their respective countries. A 30% increase in just one year for Laos. 15 – 20% leaps posted in many other countries. The reason for the boom hasn’t actually been more CNN commercials of “Malaysia Truly Asia” beamed to European and American travelers. It’s wealthy Thais now crossing over to Cambodia, Indonesians invading Singapore, and even Filipinos flying to affordable Bangkok.

It used to be that Southeast Asian tourism advertisements were all hawking sand, sun, and even women. For a long while, the only thing interesting in the Philippines was Boracay. But that sort of marketing has reached saturation point and the more astute tourism boards of the various countries are sniffing at heritage tourism.

Delegates were exchanging along with the usual country flag pins, brochures on heritage trails, folk museums, and colonial architecture. “Cultural Mapping” was actually a group exercise on how to persuade the hundreds of thousands of heritage groupie travelers from bustling Angkor Wat in Siem Reap to sleepy Phnom Penh. The delegates one day boarded buses to drive for several hours outside the city to visit Phnom Chisor temple, a nearby silkweaving village, the Tonli Bate Lake resort and several other temples in the region. One evening, there was a tour of their National Museum. The delegates noted the various cultural offerings that could be potential employment opportunities. The lack of infrastructure hindering the tourist potential of the area was also reviewed. And most importantly, preventive steps were offered in making sure that an increase in tourists would not harm or pollute the already fragile state of many of these temples and sites.

Likewise, the group was posed with the same question on their trip to Laos: How to get the throngs of tourists now invading Unesco Heritage Site Luang Prabang diverted to the even sleepier capital of Vientiane. The delegates again took a day-long bus tour of the Great Sacred Stupa (Pha That Luang), the former royal temple Wat Pha Kaew, the oldest temple Wat Si Saket and a resort site outside of the city. There was also a side-trip to their National Museum.

Both countries’ national museums have significant and very precious holdings in worn heritage buildings. Much of Cambodia’s Khmer art and buddhas from Laos were stolen and wound up in museums in Europe and the United States. There are still some very fine pieces left to appreciate. In Laos security precautions are so tight that their most precious Buddhas are locked behind thick glass and bars that you can hardly see them.


The Thai delegation was serene and authoritative as well they should. They had 14 million visitors last year. Aside from their beach paradise Phuket, Thailand has long known that their temples and heritage sites like Ayuthaya and ancient cities like Chiang Mai have an appeal to high-end tourists that spend a lot more per day. Thanks to a well-loved monarchy, their National Museum and National Archives will expand significantly in honor of the King’s ongoing jubilee celebrations.

Singapore, despite the brickbats and the sneers about having all that money to buy themselves culture, erect museums, and heritage theme districts, is laughing all the way to the bank (2004 tourism receipts was 9.4 billion Singapore dollars). After realizing that colonial architecture does bring in wealthy tourists, Singapore began to take a second look at their old buildings ready for the wrecking ball and proceeded to fix them up with a vengeance. Then they went on a museum building binge and by the end of this year will cap it will their newly renovated and more expansive National Museum.

But the sleeper country has been Malaysia. Last year Malaysia posted 16.43 million visitors (four million of that from Singapore alone). That’s eight times more than the paltry two million yearly visits that the Philippines has been lingering in for the past decade. Malaysia has reached this astounding double-digit figure due to a strong heritage thrust in their marketing efforts. Malaysia has long partnered with their local heritage non-governmental organizations with former senior government officials taking on trusteeships. This collaboration has resulted in keeping significant heritage sites intact, in constructing new museums, and the continued refurbishing of their National Museum. There’s an added secret to Malaysia’s tourism success. Blessed with a population of only 26 million and a low percentage growth rate (2.0%), the country has been able to keep intact and preserve its huge forest reserves, national parks, and pristine seashores. They have eco-tourism, and a genuine one at that.

For those nine days, museum and heritage “heavies” played surrogate parents to up and coming Laos and Cambodia helping them to identify the roadblocks to increased tourism traffic. Many of the recommendations were actually pertinent to many of our own countries. They include: Increased government funding for museums and heritage sites, infrastructure in place to reach outlying provinces with heritage tourism potential, preserve colonial, temple, and indigenous architecture, develop arts and crafts of higher quality, and promote arts and cultural festivals throughout the whole year.


The last two recommendations have been adroitly mastered by Thai tourism officials. This year, they decided they will look more closely at tourist revenues rather than tourist arrivals. If they can increase the former significantly, then there is no mad rush to pump tourist arrivals. So the pressure is on to produce and sell more expensive crafts, souvenir items, and have fancier festivals in the hopes of bringing richer tourists to their country. For heritage groups, this is also welcome news since a moderate amount of tourists won’t create too much harm with fragile monuments and sites.

There was a large presence of Vietnamese delegates quite articulate in promoting heritage tourism. They have already exceeded the Philippines in foreign tourist arrivals (3 million last year) and they plan to reach 18 million next year? Huh? Well, the Vietnamese have had a unique plan to boost local tourism and they have been counting the over ten million locals who have been visiting monuments, museums, and heritage sites throughout their country. The Ho Chi Minh house museum in Hanoi never ceases to have long lines each day. And they have some enviable eco-tourist sights like Ha Long Bay as well. The Vietnamese not only push ancient heritage sites like Hue but they are gung ho at making sure their countrymen visit monuments and sites that chronicle their recent victories such as defeating the United States in 1975. At their National Museum in Hanoi, I was told by its curator that even at the height of American bombing in the early seventies, the museum was never closed to the public.

Our Southeast Asian counterparts imparted a lot of lessons to the Philippine delegation. It was obvious that heritage and museums sells and their tourist figures show it. In the Philippines, our over 200 museums, including the National Museum could use more government support for maintenance, renovation and exhibition programs. The most recent announcement by Tourism Secretary Joseph Durano to push malls as tourism sites might be revisited. From our conversations with Thai and Singaporean delegates, they acknowledge that their own malls have brought in tourists. But, they know wisely that heritage tourism is what draws high-end spenders. Balikbayans are welcome. But rich and heritage fancier Koreans, Japanese, Singaporeans, Chinese, and Thais should be vigorously welcomed as well.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


THE CORPORATE CONNECTION TO THE BILLBOARD BLIGHT

By John L. Silva

In the past, anti-billboard advocates had little ammunition except aesthetics and moral suasion in appealing to billboard companies over the proliferation of these structures. The first spate of fallen billboards the past year did not faze the billboard companies whose pithy response was an empty promise to regulate their ranks. Just recently, in talking to representatives of United Neon over removing their billboard in the University Belt, citing aesthetic and safety considerations, they listened but instead griped over the mushrooming of fly-by-night billboard companies.

If the current public anger over the billboards are to have an effect, let’s get down to brass tacks. First, the billboard companies do not exist nor multiply on their own. Filipino and multinational companies pay for, support, and abet billboards as a cheap advertising alternative. That’s the first mistake. Marketing studies repeatedly show that when you have unregulated billboard clutter, the message is diluted. Cellphones, fast food, real estate and adult diaper billboards side by side and on top of each other no longer have an effect except to be randomly chaotic and ugly.

To motorists (aka consumers), research findings on billboards reveal they raise blood pressure levels, distract and create accidents, and now, can topple and kill us. Instead of selling their wares, companies are now complicit in physically harming their market.

Companies know that billboards deflate real estate prices and discourage tourism, two industries that sorely needs a shot in the arm. It’s hard calling the country a retiree/vacation paradise with the current billboard blight.

Certificates of compliance are issued with regularity to billboard companies by various city governments. Billboard companies have gotten away with stating that their structures can withstand winds of 200 kph. But billboard insiders also admit that unscrupulous sub-contractors can scrimp on building materials and erect structures whose wind resistance claim can’t be relied on. Typhoon Milenyo’s deadly winds by the time it got to Manila was reported between 110-140 kph.


If the Mayors of the cities are now decrying billboards the income they get from it can mollify their resolve. In Manila, you can get a certificate of compliance for a large billboard for a fee of 80,000 pesos. Count the billboards and multiply the fee and their howling may just be that.

When the media reports how traffic was snarled for hours due to fallen billboards, it misleads people to think it’s all a motorist inconvenience. Meralco representatives have stated that aside from downed trees, fallen billboards have destroyed powerlines and caused blackouts. Trees are relatively short and you can saw them easily. A fallen billboard, four stories high can down large transformers that have to be blowtorched to extricate them prolonging the power outages Manila residents have experienced. Every day without power translates into billions of pesos lost in commerce, airport and transportation disruptions, business shutdown, schools and universities closed, and vital centers like hospitals and military camps jeopardized. A fallen billboard is not just a nuisance. It is a national economic calamity.

It seems a puzzle why the media does not identify the billboard companies whose billboards have fallen, nor do they state what company was actually advertising on those billboards. The public has the right to know who’s responsible, just like the public knew who was responsible for the Guimaras oil spill. And now, with deaths involved, the public, particularly the aggrieved, should know who are criminally liable.


A reminder about Corporate Social Responsibility much bruited about these days. When Typhoon Milenyo blew a massive billboard on two vehicles at the corner of MIA Road and Roxas Boulevard, the owners were not around to secure their fallen property, nor took care of the injured, and the police were nowhere to be seen. In less than an hour, hundreds of scavengers from the nearby squatter’s area swarmed all over the fallen wreck sawing it to pieces for scrap resale. This scene of wholesale looting happened for the next two days and witnessed by millions of commuters traversing Roxas Boulevard. The values imparted was that a company was negligent and couldn’t care less about people’s lives and that looting was alright to do. Yes, there’s poverty and poor people will do everything in desperation. But corporations, in their unbridled use of billboards must take responsibility for the spawning of lumpen values diametrical to Corporate Social Responsibility.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago’s pending bill in the Senate, entitled Anti-Billboard Blight Act (S.B.1714) has greater hope for its passage given recent events. If approved, the bill will, among other things, severely limit the number of billboards, will not exceed 300 sq feet in size, will not be allowed in areas that will impair scenic vistas or jeopardize traffic signs, and will not be erected within 1,000 feet of a historic site, school, church, or park. In other words, a much needed and very welcome law for our country.



It took one major typhoon, a needless death and scores injured to shake public consciousness and condemn billboards. It may have been caused by nature’s wrath but corporate rapaciousness wasn’t too far behind.

John L. Silva is the Senior Consultant for the National Museum of the Philippines and is a member of the Heritage Conservation Society.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

THE OBSTINATE ISAGANI

(Isagani's column first and my response follows)


SEPARATE OPINION
The right to criticize
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer
Last updated 06:02am (Mla time) 09/03/2006
Published on page A10 of the September 3, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

THE right to criticize is inherent in every person and is recognized as included in the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution. It is as powerful as the right to agree, perhaps more so because it keeps democracy alive and not a mere conformist regime of automatic assenters.

When Sen. Joseph McCarthy began his communist witch-hunt that ruined many reputations in the United States during the ’50s, the US Senate reacted sharply, albeit rather belatedly, and formally censured him. His constituents in Wisconsin followed suit in their disgust and consigned him to a well-deserved disgrace.

The Watergate scandal would never have been exposed were it not for the courage of two reporters from the Washington Post who dared criticize the then majority Republican Party and their sitting President of the United States. If the press had simply kept docilely quiet, Nixon would have remained in office to commit further misdeeds.

Susan B. Anthony complained against the treatment of women as second-class citizens and joined the campaign for their right to vote. She was convicted of voting illegally, fined $100 she refused to pay, and persisted in her right to criticize her detractors. In the end, women suffrage was granted by the 19th Amendment of the US Constitution.

It is not only in political matters that the right to criticize is important. It may also be exercised in civic, moral, financial and other issues affecting the public welfare.

John Scopes was prosecuted in 1925 for teaching the theory of evolution in the Bible belt of the United States. He was derided and physically threatened for his right to question the worshipful story of Adam and Eve. Despite his brilliant defense by Clarence Darrow, he was convicted for his then unconventional beliefs that are now accepted throughout the world.

Some views are generally held by the public but are not openly expressed because of fear of retaliation from their prickly subjects. Even supposedly free newspapers are intimidated and toe the line of discreet silence. Or they may even assist the angry “victims” and accommodate them with shrill publicity, to the prejudice of their well-intentioned critics.

In a healthy democracy, controversy is encouraged, not avoided. But the media, while they should not remain neutral, must not forget their responsibility of balanced reporting. They should not allow themselves to be daunted by the noisier side with its threats and vituperation. What they should understand but refuse to accept is that the other side may be the silent majority.

It is silent because it fears the wrath of the vindictive minority. The objections will be based supposedly on high principles of human rights, decency and equality before the law. But it is in reality a malignant opposition that refutes ideas with name-calling.

I often dissented from my colleagues on the Supreme Court and one of them even described me as “coddling criminals.” I took his accusation in good grace because I knew it was made without malice or rancor. I did not scream and faint like a woman spurned.

As a columnist in this paper, I have written on many controversial subjects and expressed ideas not to court public agreement but to invite healthy debate. My feelings are familiar to many of my readers and, while sometimes provocative, are never evil-minded or discourteous.

I have criticized the President of the Philippines and the Cabinet, the members of Congress, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Commissions, the military, local officials, actors turned politicians, the entertainment industry, fashion shows, the conversion of farmlands into golf courses, and other matters relevant to the public welfare. My views have mostly been received agreeably, some resentfully but politely, others silently, but in every case respectfully.

That is why I felt challenged when I was attacked with feline ferocity for criticizing those homosexuals (and only them) who by their vulgarity were demeaning their class in general. Many of them contradicted me not with ideas but with venom. They called me an asshole, an old fart, a bigot, a hate-monger, a neo-Nazi and other typical endearments.

Fortunately, their more vicious letters did not see print in the Inquirer, which nonetheless published eight attacks against me compared to only one in my defense. Its editorial of Aug. 21 was also clearly in their favor.


A letter from Germany, published in this paper’s website but not in the more accessible broadsheet, was from a reader who said he did not have anything against homosexuals. But he added that he could not accept the sight of persons of the same sex publicly kissing each other on the lips. That is the common sentiment of the silent majority in this country who are afraid to speak up as I did.


AN OBSTINACY UNBECOMING OF A NEWSPAPER

John L. Silva

Despite the subdued tone in Isagani Cruz’s Sunday column (The Right To Criticize, PDI Sept 3, 2006), he is still his recalcitrant self spraying his bile of anti-gay and anti-women descriptions when he thinks he can get away with it.

He’s in a snit over his employer, the Inquirer, publishing a pro-gay editorial and eight letters to the editors attacking him in bald contrast to the one letter for him. He should have asked the Letters Editor first for he would have been told there actually was only ONE letter of support as opposed to the hundreds that were critical of his mean spirited attack on the gay community.

He grouses about being the victim of name-calling. “Old fart,” “asshole” and others he cynically describe as “typical endearments.” (They’re not.) My, my. Isagani conveniently forgets that he started the name calling in his first column with vituperative words that civilized people no longer use out of respect for gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals and transgenders. So, if we, the aggrieved party should sling shit back at him (he won’t admit receiving thoughtful criticisms as well) he needn’t get too uppity.

Did you read that comment about how he takes accusations in good grace and that he does not “…scream and faint like a woman spurned?” Aside from being a sexist swipe at women isn’t that comment so out of context? So Victorian? Women these days dump uncooperative boyfriends, find mates who’d treat them fairly, and take virile and abusive men to court. Fainting women, Isagani, went the way of smelling salts.


Sometimes you just have to wait patiently to see a snake bite its own tail. Isagani cites American Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch-hunt in the early 1950’s. McCarthy, along with his sidekick, the right wing lawyer Roy Cohn dragged many people before congressional investigations and accused them of being communists.

Isagani forgot to add that McCarthy and Cohn went after homosexuals as well, hauling them into congressional investigations, accusing them of being a “lavender menace,” “a pervert peril,” and a “homosexual underground” abetting a “communist conspiracy.” As a result, many homosexuals saw their careers ruined, were fired from their jobs, went underground or shunned.

Compare these to Isagani’s recent homophobic statements of gays : ”association of homos, ” “gay invasion,” people being “…converted into a nation of sexless persons.” There is no mistaking the similarity of mindset.

McCarthy and Cohn’s rabid anti-gay witch-hunt has been attributed to their having been closeted homosexuals. And, closeted tormented homosexuals have a record of being extra vicious with their own, more open kind.

Of course, this is where McCarthy and Cohn part company with Isagani. McCarthy after being exposed as queer married his secretary. Cohn would continue his closeted ways. While straight-as-an-arrow Cruz begat, in his own words, “five sons (all machos)” all having grown up at a time when “students were certifiably masculine.” How terribly reassuring.

The McCarthy anti-communist and anti-gay witch-hunts so offended the American public’s sense of fair play that the Senate censured him and he died in 1957 an alcoholic and despised man. In reaction American gays began to organize and in ten years time would come out and start the gay liberation movement. The media began to review and revise the reporting, treatment and description of the gay community. Today, anyone attempting to write a column about the “pervert peril” or, in the Isagani style, an “association of homos” would be ridiculed and his story never see print.

With the advent of the civil rights and the women’s movement, a new cultural norm developed that Americans adhere to no matter their personal sympathies. In the media, discriminatory and offensive articles are no longer acceptable not for “fear of a vindictive minority” as Isagani wrongly contends. Rather, decent Americans find such writings counter productive to the greater good of a fair-minded and all-inclusive society.


This bout with Isagani Cruz actually bodes well for Filipino gays. We were challenged and we fought back. The wave of indignant letters the Inquirer received, the calls for a boycott, the visit of a gay contingent with the Inquirer publisher, the television coverage and other militant actions indicate that gays have come out in full force and will no longer tolerate hate-mongering. It feels like 1957 all over again when Americans decided to be rid of McCarthy and his inquisition. Isagani Cruz should take a leaf from that page in history or else be ignominiously noted in some future historical footnote as the last columnist to insult Filipino women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders.

Given Isagani’s obstinate outbursts, we ask the Inquirer to stand by its own code of ethics which clearly state that their writers not “ridicule, cast aspersions or degrade persons by reason of” among others, “sex and sexual preference.” Isagani is piqued that his own newspaper has not sided with him. But he still persists in provocatively insulting women and gays in language that violates that code. Your next editorial on this matter needs to be less pabulum and more principled, a disavowal of hate-mongering journalism. Failing to do that lowers your paper’s standards and you will become the object of opprobrium from media colleagues here and abroad.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

DEAR MR. GOKONGWEI


(This piece was published in the Sept. 10th issue of Newsbreak Magazine)

August 16, 2006

To: John Gokongwei
Fr: John Silva
Re: Your donation



You’ve made the over 10 billion peso donation for education. You got the well-deserved press and raised the marker on Philippine philanthropy. Your legacy and good name is ensured.

Now, for the hard part. As someone involved in education reform and philanthropy let me share with you pitfalls to avoid and challenges to face in order that your donation truly makes a difference.

1. Take charge of your giving. In the beginning at least, when a strategy begs visionaries like you. In the past, philanthropists wrote the checks and went off thinking they’ve done their share. The reason why you are able to give so much is because you have a business skill that non-profits need. Address education like you would a new company you founded. Research the problem, listen to education experts, listen to your own employees about the school conditions of their children. Current philanthropy engages the funder to be part of the solution thereby ensuring results. After all, it’s your hard earned money.
2. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Don’t start up a new foundation or add more administrative overhead that will drain your donation. In your research, look for non-profits in education reform that have a track record and successes to boot. Fund them and be part of their boards. Oftentimes, the successful organization is good on outreach and weak on fundraising. Give them a financial shot in the arm and see results.
3. Look at alternative education resources. One of your grantees will be the University of San Carlos in Cebu. That university has a wonderful museum and could use major renovation. There are over 200 underutilized museums throughout the country. Research studies show that children with an arts/culture exposure outpace their classmates in science and math scores, are more literate, and more inclined to do community service. A child learns not just in a classroom but in museums, libraries, art centers, and heritage sites. Give to these as well and watch children’s intelligence and emotional quotients and their love for country rise.
4. Beware of the numbers game. At the recent League For Corporate Foundation expo, company representatives were still extolling their social corporate responsibility by ticking of the number of computers they’ve put in schools, the number of books they donated, the number of scholarships given, and so forth. The numbers may be impressive but they have not halted the deterioration of education. Take an education organization like Synergeia. They believe engaging the local government officials, teacher training, and reinvigorating parent-teacher associations as key factors in turning student performance around. The result? In the over one million children under their outreach program, they’ve been posting higher reading and comprehension scores than previously tested. Without a single computer donation.
5. Couple your support by giving to family planning organizations. The Philippines has a high student drop-out rate and the remaining children go to school malnourished, hungry and can’t focus with their studies. The math is simple. A poor parent with two children can afford to put a child to school with food in his stomach than a parent with five children. We are not going to lick the education problem if birth rates are not lowered.

You’ve decided a very wise legacy giving to education. You must know how increasingly difficult it is to recruit qualified graduates for your business empire. Duplicate this a thousand more times in all Philippine companies and we are facing a national crisis.

But let’s not cloud the moment. Accolades are in order for John Gokongwei. You could have celebrated your 80th whichever way you pleased. Instead you put the rare spirit of giving in the forefront of public consciousness. Congratulations and you can start inspecting schools tomorrow.

Friday, August 25, 2006

WE WON'T CELEBRATE JUST YET!


The Philippine Inquirer got a lot of mail about the homophobic columns of their writer Isagani Cruz. Mine are below in response to his columns.

By Tuesday, Aug 22, 2006, the Inquirer published the piece below. It was not a disavowal but a step in the right direction.

Today, August 24, 2006, they published my response in the Letters to The Editors piece.

It’s not over. So many responses from friends all over the world bombarded the Inquirer. It should continue. Also check out my partner, Jonathan Best's response to Isagani's pieces.

Please do not stop letting the Inquirer know your feelings on the matter (feedback@inquirer.com.ph). I will ask permission from all the writers who copied me on their letters and put them in this blog. Many thanks again


EDITORIAL
Editorial : Born free and equal
First posted 11:59pm (Mla time) Aug 21, 2006
Inquirer

Editor's Note: Published on Page A10 of the August 22, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

A COLUMN written last week by Inquirer columnist Isagani Cruz on homosexuals stirred a tempest among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups not only in this country but also in other parts of the world. Scores of e-mail letters and telephone calls were received at the Inquirer the day after the publication of the column and they have not stopped coming.
Cruz's column placed homosexuals in a negative light and it is only understandable that the members of the group should protest violently against it. But we believe that the controversy may yet result in something good for the homosexual community, in that it may focus attention on and lead to the alleviation of their plight.
The Conservative Right and the Religious Right have traditionally viewed homosexuals as immoral, perverse, sinful, queer and causing harm to themselves, to others and to society as a whole. But do homosexuals choose to be so? Are homosexuals born or bred?
Scientific studies the past 20-30 years do not support the claim that homosexuality is genetic. The studies covered such areas as the hypothalamus, genes, finger length, inner ear differences, eye-blinking and neuro-hormonal differentiation. The studies that purportedly provide "proof" that homosexuals are "born that way" are inconclusive at best and, as one scientist has said, "largely correlational in nature."
Probably the best way to describe the situation is this paraphrase from Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, author of "Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth": Some people may be predisposed because of genetic, prenatal hormonal influences or other physical or brain differences to have personalities that make them vulnerable to environmental factors that can elicit homosexual desires.
But whether born or bred, the fact is that homosexuals are gaining acceptance in many parts of the world, including the United States and the Philippines. A national survey of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders made by the Kaiser Family Foundation in the US in 2000 found that a large majority believes that there is more acceptance today compared to a few years ago. Significant numbers, however, reported that they experienced prejudice and discrimination, including verbal abuse and physical violence, based on sexual orientation. A companion survey found generally high levels of acceptance of LGBTs in many professional roles.
We do not know if similar surveys have been done in the Philippines, but there seems to have been a change in the general public attitude toward homosexuals in the past 50 years. As a matter of fact, many homosexual professionals are held in high esteem in various sectors of society today.
And yet the discrimination continues. The rich, the prominent and the influential may not be victims of discrimination, but the poor and the underprivileged are. Discrimination against homosexuals may be a cause of, and may accentuate, poverty. A study made in Sweden in 2005 showed that homosexuals all over the world are to a large extent subjected to violence, insecurity, isolation and exclusion from decision-making functions.
The study said that LGBT people suffer from repression in the form of cultural injustice (being rendered "invisible," being maligned, harassed, violated and disparaged in everyday life) and legal injustice (being denied rights and equal protection under the law). As a consequence, they also suffer economic injustice, such as being denied employment or being summarily dismissed from work and being denied family-based social welfare benefits.
The discrimination and the violation of human rights that LGBT people suffer often diminishes their self-esteem and makes them feel helpless, powerless and unable to do anything to improve their situation.
Louise Arbour, UN high commissioner for human rights, in a recent speech, said, "Neither the existence of national laws nor the prevalence of custom can ever justify the abuse, attacks, torture and indeed killings that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons are subjected to because of who they are or are perceived to be."
Like women, who have suffered discrimination for ages, homosexuals are also human beings like the rest of us. Those who would discriminate against LGBT people and treat them less kindly should perhaps be reminded of the first sentence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."


Sympathizing with gays, letting Isagani Cruz off the hook
Inquirer
Last updated 01:14am (Mla time) 08/24/2006
Published on Page A12 of the August 24, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
THE editorial "Born free and equal" (Inquirer, 8/22/06) concedes that Isagani Cruz's columns on LGBT persons invited angry reader response. It acknowledged further that we still suffer discrimination and outright violence. However, it didn't link hate-literature, like that of Cruz's, to the violence committed against us but it's a step that the editorial
finally came around to talking about it.
The editorial is, at best, a declaration of the Inquirer's sympathy with lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT). At worst, it somewhat gets Cruz off the hook. But we won't let that happen. We still demand an apology from him. We still want the Inquirer to disavow itself from Cruz's hate-columns.
But let's not sound so grim and determined. In just over a week, our collective angry voice made a difference with the Inquirer and Cruz, and I want to thank all those who called, e-mailed and wrote on our behalf. This is the fundamental lesson, time and time again, in my advocacy work. When you appeal to your friends and they agree with your message, and they do something about it, too, you create a wave that cannot be stopped.
About two years ago, there were stories about blogs and the Internet becoming a tool for political and social change. In this fight, I started "trawling" through the Internet, reading blogs, reading comments on the blogs and reading other people's perspectives.
Now I know what those stories I read years back meant. The blogs and the Internet have truly widened democratic discussion and given us additional weapons of collective wisdom to get our points across.
John L. Silva

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Jonathan Best's Reply to Isagani Cruz

(This is my partner Jonathan Best's reply to Isagani Cruz's Aug. 12, 2006 editorial. It was published two days later in the Letters To The Editor but was they had cut out the last and important paragraph. Here is the full letter.)

Isagani A. Cruz is a Bully and a Gay Basher.
by Jonathan Best

There he goes again, Isagani A. Cruz (PDI
Saturday Aug. 12, 2006), sounding off about the
terrible vulgarity of gay hair dressers and
effeminate school boys and how the Philippine
nation must be warned lest it loss its masculine
virility. In 2003 he was targeting gays on TV in
a somewhat less hysterical article. Cruz waxes
nostalgic for the simpler days of his youth when
hardly a gay could be spotted on the streets of
Manila. Was he born during the Spanish
Inquisition in the Seventeenth Century?
As an opener Cruz wrings his hands in
apology to the respectable “decorously discreet”
homosexuals he respects, for the harsh words he
feels compelled to write. He sites “less than
manly” dress designers as acceptable, as long as
they manage to repress their “condition”. If he
had the guts he would also have apologized to the
distinguished heads of several major Philippine
corporations, Catholic and Protestant priests,
movie stars, famous athletes, military men and
millions of average Filipino men and women who
are active homosexuals and lesbians enjoying
their “condition” just fine.
What Cruz launches into, despite his
crocodile tears for well behaved homosexuals, is
plain old fashioned, bullying and gay bashing. He
is trying to pass off hate-speech as respectable
journalism. Social commentators are welcome to
criticizes gay culture all they want, we
criticize ourselves mercilessly at times, and
accept the same from straight friends and honest
critics when appropriate. But Cruz is not a
friend or thoughtful critic, he is a bigot and a
hate monger.
He singles out the most vulnerable members
of the gay community, the youth and
transgendered, the marginalized working class
gays who have few options when dealing with their
sexuality. Cruz proceeds to name call and
arrogantly spew sophomoric theories about
Philippine religion, gender and sexuality. He
growls about “homos” in religious processions and
asks will the Philippines become “predominantly
pansy” will we be converted into a nation of
“sexless persons”. He fumes that some people are
advocating that homosexuals be given equal rights
as “male and female persons”. In a spasm of
vitriol he declare, “let us be warned against the
Gay population,” even the national flag is in
danger. What a lot of hateful rot.
He menacingly boasts how gays were “mauled”
in the 1970s when his five “macho” sons were in
school. Despite being a former lawyer he
conveniently ignores the fact that violent gay
bashing is considered a serious hate-crime in
most civilized nations. I guess he also forgets
it was the gay music group The Village People,
who popularized the term “macho”, singing about
the macho, macho men, down at the YMCA getting it
on with each other.
Sadly, the direction Cruz’s self righteous
tirade points, is where so many demagogues and
hate groups have gone before. The Church in the
dark days of the Spanish Inquisition proclaimed
homosexual an abomination in the eyes of God and
sent hundreds of thousands to be tortured and
burned alive. Offending men were tied together
and burned like faggots of wood, hence our modern
day nickname “faggots”. Twentieth Century Nazis
used gas chambers, Communist Red Guards in
Shanghai used baseball bats, they felt bullets
were too expensive to waste on “bourgeois
degenerates”, the American Klu Klux Clan were
fond of castration and lynchings, and now Islamic
Fundamentalist death squads in Iraq and Iran are
beheading gay men and lesbians in the name of
their “all merciful” God.
One might ask the fundamentalists why God
just keeps turning out more and more homosexuals
if he dislikes them so much. Maybe it’s a gentle
reminder to the heterosexual community that they
have taken the “go forth and multiply”
commandment a bit too far?
Yes, Isagani Cruz the world is not the place
it was when you were a boy, it’s a much better
place, thanks to the basic human rights
homosexuals and other minorities have fought for
and won over the span of your lifetime. With a
bit of luck my partner John and I might even be
able to legaly tie the knot before we celebrate
our thirty-fifth anniversary in a couple of
years, no thanks to you I am sure.

Jonathan Best
Tambo, Parañaque

Monday, August 21, 2006

NURSE, YOU FORGOT THE ENEMA!

By John L. Silva

There goes Isagani Cruz again, spewing his homophobic sputum all over the printed page. (Philippine Daily Inquirer August 20, 2006, his full text below). He’s having a bad hair day because fellow columnist Manuel Quezon III called him a bigot. If he’s read the enormous amount of e- mail the newspaper has received and the blogs on the internet, he’ll come to his silly senses and realize Manuel was actually quite diplomatic in fencing with him.

I sense though a slight sobriety in Isagani’s writing today. He’s cut out the epithets (I think he’s been warned), and he no longer boasts about the virtues of macho-hood. He must have gotten so much ribbing about having declared and certifying all his five sons to be macho.

Despite his feebled bombast, he’s decided to take the legalese route and cloak himself in the Freedom of Speech mantle. He pleads his right to say what he wants even an “…unorthodox view hostile to or scorned by others.” Enough with the cheap rhetoric Isagani, and read your employer’s Philippine Inquirer Manual of Editorial Policies particularly Section VIII of the Journalist Code of Ethics. The section cautions its columnists about the dangers of bigotry and “In no case should they criticize or ridicule another person on the basis of his or her religious beliefs, race, sexual preferences etc.

The same manual also conforms to Section VII of the same Code of Ethics which states that journalists “shall not in any manner ridicule, cast aspersions on or degrade any person by reason of sex, creed, religious belief, political conviction, (or) cultural or ethnic origin.”

Translation: Isagani Cruz is a bigot and broke company rules.

Alas, it’s been a week and two bigoted editorials later, yet we haven’t heard a peep from the Inquirer publisher and editors. Their ombudsman and readers advocate, Lorna Kalaw-Tirol, has cited the above sections and agreed on national television that Isagani broke the rules. Does the ombudsman really get listened to or is the title just a wall plaque and nothing more?

What were some of Isagani’s repulsive remarks in today’s editorial? He says he wouldn’t have written the first one if he knew Manuel was gay.

How sensitive of him. And hypocritical.

Isagani wrote his anti-gay tracts despite the common knowledge that other columnists are gay and that many in the Inquirer are of the same persuasion.
Manuel counters in his column that he could not “…embrace him (Isagani)…much less shake his hand…” because of his remarks. Isagani, the paranoid, scoffs Manuel’s gentlemanly remarks. Instead, Isagani calls on God, thanking him that he won’t be embraced by the likes of Manuel. His manhood unblemished, his attraction to the opposite sex secured.

Today’s appearance of yet another offensive piece by Isagani Cruz without editorial disavowal causes many to believe the newspaper does not uphold its own standards and rules and therefore is a party to spreading hate and homophobia in this country.

I ask everyone to write to the Inquirer (feedback@inquirer.com.ph) and tell them what they should do with Isagani Cruz and how the newspaper should portray gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals, and transgenders. Lorna Kalaw-Tirol has conceded on television that the complaints they received about Isagani was the largest recorded ever. The Inquirer has in the past suspended errant writers for violating the PDI manual. They should do no less for the likes of Isagani.

The Inquirer is a corporation and adheres to corporate social responsibility practices. That means being cognizant of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders who work for and supply the newspaper. They don’t want a columnist that fans editorial hatred against them which reaches out to hundreds of thousands of readers. Will the Inquirer ever hire, tolerate, and abet a fundamentalist who will attack religious beliefs? Will they hire a columnist espousing the oppression of women due to free speech? It’s a no-brainer.

The majesty of Free Speech shines best when it is used to push the cause of the unheard, the dis-inherited, the pained, the novel, the yearnings for peace. Free Speech as articulated by Isagani is the right to bully, to hurt, to maim, divide and provoke violence.

The homophobic rant that comes out of the Inquirer’s Isagani Cruz must stop immediately. Isagani Cruz must apologize. The Inquirer publisher must go on public record disavowing homophobic journalism and must take action on Isagani based on their own editorial manual.

The newspaper’s failure to do this means complicity to homophobia. We will not take inaction lightly. We are everywhere.



SEPARATE OPINION
Neither here nor there

By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer
Last updated 08:41am (Mla time) 08/20/2006
Published on page A10 of the August 20, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
IF I had known that Manuel Quezon III was gay, I would have desisted from writing that column last week on homosexuals out of respect for a fellow columnist. But now that he has retorted angrily and called me a bigot among other names, I have no choice but to reply.
I started that column with the caution that it was not intended as an attack against homosexuals in general and did not include “those who have behaved in a reserved and discreet manner unlike the vulgar members of the gay community who have degraded and scandalized it. I offer abject apologies to those blameless people I may unintentionally include in my not inclusive criticisms. They have my admiration and respect.”
As Mr. Quezon himself does not consider himself among the exceptions, he would be what we lawyers call a “proper party,” or one who is directly injured. In fact, he appears to be severely wounded by my remarks and is hemorrhaging profusely. He, therefore, has a right to react to my “insults” in the waspish manner he saw fit.
He calls me a hate-monger for deriding the vulgar practices of his kind and says I have no right to say what is tasteless and intolerable. Who has—he? Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said that freedom of speech includes not only the right to express the thought that agrees with us but also the thought that we abhor. Voltaire was grandiloquent: “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Criticism is normal in the free society and is available to everyone right or wrong. The ideas that may be expressed under this freedom are not confined only to those that are sympathetic or acceptable, for that would make the freedom more shadow than substance. To be really meaningful, it should permit the articulation of even the unorthodox view, though it is hostile to or scorned by others. One of the purposes of this freedom, in fact, is to invite dispute.
If I do not appreciate the paintings of Picasso, any one who disagrees with me may say so and explain his reasons. But he cannot attack me personally for criticizing his idol. Mr. Quezon compares me to the tyrants in the police states where unacceptable identity or thought is systematically exterminated. In the free society, ideas are countered with ideas, not pejorative names. For criticizing his kind, Mr. Quezon likens me to the Nazis and the Reds and brands me a hate-monger.
Hate is not per se objectionable as Mr. Quezon may imply. Jesus Christ hated sinners and angrily drove the merchants and money changers from the holy temple they were desecrating. Was he a hate-monger for doing so? When Winston Churchill called on his countrymen to resist the enemy with all their blood, sweat, toil and tears, was he a hate-monger in the despicable sense of the phrase? That is what Mr. Quezon would call me for criticizing his kind.
I am a hate-monger against grafters, murderers, rapists and other criminals, but I only dislike the coarse homosexuals he defends, as is his right. Also disagreeable to me are straight persons who wear loud clothes, flunkies, hypocrites, humbugs and other unpleasant figures, male and female, in our imperfect society. I have the right to criticize them even as they have the right to reply in the common exercise of our freedom of expression.
It all depends on what and whom you hate. If I criticize homosexuals who disgrace their sex with their tasteless practices and appearance, any one among them can rise in defense and say why they should not be called obnoxious. But not in an obnoxious manner.
Mr. Quezon faults me for disagreeing with some practices of his kind that I find intolerable and insists that they have the fundamental right “to those we choose to love, to have relationships with and with whom we aspire to share a life marked by a measure of domestic bliss and emotional contentment.”
Who’s interfering with your romances? As long as you are not violating the law, you are free with your liaisons, and I for one do not pry into your amorous affairs. Nor do I want to.
The important thing is that you have no right to demand that I agree with your pleasures or to forbid me from criticizing your “emotional contentment” if they offend the public interest. You cannot claim a preferred treatment because you are what you are even as you say you should be treated like the rest of the people despite what you are.
Finally, rejecting my reservation that my criticisms are only for the distasteful among you, you piously declare: “I will not embrace him, not for that, much less shake his hand or offer him the opportunity for civilized disagreement.” That opportunity is not yours to give, Mr. Quezon, and as for not embracing me—thank God.


IT’S TIME FOR YOUR ENEMA, ISAGANI

By John L. Silva

Weekend newspaper reading should be elevating, forward thinking and inspiring. But Isagani Cruz’s gay-bashing editorial (PDI August 12, 2006) today only makes you understand why old geezer columnists, if they don’t keel over, need to be put to pasture for their own good.

Cruz can actually write and when he reminisces about old Manila he’s fine. But his nostalgia also pines for behavior and mores that just doesn’t cut it these days. He makes a point about excluding gays “…who have conducted themselves decorously” from his bombast. He can’t stand “timorous” and “audacious gays” and is frightened by the growing numbers. He yearns for elementary school days when there was only one, (Really?) one, queer person in his entire school. Must have been about the same time he needed glasses. And, most certainly, before Gay Pride.

Recently he freaked out overhearing one queer student telling another he’s off to get his nipple sucked. Cruz pines (wishes?) for these queers to be beaten up if they were overheard in a school his “five macho sons” went to. This is where Cruz goes over the line.

There are newspapers, including the Inquirer, who take on opinion writers with a bent different from the company’s own views. It makes for variety and a certain level of maturity. But when the writer gets past dissenting and starts to recklessly, and without basis, charge that there is a homosexual agenda to convert this nation into “..sexless persons…” it may seem silly and innocuous, but it is classic hatemongering. And the Inquirer with its socially committed journalism should be the first to distinguish between freedom of expression and fascist talk.

Every day, gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals, and transgenders face discrimination and oftentimes, outright violence from a society that still holds the most ignorant and baseless notions about our population. Isagani Cruz’s crude portrayal of gays coupled with homophobic nostalgia continues these notions thereby validating the oppression inflicted on us.

The Inquirer, like many other newspapers, have expanded their Lifestyle and Entertainment sections to gain more revenue. In doing so, many gay oriented, gay friendly, and gay written pieces appear in these sections. Some of it can be silly and gossipy but otherwise, they make for interesting reading and they seem to satisfy the advertisers.

Add to that the regular columnists in the Inquirer stable who are gay identified and pro-gay and take up the cudgels for gay rights. (Many gays and lesbians have honored Rina David as an Honorary Lesbian). With gay Filipinos buying the Inquirer, Cruz needs to be reminded that his salary comes partially from gay pesos.

On behalf of many outraged gays, I demand that Isagani Cruz write a public apology over this editorial. The Inquirer Editor and Publisher should go on record to censure Cruz and this sort of writing and not allow anymore hateful articles about gays to appear in its newspaper.

Why should gays and people of good will patronize a paper with a columnist that demonizes us, telling us we reject “propriety and morality” and, absurdly states that we are a “compromise between the strong and the weak?” It’s not only hogwash, it’s pretty loony stuff unbecoming of a supposed world-class newspaper.

To the pasture Isagani Cruz. Write your antiquated dribble there where you hurt no one. A word about your macho sons. Eyebrows do get raised when one boasts needlessly about macho sons. Remember, we are everywhere.



'Don we now our gay apparel'
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer
Last updated 02:14am (Mla time) 08/12/2006
Published on Page A10 of the August 12, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily
Inquirer

HOMOSEXUALS before were mocked and derided, but now they are regarded with
new-found respect and, in many cases, even treated as celebrities. Only
recently, the more impressionable among our people wildly welcomed a group
of entertainers whose main proud advertisement was that they were "queer."
It seems that the present society has developed a new sense of values that
have rejected our religious people's traditional ideas of propriety and
morality on the pretext of being "modern" and "broad-minded."

The observations I will here make against homosexuals in general do not
include the members of their group who have conducted themselves decorously,
with proper regard not only for their own persons but also for the gay
population in general. A number of our local couturiers, to take but one
example, are less than manly but they have behaved in a reserved and
discreet manner unlike the vulgar members of the gay community who have
degraded and scandalized it. I offer abject apologies to those blameless
people I may unintentionally include in my not inclusive criticisms. They
have my admiration and respect.

The change in the popular attitude toward homosexuals is not particular to
the Philippines. It has become an international trend even in the so-called
sophisticated regions with more liberal concepts than in our comparatively
conservative society. Gay marriages have been legally recognized in a number
of European countries and in some parts of the United States. Queer people
-- that's the sarcastic term for them -- have come out of the closet where
before they carefully concealed their condition. The permissive belief now
is that homosexuals belong to a separate third sex with equal rights as male
and female persons instead of just an illicit in-between gender that is
neither here nor there.

When I was studying in the Legarda Elementary School in Manila during the
last 1930s, the big student population had only one, just one, homosexual.
His name was Jose but we all called him Josefa. He was a quiet and friendly
boy whom everybody liked to josh but not offensively. In the whole district
of Sampaloc where I lived, there was only one homosexual who roamed the
streets peddling "kalamay" and "puto" and other treats for snacks. He
provided diversion to his genial customers and did not mind their familiar
amiable teasing. I think he actually enjoyed being a "binabae" [effeminate].

The change came, I think, when an association of homos dirtied the beautiful
tradition of the Santa Cruz de Mayo by parading their kind as the "sagalas"
instead of the comely young maidens who should have been chosen to grace the
procession. Instead of being outraged by the blasphemy, the watchers were
amused and, I suppose, indirectly encouraged the fairies to project
themselves. It must have been then that they realized that they were what
they were, whether they liked it or not, and that the time for hiding their
condition was over.

Now homosexuals are everywhere, coming at first in timorous and eventually
alarming and audacious number. Beauty salons now are served mostly by gay
attendants including effeminate bearded hairdressers to whom male barbers
have lost many of their macho customers. Local shows have their share of
"siyoke" [gay men], including actors like the one rejected by a beautiful
wife in favor of a more masculine if less handsome partner. And, of course,
there are lady-like directors who are probably the reason why every movie
and TV drama must have the off-color "bading" [gay] or two to cheapen the
proceedings.

And the schools are now fertile ground for the gay invasion. Walking along
the University belt one day, I passed by a group of boys chattering among
themselves, with one of them exclaiming seriously, "Aalis na ako.
Magpapasuso pa ako!" ["I'm leaving. I still have to breastfeed!"] That pansy
would have been mauled in the school where my five sons (all machos) studied
during the '70s when all the students were certifiably masculine. Now many
of its pupils are gay, and I don't mean happy. I suppose they have been
influenced by such shows as "Brokeback Mountain," our own "Ang Pagdadalaga
ni Maximo Oliveros" (both of which won awards), "Queer Eye for the Straight
Guy," and that talk program of Ellen Degeneres, an admitted lesbian.

Is our population getting to be predominantly pansy? Must we allow
homosexuality to march unobstructed until we are converted into a nation of
sexless persons without the virility of males and the grace of females but
only an insipid mix of these diluted virtues? Let us be warned against the
gay population, which is per se a compromise between the strong and the weak
and therefore only somewhat and not the absolute of either of the two
qualities. Be alert lest the Philippine flag be made of delicate lace and
adorned with embroidered frills.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

IT'S TIME FOR YOUR ENEMA, ISAGANI CRUZ

Weekend newspaper reading should be elevating, forward thinking and inspiring. But Isagani Cruz’s gay-bashing editorial (PDI August 12, 2006) today only makes you understand why old geezer columnists, if they don’t keel over, need to be put to pasture for their own good.

Cruz can actually write and when he reminisces about old Manila he’s fine. But his nostalgia also pines for behavior and mores that just doesn’t cut it these days. He makes a point about excluding gays “…who have conducted themselves decorously” from his bombast. He can’t stand “timorous” and “audacious gays” and is frightened by the growing numbers. He yearns for elementary school days when there was only one, (Really?) one, queer person in his entire school. Must have been about the same time he needed glasses. And, most certainly, before Gay Pride.

Recently he freaked out overhearing one queer student telling another he’s off to get his nipple sucked. Cruz pines (wishes?) for these queers to be beaten up if they were overheard in a school his “five macho sons” went to. This is where Cruz goes over the line.

There are newspapers, including the Inquirer, who take on opinion writers with a bent different from the company’s own views. It makes for variety and a certain level of maturity. But when the writer gets past dissenting and starts to recklessly, and without basis, charge that there is a homosexual agenda to convert this nation into “..sexless persons…” it may seem silly and innocuous, but it is classic hatemongering. And the Inquirer with its socially committed journalism should be the first to distinguish between freedom of expression and fascist talk.

Every day, gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals, and transgenders face discrimination and oftentimes, outright violence from a society that still holds the most ignorant and baseless notions about our population. Isagani Cruz’s crude portrayal of gays coupled with homophobic nostalgia continues these notions thereby validating the oppression inflicted on us.

The Inquirer, like many other newspapers, have expanded their Lifestyle and Entertainment sections to gain more revenue. In doing so, many gay oriented, gay friendly, and gay written pieces appear in these sections. Some of it can be silly and gossipy but otherwise, they make for interesting reading and they seem to satisfy the advertisers.

Add to that the regular columnists in the Inquirer stable who are gay identified and pro-gay and take up the cudgels for gay rights. (Many gays and lesbians have honored Rina David as an Honorary Lesbian). With gay Filipinos buying the Inquirer, Cruz needs to be reminded that his salary comes partially from gay pesos.

On behalf of many outraged gays, I demand that Isagani Cruz write a public apology over this editorial. The Inquirer Editor and Publisher should go on record to censure Cruz and this sort of writing and not allow anymore hateful articles about gays to appear in its newspaper.

Why should gays and people of good will patronize a paper with a columnist that demonizes us, telling us we reject “propriety and morality” and, absurdly states that we are a “compromise between the strong and the weak?” It’s not only hogwash, it’s pretty loony stuff unbecoming of a supposed world-class newspaper.

To the pasture Isagani Cruz. Write your antiquated dribble there where you hurt no one. A word about your macho sons. Eyebrows do get raised when one boasts needlessly about macho sons. Remember, we are everywhere.

Thursday, July 20, 2006



July 20, 2006

Dear Fab Five,

Fantabulosa you could all come! Your gay Flip fans can’t wait to see you!

Up for a lot of noshing and parties and cruising? Because that’s what we love doing here.

I haven’t gotten my invite to the cocktails but I’m not holding my breath. Did I tell you about the time Globe, the cell-phone company here decided to give out your soundtrack to Queer Eye and then had a “Spot A Queer” daily text? You’d get these texts saying how you can spot queers because we love stilletto heels and get hardons for basketball players and we’re forever putting lip gloss on making us out like we’re so dizzy and stupid. I threatened their flabby asses and the texts stopped the very next day!

We still have some pretty clueless people in the islands, so I’m going to give you the gay lay of the land, comprende?

First, you’re going to see the best parts of our city and really gorgeous shopping malls.


But go sneak out one afternoon and tell the driver to drive to EDSA, the main highway, and you’ll SCREAM! The billboards are a fucking nightmare! And even those with hunks on them are beside billboards with disposable diapers. Like in ADULT diapers. You got telephone wires and dirty banners dangling from the air, the palm trees on the islands look like they haven’t been watered in months. Heavens, they’re dead!

The horror of it all is that all this billboards gone mad are done by ad agencies run by queers and fag hags. The very same bunch who’ll buzz you on the cheeks and chew your ear off about aesthetics. Hello! They’ve made the country look like shit.

That’s you’re first task sweetie pies. You may have done wonders for one straight slob per episode. Now I’m begging you to do a make over for a whole city ruined by PLU’s (People Like Us). No, they’re not us. Real Queers have style. They’re faux-fags.

How to do this humongous makeover? I’m sure the President (yes, like, of the country) is going to have you over the Palace. She’s desperate and figures a bunch of celebrity queers will raise her popularity a couple of notches.

Better pop a valium before you make it to the Palace. That dump needs massive beaucoup work. Start with the carpets, (yuck), shred the plastic flowers, and throw away that cheesy photo portrait of hers with the curled bangs on the forehead. While you’re at it, tell the security folk that at the next uprising, don’t pile dirty container vans to block the crowd. Looks sleazy on CNN.

Tell the president to give you carte blanche total power, like in dictatorship, to redo the entire Metro Manila. You’re the only group on this universe that can redo this disaster zone. You can start with telling her it is outré and so boring to see her sour looking face in every poster about every project she’s done. What she’s doing invites every ugly politician with their equally gross mug shots to do the same.

We got street signs in yucky pink instead of fuchsia. And check the street lights! Yeah, the one’s looking like glowing lollipops with zits. Can you just barf? I know you don’t want to be rude and cringe or die of laughter. But with your fashion police powers, all this can go! You can even get the street sweepers wear designer shirts!

How to get the contract? Easy. Tell her to hand over the First Gentleman to you all for a day, maybe even a week! We’re talking major renov here. After you’ve done with him, the President might be so grateful, you’ll probably get Metro Manila AND the whole country!

While you have her, tell her to cool it on the ice cream because she’s getting to be a chubbo and short and chubbo don’t mix right? Tell her to make Manila Mayor Lito Atienza stop demolishing the city’s gorgeous old buildings (he’s got a thing against Art Deco, must be from childhood). And to stop cutting down trees. We can’t have decent parks if we don’t have frigging trees n’est ce-pas?

Back at the mall, you need to recognize the nasty folks who don’t deserve your autographs and picture poses. There’s the schizoid fundies who watch every Fab episode but still think you’re sinners. You can tell who they are by the trickle of blood coming down their black pants or the poly-blend dresses with crucifix designs. They’re hopelessly trying to make sure you’ll never marry their cute sons on Philippine soil. And this must be the last country on earth where they’ll stop you from using condoms. So, don’t go around giving autographs to creeps who want you single and terminated OK?

Is there romance here? Your Gaydar won’t stop blinking at all these guys who’d want to get into your pants and into your hearts. Unfortunately, many of them are still in closets. The
rich closet ones have PR firms sending out weekly press notices about them “…not having met the right girl” and that kind of bullshit.

Yet, these businessmen, these politicos, lawyers, doctors, the hotel front desk guy, the cab drivers, they’ll all flirt with you and hope to God you’d make the first move. Go for it Fab Five! But you tell them they’ll only have your hearts if they come out!

As for shopping? Ayala Malls of course. Tiendesitas, a new shopping area has fab antique shops and foodie stalls. Dining, it’s got to be People’s Palace or Sala. An A-Gay manages them so they have that frisson, sexy waiters, and scrumptious food.

Enjoy our country. Despite our problems, we’re better than Singapore. Over there, five open queers would be an illegal gathering.

John L. Silva
The Fab Flip