Thursday, November 22, 2007

WHAT IS THEIR PROBLEM? The Piolo and Sam Libel Case

American matinee idol Tab Hunter comes to mind while reading the multimillion peso libel suit filed by actors Piolo Pascual and Sam Milby against gossip columnist Lolit Solis for insinuating that they’re gay. In 1956, Tab was at the peak of his career. The handsome “boy-next-door” was the leading man in movies with co-stars like Lana Turner, Natalie Wood and Sophia Loren. His stature rivaled James Dean and Marlon Brando and his studio, Warner Brothers, made a lot of money on him. He went into singing and released his first major nationwide hit “Young Love.” Everyone had a crush on Tab that one Valentine’s Day, he received over 60,000 Valentine telegrams. Everything was on the up for the young star despite the fact he was gay.

Tab wasn’t out then but in his tell-all autobiography released in 2005, (Tab Hunter, Confidential) he talked about a Hollywood peopled with gay producers, directors, writers, and actors. So, there was an unwritten agreement in Tinseltown: If you had a same sex love affair, do it discreetly.

At the height of his career, Confidential, a tabloid magazine ran a story about Tab caught by the police after raiding a private gay party. Tab was worried but his producer, the movie mogul Jack Warner didn’t pay the controversy any mind nor issue retractions nor demand that Tab go on “arranged” dates. He simply told Tab “Remember this. Today’s headlines-tomorrow’s toilet paper.”

Other gay baiting items about him appeared from time to time in the tabloids but Tab continued making more movies and more money while having a discreet two year romantic fling with actor Tony Perkins. There were several more lovers after that and eventually Tab settled down with his current long time partner Allan Glaser. The eventual decline in Tab’s popularity had nothing do with his sexual orientation. It was simply age; In Tinseltown, the search for young fresh faces was a constant. Tab, by then a veteran actor, was able to move into television and later perform in dinner-theaters throughout the country.

Lolit Solis was suppose to have seen, with her own two eyes, Piolo and Sam in an amorous situation at a hotel poolside. The actors’ lawyer, Joji Alonso denied that her clients were there that day. Attorney Alonso contends that such accusations destroys the “bankability” of her clients and fans would no longer watch their movies or attend their concerts if they found out they were gay. The whopping 12 million pesos in moral damages being demanded in the libel suit was to make up for the “mental anguish, besmirched reputation and social humiliation” the actors are now undergoing for being branded gay.

Aside from the movies and the concerts, the two actors, using their grins and bods, have peddled on billboards practically every product known to mankind. If Attorney Alonso now categorically states that her clients can’t sell a can of tuna, and their movies will be boycotted, and they are now mentally distraught because they’ve been called gay, what do you think we gays feel? Suicidal?

Even before Solis and other gossip columnists took aim on the Piolo/Sam affair, there had been for years the constant talk in many circles that Piolo is gay. It may have raised a few eyebrows but no sensible person (except for gossip columnists) was going to raise havoc with an earnest young man making a go of his career. Like actor and gay supporter Paul Newman would say “There are so many qualities that make up a human being…by the time I get through with all the things that I really admire about people, what they do with their private parts is probably so low on the list that it is irrelevant.”

Failed marriages, sex, and checking who’s gay is the redundant theme in show biz gossip. If you’re young and handsome and trying to make it in show biz, you’re automatically grist for the rumor mill. A 12 million peso lawsuit on a hapless columnist with a checkered background and whose writing isn’t worth getting one’s panties in a twist, seems like overkill. It actually raises unduly more eyebrows and even more fevered speculation.

Lawyer Alonso gets the prize though for her reasons on pressing the libel suit. She says the gossip item is a crime against her client’s honor, their purity and dignity now destroyed. “Because up to this day,” she adds “we all know for a fact that again, with all due courtesy to the members of the third sex, it is not still an accepted thing in this country.”

Stating that one’s purity and dignity is ruined for being called gay offends and insults gays. Calling us in the politically incorrect term as a “Third Sex” (does that mean we sport both a vagina and a penis?) and saying our behavior is not an accepted “thing” in this country makes one wonder what country and century she inhabits. Alonso seems to be oblivious to the fact that, barring a few morality crusaders, Filipino gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals live and work in one of the more tolerant and accepting societies in Asia. Caught having same sex in India? Ten years imprisonment. Making your partner orally happy in Singapore can lead to a jail term. In Muslim Malaysia and Indonesia, you’ve virtually no rights being gay. And until recently in Hong Kong, if you happen to love another man, it was life imprisonment. If Attorney Alonso believes that we gays are not an “accepted thing” in this country, I shall tell all my gay friends and supporters to boycott her client’s movies, concerts, and products. Why spare our hard earned gay pesos to people who don’t accept us? I shall also tell all my gay Fil-Am friends the next time Piolo and Sam wants to crash the Fil-Am market. Gay power and gay dollars will teach Attorney Alonso the meaning of acceptance.

The network studio ABS-CBN, should have repeated Warner Brother’s class act manner and counseled their twink stars to weather the gossip. After all, the studio has made so much money from their gay talents, gay writers, gay producers, gay executives and gay make-up artists, you’d expect a little more gratitude. Why, if the studio was swallowed up by an earthquake tomorrow, there goes half the gay population!

And where are the ad agencies and the companies who’ve overused these two stars to hawk their products? Doesn’t anyone of them have the gay balls to tell Attorney Alonso that it is BECAUSE of their sweet-handsome-probably-gay looks that sells and sells big? Remember that billboard with Piolo baring his gorgeous sexy abs while promoting a coffee brand? Today, so many gays will drink nothing else but that!

Piolo and Sam seem to be cashing in as singers given their concerts. There’s been some incredible singers. From Johnny Mathis to Boy George to Elton John to George Michael. The latter alone sold sixty seven million albums. None of these singers lost their fans or popularity when they lived open lives or came out. As George Michael would say, “I’ve wondered what my sexuality might be, but I’ve never wondered whether it was acceptable or not. Anyway, who really cares whether I’m gay or straight?”

Like Tab Hunter who came before all of them and crooning his hit song inspite all the gossip, it will be the singing (like the song) and not the “singing” (like slang for fellatio) that will ultimately prevail in the marketplace.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


By John L. Silva

The National Press Club’s defacement and censorship of a commissioned mural in their club restaurant recalls to mind a celebrated incident involving the Mexican artist Diego Rivera and the Rockefeller Center.

In 1933, Rivera was commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller to do a mural for the lobby of the RCA Building at New York’s Rockefeller Center. Rivera, a leftist, was well known for his grand murals replete with sinewy laborers in all forms of working poses. He had just finished a large scale mural with a similar theme for the Detroit Museum of Art sponsored by the Ford Motor Company, and despite the bias for proletarian vistas, the liberal, art loving Rockefellers decided their center should have a Rivera mural too.

Rivera though added a portrait of Lenin in the mural and this was over the top for Nelson Rockefeller. Despite his wife Abby’s lament, who collected Riveras, Rockefeller confronted the artist demanding he remove the offending Lenin. Rivera, already paid for the mural, refused, was summarily fired, and the mural destroyed. Rivera would have his revenge by recreating the same mural back in Mexico with Lenin in his glory and the patriarch John D. Rockefeller inserted elsewhere drinking martini at the expense of the toiling masses.

The National Press Club is in a similar imbroglio, having commissioned the Neo-Angono artist collective to do a mural with a press freedom theme. But the tack the Club undertook was downright abhorrent. They decided the mural was “leftist” and proceeded to have it altered without artists’ permission. They altered the mural to censor texts which included the current plight of a mother seeking an abducted son, defacing well-respected journalists, and painting over sections deemed offensive to the current Philippine president.

Paintings, particularly murals, if well done, have changed people, norms, and societies. We only need to recall Juan Luna’s Spoliarium which would influence a medical student named Jose Rizal to alter his career and write his devastating anti-colonial novels and become our national hero.

Paintings often reflect the times and if the Neo-Angono mural reflects the current state of Philippine affairs and the unpopularity of the current President, so be it. One would shudder to think if the National Press Club lived in the 19th century and found the Spoliarium to be offensive to the Spanish monarchy.

The cavalier and contemptible manner by which the National Press Club blithely desecrated a work of art is evidence enough that these so-called journalists haven’t a clue about freedom of expression. In a free society, contending thoughts, contending works of art are allowed and respected despite its inherent inclinations and viewpoints. The National Press Club’s actions has just put their profession to ridicule, painted themselves as cowards, and now insinuates itself as being in-the-pay of the powerful. Fellow journalists who abide in the freedom of expression should call for the immediate dismissal of the club officers.

Despite the destruction of his mural, Diego Rivera secured even more artistic commissions, gained world fame and lived financially comfortable to a ripe old age. Abby Rockefeller continued collecting Riveras, later donating them to the Rockefeller funded Museum of Modern Art for the public to see and appreciate. Rivera’s works are now revered and have a universal appeal transcending its leftist themes.

The Neo-Angono artists collective have the last laugh. In the current booming Southeast Asian art market, the moronic act by the National Press Club has just increased the appeal and selling cachet of current and future works of the Neo-Angono collective by ten fold. And, if it has universal appeal, a work of theirs could probably hang proudly in the National Museum, along with the Spoliarium.

John L. Silva is senior consultant to the National Museum of the Philippines

Monday, October 01, 2007


Hope For Education in Sagada

(published in Philippine Inquirer, Sunday Sept. 30, 2007

By John L. Silva

You have to psych yourself for the six-hour bus ride from Baguio to the northern mountain top town of Sagada. But, on the road, you don’t figure the added time for the stalled jeep ahead laden with vegetables blocking the road. Or my bus having a flat tire. Or that it wouldn’t start after a pit stop. Or the bus screeching to a halt with a fresh landslide in front of it.

We got off the bus and in freezing pouring rain climbed the huge muddy mound about two stories high, to slip and slide down the other side to wait for another bus.

After awhile, the rain stopped, the mist cleared and I looked up to the night sky and saw tens of thousands of stars twinkling. You don’t see this spectacle in the city. Cold, wet, and muddied, I smiled and the trip’s misery was forgotten. Nature has a way of doing that.

I first visited Sagada as a young troubled man. A love affair ended painfully and I was in despair. A friend suggested Sagada. There was an orphanage there and needed help. Go, she said, make yourself useful to the kids and stop the self pity. Heal in Sagada.

Thirty six years later, I was back to teach public school teachers the elements of aesthetics. Six hours became almost nine hours of travel and the last third of the way in pitch darkness, swaying headlights and bumpy roads. The night stars were my only solace.

I was welcomed in Sagada by Dennis Faustino, the principal of St. Mary’s High School who lives in a charming wooden house built in 1924. A jovial man with a continuous smile, he had some of his students watching a movie in the living room. When we sat down to eat, the students were also invited and I found them to be curious of my work, polite, and eager to listen to my conversation with Dennis.

Early the next day, I was at St. Mary’s, a well-kept two-storey building, donated by fellow La Salle Green Hills classmate Boy Yuchengco, and nestled in pine trees seeing groups of teachers signing up in the auditorium where I was to lecture. There were many young teachers astonished when I told them I was in Sagada when their parents were still in high school. Uttering it astonished me too!

None of the teachers ever had an arts education workshop let alone any continuing education courses for their professional development. Much as I thanked them profusely for coming on a Saturday, their personal day, and spending jeep and bus fares to get to the workshop, the teachers told me they came because they wanted to learn and know what the arts is all about.

In Mindanao, the teachers cluck when they are entranced by a painting they see from my powerpoint. Here in the Cordilleras, they swoon with long deep oooh’s. They take notes about how arts education can lessen absenteeism and be antidotes to drug addiction. Their faces glow as they become enlightened by what constitutes a beautiful picture. They start to connect aesthetics with being a citizen, learning that visual pollution – billboards, advertising banners, garbage thrown indiscriminately – affect the pristine sights of their community. Sagada has been touted as a mountain top Shangri-La visited by local and foreign tourists. Given its distance from “civilization” Sagada has little to worry for now. The view outside the school auditorium has a sweeping scene of mountains and rice terraces spotted with houses. Greenery and their unique stone terraces still overwhelm and captivate. This workshop with emphasis on appreciating nature as art has a very practical economic value to Sagada.

My lesson plan on photography as a fine art and weaving Philippine history into it using old photographs excites the teachers. I incorporated old photographs of the Cordilleras taken at the turn of the century. The teachers are wide eyed seeing their ancestors in native garb, the thatched huts their grandparents lived in, the majesty of their stone terraces and the dances. In the Cordilleras, people danced on so many occasions and scrupulously documented on film by anthropologists and missionaries. The women were oftentimes bare-breasted and the men wore loincloths. The early missionaries imposed modest dressing in these parts and these pictures of their half naked past are unnerving for the older teachers. The younger teachers though are more astute having been raised to take pride in local customs and missionary influence long receded.

Sagada, like many rural areas have no museums so I teach a module on setting up a simple school museum. Developing an exhibition theme, writing captions and wall text, and producing an exhibit for very little money demystifies curator-ship and the teachers are introduced to yet another pedagogical method.

We end the workshop by 3:00 pm to allow the teachers to get home early. Buses and jeeps plying the route are scarce and unscheduled so the long wait adds to the travel time. Some of the teachers from the rural villages have not been to “big town” Sagada in a while and this was a time to shop or go to the hospital and get checked up.

I get the chance to walk the town again and see what changes have occurred. My first stop was the orphanage on the hilltop. I see the playground fronting the orphanage and remember the many games I played with the children there. The orphanage had a large number of twins in my days. Twins born were bad luck. One of them was thought to have the mother’s spirit so they were buried alive, abandoned or wound up in the orphanage.

The spartan dormitory I stayed in for the three months I was there was being remodeled into a tourist inn. The one street in the center of the town had several new restaurants but gone were the little stores I remembered that sold tribal artifacts. I walked to the town’s entrance and lamented the destruction of the limestone cliffs by local developers. The large cluster of thatched huts were no longer in sight. These huts which often caught fire have been replaced by galvanized sheets and concrete blocks.

As I walked to my guest house, several of the teachers who attended greeted me on the road effusive about the workshop. They were still waiting for a jeep to take them home.

The next morning, I took the first early bus back to Baguio.

It was sunny throughout the whole trip and memories returned. I took this same Jalsema Highway years ago on a similar sunny day. The same exhilaration came over me as the bus gingerly weaved down the mountain. The same scent of flowers and the same bracing morning air. Flashbacks of tearful twins singing to me as a boarded the bus. They must be now in their forties I thought.

First there were glimpses of a terrace; then halfway down, the mountains unfolded revealing full vistas of terraces, their lines rounding every contour of every mountain in sight. A swath of clouds rested on the mountain tops and way below, a river snaked at the base. The travel brochures always called it an engineering marvel. I just found it breathtaking. I could hear the teachers voices in unison having learned the elements of aesthetics. COLOR! SHAPES! TEXTURE! LINES! they exclaimed as proof.

Despite a swaying bus, I marveled at the profusion of parallel lines incising green mountains and watered terraces below me glistening in the morning sun. As we rounded a mountain, the panorama continued as another set of perfectly chiseled mountains came to view. This panoply went unabated for almost the whole of the bus ride. I laughed out loud, realizing the Sagada teachers were being polite with Mr.-Know-It-All from Manila. Teach them aesthetics? LINES? Hah! Their ancestors were aesthetes for thousands of years.

There are threats to the beauty of the place. Signs at interval on the Jalsema Highway warn and forbid the dumping of garbage over the roadside. The signs are not working because the dumping continues. Rice terraces and vegetable plots post signs of fertilizers and chemicals used. In a increasingly organic oriented world, the signs are anachronistic, threatening their produce and their own health.

It is the education of the Cordilleras students that will decide the fate of this region. Illiteracy and drop-outs rates are twice higher in the non-Christian and tribal communities than the national average. The catching up, the learning curve, the ratcheting up of student academic achievements in these parts are an imperative.

It boils down to good teachers. At St. Mary’s, Dennis Faustino, former teacher now principal is turning a once ailing school around. In just three years, academic achievement reached higher levels in his school with a new core of dedicated teachers well trained, well paid, teaching in spanking classrooms and labs brimming with all the equipment necessary. An alumni network and a working board allows Dennis to do his job. Bottom line results? All graduating high school students have passed the exams and will enter colleges and universities this year. Where only two out of every 100 fourth year high school students in the country are equipped for college and almost all with failing achievement scores, the St. Mary’s graduating class, in toto, have just beaten insurmountable odds.

I’ve traveled the breadth and length of this country teaching teachers who make do with so little, teaching in classrooms so pitiful and inadequate, seeing students seemingly vacuous but actually just deprived of books to read. One can give up at times with the rapacity and neglect that the government affords on education. It just breaks your heart.

And then you get to Sagada, and you see a school like St. Mary’s. Teachers determined, students enthused. Shangri-La still existing.

I am healed a second time.

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

Saturday, September 22, 2007


(Bringing Arts Education to Tawi-Tawi Teachers)
by John L. Silva

It seemed foolhardy to go to Tawi-Tawi. There was all-out war raging in the neighboring islands of Basilan and Jolo. The fighting was fierce and ten marines in one encounter were decapitated by Muslim rebels. Retribution was in the offing.

The request though from Synergeia was urgent. If I-LOVE-MUSEUM, our training program for public school teachers did not travel within the week, the window of opportunity to teach there would be lost. Synergeia’s teaching program in Tawi-Tawi was to end in a month and the holy fasting month Ramadan was coming up prohibiting these activities. We had to go now or not at all.

Synergeia has been training public school teachers for several years in the Sulu Archipelago where Tawi-Tawi and Jolo are located. They were yielding results; children’s reading scores had increased by over 10%. Now, Synergeia would add arts education, convinced that children learning aesthetics and loving their local arts and culture would also help their overall achievement scores.

There was never any good time to go to Sulu with some conflict or another arising. But recent events were nerve wracking. This war was serious.

I dug deep into the recesses of my devil-may-care past when life was intensely and precariously lived. Why should I, in mid-life become so safe and boring? To hell with the war. I’m teaching aesthetics!

So I hopped on an early morning flight to Zamboanga, transferred to a small plane for a bumpy two hour ride, through a scary monsoon rain and zero visibility to reach Bongao, the capital of Tawi-Tawi.

A book I read years back called Song of Salanda by H. Arlo Nimmo drew me to Tawi-Tawi. Nimmo, an anthropologist, studied the people of Sulu in the sixties and wrote his encounters with them. They were memorable subjects: a Badjau woman known for her singing but unhappy with her marriage, a nun schooled abroad but returned to work as a doctor, a smuggler/pirate loved by his village, these were just some of them, living in exotic sounding islands like Siasi, Sitangkai, Simunul. I never forgot them and vowed one day to visit.

All anxiety faded as the plane touched the grassy airfield, the sun broke out from the clouds and a group of happy teachers awaited me with welcome banners. In less than an hour I was in a makeshift audio visual room with over 70 veiled teachers curious of my mission.

The teachers had an air of subtle indifference to me in the beginning. Here was a person from Catholic Manila, carrying National Museum credentials making me part of a government that has not cared for them. It’s a matter of course that public school teachers there get their salaries late, sometimes 4 – 6 months late. The part time and probationary teachers aren’t paid for up to two years. Compound this affront with a three-decade civil war, their villages destroyed, a stagnating economy, no local taxes earmarked for education, no school textbooks distributed in years, and rotting schools and you’d expect a demoralized bunch of teachers. Yet, here they are in front of me, having paid their own way to travel hours to learn about art. They are teachers first and foremost. You see it in their smiles and feel it in the soft handshakes ending with a tap to the breast. They never forgot nor forsaken their childhood ambition to be teachers.

It usually starts with a joke, an irreverent quip. If they laughed, I was in their confidence as a fellow teacher rather than some boring bureaucrat on a talking junket. Beside, I was part of Synergeia, and they’d seen the success in their students reading levels. Surely, an art program could only help their students as well.

Of all the ethnic groups in the country, Filipino Muslims were never totally subjugated by the Spanish and the Americans. Their culture, melded with Islam, remained intact while the rest of the country assimilated into colonial culture. The teachers may have warmed to my program but they let it be known they had enough mat weaving, kris making, brass ware, jewelry crafts, epics, songs and dances to rival whatever art forms I was showing. And they were right.

In my powerpoint, there were more than enough of the finest Muslim artwork and artifacts throughout the Islamic world for them to take pride in. One of my teaching modules, about the Elements of Aesthetics - Color, Line, Shapes and Texture - appealed to them since Islamic art is devoid of figurative works. The intricacy of calligraphy, the geometric patterns in their walls and carvings, and the brilliant colors and designs in their fabrics became more pronounced and esteemed. Aesthetics transcended the cultural distinctions of Muslim and western civilizations. By the end of the day, the teachers were enthralled and convinced about arts education.

Much as they had significant culture to bare, the teachers knew it was endangered. There is cable television and video games in far flung Tawi-Tawi with children spending an inordinate amount on them. The elders, fast disappearing, are the only ones weaving, carving, pounding brass, and melting gold. The teachers themselves no longer know these processes. In their survey forms, they realized arts education would be the hedge to the possible decimation of all their indigenous art forms.

At the end of the long day workshop, a space was cleared in the auditorium and a dance troupe replete in traditional clothing appeared. They performed ancient ceremonial dances about courtship, combat, and sea myths, evoking the motions of seagulls and the waves of the sea. Hands, arms, shoulders, torsos and legs possessing fluidity and grace writhed in sensual motion with the hands ending in an upward curl. It reminded one of the curled Okir design so prominent in their artistic environment. The dances’ indigenous purity recalled similar dance forms in neighboring Borneo and Indonesia, evidence of the artificial divide colonial powers imposed in these parts. One teacher confessed that she had seen these dances often, but, after Art Connection, saw deeper implications. For her, these dances were reminders of a regal past.

To maximize our trip, we obliged our hosts to do I-LOVE-MUSEUMS the following day in an outlying island, forty-five minutes away. At the crack of dawn we were on the fastest speedboat I had ever ridden (to elude pirate speedboats still plying the waters) headed for Panglima Sugala. With Malaysia just fifty miles away, one could see the phantom peaks of the mountains of Borneo.

At the pier, we were greeted by high school students performing more native dances, another subtle reminder that they manage, despite the odds, to keep their culture alive. The towns people including Mayor and Mrs. Nurbert Shahali welcomed us and encouraged the attending teachers to learn from the workshop.

Like in Bongao, the hall where I taught were makeshift rooms that had large windows covered in black cloth for my LCD presentation. However, there was no airconditioning and the room turned quickly into an oven with over 60 teachers in attendance. But it didn’t faze the teachers one bit as they gave me their full attention and took copious notes.

Panglima Sugala,with its sluggish swaying trees, is quite rural; the slow village tempo as the teachers trickled in from early afternoon prayers and their long expressive smiles created an intimacy among us not found in an urban setting. The humor I injected to ward sleepiness in an airless humid room was received with long-drawn-out laughter. And to my surprise, in this bucolic village where neither orthodox Islam or Christianity had much sway, I found the teachers less reserved, more forthcoming, analytical and open to new ideas. Pictures with nudity elicited quite earthy remarks and raucous laughter. Panglima Sugala prides itself as one of the rare communities where Christians and Muslims live and work peacefully with one another.

The teachers were divided into three groups at the end of the workshop and asked what they had learned and their plans from thereon. On large rolls of brown paper taped to walls they wrote how they learned to develop creativity in children and to appreciate the art works of their ancestors. Almost all of them wanted to bring their students to a museum and build their own school museum. As they excitedly promised to introduce arts to their students, outside, since we started that morning, were six heavily armed soldiers stationed for our protection. I wasn’t worried about my safety but this was Sulu; soldiers and guns were regular fixtures whenever visitors came to town.

The sun was setting and we had to be back in Bongao for the evening. There was one more dance performance by the students and we did not hesitate being treated to another rendition of delicate sinuous movements accompanied by hypnotic gongs and the gamelan.

A profundity came over me, watching a brilliant sunset, windswept on a speedboat skimming the Sulu Sea returning to Bongao. It had been two days of intense teaching, tiring, yet exhilarating. The epiphany in the faces of teachers learning Aesthetics 101 was so discordant with the fighting, killing and bombings going on in nearby islands. The irony invigorated me, prodding me further to teach the sanctity and beauty in life against a moribund culture of death and destruction.

Mayor Albert Que of Bongao invited me to dinner that evening at his beach side home. Amidst the delicious seafood and the calming breeze the Mayor looked particularly glum. Synergeia’s reading program, funded by USAID would end this September after just two years of teacher training. Student reading scores were up, but the program was to inexplicably end. It was tempting to wax cynicism: Tawi-Tawi was being penalized for being relatively peaceful and funders like to go where there’s conflict. In a Mindanao strewn with AUSAid, and CIDA and a host of other international funding acronyms, there is a serious temptation for geopolitical jockeying and overlook the original objective. The one on raising reading scores.

There was a lunar eclipse on our last night. We all waited in the open veranda of our beachside quarters. The dogs began to howl, piercing screams were heard in the distance, while gunfire punctuated the night. We rushed outside joining the townspeople all gathered looking at the moon. In these parts, with little artificial light, and a flat immense sea, the slow encroachment of the moon’s surface was very clear. The townspeople were talking animatedly in agreement, “Bakunawa, the giant lizard is eating the moon.”

More gunfire erupted and I noticed that the people around me were rubbing their nails together. They believed the friction of nail to nail caused a sound that frightens the Bakunawa. Everyone including myself rubbed our nails as the moon disappeared. After a long period, a crescent appeared and the moon slowly came to view again. The people around me felt victorious. The sound of our nails alarmed Bakunawa causing him to spit out the moon.

“See, there it is, the moon is back.”

Before retiring, I walked to the beach, my path and the shore illuminated by the moon. The distinctive crag of Bongao Beak rose like a frozen black tidal wave in the distance. The lunar drama earlier was fading and what remained in my mind was Nimmo’s book. Returning to Sulu twenty years later, he barely recognized it. There had been a war in the interim and the Bongao he knew was destroyed. The people he wrote about were either killed or left Tawi-Tawi. The population had increased several fold, straining the island, its forests denuded and fishing scarce. He ends his book by saying

“I shall never return to Sulu. I cannot. My lovely Sulu is gone.”

Despite his lament, and the depradations haunting Sulu today, Nimmo revealed in his earlier chapters a people immensely kind and generous, determined to make life better for their community. I thought of the teachers and their indomitable spirit to continue teaching their students even if unpaid for months on end and scantly respected. I thought of Mayor Que and Mayor Shahali, two rare officials who valued education for their students. I thought of the various people who were generous to a fault and were in the background doing logistics so all I did was click on my remote and the workshop came off perfectly. No compensation. Just a desire to see their students get smarter. These teachers, these people of Bongao and Panglima Sugala are composites of the people Nimmo once knew, documented and loved.

I will always return to Sulu. I will. My lovely Sulu still exists.

John L. Silva is the Senior Consultant for the National Museum. For further information about Synergeia’s reading programs or wishing to attend an I-LOVE-MUSEUM whole-day art appreciation workshop, call or text 0926 729 9029 or e-mail

Sunday, August 26, 2007


John L. Silva

It’s been over six years now since the late Secretary of Education Raul Roco issued a school wide directive (DEP ED Order No. 56, s. 2001) acknowledging school field trips “can supplement classroom instruction” when students are brought to the “National Museum, Museo Pambata, provincial and local museums, Science Centrums, botanical gardens, historical sites and scientific sites.”

The next Secretary, Edilberto de Jesus, underscored the directive by issuing another (DEP ED Order No. 52, s.2003) ordering field trips “to educational places, such as cultural and historical sites or science exhibits in museums.” Secretary de Jesus would add emphatically “Trips to malls and attendance at noontime tv shows especially during class hours are discouraged.”

Most of the school field trips today seems never to have heard of nor comply with these directives. Polled public school teachers throughout the country in the course of my museum appreciation program confess that they still bring their students to malls to wander the shops, play violent video games, and hang out in fast food restaurants. Worse, students are brought to these noontime tv shows to watch vulgar shows that insult women, gays, and the physically challenged as well as featuring skimpily clad women gyrating on stage hawking products. In other school systems throughout the world, this would be considered officially sanctioned truancy.

Schools need to address this appalling situation. Parents, who complain about the costs of field trips with no education value should demand conformity with DEP ED directives. However, schools and parents are easy targets. Let’s focus on the companies that contribute as well to this sorry state.

To give teeth to the DEP ED directives, mall establishments, large and small throughout this country should take proactive steps in hindering if not eliminating school field trips to their malls during official school time. Many of these establishments have corporate foundations that fund education programs in public schools. They can transmit their directives to their sponsored schools and education programs. On a larger scale, they can band together and publicly declare a no-tolerance policy to field trips to their malls.

There is however, a growing trend of establishing science museums and holding educational exhibitions in the larger malls. Fine and good. School field trips should be encouraged to those specific places. It is not the mall that is anathema; it is their deficient educational value that is in question.

Television stations should ban students to noontime tv shows on school days. What values do students learn seeing poor people humiliating themselves so they can get a prize? What is so exemplary for students about a tv host who’s been warned repeatedly for lewdness? What lessons do they bring home seeing young people dolled up and applauded for looking and dancing lasciviously? Sexual trafficking is not always a one-way transaction.

We are in an educational calamity. Only five out of ten words can be read and understood by our students. 94 out of 100 students not qualified for high school. One third of all students will drop out and not finish grade school. Every supplementary educational activity like school field trips should be used to stave off the learning morass our children are in.

Calling field trips supplementary does not mean lesser educational value. Students learn past the four classroom walls. They learn arts and culture in museums which, in turn, have been proven to boost math and science scores, increase literacy, and decrease absenteeism. They develop environmental consciousness by visiting parks. They learn to love their country visiting historical sites. They learn to value our past when ethics, morals and decent men and women prevailed in our society.

The corporate sector has recognized the correlation between educated well-rounded students and economic growth and have given resources accordingly. Now it is time for this sector to look into their core businesses and identify what may actually hinder the educational leapfrogging our country needs to catch up with the rest of the globe. Like banning students from internet cafes during school hours, banning smoking and liquor advertising near school grounds, and imposing the age limit for cigarette purchases, the corporate sector must establish very stringent rules when their business intersects with student learning and wellbeing. The quality of school field trips needs to be addressed as well.

If I were to ask businessmen and businesswomen if they approve seeing their own children go to malls and tv stations on official school time, there would be a resounding NO. They know fully well that every opportunity for learning will only improve their children’s future.

Why then are we not exacting the same rigor with our public school children?. School field trips should be educational for all.

(Public school teachers interested in a free whole-day museum and arts appreciation workshop sponsored by Synergeia Foundation can e-mail John Silva is the Senior Consultant of the National Museum of the Philippines.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


By John L. Silva

Pope Benedict’s controversial statement in a Brazil bishops conference on the ready acceptance by South American Indians of the Catholic faith resonates across the Pacific Ocean to the Philippines.

The Pope’s speech was a rousing call to reinvigorate the local clergy in a country whose Catholic population of 120 million has decreased by over 15% in the past two decades.

The Pope in outlining the history of the Christian faith in Latin America noted the “…encounter between that faith and the indigenous people” and the emergence of the “Christian culture of this Continent” with a “…shared creed that give rise to a great underlying harmony…”

Glossing over the Spanish and Portuguese conquest of the region which entailed the extermination of millions of native Indians to secure this Christian culture, the Pope’s most ahistorical remarks centers on his charge that the early American Indians were looking for “…and welcoming Christ, the unknown God whom their ancestors were seeking, without realizing it, in their rich religious traditions. Christ is the Savior for whom they were silently longing.”

Every Native American Studies Department in the Americas has on its reading list Bartolome de las Casas’ “A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies.” De las Casas detailed the genocide and wholesale destruction of the Taino Indians in the West Indies several decades after Christopher Columbus arrived in those parts. As a priest, de las Casas pleaded with then King Phillip II that the decimation of the Indians which he numbered at three million through wars, diseases and slave labor would end all attempts at converting the Indians. Of course. A dead Indian cannot be converted.

How could a population “silently longing” for Christianity’s arrival be so greeted with barbarism? Pope Benedict conveniently puts aside the conqueror mindset which believed that any lands and people “discovered” were theirs and such ownership included the coercive right to Christianize the natives. If they resisted, and they did, the conquerors had the right to kill them.

A clue to the Pope’s imbroglio can be found in a similar “silent longing” scenario foisted on Philippine history and still reverberates in current tourism brochures and pop history articles.

The arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores in the Philippines just twenty years after their arrival in the Americas is made to look convivial. The natives were reported to be friendly providing food and bartering with the Spanish. There was a mass in Cebu and Rajah Humabon and his queen were baptized, and breaking with Christian monogamous practices, baptized the King’s other wives as well. The acceptance of the Christian god along with the planting of the cross on Philippine soil (the same cross allegedly) still stands now gated, covered, and a tourist attraction. A model of the Child Jesus, the very same one given to the queen by Magellan and found, miraculously forty years later is now enshrined in a Cebu church. One hundred years ago this model was photographed and referred to as the Black Santo Nino of Cebu. Now, miraculously, he is depicted as blonde and blue eyed, another vestige of our ongoing colonial mentality.

The Pope would probably be happy to rest his case on these various proofs of a similar “silent longing” by the natives. Unfortunately, selected historical tidbits don’t make a story.

From various Spanish chroniclers we piece a bonhomie encounter truncated by Spanish objectives. Demands of fealty to the Spanish crown were scoffed at by the natives. Feeling cheated with the bartering and cautious with the menacing swords and guns and cannons, the natives decided not to be too hospitable with sharing their food. The first mass and ardor for conversion by Rajah Humabon and his retinue quickly dissipated upon seeing Magellan’s men go on drunken raping sprees.

Apologists for Magellan’s demise in the hands of nearby ruler warrior Lapu Lapu sympathetically chide the explorer for having gotten in the way of island rivalries. But first hand accounts of the survivors paint Magellan not just a political kingmaker but messianic and obsessive in converting natives. Lapu Lapu though would not submit to a foreign king and god and Magellan’s orders to burn their Mactan village enraged the warriors further killing Magellan and sending his wounded men into hasty retreat.

Magellan’s promise to make Rajah Humabon be top Rajah of all the islands if he converted was no longer in the cards. Humabon quickly dispensed with his baptismal name (Charles after the Spanish King) and chased the remaining Spanish survivors away from his island.

Forty years later, the Spanish ships of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi attempted to anchor in Cebu thinking Christian devotees would greet them. Upon seeing their ships the natives gathered belongings and provisions and went into the interior. Legazpi threatened war if the natives did not submit and feed them. A rare but very clear response came back “ Be it so,” The armed Indians on shore answered boldly. “Come on! We await you here.” The Indians could not be coerced.

The Spaniards torched their homes and in their looting came across the Child Jesus idol, presumably the same one given to the queen. Instead of native defiance against foreign invaders, the tourist brochures and the church historians would weave a miracle story and a testament of Christian endurance.

The first hundred years of Spanish history in the Philippines is replete with native revolts and a persistent return to the old ways including their native religion. Meanwhile the Spaniards systematically destroyed all native idols they could find (several of them called anitos can still be viewed in the National Museum) and persecuted native priestesses and priests who continued their practices. If the Philippines became the Catholic country that it is today ( its current membership also on the decline) it was not without the same decimation of its population as that encountered in the Americas. Filipinos died by the tens of thousands through hamletting in “Christian pueblos,” slave labor and outright massacre at the hands of the Christian invaders.

Pope Benedict’s idyllic rendition of the Spanish Conquest of the Americas is an erroneous and dangerous viewpoint that attempts to expunge any of the more egregious actions committed in the name of Christianity on native peoples. One can make a similar comparison to a recent and also controversial remark by another head of state, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the “comfort women” of Southeast Asia were not coerced into servicing the Japanese Military in World War II. Even worse, since 2005, any reference to “comfort women” have been removed in Japanese high school history text books. Rape, genocide and plunder are being erased and conveniently forgotten to instill more acceptable and palatable versions of a country’s history. Good for trade and the further conversion of souls.

Accepting the current Papal version of Christianization in the colonies denigrates the religious heritage of pre-Spanish peoples and goes against a previous and most enlightened Papal Encyclical entitled Dignitatis Humanae shepherded by Pope John XXIII and promulgated by Pope Paul VI at the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Its declaration on a human being’s right to religious freedom launched ecumenism and a respect and tolerance for all religions. It was also the Catholic Church’s repudiation of its past coercive and bloody efforts at evangelization.

Most importantly, this current Papal view implies an obeisance to colonial invasion and erases the native revolt against it. This alienates a people to its past and emasculates its will to assert itself as a nation. A nation’s survival and growth rests significantly on a collective knowledge of its true past.

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

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


By John L. Silva
(This appeared in the April 15, 2007 issue of Philippine Starweek Magazine)

We were checking out very early in the morning morning in Zamboanga to catch our flight. My porter gingerly carried my laptop and lcd projector to the hotel van asking if I was headed back to Manila. No, I said, I was going to Jolo. The porter gave a pensive look and cautioned me; things were “delicado” there. I brushed off his worry by giving him a smile. I was conducting an arts appreciation workshop in Jolo, the most historical city in the autonomous Muslim region, laden with all the mystery and danger, perceived rightly or wrongly, that accompanies this island.

My porter’s fears were not totally off the mark. When our twin engined plane landed on Jolo’s dusty airfield, armored personnel vehicles, a convoy of trucks with battle ready troops were driving by and Vietnam era helicopters were whooshing overhead. Instead of an airport porter, we had two armed military men (compliments of the Mayor) bringing our donated school books to our van and escorting us the whole day in an open pickup truck. Maybe it was “delicado” in these parts.

But like all the other autonomous Muslim provinces I’ve been to, a menacing military presence has become a fixture. In Jolo, a city that has witnessed insurrections, massacres and bombings for over three hundred years, the prevalence of guns and cannons and camouflage uniforms have become indelible images of the city.

We get to the conference site, I see a welcome sign with my name on it and many smiling women in head scarves and teachers uniforms. Mayor Salip Aloy Jainal of nearby Indanan Municipality who brought these teachers gives me a hearty greeting. I quickly forget my nervous musings and was raring to start my powerpoint.

My day-long program entitled I Love Museums for public school teachers on appreciating the arts has traveled throughout much of the country. Getting to Jolo would almost complete the major cities I’ve covered in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which included Marawi, Tawi-Tawi, and Cotabato City.

The program has a simple proposition: Give teachers a crash course in arts education, let them pass it on to their students, and see student academic scores increase.

A Stanford University study shows that a child with an arts education is four times more likely to have higher academic scores, three times more likely to be involved in student affairs, four times more likely to love reading and writing, and three times more likely to do volunteer work. These findings have been taken so seriously that California has mandated all high school students to complete one year of arts education in order to enter the state’s university and college systems.

Synergeia, an education reform organization dedicated to raising reading and comprehension scores for primary school children has been working in the municipality of Indanan for close to two years. 767 first graders were tested in the beginning and the reading scores were a frightening 24%. That meant a student could only comprehend two out of ten words presented. The average reading score in the country is 54% making Indanan students, like many other Mindanao students having one of the lowest literacy scores in the country.

With that challenge, Synergeia helped energize the local school board with the help of the Mayor, the teachers were given remedial courses and the parent/teachers’ associations were given after-school mentoring assignments and the students were given one workbook each. Today, they were going to be steeped in the arts.

The Indanan teachers were polite and pleasant trooping into the auditorium and patiently waiting for me to set up. I could see though from the corner of my eye they were a skeptical bunch. The Synergeia testing results were crushing. You aren’t exactly chipper knowing most of your students can’t read making the municipality on the lower rungs of the education crisis scale. And now they have to suffer a culture course from a chirpy Manileno.

I started flashing images of museums throughout the world and their collections. There was the usual titter over Greek male nudes since most in the audience were female and not familiar with Western representational art. I sensed a quiet and the occasional “mmmh” when I began my subsection of Islamic art found in major museums throughout the world: A 13th century lantern from Egypt, the calligraphic signature of Sultan Sulaiman from the 16th century, colorful prayer rugs from Iran, geometric tiles from Spain and textiles from Indonesia. Exquisitely designed gold jewelry created excitement, a craftsmanship that for the mostly Tausug members in the room were quite familiar with.

I ventured into our National Museum’s collection of Muslim art. Gravemarkers, mat weavings, woodcarvings, brass, kris, all detailing their superb qualities evoked excited murmurs. This was the entrĂ©e to the deeper discourse on the following module on Philippine history.

Using old photographs, Philippine history came alive with images of the Yakans, the Samals, the Tausugs, the Badjaos and other tribes in their archipelago, in their finery, on their houseboats, in procession, dancing, and readying for ceremony. There were photographs of proud Sultans negotiating with American authorities, of regal Sultanas with their retinue, of gleaming mosques, and pristine landscapes. These carefully chosen images exorcised the prevailing visuals of Muslims as fanatics and ignoble, living in total abject squalor.

Injecting cultural and historical pride, my powerpoint acknowledged and reminded the teachers of their people’s defiance with colonialism resulting in their culture remaining relatively intact compared to the wholesale loss of culture and norms in other parts of the country.

During Questions & Answers, teachers raised points proving they had absorbed the presentation. “Is it the material or the craftsmanship that gives an object its value?” asked one teacher. Artistic freedom and religious constraints were also broached. There were sobering comments too about the difficulty in setting up their own school museum when they didn’t even have enough schoolrooms.

The National Museum of Jolo was right beside our conference center so we all walked there, the majority of the teachers visiting it for the first time.

How quickly the lessons were internalized. The teachers paused longer to scrutinize weaving patterns and jar designs. They pondered and gushed over the curved and gracious ukil designs in the wood carvings. The second floor was a vast display of Sultanate geneology and historical highlights of Sulu adding further to the breast-thumping pride they had gained that day.

The teachers gave effusive goodbyes and boarded tricycles with painted signs like “Guns and Roses” driving down the main boulevard shaded by century old Acacia trees planted by the Americans. It would be a long trip back to Indanan with military checkpoints at intervals and peeling political posters that have once again uglified their towns.

There was still some light that afternoon so I got a quick tour of Jolo’s historical sights and the public market where I found beautiful woven mats, baskets, pottery, gold jewelry and kris still being made from their area. These Sulu artworks, much admired and treasured for hundreds of years continue to thrive proving the tenacity of artistic creation despite limited resources and an ongoing war.

There are still many outlying islands to visit in the Sulu Archipelago and give my I Love Museum program. There will always be that prevailing warning about how “delicado” the area is. I’ve heard it said since childhood. But whenever I’m there, it’s the teachers’ warmth and their desire to learn about the arts that dominate my mind. Apprehensions quickly disappear leaving me with only the good fortune to visit and teach in yet another beautiful place in our country.

( For information and schedules of upcoming arts appreciation programs please e-mail the program director, John L. Silva at or call/text at 0926-729-9029.)

Sunday, April 08, 2007


There are silver linings and still many more challenges in this business of getting rid of illegal billboards and political campaign posters. But one thing is certain from my most recent drive this Holy Week around Laguna de Bay. Things are changing.

Just driving the Southern Expressway headed for Laguna, there are bright spots. Literally. It seems around the entrance to the toll gates, there stands just the skeletal remains of billboards. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) must have deemed the billboards to be dangerous being less than eight meters from the highway and therefore a violation of Presidential Administration Orders 160 and 160-A of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

You could see the sky now past the skeletal remains. Further south, Typhoon Milenyo had taken down numerous billboards last year and there are some billboards without any customers. Corporations must be realizing that it is no longer good business to use them especially after a lawsuit was filed recently against a falling billboard that killed a passerby.

I noticed billboards of airline, gasoline, and realty companies. They pretty much shoot themselves in the foot. Americans including Filipino Americans and Europeans when polled, state they hate billboards. Who in their right mind would therefore spend a thousand dollars to get to the Philippines and take a tour of Southern Philippines to be accosted by billboards? For less than that amount, Fil-Ams would rather go to Hawaii where billboards are banned and tourism is up and away. These companies just lost their customers.

Ask any smart realtor and they’ll admit that billboards bring down real estate prices. See any obnoxious billboards in ritzy places like Fort Bonifacio? So, how is this country going to be able to sell its real estate in the south when it is cluttered with ugly billboards? Yet, there’s Brittany and Georgia Club and other god-awful names for subdivisions accosting the once potential but now thoroughly disgusted Fil-Am investor?

But as I was exiting the expressway, the good news overall is less billboards, lots of vacant billboards, a more conscious populace about their being a public menace, a government that continues to uphold public safety, and in a few months, another round of angry Milenyos.

The very last exit is for Calamba and as you go round and out of the freeway, you begin to notice the garbage thrown on the side of the road. Then you notice the trees, the posts, the sidings of GI sheets, the bus stop stations, the fluttering sky. The politicians of this country has again broken the law and decided to smear the whole scene, the whole scene with their campaign excrement.

Driving pass thousands of posters nailed to trees, pasted on walls, running the length of the city, I wondered what national hero Jose Rizal would think having given his life for this country only to spawn a bunch of politicos who’ve made his own hometown butt-ugly. I’m sure Rizal’s lyrical paean to his country – poems, novels, essays - had much to do with happy childhood memories of rural Calamba. He once boasted after seeing Niagara Falls, that it still couldn’t compare with the beauty of his local Dampalit Falls. Rizal would quickly be a bomb-throwing anarchist seeing posters of actor-senator-wannabe Cesar Montano defiling the countryside. Ironically, Montano’s acting fame skyrocketed playing Jose Rizal in a movie. The guy today deludes himself as the hero incarnate and with his sexy undershirt appeal wants us to vote him into office. Dream on.

Los Banos, dense with narrow roads, was a nightmare to course through with the campaign posters, like locusts, inches away from the car. Even after leaving its borders and admiring, on both sides of the road, the emerald green rice fields and enchanting mountains, the nauseating sight of posters persisted. Manny Villar, the richest of all senatorial candidates spared not a single tree and electric post. Environmental poseur Loren Legarda who once had an ode to trees (‘I THINK THAT I SHALL NEVER SEE, A POEM AS LOVELY AS A TREE…’) erected on the national highway had her cynical smirk nailed to every tree she could molest.

So it went from one town to the next, these posters inflicting their pain on trees, sap flowing out of them when nailed, like blood. It may be a sickening sight for travelers fleeing the city and seeking solace in the country. But for the rural folk, it’s even a matter of life and death. You ask anyone why they allow these posters to hang and they’ll tell you they were put up by the local thugs and druggies who’d kill anyone taking them down.

Aside from thugs the candidates hire the local idiots to splotch everywhere not sparing destroyed buildings, garbage dumps, and the lower sections of provincial markers where dogs ordinarily pee on. The candidates don’t have the slightest marketing clue that the surroundings affect the message. Who wants to vote for a pee-stained candidate?

A poster of Recto, a senatorial incumbent has his silly word play KORecto (like in correct-o) pounded on trees that Villar missed. Correct? No. He might win thanks to his actress wife but for aesthetics, he’s just another loser.

Senator Edgardo Angara who styles himself as a supporter of arts and culture reveals his utter disdain for it. Just meters away from an 18th century church, his goons have peppered his face on a waiting station, as if to say screw heritage. He just wants to win at all cost.

I grip my steering wheel harder trying to contain my uttermost contempt for these charlatans of law and order. They know posting campaign material other than the proper designated places is a violation of Section 9 of the Fair Elections Act. The penalties include disqualification from public office, fines, jail for up to six years, and will be deprived of the right to vote under Section 264 of the Omnibus Election Code.

The telling part of this wholesale scoffing of the law is that all candidates, administration, opposition, party list, all of them are guilty of the violation. They have not the slightest respect for the law yet are running for lawmaker positions. Their flapping posters taunt us competing with one another on being the most repellent as they savage this once idyllic province.

Our country though never fails to raise my spirits and inspire me. In the midst of the campaign garbage, one drives under the arch of the town of Pila and the magic begins. Our car glides through age old Acacia trees proudly showing off its muscular branches and immense shade. Electric posts are just posts. Railing and walls show scars of pasted posters ripped off. We are in a most enchanting town with an intact plaza surrounded by veritable mansions, a 1929 municipal plaza on one end and a stodgy old church on the other. Its plaza received a National Historical site status in 2000 and there’s an active Pila Historical Society that has fought and won every commercial encroachment on its Plaza. Last year, they threw out Greenwich for putting up a food stall. The year previous, they got Globe’s banners removed immediately.

There is not one single poster to be found in this fairly large town. Not a one. If you want to know how the town did it, ask Cora Relova, the historical society’s founder and town guardian. Every day, she pays a team of young boys to go with ladders and take down posters set up in the middle of the night (the crooks know its illegal so they do it stealthily). She has braved threats telling her boys to take down all posters to show no favorites. She reads the laws to those who menace her and they shut up. She’s spent a thousand pesos of her own money paying the boys, but she gleams with pride at how resplendent her town remains.

My traveling party totally agrees. Pila beguiles as our eyes revel in its well preserved architecture, its restful plaza dotted with windblown trees, and its impressive church.

Unfortunately, the town’s steadfastness and pride in keeping itself beautiful did not rub off on its neighbors. As we left Pila, we were back again seeing the hell bent destructive behavior of politicians. Pagsanjan, and old tourist haunt with its popular waterfalls and the exciting ride over the rapids has been inundated with political posters. The town has an old world charm with period homes lining the main street, some converted into delightful cafes and inns. But the politicians don’t care one bit for the town’s tourist draw and instead render the place deplorable.

A sidetrip to Caliraya, a hill-top lake with views reminiscent of Bali is marred by the relentless presence of posters. Tessie Aquino-Oreta, with her bad hair day look and supposedly remorseful of her past inanities, does not appear to be so as her mug shots are nailed on trees fronting a Japanese garden.

On the road to Paete, the car hugs the mountain side with the most scenic views of the lake and distant mountains. But the whole aesthetic gestalt just can’t happen what with senate wannabe Prospero Pichay’s sneer on every other boulder and post. Hammered on trees nearby are the offensive looks of Mike Defensor. He tries to emote integrity but fails since the former Environmental Secretary should have known the laws on posting.

As we climb the mountain headed for Binangonan, the zig zag road provides a more majestic sweep of the whole province. Savoring it is impossible; every tree pummeled bearing posters of senatorial candidate Vic Magsaysay. He’s related to outgoing Senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr. and son of the revered late president. It’s pathetic that this candidate did not follow in the Senator’s foot steps of eschewing campaign posters. Vic instead has just muddied what was once a sterling name.

Chavit Singson, an administration favorite but not doing well in the polls manage to pepper his face as we approached Antipolo. Aging movie star Richard Gomez, his face heavily photoshopped, found a couple of road side stands to plaster. And Kiko Pangilinan, who once ran as Mr. Clean, just looked like your regular toothy traditional politician dirtying up the countryside. How quickly idealism fades on spineless do-gooders.

I mentally thought to myself that by June, when the brave Balikbayans come for summer with their children, these posters would still be here to their horror and quiet promise never to return again. This lovely circle of a lake side tour, less than a hundred kilometers from the city, boasting rice fields, quaint towns, waterfalls, and gracious churches have been absolutely ruined. A much need tourism industry has, once again, taken a back seat to the narcissistic, law-breaking depredations of today’s wannabe politicians.

We are back on EDSA the main city highway going home. I notice to my amusement a bunch of advertising banners have been sprayed with black ink, as if shot from paint guns. Billboards are no longer sacrosanct to these anti-consumer rebels. Maybe this anger might just spread to the political realm.

Pristine Pila Laguna is the memory I will keep and I urge one and all to visit this heritage town to be guided and delightfully fed by the indefatigable Cora Relova. Reach her at and praise her efforts. When you meet her, be prepared to be inspired and become an activist in your own hometown too.

Just as I was preparing this blog, Cora calls me to say that Governor Ningning Lazaro, who is running again, has sent her people to apologize profusely for having hung banners in non-designated places of Pila. Cora would take the banners down just hours after they were placed and she collected a hefty pile. The Governor may have realized her wrong in Pila, but in the whole of Laguna, her posters are everywhere.

This blog and its photos are being sent to the COMELEC and the DPWH to prod them to disqualify the candidates who have violated the laws. It’s telling to note that if these government agencies actually did their job, they would have to disqualify ALL THE CANDIDATES. There would be no elections for they would all theoretically be in jail.

I urge everyone to dash off an e-mail to the various people and agencies .The Senators below are those whose posters I documented hung and pasted illegally. Shame them and make them know we don’t tolerate their illegal postings.

Tell COMELEC to do their job and start disqualifying. Tell DPWH to take down all illegal posters now.

Thank you.

Tessie Aquino Oreta

Senator Ralph G. Recto

Senator Edgardo Angara

Vic Magsaysay

Mike Defensor

Senator Kiko Pangilinan

Senator Manny Villar

Report illegal campaign billboards to:
Department of Public Works & Highways

Bonifacio Drive, Port Area

Office of the Chairman
Chairman Bayani F. Fernando
Tel. (632) 882-4151 to 77 loc 205; 882-1805; 882-0871; 882-0893

Commission on Elections
Comelec Building
Postigo Street, Intramuros
Manila NCR 1002 
+63 (2) 527 6111

Contact Information

Hon. Benjamin S.. Abalos, Sr.
Comelec Building
Postigo Street, Intramuros
Manila 1002 
Voice:+63 (2) 527-5412
Fax:+63 (2) 527 8929

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


These are photographs taken by Jonathan Best on March 23 and 26 going to Baguio taking the North Expressway and Kennon Road.

All the billboards on North Expressway are now deemed violations by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). They have cited the billboard owners warning them that if they don’t have them taken down, they will be removed. They are considered a menace to the safety of travelers and are also an eyesore. The errant companies on the expressway have been recorded by Maribel Ongpin and will be published for your information.

The graffiti on the rocks of Kennon Road and the political posters on trees are against Commission on Election (COMELEC) laws and there are fines, disqualification from public office and jail terms for breaking these laws.

In effect, corporations advertising on these billboards, billboard owners, and politicians are currently not in compliance with the laws of the land.

Please check my previous blogs to help you call or e-mail both DPWH and COMELEC to prod them to make sure the laws of the land are followed.

All of us must do our share so please do your civic duty by alerting DPWH and COMELEC. Meanwhile environmental organizations and the Catholic Church has asked the public not to vote for candidates who violate COMELEC rules on illegal posting. As for errant corporations, we as consumers can boycott their products until they comply with the law.