An eyesore in February

Have you ever seen a couple committing PDA (Public Display of Affection) and while you see them in your head as immature, nonconformist beings because they couldn’t contain their overflowing love and passion for each other, they also reminded you of how you perceive love?

In February, a jeepney driver played familiar love songs on my way to work. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to that type of music. I associated every song on his playlist with someone. In every line. In every pause. But something strange caught my attention. An eyesore.  A man and a woman sitting in front of me, who were in their early twenties, were entangled in embrace, whispering words in a somewhat heavenly language that made them participants of a cycle of the following order – stare, smile and giggle. At one point, they laughed in unison that it awakened the old woman who was beside me.

“What the heck,” the old woman uttered out of exasperation.

They looked at her and continued.

The young man was wearing a slim-fit jeans and medium-sized, buttoned polo shirt with an open-jawed crocodile logo on the left side. The vibrant woman was wearing a pink dress, which was tailored according to the Yaya Dub fashion craze.

It started raining. Inside my bag was my umbrella. Inside her pocket was his hand.

“They are probably on their way to a date,” I told myself.

I looked around like an investigator trying to determine the pulse of the other passengers. I wondered if the any of the adults would butt in the moment. Nobody said a thing. We were all staring at them. They were in a bubble, in a zone, in a place that’s not dictated by the culture, expectations, and norms of reality. For them, we were just strangers. That we’ll forget about them once we get off the vehicle.

The driver glanced at them twice through his rear view mirror. He clearly lost his spotlight.

My mind was juggling ideas. But above everything, there were two things. I closed my eyes.

One of them was cultural. They were the living examples of some members in my generation’s non-conformance to the conservative ways of our parents and the generations before. My mother always reminds us how she was courted by my father. There were gifts of variety of goods – sacks of rice, banana, and sweet potato. Livestock were also offered to the family of my mother. Kundiman was very alive. He serenaded her. But no touch. No dates outside the vicinity of the eyes of my mother’s parents. Until one day, she fell in love with him because of his charming smile, red lips, persistence and for being a gentleman as expected to a Bicolano. They finally had their first date when they pronounced their vows in the wedding.

Would you want courtship to still be this strict?

In this age, when Facebook is taking over the social media spectrum and as it promotes connection all over the nations of the world through Internet.org, our generation is slowly being disconnected in our own cause to the former path, the old conduct, the conventional ways of our forefathers on how we should handle ourselves on the matters of the heart. Those that belong in the generations before are judging some of us as immature and irresponsible by our “liberated” actions of expressing our feelings to the one that we love that they observe in public.

And the other one?

It’s the hypocrisy of some of us.

Pirated pornographic materials are rampantly sold everywhere despite the effort that the Optical Media Board (OMB) and other organizations put. Provocative, sexy dance numbers of human beings who call themselves “artists” in noontime shows are being viewed by millions of people. Prostitutes roam the streets of the key cities in Metro Manila during off-hours. We are aware of all these things. But isn’t it true that these are worse forms of immorality, of PDA, of violations of the values that we take pride us a people?

Some of us judge those who show their affection in public in a form of warm embrace, HHWW (holding hands while walking) and quick kiss on cheek.  We instantly put them in a negative light. But we are forgetting the bigger demons of immorality that are in front of our eyes. After all, we are a Christian nation, aren’t we? 

While it is true that courtship and relationship setups have changed as time passed by, there are still many Filipino millennials who take to heart the value of merely going out on a date with someone or spending time together in a museum or cafe, of waiting, of not making rush decisions to be with the one they love. They still care on how the people around them see them which is a responsible way of handling their hearts in public. And since it’s the love month, expect these eyesores to be more rampant than any other time of the year. 

As I opened my eyes, I saw the landmark stoplight few meters away. The “celebrity couple” was still giggling. The other passengers no longer care. It’s still raining. It’s cold. He’s keeping her warm. She loved it. I opened my bag and searched for my black umbrella. While I question everything that I understood about love and romance, I glanced at them again. For I know that I displayed my affection in public for the one I loved once in my younger years. And probably, you did too, right?

“Nong, para!”

Invisible or not

Today, we celebrate the 119th anniversary of the declaration of our people’s emancipation from Spain. But are we truly independent? In the clash in Marawi City between the government forces and the Maute Group carrying ISIS flag and ideologies, the President did not know of US help beforehand. He was surprised like a child despite being the head of the state who has access to every sensitive information and channels regarding national security. How about China’s irrefutable bullying when it leisurely transformed some of our territorial islands and islets in the South China Sea? But in addition to these, I believe that the invisible wounds in the past still haunt us: the declaration of Martial Law at the latter part of the Marcos regime, the death of Ninoy Aquino, Jr., the decay of the people’s trust and confidence to some government officials because of corruption, the unsolved crimes, the human rights violations, the forced disappearance of activists like Jonas Burgos, the Maguindanao Massacre where 58 people have been killed, the failures in the justice system, and the insensitivity of the machismo-laden Congress and Senate to children’s and women’s rights. We remember one or two of these every now and then not because we want to but because similar things happen or intertwined events surface on the news that hinder us to forgive and to forget. Who would want to forgive those who betrayed, abused, and beguiled us? Who would want to forget the hardships some of us had to endure or our loved ones had to experience? Maybe, we need this moment to know how we should move forward as a nation. Maybe, just maybe, today, we’ll understand the true meaning of independence that the dignified and brave Filipinos in our history fought for that we may live in a country that’s unchained, unlocked, and free from elements of oppression and suppression; that we may continue to be vigilant with a peaceful heart not with rage or with the spirit to destroy; and that we may transform this unhappy country together against the 15th to 18th century Spain’s variations today – invisible or not.

Pause and Pray

There’s an ongoing crisis in the Philippines that’s worse than the Maute group attack in Marawi City. Yes, it’s greater than the Filipino fascination with heroes and cursing of villains. It’s our attempt to simplify things by resorting to one-liners, labels, and generalizations. It’s more convenient to describe single mothers as ‘na-ano lang’; the 16 million supporters of the current president as ‘Dutertards’; the PNoy true believers as ‘Yellowtards’; the corrupt media men and women who sold their honor to be a voice of a particular party instead of binding with the truth and reason as ‘Presstitutes’; the millions of addicts as ‘sub-human’; the gays and lesbians in our midst as ‘worse than animals’; Muslims as ‘terrorists’. These do not accomplish anything but create more divisions. And while we are busy figuring out how others are different from us, or on how one’s opinion gravitates from fake news at a glance, we forget to listen, to read, to research, and ultimately, to convince ourselves that in times like this, it’s best to pause and pray for our country.

I hope

It’s Friday. The Cavs lost in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Metro Manila is in high alert due to the early morning attack in Resorts World Manila where 37 people died either by gunshots or suffocation while 50 got injured. The relatives of 11 soldiers who were killed by the ‘friendly fire’ of government forces in the Marawi crisis mourn and despise the senseless death of their loved ones. The supporters of the president continue to downplay the right and left criticisms when he joked that his soldiers can rape women under martial law in the Philippines. These may trouble some of us but not those whose eyes and hearts also see the awesome things around. It’s when someone gives up his seat for you on an MRT/LRT train or on a bus. It’s when you realize that you’re on vacation leave today because it’s your birthday. It’s when someone offers you food or drink for free. It’s when someone commends you for your valuable contribution to a cause. It’s when you face the truth that your balance is greater than your expected remaining amount when you are about to withdraw in an ATM caused by miscomputation on your part in the absence of receipts from previous transactions. It’s when you push the button for the elevator and it’s already there. And maybe, just maybe, it’s when you sense the calmness and confidence in Lebron James, coach Tyronn Lue, and the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers in their showdown against the 4-All Star backed adversity like the Golden State Warriors after a 22-point Game 1 loss to emerge in the end as back-to-back champions in the NBA.
I hope.

Train to Guadalupe

It’s Tuesday at around 2 P.M. about two weeks ago. I was on my way to work and about to get into the entrance to buy a ticket at MRT-3 Guadalupe station northbound in Makati City when I observed that the train was not moving. It’s stuck. The entrance has been blocked. Usual lines of people were nowhere to be found. Confusion and chaos were evident. Out of curiosity, I then asked one of the passengers who has been forced to get off the train earlier that afternoon: “Sir, what happened?” And then he responded: “A man jumped into the rails.”

I was shocked. I couldn’t utter a word.

At 2:10 P.M., I decided to take the bus going to Megamall. I have been told that there are P2P (Point to Point) buses there to get to North Avenue in Quezon City. Naturally, I was worried about the male passenger who was pinned down under the MRT’s first coach.

As I was onboard the P2P bus, I couldn’t help but ask these questions: Why did he attempt to commit suicide? What was going on in his mind? Why were there no platform screen doors at MRT stations to prevent suicide attempts and to protect the public from danger?

There was no way I could know the answers to the first two questions except if I’ll be given a chance to talk to the man in person. But the third one is worth pondering and requires the same degree of scrutiny.

In an interview, Deo Manalo, the MRT director for operations said the Department of Transportation of the present administration has a plan to install platform screen doors to prevent suicide attempts. But, when will they be installed exactly? This year? In a few months? When?

A quick Google search with the keywords “MRT TRAIN SUICIDE GUADALUPE” will give you an idea that it’s not the first time that this incident happened at the same station. In 2013, a man died after jumping in front of oncoming train. Pinky Webb wrote on the ABS-CBN News website: “After a male passenger allegedly committed suicide by jumping in front of the train, MRT general manager Al Vitangcol said they initially planned to put up screen doors only in three MRT stations namely Taft Avenue, Shaw Boulevard and North Avenue, by the end of the year… He said, however, that because of the recent incident, they will eventually construct the platform screen doors in all 13 stations of the MRT.”

Again. 13 stations. Where are they now? Why were they not have been put up yet four years later?

How many lives should be lost for the MRT management and the government to seriously act on this? How many limbs should be injured for those in power to make a move for the commuters’ safety? How many guards should accidentally fall off the tracks as they make sure that nobody steps on the yellow edge tiles with hundreds of thousands of passengers of MRT to attend to every day? How many more poor train drivers should be charged with reckless imprudence resulting in homicide after a frustrated passenger knelt in front of the train or positioned his or her head on the rail aimed to suffer critical and direct hit?

In a country that has become immune with inefficiencies around including the public transport, the psychological impact of being a witness to a suicide attempt is unspeakable and is sometimes forgotten. What if there are children on the scene? What if they become traumatized on the horror that just happened in front of their eyes? What if we forget that suicide attempts in our train systems should not be part of the normal?

Can you remember the LRT-1 suicide of a woman in 2012? How about the every now and then news of suicide successes and attempts on PNR rails?

In the 2016 South Korean action thriller “Train to Busan”, the protagonists lead by Seok-woo (Gong Yoo), a divorced fund manager and Seong-keong (Jeong Yu-mi), a pregnant wife of Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok) faced horrible dilemma as they attempt to spare their lives and flee from hordes of zombies on a running train which ultimately bound for Busan after several other stations have become havens of infected passengers. But here in our country, instead of boarding the train, some of us decided to face death by a train thinking that they’ll be killed instantly with the knowledge that they may look like the zombies in the movie on the next scenes.

I understand that it is not a piece of cake to have budget allotment approved in a snap for platform screen doors or any other upgrades in our train systems for public’s safety. These cost millions of pesos because more than the materials needed, the barriers on platforms must be calibrated which will only open when a train has arrived. But, isn’t it just a matter of prioritization and political will? It has been said that the transportation system of a country is a reliable barometer of its advancement, growth, and prosperity. If there’s an image of us that should be etched on the international stage, it should not be the death of a Filipino in the hands of another Filipino, or of an MRT, LRT, and PNR train rampaging a Filipino passenger as dictated by his or her will or not. Instead, we should aim to be a model of efficient and safe transport systems and services like our neighbors in South East Asia.

But while waiting for the changes to come, I’ll listen to the Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars or Beatles songs playing inside MRT-3 Guadalupe’s elevators and pray that nobody jumps off the train tracks again. You do not want to start or end your day standing in front of blood-stained rails, do you?

More than the crown

Unlike so many Filipino fanatics who watched the whole Miss Universe 2016 coronation last Monday, I watched only the Q&A portion in the replay out of curiosity. I chose to protect myself from getting hurt because days before the event, I had a pulse, after keenly observing her answers to interview questions, that the Philippines’ bet will lose for failing to provide a satisfactory and impressive answer in the Q&A portion. I hoped like former Miss Universe Gloria Diaz that I be proven wrong.

Since I did not watch the event on live TV, I learned of the outcome when I logged in on my Facebook account. Barrage of comments and posts of netizens stunned me on how Maxine Medina should have answered the question: “What is the most significant change you have seen in the world in the last 10 years?”

“Nasa huli ang pagsisisi” as the saying goes and we proved time and again how debilitated we are in accepting defeat. For a country that long craves to be recognized in the international scene, 7,107 islands – strong, another failure is a no-no.

“Sana, nag-tagalog na lang siya” one of my FB friends said. “Ang bobo ng interpreter. ‘Pangyayari’ ang sinabi imbes na ‘Pagbabago.’ And worse, another one commented: “It should have been Kylie Verzosa (the reigning Miss International 2016). She’s way better than her!” Have you ever wondered how we became this harsh online?

When Manny Pacquiao fought Juan Manuel Marquez for the fourth time and tasted another loss in his illustrious career, we were quick to wear our boxing analyst hat to declare that he should retire to not have his record tainted and to preserve his legacy. But how did we react when it has been announced that his “The Fight of the Century” bout against Floyd Mayweather Jr. has been inked? We were thrilled and exuberant. Some of us even watched the fight in pay-per-view in malls and bought pricey tickets.

Some of the most common answers to the question for Maxine Medina that have been shared by netizens range from the growth of social media, to advancement in technology, and to climate change. But what did they miss as they brag their wit online? What did they forget when they suddenly personified the character of the most prolific pageant expert in the world, the universe rather when they posted their status updates on what Maxine should have uttered? It’s that they shared those thoughts while they were in the confines of their room, in their home, with their family and friends or in some other place where pressure was nonexistent. They were not on stage, with millions of people watching and cheering from different parts of the world. They were not in a chaotic situation. No drama. No one to compete against. No judges.

Can those people even speak in public to share their thoughts given that they are as graceful as Maxine?

In a way, answering the question in Q&A portion in Miss Universe is a form of public speaking which is one of the top fears of the human race, alongside heights and bugs. It is no surprise that all the rational thinking of a person vanishes when in front of a huge audience. But like other skills, it can be harnessed. The mastery of the skill is not obtained overnight or in a few months, but this fact is something that we have forgotten. It is not a walk in the park. Miss Universe is a competition which requires its candidates to be confidently beautiful and to possess deep grasp of what’s going on; to be socially and politically aware as ambassadors for change and meaningful advocacy. It’s not just about what to say but how to say it.

And again, how did we become harsh online?

Alain de Botton, a Swiss-born, British author, observed that due to the increasing popularity of social media, people have shifted from keeping secret diaries inside their locked cabinets in which no one else has access to online bashing and bullying. It’s convenient. In just one click and a few brain cells, instant exchange of ideas of people they know and do not know happens. Internet is a free space for now. Unlike the real world, people treat their actions in the online world as an independent dimension with no direct impact into their lives which is scary. People experience relief after expressing their disappointments. The profane, degrading words that we see in the comments section of an article or at the homepage of social media accounts of different people like bobo, tanga, walang isip are just on the surface of what’s really going on in the psyche of some Filipinos.

At the end of the day, we should debate not what went wrong in the pageant, or what the perfect answer is to the Q&A portion, or what the correct translation is to the question but what’s happening on the ground to our Filipino women. Some of them are being raped, abused, and butchered. Even at this point in our history, we still hear news reports of sexual violence to our women in public spaces and public transport – jeepneys, buses, and taxicabs. We should direct our energy instead in addressing these issues and help preserve the purity of our women in which we Filipinos have been known in the past. Let us instill and strengthen the culture of respect to them which has significantly been overlooked in the past few years. I know we have changed a lot as a nation. But is it too much to ask to treat every decent, classy, and dignified woman as Miss Universe? That matters more than awarding her a crown with a shape reminiscent of Manhattan skyline made up of 311 pieces of diamonds, 5 pieces of blue topaz, 198 pieces of blue sapphire, 33 pieces of crystal and 220 grams of gold.

What is wrong with me?

Have you ever felt rejected because the thing you were good at was not valued, or worse – stigmatized?

“You’re related to Mrs. J, the Mathematics Division Coordinator, right?” my high school teacher asked. “Why can’t you answer the quadratic equation on the board? You are just good at public speaking.”

I stood for 1 minute. No, 2 minutes and 30 seconds. There was chaos inside me. I blamed myself. I felt small. Helpless. Someone raised his hand. Our math wizard. Her favorite. The superior being in a class of forty young and hopeful souls. I got everyone’s attention. And then I asked myself: “What is wrong with me?”

I knew it was coming. It also occurred to my classmate who had represented our district for creative story telling contest. A few weeks before, one of my classmates, who’s known as the best school paper writer, has been humiliated for getting the lowest score in our Algebra quiz. And the day before, another one, who has an inclination for the arts, overwhelmed by fear, anxiety, and inner turmoil cried in front of everyone else after being shouted at for failing to provide the solution to a word problem in Physics. Do these resonate with you?

We celebrate the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) geniuses in schools like gods in the heavens. We regard their achievements as more valuable than that of chess players, the athletes, the dancers, and the theater actors in our midst. We see excellence in creativity, sports, and arts to be inferior flashes of intelligence because they do not have comparable economic worth as dictated by capitalism and industrialism. But, is it sustainable?

Isn’t it true that most of the existing public education systems in the world have a hierarchy of subjects?

Creativity expert, educator, and author Ken Robinson said in his 2006 TED Talk: “But something strikes you when you move to America and travel around the world: Every education system on Earth has the same hierarchy of subjects. Every one. Doesn’t matter where you go. You’d think it would be otherwise, but it isn’t. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts. Everywhere on Earth. And in pretty much every system too, there’s a hierarchy within the arts. Art and music are normally given a higher status in schools than drama and dance. There isn’t an education system on the planet that teaches dance every day to children the way we teach them mathematics.”

We have been introduced to an education system that embraces linearity, conformity, and batching. We have been told that whenever there’s a problem, there are choices to choose from; be it A, B, C, D, or sometimes E. We learned that there’s only one correct answer for every question. And so, just like machines, some of us became stiff, immovable, and unable to go beyond the grasp of their imagination.

It has been said that kids are born scientists and artists. We were curious, weren’t we? We were explorers of our world and in return, we discovered how to use our senses to have a better understanding of what’s going on around us. We learn. We commit mistakes. But as we grew older, we became more and more afraid to try something new and be deemed wrong. Some of our peers’ dreams have been crashed by some adults and educators in their lives – intentionally or unknowingly. They lost their creative capacity in the process. Some of our teachers, relatives and friends told to us to blend in because that’s what everyone has been doing. As a result, they suppress their real identity to the point that they can no longer recognize who they are.

We have seen some people around us go through their lives without having a real sense of what they are organically capable of doing. We see them endure their jobs rather than enjoy them. We became witnesses of some people from different generations posting sarcastic “Happy weekend!” with emojis and smileys as if they have become slaves during the workweek. If you’re passionate about your work, shouldn’t you feel misery instead of cheerfully declaring that you’re at last free to spend your well-deserved weekend? Isn’t that a bold sign that you’re not doing the work that you genuinely love?

If the current education systems are concrete, sure ways for literacy and success, how come some of the biggest names today never graduated from college? Steve Jobs left school and founded Apple with Steve Wozniak. Mark Zuckerburg, the chief executive officer and co-founder of Facebook did the same thing. Bill Gates, one of the world’s wealthiest and widely recognized philanthropists, quit school and is the man behind the software I am using right now and the million others around the globe to pound their ideas into their computers.

About a year ago, Leonardo DiCaprio spoke about how real climate change is and the need to urgently work collectively together and stop procrastinating to solve “the most urgent threat facing our entire species” in his speech after finally winning an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. But, shouldn’t we also take a deeper look at the human ecology? Today, degrees do not matter that much anymore. Millions of fresh graduates are forced to spend their time not on harnessing their talents and abilities but on leveling up their characters in computer games. This simply tells us that there’s a great disconnect between what the job market needs and what the available supply has.

We have to revolutionize education to arm the coming generations for the future that they have to face and rethink existing principles that may be applicable for positive impact. We have no idea how challenging the world will look like in the years to come, but we can prepare them. We should stop treating ourselves the same way we treat machines in factories – for single purpose. We are too complex to be contained in a box.

And on the things they are good at? Let’s encourage them and be there to support them. Because it is only when they understand who they really are can they feel the comfort and security of being in their own skin and the essence of being alive. If we’ll do these, they’ll never doubt themselves and be more appreciative of the diversity and differences of human capacities. More importantly, they’ll never ask, “What is wrong with me?” but rather be more focused on the special and unique things that deeply lay in their core as key elements for human ecology to flourish.

Our talents and gifts have been stigmatized in one way or another. We should not let it happen again. For our children’s children and the generations to come.