The accidental witness

There are no accidents.

That’s one of several things I learned during the Global Road Safety Seminar I was lucky enough to attend in Nairobi early this year.

Which is to say that yes, road crashes aren’t exactly accidents at all. To a greater or lesser degree, they are results of personal, cultural, and institutional neglect.
Continue reading

Marcos loyalists help save the Earth by planting trees in UP

A Marcos loyalist shows the back of her membership card.

MARCOS loyalists don’t get any respect these days.

Just ask Josefina Mangilit, the 59-year-old Quezon City coordinator of the Friends of Imelda Romualdez Marcos (FIRM 24K), which she says has 13,000 members across the country.

Everytime she goes out to attend the group’s twice-weekly meetings—Saturdays in Quezon City, Sundays at the Luneta—she dons a bright red vest that displays her affiliations (an outfit the group calls its uniform). Continue reading

Angsty nineties in the University of the Philippines

Collegian masthead 1995-1996

Collegian masthead ca. 1995-1996

(An original draft of this piece was written more than six years ago on a website I put up — complete with domain, hosting, and all — while living abroad. Content of that website can still be accessed on’s The Wayback Machine, which is how I got this draft.)

UP students a decade ago had something all other UP students in the past did not: Angst.

For some reason known only to writer, media personality, and UP graduate Jessica Zafra, UP students in the nineties felt an overall disenchantment with their lives.

Having encountered Albert Camus or Soren Kierkegaard in a Philosophy or Literature class, or either through a stolen book from the Main Library, the Iskolar ng Bayan looked vainly for meaning amid senselessness, stability amid chaos, truth amid deception.

Their existential quest was not encouraged by their difficulty to take a shower everyday.

As everyone in UP in the nineties knows, most dormitories run out of water as a matter of university tradition, ever since the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) — mandated to supply and distribute water in the city — established its offices just at the back of the Diliman campus.

After all, UP is not an autonomous unit for nothing. You want water, you just have to get it yourself.

The inconvenience of studying in UP and the uniquely complicated process of getting a date Saturday night without so much as having washed one’s face took a toll on many students, who spent time in between classes looking for clean flush toilets and surreptitiously brushing their teeth with Sprite.

Besides the vain search for spotless restrooms, a number of UP students — called coño kids — clamored for more parking spaces, especially right across the Palma Hall Building area.

Fortunately, the informal petition was ignored.

The UP Administration then said that there were more pressing academic concerns that needed to be addressed.

True to its word, Quezon Hall’s then current occupants proceeded to flood its own building with lights during Christmas.

Nothing beats celebrating the spirit of the season in style, even in an era of eight-hour brownouts and budget constraints.

Due to these various difficulties, many students vowed never again to use an unclean toilet nor to gargle with sugared water.

And they believed that the best way to do this would be to pursue their ambitions to their logical ends; to get, at all costs, that cushy Makati job that came with keys to the executive washroom.

This is the reason why in the early nineties, a controversial Knowledge, Attitudes, and Values survey found that UP students placed more emphasis and importance on personal ambition than on public service.

In short, unlike their counterparts in the seventies, the 90s Iskolar ng Bayan were not exactly interested in talking, let alone doing something about the problems of Philippine society.

They simply wanted to trod on that well-worn, clear-cut path from Diliman to Makati, from academe to industry, from school to corporation, from ignorance to incompetence.

The survey’s student respondents were at least honest.

Which was not something you could say about a student regent a decade ago.

Before he assumed the position, he went through the usual route of student leadership by becoming a leader of a leftist extremist fringe student group.

Upon graduation, the honorable regent immediately took the path of traditional politics in more ways than one.

Not only did he run for office in his hometown, he allegedly used the resources of the student regent’s office to assist in his campaign.

This only proved that UP in the nineties was interesting to say the least, if only for instances of petty corruption and influence peddling.

The latter is best exemplified by the 1993 controversial selection process for the next UP President.

While Malacanang supposedly kept its hands off the whole process — a claim that is credible to someone who came from another planet — it inflamed the whole UP community, that was unfortunately, was not influential enough to challenge the wishes of the powers that be.

Despite the community’s powerlessness, the UP community was still kept in the dark about the venue details for the swearing in ceremonies of at that time, the newly-minted UP president Emil Q. Javier.

Although the ceremonies were finally held at the ISMED building, the UP Community was quick and nimble enough to assemble outside the premises, to protest, in true UP fashion, what they rightly perceived as Malacanang’s intervention into an affair uniquely UP’s own.

As a result, Javier made history: he may perhaps be the first UP president ever to encounter a rally during his swearing in ceremonies.

Another significant event during this decade is the implementation of the much-criticized Socialized Tutition Fee Assistance Program (STFAP).

Although it intended to make rich students pay more and poor students receive stipends, implementation was far from ideal.

Both rich and poor students paid more than they expected.

To make things worse, the stipends were delayed by months — at least initially.

So while the poor yahoo had to put off buying textbooks, the STFAP-cheating, car-driving, privately-high-schooled rich kid had to fork out for his own gas money.

Right smack in the middle of the decade, while Javier was warming his seat, a new political party of roughly less than ten people figured prominently in university politics.

Called the New Sense Party (its name being a play on the word nuisance), it fielded UP Law student Argee Guevarra as candidate for USC Chair.

With nothing much else but humor and self deprecation as its platform, the New Sense Party seized the imagination of the UP students in the nineties.

Although the party won in the College of Arts and Letters, Guevarra, using his signature disarming charm coupled with indulgent gimmickry, almost succeeded in beating two well-oiled, relatively-established student political parties, the progressive SAMASA and the more moderate, fraternity-dominated Independent Student Alliance (ISA).

Guevarra, called a freak force by one Philippine Collegian writer, was able to do get away with what he did — whatever it was — because he went beyond the confines of traditional university politics.

Also, Guevarra had the Left movement to thank.

By 1995, progressive student leaders and activists were beginning to feel the brunt of the internecine split within the Philippine Left movement.

Suddenly, SAMASA was divided into two student leftist progressive groups — the SAMASA and the SAMASA-TMMA.

Previously sharing one campaign platform, the two groups were at each other’s necks, one accusing the other of either fanaticism or betrayal.

While at this, the student body in general lost interest in university politics and elections having scarcely found a connection between the protracted people’s war and why tap water still failed to reach most dorms.

Interestingly, the Philippine Collegian, the best publication no one inside or outside the university ever read, was somewhat in the thick of the whole thing.

While the weekly student newspaper was generally perceived as the mouthpiece of Left movement, it was reinvented in 1995, by newly installed Editor in Chief Ibarra M. Gutierrez III.

Not only did it refuse to espouse Marxist and Maoist rhetoric (at least it didn’t do so exclusively), it also introduced a front page column entitled Disturbing The Peace, written exclusively by Ma. Ligaya Nava.

By 1996, arguably due to increased readership, the Collegian figured prominently in an editorial exam controversy.

The Collegian editorial exam board proclaimed Richard Gappi as next Editor in Chief.

Gappi’s proclamation was delayed by the protest filed and the support garnered by Voltaire Veneracion.

According to Veneracion, he was and should be proclaimed rightful Collegian editor because during the first round of editorial exam deliberations he came out first and Gappi second.

The Collegian editorial exam board, headed by journalist Luis M. Teodoro, ordered a second deliberation regarding the editorial exam entries under vague pretenses.

It was during this redeliberation in which Gappi topped the list.

Unfortunately, Collegian exam rules never sanctioned, allowed, nor called for a redeliberation.

After a protracted campaign, Veneracion was declared Editor in Chief not soon after.

This was made possible not only by Veneracion himself but by other student groups which remained vigilant all throughout.

This was noteworthy, especially for a generation of students which was considered, for better or for worse, Generation X.

While the nineties didn’t have barricades nor well-attended anti coup d’etat rallies in the seventies and the eighties, the period was nonetheless defined by a generation who spoke with their minds as, no doubt, any generation did, even though half the time they didn’t know what they were talking about.

Ten years after, it’s good to know that the tradition is being kept alive by the current crop of UP students.

Push on UP indeed.

From the Digital Credits Dept. Picture of the Philippine Collegian 1995-1996 issue taken from
From the Fine Print Dept. I was Collegian managing editor during that year, attending all press work sessions save for one when Javi Flores, the Associate Editor, one of my two superiors, asked me to go home on the weekend.
I was stressing everyone out, he said.
In return, a section editor– I forgot whether it was Jay Bautista or Chris Inton — called me at home on a Saturday evening just to let me know the staff felt about my absence. Jay or Chris then raised the phone receiver so that I could hear the sound of the staff, cheering, hooting, and applauding.
Later on, during one of intimate lunches I had with Javi, I told the associate editor that I should be allowed to do my job.
“How?” he asked me.
“Simple,” I replied. “Let me manage and I’ll let you associate.”
Go forth and multiply, he told me. But not in those words.

Babysitting the UPCATeer

Exactly one week ago today, I have been an unwitting companion, overall super alalay, and hesitant guardian of a 15-year-old cousin who took the University of the Philippines College Admission Test (UPCAT).
Fortunately, he was not a brat. Nor was he a cono kid. Had he been any of the two, at least one of us could have been injured.
This was because I was not good with kids, especially the cell phone-addicted, fashion-conscious, sex-starved, functionally illiterate, and inarticulate skinheaded teens who are generally considered as today’s Filipino youth.
And if my ward happened to belong in this category, I would have whacked him right on the head with my el cheapo cell phone. It needs to be replaced anyway.
And what better way to say goodbye to a decrepit Nokia 5110 than to use it to brain a teenager?
Fortunately, no whacking ever did take place because my cousin-in-law, God bless him, was stiffer than an Ayala bridge steel girder. He had the mein of a priest; or at least a priest who didn’t drink, smoke, or have children.
For a regular 15-year-old kid, Fritz, his avatar (online name), was way too mature for his age.
Not only was he allowed to accelerate to first year high school without taking his school’s mandatory seventh grade, he also hung out with people older than Dolphy.
This was because he was the youngest and doubtless, one of the more talented and active members of an organization of Philippine plastic modelers.
Thus, immediately after he took the UPCAT, he trooped over to the UP Fine Arts compound where he and his like-minded cohorts, including a UP Fine Arts professor, were building a scale model of an American aircraft carrier from scratch.
This, he told me, was for an exhibition in the next few months in Megamall.
While he was accompanied by his parents to the Diliman campus very early in the morning for the test, he needed the supervision of an elder companion or guardian later in the evening for his extra-curriculars.
His father, who drove him to Diliman, was already exhausted, having been sent off to Mindanao on business the past week.
Meanwhile, his mother, my aunt-in-law, was going to paint the town red with my wife.
As such, by default, the responsibility of taking care of him fell on yours truly. This was proof that parents will do a whole lot of things (including entrusting their kids to their drunken relatives) just to get rid of them, albeit temporarily.
Which is not to say that I didnt enjoy keeping him company. Because I did, together with my beer buddy and fellow pseudo-intellectual, Art.
And while Fritz was opinionated, both Art and I were impressed at the breadth of his knowledge, from the Second World War to the current American occupation of Iraq.
He believed, for instance, that the situation in Iraq was and still is being waged on lies fabricated by the Bush administration.
In fact he believed many other things; things that Art and I didn’t exactly expect from a teenager, especially one who had the patience to hang out with a bunch of oafish drunkards whose pulutan was running out on a Saturday night.
As we nourished our last bottle of beer and hung onto the last few ounces of sobriety, both Art and I realized that with assertive and intelligent teenagers like him, there’s hope for this country yet.
And we weren’t just saying that because we were drunk.

From the Clarifications Dept. This piece was written nearly six years ago in August 14, 2004, and was published in the opinion pages of the Manila Times. Just felt I had to upload it because UPCAT results just came out.
Fritz, the UPCATeer referred to in this piece, didn’t make it to UP. But along the way, he made a name for himself, securing a free trip to Hong Kong because of his talents. Now who said you have to be a UP graduate to be successful? Just look at all those Atenistas, some of whom consider me — incorrectly — as their friend.

Space — The Final Frontier

And it’s not just for crewmembers of the USS Enterprise.
It’s also for every budget-conscious entity looking for decent living space within the areas near, beside, and/or adjacent to the University of the Philippines.
The task might not be as difficult as resisting the Borg but the challenges remain formidable enough to shock a starship captain into attention.
To stake your claim on a clean, well-lighted place that has a fully-functioning flush toilet within the UP/Teachers’/Sikatuna Village area, one must have the charm of James Tiberius Kirk, the fortitude of Jean-Luc Picard, and the balls of Kathryn Janeway.
Wily landlords, devious property managers, and suspicious building superintendents are all out there, offering monthly rents that would spark outrage among the Ferengi.
High prices are, of course, part of the overall strategy, a gambit designed to separate the insane from the desperate, the tightwad locals from the moneyed Koreans, many of whom have taken over pocket neighborhoods within the area. But that’s another story.

Pittsburgh apartment living room

If you’re an apartment hunter looking for long-term yet temporary refuge within the area, it can’t hurt to have a little good luck and good karma on your side.
However, depending on them too often may result in consequences that can severely distort your time, space, and rent continuum.
More than five years ago, my wife and I found – and immediately took – a one-floor, two-bedroom affair within Teachers’ Village.
Situated within a gated compound, the unit sported new dark green tiles and a fresh coat of paint that was on the creepy shade of yellow.
Rent was reasonable for two adults and a fat cat. The fact that the owner’s son’s family lived right beside us left us with no doubt that we made the right choice.
But that was until we received the electric bill a month after.
It was huge.
We entertained the notion that our cat may have taken liberties with our airconditioner since he wanted to replicate winter weather to which he was accustomed.
An electrician my in-laws hired to check on our cables – and our power consumption – disabused us of our cat’s guilt.
He discovered that the compound’s water pump was directly wired into our apartment’s electric connection.
Our meter went full throttle everytime anyone staying within the six-unit complex peed or pooped.
As soon as we collected and secured evidence – colored photo print outs of our electric meter – we stormed into the landlord’s office, demanding reduced rent and an explanation.
We got the former, never really having cared about the latter.
Although the dispute was settled amicably, my wife and I decided to leave after the six-month contract expired.
Only after two big moves within one year were we able to find a place that suited us perfectly.
But then again, I may be speaking too soon.
After all, we might decide to move again and venture into places where no one among the three of us has gone before.

Holiday Road Rage

For those unaccustomed to the intricacies of Quezon City traffic, C.P. Garcia is the fastest route to Loyola Heights, Marikina City, Antipolo, and even to the famed C-5.
Since the four-lane thoroughfare has become everyone’s little secret shortcut, C. P. Garcia has been transmogrified into the street that traffic regulations forgot. (Then again, that could be EDSA but I digress.)
During rush hour, C. P. Garcia is thoroughly inhospitable, a mish-mash of flashy SUVs, dilapidated trucks, overloaded tricycles, and motorcycles carrying everything from oven-hot pizzas to day-old babies.
The holiday season only made it worse.
Any vehicle that dared enter C. P. Garcia during rush hour immediately fell prey to a kind of mechanical catatonia, in which anything with at least two wheels were absolutely incapable of forward movement.
One morning, while on an errand to buy beer, I avoided C. P. Garcia with the stealth of an errant Ninong on the run from a long-lost inaanak.
Instead of taking the avenue on the way to Cubao — where I was headed to buy party provisions — I took Commonwealth Avenue from UP, where I had earlier dropped off my wife.
All I had to do was to make a U-turn at the nearest slot, make another U-turn at the intersection of Commonwealth and Quezon Circle, bringing me to the Philcoa area.
Once I made a right on Masaya Street, I would be able to reach Kalayaan Avenue, which would then bring me straight to Aurora Boulevard.
But on that fateful day, my short trip to Cubao seemed like the road to perdition.
As I approached Masaya, I hit the signal light, indicating that I was going to make a right.
My intentions were casually ignored by a bus that cut me off.
It cruised right by, confident that its sheer size and heft allowed it to flout road courtesy.
I stopped and immediately made a left, thankful that the brakes worked, allowing me to avoid a collision.
Besides saving my life, the strategic move helped me fulfill the important role of providing joy and goodwill to my wife’s beer-drinking buddies that night.
But that would come much later.
When I veered away from the uncouth six-wheeled behemoth, I struggled to keep my cool.
After all, it was holiday season, a time when road rage and murderous intent is muted because spending Christmas in a funeral home is not a fate wished on even your worst enemies. (The arrangement sits well with undertakers working overtime though.)
But I absolutely blew my top when another bus immediately came barreling down on my left, intending to invade the lane I had already occupied halfway.
There I was, avoiding a bus-driving jerk on my right, and here was another bus, on my left, driven by a similar Neanderthal, threatening to plow into an old, rickety Toyota.
What was I to do?
I went absolutely postal.
It ticked me off, got my goat, made me fly off the handle, and countless other idioms that pop up whenever I type in the word “angry” in my laptop’s thesaurus software application.
I swerved to the left — immediately blocking the bus’ path — got off the car, and showed everyone else why I was the best argument for tighter gun control, and to a lesser degree, legalized abortion. (I’m not a gun owner, never will be.)
I went up to the bus, pointed to the driver, and asked him to step out of his vehicle. Although apologetic, he refused to open his doors and his companions — a bunch of conductors and ticket inspectors — gave me a look that said: “Would somebody please give this man his medication?”
Now, what good did that outburst do?
Absolutely nothing.
By the time I simmered down and eased the car out of the bus’ way, I was too far off to take a right at Masaya.
I was forced to enter C. P. Garcia, the very same road I had planned to avoid minutes before.
As I sat there in traffic, looking at the congestion brought about by the holidays, I said to myself: “Bah, humbug.”

Also published at GMANews.TV.

Thursday Club no more

Very few remain aware of the Thursday Institute for Transformative Ideas, a small group of self-proclaimed experts, many of whom prefer to drink in Quezon City,  because its members live there.

Like most Filipinos, members of the Thursday Institute—overworked males with few useful skills such as myself—offer solutions to the country’s urgent problems without being asked. The enthusiasm with which they propose ideas are usually proportional to the amount of alcohol they’ve consumed so far.

Which is to say that the idea being discussed gets crazier with every gulp of beer (i.e., capital punishment for traffic violators, a proposal seriously considered on the fifth round of drinks.)

Perhaps the most hotly-debated topic in recent memory involved public transportation, a favorite subject next to Maureen Larrazabal and plasma TVs.

The group recently discussed the pros and cons of putting up a bus rapid transit system along EDSA, the country’s main thoroughfare.

Establishing a segregated—and possibly even elevated—lane along EDSA to be serviced by an extended bus would do wonders for commuters. It was exactly the same system implemented in Bogotá, Colombia, one member said, with the conviction of someone who has never been to South America.

The concept was later lost in the haze of idle chatter and inebriation. After all, they knew very little about what they were talking about.

But then again, ignorance never got in the way of their enjoyment.

This explains why every Thursday, the institute named after the fourth working day of the week has kept on meeting at the same watering hole for the past three years.

Stormy weather, political instability, and professional responsibility has not diminished their commitment to drink, pontificate, and indulge in one-upmanship in the establishment that has become their second home.

Thanks to their regular patronage, the watering hole—located along Maginhawa St. in UP Village—has informally named a dish in the group’s honor.

Dubbed the Thursday special, the dish consists of tenderloin tips fried with garlic and served on a hot plate. It is so tasty that you can have it any day of the week.

Unfortunately, for the past few weeks, the institute’s weekly meetings have been postponed indefinitely.

The establishment that has hosted the group’s meetings has been shuttered by the Quezon City local government, citing what appear to be reasons of very little consequence.

A few months earlier, when the establishment encountered difficulty in securing a liquor license, no one took it seriously. The restaurant’s patrons—both sober and otherwise—thought it was just a wrinkle easily ironed out by a combination of charm and chutzpah.

They were wrong.

In September, the establishment—together with a row of three similar restaurants beside it—was served with a closure order.

To this day, the order remains in effect.

Besides depriving its owners of a fair return on their investment, the order also substantially reduces our chances of getting cold beers, a nice table, and tasty pulutan during Thursday nights, an injustice any way you look at it.