The Time Is Now

While I was growing up, my dad always reminded me before any big decision that he and my mom taught me right from wrong and the rest was up to me. When the Marcos family announced and shamelessly publicized the burial of their patriarch in the Libingan Ng Mga Bayani on November 18, they took us all by surprise. Many instantly abandoned their classrooms and offices and took to the streets in outrage. The critics narrow these protestors down to Aquino supporters, yellowtards, or anti-government or anti-Duterte crowds. But I asked myself what I thought was right and what was wrong and I knew my answer. From here on out, I will no longer stay silent about this.

To those who’d like us to “move on” from this issue:

If we move on from this and accept a criminal’s burial in a place for heroes and soldiers, then we are merely believing that everything written on history books and everything we were taught in school was one big steaming pile of cow dung. The body count? The torture stories? The stolen money? The MARTIAL LAW? Who cares, it was all in the past anyway, right? Well, you see kids, the past and present are connected (surprise).

Remember all those petty criminals whose bodies are lined up in sacks, carelessly labeled for their crimes as a “snatcher” or “drug addict”? Well, isn’t it unjust and unfair that the biggest plunderer of them all, the man whose family stole billions from us as a people, is getting a hero’s burial? All this at the promise one man (our president) made to another and a family going behind our backs in a surprise funeral, despite the people’s request not to have him buried there?!?

So by letting this happen, we’re saying, “oh, yea his life mattered and we honor what this dictator did but these small-time criminals are trash. They are beneath us and they have no room for change.” This is the exact opposite of the good change we want to see in the people. We are learning to become apathetic and lazy instead of empathetic. Change has definitely come, but in the worst way. Take note, the world is also watching us right now and we look completely mad.

Also, our present state as a country wouldn’t be this dire, had we not suffered economically during the 21 years of the Marcos administration. We could have done so much with the money that was stolen from our nation. In fact, here’s a list of what we could have today, had it not been for the family’s ill-gotten wealth.

I’d like to think there’s a difference between “moving on” from something and changing its chronicles completely. By accepting this new reality, we are paving the way for future mistakes, as well. Why even bother studying history when we’re just going to make the same mistakes as those from the past. How is that “moving on”? We have to move forward and call out a spade for what it is.

 To those who say we’re just Aquino supporters or “yellowtards”:

At this point, I don’t even care where the body is buried. My friend Patti made a wonderful point: Are the Aquinos even in the picture? They aren’t. It’s not about whether if you’re pro-Aquino or pro-Duterte. It’s more than that. We are telling future generations that Marcos was not such a bad guy after all even given all the facts of his wrongdoings. American writer Alfred McCoy estimated in a major history book he authored, Policing America’s Empire, that 3,257 people were killed during the Marcos dictatorship from 1975 to 1985, while 35,000 were tortured and some 70,000 were arrested. Those were just numbers, right? They weren’t actual people who lived and had families and aspirations like you and me, right? It was all in the past and we should just forgive, right? That time was NOT a long time ago. There are people still affected today, people who actually suffered.

Let’s be honest: it’s convenient not to care about these past events. It didn’t happen to us per se, so why bother. Go on, and have dinner in the comforts of your home, surrounded by your loved ones. Continue watching your shows on Netflix and worrying about which restaurant to eat at tonight. It’s so easy to play no part in it but be wary that it *might* breed laziness and selfishness. Okay this sounds really preachy and virtuous but this is just an exasperated me talking.

Why am I doing this now?

I’ve stayed silent for so long. I don’t see myself as a particularly strong person with a grounded political opinion but I want to act against what I think is wrong. The happenings of today will go down in history once more and I ask myself, would I like to see future generations getting the shock of their lives when another multi-hyphenate of crime gets honored as a hero in a surprise burial? It’s really not a fun ordeal (but that’s just me).

One route would be to sit still and hope for the better. In Alma Moreno’s clumsy words, “Dasal. Dasal nalang,” but if we can get up and do something, then why not? We can pray and hope but we can also use our voices. This is the same voice that was granted back to us after the fall of a dictator (the same one who got a hero’s burial in secret!) 30 years ago. I had always been afraid to say anything but I kept telling myself that if there was ever a time to be brave, that time is now.

I’m simply fighting for what I believe is just. This is a way for us protesters to honor those who have fallen and have survived in the past and also a way for us to enlighten those in the present, because somewhere along the way, lines blurred, a villain became a hero, and the people who’ve made it so still walk among us.

Throwing Tantrums Doesn’t Get You to Yale

Yesterday, I asked for something amazing to happen, and true enough, it did! I was accepted into Yale University’s Summer Writers’ Conference. I applied a week before, never even dreaming I’d get in, but it seems to pay off when you give something a try. I prayed for whatever is meant to be and I thought that this it. I got the acceptance letter and everything! But lo, I hadn’t had a US visa in years. I filled out the forms and everything but when I checked the embassy website, it said that the first available interview date was on June 16, when I had to be there June 5!

I cried like a dying wildebeest, just as any other sane person would once they’ve lost that sort of opportunity (never in my years have I ever imagined my setting foot in YALE!!!). I am still bent on getting that visa and doing whatever it takes to go to this conference. If it doesn’t happen, I’m sure another equally great opportunity will come again, right?

Wes Anderson’s Magical World in Films

(Photo from Nicohitoride, DeviantArt)

In light of Wes Anderson’s 45th birthday and the relatively new release of his latest project, The Grand Budapest Hotel, I’ve developed a sudden infatuation with his feature-length and short films. I decided to go on a Wes Anderson binge-watching spree. Among the eight films he’s directed, I watched four of them in less than a week. Of course, I had to re-watch all-time iconic favorite, The Royal Tenenbaums, which had an intriguing plot: an estranged family of washed up children geniuses come home after 17 years when they find out their habitually absent father is dying of stomach cancer. Little did the Tenenbaum children know that their father, Royal, was faking the illness to win his wife and family back. Oh, Royal was broke, too. The complicated plot reflects intricate family ties present in the modern world. Anderson’s second film, Rushmore, seemed one-dimensional to me. Its plot was similar to the complex one of The Royal Tenenbaums but the direction was not as good yet.

The Darjeeling Limited, which featured actors Anderson so fondly works with (Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, Anjelica Huston, and the ubiquitous Bill Murray as an extra), was set in India, as given away by the title’s Darjeeling tea produced there. Although it received pejorative criticism and garnered not even half of its production cost, I found the film to be quite distinct. The geographic setting provided the audience with an informative adventure around India, by means of a train, the Darjeeling Limited. Three estranged (makes me wonder about Anderson’s fascination with alienated families) brothers come together in a “spiritual” trip across India, which culminates in a reunion with their mother. The Whitmans experience several misadventures, leading them to getting kicked out of the train, because of their dysfunctional relationship. At the departure of their mother in the end, they learn to appreciate each other and continue on their journey together.

I would have to say 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom is a favorite among the lot. The vivid colors and straight-cut video editing gave the film an odd characteristic that captured the attention of viewers. The editing was almost satirical. The film’s two protagonists, 12-year olds Sam and Suzy, were as peculiar and eccentric as the film itself. The introverted pair of lovers immaturely decides to elope to escape Sam’s lonely situation as a foster child dumped in Camp Ivanhoe for Khaki Scouts and Suzy’s withdrawn life at home with three brothers and parents that deem her a problem child. They go off to the wilderness, surviving with Sam’s scouting skills, in hopes of finding their utopia.

I found the characters well developed and the film itself clothed with symbolism. Our misunderstood heroes may be young and naïve, but their audacity to elope, marry, and just be together, proves such innocence and resolve to be greater than the more dull and hopeless lives of the adults around them. The big storm at the end is a fantastic representation of the climax of the story, where all of the characters gather and manage to get trapped at Camp Lebanon in their attempts to find the two children. The duo was prepared to jump from a tower and possibly die together before a proposition favorable to their positions came along. A happy ending ensues when Sam is adopted and gets to see Suzy often. It’s everything you have imagined your first love to be like, but much, much more bold. Although I missed the Grand Budapest Hotel at cinemas, the trailer and cast of characters look promising enough and are sure to hit it off the park with Wes Anderson at the helm.

Trekking Mt. Pinatubo: The Long and Bumpy Roads

Stubborn as I am, I hit the hay half past midnight, so when I woke up at 2:30 in the morning for our Mt. Pinatubo trekking trip, I was less than chipper. That morning, like most mornings, started out sluggish.  We all prepped and left the house at 3:45 to head for the meeting place at Lakeshore. There, we rendezvoused with the rest of the Lazatin cousins and formed a convoy to the starting point at Capas, Tarlac.

Upon arriving at Capas, we filled out some short waivers that we found tedious because as luck would have it, our party of more than ten brought only one pen. (I mean, really, who brings pens to a hike?) After that hullabaloo, we were assigned 4×4 Off Road cars and were off on the journey we were all thrilled about.

A little over an hour of driving on excessively bumpy roads and crossing equally rocky streams brought us to our destination, where the real physical strain would commence. The scenery, being a giant bowl of two decade-old volcanic ash, had more shades of gray than E. L. James’ infamous erotic novel. Though the weather graced us with pleasant winds and the timely absence of the sun, the dusty air swept us away and literally got into our every cranny. The long and winding path, if one may call it that, was tiresome and dangerously stony. A few shoes experienced some casualties but, luckily, we were prepared.

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Crossing murky waters in our 4×4

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The early morning drive there

 As I treaded alongside my older cousins, I felt inadequately out of shape for the age of 20. While there were stationed huts for resting, no one dared to slow the whole gang down so we kept going, except for the occasional bathroom break (Thank heavens there were also restrooms, that although filthy, still served their function). My heart beat unbelievably fast and I was out of breath as my cousins and I raced to the top, while pretending to do parkour. The path seemed to be getting smaller, but greener and lovelier as we went higher.

Finally, we reached some dilapidating steps that lead us to the crater and its lake. There was something definitely different in the air, and I mean that both literally and figuratively. The former is so because the thick atmosphere was refreshing and tolerably chilly and the latter as the feeling of reaching our goal had been fulfilled and brought out in us an energy we had only acquired then.Image

Started From the Bottom: A signification that we’ve reached our destination and all its majesty

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We set up mats by the shore and munched on snacks while enjoying the spectacular view. The light blue sky, astonishing ash laden mountains, and dark waters made us forget the weary voyage and provided a better mood for enjoying each other’s company. Pictures were taken, group shots and selfies alike. Laughs were shared. Talks of future outings were made. The way back to our 4×4 vehicles felt like nothing at all after being filled with the glorious prospect of reaching something so beautiful. Though we were dirty and dead tired in the end, we all got the exercise we needed anyway.

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The vibrant colors seemed so surreal

He Said, She Said, then He Said: Vins Santiago’s Journey to Homosexuality, Femininity, and Back

           On the year of the first People Power Revolution, Gavino “Vins” Santiago made a metamorphic decision as life-changing as that of the events that took place on the streets of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, more commonly known as EDSA. At that time, Vins donned the name Vinna to suit his fantasized feminine alter ego. His dreams turned into realities after undergoing a surgery at the age of 24 that made him the first Filipino in history to have had his gender altered.

            Before his transformation, his occupation as an entertainer in the club Coco Banana gave him the advantage and confidence to participate actively in beauty pageants, where he almost always took home the crown. During the early eighties, he recounts that judges could not care less about gender; they considered the outward appearance more than anything, and wearing a bikini would intrigue and impress, as hiding a man’s unmentionables was a challenge to behold. Occasionally, Vins would fly to Japan to work as performer at nightclubs. It was in the country of the rising sun that he would religiously take his first shots of female hormones. Nightly, he would attend to his adoring audience and, surrounded by mirrors on stage, he would catch glimpses of the womanly change occurring in his body, thinking that he was one step closer to achieving his goal of being a transsexual. The euphoric feeling would dispel come morning, when nausea stroke, although Vins felt better knowing that the void he felt in the past was now being filled.

            Vins was the youngest of six children: two sisters and three brothers before him. At a young age he discovered from his mother’s gynecologist and sister that his mother anticipated a baby girl while pregnant with her sixth child.  In the latter part of his adulthood, Vins attributed this finding to be a core reason of his early homosexuality, believing that this was a prenatal psychological command from his mother while he was still in the womb, although he openly forgave her for this when she was on her deathbed. His childhood was filled with other crucial experiences leading to his eventual gender confusion, paired with his passion for cooking and singing, and his siblings’ bullying him into finishing their degrading house chores. He felt hated all throughout his childhood. But it was at the tender age of nine when an older cousin sexually abused him that he first found love in that wretched act of intimacy. Succeeding this, he knew he had to become a girl.

            After pre-operative counsel, which he muses as having “passed with flying colors”, and a successful operation, media men hounded the remodeled Vins, and his desirable new appearance displayed on television screens nationwide. He was celebrated by the press and envied by both women and gay men alike, but something else was missing. He seemed to have caught everyone’s eyes but a pair in particular belonged to one who would end up tying the knot with him. Vins had many boyfriends, though Englishman Steve Robinson got him to settle down. After their move to England, Vins enrolled in a business school to pursue his master’s degree. He had everything he could ever want, but he could not help but cry at night. The supposedly occupied hole in his heart still bothered him. His emotional unrest was comforted by television show, The 700 Club, which he watched habitually, and there he found God. As a last ditch effort to find true happiness, he turned to God. Although he grew up a catholic, tried several religions such as Daoism, Buddhism and New Age, Vins never found the answers he continuously searched for and this left a pain in his heart. Finally, he realized the error in his decisions and committed himself to the Born-Again Christian faith. His marriage with Steve fell apart and they divorced. Presently, Vins has proclaimed himself a man again, legally, psychologically, and emotionally. In 2009, he was even engaged to a woman, but they broke off the engagement after further assessment concluded their relationship was of a selfish nature.

            While Vins cannot undo his surgery and can never obtain his original sex organs, he continues to testify in churches all over the Philippines.  Though he had his breast implants taken out, until today, the remains of his past mistake remind him of what he once was and this only strengthens his faith in the Father. He shares his testimony with other homosexuals as well, expressing that it is better to let it out in the open for a better chance of resolving the issue, rather than boxing it in. When asked whether he regretted the sex change, Vins says without skipping a heartbeat that he did not because if he did not go through that, he would not be as wise and would be unable to share his story to those in need. “We should not doubt what God has allowed us to become because this has a reason,” he adds, “Even the most successful will ask what I have done [reverting back to my original gender]. All this success will not define the person. It will only define what is outside, and not the inside”.

My thoughts on public transportation in the Philippines

Actually used this for a reflection paper but I wanted to share my opinion on the said issue, plus I edited a few parts. Here it goes…

Automobiles are costly monstrosities that induce headaches. They present many problems to car owners such as time wasted due to the constant search for parking spaces, rise of gasoline prices, the high chance of being stuck in that ghastly EDSA traffic every day, et cetera. There are people who do not experience these problems because they possess no cars, as much as they would want one. They lead more adventurous lives, as they sprint from Metro Rail Transit (MRT) to Light Rail Transit (LRT) stations to get to their destinations. I am one of those people. Unfortunately, I have but a students’ permit, as pathetic as that sounds for a 19-year-old, and our cars and drivers are not always at my disposal. So I journey on, prudently wanting to save my money on other objects instead of decidedly high taxi fares.

I have been to almost every point of Metro Manila because of errands for my voluntary internships, and I have done so using all forms of public transportation. I know very well how different the culture is among the three railway transit lines including the type of people one encounters and the number of passengers present on each train at different times of the day. If there was one thing I have noticed in this country we call our homeland, it would be the lack of maintenance and discipline in public transportation, especially in the railway transits.

The foot traffic in the morning is terrible, albeit better than the traffic on the roads. During 7 to 10 am, there are hundreds of people cramming up for hours in each station, just to get a quick ride to work or school. There are not enough train cars to accommodate everyone and the pushing and shoving of fellow passengers does not ease the trip one bit. You get to your workplace sweaty, reeky, and weary, even before the real work begins. Going home is the same story: stuck in line for what seems like hours after a tiring workday, and crushed to a pulp for the remainder of the trip home.

There are two evident problems on the part of the employees in the train stations and the riders. The first problem is that crowd control is out of hand, thus the brutality one experiences in train rides. Comparing our crowd with that in foreign countries, one can see it is obvious that the Filipino people have no discipline and respect for one another. Instead of lining up civilly and allowing others to go first, a rat race is ensued. It is not entirely the fault of the riders, the employees in the stations must be able to regulate the number of people on each train ride and each car. Much like the LRT2 culture, the disabled, pregnant, and elderly must be separated from the rest since their vulnerable states cannot sustain the rough play that others are capable of enduring. The safety of all passengers and the efficiency of their travel must be prioritized.

The second problem is the lack of train cars, as impossible as that may already sound. On average, the estimated interval between trains is about 1-5 minutes, which is a short waiting period, but given there are too many people trying to get on each train, is not enough to speed things up. The only way ro solve this problem is to commission more train cars but this, too, seems impossible because our country has bigger giants to face before solving transportation issues. As suggested before, the government has to raise the fares in order to raise funds for more train cars. Doubling the price would not be so the end of the world. Although it would affect those from the lower socioeconomic classes, it must be done to ensure the travel convenience and protection of all.

On the public relations front of this transportation fiasco, what can be controlled is the education and discipline of the masses. Public service announcements should be made to give people an example to follow on proper conduct. If Sizzling Pepper Steak can have an annoying video on repeat, showing their customers how to cook their food, then surely railway management can drop a few Smart Communications ads to arrange a short video for its passengers to watch while waiting for the next train. The video could be sort of a how-to on train-riding etiquette and would feature prominent figures. Security could afford to tighten up a notch and cut-off at a certain passenger count so the trains will not be too crowded.

The decision to raise transport fees would not be a crowd favorite, to say the least, but you simply cannot please everyone. What we can do is to properly inform everyone as to why these changes are being made with a breakdown of manufacturing and maintenance fees on the old and new train cars. Get a quote from the Department of Transportation and Communication and you are all set to do damage with the press. Certain things must be done for the betterment of all instead of a few. Over time, people will start to get used to the rules enforced upon them and this will become a norm. All they need is a little push.