Pork, Paybacks and Picnics

Pork, Paybacks and Picnics
John B.
8.27.13

Droves of tax-paying citizens flocked to Luneta and other public areas around the Philippines on Monday August 26, 2013 (coinciding with National Heroes Day) to protest the “Pork Barrel” scheme and allegations of corruption triggered by the recent exposure of P10-B Napoles Pork Barrel scam. The event was largely mobilized through the social media in recent days and resulted perhaps in a reasonably good show of force by concerned netizens. One of my companions Jp Fenix commented however that perhaps it shouldn’t have been dubbed the “One Million People March” with a risk that the event might not actually yield the targeted number. Perhaps it didn’t but perhaps it might be considered successful. I am waiting to see what happens in the next few days before I judge.

I was privileged to be in the company of seasoned reporters, who at first hand has witnessed and covered the Nation’s most significant democratic events in our history. While in the van, my companions were sharing field stories enriched with their personal takes on the events that shape our society today. As we came up to Plaza Ferguson in Ermita, the conversations toned down as we exited our van: Perhaps this from a sense of Déjà vu. The scene was very familiar, as not much from Ermita has really changed in decades.

We came up through the muddied fields leading to the Grandstand with open expectations though we were quite amused by the presence of a mixed group. There were the Hare Krishna, the KMU, lots of people on bicycles (a seemingly more organized force), and what we could guess as the online organizers of the march with their stage, big screen and entertainment. It was a mixed bag with a very open agenda loosely styled under the “Occupy Movement”. The agenda was very open and free flowing. Indeed with such a loose structure, those with their own distinct agendas were expected to take advantage. Standing from far away we might’ve witnessed the former Chief Justice Corona being booed as he exited. We were not sure if it was him. Jograd de la Torre made a comical rendition of Jesse J’s “Price Tag” and Jim Paredes sang an appropriate song though we thought he struggled a bit to find his voice in the beginning. So far those were the highlights of the morning. While it may seem uneventful, we should all be happy that nothing terribly wrong happened. It was peaceful and generally pleasant despite the constant punctuations of the somewhat comically awkward chant: “Oink, Oink, Oink, Oink!” This had me asking, OK what’s next?

Without the exciting drama we could at least see the “One Million People March” for what it is: A participative and democratic display of the people’s disdain over the pork-barrel issue. While pork was the common theme, I could not help but observe some of the later speakers’ attempt to steer the issue away from the government’s accountabilities. Statements such as: “We are not mad at the government, we are mad at corruption”, seem to be redirection messages planted by pro-administration speakers who were cordially given the floor. Would you have us believe that the rally isn’t about the pork? People have become too smart to see that they were not on the same side.

On the other hand there was perhaps an attempt by former CJ Corona to direct some support for him against the administration; an attempt that obviously failed. Other messages seemed a bit more “themed” along the pork issue however a clear direction as to what happens henceforth seem lacking. There were a number of suggestive voices but no clear and unified voice on how to move forward. Participative and democratic as it may be in “Occupy” fashion, the event showed no clear owners. This is perhaps is not a bad thing but also yields some rather ambiguous results. I believe the event to be a clear display of sentiment rather than purposed to make a strong demanding statement. We need to be clear in the type of results we want from government and how we want to see them happen. Let’s make clear statements rather than just expressing our sentiments. Beyond having our voices heard, lets be clearer with what we are actually trying to say. Do we want it supplemented, overhauled or merely repurposed? Are we calling for an immediate abolishment? If so, how are we to do it? These options were not clearly communicated during the march.

Déjà vu it wasn’t for my seasoned companions who have witnessed the EDSAs and the events that welled up to them. Clearly we have not reached a tipping point yet. Perhaps this could be the first among a series of other events? Perhaps it will progress? One thing is for sure for this writer, and this is the very reason why I went (beyond mere curiosity).

I believe that the Pork Barrel is flawed concept from the principle of keeping three separate, distinct and equal branches of government. The idea of having a presidential allotment that is distributed to lawmakers is wrong and corrupts the whole principle of checks and balances. The pork corrupts our democratic system by monetizing the flow of political capital. With much leant to the president by the local machinery during his campaign, much is owed in payback in the form of pork. I believe that it should be abolished. A dialogue between government and organized groups must quickly ensue to provide a clear roadmap to this demanded change. In my opinion The “Million People March” has little or nothing to do with Napoles and the P10-B scam, but rather more about the flawed, corruptible and ineffective system of discretionary allotments. While many would argue based on the merits of its design, the truth has been revealed that pork is often used to line the pockets of colluding perpetrators rather than being given to legitimate and deserving recipients. Can we really solve this systemic flaw by penalizing the NGOs (most of which could be legitimate) and other scapegoats? This crooked path must be straightened as promised but I am now starting to wonder if the administration might just be too politically indebted to do so. Let’s not allow them to do their pork paybacks with our money.

There are talks of another march in September 11 but until then I hope we could progress with a clearer strategy. Either way, I might be inclined to show up for the picnic.

Pork is Cheap in Bahana Republic

I seem to be part of the lucky few in my city where 15 out of 18 barangays are submerged in water after a continuous downpour of ‘Maring’. The great revelation in all of this is that floodwaters always have a way of bringing all things to the surface. It is a trite simile of our country’s real condition that always seems to be swept under the rug of glaring reports and soaring economic highlights. The brilliant lights of rising credit ratings caused by the showing of a faux veneer of good governance is now being washed away by the tides of reality. Our fellow Filipinos are literally waist deep in it as we speak. We are wading through the trash that we are forced to live with, a bitter reminder of who the ultimate victims are. Has the past three years all been a show or does the administration rather have us swallow the trash that’s being dished out at us everyday?

It is easy to surmise that the better of us are high and dry in their air-conditioned rooms overlooking the submerged neighborhoods where they do not live. They probably have the means to go grocery shopping with the kids and their yayas and bodyguards in their gas guzzling convoy of SUVs. They casually walk up to the VIP lanes in checkout counter paying for their carts loads not by cash nor by credit card, but by personal check! I’ve personally witnessed a former actress turned congresswoman (married to an actor turned senator) do this impressive stunt in plain sight not too long ago. No “wang-wangs” needed here! The simple wafting of their entourage splits the crowd as they are gracefully escorted with two rows of umbrellas back into their SUVs. This is the promised “Daan na Matuwid”, a leveling of paths for those in power, a presidential cladding for those who are closest to Malacañang. Three floods and three years later, not much has changed, people have just gotten angrier and we’re still waist-deep in floodwater! The poor and unemployed have gotten poorer, the filthy rich get even filthier and our politicians are getting even more enriched with pork around their bellies! Apparently it’s not only their bellies and wallets that are getting thicker, but their faces as well. They do it so well that perhaps they should have an accreditation for acting too! Pork is certainly cheap in the Philippines. P10B of it is just floating around in what my colleague Paul Farol calls: “The Bahana Republic”.

Beyond the obvious puns, the condition in the Philippines is no laughing matter especially to the President. His leadership and credibility is now seriously at the stakes! The specter of cronyism is being brought to light. The KKK, the oligopolies and the vested interests that seem to have a strong grip of influence upon our dear president are now being exposed. The credit ratings that we have tried to gain over the years is now in danger of slipping due to realizations of old oligopolistic structures at the economy’s core. The beneficiaries of PDAF who are seen close to the President and the bloating of its budget are showing the “Daan na Matuwid” as a charade! “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap”. Mr. President I believed you! Now is the time to rise up to the plate or else you have another flood coming on August 26 in Luneta!

“Metro Manila” – (The Film): Anything but Cliché

To a jaded moviegoer who thinks he has seen it all, “Metro Manila” offers a compelling reason for viewers to revisit Philippine cinema. I was recently invited for the press screening of “Metro Manila” last Tuesday August 13, at “The Block” in SM North Edsa. “Metro Manila” was directed by the UK’s Academy Award nominee Sean Ellis whose recent renown came from other critically films such as “Cashback” and “The Broken”. The film stars Jake Macapagal, Althea Vega and John Arcilla to name a few. Prior to the press viewing the film has managed to bag the “Audience Award” in the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. With such credible accolades, expectations run high; especially for one who had to drive unexpectedly for 50 kilometers and back just to see the film.

The title and tagline: “Metro Manila” – Desperate Men Take Desperate Measures, trite and cliché as it may seem reveals very little about the film’s content. It may even be setting itself up for possible disappointment. The movie poster depicts the silhouette of a man wearing a Kevlar helmet, shotgun in one hand and metal case in the other. There is a backdrop of a woman (the obvious love interest). I thought I was about to see a Filipino action movie. While cliché seems to be the order of the day, here is another one: “Do not judge a book by its cover!”

The film begins with a situational for the characters’ beginnings under a tranquil and majestic visual landscape of the Rice Terraces. It starts in the highland rice farms of Banaue where the couple with their two children struggles to survive, only to be caught up in a vicious cycle of rural poverty. They make a move to the city with everything they have in hopes of better fortunes in Metro Manila. The decision is shortly followed by a series of unfortunate events. Starting with a stalled jeepney that foreshadows the rest of the film in poetic portrayal. While in the jeep over to Manila his daughter finds a shiny coin and hands it to his father; a symbol of luck and hope despite the difficult circumstances. The first few moments in the film almost seemed draggy and perhaps it was meant to be so. I asked myself: “Where is the writer / director going with this?” Upon the family’s arrival in Manila, the film changes its tempo to a choppy and frantic pace. The family desperately walks through the mad crowds of Quaipo’s Feast of Nazareno. The viewer is bombarded by a flurried chaotic congestion. It is visually overwhelming yet carefully premeditated. It is a visually eloquent film, stark and crisp to its brutal details. You could swear that the director is a photographer who also has mastery in the medium of “moving pictures”.

Beyond the visuals, we have a story well told. An innocent and unassuming provincial couple that is pushed into a hostile environment by circumstance makes for characters we can all sympathize with. To make a long story short without spoiling it (as there is great danger), the couple falls into a vicious cycle where the man as a last resort finds a job as an armed personnel for an armored vehicle and the woman out of desperation to feed her child is pushed into prostitution. While this may all seem quite typical, the other characters in the story do so well in making a simple scenario deep and complex (Credit to John Arcilla and Miles Canapi). With such naïve and unassuming characters played by Jake Macapagal and Althea Vega, it makes the viewer ask about people and their intentions. Are people generally good or evil? Is there any hope within the thick slurry of social degradation? Is there any redemption from the typical scenarios that ensnare the common man and woman in poverty? The story is rendered in indelicate rhetoric and delivery that punctuates the desperation with further insult and debasement. The viewer in his sympathy says prayers in breaths hoping for some breakthrough and relief from the bitter and naked realities of city life. While this is no action movie, the film spares no details in moments of brutal violence.

The story does however have its undulations of hope and happiness: enough for the viewers to press on with the characters. This however is interrupted by a thickening plot. There is an escalation of complex twists. The story was never predictable. It is progressively involving. While watching, I lost any sense of when and how it was going to end. I was clinging only to hope in honest desperation yet resolved in accepting the tragedies of reality. A tragedy it might have been at dismissal, but who am I to spoil it? Having seen the film, I could only urge the reader to unravel the clever plot by himself. The story is really that good.

To be devoid of the glare that comes with mainstream stardom is a good thing. It makes for more authentic and believable characters. Combined with skillful writing and directing, this makes for a very engaging and effective story that is progressively and absolutely engaging. With such dramatic performance these actors are worthy of even deeper respect. It is a film that does not sugarcoat poverty, as we would usually have it, but exposes its brutal and naked realities in visual and dramatic poetry. It is a story that is saturated with social relevance yet does not fail to engage its audience in crisp artistic drama. A copy of this film is making it to my shelf for posterity.

“Fit for Work – 5 Ways Work is Killing You 4 Ways to Fight Back”

What is it about irony that makes it a more remarkable statement? Having returned after a month-long project in KL (a land known for its greasy mamaks and 24 hour dining), I was shocked to find that I had actually lost 5 pounds where I thought I gained at least 10. The belief is that a corporate executive’s lifestyle is usually not a healthy one. These are attributed Five ways that work is killing you slowly and surely:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Long work hours and lack of sleep
  • Physical inactivity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Use of alcohol and tobacco

Besides the physical toll on the executive’s body, a poor work-life balance also affects relationships at work and at home. While some claim to separate work from personal issues, they’re obviously bringing the same person to the office and back home. With this vicious cycle it’s a mystery how one could stay effective at work or even at home. The most effective way of breaking a vicious cycle is to identify one or two strong leverage points that balance the system. Focus on things you can do something about immediately. In this case, focusing on changing physical activity and balancing your diet could result in surprisingly great amounts of progress over time and the other things mentioned may very well fall into place once you’ve set your priorities. Simply by watching what you eat and putting in two (2) hours of exercise a week could have positive effects in shorter amounts of time than you think.

While in KL amidst the hustle and bustle of four meetings a day and sometimes working till 9, who has time to stay healthy? Surprisingly, I was able to do so by carrying out four simple strategies, most of which are based on tested time-management principles.
In my busiest of weeks, I was surprised to be able to burn off 2 hours during the weekday and another hour on Saturdays through a quick run through the park. This was accomplished simply by filling gaps in my schedules. The plethora of food choices in KL also allowed me to go on a primarily vegetarian diet (c/o the local Indian restaurant).

Here are four strategies that could help you get on track:

  1. Plot your fixed points: Plot all your meetings in your calendar including the tasks that you need to discharge during the week. Treat tasks as appointments. For example, if you believe preparing a report would take 2 hours, you should also plot it on your calendar to make sure you allocate enough time for getting important things done.
  2. Establish baselines: Know how much time and calories a type of exercise would take up. For example: running on a treadmill could consume 250 to 350 calories per 30 minutes. Other cardio exercises like spinning could do the same. Focus on cardio-vascular exercises if you are trying to lose or maintain weight.
  3. Divide up tasks when necessary (work-breakdown): Divide your body into 3 major sections sections: Legs and Glutes, Trunk (abs, obliques and lower-back), Chest and Upper back (lats) and Shoulders and Arms. Working out section, I found only takes about 15 minutes for a basic strength-building regimen.
  4. Fill in the gaps: Once you’ve plotted all of you’re appointment and tasks into you calendar, you will realize that you would have gaps between schedules such as a 30 to a 2 hour window between work commitments. Use this time wisely to try and burn off excess calories. I was able to burn off an average of 3 hours a week with this simple strategy.

Having a company gym is great benefit to employees as it allows them to stay healthy. But sometimes it only takes a pair of running shoes, some motivation and some body-weight exercises such as the one in this popular New York Times blog to keep fit. While it may seem that companies are on the giving side when they provide the means to exercise, recent studies have revealed that worker productivity goes up. According to a study, workers who have a regular exercise regimen have less sick-days and fewer charges to medical benefits. In a Focus Group Discussion of employees covered by the study, employees who regularly exercise say that their time-management and mental abilities have improved. They also reported a work performance boost of about 15%. Their abilities to cope with stress have also improved. Exercise generally makes for healthier, happier and productive employees.

There is also a strong link between fitness and career performance. Being physiologically fit enables an executive to stay focused, driven, committed and resilient. By subjecting your body to progressive physical overload, our bodies are more ready to adapt to stress and respond with more energy. Bringing this type of positive and confident dynamism into the workplace makes an executive a more effective leader who could lead by example. In a 2007 University of Georgia study of 1,300 executives earning more than $100,000.00, 75% of the executives interviewed said that good physical fitness is “critical for career success at the executive level” and that being overweight is a “serious career impediment”.

Perhaps you’re still on you way up to the corporate ladder but perhaps now would be the best time to start faking it until you finally make it. If you want to be an effective executive, you might as well start practicing. I’d rather say that everyone is “Fit for work”, but obviously I have to run!