Sunday, May 29, 2005

Do You Have An Accent?

Last night, while my wearied mind was struggling between wakefulness and sleep, a few straggling thoughts stubbornly resisted in taking their rightful place, which was oblivion, during such a difficult but important phase of the daily routine. A few nasty thoughts refused to be shaken off and continued floating carelessly across my consciousness. Part of the problem was because one thought was particularly both amusing and mind-gnawing given the circumstances surrounding it.

It came from a regular reading of the dozen or two email groups that I am a member of, though inactive in most of them. I would be your typical lurker, or fly on the wall, or cyberspace voyeur, casually fishing for any thing interesting from these different sources. And given that these groups are quite a motley combination of members coming from varied ethnicities and delving on different subject matters, they do at times provide a lot of interesting insights on the intellectual workings-on, including idiosyncrasies, of the diverse membership. Some funny, some amusing, at times ludicrous or shallow, or at times just plain petty and therefore a plain waste of time and effort on both reader and writer.

The thought was triggered by a reading of a short barrage of contentious exchanges between several members on the issue of one very high government official being criticized as having a bad accent. The incendiary exchanges would have been not unusual for this considerably large group which has had a few similar attractions in the not too distant past. But it was the subject matter that got my mind whirling.

It was the issue of accent in the speaking of English. The snappy criticism was just as rapidly responded with an equally tart retort, coming from the party who had initially heaped some mighty praises on the same individual.

From the outset, one got the feeling that the response to the short critique was fired off simply to fight fire with fire, rather than go the tactful route of a dispassionate and serious excavation and dissertation into the issue of accent. What is accent and who speaks an accent?

I would go about it this way. And mind you, it would essentially be my personal assessment and nothing more. Thus, no need to flog me if one disagrees.

If one is in the United States, one is said to be speaking with an accent if one’s speech betrays its not being similar or the same as the many native speakers of the place. Native speakers can both be foreign born or those who grew up in the place as a young kid, or simply one who acquired or adapted the same speech patterns as most of the population. In this case, even a Brit, possessor of the King’s English and coming from a country where the language originated, would be considered as having an accent, and we say, a British accent. Of course, in England, his home country, everybody else except him and those who speak like him, would be considered as having an accent. In that milieu, the native American speaker would be said to have an American accent.

Now in my estimation, the problem lies, especially with a good many of my Filipino compatriots, in that we tend to lump everything that separates our speech from the native speakers as simply a question of accent, when in many or most instances they are something else. For example, we tend to consider the mispronunciation of words as simply a matter of accent and not a problem of proper enunciation of the words of the language. When we pronounce all the f sounds as p sounds, that is mispronunciation, not accent.

When we miss the th sounds that is not accent, that is enunciating the words improperly. When our speech cannot sufficiently differentiate between the short vowel sounds and the long vowel sounds that would not be because of accent, but again because we are not enunciating the words properly.

Furthermore, if we cannot be discriminate enough to know where the proper stress/accent of a multi-syllabic word lies, or in our speech intonation, we do not put emphasis on the action word of a sentence which is the verb but rather on either the subject or object, then we simply are not speaking English the way it is taught.

So these and more of the nuanced exceptions that English is littered with, if they are missed, tripped over, or omitted, are not attributable to accent, but simply a failure to speak English properly.

Our present immigrant California governor may be a so-so analogy. We may find a bit of humor in his accent when he pronounces his state of governance, California, with his short ah sound and his rolling or slurring of the r sound, but in my judgment, his pronunciation is passable. It would really be bad, if he misses the f sound and instead allows a p sound to come out in the same word.

While still in the old country, I had often wondered at the way the colegialas and the favored few who were able to go to those high-priced exclusive private schools in Metro Manila, pronounce the word student, as “stoodent". The native American speaker could normally pronounce the word with the u sound or maybe the short o sound, but never as stoodent.

The only way to avoid scrutiny about accent is to simply write everything down instead of speaking. Writing provides the level playing field, where accent plays absolutely no role. Yours will read like one coming from any good Brit or American.

So, who has the accent? Or, who has the bad accent?

Your call.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Genealogy: The Johns Family of Baroda, Michigan

*******Updates Below******

In this last of a genealogy trilogy, we lend words and space to try and retrace the times and travels of the family of my wife, Evelyn Johns Domingo.

It should be noted that most of the data gathered and collated here came from cemetery records made available on the web. For indeed, not only will the paper documents recording births and deaths in a place point to peoples’ identities and whereabouts, but the very gravesites with their gravestones, lapidas, markers, etc., will through the harsh tests of time survive to tell their own unique stories.

This is one such story.

In the 1830s, a certain John Johns came to these shores in the East Coast from Prussia bringing with him the following distinguishing details: Born January 1, 1836 and married to Mary Schuler. His parents were said to be Christian Johns and Mary Weckler, who probably continued to live and to die in Prussia. John is recorded as having died in November 24, 1910.

And of special mention could be the fact that upon landing on these shores they had changed, or anglicized, their names for they were known to be Jewish.

John sired three children. A William Johns, married to Arilla A. Hyland, born on March 23, 1868 and died on March 25, 1941. A Peter H. Johns, married to Cora Washburn (who died on July 10, 1989 but had remarried to Charles Paden), born September 16, 1865 and died April 16, 1903. And the last one, a Jacob Johns who was married to Emma Warsko, who was born on February 25, 1874 and died June 9, 1928.

My wife’s maternal grandfather was Ernest J. Johns, a son of Peter H. Johns. He had seven other siblings, both full and half (because Cora Washburn had remarried after Peter).

Ernest J. was born in October of 1898 and was married to Braulia Duran, who came from a remote area in Sorgoson.

The obvious question may be asked how it was possible for a gentleman from temperate Michigan to meet and marry barrio lass from hot and humid Sorsogon, located in the southern tip of the island of Luzon in the Philippines?

The story unravels very much similar to stories of people with the wanderlust borne out of the insatiable human spirit that seeks out new things, new frontiers, anything new and daring, exciting adventures, etc..

At the close of WWI, sometime in 1917, Ernest J. took the then pioneering decision to uproot himself from his familiar and cozy surroundings in the East to try his luck on a faraway archipelago of 7,100 islands dotting the wide expanse of the vast Pacific. The Philippine Islands, American territory, land of promise and coconut trees as far as the eye can see.

His forte was in mining, throwing him to the remote mountainous areas of the archipelago where gold and silver were prospected. And that was how Braulia was to meet her future life’s partner, from Sorsogon, to Masbate, to the mountains of Toledo, Cebu.

Both Ernest J. and Braulia are now dead. One dying over 35 years ago and the other 20 years later. But an irony continues to cling and to haunt that then unusual partnership that started many years ago and produced six offspring, one being my mother-in-law, Fay Domingo.

Michigan-raised Ernest is buried in a cemetery in Cebu, while Sorsogon-descended Braulia is buried in a Colma Cemetery here in California.

And thus, the twain shall have to meet again ...sometime.

UPDATE: February 24, 2008

A crude chart of the Johns family is attached below.

Click on image to enlarge.

Genealogy: The Osmeña Family of Cebu

Pictured above is a clearer graph of the Osmena family tree, only as far as I am able to provide with names from reliable sources.  One can look at the names and maybe relate them to known ancestors.  Updated this 4th day of March 2013.

*******UPDATES BELOW*******

The Old Parian, a still extant district though now largely in the minds of the old folks of Cebu was home to many of Cebu’s old families. Present descendants of these families have now scattered to different cities and provinces of the archipelago, and even locally, have dispersed across the now burgeoning metropolitan areas of Cebu province.

But many can trace their lineage to that history-rich, very well defined as to be exclusive, and very patriarchical district that once dominated the economic activities of the old city. Its ethnic composition then was as varied and diverse as societies go when many ethnic groups start living together. Mestizos of different mixtures – from Spanish and Chinese, To Spanish and Filipino, to even peninsular Spanish with insular Spanish, and what have you.

Out of that sizzling melting pot came the family of my mother, the Osmeña family, carrying the unique ethnic label of Mestizo-Sangley. That would be Chinese and Spanish or other Asian mixture.

For this one particular Old Parian family, its present recorded history begins in the 1800s, with one Severino Osmeña, who had married twice in his lifetime. The first wife was Vicenta Rita, who must have died before Severino took on second wife, Paula Suico.

My maternal grandmother, Fernanda Osmeña, came from Severino’s first marriage, one generation later. And she had six other siblings in her family.

On the other hand, the most famous of the Osmeñas, Sergio Osmeña, Sr., second President of the Philippine Commonwealth, owed his origins to Severino’s second union, again one generation later. Similarly, Sergio, Sr., also had two wives during his lifetime.

Sergio, Sr. now graces the fifty-peso bill of the present Republic of the Philippines, with a countenance that clearly shows his Chinese origins.

Sergio, Jr., a son of Sergio, Sr., was no less noted, becoming a Vice President of the Republic of the Philippines and figuring prominently during the chaotic regime of the virtual dictator Marcos.

At present, Sergio III, a son of Sergio, Jr., proudly continues the much heralded political tradition of the family, sitting as a revered Senator in the Philippine Senate. Another son, Tomas, is the mayor of the city.

UPDATES: February 24, 2008

Book cover of Life in Old Parian, written by Concepcion G. Briones, whose own family once lived in Parian.

Below is a crude graph showing the Osmena genealogy starting with Severino Osmena, who was married twice - first to Vicenta Rita then to Paula Sunico.

From the inside leaf covers of the Old Parian book are two maps, one a street map and another in 3D relief.

Click on Graphics for larger views.

Here's a rare picture of my grandmother, Fernanda Osmena Velez, with one of her three daughters, my mother.

Genealogy: The Neri Family of Mindanao


And the story (or was it legend?) thus begun . . . .

Sometime in 1521, there lived Samporna, chief of Cipit, and otherwise known as a rajah of Lanao. In Sanskrit, the word, sampurna, means perfect.

And then like the silent marches of unrecorded history nothing newsworthy was heard of this tribal family until 1779, when the usurping march of the Spaniards under the banner of the Christian cross came to the hapless islands. Thus, with reverential haste and in the name of king and God, a Rev. Pedro de San Barbara gathered together the Samporna family and officiated at its mass christening adopting for them the family name of Neri.

And why an Italian name from a Spanish friar? One can only surmise and note that a St. Philip Neri, an Italian cleric and a popular European saint, must have been in the mind of the named friar.

While the Spaniards kept meticulous records of their exploits overseas, digging that part of the past is still a daunting task, given the crudeness and impermanency of record-keeping methods used by the native islanders.

And searching for the missing links for this family was no exception, for recorded and verifiable history picks it up starting in the very early 1800s. Missing out on at least 25 years, which during those times were truly lifetimes given the shorter lifespans of people then. One could say that people typically then lived for under 50 years, and this family is particularly noted for having forefathers/progenitors who lived short lives when compared to present-day standards.

Then in the 1800s, a profusion of families carrying the name Neri littered local history’s screen. Juan Neri who lived from 1807 to 1857 and was married to Anastacia Chaves. A Leon Neri with nothing much known about other members of his family. A Lino Neri who was gobernadorcillo from 1832-1833. Another was a Salvador Neri, married to a Coronado and was also a gobernadorcillo from 1831-1832.

Only one common thread binds all those names mentioned above, and it is that they all lived at about the same time. But as to the bigger question of whether they were related either as siblings or as cousins, everything is still in a haze. One needs to remember that in times past and is still the practice with our Moslem brethren, multiple wives were common especially with tribal leaders and families with both affluence and influence.

Thus, we could surmise that when reference is made to Samporna family, it was a family composed of one male and several wives, not necessarily related to each other.

Thus, the relations of those named families above could be construed in this manner, unless new data can prove or disprove this hypothesis. Can we ever hope to resolve this confusion and dilemma?

This is particularly crucial because beyond those dates, the history of the families of the Neri is quite accurate and easily traceable. Thus, beyond the middle 1800s, one can almost be sure that data are easily available to trace one’s lineage all the way to the present time.

And if any interested party wants to try and know, we can take that journey together, tracing through data I already possess and other data that may be in the hands of other relatives.

UPDATE: February 21, 2008

Upon suggestion of Mon Neri, I tried ways to replicate the genealogy graph or table that I had hand-written in ways that could be sent and received by any interested party. Browsing through the installed software for my Canon PowerShot cameras, I learned that using the photograph attached below, I could actually read through all the names without difficulty and they all came out legibly. I simply opened the ZoomBrowser on my PC and previewed the photograph. That screen allows one to view the picture in its actual size, which of course would not fit in one's monitor screen. But there is a small navigator inset screen that allows one to navigate through the entire graph and thus enables one to trace lineage with the names.

Good luck to those interested.

And if you have good enough eyesight, one can simply click on the picture and view a much bigger graph.

UPDATE: February 23, 2008

After a little research occasioned by a comment that mentioned the Neri’s of Mambajao, Camiguin, I have herewith added the graph for the Bohol branch of the Neri Genealogy, where the following prominent families belong, that of VP Emmanuel Pelaez and his siblings, the family of currently embattled former NEDA chief Romulo L. Neri, and that of Provincial Board Member Jesus “Dongdong’ Neri of Mambajao.

Since no years of birth or death were provided, it is still difficult to match chronologically this branch with the main graph with the many branches. What is shown is that the Neri’s of Camiguin, Medina and Cebu can trace their lineage to the Bohol branch. Additionally, the Bohol Neri’s also claim that they were descended from the Neri’s of Mindanao, confirming our premise that Mindanao was the primary locus for the original Neri family which traced its origins to 1779 when the name Neri was first introduced in the islands.

The truncated names on the leftmost section are: Mariano Neri, married to Ambrosia Fortich. Click on the image to enlarge.

March 16th, 2009 Update

Toward the end of February of this year, we had an arranged meeting with one of the renowned members of our clan, Dra. Rafaelita "Oche" Pelaez, whose father was Rudolfo Neri Peleaz and who owns and operates one of four universities in Cagayan de Oro (Liceo de Cagayan University). Oche has contracted a well-known local author to write a book about her father who founded the school. And per schedule the book may be out soon. Oche is desirous of adding as much of family origins as possible in the book. Thus, a copy of our extended genealogy was presented to her. And she in turn committed to frame it for public display.

For the records, Oche's paternal grandfather was Nicolas Pelaez of Talisayan, brother to Gregorio Pelaez, Sr. of Medina and father of the illustrious Maning Pelaez. Gregorio was married to Felipa Neri of Bohol.

In turn, Oche's grandmother, Paz Neri, was a younger sister of my paternal grandfather, Ramon Neri.

November 18th 2008 Update

Have already furnished several copies of the extended graph to some local relatives. I still have extra copies that are available. Since I have re-framed the original copy, I intend to hang it inside our little bakery shop on our building located at the corner of A. Velez (Del Mar) and Hayes (Victoria) streets here in Cagayan de Oro. For viewing for those interested.

October 25th 2008 Saturday

I have already copied the extended family graph, measuring 3 feet by 2 feet. It does not seem right to fold it into a smaller size for mailing, thus what would be appropriate is to mail it in a paper tube. Would appreciate getting some recommendations. However, if you are in the old hometown of Cagayan de Oro, we could arrange for those interested to take delivery in person. Now remember this is an on-going project and is thus a work in progress. Notations and corrections will be welcomed. But definitely a good and bold start to try to finish our trace of the family all the way to 1779.

Waiting for your inputs.

UPDATE: October 8, 2008
I just discovered this little bit of family history in one of the anonymous comments in some other blog entry. This is a more fleshed-out origin of our Neri family. Thus, this reveals that we are descended not only from Moros or Moslems, but also from Bukidnon aborigines. Very interesting.

Cagayan de Oro History From Beginning to 1950

The city of Cagayan de Oro, which boast of possessing the most beautiful name of all the cities of the country, has an equally beautiful story behind it; a colorful story which takes it start from a woman's smile, so the legend says.

The first inhabitants of Cagayan, many, many years ago, lived in a village on the bank of Taguanao River, eight kilometers south from Cagayan. This was a part of the Bukidnon territory, and later on, they moved on the bank of Kalambagohan River, where Cagayan now stands, and called their settlement Kalambagohan because of the luxuriant growth of "lambago trees". For sometime, the natives lived in the prosperity until the end of the sixteenth century when the Maguindanaos, a rival tribe from Lanao raided and captured the place. The bukidnons after a fight were forced to retreat to the hills.

The aborigines of Kalambagohan were Bukidnons. The horde of barbarous Moros from Maguindanao under Raja Moda Samporna (The Unopposed) demanded the surrender of the villagers who retreated to the hills. The Kalambagohan datu sent his beautiful daughter, guarded by his bravest warriors, to meet the Rajah and to make a conditional surrender: "None in the village should be carried across the countryside was more than confirmed now, and accepted the term of surrender. Her beauty alone was enough to captivate, but her charms wrought destruction to the Rajah, so the stronger leader of Maguindanao warriors began to waver. It was a long story but it ended with the Maguindanao datu thrusting his spear into the stairs of the datu's house which action in those days was symbolic of a man's proposal for marriage. The datu and daughter readily accepted the proposal and thus ended the whirlwind romance. The Maguindanao warrior who started from his camp to subjugate the recapture the rival camp became its prisoner of love. The news of the marriage was received with grief and resentment by the subjects of the captivated Rajah. Rajah Moda Samporna made his warriors build a strong cotta around the village. So, instead of the Moros conquering the Bukidnons, they were the ones captured. The Moro warriors felt so ashamed of the defeat that they never referred to the place as Kalambagohan anymore. Instead, they changed the name "Caayahan" (the Moro word for shame) or Cagayhaan (the Bukidnon word for shame). When the Spaniards came they mispronounced the name of the village, hence, they gradually changed it to Cagayan. Years later, rich gold deposits in sitio Munigi and Pigtaw and in the sand bed of the river were a common discovery so the name Cagayan de Oro came into existence.


The Moros intermarried with the Bukidnons. Samporna and his descendants became the ruling families in Cagayhaan. When the Spaniards came, some of Samporna's descendants moved to Boroon, Lanao, and from there to Uatu, Tugaya, and Ganasi in the province of Lanao. Today on the shore of Lake Lanao live Sultan Samporna of Tugaya, Sultan Samporna of Uatu and Sultan Samporna of Ganasi. In Maguindanao, now Cotabato, where the Samporna ancestors originally came from, still live Eman Samporna of Banobo and Eman Samporna of Moling.


The coming of the Spaniards gave a twist to the history of our place when the first missionary from Spain arrived in Cagayhaan in the year 1622 to preach the Christian religion to the natives or Moros. These missionaries belonged to the order of the Recollect. Rev. Pedro de Santa Barbara was one of the most zealous workers of the Cross, and at once baptized their pagan converts. The Samporna families who remarried in Cagayhaan became Christian and they were given the family name of "Neri". Hence, the present Neri families in Cagayan descended from the Moros.


Friday, May 27, 2005

Just Venting

Many highly educated and intelligent people with a pen to write and the talent to weave words creatively, plus the forum to broadcast ideas, like to postulate profound idealized standards that events tracing and chronicling the overall human experience in this world should be looked at and judged against. Thus, these theoretical pundits appear to lustily pontificate from their high moral and ethical perches.

No more wars! No more violence against anybody! Compassion to our enemies! Legalize all illegals and by damn, keep the borders wide open for everybody able to walk in! Turn the other cheek and give money, too! Food for all the hungry! Rich nations should divest themselves so everybody will be at parity! Wealth is evil because poverty exists! Man should be wantonly free as the wind to experience his every whim and capriciousness! After all, the individual is supreme and we cannot go wrong taking that route! Etc., etc.

Then one wakes up and finds we do not live in a perfect world. We have to use imperfect tools, imperfect ideas, and imperfect men to resolve imperfect situations. Call it realistic pragmatism.

But many are still up there in the nimbus clouds with both feet aloft and feel-good harps abuzz. They should all be in heaven, with such profoundly moral/ethical statements and recommendations. Like, right now.

How does one convince people to be pragmatic and realistic with about most anything in this life? And how does one politely but emphatically wake people up to convince them to start with their own backyards, rather than try to quibble and kibitz on the formidable burdens of the rest of the world other than their own?

Idealism and its pursuits can only lead to paralysis, i.e., nothing gets done. And worse, people waste precious time and effort arguing which side has the better and bigger “stick”.

This implacable urge to espouse idealized solutions must act like ambrosia, hyping and bringing its devotees to some kind of self-entitlement. Or maybe, they simply are worshipping before the gods of self-esteem; and why not the gods that foster this-gives-me-the-feeling-of-superiority attitude.

In the meantime, everybody else is a scumbag, worthy of condemnation, derision and contempt.

Nobody wins against that. That’s the royal flush that trumps everything else.

Using “Filipina” Not A Dilemma

A blog entry in the very popular Filipino blog, Sassy Lawyer, spoke in defense of Filipino womanhood in general in the midst of an apparent negative connotation worldwide of the local feminine form of a Filipino citizen, the word, Filipina. The defense was quite articulate and decisive, except in its justification of the use of the word, Filipina.

Though claimed that its usage is not validated as right by grammarians, I suppose, of the English language, the other language most Filipinos are most familiar with, the point was made that it should be used with pride and for self-identification of Filipino womanhood. However, the justifying explanation advanced for its continued use made no reference to its etymology. The comments which were aplenty were quite approving of the defense and the use of the world. Still, no adequate explanation as how and why it should be used.

It would appear that we as a people have not been attentive enough with the long tumultuous history of this archipelago, especially those portions when two colonizing powers occupied the islands and imposed not only their languages but more importantly, their ways of life. We cannot discount that we might also be dismissive of these portions of our history as a retaliatory mechanism against the inequities now perceived as realities during those times.

True, the Americans with their English language were the later colonizers, one of whose main and lasting impressions on the country was its educational system delivered and bound together by the English language which it used as the medium of instruction. And thus, great deference and respect are given the language

But the Spaniards with its Spanish not only came earlier but stayed a lot longer, much longer with its almost 400 years of occupation. Needless to state, the collective and lasting impacts of that culture are almost imperceptible and indeterminable, except to say that its myriad of influences on society run so deep as to be part and parcel of Philippine culture.

One easy one to point out is how we got our names, and the methodology of naming our citizens. Most of us inherited not only Spanish first names and surnames, but also the ways of using and assigning those names. Thus, Juan is our masculine form to name a child who is a boy, but Juana if it turns out to be a she. And it goes down the line. Pedro and Petra. Claro and Clara. Amado and Amada. Etc., As a general rule then we learned that the suffix “o” stands for the masculine form while the “a” stands for the feminine form. We also have examples like Gloria, which as I far as I know does not have a masculine counterpart.

The local uses of Filipino and Filipina are then nothing more than extensions of the already ingrained naming conventions that we have dutifully followed in our daily lives. There is no need to find validation and/or justification for them in any other language, except our own.

If we declare we are proud of our ethnic origins, then this is indeed one defining instance we can show that pride.

And BTW, we do not have to change our names when we go live or visit in other countries, do we? I know some do, but we don’t have to.

And if one is observant enough with how the rest of the world assigns names to its citizens, then we realize how confusing and unregulated it already is. American is used either as a noun or an adjective to describe origin; the same is true with Canadian. But Spanish is not necessarily used the same way because the noun is Spaniard, though it is also a noun to refer to the language. The adjective Hispanic is used to denote the broader category that includes most of those Latin American countries which Spain had colonized at one time or another. And Danish is the adjective with Dane as the noun. Same with Swedish and Swede. Chinese and Chinaman. And so on.

For us, it should be Philippine/Filipino and Filipino/Filipina, giving us the extra advantage of having one other noun to call the feminine half of the population.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Of Living and Dying

We are not only a very unique species, but also very interesting, tightly bound together with a strong strand of ironies and paradoxes.

Let me delve on one such interesting paradox.

It almost always makes for good, emotional, and moving theatre when the life or death of one soldier, or it could be a band of soldiers, is plucked out from anonymity and served to us in a platter of glaring and inspiring detail. I call this our “Saving Private Ryan” moment, since which one of us cannot identify and empathize with the unique circumstances of the man Matt Damon played.

When anonymity is replaced with personal details, we are almost always moved emotionally and intellectually and may thus exhibit a myriad of moods and emotions, ranging from respect, love, honor, fear, inspiration, and even to hate. Hate for the powers that be responsible for bringing about the set of circumstances to rain on our perceived hero or heroes.

But in another vein, we appear to be anesthetized emotionally when dealing with large anonymous numbers. We cannot seem to fathom our emotional depths when we are confronted with unthinkably large numbers. Private Ryan was one life and we invested our entire emotional cache on his life, conveniently shunting aside the countless thousands who died on the beaches of Normandy alone, who did not have to die but obviously died for a cause they believed in. But a single life such as a Private Ryan pushes to the fore the idealism of our profound emotional qualities.

We also find ourselves unable to invest emotionally on the countless other young soldiers and civilians who died in wars and conflicts past. About 55,000 GIs died in Vietnam and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese. At least 15 million soldiers and civilians died during WW2. Etc, .

Saddam sitting on his cell is responsible for at least a million deaths, from the time he ascended to power, through the Iran-Iraq War, through the first gulf war, through the present war, and down to his jail cell time. Yet we are quite emotionally detached from him and his dastardly deeds, (and others like him) as though he never quite existed or mattered. Yet surprisingly, many vigorously hate the man responsible for taking him out of power. It is arguable if we have invested enough grief for all the hapless thousands who died in the WTC attacks. We can hardly remember how many idealistic young men died during the regime of Marcos, though we clearly continue to reminisce to this day of the billions he stole and the single life of a Ninoy Aquino. What about Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Several hundred of thousand lives wiped out in seconds. But then we cannot identify with a single Japanese life from those holocausts.

The same would be true with what is presently happening in Sudan where genocide is in progress. We may have to wait until one life is highlighted in detail before we can release and give rein to our profound emotions.

Why is this so? All those who died in conflict possessed the same life, with the same values and potentials, as any other life of any other color, race, and ethnicity.

If one perceives life as having value unto itself then it is most important that everybody lives and not die. But we have been taught that earthly life is not that significant. Christ taught by example about sacrificing a life so a greater good can be attained. Earthly life then has value when it has purpose, not because it is life and has to be lived to its natural end.

One of my sons reminisced about another fellow officer who died. He had known him quite well, sometimes doing duty for him. He was of his age, married also with two young kids. He was off-duty and was riding his bike home on a stretch of freeway when a hit-and-run rig ended his life abruptly. I caught a bit of the news about this officer’s funeral. And the comment of one fellow officer caught my attention. The guy said that the deceased lived and died doing what he liked to do, riding his bike.

He did not say that he died too young, or that some crazy guy snatched this man’s life away from his family, his work, and his friends. But that this young man lived doing what he liked to do.

UPDATE (3/27/2011)

Admittedly, it feels good to get confirmation for some self-arrived conclusions, such as this one.

In the 1960s, the economist Thomas Schelling performed research demonstrating that people are more likely to be moved by single victims than by statistics.


It’s been quite sometime that I’ve found that this mortal coil I’m tied to
has become rather burdensome.
It’s not that suddenly the load has become unbearable;
nor because its multiplying cares have conspired to overwhelm.
It’s not even because of the countless frustrations it has spawned daily.

Why then the wanton indifference,
the lackadaisical and dreary outlook to the unfolding reality that slowly rolls in each day ?
Culled from a veritable storehouse of life experiences, the answer is readily unraveled.
The uncanny realization that earthly life is bereft of meaning,
so fleeting and so vaporous in its content.

Finding that nothing of life induces inspiration to pursue it with at least decent fervor.
No wonder then its trite challenges are met with tepidity and nonchalance.
Finding that the trifling values and pursuits that present-day man has clothed life with,
I look down with derision and disdain.

Harboring no ill will toward man himself
but only at the blatantly hedonistic pursuits that preoccupy his day.
A gnawing yearning for something more meaningful and profound is felt spiritually.
Things that satisfactorily fulfill my very discriminating criteria for goals worthy of pursuit.

Things that relate to the higher and noble nature of man.
Ultimate causes that address what comes after this so inscrutable existence.
And the pangs of impatience obstinately tear at my consciousness,
Making it very difficult to exhibit even feigned interest
and enthusiasm at the very mundane concerns of everyday living.

Despite the gloomy picture painted above,
the quest for meaning is doggedly pursued if only to justify continued existence.
The ultimate purposes are easily articulated with nary an iota of doubt.
To mortify and bring the material body to complete and total subjugation
by the spirit through the strict practice of A S C E T I C I S M.

This determination gives me impetus to continue with life.
It proffers the clarity of vision to see through the hazy veil
that shrouds the real purpose of man here on this earth.

That he is here only as an itinerant traveler,
preordained to begin his real life in the spirit
devoid of the constrictive trappings of the flesh.
Still, while the mind and spirit share a clear and unstinting grasp of my real goals in life,
Keeping in this frame of mind is most of the time difficult
and calamitous lapses are not uncommon,
Making it necessary to incessantly remind myself of the guiding principles
that should rule my daily living.

But life ought to be more than just an excruciating tolerance
and nonchalance of the events that shape it.
It ought to be more than just trying to survive the trip so the goal can be attained.
It is still within one’s capabilities to make life a more positive experience.

One should be able to look forward to each day with child-like anticipation,
in tandem with a driving passion to be an active and catalytic participant in it.
And not just a passive onlooker being bandied about,
satisfied with just trying to salvage the most out of a situation.

If such a possibility should exist,
I ought to dig deep into myself and my innermost resources to find out.
To enable me to look at life in a positive perspective
so that I can approach each day with promise and excitement.

The search might be made more meaningful
if I can find a kindred spirit to share my sentiments and philosophy.
Is it possible to find such a person in this lifetime,
or am I so alienated from the rest ?

In my own peculiar and quaint ways
I pursue the search for kindred soul for I still have to find one.
While everyday, I struggle and grope around trying to maintain the precarious equilibrium
that makes life bearable and livable.
At every turn and every tick of the clock,
confrontational situations stare at me,
Demanding undivided attention
and unyielding to anything less than total commitment.

Most of the time, the battles seem to weigh against me
resulting in a troubling and agonizing sense of frustration.
And as if these were not sufficient for the day’s share of troubles,
the vagaries of my sensual emotions float around the mind seeking fulfillment.

Sensuous desires, definedly moral taboos, buffet the will;
Are the learned moral values of our youth still relevant or what ?
The many familial concerns also add their share of bitter medicine
to an already water-logged soul.

Indeed, life seems not to be getting any better in terms of achieving a yeoman’s share
of those fleeting moments of seeming peace and tranquility
so that my mind can relax and savor the beautiful vistas it surveys
as it glides through the times of my life.

Death seems such a sweet and tempting alternative to extricate oneself from all this living.
but in an inexplicable, almost sadistic, way one can’t help believing
that these trials are cathartic and may indeed make for a more saintly life.



Where the mesmerizing powers of a pretty face emanate,
one can only surmise.
Although there is no denying its awesome presence
when it draws nigh.

It initiates surging emotions so strong and lasting
they defy containment and restraint.
Lifelong defences one is clothed with seem no match,
easily overpowered and overwhelmed.

Where does one get relief from such a malady?
For truly it is one.
Where does one go to forget and start anew
unfractured by its painful yearnings?

Are not such emotions fathered so they can be fulfilled,
and not seethe with frustration?
How does one’s sensual passions seek gratification?
Unless one resorts to flights of fantasy.

Still, one feels the eerie emptiness and deprivation
of such vicarious incursions to unreality.
For the actual experiences of touch and communion,
these cannot replace.

Devoid of bodily senses,
the soul must of consequence bear the heavier burden.
For so it’s deigned it must pursue its pleasures elsewhere,
this role the body assumes.

The body can be appeased by offering alternatives,
the soul will accept no less.
It cannot be deluded to accede to compromises,
and for thus it must agonize.

To the very end it drags with it the total man,
resulting in an utterly miserable departure.

Says I: Meet Me

These vignettes on friendships that you regularly run truly are emotionally wrenching and should if one is normal tug at the heart and bring out very strong feelings.

But sometimes one wonders if they are as real as they are presented and narrated. Take this particular one on Friendship, for example. The picture: two loving souls in perfect harmony, basking in the bliss that each one exudes.

The reality, as I perceive it: True friendship is a very demanding and exacting relationship, unless both participants are already equipped with the same beliefs, temperament, dispositions, awareness, etc; meaning, they mirror each other. Unless true friendship is premised on two “similar” persons uniting together, it requires constant adjustments and reorientation. A constant “tug and pull” of the individual’s need to be this and the other person’s need to be that, the individual’s pining for solitude and friendship’s need for communication, etc .

While man is a social and gregarious being, I truly believe that a good part of him requires “aloneness” and true friendship which should hold no boundaries, can most of the time get in the way.

If you ask what my take on this is. It is that while these provide good reading, one should remember that in real life, nothing much is that “cut and dried”. Everything in life requires a great deal of time and effort, a lot of confusion and real pain, with each individual contributing his yeoman’s share. With emphasis, on each individual.

If through my willful inaction or negligence, or reckless wrongful choices, I make myself poor and indigent; then I impose myself on the concern and goodness of the other. Rightly or wrongly, I make myself a liability, or a burden, to the other. And in the general scheme of things, each individual should carry his own rightful burden. For me then true friendship is not two individuals leaning on each other.

Maintaining relationships of any kind is not only always serious business but is never easy. It can be close-knit one, like a family relationship, or a loose one like an email group. Still, there is always a degree of difficulty maintaining it for a variety of reasons depending on each individual person. It always requires much patience, adjustment, tolerance, and a host of things stemming from our own individual differences.

From my experience, the only and best person I can get along with, with nary a single complaint, is I. Without a doubt I can always rely on this a 100 percent. I need only lock into “myself” to find solace, comfort, and validation of what I believe in. And all’s well.

Of Light and Light Saber Duels

The newest Star Wars Episode III has again captured the collective fantasies of moviegoers by elevating the ferocious light saber duels to new incandescence – more and better. Trivia buffs are in a tizzy, reveling on the only duel where the light sabers are of the same color – the duel between the soon-to-be Darth and Obi Wan.

It is no wonder that any discussion of light can easily catch the interest of and inspire the beholder.. Discussing light scientifically is likened to discussing religion/spirituality without even meaning to, since that is how entwined the two disciplines are.

Listen to Genesis..... “out of the void (blackness), there came out light....”

Now, listen to science. It declares that photons are the basic quantum units of light/heat. It could be wave or particle, it has no mass, no charge, travels at 186,000mi./sec, it has no time, and is neither matter nor anti-matter.

But the miracle is if photons collide, they “create” protons, electrons, positrons and anti-positrons, which are the basic elements of matter and anti-matter. And since, we, mankind, are made up of matter, they are our origins, too. “And on the fifth day, God made man.”

Science further declares with certainty (since these are replicated and backed with scientific data) that a photon exhibits a sense of purpose and design because it always follows the shortest distance to its destination, although nobody really knows where it is headed. In a real sense, it has no beginning to speak of and no end to head to. An Uncaused Cause that is eternal.

It was also Einstein who declared that if there was no God, man would invent one. But it seems like he did not invent one, he “discovered” one.

Just some thoughts on wonderful and Godly light.

To Be Or Not To Be: Filipino or American?

One wonders what drove you to commit to verse the characteristic qualities the two countries (the USA and the Philippines) exhibit that make them in one vein, similar and in another vein, poles apart.

For those of us who have adopted the US as our home, we constantly grapple with similar issues as we try to assimilate in our new environs. For those of us who came here as adults, laden with all the home-grown baggage of preconceived notions and ideas, the process of assimilation has been quite a formidable undertaking.

We are confused and caught in the horns of an unavoidable dilemma. To assimilate or not to assimilate. To assimilate but maybe not completely, all the while maintaining umbilical ties with the old country. Or to proceed being the way we were, unmindful of the crying needs of the present situation. Never mind if the people around us find us quite straying from expected norms of conduct.

Which shall it be? What should we become, being residents and citizens of this new place? Does not being a citizen require a modicum of behavior aligned with the rest of the citizenry? Or do we still maintain our old identities, again unmindful of the rest of the population?

And personally, if there is any singular and sterling quality that separates this new home of ours from the rest of the world, it is the convergence of all the races/ethnicity one can possibly find in this pale blue dot we call, Earth, in one glorious place - coexisting harmoniously under one law and government. No other country duplicates this remarkable phenomenon.

Internet Psychology: Blogs Under the Microscope

The study of Psychology has claimed yet another field of study in its already diverse collection. Jumping off from its studies within the “real” world, it has for a while been busy minutely analyzing human behavior in the newest media, within the “virtual” world, the Internet as represented by its many facets such as the worldwide web, emails, chat rooms, and of course, the current rage, the blogs.

From its initial strides in the 70s to the present, it has already accumulated an impressive storehouse of data on human behavior within these media. In my personal judgment, one of its more significant findings has been that unlike the previous media studied such as radio and TV where the participants’ interaction have been essentially one of passivity and lack of control, these new media accord the participants the abilities to develop and control the form and substance of human behavior.

We ought to take the helms then, and assist in laying the groundwork where the full potentials of good human behavior can blossom.

In starting toward this end, let me borrow some words from a 15th century mystic, Thomas a Kempis, to throw in as cautionary advice. This is from his work, My Imitation of Christ (translated), Chapter 10, and under the heading, Avoiding Superfluity of Words, and I quote:

If it be lawful and expedient to speak,
speak those things which may edify.

A bad custom, and the neglect of our spiritual
advancement, are a great cause of our keeping
so little guard upon our mouth.

Initial recommendation for a good read would be the book, Psychology of the Internet, by Patricia Wallace.

Intelligence vs Awareness vs Physical Growth

I believe, for example, that my father was brighter and more intelligent than I am, but I am more aware and/or conscious of more "things", enough for me to be more worldy-wise, more spiritual, more informed, more potentially wise; in general, better able to interact with my "total" environment. Intelligence and awareness.

Two distinct qualities that will have to be nurtured individually and separately?

In the case of physical growth, very minimal conscious effort is required from us. We will grow and age regardless of the amount of effort expended.

But awareness is something one has to continually feed and nurture if we ever hope to attain maturity. It does not develop automatically.

Thus, we sometimes judge that certain people while looking like adults, act and think like children.

Some Thoughts On Spirituality, And Then Some

For a good part of my life I have simply been trying to sift through and digest the many profound thoughts regarding spirituality. First off, I have to admire, maybe even bordering on envy, the clarity and steadfastness of the articulations of beliefs and passions on the issue as propounded by my many acquaintances. It clearly shows the prodigious amount of time and effort they must have spent trying to arrive at them.

Unfortunately for me though, my personal searches on the subject have come up with more questions than answers, though I definitely have strayed far from what we were taught in both Catechism and Theology.

I, of course, have postulated and cemented certain standards of conduct on certain things I consider crucial in my daily living of life. But I notice that they are getting to be more non-religious (based on our traditional understanding of religion), more non-secular, and more grounded in modern science which has now become more tolerant and observant of its joined-at-the-hip alliance with spirituality.

For one thing, I state that I do not believe in a personal God, i.e., a God who is a person fleshed out with feelings, emotions and qualities; though I understand that being human ourselves, we have to think in terms of what is known and familiar to us. To me, at this time and space, He is just everything I can see and perceive. For me, investing God with a "person" is synonymous to God saying, "I am God and you are not me".

A mystic seeks direct experience with the universe, not any particular entity or person. Having said that I still find myself talking to Him like a person in times of solitude and need. Childhood/adolescent experiences linger on.

Regarding evil, I have always subscribed to a quite simplistic attitude toward it by saying that it is nothing more than the misuse of free will; and since man is the only being I know that has free will, it must be man-made. I cannot say that it comes from God because I do not believe in a God that dispenses things apart of Him. But this understanding is a little bit like putting the cart before the horse. Since before we choose anything, that choice must first be available. It must pre-exist before we can choose it. We have been taught dualism - good and bad, yang and yin, form and matter, etc.

For me, realities and perceptions of realities all exist in the physical universe. Being part of that, they are all subject, with exceptions that I still cannot fully comprehend, to very strict and almost immutable laws. We are familiar with some of them and science continues to unravel them for our consumption. If we defy them, then reaction/retribution will be instantaneous. This applies to that football player who met an accident because he attempted to defy the laws of Physics. Our emotions which are bound to our physical beings in the state we are in, react similarly. The emotion of love which is good makes us grow and ecstatic, but hate which is bad is consumptive and gnaws at our beings, making us interiorly diseased. We even differentiate between healthy and unhealthy fears. But based on our limited understanding, we know that certain events defy these laws.

Lastly, consciousness or level of awareness (or call it by any name, as intelligence, mind, spirit, etc.) as a non-physical component of man I find not only very slippery to grasp but also quite intriguing. It is a quality we know each man has, quite easy to discern its different levels as manifested in different persons; yet so much unknown. Which is it? Immortal? Or eternal? Can it exist independently being an integral part of what a man is?

While all these sound ethereal, they do impact on how we as individuals handle our daily lives and our interaction with our environment, a great part of which is interacting with other people. Therefore answers to these questions will define how we handle our fears, prejudices, moral values, ambitions, even our attitudes toward money and crime.

Conservatism and Liberalism

It is relatively easy to be liberal, to espouse the most moral, ethical, idealistic and compassionate views; but such views do not hold up to the rigorous demands/requirements of harsh realities. Thus, liberal adherents who are in most instances not accountable for getting things done, nor tasked with running things can say all they want because they are on the sidelines just watching and criticizing as the parade of events passes by. The people getting things done are the one having to contend with agonizing to arrive at the best decisions possible, the realistic ones to make for the best possible results. And of course, to bear the full brunt of criticism should failures occur.

The liberals amongst us articulate and espouse the most compassionate of views. And it’s quite normal for many men to feel good about themselves, knowing that they have espoused ideals. And in a perfect world, it would be incumbent upon each one of us to do so. But under harsh realities, one has to appropriately temper one’s views and solutions, not only so they work for the greater good, but also so they are attuned to realities.

Liberals, like those in academia and media for example, give full rein and expression to their most liberal ideas not only because of the freedom of expression, but because the consequences are quite minimal. They can feel smug and safe in their lofty perches. But pity those who are tasked, like those in government and law enforcement, with dealing with realities and real events. They have to continuously strike a good balance between what is most ideal and what is most practicable and equitable to serve the greater good. And one must weigh all these possibilities since this happy balance is continually addressed and examined.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Fundamentalism vs Extremism

We have to realize that Islam and Christianity are significantly different only in their practices, rather than beliefs. It is largely because of the practitioners that conflicts exist between the two ideologies, both in the past and at present. As usual, it is the disordered nature of man that allows these differing perceptions how the ideology should be practiced. And it is man's predisposition toward violence that accounts for all the deaths and destruction wrought over the ages. This should aptly explain the Crusades, the Moors overrunning Europe prior to it, the Inquisition, present-day ethnic cleansing, and of course, the present stand-off. We should remember that man left on his own is predisposed toward violence and evil, even Catholic theology would confirm this.

A growing body of nascent scientific studies about consciousness, point to how man has over the ages evolved and developed his own individual consciousness from a prior well-ordered group consciousness, necessitating the formulation and implementation of codes of rules and punishment to keep him in check. It is society's role to mete out punishment when man strays from the norm. While the US has initially pre-empted this role, it has now involved the entire civilized world with the coalition that it has formed and its open declaration of war against worldwide terrorsm.

We also have to be discreet and quite discriminate when we use the term Islamic fundamentalist for the practitioner’s understanding of fundamentalism is quite different from the connotation we have popularly assigned to this term. For them, fundamentalism is adherence to traditional beliefs and mores of their ideology - thus, the continued usage of traditional clothing, the use of facial hair as a symbol of piety and reverence, avoidance of alcohol, traditional rituals, temperance in most things we take for granted, etc.

Any practitioner who advocates hate and violence as a valid means for promoting causes, even righting past wrongs, cannot rightly be called fundamentalist. He has to be an extremist at least, and at worst, deranged.

In Cagayan de Oro: Of Squatting and Squatters

This symbolic defiance of law and order, expressed as squatting, is not unique to developing countries like the Philippines. Some years back but already into the administration of the last mayor of San Francisco, the Civic Center area of SF did become an "encampment" similar to what one witnesses in our own city, replete with tons of used tires, derelict vehicles and carts, and what have you. It took almost two years to completely remove any traces of such a travesty.

And if one is familiar with the beauty and grandeur of SF's Civic Center with its ornate and Gothic structures, one would find it that much more difficult to imagine what it must have been like during the "occupation" by homeless people of all sorts of persuasion and background. And that much more difficult to imagine the ugliness that visited that revered place. But it did happen.

We have to realize whether we want to or not, that the very physical and social blessings that made Cagayan de Oro a very ideal and idyllic place to live in have become its bane. Relatively quiet in terms of peace and order; nice geographic location relative to Mindanao and the rest of the country; easy accessibility; warm, friendly, and almost subservient people; good schools, etc, etc. These are the very things that have made it a "haven and refuge" for most dispossessed and displaced people in that area of Mindanao and beyond. And people cannot be faulted for that.

The perennial problems of squatting and mindless disregard of petty laws are almost endemic to that place. It would be unkind and unfair to lay the full brunt of the blame on the present administrators. One needs only to recall the Macabalan area during our grade school and high school days. A good part of the pier area was squatters’ haven. Most everybody living in the immediate areas of the pier, including along the highway were squatters. Most of those areas were considered foreshore areas and thus owned publicly. I guess nobody raised much of a howl then, maybe because it was not in anybody's neighborhood, meaning anybody who found that objectionable or unsightly. And this, of course, was not the only area squatted on. But now, this pernicious practice has grown unabated and is now in everybody's neighborhood, including Divisoria Park. What to do! What to do!

The deadly combination of widespread poverty and ignorance is so disruptive and contagious that pretty soon, the whole society stagnates and festers. I believe Cagayan may only be feeling the initial pains and throes of this social contagion.

One optimism I personally harbor is in the area of grassroots economic empowerment. I continually harp about credit unions, especially those attuned to the common people. And just recently, the Bangko Sentral has allowed rural banks to be converted into "micro-finance" banks. So there are areas indeed, where meaningful changes can originate from. Why not more programs for economic investments, rather than on campaigns or missions to provide palliative relief for the sick and infirm? Why not go for the long run, rather than short term?

Comparing Filipino and Indian Nationals

The Indian and Filipino nationals may be said to share only in common geography, and may indeed be fierce competitors in most other areas, be they in ICT jobs or the like. The toss-up in call center location, for example, though now shared with China, had been initially between the Indian and Filipino counterparts, with the Filipinos usually getting the shorter end of the deal.

Having lived in the Bay Area for over 25 years, it is my personal perception that indeed, by and large, the Filipino or FilAm still has a lot of reorienting and catching up to do with the Indian nationals. At the height of the tech boom, at least 46% of H-1B visa holders were from India and the Philippines was not even remotely close.

Surprisingly, even in the area of language (especially, oral), it has been my personal perception that the manner that the Indian national speaks English has been more acceptable to the general populace, than the typical FilAm who learned his English in the Philippines. In other words, people are more comfortable and understanding listening to the English of the Indian national and unfortunately where I live, comfort is associated closely with acceptance. Another example of this "bias" is the English spoken by a Frenchman. Most would find it cute, interesting, and even romantic; but not many would have negative comments about it, enough to be turned off listening to it.

Having grappled with this issue for too long, I have come to the realization that the crux of the matter may be in enunciation. Filipinos reflexively speak English in the same manner that they speak their dialects. The result does not usually sit well with the typical native listener. Unlike the other nationals, there may be a need to speak English in a manner closely approximating the manner the natives use. One needs only listen to the bilingual and US-grown FilAms as they cross-navigate between their two languages.

Thus, while the typical Filipino, or the entire Philippines for that matter, may enjoy the inherent advantage of "understanding" English, there may be a crying need to improve in the area of oral expression.

Pray Tell, Which Language To Use?

So much has been written about the discussion on whether English should be removed as the "unofficial" language in the Philippines, thus making it optional in education as a medium of instruction and as a means of communication in the country's conduct of its political, social, and business life. Many have written impassioned essays in favor of the removal, prose that impressed me as good and lighthearted reading; but I do not believe that the advocacy of removing English in the Philippine setting itself as proposed holds enough substance to be tenable.

Arguments in favor usually are premised on some assumptions, which mostly are not backed by any reliable data and/or authority. Secondly, since they not provide any viable alternative, they suffer gravely in feasibility. It is not enough to suggest that the vacuum will be filled either by the national language, Tagalog, or Pilipino which is its "official" name, or any of the extant dialects within the archipelago. The babel of vernacular tongues has traditionally caused a lot of disunity and regionalism within this "islands" state. To cite an example of late (post-Marcos?), the Bisayan speakers led by a Congressman. Cuenco started a language revolt, refusing to accept Pilipino as the national language, since Bisayan is spoken by more Filipinos than any other dialect. The movement obviously fizzled out, but the point had been amply made.

English has been a uniting force. It could have been Spanish, had the Americans not waged the Spanish-American War. A national politician desiring full coverage and mileage for his messages does so in English, rather than attempting to learn and contend with the multitude of dialects spoken by his constituents.

One assumption is that the use of English as the medium of instruction has resulted in a sub-standard education for the Filipinos. But one cannot safely and justifiably assume that the cause of substandard education is the use of English as a medium of instruction, since given the realities it is the prevailing education system itself that is flawed. We find this even in a cursory comparison between the public and private elementary schools. By and large, the standards and systems available in these private schools are without doubt and debate much better than those in public schools, and the results bear this out. Drop-out rates in public schools are astronomically high when compared to the private schools. We can, of course, point to poverty and government neglect as the twin causes. But clearly one cannot necessarily deduce that the use of English played the dominant role in sub-standard education. Improve the system and make it accountable for delivering sufficient education to each public school student and without a doubt English speaking, too, will dramatically improve.

Another assumption is that the use of Taglish is proof of the failure of English as a medium of instruction; that because English is the medium of instruction the Filipino, unable to learn this Western language properly, has opted instead to incorporate whether little he has learned into his dialect, or vice-versa, i.e. interject his dialect into his English speech. This, of course, takes a dim view of the ability of the average Filipino to learn a language and/or dialect other than his own, whether it is Western or Oriental. The fact is the average Filipino from early childhood is already exposed to and has learned to survive in a multi-dialect setting, in school and in the real world. Learning English has not been an exception. But more importantly, we cannot assume that the use of Taglish is the inevitable consequence of the failure to acquire English properly when in fact it is a deliberate and conscious attempt of a people to creatively incorporate a foreign tongue into its indigenous dialect(s). One can just imagine the multitude of reasons why people do it, but it is phenomenon one can find in any corner of the globe. But are they aware and know what proper English is? Of course, they do. Take a look at the countless national, regional, and local English dailies, weeklies, or monthlies, one can find in the country. I know for a fact that they are sold everywhere from offices to marketplaces, from cities to towns. Their readerships run into millions. Taglish may be prevalent in speech, but the Filipinos can distinguish that from proper English, which they learned and continue to read in.

A third assumption is that because English has no importance and/or relevance to the typical workaday life of a typical Filipino, it can be dropped and replaced with another language/dialect at will. But most definitely, such is not the case. The use of English for more than 100 years has so ingrained it in the country's social, political, and economic life that at this point no Filipino, whether a sari-sari store owner or jeepney driver is completely isolated and/or insulated from it. That bottled bago-ong one buys from Aling Mareng's sari-sari store has a label written mostly in English, including the list of ingredients that health-conscious Pedro might want to read and find out. The street signs and notices are in English. At this time, the use of English has soaked in almost to the very core of the typical Filipino's thought and soul. It would be most difficult to both ideologically and physically remove him from it.

Lastly, with regard to its feasibility, to deconstruct and dismantle a system in place for over a hundred years is a gargantuan task, which even if called for and with justifiable reasons, would unduly tax a country already reeling from political and economic woes. No amount of political will and determination from all the so-called elitist decision makers could change that. What happened to the country in the past is past, and its history cannot be revised. It has to work and work effectively within that framework. In other words, make the most with the cards one is dealt with.

A Priority: Poverty Alleviation

The PCIJ blogsite dealt on the deteriorating conditions of poverty in the blighted island of Mindanao.

Here’s a related essay I wrote that dealt somewhat on a direction to take, toward poverty alleviation:

Indeed, with the current advances in technologies, we are beyond the cusp of just being able to gather/sift through information generated from all possible sources around the globe at dizzying speed, since this facility is already available to just about anybody, equipped with the earnest desire to make a difference in this world we live in.

Thus, it is quite easy even for me who lives at least 7,000 miles away from the Philippines and having left it more than 25 years ago, to make an adequately reasoned analysis and determination as what would be the most pressing problems in that beleaguered country.

In a country then which has been micro-analyzed and polled by innumerable agencies, both local and international, incontrovertible evidence/reports point to more pressing problems requiring more immediate attention.

Admittedly technology, particularly in the field of electronics, comprises a very significant portion of the country’s exports. Available stats show that 60% of exports are in electronics, and 50% of destination ports are in the US and Japan. And the current slump has greatly reduced those numbers. However, there are more insidious stats that cry for more immediate attention and solution. About 40% of the country’s population exists under very dire poverty conditions, Mindanao being home to a good percentage of this sorry lot. Unemployment? Maybe in low double-digits. But in the same vein, there seems to be no issue of challenge on an underemployment rate of 20% on those employed. In tandem, these are very scary stats, and this deadly combination of poverty and underemployment weighs even heavier on an already fragile society and economy, greatly emaciated as a result of world-wide economic and political upheavals.

Thus, while the varied concerns of IT and its ramifications in the Philippines are grave, poverty alleviation undoubtedly takes first priority.

Can we feasibly channel our IT discussions here toward the greater task of economic empowerment of those most dispossessed in that milieu?

Let me end by adding the following statements below, culled from various sources:

”…..three major issues were tackled: poverty, unemployment (or
underemployment as is most common in the Philippine context), and
social disintegration. While not all problems of unemployment and
social disintegration can be traced to poverty, it is very clear that
these three issues are closely related.

It cannot be denied that social problems which lead to the
disintegration of the social fabric like criminality, drugs, violence
especially against women and children are linked to poverty. This is
not to say of course that all criminals, drug addicts and violators
of women and children are poor.

Aside from economic, financial and social costs, poverty has
political costs as well. Chronic and unresolved problems of poverty
tend to translate into political issues which threaten stability. It
is not surprising that the regions in the country which are
identified as among the poorest are also hotbeds of rebellion."

It seems clear that poverty alleviation should be the first order on
any agenda for reform. Or phrased negatively, one could rightly blame poverty for declines in moral and social values; and not just of the poor, but society in general.

The Theology Of Wars

The continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to be hot-button issues that not only roil but divide people from across global boundaries. And discussions are pregnant with busted emotions, which will need to be tested under the cold and unsparing eye of logic and reason. Most of the time when one side is devoid of sufficient logic and/or reason, the appeal to the emotions is a very good and effective substitute. However, those who want to continue to appeal to logic and reason should not be discouraged to silence and inaction. Thus, let us continue the discussion, on a civil and dispassionate tone catered by logic and reason.

Because of the wars’ overarching reach, most if not all of us have personal and/or vested interests on the events and outcome. My third son’s Marines reserve unit participated in it. Thus, for a while he had to leave behind a wife and two little kids. Others are in similar situations and thus would probably want to lend or add moral perspectives to the issue so that these young soldiers at least know why they are finding themselves in these precarious situations.

I believe the following general statements are given, and accepted as true:

1. War by its very nature is evil. Nobody wants or desires war, except in the cases of crazed individuals or tyrants. Anti-war protestors know that Bush himself does not like war. He said so many, many times.

2. Though evil, the history of war has shown some good coming out of it. WW2 is a supreme example that cannot be debated.

3. This constant tug between the evil that war is and the good associated with some of them, has brought about a whole body of work delving on the various moral and ethical issues surrounding it. Thus, we hear the words, a just war, or an unjust war.

A little Christian history reveals the following. The beginnings of the just war tradition point to St. Augustine, who carries the title of Doctor of the Church in the RCC. He postulated that rightly-constituted public authorities have the moral duty to pursue justice, even at the risk of themselves and their constituents. Another Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas developed it and brought in the broader issue of charity.

At present most Christian denominations now follow the same guidelines which developed over the centuries.

Two criteria divide the entire discussion:

1. The War-Decision Law criterion (or in Latin, ius ad bellum):

In this part, the following questions have to be addressed and resolved:

a. Is the cause a just one?

b. Will the war be conducted by a responsible public authority?

c. Is there a right intention? (Which among other things, precludes acts of vengeance or reprisal)

d. Is the contemplated action “proportionate”, i.e., appropriate to the just cause?

e. Is the good to be accomplished likely to be greater than the evil that would be suffered if nothing were done?

f. Or if the use of armed force were avoided for the sake of other types of measures?

g. Have other remedies been tried and found wanting?

h. Or Are other remedies prima facie unlikely to be effective?

i. Is there a reasonable chance of success?

2. The War-Conduct Law criterion ( or, ius in bello) Positive answers to the above, bring on the following questions:

a. Questions of Proportionality, which requires the use of no more force than necessary to vindicate the just cause.

b. Questions of Discrimination, which require the observance of the moral principle of non-combatant immunity.

Hopefully, the path of future discussions will converge around these criteria.

Of Computers and Technology

Ever since I first landed on these sainted shores, I have always been fortunate to have been exposed to computers and its technology, not that I now have this expertise to run circles around anybody, but that I have just been around them that long. I was initiated into it through a Datahost system serviced by dumb terminals in a hotel setting. A quantum leap was made in 1984 when we converted to an IBM System36 mainframe/minicomputer but still with dumb terminals attached to it. Later on, we upgraded to an IBM AS400. Then prior to my leaving, we garnered the leading edge with our PC workstations with Windows95 operating system and Novell Netware, attached to two servers running Windows NT.

The Bay Area’s close proximity to Silicon Valley has in large measure also contributed to this prodigious exposure. The purveyors of the latest technology in electronics and allied industries usually find San Francisco as the likely beta-test market to proclaim and hawk their latest products.

The intent of the above attempt at narrative is simply to state that electronics has created a brand-new world for everybody! One cannot honestly think of any single individual living in society who is not only exposed to it but is required to be literate about it and be able to acquit himself or herself decently in its proper use. Its presence and usage have become so pervasive that one can safely equate its importance to education as say, learning to speak English in order to communicate. The existence and extent of the newest medium, the blogs, is loud testimony to this new frontier that everybody is required to blaze.

Without the strictures of physical travel, the use of computer technology has allowed us to depart from our earthbound existence and travel through the ether or call it cyberspace as it is now known popularly. It is accomplishing for us what our earlier journeys, which seems a lifetime away, did for man and his kind.

This realization has not only given us great joy and expectation, but also fresh challenges and opportunities that bode well for the future.

The message is short and straight. Let us each one impress upon our wards and ourselves the paramount importance of this parallel world and how we may be able to thrive in it. This is the new religion. Practice it.

Crab Mentality: A Philippine Phenomenon?

The FilAm papers here are forever referring to this crab mentality when something goes bad with the local FilAm communities.

I must confess I was not familiar with this phrase until I left the old country. I was made curious to no end since some people mention it with the same bluster and passion as though expounding dogma or doctrine. Thus, piqued by curiosity, I decided to do a little research on its origins and usage. I couldn’t decisively determine where it originally came from, but I know that its usage is not limited to Filipinos. Our Indian neighbors also use this expression. Even the African-American community is not averse to using this expression to carry across maybe the same sentiments. And who knows which other groups. And so it has to be left as such – undecided as to its origin.

But in the Philippine context, what exactly are its common connotations or meanings?

One hopes that everybody would be interested to learn about them, especially because anybody given that description is sort of invested with some kind of stigma; by the same groups that revere it as gospel truth. It probably does not do justice to the crab as a creature since this crustacean carries considerable nutritional importance and value; thus, in the food chain it commands a godly price, both in the Philippines and everywhere else.

Some Filipinos or FilAms here have a quite loose interpretation of it. In a group discussion decrying the general state of FilAm businesses here, this mentality is attributed the blame. They concur that Filipinos do not patronize their own; but as is common, they instead compete with any successful established business of the compatriots to the point of over-saturation. One can point to the overcrowded forwarding businesses scattered throughout the continent. Some pointed out though that comparative prices could be a big factor for the non-patronage.

In some legal discussions read, this mentality is mentioned in the same breath as witch-hunting, a rash to judgment of guilt, a disregard for the presumption of innocence principle in law, etc.; and is thus blamed by the government for the slow development growth of the country.

Still, others would use it for any and all adverse criticism directed toward another Filipino or FilAm, especially against another person or business, who or which may have attained some degree of prominence or success in the community. Regardless of motives and/or reasons? Unless explicit and expressed, or blatantly obvious, motives are hard to discern. Thus, who makes that determination for judging adverse and/or critical comments advanced as a sign of the crab mentality or just that, a constructive critical criticism?

The analogy of typical Filipino behavior is casually described as reflective of the behavior of crabs in a bucket; the others pulling or dragging down any crab trying to climb out of the bucket. One can also witness this phenomenon in the live crabs section of one’s local wet market. When you try to pull one out of the batch, the closest one will attempt to lock its pincers on the one you have lifted and will cling to it tenaciously. I have tried to violently separate the two, ending with one set of pincers being ripped off its socket. Quite gruesome.

Here’s a quite different spin. On my first days here in San Francisco, before embarking on my first job, my first “gainful employment” was “crabbing” with my wife’s relatives. Armed with crab nets (they typically are shaped like buckets of intertwined rope), we would spirit away on those biting-cold August days under cover of midnight and make our way under the Golden Gate bridge. Secured on some outcropping of rocks, we would drop our nets and hunt for those delicious Dungeness crabs, quite popular and quite expensive in these parts.

I had wondered then why we had to do it around midnight. Until much later, I found out that we were not just to trying to avoid frostbite; but more importantly we were trying to elude any warden who could be patrolling the area.

Anyway, bait for the crabs was chicken legs or necks tied at the center of the net. One had to buy these from wet markets. But I would notice that while we would only have one bait per net (part of the reason was cost) if we kept that net submerged long enough, one could come up almost always with two or more crabs.

Thus, any budding social scientist could interpret that behavior of the crab as showing its sharing mentality. While most animals would fight for a morsel of food, the crab typically shares it with others. You have seen dogs and even pigs growl at others trying to share in their meal.

There you go. So the next time somebody tags you with the crab mentality label, think of this least-known behavior of the crab and find solace in it.

I had initially painted three scenarios where Filipinos might use the phrase to depict a particular situation.

From solicited comments made, it does not appear that Filipinos patronize Filipino businesses any more or less than other ethnic groups. There may even be a predisposition toward patronage due to familiarity and commonality of language or dialect. I myself, partly because I live in an area of high concentration of FilAms, bought my first house from a FilAm agent. Another reason for the choice was that the familiarity with him emboldened me to ask for bonuses one would not normally ask from strangers.

On the legal front, this claim of rash to judgment reaction, or witch-hunting, or even disregard of the presumption of innocence principle, may not be justified for assigning this label. They are just too fraught with legalese and may be too complicated.

Thus, the most oft-used reason this label may be used is when a compatriot renders adverse criticism to another Filipino/FilAm, especially one of note and prominence. And it is usually assigned by the target of the criticism or those directly involved or associated with him/her. A quote from one post ascribed this heightened sensibility to criticism to the Filipino’s amor propio. But translated, amor propio means self-respect. Can self-respect be damaged by any and all adverse criticism? Could be affected but not necessarily? Or do we interpret amor propio to mean pride of self or ego? Or worse, false pride?

I still do not see the proper correlation or connection. If such were the case, then maybe we as an ethnic group should refrain from liberal and gratuitous (?) use of such label?

"Crab mentality" takes on a new meaning for the Bugueyanos. They do not buy the traditional negative connotation that crabs, when placed in a pan, tend to pull one another down as they try to reach the top, Antiporda says.

Cooperation, unity

Instead, they say, crab mentality should connote cooperation and unity. In a literal sense, crabs, in a similar situation, get on top of one another to form a makeshift ladder to help them reach the brim."

Of Praying and Prayer

Praying is one ritual the typical Filipino resorts to quite often but also rather paradoxically assumes and takes for granted, having been born in an unchanged environment where more than 80% of the population are Christian, specifically Roman Catholic, and where rituals and ritualism are most prevalent.

The idea of praying collectively is very much ingrained in religious culture. Rituals provide the forum to focus our collective energies in prayer. Having studied parapsychology on my own, I rather lean toward this spiritual exercise which others in both academia and elsewhere swear is quite effective in getting things and actions done. Even Charismatic movements within the Church resort to these means for healing and getting requests fulfilled.

But what is prayer, or how does one pray? In its most universal application, praying is the raising of our hearts and minds to God, or the Supreme Being. In school, we had a formula prayer, called the Morning Offering, which we recited daily at either the start of school or when one woke up. Essentially, it offers to God all our good thoughts and deeds of the day as prayer. Our day then became one big prayer. Those who pray in meditation simply go into some kind of trance and connect with the universe by crossing the boundary of self.

How should our praying be? Setting aside time in solitude and reading passages from the Bible or other religious books?

Or should we be more intense and specific. Pray for exactly what we want to happen and focus our collective will toward its fulfillment with the assistance of Divine Providence? But this is what St Ignatius said about praying:

That we must pray as though the matter we desire depended entirely on God and then work on it as though it depended entirely on ourselves.

Thus, praying can be a very taxing exercise. Maybe more taxing than we ordinary ascribe to it.


I have no doubt that most of us here realize the “need” and “importance” of prayer, because most of us here believe in the existence of a higher being somewhere out there, who watches over all our actions and more importantly, makes us accountable for each of them. As a consequence then, prayer becomes our communication with that being not just to explain ourselves, but also to seek for assistance on how this life might be lived in a manner acceptable to him. Scriptures and other holy books confirm and validate this.

Prayer needs to be explained and given its rightful place in our lives and taken away from its present commonplace parlance.

Though not wishing to be flippant, let me portray how it is presently viewed in common parlance by using the Hail Mary pass to illustrate. Most are probably aware of the Hail Mary pass used in professional football. This is how it got its name. It is a desperation pass from a great distance to the end zone amidst great coverage during the waning seconds of a game with only one intention. A receiver catches it and wins the game for the team. If not, the game is ended and lost.

Unfortunately and sadly, this typifies how prayer is viewed commonly.

One’s last minute option for deliverance or salvation. Desperate and against overwhelming impending odds.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Random Thoughts From An Ex-Pat

This was the hot topic this week, ignited by the plaintive musings of an “adopted” son of Lupang Hinirang. It was all that was needed, an “outside” spark to ignite our collective “engine” of thought and comment. Quite expectedly, the quick discernible reactions came from us, the expatriates. Personally, I was quite willing to hold my peace, since I was convinced that everything I had in mind had already been very eloquently brought out by other members. Not until, I read the piece of Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, presenting the entire country and culture as one abundant “cornucopia” of ironies.

The points at issue, as subtly laid out and bared by the adopted son, centered on the following issues. The national pride, or lack thereof, of the Filipino with regard to his country and culture. The Filipino’s measure of his self-worth. His love of country and its rich history(?), democracy, and freedom. His awareness of his identity.

And without reservations, we did, and should, give positive remarks about the issues raised by the “foreigner’s” innocent and sincere call for awareness and change. But adding to and validating Nakpil’s collection of ironies, the early and timely defense came from us, expatriates. It came from those of us who had decided to leave the country to live and earn a livelihood away from the Philippines, and not from those who continue to exercise their inborn rights to live, to love, to be happy, and to prosper in the country of their birth. Is it maybe because uncomplimentary comments made by “foreigners” who regard themselves as adopted citizens have become so passé to the resident Filipino that they do not elicit any more response than a dismissive wave of the hand? So why have we instead, the expatriates, become very keen and responsive to the issues about the old country as presented above?

Anyway, going back to the points raised above. I, myself, can also irrefutably declare my love and pride for my old country and its culture. I can also declare without debate that the Filipino’s identity is closely tied up with its tumultuous history of countless years of colonization and subjugation. And its self-worth is derived from the tight and neatly-bundled product of all these factors. And since these are judgment calls, nobody should be able to effectively challenge these assertions.

But the proof of the pudding still is or are the consequent actions/deeds brought to bear as testimony/ies. When we became American citizens, for example, we declared under oath our sole allegiance to the USA, carrying with it sole fidelity, loyalty, and obedience to the exclusion of any other state (the Philippines included). As a matter of fact, should the two countries be on opposite sides of a war, we are counted upon to bear arms in defense of our new country.

Additionally, being physically detached from the old country, our abilities to express our love and pride for it are extremely limited. The giving of oneself which is the supreme expression of love and pride unfortunately cannot be easily given either remotely or vicariously. Unless, of course, if our plan within our lifetime is to eventually go back there and replant our stakes for good - for ourselves and/or our progeny.

Other side issues were also expressed. Like, what exactly do we mean when we say love of country? Or, the distinction between the Filipino poor wanting to be Americans and the rich wanting to be seen as Spaniards. Or, the seemingly national Filipino traits of acceptable bribery, falsifying documents, etc.

Let me venture my own guesses. I have a deep feeling that when we, expatriates and first-generation Filipino immigrants, declare our love for the home country we unknowingly refer to the collective baggage of nostalgia and countless childhood/adolescent/adult memories we lugged with us coming here. A way to test this is to ask our kids, who still “pure” Filipinos are with regard their bloodline, what they think of the old country. Especially kids who were born here or were brought here at very tender ages. In all likelihood, they will not be able to associate anything there that they can like or love. Love presupposes knowledge of something or somebody before love can blossom. Also, we may continue to love that old country since it is still the place where most of our dear relatives and friends are.

The Spaniards impressed upon us a social structure that was very steeped in the caste system, with the “illustrados” and the “indios” delineating the lines between the Spaniards, the mestizos, and the Filipinos; and even amongst themselves, isolating those born in Spain from those born in the islands (the insulares). Since the indios were kept in ignorance and penury, the rest prospered and became the rich elite. It is not a great stretch to understand why the present remnants of the rich elite pine for their storied past, the grandeur of imperial Spain. And to live comfortably there with their acquired wealth.

And the poor can only look up to the next colonizer who initiated its arduous task toward enlightenment. Thus, the axiom sounds true. It is also Monarchy versus Democracy. Lastly, if you are a poor and struggling Filipino, why would you choose Spain over America, where the opportunities for improving your lot are much more open and available in the latter?

Aside from Nakpil reporting it in her piece, I also have my own anecdotal evidences to show its truth. And it is that any aptly educated, sufficiently motivated, and young Filipino if given the opportunity would like to come to the States or similar country to work and reside at least for a time, or a lifetime.

It seems from personal contacts and stories that every family in the Philippines has a member living here in the States, or if not, planning to come and live here. From almost every person I spoke to on this last trip I made, the first piece of conversation topic was about his/her child or relative living here in the States. When I left, 5 young nephews/nieces of mine had eagerly asked about their chances of working here in the States. This definitely is more than just about economic reasons. We may have to factor in issues about one’s personal identity, national pride and honor, and even self-worth within the milieu one is born in.

With regard to bribery and falsifying documents, these are either due to a cumulative breakdown in moral values, and/or a misperception of morality and moral values. I cannot accept a premise that as a people, Filipinos are just so calloused as to continue to allow this to happen, knowing it is a grave moral wrong. I cannot imagine a whole country collectively losing sleep every night, feeling the gnawing pangs of remorse of conscience. But then, again, some say, that callousness can and does deaden the pangs of conscience if an act is repeated one time too many.