My cousin who was stationed in Iraq made it back home to Chicago for the holidays. Let's all keep praying for everyone who cannot be with their loved ones during the most festive seasons that they celebrate.
Christmas Eve was a night of mishaps and misfortunes. Before rushing off to Christmas dinner I absent-mindedly bolted a door that effectively sealed off half of the house. M (my hero!) spent the next hour patiently unscrewing the hinges of the door to remove the entire door, as that was the only feasible way to make the rest of the house accessible.
Later that night, after Christmas Eve, my aunt's car broke down, and midnight passed with my brother, my aunt's driver, and a few friendly passers-by pushing the car to a gas station.
As if all that weren't enough, my sister-in-law and niece fell ill yesterday, and had to stay in bed for much of noche buena.
But the homily at Church was a powerful reminder that the spirit of Christmas was not the spirit of plenty, but the spirit of offering healing and peace to those who had little and who suffered much. Fr. Nemy read Howard Thurman's poem "The Work of Christmas":
When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and the princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flocks, Then the work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among brothers, To make music in the heart.
"I don't mean to spoil your festive mood," Fr. Nemy said, "but after all, this is what Christmas is really all about." I suddenly realized that, in the frenzy of preparations for parties and noche buena, amid the gift-buying and gift-giving, I had lost sight of that too.
And the second I realized that, for the first time this Christmas season, I genuinely began to feel the Christmas spirit.
In the taxi (bless all the cab drivers who work through Christmas Eve and Christmas morning!) to my aunt's house, I felt strangely light-hearted. We had had a less than perfect Christmas Eve celebration, but many things had gone "wrong" the First Christmas as well. Christ, after all, was born in a squalid manger, not in a palace; and maybe all our mishaps were reminders that the Mystery of the Incarnation is that God should choose the form of human brokenness and imperfection precisely to heal it.
Maligayang Pasko! Spread some of God's love this Christmas season.
With elections coming up in the Philippines and the U.S., it's a good time to re-visit the updated Political Compass website and find out whether your political and economic beliefs ally you more with Saddam Hussein, Nelson Mandela, Ayn Rand, or Tony Blair.
First, my own. I almost wrote a poem today. Something I haven't done in years (maybe since college, even). I was arrested by an image. But I failed to follow through with the words. Sigh. The dissipating craft ....
Second, a beautiful thought from Jim Paredes' blog. I read the post a few days ago, then had the inspiration to read it again today, and this paragraph jumped out of the page, from his "Modern Day Beatitudes" post:
Blessed are those who do not seem to have a life, and especially those who do not have a choice—those who are physically debilitated, paralyzed or in a coma and cannot move, for they bring us a message that is lost in this age of frenzy—that to be worthy of God's love, we need not strive to do or achieve anything, but simply be.
1. Do you enjoy the cold weather and snow for the holidays? Snow? What's that? In Manila, "cold" means anything below 26 degrees celsius (which is already "hot" in some other countries). But yes, I enjoy the cool weather. Very much.
2. What is your ideal holiday celebration? How, where, with whom would you celebrate to make things perfect? Ideal would be having my entire family together for Christmas dinner, Christmas Mass, and noche buena. Since that is no longer possible, a happy Christmas celebration is, very simply: attending a very solemn Christmas Eve Mass and being with people I love.
3. Do you do have any holiday traditions? Christmas parties, Christmas decorations, gift exchanges, and Simbang Gabi (novena Masses). In true Pinoy fashion, Christmas itself means: Christmas Eve dinner, then Christmas Eve Mass, then, when the clock strikes twelve, noche buena and gifts. Of course, the traditions have changed slightly as I've become an adult and started living independently. But as long as those elements are there, it's still Christmas for me.
4. Do you do anything to help the needy? I hope that what I do, helps.
5. What one gift would you like for yourself? Seriously, peace on earth and stability in the Philippines.
M and I just came from U.P. Film Center where we watched a screening of Ditsi Carolino's latest film, Riles.
I had heard about the film before--the ravereviews and the awards it had received abroad. So when I learned that Amnesty International's observance of Human Rights Week was going to include a screening of the film, I immediately blocked off the date on my calendar and convinced M to accompany me to watch it.
The international title of the film is Life on the Tracks. For five months, Ditsi and co-director Sadhana Buxani filmed a couple and their children as they went about their daily life in the slum area beside the railroad tracks in Sampaloc, Manila. Unlike their most famous collaboration Minsan Lang Sila Bata, this film has no narration; the filmmakers simply pieced their footage together in cinema verite fashion, creating a moving 70-minute documentary about the daily joys and hardships of a family living, like many Filipinos, on the tracks.
The film was exceptional. Simple. Walang arte. Walang melodrama. And because of that, all the more jolting. More than a statement about any abstract issue such as "poverty," this film is, first and foremost, a story about real people, real lives. It certainly shook me out of my own ivory tower complacency, and I have a feeling that the images I saw on the screen will stay with me for a long time.
For our post-immersion report in fourth year college, I said to the class, "After three years of spending every Saturday of the school year going to area for ACLC, I thought I knew what poverty was. But after this three-day trip to Kailugan, I realize that I had been mistaken." After watching Ditsi's film, I feel the same way I did then. I once thought I had an idea of what poverty was. Again, I realize I am mistaken. Little things, like the meaning of a hamburger ... or a can of sardines ... or knowing that if I get sick and skip just one day of work, it will not mean that my entire family will go hungry. And I have a feeling that the next time I see an MMDA demolition team doing its sidewalk street-clearing operations, I will feel a lot more conflicted ....
I'm not sure what else to say, except watch it, watch it, watch it! If you get the chance, any chance, don't pass it up. It's an incredible little piece.
As I type this, I'm listening to Mike's long-awaited CD, the very hard-to-find, no-longer-reproduced Lupa't Langit. We finally managed to buy it, from Joey himself no less, at his practice gig tonight at Conspiracy.
First, some background. At the last Cynthia Alexander gig that we watched, Cynthia told Mike about the new nightspot that she and some other musicians of that genre (including Joey, Gary Granada, and Noel Cabangon), along with several other partners, were putting up along Visayas Avenue.
Earlier tonight, Angie forwarded to me a text she had received from Gary that Joey would be playing tonight at Conspiracy. A few minutes later, Mike called, asking if I wanted to do anything tonight. I suggested the gig, he picked me up, and we went.
Conspiracy is still only on their soft open, but I can already imagine what a place it's going to be. It's a very pretty place, with a fairly large front garden, decorated with the atmosphere of an al fresco cafe at night. The gig room is indoors, a small, cozy set-up with two small platforms at the front of the room, each just big enough for a musician, his mic, and his guitar. Cynthia explained that the area adjacent to the gig room was going to be the smoker's room, and the glass door separating the two rooms would be able to keep the smoke out of the main room, but still allow the smokers to watch the gig.
Mike and I commented that the stages looked a wee bit small for, say, Cynthia's usual full-band set-up. Cynthia agreed and said that they weren't planning to put a full drum set in the room. From the way the place is arranged and from Cynthia's description, it looks like Conspiracy is going to have a slightly more restaurant-y feel to it than, say, 70s Bistro, with unplugged versions of everyone's favorite Pinoy protest music. It made me think, Tapika meets 70s Bistro: 70s Bistro music set to a Tapika atmosphere.
As for the name of the place, Cynthia explained that the partners involved in the establishment were from a broader ideological spectrum which I think meant, broader than the usual left-leaning following of their group of musicians. Later on, during his performance, Joey pointed out the irony of their location: they were near Quezon Circle, territory of government employees and hence, of the right-leaning crowd, yet as musicians, their natural audience was the left-leaning crowd. "An interesting collision and collusion," he said; hence, the name Conspiracy.
At around 10 p.m., Joey began his practice gig backed up on the bass by Magu (spelling?), his young classmate at U.P. (where Joey is taking a degree in Musicology). Joey was, well, his usual brilliant self. :) He played a few old favorites, and Bayang Barrios also joined him on stage to sing a few of their duets.
After his first set, Joey raised his guitar and called out to Mike, "You play the guitar, right?" I think Mike knew what was coming, because his eyes began to glaze over a bit. :P "Why don't you come up onstage and play around with my guitar first?" (Oh, let me paraphrase that for Mr. Ayala: "Why don't you come up onstage and play around with my Taylor guitar?") Just a little more prompting from me and next thing we knew, a nervous Mikoid was sitting on Joey's stool, sacred Taylor in his hands, trying desperately to remember what songs he knew how to play. I, of course, was tickled pink.
Joey came back for a second set, and played more old favorites, plus some less familiar songs (which, I learned by reading the playlist sheet beside the stage, were from his U.S.-only special release album, Organik).
During the intermission, we had also asked Joey where we could find the album that Mike desperately wanted a copy of, Lupa't Langit. And it had to be our lucky night, because Joey had brought copies of it, as well as of his other albums.
So, in a nutshell, what did Mike and I manage to do tonight? Visit Conspiracy before its grand opening, watch a Joey Ayala gig, buy his almost-impossible-to-find CD, and on top of all that, Mike was able to play Joey's Taylor.
1. Do you like to shop? Why or why not? Love to window shop!!! I love looking at pretty things--clothes, furniture--and daydreaming about owning them (hehehe!). Ironically, I don't like window shopping for books, though, because it makes me feel bad when I can't afford books that I like. I guess it's only fun to window shop for things you somewhat like but aren't extremely attached to.
2. What was the last thing you purchased? A drink in school last night. Apart from food, grocery shopping at Shopwise the other night.
3. Do you prefer shopping online or at an actual store? Why? An actual store. Nothing beats the complete experience of seeing and touching the actual product.
4. Did you get an allowance as a child? How much was it? Yes. My first allowance was 10 Singapore cents, just enough to buy the smallest packet of mini-biscuits, I think. With today's exchange rate, that's about P3.25, but at the time I think it was around P1.00.
5. What was the last thing you regret purchasing? Hmmm ... dessert?
Is the Philippines Ready for Democracy?: Some Initial Thoughts
I'm in the process of organizing my thoughts on this topic so bear with whatever lack of organization or clarity you may notice in the following snippet. I might also edit this post as I fine-tune some thoughts, so expect some changes in the coming days.
"The Philippines is not ready for democracy" is a statement I have been hearing often from some of my friends, most of whom belong to the well-educated upper class of society.
The statement, however, is vague, and I will attempt below to explore what this statement might mean.
When somebody says, "The Philippines is not ready for democracy," what does he mean by the word "democracy"?
If he understands democracy in its most minimalist definition--as the implementation of the majority vote within an electoral system--then perhaps there is some aspect of the statement that I might agree with. Not only that we are not ready for democracy, but that we do not even HAVE a true democracy, because our electoral system is far from flawless.
But is ballot-counting all that democracy is? Or, more to the point, does the act of voting comprise the entire scope of public participation in government?
The political thinker Hannah Arendt describes public participation not only in terms of the electoral process, but in terms of political speech--dialogue among citizens--and political action that springs not merely from a society's leaders, but from its citizens as well. Key to her understanding of public participation is her notion of "power," which she describes as "the capacity to act in concert." Power, in her estimation, is never innate in a political institution, but always begins "from below." A political institution--be it a leader or a law-- is never innately "in power"; rather, it is "empowered" by citizens who lend their support and act upon it to implement it.
If we understand political participation in this way, then the notion of democracy is no longer merely a matter of counting votes. Rather, democracy becomes the task of empowering all sectors of society to allow their voices and will to be heard in the public realm. Democracy does not begin during a campaign period and end after the proclamation of a new leader; rather, it exists in the everyday political life of implementing action-plans, discussing and debating issues, questioning and shaping the direction of a society.
If one remains with the minimalist definition of democracy as elections, then the "will of the masses" becomes equated only to the name written on the masses' ballot. What the masses WANT becomes oversimplified to a personality: Fernando Poe, Jr.
If one begins however, with a broader understanding of democracy as empowerment, dialogue, and action, then it is easy to recognize that the "will of the masses" cannot be reduced to FPJ. What the masses want is a government that will respond to their needs, that will speak to them in their vernacular rather than in an alien tongue, that will visibly prioritize the quality of lives of the seventy percent of the population that live below the poverty line.
It has been argued, "But many of the masses do not understand that when a president speaks to big business, she is doing it not only for the rich but ALSO for the poor." Someone who makes that statement will follow it up with: "We can really only have a democracy after we have educated the poor majority about how government actually works and how the economy is actually structured."
The premise itself is arguable, but even if, for the sake of argument, we agree that educating people on civic duty, on government, and on economy, ought to take first priority before elections, the question arises: HOW do we conduct such an educational program? Again, it would appear that the only way that education can occur is precisely through the dialogue, discourse, and discussion characteristic of "democracy" in its broader sense.
To return to the original question: Are we ready for democracy? When we understand the word in its broader sense, the question can be read: Are we ready for the dialogue, discourse, and discussion that will ensure that all voices will be heard in the public realm? Are we ready to involve citizens in the implementation of our country's action-plans? Are we ready for empowerment?
When the question is phrased THAT way, then the answer would seem to be: It is not a question of being READY for democracy or not; rather, democracy is what we NEED to get our country out of the quagmire we are in now.
If we do accept the tentative premise that voters need to be educated better, then it would appear that the only way to do that is THROUGH the discourse and dialogue of a democracy. If we DO accept the premise that the great majority of the Philippine citizenry needs to come to a better understanding of how economies and governments work in order to make better decisions during elections, then it would appear that the only way to do that is by involving more of the citizenry in the goings-on of public life.
That task is not only a political one, but a cultural one as well. The poor, I feel, are not merely alienated from the halls of government, they are alienated by the oligarchic culture of the upper class that insists on its own malls, its own movies, its own television stations. That is, of course, another story, but it may be instructive as well . . . . Perhaps, what we need more than ever, is not a majority vote that goes the way that the elite want (for even a majority vote can turn into the tyranny of the majority), but growth towards solidarity for a government who is responsive to and who has the support of all sectors of society.
I do wish to add a footnote to all this, however. "Dialogue" is not just a question of preaching or teaching whom the majority OUGHT to vote for. It is also a question of LISTENING. It is also a question of seeking to understand the culture and worldview of the poorer majority, which sadly, so many of us in the elite make no attempt to hear.