Pink Power

by Danton Remoto

June has traditionally been the Pride Month of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. It all started during the Stonewall Riots in 1969, when gays mourning the death of Judy Garland were chased out of Greenwich Village bars by macho cops. To the cops’ surprise, the gays fought back – with stiletto heels, with their bags, with their feet, and their fists.

No longer would gays take passively the routine harassment being done by the police. For days and nights on end, a pitched fight ensued – and thus was born the Gay Liberation movement in the West.

It took decades for its ripples to reach the Philippines. In the early 1990s, gay groups were born – the ones who had workshops on gender awareness, HIV-AIDS information, pride in one’s being different and gay.

And exactly 17 years later, Ang Ladlad would file its papers for party-list accreditation, which was promptly torpedoed by a pro-administration Arroyo presidency. The LGBTs were no longer in the closet – they were already in the center of the room.

The Web site of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism carried everything wisely and well – the reportage, the investigative work, the sharp quotes. One such document they featured was a report allegedly from the Office of External Affairs in Malacanang. Not content with its head honcho being put as a party-list nominee, it listed the party-list groups whose accreditation and victory should be avoided, at all costs. And along with the usual suspects – Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Anakpawis, Akbayan, Anak ng Bayan, Sanlakas – was our LGBT group Ang Ladlad.

Political power

We knew we were politically strong – an LGBT voting population of ten percent (4.5 million of 45 million registered voters as of May 2007) is enough to vote three people into Congress, as part of the party-list system. It is also enough to compose half of the votes a senator needed to land in the safe, number ten spot in a tight senatorial race. But since "Burjer King" Abalos was there, he chose to anoint his brother, a former taxi driver, to run under a party list of tricycle drivers, among other abominations.

I remember all of this now because I got a wicked text message from Dexter, one of our most active members in Ang Ladlad. His message read: "Don’t say pare when it doesn’t sound right. Don’t push yourself to be straight-acting when obvious gay behavior surfaces. Don’t say you’re discreet when your face pics are posted on gay Internet sites. Don’t say you’re merely straight tripper and straight curious, when you are real gays. So Pink People, be proud. Have pride. Embrace your sexuality. Love it. Admit it. Flaunt it. Who cares if you are men who love other men? Happy Pride Month."

I am sure that I will get nasty e-mail messages again for this column you are now scanning in your computer screens. As Atty. Katrina Legarda said in our meeting last week, you cannot please everybody.

Hate mail

And I’ve never meant to. In the interest of what is known as reader-response critical theory, which says that a reader’s response is shaped by his upbringing, education, taste or lack of it, I have let most comments be.

I remember when I was editing the Saturday Special section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer more than ten years ago, I received hate mail every week. Those were the days before e-mail and text messages, and the comments I got would not pass through the receptionist in the pager system. Thus, the avalanche of hand-written letters full of venom and spite.

One such comment came from somebody who claimed she was studying in a conservative Christian university. She sent me a drawing obviously taken from a painting of Hieronymus Bosch, of people with horns and tails, carrying pitchforks. They were all writhing in agony in my letter-sender’s idea of hell. Then the comments in a balloon: "You will end up here." Was I scared!

I showed the letter and the drawing to Ceres Doyo, who promptly pulled her drawer open to show me similar scary stuff. She added, "In this paper, Conrad de Quiros, Rina Jimenez-David and I get this. Now, you’re the fourth. Welcome to the club!" I was happy to belong to such company.

Another time, I wrote a column to defend the showing of Schindler’s List, which the Board of Censors wanted to ban because "they showed the backside of Liam Neeson and they showed two breasts. The guidelines said you can only show one breast." I wrote that Liam Neeson, who played Oscar Schindler, was shown tumbling in bed with a sex worker to show that he, too, although noble in the end, was a character who was neither white nor black. Like all of us, he was gray, complex and multi-dimensional. And I said he was shown butt-naked because, pardoneme, you do not have sex with all your clothes on! It would leave you with skin rashes and nicks from the zipper bites and such.

Moreover, the women who were shown naked were about to take a shower. If you knew your history, the Jewish prisoners were told by the Nazis to take a shower because they would be sent back to their homes. So the gleeful people did that, and there was a long shot of many women crowding into the toilets to take a shower.

I think only a pervert would be aroused by the sight of all those women in the shower, since the audience knows they would all be burnt to a crisp. In fiction class, this is called irony of situation, when the readers or the audience know what the characters in the book or film do not.

Homosexuality is unnatural?

And I added, in my very limited exposure to the breasts of women (my mother’s, when I was a kid), if you’ve seen one breast, you’ve seen the other. They, indeed, look alike. So the guideline about a Filipino film showing one breast as OK, but two breasts are wrong, seemed to be pointing at the wrong direction.

More coup de grace moments happened was when I moved to the Manila Times, edited by the brave and brilliant women of Philippine journalism – Malou Mangahas, Chit Estella and Glenda Gloria. One day, we headlined news about a powerful politician and unsavory, triple-checked facts against him. The next day, his gracious wife came, with baskets of ensaymada. She was distributing the puffy merienda to everybody when I said, I think loud enough for the entire newsroom to hear, "Hala, you’ll never know, this might be poisoned!"

But the politician’s wife had the charm of the devil. She just smiled, went to me and gave me not one, but two ensaymadas. That’s what you get for being atrevida.

But the conservative realm would not leave me alone. One day, I received this plaintive letter from one of them.

"Dear Mr. Remoto," it began. "We hope you will stop writing your disturbing columns about homosexuality and other unnatural, disordered things. We in our Catholic Order and in our university have included you in the list of people we are praying for every day. We are praying for your conversion to heterosexuality."

I read the letter and smiled. Then I drafted my column for the day. I quoted their letter in the first paragraph. Then I wrote my answer.

"Dear Christian Friends, your prayers have been answered. I have been converted to heterosexuality. I am now a woman."

After writing it I saw our publisher, Robina Gokongwei, passing by. I waved her to come near me. Her eyes brightened, and she walked to my table. I pointed out to her the draft of my column. She read it and laughed Then she closed her eyes and said, "But we cannot publish that."

"Ateng," I told our perky and unflappable publisher, "I will return to the Inquirer if you censor this."

Again she cackled with laughter, muttered something about what would her mother say this time, and then said, "Go ahead. Make our day!"

TV still the way to reach mass market, but new media fast rising

Written by Isagani de Castro, Jr.
Friday, 20 June 2008

Television is still the medium to reaching mass audiences in many Asian countries, but its influence is declining as more and more consumers buy mobile phones and computers and get connected to the Internet.

In an interview with, Hermawan Kartajaya, president of the World Marketing Association, said the influence of television in reaching consumer markets in Asia is around 90% while new media is still a low 10%.

“TV now is now 90%. But by 2020, only 12 years from now, TV will be only maybe 10%,” Kartajaya said.

Worldwide trend
Stephen Yap, director of a marketing firm, Client Services and Insight, told the World Marketing Conference at the SMX Convention Center Friday, that television is still the medium to go to for advertisers who want to reach a big market.

“You still cannot beat television if you need to reach a wide audience at the same time. TV will still give you more reach than any other media,” he said.

However, Yap said the influence of new media, especially mobile phones, is rising fast.

“The vast majority of people in the world don’t use PCs. However, increasingly, a vast majority of people in the world use mobile phones,” he said. “More people use mobile phones than watch TV.”

Thus, he said marketing firms would have to pay more attention to reaching audiences through mobile phones.

Studies done by TNS, a global market research firm, showed that at the end of 2007, there were 3.3 billion mobile phone users in the world. In 2009, the forecast is there will be 4 billion mobile phone users worldwide.

In contrast, there are only 850 million personal computer (PC) owners in the world. “It’s going to take till 2010 before the number of global PC owners reaches one billion,” Yap said.

TNS data also show that the number of people who listen to digital music using MP3 players built in mobile phones has doubled from 18% globally in 2006 to 32% in 2007. “So last year, one in three people were already listening to music on their mobile handsets,” Yap said.

In developing markets like Latin America, the number of people listening to radio, usually FM stations, on their mobile phones more than doubled, from 10% in 2006 to 24% in 2007. “One in four people last year were now regularly listening to radio on their mobile phones,” he said. “A lot of these people use their mobile phone as their primary radio.”

He said mobile TV is also starting to make its influence felt in “emerging markets where TV access is not that easily available.”

“Mobile Internet is starting to take off particularly in developing countries,” Yap said. “People are gravitating toward their mobile screens as their TV device of choice.”

New wave marketing
In his keynote speech at the World Marketing Conference Thursday, Kartajaya, a renowned Asian marketing guru, said the rise of new media would require a “new wave of marketing.”

It will no longer be the usual vertical marketing strategy where business firms promote and sell products to consumers. The usual way of promoting a product is to use commercials in television, radio and print.

The rise of new media will require horizontal ways of marketing products, and the key is to have a presence in the worldwide web.

“If you are not connected to the Internet, you will die. Because your competitors are connected, your customers are connected, and all the change agents are connected. That’s why Internet is becoming very important,” Kartajaya said.

Marketers and advertisers will have to change the way they do their business. Instead of product promotion, new wave marketing will have to engage in conversation with consumers, he said.

“You can only do conversation. Conversation will be more effective than top-down communication,” Kartajaya said.

Marketing will no longer be done in one place like a mall or a public market, but it has to be accepted by a community.

“It has to be activated by the community itself, which means the community is opening the door for you, they will accept your product. That is the philosophy of horizontalization,” Kartajaya said.

Products will also have to be created solely by a company but by the customer and the community. “Co-creation means you must create the new product together with your customer.”

Kartajaya said horizontalization is best reflected in the rise of social network sites like Friendster, which is number one in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, or in China, and in India.

He said these developments also means a decline in the power of government and the rise of people power. “This is the era of horizontalization, not verticalization.” (

Loren of Arc

Of course, Loren is running as president in 2010. That is why I was laughing when the so-called political analysts were accusing her of milking the Ces Drilon kidnapping for all it is worth. Their analyses are so self-evident, even sophomoric. Magulat kayo pag hindi yan tumakbo!

But did you see how swift the response to Loren is? A calibrated, well-funded, wide-ranging text message campaign villifying Loren of Arc. What I found funny was how could the banker Edgardo Espiritu have said those words in the text message? This guy is a banker, a well-respected man whose profession demands discreetness in word and action. I am sure he would not have said those words against Loren in public.

The Lucida skin-whitening backlash seems to have been bleached (pun intended) with Loren's latest coup. Say what you want about the girl, but what Loren wants, Loren gets.

I remember I was a senior editor at the Sunday Times Magazine in 1996 when my editor, the redoubtable Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon, assigned me to interview David Bunevacz, then the so-called great, brown hope of Philippine athletics. Jo-ann assured me that it was an exclusive, and David did not want to talk to anybody else, except the Times. But lo and behold! When I arrived at ULTRA, Loren was already there, interviewing David, then her camera man taking footage of David, running like a blur in the track field.

Loren then looked at me and smiled, and I waved back at her. Mabilis talaga ang isang ito, ha! Whatta gurl.

Of course, the campaigning for the 2010 elections has begun. All those tarpaulins and billboards and ads prove it. Everybody has geared himself or herself up for the campaign mode. The candidates are now criss-crossing the country to touch base with the electorate. Niche marketing, in case you haven't yet known it, is now the name of the political game. The earlier you clinch that niche, the better for you. So you can move on to the next niche, in the next province, in the next region. Databases are now being dusted off, updated, and collated. Alliances with LGUs are now being forged. Prices of giveaways to be made in China are now being listed down, from wristbands to headbands, from pencils to ballpens, from instant noodles to clocks.

By May of 2009, the presidential candidates with truly deep pockets (only two of them, not counting Lakas-CMD-Kampi) would have fully paid for the TV and radio slots for their ads to be aired beginning January of 2010. To pay early is to make sure you would get the rates cheap, with big discounts. If you buy airtime a month before the elections, the rates would already be laced with arsenic, separated from you by barbed wire. This is the great, big, all-encompassing air war in the tri-media (but most especially TV) that will include ads not only for the presidentiables themselves, but also the ads that will include their VP and senatorial candidates. That is why everybody wants a strong, winnable senatorial slate. Which, of course, is difficult to form. If you study the pattern of victories in the senatorial elections since 1992, a party would be truly lucky if five of its candidates won. That is why the Genuine Opposition victory last year was astounding.

I foresee gazillions of money for ABS-CBN Channel 2 and GMA Channel 7 and their respective radio stations, DZMM and DZBB, as well as the only satellite-fed, truly national radio station in the country, DZRH.

Kaya sa mga friends natin, do not feel bad when everybody is doing his or her small or great bit for 2010. Matakot kayo pag walang eleksyon!

At this point, I am quoting an excerpt from a column of Annie Pamintuan, one of my editors at Philippine STAR and one of the most astute commentators on the Philippine political scene.

Here it goes. Put your tongue on your cheek ;-)



The other target of ugly speculation arising from the kidnapping is Sen. Loren Legarda, who belatedly came into the picture and then, in vintage Loren, tried to hog the limelight following the release. It was hard to find photos where Loren didn’t look glued to Ces – or maybe that was part of a deal, the better for Ces, in her unmade-up (though no less attractive) state, to hide her huge insect bites from the cruel medium of TV.

This should teach Loren a lesson on the merits of keeping self-glorification to a minimum, especially in a case where her initial boast about an “unconditional release” resulting from “firm negotiations” is increasingly being shown up to be a big, fat lie.

As of yesterday, with the PNP announcing that more ransom money was delivered in two duffel bags in Sulu after Angelo Valderama was freed for P5 million, the story going around was that Loren herself had nagged ABS-CBN to pay P15 million. About P10 million was reportedly traced to the Isnajis; no one knows what happened to the P5 million. Loren is sure to deny this and blame the nasty talk on her political rivals. But after the “unconditional” release turned out to have cost at least P5 million, she should start distancing herself from this mess.

With just two years to 2010, and with President Arroyo plumbing new depths in performance ratings at every quarterly survey, Loren should dispel perceptions that apart from the same gender, she has something else in common with the President: ease in lying. In dealing with so-called friends, Loren should also remember that oft-repeated admonition that those who lie down with dogs

On Political Ads, Elections and Campaigning: The First National Campaigners-Media Interface

By Joy Aceron, Political Development and Reform Project
Coordinator, Ateneo School of Government
Ateneo de Manila University

The Ateneo School of Government, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS)
and Newsbreak publication held the First National Campaigners-Media
Interface last May 13, 2008 at the Hyatt Hotel and Casino Manila. The
whole-day event provided an opportunity for media practitioners,
political strategists and campaign managers to interact, discuss and
reflect on the state of affairs of the country’s national electoral

The morning session featured the launching of Newsbreak’'s newest
book, "Selling Candidates: Political Ads in the 2007 Senatorial
Elections," a follow-up of the book "Spin and Sell: How Political Ads
shaped the 2004 Elections." It was covered by ANC’s Media In Focus
and was hosted by Ms. Patricia Evangelista.

Dr. Dennis Gonzalez, Associate Dean of the Ateneo School of Government
and Mr. Klaus Preschle, Resident Representative of the Konrad Adenauer
Stiftung, opened the ceremony. Executive Directors Ms. Marites Vitug
of Newsbreak and Dr. Ana Maria Tabunda of Pulse Asia provided the
background and overview of the book respectively. Insights were given
by Senator Alan Peter Cayetano in his short message.

A panel discussion on The Promise and Limits of Political
Advertisements moderated by Ms. Cheche Lazaro of the Probe Team
followed the book launch. It included Senator Cayetano, former
Congressman Prospero Pichay, Ms. Yoly Villanueva-Ong of Campaigns and
Grey, Ms. Charie Villa of ABS-CBN News, and Ms. Marichu Villanueva of
the Philippine Star as panelists.

The panelists agreed that the efficiency of political ads lies
primarily on their ability to prompt recall. With costly political
ads, according to Ms. Villanueva, the candidates’ names “easily get
into the voters’ minds.” However, the panelists were cautious in
taking this assumption as an absolute truth due to cases wherein
candidates lost in the elections despite bombarding the media with
their political ads, or instances of victory despite having fewer
political ads. Former Congressman Pichay and Senator Cayetano were
regarded classic examples of these instances. When and how political
ads may or may not be an effective campaign tool became the focus of

The big question Ms. Cheche Lazaro asked the panelists was, “Why did
Cong. Pichay lose after being the top spender on political ads?”
Cong. Pichay reasoned that he was only a new name in the senatorial
race. Ms. Yoly Ong, in her analysis of Cong. Pichay’'s defeat, said
not all ads are created equal; some were made better than the others.
Ms. Ong also stressed that the candidate’'s track record and stand on
issues are also determinants of winning an election because she
believes that an image cannot be fabricated. There should be an image
that truly characterizes the candidate, and the media handler’s sole
duty is to highlight and enhance the image.

Ms. Villanueva cited Sen. Cayetano as an example. He had fewer ads but
numerous media exposures in the issues that he engaged in.

Ms. Charie Villa agreed with Ms. Ong: “Pichay disconnected with his
message of wanting to solve poverty,” she said.

Meanwhile, Senator Cayetano said that the voting public has
transformed into a more aware, discerning and critical electorate,
making it more difficult to win by ads alone. “People may be totally
aware of you, but how sensible is your ad?” he commented.

In his closing remarks for the morning activity, Dr. Gonzalez shared
his observations, and posed a challenge on making campaigning more
meaningful in light of voters becoming more discerning. He urged
campaigning to veer away from sheer gimmickry.

The afternoon activity was the Campaigners’ Forum that featured issues
and developments in Philippine electoral campaigns. Hosted by Ms. Joy
Aceron of the Ateneo School of Government, local and national
campaigners and political strategists from various political parties
such as LAKAS-CMD, Liberal Party, Nacionalista Party, PDP Laban,
Akbayan!, Kapatiran and other political parties participated in the

Mr. Klaus Presche welcomed the participants and introduced Dr. Helmut
Jung, a German expert on political opinion research and Managing
Director of Gesellschaft für Markt- und Sozialforschung mbH (GMS) in
Hamburg, Germany. Dr. Jung discussed "Trends and Developments in
Political Opinion Research."

In his presentation, Dr. Jung highlighted the importance of conducting
surveys and Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) in making informed
decisions in campaigning. In the discussion moderated by Ms. Chay
Hofileña of the Ateneo de Manila University, Dr. Jung elaborated on
the concept of “micro targeting”. Micro-targeting, being a trend in
political opinion research in Germany, involves reading the
psychological characteristics of voters to assess their voting
attitudes. Dr. Jung also encouraged the development of
micro-targeting in the Philippines.

The second topic, Preparing a Candidate, followed the discussion with
the German expert. Panelists for the topic included Ms. Yoly Ong, a
renowned communications specialist; Congressman Glenn Chong of the
Lone District of Biliran, a success story of the book "“How to Win an
Election”" published by the Ateneo School of Government and Konrad
Adenauer Stiftung; Mr. Averell Laquindanum, campaign manager of
Governor Ed Panlilio, the priest who won the governorship of Pampanga
against formidable opponents; and Mr. Raffy Baraan, provincial
administrator of Pangasinan who is well experienced in local
campaigns. The topic was moderated by Ms. Miriam Grace Go, Assistant
Managing Editor of Newbreak.

Based on her experience, Ms. Ong said there are five basic elements
that determine the success or failure of a campaign. These are 1) the
correct positioning of the candidate; 2) correct assessment of the
election environment; 3) identification of a key message that will
stick with the voters; 4) running the campaign like a private company
where the candidate must not act as campaign manager to ensure
distance and objectivity in making decisions; and ideally, 5)
preparation of a comprehensive campaign plan. Furthermore, Ms. Ong
reiterated that these elements are ideal for campaigning in “ordinary
circumstances,” but she shared that she has yet to see these elements
put into practice.

Meanwhile, Cong. Chong, Mr. Laquindanum and Mr. Baraan shared stories
about campaigning in “extraordinary circumstances.” Cong. Chong
narrated his experience in destroying the clout of a political dynasty
in his province. Being a newcomer in running his own campaign, he had
struggles in managing his measly resources at the same time dealing
with psychological pressures from his opponents. As part of his
winning strategy, he devised ways to effectively communicate his
message to the electorate about ending corruption in their province.
He went as far as producing low budgeted Audio-Visual Presentations
(AVPs) and showing them to the voters in the hope of implanting his
message into their minds.

Cong. Chong’s story is similar to Governor Panlilio's. Aside from
being inexperienced in politics, Gov. Panlilio did not have resources.
“Even his team did not have experience in running a political
campaign,” added Mr. Laquindanum. In the campaigns, Gov. Panlilio'’s
known integrity, track record in the social apostolate, and mass
appeal were highlighted to differentiate him from his opponents,
making him an alternative to traditional politics.

With the idea of differentiating a candidate from the other hopefuls,
Mr. Baraan stressed that this is very important. He said it is always
useful to contrast a candidate and make him distinct so that people
will have a clear choice of who to vote for. Aside from
differentiating a candidate, it is also important that the candidate
be guided by concrete information so that he can have an objective
view of how he is doing in the campaign. Mr. Baraan agreed with Dr.
Jung about the importance of surveys in campaigning. Cong. Chong and
Mr. Laquindanum also recognized the significance of using surveys in
informed decision-making during elections.

Drawing from the Pampanga experience in the previous election,
heightened debate ensued on whether an ethical and moral campaign is
possible in the Philippines. Although the issue was unresolved, the
debate occasioned an interesting exchange of ideas and insights.

The last topic was focused on the assessment of Philippine campaigns
entitled, Philippine Campaigns: Moving Forward or Staying Traditional.
Ms. Miriam Grace Go continued to moderate the discussion and Atty.
Florencio '“Butch”' Abad of the Liberal Party, Mr. Francis Manglapus
of LAKAS-CM,D and Ms. Malou Tiquia, founder and General Manager of
Publicus were the panelists.

In his assessment, Atty. Abad argued that Philippine campaigns are not
entirely moving forward because there is a big difference in terms of
local and national election campaigning. Atty. Abad considers local
elections as traditional because it remains patronage-based. On the
other hand, national elections are different because people think in
terms of issues and the arena of battle is in the air, the battle
using political ads on TV. He said, in terms of air war, Philippine
campaigns are moving forward. But he is unsure if this is healthy
because, in the end, stability, consistency and predictability are
what the country needs.

On the other hand, Mr. Manglapus argued that the state of Philippine
campaigns still remains traditional. He proposed that, to move
forward, structural changes in terms of electoral and party reforms
should be instituted. The key is making drastic reforms to move
forward. He added that, to make this happen, simplification of the
electoral process is required and there should be enough space given
to the discussion of important issues. Elections should not rely on
gimmickry and public relations people, he concluded.

In terms of the new emerging modes of campaigning (e.g. surveys,
political websites, surveys, GIS, SMS, FGDs, AVPs, Ringtones, Blogs,
Youtube, TV debates, etc.), Ms. Tiquia argued that Philippine
campaigns have moved forward. What remains traditional, according to
her, is the electoral system. For instance, she said, the Comelec
cannot even provide sufficient data for campaign planning purposes.
She also added that what remains traditional is the counting and
proclamation process. At the latter part of her presentation, Ms.
Tiquia challenged campaigners to identify the demographics of ad
reception. Campaigners must be able to tap and connect with the
younger generation, the sector of the population who usually do not
care about politics.

The latter part of the discussion highlighted issues on instituting
electoral reform, automating the elections and passing bills on
campaign financing.

Dr. Edna Co, faculty member of the Ateneo School of Government, and
Mr. Klaus Preschle recognized the success of the event and thanked the
participants in their Closing Remarks.

The morning activity was attended by 140 guests from political
parties, media, campaigners/ political strategists, non-government
organizations, academe, international donors and embassies; while the
afternoon activity was attended by 90 representatives of political
parties, political institutes and political advertisement/consultancy

Poll tribunal finds basis Koko was cheated of Senate seat


THE Senate Electoral Tribunal has found sufficient basis that Genuine Opposition candidate Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III was cheated in the 2007 senatorial elections.

In a nine-page resolution dated June 17, the SET ordered the revision on the remaining 75 percent of the contested precincts and the re-tabulation of the election documents in Patikul, Sulu.

The resolution was signed by Supreme Court Justice Leonardo Quisumbing, SET chairman, Justices Antonio Carpio and Renato Corona, and Senators Edgardo Angara, Ramon Revilla Jr., Pia Cayetano, Panfilo Lacson, Francis Escudero and Benigno Aquino III.

The tribunal said results of the initial revision on the first 25 percent precincts revealed that Pimentel "has prima facie valid cause of action."

Under SET rules, a protesting candidate must show solid evidence of fraud in at least 25 percent of the election results in the places subject of his protest.

"The results of the initial revision and appreciation proceedings already done showed that the 14 May 2007 election in certain designated pilot areas was characterized by proven irregularities," SET said.

It said that in "six of the nine pilot municipalities in Maguindanao and Lanao del Norte, for instance, 98.15 percent of the ballots (70,922) cast were found to be spurious."

The SET said that the "spurious" ballots could affect the standings for the 12th and last senatorial slot.

The Comelec proclaimed Team Unity candidate Juan Miguel Zubiri the 12th senator with a lead of 19,292 votes over Pimentel.

Pimentel questioned the results in 2,658 precincts covering 44 municipalities and seven provinces, which were mostly in Mindanao.

The SET has issued a gag order on the Pimentel and Zubiri camps.

Commercial ads of politicians partisan activitty but not premature campaigning

Written by Aries C. Rufo
Thursday, 19 June 2008

A politician’s commercial ad or endorsement may not be premature campaigning as defined by election laws but they are certainly a form of partisan political activity.

The Supreme Court, on two occasions, has ruled that a commercial endorsement by politicians is not necessarily a form of premature campaigning, nor when they push personal advocacies in mass media.

Legally, they are off the hook, the High Court said.

But is it ethical?
Commercial endorsements that indirectly promote a politician outside of the election period may not be punishable under election laws but they are certainly unethical, said former Senate president Jovito Salonga.

In response to our query, Salonga referred us to RA 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, which he authored in 1991.

Sec. 4 (b) of RA 6713 defined professionalism that is expected from public officials. "Public officials and employees shall perform and discharge with the highest degree of excellence, professionalism, intelligence and skill. They shall enter public service with utmost devotion and dedication to duty. They shall endeavor to discourage wrong perception of their roles as dispensers or peddlers of undue patronage."

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has been critical of the product endorsements and institutional and advocacy ads of her colleagues, describing them as a form of premature campaigning. She recently urged the public not to vote for these politicians and for the poll commission to disqualify them for violating election laws.

From detergents to skin whitener
With only less than two years before the 2010 national elections, commercial endorsements of some politicians, many of them in the Senate, have been surfacing in the mass media.

They include Senators Mar Roxas II and Pia Cayetano for laundry detergents, Panfilo Lacson for a skin care center, Richard Gordon for a bath soap, Loren Legarda for a skin whitener and Francis Escudero for a health supplement.

As for advocacies, Senate President Manuel Villar has his own TV commercial, calling for the protection of overseas Filipino workers. Legarda has an environment-protection ad.

Outside of the Senate, Vice-President Noli de Castro has been promoting the low-cost housing loan program of Pag-ibig. De Castro, who has been topping pubic opinion polls for the 2010 presidential race, is also chair of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council.

No sanctions
Commission on Elections legal department director Ferdinand Rafanan said no sanctions can be imposed on the politicians making commercial endorsements since these are done outside an election campaign period.

While the ad exposure may help in their visibility to the public, it cannot be strictly considered premature campaigning, he said.

The most recent case decided by the Supreme Court was Lanot vs Eusebio wherein then Pasig Mayor Vicente Eusebio was accused by rival, Henry Lanot, of committing premature campaigning during the 2004 national polls.

Lanot charged that Eusebio engaged in premature campaigning when he caused, among other acts, the publication of a political advertisement and the display of billboards extolling his governance, even before the official campaign period began.

At that time, the Comelec set the deadline in the filing of certificate of candidacy (COC) on Jan. 3, 2004, way ahead of the original schedule. The official campaign period for the local race, however, was set on March 24.

The Comelec found Eusebio guilty of premature campaigning but the SC reversed the ruling.

The Court established that Eusebio was not yet a "candidate" when he committed the alleged acts, as the main intention behind the early filing of candidacy was only to give Comelec enough time to prepare for the poll automation.

Without this deadline, the Court observed that Eusebio would have filed his COC on the last day of the filing, like most other politicians.

‘Indirect promotion of candidacy’
While the SC cleared Eusebio of premature campaigning, there was no doubt however to the Court’s mind that Eusebio’s acts constitute a partisan political activity.

"Acts committed by Eusebio prior to his being a candidate, even if constituting election campaigning or partisan political activities are not punishable under Section 80 of the Omnibus Election Code. Such acts are protected as part of freedom of expression of a citizen before he becomes a candidate for elective public office," the SC said.

Another ruling which may apply to the present criticism on the incumbent senators is the Chavez vs Comelec case handed down in August 2004.

The case revolved on the injunction sought by former Solicitor Frank Chavez questioning the resolution of the Comelec ordering the removal of posters, commercial billboards of candidates also during the 2004 election campaign. Like the present crop of senators, Chavez, who was then seeking a senatorial seat, has been tapped months earlier to endorse a clothing line and a plastic product. He also had his own billboard on Roxas Blvd. promoting a game and amusement parlor.

In opposing the removal of his billboards and other visual media endorsements, Chavez argued that these were for purely product endorsements "and do not announce nor solicit any support for his candidacy."

The Court however was not convinced.

While the justices agreed that it was within Chavez’s right to enter into commercial contracts, the billboards featuring his image however already "assumed partisan political character" when he sought political office.

Such billboards, the SC said "indirectly promoted his candidacy."

The SC went further in dissecting the phenomenon of commercial endorsements and billboards of politicians. The Court said it could be used to circumvent the rule against premature campaigning.

In upholding the power of the Comelec to remove such billboards during the campaign period, the SC said a scenario is possible where "an individual intending to run for public office within the next few months, could pay private corporations to use him as their image with the intention of familiarizing the public with his name and image even before the start of the campaign period."

Senate minority floor leader Aquilino Pimentel, asked to comment on the commercial endorsements of politicians, said "it is up to the individual senator" whether they should desist from engaging in such commercial contracts.

"It is a matter of delicadeza. I cannot impose my own set of standards on the other senators," Pimentel said. With reports from Jenny Aguilar (

Review of Pulotgata, part 2

revealed. Instead, he uses carefully selected metaphors and similes to convey his thoughts and feelings.

For Imagism has a very strong influence on Remoto's versifying, via Amygism (after Amy Lowell, who published the three-volume anthology Some Imagist Poets) and the Bagay poetry espoused by Rolando Tinio and company. A close reading of the poems will reveal that they conform to most of the guiding principles of Imagism/Amygism, "that poetry should render particulars exactly and not deal in vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous," and that "concentration is of the very essence of poetry."

The image-making of Remoto is best described as elemental, evoking connections between the male body and the natural world, between powerful emotions and stark details of flora and fauna. Here are some prime examples: "My breath will begin by flowering/ in the caves of your ears.//" ["Tonight I Will Live in Your Skin"], "I will be the Falls of Dochart hurtling itself/ down the hills of Breadalbane,/ the rocks rumbling with my cascading force.// ["Water"], "Water slides down/ the leaves/ like tongue on skin" ["Rain"], "Swans skimmed the skin/ of your surface./" ["Winter"], "summer's thunder/ lighting up the sky/ oh heat thick/ as desire/" ["The Way We Live"], "My fingers brushing against/ the ferns in the mountain/ of your hair.//" ["Destination"], "your lips brushing// like a butterfly's wing/ against my lips./ ["Dawn"].

Among the poems in Filipino are the following: "Duhat na hinog ang mga mata ng gabi." ["Gabi"], "tila mga ibong hapo/ na humahapon sa pugad/ ng iyong puso.//" ["Kaarawan"], "Sa aming likuran,/ ang mga sanga/ ay nagiging kandila./ May talab/ ang kanilang lagablab.//" ["Ang Tawag"], "Matang may kubling// lungkot,/ mga salitang maigsi,/ manipis pa/ sa hugis-suklay na buwan.// ["Simula"], At ang iyong mga daliri'y/ naglalakbay, pumapasok,/ nawawala/ sa mga ulan ng aking buhok.// ["Pulotgata"].

There is also a sense of immediacy to Remoto's love lyrics, for almost all of the poems are written in the present or present perfect tense. Hence, the presence of the persona, the controlling consciousness, permeates the scene of each poem, the objective situation, even the spaces in between.

Another interesting feature of Remoto's poetry is its capacity to transcend traditional gender barriers, despite its homosexual underpinnings. Except for a few homoerotic pieces which some conservative readers might find rather offensive, most of the other poems are written in good taste, with the right amount of tenderness and tenacity of spirit.

Although a good number of the 57 poems in Pulotgata are reprinted from his two previous collections Skin Voices Faces and Black Silk Pajamas, the book is still worth buying, especially for die-hard romantics, since Remoto's love poems still remain fresh and clear and genuine, despite the passages of the years. For new readers, the book is a good introduction to the work of a highly accessible poet who writes proficiently both in English and Filipino.

Note: Pulotgata in Tagalog/Filipino means honeymoon

Review of "Pulotgata" The Love Poems"

This is a review of my book that I just read in the Internet today. It was written by Ralph Semino Galan of UST and was published in the Inquirer. It comes in two parts.

Honeymooning with Words, Part I
by Ralph Semino Galan

Love is a favorite subject among Filipino poets, regardless of gender. For despite the influx of modern and postmodern ideologies, the pervasive influence of the Romantic spirit is still prevalent in Philippine literature, especially in poetry. It therefore comes as no surprise that even a gay-identified writer like Danton Remoto has composed extensively verses expressing the intricacies of love and lust, desire and devotion, passion and compassion.

In his third book of poetry aptly titled "Pulotgata: The Love Poems" (Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, Inc, 2004, 88 pages), Remoto delves the depths of the human heart through lyrics in English and Filipino that sing of the anxiety and the excitement, the agony and the ecstasy which accompany the act of love.

The joy of loving and the consummation of desire are celebrated in the verses "Tonight I Will Live in Your Skin," inspired by Pablo Neruda's penultimate love poem in Veinte poemas de amor y una cancon desesperada, "Water," "Fire and Ice," "Autumn," "Room," "Black Silk Pajamas," "Song of the Flute," "Destination," "Dawn," "The Seat of Love," "The Ring" and "Sky," among others.

On the other hand, the pain of parting and the power of memory to redeem those special moments, which otherwise would be lost to oblivion, are articulated in the following pieces: "Childhood," "BurningSeason," "Chairs," "Snowstorm," "Departure," "Rain," "Stairway," "In Tagaytay," "Winter," "All the Clichs," "At Bellarmine" and "Song of Rumi."

The poems in Filipino, whether of the first or second persuasion, are more precise and direct, penetrating the heart of the matter with the sharpest of inquiries and insights: "ano kayang bitag/ ang itinatago ng buhay/ para sa akin?//" ["Pagdidilim 1."], "ibig maging buhangin/ upang masarayan// kahit minsan man lamang/ ng kanyang talampakan.// ["Baler, na Bayan Niya"], Pag-ibig ay tinig na tila sagwan/ humahati sa dagat ng kawalan./, ["Hindi Kinang ng Buwan"], "tinipong hininga ng mga mangingibig! -/ at sandaling inisip/ ang karahasan ng pag-asa" ["Kabalyero"], "Ikaw,// na iniwan akong nag-iisa,/ walang kaibigan// o kasama,/ kundi mga wikang dayuhan// at paiba-iba.//" ["Wika"].

There is a seeming simplicity in Remoto's poetry in his choice of words and images. He does not employ verbal fireworks for effect and efficacy. Nor does he rely on arcane and orphic tropes that obfuscate the reader into believing that something profound is being

no name-calling, please

I am sorry that, for the first time, i had to reject a comment just sent to me. it is about my article from entitled "in praise of the pinoy male."

Obviously, the taglish-speaking men i am talking about are middle-class, even upper, who live in the metropolis. but that does NOT mean i ignore the poor, the lower-class, the ones who do not speak taglish. I think it is a failure of the imagination to think that just because the writer did not mention them in ONE column, the writer is already against them. You have to take things in a particular context when you read them.

When I went to Bicol last May, most of my conversations were done with market vendors, farmers, fishermen, government employees, public school teachers and students from state colleges. They were not Taglish-speaking, not middle class, certainly not upper.

So to call me a "liar" in a blog, without using your real name, based on a column that is, obviously, misunderstood is unfair. I want to write you an e-mail but I do not have your email address.

So sorry, to the netherworld of cyberspace you go.

Roxas: Minimum wage earners' tax exemption is law on Tuesday

By Veronica Uy
First Posted 16:34:00 06/16/2008

MANILA, Philippines -- The measure exempting minimum wage earners from paying income tax and increasing personal exemptions for other employees will be signed into law on Tuesday, Senator Manuel "Mar" Roxas II said Monday.

"This new law will provide relief and additional money to spend for our workers which is needed more than ever at this time of continued increases in prices of necessary goods," Roxas, one of the authors of the measure, said.

"We have fought for this for a long time. Many Labor Days have come and gone wherein we fought for this for our workers, and at last, income tax exemption of minimum wage earners is now a law," he added.

Roxas said the tax exemptions would provide additional take-home pay of P750 a month for minimum wage earners.

"A worker in Metro Manila earning P7,900 a month will now have an additional P750 of take-home pay per month, or P34 per day. He can now spend this additional money for his needs or for his family's needs, such as food, medicine, and the tuition fee of his children, among other uses," Roxas said in a statement.

The senator added that all holiday, night differential, hazard, and overtime pay will also be tax-exempt.

For other salaried workers, the measure would allow an employee earning P455 per day or P10,010 per month to have an additional take-home pay of P472.59 per month or P5,671.02 per year if unmarried; P678.50 per month or P8,142.04 per year as head of the family; and P580.92 per month or P6,971.02 per year for those married with four children.

An employee earning P683 per day or P15,026 per month would have an additional take-home pay of P545.26 per month or P6,543.10 per year if unmarried; P1,307.18 per month or P15,686.20 per year as head of the family; and P1,190.52 per month or P14,286.20 per year for those married with four children.


I am reprinting this call for youth volunteers for the 2010 elections, started by Team RP. I got this from my Ateneo e-mail. It is a call being started by young people now to form a large group of volunteers who will help make the 2010 elections an election that will involve the youth sector of the country. It is a campaign to ask the young to register, vote and monitor the elections results. I enjoin our readers to join them. Thank you — Danton


is the BIGGEST voter registration and education drive yet.

And we invite YOU to be a part of it!

By fusing the hippest in today’s youth culture with a compelling social message,
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IamChange2010 shall feature:

1. an IamChange2010 Privilege Card for registered voters
2. bi-monthly national caravan with roadshows in 9 areas:

Cagayan de Oro
and Metro Manila

3. concert tours and coffee sessions
4. sports tournaments and arts competitions
5. Countdown to 2010 Billboard
6. Presidential Debate for the Youth
7. Election Night Wrap-up
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If you are interested, please send a letter of intent to, including your preferred committees (for Documentation, Secretariat, Marketing, Promotions, Programs, Logistics, Media Relations, and IT). If you have any questions, feel free to contact Kai at 09178320120.

is brought to you by Team RP, a youth-led initiative to advocate and proactively work towards the fight for Truth, Accountability and Reform in our government. It is led by college students and young professionals who want to see genuine reform in our country, especially in our government leaders today.

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Jessica Zafra knocks them down

LODESTAR By Danton Remoto
Philippine Star Art and Culture Section
Monday, June 16, 2008

Twisted 8: the Night of the Living Twisted is the latest reincarnation of the series of books that has made Jessica Zafra famous – or notorious, if you want to put it that way. But hey, along with the books of Ambeth Ocampo, Margie Holmes and, okay, myself, these are the only books from Anvil that get reprinted every year or so. In short, the demand is there, the readers are present – and we met them headlong.

Ige Ramos of Zeus Books co-published this book, and in his wicked intro he writes: “Twisted 8: The Night of the Living Dead is designed like a non-linear novel with the titles of the essays as sub-headings. One can arbitrarily peruse the book, like an iPod in random mode. It contains exactly what one would expect from a Jessica Zafra collection: essays pertaining to cats, books, film, travel, tennis and personal diaries, plus 3 Bonus Tracks of unpublished stories. Zeus Books – the name Jessica and I agreed to call our enterprise – is the fulfillment of our dream to publish the sort of books we want to read. It is our contribution to the campaign to reduce the amount of stupidity in the world.”

The essays read like blog entries — short, sharp, supremely satirical. Nothing and no one is spared, from social climbers to intellectual social climbers. The celebrity set gets a going over in “The hottest bars in hell.” Listen:

"Home is for boozing and bars and clubs are for posing. This got me thinking about those openings and other allegedly A-list events at bars and clubs, the ones we keep reading about in society pages and magazines. First, it’s always the same bunch of people at these parties — what do they do, travel in packs?"

She has a talent for being there at the right place and the right time, just when a strange event is happening, or a source of these events just has to, uh, share the weirdness of it all. Rep. Teddy Boy Locsin of Makati used to publish Today newspaper, where the Twisted columns began. They met each other in a bookstore.

"He hosts an AM radio talk show… The TV news programs were full of images of distraught American refugees (the people CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer referred to as ‘so poor and so black’) at the Astrodome, abandoned by their own government. Teddy Boy was spewing about American violations of international law, the Abu Ghraib scandal, and the general mess in Iraq, when a listener phoned in his comments. ‘A, basta! Bilib pa rin ako sa Amerika! Ang mahihirap nila, puro matataba? (Whatever! I still admire America! Their poor people are all fat!”) No one knew how to respond to that."

This ability to capture dialogue, freeze the telling detail, get the tone down pat -- all of these remind you that Jessica Zafra is a first-rate fiction writer. Her book, Manananggal Terrorizes Manila, served notice that from now on, female characters in Philippine fiction will never be mewling maids anymore. They will be brave and live in congested cities. They will be tart-tongued, their witty ripostes thrown like Frisbees in the air.

Proof positive of this is how she ends a trip to a European museum.

"Fifteen minutes before closing time I found myself sitting on a couch in the Rubens gallery. My feet felt like they would burst out of my sneakers, so I put them up, and soon I was stretched out full-length on the couch, surrounded by chubby, rosy Baroque nudes. No one seemed to think there was anything strange about a semi-conscious visitor lying on the couch. The museum guard nodded as he walked by. From inside their framed universes, the dead people painted by a dead artist looked down upon the living with pity and compassion."

Pity and compassion, plus a deep understanding of the Filipino psyche also animate the three excellent stories that round off this collection. “Lamentations 5:23” has the fluidity and vividness of a short film, with an ending that would have STRAP (Society of Transsexual Women in the Philippines) clapping their soft and perfumed hands together. Kenneth Tabayoyong is a poor worker in a restaurant as tangled as his nerves in the story “Spaghetti.” And “The Starlet Suicides?” It skewers the madness of Philippine show business.

Everyone conceded that Madeleine had no talent. She had a voice like dull scissors cutting a tin can, and when she danced she looked like she was being repeatedly struck by lightning.

It could happen to you, too, while reading this collection. But the lightning is that of revelation, showing that contemporary urban life in the Philippines is both a nightmare — and a dream.

Twisted 8 sells for P250 and is available at National Book Store and Power Books -- my two favorite stores owned by my favorite book seller, Nanay Coring Ramos.

In praise of the 'Pinoy' Male

by Danton Remoto
First posted in

I’ve been accused in the Internet of saying that we should assume that good-looking and bright Pinoy men are gay unless proven otherwise. It was a quote from my dear friend, Jessica Zafra, whose blog is subtitled “Pumping Irony.” I guess irony really is one of the least figures of speech relished in this country. When you write with your tongue stuck to your cheek, some people will take it literally – and consign you to hell-dom in their blogs and in the borderless world of cyberspace. Thus, I am reprinting an essay I wrote two years ago praising, tsa-rannnn, Filipino men. With no irony this time.

Okay, we’ve heard what’s wrong with the Pinoy male. They are just boys who grew up and are now loaded with testosterone and muscles. They treat girls either as Mary Magdalene (pang-good time) or the Virgin Mary (pure and virginal, pang-Misis). They have a fidelity quotient below zero.

Now that we’ve expelled the bile, let’s talk about the good things about the Pinoy male. Yes, they exist, and here are some of them:

1. They’re good-looking. I lived briefly in Singapore two years ago and one day, the cast and crew of Bridal Shower came for the Singapore International Film Festival. Since it was directed by my friend Jeffrey Jeturian, I went and watched again this film I’ve seen earlier in Manila. The Singaporeans – blasé, rich, and comfortable – marveled at the scenes showing the classiness and style of Makati. And more: the two girls beside me nearly screamed when they saw Alfred Vargas, Juancho Valentin, and Douglas Robinson taking off their shirts and showing off their buffed bodies.

“Are you from Manila?” they asked me after the film showing, their eyes still glazed at the sight of such male beauty.

“Yes,” I answered, smiling sweetly, for I knew what the next question would be.

“Do you have such really cute guys walking on the streets of Manila?”

“Oh yes. There’s more where they came from!” I answered, and the girls tittered with delight.

Because our race is such a mélange of cultures – Malay, Chinese, Spanish, and American – we have some of the cutest guys in Asia, or even the world. The Eurasian mix never fails to impress, whether the hyphenated Filipino is walking in Greenbelt, on Fifth Avenue, or near Piccadilly Square. The brown-black hair, those almond eyes and aquiline nose, that skin the color of honey never fail to get second looks.

2. They’re cosmopolitan. When I lived in Malaysia for a year, I went to the gym to put some order into my day. In between the huffing and the puffing, I would read the magazines. FHM Malaysia and Singapore had interviews of women who always claimed that they favored Filipino men over the rest of the maledom in Asia. And why?

“Because they’re sophisticated and cosmopolitan,” said one pretty woman who grew up in Sydney. “They won’t coop me up at home, would let me take a career, even balance that career and a family life.”

All along, I thought that these things we take for granted are already part of life in the rest of Asia. But they aren’t. Freed from the constraints of chauvinism and patriarchy in the last 20 years, the Filipino male is now cool about equal rights and such. Whether he is a house husband or a professional, he doesn’t give a hoot about who makes more money. As long as he gets a cable TV with 500 channels worldwide while pulling and pushing that crib with the baby in it, he would be OK.

3. They’re light-hearted. When I studied in the UK and the US, my classmates were always amazed at the Pinoys they met. “Why do you smile all the time? Why do you crack jokes at yourself and your country? Why do you have the sun smiling on your faces?”

Well, because I guess it’s the only thing we have – our wit and our humor. Sure, gas prices just rose by P1.50, that 12-percent E-VAT made us cut down on our fine-dining, our traditional politicians are still bleeding the country dry. But our incurable optimism will make us endure, survive, and I am sure, prevail. Because in our hearts we know that one fine day, our traditional politicians will die from over-eating, we will survive.

I was having dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant in Megamall one day when I saw a young politician with five of his province mates. They were speaking in Bicolano, and they made fun of everything – from the seaweeds they called rikot (grass), the waitresses’ cheongsam uniforms they called suman, to another congressman they called budos because of his beer belly. It’s this refusal to be downtrodden, to lose steam, and to give up that, I guess, will save us from the doldrums of our national despair.

4. They’re fashionable. More and more, even straight men are veering away from their careless look: fat bodies in sweat-stained T-shirts, mega-hyper baggy jeans and super-clunky shoes. With bad skin to boot. Now they go to the gym to trim and tone, wear slimmer shirts and jeans, and even have skin treatments for that deep-down clean look. They go to good barber shops or parlors, indulge in the spa, and put on moisturizer to hydrate skin exposed to the sins of the times – pollution, smoking, and late nights out.

When I was in Boracay last summer, I was amazed to see men in their thirties and forties look as if they were ten or more years younger. Their chests were not as hard as shields and their thighs not as big as your gym trainers’, but there were enough hardness and muscle and tone to make heads turn, and turn again.

5. They’re multi-lingual. And I don’t mean just foreign languages. I mean in the many Philippine languages, too. They can switch from their native Ilonggo to Filipino to English, and then from there to Spanish or Nihonggo or French. Or to the new language of the world – Mandarin!

It must be my generation (over thirties?), but there is something sweet about a Pinoy who can do Taglish without trying hard to do so. In my book – and academic research bears this out – those who are good in English are also good in Tagalog because they had excellent teachers in school. And the contemporary Pinoy who switches from Tagalog to English to another mix-mix of languages is doing so not to sound cute but to emphasize a point, or a cluster of meanings within that breathless swing.

Whenever I traveled around Asia, they wondered when did I learn English? At age five, in school. Many of you? Well, yes, many in the Philippines. And where did you learn Spanish?, asked the Latino cab driver in New Jersey. In school, also, for two years of my life, memorizing conjugaccion and Jose Rizal’s Mi Ultimo Adios and the poems of the 19th-century Spanish writers.

Where did you learn Chinese? asked another. Oh, the bad words, from my classmates who studied at Xavier School Manila. And French, the last asked, why do you understand them? Oh, just a few words, from watching the subtitles of French films that used to be shown at the Ayala Museum in the 1980s, when it used to show foreign films – a true oasis of its times.

6. Finally, they’re tall. It must be the mixture of all those races, the milk we drank, or the shrimp crackers we munched in school (the shrimp crackers?), but many Filipinos are growing taller and taller.

Even without the benefit of elevator shoes, stretching exercises, or those painful operations that stretch your bones, I see more Filipinos who are 5’8” and above. And for me, that is good. When I was growing up, I was one of the very few tall students in the community and the school. I was so self-conscious about my height I would slouch when I stood, and slumped when I sat. Until one day, somebody told me to be proud of my 5’11” height.

Now, I feel like a dwarf among these young men (YM) I see strutting down Loyola Heights, up Gateway, or into Glorietta. Cute, lean and leggy, they strut their stuff like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Their spiked hair like small torches in the air, they have finally learned to walk tall, and to walk free.

Ang ating mahal na Pangulo by Ducky Paredes

Posted in Malaya

I mean that literally. Gloria Arroyo has been our most expensive president - ever!

In 2007, the Office of the President spent a total of P249.5 million to pay the salaries and wages of its regular employees; and P10.7 million to pay casual and contractual employees.

That's P260.2 million to pay the rank and file of the Office of the President, and 58 other executive offices, agencies, commissions, and committees that report to the Office of the President.

But that's not all. Gloria Arroyo spent more than double that amount for her foreign (P585.5 million) and domestic (P34.1 million) travels, according to the Commission on Audit (COA)'s report on the 2007 financial transactions of Malacañang. This means an average of P49.04 million per month on foreign travel and P2.84 million on local travel!

She spent much more - P618.6 million - on "donations" to yet unknown beneficiaries, the COA report revealed. Malacañang, the COA report showed, spent similarly big amounts for broad, discretionary, and seemingly identical accounts, including: Confidential expenses P149 million; Consultancy services P59.6 million, Representation expenses P56.8 million, Representation allowance P14.5 million, Other bonuses and allowance P28.8 million, Transportation allowance P10.3 million, Advertising expenses P6.9 million, Additional compensation P24.8 million, Extraordinary expenses P6.64 million, Miscellaneous expenses P5.4 million, Other personnel benefits P119.8 million and Subsidy to Regional Offices/Staff Bureaus/Branch Offices P46.6 million

The COA report shows that apart from these amounts, the Office of the President also paid P21 million in "yearend bonus," P7.1 million in "cash gift," and P651,000 in "honoraria."

Gloria's household is also quite expensive. Look at these items: Food supplies expenses P55.7 million or P4.6 million a month; Electricity P54.5 million or an average of P4.5 million a month; Gasoline, oil and lubricants P27.9 million or P2.3 million a month; Water P25.4 million or P2.1 million a month; Security services P13 million or P1.08 million a month; Janitorial services P4.8 million or P400,000 a month; Telephone, landline P13.5 million or P1.1 million a month; Telephone, mobile P9.07 million or P755,000 a month; Office supplies P13.5 million or P1.1 million a month; "Other supplies" P19.4 million or P1.6 million a month; Subscription expenses P1.04 million or P86,000 a month; Cooking gas P892,000 or P74,000 a month; Internet P332,597 or P27,716 a month and Cable, satellite, telegraph and radio P300,955 or P25,079 a month.

When we call her our "mahal na Pangulo," that must be what we mean. Napakamahal talaga, di ba?.

Noli or no Noli? by Lito Banayo

In one of his recent acts of political forecasting, Speaker Prospero Nograles said that VP Noli de Castro "is a very strong contender, but I am not discounting the possibility that the leadership might replace him as standard bearer".

Apropos the same column item, Speaker Nograles, while holding loft the possibility of a Kampi-Lakas-NPC grand coalition for 2010, said the administration could also field, aside from their vice-president, Senate President Manuel Villar, or Senators Chiz Escudero, Mar Roxas and Loren Legarda. All of these names are in the realm of the possible as standard bearers of the administration coalition.

Curiously, none of the four names mentioned, all of whom claim to be in the opposition, declined the possibility. They just kept silent. It was a cast-away, an "untouchable" in the kingdom of the Arroyos, Senator Panfilo Lacson, who issued a press statement the other day thanking the heavens that he was not within the possible sight of Nograles and his masters. To Ping, it was a great honor not to be included in the potential "presidents" Malacañang would anoint. "A blessing," he said, which means he is a true oppositionist.

Lacson obviously does not believe Amang Rodriguez' political adage that "politics is addition" which has become the mantra, the singular philosophy of traditional politicians.

I remember when Erap was piling up millions upon millions of votes over Lakas-NUCD's Joe de Venecia. This was about the third week of May, when it was all over but for the proclamation of Congress. During the campaign, it became clear that Erap had Joker Arroyo in mind as the next speaker, when he became president. The Zamoras were for Joker, and Jojo Binay, Erap's NCR campaign manager, more obviously so.

But between Election Day 1998 and the opening of Congress, some new developments were a-borning at Polk Street in North Greenhills. Mrs. Cynthia Villar became a regular visitor. At about this time, Ronny Zamora had instructed guys like Jimmy Policarpio, the incoming legislative liaison officer; Elmer Mercado, the incoming DENR undersecretary who had worked for Ronnie in the House, and myself, that Joker was it. (A week after the elections, the president-elect had announced that I was to be his general manager for the Philippine Tourism Authority, the kind of work I truly preferred. But two weeks after, he asked me to concurrently be his adviser on political affairs).

But lo and behold! One Sunday in June, I got a call from Polk St. Fifty congressmen, mostly from Lakas, would swear in as LAMMP (the Erap coalition in the 1998 elections), and I should be there. I called up Ronny, who confirmed the mass turncoatism. "It's Manny Villar the president has chosen", he said. I recall having said, "E bakit hindi pa si Bibit (Duavit, the congressman from Rizal, a long-time buddy of Erap) kung hindi rin lang si Joker?" Later I was to know the reason. Apparently, running without any credible opponent, Villar was able to set his sights on the speakership, regardless of who won the presidency. So he went around the country, doling out much-needed last-minute funds to congressional re-electionists and candidates whose chances for victory were bright. Early on, he wrung commitments, while Joker did nothing of the sort. Other than have an occasional drink with the presidential candidate, Arroyo hardly moved from his Makati ivory tower during the election period. For Manny Villar though, pera meant addition. So true, especially when he was dealing with members of what Teddy Boy Locsin, Joker's successor in Makati, used to call the "party of thieves" before he became congressman, of course.

Presented with the commitments, along with the soft-sell but purposive ever-presence of wife Cynthia, Manny Villar got Erap to change his mind. So he brought along his 50 turncoats, and the rest, as they say, became part of the short political history of the Erap presidency.

Tito, Ralph, eyeing appointive posts; Mike, Tessie no longer interested

Of course, they would not. Do they want to lose? Ralph is running as Senator again, and might lose if he sticks too close to GMA. Tito will run as Mayor of QC. Good luck na lang. Mike is also running as Mayor of QC, with his dad or younger brother as Congressman. I am sure the whole Defensor family will lose this time. I will support Bolet Banal if and when he runs as Congressman of District 3, and I will support Herbert "Bistek" Bautista if and when he runs as Mayof of QC. Is it true that Congressman Defensor allegedly brought the barangay captains of District 3 and their families to Baguio last December? And they are now in Hong Kong for some sight-seeing? Who paid for these hot vacation? Ah, and all this, while the poor of Barangay Escopa come to me, asking for medicines.


Posted in MALAYA

FORMER senators Vicente Sotto III and Ralph Recto are eyeing positions in government after losing in the 2007 senatorial elections while former presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor and former senator Teresa Aquino-Oreta have already lost interest in accepting government portfolios.

Sotto, in a chat with reporters during the vin d'honneur in Malacañang Thursday night, said Defensor and Aquino are no longer keen on accepting appointments even if the one-year ban on accepting public positions for defeated candidates in the May 2007 polls has lapsed.

"Tutulong na lang daw siya," Sotto said of Defensor, adding that Oreta is also not keen on going back to public service.

But he said Recto is "definitely considering" holding a position.

The four were part of the senatorial line-up of the administration's Team Unity, which was beaten in the 2007 polls. Only three administration candidates won: Joker Arroyo, Edgardo Angara and Juan Miguel Zubiri.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Defensor merely "laughed off" the prospect of holding a government position after his defeat.

Sotto, former campaign manager of opposition standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr., said he is "inclined" to accept a position in the Dangerous Drugs Board "if only to have the law fully implemented."

He said President Arroyo intimated her desire to give positions to TU candidates in a meeting last year.

Sotto, principal author of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 (R.A. 9165), oversaw the creation of the DDB when he was still a senator in 2002. The DDB is presently led by Anselmo Avenido, former chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

Sotto said he would zero-in on the rehabilitation of dependents because this "is already one-fourth of the fight."

"The day you stop buying (drugs) is the day you stop selling," he said, adding that enforcement is just one part of the fight against illegal drugs trafficking.

Sotto said government, which has only about four rehabilitation centers, should seriously monitor the operations of private clinics.

Ladlad 3 book launch

Ladlad 3 book launch

Taken in Sagada, at 12 noon.

Ang Ladlad with Sandra Aguinaldo of Saksi, GMA Channel 7

Ang Ladlad at DZMM

They belittle, yet fear, JDV by Jarius Bondoc

“Noah’s Ark” subsidies, better called crisis alms, will cost P316 billion over three years — till Gloria Arroyo steps down in 2010. That money can be better used for basic education and skills training. Since 2001 experts have been saying the educational system is deteriorating and needed a one-time shot of P65 billion to start fixing things. The admin never paid heed. Now it turns out Arroyo can block off five times the amount to give away to the disgruntled poor. Worse, the P316 billion can be just the start of an extra-early election campaign. Meaning, the money will just be secretly given to political allies.

* * *

Didn’t Arroyo allies just sneer that ex-Speaker Joe de Venecia has no credibility? Didn’t Malacañang repeatedly say he has nothing provocative to reveal about his visit with Gloria and Mike Arroyo to ZTE’s China HQ in Nov. 2006?

So why did Palace factotums cook up a newspaper ad decrying JDV’s threat to “bare all” about the ZTE deal when Congress reopens in July? And why did the ad have to attack JDV’s wife Gina and unrelated personalities? Do they think JDV still has sting after all, so they’re using a cannon to swat their pesky fly?

The ad began by raking up JDV’s past: “machinations” for parliamentary, and “overpriced” Northrail and Southrail projects. (Hmm, since Gloria Arroyo backed all those, shouldn’t they hold her liable too?) It even mentioned a “Landoil fiasco”, as if JDV is to blame for a 1981 Iran-Iraq war that caught his conglomerate’s workers in the crossfire.

Then it called ZTE scam whistle-blowers Joey de Venecia, Jun Lozada and Dante Madriaga “shady characters”. (Oh, but survey respondents say they believe the trio, while calling Arroyo, with minus-36 trust rating, dirtier than Marcos.)

Allegedly it was Gina, not Rolex Suplico’s secret witness codenamed “Alex”, who gave the press those telling photos of the Shenzhen trip. (But didn’t Malacañang already harrumph that she wasn’t there?} They seem to know who and where “Alex” is now, after he broke contact with Suplico in fear for his life.

Lastly, it claimed that Jueteng-gate witness Sandra Cam, ex-Cabinet member Dinky Soliman of Hyatt 10, Carol Araullo of Bayan, Sister Mary John Mananzan of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines, Bishop Oscar Cruz of Pangasinan, and Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez of Caloocan have been meeting in JDV’s house to “plot his coming out party.”

About five-dozen unknown chapter officers of unknown provincial clubs signed the ad. The concocter intended to make it look like little people were disgusted with JDV’s forthcoming “lies”. But it’s inconsistent. How can such little people be so conversant about goings-on in the big city?

Soliman, just home from a long trip abroad, wondered how they can ascertain where she allegedly goes and with whom she meets? Was she in this supposed democracy being tailed by sinister forces, which then inform the omniscient signatories? For those who’ve seen the trick before, the claims read like an “intel report” drafted to wheedle money from a gullible recipient.

Araullo and Mananzan denied ever meeting in JDV’s house to plot. Like Soliman, they deem JDV big enough a politico to go his own way.

Lawyer Suplico dared the signatories to come forward and prove their charges. Which they can’t and won’t, of course.

As for JDV, before flying off to the US for a health check. he moaned that the hatchet job has begun even before he could talk on NBN-ZTE. But he whispered who exactly concocted the ad — a Palace operator whom he had watched in action before. He knows the knave’s name, financier, and tendency to brag about “secret missions” for the First Couple. Assisting was an ex-President’s publicist who has wriggled his way into the inner circle of the present one.

JDV recognized the modus operandi too. It was in the pattern of the ad barrage by appointees praising Arroyo while the public was seething over Lozada’s abduction in February. It is said that Arroyo was losing heart back then, so worried cronies had to do something to prop up her morale. The operator must think JDV still packs a wallop to warrant an attack ad. Recent reports in Wall Street Journal and International Herald Tribune derided his boss Arroyo’s transactional Presidency — quoting none other than the supposedly incredible has-been JDV.

Tellingly, Malacañang agrees with the factotum’s implicit appraisal that their situation requires pre-emptive strike before JDV talks. That’s why it allowed the ad. Perhaps they foresee that the gimmicks of P500 per poor family for electric bills and P1,500 per farmer for fertilizers and P2-per-liter for jitney drivers won’t work. Things can only get worse and people will be blaming Arroyo for the economic woes.

Moreover, Jocjoc Bolante is about to be deported from the US, and he may have to finally tell the Senate about his P728-million electioneering for Arroyo. NEDA officers are raring to divulge damning documents on admin misdeeds. And an impeachment rap awaits Arroyo in October.

Admin operators must be feeling uneasy sitting on a powder keg about to explode with more exposés of its thievery.

Desperation breeds recklessness by Mon Casiple

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo recently signed Executive Order 728, in which among other provisions dealing with the food and fuel crises, permits herself to explore emergency powers if the crises deepen. According to EO 728, the National Food and Emergency Council (NFEC) is empowered to make recommendations to the President and Congress to exercise emergency powers.

Predictably, Senate President Villar and House Speaker Nograles rejected the idea and stressed that the president has enough powers to address the twin crises without emergency powers. Other senators (particularly those considered as presidentiables) also pitched in with their objections.

GMA has her own crisis of legitimacy. This crisis has now evolved into a crisis of political survival, especially since there is as yet no guarantee from presidentiables on her future, her deep unpopularity continues, both friends and enemies plot despite or even against her, and the economic crisis increasingly becomes unmanageable. This move by the president, within the context of her own political crisis, smacks of a desperate maneuver to force the hands of her opponents to give her the breathing space she craves.

The problem, of course, with emergency power–such as the one she declared in February 2006–is that it breeds its own crisis dynamics. For one, the loyalty of the armed forces to her is questionable–having demonstrated their independent course in several occasions before. Secondly, with the start of the 2010 election campaign and her increasingly lameduck situation, there is the question of her political capability to successfully implement emergency powers. It is a situation of “jumping from the frying pan into the fire.”

At any rate, her current moves of giving all sorts of subsidy to various sectors are too little, too late. It will not appease them, it will not solve their problems. The best way forward for her is still to undertake the real political reforms that have been perceived to have been sidelined and should have been her legacy. For example, good appointments to Comelec and other key government posts are one. Pushing for the passage of the CARP extension bill, the political party reform bill, and other reform-oriented bills are another. Putting a definite closure to the many scandals in her government is still another. Ending the insurgencies is also a legacy target.

She has to make peace–real, genuine reconciliation–with the people. Only then can she achieve her own peace.

Building an archipelago of good governance by Jose Almonte

We Filipinos have been so starved of good governance for so long that our appetite for it has become unlimited. What we hunger for is a whole archipelago of good governance. We want the blessings of good governance to spread through all our 7,100 islands—including even those submerged at high tide!

Yet, if the May 2008 State Department Global Report is to be believed, corruption and the uncertain rule of law still lie at the root of our political problems.

Achieving an archipelago of good governance will be a great challenge—because, in its geography, ecology, natural resource endowments, economy, ethnicity and culture, our country is extraordinary in its diversity.

Our fragmented geography produced a highly fragmented political system—whose ill effects we suffer until now.

Decentralization and national unity

Historically, political power in our country has been highly diffused. Until now, we as a people have a great deal to do to gather our regions, provinces, cities, towns and villages in one coherent Philippine state. Simply because the national government is inefficient, uncaring—and far away—local governments still enjoy a great deal of de facto autonomy.

But if local governments could still get away with interpreting national mandates to suit local power-holders, they also still must endure capricious releases of their IRA (internal revenue allotments) from an “imperial” Manila. The presidency’s immense power of the purse makes local governments extremely vulnerable to the political importunings of Malacañang. Consider how efficiently the Arroyo Administration’s political machine deals with oppositionist politicians who threaten her with impeachment.

Decentralization—which was finally accomplished in 1991 after being discussed for two decades—has been widely praised. It has increased the share of local governments in central government revenues; broadened the taxing authority of LGUs; and devolved some central government functions under the fine principle of subsidiarity.

Decentralization also plays to the already-strong sense of regional identity and loyalty that impedes the development of a national political identity. (Until now Cebuanos, Ilocanos and Bicolanos vote largely as language blocs. On occasion, Cebuanos apparently even sing the anthem in the local language.)

In the end, the gains in decentralization will be for naught if they do not also strengthen the national community.

Political will

What, then, could be done to connect our islands of good governance so that they can spread over larger portions of the archipelago?

Obviously we need to attract more idealistic, more vigorous and more courageous young people into local politics. And good people will never become attracted to local politics until they are assured their votes will get counted and they get a fighting chance at winning. This means we should all work for the thorough-going reform of our electoral system.

The things we need to do to reform our electoral system and set it on a new footing are well known. All we Filipinos lack is the political will. And this political will, civil-society reformers must supply—because the law of supply and demand also works in the political market. If policymakers are to be compelled to supply a specific type of public policy, there must be an expressed demand for it.

Professionalization of the civil service is another civic cause that LGUs should espouse. And this we can begin to do by raising salaries into rates competitive with the private sector; installing a meritocracy through service grades set by examinations; and stabilizing tenures by transferring the appointing power for officers from the President to the civil service system.

It would be difficult for our islands of good governance to raise the morale of their bureaucracies if these local bureaucracies must function in the context of a demoralized national civil service.

Certainly, too, LGUs should all benefit from a thorough-going study of how best to make full use of the new taxing powers that they’ve just been awarded; and the functions formerly assigned to Cabinet departments that have been devolved to them.

“Islands of Good Governance” should also seek constantly to spread their influence to neighboring provinces, cities, towns—most easily through economic complementation, economic clustering and administrative example.

We need a reformist President
Politically, most of our local governments still are enclaves of authoritarianism—ruled either by the traditional “big people” or by factional-machine bosses. Fortunately, in more recent times, development has built up “islands of good governance”—towns, cities and (a few) provinces that have come into the hands of reformist and modernizing local governments.

But local governments, by definition, have narrow limits. Local governments can only do so much. Their power and their influence only extend so far. So that, if we are to unify our islands of good governance into an archipelago of good governance, we will also need reforming and modernizing leadership at the national level—to match the quality of leadership already demonstrated by our local-government achievers.

In the Philippine context, such leadership can come only from a reforming and modernizing President. In our country, only the President has that kind of transformative political power.

And, unfortunately, raising such an exceptional national leader is beyond the capability of our present-day politics—which is still based overwhelmingly on the long-established patronage system.

To think otherwise is to delude ourselves, and to risk condemning our country to yet more years of corruption and disarray.

Replicate Pampanga

The patronage system compels the would-be President to make all sorts of sleazy deals to obtain the ‘command votes’ that only local warlords and factional bosses can deliver. And to finance these dubious transactions, he/she will willingly mortgage the office he/she has not yet even won to political entrepreneurs, vested interests, and oligarchic groups. Once in office, the same patronage system works to ensure the leader’s staying power.

There simply is no way a presidential candidate could avoid making these deals—and yet win, and once elected continue to remain in office. The single exception I could recall was the victory of General Ramos in 1992. But that was because of Ramos’ sterling reputation and the great number of candidates. The professional politicians, by splitting the command votes cancelled each other out and enabled Ramos to eke out a victory as a minority President with less than a quarter of the total vote.

No—I’m afraid an election as usual in 2010 will not give us the exceptional President we need, who will match your sense of devotion to your constituents with his/her sense of the nation, and his/her feeling for this country we all love.

Given the absence in our country of reformist/heroic leaders such as those who have risen in Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, it seems to me that you—our local political achievers—have no choice but to organize—once you are ready—a national ‘people power’ movement for good governance that would replicate nation-wide the phenomenal 2007 ‘people power’ election in Pampanga Province.

These are excerpts from a speech given by the author before the annual general assembly of the Galing Pook Foundation in Pasig City on 7 June 2008.

"Don'd do ads now"--campaign strategist tells presidential aspirants

Written by Carmela Fonbuena

"Save your money and do your homework first."

This is the advice of campaign strategist Marilou Tiquia to 2010 presidential aspirants who have recently come out with ads. If they think these ads are boosting their chances in 2010, they’re wrong, she said.

"Among the senators who endorsed a product or appeared in an ad advocating an issue, no one earned a percentage increase from the tracking done by the Social Weather Stations or Pulse Asia," she said in a commentary posted on the Web site of Publicus Co. Ltd., a lobbying firm that she founded.

Among the rumored presidential aspirants who started appearing in ads lately are Vice President Noli De Castro (Pag-ibig housing), Senators Manuel Villar (OFW advocacy), Roxas (laundry detergent), Loren Legarda (skin whitening product), Panfilo Lacson (facial care clinic), and Francisco Escudero (herb capsule).

"All that they stood for now will be immaterial when it really matters—the last 30 days of a campaign period," she added. Tiquia, who earned a degree on political management from George Washington University, was the campaign manager of 2004 top senatorial candidate Manuel Roxas II.

Study voters
"Candidates are therefore warned this early to do your homework, instead of putting together ads or endorsing products," she said. "To a certain extent, the ads were the talk of the town, but that’s about it."

Tiquia also cautioned presidential aspirants from believing that ads alone can make them win in 2010. "Elections are all about having the numbers to win and the ads are mere tools to increase awareness. They do not win elections."

Before they even come out with ads, presidential aspirants should be asking their campaign managers to study the voters, she said. Among the information that campaign managers should have are the following: voters’ core values that drive their views about politics; psychographics of voter base; and what to say to voters, how, and why?

"Doing one’s homework ensures each peso spent on the campaign returns the maximum value in votes on Election Day," she said.

Tiquia added that presidential aspirants should choose their vice presidential candidates and senatorial slates well.

Erap: good as candidate and endorser?
Tiqua also noted that the possibility of ousted President Joseph Estrada running for president should not be taken for granted. Estrada, she said, holds a "daunting lead" against survey frontrunner De Castro in terms of base support. "He stands on the average around 28 to 30 percent." It’s higher than De Castro’s at 20-23 percent.

"If he runs in 2010, that measured capacity is a daunting lead," Tiquia said.

If Estrada will not run for president, this support base "can be translated to an endorsement factor and that makes the former president the most appealing shadow for the opposition’s presidential candidate in 2010," she said. (

The importance of imagination by J.K. Rowling

I have wracked my mind and heart for what I ought to say today. I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years that has expired between that day and this.
I have come up with two answers. On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called 'real life', I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.

These might seem quixotic or paradoxical choices, but please bear with me.

Looking back at the 21-year-old that I was at graduation is a slightly uncomfortable experience for the 42-year-old that she has become. Half my lifetime ago, I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I had for myself, and what those closest to me expected of me.

I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was to write novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that could never pay a mortgage, or secure a pension.

They had hoped that I would take a vocational degree; I wanted to study English Literature. A compromise was reached that in retrospect satisfied nobody, and I went up to study Modern Languages. Hardly had my parents' car rounded the corner at the end of the road than I ditched German and scuttled off down the Classics corridor.

I cannot remember telling my parents that I was studying Classics; they might well have found out for the first time on graduation day. Of all subjects on this planet, I think they would have been hard put to name one less useful than Greek mythology when it came to securing the keys to an executive bathroom.

Poverty entails fear

I would like to make it clear, in parenthesis, that I do not blame my parents for their point of view. There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.

What is more, I cannot criticize my parents for hoping that I would never experience poverty. They had been poor themselves, and I have since been poor, and I quite agree with them that it is not an ennobling experience. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticized only by fools.

What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure.

At your age, in spite of a distinct lack of motivation at university, where I had spent far too long in the coffee bar writing stories, and far too little time at lectures, I had a knack for passing examinations, and that, for years, had been the measure of success in my life and that of my peers.

I am not dull enough to suppose that because you are young, gifted and well-educated, you have never known hardship or heartbreak. Talent and intelligence never yet inoculated anyone against the caprice of the Fates, and I do not for a moment suppose that everyone here has enjoyed an existence of unruffled privilege and contentment.

However, the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person's idea of success, so high have you already flown academically.

Epic failure

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.

Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

Test of adversity

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.

Given a time machine or a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone's total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.

You might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense.

Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.

Formative experience

One of the greatest formative experiences of my life preceded Harry Potter, though it informed much of what I subsequently wrote in those books. This revelation came in the form of one of my earliest day jobs. Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working in the research department at Amnesty International's headquarters in London.

There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.

Many of my co-workers were ex-political prisoners, people who had been displaced from their homes, or fled into exile, because they had the temerity to think independently of their government. Visitors to our office included those who had come to give information, or to try and find out what had happened to those they had been forced to leave behind.

I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.

And as long as I live I shall remember walking along an empty corridor and suddenly hearing, from behind a closed door, a scream of pain and horror such as I have never heard since. The door opened, and the researcher poked out her head and told me to run and make a hot drink for the young man sitting with her. She had just given him the news that in retaliation for his own outspokenness against his country's regime, his mother had been seized and executed.

Every day of my working week in my early 20s I was reminded how incredibly fortunate I was, to live in a country with a democratically elected government, where legal representation and a public trial were the rights of everyone.

Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans, to gain or maintain power. I began to have nightmares, literal nightmares, about some of the things I saw, heard and read.

Power of human empathy

And yet I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than I had ever known before.

Amnesty mobilizes thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.

Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people's minds, imagine themselves into other people's places.

Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathize.

And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces can lead to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the willfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.

What is more, those who choose not to empathize may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.

Connection with outside world

One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.

That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people's lives simply by existing.

But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other people's lives? Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status, and unique responsibilities. Even your nationality sets you apart. The great majority of you belong to the world's only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden.

If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better.

We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.

Friends and affection

I have one last hope for you, which is something that I already had at 21. The friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life. They are my children's godparents, the people to whom I've been able to turn in times of trouble, friends who have been kind enough not to sue me when I've used their names for Death Eaters.

At our graduation we were bound by enormous affection, by our shared experience of a time that could never come again, and, of course, by the knowledge that we held certain photographic evidence that would be exceptionally valuable if any of us ran for Prime Minister.

So today, I can wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom:

As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.

These are excerpts from the author’s Harvard University commencement address in June 2008