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Our boon is Gloria's bane

By Armida Siguion-Reyna
The Daily Tribune

NEW YORK — Skype-ing with my brother Sen. Juan Ponce-Enrile the other day was an unusual treat for both of us, but especially for him, as it was his first time to use the technology. The Ilocano in him made him ask how much the conversation was costing, and boy was he amazed to find out it was for free, thanks to VOIP or voice over Internet protocols.

Johnny chortled at the first sight of me, and laughed when I said, "Sorry, ha? Natagalan ako, kasi nagkilay pa ako. Pagka ganitong nagkakakitaan na tayo pag nag-uusap, dapat naman, magpaganda ako."

"My sister," he said over and over again, "my sister." He was clearly amazed at what was there before him on the computer screen, as I was when my children introduced Skype to me sometime last year.

The Senate President and I are not "techies." We were born years before World War II, the age of manual typewriters and heavy, clunky telephones that first came into use with party-lines and operators that connected overseas calls, light years away from cell phones and computers and even just the concept of Internet.

As a probinsiyano from Cagayan on his way to meet our father for the first time, Johnny entered the Soriano Building, or the "Edificio Soriano" as it was then called, intending to go to the seventh floor where Papa’s law office was. Johnny stopped in the lobby, awed by people rushing in to go inside a small room where "there was an arrow similar to the arrow of a giant clock on top of the door."

Natatawa siya, to this day, pag naaalaala niya ang una niyang enkuwentro sa elevator. He found it strange that those who entered the small room were not the same ones who came out. "The arrow, as it moved forwards, pointed to numbers 1 to 7... now and then it would stop at one of the numbers... then it would move again... it took me a while to decide whether I would enter the door or not. This was my first time to see a thing like that, I was afraid that I would not get out of that door."

Senior citizens like us exhibit childlike delight when state-of-the-art gadgets are brought to our attention, even if we are not "techie." It takes me forever to learn using a new cellphone, lalo na si Johnny, whose anger at his "vanishing" prepaid cell phone loads really came from his not knowing how to use his mobile phone the way teen-agers do. Informed by the telcom that he was charged for "downloading" a ringtone, he bellowed: "I cannot even text on my own, how can I download?"

Our generation is unable to master the ins and outs of digital stuff, but I tell you we appreciate it. We are grateful to have reached the era where scientific breakthroughas occur every other blink of the eye. The results of this medical exam I’m going to have, for instance, will be sent to me in Manila, through e-mail. X-rays and MRI’s are now sent through e-mail, from a doctor, say, in Manila, to a doctor in New York. The two doctors are able to confer if not through e-mail, through chat, then through Skype.

And just as you think Skype is the latest in computer overseas communication, hindi pala. There’s a newer one called Oovo, the free version makes it possible to simultaneously converse with two other persons at the other end of the line for a mini-conference of sorts. Of course I’ll never be able to operate this on my own, as even Skype has to be set up for me, but it’s heartwarming to think of how much easier the new protocols make it for families who live apart. Isipin mong nasa Dubai ang anak mo, and you don’t need to rely on snail mail that takes days to arrive. You also needn’t rely on texting alone. Pag talagang miss na miss mo na ang asawa, anak, magulang o kapatid, go on the Internet!

The recent "Ondoy" rescue and relief operations could not have been mounted without computer audio/video technology. Digital video shot on cell phones were transferred to Facebook and Multiply and other such Web sites with such speed, kaya naman ang bilis din ng response.

Two of my US-based granddaughters were fund-raising via Facebook. Another granddaughter based in Hong Kong was doing the same. And this were just my grandchildren, there were thousands out there, forwarding video of swirling water surrounding a family huddled on the roof of a shanty, of cars and vans trapped in the whirlpool of a center court of a hospital, shots through cell phone MMS showing how deep water was in specific spots, so please, can someone come to the rescue?

Kalinisan Steam Laundry Inc., in Quezon City does more than provide food and shelter to flood refugees and announces, first on FaceBook, free washing sa lahat ng apektado, for bed sheets and comforters, curtains and clothes that drowned in the muck, and again the response is swift. So, too, the praises.

And this turns out to be another wondrous thing about the technology. Ang dapat purihin, agarang napupuri. Ang dapat punahin, agarang napupuna. Heroes are lauded, heels are thrashed, pictures of styrofoam packs marked "Tulong ni Manny Villar" are displayed as are packs of noodles stamped by stickers bearing the likeness of Mr. Sipag at Tiyaga.

Hark back to way before Ondoy and recall how the tastelessly expensive Le Cirque dinner was discovered and so quickly spread, but through the Internet. As were all other fancy-schmancy high-priced meals. At the height of the storm a picture quickly made the rounds, that of someone who suspiciously looked Mikey Arroyo, squat on his haunches facing the liquor section of Rustan’s in Katipunan, looking for hard liquor.

The First Brat reportedly got depressed by the posting, saying it was malicious and completely untrue as he was in Malacañang "trying to mobilize rescue and relief operations for the people of Metro Manila."

That Saturday of the storm, thanks to the Internet we knew that Malacañang was still at a loss and didn’t know what to do. Gloria Arroyo’s first declaration of the Palace as a relief center was recalled, it took days before evacuees where brought to the Ceremonial Hall "where the President traditionally meets foreign dignitaries." The Press Office had to say this over and over in case we still didn’t get how philanthropic Arroyo truly was, but was curiously quiet over the congressman from Lubao’s claim that rescue and relief operations were going on in the Palace at the height of Ondoy.

The Internet is our boon, it’s the government’s bane.

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