Roxas, Escudero jump in survey

Roxas, Escudero jump in survey
Shows youth vote emerging

***

I've said it before in this blog and am saying it now. 2010 will be a youthquake of an election. It will show the tremendous power of young people, of the Internet, of new media.

And for those running for senators in 2010 who still thumb their noses down at the young and the tech-savvy, mga kuya, magtanim na kayo ng kamote sa tabi-tabi.

***


By Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 19:04:00 03/31/2009

MANILA, Philippines--With a little over a year before the elections, solons said the horse race for the presidency has become too close to call with age and the youth sector emerging as key factors in the people’s choice.

Palawan Rep. Abraham Mitra said the surge of Senators Manuel Roxas II and Francis Escudero in the recent surveys showed that the youth vote has started to kick in.

"The gain of Mar and Chiz are substantial from previous surveys while almost all of the rest are going down,’’ said Mitra, a partymate of Escudero at the Nationalist People’s Coalition.

Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya said that the presidential race was "anybody’s call" at this point because there was no clear leader among the potential candidates.

Abaya said that the rise of Roxas, his fellow Liberal Party member, showed that there could still be surprises in the coming surveys with the public getting to know more of the candidates and separating the real opposition from the pseudo opposition.

“It's anybody’s call and given the hardships and realities of life, the people have not really decided on who they will vote for,” said Abaya.

In a survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations, Escudero saw his share jump from 19 percent to 23 percent, while Roxas’ share surged from 10 percent to 15 percent.

The top three choices—Vice President Noli de Castro and Senators Manuel Villar and Loren Legarda—retained their standings but their shares were in decline. De Castro dropped to 27 percent from 31 percent, Villar 26 percent from 27 percent, and Legarda 25 percent from 28 percent.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson maintained his 14-percent share while former President Joseph Estrada inched up from 11 percent to 13 percent.

Isabela Rep. Rodolfo “Rodito” Albano III said the true test of the candidates would come at the start of the campaign period when they start "hurling mud at each other."

Albano said that when the dirty tricks start pouring in, voters must be more discerning on the real from the fabricated reports.

The Power of YouTube

By Danton Remoto | Remote Control | 03/30/2009 11:22 PM


YouTube has brought the power of vivid images right in your very face. I’m sure many of you have now seen the horrible video where the very obscure Boyet Fajardo ordered a cashier at Duty Free to kneel in front of him. Reason? The poor man did not know Boyet and asked him to show another ID to verify his identity, since Boyet’s credit card was unsigned.

And Boyet, puffed up with wounded pride because he is not known at Duty Free, ordered the hapless man to supplicate. Last I looked there were 600 comments to that video uploaded in You Tube. Rightly so, they skewered Boyet for his crassness and arrogance. But I take issue with some comments who said that Boyet is like that because he is gay. Hello? Where did your logic go? One is not connected to the other. I’ve known gays who used to be as poor as Boyet but infinitely more famous than him now – like my dear friend, Boy Abunda – who have remained humble. The ancient writers are right again, when they said that lucre did not lead to the deepening of one’s wisdom, or the expansion of one’s soul.

Well, the last words I can say about Boyet is that his manners are as bad as the clothes he makes.

And now for another case of YouTube as wielder of power. Another friend of mine, a lawyer, fired off this letter against Bayani Agbayani and his alleged homophobia. Here is the letter, the Taglish translated into English, then edited for clarity and brevity.

“I was watching Showbiz News Ngayon (SNN) when Kris Aquino said that Bayani Agbayani was featured in a YouTube video because of a bout with another person, a guy who supposedly bumped his car. Apparently, Bayani was dead drunk, and recognizing this, he tried to settle with the other man to the tune of P6,000. But the latter’s companion intervened and allegedly hurled invectives at Bayani, whereupon, Bayani did likewise.

“Of course, the unprintable expletives were substituted by special characters in SNN’s subtitles, but Bayani was heard shouting, “Bumalik ka dito, bakla ka, bakla ka! (Come back here, gay! gay!)” repeatedly, after he challenged his opponents to a fistfight. But they simply ignored him and went about their way. Bayani even tried to pursue them, saying, “Naka X5 ako, naka- motor(cycle) ka lang.

“When asked to explain the video, Bayani clarified that the video only showed him saying the cuss words, excluding what the other two guys said. And then he added, matter-of-factly: “Lalaki lang ako. Kahit naman siguro itanong niyo diyan sa kung sinong lalaki, artista man o hindi … magagalit or gagawin ang ginawa ko (or something to that effect). Translation: “I’m just a (straight) man. If you want to ask any other guy out there, movie star or not, they will also get mad and do what I did.

“Kris Aquino lost no time in appearing as an official apologist for Bayani. She, who had been a woman-victim of violence herself, said that what Bayani must have meant when he said “bakla!” was actually “duwag” (coward). But she did ask Boy Abunda to issue the caveat that not all gays are cowards. Then, Kris added that Bayani should have just ignored it, since his reputation could be destroyed.

“I was infuriated and wanted to react immediately, although at the back of my mind, I also did not want to dignify the incident with an extended discussion on Bayani’s (and what a name he’s got!) political incorrectness. His political incorrectness may have its genesis in his ignorance. Then again, letting the matter pass without any comment normalizes machismo and the prejudice not only against gay men but against all people (including women) in general. While it is true that worse things could have happened, or have happened in the past, it is the subtlety of the lack of physical violence that should alert us. This is what is ignored, even by law-enforcement agencies like the Philippine National Police, which are supposed to have already been instructed in gender-sensitivity and towards objective first-line-implementation of national policies.

“Regrettably, we have a long way to go in our pursuit of genuine equality as to sex, gender and orientation. Perhaps it entails the saturation of media with accounts like this that could bring the issue into national consciousness. Celebrities and media personalities should become aware, get involved and participate in raising gender awareness, because they are seen and heard on TV by millions of people.”

I don’t know what my friend, college classmate at Ateneo Batch ’83, and newly-appointed ABS-CBN Entertainment head honcho Cory Valenzuela-Vidanes will say to this. But I’ve known Cory to be a just and fair-minded person, and I’m sure if apprised of the situation, she would act accordingly.

But what about me? Well, I’ve never been amused – not even by a millisecond – by Bayani Agbayani. Tange, Balot, and Ponga were comic geniuses compared to him. And Bayani’s case in this accident was pure and simple drunken driving, which is punishable by law. Those two guys (or gays, who cares) should have brought the matter to the police. Ang Ladlad would have brought one of our ace lawyers and we could have thrown the book at the drunken man with the middling talent.

And then we will see who will have the last laugh.

Up close and personal

BY JOHANNA D. POBLETE, Reporter
Businessworld Weekender magazine

It’s hard to be a woman, but it’s harder to become a woman. Female issues revolve around empowerment, battling for the same entitlements given to men — the right to be educated, to vote, to hold public office, to work and earn fair wages, to have marital as well as parental rights, to have religious freedom, to have bodily autonomy even — but one tends to forget that transgender individuals are struggling for the same fundamental rights sometimes taken for granted by the traditionally male and female members of society.


"As far as I can remember, I’ve always identified myself as feminine."?— Nadine The general appellation of "trans-gender" refers to "people who express their gender in ways that are not traditionally associated with their birth-assigned one" (cross-dressers or transvestites, genderqueers, androgynes), and who "identify with a gender opposite to the one assigned to them at birth" (transsexuals) — a definition approved by members of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP), a support, contact and information group for girls and women of transsexual experience in the Philippines.

Although one would hope that gender variance would be more accepted in modern society, this is not the case. The UN Special Rapporteur reported as late as 2006 that girls who display same-sex affection face discrimination and expulsion from educational institutions, whereas lesbian and transgender women are at increased risk of discrimination, homelessness and violence.

Locally, cross-dressers are banned from certain nightclubs, and the simple matter of entering the toilet becomes complicated when people from both sexes prefer that gay men and transwomen be isolated in a restroom of their own. Transgender individuals also experience difficulty in finding productive work outside the entertainment and beauty industries; transgenders consulted by BusinessWorld revealed that going to an interview decked out in all their female glory makes them ineligible for the job in a heartbeat.

"There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a comedian or a hairstylist, but if the society limits us to these professions alone then it becomes a problem. In fashion and beauty, it’s all the same. We are not limited by what we do. We are limited by the society that we live in," said Nadine*, a 27-year-old fashion designer turned full-time human rights advocate, who recently underwent surgery in an ongoing process of crafting her female identity.

"I believe the Filipino society is more tolerant than accepting. It is perhaps due to the pagan roots of respecting nature around us and not to contribute anything to disturb its harmony. So people tolerate us because their subconscious tells them this is what history and evolution is all about. And yet, when we start insisting on our basic human rights as women, it is a completely different story for them," she wrote in an e-mail to BusinessWorld.


Innately female

Gender variance can be confusing, but the key is remembering only four things: 1. Sex at birth, 2. Preferred gender, 3. Sexual identity and 4.Sexual preference. Heterosexuality and homosexuality are based on sexual identity (no. 3) and sexual preference (no. 4) only, and these are completely independent from the rest. Nadine was born male and prefers to be female, identifies herself as female, and is attracted to men. If she had been attracted to another male-to-female transsexual or another natal born female, she would’ve been lesbian (or homosexual, or slang gay).

Most transgender individuals would insist that there is really no choice in the matter, that they’ve identified themselves with a particular gender from birth, regardless of their physiology and how other people treat them in their formative years. If any choice is involved, it is whether to stay true to this identity.

"As far as I can remember, I’ve always identified myself as feminine. I grew up choosing dolls over cars and found myself either in the company of my female cousins or raiding through my Mom’s closet with her pretty things... They just came very naturally, like breathing and survival. Like a set of ’a priori,’ being feminine was innate to me. So I behaved as my mind and heart can only dictate... the logic, mannerism, patterns of behavior — everything always has been female," explained Nadine.

The conscious decision she made was to align her physical body with how she thought and felt, a transition best made with the expertise of a psychiatrist, an endocrinologist, and a surgeon; and in her particular case, amounting to an investment worth "two brand-new luxury cars." But it started simply with wearing chokers under her male school uniform, painting her toenails, and wearing leather shoes a tad higher than usual - a move initially met with disfavor by the authority figures at the Catholic school for boys she attended, and by her family, who thought she was "an effeminate gay guy."

"This is not to be mistaken as a comic indulgence of how little boys parade around with flamboyance and humorous gender innuendos. This was us being ourselves, and no amount of pun nor pundit can break down the principles and values that define the very core of our existence," said Nadine, who objects to being identified as a gay man simply because it runs contrary to her conviction of being female in every way that counts, and perpetuates an erroneous and often undignified stereotype.

"Transsexuals are NOT gay men who just happen to be happier wearing female clothes. It is completely heartbreaking to be reminded time and again of our society that continually sees us as comic relief and reliable sources of entertainment and slapstick humor," she said.

Gay, and proud to be

Rica (formerly Lemuel) Gonzalez, is a 25-year-old currently contemplating sex-reassignment surgery. Her friend since high school, Marla (formerly Marlon) Quiñones, is 24 years old and also open to sexual reassignment before reaching her 30s, given the chance. Both have already undergone breast implantation and continuously take hormonal shots and pills to maintain a feminine appearance, partly because it is required of them as "showgirls" for A.Y.D.A. Arts & Entertainment (specializing in corporate events and regular performance gigs at Library Comedy Bar and Bed in Malate), and partly because it makes them happy and more fulfilled as individuals.

Their experience is similar to Nadine’s in that their femininity also manifested in high school as young transvestites in platform shoes and reworked tight-fit polo shirts. The difference is that they do not object to being though of as "bading" (gay), and even refer to themselves as such, like a badge of honor, a testament to how they were born male but in every other way imaginable are female and attracted only to straight men.

Situations wherein they pass as natural born females — "di kami nabubuking" (we’re not exposed) — like in nightclubs where transvestites are not allowed, or riding the MRT car reserved for women, are a constant source of joy. Yet when they are approached by straight guys angling for a date, they automatically reveal their history.

"I don’t like to pretend. It’s hard. I’m proud of who I am... I don’t believe that this is because of the environment. This isn’t a disease, if it were, then I would have influenced my siblings," said Ms. Gonzalez in the vernacular, adamant her attitude will not change after the sex-reassignment surgery. "Kung paano ka matatanggap ng nasa paligid mo at ng pamilya mo, nasa bading iyan e, kung gusto mong irespeto ka, kung gusto mong tanggapin ka ng mga tao na nasa paligid mo, irespeto mo ang sarili mo. (How you will be accepted by the people around you and by your family, it’s up to the gay guy, if you want to be respected, if you want to be accepted by everyone around you, you have to respect yourself."

"Gay" a flexible term for Ms. Gonzalez and Ms. Quiñones. In colorful vernacular speech, they dismiss their in-born masculine traits as "imperfections" and the discrimination dealt them as challenges to overcome. Being female to them means a commitment to all things beautiful, to codes of behavior that are appropriate to situation and company and self-respect, and though they hold up the dignified "Maria Clara" type of woman as an ideal, they maintain that women today who are more independent, self-assured and sexually confident are actually taking a page from transgender individuals who developed such strong personalities because of what they went through to become what they are.


Ultimately human

Local slang such as "bading" or "bakla" (gay) is a preferable form of address to Ms. Gonzalez and Ms. Quiñones, rather than terms like charing, darna, papa, tita, georgia which are used as endearments within the gay community but are offensive when used by a straight person.

Nadine, for her part, points out that people nowadays need a refresher on humanities, down to using politically correct terms such as transsexual, transgender, transgirl and transwoman, rather than derogatory terms such as ladyboy, she-male, he-she, chicks-with-dicks and tranny, which are are widely used in the sex and pornography industries. (But she maintains that members of the Filipino transsexual community calling themselves gays or homosexuals are misguided; after all, based on the definition of transgender, being gay presupposes same-sex attraction.)

Femaleness is flexible. Nadine ventures that a woman can simply be a concept, an idea, a gauge that mirrors a society. Like love, it is open to interpretation (and as it is true with a lot of interpretations in life, some of them can be wrong, she added). While transwomen have physiologically female brains with male-developing bodies, the characteristic she finds completely feminine is the intrinsic ability to nurture in herself. However, without putting too fine a point on it, being a woman depends completely on self-actualization and the only definition that really matters is one’s own. "I believe I am a woman because I just am. The world will just have to deal with that," she said.

The question is, whether or not society will accept, not just tolerate, these self-actualizing women. In 2006, in response to well-documented patterns of abuse of transgender individuals, a group of international human rights experts met in Indonesia to outline a set of international principles — dubbed the Yogyakarta Principles — which address the broad range of human rights standards and their application to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. These included extrajudicial executions, violence and torture, access to justice, privacy, non-discrimination, rights to freedom of expression and assembly, employment, health, education, immigration and refugee issues, public participation, and a variety of other rights.

It is quite clearly stated that "everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

This includes the expression of identity or personhood through speech, deportment, dress, bodily characteristics, choice of name, or any other means, as well as the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, including with regard to human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, through any medium and regardless of frontiers."

At the end of the day, all three transgender interviewees speak not only of being women, but most importantly of being human beings and to be treated as such.

"Bear in mind that being a transsexual doesn’t summarize me as a person. It is but just one layer of a multitude of who I am. A dreamer, friend, fighter, heartbreaker, daughter, student, traveler, and a lot more would still describe who I am today. People easily overlook this? The difficult part is having to defend yourself in the most miniscule of ways that at the end of the day you’re not male or female, trans or non-trans, you’re just another human being living your life like any other," said Nadine.

"Pare-pareho lang tayo na naninirahan sa mundo. Tao rin kami, humihinga, nabubusog, nagugutom, nagkakasakit. Hindi nila kailangan ikasuklam ang pagiging bakla namin kasi as long as hindi namin sila tinatapakan, as long as wala kaming ginagawa na masama sa kanila, hindi kami kailangan nilang maliitin. (We are all people living in the same world. We are human like you, we breathe, we eat our fill, we go hungry, we get sick? You don’t have to denigrate our being gay, as long as we don’t step on you, as long as we don’t do anything harmful to you, you don’t have to belittle us)," said Ms. Gonzalez.

"Kasi kung ano ang kaya nilang gawin, kaya naming gawin, kaya pa naming higitan? pare-pareho lang tayong ng hangin na hinihigop at inilalabas, kaya walang punto, walang dahilan para ikahiya o ikagalit nila ang pagiging bakla, pare-pareho lang tayo ginawa at nilikha ng Diyos (What you’re capable of, we’re also capable of, and more beyond that? we breathe the same air, so there’s no point and no reason to be ashamed of us or to hate us, since we are all creations of God)," she continued.

Liberation, BB Gandanghari Style

BY PAU FONTANOS AND SASS ROGANDO SASOT
Business World Magazine
March 27, 2009

As advocates for the Filipino lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, we watched in horror and disappointment as well-known members of our community, one after the other, came out on TV and other media disparaging Binibini (BB for short) Gandanghari. When BB Gandanghari first burst out into the scene, we, who make-up the "T" part of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community, were excited that at last someone as high profile as BB had arrived and could potentially bring our issues to the fore and with matching beauty, wit, charm and aplomb at that.

That she was met instead with ridicule, criticism and nastiness only confirmed one thing that we have been contending with for some time now: that the LGBT community needs to do more in terms of educating society in general about equality and respect for diversity particularly in regard to trans-gender issues. For if those people who passed judgment on BB (and judge they did - from her fashion choices to her gender identity) had an inkling what the "T" in LGBT were all about, then perhaps they would have thought twice before they said anything in public to castigate her and cast aspersions on her motives for coming out.


The "T" in LGBT

The word "transgender," contrary to popular belief, does not equal transsexual. In fact, it is an umbrella term denoting a wide range of people regardless of sexual orientation. The term was coined in the US in the 1970s by Virgina Prince, a cross dresser and long-time advocate for the trans (short for transgender) community there to describe the process of changing her gender without changing her sex. Although in a very broad sense, the term "trans-gender" can actually include anyone from effeminate men to masculine-looking women, it is now more narrowly ascribed to people who identify as a gender opposite to the one assigned to them at birth (transsexuals) and those who express their gender in ways that are not traditionally associated with their birth-assigned one (cross-dressers, genderqueers, androgynes, etc.).

While only the term "trans-gender" is new, Jamison Green, a leading American transactivist asserts that transpeople have been known to exist in every race, culture and class of people since the beginning of time. According to Dr. Sam Winter, a leading researcher on the transgender phenomena in Asia, the Philippines shares along with other Asian countries such as Myanmar, Indonesia, India, Thailand, China and others a culture of transgender shamanism that dates back to pre-colonial times. As in other ancient cultures, transgender people in these countries were venerated as a third gender, male variant or female variant as they were thought to posses supernatural powers and thus worked as community healers and priestesses.

Unfortunately, as anthropologist and City University of New York Professor Emeritus Serena Nanda observes, the advent of colonial imperialism and "the imposition of European religions, cultures, law, and economies on non-Western societies, in most cases resulted in the marginalization or disappearance of indigenous alternative sex/gender roles." The marginalization of transgender people, in fact, is widespread and continues even up to now.


Transphobia: The prime mover of transgender oppression

It is common knowledge with-in the LGBT community that trans-folk make up its most oppressed sector. Because they are transgender, they simply have no rights. Many a transperson also lose personal relationships with loved ones including family and friends who are simply unable to deal with that person’s transgender status.

This anti-trans prejudice/hatred which often leads to violence and discrimination is known as transphobia and exacts a heavy toll on many transpeople’s lives. According to Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) in the US: "We have people whose lives are being destroyed, people losing their kids, people being murdered, people committing suicide out of despair, people losing their jobs." Everywhere in the world, trans-people have been dying at a rate of one per month over the course of the last decade due to transphobic hate crimes. Ever since the International Transgender Day of Remembrance was launched 10 years ago to honor the victims of these senseless killings, more than 400 trans-gender people have died across the globe.

Thankfully, there is now a growing number of transgender activists in all continents who are starting to fight back, working painstakingly to reduce transprejudice and interrogate its evil twin, transphobia at every possible turn. Along with their allies, these transactivists have been toiling to secure for transpeople the most basic of human rights: equality under the law. A testament to the hard work they do is the growing number of states enshrining civil rights protections for their transgender citizens in countries like Spain, Turkey, England, South Africa, New Zealand, Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and many others. Today, human rights advocates are calling on the UN to adopt the Yogyakarta Principles, which is an application of international human rights standards not only in relation to sexual orientation but also to gender identity and expression as well.


Rethinking gender, reclaiming lives

One of the major lessons in the struggle for transgender liberation is the need to revolutionize how people think about gender. It has been noted that a key player in people’s transphobia is their understanding or lack thereof of gender itself. The prevailing discourse on gender purports that it is cultural, something that you are socialized into. In other words, if you are born with male genitalia, assigned a male gender at birth and are reared to be male, then you must turn out male. The same goes for those with female genitalia, assigned female at birth and taught female roles. Transpeople clearly negate this formula; but instead of fixing the theory to fit reality, experts have taken to blaming transpeople themselves for being who they are. Confounding the situation are people’s rigid notions of what it means to be a man or woman. As the writer Jennifer Boylan remarks "But gender is malleable and elusive, and we need to become comfortable with this fact, rather than afraid of it."

And perhaps this is the lesson

that BB Gandanghari brings to us. Gender diversity exists and it is high time to teach our children to be comfortable with difference. More importantly, it is time to teach children that being different does not mean something is wrong with you. It also does not mean you are less of a person.

BB Gandanghari may very well be the face of the hundreds of thousands of transpinays (transgender Filipinas) who are here and exist in the margins of Philippine society. We are happy she is back home and we welcome her. Moreover, we applaud her for asserting her human right to be her true self: a cornerstone principle not only of the sexual liberation movement but as well as of the global transgender revolution, which has now reached these shores.


Pau Fontanos, 31, and Sass Rogando Sasot, 27, are members of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP), a support, contact and information group for girls and women of transsexual experience in the Philippines. For more information visit www.tsphilippines.com.

Statement of Senator Mar Roxas on invitation of Kaya Natin!

Nagpapasalamat ako sa Kaya Natin! for including me in their array of choices for a reform president. I am willing to engage Kaya Natin! and all other reform groups so we can find ways to unite everyone who believes in the promise of change and a nation of worth which are the real issues in the 2010 elections.

The values and causes we share in the growing reform constituency are much, much larger than any of us. We represent, fight for and share the struggle with the people.

Kaya naman kami sa Partido Liberal ay masigasig na pinupursigi ang pagkakaisa ng lahat ng grupong nagnanais ng tunay na pagbabago sa ating bansa. Natutuwa akong sumama na sa atin ang mga lider at grupo ng civil society at ng mga sektor sa pagpapalakas pa lalo ng kilusang reporma.

Nagtitiwala ako na dahil tunay at taos-puso ang ating pagkakaisa sa adhikain ng pagbabago, makakamit natin sa 2010 ang ating minimithi na lideratong ipapatupad ng walang pasubali ang mga repormang aayos n gating bansa. Hindi ko pababayaan na ‘di natin matupad ang adhikaing magkaisa ang lahat ng nagnanais ng tunay na reporma.

Kailangan ng taumbayan ng isang pamahalaang aayusin ang ating bansa para magkaroon sila ng kasiguruhan ng mahusay na trabaho at kalusugan at maayos na pamumuhay. Di ito naibibigay ng isang gobyernong puno ng katiwalian at walang malasakit sa taumbayan.

Panlilio group asks Roxas to join primaries

I thought of this last week, and I am glad to be proven correct. I see here a realignment of forces between Kaya Natin's reformist bloc and the Liberal Party of Mar Roxas. Forget the Lito what's his name bloc of the LP. It's been flushed down the toilet bowl.

I am happy about the Kaya Natin-LP alliance, since LP -- the party to which I now belong -- has a long tradition of being reform-minded. Now, if only this streak of reformism burns brightly and turns into action in 2010, then Senator Roxas as presidential candidate, with Governor Among Ed Panlilio or Governor Grace Padaca as Vice-Presidential timber, will have a strong chance in the 2010 elections.

***

By Tina Arceo-Dumlao
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:34:00 03/27/2009

MANILA, Philippines—Sen. Manuel Roxas II is being asked to join a US-style popularity contest that will select the standard-bearer of a political reform movement in the 2010 presidential election.

Governors Ed Panlilio of Pampanga and Grace Padaca of Isabela are among those who are being encouraged to participate in a selection process similar to a primary, the system for choosing the presidential candidates of the Republicans and Democrats in the United States.

Roxas, Panlilio and Padaca were scheduled to meet Thursday night at the Roxas residence, called “Bahay na Puti” (White House), in Quezon City.

Harvey Keh, lead convenor of Kaya Natin!, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer Thursday that the meeting was arranged by Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo, one of the founders of the movement for good governance and ethical leadership.

Keh said that the objective of the meeting was to invite Roxas, who also plans to run for president, to subject himself to the primary process.

He said that third-party groups like those of Alex Lacson, who wrote the popular “12 Little Things every Filipino Can Do to Help our Country,” Fr. Carmelo Diola of the Cebu-based Dilaab Foundation and Bro. IJ Gonzaga’s Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan had expressed interest in organizing the primary process.

“They will create the process. And then we will go to different groups and see who they would want to represent them as president. For example, if they want Governor Padaca, Kaya Natin! and our other allied groups will rally around her. We hope to finish the process by July,” Keh said.

Uniting reform groups

Panlilio, a Catholic priest, captured the Filipinos’ imagination in 2007 when he wrested the governorship of Pampanga from Gov. Mark Lapid and Board Member Lilia Pineda, wife of alleged “jueteng” (illegal numbers game) lord Rodolfo “Bong” Pineda.

Padaca, a former broadcast journalist, won the governorship of Isabela province over the Dy family, which has lorded it over Isabela politics for four decades.

“What we want is to unite the reform constituency and Senator Roxas is allied with many reform groups and many of our friends. We are all working for a common cause, that is why we would want him to join the nomination process,” Keh said.

“If he comes out the winner in the nomination process, then we will support him.”

Keh said in a phone interview that Bro. Eddie Villanueva of the Bagong Pilipinas party had been invited to join the process. He said Villanueva would first consult with his party.

Villanueva, head of the Jesus Is Lord Movement, ran for president in 2004. He is expected to announce another bid for the presidency on March 28.

Pledges of support

Keh said that Kaya Natin! continued to receive pledges of support for a Panlilio-Padaca ticket for 2010, bolstering his belief that the silent majority of Filipinos wanting genuine change in 2010 were starting to speak out.

“I just got this e-mail from somebody from Dubai who asked me to accept his humble pledge of P20,000. He said it was a sacrifice he had to make to help bring about new politics,” Keh recounted.

“Another person from Bulacan offered the free use of his Internet café for the reform movement,” he said. “What these are telling me is that there really is a constituency and that so-called silent majority wants change.”

Panlilio, 55, has been in office for just under two years, but he has been lauded for raising government revenues in Pampanga province, including a ten-fold increase in takings from the notoriously corrupt sand quarrying operations in the area.

“If we can project ourselves well and we have a platform that is appealing to the people, if we become close to the people and they believe in us … it will catch on like wildfire,” said Panlilio, who has said he is open to contesting the presidency but has not made up his mind.

Embracing advocacy

“But if we fail to do that, if the people do not embrace our advocacy, then this will fizzle out,” Panlilio told Reuters.

Dressed in a well-worn white polo shirt and brown slacks, the governor comes across in sharp contrast to other prospective presidential candidates, who include four senators, the defense secretary and the Vice President.

Farmers, student groups and civil society organizations are backing Panlilio, and suggest he run with Padaca as his vice presidential candidate.

Panlilio and Padaca are regarded as nontraditional candidates and analysts say their popularity is a reflection of public disgust at corruption in the administrations of Ms Arroyo and of her predecessor Joseph Estrada. With a report from Reuters

Lorelei-ing

The voice of Lorelei Fajardo emanating from TV is enough to make your skin break out in hives. But wait! You've got to hear what recent vapidity the lady is saying. Rita Gadi Baltazar made the Marcoses look and sound elegant with her wit and learned commentary, when she worked for the conjugal dictators in the 1970s and the 1980s. But Aling Lorelei -- who does not speak but lisps the most IQ-challenged statements this side of the dark world -- takes the cake for being as insubtanstial as a marshmallow. All sweetness, all lightness, and all, sheer air.

I am sure my friend Atty Adel Tamano would agree.

***


Editorial
Philippine Daily Inquierer
www.inq7.net
March 28, 2009

The President of the Philippines expresses her contempt for public opinion by deputizing the most ill-informed, the least knowledgeable neophyte politician available to speak on her behalf. We mean, of course, Lorelei Fajardo, one of two deputy presidential spokespersons.

Her role is lip service, in a deeply literal sense. Fajardo makes herself available to the media for comments on various issues, ostensibly on behalf of the President. But what insipid comments! Even critics of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will acknowledge the strength of her work ethic and the quality of her intellectual equipment. But Fajardo is the complete opposite; she is obviously out of her depth.

But she has a task to do, and she does it. By engaging the media, she allows the Arroyo administration to reinforce its claim that it respects the role of a free press in a democratic polity. By offering jejune commentary and sophomoric statements, however, she and the administration she works for undermine both the work of the press and the object of democracy.

How can the consent of the governed be informed, when the government only wants to pretend to inform the public? Call it Lorelei-ing (or Lore-lying).

The ideal approach is to ignore her, and to wait for more authoritative statements from Anthony Golez, Cerge Remonde, Eduardo Ermita or the President herself. Last Monday, however, she said some things in reaction to the news that Fr. Ed Panlilio, the priest-governor of Pampanga province, was considering a presidential run, that made us sit up and take notice — but for all the wrong reasons.

“It’s easy to talk, that’s rhetoric, but what about performance? We should look at performance, because we are already talking about the highest leader of the land,” Fajardo told reporters.

Her emphasis on performance seems to be yet another of those unexamined motherhood statements she was hired to spout. The deputy presidential spokesperson may be incapable of phrasing the thought felicitously, but who can argue with the idea that “performance” is an essential criterion for choosing the next president?

She dismissed the whole notion of “reformist” or value-based politics by asserting that the only — or the main — thing that distinguishes politicians is performance. For instance: “You are a traditional politician, and your performance is good, [then] I think performance should be the basis [for voters to choose you again].”

So far, so party-line. It is no secret that President Arroyo justifies her long tenure in terms of performance. Forget all the political noise (which in a moment of greater candor Ms Arroyo once admitted she was in large part responsible for); the important thing is that the economy is growing, poverty incidence has fallen, tourism is booming, and so on.

But Fajardo did not leave well enough alone. She also said running a province (a jab at Panlilio) was different from running a country. “If your performance is not good in a lower position, let’s say as mayor or governor or any position for that matter, how can you lead the entire nation? That’s what we have to be careful about.”

First things first: The implied criticism of Panlilio is part of a long-term Palace strategy to weaken his chances of reelection. Despite what Panlilio has done to stop corruption in Pampanga, the Arroyo administration has found excuses to get in his way: by refusing police support for the fight against the illegal numbers game “jueteng”; by organizing resistance to Panlilio among town mayors; by marginalizing the governor’s influence in the President’s home province. Fajardo’s dig at Panlilio’s record should be seen in this highly partisan context.

But, more important, let’s examine the assumption behind Fajardo’s blithe putdown of other offices. By her own logic, only four politicians are qualified to seek the presidency: the three former presidents, and the incumbent herself, all of whom are disqualified from running again.

Of course, running a province is different from running a country. But no one disputes that a state governor in the United States can become commander in chief, or a mayor of Paris an effective president of France. Why should Fajardo suggest otherwise?

The easy answer is to suppose that she wasn’t thinking. But the scary possibility exists that, on this point, the spokesperson is in fact reflecting the views of the person she speaks for.

Enrile: cha-cha will die in senate

Aba'y dapat naman. The posturings of the two Arroyo sons in Congress remind me of Bongbong during the heyday of the Marcos dictatorship. So cocksure, so arrogant, even if their brain cells are melting.

I think it will a go for the elections. And who are running in the administration slate for senators? Recycled losers, has-beens, people who do not even know what a blog means.


Some dum-dums will bite the dust in 2010.

***

by Karen Reyes-Caringal, ANC | 03/25/2009 10:31 PM
www.abs-cbnNEWS.com

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said on Wednesday he is ready to take members of the House of Representatives to the Supreme Court if they insist on amending the 1987 Constitution without senators' participation.

"The House of Representatives is not the Congress of the Philippines, and the Constitution speaks of the power of Congress to amend the Constitution by three-fourths vote of all its members, meaning three-fourths of the House and three-fourths of the Senate," Enrile said in an interview on ANC's Top Story.

Enrile was reacting to moves by the House to push for Camarines Sur Representative Luis Villafuerte's resolution to convene Congress into a Constituent Assembly.

The resolution now has 177 signatures, 20 shy of the needed three-fourths vote.

But with the 2010 elections fast approaching, Enrile said he doubts the charter change drive would succeed.

Death in Senate

He added that even if the House passes the charter change resolution, it will die when it reaches the Senate.

"Impossible. I can tell you that even if it passes the House, there is no guarantee that it can pass through the Senate. They're [congressmen] already campaigning. Even those in the Senate are already out in the field [campaigning]. It will be very difficult to get a quorum, let alone get 18 Senators to vote in favor of any amendment. It will be very difficult," Enrile said.

Aside from Villafuerte, House Speaker Prospero Nograles also has a resolution, seeking amendments to economic provisions of the constitution.

De Venecia offer?

Meanwhile, Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo denied offering Pangasinan's Jose De Venecia the speakership in exchange for helping the signature drive for charter change at the House.

"Maybe some other Congressmen, but that is beyond my knowledge. But as far as I'm concerned, I can say I never offered him the Speakership. (House Speaker) Nograles was voted by 176 Congressmen. This is one of the highest number of votes ever won by a Speaker. How can you disenfranchise all these Congressmen?", Arroyo told ANC's Top Story.

Arroyo was reacting to De Venecia's claim that he rejected the offer during a meeting with Arroyo, and Leyte Representative Ferdinand Martin Romualdez.

Gloria's term extension

"Sabi ko di ko sila pwede tulungan kase maliwanag na gusto nila extend ang term of office ni Pres. Arroyo (I told them I couldn't help them because it was clear they want to extend Pres. Arroyo's term)," De Venecia said on an interview on DZMM on Wednesday.

Rep. Arroyo confirmed meeting with De Venecia early this month, and that they talked about charter change. But he deniesd making the offer.

Also during the meeting, the President's son said he informed De Venecia he hopes that one day, their families would reconcile.

De Venecia had a falling out with President Arroyo when his son, Joey. accused First Gentleman Mike Arroyo of accepting kickbacks in the botched $329-million ZTE-NBN deal between the Philippines and China.

Meanwhile, Rep. Arroyo insists, the charter change initiative at the House is not meant to extend the term of his mother beyond 2010.

"For those who are scared this will derail the 2010 elections, I'm sorry to tell them their fears are unfounded", he said.

No fats, no femmes

By Danton Remoto | Remote Control | 03/17/2009 12:20 AM
Views and analysis
www.abs-cbnNEWS.com

Raul, 29, is working as an editor at a government corporation. He used to be a journalist who now wants a quiet life, away from the noise and the lunacy of the press room. He is amused now by the slow, agonizing turning of the bureaucratic mill. It is in sharp contrast to his nights, which he spends hooked to the Internet.

After taking off his crisp Barong Tagalog and his tailored pair of pants, Raul has dinner at his condominium unit in Ortigas. He has a housemaid who comes to his house at 6 a.m., cooks and cleans for him, does his laundry and irons his clothes, and promptly vanishes at 6 p.m. It is a good schedule, right to the point, because after dinner, Raul begins to chat.

He goes to the MIRC, the yahoo chat groups, guys4men, and to gay.com. In the world of cyberspace, he becomes a different person. Or persons, more like it. He wears different masks. The lurkers in the chat rooms do not favor men who are fat or effeminate, thus the tagline: No fats, no femmes. But this is okay, because Raul works out and is straight-acting. With his skin the color of honey, deep-set eyes and nose of pico de loro, he is a catch, indeed. Add to that a mind sheathed in polished irony and wit! With these gifts, Raul demolishes them all. He plays games with the men—verbal games mostly, cybersex sometimes, and rarely, SOP (sex on the phone).

Only once did he have an SEB (sex eyeball), or an actual, physical meeting with a chatmate. The guy happened to be Rob, one of his schoolmates in college. Rob is a self-supporting student in college and an orphan. Sad and good-looking, he is the kind of man Raul would fall for. A perfect fit. The first time they met they had dinner, they talked, and Rob came home with Raul.

But Rob said it is better if they do not live together. So Raul lives in his condo, while Rob stays with his aunts in Pasig. Not a far commute and they could always meet at the Podium, to have coffee and share a piece of cheesecake, or walk a block away to catch a movie at Megamall. When the first month of their anniversary fell on a long weekend, they went to Baguio and Sagada, their skin soaking up the chill air of the woodlands.

However, Rob finds Raul too intense and too aggressive. Having been used to a life all alone, he cannot cope with the vividness of Raul. Too present, too real, so very here and now, like vine around the vase of one’s throat. They drift away from each other.

Raul goes back to his life before Rob. Workhorse by day, Internet hottie by night. He edits the words of his bosses (“national progress in the and now, and most importantly, today”) and trawls for friends in the Internet (“Coffee, conversation, companion, anybody home?”). Who knows, one fine day, those bodiless, anonymous men in the Net at night would materialize into bright, young men, with faces golden in the sun. Who knows?

'Transgender women are not gay men'

By Danton Remoto | Remote Control | 03/24/2009 12:03 AM
Views and analysis
www.abs-cbnNEWS.com

My transgender friends in Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) met with me for coffee one night in Makati and told me they want to write a rejoinder to my column about our common friend, BB Gandanghari. I was glad to listen to them and learn more about the transgender experience.

I attended a four-hour-long session with them two years ago about the transgender experience, but I guess I still have a lot to learn. I also admitted that, like many others, I was confused with the beautiful and effervescent BB Gandanghari. In “Pinoy Big Brother” two years and in some of her magazine interviews in the past two months, she confessed to being “a gay man” and not once did she use the word “transgender” to identify herself.

Be that as it may, I now give the floor to Dee Mendoza, Chairwoman of STRAP, who wrote a reaction letter to “articles written about and comments given to BB Gandanghari and to all women of transgender experience.” We learn something new and something true every day. My warmest thanks to my friends in STRAP, who by the way are also active members of Ang Ladlad, for setting things right.

***

As the country's limelight shines ever so brightly on BB, the issue of transgender has come to the surface. A lot of incorrect information has been expressed about her and, therefore, about others like her.

To err is human. But ignorance? Not bliss for all. Willful ignorance, or judgment in ignorance, should not be treated so lightly or be easily dismissed because of the harm it can cause.

A number of misunderstandings about transgenderism have recently been displayed in print and on the television by both the unlearned and the experts alike. Sadly, even some of those in the LGBT community have contributed to this confusion. Well-intentioned articles that result in harm simply because of the clear lack of knowledge must be rewritten to reflect only the facts and the truth.

Here is a fact and the truth: Transgenders are not gay men who think and feel they are women born in the wrong body. They are not, as stated by one so-called expert, merely people who suppress their sexuality for a very long time.

“Transgender” is a term that has emerged fairly recently and is used to describe anybody who feels their gender identity and expression is different to that which was assigned to them at birth (based only on the viewing of their genitalia). A transgender may be a woman or a man, and like any woman or man, they can be heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. Therefore, their sexuality is not their gender.

To clarify and emphasize this point, gender is who we are – it is ourselves, our person. Gender is not our body, not our genitals, not our clothes, not even our names, not our hormones and not our sexual preference.

A newborn who is pronounced male by the doctor or midwife may not necessarily identify as male when that child grows up. This person must have every right to choose to live his/her life the way s/he needs it to be lived. This person who was born male may live her life as a woman. Because she expresses and identifies as a woman, then she is a woman.

One’s gender has nothing to do with the absence or presence of a specific genitalia. Gender must not be imposed on us. Who, then, has the right to determine the gender of a person? Is it the church? Is it the doctor who inspects the baby's genitalia upon birth? Is it the psychiatrist? Surely, it is only that person because only s/he alone possesses and has innate knowledge of his/her self.

Furthermore, a person need not make any change in order to be the gender they are. Feeling is being. No genital or cosmetic surgery, hormone replacement therapy, nor any other intervention is a prerequisite to being oneself. A man is a man and a woman is a woman not because of their genitals. We are not walking penises and vaginas. We are living beings who happen to have a certain kind of genitalia. Surely, we do not want to reduce ourselves to mere organs. Our being is a determinant of who we are, not what’s between our legs.

Man or woman. Hetero-, homo-, bi- or pansexual. These are only words, and words are only inventions. Sometimes, words are ambiguous. Sometimes, their meanings change over time. Sometimes, new words are invented as our knowledge and understanding evolves over time. It is not surprising then when sometimes, writers publish a piece that contains inaccurate and misunderstood use of certain words. Words, which in this case, are crucial to the understanding and description of other people. Words that can confuse, harass, demean and disrespect people. Hence, a writer must take it upon themselves to be vigilant in ensuring their thorough understanding of all words before going to print.

As for BB, let us respect her freedom of expression. Let us graciously accept what she tells us because only she has the right and ability to assert her own identity. Only she can truly know herself. If you don't understand, ask her. If you can't ask her, then it is best not to comment with so much certainty. Opinions are one thing, statements are another.


_________

STRAP (Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines) is the first and only support, contact and information group for girls and women of transsexual experience in the Philippines. For more information, visit www.tsphilippines.com.

Filipinos Deserve Better . . . An Open Letter to Every Filipino

Eirene Jhone Aguila
Wed, 18 Mar 2009 03:15:46 -0700

Dear Fellow Filipino,

I hope you can spare us a few minutes of your time.

With the Elections of 2010 fast approaching, time is running out for us to
choose well. Old faces… could it be that they got us to where we are now?
Almost everywhere you go, people are tired of the old faces, old
establishments, old ties and old players that seem to be our only options.
People ask, “*eto na lang ba*?” We say, “*why settle?*” We’ve been doing
that time in and time out and look where it has gotten us.

We personally believe we deserve better choices. We deserve to be given an
opportunity to choose good leaders. While there is always a big premium on
voters education and getting people to register, one of the loudest
arguments against this is – “*eh, wala namang pagpipilian – bakit pa*?” We
believe that Filipinos are not stupid – not *bobo*. Given a chance to vote
for leaders who have an uncompromising stand against graft, make the most
use of our scarce and limited resources not for personal gain but to deliver
the services needed by the people, political will to make difficult and
unpopular yet much needed decisions for the good of the country, will not
coddle and protect the corrupt, consistently embody ethical principles,
practice good governance and endeavor to be effective public servants, have
a heart genuinely for the people, we Filipinos will go out and vote – and
vote wisely. Given the chance, we will do what’s right.

We hope you can join us in urging Governors Grace Padaca and Among Ed
Panlilio to run for the highest positions in the land. Governor Padaca is a
victim of polio and needs crutches to walk but despite this she is best
known for having fought against well-entrenched powers in Isabela and for
winning the elections without use of guns, gold and goons. In her 5 years as
governor of one of the top rice-producing provinces of the Philippines, she
has tirelessly worked for the betterment of the lives of her constituents
and has improved the conditions of Isabela so much so that today, Isabelinos
enjoy the fruits of the rice and corn price stabilization program of Gov.
Grace, among the many other improvements she has instituted in her province.
Last year, Gov. Padaca was awarded one of Asia's highest honors, the Ramon
Magsaysay Award for Government Service.

Governor Panlilio’s coming into power in Pampanga is a testament to the
Filipinos’ desire to reclaim their land. Having won against reputedly the
biggest illegal gambling lord in the country and the quarry-king of Central
Luzon, Among Gov reclaimed for the Capampangans a sense of pride that they
can choose good leaders who go beyond only selfish desires. Today, as he
serves the people of Pampanga, he continues to be an inspiration to those
who wish to do good and fight against the system of corruption no matter how
difficult.

Many say that the biggest problem in Philippine society today is not so much
economic. Poverty is not the biggest challenge we face, rather, it is a
growing cynicism of people and mistrust in government. A lot have lost hope
that government can work for them and that our government leaders have the
interest of the people as their primordial concern. We do not need mediocre
public servants, we do not need intellectuals who will remain silent and
choose to abstain on crucial matters and not stand up for what is right. We
are tired of compromised leaders who first seek to appease and repay their
financiers, their supporters and their allies before thinking of country.
What we need are those who will stand up for the people and promote the
people’s agenda, not their own or that of their allies and families only.

If you believe that we Filipinos deserve better and that we should be given
better options in our choice for leaders, join us in this petition. Send us
your *NAME, CONTACT INFORMATION and LOCATION* if you think Among Gov and Gov
Grace should run for president and vice-president. You may send these to
graceamong.thebettercho...@gmail.com . While it might seem like a fight
between David and Goliath at this point, we believe that nothing is
impossible with the Filipino.

Join us as we dream and work for a better Philippines! Is genuine reform
possible in the Philippines? We think so.

Always,

Atty. Eirene Aguila

PS

I hope you can pass this on and share this with your family and friends who
are also looking for better options for the country. Thank you!

Taboan: Philippine Writers' Festival 2009

By John Iremil E. Teodoro, Contributor
The Daily Tribune
02/26/2009

A happy and historical gathering of wordsmiths with phallocentric and Manila-centric overtones


***

This is from my friend, the excellent poet and critic John Iremil Teodoro, who writes from the magical island of Panay. I wish I have his energy, his passion and his time to write. Writing needs necessary leisure.

But this budding, bading politician has shifted his directions. On this day alone, I have to attend not one, not two, but three political meetings.

And there goes that new poem out of the window. Sigh.

***


According to Ricardo de Ungria, a poet of the first magnitude and the director of Taboan: The Philippine International Writers Festival 2009, “the original idea was for a simple get together of writers from all over the country who have been recipients, directly or indirectly, of grants and awards from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). What happened last Feb. 11 to 13 was far from being simple as 105 creative writers, including three National Artists of Literature, from all over the Philippine archipelago congregated at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Ateneo de Manila University and Cubao Expo. Taboan became, again to quote the ever-energetic hunk of a festival director, “a celebration of the written word as it is practiced in our country today. For three days, it assembles writers from different regions for them to get to know one another, speak their minds out on various topics and issues of the day, and discover new ways of performing the word and turning it upside down.”

Taboan is the Visayan term for “assembly,” “congress,” “marketplace,” “meeting place,” or “rendezvous.” The word is also used in Palawan for “market day.” Taboan is the literary component of the National Arts Month 2009. NCCA chairman Vilma Labrador explained that Taboan “is more than just a gathering of writers and a conference of lectures, literary readings and performances. Taboan is a meeting place for the minds; it is a celebration of the great Filipino literature, an inspiration for creativity, and a fostering of the talents of the Filipino writers.”

I was part of the Western Visayas delegation. I sat as panelist in two sessions during the third day of the festival that was reserved for the young writers like me. NCCA’s definition of “young” is 40 years old and below. The first two days were devoted to speeches, lectures and panel discussions by the senior writers, those whose age is from 41 to 84. Yes, National Artist F. Sionil Jose is already 84 but is still actively writing. He delivered the keynote address during the opening ceremonies held at the Pulungang Claro M. Recto, Bulwagang Rizal, University of the Philippines in Diliman. Jose’s speech posed a challenge to the Filipino writers today which is to “build the marmoreal foundation for this nation.”

A tribute to National Artist Edith Tiempo followed. It was a short poetry reading moderated by a certified Tiempo baby, the feminist poet Marjorie Evasco. Poets who have attended the Dumaguete National Writers’ Workshop where “Mom Edith” is the reigning queen, read their poems as tribute to sole woman National Artist for Literature: Merlie Alunan, Dinah Roma and Ronald Baytan. Poet and critic Gemino Abad, who claimed he was “Mom Edith’s secret lover,” also recited his poem from memory.

The first plenary session that morning was “Ganito Kami Noon: Writing Through the Decades.” According to the program, this is “a plenary discussion to set the tone for all other panel discussions. A representative each from the 1950s (Elmer Ordoñez), 1960s (National Artist Virgilio Almario, aka Rio Alma), 1970s (Jose Pete Lacaba), 1980s (Marjorie Evasco), and 1990s (Angelo “Sarge” Lacuesta) can talk about the conditions of writing and publishing in their eras and how things have changed, or maybe not. And where do we go from here?” The discussion was lively and informative. Every time F. Sionil Jose would shout from his seat in the audience in reaction to what Ordoñez have just said amused everyone in the hall. But alas, as a writer from the Visayas, I noticed that the panelists, except for Evasco, only talked about writers in Metro Manila and writings in English and Tagalog. When you are an international delegate (Yes, there were two “international” visiting writers), you might get the idea that from the 1950s to the present, there is no literatures outside Metro Manila and in the vernaculars. What happened to the vigorous writings in the Ilocos, Iloilo and Cebu, to mention only three?


The literary sessions

There were so many parallel sessions that started in the afternoon of day one.

The first session that I attended was called “The Creative Writing Classroom,” which is about the teaching of creative writing for the teachers — the challenges, strategies, approaches, tips and tricks in the creative writing classroom. The panel was headed by the multi-awarded creative nonfiction writer who is my idol, Christina Pantoja-Hidalgo. She posed some questions like: “Is creative writing teachable? How much reading by your students can you assume before you teach creative writing? Will you insist that your students will write in a particular way?”

De Ungria shared that he would lead his students to develop a “sense of self and sense of place.” He would admonish his students to “find your language. Find out what do you want to say.” He also insisted that “writing should be made fun.” De La Salle University professor and gay poet Ronald Baytan shared to the group that he would “help students develop creative and critical eye.” He also added, “I’m happy when my students leave my class loving literature more.”

In the session “Text and Context” that was held at the Ateneo de Manila University during the second day, there was a lively discourse on “the encounter between art and politics, writing and ideology, or aesthetics and social engagement, has been a significant consideration in countries like the Philippines as it has been said to make for bad writing and good politics/bad politics and good writing. Thus the binary categories have been considered mutually exclusive practices by some writers, but deemed mutually constitutive commitments by writers.” Whew! The panel was moderated by “Diaspora” studies scholar and theorist Oscar Campomanes. National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera was supposed to be in the panel but he was absent.

Leading Filipino critic and playwright Isagani R. Cruz shared to the group his simple creative process of writing his plays. First, he would write his play thinking only of himself and aware of the formalistic elements. He would please himself first. And second, during revision, he would think of the readers/audience. After all, he said, people will pay to watch his play. So what would his audience get in exchange for their money and time? This is where politics enter his works. Young and prolific critic Rolando Tolentino averred that whatever one writes, it is contributing to the field called Philippine studies and said, “Anumang texto ay may sumpa na makilahok sa larangang politikang sosyal.” (Whatever text is doomed to join social politics) He insisted that whoever engages in Philippine studies must have “a certain kind of advocacy,” and this advocacy must be towards “social transformation.” The great Ladlad poet Danton Remoto, who was in his barong Tagalog (not pink so I was disappointed) for he was fresh (Can really something fresh come from that dark palace?) from a Malacañang function, flamingly announced to the group that he has also written political poems but these were ignored by readers and critics for he was already branded as a “gay poet,” a brand he doesn’t really mind as long as it would gather votes for his (ours, actually) Ladlad party list in the next election. He also hinted that he may run as an opposition senatorial candidate come 2010 elections. So his politics might be really literal than literary. Young Tagalog poet and novelist Edgar Samar said that writing is giving importance and meaning to his own milieu. Campomanes had the last word. The problem with Philippine studies, he noticed, is that it is preoccupied with binaries and had forgotten to investigate the “specificity of artistic production.”

In the session “Lingo ng Wika” at the Cubao Expo during day three, in which I was a member of the panel, Jason Paul Laxamana of Pampanga said that they promote and preserve Pampangan contemporary literature by making independent films in the language and composing original Pampangan rock music. Their being near the National Capital Region is a problem for it diluted their culture. Voltaire Oyzon of Leyte was almost up in arms asking the question why there is a distinction between national and regional writing. That if you write in Waray, as in his case, your writings will be branded as “regional” while if you are in Manila your writing will be called “national.” I told him it is not really a problem. It has to do with our attitude as writers. I am proud as a writer for I am a certified Leoncio Deriada baby (and not to mention I was adopted by the great Manila poet Cirilo Bautista). So every time I write a poem in Kinaray-a under the shade of a coconut grove by the sea or in a hut in a middle of my ancestors’ rice field in Antique, it never occurred to me that I was writing something “regional.” Deep in my heart I believe that my Kinaray-a poems are a significant part of the wonderful corpus of Philippine poetry. Voltaire could do that also. After all, he is a literary son of another great poet, Merlie Alunan.

The discussion was lively when poet-mathematician from Baguio City Prescilla Macansantos raised her hand and told the group that we “regional” writers are discussing things that we are already convinced of like writing in our native languages. No one is listening to us. She suggested that we should discuss things that we would suggest to the NCCA on how to help develop or promote writings from the region. My fellow Antique writer who is a good friend, Genevieve Asenjo, seconded, and so we asked Ian Casocot, the moderator from Dumaguete City, to take down notes of our wish list. Little did I know that I would be forced later to present this wish list (which was potentially controversial) to the plenary.

The last session that I attended, and where I was again a panelist, was “Unscripted.” It is where “playwrights, screenwriters and writers in general discuss the difficulties of writing for the stage and screen — from the issue (or non-issue) of language and the challenges of the craft, to the long road to production and the burden of having to win the audience.”

Jun Lana was supposed to be the lead panelist but did not show up. The organizers forced Steven Patrick Fernandez to moderate the discussion. We (together with another fellow Antiqueño writer who is also a dear friend, Glenn Sevilla Mas, and Jhoanna “Joy” Cruz whom I met in De La Salle many years ago, who is now teaching in UP Mindanao, and who looks like a fashion model with her beautiful clothes during Taboan.) had a wonderful time sharing our happiness and frustrations as playwrights. Glenn theatrically shared with us his horror and desperation when his American classmates at the MFA program of the Catholic University of America in Washington DC would complain that his English is different and difficult. Joy reported that there is no auditorium in Davao City and that there is zero theater production in this city in the south. She also longed for her Palanca-winning lesbian play to be staged. Well, I shared that I was only forced by my two handsome friends, Ray Defante Gibraltar and Oscar Reuben Nava, to write scripts for independent films that they directed. I’m only human and how could I resist the temptation?!

There were other sessions that I wanted to attend but was not able to because of the conflict of schedules for the sessions were held simultaneously. I would love to participate in the session titled “Filipino-ness in the Global Age,” “Publishing for the Future,” “The Poet-Critic” and many others.


Phallocentricism

and Manila-centricism

Feminist poet Aida Santos sounded exasperated during the session “Text and Context.” She deplored the absence of women in the discussion. “Lalaki lang ba ang puwedeng magsalita?” (Are men the only ones allowed to speak?) she asked to no one in particular. “Gender is also a context,” she added. She had a point. All the panelists in this session were male. Oh well, Danton Remoto was there but still he is genitally male.

When you think of it, Edith Tiempo’s being the sole woman National Artist is not something to celebrate. It is in fact symptomatic of patriarchy in Philippine literature.

Marjorie Evasco had noted this undertone of male-domination and Manila-centrism during day one in the plenary session. She was the only woman in the panel of macho Manila writers. That is why she started her little speech saying to the effect that she would be speaking from a perspective that is not phallocentric and Manila-centric. Evasco may be based in Metro Manila for a long time now teaching literature at the De La Salle University in Manila and is writing in English (but lately branched out into writing in Cebuano), she cannot be accused of belonging to the “imperial center” for her poetry is very Visayan in its sensibilities. This is the reason why I adore her poems. She hails from Maribojoc, Bohol, and studied creative writing under the Tiempos at the Silliman University in Dumaguete City.

During the second day at the Ateneo, there were almost violent reactions to the presentation made by Benilda Santos, another poet whom I admire tremendously, titled “A Concise History of 150 Years of Ateneo Writing.” The history and the writers presented were only of the Ateneo de Manila University, specifically those who contributed to the more than half-a-century literary journal Heights. Writers from the other Ateneo campuses, especially in Davao City, were not mentioned. In fairness, Ma’am Beni apologized for the incompleteness of the history that she presented and promised that this experience taught them to reach out to other Ateneo campuses with their creative writing activities in Quezon City.

I noticed that the “History of Ateneo Writing” included only writers in English and Tagalog who were mostly Manila-based. Alice Tan Gonzales, who was sitting beside me that morning in Ateneo’s immaculate Leong Hall Auditorium, is also an Atenean and is writing excellent short stories in Hiligaynon. She got her master’s degree in literature from there.


Well, the most obvious symptom of Manila-centrism in Philippine literature is that all the National Artists for Literature, except for Edith Tiempo, are from Metro Manila or have spent most of their writing life in that political center of the country.


Dear NCCA

The last plenary session in the gypsy-like ambiance of Cubao Expo was called “Dear NCCA.” Ricky de Ungria posed the question: “What can the NCCA do for younger or emerging writer?” This session hopes to come up with a wish list for the NCCA, covering specific measures of support for the Filipino writers. Casocot pleaded exhaustion and forced me to present to the body the wish list made by “Lingo ng Wika” session.

The first wish we have is for NCCA to give us writers from the regions generous funding for translating the works of our senior and junior writers and for its publications. De Ungria promised to coordinate with the Committee on Translation for this and said that there are grants for publications of books by the vernacular writers.

Our second wish is to hold the future Taboans in the key cities outside Metro Manila such as Vigan, Naga, Iloilo, Cebu, Davao and General Santos City. De Ungria explained that the reason why Taboan was held in Metro Manila is the limited funding. It will be expensive to bring writers to the northern or southern part of the Philippines. My answer to that is increasing the budget. What is another million pesos? The government is just wasting money on ridiculous scandals like the fertilizer scam and the Euro generals junket, to mention only two. I think Cebu or Iloilo is central enough for transportation logistics.

And third, although I was quite fearful to say this in the plenary, is to “educate Manila writers,” well, educate in the sense that Manila writers should read us writers from the region. After all, we are the majority. My fellow West Visayan writers Genevieve Asenjo, John Barrios and Alice Tan Gonzales would aver that we are reading Manila writers. It is just fair for Manila writers to read us also so that when they organize things in Metro Manila like the Taboan, the selection of the topics and panelists for the various sessions will be more representative and no sectors will feel marginalized.

In fairness to Manila writers, I was not assassinated in Cubao Expo that evening when I was enjoying a can of San Mig Light, and the sound and sight of Paolo Santos singing with his guitar. I have to admit that this lanky singer looked sexy in person.


A call for unity

Manila-centrism, as well as phallocentrism, in Philippine literary politics will, I think, stay for quite sometime. But the gathering of writers like Taboan will surely, little by little, smash this imbalance and injustice. The NCCA literary committee is bent on making Taboan an annual event, and this augurs well for the future of the real Philippine literature wherein the dichotomy of Manila/outside Manila or the center/the peripheries or city/province, and the man/woman sexual politics is greatly diminished.

What the first Taboan achieved is to gather significant number of Filipino writers to talk about and to barter their writings and thoughts, to share their bag of tricks as wordsmith-magicians. In spite of the age, language, aesthetic and ideological differences, indeed it was possible for them to gather in one place and be a willing listener to each others’ concerns. This I think is a great step towards the formation a strong and vibrant Philippine literature.

Filipino writers need to unite. We need to unite in order to help build the Filipino nation. It is always good to go back to what F. Sionil Jose said in his keynote address: “All of us know that our country does not realize how important literature is or the arts for that matter. We know that we will never earn enough with our writing and we will be lucky if our families understand this for our greatest support comes from our loved ones. But to write as best and as honestly as we can and we will do this not because we are masochists or because a munificent bonus awaits us in the afterlife. We must bear this duty, endure it, if we are to be true not just to the vocation we have chosen but to this land which sustains us, which gave us life and reason to be.”

Amen! Amen! Manong Frankie.

I feel so blessed to have been invited to participate in the festive Taboan 2009 which was well-organized. Kudos to the NCCA’s Committee on Literary Arts especially to its chair Ricky de Ungria. Bravo to Sarge Lacuesta and April Yap, and their staff, who coordinated the event. (I love Taboan’s logo! Writing quills forming a circle invoking the color, beauty and life, and the marapait, the native sunflower.) Writing is such a lonely occupation and to be with your kindred spirits even just for three days is a taste of heaven. I am now eagerly looking forward to Taboan 2010.


John Iremil E. Teodoro is a Palanca award-winning writer based in San Jose de Buenavista, Antique, and Iloilo City. He is an author of six poetry books mostly in Kinaray-a. His collection of essays Pagmumuni-muni at Pagtatalak ng Sirenang Nagpapanggap na Prinsesa won the 2007 National Book Award for essay/creative non-fiction from the Manila Critics Circle and the National Book Development Board. He holds an MFA in creative writing from the De La Salle University.

The Heart of Summer

BY Danton Remoto

A story that could not be published in the 1980s, because it was called porn and returned to me, gets published 20 years later, and wins a prize. Times must have changed.


***



On the first day of April, we moved to a row house in a subdivision carved out of the Antipolo hills. A row house is a nice word for houses that somehow managed to fit into 120-square-meter lots. They looked like matchboxes, really, built near the riverbank. The larger houses, of course, stood grandly at the center of the village, in front of the chapel. We’d be renting the house from the mayor’s mistress, one of three houses she owned there.

The living room of the house spilled over into the kitchen. The house only had two tiny rooms, but it was enough for us. The owner of the apartment we had been renting in Project 4 wrote to us (in pink stationery with the letterhead “Dr. Antonina Raquiza, Ph. D.”) to say that she’d raise the monthly rent to five thousand. If we couldn’t agree to her new terms, we’d have two months to leave. Mama glared at the letter, then said something obscene about our landlady’s father. A day later, she began poring over the ads, looking for cheaper rent in the suburbs. Papa’s monthly remittances from his engineer’s job in Saudi would not be enough if the landlady raises the rent, since he was also sending some nephews and nieces to school. Noblesse oblige is how you call it, but it was actually more oblige than noblesse. And that was how we moved to Antipolo.

It was a long, hot summer. The days were dull and endless, a desert that stretched into infinity. During the afternoons, the heat fell on your skin like a whip. The water in the village water tank began drying up a week after we moved in, so our housemaid Ludy and I had to fetch water from the fire hydrant in the street corner. Even though I hated studying in summer, this time, I actually looked forward to the first day of summer classes at the university.

But since Ludy also went home to Albay that summer (to look for a boyfriend and dance in the baile), I did the chores myself. Mama left the house every day for her piano tutorials. I did the laundry and fixed lunch. In the afternoons, I gathered the laundry so easily dried by the oppressive heat up here in the hills. I folded the clothes, then sorted them while watching old Nida Blanca and Nestor de Villa cha-cha-chas on TV. Sometimes, I would read the stories of Estrella Alfon (Ay, Magnificence!), or sketch faces and places on my drawing pad.

Then in the blue hour before dusk, I would pick up our red plastic pail and walk five houses away to the street corner to fetch water.

I would line up before the wooden carts full of drums, pails, and recycled gasoline containers. I carried only a pail, but I was too timid to elbow my way to the head of the line. The short, stocky men nudged each other’s ribs and exchanged stories: “Pare, Vodka Banana did it again in her latest penetration movie, Only a Wall Between Us.” The women gossiped about their movie idols: “Sharon’s legs are like a washerwoman’s paddle,” said one, whose varicose veins strained on her legs like netting. After a long wait, I finally reached the fire hydrant. From its open mouth gushed water whose pressure was so strong that it swirled round and round my pail, the foam spilling on the dry earth. Then, I walked back to the house where I carefully poured the water into the drum. Then back to the street corner. Again.

On my way back, darkness had already settled on the hills. The chickens would be roosting on the branches of the star-apple trees, and the cicadas would begin their eternal buzzing. When I reached the street corner again, a young man was standing at the head of the line. He wasn’t there when I left earlier. He must have asked his housemaid to stand in for him, and returned only when it was time to fill his drum.

Dusk slept on his rumpled hair. Smooth, nut-brown skin. Eyes round as marbles. He wore a maroon T-shirt silk-screened with Mapua College of Engineering. Black corduroy pants on long legs, then brown sandals from Our Tribe.

When he saw me at the end of the line, he walked to me and said: “Uy, pare, you can go ahead, since you only have this pail.” Cool, deep voice. “Thank you,” I said. Then I smiled at him and followed him to the fire hydrant. I kept on looking surreptitiously at his hairy legs. When he looked at me, I would shift my attention to the water beginning to fill my pail, swirling round and round, until it flowed over the lips. I thanked him again, and then gave him my name. He mumbled his name. I smiled, and then walked away. I walked away because I was afraid that any moment now, I would tell Rene I liked him not only because he was considerate, but also because he had such well-muscled legs and clean toenails.



That summer, the Bermuda grass in our lawn turned brown. We had hoped for friendly neighborhood, similar to the one in Project 4, but we were disappointed. A young childless couple lived in the house on the left: Both were working, holding down two jobs each like everybody else. We only saw them at Sunday Mass. On the right lived an elderly couple with an only child, a teenage daughter named Maribel, who liked to bike around the village in midriff shirts and very abbreviated shorts. Her father was a big man with the face of a bulldog, his voice booming across the yard when he barked, err, spoke.



The minibus station in Cubao slouched on the street right after EDSA. It was housed in a big, abandoned garage. On the hard, earthen floor, the spilled oil looked like lost, black continents on a map.

That summer, I enrolled in two courses: Business Statistics and Financial Accounting. I took up Business Management in this Jesuit university because my father said it would make us rich. And so I signed up for the course, although the only thing I wanted to do in the world was to draw. Pencil to paper, lines forming faces. Or watercolor to paper, letting the paper soak up the rainbow of colors, forming oceans, skies, the infinity of blue.

But I had to go to business school. And so I left the house at one o’clock in the afternoon, after lunch, preferring to take the minibus rather than risk my life in those jeepneys whose drivers think they are Mad Max. More mad than Max, actually.

During the first week of classes, I was still adjusting to the hassle of commuting from house to school to house again. It was much easier in Project 4. I would just hop aboard any Cubao-bound bus, get off behind Queen’s Supermart, and then walk all the way home.

But here, I would have to wait for the minibus to fill up with passengers before we could leave. The street would be choked with hawkers selling everything: freshly-sliced squash and okra good for pinakbet, apples from New Zealand, jeans with fake brand names sewn on the back, tabloids with their headlines in red ink blown up to 72 points Times Roman (“Boa Constrictor in Dept. Store/ Dressing Room Swallows/ Up Female Customers”). Food stalls offered everything, from cow’s entrails floating in lemon-spiked congee to day-old chicks smothered in orange flour, then fried to a crisp brown. And in the air, a cumulus of black exhaust fumes while the Marcoses bled the country dry. Him with his decrees; her, with her diamonds and tears.

Oh, how I wish I could just flee from all of this. There is nothing here, really, in this city and in this country except a big, black hole that sucked you in and drowned you in its ooze of oil. I wish I could go away, but to where? To forestall what W.H. Auden called thoughts of “elsewhereishness,” I just fixed my eyes on my textbook, even if I could not read by the faint light of the minibus. I was doing this one night and when I raised my face, Rene was just coming in. His white shirt was tucked in his baggy jeans. His shirt revealed the curve of his chest. He carried a T-square in one hand and two thick books in the other. His wide forehead was furrowed. Must have had a bad day, I thought, moving to the right side of my seat so I could see him better. I wanted him to sit beside me, I wanted to feel the warmth of his hand and thigh against mine, I wanted to comfort him. But a man with halitosis sat beside me instead.

The driver finally came. The engine sputtered and roared, then crawled slowly out of the narrow street. Near the street corner, the air became smokier, loud with the cries of hawkers vending barbecued chicken’s blood, barbecued chicken’s entrails (IUD), barbecued chicken’s feet (Adidas), and barbecued chicken’s head (Helmet).

The shrill sound of a policeman’s whistle rose above the vendor’s cries. At whistle’s cry, the hawkers picked up their wares, then scattered madly in all directions, the charcoal embers glowing eerily in the dark.



I was sitting in our front yard, admiring my mother’s orchids, whose saplings she had asked from friends and which she had nurtured with uncommon care, now fully grown, the leaves shiny, with the texture of skin, and the flowers mottled with magenta and amber, the petals opening themselves layer upon layer to the dying afternoon sun.

But as the petals opened, I felt myself entering a forest of limbs. Hair like seaweeds embraced those limbs. The thighs of the men were smooth like river stones. The V-shapes of their bodies glistened with sweat. Leaves like eyes covered their crotches. But under these leaves lay breathing things.

I bolted upright with a start. I looked at the clock. The luminous hands pointed to almost midnight. My back was beaded with sweat, and in the room there was only unbearable heat. I remained motionless for a while, as my dream slipped away, and I was alone, again.



I stepped out of the room and headed for the kitchen. I turned the light on and made myself a cup of rice coffee—toasted rice turned into coffee. Cheap—and good for the heart.

Cup in hand, I opened the front door. My skin brushed against the dry, brittle air. I sat down on the stairs. The cement was cold. To my left, the skeletal branches of the neighbor’s alibangbang tree cut the moon into many, fatal fragments.

I first smelled rather than heard the oncoming rain. The sound seemed to come from so far away. It was like a voice calling my name. The sound grew louder and louder by the second. I left the cup on the stair landing, stood up, and then ran barefoot in the yard. The whole house, the whole yard, the whole village was tense, waiting.

And then it came, puncturing holes in the night sky, rattling on the roofs, pelting the flowers and the leaves: Agua de mayo! the first rains of May!

In the darkness, the rain’s fingers caressed my hair and my face. It began licking my eyelids, earlobes, and lips. I opened my mouth and let the rain’s tongue roam inside me, while its fingers traveled downward, on my inner arm and my chest. Its lips went around my nipples and navel, laving my warm, innermost spaces.

Like sunlight, heat rose from the earth, musky heat that entered my soles, warmed my body, and then broke out of the pores of my skin. It was brief but it pierced me beautifully, suddenly.

I knew now what I would do. I would soap myself in the bathroom, rinse my skin clean, change into fresh clothes that smell good and are crisp to touch. Then I would look for my sheets of Oslo paper in my drawer. I would run my fingers on my sketches of Rene. The rumpled hair and the dark, melancholy eyes. How can I tell him that there is nothing else in the world I want than to be with him? Ludy said that Rene would soon join his mother, who was working as a nurse in the States. Many departures, few arrivals. But now, I have him: He is here, contained in the purity of my ache.

I would turn the lights off, plunging the house in darkness. Then I would turn myself over to the arms of sleep. Outside, the leaves would still be moist and breathing.



This story won Third Prize in the 2005 Philippines Free Press Literary Awards

India leaders blog, text to plug in to young voters

Reuters | 03/18/2009 5:59 PM



MUMBAI - Video clips on YouTube, updates on Facebook, blogs, and an online voter registration campaign.

Welcome to a newly-wired India, where political parties are using text messages to send updates and leaders are sprucing up their pages on social networking sites in an effort to connect with the country's growing young and plugged-in generation.

With nearly 700 million people eligible to cast their votes in an April and May general election, the ruling Congress party and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are devoting more time to first-time voters and the tech-savvy middle class.

The reasons are not hard to find: a booming economy that grew at about 9 percent in the last three years encouraged rapid penetration of Internet and mobile phone ownership, giving politicians tools to connect with even far-flung areas.

"We have 100 million first-time voters in the age group 18-24, and they are all most likely connected via the Internet and mobile phones," said Diptarup Chakraborti, a principal research analyst at Gartner consultancy.

Now, after a successful presidential campaign by a youthful, tech-savvy Barack Obama, as well as the Mumbai attacks last November, a groundswell of activism and political awareness among the youth is apparent, particularly in the cities.

Both Congress and the BJP's prime ministerial candidates are elderly, but that has not stopped the parties from reaching out to the youth, using text messages, campaign tunes and videos.

L.K. Advani, the iPhone-carrying, 81-year-old leader of Hindu nationalist BJP, has posted his own blog (http://blog.lkadvani.in).

"In my own political life spanning six decades, I have enthusiastically embraced every new communication technology -- from the early simple Casio digital diary to iPod and iPhone," he wrote in a blog that drew more than 100 comments.

BJP teams have made YouTube campaign videos and their election offices in New Delhi are packed with youngsters glued to computer screens to update campaign websites.

"There are emotional and functional reasons for using technology: functionally, it is more cost-effective and more participative than say, a rally or an advertisement," said Kiran Khalap, co-founder of brand consultancy Chlorophyll.

"And emotionally, they want to be like the cool urban youth they want to connect with," he said.

A young Gandhi

The BJP's main competitor for the youth vote may be Rahul Gandhi, 38, son of Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi and head of the party's youth wing. He is tech-savvy, and has been doing the rounds of colleges, mingling with students and posing for pictures taken on camera phones.

Gandhi has thousands of supporters on Facebook and his portrait dominates many election billboards, even though it is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, 76, who is the party's candidate for the top job.

The Congress party has bought the rights to Oscar-winning anthem "Jai Ho," whose title is Hindi for "Let There Be Victory," from the movie "Slumdog Millionaire."

But the two main parties' reach may pale with the 55,000 YouTube views of Omar Abdullah's rousing speech in parliament last year in defense of secularism and a civil nuclear deal.

Abdullah, 38, the youngest chief minister of restive Jammu and Kashmir state and seen as a rising political star, has a Facebook profile and also wrote a blog.

One-fourth of the electorate is below the age of 25, but in previous years few parties courted this segment because it was not so politically-inclined.

Now, an ad for a mobile firm shows a leader using text messages for feedback from her constituency, while a campaign (http://www.jaagore.com) aims to persuade urban youth to vote.

Only about 10 percent of urban youth voted in the last general election in 2004, said Sangeeta Talwar, an executive director at Tata Tea which is running the Jaago Re campaign.

"If the youth are made to feel they have the power to influence the outcome of the election and the future of the country, that's a very powerful motivator," said Talwar.

But a hit song and blogs alone can't do magic, said Khalap.

"Awareness may grow, but whether it will change attitudes and behavior of voters and politicians remains to be seen," he said.

Jessica Zafra knocks them down

REMOTE CONTROL | DANTON REMOTO | 03/10/2009 12:53 AM
www.abs-cbnnews.com



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 meet 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 remind you that Jessica Zafra is a first-rate fiction writer. Her book, Manananggal Terrorizes Manila, served notice that from one, female characters in Philippine fiction will never be mewling maids anymore. They would be brave and would live in congested cities. They would 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 make 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 would 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 is available at National Book Store and Power books for P250.