Fact, Fiction and Fantasy: Of Dan Brown and Francis Tolentino

There is too much noise these days on Dan Brown’s depiction of Manila in his latest best-selling novel Inferno, where Brown’s character, Dr Sienna Brooks, a 32-year old English doctor on a humanitarian mission described Manila as the “gates of hell”.

Infernocover_2561264a

A GMA News Online report gives us a glimpse of what transpired in the novel:

“When the group settled in among the throngs in the city of Manila—the most densely populated city on earth—Sienna could only gape in horror. She had never seen poverty on this scale.”
 
Brown then enumerated what Sienna saw: hungry kids gazing at her “with desolate eyes,” “six-hour traffic jams, suffocating pollution, and a horrifying sex trade, whose workers consisted primarily of young children, many of whom had been sold to pimps by parents who took solace in knowing that at least their children would be fed.”
 
The book also mentioned panhandlers and pickpockets, and how Sienna “could see humanity overrun by its primal instinct for survival. When they face desperation … human beings become animals.”
 
Sienna, like many visitors to Manila, also saw her surroundings as “a kind of shantytown—a city made of pieces of corrugated metal and cardboard propped up and held together” with “wails of crying babies and the stench of human excrement” in the air. She saw herself as having “run through the gates of hell.”
The otherwise quiet MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino was quick to send Brown an open letter expressing disappointment over how Metropolitan Manila was described in the novel, The Professional Heckler however was as quick to write a parodied reply of Dan Brown to Tolentino’s letter. Needless to say, social media channels were abuzzed with #GatesofHell #ReplaceManilawithGatesofHell hashtags. Journalists, broadcasters, social commentators and a Malacanang spokesperson had a field day.
 
What is fact and what is fiction in Dan Brown’s novel then? Is it right for people to take offense in Brown’s fictional characterization of Manila? Is MMDA’s Tolentino a better fantasy writer by stating that Manila is actually “the gateway to heaven”? Let us scan recent headlines, sans election-related stories to see what’s in fact a fact.
 
 
Poverty, prostitution, pollution and traffic jams are facts of life in any urban city of the world. Fantasy is to escape such reality. Why don’t we just take it as it is and move on. Better yet, especially for those working in government, step up and do more to save our metro from further decay. At least Erap, the new Manila mayor recognizes this as fact.
 
Like what I posted in one of the online discussion boards, Hell’s Kitchen is already in New York, so why bother?

Silence does not give us Peace

Letters To Mindanao condemn the merciless murder of Cris Bual, land acquisition superindentent of Sagittarius Mines, Inc. who was killed on Friday, 16 September 2011 in Davao City.

The senseless act of taking another person’s life is never ever acceptable- for whatever reason except by legitimate authority and based on a judicial decision of a duly constituted authority.

Violence in any form should be condemned. Barbarism has no place in a civilized society, not in Asia’s most livable city most especially. I am however appalled by the silence from almost all fronts of civil society. No one seems to care anymore. Have we been desensitized by gruesome murders that we are no longer affected when another gunman hits a helpless victim? Is it already an acceptable thing to die violently in front of your own backyard, some few meters away from your family, and in full view of your spouse? If not, then why are you not making any noise? It is one thing to mourn because someone had died. It is another thing to be indignant in mourning because someone was subjected to a violent and senseless death.

In the end, we the living are the ultimate victims. Anyone of us can be the next target. Anyone of us can be gunned down. Anyone can just take our life, and walk away like nothing has happened- without remorse, without conscience. I know because my family had been there. The gunman just walked away, just like  that, as Cris’ gunman did, when my father was shot dead, in broad daylight. In Mindanao.

Silence does not give us peace. It emboldens the evil. It creates a murderous world. It breeds impunity.

Once you’ve been struck by violence, you acquire companions that never leave you entirely: Suspicion, Fear, Anxiety, Despair, Joylessness. The natural smile is taken from you and the natural pleasures you once enjoyed lose their appeal. The citywas ruined…and he would leave it soon. Only, where would they settle now? Where would they find happiness? Where would he feel safe?

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel, 2010

Condemn the killings. Make noise so that the law enforcers can hear us and will have sleepless nights solving all crimes. Make noise so loud that it can turn the wheels of Justice. Or loud  enough that the perpetrator may be bothered by his conscience. Break the silence so that the mastermind will not feel victorious.

Make noise that our leaders may finally find it in their hearts to listen and protect its people.

P is for Post-A-Week

Happy New Year, everyone!

It is the time of the year once again when people start listing down their resolutions for the new year.  I see this as a worthwhile exercise for self- improvement.  Reflecting on the year that was and looking forward, hopefully in high spirits, to make better / be better this new year is a good way to set a direction for one’s self.

So here is my very own alphabet soup of resolutions – more of wishes actually, of what could or should I do or go or buy in 2011.  Some may come cryptic to you so to make it a more interesting read, I’ve linked them up to the very thing that I am referring to. 

A – Abs

B – Bantayan Island

C – CamSur

D – Domain subscription for my blog

E-  Earn from Blogging

F- Fix payables

G – Gumasa, Sarangani 

H – House improvements:  Al fresco dining area

I –  iPhone 4 or iPad

J – Join Causes and Orgs

K – Kalinawan, Samal Island 

L – Love:  To make love more often, to fall in love more frequently. Haha!

M – Mountain Bike

N – New shoes

O – Obey traffic lights

P – Post a Week

Q – Quit smoking?

R – Run

S – Skinhead.  One or Two inches actually. 

T – Train, Teach or Study (I wanna go back to school)

U – Uric Acid Down

V – Vientiane

W – Wordcamp 2011

X – Xcellerator

Y – Yoga

Z – Zzzzzs early, except on weekends.  Yey!

What do you think of my list?  Which ones are easy to achieve and which ones are downright impossible? 

Share your list, too!

Cheers to my last tagay!

I’ve been to hell and I am just glad to be back. 

I was sick the whole long weekend and that was by far, the most painful, excruciating, head-splitting, body numbing, punishing experience I had in my entire life.   My doc said I might have caught the terrible hand-foot and mouth virus.  When I learned that this same virus contaminated the Kris Aquino household some few months back, I thought something really very bad is forthcoming.

I suffered for six sorry days.  I was asleep most of the time and fully covered – socks, jogging pants, sweat shirt, and a bonnet to keep me warm.  As it was hard to eat solid food, I had lugaw and instant noodles three times a day- for six days.  My throat was really sore and swollen that I have to gargle with Bactidol every waking hour just to ease the discomfort.

For that long sick six days, I turned literally clean – with antiseptic, analgesic, and clarithromycin to replace the usual happy toxins that I allow to enter my body.   The medicines (which are by the way are toxic chemical compounds themselves) invaded my defenseless body system that on the fourth day, my body smelled like a pharmacy already.  I was afraid I would turn into a germ-free freak with all the cleaning up going on.   But if all these drugs were too good, it would have been the highest moment in my life.  *wink*

Now that I am clinically clean and (hopefully) well, there is only one thing that I am resolved not to do again:  tigil na ang tagay!

 I have realized that practicing good personal hygiene should always be a priority.  We would never know what can get into us, or what we may contaminate other people with.  Next time I’m out drinking, I will bring my own glass. 

Please– no more passing the shot glass.  Let us practice safe shots.

For those not in the know, tagay is a typical and literal Pinoy practice of sharing a drink – one glass passed around to everybody in the group until all puke, saliva and whatever was or is in the mouth of your beer buddies is passed on to the next drinker.  You should not try it at home- or anywhere else.  (Was it me or did I just turned OC?)

Hostaged

I am a Filipino – inheritor of a glorious past, hostage to the uncertain future.

-Carlos P. Romulo

Today’s over 12-hour hostage drama had a Filipino hostage taker and Chinese tourists as hostages.  That is the scenario that meets the eye.  But in reality, Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza is also a hostage victim.  And he is not alone.

In Memoriam

In Memoriam

Mendoza, who claims to be innocent of the drug-related offenses hurled against him only wants to have his job back.  Report says that he has reaped awards for his work in the police service but was recently dismissed for manhandling a suspect and for extortion.  Mendoza is a hostage to his uncertain future.

Millions of Filipinos were hooked to their TV or radio monitors for the live coverage of this hostage crisis.  Regular programming of local TV and radio stations were put on hold.  Social media sites like Twitter for example had the Quirino Grandstand as a trending topic.  International broadcast media have covered the incident from CNN, BBC and to New york Times.  The world have become hostage of the unfolding drama.

Philippines hits the headline - for the wrong reasons

Tomorrow, there would be a lot of explaining by government officials and commentaries from broadcast and social media.  Just tonight, Hongkong Security Bureau had already issued a Black travel alert for the Philippines.  Black means severe threat.  In simple words, avoid all travel to the Philippines.  Our tourism industry and our national reputation have become hostages to this unfortunate incident.

Watched by the World

Many people in Twitter tonight, myself included were dismayed by the seemingly lack of police control of the situation (from cordoning off the area, treatment of Mendoza’s family members, use of wrong tools for the job at hand, lack of protective and proper gears- the list goes on).   Not to mention the symptom of dysfunctionality in the redress system in our police force or of our justice system for that matter.

Read by Everyone

Tweets also abound on media’s lack of discernment over covering the incident via live TV, knowing fully well that the hostage taker is boarded on a tourist bus complete with access to television.  How much of the police assault tactics have been compromised by the live coverage?  Again, our media and police institutions found themselves hostaged to poverty of institutional maturity.

Unwanted

I remember what Randy David once wrote in his Public Lives column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.  Thankfully I have a copy of his compilation in Nation, Self and Citizenship:  An Invitation to Philippine Sociology (2004) and I browsed through a page on Mass Media under the heading Nationhood and titled “Life as Television”.  This is what he said:

Could it be that most of today’s hostage taking cases are really nothing but the poor man’s press conferences?  That, in the final analysis, there is little that qualitatively separates the public disturbance created by Rolando Mendoza* from the press conference called by  Kris Aquino*?  Clearly, both involve the public baring of private pain.  Both address the voyeuristic inclinations of an insatiable public.  Both are meant to capture the widest attention.

In the end, we are all hostages-  held involuntarily by a system that does not work.

 

*names were changed to reflect current events 

Memories of Mauban

Summer 2010 came and went. As I write this post, Typhoon Basyang has hit most of Luzon and cancelled not only classes but several flights to and from Manila.

We have a love-hate relationship with the rainy season. We love the cold breeze, the blooming colors of any one’s garden, the spatter of every rain drop, the warmth of our bed…

We hate the rainy season for its fury that brings about flooding, traffic jams and to a greater extent, destruction of properties and loss of lives.

Come to think of it, most of us are also schizophrenic about our feelings towards hot and humid summers. The last summer for example, brought not only drought and hunger to rural Filipinos, but also caused much disruption in people’s lives due to the shortage in power supply that the long dry spell had caused.

Maybe Kuya Kim is right after all. Ang buhay ay weather weather lang.

Whatever the weather is, the important thing is we make most out of it. Preparation and acceptance are key to survive. We should remember that as we weather the season (pun intended) and as we relate both to the physical and social spheres of our lives.

As we welcome the rainy days ahead, let me bring you back to a summer long gone – a time well spent in Mauban , Quezon just two months ago.

Mauban is a first class municipality in the province of Quezon, Philippines. The town center lies 157 km (98 mi) southwest from Manila and some 52 km (32 mi) from Lucena City, capital of Quezon province.

Mauban has a total land area of about 55,160 hectares subdivided into 40 barangays.

At an early age of 20, with a graying hair, Gat Pagil’s military genius became a by-word. He was admired and respected by the folks who affectionately called him Gat Uban (“uban” a Tagalog term for white hair). As Gat Uban became closer to his people, he was fondly called Mauban

Located by the quaint little town of Mauban, Quezon Province, beach lovers get to enjoy a 45-minute bangka ride to get to Pansacola Beach Resort in Cagbalete Island.

For accommodations, try the Pansacola Beach Resort. Its nipa huts and wooden lofts are available to give you the experience of “roughing it”—you’d be surprised at how the evening sea breeze beats your usual air conditioners at home. With the staple of five meals per day, you will surely get more than you bargained for when it comes to food.

At low tide, the clear blue water is transformed into a massive expanse of sand, perfect for games with your friends. At night, be amazed at the wide blanket of stars on the clear sky.

Cagbalete Island

Trek to Mauban's breathtaking waterfalls.

Autopsy of a Disaster

What went wrong?

While it is true that PAG-ASA told us about the oncoming slow-moving typhoon Ondoy (international codename Ketsana) days before it hit Metro Manila, I wonder why we were not warned of the unusual amount of rain it has brought?

Consider this:  government data tell us that rainfall was abnormally high at 41.6 centimeters, breaking the previous single-day record of 33.4 centimeters in July 1967.    Metro Manila’s average rainfall for September is 39.17 centimeters. In six hours, Ondoy dumped 34.1centimeters of rainfall.  So how come nobody issued a warning that Ondoy is bringing an extraordinary amount of rain when average rainfall per hour has already registered beyond the normal level?

Autopsy-SeveredSurvival

I was in Pasig City that day, 26 September 2009, with colleagues from Philippine Business for Social Progress, as we have a scheduled business advising workshop with a multi-purpose cooperative.  We left Intramuros, Manila few minutes after 9 AM aboard a rented van.  The rain was gentle but relentless.  When we reached Sta. Mesa, Manila, we were not at all surprised to see ankle-deep water in the area.  In fact, it was quite a normal occurence on a rainy day. 

All roads leading to Pasig however, were also flooded.  That was the time that I started to worry but I kept quiet.  We already spent some two hours on the road, snaking through several side streets hoping to find a clear road but to no avail.  After some time, and quite fortuitously, the president of the cooperative called up to say that their place is flooded waist-high already; better to cancel the event.

As soon as we decided to cancel, we found ourselves trapped on the road heading to Pasig City Hall.  Vehicles in our front suddenly stopped, and we saw the floodwater rising.  Our driver has got presence of mind so he backed off, away from the gathering crowd of stranded vehicles.  Then we stopped for brunch, clueless that what lies ahead of us is a “once-in-a-lifetime typhoon”, as Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has put it.

***

Going back to Intramuros was a nightmare.  We decided to take the long way:  via C5 to Fort Bonifacio to Villamor to Roxas Boulevard.  En route, we already saw several motor vehicles on the roadside, as if parked or just waiting for the flooded road to subside.  Traffic situation has turned terrible.

When we reached Fort Bonifacio, we spent one hour on queue to Villamor – Nichols exit.  Our driver decided to take another route (Ayala via Forbes Park) only after a man in bicycle told us that the flood in Nichols- South Superhighway area has reached chest-deep.

In Makati, traffic along Ayala Avenue was light but when we reached Buendia (Gil Puyat crossing Ayala), traffic going to Manila was not moving at all.  We again decided to take another route, this time our driver led us to the Skyway entry ramp near Don Bosco.  We were shocked to see this side of Makati that day:  cars on counterflow, going nowhere and everywhere, it was anarchy in the true sense, flood all over.

We braved the flooded Skyway ramp, only surprised to find out that people have started walking up in the Skyway, going to Bicutan, Sucat and Alabang.  Pedestrians in Skyway was really surreal.  I was no longer worried, I was shocked.  From Skyway, we saw Magallanes and parts of Pasay City all covered with flood water.  I felt safe in the Skyway, something in me would like to suggest that we stop right there.  No flood can reach us this high.

***

We found refuge at McDonald’s in front of NAIA Terminal 3, after several attempts to negotiate our exit to Manila via Tramo.  Three times we tried, three times we failed.  So we were holed up in McDo with all other stranded motorists.  We stayed there until past 10 PM.  I was fortunate to find a friend also stranded within the area.  Since he lives near my place in Sucat, I decided to transfer car, leaving my PBSP friends and my parked car in Intramuros to fate.  

***

All those time, we were tuned in to a local AM radio, or at least for most of the time that we were in the van.  Sad to say, there was no coordinated effort or direction given to the public.  It has become evident that our government was not prepared for a disaster.  There is NO plan.  There was nothing but panic in their voice.

At 6 PM that day, I started to spot army trucks carrying troops and rubber boats.  On Sunday morning, I realized that their action was too late, too little.  Many had already drowned and died.