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”.


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.

Back to Kindergarten

Allow me to share Robert Fulghum’s classic All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindargarten to our embattled MitsuBishops who are now embroiled in the PCSO SUV controversy, and to Davao City mayor Inday Sara Duterte, for assaulting a court official.

There really are valuable lessons from our younger years that must remain in our consciousness. These are simple rules that molded our being when we were impressionably young. Whatever happens after that, well, your guess is as good as mine. It could be the long years spent in the seminary or the voluminous law books that one has to read to pass the bar exams. It is a regrettable fact that most of these indiscretions are done by people who we otherwise refer to us learned and illustrious.

So here it is:

by Robert Fulghum

Most of what I really need
To know about how to live
And what to do and how to be
I learned in kindergarten.
Wisdom was not at the top
Of the graduate school mountain,
But there in the sandpile at Sunday school.

These are the things I learned:

Share everything.

I hope the bishops allow the rural poor a free ride once in a while.

Play fair.

Do not demand for a special treatment- mayor or bishops if you break the law, face the consequence.

Don’t hit people.

Need I say more, Sara?

Put things back where you found them.

Do we expect the bishops to return their precious SUVs to the government?

Clean up your own mess.

Not Daddy. Not your brother. Definitely not the Pope.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

PCSO money is for the poor indigents who are medically ill. Not for you and your extravagant lifestyle.

Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

I am sorry. At least La Gloria said it.

I’ll stop here as most of the succeeding lessons are no longer relevant to the current issue. But if you wish to see more of it, click on this link.

No amount of righteousness can undo what has been done – or made public. Perhaps the best thing to do is to remember the lessons we learned from kindergarten- and never forget any of them, again.


As I write this, our representatives in Congress are voting for the articles of impeachment versus Ombudsman Merciditas Gutierrez.  On TV, I see former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in red dress holding her mobile phone up to her ear as if calling for Garci while waiting for her turn to cast her vote.

I am optimistic that the Ombudsman will be impeached by the 15th Congress, and hopeful that the impeachment of the Ombudsman will usher a renaissance in our public administration and poltical systems.  We need the impeachment in order to repair the dismal condition of our nation’s polity, to bring back decency in government, to reclaim our people’s trust in our democratic project, to regain the lost morale of the honest and hardworking people in the government, and of course, to give Merci the opportunity to defend herself and for the Filipino people to decide on whether the Ombudsman had been remissed in her sworn duty of protecting the Filipino people. 

More importantly, impeaching the Ombudsman raises the bar of public service to new heights.  In light of our recent political history, where Congress seemed to be blocking all roads towards transparency and accountability and the executive department acted with impunity in covering up the alleged sins it had and have been commiting, impeaching the Ombudsman is a breath of fresh air to say the least.

Now it can be told.  The Ombudsman have just been impeached by the 15th Congress with an overwhelming 210 votes.  Forty seven representatives, including the 3 Macapagal- Arroyos voted against the impeachment. 

The supermoon might have been behind all these.  Technically known as the Vernal Equinox, it marks the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere and fall in the southern hemisphere.  It signals the changing of seasons. It also symbolizes balance, as the word equinox means “equal night” because the sun shines directly on the equator, and the length of day and night are nearly equal in all parts of the world.  

As I wish for the dating gawi (old ways) to go away with the new season of daang matuwid (righteous path), I hope just the same that the Ombudsman be given a fair and balanced trial. 

May the Congressmen acting as prosecutors prove us right – that Merci has indeed violated her constitutional duties.

Post script:  My representative, Hon. Bai Sandra Sema voted in favor of impeacing the Ombudsman.  How did your congressman vote?  Click here to know.

UP Releases List of UPCAT 2010 Qualifiers

The University of the Philippines released today the results of the UP College Admission Test for incoming freshmen of AY 2011- 2012.

Check the link for the complete list of qualifiers.  Mirror sites are also available here or here.

Congratulations to all the UPCAT passers.  May you make the right choice in embracing UP as your source of knowledge, wisdom, power, passion and compassion.  A UP student is both a scholar and an activist, a student and a change maker, a learner and creator of knowledge.  He builds yet he also destroys.  May you find your place in the University and in the world and may that place allow you to reap benefits for the people whom you will be sworn to serve.

Hopefully, a good number of students from Mindanao have made it to the UP.

What was UP like a decade ago?  Check out my reflections on UP 13 Years After.  Click the link here for Part 2.


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.


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 

Doing Nothing Can Save the Day

Five days to go before the term of our elected officials comes to an end.  No other place in the Philippines is under a heart-stopping suspense drama than South Cotabato.  No other elected official in today’s government, GMA included, is as anxious to end her term as Governor Daisy P. Avance-Fuentes.

South Cotabato has turned into a real life Pandora of the James Cameron film Avatar.  Only that, in this local version, the Na’vi are not in conflict with RDA Corporation.  As a matter of fact, the B’laans and other IPs in South Cotabato are solidly behind the mining project of Sagittarius Mines Inc.

So who are the bida in this local teleserye?

At the centerstage of course is the dear governor, whose hands hold the power of the pen which can make or break the June 9 passage into ordinance of the South Cotabato Environment Code by the provincial legislators.  Voting 9-1-2 (yes-no-abstain in that order), the provincial board members now awaits the governor’s signature to make the Environment Code a legitimate piece of legislation.

The governor of course can veto the Code, and send it back to SP for their ratification.  Once vetoed by the governor, the law directs the SP to ratify the ordinance by a majority vote, in effect overturning the veto power of the governor.  Such is the beauty of our representative democracy!

Whatever the governor chooses to do, she will surely be embroiled in a bigger and certainly, noisier controversy.  If she enacts the Code into law, she will get the ire of the national government officials and agencies for allowing the local legislators to trample upon an otherwise clear delineation of powers between and among the branches/ instrumentalities of governmnent.  

The most contested part of the Code is Section 22 where open pit mining method is banned in the province contrary to several national laws, chief of which is the Mining Act of 1995.   

Of course, big business and foreign governments will also be terribly disappointed.  The government has spent several million of Filipino taxpayer’s money to attract investors to do business in the Philippines, only to be messed up with such an inter-government fiasco.

Local residents and the Blaans, who have started started to experience commercial activities in their otherwise sleepy town will also be enraged for taking away from them a host of potential and the opportunity to improve their lot.

If however the governor chooses to veto the Code, she will get the wrath of a Catholic church scorned.  By Catholic church, this is mostly the  powerful clergy who relishes to display their power to command the students and teachers of their expensive schools to cut classes and mount a rally…else, get detained after class, get low grades or simply and the most convenient threat:  get burned in hell.

A friendly advice to the governor:  DO NOTHING.

Doing nothing is also a decision, and a less troublesome one.  We must remember that public policy is government’s action or inaction- whatever governments choose to do or not do (Read Thomas Dye, 1984).   In this context, doing nothing is bliss.