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Dread and Anticipation March 29, 2008

Posted by Janjan in All, I, Lawyer.
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My barrister friends are awaiting the results of the 2007 Bar Examinations today. I was in their shoes two years ago and I remember the feeling of uncertainty of waiting for the results, not knowing if four years and six months of your life will culminate into seeing your name in the list of successful Bar Examinees.

These pictures will explain how that moment feels.

Good luck friends!

Six Months After in Cebu March 25, 2008

Posted by Janjan in cebuano, Seriously now….
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This is reposted from my friend Jeneen’s Multiply blog: http://neenerish.multiply.com/reviews/item/12. Jeneen used to live in Cebu and wrote for one of our local dailies. This is one of her best pieces, which I’ve always loved the first time I’ve read it.

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I should have known moving to Cebu would be anything but normal.

Twenty minutes into my six-month stay here, I found myself standing by a grassy embankment a few hundred meters from the Mactan airport, dumped by an irate taxi driver when I refused to pay the P150-fixed charge to my boarding house in Gorordo. I tried to keep my righteously disdainful look on, but it was hard with rain dripping from my hair. It seemed the city hated me at first sight.

Cebu, I soon found out, had a secret language all its own—I was doomed to getting dumped on some nameless road unless I learned it. No way was I standing on that embankment ever again.

I resolved that my first lesson in the language was to find my way around. I’ve never seen a map of the city, but I paid attention when my Cebuano friends toured me those first few weeks. Despite my poor sense of direction, I began to notice that Cebu’s streets make no sense at all.

Driving down the twisting streets that defied planning logic, we would end up back where we started by going in the direction away from it. On the other hand, supposedly parallel streets would lead to opposite sides of town.

Traffic flows in at least 10 different directions at the Gorordo and Mango intersection. Only one traffic light acts as referee. In any other city in the world, it would be a pedestrian’s nightmare. But not in Cebu where jaywalking is a foreign word.

At least four streets are named Osmeña in this city alone—Osmeña Boulevard at the Capitol, S. Osmeña along the pier, E. Osmeña in Banawa, J. Osmeña near Mango—even a Fuente Osmeña rotunda where the traffic routes are crazier than at the aforementioned intersection. Curiously enough, I’ve never met a Cebuano who confuses any of the streets.

Having a car is one matter, commuting another.

My first weekend, I decided I wanted house supplies from SM. I asked my neighbor for directions since all my Cebuano friends were out. “Take the 13C to Ayala,” she said, “You’ll find the right jeep from there.”

Not knowing what a 13C was, I took the first jeep I saw and said I wanted to go to Ayala. All the passengers vainly tried to hide their laughter. A kind soul said Ayala was “duol na”, and pointed to some vague, opposite direction. This jeep would take me to Colon, he said, where I could get a ride to SM. Who would have thought even Cebu’s jeeps had an alienating code?

It wasn’t long, though, before these oddities began to fascinate instead of baffle me. The crazy streets to me now are like secret passageways that somehow all lead to my street. It delights me that every road is connected to every other road, no matter how inconceivable it seems. I relish giving out jeepney codes like a natural when a stranger asks for directions.

And it didn’t surprise me to see bars and restaurants popping up everywhere when the national economy was supposedly at its worst—Cebu is a city you accept, not attempt to understand. Until you know this, you can never fully appreciate its charm.

I should have known it from the way I got out of that first sticky situation.

There I was, alone on the highway, with nothing but my staunch principles, a suitcase, and a box of worldly possessions at my feet. I was getting wetter by the minute and no passing car seemed to care.

Suddenly, rounding the bend was an empty taxi that stopped in front of me. The driver agreed that I pay by the meter. Exhausted, I exchanged only a few words with him, who thankfully did not force a conversation.

When we got to the boarding house, the driver even helped me carry my things! I couldn’t believe my change of fortune. I made a mental note to thank him profusely after paying my fare. As I opened my mouth to say “Salamat”, he stopped me with a barely audible yet definite “I love you”.

I couldn’t say anything, and he didn’t wait for my reaction. He simply rode off in his white taxi, never to be seen again.

No matter that my knight in armor looked like a cross between the April Boys and the Reycards, complete with longish hair, an earring, and oversized shades. He is ultimate proof that Cebu does love me—in its own unpredictable, often irrational, but always, always endearing way.

The Last Supper March 19, 2008

Posted by Janjan in Seriously now….
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Our Father, who art in Heaven — Holy be Your Name.

Your Kingdom Come

Your Will Be Done

On Earth as it is in Heaven

Give Us this day our Daily Bread

And forgive us our Sins

As we forgive those who Sinned against Us

And lead us not into Temptation

But deliver us from Evil

For thine is the Kingdom, and the Power and the Glory.

Now and Forever.

Amen.

Money for Food March 15, 2008

Posted by Janjan in All, Armchair Economist, Armchair Politics, Seriously now….
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4 comments

We live in dire times. It is the Ides of March, and the heat of summer brings with it whispers of shortage, famine and economic downturns.

I was reading the column of Alex Magno in the Philippine Star (click on <this link> to read it), and it tells a cautionary tale of how the United States’ impending recession brings with it an adverse effect on the world and our very own Philippines. To quote Mr. Magno:

Analysts are now talking about things that seemed unthinkable only a few weeks ago. Oil, for instance, could reach $120 a barrel very soon.

The reason for that is no longer the dynamics of supply and demand. Oil futures are now under great speculative pressure. As a hedge against the falling dollar, the large institutional funds are putting their money in commodities futures — oil being one major commodity.

Hedging in commodities are pushing prices across the board. It is not only oil that is rising. Grains prices are rising too.

That hits us as well.

Unusual weather the past few months have cut into global grains productions. China, hard hit by extreme cold weather and excessive rains, is prowling all the markets, buying up rice. Vietnam, unsure about its own supply, is not exporting.

We are facing a grains shortage here. Heavy rains in the Visayas and Mindanao drenched the harvest. Imported rice is going to cost significantly more, if we could find enough being exported by other countries.

Rice supply is going to be a problem for us the next few weeks. We are not sure we will be able to procure enough. Even if we do, the commodity is going to cost us more.

The news that the Philippines is hit with a rice shortage is especially frustrating for me. I was just recently in Iloilo, which is one of the country’s major rice producers. During my stay there for the past few days, I’ve been riding the bus going to both Roxas City in Capiz, and Kalibo City in Aklan, and witnessed for myself the endless expanse of ricefields and flatlands, seeing with my own yes how rich our Western Visayas land is. For sure, this is not the only province in the Philippines that has a strong agricultural sector. In Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, we have been blessed with abundant natural resources that will allow our country to be self-sustaining, if only in terms of food production.

And yet, look at us!

We import rice from Thailand and Vietnam, countries that were back before the 1970’s, lagging so far behind us in terms of economy and food production. In fact, the Philippines had the best scientific research institute for the production of rice, which is the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, Manila. The Thai and Vietnamese government sent their own scientists to learn how to grow the best rice yield from our country.

But look at us now! We have to beg for rice from our own neighbors who learned how to optimize rice production from us!

It gets even more infuriating when you think about all the opportunities we have had and lost to improve our agricultural sector. The most major opportunity being the “Comprehensive Land Reform Program”, which supposedly empowers our farmers by breaking them from the bondage of agricultural tendency through granting them land which the government mandatorily purchases from private landowners.

Has the CARP really improved our farmers’ lives in any way?

Look at the sugarfields of Negros Occidental, where you still see to this very day, poor and uneducated laborers being paid so much less than minimum wage for backbreaking work. Look at the farms and haciendas that conveniently side-stepped coverage from CARP by allegedly growing “cattle” and having “agricultural corporations” on their land. Go to the farmlands of Capiz where in this age of tractors and the scientific method of farming you still see farmers tilling the land with the lowly carabao and drying their grain by the roadsides where it may be swept away by strong winds and rain.

You see, the problem is not that our population is too big for our food production to supply to. Our problem is that our current agricultural system for the whole country is still stuck on methodologies and farming techniques used at the turn of the 19th Century, which does not yield enough to feed our starving nation. Hence, we have to import food at a higher premium when we have the capacity to solve our own problems with the right farming science and technology.

One of our problems is our very own Filipino farmers. The CARP Law is one major blunder. While the dream of having our own farmers tend to their own land is a laudable objective, the Philippines never developed a comprehensive program that followed up after the CARP. While it is true that SOME of our farmers now own the land that they till, the reality is that these farmers do not know what to do with that land after acquiring ownership. For sure, to increase the land’s yield, they should buy more fertilizer and learn scientific means for better agriculture. If they lacked capital, they could turn to agricultural loans provided by the government, the Asian Development Bank, and a host of private lending institutes offering various credit arrangements for agriculture. They could have sent their children to UP – Los Baños, or to the Visayan State University in order to specialize in courses like BS Agriculture with a Major in Soil Science, and a multitude of other like courses. They could even have banded together through agricultural cooperatives upon which our government grants numerous tax and fiscal incentives, as well as grants and loans.

But most of our farmers did not do any of this! Sometimes, the reason for sticking to the old ways of agriculture is: “I’m old and too set in my ways. I don’t have the time to learn how to use a tractor or these scientific techniques. I just want to farm the way my father did and his father before him.” These farmers do not even want to send their children to agricultural schools because (1) they need the extra manpower in the fields, (2) they would rather send these children to professional schools where they can become office workers, nurses, lawyers and accountants and earn more.

Clearly, these farmers are too poor and ignorant to know that there is a better way for them to improve their lot in life without abandoning their family’s calling to become farmers. It’s just so sad because all the avenues and opportunities have been made within their reach, if only they were not scared to try a different way of farming.

And while our government has been trying hard to encourage our agricultural sector, still, its efforts are not enough. There is still so much room for improvement that it is not taking advantage of.

The government could ultimately solve the peace-and-order situation in Mindanao so that its farmers can finally till the land in peace, and economic development could finally find its way to the fat and abundant agricultural potential of the southern region of the country. It could provide better teachers and facilities to our far-flung barrios, educating our children and making them see that agriculture can and will lead to financial prosperity with the right application of knowledge and skilled endeavor. It could build better roads, provide superior infrastructure, and set up administrative systems to ensure fast and efficient distribution of food and resources.

But what do we have instead? Anybody remember the fertilizer scandal of last year involving a certain unpopular president and her even more unpopular husband?

Our own private institutions are wanting. Instead of encouraging our children to become farmers, scientists, entrepreneurs and skilled workers, we are instead pushing them to become seamen, nurses and medical professionals so that they can go abroad and bring money back to the family. Instead of upholding the dignity of labor and the beauty of the countryside, we have a culture that sneers at probinsyanos and looks down on municipalities that do not have their own shopping malls and fast food outlets. Where we encourage our young to go out and build businesses of their own, instead, we give them the easy way out by becoming call center agents with ludicrous salaries for unskilled work.

We Filipinos are killing our own Philippines! We used to be the richest country in Asia! Japanese housewives came to our country in the 1950’s looking for work as househelpers. When Vietnam used to be just a poor hovel that travelled on rikshaws and on foot, our country already had its own airline service that flew to international destinations.

Look at those countries now! Japan was thrown nuclear bombs but it built itself from the ashes to emerge as one of the leading technological wonders of the world. Vietnam just recently launched its first satellite to outer space!

We used to be so much better than our neighbors, but we’ve become the country that everybody looks down on. Our women have become commodities sold on the internet for lonely and desperate old white men who just want to marry a glorified housemaid. We’ve become entertainers, and minstrels, exporting our skilled and learned by the droves to other countries. We are so poor that we cannot even afford to grow our own rice and buy it instead from neighbors who learned how to culture rice from our own laboratories.

And yet….

There is still hope. There is always hope. I refuse to believe that things are so bleak that we have no other recourse but to desert our country like rats fleeing from a sinking ship instead of working hand in hand to solve our problems. We are so much better than this. We are so much better than we allow ourselves to give credit for.

We need a PARADIGM SHIFT and we need it NOW!

I am calling upon the Philippine government to stop playing politics and start running the country back to track.

I am calling upon the farmers and private institutions to realize the value of a strong agricultural backbone as a means of making our country self-sufficient and economically feasible.

I am calling upon our youth to realize that there’s no such thing as easy money, and challenging them to work towards going back to the farmlands and reaping the true riches from our Philippine soil.

I am calling upon each and every Filipino, from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, to each and every foreign land and clime, this is a wake-up call because it’s no longer a question of will the Philippines become the economic superpower that it once was in Asia.

It has become a question of SURVIVAL and we are soon going to become a dead country unless we get our act together and start making sure that our institutions, systems, values and philosophies are geared towards becoming greater than the morass of pettiness that we have become.

We live in dire times.

It is the Ides of March, and the heat of summer brings with it whispers of shortage, famine and economic downturns.

We need to act NOW!

Walking on Water March 9, 2008

Posted by Janjan in All, cebuano, I, Lawyer, maniniyot, Seriously now….
3 comments

In one of my previous picture posts, I talked about the symbolic significance of water in my life and how during times that I am stressed, troubled or in despair, I dream of being near bodies of water.

I am going through one of those times now.  A lot of times I think about how much simpler life was when I wasn’t an adult, where I didn’t have to deal with choices, responsibilities, relationships, or be worried about the state of the nation and the rising costs of basic commodities and goods.

Sometimes I find myself wanting a quiet and uncomplicated life, much like the subject of this series of pictures lead, the Badjao children.



How much simpler it is to be Badjao.  A lot of people look down on the Badjao, because it seems that they live a life spent begging.  It didn’t used to be like this.  My bestfriend Danny C. told me that the Badjao are really a peaceful tribe of indigenous people from the Southern parts of Mindanao who had spent a simple life of subsistence fishing.  They are a peaceful tribe, unused to conflict and warfare, getting along well with each other and always smiling.

It’s a pity that these Badjao have been displaced back in the 1970’s during the time of the political upheaval in Muslim Mindanao.  These poor non-violent people were forced out from their ancestral homelands by their more warlike neighbors, and in order to escape the massacres of that era, the Badjao were made to flee to various parts of the Philippines.

Unused to a life of toil and hardwork, it is now common for us to see the Badjao here in Cebu, in Cagayan de Oro, in Davao, and yes, even in the wharves of Tagbilaran, Bohol, where I took these shots.

Growing up in a family where I was raised to value the dignity of work, I had come to look down on the Badjao.  All you ever see them doing is beg, beg, beg.  They’re dirty, unmannered, and rude.  However, after I heard the story from Danny, I grew to see the Badjao in a different light.  These people have never known better because all their life, they had always known simplicity and living off the sea.  To force them to adapt to the complicated rules and values of the big city is asking too much of these simple people, who now adapt to it the best way they know how… through begging.



I am older now.  I have adapted to the city.  I have work that keeps me facing my laptop the whole day long.  My life has definitely become complicated, and sometimes, it is too complicated.  I’m always exposed to pressure and expectations and a lot of times, it takes everything I have in me just to keep up with my job.  Unused to running, I trip on my feet and land hard on my face.  To quote a toy figure that my other bestfriend Johndi gave me back in high school, “Getting older sucks.

And now, these times, I envy these Badjao children.  Instead of looking down on them, I envy their simple uncomplicated lives.  I envy their freedom, their ability to laugh at their hardships, the close bond that they have with the sea and with each other.  Yes, their lives are tough and it borders on day-to-day survival.  But then again, can we really say our lives are much better?  True, we have more resources and wealth than these little beggars, but in exchange for these, we are saddled with burdens such as taxes, responsibilities, and for us lawyers, an exacting code of professional ethics.



Tell me now, are our lives really any better than theirs?



We are still beggars, living off grace and looking to God to provide us with our daily bread, regardless of whether we are Badjao children, Philippine presidents, or struggling CPA-lawyer-photographers.  Each of our lives are hard on one way or the other, frought with hardships, sacrifice and tears.  As that song by REM goes, “Everybody hurts.

It is times like these that the Badjao children remind me that each and everytime a question of love, faith and hope arises with Jesus, it somehow always involved the water.



We see it when the apostles were trapped out at sea during the height of a mighty storm, and Peter called out to a soundly sleeping Jesus to save them.  “Oh ye of little faith,” Jesus said, as he brought the squall to subside and the boat back to safety.

We see it again when the apostles were out at sea and encountered Jesus walking on water.  Calling out to him, Peter got out and started walking on the waves towards Jesus.  But he looked at the tides, got scared and started to sink to the depths.  Again, calling out to Jesus, he came by and saved him.

Finally, I’m reminded of the time after the resurrection that Jesus told the apostles to cast their nets to the other side of the boat, and came back with a catch of fish overflowing to the brim.

We all experience the storms.  We all have questions of faith, and look within only to find ourselves sorely lacking.  And we cry out calling to the Lord for succour and He tells us, “Oh ye of little faith.”



Like the Badjao, we need to believe that despite all our troubles, tomorrow will be another day.  The sun will be shining and the tides will subside.  Like them, we are all beggars of faith, wholly dependent on our Father to get us through another long night.  And with this trust in Him, we lean back and smile.

The storms will not last forever.

It takes one step then another, holding Jesus’ hand, for us to find out to our disbelief, that yes, through the certainty of faith, we CAN walk on water.