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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Again, if you haven't visited the National Museum, please take the time to do so. Check out John Silva's museum tour.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Pieces of Stolen History

I always look forward to reading Ambeth Ocampo's column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Looking Back. I read it to gain snippets of knowledge about our past. But, it also leaves me exasperated and sad when he writes about instances where people who are supposed to be protectors of our history end up being its enemies. The following is a portion of Ambeth's column printed today:

"We have heard horror stories of the odyssey of our archives half a century ago. Whatever survived the Battle for Manila in 1945 was stored in Bilibid prison where it was ravaged by floods, rodents and humidity. Cockroaches and ants ate the gum and glue in bindings, while termites and silverfish feasted on the parchment and paper. Foxing, acid, insects can be cleared with patience and chemicals, but the truly irreversible damage is that inflicted by humans. Old-timers remember how an enterprising employee sold bundles of ancient Spanish documents as scrap paper, with the sturdy paper that survived centuries ending up as “supot” [bags] in Manila markets. Today with the help of a modernization grant from the Kingdom of Spain, our documents are being cleaned, conserved and scanned for greater access."

By no means is this a Filipino phenomenon, read excerpts of the article, To Catch a Thief in the Smithsonian Magazine which touched on how E. Forbes Smiley III, an art dealer, went on a "shopping" spree ripping out maps from archives of several schools and museums.

"Smiley stole at least 97 maps from six distinguished institutions and sold them the old-fashioned way, privately, without eBay. A simple mistake stopped his spree: on June 8, 2005, a staff member found an X-Acto blade on the floor of Yale University's rare book and manuscript library. Told of the find, a supervisor noticed a man at a table examining rare maps and, using visitor logs, identified him as Smiley. Through an Internet search, the supervisor discovered that Smiley was a map dealer. A police officer found several Yale maps in Smiley's briefcase. After his arrest, five other libraries realized that Smiley had robbed them, too."

"The 97 maps were worth $3 million. But street value does not begin to capture the role of rare manuscripts, books and maps in illuminating a culture's milestones and missteps. When a car is stolen, its owner suffers alone. When a Civil War document disappears from an archive, everyone is diminished, even if just a little. It is no longer there to educate..."

(Caption: Early 18th-century map of New Jersey that is still missing from the New York Public Library)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Before you proceed any further, Know your past!

Today, June 19, is the 147th birth anniversary of Philippine national hero, Jose Rizal. Recently, I've started reading Rizal. I also found out that Malaysian opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, is an avid reader of Rizal's work. If a foreigner has taken so much interest in our national hero, shouldn't we Filipinos show more interest in our national hero and our history?

This goes to my next point, let's say you have mustered enough spirit to read Rizaliana. Where do you go from here?

The good news is that an enterprising publisher, Gaspar Vibal of Vibal Foundation has decided to digitize and make available for free his vast collection of Rizaliana that he has collected over the years. In addition, he has also placed entire books on the Philippines up on his website, Filipiniana.net.

The site is a wet dream for Philippine Studies enthusiasts. In fact its tag line is "Philippine Studies at your fingertips." Most of these books and documents available on the site are rare and perhaps unique. What would have been books bought and kept in private collections for the pleasure of a few people are now available to all who care to click and read. What is significant is that this allows Filipinos all over the world to know a little more about our country's history.

Currently, featured on the site is the unfinished novel of Rizal, Makamisa which has the following description:

The Makamisa is the unfinished novel of Dr. Jose Rizal written in the Tagalog language. It starts with a mass supervised by Fr. Agaton in the small town of Tulig where the rest of the story focuses. Among the characters named in the novel are Capitan Lucas, Marcela, Capitan Tibo, Don Segundo, Teniente Tato and Aleng Anday. Unlike Rizal's Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, the Makamisa was written in a rather comical way.

So visit the site, read, and know your history.

Caption on the picture: Dr. Jose Rizal (a student in Manila) 1879
Source: http://hawaii.indymedia.org/uploads/2005/12/rizal.jpg

Monday, June 09, 2008

Museum of the Filipino People

I knew that there was something exciting going on at the National Museum. Although I have not visited the museum ever in my life (not exactly proud of this), I've heard my fair share of horror stories about dark halls and cramped rooms of the old National Museum (which squatted in the old Senate Building).

Therefore, it was a surprise when a few months back, someone told me that they attended a wedding at the museum. The wedding guest raved about the reception and the ambience of the place. Is this the same National Museum I had in mind?

Recently, an e-flyer found its way to my inbox which talked about "finding beauty in our own" culture and art. It was a museum tour by John Silva, a senior consultant of the National Museum.

Fast forward to Saturday, June 7, I found myself at the appointed meeting place. I overheard that usually he had around 30 to 35 people but that Saturday it ballooned to 60 guests, which was a good thing for Philippine art but no so good when you want to catch every word uttered by the guide.

A few realizations during the tour:

1521 wasn't Year 1
History for us Filipinos started way before 1521 when Magellan came to our shore. This is the big misconception that John wants to dispel. We had a rich culture and presumably equally rich history before the Spaniards conquered these islands. Aside from the National Museum, readers may want to check out the Gold Exhibit at the Ayala Museum.

Use it or Lose it
It is bittersweet for John to be able to collect, salvage, and maintain a treasure trove of instruments, traditional clothes, tapestries, jewelry, and everyday tools. One thing that is beyond his control is the ability to revive some of the lost art. He talked about how musicians who are able to play our indigenous musical instruments are slowly disappearing with their knowledge and skills going to the grave with them. Some of the intricate weaving cannot be replicated even by tribesmen whose forebears have created the pieces. Even the original language written in alibata has been lost to most except for two tribes in Mindoro and one tribe in Palawan.

Philippines is more than just Manila
When you realize that Filipinos speak 87 dialects and 11 major languages, you come to the conclusion that no region, city, town has monopoly on being Filipino.

Wanderlust in our blood
Archeological finds all over the archipelago point to a rich trading history that from all over Asia.

Juan Luna's Spoliarium is much better when viewed in person
Well, first of all it's not Spolarium (maybe you knew that) but the more tongue-twisting Spoliarium. The painting is huge!! It depicts the aftermath of an event at the Coliseum (not Araneta!!). The losing gladiators (losing usually means dying as well) are dragged away for disposal. Even if we just leave it at the imagery and drama of the colors (dark sombre with splashes of bright red), the painting would already have done its job of evoking powerful emotions. But, John also talks about how this painting started the seeds of the Philippine revolution and also Rizal's participation in it. Apparently, Rizal saw parallelism in the painting and the cruelty being unleashed by the Spaniards in the Philippines.

Less is More
In Juan Luna's painting Bulakena, we see an exquisite painting of a Filipina lady posing demurely with a fan in her hand. Silva explains that in the olden times, ladies would signal their availability or non-availability without uttering a single word. A fan that is closed meant the woman is engaged or married. A half-opened fan meant she is open to suitors and a fully opened fan was as vulgar as a prostitute on Sunset Boulevard. So what is the Bulakena....you need to go to the museum to find out for yourself.

Let us protect our national treasure by visiting our museums, supporting innovative programs that cultivate Philippine culture, introducing Philippine history to our kids.

(The first stop, a Cordillera hut)

(Anthropomorphic Jar Cover found in Ayub Cave, Pinol, Maitum, Saranggani)

(The Spoliarium lecture)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Metro Manila: The City of Man?

Why are 70 people riding in a bus less important than two people riding in a car? If you’re talking about time, why is it that our time in the car is more important than the time of people in the bus? That’s elitist and economic segregation…very subtle but very pervasive.”

Benjie dela Pena, a Harvard-trained Filipino urban planner based in Washington, DC, was talking about the way private cars are given more priority on Philippine roads. He cited the example of South Super Highway, the main artery that connects Makati to Southern Luzon, where public buses are restricted to the narrow two lane service road while all private vehicles have free reign over the main portion of the highway.

Talking to Benjie dela Pena about urban planning has changed the way I see Metro Manila. To the untrained eye, Metro Manila suffers from congested traffic, uncollected garbage, uncontrollable squatter colonies. However, to him, these are just manifestations of a deeper problem, a problem that has been festering for decades.

Before Second World War, Manila truly lived up to its moniker, the Pearl of the Orient. But the War left Intramuros, the heart of Manila, devastated. Manila was the second most bombed city after Warsaw. It is not widely known that Intramuros and the outlying areas were flattened by the Americans who were trying to flush out the Japanese.

Since then, haphazard planning coupled with mass migration from the provinces into the capital has made Manila what it is today, a city of 12 million people with infrastructure trying to cope with the daily influx of people in search for jobs.

Squatting is defined as the act of taking over a piece of land that is not your own. To Dela Pena squatting is an urban housing solution. The supply of formal living quarters is inadequate to satisfy the flood of people into Metro Manila. The government’s solution is to periodically relocate squatters into settlements but the problem persists because of three factors: (1) relocation sites that are far from jobs, (2) lack of public transportation linkages to the relocation sites, and (3) the presence of rent-control which capped rent increases.

With rent control having the effect of drying up the supply for low- and medium-income housing and property developers concentrating on building upscale condominiums and apartments, the urban mix in Manila has been jarring especially to the first-time visitor. A cluster of ultra-modern buildings would be surrounded by squatter housing made from corrugated steel, plywood, used tires and plastic sheeting.

In terms of transportation, the knee-jerk reaction to the perceived problem of traffic is to enforce a color-coding system, which is a misnomer because it has nothing to do with color but with the number of a car’s license plate. The last digit of one’s license plate dictates which days one can use one’s car. Another common response to the traffic problem is to widen roads. It is not too uncommon to find out that trees have been unwitting victims to urbanization. The decades-old Acacia trees along Katipunan Avenue have been sacrificed on the altar of smoother traffic. And yet, to Dela Pena, these are but palliative solutions because for the problem to be truly solved, the metropolis needs to have a full scale mass transit system that can carry the thousands of commuters each day. But, it is a difficult paradigm shift when most of the policy makers do not use public transportation. The policymakers’ view of the problem would be from the passenger window of a chauffeur-driven luxury sedan and from that view, the obvious solution is to ensure that the flow of private vehicles remains unimpeded.

Mass transit need not be expensive nor have long gestation periods. Some cities use the Bus Rapid Transit System, which is a cheaper than the light-rail transit system that exists currently in Manila. The BRT provides dedicated lanes on major arteries for buses to use. It also utilizes well-designed bus stops. It has been a success in cities like Jakarta and Curitiba. One thing that the BRT can solve is the “Mad Max”-like driving of bus drivers. People dismiss it as inherent to Filipino driving culture and that nothing can be done about it. According to Dela Pena, it is matter of understanding the incentives involved. Bus and jeepney drivers operate on a “boundary” system. Drivers rent vehicles from operators and guarantee a pre-agreed daily rate. Any ticket receipt that is beyond the boundary, goes to the driver. With such an incentive scheme, the natural instinct of the driver is to make his/her boundary in as few trips as possible. This manifests itself in a free-for-all competition for passengers. Buses and jeepneys try to outmaneuver each other to scoop up as many passengers as possible in the shortest amount of time. What then can be done to change this? Dela Pena suggests that main and feeder routes can be assigned to different public transportation consortia. The BRT system and a defined salary system for drivers can solve a lot of the problems of reckless driving and traffic in the main roads of Metro Manila.

Urban planning needs a long-term horizon. However, with political terms that are in increments of 3-6 years, it is a challenge for political leaders to think long-term especially when most of the benefits will probably be enjoyed by the politician’s successor. Ideally, an independent authority needs to spearhead urban planning that would have a generational outlook. Perhaps, that was the idea behind setting up the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA). However, Metro Manila residents are still waiting for manifestations of independence, authority, and planning from the MMDA.

Dela Pena encourages all Filipinos to think of what kind of cities we would like to leave to our children. It is an appropriate question considering that 70 percent of Filipinos now live in cities. According to him, we Filipinos need to start talking about our cities. We need to be active in voicing out what we want for ourselves and our children: clean environment, parks, efficient mass-transport, safe and secure neighborhoods.

Once citizens realize that they have the power, politicians can do their own math. Seventy voters stuck in a public bus on a two-lane service road is definitely worth more in political votes than two voters in a BMW.

This podcast is a 3-part conversation.

Part 1 covers the History of Manila, Manila as Pearl of the Orient, Devastation that came with World War Two
To listen to Part 1 of the conversation, click this link: Episode005A (15 minutes)

Part 2 covers the discussion on what makes a city livable.
To listen to Part 2 of the conversation, click this link: Episode005B (25 minutes)

Part 3 tackles the solutions and recommendations for improving Metro Manila.
To listen to Part 3 of the conversation, click this link: Episode005C (19 minutes)

To learn more about the urban planning issues facing Metro Manila and other Philippine cities, visit Benjie dela Pena's blog, Another Hundred Years Hence. The best thing about the blog is that dela Pena does not dwell on the negatives but focuses on solutions.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A conversation with Cory Aquino

Corazon "Cory" Aquino is the antithesis of the typical Philippine traditional politician commonly referred to as Trapo (dishrag in Tagalog) who is weaned on "guns, goons, and gold". Ferdinand Marcos embodied this type of macho politics which does not hesitate to summon the dark arts of intimidation and violence in order to reach a desired political outcome. Even Aquino's rise to power was atypical. As she stood on a makeshift platform during her first speech on EDSA, the first thing that came to her mind was "in the history of the world, this is the first time civilians have been asked to defend the military." She became president through the People Power revolution that unfolded during those four historical days in February 1986.

Aquino shall be remembered as the unifying figure that led to the downfall of a dictator without a single bullet being fired. She will also be memorialized in Philippine history as someone who not only restored democracy but also as someone who did not succumb to the temptation of extending her presidential term.

This Pinoy Post podcast is a candid conversation with President Aquino where she gives her impressions of the first People Power revolution. She talks extensively on her current passion and involvement with microfinance, where poor people are given access to capital and financial services. She also dwells on her family, her memories of life in exile in Boston, and the future.

She continues to work on the expanded principles of People Power where peaceful political change is transcended by empowerment through hardwork and nation-building.

This podcast is a 3-part conversation.

Part 1 of the conversation covers President Aquino's impressions on the first EDSA People Power revolution. She talks about how the revolution began and how she was offered refuge in a Carmelite monastery in Cebu. She recounts her decision to fly back to Manila against the advice of people around her. She talked about her first speech on EDSA and her impressions on what People Power now means to her.
To listen to Part 1 of the conversation, click this link: Episode004A (15 minutes)

Part 2 of the conversation covers her involvement with Philippine microfinance through ASA Philippines. Microfinance has been touted as one of the key drivers of poverty alleviation since it provides capital and access to financial services to poor people. She has convened a group of bankers, microfinance practitioners, economists and experts with the goal of finding ways to expand and improve microfinance in the country. She also recounts several anecdotes and conversations she has had with micro-entrepreneurs all over the Philippines.
To listen to Part 2 of the conversation, click this link: Episode004B (36 minutes)

Part 3 of the conversation is a peek into her private life, her first impressions of the States as a 13 year old and her life in exile with her family in Boston. She talks about her grandchildren and her daugher, Kris Aquino among other things.
To listen to Part 3 of the conversation, click this link: Episode004C (23 minutes)

Pinoy Post would like to thank Ari Dy, S.J. for his help in making this interview with President Aquino happen. He is the other voice that you will hear on the podcast.

Cory Aquino was awarded last November as one of Time Magazine's Asian Heroes.

If you're interested in donating money for Cory Aquino's microfinance initiative, please visit Ayala Foundation - USA. Please remember to mention that the donation is for ASA Philippines.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Gawad Kalinga: the common man's revolution?

People say that Filipinos are eternally optimistic. We continue to hope that one day an able, benevolent, patriotic, and self-less leader will come and solve all our problems. However, if the number of Filipinos leaving the country for overseas jobs is any indication of the level of optimism these days then it would seem like the optimists are busy waiting in line for their visas. The current political firmament does not have a single shining star for people to pin their hopes on. Sadly, there is no viable political leader that people can truly respect, trust, and emulate. Must the wait for a political savior be long and disappointing?

A few people behind Gawad Kalinga (which means “To Give Care” in Filipino) or GK have decided not to wait. They have started a movement that is spreading all over the archipelago and beyond. GK is a movement that aims to transform squatter colonies into thriving, self-sustaining, and peaceful communities. I liken it to Habitat for Humanity on Red Bull. Although commendable, the building of houses for the homeless is the least exciting of what GK does. The focus of the organization is on the value of working together for a common cause and bringing the whole community to share in the labor and the reward. The outcome has been very encouraging. This peaceful revolution initiated by GK may very well be the savior that each Filipino is waiting for.

In this episode of Pinoy Post, former Secretary of Agriculture, Luis “Cito” Lorenzo talks about Gawad Kalinga and his involvement with the organization. He also gives his insights on government service, the “broken-ness” of people, and how people can help through GK. Sec. Lorenzo is currently in Washington , D.C. on sabbatical. He is the GK National Adviser on Productivity in the Philippines and its National Partnership Adviser in the US.

Part 1 of the conversation covers former Sec. Lorenzo's background and insights on government service. To listen to Part 1 of the conversation, click this link: Episode003A (6 minutes)

Part 2 is the introduction of Gawad Kalinga and his misconception of the poor. To listen to Part 2 of the conversation, click this link: Episode003B (10 minutes)

Part 3 continues with the efforts of Gawad Kalinga and how people can help. To listen to Part 3 of the conversation, click this link: Episode003C (16 minutes)

The transcript of the interview will soon be posted here.

Ready to help Gawad Kalinga?


Photo credit:
Gawad Kalinga house courtesy of www.kathleenbell.com
Fmr. Sec. Lorenzo's picture courtesy of the US Department of Agriculture website