Great Living Filipino Thinkers, In Their Own Words 5: In Memory of Chit Estella

Here’s the fifth installment in a series that, taken together, make up what I like to call Great Living Filipino Thinkers, In Their Own Words.

Today’s excerpts are from Filomeno Santa Ana III, an economist and coordinator for the Manila-based Action for Economic Reforms.

AER is a policy advocacy group that promotes a development strategy for the country based on sustainable and equitable growth. Since its founding in 1996, AER has pushed for national tax reforms in order to mobilize domestic resources to finance development (and lessen dependence on foreign debt, an issue that cripples the country’s economic development ). Today, it is at the forefront of the advocacy to reform the excise tax on tobacco and alcohol products, as a critical first step to increase the tax effort significantly.

Men, as his colleagues and friends call him, is typically low-key, often relinquishing the limelight in favor of his many protégés. He is, after all and at his core, a mentor—and the country is truly a better place today because of the staunch nationalist activists and thinkers that he has, over the past 30 years, helped mold.

Men is a brilliant economist and communicator, and has been published in several volumes and journals.

finance or penance for the poor pdf
Found at ebookbrowse.com

Many of his writings published in the column, The Yellow Pad, illuminate the pressing issues of the day and use everyday language to make the rarefied field of economics understandable to ordinary Filipinos like you and me—the way economics should truly be. You can find many of these discussions here.

But for this blog, I am passing up Men’s more intellectual pieces for a heartfelt one that reveals his true genius both as a mentor and as a dispassionate analytical thinker able to identify workable solutions to issues, even in the middle of tragic circumstances:

In Memory of Chit Estella

“Friday the 13th is but a normal day for me. I do not believe in superstitions. In fact the 13th of May 2011 should have been a happy day for me. It was my youngest sister’s birthday, and we had a lively family affair and delightful dinner at Chef’s Table.”

“Then, in the course of the dinner, I received the tragic news through a text message from a journalist friend. The short message said: Chit Estella died in a vehicular accident near Philcoa.”

“A speeding bus hit the taxi that Chit boarded. At Chit’s wake I learned that two buses, outracing each other, were involved in the manslaughter. The first bus sideswiped the taxi, and in a trice, the second bus rammed the taxi’s body.”

“Chit’s death was senseless. Chit could have likewise died from an assassin’s bullet that befell many Filipino journalists. In her early life, she could have met a more heroic death.”

“Chit joined the revolutionary anti-dictatorship movement at the height of martial law repression. In doing so, she was ready to die for the cause. The Marcos regime had no compunction in jailing, torturing, and “salvaging” activists, especially during the early years of martial law. Chit belonged to that risk-taking, fiercely independent, and assertive band of young women journalists just out of college, the likes of Sheila Coronel, Malou Mangahas, Rochit Tañedo, Chuchay Molina, Yvonne Chua, et al., whose mighty pens pierced the dictatorship and contributed to its downfall.”

****

“An unforgettable funny story during her college days is worth recalling. It was an incident in a party of the Philippine Collegian staff, involving Chit and Ronald Simbulan. Chit and Roland (they would later become husband and wife) felt ill during the gathering. Roland surmised that a Marcos agent could have poisoned the food that they ate. It turned out though that it was not a case of the food poisoning. What happened was that the party’s host baked brownies that he laced with marijuana.”

“Of course, Roland’s fear was not without basis. Marcos’s agents were known to use dirty tricks to silence enemies. Marcos and the military wanted to crush the Collegian. Marcos jailed its two previous chief editors, namely Diwa Guinigundo (current Deputy Governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) and Ditto Sarmiento (a martyr). Protected by academic freedom, the Philippine Collegian, the official student newspaper of the University of the Philippines was then the only legal publication that consistently denounced the Marcos dictatorship.”

****

“The death of a brave and committed woman, a hero of our times, should not be in vain. We hope that she and the many faceless passengers who encountered the same death will obtain justice. This is not just about offering a reward of PhP100,000 for information that will lead to the arrest of the bus driver involved in the manslaughter. It is not simply about the order to “go after reckless drivers.”

It is high time authorities scrapped the “boundary system.” The “boundary system” requires the driver to give the vehicle owner a daily quota.The driver and his party earn the residual amount; that is, what is over and above the minimum quota. This is the kind of incentive that encourages bad driving habits.”

****

Even as we grieve over Chit’s death, we hope that her death will result in the prevention of similar deaths, which are a normal occurrence on the streets of Metro Manila. Changing the rules—specifically by removing the boundary system and replacing it with a wage system—will be the key.

Read the full piece here.

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Great Living Filipino Thinkers, In Their Own Words 4: The Psychology of Moral Certainty

Here’s the fourth installment in a series that, taken together, make up what I like to call Great Living Filipino Thinkers, In Their Own Words.

Today’s excerpts are from Sylvia “Guy” Estrada-Claudio, the current director of the UP Center for Women’s Studies. Claudio, a Professor at the Department of Women and Development Studies, UP Diliman College of Social Work and Community Development, is both a doctor of medicine and psychology.

Dr. Claudio is a much traveled resource speaker on activism, feminism, reproductive rights and sexuality. She began her life of activism in high school when she began organizing fellow students against the dictatorship of former President Ferdinand Marcos. After completing her medical studies at the University of the Philippines, she formed the Medical Action Group to organize health missions to treat injuries and psychological trauma in communities torn by counterinsurgency operations.

Together with Dr. Junice Melgar she founded Likhaan, an organization working with grassroots women on issues of reproductive health and rights. She is also Chairwoman of the board of the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights.

Her book Rape, Love and Sexuality: The Construction of Women in Discourse was published by the University of the Philippines Press as part of the UP Press “Read Up!” Campaign. These excerpts are from her blog, Pleasure and Subversion, from a post titled The Psychology of Moral Certainty.

“As a teacher, a nerd and a psychologist, I feel only frustration and concern. Yet another person who thinks that, ‘because my God (or my Marx) says so,’ is an acceptable form of engagement in democratic and secular society.

I am treading carefully here. Not all Marxists or religious people resort to this argument. Not everyone who has a religious or political belief finds it necessary to cling to the idea that his or her belief is the right one, regardless. I am not also certain that the young woman who had an exchange with me is one of these. I wish she kept engaging me, perhaps I could have known for sure.

But I am certain that the psychology of the ideologue permeates the views of the religious right that has gone all-out against the RH bill. This is also why, I get hate mail and hate tweets after each televised debate. The comments can be quite mean, making me wonder what it is that I have said, no matter how scandalous, would make them feel so threatened that they would lash out with such anger.

I have been challenged often too about my agnosticism. Even the nicest ones seem to think that being uncertain is some kind of a defect. But there is to me, a spiritual gain to be had by accepting ambivalence, ambiguity and uncertainty. For one thing, that is how things are. The truth about what those who believe in a God call “creation” is that it is ever-changing, immense and un-graspable.

Perhaps there is a Truth (yes, with a capital T) out there. But it is not something, little-old-me can ascertain. I remain humble about the presence and laws of what a horoscope writer I follow calls, “the Divine wow”. God is not my FB friend. I ask Her often enough if She is out there and She does not answer. When I die I may dissolve and lose the consciousness that will say that the atheists are correct . If I am wrong and I awake—ooohlala—I will have more questions than a curious 5-year-old.

But for now, I have no need for grand answers in order to lead a harmless, happy and hopefully meaningful life. It is a comfort to me that I do not need ultimate guarantees. I am not a high maintenance child of the universe. I have a brain and enough energy to keep on figuring things out as the need arises. I plod along and get by not having yet committed things like abuse, theft or murder.

On really good days, the idea that no one can know for sure when human life begins really makes me ecstatic.

The psychology of moral certainty is the psychology of fear and/or laziness. Maybe when they were growing up, the parents who nurtured those who are morally-certain-Dr. Claudio-is-wrong-on-RH (and therefore we will never yield her a point, besides she is a lackey of the big pharmaceuticals and the imperialist population controllers) laid down the law about what to do, what is right and what is wrong. That can be comforting when one is little.

Simple and unquestionable rules can be comforting while parents can control the external environment against the views of those who disagree or the harm brought by those who are mean or criminal. Perhaps the very young ones need not be asked for the courage to face the immense unknowable.

But those of us who are hoping to live happy lives in a just society must find it in us to face our limitations. Parents must change the parameters of what they teach as a child matures morally and intellectually. Children must be taught not to be afraid of heterogeniety, diversity and uncertainty. They cannot be afraid of difference. Fundamental differences.

If we are afraid to be unsure, to accept that perhaps we and our family, religion, tribe, institutions, science, political party can be wrong, then we will be unable to accept when we are defeated on twitter or we will lash out in anger against people we only see on television.

And I am frightened indeed by the man who is so angry at me because of what I have said on television that he takes the time to tweet me venom. My heart goes out the woman who cannot find the grace to end a debate she started with some decorum.

Perhaps someday, we will raise all our children with enough moral courage so that they can face profound uncertainty with good cheer. At least we can rejoice that there are enough brave and moral people out there such that the scientific surveys show that the RH bill has wide support.”

Watch her make a subversive presentation on TV.

Great Living Filipino Thinkers, In Their Own Words 3: Forging a New Social Contract

EVERYBODY knows Sheila Coronel as the crusading journalist, the 2003 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Journalism, Literature and the Creative Communication Arts, and the founding director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

Sheila-Coronel-by-Clark-Jones

In electing her to receive the award, the RMAF board of trustees recognized her for “leading a groundbreaking collaborative effort to develop investigative journalism as a critical component of democratic discourse in the Philippines.”

Since 2006, she is also the inaugural director of The Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism, and a professor at the Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

http://www.journalism.columbia.edu/profile/31-sheila-coronel/10

In a 2006 feature, Columbia Magazine described her as “one of the most tenacious reporters in the politically turbulent Philippines” (of the 1980s).

Yes, she has done all that, is all that, and more.

I report, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, March 2005

(Find our where you can borrow a copy of the book, Coups, Cults and Cannibals, here)

Of all her works, however, Forging a New Social Contract, her speech before the University of the Philippines School of Economics graduating class of 2006, is the piece I love the most because I feel it says–in the most straightforward manner–just about everything that has to be said about this country. It also makes clear, to many of us Filipinos, the reasons why we should still believe in struggling, every single day, to live well and do right–even if, despite.

Here are excertps from that speech:

“LET me take a break from all these economists talking and let me tell you about the face that haunts me when I cannot sleep at night. It is the face of Christian Alvarez, a frisky five-year old I met on the streets.

Christian lives in Plaza Miranda. He and his family sleep on milk cartons near the Mercury Drugstore in Quiapo. Plaza Miranda is his playground. That is also where he and his family eat breakfast everyday: a bowl of lugaw given free by the feeding center run by a Catholic charity in Quiapo church.

Christian’s parents, Rowena and Lawrence Alvarez, are street vendors who make P150 to P200 a day. They have eight children, three of whom — all boys — live on the plaza. Three others are in the care of relatives and friends because their parents do not earn enough to feed and house them. Another was entrusted to the care of an orphanage. The last one, a girl, then aged two, disappeared on the plaza one night when Lawrence left her to fetch water from the Jolibee outlet near Quiapo church.

Christian is at the Quiapo church feeding center with his entire family three times a day.

The day I went there, after the noon feeding, the boy shared with his parents and brothers their only real meal that day: three cups of rice bought for P5 each and pinakbet sold for P10 at the Quiapo market. So at 6 pm, Christian lined up again at the Quiapo church, for another bowl of steaming hot lugaw that will at least ensure that he will not go to sleep on an empty stomach.

Unless the situation of the Alvarez family is much improved, the future that awaits Christian is a life on the streets. Like his two other brothers, he will most likely go through two or three years of schooling at the elementary school nearby. He will likely drop out before the third or fourth grade — in fact, nearly 30 percent of all Filipino school children drop out before finishing sixth grade. After that, Christian will scrounge for a living on the streets — scavenging for recyclables, perhaps, or selling cigarettes and candies like his father, perhaps the occasional petty crime.

I wish I could say that the Alvarez family is a particularly special case. But it is not. In 2000, the proportion of the population not reaching the food threshold was 21 percent. One in every five Filipinos cannot afford to meet his minimum food needs. In current numbers, that’s 16 million people.

The numbers, if we look at them, are dismal. Over 30 million Filipinos live below poverty, earning less than the estimated P200 a day needed to keep a family of six clothed, fed, and housed. That is why many families now eat only one full meal — meaning rice and cooked food — a day. As marketing expert Ned Roberto found out in his study on the consumption patterns of the poor, ulam for many families in the lowest income strata these days are: patis, soy sauce, pork oil, sugar and even Pepsi. Many of these families can eat real food only once a week.

Let me give you more numbers. In the 1990s, we (PCIJ) wrote about the PEA-Amari case, billed as the “grandmother of all scams,” where close to P3 billion were paid in bribes and commissions to businessmen and officials — including, it was alleged at that time, the Speaker of the House and the Senate President.

In 2001, the Office of the Ombudsman alleged that Joseph Estrada accumulated up to P20 billion in cash and real estate in two-and-half years in Malacañang. Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos were believed to have amassed up to $10 billion in the 20 years they were in power. Recently, it has been alleged that P1 billion recovered from the Marcos wealth by the Arroyo government was used to bankroll the president’s 2004 election campaign.

To me, the scandal lies not so much in the scale of the thievery. The real scandal is that while all these officials were helping themselves to the national treasury, the country was going to ruin and families like those of Christian Alvarez’s were going homeless and hungry.

When hunger stalks millions not because there is a lack of food, but because the social system impoverishes the multitudes while enriching a privileged few, then there is something that is terribly wrong. We are not the Sudan, where millions go hungry in deserts ravaged by war and disease. We are a middle-income country rich in natural resources.”

Read the of the speech rest here 

More about Sheila here and here.

Great Living Filipino Thinkers, In Their Own Words 2: Time Travel On the Cheap

So you think the word ‘Filipina’ means maid? Well, think again. For all of you who reached this blog looking for  bargain Filipinas –whether Filipina maids or hot Filipina bodies at bargain basement prices — well, this is for you! You should also know that Filipinas/Filipinos are also among the world’s most efficient people — on the energy from eating really small pieces of fish and a cup of rice, we can spew out great thoughts! Ha!

Speaking of fish, here’s this personal piece, the next installment of a series that, taken together, make up what I like to call Great Living Filipino Thinkers, In Their Own Words.

Today’s piece is from Leandro Romero, who lectures on Geography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. His own personal journey to get there is the quintessential tale of the Filipino diaspora– poignant, bittersweet and riveting. And in his case, written in installments, like this one:

The Oblation is a concrete statue by Filipino artist Guillermo E. Tolentino which serves as the iconic symbol of the University of the Philippines. It depicts a man facing upward with arms outstretched, symbolizing selfless offering of oneself to his country.

Time Travel on the Cheap

Tuesday night I traveled back in time to 1989 or thereabouts.

The place: Balara behind UP Diliman, near the Narra Residence Hall, then UP’s most liberal dorm for men (and coincidentally, the most dilapidated and the cheapest).

The time: between midnight and three a.m.

Activity: eating ginisang sardinas at the all-night counter frequented by jitney and cab drivers and other vampires prowling the city in those unholy hours.

It is a college night like most nights I had back then: interminable, humid and expectant. Like you are waiting for something important to happen, some epiphany to strike you, some Big Truth to slap you in the face with its simplicity and elegance.

Meanwhile, the night is surprisingly busy in this corner of the university. Cabbies are just going off duty; still others are just about to take over. There is the stink of vehicle exhaust and cigarette smoke and rotting vegetables and the delicious aroma of street food. Some of the carinderia women have begun to prepare the ingredients for next day’s lunches. Kids are selling cigarettes, balut, sampaguita flower leis.

On such nights, you have finished carousing with your friends in one of those infrequent binges where you indulge in your favorite fermented drink and hope other baser instincts follow suit. Or, you have been obliged to stay and babysit some textbooks and notes, write term papers or solve sample problems, and you just need a quick pick-me-up. Or, you just made a connection with some other lonely collegiate soul and you just want to savor the strangeness of the Other, chew on the purity and innocence of it, before morning comes and shines on it the ridiculous light of day.

I assume that this night could have been any of the three, and alternate between options. Obviously, I am sober enough to bring myself this far on public transportation with no major damage to life, limb or property, so it’s all good. Whatever awaits me back at the dorm—math or physics or engineering
texts—they would wait patiently. There is no hurry, and I am where I need to be at this moment.

Meanwhile, the smell of fragrant frying garlic tempts my nostrils and my stomach growls a greeting in return. The chopped onions and tomatoes follow shortly, and soon I am witness to tomatoes melting in  the pan, sizzling and bubbling until you are certain that they have aggregately achieved Tomato Nirvana—that is, being one with the pan, the oil, the onions,  the garlic and the Universe.

The hot sardines make their grand entrance and are allowed a brief honeymoon with the fulfilled tomatoes. Meanwhile, the flame is switched off, and a raw egg, quiet and content until now, jumps in and joins the fun. The bored cook deftly mixes it in with the other ingredients and in a while, serves it in front of
me, hot, with fried rice.

As soon as the sardines cross my lips, I forget that Physics is my Achilles heel, that women (even those in college) are creatures with expectations and  demands that have to be dealt with in the morning, or that in a few short hours, it would be time to join the elaborate waltzes and tangos of university life once again. The combination touches off several centers of taste on my tongue and palate, and my brain registers an explosion of flavor.

I prolong each mouthful into a slow, sticky sojourn into my own personal paradise. Minutes later it seems,  but really more than a dozen years hence, I look up  from my plate and find myself alone in a house in  Sparks, Nevada, with no girls or physics texts waiting  for me in the morning.

Yesterday, I tried it again with some soto ayam  (Indonesian spicy chicken-and-vegetable soup) and I was brought back to Jakarta in 1990 (I think). But that is another story for another day.