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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Kristie Kenney - Loved By All

"She's well-loved. Her face exudes meekness. She's well-recognized by people from all walks of life. Even kids adore her. She dances to 'Papaya' with ease and elegance. She's friend to Chris Tiu. She's also my friend on FB. She's Kristie Kenney - the first female US Ambassador to the Philippines."

I doubt if there is still anyone in the Philippines who doesn't recognize Kristie Kenney. By far, she is the most popular US Ambassador to have ever served in the Philippines.

First time I saw her on TV was when she hit the stage for a memorable 'Papaya' dance on UKG. She must be enjoying what she does. She is a darn good dancer though.

My admiration for her does not stop there. Her television appearances would be more frequent. She became more accessible to a common man even just on TV. As a TFC subscriber, it was a great delight seeing her appear on Wowowee and danced to the provocative Willie classic 'Boom Tarat Tarat'. Her smiles are infectious. She wears them with much sincerity.

I must ask myself this question. If she's that amiable, how do the embassy people look like, especially the interviewers? Are they nice too? Don't they not behave like her or a bit like her? She is the boss and they ought to emulate her demeanor! Essentially, I have no idea. I haven't applied yet and I have no reason to apply at all.

With her tenure almost certainly to end (although I prefer not too soon), she will be leaving behind tons of friends and fans who will certainly miss her. In her blog, one can tell that she really enjoys her stint in the Philippines. In fact, she's been able to pick up some words in Tagalog.

Evidently, lots of FB friends reacted with gloom when she announced that she will be leaving anytime soon. This is to pave way for an Obama appointee to take her place as has become customary once a new president is sworn in. But surely Ambassador Kenney will sorely be missed. She will definitely be a tough act to imitate for the next ambassador.

To the most loved ambassador, I know you have had bunch of wonderful and memorable moments spent in the Philippines. And some not-so-nice as well to a lesser extent. You might have deleted some from your storage, but I kept one with me to ponder. It's surreal really but I know you can still recall this.

On July 27, 2009 after the SONA of President Gloria Arroyo, you were picked to give your insights (about the SONA) by Pia Hontiveros of ABS-CBN. There were four of you aligned, each waiting for his or her turn to speak. Three distinguished gentlemen from Congress and yourself. You were on the extreme right. Then Pia started her interviews mostly focusing on the gentlemen without acknowledging your presence. She only did when it was your turn to be interviewed, but only after lengthy discussions with the gentlemen. I can see that you felt left out and bypassed. But you kept yourself composed.

While watching, I felt like I wanted to email ABS-CBN for the poor conduct shown by Ms. Hontiveros. She should have acknowledged you before she started her interviews but chose not to. She might be unaware of it, but the viewers could definitely tell how you were being treated. But being a dignified lady as you are, you dealt it with poise and a lot of class.

Madame Ambassador, when it's time for you to say adieu, I hope that the good memories you have of our country will supersede that of the bad. That no amount of ZTE, Garci, Gloria and Erap stuff will ever stop you from believing that we also have Pacquiao, Penaflorida, Charice and Arnel that are worth bragging about. That the Philippines is not (or will not be) the most dangerous country for journalists anymore...after the 2010 elections.

The Filipino people will truly miss you. Your indelible legacy will always stay. We hope and pray for your safety on another journey. That your next ambassadorial post will be an enjoyable one. Keep the fondness of them as you are with Filipinos, and the citizens of that country will embrace you as one of their own.

As TFC subscribers here in Saudi Arabia, with our means of seeing you only on television, the connection you established with us cannot be snapped. The virtual friendship will remain. And when we say it, we mean it. God bless you!

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Massacre In Maguindanao: My Show Of Protest

"Unprecedented in a democracy. Evil in its entirety. A complete loss of respect for human life. Laws of men flouted with impunity. Who do they think they are? Are they demi-gods?"

I am lost for words. My eyes transfixed on the graphic brutality shown on television. I couldn't muster my spontaneous self to commentate. I kept still. I just pieced every single image. The brutality unleashed its scale beyond belief. Who are the perpetrators? Who are these beasts in Maguindanao?

On the third day since the massacre, fifty-seven dead bodies have been accounted for. This includes men and women from the Mangudadatu clan who were supposed to file for candidacies in the capital. Among the dead were fourteen journalists who were with the convoy to cover the event. Two women lawyers were not even spared. Civilians who just happened to be in close proximity with the convoy also bore the wrath of the criminals. They all died a savage death.

Fortunately for Ismael Toto Mangudadatu - the presumed candidate for governor of the province, he was spared from the carnage but his wife and sister were not that fortunate.

All the dead bore evidences of torture. Most of them were shot at close range, their faces disfigured. Women were raped before being murdered. Their private parts left exposed by the perverts. And many of the dead were buried in a shallow grave aided by the bulldozer owned by the province.

It was later known that rumors of an impending carnage circulated within the town of Ampatuan. This is proof that the plot to murder political opponents had earlier been hatched by the perpetrators. The intent itself to participate in a democratic process was enough to seal the destiny of the victims. Their mortal sin - daring to cross paths with the reigning powerful clan of Maguindanao - the Ampatuans.

Maguindanao is in the heartland of Muslim Mindanao. It is the third poorest province in the country. Its people are called Maranaos. Traditions of clan fightings abound within the area. Political dynasties are norms in the government. Reigning members of the clan hold as many as elective and appointive positions in the government. Even popular actress-politician Alma Moreno was married to a Maranao mayor - albeit in a polygamous set-up. Just few things my brain could store about this now infamous province, among others.

The Ampatuans led by its acknowledged patriarch Andal Ampatuan the governor of Maguindanao, have been close allies with the administration. They were proven to be reliable when it comes to support they could give in any election. True enough, the governor did ensure the victory of Arroyo in 2004, and delivering an inconceivable 12-0 victory to the senatoriables of the administration. Massive cheating was done almost at will in broad daylight, right under the noses of the civilian and military entities. Until now, it is incomprehensible why no one was prosecuted despite all the evidences.

The return of favor from the office of the president would then follow. The Ampatuans were allowed to keep private army for their protection. Some boys as young as ten would be enlisted to the militia - they otherwise call as the CVO or Civilian Volunteers Organization in their own legal assertion. The sight of a rifle-wielding boy ready to protect his lord is not a normal thing one would see in a democratic state. But this has become an accepted norm in Maguindanao for the revered and feared Ampatuans.

As the investigation of this grisly massacre develops, everybody is ready to point fingers at the Ampatuans. Based on early reports, the perpetrators were men of Andal Ampatuan Jr., one of the sons of Andal, the governor of the province who also grooms his son Zaldy to succeed him. The incriminating evidence against the Ampatuans screams loudest of this barbaric incident - only the devil is capable of plotting. No human being could live with the thought of having murdered fifty-seven innocent victims and yet goes on with his normal life.

It is also noted that the aggrieved clan of Mangudadatu are relatives of the Ampatuans through intermarriages - a tradition prevalent among Muslims. Some members of the Mangudadatu clan are also holding powerful positions in the province.The political stranglehold of these two clans in Maguindanao has become so impervious that a gatecrasher to the pen is unimaginable. And so their grip on power all the more tightens. But in this case, even a relative is deemed a threat and so their end had been brutally decided.

Although the call for swift justice is getting louder by the hour, it is still a grim reality that it did actually happen in a democracy like ours. It is difficult to comprehend, that our very own president has created a monster in the form of the Ampatuans. The culture of impunity and complete disregard of the rule of law stemmed from that pampering hand from Malacañan. The question whether justice will be administered in this gruesome massacre remains hanging in the balance.

News of this unthinkable brutality has created a wave of condemnation from international communities. Even the UN Secretary General was alarmed by this incident. Different media rights organizations join the condemnation in the strongest terms possible. And this has consequently elevated the Philippines to the status of being the most dangerous country for journalists. A distinction that this government should be ashamed of.

With all due respect, it is now your time Madame President to shine. Your term in office will certainly end few months from now. You have ample time left to redeem yourself. Honor the legacy of your father in a way that you would want your offspring to honor you in years to come. All the powers and authority is at your disposal. Show the Filipino people that you put this nation above everything else. That in the interest of democracy the rule of law will prevail. That no criminals of bestial character will go unpunished... at least in the remaining days of your office. Don't delay Madame President!

And to the criminals - the evil ones - the murderers - the beasts of Maguindanao - I know you also worship the god of your prophet. You claim to be peacemakers and you're proud of your heritage. The bravery of your ancestors is legendary beyond compare. But your greed has consumed your whole being. You led your people to transgress others outside of your fold . You live lives full of envy, hatred and wrath, that you did not spare even the innocent who are unable to protect themselves.

Your doom is near. Even your confidence of invincibility will wear you down. You will not be spared from the vengeance that the Mighty God has appointed for you. You and your people who take delight in the murders of the innocent. You and your people who feasted on the women whom you raped and murdered. Murderers and perverts, woe unto you! For God has assuredly said in His words,"I will never leave the wicked go unpunished."

Philippine Center For Investigative Journalism / Reporters Without Borders

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Efren Peñaflorida Is CNN Hero Of The Year

"Serve, serve well, serve others above yourself and be happy to serve."

Touching moments...poignant words... in an unbridled show of emotions! The CNN Hero of 2009 uttered words of a victor! The victory that emanates from a servant's heart, the joy that comes from serving others and being a catalyst of change in the lives of others.

Hail ye Efren and your Dynamic Teen Company! The Filipino people salute you for yet another feather in the cap for what a true Filipino is able to do, a legacy that would forever permeate in the minds and hearts of today's youth, who hunger for a real hero to look up to. You deserve all the accolades accorded to you.

Congratulations also to those who painstakingly voted to ensure your place in history. To my friends in Saudi Arabia who had to set aside their Facebook addiction on the last hours of voting, just to cast as many votes as they can, thank you guys!

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Housemaids in the Middle East - Their Grim Plight

"Some are fortunate and have become successful. Some are not that fortunate. And some have also met their ends here."

One blazing afternoon, as we arrived from work, a dabab (small pick-up truck) was parked in front of our apartment building. A black African man could be seen struggling to offload a decrepit airconditioner. There was no way he could do it by himself. He had three or four women in abayahs surrounding him, looking anxiously but obviously shy. I can guess what they were up to. "We have brand new neighbours again. This is not a beautiful sight to behold". I said to myself, and a little annoyed. This will certainly exacerbate our compounding problem of daily water shortages. "Our landlord is really one hell of greedy flesh and fats!"

As we got down, the African guy asked for help for which I willingly obliged. "Don't you have any men with you to help?" I asked the guy. One of the women did interject. "We are all women, six of us." She said in Filipino. "I am the only Filipina and the rest are Indonesians", she narrated. All of them work as housemaids for different employers, and that they're not allowed to stay in. So they had to rent an apartment.

For them to afford the rent of an apartment, these housemaids pool themselves so as to make it more economical. Usually, their number exceeds the capacity of an average 2-bedroom apartments. However, the downside with this kind of tenants is that, their status draws suspicion of them engaging in illegal activities.

Days and months have passed, our new neighbours next door virtually become non-existent. Very rarely I could chance upon any one of them- except when it's night time, their supposed duty hours. However it didn't take long, when on a number of occasions, I've noticed some suspicious- looking Arab guys outside of the lobby's main door waiting anxiously. As I opened the door, he seemed to look uneasy and agitated, but coyly headed straight to a familiar door. He must have waited for someone else to open the door for him.

Housemaids are conspicuous features in every Saudi household. They are considerably larger in number compared to workers you essentially see outside. Their profession falls under the unskilled category, hence lowly paid. Despite their low wages, their job basically entails round-the-clock errands for their masters. Not to mention, the harshest of conditions most of them are being subjected to.

Their sad plight has become daily staples in any local newspaper. In most cases, the abuses they suffered at the hands of their employers are horrifying. Jealous Saudi wives would resort to locking the maids up when it's time for their husbands to come home. And countless have been reported being raped by their employers and sometimes offered to their friends. The most horrifying of all, some of them die from extreme physical abuses and just being dumped alongside garbages, still their identities unknown.

Until now I am still bothered by one incident that made me chill to the bone. On May 13, 2009, when I boarded a taxi on my way to Jama, this Pakistani taxi driver named Abdulatif confided to me, that he had witnessed a kidnapping of a Filipina woman a day before. The alleged kidnapper was a Saudi in his mid 30s, whose car was a GMC black Chevrolet with plate no. 3769 HKA. According to him, he saw this Saudi man dragging one of these two Filipina women into his car, as one of them was hysterically screaming for help. He could even hear the cries of the kidnapped woman as the car zoomed.

One of the women then hailed this taxi and asked for help. She narrated how her companion was kidnapped while they were waiting for taxi. He then volunteered to take her to the Philippine Consulate but she adamantly refused. She further stressed that they do not have proper documents [which means they are illegal workers] and that they would surely be apprehended and brought for deportation. This woman also refused to report this case to the police for fear of the same. She however prayed that her friend was unharmed. But she felt so distressed that she wanted this taxi driver to help them but not in a way he suggested to her. She nonetheless left her cellphone number to him.

Once I got to the shop, I immediately called our Consulate and reported to them all necessary details about the kidnapping of a compatriot. I also gave them the cell number of Shiela for information. But once they (Consulate people) introduced themselves to her, she replied it's a wrong number. So, what makes the situation all the more complicated is that, the refusal to cooperate by the victims made these cases difficult to resolve. This has become a Catch-22 situation with no resolution in sight. Because if ever they wanted to report the matter to the police, they will surely be apprehended and deported. While if they just keep silent, they can still keep their jobs without fear of being jailed and their loved ones going hungry. But the thought of a missing friend who could have been raped and murdered, remains a constant nightmare haunting them.

I already did what I was supposed to do, and I was ready to put this experience behind me. But after 9days to be exact, as I was watching Balitang Middle East on TFC, there was a report on a dead body of a woman found in Makkah in an advanced state of decomposition, allegedly that of a Filipina. Her identity was still unknown, for her remains carried no identification, except that she resembled that of a Filipina. God forbid! "Could she be the one?" Whoever did this to that unfortunate soul, may he rot in hell!

This is just one true story from a multitude of lives living as expatriates in Saudi Arabia. Some are fortunate and have become successful. Some are not that fortunate. And some have also met their ends here. Not everyone who has dreamed of a greener pasture has found it. Sometimes, we even prefer not to tell our stories to our loved ones back home. Some stories that would make them worry about us. However sad it would be, we always tend to keep it to ourselves, because we don't want to lose focus from our goals.

To our less fortunate compatriots who work as housemaids, I fully understand why they have become what they are. They just want to live simple lives. Not wanting to enrich themselves, but to feed and send their kids to school is just their modest dream. Those who have absconded from their employers have their own stories to tell. And they had no choice but to fend for themselves through illegal means, and help their families get by.

As for my new neighbours next door, I could say they remain shy and aloof, very seldom to be seen-except when ushering some male guests that coincided with my routine. Surprisingly, after quite a time, a newborn baby has been added to their family, as the shrieks and cries of the innocent can be audibly heard. Does the landlord knows about this? Yes of course! As long as they pay the rent on time, it would be a non-issue. God bless the baby!

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hail To King Pacman!

"This honor he brings to the country is a testament to a Filipino's unwavering spirit and resilience."

Hail to the king of the boxing world! Manny Pacquiao does it again! This historic win catapulted him to the pedestal where no man has ever reached before. He is the only boxer in history to win 7 world division titles! Any doubts if there's any, of his reign as the pound-for-pound king should be laid to rest!

Not even the great Oscar de la Hoya could achieve such a rare feat before his career was upended by no less the king himself the Pacman. Going into this historic bout, Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico was in a mission to stop Pacquiao from sealing yet again another page of history. But destiny was on the side of Pacman as the bludgeoning of Cotto was an evidence of the Pacman's fury.

Lots of pundits have predicted that Cotto will come out the stronger of the two, as the welterweight division is the natural domain of Cotto. But Manny's speed and that famous powerful left punch, will later prove to be the deciding factor. In the end, the grit and determination of the Filipino prevailed.

Amidst the hype and celebration, there is however a somber side. Our compatriot Z Gorres also a boxer, is in a comatose state in the US. He also made us proud by winning his boxing match held a day before the Pacman's big day. One unfortunate punch from his Colombian opponent landed on Z's head in the dying seconds of the last round. But the Filipino went on to win the fight. My prayers are for Z Gorres for his early recovery.

This moment unarguably belongs to Pacman. And just like the rest of the boxing enthusiasts around the world, I am in a mood of celebration. This honor he brings to the country is a testament to a Filipino's unwavering spirit and resilience. More power to you Manny! Stay humble and wise in your decisions on your future endeavour. God bless you Manny Pacquiao!

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Borne Out Of Hatred?

"Our world has become so complicated that people are busy building walls instead of bridges..."

While so engrossed with my daily task of casting votes for my favorite CNN Hero, I navigated through the CNN homepage and came across with hot issues of today. One particular story that caught my attention, was the heroism by Pvt. Joseph Foster, one of the survivors of that gruesome massacre at Fort Hood in Texas a week ago. He helped would have been victims ran for cover, and in the process spared many lives. He did according to him what he has been trained for.

The massacre at Fort Hood was considered by many to be incomprehensible, given its stature as the biggest military facility in the world, hence security is at its utmost. It is also home to thousands of American military personnel and sophisticated military arsenal. The facility serves as a springboard for those who are bound for the war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan. And the culprit of this despicable act is Major Nidal Malik Hassan, an American-born Muslim of Palestinian descent. He is a psychiatrist by training and had been working in the facility for many years.

As media feast on this inconceivable event, lots of suspicions and foregone conclusion, have been promoted from the fact that he is a Muslim. The subsequent buzz in media would be that of his links with his Islamic faith. That would then be an understatement if it sounded less familiar. It was later known however, that the assassin had communicated with a radical Muslim cleric in Yemen who has links with Al Qaeda. This findings further reinforced the notion that the suspect had infiltrated the US military and waited to carry out his self-styled revenge. At this juncture, should the US government fail to rein in this notion, the likelihood of a backlash against Muslims in the US military would be a dreadful scenario.

But how can they keep the world from concluding that it is his religion that has caused unheard of pain to the victims and their loved ones? The devastated family members of the dead who had not doubted the security and safety inside the facility. And the thought that a colleague and friend to some, did this unthinkable act, even made it more devastating to them. That a person who should have been helping his colleagues live better lives was the one who ended those very lives in haste. This is a painful reality so difficult to get over with. The trust accorded him and his fellow Muslims just quickly evaporated. The aspirations by all that religion will not play a role in a united community has just been crushed.

As an ordinary human being with a an own view to express, I can't help but ask, why is there so much hatred in the world? Why can't people live in harmony without prejudice? Why have we lost the very basic human faculty of compassion? Why have we lost our sound reasoning that killing people, let alone innocent people has never been a solution to any problem? Why blame all for the transgression of one? Why take delight from the fact that we have caused untold sufferings to our fellow human beings? Why treat other people as enemy just because of the color of his skin, his appearance and his religion?

In any religion, I believe there is a basic teachings of love, hope and faithfulness. Even in the Bible, Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). And I believe, any religion would be very proud of their own teachings about love and forgiveness. But why are there people from among us who believe that killing an enemy, or an innocent pleases our Creator and warrants reward in heaven? Where is the testimony of what we preach in the pulpit that ours is a religion of peace? It is a shame that people who claim to be men of God, are too slow to condemn violence and are reluctant to rebuke this kind of heinous crimes.

As a non-Muslim working in a Muslim society, I have been guided by the principle of treating people with respect and dignity, regardless of one's religion or appearance. However, an air of animosity between religions is an unfortunate thing no one would have wanted to experience. There is that genuine show of concern for your grim destiny if you don't get converted. They were made to believe that non-Muslims have only hell to be their final destination. Personally, I was once prodded by a Muslim colleague to convert to his religion, because according to him, my affiliation to Christianity alone is already a ticket to hell. And I got sympathy for that. While I appreciated his concern, it prompted me to pause and started to appreciate the fact, that I was taught of the forgiveness my God has guaranteed me if I were repentant, and that He looks at one's heart and not on one's religion.

Our world has become so complicated that people are busy building walls instead of bridges, as I would quote from a friend. Hatred is everywhere. It is even taught systematically in school in a certain community. It is a pity that no good will ever be borne from the wrath that we keep in our hearts. I just wish all religions in the world will someday come together in harmony. That no enemy will be labeled on anyone outside of our fold. After all, we are all God's masterpiece, made in His own image, equal in stature and purpose, made to glorify Him and also made accountable to Him, not for what we have achieved, but for what we have done to the rest of our brothers.

RELATED LINK: Where Is The Honor? by Susie Khalil

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hillary's Silent Rebuke - "Get Your Acts Together!"

"Corruption is corrosive in any society with leaders enriching themselves..."

While these are very strong words from the US Secretary of State, the message is quite clear. It may be a generalization, but judging from the corruption scandals this government is embroiled in, it is presumed as a direct reference to the Arroyo government.

If Gloria was in attendance, what would have been her reactions to that? I just can guess, everyone in the audience might have given her a cold stare. For it is a universal knowledge, that corruption thrives under the Gloria administration, not negligible in scale but its magnitude historical.

Those were stern words not to be ignored. Hillary is certainly no cerebral minnow. She's well-informed. But behind the curtains, could she be tough enough to whisper to this rogue little being, that her explicit exploits are being monitored? I wonder what the conversations would sound like. Or is Hillary so mean enough to be that unreasonably candid? Oh, I really don't think this scenario is forthcoming!

The last time Gloria visited the US upon the invitation of Obama, she was greeted with demonstrations and protests by the Filipino community there. Prior to her visit, a handful of prestigious newspapers in the US, were already screaming loud of her purported involvement in corruption scandals. If my history was correct, she earned the distinction of being the first Southeast Asian leader to have been invited to the White House. Being a gifted peacemaker and a gentleman himself, Obama did not intend to be accused of breach of protocol, by shutting the White House door to the Philippine contingent.

Forget about rebukes from Hillary! Our protagonist nonetheless, has been quietly busy working her way to yet another stage of political immortality. When one has tasted power that comes with unimaginable gains, it is a normal human reaction to get addicted to it. And as Sen. Miriam Santiago would have described it, the stampede of vultures with the epidermis of a pachyderm, has become a cultural phenomenon in the Philippines.

There is however little time to make amends, from the stench of corruption so flagrant to conceal. What had been laid bare could just be a fraction of the real deal. We have had enough of them. Different styles of leadership from different personalities, but with synonymous records. But do we need to be reminded all over again? I think the electorate is no longer gullible to this least in earlier polls. But the fact still remains to be seen...

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Monday, November 9, 2009

When Photography Becomes A Form of Terrorism

"My friend smarting from his experience, reasserted that he is a photographer and not a terrorist!"

November 7, 2009 at around 7:30 pm, when we had a brush with Saudi authorities, albeit literally. The timing could be that so bad. We were on our way home from the office, when my friend chanced upon a prospective subject for his photoblog. We parked our car nearby, and started the shoot.

Little did we know, a police patrol passed by and tracked us down. We did not have any single inclination that the police would give us a chase, as we were pretty aware, we did not violate any Saudi law nor offended anyone. But the sight of the police car blocking our way gave me a hellish sensation, knowing how the Saudi police treat expatriates. I kept myself composed. I was not panicking. "If we were to be interrogated, there would be no reason for us to be arrested", I said to myself.

The police then wasted no time searching our car, took our iqamas ( Saudi labor card), and confiscated my friend's camera-a Canon EOS 450D. Sensing a big trouble at hand, I started to call our office. But unfortunately for me, before I could contact the office, one of the officers snatched my cellphone and playfully started to figure out how to operate it. My cellphone unit is SonyEricsson K850i.

One fat police officer began his interrogation. "What were you doing, why were you taking pictures?" I replied in my best Arabic," Sir, this is for my friend's photoblog supposedly for his black and white series." Who would care then, when he did not understand a thing or two from my explanation? What had transpired subsequently, was an endless jabberwocky.

It did not take long however, before we were dragged inside the police car, and to my horror we were handcuffed like criminals. It was very humiliating, as hordes of people started to swarm and witness a spectacle. On the way to the police station in Aziziyah, these two policemen did not waste time searching for any piece of evidence against us. To their frustration, all they could see from our cellphones were pictures of our families and our visual merchandising files.

At the police station, the gadgets they seized from us were turned over to the desk officer. After which, we were literally pushed inside the detention cell. Inside the stinky cell were different nationalities, notably Bangladeshis with petty cases. One Yemeni inmate was a driver and his case was overloading, as he narrated to us. But he couldn't be released because the police was asking for a bribe from his sponsor worth Sr. 1000.

Inside the cell, I offered to pay Sr.10 to a Bangladeshi guy for a call to our office. Our HR people were quick though to act. We were almost 4 hours inside, when we were eventually released. I really thanked God that our predicament was over. I inquired about our supposed crime and our liaison officer told us, it was an anti-terrorism measure for taking photographs. "Are you kidding me?" Yes, a violation of the Saudi government's anti-terrorism law! That's completely nonsense!But that's the truth. And why it took us so long to be released? Because the bribe was too much at Sr.1,500!

My friend smarting from his experience, reasserted that he is a photographer and not a terrorist! One thing I did realize was, when you get apprehended by the police in Saudi Arabia for a police's self-authored crime; one's detention time varies on how quick your sponsor is able to pay bribes at a bargained price. This is quite a story for me in Saudi Arabia, so that when I go back home I will be grateful enough to tell my tales of being an OFW.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Reproductive Health Bill - My Perspective And Thoughts.

"It is high time that we band together, and exercise moral and pragmatic thinking, so that each of us impact one another in a productive way."

At only 24, my niece had already three kids. Her husband is jobless. They subsist on buying and selling anything for a day's meal. Their kids are malnourished, and it is heart-breaking to see their pitiable conditions. They can't even buy school supplies for their two grade-school kids. Being the only employed next of kin, I see to it that I give them some financial help, just to afford their kids to go to school. Sadly for me, that doesn't end there. From hospital delivery to hospitalization of any sort, they will be running to me. But am I being so cruel for sometimes getting so pissed off by their nuisances? ''Why make so many kids when you can even hardly eat?'' ''Because there is no more available contraceptives in the health center'', was her prompt reply. When the poor have only their stomach as priority, anything else would be a luxury-and buying the once free contraceptives are beyond what they can afford.

My piece of resentment however, is nothing in comparison with the condition of the poorest families with multiple children. But why did the government stop the supply of the once free-to-access contraceptives available in our local health centers? Has our national leadership been so indifferent and oblivious to the fact that over-population causes more economic misery to our country? Are the UN reports on the Philippines' over population and all its encompassing ill effects on the society in general becoming irrelevant? Our government officials are presumed more knowledgeable on any issue, and therefore have more access to facts from any national and international researches on population growth in the country.

Few would argue with me that poverty is not a blessing, but it's a curse. The evils in our society has its roots traced on poverty. Although it may be one's choice to tread that evil path, his or her decision is one way or another influenced by poverty. Over-population as everyone knows is the main root of poverty. I myself am a living testimony to that. We are ten siblings. As a kid, I dreamed of becoming somebody. But how could I? I was just lucky to have finished high school. Were it not for my determination and untold sacrifice, I would have not graduated from high school. I even came to a point of cursing myself for having been born poor. Why not? How could my parents support us all when we are ten?

Poor families with multiple children can hardly feed their family. Sending all children to school would be a hard task resulting to some children having to sacrifice. And some who have started school, tend to stop and are forced to look for jobs just to help the family get by. But less education and less qualification do not equate with good job; and so the misery goes on. And the cycle continues. Sad to say, this cycle of poverty cannot be alleviated as our population continues to soar.

If our government is determined to improve the quality of life of its citizenry, it will do its utmost to enact and implement laws that would benefit its citizens. According to various researches, poor living condition is rooted in an over-population of a certain country. Our country has a distinction of one of the most densely-congested countries in the world per capita. But all the while, what is our government doing to address this compounding problem of over-population? On the video link below, you will be appalled at how the former Manila mayor Atienza gives his perspective and stand towards the issue of over-population. His confident talks and irrational viewpoint, in a way gave me a sense of embarrassment as a Filipino. And he is only one of those treading the corridors of power with the same stand on this issue.

So much has been written for and against the controversial Reproductive Health Bill. The debates are getting intense and personal in some cases. All media communications are never short of platforms in tackling this issue. Everyone seems hell-bent on getting their voices heard. It is noteworthy though, that even an average citizen is so in-tune with this issue, because so much is at stake- the future of our children and our children's children. But would this collective voice by many turn out to be futile? A big yes, maybe! Not because of the poor being against it, but because of the sinister force that is behind the improbability of its passing into law. This force is the immensely powerful Roman Catholic Church. This influence-wielding church has dominion over peoples of the earth, and its heirarchy creates its own policies that dictates its church members to obey them.

The Philippines proudly distinguishes itself as the only predominantly 'Christian nation in Asia'. Our country is a world-renowned bastion of democracy. The rights of every citizen is enshrined in and guarded by the constitution. This very same constitution that stringently commands the inviolability of the separation of the church and the state. But this is regrettably only on paper. The Catholic church for the last century, has been the driving force behind any setup in the country's political landscape. They are being feared by our leaders. This fear stemmed from what this church is capable of doing. Most politicians would always seek its blessings in any election and therefore would do what pleases the church.

It is a sore truth that the Catholic church will exercise its power and influence to ensure that the Reproductive Health Bill doesn't get enacted into law. This is the bill that would ensure a better future for an average Filipino family. This is the bill that guarantees a quality of life for each life-loving citizen. This is also the very same bill that would statistically increase the worth and productivity of every citizen, hence a big factor to improving the country's economy. However pro-poor and pro-family, this bill as the Catholic church would contend is anti-life and in a sense, evil in its entirety. This church asserts that life starts from the stage of fertilization, and that it is tantamount to murder when a couple uses contraceptives, such as condoms or pills and the likes. The use of such contraceptions they further contend, is one way of encouraging pre-marital sex or perversion of any form. And I also contend that their reason is impeccably-dogmatic moronic form of reasoning, that defies any universal law of logical reasoning.

The impasse in Congress regarding this bill is so polarizing, that it is uncertain whether this bill gets enacted into law or not. This early, our legislatures who are vocal with their support of this bill, have been branded by the church as anti-life and are not good Catholics. The pulpit has become a powerful tool to admonish members, to be conscientious and not to vote for these politicians. In here requires a firm resolute, whether you are with them or against them. And this effective bullying has kept the president from interfering with this issue, because her political career is on the line.

Our population explosion needs to be addressed, for it is only a matter of time before everything gets out of hand. It is like a ticking bomb waiting to explode. And the underlying effects could be crucial to the survival of our country, economically and morally. It is the duty of every religious denomination to coax their flock into moral fortitude. And this duty includes instilling in them the virtues of moral propriety and self-control. Sex is a sacred thing that is a gift, meant to be enjoyed by any married couple. Therefore any sex outside of marriage is a sin. This is the domain where the church should be visible. But the choice of how and when to procreate should be dependent upon a married couples' discretion. Many unwanted pregnancies have caused a family to break apart. Accidental babies have become burden to an already struggling big family.

This is not meant to be a novel. But my disturbed emotions get the better of me. And through this blog, I am able to convey my perspective, my thoughts and my sighs about an issue, not ordinary in scale, but is powerful enough to affect you, myself, and anyone who dreams of a better Philippines. It is high time that we band together, and exercise moral and pragmatic thinking, so that each of us impact one another in a productive way. Let us help support the Reproductive Health Bill pass into law. Contraceptions for married couples do not equate to being anti-life, but it is synonymous to a quality life. Your family and my family rightfully deserve a better future.

Link: Declaration Of Support For The Immediate Passage Of The RH Bill into Law (Sign The Petion Here!), RH Bill On Facebook!.
Related Video: BBC Explore: Sex and Religion in Manila, This blog post has been featured on RATIONAL HERO!

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Juana Change Where Art Thou?

"Believe it or not, it was a very naked Juana Change! She was literally all-the-way naked..."

Juana Change is the type of character everyone would be delighted to have on one's Facebook friends list, and I for one certainly have her conspicuously displayed on my FB wall. But not until today. Why? I don't know. I really thought, she might have me removed from her list. But from among thousands of her friends, why bother to single me out? Hmm...doesn't sound reasonable at all!

I kept on thinking why she suddenly disappeared from Facebook. Was there any conspiracy to terminate her account on FB? As we all know, Juana Change is known to be the face of change in the Philippines as her stage name suggests. Change that has been the call from every spectrum of the society. She is so famous that her YouTube hits reach probably in hundreds of thousands and counting. Her videos are so funny with a bite. Everyone could easily relate, and if you don't get impacted by them, I don't know what kind of Filipino you are!

But wait a minute...just a couple of days ago, Juana Change changed her picture profile. Believe it or not, it was a very naked Juana Change! She was literally all-the-way naked; just concealing something down there. At first, you would think what the hell is she doing? But because it was not meant to arouse you guys, you would probably conclude that it was done in good taste. Some elements of artistry had been applied on that 'gruesome' shot. It was indeed funny and magnetic to see for a profile.

A deluge of comments understandably started to pile on her wall; from slight yet gentle criticisms to flattering and encouraging ones. As friends had raced to submit comments, maybe a few displeased folks could have alerted Facebook people of the presumed breach of decency? I don't know how you call it. And the punishment could be that so quick? I really don't know until now. Probably because of some other reasons? But could the real Juana Change please speak up? Where are you now JC?

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Strange But Potential Bedfellows?

"...some shady alliances amongst unlikely party mates."
Recently, Juana Change had posted a question on her FB wall which says, ''what would your reactions be if Jinggoy Estrada decided to run under Noynoy-Mar slate?'' As expected, a barrage of comments were submitted and I was one of those who participated. Most comments however were threatening and violent yet funny in a voter's point of view.

It is a relief though that the majority of voters now, are becoming more too concerned and affected with the slightest tickle. But could this really be possible? Hell no! The former president himself Joseph Estrada has already declared his candidacy and Noynoy is in no mood to destroy his own chances. With barely a month to go before the deadline of filing of candidacies, anything is a possibility.

In politics however, ''there is no permanent friend or enemy only permanent interest'', as the saying goes. This is what decides any political venture. It's not a big buzz when someone from a certain political party jumps to another fence. This has been a culture. They are not thinking about you people; they think about themselves or their survival so to speak. Even Darwin's theory of ''the survival of the fittest'' can best be applied in politics. Whatever it takes for them to achieve what they wanted, no rule or delicadeza stuff will ever deter them from pursuing it.

Regrettably, I used to have a personal admiration for Loren Legarda and Miriam Defensor Santiago. I really campaigned hard for them before. But time and time again, they have proven that only their self-serving interests are important to them. They are notoriously- certified turncoats who are willing to set aside the sentiments and interests of the people just to be able to assure their survival. I am not ashamed nor petrified to convey my disgust and distrust to them. They have failed me with their style much less their insincerity.

When Noynoy files his certificate of candidacy together with his senatorial slate, then we will be able to know if he really wanted change. Wanting change is one thing and wanting victory is another. The difference between these two could speak volumes. In this time of political uncertainties, lots of losers definitely wanted a free ride and could be potential spoilers so Noynoy has to be more discerning in his choices.

So don't be shocked people when one of these days we will be witnessing some so-called ''marriage of convenience'' and some shady alliances amongst unlikely party mates. Those very same politicians who just weeks ago or so were keen to annihilate one another; and tomorrow emerge as best buddies and would unashamedly proclaim that the interest of the nation has been their common agenda so that they have become contrite and forgiving. Yes, ganyan kakapal sa atin! Because of power, fame and fortune! Your instinct is as precise as mine people...

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Silay City, Negros Occidental, The Philippines

Some of the photos above courtesy of Arnaldo Arnáiz Díaz

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