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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Remembering My Halloween

"This tradition of remembering the dead is already ingrained in our culture which is uniquely Filipino and that makes it a part of our identity."

As a kid, I did not know exactly what my mother was up to. At exactly six at dusk, she would light each of the twenty four candles on two opposite rows at twelve each. A pair of neatly cut fresh banana bark served as holders for the candles. In between the rows were different kinds of speciality dishes offered to the souls. (And there is tuba too, a fermented sap collected from a lopped-off tip of coconut trees which is mildly alcoholic.) Everytime she lights each candle, she would utter a name as though she is summoning a spirit. Each candle is assigned to a dead family member from both my maternal and paternal side. (Till now, I'm still puzzled at the figure, what if there is more than twelve dead relatives from both sides, certainly jealousy and envy exist among the dead for the favoritism, hmmn...) And whenever a moth gets to land on the offerings, my mother would tell us, "that's probably one of my dead sisters or one of my relatives!". Yuck!

My mother of course is not a witch or a sorceress (before you let fly of your creepy imagination), she just follows tradition inherited from her ancestors. Every eve of first November, the rituals are ever present and really exciting. I remember rescuing one of her 'relatives' helplessly bulldozing its way out of the sticky suman that I accidentally de-winged it. I screamed rushing to the kitchen and told my mom of my supposed botched rescue effort. "Your relative must be dead again!" I was only five or six that time and a very scheming mind. Of course we would see our supposed moth-relatives coming in a whisper and seem to be enjoying every bit of the feast but not the foods per se but the bright lights that torched most of them. (Stupid kins!)

Early morning of first November, every home in our place is abuzz with their own preparation for "Fiesta Minatay" or Feast of the Dead. Local folks do not bother as much whether it is the All Saints Day or All Souls Day. As long as it is first of November, it is a feast in every sense of the word. This day has been a great tradition that everyone believes it is an obligation to offer foods to the dead so that the living gains approval from them and receive more blessings the entire year. This same day is rather sobering if you think pig is cute. The sounds of them wailing in unison in every neighborhood punctuate the atrocious porky appetite of these 'dead souls' who supposedly demand swimming in oily humba  or valenciana come visiting time. Even as a kid, I never liked watching these poor pigs being butchered. "Why can't the souls eat just suman and drink tuba?"

If you think everyone dresses up for the occasion, no we do not. There is no Halloween costume parade just like in the US or any parts of the West. First off, our place is one of the unfortunate spots on earth where electricity fears to tread, (there were attempts before but blame it on thieves and the NPAs that those with good intentions just spontaneously shy away from thinking over), so nobody ventures outside deeper into the night. If in the US they have the ubiquitous 'trick or treat' at night (albeit an eve earlier), unconsciously we too have our own version. We would make improvised torch using kerosene to go house to house and ask for ibos, (a sticky rice cake cooked in coco milk and wrapped in coconut leaves), for which the hosts willingly oblige, and cluster them around our waist so that when we get home we have a bunch of them. Sometimes we would hear scary sounds from the rows of sugarcane fields and run as fast as we could. Bigger kids would make fun of the 'pale-balled' little ones howling in fear. Others could get stuck  in  dirt mud while trying helplessly to salvage a doomed pair of slippers.

Time has changed since but tradition remains. Over the years, man's perception of life could also change. As for our family, we still celebrate the occasion but no more offerings for the dead. The dead do not come back in the form of a moth or any other insect just like my mother told me. (My mom has already repudiated her old-aged belief of the dead coming back on the eve of Halloween.) This tradition of remembering the dead is already ingrained in our culture which is uniquely Filipino and that makes it a part of our identity. Whether it is appropriate for Christians to celebrate Halloween is a matter of one's own conviction. As I said it is a tradition identifiable to certain cultures that gives honor and in remembrance of dead loved ones. There is no right or wrong answer why Halloween is celebrated by those who have found the truth. At the end of the day, one's own conviction must be individually sought, independently found and personally followed. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

New Rules For Hiring Maids: Take It Or Leave It

"If the Philippines can pioneer  unshackling this evil bondage through its very own, the world will be on its feet, then other third-world countries will likely follow suit."

It is as easy as one plus one - if you cannot protect your guest workers then do not invite them to come over. The same is said of the Saudi government's seemingly desperate attempt to get Philippine counterpart to have a change of heart towards the latter's stance on the hiring of Filipino domestic helpers. This early, the Philippine government has stiffened its conditions set on hiring of domestic helpers - which the Saudi government finds absurd - because the prerequisites set by the labor-exporting country do not conform to the whims of the indolent and masochistic culture existent in the Saudi society.

In order for a Saudi family to acquire rights to hire a Filipina domestic helper, the Philippine government sets forth the following criteria:  The basic salary of the worker should be pegged at SR.1,500 - lower than that is deemed illegal and unacceptable. The head of the family should have at least a monthly basic salary of SR.9,000. - to ensure he is capable of paying his 'servant' (the term they label their household helper). And the prospective employer should attach a detailed map of his residence, for easy access of their whereabouts should an abuse is committed against their worker. If you see, the rules constitute protection of the worker but what the Saudi government fears about is that - its citizens are not yet ready to be bound by such rules.

Obviously if the Philippine government holds firm to its stake, the rampant abuses of Filipino domestic helpers in Saudi Arabia will be a thing of the past. And that is what their Saudi counterpart is keen to neutralize - in their favor. If this is the best way to teach Saudis a lesson - moral and diplomatic that is - then the Philippine government should remain firm to its advocacy.

If human rights wathcdogs will have their say,  Saudi Arabia will always be classified as a dangerous country for unskilled workers where there is no assurance of protection given to them . Most of them are household workers who exist at the mercies of their employers. Countless of documented and undocumented cases of abuses happen everyday in all corners of this country. They're lucky if they get to find way to escape from their abusive employers. Some of them have also found their ends here. Scores or sometimes hundreds of these distressed workers crowd temporary shelters inside Consulate in Jeddah and embassy in Riyadh awaiting months or years before being repatriated. And the bad news is - government's fund is slowly drying up for the cost of their subsistence and repatriation.

Acting the role of 'good and desirable' hosts, the Saudi government is not slow to sweet-lemonize the standoff between two governments saying there are domestic helpers from other countries waiting in large numbers offering their services to their nationals. There you go! If so, why bother to get Philippine officials to a dialogue hoping the rules set by them could be bent in mutual favor? The truth is, simple and fair the rules may sound, yet they are not willing to comply with it because they cannot guarantee the safety and protection of the worker inside a Saudi household.

How servants are being treated by them? In most instances, a servant is being enslaved by the whole clan. Her 24-hour day to day existence is offered to her masters. She is on-call even at the most unlikely of hours. She does not take offdays. After she finishes her work in her master's house, she is also being offfered  to serve in another house with the consent of her master. If she is thought to be pretty, she will be locked up in the bathroom by the wife before the husband comes. She could even end up a sex-slave by her male masters. If her masters are also monsters she could get a battering everyday. Even kids join the orgy by showering her with their spittle. ( I don't stereotype all Saudis, but my over a decade of stay in Saudi Arabia could attest to real stories of this kind, they're aplenty you would regret arguing with me.)

If the Philippine government plays its card smartly, I don't think this development is a bane to overseas employment for our household workers. Given that Filipinos are still the most preferred household workers for obvious reasons, good Saudis with penchant for quality skills possessed by Filipinos will be unperturbed by the rules. But those majority that raises the alarm are those inclined to be abusive, financially constraint and wanting  only to 'possess' a slave to flaunt to their ilks. If they cannot afford to give decent pay to their 'slaves' then it's about time that they move their asses off and wake up from their couch and start to declog their arteries because 'owning' a slave comes with responsibilities...and risks.

The astronomical cases of abuses to domestic helpers in general across the Arabian peninsula has been at the forefront of human rights groups' agenda all over the world. Various media and independent entities have documented the atrocities done to these poor individuals and how abusive employers get the luxuries of not being prosecuted for their crimes. From Lebanon and Jordan to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, records of abuses and deaths are dizzying that calls to end this modern-day slavery are mounting. If the Philippines can pioneer  unshackling this evil bondage through its very own, the world will be on its feet, then other third-world countries will likely follow suit. And if this trade persists to exist, it is because better reforms have been put in place. Now I put my stake on the strength of the Philippines' stand. If they stay firm (which I still beg to doubt), then it's about time to bid abusers goodbye, or one more time, "take it or leave it"!

Friday, October 15, 2010

When Water Spells Life And Death (Blog Action Day 2010)

"Reports would indicate that unsafe drinking water and lack of sanitation kills more people every year than all forms of violence including war."

Imagine a day or two without a drop of water in your faucet. Dishes pile up in the kitchen sink. Cooking may require patience, eating out may be costly. A decent bath postponed for another day.  The day ends with patience thinning . This becomes a common scenario when water vessels are bottoms up and supply from the municipality is cut for a day or two. Dreadful - if you sum up the experience in brief. This is more or less the situation that prevails in every household in Jeddah where water problem  perennially exists. Nevertheless, this is nothing compared to the situation that prevails in most countries in Africa where water problem causes  death of thousands each week.

If we lack appreciation of the fact that in this part of the world water flows naturally in the comforts of our homes, then think again. In Africa people walk miles for hours to fetch drinking water that is not even guaranteed to be safe. In some cases people fight over who gets to grab the rope first down the well. Children barely able to carry heavy cisterns are forced to walk miles sometimes spilling half the content along the way. Every day, women and children in Africa walk a combined total of 109 million hours to get water. In some cases, the water that they gather can be contaminated. Children too are being deprived of school in favor of this daily ordeal of carrying heavy cisterns that put a strain on their otherwise frail bodies.

Inhabitants of developed countries may not be aware that water problem in most poor countries is dire. Even till date the scenario is grim. Reports would indicate that unsafe drinking water and lack of sanitation kills more people every year than all forms of violence including war. Unsafe drinking water is a potential breeding ground for bacteria and can incubate various diseases such as E. Coli, Salmonella, Cholera and Hepatitis. So it does not ring a surprise that unclean drinking water and its lack thereof causes 42,000 deaths each week in Continental Africa. The figures may raise few eyebrows but that is a fact. And we cannot refute the fact because the collective inhabitants of this planet do not care as much. True?

Research also shows that more people have access to a  cell phone than to a toilet. This is a shocking reality of unbelievable proportion. In this world of extremes where technology dictates how people live their lives, an astonishing 2.5 billion people still do not have access to proper toilets. This means that sewage spills into streams and rivers can contaminate drinking water and cause diseases. This way of life is not strange to communities that do not have access to clean water, thus the problem exacerbates and seeing no resolution.

While we don't see any concrete and viable large-scale solution at our disposal, the world is slowly coming to deep awareness that water problem poses a great threat to humanity. Earlier this year, the UN declared that access to clean and safe water is a basic human right. Thus every inhabitant of this planet is likewise duty-bound to obey the very tenet that governs human existence - to preserve our nature that provides our very basic needs.

Study shows that in America, an average person uses 159 gallons of water every day - more than 15 times the average person in a developing world. From showering to washing their hands, to watering lawns and washing their cars, Americans use a lot of water. And to put things in perspective, their average shower will use about 10 gallons of water, enough for a decent bath,  cooking, doing laundry and to quench their thirst. A couple of years back, saw an alarming drought that ravaged the Souteastern states in the US prompting authorities to ban people from watering their lawns even putting violators in jail. Now the question goes, when nature decides that man should be cut down to size for his neglect of her, where does he really go to hide?

The present is dire: the future looks grim that it must be entirely unmanageable, says the forecast of environmentalists. But what can the person of the present do about it? Yes, if we only have power to reverse that trend. It is chilling to the bone knowing that the picture emerging from today's data and tomorrow's forecasts is so complex and appalling that it leaves us feeling powerless and helpless. One cannot change the fact that this world cannot increase its supply of fresh water but it is not running out. It is just that there are more of us to share it, and we are steadily increasing.

Economists would further warn that the world's growing water shortage will even  put substantial pressure on the supply of the basics of life - food, water and power, which will have significant social consequences in both rich and poor countries given the current pattern of its use and abuse. Two global trends they say have added to the pressure on water and both are likely to accelerate in the coming decades. First is demography. Over the past 50 years, as the world’s population rose from 3 billion to 6.5 billion, water use roughly trebled. On current estimates, the population is likely to rise by a further 2 billion by 2025 and by 3 billion by 2050. And demand for water will rise accordingly.

The other long-term trend affecting water is climate change. There is growing evidence that global warming is speeding up the hydrologic cycle—that is, the rate at which water evaporates and falls again as rain or snow. This higher rate seems to make wet regions more sodden, and arid ones drier. It brings longer droughts between more intense periods of rain. This sounds more or less comprehensible to us how climate change brings tremendous effect on water - as to what extent though, nobody can really say. Analysts would further warn that some regions of the world will become drier, others wetter. Deserts will spread as in the case of Spain and China. Rivers also shrink but floods become more frequent. It is also beyond argument that climate change is slowly effecting some drastic changes in the formation of the earth. We just don't ignore its effects, because the signs and evidences are tremendous.

There is only one solid fact though that nobody can refute. Man's ignorance hastens any impending disaster because he refuses to stare past beyond his today's existence. Large metropolises have been predicted to submerge in water in future while desertification of massive arable lands has become a shocking phenomenon. It is because this earth has lost its state of balance, a fact that some skeptics still refuse to admit. Whether one does not have faith on the doomsayers or otherwise, the fact that we habitually neglect our responsibilities as stewards of this planet, spells trouble in the future and it's only a matter of time before it comes back to haunt us. And when mother nature is on a rampage, nobody would dare say, "I am innocent".

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Thank You Chileans For The Spirit And Lessons Learned!

"I'm very happy for all the beautiful things that were done for us. I'm very excited to be up here again. I am proud to be Chilean and proud of my president", says one rescued miner.

What the world has just witnessed is a testament to an incomparable strength of human spirit manifested in the face of hopelessness. Today all 33 miners who were trapped underground in a mine in Chile have been successfully hoisted to safety. Their ordeal that lasted 69 days is considered to be the longest ever recorded in history and the most succcessful too. Today I join with the rest of the conscious world in rejoicing for this miracle that no one thought possible. I am happy for the families of the rescued miners who must be very overjoyed and grateful for seeing their loved ones alive and well.

For days, I've been closely monitoring this worldwide spectacle of human resilience and fortitude rarely seen in real life. As the rest of the conscious world were glued to the unfolding drama on television, I had only hopes that each of the 33 miners be lifted up to safety. My mind was playing with the supposed emotion-packed conversation among them as to who gets to ride the capsule-like tube first and who elected to give way. We know that in this kind of rescue operation no matter how well-planned and executed, there will be tendencies of failure. What if the tube broke down and some did not make it?

If there was someone most responsible for the orderly atmosphere down the surface, it was the shift foreman Luis Urzua who acted a worthy and calm leader of the group. He saw to it that each one maintained a calm demeanor amidst their fear of not being able to make it. He had the food rationed to them equally divided and budgeted among them. And at the latter stage, he facilitated the order of who gets to safety first down to himself as the last one to emerge from the pit. This is a true leader exemplified befitting a hero.

The world also has only praises for Chilean president Sebastian Pinera, for braving day and night to stand side by side with  family members of the trapped miners, until their moment of freedom from beneath the earth. At the onset, he never entertained the thought of abandoning any rescue effort despite the almost-impossible scenario given the odds and the costs. His administration did not hesitate to enlist the help of experts and most-advanced technologies available to lead the unprecedented, most expensive and most daring rescue operation yet in the history of his country. That only shows how much this president values each citizen of his country. He lacks no precision in his decision-making knowing that the world watches him.

From this deed of greatness exhibited before the whole world, I hope some people out there learned a lesson or at least drew inspiration to do the same degree of concern and excellence in decision-making. The overused, stale and empty mantra of others that "if others can why can't we" became almost instantaneously irrelevant after that stupid decision-making in Luneta that made us the laughing stock of the world. The moment was his platform and the world was his audience. He could have grabbed the moment and shone brightly. It's just that, when you are inherently incompetent and sloth, it will manifest one way or the other. He would not be contented just yet. The real culprits and nemeses of truth  according to IIRC report were to be exonerated later because of their personal friendship with this colossal moron, thus undermining and disrespecting the effort by the panel.

If Chilean people are the most popular race in the world today, where do we find our niche as a people? How I wish we can partake their glory even for a moment. This day rightfully belongs to them and they should get the  monopoly of the spotlight for good reason, the same that we once took three months preceding for the bad. Good luck and best wishes to the miners and their families for a victory of human spirit! You must be very proud of your country and your president.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Soy Negrense Is One Year Old!

"A birthday is just the first day of another 365-day journey around the sun. Enjoy the trip."

When my blogger flatmate feels his spine already hunched deep into unreasonably lengthy hours of net surfing - that signals my turn to feel the mouse too - first navigating the most familiar site as a habit - Yahoo Sport. Around this time a year ago, I have only TFC eating out my entire time after work. I never loved the idea of immersing myself with cheap and false kindness yet abundant-in-rudeness antics of that swelling ego in Wowowee. Somehow the daily routine got into my system, I didn't have much choice. Shared subscription too is costly to forgo the unlikely spectacle.

Never mind the name (brand worshippers might have not heard of it) - I assure you it's the cheapest from the array of  pricey laptops on Jarir Bookstore shelves. I finally bought one I call my own. And you see, it has lived a full year now, and not to mention the 'perks' that come with the 'friendly price'. With economic limbo hovering over receding hairline, the thought of buying another is a pain between a pair of gluteus maximus. Hell no! Will have to settle for how much productivity output it affords me. For now, will have to raise the bar of patience higher when it is acting out everytime.

On October 11th  marks my first anniversary of posting my very first blog. It was a case of another blogger tugging at me literally so that I create my own blog. Had he not coerced me into blogging, I would have not had the platform to enjoy of my little freedom to write about certain things that concern me on a personal level and the large majority.

Normally,  first blog post always carves prestige down memory lane. Unfortunately, mine had to be content to dummy up by virtue of some CNN graphics of Efren Penaflorida imploring support. Thankfully, the prelude did not resonate that of the rest of my posts. That same week Typhoon Ondoy aka Ketsana is wreaking havoc all over Luzon. It was said that the extent of devastation has never been seen in living memory. I decided there could be no better and relevant topic than the exploits of Ondoy. My first baptism of fire that is Ondoy came as a surprise as readers' traffic continued to busy up my site. And no less the inaugural visit by the 2009 PEBA winner leaving his encouraging comment that left me thrilled.

My succeeding posts were topics drawn from my passion to write about certain issues that I feel passionate about. In the course of twelve months, I have written posts that will go down as my personal favorites. Some may not be popular for readers but I had them written shall I say with fire, rage and conviction. One of my favorites is my post on Jason Aguilar, an OFW from Qatar who was mistaken to be the criminal Jason Ivler. The post was written in less than thirty minutes after watching TV Patrol triggered by my anger at the injustice done to him. This post suddenly became a hit to readers with 8 to 10 viewers at the same time. It's surreal because I'm used to be the only visitor of my own page most of the time. At the break of day my readers numbered in hundreds reading the same post. To my curiosity, I tracked down the origin of a familiar link and found out that it came from the twitter account of Julius Babao. Yes, he posted my blog on his twitter account recommending his followers to read "this interesting commentary". True, it was some sort of inspiration.

Another personal favorite of mine was supposedly my open letter to President GMA when after much speculation whether she will quit politics or not, she filed her certificate of candidacy for Congresswoman of the 2nd district of Pampanga. One remarkable name who left her comment on that page is Lila Shahani, the niece of former president FVR who shared the link on her Facebook. My co-blogger and workmate even warned me that I could get killed when I step out of the plane, albeit jokingly. "What? They will waste a bullet on this lowly species?"

And my third favorite is my post about me and my family. I wrote this when I was feeling nostalgic about my beginnings and how certain events factored in my early exile to the big city at such a young age, and even brought me farther in this part of the world. While penning some emotion-packed experiences of mine, tears welled up my eyes reminiscing the unspeakable travails I have had already at age 18, and in deep gratitude - to Him who spared me from  the scourge of ignorance so that I could make a difference in the lives of those I treasure the most. This post also bears witness to some of my greatest regrets in life -  notably of not having a good education that will always be a powerful weapon in anyone's battle with life's uncertainties. Surely, I'm lacking in it, but God always finds a way, His works are mysterious that our human faculties cannot fathom.

If there is a category about the most unforgettable post I've ever written, and one rich in drama and venomous responses, it is the Grace Padaca story that made the Dy clan foaming all throughout. I had resorted to blocking  most of the comments that awaited my approval because of the arsenic contents that you would conclude Padaca is more evil than the inhabitants of hell. No less than the daughter of Benjamin Dy  led the character assassination attempt against then Governor Grace Padaca. Till date, this post remains one of the most popular among readers and very draining too so to speak.

At the onset, one reason that kept my door ajar to the world of blogging is that - my confidence level was at its lowest. As a college drop-out with  few units earned to brag, I easily get scared of the notion that I will be corrected or lectured at by my readers, probably for a misuse of punctuation or for my terrible grammar or that I may be writing a different thought contrary to what I actually wanted to convey. At first, writing in Filipino I thought would do the trick. (The rationale that other nationalities might stumble upon my blog sounded logical to me that I preferred to do this in the language they would understand.) But of course, I did not allow that mindset to overwhelm me, my passion to write about certain issues purged me of the doubts and skepticism that once stunted my optimism.

In a rather exciting reality in the blogosphere, it is unavoidable that some frequent visitors might be turned off by a post or two that you write contrary to their belief, creed and conviction. I must admit though, I do not find myself writing a post about a recent trip to a store and picking up a fight with the cashier for a rude behavior - and/or maybe a post promoting some high end sale in town - or I  quit blogging. With due respect to many brilliant bloggers out there who can write interesting stories over 'trivial' matters, hats off to them for their gift of really exciting their readers - one that I do not possess. Perhaps I just cannot copy that same penchant for writing minus the emotion that is a staple of my blog. I still hope i can reinvent for a change, who knows.

In my fledgling foray into blogging, I  have also come to terms that while you write about sensitive issues, critics also come in abundance. Some may be outspoken in their attack of the writer, others especially fellow bloggers may choose their protest silently. These things are quite the norm if you are a distinct individual with distinct point of view or distinct manner of writing that may sound distasteful or offensive for the majority of the 'goody-two-shoes' mainstream. This is the challenge that I have accepted long before, not a sort of encouragement but a self-styled way of reasserting that it is me, accept me at face value. There is a pitfall though, that passing judgment on the blogger may be a trap one is drawn to that will precariously define himself to be both irrational and judgmental.

A year may be too short, but it's been a journey. Seriously, insignificant he may be, this blogger does not crave for accolades, "awards" or stuff for that matter. He may be a nominee or whatever, or perhaps this early the fate of his being a nominee has been sealed because of his outspoken views about certain things, nevertheless he will not in any way get swayed by treading the safer ground and repudiating the things that define him and his purpose. The core of this blog, "My thoughts and opinion" will stay, unless otherwise he decides to banish this site to purge himself of the criticism and scorn from the Pecksniffs. I hope this site lives another year. Happy First Birthday Soy Negrense!
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Silay City, Negros Occidental, The Philippines

Some of the photos above courtesy of Arnaldo Arnáiz Díaz

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