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Monday, December 19, 2011

When We Least Expect It - Even On Christmas

"When they call on me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them." - Psalms 91:15

We thought Ondoy was a big blunder and the last of such scale. Then we saw all fingers directed toward government inefficiency. Those affected thought they had not been properly warned. The president in his rage sacked the Pag-asa chief for incompetence. Ondoy had claimed many lives though it poured out its wrath in daylight. But who can escape such a fury unleashed in the middle of the night the way Sendong did?

People of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities did get warned. They knew they were at the storm's path. As to the extent of the damage it had to leave, they could only predict, it was to be another storm meant to be forgotten, as oblivious as history should put it to be. Older folks had no recollection of a storm that ravaged their cities in the past, and the young were told so, as history validates, then people flirted with complacency. After Sendong had left, the lives of those lucky to make it will never be the same again.

The figures are staggering: over a thousand dead bodies piled up with debris strewn across the city, hundreds more are missing. Funeral parlors have no capacity for such a deluge of cadavers streaming their gates, not even a chance to identify the victims. The pictures are horribly graphic. Jessica Soho of GMA likened the onslaught to be that of a 'thief in the night', albeit the culprit took no accountability.

Take note of this: survivors frantically looking for their missing loved ones were advised to go to the city's dumpsite to search for their mothers, fathers, sisters,  brothers, babies and relatives. You don't believe this is happening. The sheer number of bodies recovered rendered the city incapable to bury them that they are left with no choice but  to dig a mass grave to contain the stench and a likely epidemic.

What's even incomprehensible is how human hands had actually played a role in the fate of those who had perished. Whether people still remain clueless and  have the temerity to point a finger at nature when thousands of logs and tree trunks swamped the city, is totally beyond me. Now people realize that they are paying dearly for the endless rape of our forests due to unabated illegal logging. Now, no one wants to take responsibility. How many times entire communities get wiped out and thousands of lives taken as a result of illegal logging? Even if someone gets crucified for the wrongs of many, I bet lessons will serve no purpose, as long as human greed comes in abundance.

Life always remains a mystery. When we think all is well, suddenly destruction hits. At times when we think we have security and things are going alright in our lives, tragedy comes our way. Then most of us don't know what to do when we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere. We don't know where and who to turn to and how we are going to get by. But if we were offered a way to live without ever having to worry about anything ever again and it won't cost us a cent, would we jump on it? Judging by the world trend, things are  not going to get easier, they are going to get worse, especially that materialism and greed by some come before the good of many.

In facing repercussions, there will always be more at the losing end. In life, there are countless possibilities that we may face but only one thing is certain - death is forthcoming - in whatever manner, we are left clueless. It will come still, yes, even at a time when we least expect it. But no matter how much people weep for those they've lost, their lives will never be the same again, because indeed very few find the real reason for living. He is in fact the reason for Christmas.

I still wish my kababayans in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities a happy Christmas! We from Saudi Arabia may not be able to hand you a bottled water or a noodle, yet our prayers at your time of distress abound for you. Life is short but as long as we are blessed with air to breathe, there is hope, and that hope is just within your reach. In fact, He is the reason why we celebrate this season. His name is Jesus. Have a blessed Christmas!

Please click HERE if you wish to make a difference in the lives of those who survived.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

For The Love Of Banana

"These fruits and vegetables resemble the male penis and could arouse women or make them think of sex" - A Muslim Cleric

Before this tragic fate of getting to task our scientists and horticulturists to do away with a next-to-impossible mission,  my deep sympathy already goes out to them, well, except if they happen to be non-Muslims, who do not feel obligated obeying a fatwa. If only to be tasked to modify the shape of a banana into something else except its natural shape, then it guarantees some heads spinning or brain cells squirting out of ears and noses, all for the cause of Muslim women who might be in danger of going to hell for a banana-driven sexual fantasy, let alone from humongous ones that are ubiquitously sold at lovely prices anywhere.

For the sake of ensuring chastity among their women, a fatwa has recently been declared that women should keep their fingers off anything that resembles a male reproductive organ so as to avoid sexual thoughts and risk getting dumped into the lake of fire. The fatwa was announced in Europe by an unnamed Muslim cleric and any devout Muslim who shares the same belief is expected to obey. I don't know if this is a cause for celebration for men who envy bananas getting massaged and pressed by women in the supermarkets (to check worthiness), or sad news for women who love their potassium supplement taken from their well-loved Chiquita, Dole or Del Monte brands.

Now the task of reinventing a banana shaped as square or triangle or even a round one rests on the shoulders of  Muslim scientists, who have the moral mandate to uphold the chastity of their women who are prone to temptation by the tasty and shapely bananas. (Or better yet take out the round-shaped from the option as it may still resemble a proud scrotum.) The cleric who issued the fatwa however did not zero in on banana, as zucchini, cucumber, carrots, aubergine (eggplant) and a lot other elongated produce products also qualify for the criteria of being a temptation for women who potentially see these products as penile substitutes. Well, if these are to be eaten other than the conventional way then it surely poses health hazards to women and the cleric certainly has a case. He even went on saying that women should not lay their hands on these fruits and should require someone else to slice it for them, adding that these should be kept from their sight as this easily provoke them into making sexual thoughts.

The article has been shared by as many people on Facebook, who feel the sense of urgency that this fatwa has to be circulated in the earnest so that more Muslim women could be warned of the danger of even touching a banana so as to stop them from free-falling to hell. I have taken note some of their suggestions (and the reasons) that deserve a second look and should have a rightful place in the cleric's list and therefore be taken off from shelves:
  •  upo (bottle gourd) and patola (sponge gourd) - more powerful and sturdy
  •  Ikea scented candles - easy to cut and shape
  •  markers and ballpens - comes in handy at all places
  •  energy drinks such as bison and red bull - has no tendency to become flaccid
Though this fatwa certainly is a source of saving grace for Muslim women, vegetable business could soon be  a thing of the past in Muslim countries, given the burning desire by every Muslim woman to avoid the temptation for fear of populating hell. If in the future a rising incidence of suicides among vegetable sellers can be attributed to this fatwa, it will be a difficult situation for Muslim governments that will be faced with  dilemma between upholding the salvation of their women and killing off livelihoods of their small vegetable sellers, who some of them have inherited the trade from their ancestors. I think at this point a government bias needs to take form by prioritizing the salvation of their women from eternal fire over sustaining the livelihood of vegetable sellers, who in turn could be introduced to other trades away from selling bananas, carrots, cucumber and some other 'sinful' elongated vegetable produce.

In fairness to the cleric, he did not say it is haram or unlawful to sell bananas, cucumber, carrots and other vegetables and fruits of similar shape. He only emphasizes that women fondlingly touching these things can be lured into thinking sexual thoughts and therefore risk sinning and will be in  danger of going to hell. So his advice is tantamount to keeping women from entering the vegetable section except if they are able to convince the store-in-charge that they will only lay their eyes on broccoli, water melon and some other leafy stuff that pose no harm to their chastity. 

If this scenario becomes prevalent in the future, I can see supermarkets in Saudi Arabia with their vegetable sections devoid of black-clad shoppers, especially banana section, with a stern warning hanging as boldly, and even bigger than its price that says: "Muslim women are banned within 5 meter-radius except non-Muslim maids". (Non-Muslims are called 'disbelievers' and therefore have no place in paradise, their fate is sealed, hence the exception.) 

In light of the potential complication this fatwa could cause, Muslim women who are die-hard banana lovers in Saudi Arabia are not expected to weep in one corner and may in turn set the following trends:
  • Saudi women could suddenly develop an adoration for non-Muslim maids especially Filipino maids, as they will surely be allowed access to well-loved bananas in supermarkets by showing proof they are Christians in their iqama. (Please note that any Muslim woman, Saudi or not, is not allowed to even look at bananas, let alone get close or touch them.)
  • There will be a renewed negotiation between Saudi and Philippine governments initiated by the former, to lift the ban on Filipina domestic helpers with the Saudis bowing to the demands by its counterparts to put in place worker's protection and implement salary demands for Filipina household helpers - a move foreseen as a boon for jobless Filipino women - a surprise Saudi concession, all for the love of banana. 
  • Indonesian and Filipino drivers will be finding their niche soon around vegetable sections in lieu of their usual routine of huddling around in malls' parking lots and benches as if they are permanent ornaments in squatting position, while waiting for their women bosses do their shopping. Hmm, could be another worthy cause for a wage hike which is not impossible.
  • For families without non-Muslim maids, kids may get their early training of picking the best bananas in supermarkets, while their mothers employ a baton-less conductor skills  15 meters away as to which one to pick.
  • There will be unreasonably high hoarding incidence of bananas, as mostly Filipino maids are deployed profusely in all supermarkets nationwide and parading home hunched up with loads of bananas. Filipino maids don't always have to go with their masters when they go shopping, so it is understandable that they invade the supermarkets at once and buy tons of bananas for the love of it.
  • Expatriate families that cannot afford a maid may soon find themselves paying for a service charge when the nearest baqala (mini-store) salesman delivers a cluster of banana to their doorstep.
  • Finally, women may develop a deep interest for banana as to its mystery and why the warning that could send them rolling into hell. In this case, cucumber, carrots, aubergine, sponge gourd and bottle gourd  with their own powerful lure, could give banana a run for its money.
Given the scenarios above, it will be safe to assume that a widespread protest in Chiquita plantations in South America and a similar one in Del Monte in Mindanao is still remotely possible due to massive sacking of their employees. If a status quo remains, except of course for some imminent changes in policies at our favorite supermarkets (re women have limited access to bananas), there is no need to panic just yet as the Gulf region's  favorite bananas are here to stay.

Dear banana, out of sympathy for  these poor women who would soon be bidding farewell to your irresistible taste and seductive form, I wish you were designed into another form not resembling a mighty truncheon that could weaken their resolve. But who am I to question the wisdom of your Creator? It is my wish that not a single Muslim woman  falls into your sexy trap and be thrown into eternal damnation. We also dread the day seeing you transform into another shape as you would certainly lose your appeal. But it's up to Muslim scientists if their skills and knowledge are up to what is required to get you into another form, hmm probably in a shape of a bulb? If anything, the Christian world prefers that you stay as you are...yellow, sweet and long.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Tale Of Two Beauties

"None is righteous, no, not one." - Romans 3:10

Finding Facebook and other social media steaming hot over the past few days with the Piolo-KC and Mo-Rhian sagas that almost killed off the laughable  "putting a tiny tot to sleep forever"  sort-of-plot buzz did not only amaze me; yes, I even see myself now tapping my thoughts together into a post. Would you believe that? Anyway, I can only imagine which obvious pair from the duos gets the sympathy, and the obvious half passed off as evil. I have read substantially enough to know the pulse and not be so surprised at the reactions. Guess what, the immoral label is readily tagged to a villain aka fetus murderer, and  what more to an unforgiving homophobic society's wrath on a celebrity's hunky image that turned out (allegedly) to be the biggest hoax ever - next to the vomit-inducing assertion of a purported Ampatuan innocence?

On KC - Piolo saga:
Why a flurry of criticisms on Piolo as though the man owes every Filipino an apology  for ditching such a desirable woman? Why every gossip-mongering citizen especially feels entitled to force him to parade his skeleton in public? Just because he ruined the libidinal fantasy of the third kind from this confirmation? On people hell-bent to hammer him against the wall till he declares to the world that he willfully swallowed the stone or Ding forcefully shoved it down his throat, is totally beyond me, and that's not just right. If early in his career Piolo did a Bebe Gandanghari, would the public actually adore him for everything that he is made of? Sort of unthinkable for Piolo to shed his macho image, get rid of those muscles till he pass for a worthy torchbearer for anorexic community and strutting around in red stilettos and thick lipstick and go around telling the world that the old persona is dead.

Whether there is truth to it, most people would be so frustrated not to see him come out of his closet and duplicate Bebe's exploits. Not even in this lifetime, I bet. But still the question remains:  is the frenzied public which has successfully nailed him on the cross ready to forgive him for his  'transgression'? And who are these 'righteous' to demand he satisfies their whims at the expense of him getting flogged so that they gloat over in victory? God knows people don't care about his predicament. But still he is left with no choice but to shrug off taunting eyes that feast on his agony. Sadly, what's all the more telling is that people seem to live off on the misery of others. To them, they play the role on how society works, how to shape the norm - to be yourself, that is, and that you cheat them when you're acting out what you are not. But wait till  tabloids banner news of  philandering celebrities if it appeals to them. Not even a snout even if one sired three quarters of a hundred progeny. It is a requirement though when your estrogen level outweighs your testosterone: the public expects a revelation party anytime soon or else you're rewarded public flogging if the delay takes forever.

On the other hand, I have only sympathy for KC for her heartbreak, but cashing in on her vulnerabilities on national television did not help her cause either. She wins outright sympathy for her 'underdog' narratives: a prize accorded to the oppressed helped by compassion-induced tears and occasional daffy demeanor. She could be easily perceived as a classy intelligent woman who could have risen above her circumstances. But  what I see in the interview is a desperate woman, who unconsciously falls into a trap of a cunning and manipulative interviewer by urging her on to wash her dirty laundry in public, albeit the subtle way. People have different opinions on the matter, though  Piolo  obviously is at a disadvantage. My take on this is, when a woman announces that a man is incapable of giving the very basic needs of a woman, what comes to mind of every forthright sane individual is only one thing - sex. As though she wants to keep a little decency for herself, the public was made to make a wild guess that even kindergartens have staked their claims to the prize. 

The public loves this kind of drama: a macho hunk outed from his closet by his woman - the culprit being his inability to satisfy her. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming public sympathy for her is not due to her being sex-deprived but because he cheated her for another man. This is the kind of drama most people would love not to ignore. With time, the moral landscape of any given society has greatly evolved,  and this contributes to people readily accepting premarital sex as a norm that is widely acceptable. Ordinary people look up to showbiz personalities as their models and this is what society gets: premarital sex that sometimes leads to abortion, nursing mothers barely out of puberty, and poor illiterate kids doomed to fail in life even before they reach their life's potential.

The Mo - Rhian predicament:
This is a classic sad tale involving the butcher of a fetus. It is horrible that an innocent child gets a death sentence for being a threat to its mother's blossoming career.  She is on top of her game and getting pregnant is never an option. Then she did the unthinkable. The father of the child seems genuinely disturbed by his conscience for playing the role of reluctant accomplice, and so the confession video surfaces. In here, there's no dearth of moral vanguards who are quick to label the culprit as evil and permanent inhabitant of a place that overflows with sulfur and brimstone. Unfortunately for the culprits, the stench of their deeds will not be  contained for eternity just as they would have wished it to be, until truth finds its own way out.

Putting up a brave face and singing her heart out on a Sunday show while consciously aware of the world bashing her in unison, elicited applause for her brand of bravery; either way people did cringe at the sheer lack of compunction. Sometimes people  tend to be irrational and unforgiving yet living off on another's predicament for a fodder. They always crave for gossips that tickle their ears, often feasting on other people's predicament. Indeed there's no free ride to fame, for you pay what you owe and reap what you sow - and that's part of the deal.

Still people wonder how does she cope with her new-found fame after the turmoil. In showbiz, everything revolves around money and fame, yes even for a wrong reason, so she has not much to weep for, as long as she has what it takes. Of course, people close to her and those who are cashing in on her image have plenty of encouraging words to offer. She's a total package and a face to die for, so seeing her career fade anytime soon is not what seers have predicted. But would that be enough to appease her conscience?

Personal Thoughts:
It's a pity that very few people find the solution to their agony because money, pleasure and reputation are what they value the most. They forgot that there is something of greater value that lasts for eternity compared to the temporal things that only last for a time and then vanish quickly. People are so blinded by fame and fortune that they believe these are the only things that matter. It's sad to know how people can be so clueless that we have a just and righteous God to whom we will give account of ourselves for everything that we have done. He is such a loving God that despite all our filthiness and stench of our deeds reaching Him, still He loves us and is able to forgive us. The Bible clearly says that we all have sinned and come short of His glory and there is none righteous, not even one. That is such a sad state of every human being that we ought not to condemn others for the speck in their eyes for there is only one righteous God who judges us. He only wants us to humble ourselves and repent and turn back from our sins and accept His offer of salvation  through His son Jesus.

All man's possessions such as money, fame, power and good reputation will not last forever. Jesus clearly warns us that, "for what profit is it for a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?" People need Jesus because what He can offer is much more of greater value than all the riches of this world combined. But what makes people reject Him is the life of sin that they cannot repudiate. Yet His grace is abundant and people find it if they seek it, but not until when it's too late. If only people experience the peace that surpasses all understanding, and that can only be found through Jesus who readily gives it to those who will call out to Him.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hillary Clinton: A Conversation In Manila

An interesting video featuring US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton billed as "A Conversation In Manila", a town hall meeting-inspired public forum that also featured a wide array of bloggers and student journalists from all over the Philippines. From the description of the Clinton entourage itself, the forum is  described as 'groundbreaking' for its youth-oriented social media component, breaking away from the formalities of many of the globe-trotting Clinton's public events. Speaking of 'youth-oriented', Winnie Monsod and Mel Tiangco - famous celebrities in their own right, did not hesitate to make their presence felt in the audience to see to it that Clinton did not lack not-so-young admirers.

Questions for Secretary Clinton were fielded via YouScoop, Twitter, Facebook, Skype and SMS. Members of the young audience were also given time to field their questions. Among those distinguished personalities from the  audience were actress Heart Evangelista and fellow celebrities Isabel Daza and Maxene Magalona who were both lucky to have fielded their questions to Clinton. Vicky Morales and Howie Severino served as moderators while Ramon Bautista (the lesser illustrious namesake of the one who sired 75 children) made sure an audience participation became lively.

The forum largely went smoothly apart from one notable distraction courtesy of Marjohara Tucay, the editor-in-chief of the 'The Philippine Collegian' who interrupted Clinton in between discussions and held up a banner protesting the VFA thing. Despite his show of rudeness (he could have conveyed his concerns in a rather refined manner and shined given the nature of the forum), the audience instead responded in crisp laughter as Clinton repeatedly addressed him as a she. Well, Mrs. Clinton did not mean to be rude judging on the high-pitched soprano scream of Tucay that started to reverberate inside the hall before he was being led away while still frothing in anger. Hmm, not a really nice stunt to pull off for a future journalist who should have demonstrated some measure of civility without being rude and dissenting.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Let Her Go And Wish Her Well!

"You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well" - Lewis B. Smedes

After the much controversial Pacquiao victory over Marquez that led many Mexicans to launch a global defacement of the Filipino image that stemmed from their own son's supposed 'stolen victory', the Latinos in a fit of rage, are in no mood to put the battle behind them within the confines of the ring. The rage is so palpable that the Filipino race is branded by them as numero uno when it comes to 'stealing victory in the ring', a catchphrase born in the Sin City immediately after the fight. 

And what else this outrage spared to feast on but a Philippine former president's ability to steal an election? Seemed  a little off to me because sport and politics do not share the same DNA except if an athlete is a multimillionaire boxer who happens to be a congressman, in which case a massive exodus of his colleagues to watch his fight had turned the Congress ghostly and desolate for days or weeks. Yes, we read it right, the Mexicans proved they read and monitor us as much as we flinch at the murders by drug cartels in theirs. So, let's assume  they are aware that we have a tiny former president who stole the election and was today barred from traveling on suspicion she is plotting a future fugitive stunt.

I admit, just like any other citizen, sympathy for the Arroyos is hard to come by. Most people are convinced that what has befallen them is 'karma' to that effect. Even before she stepped out of the palace, she had been mired into countless corruption scandals that made her a favorite for citizen bullies in social media, understandably myself included. Not only she did enrich herself and her family while in power but also most people believe she indirectly ordained into power the family of beasts in Maguindanao that massacred 58 innocent civilians including 34 journalists - the bestial murders seen as the product from special favors accorded to the criminals as quid pro quo for ensuring she and her party win a clean slate in the elections.

Now the tables have been turned on her and her family. In what others call as 'divine retribution', the seemingly inexplicable wealth of the Arroyos proves of little help to what fate has brought upon them. Over the past few months, the former president had been diagnosed with hypoparathyroidism, something to that effect (well, God knows as to the extent of her illness - ordinary people seemed not to care much less dig how to pronounce it). Her team insists that the country has no capacity to cure the severity of this disease, perhaps due to lack  of specialists available or lousy credentials if there's any. (Her fear could be attributed to lack of specializations in the country apart from the prolific ObGyne, as evidenced by meteoric birth rates espoused by her administration's fondness for Roman Catholics 'pro-life' stance.) Well, that might be a safer assumption on their part, for what used to be a not-so-special disease became ultra-complicated one - thanks to a naruto-like robotic structure that adorns her neck - hoping the whole nation simultaneously cries a river out of pity.

Blame it on Arroyo's zero credibility, the Pnoy administration distances itself from a perceived 'pity trap' the Arroyos might be contriving for a smooth escape. Despite pleadings to be allowed exit for medical help abroad, the DOJ has put the entire family on a Watch List Order, convinced that they are only acting up using the former president's 'illness' as a ploy to run from the grip of the law. There are however local physicians of the same specialization, who assert that her illness does not seem too gravely ill as they would want it look like to be. Over the week, there were reports that she and her family had sought political asylum in Dominican Republic, which were later disproved by its ambassador. This allegation even fueled the Justice Department's suspicion that the former first family and some of its cohorts, are keen to escape arrests as they see no substantial deterrent for their imminent jail terms.

Surely, it's not over yet till the fat lady sings. The last hurrah still belongs to our protagonists in their bid to laugh their way out of Alcatraz. The Supreme Court by a majority decision has today granted a TRO allowing the first family to travel abroad. Being a co-equal entity to the executive branch, the SC is independent of its ruling thus it calls for implementation in which case beneficial to the Arroyos. What transpired next is a saga of historical proportion. Buoyed by a favorable SC ruling, our protagonists did not waste time and trooped to  NAIA in pompous show of 'victory for human rights'. The spectacle covered by media had the nation in a stand still equating to that of Pacquiao's pummeling at the hands of Marquez. But this time the stage has been set eliciting cheers - not for a hero who's falling behind in a scorecard but  cheers and jeers combo for an escaping former leader who either needs genuine medical help abroad or just keen to write an initial episode of her 'the fugitive story', only God knows. 

As the cliche goes, "all is well that ends well". Unfortunately for the Arroyos it did not bode well with what they expected. What had transpired at the airport in what is supposed to be their swan song, turned into a historic humiliation not befitting a living former president. It was shockingly odd to see an ailing former president denied entry at the airport despite an SC ruling, affirming her right to travel and get medical help abroad. The DOJ's order barring them exit has been put in place and remains a status quo, according to the Justice chief Leila de Lima. And that is what prevailed to the dismay of the Arroyos and the apex court that granted the TRO. The president and his entourage was left with no choice but to go back to a local hospital.

Contrary to the majority's consensus in social media praising airport officials and mocking the former president and her family, I do not see it a worthy reason for Filipinos to celebrate and be proud of. Yes, justice should take its course, but I believe the former president is no less of a human to be accorded disrespect and treated as evil, even when she looks to be in a contrite state, and for God's sake she looks very sick! Having said that, I for one agree that she be allowed exit so that she could seek medical help. That is the way forward - to exercise right judgment and act like humans beings. She may be corrupt as most of us believe, but that does not give us the right to judge her heart and hate her to the point that we join in unison praising the administration for not allowing her to seek treatment abroad.

Sometimes we can completely understand the ways and thoughts of man - his desire to seek justice and see the transgressor punished, but God's ways and thoughts are beyond our comprehension. He is a God that despises evil and corrupt leaders, the rich and powerful who takes advantage of the poor and vulnerable. His judgment is righteousness and His standard is holiness that  nothing, as in nothing in this world escapes His eyes. But just the same, God loves both the sinner and the righteous but He hates sin.  

The very recent Arab Spring that unfolded before our eyes showed us how God's handiwork had been manifested for all the world to see. Ben Ali of Tunisia, Mubarak of Egypt and Gadhafi of Libya - all these men created their own world of make-believe, thinking that the world is under their feet. Plundering their nation by billions of dollars, marginalizing the poor and oppressing and murdering those who pose to challenge their authorities - all because of greed that they ceased to think and act like normal human beings - mortal and far less invincible. For when man thinks his power and wealth render him untouchable, suddenly destruction comes because arrogance has usurped his heart.

Ben Ali is in Jeddah in a comatose state. His gold bullions that filled his basement room in his former palace did not help him. Neither did he profit from the billions of cash he hid in his room. One of his poor contrymen immolated himself because of desperation to give his family a decent meal. Majority of his people struggle to make do with less than two dollars a day. Thousand others drown in the Mediterranean - men, women and children, in their desperation to  sail to Europe to escape the scourge of poverty. Mubarak of Egypt did just the same - he reigned nearly three decades in wanton opulence while his people suffer before he is seen in a cage while undergoing trial. And volumes had been said and written about Gadhafi - all the world had witnessed how this tyrant had fallen and died like a rat in a most humiliating way.

These once great people as they used to believe they were had seen their reigns ended. Their families cut off from civil society branded to be criminals bereft of the dignity that the poorest of the poor has. Gadhafi not only abundantly reaped what he sowed - his fake locks pulled from his scalp, his face spat at, kicked and hit with a rifle while begging for his life, as the gory details circulated for the world to feast on - a grand slam reward for a tyrant before he saw death. The book of Ecclesiastes assuredly says, "there is a time for everything and a season for everything", and that speaks a lot of God's own timeline.

Now, who says God is oblivious to the cries and pleadings of the oppressed? Everything is laid bare before His eyes and surely His justice will come swiftly without delay. As for the transgressors, the murderers and the greedy, and to us all who think we are a lesser sinner than any of those we despise - God still extends His forgiveness if we repent and turn back from our transgressions. He loves even the greatest of sinners among us, for all have sinned and come short of His glory. He loves all mankind without condition - yes, even the most wicked; He is just waiting for us for it is His desire that no one should perish but everyone should come to repentance. Is it not amazing and comforting that His love is no respecter of who we are as long as we come to Him? Yes, even GMA included! So, have we stopped condemning her yet and let God have His way?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Even Here He Thrives

"In Him was life, and that life was the light of men." - John 1:4

For some reason, stories of people heads chopped off because they carry Bibles or caught keeping one already caused little hysteria in my psyche even before I ventured to Saudi Arabia. Fiction or otherwise, I was in no mood to put myself at risk and the thought of my family wailing over a sewn reattached head to a familiar body scares me to the hilt.

For a first-timer in a country where other religions are not encouraged except theirs, I had a hard time deciding whether to toss off my old and new NIV Bible from my bag or simply let others pick it up from the airport lounge to be a forgotten article by some disoriented traveler. The agency people were keen to warn us that no offensive articles be found in our luggage, or we risk imprisonment upon arrival. Thankfully, there was an inconspicuously small mail station in  the vicinity where I dropped off my Bible to the surprise of my family when it reached them.

Being an expatriate in Saudi Arabia, you don't necessarily fear going about with your normal life as long as you obey the rules and laws of the country. Of course, there are bad elements on the loose preying on unsuspecting expatriates who most often than not, are too terrified to call the police and end up hapless victims because they do not know their rights, or in most cases choose not to bother asserting them.

Speaking of obedience to rules and laws however, is a struggle to a bunch of people who cannot be perfectly law-abiding , but nonetheless are peaceful-loving (practice of other religions apart from Islam is not allowed here). These are the Bible-believing Christians who find ways to keep their faith burning, even amidst persecution and arrests of believers, who are only gathered albeit secretly, to worship God. The biggest irony of them all, the one tasked to arrest Christians worshiping in secret is a state-sanctioned moral police aptly called the Commission for the Promotion of Virtues and Prevention of Vice (still I'm less than halfway through an agonizing journey of equating gambling or prostitution to worshiping one's Creator).

Since the inception of globalization and mainly due to the king's open-mindedness, efforts to clamp down on Christian worshipers have dramatically subsided. (Of course, Christian gatherings are kept painfully discreet that no one suspects from outside that some living beings do exist inside and too scared to sneeze. If that's what the government decrees, it is being complied dutifully and fearfully with so much trembling). Or I must admit we are a little blessed because in this part of the kingdom, the mutawwas  are less passionate in their mandate to punish  disbelievers, unlike in Riyadh and other parts of the kingdom where they are relentless in their bid to cut off those who they term as enemies of Islam.

It sounds ridiculous, but owing to the threat of getting incarcerated, or perhaps it is best that you choose people whom to trust, in my long years of stay in Saudi Arabia no one has dared invite me to a Bible study. Funny, I don't see it strange if people find my countenance as someone who tends to run to the mutawwas for a tip off. While there are a hosts of issues or concerns to talk about related to life as an expatriate, getting comfortable to talk about one's faith even with a colleague, is a struggle.

Who would have thought that a former colleague whom I only get to see  occasionally could be an instrument for this new journey I take? Okay, this time I give some credit to the advent of social media, Facebook in particular, where people feel free to express anything under the sun, and yes even their faith sans the glare and threat from the claws of another kind. It's been three months now since I responded to a Facebook invite and I'm enjoying every bit of it -- the fellowship of the believers and the worship of the living God, even in uncharted territory. By the way, Romans 8:31 assures us that "if God is for us who can be against us?"

Twenty four years ago, a young OFW started a small Bible study group consisting of only two attendees including himself, acting as jack-of-all-trades being the  pastor, worship leader and all. Armed with a well-concealed Bible and a bike to get to homes of other members, and of course with the bravado of a Spirit-filled person, the once tiny group became a big congregation that multiplied into several sectors spread out in different parts of the city. Twenty four years of God's faithfulness and souls are being harvested for His kingdom.

The great commission is being fulfilled in the four corners of the earth, for God's plan of salvation for all does not change. No authorities, powers and dominions will prosper against God's divine plan, for it is written, "Whoever listens to Me will have security, he will be saved and no reason to be afraid." - (Proverbs 1:33)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Blog Action Day 2011: Famine Claims Thousands As Tons Of Food Wasted

"Statistics tells of an ominous:  the day will come when many would fight for a single grain, rich and poor alike, the dispensation when money is a non-factor." 

When a tourist or an expatriate worker for the first time lands in any Saudi city, chances are the conspicuous Arabian culture pretty much does not go unnoticed. Tall minarets dotting skylines and at some point juxtaposed with a skyscraper, bustling traditional souks and ubiquitous modern malls greet you with explicit Arabian hospitality. From the unmistakable traditional garb worn by men to his unique driving style (left foot nestled on the dashboard while behind the steering wheel is a common sight in major roads), one can easily make out and understand local customs and behavior. Sea of black-clad shoppers can be seen raiding the malls at night is another peculiarity unique to Saudi women. 

While a lot of positive things come out long in the list, speaking of Saudi uniqueness however, entails a variety of opposing qualities. Let me stick then to the obvious. If one happens to be in Jeddah, one thing that won't escape your eyes is the all-gleaming blue occupant in every street corner that hosts substantial feline population. These poor creatures can be seen fighting one another for a lump of wrapped yellow rice and ribs loosely hanging on the edge of  blue dumpsters. These wasted foods dumped by people come from the excess on their tables. You cringe knowing that thousands of people die in Somalia due to starvation, and here you see foods being abused and disrespected. Some foods they throw are still fresh and look very much edible.

Coming from the word itself of one Saudi mother, she admits that Saudis in general live in a culture of excess, and food is no exception.  Saudis have penchant for holding feasts especially during summer holidays when weddings are preferably held. Along with the massive feasts also come tons of leftover food that they simply dump. People show less concern for the hungry ones around them that wasting food has been ingrained in their culture.

The month of Ramadan is no exception. Okay, everybody knows every able-bodied Muslim adult fast from dawn till dusk (well, they see to it they are pretty well-stuffed before the break of dawn so that feeling hungry during the day does not make sense). Fasting is imperative so as not to 'lose' reward from god. Even most of my colleagues are too terrified a drop of water touches their lips or they risk losing their reward (hence talking with them closer is not advised). The zeal is there to perfect the daily ritual of shunning food and water, but wait till they get to the table when the loudspeaker signals time to break their fast. You don't believe your eyes how   leftovers could still feed a handful and yet  fly straight to the garbage.

Ramadan 2010 actual data: 
* In Dubai, 1,850 tons of food on average are thrown out daily - mostly from large banquets and top-end venues like 5-star hotels. The rich and famous in the emirate demand lavish food served in hotels at Iftar, after which all excess go straight to the garbage as per hotel policy.
* In neighboring Abu Dhabi, 500 tons of food on average are dumped daily. It is not clear whether attempts by various NGOs to raise awareness on food wastage have been successful.
* In Saudi Arabia, no figure or estimate is available due to some press censorship. Anything that comes out unfavorably for the country's image is an outright 'lie'. But consider this: the very media outlet that screams of massive food wastages over in Dubai and Abu Dhabi is a Saudi daily, yet it carries no figure or estimate of the same from its very own.
* Saudi Arabia has one of the highest obesity rates in the world. Local health experts readily blame the culture of over-eating especially in Ramadan, that some even die of high-blood pressure and other related illnesses triggered by eating oily and fatty foods.

Emphasis on Ramadan:  Traditionally, families prepare sumptuous meals and gather for Iftar (breaking the fast) and Suhoor (meal before dawn). As a festival of giving and sharing, Ramadan is centered around on providing bountiful meals so that increased food purchasing is witnessed during the month, making way for more wastage. At mealtime, the habit of piling food on to the plate (in most cases, hunger breeds gluttony), contributes to massive food wastage. Cooking too much food to reward oneself for enduring a day's fast is also an unbeatable habit by many in Ramadan. Anticipating guests to join  Iftar meals also drives them to cook more, to which extent excess food has no more room in the fridge, thus food is wasted.

Putting into perspective, facts laid down are simply comprehensive.  The glaring display of extravagance on food and the resulting food wastages by rich countries is beyond anyone's comprehension, yet across a narrow strip called the Red Sea, piles of dead bodies are strewn everywhere due to famine. Aid organizations do exist in the Gulf region, but they are yet to make an impact proportionate to the region's food wastages. Efforts have been made to minimize food wastages, but without the cooperation of the people, these blah blahs could well turn out to be some vexing advert of epic proportion.

Global impact: Food waste is a real concern of global proportion. Many food products can be classified as biodegradable, but its non-consumption means that precious resources used in its cultivation and production are wasted, such as energy, water and material used for its packing. Carbon emissions resulting from the food's transportation, storage and disposal are also big contributors to climate change.

While thousands die of hunger in many parts of the world, food waste is deemed a serious global issue. Studies indicate that not all rich countries have a hand on this global phenomenon (as this issue is more culture-based). This global concern however is a source of national shame for those countries whose people act irresponsibly, without regard for those dying because of hunger. It is not their fault, yes, but the attitude certainly does show utter defiance to human conscience, that human beings are inclined to show respect and compassion to their kind.

Today marks this year's Blog Action Day and coincides with the celebration of  World Food Day. Apparently, food scarcity is the single most pressing issue that affects many nations on earth. The Horn of Africa for example, is beset with famine due to a prolonged drought that results to hundreds, if not thousands of death every single day. On the other hand, just less than an hour- flight across, rich nations like the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia traditionally compete with each other as to which one gets the crown of having the most number of tons of food wastage on summer holidays and in Ramadan. If tradition is to take the blame, I hope people start to act like humans and practice humanity for the sake of their kind, albeit inferior to their eyes.

If nation or nations preach peace to be their way of life because that is what their religion teaches, then let it practice what it preaches. Let it start by being peaceful with nature - to show respect for all the blessings  nature has given them, and show compassion to those who lack in life. The media and the academe in those  countries should spearhead educational campaign and rally the support of its national and local leaders, thereby gaining a foothold on gradually changing the mindset and practice of its people that are proven irrelevant in the fast-shrinking globalization. Statistics tells of an ominous:  time will come when many would fight for a single grain, rich and poor alike, the dispensation when money is a non-factor - the one  foretold in the Bible as the coming  Awful Horror. Let's hope that everyone stakes his claim to the greater cause of preserving nature, so that food and other necessities in life do not vanish in haste, when climate change has the final say in man's destiny.

I am proud to take part in Blog Action Day Oct 16, 2011

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Masskara Festival: Reliving Its Spirit And Grandeur

"It's's alright! No matter what adversity, Bacolod fights on!" - (Masskara Streetdancing lyrics)

To a Negrense at home or abroad, if there is one thing to be proud of or get excited about, it is the annual Masskara Festival celebration that takes place in the month of October in the city of Bacolod. The celebration is  world-renowned  for its unusually three-week long merrymaking activities marked by street dance and float parade, and the participants' ostentatiously colorful costumes which is proven to be the most popular tourist attraction.

Growing up in the Northern part of the province, I actually did not know the history behind the Masskara Festival. In fact, I could even better relate when I first set foot in Manila as friends would call me "Batang Negros" - maybe because of my skinny frame and sun-drenched color that could qualify me for a cousin of Aborigines. Little did I know that the sobering label for Negrenses as "Batang Negros" (a poster kid  portrayed in media as emaciated and hungry holding an empty bowl), was one of the reasons Masskara Festival came into being.

Let's talk a bit of history here. Negros Occidental was once called the "Sugar Bowl of Asia" and was reputed to be one of the most progressive provinces in the Philippines. If my elementary history serves me right,  it used to be the only province in the country with 5 chartered cities and one highly urbanized city that time. In fact, even its capital Bacolod still maintains its moniker as "Billionaires City" as some prominent sugar barons and highly successful businessmen in the Philippines live in the city.

Those glory days however were put to a real test and in fact the province succumbed to gloomy times in late 70s through early 80s. This was due to the price of sugar  in the world market pegged at an all-time low, compounded by America's sudden preference for  sugar substitutes like high fructose corn syrup that reduced the demand. And that consequently sealed the fate of the sugar industry in the province. Subsequently, people from all walks of life fell on hard times as  it is the lifeblood of the province. On 22nd of April 1980, an inter-island vessel Don Juan  owned by Negros Navigation collided with the tanker Tacloban City and sank. Over 700 lives were lost in that tragedy including prominent families in the province. Those were days of gloom when you almost see a lot of people  in mourning.

In the midst of these tragic events, local artists and leaders decided to hold a "festival of smiles" to showcase the unique Negrenses' brand of resilience and fortitude, in light of the devastating gloom that overtook them.  This was also symbolic of every Negrense's declaration of keeping his spirit aloft amid every adversarial situation. Thus it gave birth to the concept of smiling mask  identifiable to the Negrense spirit, and so the Masskara Festival was born.

One feature of Masskara Festival that is a knockout draw for tourists is the street dance competition, where elaborately colorful costumes worn by participants are a feast to the eye to match with the smiling masks that complete the pageantry. Some say it is the Philippine's answer to  the world-renowned Rio Carnival, for its gaiety and spectacular display of skills by the dancers to Latin beats that usually accompany the dance. There were twists however as this year's organizers decided that the music to be used in the street dance should be original, hence a battle for originality.

The street dance competition alone is scattered in as many days as possible to accommodate all participating groups which are divided into different categories:  barangays, schools and commercial establishments. The Masskara Dance Showdown is another separate competition held at the city's public plaza and is usually the highlight of the festival. Apart from these attractions, the crowning of Masskara Queen is also a proven blockbuster every year for it is a brain and beauty battle among universities and colleges in Bacolod.

This year's theme "Celebrating the New Icons of Bacolod", points out how far the city has gone in terms of its progress. Many notable supermalls and world-class hotels have sprung up in the city including business centers and BPO hubs that provide jobs to locals.  In fact, the city owns the title of "I.T. and BPO capital" of Western Visayas  with the presence of 8 major call centers. It also ranks 3rd, next to Metro Manila and Cebu in the top 10 Next-Wave Cities due to its upbeat economy and its being an ideal investment center. The city is also a Hall of Fame awardee for being the cleanest and greenest highly urbanized city in the country. And the new pride of Bacolod - its government city center which is widely regarded as the most beautiful in the country, so that speaks a lot in terms of achievements for the city.

Bacolod's charm as a tourist destination is known to be boundless, not only because of its unique brand of merrymaking that keeps tourists on coming back. Other equally fascinating attractions such as food, pasalubong items and mementos are cool enough to be ignored. Those who want to pamper themselves with  celestial gastronomic experience, the unique tradition that is chicken inasal of Bacolod is one to die for. Owing to its own success, this great cuisine uniquely endemic to Bacolod has also given birth to its own Inasal Festival - when the city is virtually conquered by chicken inasal fanatics.

Indeed the Masskara experience is something to be looked forward to - the revelry, the gaiety and the sea of smiling faces that is uniquely Negrense. To them, it is their way of celebration and expression of thanks for whatever life brings them, be it blessings or otherwise, the Negrense spirit is held aloft through the test of time.

MassKara 2011 Official AVP from Daryl Jimenea on Vimeo.

***Masskara is coined from two words: Mass, which means "many" or "multitude" and Kara, a Spanish word for "face", thus Masskara is a multitude of smiling faces.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Its Value Greater Than Apple's: Steve Jobs Should Have Known It By Now

"No one wants to die; even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there." - Steve Jobs

He was a true icon of this generation. A creative genius, a visionary. A Cinderella man whose legacy will be remembered forever.  A real pop star in every sense of the word. When Steve Jobs died, Apple's website announced that the world has lost an amazing human being. He had touched lives and essentially changed the world. A tsunami of praises heaped on him after his death doesn't seem to fade just yet. But if in his deathbed he still could not overcome his fear, then one can say, he was a scared man till he breathed his last.

Make no mistake, 'though I do not own an Ipad or an Iphone (I chose not to), I am a big fan of Jobs. I have read a lot about him - how his genius and innovation simply made life for people on this planet easier. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, given his monumental success was once a pundits' object of ridicule when he could not pull off a Job's charisma and spontaneity at a product launch. Even for brilliant techies and contemporaries, Jobs is someone who's being looked up to.

"What a waste to have lost such a genius at still a young age," others rationalize in deep resentment. Many fans just can't come to terms with the loss. Some complain that how in the world his billions could not save him from death. Others resent why a pancreas could not just be rendered redundant in this genetic age. It is unbelievable how people get so caught up with the things of temporal value that they forget there is one thing that lasts for eternity. Death for some is a hard fact to swallow,  but sadly the tentacles of death taunting us is a terrifying reality one cannot just look over.

Even atheists at some point entertain the thoughts that what if indeed God exists. Certainly, we cannot lie to ourselves that death is a big hoax because at some point in our lives we have witnessed death happening - in the family, our closest friends, or even our beloved pets. We even hear those who have lost their loved ones saying, "we will soon be together in the after-life". Why so? One thing we can conclude though - they believe that there is life after death, and that they believe there is a place where people who died will see and join their loved ones.

Most of us feel doubtful about the things beyond us such as death, but the Bible is straightforward in its truth  saying "For it is appointed unto man once to die and after this the judgment." (Hebrews 9:27) Death is certain as we all agree, but where do we go after we die? Maybe we take the form of mist-like Casper and hang around in creeps yet with good intention? Or is it the perfect time to turn the tables on those vain fellows who had once made our lives miserable? Even our imaginations would sometimes take us to where we would choose to be - to some fairy tale realm, or us going through the process of reincarnating into a bird, a penguin or a dinosaur - yet none of this sort of things will ever come true. 

The Bible is very clear about death and judgment. But how one can avoid judgment? Let us remember that God is a loving god and that He loves the world so much that He gave His one and only  Son Jesus so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16). Therefore if one does not believe in Jesus there is a possibility that he will not have eternal life. And God speaks of those who do not believe that they are perishing into eternal damnation which is the lake of fire. But still God desires that everyone  could get saved, and come to the knowledge of truth. (1Tim. 2:3,4)

Why is it important for humans to obtain salvation? God is holy and no sinner could get to heaven. But the Bible says we are all sinners, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3;23). "For there is none righteous, no, not one. (Romans 3:10) And if we all have sinned, what then do we deserve? The Bible answers, " For the wages of sin is death but God's gift is eternal life through Christ Jesus." (Romans 6:23)

But what about our good works? Don't they count as much? What about giving alms to the poor, giving money to the church, sponsoring a poor child's education, or giving a piece of hamburger to a beggar while your friend takes a photo of your generosity? Of course they are commendable. But God says, "we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteous acts are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). "For it is by grace that you have been saved, not by your works so that no man should boast (Ephesians 2: 8,9).

No matter how  many different roads we prefer to take for us to get to heaven, the Bible says there is only one way and that is through Jesus (John 14:6). But sadly, a lot of people prefer to take their own way only to fail when they get to the end. Not even Oprah, with all her wealth and influence could accept that there is only one Way and that is Jesus. The Bible says, it is Jesus who paid for our sins through His death on the cross. He took the punishment for our sins. Instead of us getting  nailed on the cross for our sins, he took our place and made himself a sacrifice for us, so that anyone who believes in him will be saved.

God is love. That's true. That's why people refuse to come to terms that a loving God could put His creatures in hell, and that creates a heck of an argument. Yes, God is love that's why he sent Jesus His son to die for our sins, but let's not forget that God is also a righteous God. He cannot accept us sinners because He is holy that's why we are eternally separated from Him because of our sinful nature. But there is good news here. Jesus had bridged that gap between a holy God and a sinful man, so that all can get to heaven. And not only that, God himself calls us His own children if we accept Jesus into our lives because He is the one who sent Him (John 1:12), (John 12:44-50).

Yes, it is difficult to talk about death because it follows that you talk heaven and hell as well. Most people prefer to talk about the good things that a dead man had done when he was still alive. However, it is very sad to note that the tributes, the praises heaped on the dead cannot be appreciated by him because he had no awareness of what's happening on earth after he dies. A believer in Jesus after his last breath is taken to heaven while a person who dies without Jesus in his life goes to hell immediately, and this is the plain truth. (Matthew 25:46), (Matthew 13:41,50) The Bible is precise about the two destinations of man after he dies. The bad news is, there is no such thing as purgatory for those who have 'slightly' sinned. Clearly, salvation is by choice and not by destiny. Man has been given free will and intellect to decide. It's only two things. Whether we accept Jesus who died for our sins, or we reject Him and continue with our sinful deeds.

For us Steve Jobs' fans, I have here a thing to get excited about. If he had accepted the Lord Jesus Christ before he died, then we have something to rejoice for. He must be rejoicing in heaven now and have met the One who gifted him with enormous talent that impacted the world. But there's another to get sad about - if he died without Jesus in his life, he must be in a place of terrible torment now. To a rich and powerful person, it takes a great deal of humility before one recognizes that he is a sinner and that he needs Jesus. I hope Steve Jobs did just like that.  For you wouldn't wish for anyone to go to hell, not even Hitler or Bin Laden, for it is a really really terrible place of torment. For a person who has been blessed to have known the truth, I wish that everybody should come to the knowledge of truth, and accept that Jesus is the only way for us to get to the place where everybody dreams to belong, for it is what God desires for us all. In Revelation 3:20, Jesus says, "Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and open the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me."

I am not a fan of this guy posting his thoughts on Steve Jobs' death, but what he had to say is something worth  pondering about.  You may also check out this blog by Daniel St. Pierre.

Friday, September 30, 2011

PEBA Conquers Al Laith!

"One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure." - William Feather

When quizzed where Al Laith can be found in Saudi Arabia, most expatriate workers especially Filipinos would pass for  the  next question convinced that some remnant from old civilization has finally been discovered from obscurity. Talking about obscurity, not too many information Google or Bing is able to dispense apart from a similar description that, yes, not a majority of Saudi residents both locals and expatriates know which part of the peninsula the town is located, and  its being a sleepy and dusty town 180 kilometers south of Jeddah.

Normally, going to places as quiet as Al Laith does not appeal to big city dwellers, hmm, unless you have suddenly developed a dislike for large shrimp and fish for which the town is known for. Compensating for the town's 'ghostly' attributes however, is the existence of the National Prawn Company - the pride of Al Laith and one of the largest prawn farms in the world. The sprawling company  alone, I heard, is a city within the city, and the invitation to visit the place couldn't come any better.

As planned originally, a group of PEBA bloggers from Jeddah along with TFC Mideast correspondent Charles Tabbu, will invade the place to witness and cover some sort of events I understand, that will take place Tuesday night under the auspices of NPC. If one wonders how did we get the invitation, well, the PEBA president Mr. Nereus Jethro Abad is one of the top managers at NPC and himself the program director of the said event. So there we go, with the media in tow, supposedly.

Always a formidable leader that he is and the most punctual too, PEBA founder Mr. Kenji Solis came at the meeting place the earliest, tagging along with him a protege and another potential talent in Mhel Mante, whose off day coincided with the trip. Pepe Cabrera and I just managed to skip from duties for this adventure. And along came Mr. Charles Tabbu in his best outfit,  sporting a bravado befitting a media man. But to some extent, the guy's entrance was far from being climactic. He had the trip cancelled the last hour because on the same night he flies to Riyadh on a company obligation. And who says we were disappointed?   Not at all, because it was not the end of the road for bloggers who wanted to be interviewed and get seen on TFC (thank Lord only those with Tagalog accent made the shortlist).

Not wanting to miss a perfect broadcast material, it didn't take long before Mr. Tabbu had the SACO parking lot converted into an instant workshop for broadcast journalism. Fifteen minutes later, the Jeddah bloggers were all but hesitant to banner their new-found profession as they  geared up for a shooting and interview mission . By then,  Mr. Tabbu was already stripped of his camera and other media paraphernalia, and oh yes,  his press ID has been turned over to some aspiring journalist too. It will be an understatement to say that our mission is nerve-wracking, not only because Mr. Tabbu wouldn't accept anything less than excellent, but because we were expected to be interviewing people in a broadcast quality setting. We didn't pretend anymore to have wanted to see him off to the airport because we wouldn't have much time left to rehearse our role to pull off our stunt convincingly. Indeed, to a novice, this was one heck of an assignment. 

If we could have dragged more with us, there was still room in the Nissan 4x4 that the NPC sent to fetch us, courtesy of Mr. Abad. Ibrahim the Sudanese driver jokingly warned us of everything Badu (Bedouin)  that would greet us there. He seemed to loosen up a bit understandably because the road is something else. We hit the road at around seven, though a little late. Just a tidbit how it's like negotiating a road to Al Laith (at nighttime) - the highway is a stretch of nothing but black, no sharp curves, except for ubiquitous road signs warning of "camels crossing", as though half of Saudi Arabia is inhabited by camels. If the driver ceased to be impressed by the lengthy drive, in which case hunger and/or sleepiness trumps virtue, the "distance to destination" road signs are as equally as ubiquitous to encourage him that the tape is  getting closer. The seemingly never ending stretch of excavation ironically helps motorists with its well-lit detour and arrow signs. 

Al Laith here we come! First off, it won't take much persuasion for one to agree that the adjectives appended to the place fit the scenery. If you're used to drive in Jeddah, you tend to obey traffic rules even in dead hour. But don't get terrified when upon entering the town, the traffic lights though working are constantly in red. There is no dereliction of duty insofar as traffic enforcers are concerned, in fact you'll find no one. It's just that the number of vehicles plying around town center are too scant to count let alone manage. Small roundabouts instead dot the street corners, perhaps their efficient way to manage traffic. 

During business hours most shops are conspicuously empty, save for a vendor or two. Seems like desolate lots forever await their tenants that never came. Most outlying streets don't  have streetlamps. I even joked that this similar setting is perfect dump site for salvage victims. And that's for some first impression folks. Wait till you hear first-hand accounts from Filipinos who swear to have loved their city. Truth be told, I didn't hear anyone of them complaining of homesickness, because the Filipino community especially at the NPC is a close-knit  family in itself, as shown in the level of camaraderie in the air.

At the venue, we heard that the program will be the closing ceremony of the Messengers of Peace and the Boy Scouts of Saudi Arabia Jamboree hosted by the town of Al Laith. But I'm not really sure as to my information, though I tried to grab one of the program brochures only to see it in full Arabic texts. The program was to be highlighted by a video and cultural presentation prepared by the Filipino talents of the NPC that sponsored the event. 

Even in Jeddah, I've never seen the over 400-year Philippine history portrayed in a single presentation. So that explains why a Rizal, a Lapu-Lapu and Marcos duplicates fight off for your attention at the dressing room. The distinctively Masskara outfits of Bacolod, the Ati-Atihan of Aklan,  the Tinikling and Igorot dancers were not to be denied of the spotlight if only for their creativity and colorful costumes.

Moments captured in sequential order:

History books say one of the earliest Philippine settlers are the Malays who drove out their Indonesian predecessors who earlier had the land's native black people or the Negritoes driven out to the mountains. To me, the settler with a spear dons a shoulder strap resembling a bullet cartridge, or perhaps it's time to brush up my history? Bad location and my grumbling midsection did not help my cause either.

Who doesn't know the story of Magellan and Lapu-Lapu in the battle of Mactan? These two guys try to overpower each other, although in the end the favored protagonist wins to the dismay of Magellan fans whose excellent swordplay is  no match to the muscular Cebuano. Got no idea if Magellan got the revenge backstage.

Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippine national hero in his most chinito version. The book he cuddles is enough for you not to mistake him for some Korean popstar our girls back home go gaga over.

Nope, they are not  Japanese soldiers aiming their rifles at the perceived 'traitors'. In fact they are Rizal's assassins and history says they are Spaniards. Too bad for Rizal, he fell flat to his back almost hitting the narrator.

Andres Bonifacio  is the face of the Katipunan. Though he was no threat to Rizal, yet his avid fans still pose a challenge to the latter's title. Manong acted out his role convincingly that sent chills up my spine. The Saudi audience also could be seen erupting in approval though you don't expect them to be googling what KKK really signifies.

It is a fact that Saudis are not Uncle Sam's biggest fans. Not until he takes center stage that drew immense cheers from the audience. The portrayal didn't come any better in an Obama-like swagger, neck arched high- an Obama signature, and yes the skin color complemented the trick. Just I got a little problem here, I thought FDR was the wartime president.

The face has some resemblance. The slightly over-sized barong did not matter as much. This is Ferdinand Marcos, arm poised to pull off a Hitler, I mean a Martial Law declaration, I guess. Yes, even without the table in his office and the dreaded 1081 in his hand, the Martial Law got declared. Later I learned Marcos is an Ilonggo. He  speaks just like me. 

The emergence of basketball as the most popular sport in the Philippines. These guys did a great job emulating Caloy Loyzaga's era when the country  once placed fifth at the Olympics. Except of course that when you play defence you don't smile a lot and trick the dribbler into glaring at your forehead when it emits some fierce light.

Arguably the most famous Filipino is Manny Pacquiao. Volumes have been said about this southpaw from Gensan, hence a real Filipino pride. He is immensely wealthy and famous. He graces magazine covers and rubs elbows with  Hollywood celebrities. Our protagonist above may be no match to the real Pacquiao, but he swears he will give the guy a run for his (Pacquiao's) money when they both belt out "Sometimes when we touch", of course diction is 50% of the criteria.

I'm still perplexed whether it's some sort of sticks made of rolled cardboard or real wood used in modern arnis. But what impresses me is their precision and grace. Even locals were transfixed at the spectacle. If one day they started to trade their sandals for an arnis in a fight, then we are convinced we left a legacy there. By the way, Mr. Abad how many off days you gave the guys to practice their stunt?

Can somebody tell me is this an Igorot tribe? I'm a little lost (read as dummy) when it comes to indigenous costumes. The dance though was gorgeous. The costumes rarely a staple in the nearest flea market, and that says a lot of the effort. I'm also convinced some moral police present had their orientation taken seriously, re some exposed skin/abs here are not to be taken either seriously .

A war dance. I thought the costumes and props were meticulously crafted, and that's where the audience's attention was drawn to. A tremendous amount of talent is what I see here. Making a shield and  cleaver duplicates ( I heard they're made of carton) could use up a week's time? The warrior prays that his cleaver doesn't break or he has a straw in his hair left for his arsenal.

This is what we call a Maglalatik dance, another hit to the audience. Latik in the southern part is always associated with coconut, hence the props. Our protagonists in yellow seem to be racing to outshine each other with each pulling off separate moves. Kuya in the center obviously is the leader/choreographer. "Please don't copy me", he says to the left. "Look I have made my bra into a choker!"

Another distinctly Filipino "Sayaw sa Bangko" or chair dance proved to be another showstopper.  I thought if Mang Pula is a lot heavier than Mang Azul, then there goes the show. This is the show's part when I prayed not one of them loses his balance and hits the floor. Overall the dance was fantastic as much as the skills  were superb.

Oh yes, this is almost the highlight. To say that the audience was mesmerized is simply an understatement. The skills, the steps, the beat, the synchronization all made up for a fodder for all eyes to get fixated to. That uniqueness I think gives Tinikling a more well-deserved status worthy to be called as national dance. 

The Ati-Atihan of Aklan is a festive and colorful street dance. It is almost as old as history. Ati refers to a person with black skin and kinky hair. Their features are more similar to the Aborigines and the locals of Papua New Guinea. They were thought to be the first inhabitants of Panay and Negros islands. Given the scant supply of charcoal in the KSA, our three protagonists had only their necks and faces painted black in a quasi dalmatian spoof minus the bark, but with a bite.

Move over Mardi Gras. The Masskara Festival is uniquely Negrense. Sounds familiar huh? I'd been watching this on the streets of Bacolod since I was a kid. Oh dear, it brings back a lot of memories. Thanks to these four guys who did justice well enough to the grandeur that is Masskara. Dazzling costumes, along with some abs, and oh yes some cleavage too can come in a package.

The entire cast appears onstage eliciting loud cheers from the audience. And who would not? The show did not disappoint. In fact I could have slipped through the rows and collected ten riyals from every one in attendance.

If there was one surreal and proudest moment we had, this was it - the Philippine National Anthem being played in front of a packed Saudi audience. I heard some choked up while the anthem is being played, I thought I was alone. I later heard myself from the video I recorded, belting out  as if I am in a trance. :-)

He is not kind of reciting some Boy Scout oath. This scout official demonstrates a profound respect to the Filipino flag while the Philippine National Anthem is being played. It was odd to see him the only one standing in the front row where dignitaries are seated. It took a while however, before others realized the faux pas and followed suit. Breach of protocol? No. It was a miscue for they heard the song for the first time other than theirs when Ittihad and Hilal lock horns in the pitch.

The dignitaries at the front row to their amazement at an all-Filipino male crew's ability  to put up with  lack of female counterparts, yet the moves still turn out to be graceful. If Saudis eventually decide to incorporate Hair Dance in their own all-male shows then we have a really big problem here. Blame it on some hip-swaying skills by the Filipino talents that drag some audience into confusion, but the talents certainly will not be denied of the rapturous response.

Hear ye, hear ye! This one could paint a thousand words! Might as well be entry material for this year's PEBA photo contest? Anyone?

Man of the Hour Pepe Cabrera steadies the lens as Engr. Ahmed Al Balla, Managing Director of the National prawn Company heaps his appreciation on Filipino talents and citing their great contribution to the company, in an interview.

Despite the unanimous hesitation to stay longer, we agreed to Mr. Khaled Al Aldali's invitation to experience their state-of-the-art digitarium, where we were basically treated to a barrage of shooting stars and celestial bodies that adorn the galaxy, live as shown from their own satellite. I don't know if I described it right. We were then ushered to  their own screening room (not quite inferior to that of Megamall's), and had a taste of 3D experience. That explains why we got dazed even more, this time starving stomach didn't take the blame.

PEBA people and Filipino managers at NPC pose with Mr. Khaled Al Aldali, NPC's Head of Corporate Social Responsibility. After the photo ops, the group headed straight to the restaurant where talents and volunteers had almost staged a rebellion in a fit of starvation. We feared Marcos, Magellan and Pacquiao could cause a melee as it was almost 12 midnight sans dinner.

The talents minus their costumes still manage to smile once confronted with a lens. This time PEBA founding chairman Mr. Kenji Solis initiated the trick that essentially calmed the starving souls down. Once served, 26 basins of kabsa got wolfed down mercilessly, with the sexy part (thighs) competing with chicken wings flying around oral cavities. I have to admit though, that was my best dinner in quite a while. 

Three and a half hours later we were safely back home. Thanks to our dear PEBA president Mr. Abad, for taking good care of us and credit also goes to Ibrahim who ferried us back to Jeddah safe and sound. My gratitude goes to God for His protection and provision, all the glory belongs to Him. Indeed, what an adventure it has been!

**pictures courtesy of Mhel Mante, the event's lensman whose stamina was truly unbelievable. Good job Mhel!

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Silay City, Negros Occidental, The Philippines

Some of the photos above courtesy of Arnaldo Arnáiz Díaz

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