Modernizing life in PHL

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 27, 2013 – 12:00am

Illustration by REY RIVERA

I like asking “what if” questions, especially do when I encounter inefficiency and old ways of doing things that fail to deliver what needs to be done. Yesterday, I saw on the news how businessmen had to go back and forth to a City Hall for five days to simply get a business permit for 2013. City Hall’s excuse is that they are undermanned. They can only process 1,500 permits a day when there are over 65,000 businesses in the city. Their solution is to extend the registration period. Hello? What is so complicated about adding more staff to accommodate everyone?

Having the privilege of living parttime in Sydney makes my impatience all the more intense when I hear such stories. I remember applying for a business permit in Australia that took all of about seven minutes, even when the guy on the desk cautioned that it would take some time. Little did I know he meant there would be a slight waiting period of a few minutes. I also love the fact that I can pay my bills, renew my car’s registration, declare my taxes, through the net or even through my cellphone.

I am a big fan of modernity and despite my dislike for China’s totalitarian ways, I admire how quickly they build infrastructure or introduce changes. At the same time, I find myself utterly dismayed at how a great democracy like the US can be bogged by internal fighting and let things go to rot.

Surely, there must be a way to make democracy work faster in this age of social connectivity. Surely, there must be a more accurate way to get consensus on opinions of people on issues, to speed up delivery of government services.

Here are my not-yet–too-well-thought out suggestions on how we can improve and enhance our present practice of democracy and governance in the Philippines. I have seen some of them work very well in other countries. Maybe a few people out there can figure out the nuts and bolts of how to do these.

1) Establish a way to get people’s reactions/opinions on issues of the day quickly and accurately.

How? By observing and following social media discussions. There are now over 30 million Filipinos on Facebook, and Twitter is not far behind. It is an informal but accurate way of knowing how people feel about issues and personalities. It is cyber-democratic.

We can also use surveys conducted by reputable organizations (verified and authorized) which can give government and all institutions a clear picture of how their constituents feel about the services they offer. I am not suggesting that survey results be necessarily followed all the time. They should not. But they can give indications about resistance to or approval of certain ideas. This way, legislators can quickly review proposed bills to accommodate these and re-craft them faster. And yes, surveys must be conducted constantly and more often.

China does this all the time and it gives the government an idea of how people feel. Its totalitarian government, for fear of being toppled quickly responds and defuses tension if they have to, even if often in the ways dictatorships do.

Imagine how this can serve a democratic government such as ours. Leaders can respond faster and in a more calibrated manner. It saves a lot of time debating, arguing and speculating whether people approve or disapprove, or will go or not go with proposals and measures. And this need not be used in just a reactive way. A leader can best analyze what he/she needs to do to convince people in supporting currently unpopular but important steps needed by the nation.

2) Promote solar energy nationwide.

In Australia, the solar panels you see on rooftops of homes produce electricity that are fed back to the main grid. The power your house generates is in turn bought by the electric company and is deducted from your own consumption of electricity.

By adopting this here, we will be doing three good things. Firstly, potentially every home and building can be a producer of electricity. Think of how much power we can all generate in this mostly sunny country that can be put to productive use. Secondly, we will prevent the release of a lot of carbon emissions, and thus avoid pollution because we will not be burning fossil fuels to produce electricity. Thirdly, in the medium and long term, consumers will be saving a lot of money.

3) Most if not all citizen-government transactions involving payments for licenses, renewals, taxes, copies of documents, etc. must be made possible online.

Throw in the payment of utilities bills, too. We will all be amazed at how quickly these simple but necessary transactions can be done. It will save time, human energy, gasoline and a lot of other inefficiencies. Most importantly, since it will largely eliminate the need for physical presence, it will surely reduce a lot of bribery and corruption.

4) We must finally and properly segregate and rationalize garbage disposal and collection.

This can be done if every home is provided with two government standard garbage bins. One will be for the disposal of recyclables such as paper, cartons, tin cans, bottles, etc. The other will be for perishables such as kitchen stuff (leftovers, rotting food, e.g.), cut grass and plants and general trash.

It is important that garbage bins are standardized for two reasons: first, it makes collection and disposal easier for the city. Second, homes will learn to produce less garbage since only those in the officially issued bins will be picked up and collected. In Australia, perishable garbage is collected weekly. The recyclables on the other hand are gathered every fortnight. They are not mixed since two separate trucks collect them. Much of the recyclables end up in recycling plants.

5) Lastly, vehicles over, say, seven years old should have roadworthiness certification before being allowed to register.

In Australia, the way this works is, any car over three years old must be inspected by a certified mechanic who will attest that all signal lights, brakes, etc. are all working properly. If the mechanic is ever investigated and found to have made a less-than-accurate report, he loses his license and is fined heavily. The owner of the car will be fined heavily too and the car will not be deemed fit for the road.

This way, no truck or vehicle driver can claim to have “lost his brakes,” which is the usual reason given during accidents. Vehicle owner, driver and mechanic will be accountable. This alone will prevent a lot of mayhem on the road.

And while we are at it, let’s have stringent drunk driving laws and give very heavy penalties for violators.

It’s time we look at democracy and governance like software. They need to be constantly upgraded in this ever fast moving and complex societies we live in. You can’t govern with an MS Dos system or platform when the citizenry already run their lives on OS 10+.

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So you got a new DSLR during the holidays. Start taking great pix right away. Enroll now. My first photography workshop for 2013 happens this Feb. 9, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Bulb Studios, 2231 Pasong Tamo Street, Molave Compound. Cost is P3,920 (VAT inclusive).

If you live in Singapore, I will have a photo workshop there on Feb 23. Call +6582336595 and look for Earla regarding details and reservation.

For information, call 0916-855-4303 or e-mail jpfotojim@gmail.

A great, exciting time to be Filipino

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 20, 2013 – 12:00am

Illustration by REY RIVERA

I’ve been feeling very upbeat about a lot of things lately, especially about the Philippines. The past three years of P-Noy’s administration have given me encouragement about many things that are largely positive. You dear readers already know that I have been a supporter of Noynoy Aquino from day one of his campaign and up to now. But let me explain why my level of optimism surprises even myself.

When I supported candidate Noynoy it was primarily for three reasons. The first one was, I knew then as I know now that he was/is one honest guy. I knew in my heart that he would not steal from the Filipino people and would not tolerate corruption. He is, after all, the son of Cory Aquino and Ninoy Aquino who both sacrificed a lot for this country. His personal background, especially what his family has gone through, surely would have an impact on his decisions and his behavior as a public official. I told myself then that even if we hardly progress in other ways, at least the level of corruption would be reduced if he became president. I would not be voting another plunderer into office. Honesty was a non-negotiable. I had simple expectations.

During the campaign, I did not feel he sounded exceptionally brilliant, or as intelligent or charismatic as some of the other candidates. He was not a great orator. But he seemed to project himself differently. I detected real empathy, a sense of compassion. And he was comfortable among ordinary people in a way that did not seem put-on at all. He spoke Filipino with great fluency and depth. He had a folksy demeanor that appealed to the poor, which was not toxic, unlike the way Erap’s appeal seemed to me. Wishfully, I hoped that in Noynoy, we might even have a new leader in the template of Magsaysay. That was my second reason.

My third reason for supporting him was that all the other candidates seemed too timid in committing to certain issues like reproductive health, justice, anti-corruption, especially about the filing of cases against GMA, et al. They all sounded like politicians, like the usual trapo candidates who were playing it too safe. I felt that Noynoy had the courage to speak his mind even if it meant angering the Church and the established powers. He could stand his ground. I told myself that at least I knew what promises he would make and I could take him up on them if he did not live up to his commitments.

And by the way things have been going the past three years, it seems P-Noy is bent on keeping most, if not every, promise he uttered in the campaign. And even more.

For too long, we have been listening to ourselves rant and complain about how nonexistent reforms were and how timid our leaders have been in delivering even minute needed changes. Any talk of meaningful change always ended in a resigned sigh and a conclusion that change would probably not be coming soon, not in our lifetime.

P-Noy’s first year, which started with the banning of “wang-wang,” was good and popular but it seemed too early to say what the government could possibly achieve that would be a real game-changer. Could he really deliver on the big items? And though a few good things were happening early on, I kept reminding myself that one, two or even three swallows certainly do not make a summer.

But real changes seem to be truly happening now.

I am amazed at the pace of good things that are transpiring on many fronts. Almost every week now, we read news reports through local and foreign media that puts the Philippines in a good light.

Good news was something so rare before. And in the few times it did happen then, we would readily dismiss it as a fluke. We had a deep pessimism, a cynical inertia that lingered like a weather disturbance, which refused to leave. We were a broken people who did not believe in our leaders, and in ourselves. It seemed easier to just be cynical so as not to be further disappointed than we already were.

But now, there is a palpable optimism in the air and it is contagious. There is just so much good news about a lot of things. We feel the pride when we hear that the Philippines is finally being considered a real destination for tourism and investments in a big way. Lately, the New York Times placed us among the top 20 places to visit, even ahead of Paris and Bangkok. A European magazine dubbed Boracay as the best destination in the world. The tourists are really coming. Our stock market continues to amaze and surprise the world and more importantly ourselves. Our GDP growth is the second highest in the region next only to China. Our credit rating has gone up 11 times, and we are just one notch short of full investment grade. One way or another, all this has to surely trickle down economically by way of jobs, and more people will hopefully feel the blessings soon.

There also is now a greater seriousness and commitment among our legislators to tackle controversial items like the RH and sin tax bills that have recently become law. These were ignored in the past or conveniently passed on from Congress to Congress because weaker leaders were wary of a possible backlash from the Church and losing political capital. But yes, this Congress finally did it! I am even confident we will get the Freedom of Information bill enacted into law.

The wheels of justice could still use more speed. Even so, many were impressed that we were actually able to go though a proper process of impeachment that toppled a less-than-honest chief justice. This should hopefully redound to a more credible SC. There are also many pending cases now filed against big, used-to-be untouchable people.

And who can forget the truly historic moment that saw the MILF and the government signing an agreement for lasting peace and development in Mindanao. This seemed like just a pipe dream not too long ago. But now, the chance for real peace and progress is more real than ever.

There is definitely a momentum of change happening now. And seeing how the President’s high numbers are holding up, one can conclude that there is an enthusiastic constituency cheering him on and supporting him. And with the help of social media, an even greater number of people are now expressing themselves on issues and showing that they care about what’s happening to our country.

As a people, we are experiencing that it is possible to demand both honesty and competence from our leaders. We elected P-Noy who is surprisingly turning out to possess both qualities. It is only right that we now demand the same virtues from all our other officials.

In an election year, this is something we the citizenry must seriously think about, and it should certainly guide the way we vote. Too many times, we have elected crooks, liars and generally dishonest, self-serving politicians who not only continue to insult our intelligence and our sense of decency, but have also managed to get themselves reelected again and again!

These people are clearly throwbacks who now belong to the dustbin of our dysfunctional past. They are officials who were/are on the wrong side of every important issue that needs to be tackled to move our nation forward. They have no place in a country that is enjoying a newly discovered confidence and a desire to finally progress. It is time we make sure they do not ever return to office.

We still have many huge problems to be sure. It will take more than one administration to solve them. But in place of the usual cynicism that keeps us from moving, we are enjoying a wave of optimism. We are on the move. We are on the runway for a takeoff to greatness. I know many have already awakened to an inspired sense of who we really are and the possibilities of what we can be.

It is a great, exciting time to be Filipino.

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So you got a new DSLR during the holidays. Start taking great pix right away. Enroll now. My first Photography Workshop for 2013 happens this Feb. 9, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. at 2231 Pasong Tamo Street, Molave Compound. Cost is P3,920 (VAT inclusive).

For information, call 0916-855-4303 or e-mail jpfotojim@gmail.

Just this, just now, just today

Just this, just now, just today
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 13, 2013 – 12:00am

Years ago, I was able to go to Nepal and found the country to be very exotic. To me, one of the amazing encounters I had was with what the Nepalese call or regard as the Kumari Devi.

The Kumari Devi is a pre-pubescent girl who is regarded as a living goddess and, as tradition has it, is not just the manifestation of Vishnu but has the sole power to declare legitimacy to the King’s reign. This was the time before the monarch was abolished. She was/is regarded as divine. And to see her countenance, one had to offer sacrifice or money and put it inside a bowl in the courtyard before calling out her name. It was up to her whether she felt like responding by looking out of her big window on the second floor, or not. To my complete delight, it was only my voice that she liked to respond to among many who would call out her name that day. Twice she gave a fleeting appearance by the window when I called her. I felt blessed.

Every Sunday, I feel like the Kumari Devi who makes an appearance but in my case, it is through my column. Like her, I wish to surprise, delight, or engage those who wait for my article. But unlike her, my appearance is clearly scheduled and this ends the comparison to the divine representation that she is. I do not have the luxury to refuse or to wait for the spirit to move me. My column must be ready for my readers.

I have kept my column going for a few years now, and I am amazed how I have continued this long even if I am mortified and intimidated just thinking how I am committed to submit at least one column every week for the foreseeable future. That makes 53 more articles just for this year. Whew! This alone could give me permanent writer’s block if I indulged in the thought even for just a few minutes.

Thankfully, I think that through the years, I have begun to finally master one thing that used to stand in the way of getting things done and being happy with myself. I am learning to deal with things one at a time. I have learned to remind myself to stay in the moment. “No thinking too far ahead. No to over-anticipating too many things,” I tell myself often.

In the past, I knew for sure, I could always get things done. I know myself to be reliable and am proud of it. I deliver as expected. And while I could do that, I could never guarantee to myself what shape I would be in by the time I got things done. Often I would be sleep-deprived, over-critical of my work, and too tired and spent.

During my early APO days, I remember how I would prepare myself for a big concert, and would practice to death and anticipate and worry over lyrics, harmonies, vocal quality, presence, audience reaction, flow of the program, repertoire, lights, sound and the other things that are part of a show. I was always super-vigilant and would make sure everything was going right. I often amazed myself at how much energy I had.

In the process though, I would often get so tired and exhausted that I would have a hard time getting into the groove of just simply enjoying myself, my group and the audience when we did the much-awaited concerts. Sometimes my voice would suffer. I would be hoarse on the day of the show due to over-rehearsing, and not doing things right due to lack of sleep. My concentration was on too many things. I was spread out too thinly.

As a result, even when the show was good, I could not relish and enjoy it that much since I was always too focused on what would/should come next. I often had the attitude of just wanting to finish the show and get it over with.

It took me quite a while to learn to relax, and just do my part while trusting all the other people in the production to do their jobs and let things flow and take care of themselves.

When I started to do Zen meditation, I was floored to discover the attitude of letting go and not clinging to results or expectations. It was such a radical thought to me. Sure, it was noble and professional to do one’s best and all that. But yes, it was equally important that I did not burn out, or continue a practice that was not physically, emotionally, psychologically or even artistically sustainable, and enjoyable. And the only way to do things was to be simply present in whatever I was doing. Just this. Just now. Just today. “THIS (whatever I was engaged in) is all there is. THIS is what matters now,” I used to tell myself.

The present was the only thing that was real. The past and present were illusions that were draining my energies because I obsessed needlessly about them. During those days, I felt that even my originality and my enjoyment were crammed in a box. Because I was coming from the past, or fixated on results, I was stuck on how things used to be done. I could not allow myself to have space to be moved by the inspiration coming from the present.

When my father-in-law was dying of cancer, we saw him suffering and it was painful for all of us. He was waiting to die and every day that came and went that saw him still alive made things harder for him. To me, he was over-anticipating dying. He was dying to die.

A few times, I would sit down with him and try to engage him in the moment. Subtly and naturally, I would try to lead him to “just this, just now, just today.” We talked about how he was feeling right now without worrying about the pain that would come tomorrow. I felt I often succeeded in making him aware of the present. We would just talk and be engaged in the moment. No yesterdays. No tomorrows. Just today. It was so simple and uncomplicated. And yes, it was liberating.

I noticed that he would often calm down and even lighten up. We talked about my grandchild Ananda since she always delighted him. We also talked about light and serious things, about who his nurse looked like to feeling God’s presence in the room especially in this moment of suffering. I felt there was much authenticity, truth, beauty and yes, compassion in those conversations.

“What could possibly be wrong with right now,” writer Eckart Tolle asked in his book, The Power of Now. His answer was “Nothing.” He pointed out that the only time the present becomes problematic is when we contaminate it with the past or the future.

I write all this down in the same spirit. What you read is my take on the moment. It is spirit, or the breeze blowing the jasmine of inspiration. One might say, for good or bad, that this is the “state of my writing” right now. I may be better some days and worse on other days. And I am cool with that. This is what it is. Just this. Just now. Just today.

Have a great now!

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So you got a new DSLR during the holidays, huh? Start taking great pics right away. Enroll now. My first Photography Workshop for 2013 happens this Feb. 9, at 1 to 6:30 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola heights, QC. Call 0916-8554303 to reserve or write to jpfotojim@gmail for all inquiries.

Navigating through 2013

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 6, 2013 – 12:00am

It is now 2013.

Quickly, I watched 2012 fading fast into becoming “yesterday” while watching the fabulous Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks show on TV. I could feel the euphoria in the air as I watched people partying, screaming with delight and applauding as this part of the world welcomed the New Year.

It is quite interesting how the world gets so excited about New Year’s Eve. It is probably because there is something fascinating about endings and the beginnings that follow it. We observe the hand of time doing magic tricks and we are mesmerized by it. We become one with humanity, acutely watching the turning of the earth on its axis while moving us all from darkness into a brand new dawn. We especially feel the spirit of time animating on New Year’s Eve even if the earth actually does this all the time.

Time is passing. It is doing so all the time. Time is like a limitless ocean continuously moving into the past as it flows through the present on its way to the future (which will someday be a present and a past). And calendars, clocks, birthdays, anniversaries like New Year’s Eve celebrations were created to try to box something eternal into something we can measure and talk about.

We are all bound by time. We enter into the field of time and live our lives in that field, enjoy our childhood, grow up and even die there. And throughout our lives, we measure time by the experiences we have while living a life.

There are many reasons why we need to observe the coming of a new year. If the past year was a bad one, we may feel relieved that it is finally over and we are now looking at a new one that will hopefully be better. If we had a good year, we project hope on the coming year to repeat or even surpass the previous one. While feeling all these, we moderate our expectations by believing in things like astrology and Chinese calendars. It’s almost like we fervently

On the first day of 2013, I told myself that this new time lease on life does not have to be a continuation of the previous year. I don’t have to bring all the baggage that slowed me down or made me less happy to this new year; 2013 can be something completely new, exciting, with hardly a trace of the past, especially those moments when I felt unhappy, useless and angry. The past is dead and gone and I don’t have to continue living it.

What a liberating thought!

A new life, a new sunrise happens every day. Philosopher Heraclitus said that we never cross the same river twice. The present is always new, and our circumstances are not static if we examine them close enough. But what makes us perceive them as not so new is an inertia about the past: we can’t let go.

Strangely, we cling even if we both curse and like the past at the same time. We curse it because we are stuck in its miseries and historicity and can’t seem to transcend them. We repeatedly relive old thoughts, old patterns, old ways of doing things even when we feel trapped in them.

But still we choose living in the past even when opportunities for change present themselves because there is comfort in the known. There is a reassurance in the familiar even if you know it can and often does hurt you. And so people stay stuck in toxic jobs, relationships, patterns of behavior that may not be good for them simply because it gives them at least a sense of the familiar. Very few like to stray away from their neighborhood. After all, who knows what dangers may lie beyond what you can see. Better the devil you know than the one you don’t know, as the saying goes.

Carl Jung wrote: “We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning. For what was great in the morning will be little in the evening. For what was true in the morning, in the evening will have become a lie.” I often think of this when I wake up at certain times in my life and realize I have outgrown certain things, feelings, truths, ideals and even people. Many of the things I used to like a lot, over time, have lost their charm and attraction. Some of the things that used to seem so important which awakened in me a sense of duty and purpose may at times recede in the background, and even stay there.

There is an element of appropriateness we must consider when it comes to asking ourselves what we must keep and hang on to and what we must let go of. There are things that are important early in life but are unimportant later on. To ignore or deny this can be dangerous, and/or at least make us appear silly, if not to ourselves, then to others. There is something toxic, ridiculous or incorrect in behaving out of place, in being in denial or acting out of sync with one’s age, stature or situation in life.

We already know that time is always moving and that circumstances can and most likely will change. And we too change all the time. The deeper we go into life, the greater the demands on us to have a fuller understanding of ourselves and the world. But mostly, the demand to understand ourselves is more important. Many times, we will be helpless in the face of life’s trials, tragedies and sorrows, but we can always fall back on solid ground if we know and accept our own capabilities and limitations with grace and ease.

It is in this context that I look at living out 2013, as I begin to sort out what I will throw away and what I will keep at this juncture in my life. The direction I wish to take is to immerse myself in new things and creative pursuits, explore new avenues of expression, keep fit, while I bring mankind into a higher, more compassionate state in my own little way. I may sound like a Miss Universe contestant but I do mean to embark in these directions. These may sound like generalities, but I am already breaking them down to practical doables. And yes, I also wish to have fun while doing them.

Life will always be complex but I will avoid being overwhelmed and immobilized. I will need more wisdom in knowing when to meet things head-on and when to bend, duck and detour to navigate the path. I will need to know what truly matters and what doesn’t.

We live in a physical, real world. But the maps and the buttons to navigate it reside in our internal world. Therefore, the cultivation of an internal life is important. This means I must also do a lot more reflecting, meditating to be adept at reading those maps and pressing the right buttons to navigate the 2013 and the rest of life.