The idealist’s quest

Philippine Star

Sunday Life

Sunday, August 31, 2008

To dream the impossible dream

To fight the unbeatable foe

To bear the unbearable sorrow

To run where the brave dare not go.

— The Impossible Dream, from the musical The Man From La Mancha by Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion

It’s been 25 years since Ninoy came home and was murdered on the tarmac. It is almost 50 years ago that a political party called Philippine Party for Progress ran in a national election and was clobbered. I still remember the people involved — the late Senators Raul Manglapus and Manny Manahan, a Gaston from Bacolod and a few other good men who vowed to clean up the government and make the country move forward. I remember PPP well since my mother and a few other people she knew believed in it and actively supported it. It was also one of the earliest disappointments in politics that I can recall.

We have seen others of this reformist mold run in other elections, Brother Eddie Villanueva being one of them. During the last senatorial race, we also heard from a group of people who called themselves Kapatiran and who, like their predecessors, did not even come close to being considered electable by much of the electorate.

The usual take of most people on such idealistic endeavors is that idealism is not enough. One needs the wherewithal to fight the rulers who fool the electorate with guns, goons and gold, which they also stole from the electorate. In other words, one needs the same things that the enemy has in order to win.

The other day, a relative was talking about a very prominent businessman who claimed to have no qualms — whatsoever — about doing what is needed to close a deal. The businessman, my relative said, was actually bragging about it. He is immensely successful and understandably so. He is driven and is not about to let something like an inner voice or a conscience stand in the way of his further accumulation of wealth, power and prestige, even if it means killing or hurting people in the process.

I find it hard to imagine myself in such a man’s shoes. Logic tells me that, yes, I can “understand” what drives him, and that there are such people and that these things do happen, but I cannot empathize with it. I can probably intellectualize the concept of being compassionate towards him because he is a sentient being, but the feeling part that is supposed to go with it does not easily follow. Perhaps I am not as enlightened as I should be.

My brother Gabby says the reason why we are the way we are is because we all carry our own unique moral DNA. Perhaps. I am, after all, the son of my father and mother.

I have always been a natural constituent of so-called idealistic causes. I can even say I can’t help it. Some causes, when you hear about them, just feel right and must be supported. I have given a lot of time and effort and spent many resources to advance causes like OPM, the environment, human rights, the restoration of democracy, clean elections, education, electing good people into office and the like. Last Sunday, though I was tempted to sleep late, I spent the morning judging a singing contest sponsored by Gawad Kalinga, a movement I believe in and support. In the evening, I spoke at a rally, also for GK. Somehow, doing what my inner voice dictates affirms something big and beautiful inside me.

I notice, though, that I do not always heed that inner voice. Sometimes I choose to ignore it because I am tired or burned out. Many of us, in the name of being realistic, live our lives being numb and indifferent, the better to avoid the pain of not following what seems to be right. And I see a massive denial or, at the very least, a compromising of our beliefs and ideals when we discuss national issues or are nearing an election.

How many of us have chosen not to vote for the candidates we really believed in because we thought they would not win? How many of us have voted for people we do not trust because we are being “practical?” How many of us have refused the call to mass action even if we knew it was the right thing to do? And how many of us have found fault in the Don Quixotes in our midst by imputing imagined evil motives on them, or jeering them for their futile efforts, and predicting that they will fail?

And sure enough, when enough people wish it, it does come true. And once again, our cynicism is affirmed. It’s as if we have lost the capacity to believe that the right thing has a fighting chance, or is worth fighting for. And yet, when we look at the enemies of what we really believe and stand for with all their resources, we ask in true amazement and fear, “How can they fail?”

At my age, I have set aside many things I used to believe in blindly, and have awakened to a less fairy-tale-like reality. No more Santa Clauses, for sure. But this reality that I have stumbled into is, thankfully, not a cynical one. It is a reality that still allows so-called miracles to pull the rug out from under evil and instill goodness in the real world.

I still believe that as human beings, we can fashion a sustainable way of life that will support everyone on the planet. I still believe in the innate goodness of people. As a Filipino, I believe we can rescind the ominous socio-political contract we find ourselves in and awaken to the greatness that we can be.

At this time in our national life when every institution — government, the military, the religious, showbiz, teachers, professionals and the elite — has lost credibility and cannot be fully trusted to do the right thing, what are we to do? Where can we turn to for guidance?

What we are going through is not exclusive to Filipinos. It is also occurring in many countries. In the United States, the once unthinkable idea of a black man making as much political headway as Barack Obama is already happening. Put yourself in Zimbabwe where a dictator like Robert Mugabe seems to hold all the cards and is bent on lording it over everyone. What is left of the opposition to use against him except the burning passion to institute the ideals of democracy, no matter the odds? Or take Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratically elected leader of Burma who has been imprisoned in her home by the military for most of the past decade. Idealism is all she has, and it may not seem like a lot.

But judging by how the dramatic turns of history have gone, her idealism may still prove to be enough to overturn the situation. David slew Goliath. The Berlin Wall, which no one could imagine would collapse during his or her lifetime, has vanished. Our EDSA I toppled 20 years of plunder and dictatorship. Japan and many other nations massively devastated by war picked have themselves up and attained their own greatness.

As 2010 nears, many of our countrymen will present themselves as leaders who promise to guide us towards the light at the end of the tunnel. Some will present tried and tested narratives to ingratiate themselves to the public and dazzle us with money and glitz while sidestepping the real issues. And there will be the others who will have the right programs and ideas but no funds, little exposure, a sparse following — and will still run on the steam of their own idealistic fire.

They will ask for our help. Is this another trap that idealists will fall into, or is this the true one that will save us? The cynics will again raise the issue of pragmatism. It is really up to us to choose collectively the reality we want.

In these desperate circumstances, it is time to put on our idealist’s armor and join those who dare to do what seems impossible… When there is no other recourse left, relying on our ideals may not only be necessary but may be just what we need to pull through.

Denial, acceptance, joy and change!


I (again) received an email from a friend asking me to verify whether I sent out an email about someone almost getting raped in Katipunan. I forget the full details now.  It was written in the first person. Apparently it has been going around for some three years now. When I typed my name one time in to find out which blogs carried some of my writings, I saw this same story in about 5 or 6 other blogs.

For the nth time, the letter did not originate from me. I got it from some classmate and when I passed it on, it all of a sudden carried me as the originator.  This is the final word. If you write me asking if I did write it, I will not answer the mail anymore.

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A waitress in Baguio, three stewardesses, one steward, a socialite, an ambassador’s wife, some nuns,  alumni and other people have let me know that they read my column at the Philippine Star every Sunday, or visit this blog. I’ve also been getting a lot of feedback on my two blogs about them. I am of course, thrilled no end!

I have also been playing judge at of essays written by Filipinos overseas. Every week, I assign a topic for them to write about. The first one was “my First Foreign Affair”. The second one was anything funny that has happened to them while overseas. This week, the topic is ‘my best foreign friend.’

It’s easy to join. Accepting entries now.  Just 1000 characters, and make it interesting, and of course, submit this on time. Sundays are the deadlines. Visit the site for more info.

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Am glued watching the Democratic Nomination Convention and i just love the way they utilize music to introduce the speakers. Michelle Obama was welcomed with Stevie Wonder’s ‘I was made to love her’ and she exited with “Isn’t she lovely’. Bill Clinton had  Fleetwood Mac’s  “Don’t stop thinking about tommorrow’, also his signature campaign song. Al Gore just came in walking to the podium as “Let the sunshine in’ played to cheering crowds.

Earlier, Stevie Wonder himself sang two songs! he is still among my favorite artists of all time! I can complain a lot about America but I so admire how its popular music has captured the hearts of people all over the world.

I really hope that Barrack wins the election. I can imagine the big disappointment that will descend on the young in America and the rest of the world if he doesnt. The old must give in to the new. The new world is being born. A black man is running for President. A woman almost made it. China is a new world power poised to be THE dominant power in a decade. India, Brazil, Argentina, and so many others are emerging as well.

The Republican Party is so yesterday! They still believe that Guantanamo, the war on Iraq were  good, that torture is OK. They were willing to close down the UN, and to act unilaterally far too many times. They brought America from surplus to debt. They brought the sub-prime crisis. They should be booted out.

Barack  meanwhile represents the future if America still wants to be a dominant player. He is certainly not perfect. But he is young, bright, and correct in so many issues. Even Bush is now negotiating a deadline on withdrawal with the Iraqis, talking to Iran, the very same ideas voiced out by Barack a year ago at the very  least and was ridiculed by the Republicans. And the best thing is he represents America’s avowed ideals of equality, and even competitiveness and has more people-oriented policies.

Meanwhile, the Philippines continues to marinate in mediocrity, corruption, inertia, deceptions and fear. Leaders of real change, if you are out there, please come out now! To the other politicians, stop your plans to run and make way for real changes. We need Big Changes, not the small change that’s  thrown back at us after you guys have stolen all the people’s money.

We are so looking forward to an end to the Gloria regime in 2010 and get our country REALLY moving!

Panahon! Magbago na! Sawang-sawa na ako sa lumang sistema!

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Imagine a REAL science museum in the Philippines! Just saw a video of what a first  class science museum being built in the Philippines will look like.  Click on this.

It will be amazing to see. I thank the visionaries behind this who from the looks of it seem to have invested good money for the  far-reaching goals of getting us Filipinos fascinated with science and encourage our curiosity!

Two thumbs up  guys!!

Necessary Suffering

Philippine Star

Sunday Life

Sunday, August 24, 2008

When I was a little boy, my elder brother Ducky, who is 14 years older than I, liked to tell me and my siblings interesting stories about dubious medieval “saints” and how they supposedly earned their esteemed titles during the early days of Christianity. According to Ducky, these so-called “saints” achieved sainthood through sheer physical suffering. Their lives weren’t anything like those of true martyrs who lived or died under hostile circumstances inflicted on them by the enemies of the faith. These were people who inflicted pain on themselves by way of, say, climbing a mountain on their knees, or subjecting their bodies to fire or other extreme physical tests and dedicating the pain they endured to God. Looking back, one might say their pain was totally self-inflicted and uncalled for.

In today’s world, they would be candidates for a TV show like Fear Factor. More than sainthood, they should get some recognition from Ripley for passing tests of extreme physical endurance. Some of them, I believe, have been taken off the A-list of saintly intercessors in heaven.

How could these people miss the whole point of authentic martyrdom by mistaking just any kind of suffering for the real thing? While one may argue that all suffering feels real, we need to differentiate authentic suffering from the needless ones. Real, authentic suffering is necessary. And this suffering that is undertaken and eventually embraced and endured, even if one did not accept it initially, is borne for a cause that is greater than oneself. Outside of that, most other suffering is probably the needless type.

Simply put, why go through pain when, by taking certain legitimate steps, you can avoid it, or put an end to it? Isn’t it a form of needless suffering to live through a headache you can very well take a pill for?

And yet, it happens to us all the time as individuals, families, communities, and even as whole nations and peoples. We bring needless suffering upon ourselves and others all the time. When we are too lazy to think things through, when we refuse to take the time to solve the easy problems in our lives, we end up adding needless complications. The simple planning of trips, for instance, will save us a lot of pain at the gas pump. The efficient allocation of the hours in a day will give us more time to spend with our loved ones. Or, being aware of our penchant for impulse spending will save us the pain of bankruptcy. With a little foresight and awareness, life can be free of needless suffering. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, theoretically at least, it is.

The trick is to know when we are setting ourselves up to suffer needlessly, and when we use our pain to make us bigger than what we know ourselves to be.

Let’s talk about real suffering that is thrown in our laps by the Gods — like cancer, or losing a job or seeing one’s home burn to the ground. I sometimes find myself clasping my hands close to my chest and feeling a lump in my throat as I watch, say, images of victims of war or crime or see people suffering due to plain bad luck.

I see in their situation real suffering that they must face. The other day, I saw on TV a woman leaving her small home in Lanao because of the recent MILF attacks. I was torn, watching her from the comfort of my bed, her face filled with anxiety. I felt guilty being so comfortable compared to her and how I was not even thinking of doing anything to alleviate her condition. Could it be said that hers was authentic suffering while my mine was a less noble one?

Nobody really likes to suffer. That is why more often we would choose needless suffering because we do not need to walk the whole nine yards. Unlike with authentic suffering, we can stop the pain anytime. And we do so through denial, or plain refusal to see the solution to the pain. And we do this quite ingeniously, like when we say we are powerless to do anything about the situation.

How do we deal with suffering that has been with us for some time? In the case of lingering emotional trauma from early childhood, often, we suffer more  (and needlessly) when we prolong the trauma by simply refusing to face it once and for all, much less talk about it. Or when forced to do so, we find a way out by saying we are over it, just to end the conversation. Worse, some of us say we have “lifted our problems up to the Lord,” thus closing the issue. I am not knocking those who try to sublimate their pain. Some of them may be sincere and really mean it. But I have seen myself and others do this and, honestly, I see a copout mechanism in place of honest confrontation.

But a lot actually happens when we do the heroic thing and embrace the pain. By this, I mean opening our eyes and looking at the extent of the damage that the suffering being forced upon us suggests, and eventually saying yes to it. We put a stop to resisting and accept fully the consequences of the tribulation thrown at us. This way, the pain becomes meaningful and a necessary ingredient for maturity. The suffering ceases to be  needless.

When we have reached such a place, we discover that the very suffering that repelled us has transformed itself into something like an elixir that makes us feel more alive. We’ve heard of  victorious tribes that eat the body parts of their enemies in the belief that they will gain the strength of their opponents.  Metaphorically, that is exactly what happens to us when we embrace the pain. As Joseph Campbell wrote, “The demon that you can swallow gives you its power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply.”

Facing our fears and going through necessary suffering awakens us to gifts we possess but which have remained hidden from us. The very power of fear that used to haunt us comes back to honor us by giving us its power. And because of that, life itself begins to feel different. Where once it used to be indifferent or even hostile and did not seem to care whether we live or die, it now feels like a friend who communicates with us intimately and affirms our rightful place in the world. It tells us to partake more of what life has in store.

We have heard it said many times that we must choose our battles carefully. This is wise counsel. It is equally important to choose one’s sufferings wisely. Necessary suffering makes us grow. Needless suffering stunts our growth.

Heating up, puffed up, recording and shooting nudes

Been living the fast life again of interviews, TV guestings, recordings, rehearsals and starting next week, throw in concertizing!

Yes, everything is starting up again and heating up—the promos, pictorials, the creating of new pieces, concepts, schticks. Things  are revving up and all raring to go towards September 20 when APO FINALLY does the Dome as the headline act. We’ve done Araneta Coliseum many times before but always as someone’s guest. This time it’s our own show completely!

I am quite excited. For the past two or more years, Danny, Boboy and I have been consistently amazed at the answer we get when we ask our audiences how many of them are watching us live  for the first time. Sometimes, as much as 60 percent say it is their first APO concert. A lot of those who answer are young people who probably discovered us after the bands gave us a tribute with the Kami Napo Muna  hit CDs.  This show will showcase what 39 years of  friendship and performing have brought us to. Visit for more info.

Meanwhile, here’s an interesting video of a Japanese fan whom Danny met. He loves karaoke and  really gets high doing  APO stuff. Enjoy!

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A few nights ago, I woke up in the middle of the night and s I ran my tongue on my lower lip, I noticed how thick my right lower lip was. For awhile I thought I had a stroke since I could sense the deformity on my right side. When I looked at the mirror, I was shocked to see the right side of my lip twice as big as the left. It was so puffed up. I must have  been bitten by something.

My mistake was to go on the net and look up the sympoms by typing  ‘lip swelling’ on google search. Immediately, I found links to leprosy and a host of other sicknesses that can really throw one off and leave you wide awake  at 3 AM.
Ha ha.

The next day I went to my doctor and after I narrated what happened, she advised me to not refer to the internet but to see her instead. It was probably an insect bite. I am hoping it was a spider, or an ant. Basta hindi ipis!! yech!!

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As I mentioned awhile ago, we are back in the recording studio. We are doing an album of pieces that we only do live in concert. These are rearangements of songs that have evolved away from how we initialy recorded them. We are also throwing in some new songs in the line-up. These pieces are great and to us, they are now the definitive versions of these songs more than the old original studio versions.

I love working with our musicians. On stage or in a studio atmosphere, they are simply tops! Their level of musicality and passion for excellence is unrivaled. And yes, they do it with joy! Watch out for this!

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On September 23, I will be having a Photo exhibit at the Renaissance Gallery in Megamall. My last exhibit entitled “A.W.E.” was three years ago before I left for Sydney and was quite successful. This upcoming one is entitled “Skin– a Black and White and Red exhibit by Jim Paredes”, and you guessed it, it’s a nude collection which I shot through the years.

I AM excited about it but will withhold further announcements till the date nears. Watch out for it!

The power of anger

Philippine Star

Sunday Life

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Last Sunday, entering an uncle’s house to greet him on his birthday, I landed in the middle of a “speech” by an old priest. He was there to say Mass but had volunteered to do the homily first since we were waiting for my aunt, who had just woken up, to join us. I found a quiet place beside my sister who had arrived earlier.

The priest was a crusty old guy whom I remember listening to as a young man when he gave a talk to my high school class about poverty and how we young Catholics should respond. Last Sunday, (some 40 years later), I realized that very little had changed. The priest talked of other things but mostly, he stressed the great disparity between the social classes in the Philippines and how callous the rich are towards the poor. He talked about how the wealthy among us can strut around with nary a care while people sleep in the streets or scrounge for food. Even if the theme was the same, there was a striking difference, and it was the tone and tenor of his speech.

This man did not mince his words, much less parse his message. He was an old, angry man. He talked disparagingly of the Church whom he accused of being unable and unwilling to challenge the flock because it has become too soft and accommodating. In his view, many of its leaders had compromised themselves by receiving “donations” from the government and from the business community in exchange for their silence on pressing issues.

As he went on to tackle a range of other things, it was striking to listen to him because he showed no fear nor hesitation as he called by name certain world and local leaders, labeling them as murderers for engaging in senseless wars, and/or stealing public funds which could otherwise have gone to food and welfare programs that could ease hunger and improve living conditions everywhere.

Here was an old man who has devoted most of his adult life to living with the poor and dedicating all his efforts to alleviating their living conditions. I imagine how he wakes up every day with a fire in his heart and zeal in his soul doing every big and small thing he can to make a difference. He belongs to a big organization — his priestly order, and an even bigger one —  the Catholic Church, which he must love dearly to be able to commit to, embark on, and keep his course steady in pursuit of his mission as he has done all these years. But at his late age, he realizes that they have failed him. And these days, he is frustrated, angry, even pointedly cutting as he lambastes his superiors.

I looked around the room and saw many of the older people listening quietly and, I imagined, somewhat passively. In contrast, I found myself nodding in agreement as he looked me in the eye. He was, to me, not a demagogue or a crazy idealist, but an angry man who had not surrendered or tempered what he feels his faith demands just because his superiors are not on his same intense wavelength. In my mind, I could hear Albert Camus’ exhortation to people who had a vision, a mission to accomplish which went against the grain of things: “Between you and the world, second the world.”

This crusty old priest is intent on not going gently into the night. He intends to rage, rage and rage further against the dying of the light so that his own breath will ignite what is left of the embers of compassion.

I thought of the emotion of anger and the power that it has over our internal and the external world. Anger can be a very uncomfortable feeling to have. When it hits you in a strong way, it feels like your very being is on fire and there is a great compulsion to spread this fire by expelling it and lashing at other people. Definitely, it calls you to action, to something drastic if it is to simmer down and disappear.

If an emotion like this can be powerful enough to move us out of our selves and act on the world, surely it must have some positive use even if it is unpleasant. For one thing, it is definitely a wake-up call. How? Because  it shakes us violently from the slumber of comfort to remind us that our world, our boundaries have been invaded and violated.

You wake up and realize that you’re just not going to take it anymore. You’ve had it. You will not sit quietly and continue to keep it all in. You will act!

The positive thing about healthy anger is that it tells you that you can’t continue to live life the way you’ve been living it. You realize how stupid you have been to be blind or unforgivingly tolerant of how others have treated, disappointed or hurt you and you will have no more of it. Something’s gotta give and it’s not gonna be you.

“Sobra na! Tama na! Palitan na!” Remember marching to EDSA then and feeling how your sense of decency, morality or expectations had been trampled upon? The millions who came all felt pretty much the same way, enough to take the time to march, shout and even risk their lives to express how much they wanted no more of the status quo and demanded change.

These days, one need not look very far to see how our sense of anger has been hijacked. No matter how shocking the revelations we hear about our officials, people hardly express themselves in a way that can constructively strike fear in the hearts of those who mock us. I would even go further and say that not only has our anger been hijacked, diverted or misdirected, we are using this anger against ourselves. There is an internal fire all right, but instead of directing the raging flames of wrath against the objects of our contempt — the corrupt, the brazenly calloused liars and thieves who rule over our lives, we have kept it all in to burn our own spirit so that the transformational power of our anger has turned into a consuming hopelessness.

“What’s the use?” I often hear people (including myself) say when asked  why we do not march in the streets or do anything against our situation.

A comic once said in jest that depression is anger without enthusiasm. How true, how true. Instead of outward action, our anger is kept in. This is the unhealthy way to deal with this powerful emotion. Our silence hurts us more than we know as it emboldens the enemies of our ideals to further violate the rules they swore to follow.

It is important to pay attention to what makes us angry even if just to remind ourselves that we have not lost our sense of outrage, or even our conscience. It is even better to act on it constructively.

How does one act constructively when angry?

There is a difference between acting on anger, and acting out our anger. The first is directed, pointed action that is thought-out and planned. The other is plain raging. Like a flame, acting on anger is like heat applied to metal to shape it into something we want. It is measured, purposeful and even constructive. Acting out is an uncontrolled conflagration. The priest I listened to last Sunday urges us to act on anger, do what needs to be done, regardless of how much or how little support is behind us. To not do anything is to allow oneself to be consumed by one’s own flames and turn this useful emotion into an enemy. 

Let us then, at the very least, properly acknowledge our anger. There is anger that needs to be acted on. But sometimes, all that is asked of us is to merely notice it even if in the end no action follows. At least we know we are feeling it, and not denying it.

As I said earlier, many of us avoid anger because of its unpleasantness. It is important to know ourselves, to discern when acting on our anger is not in our best interest at a given time, or whether it is a true friend expressing itself for our own good.

Apathy, indifference — now, those are the real enemies that kill our spirit and strengthen our tormentors.

A writing contest, body buffing and fresh graduates

Aug 9, ’08 4:06 AM
for everyone


Calling all bloggers, specially those who are based abroad. There is an essay writing contest at where we are asking anyone who likes to write to share their experiences. This contest will run for four weeks starting this August 11 where the first theme we are asking you to write about is, My First Foreign Romance. Keep it at 1,000 characters and make it interesting. Incidentally,  I will be the judge who wil choose who gets 3 hours free  prepaid cards which we will send to your loved ones over here in the Philippines.

C’mon. Everybody wants to read a good love story. Sali na! Visit for more details!

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I’ve gone back to the gym after a three year hiatus. I was suffering from a frozen shoulder when I stopped.  I still have a little pain now on my left arm  which is probably due to some other reason but I am ignoring that. The call of the sweaty gym and the heavy weights and the pumped up feeling I have missed for quite awhile have been too hard to resist. I am back now with a vengeance.

This discipline in turn is rewarding me by making me sleep well and feel good generally. I  was never athletic when I was in school. When I got to my thirties though, I started going to the gym, biking, etc.. I was so fanatical about biking I even had the whole set of funny gear–spandex biking shorts, shiny shirts with all the emblems, gloves, biking shoes that snapped you on the pedals, helmet, sunnies, etc. I even joined a Manila to Tagaytay marathon and was happy to finish on time. Personally, I think of that particular trek as some sort of watershed for me. It took a lot from me but I delivered and felt proud about it. I even had my certificate framed! I could take up biking again one of these days.

Light running is also cool. I love to hear the thud of my feet on the surface.To break the boredom, I count my breaths. I know that the first kilometer can be done in two hundred inhales-exhales thereabouts. I once did fifteen K non-stop. I know I counted my exhales but I can’t seem to remember now. 7K is about 2000 plus breaths if I remember it correctly. It’s not as simple as just multiplying 2000 by 2 to get to 14K since the rate of breathing gets  faster as you go though the kilometers.

I also love the feel of what they call ‘second wind’  where the body, instead of stopping due to tiredness can suddenly wake up and feel like it’s starting again after running a long stretch. You feel tired but all of a sudden, your body feels revived because it discovers and releases a fresh supply of energy. It’s a great feeling of lightness.  Second wind is not unlike the new energies I discovered when I started mid-lifing. All of a sudden, you have that spark to ignite and light up the rest of the journey as you feel the wind of change on your face.

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The 42nd run of TCU ended last night. We had great dinner after. It is always a good feeling after every run. I have a sense, a feeling of a temporary ending, a task finished, a passion indulged in, and a desire fulfilled,  and I always sleep deep and well after.

As of yesterday, people were calling me and asking when the next run would be. The truth is I don’t know. My schedule is becoming hectic once again and my days are accelerating to the speed of a crazy life. There’s the APO concert on the 20th of September, the promo schedule which means interviews, TV shows. There’s also rehearsals. APO is also rushing an album to be released soon after the concert before I fly back to Sydney. I will also have a photo exhibit at the Renaissance Gallery in Megamall by September 23. I still have a few pictures more to take.

If at all, the next TCU run may be November, but most likely next year  by February. To the new grads, congratulations. Go out and make your indelible mark on your own life and on the world! Life is a blank page. Create and write whatever you wish.

Of love and arranged marriages

Philippine Star

Sunday Life

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Traveling with the APO in 1987, onboard a flight from Jeddah to Riyadh, I found myself seated beside a Saudi woman who was traditionally dressed in an abaya and niqab, all covered up in a black veil. As a visitor to the Middle East, I had been informed about the taboo regarding the mingling of the sexes and was advised not to stare, take notice or even talk to women while in the Kingdom. When I saw this woman beside me, I wondered anxiously, while avoiding looking at her directly, why they even allowed women and men to sit side by side in an airplane. But when I noticed that other women also shared rows with men in the other sections of the plane, I felt more relaxed.

We were seated in the middle-row seats, she was to my left while on my right sat the bass player of the APO band. With nothing better to do, my band mate and I began speculating on what the Arabic writing imprinted on the back of the seat in front of us meant. We laughed as we tried to imagine different meanings. After a while, I sensed that the woman on my left was sitting really low in her chair so that her head was no longer visible from the seat at the back. I looked at her, and I noticed that she had opened her veil and what I saw was a beautiful young woman.

Apparently, she slouched in her seat so she would not be seen by the Saudis seated behind because she wanted to speak to us and help us figure out what the Arabic writing we were trying to decipher meant. She told us what it meant. I no longer remember what it said but it must have been a warning to “keep the tray table folded up during takeoff and landing,” or something to that effect.

As surprised as I was that she joined us in conversation, I was quite delighted that this young woman was trying to talk to foreigners in spite of the taboo on such an activity.

I introduced myself and she did the same. No handshake though. Her name was Ishrak. Our conversation was off to, at best, a tentative start, but as the flight progressed, she became more talkative. I imagined that she envied the Filipina stewardess with whom Boboy, my co-APO performer, was exchanging lively banter and laughter. I entertained the thought that she probably wished she could engage in the same kind of informality with the opposite sex. But the fact she was speaking to us at all was already quite a bold move, and I did nothing to discourage her.

She told us that she was coming home from France where she was a senior at Sorbonne University. She was going home because she received word that her father was ill. She explained that the call for her to go home was something she had expected and dreaded, not because her father was sick, but because she was already of legal age to be married off. Most likely, she said, the entire story of her father’s illness was just a ruse for her to come home and become betrothed to someone she had never met.

I was dumbfounded. I knew such things happened in this part of the world, but there was nothing like meeting someone firsthand who was actually getting into an arranged marriage. The reality of this woman’s situation jolted me. It shattered my sterile intellectual understanding as I was confronted with her real, in-your-face situation, however vicariously.

As I listened to her, I purposely held back all outward signs of empathy. I tried to show no shock or emotion, even as I tried to imagine how such a beautiful woman who was educated in France, where she probably soaked up a fair amount of liberal democratic thinking, could turn her back on all that to participate in a medieval practice that her culture demanded of her.

Clinically, I asked her how she felt about it. She said that she was resigned to her situation, which had been at the back of her mind for years now. It was the Saudi way, and for every Saudi woman, it was a part of life, and that’s how it was.

Prearranged marriage is still practiced in many parts of the world although it has been abandoned for the most part by Western societies. I have imagined many times how this actually works out even though the very thought of it leaves me aghast.

I have spoken to many Muslims, and the statistics seem to prove it. They say that their arranged marriages largely work out fine. There are far less divorces (seven percent) under such a setup than in Western countries, which now have divorce rates of something like 45 percent. Of course, one can argue that if women had more autonomy in Muslim societies, the divorce rate would most likely be much higher than what it presently is.

Nevertheless, what has left me speculating quite often is the meaning of “love” under such circumstances. What we know love to be under our liberal, democratic, largely Christian setup, is that it is freely given, and the bonds of marriage are jointly entered into with full knowledge and full consent. In fact, a marriage can be annulled if it can be proven that at least one party did not give his or her full consent, and was coerced somewhat by societal, parental or any kind of pressure.

It is important to remember that once in Western and church history when society was feudal and when priests, rabbis and religious leaders were not only religious but also temporal rulers who were so powerful, they pretty much arranged the marriages of most everyone. They decided who was good for whom. They were matchmakers, brokers, and every young maiden and young man of any social class mostly went along with their choices. Why? Because that’s how life was back then.

When you think about it, there was nothing romantic about marriage then. It was merely an institution that made sure there were unions that would guarantee the propagation of the species and to keep order in society, as even royalty was matched with other royalty for the consolidation of power.

I stumbled on a book by Ken Wilber years ago called A Brief History of Everything, where he says the onset of personal, romantic love as we know it only emerged sometime in the 11th century in Western civilization. What is meant by romantic love is the pursuit and cultivation of the natural attraction between two people, and in the context of the 11th century, it mostly meant love outside the reach of the marriage brokers. It was love between individuals, pretty much as we know it today. It was the pursuit of the glory of love fed by the natural attraction between the sexes. One can only imagine that, at that time, such a concept of love was highly subversive since it ignored the traditional power structures that governed over such human activities.

Historians say that the troubadours — the poets and musicians of the Middle Ages — discovered and propagated the art of writing love letters, love poetry, songs and expressed emotions that were daring and bold and yes, taboo. They spoke of the lofty ideal of pursuing love at all costs. It was a rebellion of sorts. Many of these love-struck artists were, in fact, killed by the establishment that felt threatened by this romantic movement. But surely, in the eyes of its promoters, to die for love is the highest virtue and glory.

It would be off the mark to think that “true love” as we know it did not exist before the troubadours came on the scene. Surely, it must have. And the same can be said in societies where the free pursuit of romantic love is not the norm. From our Western mindset, it is hard to imagine how love can exist outside the culture of freedom as we know it. How can a woman be married to someone without having gone through courtship? Shouldn’t people feel an attraction, at the very least, or better yet, be swept off their feet and overcome by the sweet expressions of love from the other?

A friend of mine who had a conversation with an old Hindu woman about the reality of love in an arranged marriage recalls being moved by her comment. She said, “In your society, you fall in love. In ours, we learn to love.”

What she said spoke volumes about commitment, patience and devotion — three things that Western romantic love likes to talk about and extol but are quickly discarded when the thrill is gone. Perhaps there are still some things we can learn from ways that seem antiquated, and yes, primitive.

Sometimes, I find myself returning to that stolen conversation on the plane and wonder what has happened to Ishrak, the beautiful and bold Saudi woman who spoke to us. Did she get married then, or was her father really sick? If she did marry under those circumstances, is she happy? I have no idea if she is happy but going by statistics, she is probably still married. That’s more than I can say for many people who “freely” chose their partners.




How to handle a hero

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The OFW  (overseas Filipino worker), who used to be known as OCW (overseas contract worker), is now an integral part of our national culture and consciousness — as Pinoy as pakbet and adobo. It is a cultural template that came to be primarily because our country could not — and still cannot — provide enough employment for its citizens. People have had to find jobs abroad to earn enough to clothe, feed and care for their constantly growing families that, to add to their problems, their faith discourages them from keeping small.

OFWs have been dubbed by the very system that created them as “heroes” for bringing home dollars that provide much needed economic benefits to their families and, consequently, to the system itself. And while they may in fact be a big factor why our country has not collapsed despite the culture of inertia, corruption and government mismanagement that plague it, OFWs are, in their own view, reluctant heroes, to be sure.

One, most of them really have no choice but to go abroad for lack of opportunities here. Two, many of them will abandon the “hero” label in a heartbeat if they can simply find some way to feed their families and stay in the Philippines at the same time. We know that they and their loved ones pay too high a price for the economic benefits they enjoy. And this includes being away from their loved ones and missing out as their family stories are written. They are absent from family pictures, albums, house blessings, graduations, births, birthdays, anniversaries and family reunions because ironically, they have to earn their money elsewhere to finance all this.

They have children who are fed and clothed but are orphaned of at least one parent. Their main consolation is, at least, the people they love are experiencing these wonderful economic benefits even if they cannot physically be part of it and enjoying with them.

I have met many OFWs during my travels abroad and even now that I live parttime in Sydney. I have observed that as much as they are the providers and the sustainers of life back home they, too, need care and sustenance which many of them hardly get. A lot of them complain about being trapped or doomed to being lonely and missing out on life just so their loved ones can have a better life.

This article is about the caring and encouragement these reluctant heroes, who up hold the sky up for our families and our society, need on their end. Here are a few things to keep in mind when relating to the fathers, mothers, kuyas, ates, uncles, aunts and other relatives who have left us temporarily to keep the rest of us alive.

1. Relate to them as people, not just as providers.

Many times, the relationship between OFWs and their families back home is sadly reduced to an almost solely economic one. A lot of OFWs complain that most of the time, they only hear from the beneficiaries of their hard-earned salaries when the roof needs fixing, the tuition needs paying, someone is sick, or a relative needs money. They feel like slaves trapped in a cycle of backbreaking work in order to grant their families’ wishes.

Although I live abroad, I’m what you may call an OFW in reverse. A big part of my family is in Sydney, and I come quite often to Manila to earn and pay for the house, schooling, food, electricity, etc. As an “Aussie W,” as Danny Javier likes to call me, I go through the same loneliness and deprivation that regular OFWs go through, although not as intensely and desperately. At least I am able to go back every few months and stay for a few weeks unlike the majority who go home only once every year or two and stay only for a couple of weeks.

2. Find more things to write or communicate to them about other than asking for money.

The main loss that OFWs feel is the deprivation of affection from their loved ones. It starts off as a physical loss which they and their families feel initially. After a while, when the dust has settled and the reality sets in that the relative will be gone for quite a while, indifference can creep in. Families can get used to their member being far away, leading to an alienation that can be most painful especially for the person who is away.

A soon-to-be-released documentary I watched a few days ago showed a group of Filipino teachers employed in the United States who felt a lot of frustration while doing video chats with their families. Apart from presenting a list of things they needed financed, many of their family members had little else to talk to them about.

Things changed dramatically when one of the teachers committed suicide due to sheer loneliness. After that, the family video chats became less of an asking or begging session, and more of a genuine exchange of love and caring. This is what OFWs miss the most. So make sure they are kept in the loop and abreast of what’s going on in everyone’s lives.

3. Constantly shower the OFW with gratitude.

There is nothing more gratifying than being appreciated for the sacrifices one makes. A simple, heartfelt “thank you” from a loved one can be profoundly uplifting to someone who is feeling the alienation and meaninglessness of living in some foreign place. It can give one a sense of purpose, direction and reward for a job well done. Gratitude can be a tonic that revitalizes the OFW to continue working under lonely, stressful conditions.

4. Don’t blame them for being away.

Many times, the pain OFWs feel can be a double whammy. Not only is it difficult to be away from their families, it hurts them even more when they are blamed for everything that is wrong with their relationships with their loved ones. Everything is dumped on their lap because they are not present to fix things. While their absence may very well be a factor in why certain things are wrong, e.g. why his son has taken to drugs, why the daughter failed in school or ran away, why the family was cheated of its savings, or whatever else can go wrong, it does not really help the situation to pin the accusation solely or needlessly on someone who is helpless at the moment because he is abroad and is therefore not in a position to fix things. 

Instead of blaming, families could attempt to engage one another, including the overseas member in a serious conversation about what together they can do about the situation.

5. Encourage them to get a life outside of work.

While the OFW may not really choose to live abroad but for necessity, it can be a great learning opportunity to learn a new language, understand a new culture, meet new friends and enrich one’s life overall. Many people on both sides of the fence, at home and abroad, mistakenly tend to view the situation largely as one of pure sacrifice with little joys to anticipate wherever one is.

That’s really too bad because being abroad can be a great learning experience in independence, creativity, culture, adjustment and discovery. I’ve been amazed at how some of our countrymen have built happy lives in remote, seemingly inhospitable cultures. It is wonderful how they can make something good out of a bad situation.

For families at home, it is OK to encourage the OFW to pursue personal growth and happiness. Some may worry that growth or embracing their situation can cause them to be estranged from their significant others back home. That can be a valid worry. While it is necessary to remind them to be anchored to the family, it is also important to slacken just a bit the chains or ties that bind.

6. Don’t forget to greet them on their birthdays, Christmas, New Year, Father’s Day, etc.

These special days may not seem as special or have the same urgency to the people at home, but believe me, to the one who left and is living in some alien place, to be forgotten on a special day is a pain that can induce overwhelming sadness. This is especially true when all the other Filipinos they work with receive greetings, gifts and calls from their loved ones back home.

7. Put aside some of the money the OFW sends home for a rainy day.

Many families who are beneficiaries of the OFW’s blood, sweat and tears have the attitude that daddy or mommy, kuya or ate will always provide. Thus they spend on trivial unimportant things and are caught flatfooted when the job contract is not renewed and the money runs out. They soon discover that all that sacrifice was for naught and they are all back where they started!

8. When they come home, make sure to be around for them and for events where the returning relative can experience the family life he or she has missed.

Many OFWs come home for that rare visit looking forward to family bonding, only to discover that the people he wants to spend time with are busy, or worse, not interested to be with him/her. They discover that they have become strangers to their families and only token greetings and affection are accorded them. They do not feel integrated, only accommodated. Their presence after a long absence may even be seen as disruptive to the household’s daily routine.

This can be a big disappointment and may even discourage the OFW from coming home as often. Losing a reason to come home is a tragedy that he and his family can ill afford.

The OFW phenomenon is here to stay. Thank God modern communication can somehow ease its alienating effects on families. But even as we learn to live with it, we should continually find ways to keep OFW families from becoming dysfunctional despite the absence of some of its members. The family is one of our nation’s stronger institutions, our joy and our treasure. We owe it to ourselves and our countrymen to keep it intact, even under the worst of circumstances.

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This is the last call for those wishing to attend the 42nd run of Tapping the Creative Universe Workshop. The next session runs Aug. 4 to 8 and concludes Aug. 11. It will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. Workshop cost is still P5,000. Please contact or call Ollie at 0916-8554303 or 426-5375 for any queries or for reservations. Visit for the syllabus, FAQ, testimonials and other details.