The long road to justice

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes Updated March 29, 2009 12:00 AM


The recent surfacing of explosive affidavits pertaining to the Dacer-Corbito murders years ago has once again riveted us. Are people telling the truth? What about the so-called existing counter-affidavits? Can justice really be served? Really, now.

As a people, we are hungry for justice. Why? Because historically, we have been unsuccessful in seeing justice played out. Thus, we continue to distrust our justice system. One result of this is, as a society, we have failed in defining categorically who our villains are. Aguinaldo, Marcos, the Filipino collaborators during the Japanese occupation, just to name a few, have gotten off largely scot-free for the crimes they committed against their countrymen. Sometimes, I wonder why we continue to ask people to be heroes when we cannot even call the villains as they are.

Today, I would like to open an unsavory can of worms and list down cases of “unsolved” crimes and what to me are cases of undelivered justice that have plagued us and continue to warp our sense of identity, history and what we really profess to believe in as a people. We can’t get past what we cannot acknowledge. It may require a truth commission similar to what South Africa had to do to confront their apartheid past for us to move on as a people.

If I had a magic wand and could compel historical figures, both dead and alive, to tell the truth, I would certainly do so to finally put to rest certain questions that have bogged us down as a people. Here are just some people I would like to get the truth out of:

1) Emilio Aguinaldo — Historians tell us that he ordered the killing of the Supremo Andres Bonifacio and his brother, but he never categorically admitted to it. I remember a story told by one of my older sisters. Her history class was on an excursion in the house of Aguinaldo in Cavite in the ‘50s. The general was already old but still quite sprightly. He was walking the students around his house showing them mementos and other historical stuff when one of the students asked out loud and in all innocence if it was true that he had Bonifacio killed. The host was clearly caught off-guard. Emilio Aguinaldo became quiet for a few seconds before he replied, quite evasively, “History will tell the truth.”

2) World War II collaborators — I am not talking here of the small-town traitors who snitched on the guerrillas since they probably got their comeuppance from their own neighbors. I am talking here of the big ones that society still whispers about — from President Jose B. Laurel to Ninoy Aquino’s father and many other politicians, including possibly some of my own relatives. I would like to ask them whether, in their heart of hearts, they actually believed they were serving the Filipino people by sleeping with the enemy, so to speak. I ask this seriously, and not just for historical but also for moral, spiritual clarity.

In other countries, like France, Italy and others, people — big and small — who did what they did were summarily shot or hanged and condemned forever in history books. There was no ambiguity about how to treat such people, and this probably redounded to something good in terms of how these countries look at themselves and their history.

3) The Marcoses — To this day, the Marcoses admit to no theft, abuse, torture, unlawful deaths or murders, or any violation of any law. They also offer no remorse or apology. The courts have not delivered any justice. We have a deep national debt to pay, wounds that refuse to heal and justice not served thanks largely to our courts and our penchant as a people for forgetting, and administering cheap forgiveness. While the Marcoses may have staged a comeback into our national life, and though some quarters give them some respect, they are still considered low-lives by a large sector of our population.

If we had moved quickly right after EDSA and delivered swift justice, things would have turned out differently. I think we would have had a better chance at honest governance in the administrations that followed.

4) Joseph “Erap” Estrada — He was the only president ever convicted of plunder. His trial ran for six years and he was convicted beyond reasonable doubt. And yet, even before the verdict was handed down, many people in government — and to my big disappointment Mar Roxas himself — were already preparing resolutions to pardon him. It’s as if we are uncomfortable when someone from the political elite, the upper class, is found guilty.

5) Plaza Miranda — Marcos claimed it was the communists who did it. Ninoy claimed it was Marcos who ordered it. Curiously, some former Communist Party members claim it was CPP chairman Joma Sison himself who ordered the attack that almost decimated the Liberal Party in 1971. The case has never been resolved but it is important to know who the real perpetrators are so that we can know our own history.

6) Who killed Ninoy Aquino? — We may have brought to justice all 12 soldiers involved in escorting Ninoy to his death, but we have not found the mastermind. Some really prominent people have been mentioned in connection with this heinous crime but again, no direct proof has been presented and none will probably emerge. We still do not know whether or not they are innocent. It seems that, most of the time, accusations against prominent people fail to prosper in this country. Neither will the accusations ever be truthfully erased because our justice system, for the most part, seems incapable of doing anything that will be perceived to be aboveboard.

7) President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo — This woman alone elicits questions that could fill volumes. Throw in her family and our courts and historians will have their hands full. I leave that to them. But a simple question I want answered is what compelled her to say “sorry” for talking to a notorious Comelec operative while the counting of votes was going on after the presidential elections of 2004, even if she claims it was not her voice on the “Hello Garci” CD. What was that all about?

Because we are unable to find answers to the big questions, we have become obsessed with answering the trivial, unimportant ones. Is this why we love gossip shows? We live in a society where very little of what actually transpires can be truthfully verified. Everything is lost in a maze of denials, legalities, outright lies and obfuscations.

The poetess Adrienne Rich could have been describing the Philippines when she wrote, “False history gets made all day, any day; the truth of the new is never on the news.”

Thus, our moral compass is defective. We elect people in spite of our knowledge or suspicion that many of them are plunderers, coup plotters, murderers, genuine low-lives. A history of failed justice has crippled our judgment.

In contrast, just last week, a well-known and respected national figure in Australia by the name of Judge Einfeld was found out to have lied about a traffic ticket that would have cost him 75 Australian dollars and some demerit points. Because of his perjury, he was sentenced to serve two years in jail and stripped of his license and perks for the rest of his life. His proud family was reduced to pleading before a TV audience that the justice be spared for all the good things that he has done for society. I sat watching all this in disbelief.

In our society where no one admits to any wrongdoing, much less apologizes, it’s a long, hard road we must still travel to get to where we want to go.

Missing zen

I am quite ashamed of myself lately. I have not been meditating as I used to do. It’s been like this for about two years now. Lately, it’s been an on and off thing where before there were periods that stretched to months when I would meditate almost daily.

It was my regular practice that nurtured me spiritually. I felt stabilized, balanced and light and it helped give me a decent amount of equanimity in my daily life. I felt a grounding that made me calm and less distracted by the pull of emotions, strong opinions, pride, fears and other attachments.

In the evenings, before I slept, I would sit on my meditation pillows, and while in a Zen lotus position, I would stay still for 25 minutes. No movement, no scratching, looking at my watch or anything. I just stared with eyes half open at a blank wall. The idea was to be in proper posture, unmoving, and not to entertain thoughts. I would just concentrate on my breathing. I would do this almost every night.

It did not take me too long to like Zazen (Zen meditation). I loved the spaciousness it created in my being. There was a “big mind” that opened inside me that was quite liberating. And there was a peace that was blessed. It’s amazing what the simple act of sitting can do.

The practice of Zazen awakened in me a consciousness I never knew I had. I could see everything clearly. The clarity of “true seeing,” as people in similar practices sometimes describe it, made almost everything in daily living an inexhaustibly rich experience. It’s as if I had stumbled on a goldmine.

But before reaching the state of true seeing, I felt a melting away of many conscious and unconscious layers of pretenses, affectations and illusions I had about life and myself. The power of Zazen called the bluff on many of the things that I identified with.

Before Zazen, I had certain conceptual ideas about myself which I thought defined me as a person. One of them was, I felt special because I enjoyed a certain amount of fame and status in the society I lived in. I also felt good because of the way I looked and my family and educational background. But Zen uncovered the layers that made me think I was special in any way and showed me the beauty of ordinariness in all things, especially about myself. It opened me to true reality minus any spin, bias, or any set opinions or attitudes I may have had before.

In its place, reality appeared simply as itself, just as it is — neither good nor bad. It was a powerful experience to meet that paradox which showed that with eyes open, the mundane can be extraordinarily special. It’s amazing what one can stumble upon while sitting and doing nothing.

Chuang-tzu, an ancient Zen monk, put it this way: “To a mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.”

Zen practice is walking the edge of everything you know and it asks that you drop any attachments to them. In doing this, it can seem like one is waging a great war against a clingy self. You soon realize that you are not what you know. You are not your opinions, so why fight or even die for them? You are not even what you think you are, so why invest so much time in being self-conscious. You are certainly not what you own. You are not even your history. What are you then?

I was once talking to an old practitioner, an enlightened person who was my sensei (teacher). She is, in Zen parlance, a Roshi, an esteemed Zen teacher and I remember telling her that, during one deep meditation I had, I found myself bathed in a glow of love that seemed to permeate everywhere and everything. I felt that the “ground of being” I discovered, so to speak, was love and that the whole universe rested on it.

She turned to me and smiled. She then narrated her experience of the “ground of being” which she had during her deepest meditation. To my surprise, she said that she saw “nothing.”

I was frankly quite shocked and disappointed at what she said. I felt then that there was a cynical underpinning in her statement. But many more months of Zen sitting brought me to a similar understanding, appreciation and a similar experience.

Thinking back, my experience of love during a deep sitting which I shared with her, though real to me, may still have been just another layer before hitting the ground of being and not yet the real experience of the true essence of things. Her experience of seeing “nothing” awakened in me a great, fantastic realization of what I can only describe as “unlimited autonomy.”

I realized then that I am not necessarily someone “born to love,” as a lot of books might describe the meaning of what it is to be human. While it is a good meaning and purpose and I do subscribe to it as a goal in life, I felt the ground of being was even deeper than that. The big “aha” realization for me was that I am a being who can “choose” to love. The “nothingness” that is the ground of being is “pure potentiality,” to be whatever it is I wish to be, do, have, want, etc. In fact, I am a being who can choose anything I wish to experience.

“Emptiness is form. Form is emptiness,” is a saying that has baffled many. From nothing, or emptiness, arise all things. Even religious books talk of the void before the light breaks. Things arise from nowhere. And we can create anything we want.

I have written four books (more like spiritual diaries) while in this state of mind as I experienced it. The topic is inexhaustible and one can never be too “Zenned out” exploring the depths.

I realize though that my writing about this is not a good thing. At the onset of my practice, my own teacher cautioned me against reading books about Zen. Why? Because Zen is too important to merely talk about. It is something that needs to be experienced fully. Words are not only pitifully inadequate but also get in the way of it because by nature, they make the understanding of anything an intellectual, conceptual one.

As an example, pain is a concept which hardly means anything until one is actually going through it. By the same token, a menu is not real food but only a representation of food. Neither can a mere map of Manila ever be a substitute for the experience of actually exploring Manila.

One of the things I want to do in the next few years is to live in an ashram or a monastery and be put in a situation where I will be forced to do nothing but sit for a month. But I know that the very thought of it may be putting me on the wrong path. After all, what is it that is not accessible right now that one needs to go somewhere to get?

I ask this in all seriousness. Dogen, a Zen patriarch, liked to say, “If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?” Robert Pirsig, a Zen writer, asked the same thing when he wrote: “The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.”

How true is that?

Alas, another affectation bites the dust.

Idealism is the new realism
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes Updated March 15, 2009 12:00 AM

screen-capture-11Illustration by Rey Rivera
As a young man many moons ago, I looked at the world in a way many older people would call “idealistic.” Understandably, I had an innocence, which was not surprising, since all of us were born with it. Generally, I saw people as good and trustworthy.

The world to me was a mysteriously wonderful, vibrant arena where new, exciting adventures occurred, even as a lot of older people saw it as dangerous. I saw love as something that could defy everything, including time, because it could last forever and perhaps even save the world.

I believed that people who stumbled, fell and were down in the dumps could always rise and be redeemed. And I believed that good would always triumph over evil. That was how the world appeared to me then. And you know what? I may surprise you but, at my age, I still generally hold on to these views.

For many, the abandoning of innocence, or getting booted out of the Eden of idealism, generally means adopting a paradigm that is more on the cynical, apathetic, fearful, suspicious and opportunity-limited side of life. And summing up this whole paradigm is a word that is considered a virtue in the adult world — “practical.” As a grownup, one is expected to abandon one’s idealism and embrace the practical.

To those who have left their youth and ideals, “practical” is how the real world runs. Being practical will keep you grounded, and real. It will save you from disappointments and heartaches. It is the antidote to being a wide-eyed, pie-in-the-sky Pollyanna.


In truth, as much as I see the value of being practical, I am often suspicious of it. Because in many of my personal experiences, during the major turning points of life, I have chosen not to be practical.

When I was deciding what I should do after college, I went against the practical wisdom of many well-meaning advisers and elders who told me to get a 9 to 5 job. It was easy for me to ignore this one since, the truth was, I was deathly afraid of the corporate world which I found to be too staid, formal and, well… corporate!

But I was also afraid that, as an aspiring artist, I would, in all likelihood, face starvation and poverty. Yet I knew that between these two fears, I was more inclined to take a risk on being a songwriter and performer. Sure, it scared me that while my classmates who had entered the business or corporate life were enjoying regular salaries, medical benefits and perks, I also knew the real fear of meaninglessness and boredom, of not being able to fit into the big corporate setup. Between the rock of boredom and the hard place of possible poverty, I chose the latter, risking material deprivation over the possible death of my spirit.

In my musical career, I, together with APO, chose to write original songs in Filipino and sing them instead of just doing covers of popular songs by foreign artists which, at that time, was everyone’s formula for success. Thank God, our choice not only led to the blossoming of our collective spirits but the filling of our pockets.

During the Marcos era where the practical thing to do in the entertainment world was to go along with the dictator and enjoy the largesse Imelda Marcos loved to shower on artists and showbiz people, the APO often chose the impractical and idealistic path of dissent. We committed our efforts to some crazy unsure dream of overthrowing the all-powerful Marcoses, restoring democracy and helping establish a new regime. We went for all these even when it entailed a lot of personal and career setbacks along the way. Again, it was a choice between the call of the practical versus the ideal.

This has always been the struggle for me. Every time I have felt most that people were going a certain way that seemed to be the “sure” thing, I have purposely looked at why the other path was not attractive, and would often find compelling reasons to follow it.

I’ve often asked myself why I am like this. Is it because I am my parents’ son? Does having gone to Ateneo have something to do with it? Or am I just being a product of my time? Perhaps it’s all of the above.

When I was doing a lot of TV work years ago, I would constantly butt heads with the executives, writers, etc., about what we were being asked to dish out on the air. I felt a lot of the shows we were doing hardly espoused any redeeming values. They were silly, stupid and often even toxic to young watchers. I was never comfortable about “dumb-downing” our TV audience.

Of course, the big bosses always won the argument. Commercial considerations, especially the crassest of them, almost always won over more “artistic” and redemptive ideas. But despite that, I never learned to be “practical,” even if I saw with my own eyes that so much of what I considered trashy would actually pull up ratings. If I were to run a big media conglomerate, I would run it differently, and yes, with more redeeming programming.

A few days ago, I heard a presidential candidate say that unless you have a billion pesos, you should forget about running for the highest office. I was especially piqued by this. While many people might hear that and immediately see the truth and practicality in the statement, I saw it and sneered at the arrogance of people who forget that David beat Goliath.

Time’s Man of the Year feature on Barack Obama pointed out that a little over a year before the US elections, there were only four people on Obama’s team when he told them he was going to run for President. It was definitely a long shot; the rest, as they say, is history.

These days, in the Philippines, there seems to be apathy and cynicism about change (or even the possibility of it) that runs deep. Most people seem to be intimidated by the apparently endless resources of those who are adept at operating in the “practical” and corrupt world of politics and power. The good and honest but poor candidate will not have a chance, many believe — so why even hope for change?

I continue to remind myself that often, being practical means that one must surrender his or her abilities to dream big and instead meander within the limited breadth of one’s own tiny vision. Sometimes, especially when so much of the future depends on it, one needs to be “impractical” and shoot for the moon. The challenge of idealism is to attempt to do it. Every sperm that got to fertilize an egg, every lotto winner, every wild and winning or groundbreaking idea went against the grain. And succeeded.

With so much hanging in the balance on the issue of global warming, the imploding economic situation, massive poverty and the unprecedented feeling of hopelessness all around, there’s a lot for the Don Quixotes of the world to get fired up about. Think about it: the unique insight here is that today, we have very little choice but to be bold and idealistic. To be safe and practical means eventual doom.

As Tony Blair put it at a discussion of world problems in Davos, “Idealism is the new realism.”

I couldn’t agree more.

To Sydney Pinoys–A persnal invitation from DA MAN

Jon Santos makes a personal invitation to everyone to catch his show at RSL Burwood, Sydney on April 4. It will be a GAS!

It’s full steam ahead! Jon Santos: Live and in PersonS tickets are out! It’s at a great price at 49 AUD for April 4 at the RSL Club in Burwoood, 7:00 PM.

Score the tickets now!

Tickets can be purchased online at:, & selected outlets (see below)

Chow King Oriental @Westfield Parramatta (PH 98060048), Bayanihan Asian Grocery @ Granville (PH 98971850), J & M Mini Mart @ Pennant Hills (PH 94843374); Highlights Hair & Make-up @Blacktown (PH 98311240). Check out your local Pinoy stores.

OR CALL Conrad Isip at 0410-618-299 and 98363494 and ask for LYDIA.

Revolution, death, transitions and talks


Last weekend, a few artists including Mae Paner (of Juana Change fame) Sockie Fernandez, Leah Navarro, Rody Vera, Raymond Lee and myself called on the artists’ sector to a meeting at Lasalle, Greenhills. We gathered about 50 of them and challenged them to be the catalysts to break the hold of apathy, cynicism and hopelessness that seems so entrenched in our country today. With major challenges like the 2010 elections on the horizon and a host of other big problems that grip us in fear, no one seems to be in the mood to dream, to move to action except the trapos who are lusting to seize power and control for their own ends.

It was quite encouraging to discover that so much concern and love for the Philippines resides among the artists who showed up. We dangled before them the exciting concept of a movement for hope and change that we wish to infect every sector with. If we want major changes to come, we must be able to get beyond just electing a new and better leader. Whoever the new leader will be, he/she can only institute changes amidst a climate of change everywhere.

We called the meeting the “Artists Revolution'” and we intend to have more of these to reach more people. Meanwhile, the attendees vowed to contribute time and output to help in espousing the inspiration of hope and change in their respective fields. As I write this, short films, songs, ringtones, concerts, iconic figures are being made and hopefully will get people to move out of apathy and create a climate conducive and supportive of change.

If you are interested in this, do write and send us your contact numbers and email so we can invite you to future meetings. Write to Note that emailjimp is one word.

* * *

So sad to hear about the death of Francis M. When my daughter told me about it, I immediately sent Kiko a text asking how he was. Before I could get an answer, a friend of mine had texted the bad news. The Philippines lost an intelligent, talented, good-hearted person and a great father.


I was lucky to have had a talk with him almost a year ago. We were in a GMA 7 dressing room waiting to be called for a show. Kiko, together with his wife Pia and a daughter were chatting with us about this and that. He was so excited about a lot of things. He even suggested that we could collaborate on some music and photography projects. It was one of those projects that we liked but shelved along with others for some future somedays and never got around to doing. And now it’s too late and I regret that.

I still remember his rap classic Mga Kabababayn Ko and how it got me so excited the first time I listened to it. It sounded so cutting-edge and really rocked. It was that rare song which had both form and substance in it.

It is sad that people like Kiko who have their heart, mind and spirit in the right place should go so soon. You will be missed greatly, Kiko.

* * *

In a few days, I will be back in Aus. I have been in Manila for more than two months now. When I return to Sydney, in many ways, I will return to the opposite of what Manila is. Sydney is quiet, orderly, clean, cool and cold at times, and rather laid back.

I find that the transition from both places as I travel is less and less disturbing to my equilibrium. No longer do I get angry when upon arriving, I see the filth and chaos of Manila (compared to Sydney), or get lonely in the social exile that Aus life to a Filipino can sometimes feel like. I am getting quite adept at crossing both worlds and I am glad about that. There is something to love and not like about both places. One just needs to be present wherever one is to avoid comparisons that can end up making one depressed.

* * *

Last week, I gave three talks in three different place. One was about the personal changes that I went though in life and how it shaped me. I gave that to a group of creatives from Bates 141, an ad agency. Another talk was a 15 minuter which I gave to the outgoing and incoming officers of the different organizations at the Ateneo where I expounded on leadership and passion. The last one I gave was before the artist meeting which I mentioned above.


More and more, I am enjoying these public speaking engagements since I am forced to ruminate on the topic before I go up the stage and share anything. It forces me to think and reflect about many aspects of my life and how these topics played in it.

To everyone who listened, thank you for the opportunity to share the little that I know.

The meaningful sound of life


When my daughter Erica was about eight years old, she came home and told Lydia and me about an encounter she had with a poor person. She was inside our van which was parked outside our neighborhood supermarket. They were about to leave after shopping with her yaya when a young waif knocked on her window and begged for food. As she told us the story, Erica cried, “She did not have shoes. She was wearing broken slippers and torn clothes.” Tears were running down my daughter’s cheeks. And she told us that she gave all the money she had to the kid.

I felt good hearing her tell the story. It warmed my heart knowing how kids, who at a certain age can be so self-absorbed, can also have moments when they get out of themselves and recognize the suffering of others.

I thought of the young Shakayamuni, or the Buddha who was raised by his king father protected by gates and supplied with good food and all sorts of pleasures so that he may never know suffering. And yet, on his first-ever sojourn outside the palace as a young man, when he saw suffering for the first time in the form of four lepers, his entire world turned around. Not too long after, he left the palatial luxury of his father’s home and went to find the answer to the question of why there is suffering. In the process, he found and gifted mankind with enlightenment.

For sure, there is suffering everywhere. This has been so since time immemorial. In our materialist orientation, we often equate suffering with lack of money or material resources. Hunger, poverty, physical pain and sickness are obvious states of suffering and it is easy to be moved by the sight of people who are living under such conditions.

Yet, even in the richest countries there is suffering. There is alienation, meaninglessness, the death of the spirit, extreme materialism and perversions of different kinds that plague many. We have heard of people who do not eat even when food is abundant, so much so that they are obscenely thin. We have also heard of those who, even when they have more than enough, choose to harm or even kill themselves, or worse, kill others, due to depression.

It is not surprising that from the point of view of many have-nots, the sufferings of the rich are self-imposed. “What reason do they have to suffer when they have everything?” the poor ask, unable to comprehend. And yet the rich do suffer, just like everyone else. Whatever one’s station in life, suffering is part and parcel of the human experience.

A great many people refuse to accept suffering in any form. Society has largely made up its mind that suffering is bad and should be avoided. Our most “comfortable” position on suffering is that some of it must be tolerated. Even in strictly puritanical religious societies, suffering is recognized as undesirable and is used mostly as a punishment for those who commit acts that are anathema to its values.

But whatever we say about suffering being part of being alive, our impulse is to end it when it is there. So perhaps the question we should ask ourselves is, how does one end suffering?

Mankind has tried many ways to alleviate suffering and it has had its successes and failures. We have heard of food programs, medical missions, home-building, education programs, etc., and all that is good.

On an individual level, how does one deal with suffering to get through it in the best way possible?

M. Scott Peck, the writer of the ‘80s best-seller The Road Less Traveled, says that acceptance of suffering is key. He says that the moment we accept it, it stops being suffering. We deprive it of its sting when we welcome it in our lives. It may take a while, but in the end, when we accommodate it as part of our existence, we can live with it better until it doesn’t feel like suffering anymore.

A Zen koan I find very intriguing asks, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” It sounds strange when one hears it for the first time and the immediate impulse is to say “None.” That would be the “correct” answer on the purely literal level. But koans are not meant to be answered on that level; its very construction defies the logical mind and forces one to dive deeply into one’s experiences to retrieve a decent answer. The answer is not unique, exclusive or definitive but something that is within the territory of the large truth that the koan describes.

In a colorless world, could we possibly have any concept whatsoever of what color is? In a warm setting that is constant all year round, could we ever imagine any other condition, say, like “cold” or “freezing”? How about if every wish we ever had was always granted? Would the granted wishes continue to be special?

The mere fact that an opposite of something exists gives meaning to it, otherwise it would not stand out by itself. As much as we wish to deny it, on this level, bad will always arise amidst good. Black needs white. Virtue needs vice.

We have to develop a mindset that is more accommodating of all experiences instead of just going for only what is pleasurable and completely avoiding pain. No dividing or separating, no rejecting but accepting that even the unpleasant, the horrible, the repulsive has something to teach us all the time.

Life is demanding. I am not saying that because we must accept suffering, we mustn’t do anything about it. We still want to make life easier and that’s okay. But, if it is to be profoundly lived, life must be embraced with all of its unsavory aspects.

If one’s life is to create a meaningful statement, its left palm must meet its opposing right to create a complete sound.

Mar 4, ’09 10:39 PM

Thanks to Edd Aragon, Sydney’s premier caricaturist who allowed me to reprint his interview and his caricature of Jon Santos.

Caricature of Jon (above) where I used a ballpoint pen, scanned and brought to PhotoShop.

Apo Jim Paredes, friend and neighbour excitedly broke the news.

-Hey Edd, I’m bringing Jon Santos to Sydney! He’s good! Really good!

-Good on yer Jim, that’s awesome!

Being such a good neighbour like Jim, we’ll help spread the word to welcome to Sydney impersonator-comedian Jon Santos, who, I confess, I’m not too familiar with. But I trust Jim…and his daughter Ala who saw Jon live in Manila and really loved it. They need not convince me for I trust the taste of creative people… : )

For us who haven’t seen Jon live on stage, aren’t we jealous yet, fellow Pinoy Sydneysiders? This time Jim’s Handog is specifically for our Fil-Aus community. Point is, good entertainment for homesick Pinoys is a rare gift, quality of which enhanced by rare and gifted entertainers who come to Sydney. I’ve spent half of my life in Australia and I can’t help but be cynical when the little imp in me murmurs “It’s about time our mutilated, Van Gogh-eared community is weaned away from professional “karaokists” (it’s just mic abuse:-) and beat up themes of a stand-up faux pax pugilist. And don’t you poke your wang at me nor laugh if I define ai-ai as a pair of three-toed sloths. There were times I couldn’t escape from a fine-woven straitjacket of mediocrity if I had to watch another Pinoy comedian do a clinical, chocolate-covered, nightsoil humour.

One need not be a sociologist to acknowledge that a community’s evolution relies on the community’s perceived intelligence, hence it’s a two-way affair. It would have been funnier if we were still in the days of Charlie Chaplin when we could slap the stick on ourselves and roar out laughing (and they called it the Silent Movies!).

I love impersonators. Don’t we? Why is that? Well I think our brains were trained early to identify familiar people (along with objects; e.g. props) and if our grey matter are able to polarize all the information presented to us by the mimic aka impersonator and then we’re taken hook, line and sinker; then we think it’s funny. We laugh at ourselves as we vicariously connect and adore the performer who has perfected his craft, a fine art of fleeting camouflage. Reality takes a beating from clever people! It’s like a magic performance; the miracle of transformation that catches our attention; and like a trompe l’oeil (trick-of-the-eye) painting, it’s the seeming realism of the illusion that gives us joy.

Since the seventies Filipinos had a few, good impersonators. Well there’s good, ol’ Willie Nepumoceno who had performed in Australia a number of times, and Gary Bautista who for me is just a blur owing to my exodus to Australia, where impersonators like Sir Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna Everage) are endemic. Comedy as social phenomenon is universal..err..more of global, but it could only effectively serve well local humor for culture and language vary.

Wonder how hard it is to be an impersonator and be funny. Have you tried impersonating your teacher in high school? Did you get a good score from your schoolmates? I tried in my younger days but I didn’t think I had the courage to stand up on stage and make people laugh as a mimic. ..and that’s why I chose to do comic strips for newspapers instead. So how hard is the process of impersonation and trying to make people laugh? What if they don’t buy your joke? What if they throw their shoes at me? Unimaginable! So let’s just leave it to the professionals and ask Jon about it before he lands in Sydney this April.

EA: 19 years you’ve been making people laugh! Is it hard?

JS: Anyone who has attempted to do professional comedy will tell you it is harder than drama, action, horror, or any other entertainment expression. Woody Allen called comedy ‘tragedy plus time’. An Italian saying claimed, people laughed ‘so they wouldn’t have to cry’. The paradox is that comedy is almost always about pain. On the physical side, one immediately notices 19 years worth of ‘stress lines’ on my face, as this particular ‘branch’ of comedy is dependent on so much make-up and sometimes prosthetics. Next to them, though, are ‘laugh lines” . The work is intensely rewarding as it is tough.

EA: I learned you worked with Willie Nepomuceno before (this author’s friend and colleague in the student movement against the Marcos dictatorship). How was it?
JS: Willie Nepomuceno is a legend in a way that I can only dream. I was lucky to belong to the last post-Marcos socio-political stand-up generation spawned by Willie and Tessie Tomas. After us came the Comedy Club batch. And the local comedy generations continue in ever-changing ways.

EA: Do Filipinos mock or love Filipino stereotyped personalities you might be prone to lampoon?

JS: As oxygen is to combustion, comedy can never happen without love. It is simply impossible to make people laugh on the basis of pure bile. Even in the darkest of Marcos underground comedy, it was never about condemning them as much as it was about exposing their folly to the light, to diminish its power. Nowadays, comedy club ad-libs seem to focus on deriving punch lines from the audience, but it serves its live audience well. Imagine, after a whole workday of political correctness, and sucking-it-all-in, at least everyone gets to laugh, at themselves, and with each other, without restraint.

EA: What type of audience challenges you? (e.g. insular or insolent?:)

JS: All audiences are equally, if not unpredictably, challenging. Sometimes I can have worse jitters tickling salesmen than presidents. The insolent customer is just as dissatisfied as the insular customer, and the challenge to the performer is to think quickly, and, with everything he’s got, work on restoring that connection.

EA: Stand-up comedy is quite a fearsome career. I admire your courage. Were you born or made?

JS: The unthreatening face with genes of expressiveness, the good memory, verbal speed – definitely born with it. But the rest: The childhood pains that drove one to compensate through laughter, the effort to sponge up all comic devices and styles by working with the best mentors– definitely made. But the fact that one survives, one does not faint or crumble in front of a grim crowd, the laughter and applause – miracle, pure miracle.

EA: How can humour contribute to society’s ills?

JS: Mitch (a lot of people remember her as Maya) Valdes, a colleague I truly admire, believes that the Pinoy humour saves us from killing ourselves, and each other. The Pinoy comic has also been compared with the boy in ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ – the one who says what we all really want to say, but couldn’t, because we, as a people, are very non-confrontational by nature. I have to verify if we really do have low suicide rates, but one thing’s for sure- we are the best looking Asians. Many believe that it’s a double-edged-sword-situation, though. Our propensity for using laughter as relief , as escape, prevents us from acting on our country’s problems.

EA: Gender preference is not an issue, but does it play a significant part in your performance?

JS: Everything that can be an issue plays a part in a comic performance. Laughter is a reaction to the absurd, the uncomfortable, the taboo, the things that may not be spoken. A laughing man is the universal metaphor for subversion.

EA: What makes you happy and at peace?

JS: Whew! At last, a question that I did not have to sweat for. Of course, family, friends, love and what else, laughter!

EA: What do Filipino-Australians like me expect to remember after watching a night of your performance?

JS: You mean, aside from remembering to invite me again? Seriously, rather than remember, I rather you forget. I hope you forget for a while the tough times we are experiencing. Forget for a moment that some of you may be far from home and family. Or that it had been a rough day, week or year. Forget awhile, and laugh. Laugh out loud , but better yet, laugh quietly from the heart. And afterwards, remember that life is beautiful.

EA: Any kind words for (them) us?

JS: In our heart of hearts, we are all Pinoys. Kami ay panauhin ninyo at may utang na loob sa inyo na na- anyaya sa amin. We are honored to be standing in front of you and be accorded the attention. Even greater honor is the fact that we are performing to the modern heroes of our country, keeping our country vibrant with your spirit of enterprise, your hard work and your courage, bringing the Philippines to another spot on the globe, staking your claim for us Filipinos. I can only speak with admiration for you guys.

EA: Salamat Jon. Looking forward to see you in Sydney!

JS: Salamat din. See you all.

More about Jon (from the net)
“Nineteen years ago, Tessie Tomas was invited as guest speaker for Jon’s Junior Marketing Association in UP. He went up for an autograph and upon the cajoling of friends, impersonated the master impersonator herself. Entertained, Tessie invited him to join her group.

He had just accepted a teaching post (Economics. Yikes!), when, again, Tessie urged him to try the comic circuit for a year, and he never stopped. He has since campaigned with Ralph Recto for Ate Vi, exchanged small talk with former president Fidel Ramos over cigars, made Charo Santos realize that having been impersonated by Jon, She Has Arrived. And after doing countless personalities, Jon Santos has been busy more often as himself, setting up a little bed and breakfast on Boracay Island and taking his “characters” along with him for special comedy shows abroad.

In the Philippine scene, nobody is anybody until he or she is done by Jon Santos. Having perfected the art of costume and make-up, Jon becomes the person; a better version in fact, because it’s a much, much funnier version. Even bureaucratic bores who somehow land on the news become hilarious, endearing creatures in the hands of Jon Santos (Actually, in the hands, face, body and voice of Jon). So just think what a riot he creates with the already colourful or absurd……

Jon has been impersonating and imitating people for nineteen (19) years now. His material thrives on who’s hot at the moment, but some of his best-loved characters are the classics: “Ate Vi”, “Basana Roces”, “Armida Sigyon-Makareyna”, “Sherap Espada (& his wife, “Sen. Lhoy”) Shawie”, “Bro. Mike Volare”, “Tita Kory”, “Sen. Juan Flavor”, “Sen. Meeryam”, “Pres. Gloring”, “Krissy Anino”, “Ara”, “Joyce”, “Mawee Tailor-ing” and the latest addition to the repertoire, “Okrah Weenfree”.

But these are samples of Jon on paper – and don’t even capture half the adlibs, the brilliant spur-of-the-moment remarks that add tons to the character that he is at the moment. We don’t see the costume, the make-up nor hear the voice and the delivery that keep audiences laughing for 30 or so minutes non-stop. As they say, everybody in the Philippines is a comedian.”

12 million storytellers for change!

Last week’s article was an expression of concern about the coming 2010 elections and the sweeping changes we need in our country. Although I was not surprised at the tremendous reader reactions via letters, e-mail, calls from people everywhere, I must say that the response has been quite inspiring. There is a constituency for change out there and it is pretty sizeable.

A lot of the reactions came from overseas, from disgruntled Filipinos who have given up completely on the Philippines and left the country in disgust, and from those who, while they live abroad, continue to pine for their homeland and want to do their share in taking it out of the rut it is in.

To both groups, this column is for you.

There are around 12 million overseas Filipino workers spread out all over the world. Their blood, sweat and tears are what keep this country financially afloat. The money they send home keeps many kids in school, feeds families and generates a lot of the economic activity that keeps the entire Philippines humming. In many ways, it is only fitting that OFWs should be encouraged to play a role and have a say in creating a vision of what the Philippines can be.

Aside from their economic contribution, OFWs have made many personal sacrifices to hold up the sky for their loved ones. They have missed out on birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, graduations, Christmases and other milestones in the lives of those they cherish. Ironically, they know quite well that it is precisely their absence that makes the observance of such major events possible.

But more important than all that is the untapped capability of OFWs to bring about meaningful change in the country. OFWs have had the opportunity to live and work in many functional societies around the world, and have thrived in them. To my mind, their experiences abroad can be very valuable in helping create a functional vision of our country’s future.

Our OFWs can be the storytellers, narrators and witnesses of how the lives of ordinary Filipinos can move ahead if the system only allows them to. Their very lives are testimonies to this. Where for years, their dream of becoming something had not been possible in their homeland because of the social inequity and lack of opportunities, now they are proud, productive and prosperous people.

One of the joys of traveling is in meeting our kababayans who, though they still exhibit traits of their humble beginnings (noticeable only to a fellow Pinoy), now carry themselves with dignity that says they are equal to everyone else in the new country they live in. It tells me that we, as a people, have what it takes to get ahead and achieve excellence when the cards are dealt fairly.

Contrast this to life here at home where the average guy must dream smaller, live with more indignities and less breaks because “mahirap ang panahon at ganyan talaga ang buhay.” There is in the culture here at home an inertia that kills dreams. The sense of what is possible here is so limited and cramped that many are tempted to relocate and pursue their future abroad.

Imagine, then, a scenario where Filipinos abroad speak in support of change, telling their families back home about real places where societies function much better than what we have here. Imagine them writing to their kababayans back home and telling them there is no reason — except for our collective apathy — why we cannot have the same in the Philippines.

Imagine these OFWs throwing their influence behind a progressive candidate who has the right ideas on how to modernize the country and make government not only more functional, but also more prosperous. Imagine 12 million voices for change influencing their families and friends in the Philippines on what to ask for in a candidate and who to vote for! This could electrify the electoral process. Now, that would be something to contend with.

If this OFW block were to get organized and speak as one, they could be as influential as the Catholic Church, and much more progressive.

Much has been said about OFWs being “heroes” of our society because of the personal sacrifices they continue to endure for their families. I do not contest that. But I would like to add another dimension to the heroism that we have bestowed on them.

In writer Joseph Campbell’s view, every life is a hero’s journey and goes through stages as it unfolds. In his view, the hero’s journey starts when a hero leaves a familiar place (psychological or literal, or both) and is thrown into the unknown. In short, life and circumstances have conspired to throw him out of Eden and he/she is off to the adventure of a lifetime. This is the common thread found in big and small hero stories, whether fiction or non-fiction. Look at Rizal, Ninoy, Shakyamuni, Jesus, Frodo, Ulysses. This, of course, will take the hero to places where he will be deeply challenged in all aspects. In “herospeak,” he goes “through the fire.”

Now there are two things that can happen. He either burns out completely and the journey ends, or he survives. If he survives, the next stage is for the hero to return to his hometown and testify about the lessons and truths he/she has learned.

From this angle, our OFWs may have a new role waiting for them. After going through the fire in their previously unfamiliar locations which have become home, and with their newly-earned status of personal success and financial capability, it is time for them to play the bigger role of not just turning the lives of their families from poverty to prosperity, but to be the voices of wisdom, modernity and progress and the examples of personal change that many of them have become.

It’s time to not just inspire our kababayans, since they are already doing that. It’s now time for OFWs to influence us to do the right thing, to dream and act to “make the word flesh” and bring about the necessary changes the Philippines needs.

This may yet be the OFWs’ biggest contribution to our country.