Goodbye, Redford

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated August 01, 2010 12:00 AM
Redford White: The author’s friend was a fellow diver with a private passion for charity.

We were doing a noontime TV show together some 13 years ago. That’s how I got to know Redford White. I had met him years before but we never went beyond the customary “Hi.” Looking back at the way our friendship played out, I never imagined that I would ever get close to this Bisoy (Bisayang Tisoy) comedian.

We did not hit it off working in front of the cameras. I was probably too serious and he was way too funny. It was behind the cameras where we got along. In fact, it was the lure of the depths of the sea that made us friends. We were both divers and one time, I invited him to join G Toengi and a few other people to a dive. After just one adventure under the sea, we knew we were kindred spirits.

Far from his public persona, Cipriano Cermeno II, better known as Redford White, was actually quite a serious guy. People would be floored, as I was, if they knew that he liked to talk about philosophy, religion, Christianity, Buddhism and other such topics.

Red was a searcher of truth. A no-frills guy, he liked to get to the bottom of things, exploring questions about life and its meaning. Sometimes, he liked to talk but there were times when he just wanted to be silent. It was during those long drives and deep conversations to Anilao and back where I discovered that Red and his wife Elena had been involved in community and charity work for a long time. In their property in Novaliches, they had built, over two decades, a community of more than 150 people where they took care of batches of kids whom they generously housed, fed and sent to school. Some of them have graduated from college and now work successful jobs and careers here and abroad.

Redford and Elena even built a beautiful Church inside the compound with the help of the people they have helped — neighbors and devotees of the Santo Nino de Maligaya, to whom they dedicated the entire charitable effort.

I was dumbfounded to discover that this comedian, whom everyone loved for making them laugh their heads off, had a much bigger life outside of how the world knew

him. In fact, this life of service and giving was his main life, something that he kept low-key and shared only with a few friends. He liked things quiet, simple and without fuss. In this way, he was, to me, a pure soul.

Once in a while, he’d talk about his and Elena’s work helping flood or calamity victims by organizing relief efforts, or their travels to places where they set up shrines in honor of their favorite Santo Nino icon, in Guam, Canada, the US and other places. When Red shared such stories, I sensed a deep humility and a sense of fulfillment that no amount of success and fame in showbiz could give him. Sure, he enjoyed and took pride when his TV shows got high ratings; but he knew that the world of showbiz was impermanent and while he relished the highs while they lasted, he felt no real attachment to them. His true fulfillment came from somewhere else.

With the number of hours we shared talking in the car on the way to Anilao and back, which averaged around six hours at a time, plus the number of dives we made (160 to 170) not only in Anilao but also in Davao, Cebu, Bohol and Tubataha, it is no surprise that we became really close. Maan de Ocampo, Jon Santos and I were Red’s closest dive buddies. The long trips and the time in between dives, the meals and the bumming around, were precious bonding moments.

Such deep camaraderie and friendship is easily developed among diving buddies since, when you think about it, diving under the sea can be life-threatening. No one can be casual about diving because casualness can cause carelessness which can have deadly results. Under the “buddy system” rules of scuba, we were responsible for each other. We were always looking out for each other’s safety. This reality made us all present and quite open to each other.

The last time I saw Red before he got sick was in December 2009. Our meetings had been downgraded to lunches and dinners since he had developed high blood pressure and Elena had asked him to stop diving. He had become a heavier smoker. We had lunch at Adarna restaurant in QC with Maan. There was the usual exchange of jokes, storytelling and catching up with each other’s lives. Red was his usual self — calm and attentive, easy, accepting, sometimes deep, but also hilariously funny. His eyes had that twinkle, especially when he made funny comments.

After that meeting, I called him a few times, texted him, but got no reply. I figured maybe he was abroad, or busy, or just wanted to be by himself, which he

was sometimes wont to do. It was only last July 20 when Matt, Red’s assistant, texted me a message that disturbed me deeply. It said, “Kuya Jim, kelan kita pwede tawagan tungkol kay Red?” I immediately replied. That night, when Maan and I met with him, he told us that Red had finally requested that we be informed he had a brain tumor and lung cancer, which were diagnosed last February.

“Why did he wait this long?” I asked. Because, true to form, he did not want friends fussing or worrying about him.

The very next day, Maan and I went to Red’s Novaliches compound with a cake in a red box that had a white diagonal line on it which made it look like a diver’s flag. When we entered the room, we saw Red on his bed, his face bloated due to steroids. He didn’t look good. The twinkle in his eyes had dimmed. We went straight to him, had a group hug and he started to weep. He shed tears of relief, sadness, joy and love, all thrown in together. Then he uttered with both a chuckle and a seriousness, “P’re, malapit ko na makita si Lord.” We hugged each other even tighter.

I whispered to him to prepare the way for us since we would have many things to answer for before we could probably get in. After a few minutes, he seemed more relaxed and we talked about this and that, just like before. Maan and I knew our friend was in a bad state and would not last long. After about 25 minutes, we bade him goodbye so he could rest.

I had one more opportunity to see Red on the day before he died. I had asked a priest friend, Fr. Arnold Abelardo, if he could borrow Tita Cory’s rosary which was given to her by Sr. Lucia, the visionary of Fatima, that I wanted to bring to Red. On that final visit, Red looked worn out. He could hardly breathe. We said a prayer as Red clasped the rosary. Lydia and I also gave him a wooden holding cross. Throughout the meeting, he kept saying, “Love you, p’re,” as we held each other’s hands.

Before I left, I looked into his eyes and reminded him that a rule in diving was, if dive buddies lose each other, each is obliged to go up and wait for the other for a moment before he starts any rescue effort. I told him that since he was going “up” first, to please patiently wait for me.

For a brief moment, I saw his eyes twinkle, and amid his laborious breathing, he let out a hearty laugh, loud enough to be heard outside the door. I then held his gaze one last time, clasped his hand, hugged him tight and said, “Ingat pare.” I had to force myself to turn away and walk out the door, knowing that was our last goodbye.

He died at 6:47 the next morning. I found myself spontaneously awakened about the same time and feeling refreshed despite having slept late. After a few minutes, I got a text from Matt saying that Red had passed away.

Redford, I just want to say that I have not met a more decent man than you. You taught me many things by simply being you — simplicity, humility, dedication, lightness of being, deep uncomplicated friendship, laughter and the great capacity to love the manifestations of God that may not even be readily attractive and lovable.

Love you, P’re! Wait for me, please.

* * *

Here are my workshop schedules:

1) Creative For Life: A cutting-edge course to permanently awaken your creativity from Aug. 2-6, concluding on Aug. 9, from 7 to 9 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. Seminar fee is P5,000.

2) Songwriting Workshop: A lot of people through the years have asked me about writing songs since I have written so many, including hits, over four decades. I have long wanted to conduct a workshop on it. The workshop will be held on Aug. 14 to 1 from 1 to 6 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. The workshop fee is P5,000.

It is a requirement that participant in the workshop must know how to play an instrument — guitar or piano.

3) A Basic Photography Workshop will be held on Aug. 21, 1 to 7 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. Seminar fee is P3,500

* * *

Please write to to reserve a slot for any or all workshops. Or call 426-5375/ 0916-8554303 and ask for Ollie.

Shooting the breeze with P-Noy

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes ( Updated July 28, 2010 12:00 AM

I met President Noy a few times when he was still a candidate and I must admit I was not an instant convert. The first few times I saw him live and on TV, I was not impressed by the way he talked. Maybe his lack of flare somehow got in the way of his message.

But as the campaign progressed, I saw the fire light up in him and I became more and more convinced that he was the one. It was almost as if a new facet of his personality was awakening and intensifying. While other candidates were burning out, he was in conflagration. He became bolder in his assertions and clearer in his vision. He was transforming into the leader that I, with millions of other Filipinos, felt the country needed.

On July 14, in the aftermath of the storm Basyang, I sat with him at the Cory room beside his office in the Guest House in Malacañang. It was the third week of his presidency. Minutes before our meeting, he met with Secretaries Deles and Almendras to discuss the electric power situation in the aftermath of the storm.

When he came into the room, I gave him a box of cupcakes that my daughter Erica had baked and insisted that I give to the President. He smiled. When we finally began the interview, I saw a most confident chief executive who, while taking care of matters of state just a few minutes before, could be gamely engaged with sometimes light, sometimes probing questions.

I had promised that we would not talk about politics or policy but rather focus on what P-Noy, the person, is like.

At certain points, even as we were discussing supposedly trivial stuff like movies or people he would invite to a dream dinner, I got a glimpse of the idealism and sense of duty and honor he inherited from both his parents, as well as their fatalistic view of mortality. I realized, during those moments, that perhaps character cannot help but manifest itself. It is inescapable.

THE PHILIPPINE STAR: You’re a CD collector. What are your favorite CDs?

NOYNOY AQUINO: A lot. I have to get new stuff at least every month, but lately, I can’t buy, (laughs) puro picture taking. I have from classics to techno, though I prefer light classics. Ballets for instance, like Swan Lake. Pop and rock. I don’t like hip-hop. ‘Yung jazz, jazz fusion. I find it hard to listen to mainstream.

Do you listen to heavy rock?

Led Zep… Maingay nga talaga. My dad used to complain (laughs). And Juan dela Cruz.

What about OPM? You bought a Noel Cabangon CD.

Yes, “Biyahe.” Christmas gift ‘yun. Your stuff, “Best Of (APO),” especially the first one, the one with the “Huwag masanay sa pagmamahal…” I guess I could really relate to Ewan in specific portions of my life (laughs). Yung, “ewan ay katumbas na rin ng oo’ng inaasam…” Pumapatak ang Ulan, I could really relate to a lot of your stuff.

Did you ever try to learn a musical instrument?

In grade school, I took up guitar, but it didn’t really prosper. I played one or two songs. I can’t even remember any of the chords anymore. I also played another instrument. melodica ata ‘yun eh. I got a C in music under Mr. Areza (Ateneo Grade School music teacher).

What are your favorite movies?

When I was a very young kid, 300 Spartans, the old one.

Not the remake?

The remake was also good. But the old one, it starts off with a modern-day monument…“Traveler, behold…” something like that. In the opening scene, the Persian army had captured a Greek and was sparing this Greek to show him how many days, parang one week ata had passed. They were in one position, and the army of Persia did not yet pass completely. And Leonidas had to bring his personal bodyguards, numbering 300, to defend the whole country. He had a duty and what it means, really, is to live up to your duty. I was in grade school then, I guess a lot in my generation were affected by that.

There was also Michael Rennie’s version of Les Miserables, also the book, I liked. There’s an inspector there…


To him, everything is black or white. And suddenly he has a change in attitude before he commits suicide…The idea of things affecting your temporary life has an impact on your soul. Therefore you have to attend to it… ano ba yung freedom ng man to decide against it?

I guess the main lesson was, if you give any man an impossibility, how can you expect him to perform to the best characteristics of any human being? Those are some of the deficiencies of our man-made system, I guess. Javert was someone I could identify with… ito ang tama, at the same time, ang daming gray areas na hindi absolute in all instances.

Can you recall a movie that made you laugh a lot?

Lately, The Replacements with Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman. Nag strike yung NFL, so they got all these people who were given a second chance…Syempre comedy talaga, they get to win the NFL. And so many other movies…Love Bug. When I was younger, natawa ako. Nutty Professor with Fred McMurray with the jalopy.. Dinala kami ng mga magulang namin sa Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang…I don’t like dark comedies. As Good As It Gets, that’s another one, and Something’s Got to Give.

Can you recall any books that affected you in a way?

After I saw Les Miserables the film, I read the book. Mas developed yung characters. Some of the classics, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Three Musketeers.

A lot of times, between the book and the movie, the book seems to be much more complete, but sometimes the movie does a better job. In science fiction, there was Jules Verne’s work, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Nagustuhan ko yung idea na, why did you choose to live under the sea? And there was the Vincent Price movie Master of the World. He intervenes every time there’s a fight, he puts a stop to every conflict.

Who are your personal idols/heroes?

JFK, Nelson Mandela, Patton, as portrayed in the movie.

Among our national heroes, who can you identify with?

General del Pilar. Again, the idea of duty, sacrifice. A small force against all odds: a superior force, better armed. He would be one of my heroes. When I look at the greatness that they possess, sometimes also the pettiness they had… yung mga nag hahamunan ng duelo for some slight reason. Nawawala yung focus on the bigger things.

Lapu Lapu siguro. He stood for what he believed in. He wasn’t intimidated by a technologically superior and unknown foreign entity. And he prevailed. Alam mo naman ang mga ibang heroes natin, good attempts. This one prevailed! General Makabulos of Tarlac is another one. The camp was named after him. He prevailed against the Spaniards. They had to surrender to him. They had to surrender to Filipinos, the indios.

If you could go back in Philippine history and change the outcome of any historical event, what would it be?

Siguro I would go back to the years before martial law and somehow make a better effort in preventing martial law from happening. The deprivations of that period continue to resonate today. The casualties of that period…the Muslim secessionists really increased during that period, so did the CPP-NPA. And before martial law ended, there were 50,000 casualties, if I’m not mistaken, in the southern conflict.

And the generations that are trying to achieve peace are groups that were opposed to each other, with the attendant atrocities on both sides. What if we had come up with laws then recognizing ancestral domain? What if we had sent lawyers first instead of the PC to handle the conflict between the Barracudas and the Ilagas? Would we have been spared so much? Would Mindanao be developed today? Would we not have problems associated with terrorist groups like the Abu Sayyaf, or even the aspiring minorities like the MILF and the NPA?

If you could invite five people, dead or alive, in the history of man, for dinner, who would you have?

JFK, Mandela, Edison from the sciences — science applied in the service of man. Who else? Siguro either Alexander the Great or Napoleon…Primarily yung ambitious. Perhaps the bishop in El Salvador who got assassinated (Archbishop Oscar Romero). He showed the conviction of his beliefs. He was threatened by the right wing death squads and he still persisted.

If you didn’t become a politician, what would you have become?

Perhaps, an agri-businessman. Syempre everybody’s goal is having a job that is something you really like. There’s something about working the land, seeing it grow… the challenge is how to increase profitability — how do you meet all this and be ecologically-friendly?

I read an article on Facebook posted by someone who said she sat down with you from 9 p.m. till 2 a.m. and you were very engaged talking about so many things. What are you passionate about?

Very many topics, but I will not claim the same level of expertise as my dad. My dad could talk to anybody. When I was younger, he would even talk to people about cooking, and I don’t think he was that great a cook (laughs).

When we were in Boston, I’ll share what I remember, my mom and my sisters were out of town so I had to fetch my dad at the airport and he had a guest. The guest was missing at the airport, so we went home… Naghahanap si guest so he called the house and I was sent back to fetch him… Sabi ko kay dad, hindi pa ako nagluluto, wala tayong kakainin….Ako na’ng bahala, sabi niya. Magsaing ka na lang. So I turned the rice cooker on.

When I got back, he was serving bistek, perfectly done. I was so impressed. I had bought a bottle of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce the day that I fetched my dad from the airport. The following day, it had around one teaspoon left. Kaya naman pala ganun… napaandaran na naman ako nito (laughs).

So, what am I passionate about? Yung when you see a problem, a long-time problem, that really has such a simplistic solution and it’s not being done. Kunyari, corruption. I know somebody’s corrupt… Sabi ko, tumatagal ba sayo ang nakurakot mo? Ano ba yung cost ng kinurakot mo? Sino ba ang namundok dahil diyan? Paano ba naging kapaki-pakinabang sa yo na pasukan yan? Kung hindi sa yo ang epekto, pano kaya ang anak mo? ‘’Yung anak mo, sabihin natin napag-aral mo nang maayos, naghanap ng empleyado with technical skills, language skills, wala siyang makuhang empleyado dahil na-deprive ng education. I tend to try and convince them, at the end of the day, no matter which avenue you go through, wala ring nakinabang diyan.

To businessmen, I had a proposal to tie income to profitability. If there’s an increase in profitability, there has to be a direct sharing with the workers without the need to go into bargaining. We pegged it yata at 10 percent. Then the workers asked, bakit ho 10? Dapat 50-50. Ah kasi pag 50-50, pati sa loss, sama na ho kayo…Ay wag naman ho ( sabi nila). Sa 10, purely sa profit.

Now, the knee jerk reaction of business was, tataas po ang gastos namin. Sabi ko, if you look at the proposal, there is a precondition: increase in profitability. So dumagdag na ang kita niyo bago kayo magdadagdag ng gagastuhin. So dapat mas malaki ang resulta ng nasa inyo kesa nung nasa institusyon.

Why did I propose that? When you have labor and management, the relationship is confrontational. Kayo at kami. So, I raised the example na dalawa ang empleyado mo, tatlo, pag dumagdag ng order. Kausapin ko lang, pwede ba tayo mag-overtime mamaya? O di pwede, tapos pagkatapos nun may bonus.

Pero ‘pag ginawa mong formal, 500 to 1,000 workers, you have union leaders and you have to continue providing a lot of benefits and increases. Ok kung growing industry, e kung hindi? Paano kung stagnated industry or a sunset industry? So if the union leaders become reasonable, (the workers) will say you sold us out. Then you get somebody else who will hasten the demise (of the business) that everybody derives their income from.

So how do we get everybody to focus…Paano tayo magjo-joint action (so that) everybody gets an increase in profit and get an equitable share of the proceeds? Unfortunately, hindi inaksyunan ng both congresses.

When you’re standing on stage and there are 50,000 people out there shouting, “Noynoy, Noynoy,” what’s going on in your mind?

Maybe not even on the stage. When you’re on the street, sa motorcade…nobody, for instance, goes on a motorcade at 12 noon, but we did it…It is so hot, they’ve been there for hours, and there’s so much enthusiasm. So what goes through my mind? There was a point in time, they really turned out and I saw it in the faces of people beside me, I really believed we had won. Then after we’ve won, you think about the responsibilities. They shower you with hope. At the same time, how do you temper the hope, so you don’t have unfulfilled expectations?

In Edsa I, a lot of people thought, today it’s black, tomorrow it’s white. So, guaranteed unfulfilled expectations. You get more people who are cynical, etc. So, from the get-go, from the inaugural speech, we asked, what are the doables? In the SONA speech, we’ll cite more of the problems that we found, and then the doables as far as that is concerned. The goal is for our communications group to establish interaction. We’ll tell them, this is what we intend to do and this is the time frame and the goal posts that we hope to achieve, and please measure us on these aspects, hindi ‘yung instant gratification for everything.

So what I’m trying to say is, the enormity of the responsibility, the tempering with the reality, all these thoughts go through my mind. Pagdating dun sa inaugural ko, after the famous road trip, when I got to the stage… You’re minutes away from inheriting everything. So, kaya ba natin ‘to? Of course by that time, medyo nahirapan na kaming maghanap ng mga taong — halika, sige sumama kayo sa ‘min, anim na taon tayong magsasakripisyo, at habang wala ka nang pahinga, habang pagod ka, nabawasan income mo, mumurahin ka pa kaliwa’t kanan, andaming unfair criticsim, pero para sa bayan to, halika na!

So, when you hear them shouting your name, it’s flattering, but at the same time you’re psyching yourself up to the fact that you have to deliver as much as possible.

You wouldn’t want to be the cause for them to become even more cynical. There’s a social contract, these are the doables, they’ve achieved… The dream is to have enough of a momentum, so the people can get used to a government that is really there for them and works, so that the person who comes after you cannot but follow in your footsteps and continue the process.

There was a group from American Network Foundation, and they’ve been working here for quite a long time. Their strategic vision is increasing venture capital in the IT field, something that can bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in investment. But the problem is, we don’t have the people with necessary skills for the higher value-added jobs in the IT sector. And it’s true, out of a hundred students, you only have two who eventually graduate from college with a science and engineering degree. Then there’s no environment at this point in time for them to be able to grow their skills.

With the scant resources we have, at least for the first three years, there has to be an emphasis on perhaps simpler things, yung yield of rice, yield of pork, ease of transportation, things like that, instead of growing this new cadre that will take 10 years. So it will be towards the end of the next administration before we really see the fruits. But we want to set the foundation for it.

What’s comfort food to you?

Tropical Hut hamburger, dimsum from Hap Chan and Kowloon, Ma Mon Luk, pizza from D’Mark’s.

And your comfort clothes?

Maong. When I’m at home, shorts, tsaka ‘yung shirts na hapit. When we were in Malacañang in my Mom’s time, I had a Grade 5 T-shirt that was very loose, and that was her pet peeve. ‘Yung mga threadbare na undershirts, for instance. There were points when she didn’t have a busy schedule and she would raid my cabinet and remove all of these things and give them to the help and say, gamitin niyo nang trapo ‘to. So when I got back, I would be looking for them. Habulan kami. Sabi nya, maawa ka naman sa naglalaba. Parang tintingnan pa lang, napupunit na sa kanipis-nipis…

Are you a beer guy, a wine guy, or do you prefer hard drinks?

If I take alcohol, it has to be only a toast. I’m a soft drinks guy, and it’s Coca-Cola normally. Last time I had a sip was for the 68th birthday of the honoree. I took maybe a teaspoon’s worth of red wine, and I got affected right away. May fatigue na rin siguro kasama yun. I get the hangover right away, and once it wears off, I’m fully awake.

If you could drop everything right now, if you could get away from your duties, where would you go and what would you do?

Probably some place in Mindanao, ‘yung municipality ni Guingona — Gingoog. Tanghaling tapat sa mountain top may clouds, lots of springs, a lot of cold places, that would be one of them.

What are the easiest and the hardest things about being Noynoy Aquino?

Easiest, I guess there are a lot of doors that have been opened my way from before. The hardest is, especially now, when you see people seeing you smiling, and the expectation na, ang laki ng igaganda… Eto na! Tagumpay nang buong buo! Syempre you’re burdened by “Can we deliver?”

With this typhoon, we had a meeting last week and were told how many provinces are at risk. Those that are not at high risk are less than 20 percent. And it was growing…a little over 50 percent when they first reported it, tapos umangat over 70 percent, then over 80 percent. So, when I got home, finished my e-mail rituals, it took me a long while. Ano bang gagawin natin dun? You have X number of resources, you would want to pre-position them at the most critical… and when everywhere it’s critical, how do you pre-position?

So, today, we had our baptism of fire. Na-impress naman ako. Everybody said we have these quick-action teams, we have relocation centers, pre-positioned supplies… Everyone delivered. In fact, the only group that I felt a little shortchanged was PAGASA. Sabi nila nasa Region 2 at CAR, paano tayo napuntang NCR at 4, 8? Medyo malayo-layo naman ata ang distansya. At kung may ganung nangyari at meron pa kayong magagawa. Pwede bang better information? They promised to work on it.

I’m very comfortable with my DOST secretary. He already discovered warning systems for the Pasig-Marikina area that are already in place, and they can rehabilitate within the budget that they already have. Once rehabilitated ang two-hour warning time, then they can do it nationwide by next year, at six-hour warning time.

Your Cabinet is very young generally, and you have a lot of young people working under the Office of the President, how would you feel if one of them shows up with a tattoo, body piercing, or earring? Would it affect you?

You’d want not to be affected, but I think I would be affected. We’d like to think we’re cool, pero gaano ka-cool? Especially society still equates age with wisdom and responsibility. So ‘yung group namin, we have young people, we have medyo young-ish people whom I would consider to be at the peak of their careers in their mid-50s to early 60s. We don’t want to get somebody so jaded and so cynical already. We try to balance the wisdom of the old, the energy of the young, and the peacemaker in all of the persons in between.

How do you deal with criticism that’s really just mean-spirited?

If I pay attention to it, then I would try to turn the tables and show them or at least the other people kung gaano ka-unreasonable nito and apply my strength on the reasonable ones. But I try to purposely control myself. I tell everyone, o mga kasama, hindi tayo pwede magalit, hindi tayo pwede mapikon, hindi tayo pwede mainis, hindi tayo pwede maasar. Maraming hindi pwede rito. Focus lang tayo parati sa, eto ang aabutin natin.

Mahirap talaga maging public figure ano?

In the Batasan, for instance, as a congressman, there was this person na lumapit sa ‘kin, ‘Hindi po ninyo kami constituent, pero pwede ho ba makahingi ng pamasahe?’ So binigyan ko. The following day, same line: pamasahe. We had sessions from Monday to Wednesday, Thursday so the rest of the week, we were supposed to go back to our district. He did it to me from Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. So medyo may sarcastic remark na ako. “Kung gusto niyo, pag-isipan po niyo, baka mas maganda kung ‘wag na kayong lumabas ng bahay… Para hindi niyo pinpoproblema kung paano kayo uuwi.”

What inspires you to keep going despite the problems, some of which you know are probably intractable?

Why will I give up if I think the goal that we have set for ourselves is worthwhile? It really redounds to the common good. Why should we be distracted? So long as we are convinced, sige, tuloy na! Naniniwala naman ako na kung hindi ko kaya, bahala na ang Diyos. Tutulungan na niya ako dun

What’s the best thing about being Filipino?

One is it’s very easy for a Filipino to smile. ‘Pag napunta ka sa urban areas, parang tinuturuan na ‘wag ka parati nakangiti, baka akalain nila, promdi, madali kang utuin, madali ito lokohin, etc. But when you go to the province, it’s so easy for everybody to start breaking into a smile.

It talks also of the resiliency… Ang dami ng dagok na inabot natin dito. Ang sama nga ng government natin for so many years. Ang daming pagsubok ang nagsamantala sa atin. Mga invaders and so on and so forth. But no matter how down we are, we’re still proud to be Filipino. Then, the Filipino in the right environment can really prosper and can surpass so many other races. So, dito tayo nakaka-succeed in modest ways in different conditions. If we could live in good conditions that could nurture all of these aspirations… ano kaya ang maaabot natin?

The joy of teaching

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated July 25, 2010 12:00 AM Comments (1) View comments

I started teaching again at the Ateneo de Manila Communications department after a hiatus of four years. I teach one subject called “Issues in Performance and Practice,” which is mostly a chop-suey discussion class about various topics from the history of OPM to the creative mind, from world music to nuances in languages and modern myths. It’s a fun class and I really look forward to my few hours every week engaging young minds.

I always start the semester by describing the course and telling them my expectations: a) to submit all papers on time, and b) to make an impression in the class so that I remember favorably who they are when I have to make a decision between a higher or lower final grade. And yes, I tell them that more than a concern for grades, they will probably benefit more if they don’t try to second guess what they will get but just show interest in the subjects we discuss. After all, I say to them half-seriously that their final grade comes to me via “divine guidance.”

I like informal banter but I also like to see involvement and genuine interest through the students’ comments and queries.

There is something about a classroom setting that excites me. As I look around and see young eager faces looking back at me, I am awake to the prospect that our sessions could create “Aha” moments that may affect some of my students (or me, for that matter) forever. I know that happened to me listening to a few of my teachers. They became major influences since meeting them in school and even through much of my adult life. As much as that can be exhilarating, there is also something sacred about it. I take very seriously the age-old saying: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I have seen it happen many times. And I believe that it cuts both ways. I learn as much as I teach. And sometimes, I get much more.

A few students can define the whole semester for a teacher and vice versa. They are the ones I feel a real connection with. They are the ones whose papers I am eager to read to find out their take on our discussions. They are the hungry minds who like to engage. They like to question as much as they like to be provoked. They make me optimistic when I imagine what they will be after they graduate.

Checking papers is the task I least enjoy as a teacher. So what I do is, after a few homework assignments, I pretty much get an idea who the good writers are and I put the papers of the best ones at the bottom of the pile to give me greater incentive to plod through a lot of uninspired writing.

There is a pre-set divine appointment that is kept when teacher and students take their roles seriously. There is an exchange of experience and wisdom and many small transformations can and do happen. I often tell myself (and sometimes I verbally express it to my students) that I consider all of them “A” students to begin with. All they have to do is maintain that grade. Many of them successfully maintain it.

At the end of every semester, I feel a sense of completion. A batch is finished and hopefully, they will take something from our interactions in the classroom and put them to good use in their lives. It’s goodbye for some even if some relationships extend beyond the semester, and turn into friendship or colleague status.

I have students from five to seven years back who still get in touch with me. One of them is now a co-lecturer in the department. I work with some of them in different projects from time to time. I have also written referrals for jobs some former students have applied for. Thank God, all of those I have recommended have done quite well.

I have even been asked by a few to be a ninong when they got married. It is such a tremendous honor to be asked by people whose minds I was somewhat instrumental in shaping, to be part of their lives forever. When they do, I meet with them and their prospective partners to discuss love, relationships and marriage. Always, I catch myself in the middle of those conversations still talking like their teacher and I smile. After all, the moment is a very teachable one.

When I ask them why they chose me as a ninong, I am humbled when they say that my class made an indelible impact on how they turned out. Some even claimed that it defined a lot of their college life, which is quite an extravagant claim. I am uncomfortable and embarrassed because I don’t know how long that will be true as they get older. I only hope and pray that whatever they got from our encounters in the classroom will be for the better as their young lives unfold into greater maturity.

* * *

Workshop announcements:

1) Songwriting Workshop: A lot of people through the years have asked me about writing songs since I have written so many, including hits, over four decades. I have long wanted to conduct a workshop on it. Well, now I finally will.

Date: Aug. 14 and 15

Time: 1 to 6 p.m.

Place: 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, Quezon City

Cost: P5,000

Requirements: Must know how to play an instrument — guitar or piano.

2) Creative For Life: A cutting-edge course to permanently awaken your creativity.

Date: Aug. 2-6, concluding Aug. 9

Time: 7 to 9 p.m.

Place: 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, Quezon City

Cost: P5,000

3) Basic Photography Workshop

Date: Aug. 21

Time: 1 to 7 p.m.

Place: 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, Quezon City

Cost: P3,500

Please write to to reserve a slot. Or call 426-5375/ 0916-8554303 and ask for Ollie.

What makes a family?

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated July 18, 2010 12:00 AM
Illustration By REY RIVERA

I once read a story about Barry Manilow and how he got the surprise of his life when his father — whom he had never before seen because he abandoned Barry’s mom when she was pregnant — suddenly showed up in his dressing room after a show and introduced himself. Later, in an interview, Manilow said he felt no connection with the man who was his biological father but who was not there when he was growing up.

I know people who were adopted by foster parents whom they had no blood relation with. They are lucky to have landed with people who, though not related to them in any way, were dedicated to them and loved them. I have a classmate who, after years of trying and failing to have a child with his wife, finally decided to adopt a Caucasian girl, and later, a Filipina child. One day, when his daughters were old enough and confronted him and his wife about their origins and how they ended up as a family, he calmly explained that biology alone is not a prerequisite for people to relate as family members. More than biology, it was love that brought them all together as a “family.”

I am so lucky to belong to a family whose members not only love each other but also genuinely enjoy each other’s company. And a big happy family attracts its member’s friends, cousins and other strangers in a vortex of belongingness, making for an even larger extended family.

My wife Lydia’s family is the same. Their house, like ours, was a place where people felt at home. It was a comfort zone where classmates, friends, cousins, suitors spent countless hours just hanging out, and ate countless meals and snacks in between.

In high school, I had a classmate who lived near our house. He came to visit me one day and did not leave for the entire summer. He would go home just to get clothes and return promptly to our house. He slept in a room I shared with two of my brothers, had his laundry done by our laundry woman, and found his place at our family table. Somehow, he felt loved by us and that made him feel at home.

In our house, we had aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, and friends who stayed with us, some for long periods while others would just sleep over occasionally. Somehow, they caught the good vibes our family and home must have exuded and they felt good to be a part of it.

Years later, many of them continue to keep in touch and remain “in the loop,” so to speak. When we get together, which isn’t often, it seems like the years apart have not changed anything. One might say our common experiences when we were kids have bonded us permanently. It’s simply wonderful.

It is sad to hear about families whose members are estranged from one another, families where parents and children do not get along. I feel that one of the biggest tragedies anyone can experience is to belong to a family which not only fails to nurture its members in a loving way but also promotes deep enmity and even hatred for each other.

Even if it is hard to understand how that happens, we know that such cases have been around since time immemorial. In the Bible, there is the story of Cain who killed Abel, and Joseph who was thrown into a well by his brothers. Woe it is to siblings or parents and their children who come into this world as a family unit but live their lives in misery and mistrust.

For sure, even happy families have their share of quarrels. Nothing is perfect. But, as writer Mignon McLaughlin put it, “Family quarrels have a total bitterness unmatched by others. Yet it sometimes happens that they also have a kind of tang, a pleasantness beneath the unpleasantness, based on the tacit understanding that this is not for keeps; that any limb you climb out on will still be there later for you to climb back.” And therein lies the difference.

What makes a happy family? Fr. Peyton, a Catholic priest who ran the Family Rosary Crusade on TV in the 1960s, espoused the familiar mantra: “A family that prays together stays together.” There is a lot of truth in that. Faith and prayer can open the hearts of people and make them not only more loving but also easier to love.

I also know that music, laughter, sharing hard times and good times, having meals together, genuine caring and respect, and the simple commitment to attend important family occasions are equally strong bonding ingredients that promote closeness and genuine love in families.

Perhaps as much as we ask what makes happy families, we should also ask what constitutes one. In my observation, any group of people who dedicate themselves to caring and nurturing each other is a “family” in a deep sense, whether or not they are biologically related.

The writer and satirist Emma Bombeck defined her family this way: “We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.”

Any way you read that, it has elements of love tied up with togetherness and the seal of family on it.

Recently, Jane Tenefrancia Umaytiao, a friend and FaceBook buddy, put a post on her site which read, “Sometime after I got home last night until we woke up, our aging Labrador quietly passed away as he slept in the patio. He still came up to the car to greet me last night. Our oldest girl is most affected as the Lab was her dog. We laid him to rest in a portion of our garden. Sad day for the whole family…”

I couldn’t help but be moved. One does not have to be a pet lover to feel the pain of losing a companion in life, even if it was only a dog who is “less than human.” And I know that last phrase is a contentious one and can be open to a big emotional debate.

In the same way that one does not have to be biologically related to have a family experience, one might conclude that love and dedication can come from other life forms and species. I am very sure that Jane and her family felt the loyalty and affection that their Labrador had for them in the many years they were together. The loss of their dog, no doubt, was also the loss of a family member.

Love is the soil that holds a healthy family tree together. The birds that build their nests in the tree and the friends and pets that seek shelter under it are as much a part of the tree’s history as the branches themselves. But the family tree that is not nurtured with love will simply wither and die.

* * *

Workshop announcements:

1) Songwriting Workshop: A lot of people through the years have asked me about writing songs since I have written so many, including hits, over four decades. I have long wanted to conduct a workshop on it. Well, now I finally will.

Date: Aug. 14 and 15

Time: 1 to 6 p.m.

Place: 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, Quezon City

Cost: P5,000

Requirements: Must know how to play an instrument — guitar or piano.

2) Creative For Life: A cutting-edge course to permanently awaken your creativity.

Date: Aug. 2-6, concluding Aug. 9

Time: 7 to 9 p.m.

Place: 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, Quezon City

Cost: P5,000

3) Basic Photography Workshop

Date: Aug. 21

Time: 1 to 7 p.m.

Place: 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, Quezon City

Cost: P3,500

Please write to to reserve a slot. Or call 426-5375/ 0916-8554303 and ask for Ollie.

My 1st Songwriting Workshop


A lot of people through the years have asked me how it is to write songs since I have written many songs and hits throughout 4 decades. I have been wanting to really do a workshop on it. Well now I finally will.

DATE: August 14 and 15

TIME: 1 to 6 PM

PLACE: 113 B. Gonzales , Lyola Heights, QC


Requirements: Must know how to play an instrument- Guitar or Piano.

Course description: I will teach you the basics of songwriting. This will touch on topics such as melodic structures and lines, lyrics, arrangements, musical and lyrical hooks, in different musical genres. I will also teach you how to make existing songs you have to be more exciting, richer in chord structure and progession.

This will be a very hands-on course. I will guide, encourage and teach you and will also criticize your work constructively.

If you, my student are ready, your teacher will appear. For reservations, write to or call 4265375 and 09168554303.

I will take in only a few students.

Such is life

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated July 11, 2010 12:00 AM


Today I would like to write about life. Not just life, but Life. I can’t get any broader than that, and that’s its whole attraction. It is not just because Life is so magnificently broad in scope; in fact, it defies the word “scope” itself. It is the king of everything. It is the ultimate context that makes any other sub-context pitifully miniscule.

Talk about anything at all situated in any time, place and any other context you can think of and it is within the purview of Life. It is like Carl Sandburg’s description of grass in his immortal poem of the same title, “I am the grass. I cover all.”

I can’t think of any other topic that has elicited more speculation, rumination, analysis, opinions and what-have-you, all expressed within a wide spectrum of varying depths and shades than Life itself. It’s because we deal with it every day, every minute, every hour. We cannot not have an opinion about it.

Well, there’s also the subject of God, but that’s another topic. Or is it? It can get confusing. Maybe it’s because Life with a capital ‘L” and God are not topics in themselves the way, say, soccer is. And I am not being facetious here. I know I am sounding more confusing but allow me to go on.

We talk about Life, and God, as subjects that cover everything. Everything is within their domain. Like the ad for Agfa film used to say, “Nothing escapes it.” But then, if all is indeed within their domain, how is it that we can refer to them as mere objects to talk and write about? If they are all-encompassing, in reality, we shouldn’t be able to say anything about them with any accuracy because they are infinitely bigger than any attempt to describe them. In fact, the moment we try to put them into words, we make them smaller and thus misrepresent them.

Many writings by mystics and religions recognize this when they talk about God. He/She/It, they say, is nameless, faceless, figureless, without gender and yet is felt and experienced. Thus, the tradition of some religions not to have icons or inanimate physical representations of God, because anything smaller or lower than the unlimited reality that is God would be a defilement.

So it is with Life. We can only make, at best, a trite description of it. But we can still be brilliant in our triteness as Joseph Campbell was when he described life as “like arriving late for a movie, having to figure out what is going on without bothering everybody with a lot of questions, and then being unexpectedly called away before you find out how it ends.”

What a great way to describe the inscrutability of Life! Thus, in his or her varying ways, everyone’s take on Life is correct. It’s the same movie we are all watching, but, at best, our descriptions of it are only partial, as philosopher Ken Wilber observes.

An angsty teenager may declare that “life sucks.” Someone else may see it as a bowl of cherries, or a challenge, or a test, a big party, a repayment of karmic debt, or maybe even as punishment. In some strange way, everyone is correct because Life has a way of validating practically anything that we wish to believe about it.

Just listen to people whose opinions you find outrageous and unacceptable. Don’t you wonder how Life makes them arrive at such conclusions? And yet, those views are true for them. Sometimes, it seems that Life is inherently a magician, a prankster, or a trickster. It is so rich and abundant, it can seem to deliver any experience we want it to. If we look hard enough, it will mirror back to you whatever you want it to.

And yet, Life knows that mortals like us can never concentrate hard enough or hold on to any position or conclusion long enough to keep it forever. It will always accommodate our evolving beliefs and even what we think our new calling could be in relation to how we have defined Life. It does this with every new experience that shapes us, that gives us new input that alters and supports our emerging beliefs.

This constant input shapes what we hold to be true about Life, and each new development may seem like the truth — until it reaches its expiration date. For example, some Filipinos may have believed in GMA before and then changed their minds as events played out.

I think about the many wars in history that were supposed to have been launched for all that was good and right and truthful then — the Crusades, the Holocaust, all the big battles in little places and the small wars in far-off settings, Mao’s cultural revolution, Pol Pot’s drive to save Cambodia, ethnic cleansing, etc. When they were happening, these events must have had the ring of truth and righteousness to their adherents within their own life context. But, as a more enlightened age that followed scoured the devastation and lives lost in those endeavors, humankind could only ask in astonishment how people could have been so wrong in believing Life had asked them to do… that.

Life is a trial, and each age will be judged by the one that follows it. But in terms of Life’s ultimate meaning, the jury will be deliberating forever. Meanwhile, all we can do is live it according to how we see it at a given time.

I can go along with it, but only partially, when people talk about God being the guide to living life.

I can go with the whole idea of God touching our lives and caring for mankind. But I wonder about how God seems to allow horrific things to happen. Sometimes I ask myself what kind of God He/She/It is who allows famine, persecution and injustice to reign. I do not have the eternally definitive answer and I probably never will. We will probably never know.

Is God personal? My observation is, we do not always have to experience God as having a personal relationship with us. Perhaps it’s not supposed to be that way.

Often, I look at God not in a personal way but as Life itself unfolding. The infinitely vast intelligence that keeps Life not just afloat but continuously evolving, that which keeps us in awe of Life itself, is God. The idea that some things in life are good and some are bad is something I have stopped subscribing to. There exists side by side in all things both the horrible and the beautiful. One can find beauty in the ugliest situations and vice versa.

All of life is a balance, and walking the path between its extremes is how it is to be lived. Life is the great deck of cards being constantly shuffled, and God is the eternal dealer. To Him, it does not matter what cards He deals. To us, our role in the scheme of things is to play whatever cards we get.

Such is Life as far as I know.

* * *

I have three workshops to announce:

1) Creative For Life: A life-changing creativity workshop for adults. It runs for six sessions on August 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9 from 7 to 9 p.m.

Venue to be announced. Cost: P5,000.

2) Songwriting Workshop: A two-day workshop for budding songwriters which I will conduct.

To be held August 14, 15. Details to follow.

3) Basic Photography Workshop: August 21 from 1 to 7 p.m. at 133 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights QC.

* * *

For all inquiries, please call 426-5375/0916-8554303 and ask for Ollie. Write me at (one word) for questions and reservations.

Lessons learned about change

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated July 04, 2010 12:00 AM

People who have given serious thought to how to change things in the Philippines and make our collective lives better have gone through a gamut of emotions, moods, mindsets and paradigms, and in varying intensities.

I know many who have traveled the zigzag road that started with enthusiasm but quickly turned to frustration. The road lined with optimism and great possibilities quickly became a dirty, abandoned road of hopelessness and cynicism. Something about tackling such problems makes many weak in the knees the moment they start. Reality sets in big time. And that reality can seem like a dragon that is much bigger than anyone can slay. And one can’t really blame those who lose interest and abandon the effort.

I also know that as much as one can easily lose interest, the yearning to see a better country is never lost. The desire to change things lies dormant and builds up to periodic eruptions of patriotism. With the proper stimulus, idealism is awakened and we can again be filled with determination and commitment. Now is such a time. The yearning has been awakened.

Many who have been at this for a while have learned much just by watching themselves and others go through the challenge of transforming society. They have learned what works and what doesn’t in the pursuit of this noble goal of societal change.

Here’s a list of lessons I have learned through the years from other people and from my own experience.

1) It does not help to be overly pessimistic. The problems are daunting enough to begin with. Unwarranted gloom and cynicism do not help. Many times, people mistake their cynicism with simply being realistic, but more often than not, this is not so. Being realistic is knowing the facts, making judgments on how to tackle the problem and taking chances. Being realistic requires courage. But cynicism and pessimism are damaging to the spirit because they imagine things to be much worse than they are and can discourage us to give up before we even try. Pessimism bets on the side of failure while courage bets on the side of success.

2) You need a constituency for the changes you want to do. You can’t do it alone. Very often, all we do is wish aloud and hope someone hears what we are saying. We naively think that announcing our thoughts on Facebook, Twitter and letters to the editor are enough effort. The truth is we need to convince people, lots of them, to want the same things and be willing to take action to achieve them. Every important, positive step we have taken as a people in the past 20 years has involved this.

3) When you have a vision, share it initially with like-minded people who will encourage you. Birds of the same feather flock together. A vision needs to be nurtured and cared for before it is released to the world. Sad to say, there are many who feel a sense of twisted pride when best efforts fail because they can claim that “We told you so.”

4) Words and visions are great but there is nothing like action. As Barbara Streisand sang in Putting it Together, “A vision’s just a vision if it’s only in your head. If a vision’s just a vision it’s as good as dead. It’s got to come to life.” The word must be made flesh, as the Bible says. If a great idea is planted in your mind but does not translate into concrete action, it’s tantamount to creative abortion.

5) Talk is cheap. Criticisms of government, our leaders, policies or anything, for that matter, does not help if they are mere knee-jerk reactions or baseless, exaggerated claims by pundits out to win points. If they do not provide insight or do not propose real solutions, they will not help create change or raise one’s credibility with the body politic. People will see through false ideas sooner or later. It is best to think things through before opening one’s mouth.

6) Creativity and new approaches to problems are sorely needed. By new approaches, I suggest using new language in place of old worn-out phrases. The reason why our leaders have not been able to inspire us is because they are trapped in the old culture of “government-speak,” which is often in a different wavelength from the consciousness of most people. It could be a question of sincerity. The perceived lack of truthfulness or reality could be one reason why their words do not touch, much less move, their audience.

7) There will always be a gap between the views of people who work in government and those who don’t how the country is actually run. Government outsiders tend to be more idealistic (often unrealistic) while those in government are burdened with the inertia of the bureaucracy and years of bad governance that they have had to live with. In the process, they learn to accept this and, not wishing to rock the boat, may even end up resisting change. The source of conflict between even a good government and its citizens is high expectations versus the pace of change that the bureaucracy can handle. Those joining government should bridge this gap as quickly as possible.

8) People Power can really be a positive force for change. Think about it. P-Noy ran against a powerful machine with an unlimited war chest. Noy’s volunteers, for the most part, made their own posters, stickers, banners and used their own resources to launch a people’s campaign. People power did not have a monolithic structure and no one identifiable leader. It was a movement, a vibe, and the candidates who did not see it, much less believe in it, paid the price. Think about it. If Villar had won the elections, it would be clear that the next presidential election six years from now will be all about who has the most money. People Power has changed that. Future elections will be all about who can fire up and engage people more.

9) Lastly, just as one struggle is won, a new one begins. The story and mission of changing the country is a never-ending one. And, yes, it is true that change starts with ourselves. It was Gandhi who said that we need to be the change we want to see. This is not a single step but a continuous effort to improve, learn and grow so that we all embody the change this country needs to finally take off.

* * *

I will be giving a Basic Photo Workshop on July 10, Saturday, from 1 to 7 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Cost is P3,500. Please write me at to reserve a slot or to inquire. Or call Ollie at 0916-8554303/426-5375.

Topics will cover familiarization with the features and functions of the camera such as aperture opening and speed, ISO, white balance, and techniques in photography such as framing, lighting, exposure, composition, action shots, portraiture, and a whole lot more.

Students must have a DSLR.