An Auditorium, Not A Carpark

   After careful research of yellowing Baguio ordinances since the time of Eusebius Halsema, it’s pretty obvious that from the start, Baguio is not like other cities: you can’t – and you don’t – simply pour cement anywhere.  For one, Baguio is a mountain city: the geological design and make-up of the city should consider ecology, safety, and efficiency.  For two, Baguio is a planned city: development does not come here by way of cement trucks and haphazard blueprints.

   Lisa’s reliable sources say that the City Government is planning on making for more overpasses, underpasses, and a vehicular tunnel underneath City Hall.  There’s also a P200-million multi-storey carpark in the works at the vacant lot behind Baguio City National High School.

   I’m 22 years old: if anything, I have a lot at stake when it comes to these “development projects” furthered by the City.  I personally think that the site for the carpark is better used as a place to build a new P100-million City Auditorium, and the remaining P100-million can be used to rehabilitate the Baguio Athletic Bowl.  You can easily resolve the parking problem by issuing less franchises for public utility vehicles and general public discipline.  Moving the bus terminals out to Baguio’s peripheries would greatly alleviate traffic congestion, and the flyover near the Baguio General Hospital would have been completely unnecessary.

   Of course, the Mayor has sort of neglected the youth (save for ubiquitous, omnipresent posters advertising the University of Baguio) and what’s at stake for them in terms of development.  The youth of Baguio have almost forgotten about their culture and their heritage.  I’d rather have an Auditorium, where Baguio musicians and artists could build up on the cultural capital of Baguio, than a parking building.  Here are a few reasons why:

  • Self-proclaimed gangsters could do better than to loiter around in public spaces.
  • Investing in the cultural heritage of Baguio is cheaper than investing in a flyover or a tunnel that nobody but a politician with a government-sponsored car will use.
  • The Auditorium will always be open to generate revenue from plays, musical acts, and art exhibitions.
  • We can resurrect the Cordilleran Epic and not allow it to descend into low-class hip-hop posturing.

   Heck, you give me a small amount of money one-fourth of what a Councilor’s car is worth, a group of committed actors and actresses, and six months of practice and Biag Ni Lam-ang will come alive in an Auditorium.  We can’t do that in a carpark.

"I Don't Want To Be Forgotten"

“I don’t want to be forgotten in jail.”

– Fouad Ahmed al-Fahran, the “Dean of Saudi Bloggers”  

   While most bloggers I know would write today about how their day went or some unique food find, I would like to take a moment to write about a fellow blogger.  A blogger who, like me, won’t shut up.  The only difference is that I write from a place where I still enjoy (to some degree) the right to create and disseminate information on whatever I feel like passing off responsibly as such.  He, on the other hand, worked for that same right to be enjoyed in his own country… and got imprisoned for it.  And one day, we who blog in the Philippines face the very close possibility of suffering the same fate: of being arrested.

   When I first came to chance upon Fouad al-Fahran’s blog not too long ago, I couldn’t read, much less understand, a single thing.  Fouad’s blog is written in Arabic, a language I do not know.  I couldn’t understand what’s written in the national flag of Saudi Arabia, much less make it for United Nations’ Day when I was a kid.

   Had I only known.  Fouad is the most popular blogger in Saudi Arabia, but not because he writes about the “usual topics.”  Fouad writes about the policies of the Kingdom: not only is he a vocal critic, but an activist and advocate of civil rights.  Fouad, unlike most bloggers, writes under his real name.

   Fouad al-Fahran, on December 11, 2007, became the first blogger in Saudi Arabia to be arrested for blogging.  Nobody in the Philippine press will report on it, and nobody in the Saudi press reported on it.  The bulk of what you and I will know about Fouad will be from the one thing he got arrested for: the medium of the blog.

   You might ask yourself: what does Marocharim – a blogger from the Philippines – care for the arrest of Fouad, who blogs from Saudi Arabia?

   Fouad’s arrest gets me thinking: why in the heck would you arrest a blogger?  Nowadays, activists and militants here in the country have been talking a lot about “press repression,” that blogging does not represent at all a force for social change.  No Filipino blogger has been arrested: maybe because the bulk of us are personal bloggers who write about how our day went.  There are political bloggers out there – far better ones than I am whenever I feel like writing about politics – and aren’t even touched by the government.  While we enjoy our freedoms now, Fouad’s arrest is something that I see as a precedent: that this government will, in the near future, arrest a blogger.

   Online activism here – the Parliament of the Web – will always take a back seat to the Parliament of the Streets.  We who level our sharpest critiques on the government – and society in general – online won’t be water-cannoned or truncheoned.  It’s not “cowardice:” rather, we recognize the possibilities offered by the Web to propagate our own messages for change and reform.  Yet for every front-liner in a rally who has the close possibility of being wounded in a scuffle, we bloggers face the close possibility of being arrested.

   And yet the possible arrest of a Filipino blogger is further dimmed by the truth of it all: there is no law in the Philippines (that I know of) that protects a blogger, that gives him or her the same rights enjoyed by a journalist, a card-carrying member of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).  One day, someone out there will rise up and write something in his or her blog that will earn the ire of the government.  That person will be yanked out of his or her rented terminal in some random computer shop, get handcuffed, and will be the first victim – perhaps even casualty – of “blogging repression.”

   From almost 5,000 miles away, I demand the freedom of Fouad Ahmed al-Fahran.

   My call-to-arms in demanding Fouad al-Fahran’s freedom is a call-to-arms to all bloggers to recognize the power of the Web as a catalyst for social change.  We should not forget Fouad al-Fahran, as much as we should not forget the implicit responsibility of calling out the mistakes and errors of Filipino society.  Write about him.  Pray for him.  Spare your daily dose of whatever happened to you today, and reflect on his slogan: “Searching for freedom, dignity, justice, equality, Shura and all the remaining Islamic values which are missing.”

   If anything, I urge all of you who read this to not forget Fouad Ahmed al-Fahran.

*     *     * 

For more on Fouad al-Fahran, click here.

The Manny Pacquiao Scandal

   Just when I promised myself to quit writing about Manny Pacquiao, here comes another issue about him.

   Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I don’t hate Manny personally.  I have nothing to gain or to lose by writing anything about, for, or against Manny Pacquiao.  I’m entitled to a few opinions about him: one being that as far as one-dimensional boxers are concerned, he’s the best one-dimensional boxer in the world today.  Another being that he’s a first-rate patriot, a second-rate nationalist, and a third-rate politician.

   I think that getting fed up with Pacquiao – “Manny fatigue” – is not the reason why bloggers like myself are vocal in our contempt for him.  To be honest, most Filipinos would never tire of Pacquiao’s blazing speed and boxing prowess, and they will never tire of his indiscretions and excesses outside the ring ropes.  Manny gets himself into too much trouble: he digs too many holes and falls into them far too many times.  Manny, as a public figure, is a lot like a Britney Spears or a Paris Hilton or a Lindsay Lohan: far from being the national icon that he was then, Manny Pacquiao is now the new national embarrassment.

*     *     * 

   Glitchline and Tin Tinapay have already released the “Manny Pacquiao Scandal:” no, it’s not footage from “Anak ng Kumander” that involved torrid kissing scenes with Ara Mina and Valerie Concepcion (the latter appearing on “Entertainment Live” not too long ago in tears for whatever Pacman did to her), and Manny’s bad acting.  Instead, Manny – wearing a striped pink shirt I will never have the guts to wear – is seen dancing with some hot chicks at Embassy Bar.

   While you can’t really believe everything you see in the Internet, there’s just no denying that the guy wearing that hideous shirt (and gyrating with that girl clad in mucus green) is indeed the Philippines’ national boxing “hero.”  I do graphic design on the side, and there’s no way you can tell me that it is possible with current and available technology to “edit” that picture to make someone else look like Manny.

  Here’s the problem: Manny is idolized, if not venerated (without understanding, to invoke Renato Constantino), by the Filipino people.  In “Anak ng Kumander,” he portrayed a man of great ideals and fervent passion: in his “scandal,” he presents himself to be a lesser man of worldly passions.  Not that I’m preaching morals on Manny – who is more devout than I am – but is this something you would expect not only from a national icon, but from a married man?

   I’m not saying that Manny is unattractive: maybe, just maybe, some women have developed a taste for his looks.  But that’s a non-issue.  Had Manny been single, there would have been a perfect excuse for him to do some thinly-disguised philandering at a bar.  I feel for Jinky Pacquiao: being married to a hugely popular boxing superstar and entertainment icon is bad enough, and she had to put up with her husband being linked to so many showbiz personalities.  I don’t know what would go on in her mind if she hears about this.

*     *     *

   Besides, there’s no denying the allegation that Manny has already become so pig-headed.  Here’s a guy who slept in cardboard boxes as a kid.  In his early days as a boxer, Manny didn’t fight for glory: he fought for something to put in his stomach.  The soonest that Manny became this larger-than-life “superstar,” Manny was no longer the consummate pugilist: the decent boxer who did good, the kind of man who deserves a statue alongside the likes of Pancho Villa and Gabriel “Flash” Elorde.  The more that Manny commits self-imposed acts of character assassination, we who follow boxing become more exposed not only to his mistakes as a man, but his mistakes as a boxer.

   Make no mistake about it: no matter how many Magic Sing microphones are sold all over the world carrying a karaoke version of “Para Sa ‘Yo Ang Laban Na ‘To,” Manny is, was, and forever will be a boxer.  The soonest that Manny quit being a “boxer” and became a “superstar,” his boxing talent diminished.  What grandness, what pride would it have been if Manny took extra miles in his practice to legitimately knock out Erik Morales.

   You have rising stars like Boom Boom Bautista and AJ Banal who shy away from the glitz and glamor of entertainment, and are making shockwaves everywhere.  Not because of their “scandals,” but because they are honing themselves in the gym, guided by some hope that one day, they’ll be like Manny Pacquiao.  You have young men working out in gyms, fighting for loose change in rundown arenas with sunken canvasses and sagging ropes, hoping that one day, they’ll be like Manny Pacquiao.

   I beg to differ.

*     *     * 

   You might be telling yourselves that I’m just one of them gnat-like bloggers: pests who misinterpret the right to publicly-disclosed information.  “Pseudo-journalists” who don’t have editorial policies.  You might even say that we leech upon Manny’s popularity (or anyone else’s, for that matter) and destroy his public life because we have nothing better to do on idle afternoons.

   Of course I am, but at the same time, I’m not.  You see, like every Filipino, I once had the utmost respect for Manny Pacquiao.  I believed in Manny Pacquiao.  I placed bets not against Manny, but for Manny.  I overlooked every mistake he made in the ring and believed that this was going to be a short, exciting fight worth my bet.

   They say that the boxer must lord things over in two rings: the boxing ring that wins you championships, and the boxing ring that is life itself.  Manny is winning the first few rounds of the boxing ring that is life: he’s getting money, undivided attention, and indiscreet trips to Embassy.  But what of his public life, his family life, his place in history?  No one knows for sure.  But the history books right now are writing that one part of Manny’s history that we should all look forward to forgetting: Superstar Manny.  Rockstar Manny.  And when it all comes down, when all the lights go out and the fans start leaving, there really ain’t no such thing.

   That ain’t all that goes with being a rock star.  Ah, Cypress Hill.

Firestarter, Twisted Firestarter

   The New Year is a time rife for firecrackers: before I left the house to buy fish food, I had to negotiate my way around a warzone of “piccolo,” “pla-pla” and “Judas Belt.”  While I like violent explosions as much as the next guy, I prefer to watch them from a safe distance.  Any residential back-alley on New Year’s Eve is a scene straight off a bad Chuck Norris movie, if you asked me.  Besides, I don’t want to be the next guy who goes to the emergency room not for actually lighting a firecracker, but for being a mere passer-by.

   Sure, I’ve lit my own fair share of firecrackers before, but after seeing somebody being mortally-wounded from a New Year’s explosion, I laid my hands off fireworks for good.  But I’m still pretty much guilty of handling boga, a plastic air cannon “powered” by compressed air and alcohol.  It’s explosive fun for the first few minutes, until firing blasts of high-pressure air becomes a bit boring.  Besides, there are a lot of interracial penis-related jokes you can make out of it, and it doesn’t make for a good bong.  Not that I condone or condemn the use of marijuana, though.

   Watching news reports from emergency rooms filled with people who lost their fingers from firecrackers has become an annual ritual for me.  Bloody carnage is something you would expect from suicide bombers a’la the one that claimed Benazir Bhutto’s life in Pakistan, but here it’s something you would expect on the first day of the year.  There’s something about carving spring chicken with these news reports on: the sight of a dismembered finger is enough to remind you of homemade hamonado.

   But I’m thinking that I’m better off celebrating the coming of 2008 playing old music by Prodigy.  Hence the title.

2007… In Bullet Points

   I’m particularly lazy tonight, so I’ll sum up my year in convenient bullet points:

  • was launched in December 2007, which means that at least for one year, I’m off free blogging services and I have the privilege of having my own website.  This is all thanks to and Wika2007, where I won the Participants’ Choice Award.
  • My thesis, “The Articulation of the Self in Virtual Environments,” was finished in eight months and ended up as a 366-page tome.  Needless to say, I am very proud of it: the feeling that I have made a new theoretical framework has sunk in, and then there’s the feeling that I made an ass out of myself in that thesis.
  • After 11 years in campus journalism, I finally called it quits: after all, I’m a bastard journalist.  I am now thinking about moving into things that really interest me: comic books and graphic novels.
  • I promised myself a girlfriend as a New Year’s resolution.  As the year ends, I still don’t have one.  That’s unless some fluke romance happens within the next 28 hours.
  • I’ve learned a lot this year and I hope to learn even more about life in 2008.

   Here’s to the convenience of bullet points, and a Happy New Year to all of you!

Media Confidential

   Author’s note: this piece was written in Original TMX.  In these times of protracted word wars between television stations, this experiment – once again – says my peace.


Originally posted May 21, 2007

< gonna be quite long >

   Sometimes I wonder if my experiences as a campus journalist ever amounted to me being “part of the media,” or if I ever was a “media man.”  I’ve had my fair share of “media experiences” like interviewing the likes of Erap Estrada (the former President) and Bojo Molina (who is unknown to many who haven’t watched “F.L.A.M.E.S” or “The Mariano Mison Story”), covering everything from demolitions to worker’s strikes to student rallies.  My friends say that most student journalists can’t hold their candles to me.  To me, it wasn’t about me being “a good journalist,” but it was a matter of holding the same job for 11 years, despite having had a conflicted past with it.

   But one thing was that in spite of my differences with my paper and the media in general, I’ve always defended it.  To me, the media represents the actualization of freedom of speech and the right to free expression.  The mistakes of the media are “human” mistakes, and there’s nothing and old-fashioned erratum can correct.  I was all for de-criminalizing libel.  I thought that a newscaster is just doing the job expected of him/her.  I thought that there was nothing wrong with the freest press in Asia.

   But after a much-needed break from the grind, I realized that I thought wrong.  Thinking that the media – mainstream or alternative – presented the “realities of life” was undoubtedly part of a “false consciousness” I fostered for myself as being part of the media.  This amounted to me revisiting my old conflicts with media and subjecting it to the pains of a dialectic.  I realized that what you see is different from what you experience, and the view of things do change when you see it from a different angle.  It’s not a matter of merely writing an article from a different perspective or viewing a newscast from another channel, but a matter of seeing and understanding media from the strange perspective of being formerly from it, and now being a consumer of it.  From what I though of myself to be a “media practicioner,” I have metamorphosed to being what I think of myself as a “media critic.”

   Politicians and public figures complain about being “victimized” by the media, although it is elucidated in very shallow and personal terms.  But I think that “victimization” is not something exclusive to a politician or a celebrity, but is something that is inclusive to the public in general.  The way I see it, people are silent victims of the media.  Presented with no other alternatives to major networks, broadsheets and tabloid journalism, consumers – in this case “customers” – of mainstream and “alternative” media outfits and enterprises are forced to consume a general media product that belittles their intelligence and disregards their agency.  transforms the public into passive and willing victims of the path to enforced and institutionalized intellectual degeneration, moral degradation, and outright dishonesty.

   The views in this entry are strictly my views and do not reflect the views of other organizations, individuals and such.  Criticism of all kinds – constructive, personal, degrading – are welcome.

*      *      *

Introduction: Coronel’s “idiotization” thesis

   Shiela Coronel of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) mentions of the “idiotization” of Philippine news.  It’s very evident in primetime news programs, where anchors act like hectoring demagogues, where the reportage largely consists of police reports and crime stories, and so on and so forth.  To news executives, they merely “report the news as it is,” that what is being reported is merely a reflection of what’s going on in society.  But rather than elevate the level of discourse in Philippine news, the level degenerates.  In effect, the viewer is treated like, well, an idiot, force-fed crime stories, showbiz scoops and political scandals.

   When I first read Coronel’s article a few months ago, I thought that she was a bit “biased” and that her claims are largely founded on statistical evidence, which is something I’m not very keen on.  But the more I watch TV news, the more I realize that there is merit to the “idiotization” thesis.  It is something pervasive in Philippine media, a syndrome, if you will.

   “Syndrome” is a light word, something that pertains to a brief attack of something periodic.  But the idiotization of media – in this case Philippine media – is something that goes beyond something like a social “influenza.”  The degree by which we, the people, are turned into passive idiots is something that not only makes us sick, but makes us immune as well.  It’s more like a plague.

*  *  *

An example

   Let’s start with a microcosm.  Back when I was a practicing campus journalist, I have always been told that “to write is already to choose.”  This means that a journalist should not and cannot attain absolute objectivity in reporting the news: the mere fact that he/she chooses who to interview, where to get sources and how to write the article is itself an affirmation of bias.  It, however, was a choice: you have to choose your bias.  Almost everyone in the school paper professed being biased “to the students” or “to the people,” but I didn’t believe this.  To me, the paper is a public service and a public trust: because a journalist does public service he/she must state publicly where he/she is coming from.  Part of good editorial policy should be that at the beginning of a new editorial term, the paper should make clear its objectives and thrusts for the term and state its biases clearly and publicly.  This was not “suicide,” as my co-editors termed it, but it was a matter of keeping things honest and on the level.  This means that the reading public knows the standpoint and viewpoint the paper is coming from for every article or editorial piece it publishes.

   What I “preached” in the school paper’s newsroom, though, wasn’t something readily accepted.  Many of the arguments that led me to resign from the paper were caused by this rift between conflicting journalistic philosophies.  While they argued along the lines of “editorial independence,” I made it clear that the political and ideological affiliations and leanings of its members (myself included) did not make complete “editorial independence” possible.  While they hired apprentices and new staff members on the basis of their receptiveness to and acceptance of educational discussions and their political work, I worked only with those who were already experienced or demonstrate a satisfactory capacity to handle the job.  But beyond that was a difference in how to handle bias: to them, it was important to continue a tradition of “alternative journalism,” to report the news the mainstream media does not report on and to be the “voice of the oppressed.”  I was all for tradition and voicing out the concerns of the oppressed: what I wanted, though, was for these to be made explicit to the reading public.  It was not a matter of a militant editorial term taking in the opinions of non-militants to “balance out” the school paper as proposed by many readers.  Instead, the paper should make it clear from the very beginning where it’s coming from, what ideology it adheres to, what causes it supports and what direction it’s going to take.

*  *  *

Media’s business end

   But then again, that’s the theoretical ideal.  I now know why my seniors and my superiors protested against my ideas from the get-go: media is not just about “public service” as I always thought, but it’s also primarily a business.  It’s not just a matter of monetary profit, but a matter of social profit as well.  Stating your biases publicly is fine, for so long as it doesn’t hurt the business end of your outfit.  “Informing the public” is not as simple as it sounds.  Being a source of information, you have to pick your information.  It’s a lot like picking grapes for wine: you don’t drop the whole bunch in.  Instead, you select the biggest, juiciest and the most flavorful ones.  The business end of the media is not about protecting the interests of the reader, but protecting the interests of the business.

   You have to have an established network that supports the business end of your outfit.  In a school paper, for example, your support network is not composed of the students who mandatorily pay for school paper fees, but from the organizations and supporters that protect you from the flak that you’re going to get left and right everytime you publish something that will rouse doubt on the “objectivity” demanded of you.  You can proclaim “editorial independence” or stand by the assertion that you are an “institution,” but that’s simply not enough.  From the get-go, it is imperative to build alliances with organizations and umbrella alliances that will not only defend you from impending flak for your stands and actions, but also a reader base.  People have to read you: if they don’t, you’re dead.  No readers mean no new alliances.  No new alliances means no support.  No support means no paper.  It’s that simple.

   Earlier, I likened the editorial process to picking grapes for wine.  There’s another apsect to that: you can’t make wine that everybody likes.  It’s the same thing with a newspaper: you can’t make articles that everybody likes.  This will confound many people: just how exactly do you get the job done if you can’t please everybody?  It’s quite simple, really.  You have a support base in those who read you, so you cater to this support base.  You don’t have to make articles everybody likes, you only have to make articles your support network likes.  You don’t please everybody: instead, you please the people who are pleased with you and who you are pleased with.  This is not technically “alienating” the reading public, because there’s really no one to alienate.  Those who don’t read you – either by virtue of ignorance or because they protest your editorial standpoint by “boycotting” you – are not, strictly speaking, your readers.  You don’t have to make articles for them, you only have to make articles for your network.  You publish articles for those who are sympathetic to your cause, but at the same time and in effect, you publish articles that are sympathetic to their cause.  It’s not a mere matter of “exchange” or “reciprocity,” but it’s a matter of business.  In business, you and your customer have to think alike, you have to reach a point of congruence.  In business, congruence makes deals materialize – it’s a matter of cinching a deal because you know there’s a deal coming, not because you merely “expect” a deal.  You don’t “converge,” since with that arrangement, something has to give.  If you buckle, no paper.  Again, it’s that simple.

   Some may think that an arrangement like this is “corrupt.”  Ethically, yes, it’s definitely corrupt that it’s nauseating.  But politically, it’s not.  People talk about “media ethics” a lot nowadays, but there’s also such a thing as “media politics.”  Politics is grounded on the survival imperative.  Biologically, you can’t survive without food for four months and without water for three days.  But in society, you can’t survive without having a hold on the politics of things.  Politics has often been called “the economics of social survival” for good reason: it’s all a matter of investment and return.  The social “stock market” is about investing in the right people and you get good returns if you play the game well.  Media is not all that different: people invest in you, in return you invest in them, and this cycle of investments continue on for so long as you both reap the benefits of the investment.  This creates bonds forged and strengthened by time and more and more investments.  If the bond goes up, you both go up.  If the bond goes down, you both go down.  It’s all a matter of protecting mutual interests – it’s called “shareholding.”  Yes, it definitely looks and sounds very, very familiar.  It’s a game of survival: if a paper doesn’t survive, it’s dead.  Yet again, it’s that simple.

   At this point, at least, we have a clue to why primetime news shows so much crime stories, why newspapers are so politically inclined, why certain advertisers choose this network over another, and why many school papers are in reality not “independent.”  And like many things that I hold strong opinions of, this is definitely going to hurt.

*  *  *

The newscaster as a hectoring demagogue

   In the case of primetime news, it’s all about ratings.  Had we taken the logic of news executives that they report things “the way they are” with a less-than-critical mind, the streets should be so full of vehicular crashes, the jails should be so jam-packed with petty thieves and rapists, that our major cities are raging infernos of sheer doom and terror, and that at every waking moment there’s a 100% chance that we’ll be robbed at knifepoint, hostaged in a bus, raped by our stepfathers, killed by a gunman, or commit suicide in the confines of our very own homes.  The thing is, the big networks don’t report what’s really going on, but report the news they deem profitable to their demographic: the C, D and E classes who have their TV’s turned on for 18 hours a day, looking for some measure of suspense and action to spice up their otherwise boring and uneventful lives.  The lower class does not understand the many socio-economic implications of the fluctuating performance of the Philippine economy or the ramifications of Paul Wolfowitz resigning from the World Bank after nepotism charges were filed against him.  Instead, they understand the polarizing and simplifying effects of elementary dichotomies like good and evil, police and criminal, fire and firefighter, hostage-taker and negotiator, and so on.

   This is what “sells” to the primetime audience, who understand convoluted soap opera storylines and inanities in “reality TV” shows, but demonstrate an inadequate understanding of their roles and responsibilities in building a society grounded on the principles of social justice, rights and equity: the antitheses of which are broadcasted on TV in the form of “poll fraud” allegations, paraphilic rapes and “public service announcements” involving the network’s “foundation” literally peddling and hawking scenes of poverty and disability to every TV in the nation just so that they can say that they are “for real” in the lame over-dramatization that passes for their brand of “public service.”  You don’t see commentary and debate on primetime news, but you see “reports” on the next “wholesome girl” to land a “sexy pictorial” with some men’s magazine or some “funny” feature story about a strange frog.  Rather than conscienticize the public about the real situation of divisiveness in the nation, the networks have effectively re-divided the nation between who’s part of the network’s family, who’s in the network’s heart, and who watches government officials prattle on about the accomplishments of this “Strong Republic” that has sustained compound fractures on every single bone of its body.

   What would have been acceptable, in this case, is for the networks to admit where they’re coming from.  We – in this case I – cannot and will not settle for vague, poetic and metaphorical abstractions of things that don’t sound like an open declaration of bias.  After all, it’s bad for business: “bias” is a four-letter word.  But what’s good for business is bad for the public consciousness: the choice for sources of news is limited because it’s profitable to keep it limited.  When the other network goes on commercial, you go on commercial too, to compete with revenues.

   Broadcasting interns, who of all people should have a better knowledge of modern practices of journalism than the antiquated method of applying the style of radio to television and vice versa – start to report like they’re covering the police beat all the time.  And for what?  Ratings.  You don’t report the news in order to inform the public anymore, but you beat the other reporters to the source of the news and have an “exclusive.”  Then you shove the damned microphone right on the face of the grieving mother of the victim or ambush the politican-in-question while he/she is entering his/her car.  You could have told me before that that was the way you’re going to do the news.  But you won’t, because it’s bad for business.

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Newspapers: the freehold?

   The abomination that is primetime news makes me more of a newspaper guy, but sometimes, I just don’t get it anymore.  Everytime I pick up a newspaper nowadays I’m not spared from the same force-feeding of information in primetime news, especially with tabloids.  Sure, they’re cheap, but I don’t have to read the graphic descriptions of a 70-year-old grandmother getting run over by a semi truck while I’m having my coffee.  Heck, I don’t even have to read the tabloid version of last night’s rape story in all of its graphic detail, more so those serialized sex stories that would actually induce, or at least fuel the thought, of the damned sex crimes so prevalent in primetime TV news.  Worse, reading a tabloid is like getting showbiz bits intravenously fed to you: blind items are easier to solve than brain-wracking Sunday Sudoku puzzles, and you’ll definitely be the first to know of celebrity closet queens and sex scandal royalty.

   Well, there’s always the broadsheet, right?  Well, not really: the major broadsheets of the country will never declare their political biases to the public and leave that to the monotony of topics in their opinion pages and the monotony of their news, in the hope that the implication is much less dangerous than the explication (which is often not the case).  And yes, there’s an entire section for the chaos of Metro Manila while the rest of the nation is covered by one-paragraph newsbriefs.  Everyday, it’s the same thing: not because it’s a slow news day, but because it’s what’s profitable for their interests.  The way I see it, you can classify the major broadsheets in the country can be divided into three: those who are against the government but don’t explicate it in the interest of keeping its advertisers and perpetuating its agenda, those who serve the purpose of being the other paper’s competitor and runs the same stories as them only re-worded and rephrased to protect their own business interests, and those who tread the path of “objectivity” to the dot that they publish useless news and “praise releases” for politicians but make good profits in classified ads.  I’ll leave that to you, since there are three major broadsheets in the Philippines today and it’s pretty easy to guess just what is what.

   So you don’t like tabloids, you don’t like broadsheets, and you happen to be a college student in a state university that prides itself on “academic freedom.”  Well, you’ve got a paper rich in history and tradition, but full of all the crap that you’re going to have to stomach because you pay for it in advance and you have no choice.  Yes, they are as “objective” as an executioner on the day of a beheading, but the staff is at the very front row of a rally: which is the best place to “cover” a “violent dispersal” or a “show of force” of a couple of dozen students.  We make mistakes, but we can always apologize for them next month: be it a misspelling of a name, a factual error, or a bigoted slur that didn’t really mean or imply anything anything offensive but really meant, hmmm, let’s see, a “bundle of sticks.”  It will always be a slow news day on campus: nothing (and I mean nothing) is more important than the “big issues” that have never changed since the 1970’s, since time immemorial – imperialism, capitalism, and our inalienable right as journalists to stay on campus on off-hours – and we will use the same analysis and the same course of action because history repeats itself, even if it’s the 21st century and the envelope of ideas and courses of action have expanded to allow other ideas to come in.  But our ideas are better because we’re much more “scientific” and “objective” in our analysis: the mere fact that our ideas and courses are action are completely congruent, practically similar and totally alike to the ideas and courses of action of another political party is completely and totally coincidental.

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Conclusion: Never that simple

   Well, I said it was going to hurt… don’t say I didn’t warn you.

   These opinions aren’t completely unique, though: many people share the same opinions about the Philippine news media, but the problem is few people actually “complain,” much less do something about it.  It’s not about passive and ready acceptance of the way things are, but it has been a constant process of turning and rendering people passive, accepting things for the way they are.  It’s “idiotization:” it’s not an instantaneous transformation of a reader or a viewer into what passes for an idiot.  Instead, it’s a process: it doesn’t take too long, you just bombard the populace with racy tabloids in the morning and have them watch the primetime news in the evening.  You do this enough and you’ll have a nation that has been desensitized to the effects of everything, from tragedy to social obligations to the state of their lives in general.  After all, it’s in the news.  You can’t argue with facts.  Since the news are made up of facts, you can’t argue with the news.

   I’m not a journalist, nor have I been schooled in “actual” journalism: some of my claims here would probably be dismissed as “delusional” interpretations of what I see in TV or what I read in the papers, or from my own experiences as a writer.  But like I said earlier, many people share the same opinions about the Philippine news media.  The reason why we act so passively and we seem so “ready” to literally ingest the news is because we have no choice.  “Truthfulness” and “fairness” in reporting goes beyond the “objectivity” that there is in reporting the news or the “sexiness” factor that comes with marketing the news product: it is being truthful and fair about what the product is.  Being in the media you have the power over what information the general public knows, but you have the responsibility of ensuring these people the right to know.  And in that sense, you don’t keep a secret from the public.

   Granted, you can’t publish or show everything, but you have to keep things honest.  Good media practicioners are upfront about what advocacies they support, what business interests they have and where they stand.  They don’t claim to be objective if they’re obviously not: news is about calling a spade a spade.  They don’t report news items that would make a quick sale in the newsstands or go through these overwrought and overspent material that makes a person tired of reading or watching the news, the news is instead accurate, timely, truthful and fair.  If you can’t present the two sides of a story, say so.  It’s that simple.

   Of course, in media, things were never “that simple.”  If it was, our problems wouldn’t have been this complicated.

"Truthiness" and the Seeming Truth of Wilyonaryo

Truthiness is “What I say is right, and nothing anyone else says could possibly be true.” It’s not only that I feel it to be true, but that I feel it to be true. There’s not only an emotional quality, but there’s a selfish quality.

– Stephen Colbert

Empirical reality is overrated. Santa Claus exists, because kids feel him on Christmas Eve. Elvis didn’t die, because we feel his presence. It’s not knowing, but feeling. Thank you, Stephen Colbert.

The talk of the Philippine entertainment blogosphere these days is the “Wilyonaryo scam:” in a YouTube video, it seems that the wheel in “Wilyonaryo” has two numbers in it. Which means two things, if you asked me:

  • It seems that Willie Revillame cheats his contestants, and;

  • It seems that this particular video is the most-watched YouTube video in the Philippines today.

Of course, Joey de Leon is pointing to YouTube to be the source of all truth and the font of all knowledge, as far as the “Wilyonaryo scam” is concerned. As it seems, you can – if not should – believe everything you see in the Internet. After all, if it’s in YouTube, it must be true.

There’s nothing wrong with this picture, ladies and gentlemen. You don’t have to actually know the truth: following the doctrine of truthiness, you need only to feel the truth. If it seems to be true, then it must be true. The question here is not a question of being, but a question of seeming. Seeming is believing, guys.

Now because it seems that you can’t edit a video and post it on YouTube, everything about “Wilyonaryo” – or cats playing piano – must hold true. Yes, Willie cheats, and all cats play piano. If you see it on YouTube – and if Joey de Leon refers to that on TV – then it must be true. It doesn’t have to be true, either: it only needs to be truthy.

Because everything is truthiness, we only need to feel the truth about things, regardless of whether or not they are true. Like, if I feel that Gloria Arroyo cheated or if Erap Estrada plundered the public coffers, it has to be true. The Senate need not launch full-blown investigations on whether or not Willie Revillame cheated in “Wilyonaryo” because it seems like he cheated. Seeming is believing.

Yup, it’s all about one thing: truthiness. It only has to feel like cheating.

Take Those Ratings and Shove 'Em

   I’ve been browsing some online forums (like this one and this one) and thought about baboons on the forest canopy: after a feed of bananas, some of them stoop down low to the forest floor to throw feces at other baboons.  Yup, between “Kapamilya” and “Kapuso,” you better strap on your seatbelts for civil war… or maybe take a side and throw feces, too.

   As a TV viewer, ratings do not concern me.  I don’t give… feces… about ratings.  What matters more to me is quality programming: the sad thing is that I often find that not in free local TV, but in cable channels.  I don’t know why our free TV channels are squabbling over ratings when their TV shows leave much to be desired.  On the one hand, you have broadcasts of sanctimonious TV current affairs reporting exemplified by graphic footage of bad chicharon on a Saturday dinner (GMA-7).  On the other hand, you have broadcasts of brain-dead reality TV contests revolving around graphic footage of drunken behavior (ABS-CBN).

   And then they squabbled on live TV on the matter of ratings.  I say, the hell with it.

   Really, it forces the question: is it about viewers, or is it about viewing habits?  Whatever happened to free, accessible information when you’re forced to have two choices?  Has it become a compulsory choice between two channels?

   It makes me kind of wonder: since when did I have room in TV executive boardrooms, as a viewer demanding quality TV?  They don’t call TV the “idiot box” for nothing: the viewer is effectively an idiot when it comes to the limited and forced choices he or she has for TV programs.  It’s a good thing we have cable: at least I don’t have to choose between two sucky, perverse, gratuitous noontime game shows that sow the seeds of indolence in all 7,107 islands of the Philippines that have aerials.  At least I don’t have to look forward to barbs being traded on weekend showbiz shows.

   But why bother?  TV executives don’t care about viewers.  They care about ratings, they care more about the other station than the TV audience.  It is propaganda at work: the hell with what people think or what people need, but what TV executives want the people to think, or what they want the people to need.  This is the reason why in any given sample of Filipino homes, the TV is on for 18 hours a day.  We are, for all intents and purposes of the phrase, a nation of idiots.

   The last straw came when another freaking YouTube video on the Wilyonaryo scam surfaced in the forums.  And so what in the blue hell does this – and the ratings scams – mean to me?  Short answer: nothing.  It never meant anything to me, because they were all obsessed by the ratings.

   I’ll tell you what you can do with those ratings: shove ’em.  Don’t rate me anymore: don’t call me your lover, your family, your friend, whatever.


Noose… Again

   I was having my morning coffee when breaking news appeared on TV: a kid committed suicide here in Baguio City, somewhere at Cabinet Hill.  I was extremely bothered: Cabinet Hill is a short walk away from my own house, and that house looked extremely familiar.  From the camera angle, it looked like the very same boarding house some of my old college friends rented a couple of years ago.  It was enough to have the hot coffee stop halfway down my gullet: if anything, yet another lucid interval yesterday had me hallucinating on the matter of a girl hanging herself, not too far from where I live.

   To further corroborate and validate some lingering suspicions on the death of that girl, a friend of mine blogged about it.

   Damn, I thought: what is it with kids killing themselves nowadays?  I would be extremely happy to assist an Angst-ridden emo-loser’s suicide if he or she wants to kill himself or herself with the bristly end of a toothbrush, but this is just ridiculous to the point of worry.  Back in Original TMX, one of my later entries was the suicide of 12-year-old Mariannet Amper, wher I wrote:

“We can only speculate what went on in Mariannet’s mind that All Souls’ Day when she found herself in that room with her hand clutching a makeshift noose.  Maybe the poverty was too much to bear that she decided to end her misery once and for all.  Maybe she couldn’t take it anymore.  Maybe she cannot have any more than what she already has, so the grim future was to be found at the loop of that noose.”

   Much as I hate to admit it, we can only speculate what happened to that girl who killed herself at Cabinet Hill.  Depression, maybe?  Sexual abuse, perhaps?  Or maybe there’s just something in the wiring of the human brain that just leads you to do things that you would not usually or rationally do, like kill yourself.

   There are things that even speculation would not solve: why a 12-year-old girl would make a noose out of a belt and rags and hang herself from a second-floor window.  I won’t play to the hypocrisy and hype in saying that this is “martyrdom,” but it’s a sad state of affairs.  Depression is caused by too many things: it is anomic, it is the failure to adapt and to integrate.  It is something that’s not only the failure of one person, but society in general… when we fail to live and to keep living.