Squandered Politics

Great political leaders emerge from the choices that they make in times of great political opportunity. And in democracies like ours, those opportunities emerge from the challenges that frame an election.

For this, we turn to examples in American history. Abraham Lincoln’s reelection in 1864, for example, had the backdrop of the American Civil War, with the preservation of the Union and the end of slavery on the line. In 1912, Woodrow Wilson won the elections, but the stakes were so high – America was booming in wealth and people, so much so that social causes became central issues of the campaign – that two ex-Presidents (William Howard Taft as incumbent, and Theodore Roosevelt) threw their names into the game. In 1932, the Great Depression left such a big impact on the American consciousness, that the people rejected incumbent President Herbert Hoover, and voted Franklin Roosevelt in; the seeds of a great generation of Americans were planted.

It’s kind of difficult to look for Filipino examples. Partly because we have a much younger democracy that still needs time to grow. But that doesn’t mean that we never had the defining backdrops that make great leaders, or the great landscapes that define political epochs. We’ve always had them. It’s just that these seeds of political greatness found themselves planted on land left fallow by the kind of politics that we have.

I think that nothing sets this tone more than where we are now: the road to 2016.

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Slippers and Cinders

We all know the Cinderella story: at the final stroke of midnight, Cinderella ran off from the village ball. The majestic carriage became a pumpkin again, and her magnificent horses turned back into mice. All that was left of Cinderella in that ball was the glass slipper left on the stairs of the Prince’s castle.

We all know what happened to that slipper, and how the Prince and Cinderella lived happily ever after.

I don’t think they did make glass slippers in Kentex: they made “Havanas,” and all other sorts of flip-flops and sandals. People weren’t running away because Fairy Godmothers will reverse their blessings on the stroke of midnight, but because they can’t leave a burning factory with barred windows and locked exits.

There was no “happily ever after:” just the pittances and indignation that came with a fire fuelled less by an errant spark from a welder’s arc, but moral hazards poured over 72 people who perished in that fire.

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On Offal


Whenever I go home to Baguio and my father’s around, I would often ask him to prepare a favorite dish: the intestines of a pig, blanched and softened, stir-fried in soy sauce and cornstarch and a bit of leek thrown in. That one simple dish of “silet,” best consumed with cold rice and copious amounts of Coca-Cola, is a reminder of home. And somehow, a reminder of being.


I think it was Roland Barthes who once said that to eat a steak rare represents “both a nature and a mortality:” in many ways, it’s a full-blooded experience. The steak is powerful: bloody, primal, “flows to the very blood of man.”


For the lack of steak – unless I’m in the mood for chops – I turn to that other primal thing in an animal. That other thing that flows to the very blood: that other thing that speaks to both nature and mortality. There’s nothing more natural and mortal than the primal, animal thing that is almost always an acquired taste. Unlike steaks or meaty stews, there is no mistaking what offal is and where it came from. It is, for all intents and purposes, the very fiber of the animal.

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Conspicuous By His Absence

The long gray line of caskets at Villamor bore more than the bodies of fallen heroes. They were fathers, brothers, sons who lost their lives in a bungled operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. They were surrounded by grieving families and mourning colleagues. The Filipino people, too, grieved and mourned. Whatever hopes for peace shriveled, whatever dreams for accord withered.

We were all moved by the stories of loss. We too, shared in the tears that welled up in the eyes of families who, in that moment, lost their sons. Of wives who became widows. Of children who became orphans.

Conspicuous by his absence: President Benigno S. Aquino III.

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A (Brutal) Translation of Pope Francis’s Homily

Pope Francis’s homily is erudite, beautiful, and meaningful. Which means – at least in the context of everything that happens in this space – it should be translated.

Digression: I like Pope Francis. I’ll probably earn the ire of traditionalist Catholics for this, but I think he’s one really cool guy. Not that his mere presence here raised my personal faith to a saintly level of holiness, but it’s really cool to have the Pope around to, at the very least, unite our nation (albeit temporarily). Plus, based on the stories told about him, he seems to be one really awesome guy.

Anyway, I haven’t done translation (or any sort of writing) in a long while, though, which means this Filipino translation is as brutal, word-for-word, and not-definitive as it gets. It won’t be as refined or as fantastic as the Pope delivered it – errors everywhere, at that – but it’s probably worth a try at this point.

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Three hundred sixty days ago, if you told me I’d be riding a zipline, I would have laughed. I would have just told you that things like that will happen in the next lifetime, or an alternate universe. I would have reminded you that there are other things to do in a nature park, like taking pictures of animals, exploring food options, or – preferably – getting out of there fast.

At three in the afternoon, though, the attendants were fitting me onto a harness. The pulleys were strapped, safety checks were made, and I was lowered into position. My body was tense. I was breaking out into a cold sweat just thinking about the things that could happen. The cables could break. The safety harness could be too loose, and will snap. Either way, I figured out certain doom more than the thrillride that lay ahead.

And then, the guide let go.

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X-List: A Year of Magical Reading

I think it was Stephen King who once wrote: “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” This year, I made a commitment with myself to read, and to read furiously. Reading – plus a reinvigorated passion at work, a rekindled interest in origami, and a newfound hobby in kickboxing (more on that when I feel like it) – somewhat rejuvenated me.

All that aside, I think my taste in reading has also somewhat evolved. “Dune” and “Lord of the Rings” are still up there when it comes to things that make me happy, and there was some catching up to do with Terry Pratchett’s universe after years of not reading it. I still enjoy the classics – Dumas, Goethe, Beowulf – but this year was particularly special. Enjoyable, even; lends peace to the chaos.

So much so that overshooting Goodreads Reading Challenge goals is probably one of the best things I did for myself this year.

Without further ado, here are ten of my favorite reads this year. Most of them are a little old: methinks that some of the more recent books I read still need the test of time (except for a few).

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