Sunday, November 7, 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Monday, July 12, 2010

Now geeking out

My heroes

(Note: Last April, I joined Philippine Star's writing contest entitled "My Icon, My Hero." I lost. Here's my entry.)

My icons, my heroes
by Paolo B. Maligaya

It must be anger. Anger and frustration. An overwhelming sense of injustice and feeling of frustration against systems in place and the way they’re run that they feel the need to actively do something about it? Prestige? (Maybe not.)

Or is it plain old love for country?

I’ve always wondered what motivates people to give up their time and source of livelihood to do volunteer work. Being a part of the secretariat team of a volunteer organization like the National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections or NAMFREL, I am witness to people showing up to perform difficult tasks for which the only form of remuneration is a free lunch, an ID, or the occasional reimbursement of transportation expenses. I’ve met people saying, “okay I’ll be here at 8am tomorrow because I need to make calls to the provincial coordinators and finish a report by evening,” and our reaction would be, “you’ll do that?”

The job of a NAMFREL volunteer is not simple. In fact, it can be complex depending on the kind of work a person does for the organization, which also depends on the set of skills he/she brings to the table.

Take for example a provincial coordinator. This person could be a teacher, a local businessman, a professor, a pastor, a priest, a nun, a housewife, or a second generation volunteer who “inherited” the position from her father, making good on their family’s commitment to free and fair elections. This coordinator would have to convince other people in their area to join his cause, either to be municipal or precinct volunteers, or to help out in logistics and communication. If he lives in a province like Tawi-Tawi or Palawan, this means that he has to travel by land, water, and air to organize volunteers in the different areas, paying for transportation out of their own pockets since the measly (as is often the case) seed money from the national office has not been deposited yet. To augment the expense, he or she has to count on the spirit of bayanihan among Filipinos through sourcing funds from local businesses in his area, often only using his face, track record, and the promise of commitment to uphold fairness in the coming election to secure the much-needed donation.

The job can be perilous. As somebody who has vowed to work for a clean conduct of the electoral process, a NAMFREL volunteer is a target for anybody who would want to disrupt the honest conduct of the process. NAMFREL volunteers have been killed in the line of duty, people like Rodrigo Ponce, Neoldino Del Corro, Abdulhak Balabadan, and others who died while doing what they feel they should do, which is to protect the ballot.

I go back to my question: but why?

I have experienced becoming a NAMFREL volunteer myself. In 2007, I took a leave of absence (without pay) for two weeks from a relatively higher-paying job to volunteer in the national headquarters in La Salle Greenhills. I was met by incredulous stares from colleagues who asked, but why? To be at the other end of this question, frankly I did not know what to say. I may have mumbled something about duty to country or whatever, but the truth was, I didn’t know for sure. Like those Americans who trooped to New York City to donate blood after 9/11, I just felt it was something that I had to do, something that needs to be done, and we could not put words into it. Just.

It’s probably this mishmash of clear yet ambiguous reasons why people have continued to offer themselves to something that they think is bigger than them, but they feel they have to be part of.

The reality is, an election in the Philippines is not just an election, in the way the dictionary or even the UN defines it. For many Filipinos, an election is not simply this party vs. that party (the fact is the Philippines still doesn’t have a mature political party system). For them, it’s more like good vs. evil. How else to explain the heavy presence of bishops, priests, and nuns in the polling precincts, counting centers, and in assemblies? (Do you really expect the priests and nuns to stay idle when they see their flock being cheated, oppressed, or beaten to death?)

For ordinary Filipinos, an election could be a wind of change, a new start, food for the family, the kids finally finishing college, a higher paying job, a way out of this misery. Anything but a mere process of some people getting a bigger number of votes, getting proclaimed as winner, fireworks and cheers. An election in the Philippines is a new lease on life.

The typical NAMFREL volunteer is not a politics geek. He doesn’t go around town thinking that, oh I’m doing this because the political situation in the country is like this or like that or oh I’m doing this because I want to contribute to the democratic process. They do it because they feel deep inside that for some reason, they need to do it, but couldn’t articulate it through words or grand statements about democracy or whatever ideology. More than its national leaders and known supporters, the organization is fueled by nameless, faceless citizens who want nothing more than a decent life but feel they have to actively do something to make it happen. The spirit of volunteerism is exactly that -- a spirit. It’s an invisible force that fuels people into action. You may kill the person, but not the spirit. Which means individual personages don’t define an organization. That is why, when there were some people who tried to discredit NAMFREL by saying that its national leaders are supposedly partisan, it was a slap in the face to its thousands of volunteers. In their provinces, cities, towns, barangays, families, NAMFREL is not the guy in the office in Manila. In their places, they are NAMFREL. And no, you cannot put them down and make them go away.

The NAMFREL volunteer movement is a concrete example of democracy in action, of people coming together by their own free will to strengthen the foundations of their country. People empowering themselves because they feel it is their responsibility as citizens to safeguard the democratic processes of their nation. The movement has inspired and continues to inspire other countries, not just in Asia but around the world, to organize themselves to protect or uphold democratic values. Above all, this national movement of citizens refutes once and for all that Filipinos are “indolent” as the Spanish claimed during their time; Filipinos are a hardworking people who works for their freedom harder.

NGO workers in the country generally don’t earn much, having limited resources for salary and supplies. There’s a feeling among us that it’s unfair that we get paid too little for what we contribute to the country.

But then we come face to face with our volunteers whom we serve and who work harder and contribute more to our cause, but does it for free, and we feel humbled. Along with other ordinary folks like BatangueƱa public school teacher Filomena Tatlonghari who was killed while protecting a ballot box from snatchers, NAMFREL volunteers use their very own bodies to defend democracy, and they do not ask anything in return after a day’s work other than an honest election process, and perhaps a better life. That is why more than the prominent figures in this country’s history, the unsung, nameless, faceless volunteers of NAMFREL are my icons, my heroes.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Friday, May 21, 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

NAMFREL Call for Volunteers - Maging BANTAY NG BAYAN!

Dear NAMFREL volunteers and friends:

We only have 28 days to go before we elect our country's next president. If you've decided to be non-partisan for this election and would like to be involved in Namfrel's Bantay ng Bayan activities, please sign-up now HERE. We need volunteer field election monitors, encoders, writers, researchers, analysts, admin and logistics persons all over the country.

Please encourage your family, friends, and school/professional organization to join you in this cause by signing up as well.

May we also request if you could post the following blurb as your Facebook or Twitter status at least once a week (or as often as you wish!) leading up to election day:

*NAMFREL is now accepting volunteers: 09279611524 / 09193389344 / 4847590 / 4704151 / /*

Donations are also welcome.

To receive regular election updates, please join

Thank you and we hope to see you soon.

The NAMFREL National Secretariat Team

Friday, March 26, 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Kurosawa 100

Monday, March 1, 2010

I wanna be your sushi ba!

I caught Shonen Knife's one-night-only show last Saturday at the Mall of Asia grounds as part of the Japan Foundation's Nihonggo Week. For those of you who are not familiar with the band, or who thought their debut was that Powerpuff Girls song, Shonen Knife of Osaka, Japan have been around since 1982 (you HAVE to listen to their lo-fi debut Minna Tanoshiku. It's a classic!). They are considered icons of indie rock, and have made instant fans out of bands like Sonic Youth and Nirvana in the late '80s. What I love about Shonen Knife is, like the Ramones, they never changed their sound: this burst of punk, pop, grunge, ska -- and since they're Japanese -- an almost dangerous level of unbridled joy and cuteness. Only lead singer/guitarist Naoko Yamano remains of the original lineup (she of that chirpy voice shouting "Sushi ba!" and "toppof the worl" and "banana cheeps!" in some of their legendary singles). It's been almost 30 years since 1982, and like the Rolling Stones before them, I'm pretty sure they'll have generations shouting back "Konnichiwa" at them for as long as they live.

See photos from the concert HERE.

Videos I took:

No accreditation needed to be good citizens

I have not been able to blog as much as I want to, not just because of Facebook, but more importantly, because I actually have work to do. I'm back with the National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) since October, and yes, despite the election commission's refusal to grant us an accreditation on their own terms, NAMFREL is going ahead to participate in the coming Philippine presidential election, automated or not, accreditation or not.

Read another statement HERE.

One thing. I take offense with the Comelec calling two of NAMFREL's leaders as "partisan," simply because they allegedly spoke out against two Philippine presidents, well before this election period when they're both running as candidates. What is partisanship anyway? I think one is partisan when he/she publicly favors a certain candidate in words and action. However, to speak out against elected government officials who are not doing a good job and who at the same time are consuming our tax money, I think that's not partisanship. To seek accountability from elected leaders is not partisanship. That is good citizenship.

Become a NAMFREL volunteer. Sign up HERE.

The collectors

Finally got to watch the absorbing documentary "Herb and Dorothy," about the Vogels, a now-senior charming Manhattan couple who, despite living a modest life (she a former librarian, he a high school dropout) have amassed one of the most important collection of modern art in America. Since the '60s, they would visit artists' homes and handpick works that catch their eyes, and usually pay in installment (but in cash), sometimes in kind (like when they paid for an artwork by babysitting the artists' cat). The couple would then bring the artworks back to their tiny apartment, put them up on their walls, ceiling, bathroom, under the bed -- every nook and cranny taken up by art -- in boxes, folders, cloth, etc. The Vogels pick art based on what they see as beautiful, the kind of people who would declare a piece of rope stapled on a wall as "art." Time seems to agree with the Vogels as many of the artists they have befriended and collected went on to become famous. The art that they have collected is now worth millions of dollars, but the wonderful thing is they have no intention to sell a single piece, and instead, they are having their collection exhibited by museums in all fifty states for free, their way of bringing art back to regular people like them, but who have chosen to live modestly for art. At heart, the documentary, as well as the Vogel's lives, is not just about love for art -- which for the Vogels is well above any cash to be made from their possessions -- but about collecting, to have what takes their fancy, even at the expense of comfort or convenience. Almost like religion.

Which reminds me, jeez, I have a lot of STUFF and I certainly need a bigger space, like a warehouse to allow my stuff to breathe (this still doesn't include the stuff I have in the province). I can't help but think, if anybody would want to curate the junk that I have amassed all these years, perhaps he or she could come up with a traveling exhibition of:

a. my spending habits - I have kept about 90% of all receipts I ever got since college, for what reason, I still don't know
b. an alternate history of the Arlegui section of Quiapo - no explanation needed
c. a decent overview of quasi-cultural events of Manila with stress on film festivals - since I don't throw away leaflets and handouts of events
d. the trinketization of traditional culture - lots of kitschy souvenirs from all over, with a serious amount of wayangs from Indonesia; some of them are still in their wrappers
e. second-hand or new books (never read) acquired because "they're there and I might not see them again EVER if I don't buy them now"

I need professional help, or more shelves.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Rest in peace, J.D. Salinger

"I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in a big field of rye and all. ... Thousands of kids, and nobody big at all, nobody big but me. And I'm standing on the edge of this crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to come and catch them. If they start to fall ... and don't look where they're going. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Introducing the iPad

Click HERE to see more images from the Engadget live blog.

Read about the specs HERE.

The inability to multitask with this first-generation iPad is a bummer. So is the absence of a camera and USB ports (the camera I can do without, but no USB ports? It would mean I'd need to buy more accessories from Apple just to connect stuff to it, more things to carry in my backpack already full of laptop and cellphone accoutrements -- my MagSafe power adapter alone is already too heavy).

But would I want to buy it? Yes, but perhaps not this edition. It looks really sleek, though. Like me, most people madly anticipating this tablet was a bit disappointed due to the absence of rumored specs. Many also took issue with the Apple team's breathless pronouncements of the iPad being a "magical" product. "No it's not, it's just an oversized iPod," they say. That was also my first impression. However, two days after the launch, I'm beginning to see that Steve Jobs may be correct.

Ok, so as an e-reader it's going to be top-notch, and has the potential to revolutionize the publishing industry with the iBooks. It will be using e-books in the epub format, which is good news especially for literature buffs since a lot of classics can now be downloaded for free in this format from websites such as Project Gutenberg. However, I'm still not sure whether I'd like to pay for content that I can get now for free, such as newspaper and magazine articles, no matter how cool the user interface will be. Game recaps and videos of photo shoots I can do without. If Apple and the publishing houses really want people to actually pay for their online editions, they have to come up with content that is NOT yet being legally offered for free right now, otherwise people will feel it's a scam.

For me, I can imagine it being useful in note-taking, though really I still prefer to use pen and paper. However, I think the iPad would be very useful in blogging, just turn it on and type away (I can't really say the same thing about laptops, which are heavier and not as fast.)

As a device to watch movies, I'm not too thrilled by its screen format, plus the fact that if you want to watch stuff in it, you'd have to download them to the iPad (mostly from Apple). I like downloading free, high-definition trailers though from iTunes, so this would be a good device to drown in Tron Legacy's coolness before it hits the theaters in December.

However, like the iPod Touch and the iPhone, the iPad is a platform. It can be anything you want it to be, depending on what App you're using.

I see the iPad not just as the ultimate device for consuming content. I also see it as a very high-tech wide, flat surface, and THAT's what makes it different from any other hand-held device or laptop out there. I can definitely see people using the iPad to learn how to play instruments, like keyboards (and bongos?). Turntablism. For families and friends, the iPad could be the high-tech upgrade of board games: chess, trivial pursuit, scrabble. What about 3-D technology? If they could find a way to make 3-D images or holograms rise up from its surface, who knows what media monster it could turn into.

The iPad certainly will be a very useful tool for work. I can imagine people using it for checklists in monitoring in, say, factories and hospitals. Architects and engineers will certainly find it useful, so are court transcribers and waiters in high-end restaurants. The iPad can be high-tech sketchpads for designers, a digital script board for actors, a tool to save paper. No smartphones or laptops can do these things right now.

Perhaps Steve Jobs has already foreseen these possibilities as to be driven to declare that the iPad is "magical."

I believe him. I want one.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Team Conan

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Lest I forget

Thanks very much to for handcrafting this very APT message and for actually mailing it to me all the way from Singapore! Gonna send you something back soon. Cheers!