November 20, 2008

Primitive primates

Tiny, long lost primate rediscovered in Indonesia, read the title of a news article published in Yahoo! News the other day. The news item, written by Will Durham and reported by Reuters, was bannered by a colored photo of what looked like a tarsier, a species of animal known to many Filipinos as the smallest monkey in the world. Indeed the news' subject was about a tarsier found by scientists in the island of Sulawesi that was purportedly last seen alive 80 years ago.

The article was instantly met by a barrage of negative comments from readers - mostly Filipinos - who complained of the seeming inaccuracy of the news. Filipinos, including I, are very familiar with the tarsier. We are taught about it in school and the animal is a regular fare in Philippine tourism. So, wonder of wonders why the tarsier would be rediscovered in Indonesia; when almost all tourists of Bohol (Filipinos and all) have had pictures of them with the primate clinging to their heads and shoulders?

The first few hundreds of comments to the news item did not only raise the same question but downright lambasted its author, Reuters, and even Yahoo for coming out with a story that's a big lie; the scientists themselves who were featured in the same article as the "rediscoverers" of the tarsier were branded as incompetent and ignorant. The Philippines was insulted big time, they said. The country of Indonesia was even criticized for allegedly orchestrating everything -- fabricating a sensational story with the ultimate aim of promoting its own tourism.


Then came the comments that began pointing out the errant judgment of many readers. The news after all was not referring to the same tarsier species as that found in the Philippines! Both monkeys' physical features may have looked the same but the article was in fact referring to the one called the pygmy tarsier. The pygmy tarsier is Tarsius pumilus while the Philippine tarsier is Tarsius syrichta; and there are about 6 other known species of the tarsier.

I could almost hear most of the article's critics simultaneously blurting very eye-opening uh-oh's. Well, I cannot blame them. Filipinos, who were the most vocal in raising a howl over the article, they are very nationalistic; sometimes to a fault and sometimes at the wrong time. They know many things about their country; and so at the slightest sign of misinformation they take it as a challenge to their own intelligence and dignity as Filipinos. I myself found the article inadequately written. Just about the only reference to the fact that there were other tarsiers in other places and that the news was not about them was this line: "The handful of tarsier species live on various Asian islands." An article of the same subject as reported by was more informative.

But then again, have we all not been reminded time and again to be more discerning about everything that we see, read and hear in the internet?

The Philippine Tarsier
[photo by: Ingrid Park]

November 16, 2008

Garbage blues

Just came from a barangay (meaning, village) meeting. The meeting was called by village officials to clarify issues arising from the "sudden" collection of garbage fees (meaning, money that residents have to pay before their garbage get hauled by government dump trucks).

It was not as if the meeting was called to hear opposition to the "new" policy and for the barangay (meaning, the village government) to retract the same. It hardly works that way. I myself went to the meeting primarily to become more familiar with the workings of my new local government, its faces and dynamics. To get immersed in the forensics about garbage was secondary, if it was in my mind at all.

Indeed, during the meeting it was impressed upon the audience that the local ordinance pertaining to the matter of garbage (and garbage fee) collection was already in place 3 years ago. It had undergone the whole consultative process and had gotten the approval of a "general assembly" of barangay residents. Sorry me, I and my household came to this village only in March this year. Even so, had I been here before, I would not have raised a whisper to oppose the policy. It would be nearly futile; I would just be going against a governance mindset that's long been ingrained among most local officials; a mind set that has continually borrowed durability from the prevailing political economy of this country -- no revenue, no service. The concept of "revenue" here goes beyond the more usual community tax, withholding tax, business tax and VAT. That is why we have this thing called "garbage collection fee".

Yes, the government, or to be more precise, the State, will always counter that this one is different; the garbage fee's concept is more borrowed from the concept of paying for the environmental cost of having one's wastes thrown back to earth.

Well, that's why I said arguing against the State is futile most of the time. There will always be excuses, the most brilliant of which is contained in the phrase "it does not work that way".

I once did peacefully confront an official of the purok (meaning, smaller village) where I used to live, when she came to my front door to remind me of my household's overdue garbage fee; I offered her a proposal. You see, days before, I did some calculations of the total taxes that I and my family pay the State each year by way of income and community taxes, goods and services purchased, etcetera; and came up with a general figure that can pay for some of the things that our purok badly needed for happy living. So I proposed to pay for the monthly salaries of two (2) security guards or to donate multi-colored (for the needed segregation) large garbage bins (with repair and replacement warranty to boot) to each household in our purok. In turn, the State (also popularly known as government) exempts me from all taxes.

I just thought it was a fairly great thing to have my community directly benefit from the taxes that I pay instead of "uploading" the latter and wait for the services to trickle down. If ever they trickle down. Well, sometimes in some places they do trickle down in the form of overpriced fertilizers.

Who would have disagreed with my proposal? Not my neighbors I was sure. But our purok official was an exception. She politely declined my proposal. "It just doesn't work that way," she said.


November 14, 2008

Pvt S. Ryan, Dog Green Sector, Omaha Beach

I am trying out a new (or shall I say, a newly-found) feature of Flickr , which supposedly allows me to blog about a photo in my own photostream and have the post fed directly into my site in Blogger.

So let me share something about the photo posted here. [I think the photo is going to be posted above this text, if I am not mistaken].

This was taken from a famous beach resort in Samal Island, Davao. It is an original (as opposed to a Photoshopped) black and white digital photo I took using a point-and-shoot Canon. I took the opportunity to play with my cam and shoot while waiting for our swim as there was a four-hour low tide ahead of us when we visited the resort.

The photo shows my 9-year old kid Ivan playing out his fantasy as an Allied soldier in World War II; this time as a fallen US Army Ranger in Omaha Beach during the 1944 invasion of Normandy. Ivan himself titled the photo. If you have seen Spielberg's masterpiece Saving Private Ryan, then you know who Private S. Ryan is. No, he is not the one played by Matt Damon in the movie.

The prop that is a GI helmet in the foreground is an authentic Korean War-vintage; given to Ivan as a gift by his Ninong Lom Barranco. On our way to Samal, two Korean tourists took notice of the headgear and, when told of its history, one readily wore it and posed for a photo with Ivan. The Korean then smilingly told us he is from the North of the 38th parallel.

November 6, 2008

Thank you, America

My earliest recall of having seen a black American president was when I watched the movie Deep Impact (1998) the first time. In fact the curiosity of seeing actor Morgan Freeman play the role of an American president was among which compelled me to watch the movie; a friend told me it was an interesting sight to behold. In the movie, Mr. Freeman was at his usual best lending the much needed dignity and humanity to a character faced with the dilemma of saving and, at the same time, sacrificing millions of American lives, in the face of the inevitable collision of earth and comet. Watching the movie back then it didn't take much knowledge of American history to discern that the character of President Tom Beck was far more fantastic (as in, far-fetched) than the movie's plot itself.

Fast forward to ten years. November 5, 2008, about noon (Philippine time). America has just chosen its first African-American president. It is hard not to get teary-eyed seeing for the first time a black American First Family walk on stage (this kind of scene doesn't come around so often); and when Senator Barack Obama finally uttered his first words as President-elect of the United States of America, I don't know about you, but I had to ask this question in thankful silence: America, what have you done?

Political pundits from around the globe have offered their own pieces of thought to dignify the above question; and it may well take another ten, twenty, or a hundred years before the rest of humankind is able to ascertain what indeed have the Americans done on that fateful day of November 4th, 2008. That's how it is. It is only history (or, in the more spiritual sense, the Maker) that can tell; and history does not happen overnight.

While waiting, I may just have to get back to my own reality as a Filipino in this small corner of the world and continue with my own little struggle -- eking out a living while doing my best to make this country of mine a better place to live.

Meanwhile, thank you, America.

November 4, 2008

DReAM Children at the PLAI Congress

It's a few hours before the American presidential elections as I write this post. But no, I am not going to write about it anymore, lest this blog be misconstrued as socialist; that's how Obama is desperately being portrayed by the conservatives at the homestretch of the campaign, hoping to scare the centrists among the American populace into McCain's fold.

Let me instead share the news that is making me more upbeat and excited for two weeks now (i.e. besides the MBS2 euphoria). Last October 22nd , I received an email from Prof. Corazon M. Nera, Chairperson of the Professional Regulatory Commission's (PRC) Board for Librarians, requesting for a presentation of the
DReAM Children project during her own talk at the annual congress of the Philippine Librarians Association, Inc. (PLAI). The presentation is going to happen come November 22nd in Davao City where PLAI will hold its gathering for this year.

Prof. Nera actually addressed her email-invitation to both me and Ms. Fraulein A. Oclarit, herself a professional librarian and a co-consultant at
Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) and an active volunteer of DReAM Children. The latter was most instrumental in providing me and DReAM the opportunity to initially talk to the professor about the project during my last networking activity in Metro Manila.

When we (Ms. Oclarit and I) visited Prof. Nera at the Lyceum of the Philippines University (LPU) in Manila (she is also its Director of Libraries), I was only then able to show her photos of the various activities and a general overview of the SMI-sponsored reader development project; but she nonetheless expressed keen interest on its prospects.

I have to admit I kind of least expected that Prof Nera's enthusiasm was that deep to have me get invited to PLAI's annual congress. PLAI is a big, if not the biggest, organization of licensed professional librarians in the country. The prospect of delivering in front of this group excites me a lot as it will certainly provide huge opportunities for DReAM Children and the overall advocacy towards reader development in the region.

This year's PLAI congress is themed The Multicultural Landscape of Philippine Librarianship.


Photos of the Sotero H. Laurel Library of the LPU
[click on photo to view larger image]

November 1, 2008

Change we can; change I did

Blame it on Barack Obama; his charisma so affecting it made a non-American like me imbibe his campaign slogan (A Change We Can Believe In) very literally. Blame it on the 2nd Mindanao Bloggers' Summit; wanting to apply my learnings from the event, I just thought changing my blog's title should be on top of the must-do list.

And what timing is more perfect than re-titling my blog Redeemed Spirit on the day when we, the living, annually redeem the spirits of our dead. Never mind if All Souls Day actually falls on November 2nd. The mix-up is forgivable; there is no telling of the difference anyway. I wish Congress will just legislate for Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day to be collectively known as The Days of the Dead (and perhaps declare this a holiday for all ghost employees of government). The Mexicans, they call this very same period "Los Dias de los Muertos".

Back to the blog re-titling case. Well, blame nothing. It simply occurred to me when I was writing my take (excerpts appended here) on the just-concluded grand eyeball of Mindanao bloggers. After all, being a newbie in blogging I have been constantly experimenting on the look and content of my blog, so why not change the title as well; see if it "fits" better. It is not much of a change anyway as Daxi Weida remains as its main author.

It also helped that a fellow blogger whom I've met for the first time at MBS2 (despite her being my co-alumni of UP Kutang Bato), also changed her primary blog's name after the summit. I share her reluctance in attributing the move to MBS2's influence, but I have to admit there are values that I hold that were "redeemed" as a result of my participation in the Summit.

These are just a few of the realizations (for a newbie like me, there are many) I learned from the Summit:
  • There is a need to counter-balance all the negative publicity Mindanao has been getting from traditional media; and the Mindanao bloggers are among our best options.
  • A blogger does not have to showcase all that are bright and beautiful about Mindanao to let everyone know that many things are indeed bright and beautiful in Mindanao. This one has always been a position of mine. I am happy that this was reaffirmed during the Summit. The overarching need to blog about the good side of Mindanao was qualified as blogging aggressively, truthfully and responsibly. We do not deny that there is war, but there is more to war than the exchange of bullets and mortar fires; "there are stories of resilience, stories of hope, stories of dreams, stories of humanity" that come out of evacuation sites [Walter Balane]. We also do not deny that besides war there are issues that we face on poverty, hunger, corruption and (mis) governance, environmental concerns and even traffic problems. Which for me make Mindanao no different from the rest of society for other people, local and foreign, to avoid. And by objectively blogging about these Brooklyn side of Mindanao, a blogger in fact is furthering the advocacy for the eventual fulfillment of progress this land has been promised eons ago.
  • Blogging the Mindanao consciousness means blogging truthfully and objectively on any thing that matter for a blogger from/of Mindanao.
  • I finally was able put living faces to many of the Mindanao bloggers whom i only got to read in the blogosphere; most of these faces are young; and these bloggers got talent!
  • One can actually make a living out of blogging; and I am not just talking here of entrepreneurial blogs.
  • There are limits to the extent where digital photos should be enhanced (read: Photoshopped) and posted to portray a real, actual, or true situation. This realization I had after a short chat with noted Mindanao photo-journalist Bobby Timonera. Prior to our little exchange, I wanted to bring to the floor the question about the "ethics" of Photoshop-ing or digitally enhancing photos. This question, and all others that relate to it, has always nagged me every time I get to see astoundingly beautiful pictures in magazines or in the internet. I found the question timely to ask after Bobby talked about photo-blogging and related how he "shifted" from being a sensationalist to becoming a photographer of the good, the beautiful, and real side of Mindanao. It was rather unfortunate that the question never did get to the floor (the moderator had to traffic forum time), for Bobby himself admitted it was a very interesting subject matter to discuss.
To borrow from my friend Jinky: "Everyday is a learning. . . sometimes we fail, sometimes we succeed! What's important is, we continue to emerge as a learned individual. I came out from MBS2 a learned individual". When we learn, we change. Change we can; change I did. Welcome once again to Redeemed Spirit.