Saturday, December 30, 2006


Saddam Hussein executed

An ambitious "firebrand" preaches a new way of thinking. He gathers forces about him, becoming an eminent figure even among the scholars, finding allies from every turn who are willing to support him. Then his campaign takes a potentially violent turn, and the Powers-That-Be had to take him down.

In taking him down, instead of stopping his followers in their tracks, support for his way of thinking even grew more dramatically. In the end, the Powers-That-Be launched a bloodbath even worse than they had initially feared.

I am not talking about Saddam Hussein. I am talking about Jose Rizal, dead today 110 years past.

In some way, I am also talking about the Christ, whose supreme sacrifice we continue to remember, but ironically we remain more fixated with the season of his birth than the manner of his death, which should inspire us more to take heed of the ideals of his ministry.

Regardless (before I launch a diatribe against the commercialization of Christmas and the all-too palpable "deification" of Jose Rizal), the death of Saddam Hussein leaves me torn.

Saddam was never a hero. He was the supreme opportunist, parlaying his organizational genius to break into the halls of power, peddling both Arabic nationalist slogans and a vision of a strong Middle Eastern state (in Iraq) as he rode the waves of turmoil to grab the Presidency of Iraq.

He kept the various factions and tribes together, dealing with the most intractable with an iron fist. He elevated Iraq from obscurity to front-page headlines by invading Iran as the US's proxy against the Glorious Islamic Revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini. He succeeded in fostering a fervent Iraqi nationalism, spearheading the outflow of prodigious Iraqi scholars and businessmen, and came close to making his Iraq a secular, albeit disciplined and moral state.

That he was devious, underhanded, and perhaps a misanthrope to boot is beside the point. One can point out to several historical antecedents and to current examples among today's world leaders. Saddam was never unique, and he never claimed to be.

Was it hubris that caused his downfall? Perhaps. The invasion of Kuwait was definitely a no-no, and his subsequent conduct of his occupation and the resultant counter-invasion by the Grand Coalition exposed him for the craven manipulator that he was. The US leadership at the time, for all its brilliance in ousting Saddam from Kuwait, could have and should have finished the job of ridding Iraq of Saddam then. There would have been no question of intervention, and countless lives would have been saved as the Kurds who rose in rebellion (abetted surely by the US) would not have been on the business end of Saddam's revenge.

As it was, the elder Bush administration pulled its punches, and was subsequently upended by the Democratic challenger, Bill Clinton.

Fast-forward to events of recent vintage. The younger Bush, a slicker communicator but perhaps half (or even less) the statesman his father was, invaded Iraq (despite prevaling international sentiment against the same) on the pretext that Saddam had a cache of chemical weapons and weapons of mass destruction. The war is now entering its fifth year, and no sign of these weapons has been established. Iraq, too, has bogged down into a morass of sectarian and ethnic strife.

I am torn not because I have any remorse over the death of Saddam. He got his just deserts, despite the kangaroo court the Iraqi government set up to try him of war crimes. The charges were ridiculous, rather off-tangent. Few people would agree to the manner in which the former dictator was tried, though most would readily agree that the heavy hand of American interventionism was fully involved.

I am torn because the swirl and shift of events in this part of the world, which I consider another haven, have become even murkier, darker, and filled with the quiet promise of more violence.

Perhaps the American leadership and those who supported the war would say this hanging has the stamp of "mission accomplished," and go on with the business of securing the Iraqi "democracy." Oh sure, I'm ecstatic with delight. The US presence has neither stopped the violence at the grassroots level and nor have they won over the locals or the international community for this hateful war.

This hanging, however, is just the beginning of another stage in the war, and so far, what I get is that Saddam was not executed, he was martyred. The thought of placing him in the same company as Jesus and Jose Rizal makes me cringe. No, check that, it makes me sick to my soul.

Back home, the heavy hand of the Americans again makes itself felt when the Arroyo administration finally caves in to pressure and sends convicted rapist Daniel Smith back to the custody of the US Embassy.

Rizal duly foretold the annexation of the Philippines by the United States nine years before the event. I wonder what will Rizal make of how weak-kneed and shortsighted the mass of Filipinos have become, while their leaders, instead of taking them forward, have become their most ardent oppressors, all in their name.

Sunday, December 24, 2006


Our organization, SPA-TDG, held its Christmas party at a private function room in one of the hotels in Khobar. The celebration was a bit muted, as some of our members were not in Saudi Arabia or had other activities that conflicted with our schedule.

Two of my former students spoke of their lives in Manila, away from their parents, and more than one parent had to fight back the tears. Separation is never a good thing - the child may be able to bear it, but the parent? Never.

I'd like to dedicate the lyrics of this song (written by Sergio Mendes, Alan & Marilyn Bergman) to my former students who are making their way of young adulthood as university students. I don't envy them the angst they must undergo - but I do envy the open road of their lives. Oh, I wouldn't dare go back that road again if I have no means to change what I've done! But for them, at least, I see the uncertainty and the hope, mixed in with youthful energy. I don't think they'll believe me that until they become parents (a state, sadly, I have yet to reach) these years will be the ones that they'll remember with the most fondness for the rest of their lives.

It's for the One whom I hope to find, or that she finds me.

It's also for the family back home. It never felt so gut-wrenching than when I realized that it's my empty seat, my empty place at the table that gives my mother and my sister (and all the rest) a reason to be sad. There is a pang because they miss me. How could I be so secure when they need me? When I examine that reality through the prism of their emotions, I just wish I could be there to give them the comfort that they need and deserve.


The dawn is filled with dreams
So many dreams - which one is mine?
One must be right for me
Which dream of all the dreams -
When there’s a dream for every star?
And there are - oh - so many stars
So many stars . . .

The wind is filled with songs
So many songs, which one is mine?
One must be right for me
Which song of all the songs
When there’s a song for every star?
And there are - oh - so many stars
So many stars . . .

Along the countless days
The endless nights
That I have searched
So many eyes, so many hearts, so many smiles
Which one to choose?
Which way to go?
How can I tell, how will I know?
Out of - oh - so many stars
So many stars . . .

Yes the wind is filled with songs
So many songs, which one is mine?
One must be right for me
Which song of all the songs
When there’s a song for every star?
And there are oh so many stars
So many stars . . .

Along the countless days
The endless nights
That I have searched
So many eyes, so many hearts, so many smiles
Which one to choose?
Which way to go?
How can I tell, how will I know?
Out of - oh - so many stars
So many stars,

Oh so many stars, so many stars
Oh there are so many stars, so many stars
Lots and lots of stars, so many stars
Oh so many, so many stars
Oh so many many, so many many stars so many stars

P.S. The treacliness of the song just gets away in the end, but I don't mind.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Finding Possibilities in Chennai

Another View of St. Thomas Basilica

This is part two of my Chennai story.

I spent four full days in Chennai doing work for our office, as per my previous post. All I can say about that work is that I wish I didn't have to do it, but I'm glad it afforded me the chance to travel.

It's the third time I'm doing this post, with delays from work and my own indolence - but anyway I'd like to finish before I move on to other things.

Some few Chennai facts I gathered from my readings -

  • Chennai is the traditional historical name for this area - the name of the second town that was merged with the original British settlement called Madras. Up until the millennium Madras was this city's name and until now outsiders prefer to call it by that name, though the Indian nationalists foisted the traditional name in 1996.
  • The city is the fourth-largest metropolitan area in India, topping over seven million people within the city and its suburbs.
  • It is one of the largest manufacturing areas in India - it is sometimes called the "Detroit of South Asia."

Frankly though, most of these escaped me until I did some reading on Chennai a day or so before my trip. Furthermore, the impact of the city and the people was something I did not expect.

Upon arriving, the first thing I noticed passing through immigration was the THRONG of people all over the place - both within and without the airport. It was a scale I haven't encountered for a normal activity since my days in college enrolling at UP (I gather it hasn't improved much, still, these days). I expected to have some problems with the smell of people (judging from the Indians over here), but instead I was overpowered with the crushing smell of HUMANITY. It was a physical force. No offense intended, really, but South Asians just have this odor that differentiates them from East Asians (who, incidentally, in close quarters, have their own unique pheromonic index), and from Filipinos in particular.

I was glad to see at least more than one foreign face to accompany me on the waiting line. Two hyped-up girls with London accents were behind me in the immigration line, and there was one Chinese lady from Hong Kong and some other Caucasians. It was a welcome relief to know people would stare at someone else than me while I was in the airport. I had that strange feeling when I queued up for my flight from Dammam.

Getting out of the airport was a chore. The baggage claim took almost an hour. I quipped to one of my fellow travelers, "We spent more time waiting at the carousel than we did on the flight!" Finally, the bags came through and I was ready to go.

I don't know if this is the same for the other major cities of India, but Chennai is filled with billboards! I thought Metro Manila had it bad, but downtown Chennai, if such an expression could be said and still remain fair, was worse. The billboards of every known product and service one can think of - well, they are all blown up in full-color, with accompanying model. At least the billboards are not raunchy. But seeing them for oneself can make one go cross-eyed.

The hotel I stayed in was a little bump above three stars, but it was comfortable. It offered no view since I was on the second floor and just across me was another office building. The glass window and the airconditioning did little to muffle the horns of the passing vehicles below. As I mentioned in my previous post, the food left a lot to be desired, but at least I could pick up a Western breakfast - no guarantees it will be healthy, but at the very least I could eat it.

The workdays breezed by most quickly - and I could attest to the quiet competence of our people based in our Chennai office. Like many young Filipinos, they were filled with hopes for the future and tried to bear their challenges as best as they could. It is no wonder why Indians make a beeline out of their own country --- there just isn't enough room for all that human potential, and besides, some "fools" from the Middle East are willing to pay just a little more.

One particular note is the preoccupation with wedding dowries. A fair-sized wedding, which the bride's family would shoulder, would be in the vicinity of 6-8 lakhs (1 lakh=Rs.100,000), though some people would hardly agree to anything less than 10 lakhs. One well-to-do person I spoke to admitted to spending 20 lakhs (Rs.2,000,000) for his eldest daughter's wedding. There are gifts for the couple, inclusive, and cash and gifts for the groom's family, should they be so inclined (and if not, the money goes to the couple anyway). One hideous and polite business curse I read from somewhere else goes like "May you have ten daughters, and may they all marry well!"

Naturally, the higher the salary and social desirability of the groom (inclusive of his family background - father's job, etc.; educational qualifications; employment position; other achievements), the higher the expense. Man, had I lived with this kind of influence, I would have killed myself to get all those honors up until university. At least that portion of the rat race would have yielded some rewards.

Indian men, in that respect, would go out of their way to put themselves on a higher social station. They can be very lucky in one way but in another, since they bear all the responsibilities in a relationship, it's just a balance.

It still surprises me how mainstream Indian society is still very conservative. All the more because of the perversities existing in it (which I need not mention). Well, there is a direct relationship between the norms of a society and things/ideas which have shock value in said society. People will go to outrageous extremes to prove their fervor or rebellion. If you don't believe me on this, talk to the Muslims and learn what they think of their extremists. And, as a Catholic, I believe this applies just as well.

I had the privilege of visiting the Basilica of St. Thomas the Apostle and praying at the site of his tomb while I was there. Though some hagiographers still dispute over the traditions over the historical accuracy of St. Thomas' mission in India, the belief is very strong that Thomas made his way to the Mylapore area in Chennai and preached in the area. He was met with firm opposition and several times had to hide in caves in the hills around Chennai. Accounts have it that he was killed while he was praying.

The basilica is built alongside the so-called site of his tomb. It's rather small, and its history outlines some tragedy (it was set to the torch by a zealous Muslim ruler), but as you can see from the picture, there is a quiet majesty to the old church. When I visited, a wedding was about to take place, and a church is never at its loveliest than when a wedding is celebrated. I smiled at the women and the nuns in the church while I took some more pictures.

The tomb itself is in a separate structure. On the ground floor is the museum of antiquities, while the tomb itself is below ground. The inner sanctum was dedicated two years ago after another set of renovations. I saw some articles from St. Francis Xavier, Jesuit missionary, among others. Perhaps I was numb, but it took some time before I took in the pregnant possibilities of this place. I was in a place where a man who lived with Jesus was buried! The thought floored me when I got back to the hotel. It still gives me goosebumps, even now.

The relative simplicity of the basilica was in stark contrast to the Kapaalesswarar Temple, with its various representations of the Lord Shiva and the rest of the Hindu pantheon. It was a shame that the temple was closed when I arrived, as I had wanted to see the real deal. But judging from other representations of Hindu art, it wouldn't be far off the mark that ornateness is the deal for the temple.

Chennai still has its living history. The old British outpost - Fort St. George - still houses the legislature and various government offices. It was Saturday, so I couldn't enter the compound. In one quarter of the city the glory of the British Raj is still very evident - the High Court, blending Neo-Gothic severity with the vigor of Indian architecture, the Public Works building, and the old Madras schools built by the British. The Thousand Lights Mosque is said to be a powerful statement of the Muslim faith - I passed it and tried to snap a good photo, but it didn't turn out right.

The most prestigious sectarian school in Chennai, is Loyola College, founded by the Jesuits in the late 18th century. It's funny because my identity was shaped by my schooling with the De La Salle (Christian) Brothers - who happen to be the most heated rivals of the Jesuits in terms of education. At least in the Philippines that's who they were. I mean, ARE.

The most amazing feature of Chennai is its public beach --- at 13 km, its Marina is one of the longest stretches of sand in the entire world. I wish I had more time to go around the memorials and other points of interests. But I was running on a meter, and I wasn't exactly a tourist. I just stared at the sea and listened to the waves beat upon the sand.

Before I left for Chennai I was a bundle of emotions looking for something, anything, to grasp. Mainly it was work, or most likely the absence of meaningful activity apart from work. Listening to the sea, and letting the experience of this new place get to me, taking in the unique fragrance of salt on land, my spirit lay still and I found some peace.

I need a little of that peace as this world is still a tough one. Not to mention the near-traumatic experience I had when the Saudi airport authorities checked my luggage on my way back to Dammam. Isaac Asimov said something to the effect that the acme of stupidity smacks of genius. I was foolish enough to buy representations of the Hindu gods as souvenirs for my friends in Saudi Arabia. I was half-shocked (the other half conveniently snapping up, "How stupid could you get?") when the x-ray guy at the airport said the idols were proscribed. I believe it was my sincere incredulity of my trespass that convinced him.

And now I am back here, in the thick of mundane things, despairing again of another Christmas spent away from my family. In my heart of hearts I light a candle, and hope again that the wonder and peace of those moments in Chennai, will give me solace until that day my feet touch my native soil and breathe once more, the atmosphere of home.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Chennai Friday Five

I'm in Chennai, India monitoring our engineering office. Since I have committed from the very beginning not to talk too much about work, I'll keep the details to other gems of my stay here in India.

One is tempted to make the most exaggerated claims about travel horror stories, and with Chennai it is no different. This is India's fourth-largest metropolitan area and the airport is a mess. Almost as bad in Manila in some ways and even worse in others. The State Government is upgrading the airport and the building is ongoing.

Chennai is a favorite destination for overseas companies to build representative offices --- it has a well-educated workforce, is cheaper than Mumbai, and still retains a lot of its colonial and pre-British charm. Our representative office here is managed by a very affable man, and since I can't name him or describe him otherwise, you have to take my word for it.

The streets of downtown Chennai, like in some places in Manila and the old towns, have been built with horses in mind. As such, the traffic can be pretty horrible in places. The traffic is pretty much like Manila and Indian drivers are more maniacal, if there could be such a degree, than Arab drivers. Now I understand why most Indians in the Middle East except the bigshots who thrive on image instead of substance, can live with almost any make of car because the cars here perforce must be small to deal with the traffic, crazy motorcyclists, bikers, and the "auto-taxis" (which incidentally are tricycles, similar to the tuctucs of Bangkok). One remarkable car is the Hindustan Ambassador (, which is also my service to and fro the hotel. It reminds me of a high-end jeepney.

The food is tolerable but I now know one reason why Indian food tastes so differently is the oil that they use. I ordered a club sandwich from room service the other night and the fries were greasy and different-tasting. Ugh! But at least room service is cheap compared to Philippine or Arab hotels.

I'll have a part two on this when I get back to Dammam since I have to finish up my Friday five and then leave the office.

1) Who was your first crush? (Celebrity or average) - My first crush, I think, was with a Dolphy girl. The ordinary one, I think, was with one of our friends from Pangasinan. She came over to live with us to look for work. I was about eight or nine when she came over. In high school, the first girl I liked was this girl named Ena from St. Paul in Pasig. If she ever reads this, I hope it tickles her pink.

2) Who do you currently have a crush on now? Keeley Hazell! But there's always been somebody...

3) Have you ever become so obsessed with a crush, you went to extreme measures to find out everything about him/her? Yes, and I need not tell what I did.

4) Has your crush ever turned out to be your future girlfriend/boyfriend? Yes, once. That was a long time ago.

5) Did a best friend ever turn into more than just a friend? Nope. Just like Ross in "Friends" I get to become friends with girls and then I can't get out of the "Friend Zone." If he's the mayor of the Zone, then I'm its president.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Means is the Way

I haven't commented much on the political situation in the Philippines for some time. Mainly because of the monotony. Mainly because all the issues have, for some time, been drawn out ad infinitum ad nauseam.

I had hopes that the lull would mean that there would be some consolidation prior to the May elections. The foreign policy spectrum of the Philippines will face some realignment following the Democrats' victory in the US this November. Oppositionists in the Philippines are taking their cue that May would be the next best opportunity to run the table and thus gain the initiative over the administration. There is little doubt that this electoral exercise would properly gauge the hold of the administration over public opinion and thus the country.

Let's just say I'd rather not be smug about how the administration has bungled the job, etc. etc. at running the country. There are far too many crows waiting at this feast, eager for the morsels of a post-mortem, and perhaps, even hastening the "inevitable" downfall. While I deplore that the mass of Filipinos is less sanguine about the essence of democracy and the deeper implications of such a system, I have greater faith in their impatience and their cynicism in our leaders.

Any self-serving politician without a reform agenda is just as marooned as any of the congressmen who have little else to show to their constituencies than toeing the administration line.

Still, I am troubled that strong-arm rule remains the special du jour for many of the disenchanted. I admire that they have read up on the progress of our neighbors Singapore and Malaysia, and perhaps Vietnam, and then concluding that no dissent is the best way to run a country. I have news for them - there is no guarantee that strong-arm rule will make your country rich. Take Argentina, Chile, Myanmar, or your selection of African countries.

Or take the Philippines under Marcos.

These same people are "appalled" that "contentiousness" is ruining the progress of any administration. They posit that good ideas are downgraded because of opposition - but I find that funny. To draw a point, something of ethereal beauty is not made any less because some person has a different conception of it. What appals me is that they would willingly cede many of their freedoms for a semblance of order and direction.

A word to the wise: the road to perdition feels just as safe and secure as the road to paradise, probably even more comfortable. Never forget that the right path does not a wide one make. The means is the way. For true democracy to function, we must allow the democratic design to unfold in due course. Otherwise, we become victims of contingency, swimming in an ad hoc sea.

The current hubbub emerging from the House effort to constitute itself as the lone agency to amend the Constitution is simply this: we cannot abandon the means of our democratic structure in order to rush "changes" as we perceive them. Now, I'm not going to plant myself in any of the camps as to my preferences over the form of government.That in itself is another issue for another day. We cannot condone bulldozing of our processes for the sake of the vague "reform." And, to use the hackneyed phrase, "at the end of the day," whatever form of government we have, it will be the same people littering the halls of the new legislature.

To date, we have not resolved our electoral processes to ensure that votes are counted correctly and quickly so that the true voice of the people is expressed. Let's have a clean, honest, open, and peaceful elections before we start speaking of unicameral or bicameral legislatures. If the form of selecting people is attainted, no means of sophistry would justify the form of government.

To date, we have not resolved the perks that Congressmen and Senators have arrogated upon themselves. The pork barrel will also be the means to control legislators regardless of whatever form of government we have. Let's abolish pork barrel forever because it is the primary temptation for any legislator to graft. Legislators are not implementors, and if they can't go through red tape of their local governments as they aver in order to push their pet projects, then tough. Welcome to the real world, ladies and gentlemen.

To date, we have not settled the moral authority of this administration to govern. That is to say, too, that not being in the government gives any presidential wannabes a "get out of jail free" card. The election in May 2007 should help resolve the stalemate. If the administration is as great as it puffs itself to be, then it should have no problem securing the mandate. If, as the pro-administration people correctly fear, that the opposition will win and then impeachment will secure enough votes, then the rule of law should prevail in the same way the pro-GMAers justified the quashing of the impeachment complaint.

It's not that impeachment is the best thing for us, but it does put the issue into perspective - why vote people in the first place when we want to impeach them? We might as well not have elections. Let the mob rule. Rather, the impeachment process is merely the form by which our catharsis from the time we kicked out Erap takes shape. GMA in or out, we will have the opportunity for closure. Then the clock will be reset and a new political landscape, I hope, will be easier to chart.

The answer to gridlock from above is decentralization. The Local Government Code has provided for that, but old habits die hard.

We have all the laws we need to make our government work. The software and the hardware are all plugged in, so to speak. It's the people-ware that now has to factor in --- I just hope all Filipinos would make it count.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

All Goodbyes Are Mostly Bitter

I don't know of any goodbye that isn't wracked with regret.
Mostly goodbyes are hard and painful.
There isn't a goodbye that I wouldn't rather forget
I just look forward to the next hello that's waiting.

My cousin Alvin Pineda passed away on the first day of December. For almost thirty-six years he labored against the odds and survived as long as he had. I hadn't seem him for the longest time until I went home for vacation in the middle of this year. We went to the apartment their family was sharing and in one corner of their "bedroom" he was splayed out on a foam mattress. His maternal grandmother watched him dutifully, keeping him from having abrasions by toweling off his sweat and giving him regular sponge baths.

He was cared for like he was no more than a toddler. He lived and died barely in touch with even an inkling of his human potential.

My cousin Alvin had Down's syndrome.

In this land, finding true friends is just as hard as managing to find yourself in a crowd is as simple as snapping your fingers. You must perforce make friends on the job or you wilt like a flower that does not see rain. While this does not bode the best thing for you, it is the only thing that ensures your survival. These friends may not prove to be the most natural ones for you, but some of them can and have proven to be the best friendships one may ever have.

Which is why, there is no good goodbye. Ever. From the moment someone says, "I'm giving up, this is it for me" and makes preparations for the trip home or points elsewhere, there is just no happy ending. Could one have done something to make the decision easier for that person to stay? Or to leave? What happens next? Do we catch up next time, or do we catch up again, ever?

Would it be enough to say, "good luck" to make up for all those times you have been together? Even if, in hindsight, you and your cronies were just shooting the shit finding some creative ways to kill time? How can you accurately put these into words?

More and more I have to come see life through the prism of people - and departing people is so much harder. A place is just a place.

No, I am not devastated by the knowledge that my cousin who would probably have not recognized me has died. Rather, I am saddened by the contingencies and the constraints that have kept him alive and then allowed him to live that way. I only have compassion for his parents, who tried to handle raising a differently-abled child their own way, in the best way they could, without depriving the rest of their children.

It's the tough ones, the recalcitrant ones, the unresponsive ones, the troubled ones, that make them special.

And so we go back full circle --- back here, because the conditions make the relationships one chooses more special.

Speaking of the special ones, even the small ones, the insignificant ones, the what-could-have-been ones, goodbyes are more often than not, bitter.

Even if saying goodbye meant leaving a difficult situation (as I once did back home before I came here), it's the though of not having done it earlier that will haunt you. There is hardly any goodbye that carries with it the sweetness of accomplishment. It's normally just the relief of surviving.

As in death, so in life and love. There are places in my heart that hold all those lost loves --- even the crushes, the what-could-have-beens, the never-did-happens. Yes, even those. It's not like I am perpetually browsing through these places, but I hope you get the idea. They become more special because they are not part of the continuity of my life, but even if they do in some way, they are not the same as what I would wish for.

There is only the hope that somehow sweetens the goodbye but there is nothing, nothing that it can do to leave the aftertaste of bitterness. Only the expectation that someday, you will get together soon.

Locked Out

I'm e-mailing this post because apparently the IT boys in our office have locked out logging into Beta Blogger.

Aside from ruining most of the templates I previously used, I can't post easily from Flickr because of this upgrade. Makes me wish I hadn't done it (too late! too late!)

Hope this goes through. Well, there's always the Internet cafe nearby, but why pay an extra buck when the office gives the service for free?