A Letter to the Mayor

No city is flawless.

No matter how simple or advanced it may be, its people will still find reasons to complain about something – horrendous traffic jams, lack of green spaces, expensive cost of living, the occasional delay of the trains even by one minute, among many others, can be a cause of dissatisfaction for the population.

Oftentimes, however, people complain about the issues of their communities to their families, friends, and colleagues; post their exasperation on social media – and that’s perfectly all right – but seldom do they discuss these issues to the agent that can (hopefully) give a resolution – the city government itself.

I reside in the one of the big cities of the country, and I have my fair share of discontent.  I’ve lived here for a long time, but it was only last year that I had the idea of contacting the city mayor.  It happened that I finally grew tired of enduring some of my city’s problems namely traffic, trash, stray animals, and illegal vendors.

And I guess that’s the problem with many of us – we endure things that shouldn’t be put up with.  We let these tiny things pass, thinking that they will eventually go away.  But they don’t; instead they pile up and become worse, and although we are faced with these unpleasant situations, we become too familiar with them until they pervade the system and become part of our daily lives.  A culture.  Eh ganun na talaga eh. 

Below is a copy of the letter I wrote to our mayor.   I intended to write him as early as May last year, but I only got to write down my observations and complaints sometime last October 2014.  I sent it via the official email address written in the city government’s website.  I wanted to send a copy of the email to the Metro Manila Development Authority, too but the only contact details it had on the website were telephone numbers (as if the Chairman would really talk to me on the phone to discuss my concerns).  I sent a copy of the letter to the vice mayor, just for good measure.

It is quite long, but I had the slightest hope that despite its length, the authorities will take time to read it, and hopefully, act upon the issues contained therein.  Unfortunately, five months have passed and I have yet to hear a word from them.  Maybe the mayor and the vice mayor are swamped with work.  Maybe the official website was not updated and my email got lost in cyberspace.  Maybe they did read it but did not even have the time to acknowledge it.  Whatever the reason for their lack of response, I do not know. What I do know is that it is just frustrating and disappointing.   It makes me wonder then that if this simple act of communication is not acted upon, how much more the bigger things?

This is one major reason why people resort to mass media as a way to resolve social issues.  The authorities are not doing what they should be doing; let us report them to TV Patrol!    And most of the time, it works!  Watch the news or listen to the AM radio and you will hear all sorts of complaints about the government or an agency’s non-action and several weeks after (sometimes it doesn’t even take days), a bridge is fixed, a manhole is covered up, a road is repaired.

Does the local government really need to be poked by the media before they take action?  Should the authorities be shamed first before they can fulfill their responsibilities?  Can’t they have more initiative?  Be more proactive?  Be more sensitive?

I am posting my letter not because I have hopes that it would finally get to its destination and get noticed.  No, I’m merely venting out, but if it does land on the proper desk, then that’s good.  If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t.  I do hope though that people who may read this post may also be encouraged to let their voices out.  Speak up against things that they think are wrong.  Speak up to praise things that have been done right.   Writing a simple letter is merely one small way of showing that you care.  Because if the authorities don’t, and we don’t too, who else will?

(Note: In the interest of fairness, months after I had sent my email, I noticed some changes in some areas: a spot near the Sandiganbayan Footbridge got cleaned up (there used to be just piles of trash and soil there!), exit and entry signs have been put up at the Commonwealth service road, and no more illegal vendors on a certain footbridge on the same road.  However, lots of vendors mushroomed on a sidewalk near that footbridge, which makes me think that the old footbridge vendors only transferred there.  Also, there still much to be done about the proper and stricter implementation of loading and unloading practices.

Has my letter been read after all?  I don’t know.  There’s no way of telling, but at least, I’ve seen some slight changes!  Nevertheless, much work still needs to be done.)

ps. Some details have been removed for privacy reasons.


Dear Mayor Herbert Bautista:

Good day!

My name is […] every day, when I go to work, I am assaulted by some of the different challenges that our city needs to address.

Cleanliness, traffic jams, illegal vendors, and stray animals –  these are a few things that I would like to bring to your attention, sir.  And I hope that you would take the time to read the concerns of a constituent whose primary intention is the same as yours: to make QC better.

Cleanliness:

Many places in QC are littered with garbage whether they may be a main thoroughfare, a tiny street corner, waterways, and even footbridges.  One of the biggest questions I have in mind when it comes to cleanliness is this: why can’t there be any trash bins scattered around the city instead?  I’ve seen big cigarette bins (courtesy of MMDA) in some parts of Commonwealth – which is rather ironic because we have anti-smoking campaigns – but not trash bins.  

Why can’t we do the same thing for our litter problem?  I think having trash cans can help solve it a bit.  Apart from the apathy that some people have about the environment, I think one simple reason that people litter, too, is the absence of a place where they can dump their trash!  Not everyone can simply keep their trash inside their bags, and definitely not all trash can be kept inside a bag, so having properly segregated trash bins can help in lessening trash in the streets.  Huge “’Wag magtapon ng basura dito” signs are utterly useless if we cannot point the proper place where people can actually throw their garbage.  By placing trash bins, you will be able to train the people to be more responsible, make the street sweepers’ job relatively easier, and make the surroundings cleaner.

On another note, may I also know what’s being done with the money being collected when we purchase plastic bags from some stores?  Also, QC has recycling programs too, am I right?  Has it been effective in reducing the waste of the city?

Traffic:

I use public transportation and every time I go to work, I encounter dreadful traffic jams along Commonwealth Ave.  Despite its vastness, it still gets heavily congested especially the lanes dedicated to PUVs.  From Litex until Sandiganbayan, for instance, the service lanes are cramped with buses and jeepneys that carelessly pick up and drop off passengers anywhere they please.  The traffic enforcers who are supposed to manage traffic simply look on and wave their hands to the drivers gesturing them to move, which PUV drivers do not heed, anyway.  Also, since the service road is often blocked, some drivers then pick up and drop off passengers outside of the service road, blocking traffic there as well!

There are also numerous loading stations along that stretch of road but only very few of them are used.  The lack of discipline by the drivers is further amplified by the lack of discipline by some commuters who hail their ride under footbridges or on the street itself instead.  People then occupy a significant portion of the road, run after buses and jeeps, and jostle their way just to be able to hitch a ride!  It’s impossible!

And that’s just a small portion of the southbound lane of Commonwealth Ave.    On the other side of the street, in front of Ever Commonwealth for example, the same thing happens:  there’s no fixed area where the commuters can wait for a ride forcing them to wait on the road instead.  Many jeepneys, on the other hand, use the loading/unloading zone as their terminals and parking space.  Both commuters and jeepneys then have to play patintero with each other.  And the buses?  As always, they drop off / pick up their passengers in the middle of the road, blocking numerous vehicles behind them.  While all this chaos is happening, the traffic enforcers are either just standing there or reminding the drivers and commuters with the use of a megaphone to move forward or walk further!

Illegal vendors:

There are traffic jams on the streets and they’re also present on footbridges!  Illegal vendors occupy the space that is supposed to be for pedestrians.  People cannot walk properly because they have to avoid products that are either sprawled on mats or placed on stands attached to the fence of the footbridge.  So, on the footbridge, you have to avoid two things: piles of garbage and an assortment of merchandise!

Stray animals:

Everywhere you look, there are dogs and cats that roam our streets.  Many of them are neglected by their irresponsible owners and are left to suffer and/or fend for themselves.  They live in danger all the time, and some unfortunate ones end up as road kills.   Do we have a decent animal shelter that can take care of these helpless animals?  Is it possible to have an affordable neutering / spaying program for dogs and cats in QC, so that the population of these animals can also be controlled?

The issues I have raised are not new problems.  They have been here for a long time.  What I don’t understand is why until now, despite the numerous change in leadership, these problems persist.

I can see some improvements here and there (Manggahan and Litex have become a little bit cleaner since summer of this year) but overall, it seems like things have pretty much remained the same at least in the areas I have mentioned.

As I have said, I have lived in QC all my life.  I know I should have gotten used to this mess somehow, but I haven’t, and I refuse to get used to it because this is not how a decent city is supposed to be!

Quezon City has recently celebrated its 75th Anniversary.  I hope it doesn’t take another 75 years to see some real changes around here.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.  God Bless.

In Times of War, In Times of Need

Numerous photographs, maps, videos, and documents depicting the horrors of the Battle of Manila 70 long years ago appear on a government website commemorating this grim part of Philippine history.  The battle, whose objective was to liberate the capital from Japanese forces during World War II, was a month-long conflict, which reduced buildings to piles of rubble and lives to mere memories for both civilians and soldiers alike.  Manila, the second most devastated Allied country during WW II, would never regain the beauty it once possessed.

Quiapo, 1945. "Seen from afar is the Main Building of the University of Santo Tomas and the art-deco designed Far Eastern University." - Philippine Presidential Museum and Library

Quiapo, 1945. “Seen from afar is the Main Building of the University of Santo Tomas and the art-deco designed Far Eastern University.” – Philippine Presidential Museum and Library

The Battle of Manila was only a part in a bigger bleak picture WW II had painted.  The atrocities of the war extended beyond the borders of the capital and left a trail of dead bodies and fractured lives in the process.  Scenes of destruction, guerilla warfare, systematic rape, the Death March, and even babies killed by the Japanese’s bayonets dominate the idea of how WW II was like in the Philippines.  But buried in all this tragedy is a touching tale of kindness of compassion not known to many people, not even to Filipinos themselves.

Jews in Manila

Jews in Manila

No one would probably connect the events of the Holocaust to the Philippines but there is, in fact, a deep link between the two.  During the early stages of the War, in 1939, the Philippines became a refuge for some 1,300 European Jews who were trying to escape the Holocaust.  Colonel Dwight Eisenhower; Paul McNutt, US High Commissioner; five business owners, the Frieder brothers; and Philippine Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon, had devised a plan to provide these Jews safety and protection from the persecution that they were experiencing back in Europe.

A film called Rescue in the Philippines: Refuge from the Holocaust documents this piece of hidden history.  A preview of which can be viewed below:

Why this part of Philippine history not mentioned in school textbooks is baffling.  It deserves recognition and appreciation.  Many people are familiar with Germany’s Oskar Schindler and Japan’s Chiune Siguhara and their efforts of helping thousands of Jews escape the Holocaust.  It’s only proper, too, that the world know about this particular magnificent gesture of moral courage.  But more importantly,  the Filipinos themselves should be acquainted with the events of this special mission, so that when they look back in the past, they may appreciate the fact that the country might had been plunged in a time of darkness, but it was still also strong enough to be a source of light and hope even for others.

At a time when many countries closed their doors on the Jews, the Philippines’ doors were wide open.  In photo, the Open Doors Monument in Rishon Leizon, Israel erected in 2009.

At a time when many countries closed their doors on the Jews, the Philippines’ doors were wide open. In photo, the Open Doors Monument in Rishon Leizon, Israel erected in 2009.

______________

Notes:

View more photos of the Battle of Manila on this Flickr page.  To learn more about the Battle of Manila and World War II in the Philippines in general, visit this link.

Special exhibits, film showings, and mini-conferences about the Battle of Manila titled “Manila, My City at War!” are held at the Ayala Museum from February 3 – March 3, 2015.  The documentary Rescue in the Philippines will also be screened here.  For details, visit the Filipinas Library page.

Learn more about the documentary Rescue in the Philippines.

Watch a preview of another film documenting the Philippines’ Open Door Policy.

Rescue in the Philippines’ premiered last August at the Malacañang Palace.  Watch its special coverage.

Get Ready for Ruby

Typhoon Ruby (international name: Hagupit) is the 18th typhoon to enter the Philippines this 2014, and it will, unfortunately, bear down on many of the areas that Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) destroyed just one year ago. Most of which still have not even recovered fully yet.

source: PAGASA

source: PAGASA

Although Typhoon Ruby is not as strong as Yolanda, it still packs some mighty winds and it is powerful enough to create storm surge that can reach up to 4 meters.  Weather experts say it will make at least six landfalls starting over Dolores, Eastern Samar on Saturday.  Hopefully, the local and national government, as well as the people are more prepared this time around. Stay strong, Visayas!

source: National Geographic Channel

Below is a list of important contact numbers in case of an emergency. Please pass.

emergency numbers

Metro Manila, get ready too!

P.S.  Thank you, PAGASA for tirelessly doing your job.

After Yolanda [part 2]: “Small” Acts of Kindness

[Read Part 1]  

I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay
– small acts of kindness and love.
~Gandalf, “The Hobbit”

It’s been a year since super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck the central part of the Philippines, and once again, the news is filled with stories of those who suffered from this exceptional natural disaster.

Indeed, this event produced some of the saddest tales, but amidst this seeming interminable misery, it also showed that compassion still existed.  And it was not only evident in the relief extended by international governments to the Philippines, but also in the everyday people and certain individuals who performed “small” acts of kindness and love.  Their donations and mere show of solidarity might not have been able to feed thousands of people or put a roof over a family’s head, but their humble support somehow restored people’s faith in humanity.

Here are a few of them:

1

kids from Sendai, Japan send messages of hope.

2

photo: PH Red Cross

3  Shoichi Kondoh was a six-year old Japanese boy, who, upon learning about the situation in the Philippines, donated his piggy bank savings of ¥5,000 (roughly P2, 200). As a sign of gratitude, an anonymous group of Filipinos sent Shoichi a gift – 4 jeepney toys and a t-shirt that said “I Love PH”.

Shoichi accompanied by his mother at the PH embassy in Tokyo

Shoichi accompanied by his mother, Miho, at the PH embassy in Tokyo

Shoichi being given his "thank you" gift

Shoichi, being given his “thank you” gift

4  The Empire State in New York lit up using the colors of the Philippine flag as a sign of support

empire

5  Various European football clubs displayed messages of hope during their UEFA Champions League matches.  This was during a match between FC Shakhtar Donetsk and Spanish club Real Sociedad in Ukraine.

“You are not alone, Philippines”

6  Seahawk’s Doug Baldwin before the beginning of a football match

Seattle Seahawks Doug Baldwin

7

photo:  deleonphoto instagram

8  Some families in the poverty-stricken area of Tondo, Manila rummaged through their closets and kitchen cupboards and looked for things that they could donate.  They themselves actually had nothing yet were still able to give out something.

9

photo: when in manila facebook page

10  The countless volunteers who spent their time packing goods, doing admin work, and even driving victims to help them find their relatives in Manila displayed great benevolence. So many volunteers got involved that one charity organization near my place had to refuse my registration to help twice because all the time slots had been fully booked until the next few weeks.  The same organization also had to stop accepting donations several times because they didn’t have any room to keep them anymore – and to think that it was already their second warehouse!

There were thousands more around the world whose modest donations, prayers, and efforts never got on the evening news.  These people remained anonymous, but their “small” act of kindness would always be treasured by those who have received it, for as Aesop once said, “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.”

[FINAL INSTALLMENT SOON]

The Emperor’s New Blog Post

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see,” French artist Edgar Degas said.  If this were the case, then 27-year-old artist, Lana Newstrom, who recently created quite a stir because of her “invisible art,” would be one of the greatest artists of all time.

photo released with the supposed art exhibit of newstrom's invisible art.  in reality, this is an altered photo of a bert stern show in italy.

photo released with the supposed exhibit of newstrom’s invisible art. in reality, this is an altered photo of a bert stern show in italy.

Her exhibit at the Schulberg Gallery in New York  some couple of weeks back which featured invisible paintings and sculptures was attended by art enthusiasts and by people who were simply intrigued by this whole event.  Some didn’t appreciate Newstrom’s art works, but others – especially those who have pockets to burn – happily bought some of the pieces that even commanded millions of dollars.

Does this sound insane?  Well, it is.  And satirical, too.  Apparently, this news was merely a fabrication of CBC Radio’s Pat Kelly and Peter Oldring for their show, This is That.   Many fell for it, though, and as much as I would hate to admit it, including me.

“Is this really the future of art? Nothingness?”  I asked myself after reading the article.  Although I love going to museums, the art world is still distant to me – its history and evolution, the different movements, the styles, the criticisms, the who’s who, etc.   My knowledge and experience of it is scanty, so certain concept art or any avant-garde style can sometimes make me scratch my head in confusion.   That is why I thought it was real – not the art works themselves, but the idea that some people would actually “create” something that is unseen and have the public agree with them.  Art can be weird at times, and the same can be said for those who worship it, purchase it, or pretend to appreciate it.

Reading about Newstrom’s invisible art news reminded me of another (almost) “invisible art” straightaway.  It was a poem that was included in my Philippine Literature class back in college – The Emperor’s New Sonnet .  It was created by poet, writer, literary critic, and painter Jose Villa Garcia (1908 – 1997).

Compared to Newstrom’s invisible art, Garcia’s work is more understandable because the title is a dead giveaway.  It is a clever poem, not in the way the words had been used – because obviously there isn’t one – but on the manner that his message and his art are conveyed through a blank sheet of paper.

the emperor's new sonnet

Maybe you’d think that I am “hopelessly stupid” for thinking that it actually conveys a message.  But whether you think of this as art or simple nonsense, there is no way denying that once you look at it, you get it, despite of the fact that nothing is written there.

Or is there?

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
― Pablo Picasso

 

Unearthing the Past, Evoking Emotions / A Case of (Philippine) History Repeating

I had the chance to teach Philippine History for one of my students several months back. We normally had English tutorials but since she was enrolled in a formal school and was having some difficulty with History, I was asked to help her out with the said course, at least for about a few weeks.

A part of me felt relieved to be teaching a different subject other than English. I had been feeling bored with it, and I thought that a new subject would somehow reduce that boredom. I like history, so I had no problem with the task that had been given to me. There was just one problem though: it had been a long while since I read anything about Philippine history; I had already forgotten some of the events and the relevance of certain names and dates. I knew I had to brush up on History to help the student better, but generally, I thought this change would do me some good.

arrival of legaspi

Unfortunately, I failed to realize the effect of this change on my student. My student, a 14-year-old foreigner, wasn’t exactly into history, as most children her age. In addition, she didn’t have an excellent command of English, and now she was supposed to study and memorize words and phrases in another language – Spanish! Terms such as encomienda, Royal Audiencia, cumplase, Consejo de Indias, Recopilacion, corregimiento, indulto de comercio, and even the title of one of the earliest books published in the Philippines, Doctrina Christiana en Lengua Española y Tagala (and that’s not even the entire title of the book on the cover), exasperated her and compounded her predicament.

As our classes progressed, I too, became a bit frustrated. There I was with a student who didn’t like what she was studying, couldn’t understand fully or even pronounce the Spanish words properly, and was a complete sleepyhead!  Teaching that class was a challenge, but it was a job I had to perform.

Frustration was not the only thing that developed in me as time passed by. There also arose a sense of sadness. It had nothing to do with my student or our classes, though. Rather, it stemmed from the subject itself – the Philippines’ history.

The book was made for high school students, so the discussion wasn’t as comprehensive as it should be. Despite this, the abridged narration of the historical events made me remember how Spain subjugated and exploited this country – both its people and its resources. The ways how Filipinos were treated as lower and less significant than the Spaniards, the centuries of violence, unfair treatment, brainwashing, and poverty. Re-reading the narration of Philippine history led me to ask the same question my student asked me one day: Why did the colonization took more than three centuries to end? Of course, ending Spanish colonization of the Philippines was not as simple as demanding Spain to leave the country alone, but for it to happen for three hundred thirty-three years simply seemed an incredibly vast amount of time, too, wasn’t it?

front cover of Doctrina Christiana.  I was able to buy a reproduced print of the book during a Book Fair

I was able to buy a reproduced print of the book during a book fair at Instituto Cervantes de Manila

My student, who became relatively more interested in the subject later on, had to study only two and a half chapters of the Spanish era with me, but within those two and a half chapters, certain words and phrases appeared many times over. Phrases like “forced to work,” “the people suffered….,” “unfair,” “corruption,” “poverty,” and many others. I actually wanted to sum up those two and half chapters this way to make things easier for her: “It was a really shitty time, being under Spain.” Of course, I didn’t do that. I would have made an overgeneralization (or would I have not?) Besides, I couldn’t say the word shitty to her.

Before long, our history classes were over. As soon as her final exams were done, so were our lectures. This time, it was she who felt relieved. I, on the other hand, was experiencing – to some degree – anger. Although our classes were finished, I was still hung up on the subject. Some parts of the book especially fired me up:

1) “The masses also suffered from unfair taxation and forced labor. From 1571 to 1884, all Filipinos paid taxes to Spain… Only a minuscule part of the taxes went to public works, health and security programs for the natives. A large part of the money went to officials of the civil government and to the friars. Whatever was left in the coffers was used to finance its armed forces, the church, the bureaucracy and the Spanish expeditions to the Moluccas. Because of these expenditures, the colonial government was often in deficit. Annual infusions from Mexico became necessary. The monetary infusion was called real situado, an annual subsidy that stopped only in 1821.”

2) “Because of his relative independence from the government is Spain, the Governor-General engendered corruption in the Philippines. His position can be bought or granted as a favor. Governor-Generals had a brief term of office, so except those with pure hearts and noble demeanor, the Governor-Generals lost no time in enriching themselves. They often capitalized in the unfair taxation system and the Galleon Trade.”

3) “The King of Spain implemented some steps to curb the abuses of the Spanish officials in the Philippines. One of these was the Royal Audiencia which was founded in 1583… But these steps proved to be futile because it became easier for a corrupt official to bribe an investigator or to overturn their judgement with the use of their political influence in the Philippines or Spain.”

4) “…The alcalde mayor was often a model of graft and corruption and inefficiency. This was because most of the alcalde mayores in the Philippines were not trained for the position, and had only come to the Philippines to make themselves rich.”

5) “The provincial governor had the power to collect taxes from the people. Many took advantage of this opportunity to amass profits. The alcalde mayor forcibly collected taxes in the form of cash when harvests were abundant. He brought the produce at very cheap prices… He would hide his profits and remit to the treasurer only the minimum revenue required from his province.”

6) “The gobernadorcillo was a respected member of the community… His salary was small but just like the provincial governor, he had plenty of opportunities to profit from his position. The cabeza de barangay and other municipal officials also abused their powers.”

7) “Graft, corruption and malversation of public funds were prevalent from the provincial to the barrio levels. The public had no one else to turn to about their complaints against erring officials. Bureaucrats could easily exact revenge on their rivals. The helplessness among the natives was mirrored in their saying: “the Governor-General was in Manila, the King was in Spain, and God was in Heaven” which meant that all of them were too distant to hear the people’s cries. This abuse of power was one of the causes behind the people’s periodic uprisings against the colonial government.”

The negativity wasn’t directed towards the Spanish colonial system or anyone else in history anymore but to the people in government in the present.  I was reading a part of history yet I felt like I was reading the headlines of current broadsheets!  You see, around the time my History class was happening, a significant political scandal erupted: the pork barrel scam. This scandal, to simplify it, was the issue of public money being used to fund fraudulent projects, and millions and millions of pesos supposedly going to crooked government officials’ pockets, too.

photo courtesy of edangara.com

This wasn’t the first time that some Philippine legislators and other government officials had been involved in graft and corruption scandals, but this one was too much. The extent of corruption and the amount of money involved were tremendous. Millions of Filipinos are still living in destitute and many things – basic things – are still needed to be provided for and then you hear how a minute portion of society are enjoying the hard-earned money of the taxpayers! Who wouldn’t be enraged by that?

The resentment was further fueled when one of the world’s worst disasters, Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), hit and devastated the central Philippines. The government should have done its job focusing on essential projects like DISASTER PREPAREDNESS and management, building stronger and decent evacuation centers, and even upgrading weather equipment and warning systems. But no, they were too busy enriching themselves.

More than a hundred of years have passed since Spain left the Philippines, but it still feels like the Filipino people are still suffering the same way they did while under Spain. Only this time, the enemy is no longer the colonial masters but the Filipinos themselves. And that is what makes all these things the sadder.

When will it end? When will the Filipinos be truly free?