Last Wednesday, we had a kickoff party with Virtual Playground to celebrate New Year.
This talent management firm has been my “other” family.
As we all know, when I was still with De La Salle University, we were discouraged to hire managers and agents since we were still student-athletes and they don’t want to have any conflict. That’s why I made sure to finish my collegiate commitment first before entertaining endorsements and offers that would seriously affect my athletic career.
How time flies.
Now, I’m with Virtual Playground for four years already and I can say that our relationship keeps getting stronger and better than ever.
I’m really happy and proud to be part of this wonderful family.
They have been guiding me in my career inside and outside the volleyball court and do not get tired of supporting me whenever I make crucial decisions.
Virtual Playground continues to expand.
Aside from athletes, they are also now handling the careers of singers, performers and actors, who are all working hard to make it big in the entertainment industry.
That’s why Virtual Playground arranged a party so we can mingle with each other and get to know other companies under this talent agency.
This is not the first time for them to hold an event like this.
Last year, we also had a small gathering with all athletes competing in the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.
We were introduced to each other, where I learned that all of them are not just ordinary athletes but a re all achievers in their respective fields.
That’s why when the SEA Games came to a close, I wasn’t surprised that nearly all of the athletes under Virtual Playground emerged with medals.
Virtual Playground athletes who won SEA Games medals are Johnvic de Guzman, Marck Espejo, Jack Kalingking and Joshua Umandal of men’s indoor volleyball; Chris Newsome of men’s 3×3 basketball; Jimmy Alapag and Chris Ross of men’s 5×5 basketball; Jerome Calica of muay; Maxine Esteban of fencing; Mark Striegl of sambo; Rochelle Suarez of obstacle course racing; and Pauline Lopez of taekwondo.
Thinking about their achievement of these high caliber athletes makes me proud to be part of the Virtual Playground family. Even if I didn’t win a medal with the national women’s volleyball team, they still made sure to support and cheer me up, saying that being part of the national team is already a major achievement that I should cherish and be proud of.
After all, not all volleyball players are given the chance to represent the country.
Anyway, during the kickoff party, there was a short program, where we played interactive games with other Virtual Playground talents. We had so much fun.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to win as the taller, stronger players of Alab Pilipinas dominated everything. Well, to tell you honestly, we actually let them win, knowing that basketball players are very competitive and have massive advantage over mere mortals like us (LOL!).
To spice up the event, there was a raffle with hefty prizes at stake. But I didn’t expect much. I know that I am not lucky when it comes to game of chances.
And what made the night truly special was the fact that my managers, Mark Salamat and Charlie Dy, celebrated their birthdays. I could see the pride and happiness in their eyes since the athletes and celebrities that they handle are all doing well in their respective fields.
So to those behind Virtual Playground, I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude for taking care of my career. With their help, I really discovered a lot about myself and learned a lot about the industry I am working.
I hope that they don’t get tired of helping athletes and celebrities like us in charting their future in the sports and entertainment industries.
Words cannot express how grateful I am.
So from the bottom of my heart, thank you to my “other” family.
Navigating ‘adulting’ in quarantine
There is a profound loneliness brought about by the pandemic, where the norm of social distancing is essential in saving lives. The palpable feeling of quiet isolation has affected even the most introverted homebodies.
The world was not meant to move and function only through synchronous everything, but since we’ve officially passed the six-month mark of the Luzon-wide quarantine with no end in sight — it’s all we can really do to keep up. As the government fumbles to find concrete solutions to the pandemic, many employees and students have been forced to grapple with the new work from home reality.
There is a profound loneliness brought about by the pandemic, where the norm of social distancing is essential to saving lives. The palpable feeling of quiet isolation has affected even the most introverted homebodies. The truth is, the work from home set-up is unkind to one’s mental health. Hours are spent working on a screen daily, while robotically waiting for the next online meeting.
Submit deliverables, edit and discuss. Rinse and repeat.
In practice, the work-life balance is nowhere to be found. This partly has to do with the merging of spaces once reserved specifically for unwinding. Now, one’s place of work is commonly also one’s bedroom and dining room. The latter is inevitable especially when meetings extend into what feels like infinity. These days, going overtime at work seems to be part and parcel of life in the age of COVID-19. It’s hard to mentally log-off now.
Part of me wonders if this fixation on some vague idea of success is but a generational quirk. Are we a generation that measures self-worth in terms of productivity? Or have we grown jaded in the process of becoming part of the workaday world? It’s hard to tell the difference. After all, these are times when productivity is the most-prized commodity of all.
It’s all too easy to get caught up in the false belief that, “I’ll be happy when I get x, or once I’ve done y.” This repetitive narrative is as mendacious as it is never-ending. All we want is to get busy.
Better and more successful, regardless of the cost. The most frightening realization of all is this: chasing after the token picket fence future causes nothing but burnout.
We’re all yearning for a return to some semblance of normalcy, but most of this is wishful thinking. There’s no dictating how long life will go on this way, particularly in a country where rampant corruption precedes over the needs of the people. But here’s hoping for better days.
If you haven’t done it, please register to vote. Registration is again open to the public, provided that one takes the necessary precautions of wearing a face mask and a face shield. Voting is our ticket to a less bleak future.
Are you okay?
It got me thinking of people I know and wondered how they’re coping with this half-a-year and counting shelter-at-home way of life. Are they okay?
As early as the end of February this year, I understood from health experts that it would take from one year to 18 months to find a vaccine for COVID-19. As we know, scientists have been doing their crucial work for the past seven months, and progress is being made.
In the meantime, my nuclear family or household bubble and I have been conscientiously following stay-at-home precautionary measures for over six months.
It hasn’t been easy as I’m sure some, if not all, of you will agree. If I am to be optimistic that a vaccine will be ready and widely available in a year’s time, then we are pretty much over the half-year mark of this long wait. I’m careful not to be overly optimistic though. I don’t want to set myself up for disappointment. The push and pull of being pragmatic and being hopeful is real.
Some months back, a friend of mine shared something on her social media account which struck me — we are all in the same storm, but on different boats. I am told this is an excerpt from a Twitter post, which went viral last April.
We, the world over, are all facing this storm of a virus. There will be as many different ways of coping, experiences, strategies, struggles and attitudes toward this COVID-19 storm as there are people in this great big world of ours.
Some days have been agonizingly slow. There are those who feel like they are languishing in the very places they once saw as safe refuge. So, seek a different route to safety they must.
Like a long journey with many twists and turns, ups and downs, hungry tummies and headaches of varying degrees, and everyone is either thinking or asking, are we there yet? News items and statistics of COVID-active cases then give us the answer — no, not yet.
If you feel well and are able to, supporting others may be something that motivates you to navigate through this storm. In the midst of these trying pandemic times, click that send button to say a line or two to that person you’ve been meaning to get in touch with but never got around to before. Perhaps it’s to ask, how are you? Are you okay? Or “thinking of you, hope you’re keeping safe.” Say whatever feels right. Whatever comes from the heart. Get the conversation going. Be ready to listen with an open mind and heart. Sometimes, hardly any words need to be spoken. A listening ear and your sharing of your time may be exactly what the situation calls for.
Many people are longing for that sincere and genuine connection these days. My hunch is that long after this pandemic is over, they’ll remember exactly how special you made them feel these long stay-at-home days.
They may not respond; that’s okay, too. Goodwill, concern, a genuine reaching out and kindness are never frivolous and definitely never a waste.
This Wednesday was one of those hump days for me. It was a gray and rainy afternoon. A sense of melancholy was hovering, and I refused to allow it to set in. I am grateful I was able to keep it at bay by counting little daily blessings or things that made me smile, no matter how seemingly trivial, these past few months. I know full well that there are those who find it extremely difficult to get past feelings of melancholy.
It got me thinking of people I know and wondered how they’re coping with this half-a-year and counting shelter-at-home way of life. Are they okay? The question that crossed my mind is an advocacy in Australia, my other home.
This year, the “R U OK?” charitable organization is encouraging people to learn what to say if someone in their life says they are not okay. Their website ruok.org.au is full of helpful tips if you or someone you know is not feeling okay. Their national day of action was on the 10th of this month. They reminded Australians that every day is the day to ask these three words, “Are you okay?”
It is a reminder that we could all use wherever we may be in the world, most especially during these uniquely challenging pandemic times.
Prosecutors’ woe over survivorship benefits
I am not saying public prosecutors are angels. Far from it. Human as they are, some must have lost their moral mooring to succumb to the temptation of get-rich-quick schemes.
Public prosecutors are in mute protest. They feel that their role in the criminal justice system and the overall operation of government is not appreciated. They are essential cogs in the wheels of justice, yet they are not getting their worth. It’s an irony that while they are part of the justice system, they are victims of injustice, so they claim.
I refer to the decision of former Secretary Benjamin Diokno of the Department of Budget Management (DBM) disallowing payment of survivorship benefits to spouses of deceased prosecutors. Diokno has resorted to hermeneutics with a confused interpretation of the law and convoluted logic to frustrate the spirit and intention of the policy. Prosecutors maintained the interpretation of Diokno is way off the mark. The black letter of the law is crystal clear and not susceptible to DBM’s twisted interpretation.
In a well-researched seven-page exposition presented by the Prosecutors’ League of the Philippines (PLP) to DBM, they advanced three arguments, which DBM will be hard-pressed to outweigh. One, the denial earlier by Diokno based on Section 3, Republic Act (RA) 910 doesn’t apply to prosecutors. Said law was already amended and superseded by RA 9946 and likewise by RA 10071, Section 25, the pertinent and prevailing law which mandates: “ALL BENEFITS extended under RA 910… shall likewise be given to prosecutors.” Second, the principle that a new law prevails over an old law covering the same subject matter, with RA 10071 becoming effective on 28 May 2010. Thirdly, the principle that social legislations like the ones in issue shall be interpreted liberally in favor of the beneficiaries. The PLP’s letter is loaded with leading jurisprudence supporting its position.
What baffles the PLP is that “after RA 10071 took effect, (DBM) has been paying all claims by prosecutors or… spouses for gratuity, annuity, death and disability benefits under RA 9946, all except survivorship.” The law speaks of payment of “all benefits,” and exclusion of one benefit defies logic.
I stand by my bias. My past kinship with the Department of Justice (DoJ) family may have blurred my objectivity. But still and all, I have a very strong feeling that PLP’s position could stand any objective vetting.
There is a sheer hope offered by the new leadership of DBM. The latest twist in this more than a decade tussle is an information allegedly from DBM Secretary Wendel Avisado that instead of the PLP instituting an arbitration proceeding, they write him first to provide him an opportunity to do something about it.
I had a front seat view of the travails and tribulations of public prosecutors. During my stint as DoJ Undersecretary I have observed how they toiled, burning a candle at both ends, ferreting out the truth and validity of complaints; collating evidence in a case buildup to support the theory of the case before filing the information in court; of being censured by judges during hearings for the absence of a witness, and their superiors breathing down their necks to resolve a case within the deadline. But the most disheartening is the suspicion by party-litigant that a prosecutor has succumbed to the lure of money for his ruling. Compounding these is the statistics that about 20 of them were ambushed, with many killed and one dying of COVID-19.
I am not saying public prosecutors are angels. Far from it. Human as they are, some must have lost their moral mooring to succumb to the temptation of get-rich-quick schemes. But I daresay that a considerable number has kept their moral values untainted. And the latter far outnumber the former.
The President must have some disheartening memories of the life of a public prosecutor being once a prosecutor himself. At no time in our history has there been so many appointments made in the prosecutorial service of our government as during his term. He could help relieve the prosecutors’ woes.
A civil law aphorism deeply ingrained in our jurisprudence says “justice must be tempered with mercy.” A plethora of cases decided by the High Tribunal used this doctrine as a guidepost. The DBM can do no less in resolving the issue.
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Supply, demand, and price
Now, if a hydroponics or aquaponics farm uses grow lights, there are, indeed, advantages, especially regarding controlling the environment where the crops will grow, particularly the amount of available light per day that the plants need for optimal growth.
Basil and mint used to cost P650 to P700 per kg (grocery price). A few months into the pandemic, that has changed. A lot. Now, they’re priced at P476 and P403 per kg, respectively.
From a high of around P700 to a low of P403, that’s a loss of roughly 42 percent of value. From a financial statement perspective, imagine the projected revenue fall by that much. If the projection is P1,000,000 per year, then it drops to P580,000.
How will this affect the balance sheet and the cash flow? How will obligations be paid? And if there is leverage involved, and the debt is substantial, how high is the likelihood of default? What is the effect on the collateral and credit standing? What is the legal risk?
Going back to economics, low demand creates oversupply, and because the market wants to get rid of the surplus (especially the perishable kind), the price is adjusted downwards to attract buyers because consumers respond to price.
The pandemic, which has shut down many businesses in the food industry, has pulled demand to significant low. Because of oversupply, the price has naturally followed the downward trend.
Now, if a hydroponics or aquaponics farm uses grow lights, there are, indeed, advantages especially regarding controlling the environment where the crops will grow, particularly the amount of available light per day that the plants need for optimal growth. And if you use LED, the light required per day is covered without having to worry about producing so much heat that is no longer healthy for the crops.
But there is also a downside to using grow lights instead of relying on sunlight which, in the Philippines, we already have a lot of. Just imagine the cost of those lights (including depreciation, meaning you have to replace them after “x” number of years), as well as electricity consumption (remember that some were charged by Meralco several times more, based on an “average” consumption rate during the lockdown period), etc.
If one intends to shift a hobby to a fully operational commercial farm, how will the enterprise cover for these costs? What more if the revenue, because of sudden decline in demand for the product that has also reduced the price per kg, drops by as much as 42 percent? How will this affect the viability of the company?
And these overhead costs of systems that use artificial light is reflected in the price per kg of herbs, for example, which were grown indoors.
I have seen hydroponically grown basil that use artificial lights sold at around P2,000 per kg. Even if it is marketed as clean, fresh, pesticide free, naturally grown, etc., it’s still very expensive.
But assuming that the enterprise caters to a niche market that’s willing to pay a premium for fresh products, then all would seem fine. Yes, during ordinary times, there are niches in the market that has buyers willing to pay that price despite the presence of cheaper alternatives.
However, how did spending habits change as we entered an economic crisis due to the pandemic? Will consumption of premium produce survive this plight?
Assuming that sound business practice means selling at three times the cost, or for every peso spent sell at P3 (otherwise hindi na sulit, nakakapagod lang) then, conservatively, it’s safe to assume that the cost of production of that P2,000 per kg basil is P666 (derived by dividing P2,000 by 3). That’s the breakeven price.
Competitors are selling the same (or similar) product at around P476 (for the basil). That’s a 28 percent difference. Which enterprise will flourish or, at the very least, survive the economic downturn and which one will be in for a really, really difficult time? Which one will have the competitive advantage?
And what’s the key takeaway here regarding overhead costs and growing indoors using artificial lights as a business enterprise?
How human is your hospital?
In other words, the workplace must enable people to think, to manage their egos and emotions, to listen and to emotionally engage with others in positive ways that result in high-quality collaboration.
About 80 percent of medical executives say improving the patient experience is a top priority. And yet, many hospitals focus on the latest programs or initiatives that may produce short-term boosts that don’t last very long.
But as healthcare organizations face new challenges, more find they need to make a cultural transformation to improve performance and enhance the patient experience.
Patient centeredness must not be just a program or an initiative. It is the heart of a hospital’s operations, a culture of intention where every employee, from the front lines to the back offices, is aligned toward the same goals and can say with assurance this is how we do things here.
It’s more than just telling employees to be nicer to patients and to each other, particularly during this pandemic.
As the digital age advances and technology takes over more jobs, workers must get better at those “human” skills computers can’t do. They must excel at critical thinking, innovative thinking, collaborating and emotionally engaging with others in the creation and delivery of products and services.
Most of all, one must excel at continuously learning… and unlearning… and relearning.
In other words, the workplace must enable people to think, to manage their egos and emotions, to listen and to emotionally engage with others in positive ways that result in high-quality collaboration. In the digital age, people need to bring their “best selves” to work.
This shift requires people to engage in constant learning. And that means your workplace must mitigate the two big individual inhibitors of learning: ego and fear. This can be highly challenging in healthcare.
Unfortunately, most workplaces are relics of the Industrial Revolution. The leadership model is command and control, and they achieve compliance through fear.
If your company is to survive, you’re going to have to humanize it. The old, fear- and ego-based ways of working and leading won’t survive in the digital age amid a pandemic that magnifies every kind of emotion particularly in the healthcare setting.
Research by cognitive, social and positive psychologists shows that positive emotions enable and enhance innovative thinking, learning and creativity, and they lead to better judgments and decision-making. Negative emotions like fear and anxiety squelch them.
There are simple things you can do at the start of a meeting to help people be in a positive mood. Just asking people to smile at each other or make eye contact makes a big difference. So does asking people questions that indicate you care about them as individuals. Truly listening to people is mission critical.
People will feel positive when they feel cared about as unique human beings, and when they trust their colleagues and managers or leaders. Work environments that make people feel like a machine or a cog in a giant wheel will not enable the needed human performance in the digital age.
Studies show that without psychological safety, people will not fully embrace the hard parts of thinking and innovating: giving and receiving constructive feedback; challenging the status quo; asking and being asked the hard questions; being non-defensive, open-minded and intellectually courageous; and having the courage to try new things and fail.
Google has studied what makes certain teams effective in the search for the “secret sauce” of high performance. The most important factor it discovered was psychological safety. The study further states that the precondition for feeling safe is trust — and while nobody is “against” trust, many leaders worry about the time it takes to build it.
Another study indicates that intrinsic motivation occurs when three innate human needs are met: empowerment or autonomy, relatedness and competence. People feel empowered when they are given the opportunity to have input into how they do their job. Mutual respect for and reliance with others means an individual is connected or is related to another person or persons in the organization. Giving staff the tools and training for skillsets to be able to deliver excellence at optimally challenging tasks instills pride at their own competence to succeed. If employees feel that they have autonomy, relatedness and competence at work, they’re more likely to be highly engaged and thus more likely to perform at high levels.
It’s not easy to transform an organization. You can’t transform a workplace unless its leaders actually lead in transforming how they lead. They must behave in ways that enable the new desired behaviors, and they must role-model those behaviors. Leaders must be enablers, not commanders. They must liberate their employees to perform at their highest levels — cognitively, emotionally and behaviorally.
If your company is to survive, you’re going to have to humanize it. The old, fear- and ego-based ways of working and leading won’t survive in the digital age amidst a pandemic which magnifies every kind of emotion particularly in the healthcare setting.
When people are able to play to their strengths and develop themselves, they don’t just go through the motions or wish away the day. This is the kind of work we all long for.
By involving every team member, across all lines of the patient experience, and making them the architects responsible for developing a new organizational culture, they’ve not only created it, they own it. This authorship and ownership lead to mutual accountability, which means your team will police it every day at all levels … even when you’re not around.
Do we now have a mutant COVID-19 strain?
Rapid mutations can also render newly achieved vaccines, which take years to make and more years to mass produce, to be obsolete by the time they get out to the patients.
A “medical consultant” posted this in social media: “My med classmates and I had an online meeting last night. We’re all from different specialties, and most of them are still working in hospitals (MMC, TMC, St Luke’s Global, UE). They talked about their first-hand experiences, and I just learned the following bad news….”
“What’s more troubling is that the consultants are stumped, because the medications and medical management that used to work during the first wave are no longer as effective in this second wave. Due to rapid and uncontrolled transmission in the past months, the virus has clearly had enough opportunity to mutate into a more dangerous strain here in the Philippines. If this strain spreads to other countries, then the Philippine government’s failed handling of the pandemic will have definitively put the rest of the world in danger.”
Before discussing this, because of the prevalence of fake news in social media, it is important to verify first the source of the post, clarify and qualify the statements made, and, if it is impossible to verify, talk to a reliable source who is an authority on the matter, such as Department of Health (DoH).
From the above post, we gather the following premises — first, the post, if true, is coming from a group of “medical consultants” with different specializations and staying in various hospitals. It is not known if these “consultants” are doctors. However, it is important to consider their statements, even if unverified, because they report a warning of a very dangerous situation, namely a deadlier mutant virus, no longer the original COVID-19, that may now be present in the Philippines. The “consultants,” however, presumably have first-hand field data, as opposed to secondary data from surveys or statistics.
Second, the post says “the virus has clearly had opportunity to mutate into a more dangerous strain.” This is an inconclusive assumption rather than a fact. It also states that “the new strain has been targeting even young adults. Doctors have noticed that there have been a lot of victims from the 20-to-40 age range recently.” First, is it really a “new” strain? Second, this again may be coincidence rather than the presence of a new mutant strain, while it has been established by experts that the original COVID-19 relatively does not infect younger groups.
Third, the post states “the medications and medical management that used to work during the first wave are no longer as effective in this second wave.” This needs further study and verification. It needs more scientific data. After playing devil’s advocate to the post and demolishing it into more of opinion rather than fact, let us now hear from the DoH.
DoH immediately gave a reply that the report was not true, that there is no such mutant strain in the Philippines. Playing devil’s advocate to the DoH statement, my question is: How does DoH know? Did it do field research to verify this before issuing that sweeping statement? Why is it quick to reply? Did it have comprehensive field data? Is it possible DoH issued the statement just to prevent panic, at the expense of the truth? Instead of a sweeping unfounded denial, DoH could have first simply said it will investigate the matter and give a report later, rather than give a knee-jerk reply which aroused suspicion.
There have been talks on the Internet of different mutations, categorized simply as “A” or “B” in different geographic locations. These mutants may be different from each other and their distinct effects are still not yet fully known. While we study these mutants, which may take long, other new mutants may emerge, rendering these studies obsolete.
Rapid mutations can also render newly achieved vaccines, which take years to make and more years to mass produce, to be obsolete by the time they get out to patients. Finally, if different mutant strains somehow “cross-breed,” they may produce “monsters” beyond our comprehension. This is the reality of rapid mutations scientists are being challenged to respond to. We must pray hard, if we are helpless to intervene.
Tempest over towers
Little was said about the foreign incursion and the violation of our sovereign rights and territory. Little was said of illegal poaching and the competition for limited aquatic resources.
When we first heard about it, the Chinese ruling party called them makeshift shelters that provide temporary protection from the elements for their fishermen too far offshore in the high seas. The grainy satellite photographs did indeed show what appeared to be hexagonal roofs over fragile structures built on stilts in what was then called the South China Sea. That Chinese structures regardless of purpose were located within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines was a matter of concern.
But not much. Fishermen do not constitute a major political block. Little was said about the foreign incursion and the violation of our sovereign rights and territory. Little was said of illegal poaching and the competition for limited aquatic resources inflicted on our vulnerable fishermen and their wooden outriggers up against iron-hulled fishing fleets. And even less was said of the environmental destruction of a fragile ecosystem of which we were stewards. If it’s below the surface, then it’s unseen.
On a grander scale, our typical inability to situate ourselves on the broader landscape of geopolitics, as well as our classic defeatism based on a myopic view of ourselves against others who might have far longer perspectives, curses us to believe lies fed us.
The strange shapes looked far from threatening and we accepted the explanation, confident our agreements with other superpowers would protect us should the shapes conceal silos directed at Philippine bases that host powers unallied with the Chinese Communist Party.
For Filipinos, as we continue to wallow in partisan politics, and where our politics is almost totally local, myopic and focused inwardly both in terms of space and time, we’ve effectively self-inflicted ourselves with extreme shortsightedness. We know only the here and now. Space does not go any farther and time does not extend beyond the present.
Yet we wallow in partisan mud and slime with as much glee as we do with sappy show business intrigue. Simply watch the six o’clock news on tabloid TV and see where our national interests lie.
The military, which has recently taken over our lives, sees us and the dissidents and critics among us as the enemy. Our resultant political perspective is not global. It is parochial and momentary.
Unfortunately, it is also stupid.
In contrast, the Chinese Communist Party that’s been ruling China since 1949, well over three quarters of a century, is our diametric opposite. What they brew, they brew for decades. And it is a complex recipe encompassing diverse strategic initiatives that range from economic, to political, to the sub-sectoral, from agricultural to military and industrial. All pragmatic and totalitarian.
The tempest over installing Chinese telecommunications towers in sovereign and secured military camps should be viewed in this manner. Couple the discourse with the reality that the technical aspect of our power transmission lines is already under their control. Add to the toxic chemistry how we’ve long surrendered our bases to adversaries first through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States and now, effectively, the telecommunications towers to the Chinese Communist Party.
Both allow not simply access but usage, now and generations from now. Unfortunately, our officials simply think in terms of national security, failing to discern these as an insidious shell game of global and generational geopolitics.
‘Born to kill’
With the US Subic Naval base, Clark served as the second edge of America’s sword for its operations in Asia.
Inscribed on a battlefield helmet in what is now an iconic movie poster, the motto sums up Stanley Kubrick’s gritty Vietnam War movie “Full Metal Jacket” on the dehumanizing effects of war on soldiers.
Midway in the film, triggered by a particularly hellish boot camp and the daily mind-conditioning that it’s kill or be killed, Private “Gomer Pyle” did just that — shoot dead his stern and foul-mouthed drill instructor.
Played with uncanny realism by R. Lee Ermey, he being a real Marine early in life, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman showed through his death that his “beloved” United States Marines Corps does turn boys into men trained to kill.
Kubrick’s anti-war stance posits that boys forced into manhood emerge from brutal training as damaged goods, with their fingers quick to the trigger and with the gung-ho attitude that “it’s better you than me” inside a cadaver bag.
Movies reflect real life and “Full Metal Jacket” may just give us some insights on the sad episode that brought together, in a flash of deadly violence, US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton and the transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude.
Pemberton is already back home in America after half a decade of serving time for the killing of Laude in 2014. He has thanked President Rodrigo Duterte, like the many jailed Filipinos who are now with us after being pardoned of crimes committed abroad.
I dare say it’s very hard to begrudge the President for his grant of absolute pardon to Pemberton and not just on the legalistic notion that he has absolute authority to grant the same, whatever his motivations may be.
As a people with a government that has time and again sought mercy for our countrymen who had run afoul with the laws of other countries, we have to concede that mercy begets mercy.
What’s important is that Pemberton has admitted to committing his grievous mistakes as a 19-year-old grunt, has paid for it with years that he no longer can bring back, and that he has promised to become a better man. Earn your freedom, Joseph. Stay true to your pledge.
As for Jeffrey Laude, may his death at the still young age of 26 bring forth front and center the social inequity that has made prostitution — served by men and women seen as nothing more than a sub-species, as playthings, as appendages and triangular mounds of flesh, and in many instances as punching bags — a trade predating biblical references.
No one can call the over P4 million in damages that had been mercifully granted by our court to the Laude family as a small consolation or as big enough a payment akin to “blood money.” Life, after all, cannot be measured in pesos and dollars, and by the thousands or even by the millions.
Still, whatever Jeffrey Laude could not afford to provide his family while he was alive, he did so with his passing. He will always be a symbol of the fight for justice and equality transcending gender and racial biases, as well as breaking down socio-economic barriers.
I, too, was 19 in 1989 when, with two fellow University of Santo Tomas journalism seniors, we motored around for three nights in the red light district of Angeles City for a group thesis on the prostitution that catered to American GIs stationed at the US-operated Clark Air Force Base.
With the US Subic Naval base, Clark served as the second edge of America’s sword for its operations in Asia. It was a time when communism was threatening the region and the US was still smarting from its debacles in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
As pointed out by University of the Philippines Professor Roland Simbulan in his book The Bases of Our Insecurity, Clark and Subic also helped the American government co-opt Philippine governments with its influence peddling and outright interference on our political affairs.
Just to cite one example I can think of, the Cory Aquino government would have been toppled in the late 1980s if not for the two US F4 Phantom jets that conducted “persuasion flights” against mutinous Filipino airmen aboard their World War 2-vintage Tora-Tora planes.
Without Uncle Sam, the Cory government would have come crashing down like a house made of matchsticks with the many coups d’état it faced.
The Clark and Subic bases are long gone now and whatever American forces still come to our shores, they do so as part of joint military exercises with the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
How many more Pembertons and Daniel Smiths will we have?
“If you ladies leave my island, if you survive recruit training, you will be a weapon. You will be a minister of death praying for war. But until that day, you are pukes. You are the lowest form of life on Earth.
“You are not even human fu*cking beings. You are nothing but unorganized grab-ass-tic pieces of amphibian sh*t! Because I am hard, you will not like me. But the more you hate me, the more you will learn.”
— Sgt. Hartman
Risking the meter
With non-workers forced to stay home, there is actually less demand for public transport. A fact which makes it easier for PUV… to accommodate the physical distancing needs of workers.
Any talk of risk heats up passions.
So, it is not altogether surprising to find senior government officials are at loggerheads on whether or not it is safe for the public to be less than a meter apart from each other inside mass transport.
Anyway, as I write this, senior officials are scheduled for a serious powwow on the policy of relaxed physical distancing implemented last Monday.
And, judging from their public pronouncements, they are probably in for a shouting match. Mr. Duterte, of course, will have to eventually decide and settle the all-too public squabble.
On the issue, the Department of Transportation (DoTr) insist that people being less than a meter apart inside public vehicles isn’t at all that risky to health.
Siding with the DoTr, National Action Plan (NAP) head Carlito Galvez argues it’s all a matter of managing risks.
Managing risks in this case means passengers won’t be allowed to talk with each other or on their cell phones while onboard trains, jeepneys, buses or whatever other modes of public transport.
The Health department, surprisingly, and the Local Government department are aghast. Beleaguered Health Secretary Francisco Duque III openly warned Mr. Duterte Tuesday that relaxing physical distancing in public transport will lead to 686 fresh deaths each day, 20,580 extra cases per month.
Local Governments Secretary Eduardo Año adamantly characterizes the policy as dangerous.
Setting aside dueling government personalities, avoiding virus contagion inside public transportation, of course, cannot be discounted nor set aside by us.
We need do nothing else except weigh the medical risks or heed advice from medical experts if ever we do take public transport.
In fact, as one public health advocate laments, practicing health and safety protocols under the new policy is basically another burden for the hapless commuter fighting for limited public transport. A burden, not a boon.
A fact recognized by the DoH itself when it pathetically pleads with commuters “to be extra vigilant” and to choose other transport options “that can afford at least one-meter distancing.”
But whatever decision government comes up with, we will know soon enough if our medical safety matters more than the other risk the DoTr claims is as just as compelling — our tanking economy.
There is need to pay full attention to this other risk with which DoTr and our economic managers are framing the whole controversy. We need to scrutinize whether it passes muster or if it is misguided.
The DoTr says relaxing the distancing requirement in public transport is meant to “optimize” the carrying capacity of the various modes of public transport as more people return to work to revive the economy.
To convince us, DoTr says it made a survey of other countries’ health protocols on public transport and found out that many have relaxed their distancing measures, but kept other stringent measures like the wearing of masks.
At first, the claims seem plausible. But there is one crucial fact that’s being skirted — our present mass transport system in this pandemic is as limited as it ever has been.
I find it absurd why transportation officials are not as assiduous in addressing the obvious lack of public transport in the pandemic as they are tinkering with medical protocols. Are they that powerless?
As far as I can tell, the DoTr isn’t upfront on the exact number of jeepneys (both traditional and e-jeeps), buses, UV express vans and tricycles or whatever else presently plying metro streets.
This is a crucial point as the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, ever since it disallowed all modes of public transport to operate in the metropolis during previous lockdowns, has not fully allowed the return of all public utility vehicles (PUV).
What this means is that whatever the number of public transport now operating in the metropolis doesn’t come near as what the metropolis had before the pandemic. Believing otherwise is delusional in the face of demand from jeepney and UV van drivers for more routes from the LFTRB.
So, the pertinent question still is: What really is the state of our present public transport system?
Unless officials have other agenda, seriously answering the question is a reality check on the physical distancing issue.
More so in face of the obvious fact that with non-workers forced to stay home, there is actually less demand for public transport. A fact which makes it easier for PUV, if these are really all out, to accommodate the physical distancing needs of workers.
In short, addressing both safety and economic concerns is not about adding more passengers into PUV, but is about more PUV on the streets.
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