Alben meng manyaman, boy!

May 30, 2009

Please save the youth from UNO

By Jason Paul Laxamana
Urban Kamaru
Central Luzon Daily

If you ever pass by Balibago on your way to SM Clark, you certainly will not miss a certain area somewhere along the Pagcor building where a lot of people—most of them teenagers and young adults—are chatting with one another as if they are a newly founded religion. I used to think it was a new branch office of some call center or something opening itself to agent-wannabes; hence, the proliferation of people my age wanting to earn something. That was until a close friend became part of that cult and tried to lure me into its cleverly structured clutches.

Unlimited Network of Opportunities or UNO is the name of the company. To use a no-connotation term, we can say that it's all about MLM or Multi-Level Marketing—a more credible term than “networking” or worse, “pyramid scam.” When my friend was trying to introduce UNO to me, I at once asked if he's trying to recruit me in a networking company.

Bad college experience

I certainly had my inhibitions, because back in college, my fellow boarders and I were recruited by the son of our landlady to Legacy, which all also claimed to do Multi-Level Marketing business. We were taken to a confident adult who oriented us about how huge amounts of money could come to our grasps by merely investing Php14,000 and inviting others to do the same. The way the whole thing was presented was so believable and overwhelming, such that my big brother and I weren't able to sleep because we were so overjoyed, thinking “This is it! We're going to be filthy rich!”

My mother was KJ then though. When we excitedly told her about the financial opportunity, she quickly aired her protest and told us it was just one of those pyramid scams. Of course, we were offended. We argued back and harshly told her that she was close-minded, and she would definitely fail in life financially by being the skeptic that she was. No matter how hard we fought for it, my mother wouldn't lend us Php14,000.

Our co-boarders had some money though. They decided to volt in their money—seven thousand from one person, and the rest from the other person—so they were able to invest the required Php14,000. They began recruiting various people like their classmates and org-mates in UP Diliman, their high school batchmates, and even their relatives. Alas, not one was fazed with the so-called opportunity. After several failures, they gave up. Bye-bye Php14,000.

It was a good thing my mother didn't lend us money when we demanded for it. After a few weeks, the excitement resulting from the hypnotizing sweet-talk of the recruiter faded away and Koya and I came to our senses: it was a difficult job—too difficult for the average person, you'd think it's designed to be that way—disguised as a legal and easy-money business.

How I was reduced from friend to prospect

I admit—I am not in speaking terms with the friend I am talking about just because of this UNO thing. Let's call him Karl.

He used to work in a call center in Clark. One day, he texted me and other friends, begging for us to come to Pagcor. He also begged us to not ask why, because it was something very complicated. The way the message was constructed, I thought he was having some serious problem, probably related to his girlfriend or his family. Unfortunately, I was busy with other matters at that time so I didn't go.

Concerned and curious, I called him (from landline to cellphone) early in the morning to ask what his message was all about. He sounded very desperate, like he was receiving death threats from a certain gang, or he had accidentally killed someone and had no idea what to do. Unable to explain via phone his predicament, he asked if he could stay in my place for the night. “Sige,” I told him.

Before he even came to my place to sleep over, I found out from common friends that he didn't have the problem I was suspecting he had. Instead, he was recruiting people to try MLM because he joined UNO. To focus on MLM, he quit his call center job without informing his parents. Hence, he sleeps over in the houses of different people including me because he couldn't come home at night. Lest he'll be questioned by his parents about his call center resignation.

When Karl arrived in my place, we were trying to catch up with each other because it has been a long time since we chatted about our lives. After catching up, I asked him what the thing he texted me before was all about. Before him even answering, I emphasized, “Are you trying to recruit me?”

From the persona of a friend, his face turned vendor-like, and told me, “O di ba, ang sama kaagad ng pumapasok sa isip mo kapag nababanggit ang networking? Pero ito, iba ito. Ako rin noong una, talagang duda ako, pero ni-research ko talaga, pati sa Internet, wala akong mahanap na loophole.”

Karl even went as far as assessing my personality. He first flattered me by telling me I am an extraordinarily smart and creative person, but my weakness, he said, was in business; thus, my failure to earn money despite working very hard. “Kilala kita,” he even said. “May tendency kang mag-claim na alam mo na ang isang bagay, pero ang hinihingi ko lang, makinig ka muna. Isang oras lang naman.”

I was also touched by his sentence of emphasis: “Kaibigan kita; yayayain ba kita dito kung alam kong ikakapahamak mo?”

Yet with all that, he didn't even bother listening to my college experience.

The UNO recruitment experience

Fast forward. Despite setting my mind to “I will never join,” I allowed him to take me to the UNO office in Balibago, where I saw members trying to recruit innocent-looking people—probably their friends, co-workers, classmates, or relatives. I even saw a woman dressed like a teacher orienting what seemed like her students about the mechanics of the business.

Karl then introduced me to a person I met and befriended days before at SM Clark. Let's call him Tim. Back when I first met him, he was this shy-looking but cool teenager who knew a lot of people I knew—bands, DJs, and other people. On that night we encountered each other at SM Clark, we talked about plans in life and the difference of burgers from one burger joint to another (since he claimed to want to establish his own burger restaurant someday). I even told him about my friend Karl and his funny attempts of trying to attract me to MLM. With all the laughter and cigarette-smoking, he was a nice and sensible lad, I thought, and I certainly would want to work with him in future projects (he used to have a band, and I used to produce recorded music).

But when I saw him again at UNO, it was as if he was a different person! He spoke like those salespeople you see in department stores promoting state-of-the-art kitchen knives and convenient-to-use floor mops. He wasn't a shy kid after all. He explained MLM like a Master Showman host, joked around sometimes to not bore us, and confidently claimed that in spite of him being just a mere “tambay,” he was already earning as much as Php5,000 per week. He also showed us the products of their company, including strength-enhancing bio-magnetic bracelets worn by ancient royalties and contemporary celebrities, 8-in-1 coffee that boosted energy, and other healthcare and beauty products.

Tim, with the help of Karl, also showed us an AVP explaining UNO and showing the people who had become instantly rich by joining—people of my age having their own cars, lay people casually withdrawing loads of cash from Union Bank, and segments that tried hard to convince the audience that they were a legal business.

Familiar with what they were talking about, thanks to my college Legacy experience, I entertained my mind by identifying what kind of psychological convincing strategy they are using on me. My favorite was that one that used peer pressure (“Huwag niyong isiping pinagkakakitaan namin kayo; kasi, kahit hindi kayo sumama, sasama at sasama pa rin naman yung iba e; ang gusto lang namin, magtulungan tayo sa pag-pag-asenso”).

Trained parrots

In the middle of Tim's talking, a loud tricycle passed by. Unable to continue talking, he pretended to have a grenade in his hand and pretended to throw it to the noisy vehicle. It was the first time I saw someone to that kind of gesture, and I thought it was a cool way to express hatred to loud-engined automobiles.

Minutes after, another noisy tricycle passed by. I saw another recruiter from afar doing the grenade gesture, too. Listening to other recruiters, I heard them tell their prospects the exact words my friend Karl was telling me that morning—about open-mindedness, about financial success, about researching stuff on the Internet, and all that jazz. All of the recruiters know how to write upside down, too, to make their written lecture readable to the target prospect, who is usually seated opposite him.

I even heard someone else say, “Yayayain ba kita dito kung ikakapahamak mo?” That was when disappointment starting growing in my heart. My friend Karl reduced me into an MLM prospect. All the things he said to me, including his knowledge of my need of money to do my dream cultural projects, were all parrot-speak from his fellow UNO members. I would have preferred it if he just told me directly that if I joined, he will be earning. But no, he even used everything he knew about me as a friend just so he could convince me.

However, I didn't join. UNO members say that in case you join, you have to work hard to be successful. It's the same thing outside the MLM business. I am slowly working my way to reach my goals, and it was quite offending for both Tim and Karl to predict that I'll be a failure. “Maraming Pilipino,” they would say, “kayod ng kayod pero hindi pa rin umaasenso.”

My God! I am only 21 years old. Isn't it too early to determine whether I'm successful in life or not? Other people in the UNO office who gave their testimonials were hopeless people, whose last resort was MLM. I doubt though they were earning as much as what they claimed.

Not-so-obvious richness

If they were so rich, how come their office looks very peasant? How come there's no free snacks for the prospects? Why are recruiters dressed casually? How come there's no big promotional event to make their claims more credible? Why was it that when a beggar approached us, they didn't spare him some coins, just to showcase that they were easily earning, and giving a beggar a hundred pesos was no biggie (I, a non-UNO member, was kind enough to give the beggar five pesos)? Why did Tim not pay for our jeepney fare went we decided to go home from SM Clark if he was earning Php5,000 per week, just to show that he was indeed making money comfortably?

Another friend of mine—let's call him Franz—who is witty in his own way, was recruited on a separate session. He asked Tim and other UNO members if they were confident that if he joined, earning money would be a breeze. With big smiles, they said yes.

Franz then said, “Kung ganoon, pahiramin niyo muna ako ng Php7,000 na pang-invest. Pagkatapos, babayaran ko na lang kapag nakaipon na ako. Madali lang naman makapasok ang pera, hindi ba?”

None of the UNO members wanted to lend money. Or was it because they really didn't have money in the first place?

Save thy souls

With that, I call on people: let's save the youth from this legalized scam. Wanting money to sustain their needs and luxurious desires in a period of tough competition, unemployment, and rising prices, they are the easy preys of UNO. The senior members even go as far as discouraging prospects to tell their parents about it because parents will naturally be skeptical about the whole thing.

“Pero sino bang pakikinggan mo?” they would ask. “Silang mga wala naman talagang karanasan sa MLM, o kaming mga may karanasan talaga dito?”

I am not questioning the legality of the business. It could be legal, fine, but not everything legal is for the good. Why are cigarettes sold in spite of the government acknowledging its danger to the citizens' health? If it's dangerous, why is it not banned in the market?

It's the same thing for UNO. In any case, I think I'm really interested in buying one of those bio-magnetic bracelets. I certainly need it in my strength-draining and pressure-laden line of work. After all, I need to work very hard to become successful, right?

I texted Karl when I got home and told him about my disappointment with his treatment of me as a prospect instead of a friend. I told him that I'll be looking forth to the day when he's already rich with UNO. If he does indeed become rich, I told him I promise to blindly obey his every counsel and burn all the books that serve as my guiding principles in life.

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May 22, 2009

Kamaru photographs Palawan music video lead actors

Kalalangan Kamaru is currently in Palawan and will be back the 27th!

MODELS: JR Payuyo, Febbie Sabbaluca
LOCATION: Balsahan, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan

PHOTOGRAPHER: Diego Marx Dobles
POST-PROCESSING: Jason Paul Laxamana

Models will be the lead actors in the upcoming music video of "PLONING, ADIN KA REN" (Ploning, Where Are You) by Bulyaw Mariguen, a Cuyonon rock band. To be directed by yours truly.

May 19, 2009

Another [controversial] Filipino film at the Cannes Film Festival!

Brillante Mendoza: the “Love Him or Hate Him” Director
'Kinatay' stirs Cannes Film Festival

By Jason Paul Laxamana
Urban Kamaru
Central Luzon Daily

AFTER participating in the prestigious Cannes Film Festival last year with 'Serbis' -- a neorealist film about the Family Theater in Angeles City, San Fernando-born Brillante Ma. Mendoza is again vying for the main award, the Palm d'Or, in this year's festival with a violent film about the infamous “chop chop lady,” a grim character propagated by the news media in the late 90s. 'Kinatay' is also a co-production between Mendoza's Center Stage Productions and France' Swift Productions, the followup co-production after 'Serbis.'

The title of his latest work is 'Kinatay,' with English title 'The Execution of P.' Again written by Armando “Bing” Lao, 'Kinatay' is a story of a newly-married young police trainee who is need of more money to sustain his and his wife's education. To solve his problem, he goes with police officers to a clandestine mission of torturing a drug-addicted prostitute in Manila. Later on, the prostitute is mercilessly beaten, slaughtered, and chopped into bits, the parts wrapped in plastic, and thrown in various parts of Manila.

The movie, like in most Mendoza films, again stars Coco Martin. Mercedes Cabral, who played as the girl impregnated by Coco's character in 'Serbis,' is also back, along with Julio Diaz (also from 'Serbis'), and Lauren Novero (from 'Kaleldo'). The movie also stars Jhong Hilario, Maria Isabel Lopez, and John Regala.

Controversial again

As with last year's Philippine entry to the Cannes, 'Kinatay' has not failed to divide the audience and the film critics. There are those that brand the film as the worst entry in the festival, while others praise it for its unconventional style—no sensationalized scenes, slow rhythm, hand-held camera shots, absence of plot, lack of character development, and minimal lines. This is also partially thanks to the screenwriter, who is known to advocate for real-time scriptwriting.

This recurring style in Mendoza's films is what gets on the nerves of film critics who are not fans of the internationally acclaimed director. They describe 'Kinatay' as something that causes the audience alienation, resentment, and a feeling of having wasted money to see the film. Like in 'Serbis,' these critics also complain about the terrible traffic background sound which they describe as too noisy. Mendoza and Angeles City-residing producer Ferdie Lapuz both defend however that they are only trying to show the reality of noise pollution in the urban Philippines, which I couldn't agree more with.

The boldness of 'Kinatay,' on the other hand, makes it a probable choice in emerging victorious in the festival. Match, a German film distribution company, has picked up the controversial Filipino artwork for international distribution.

No more box office

Mendoza already knows that the films he loves to make aren't the films Filipinos want to see in theaters. That is why he just plans to hop from school to school to screen his films like 'Kinatay' to students, and then talk about the issue featured after the film. Such style of screening makes movie-watching more interactive, and makes education much more exciting than just being stuck in the classroom.

May 17, 2009


For the past months, I have participated in a lot of contests both in the literary field and in the filmmaking field. Sadly, I have failed to become finalist in all of them, except one.

This is the great risk of writing and filmmaking -- you invest so much time, creativity, and even money (because you ship stuff to Manila, you buy DVD-Rs, print scripts and application forms, etc.) only to fail to become a finalist in the end.

Here are the contests I joined in:

Cinemalaya 2009 Short Film Category. My Asst. Director and I submitted two entries, Ing Bangkeru and Balangingi. We were torn between believing we can make it and conceding to the other filmmakers who have the money to produce technically good short films. But then in the end, we failed to penetrate the top 10.

Cinema One Originals 2009 Scriptwriting Contest. Unlike in the Cinemalaya Full-Length Category, where you have to submit only a synopsis of your film, in Cinema One, you have to submit a full-blown script -- which is what I did! I wrote a dramatic 80-page script about a male newbie in the Philippine literary scene and how the US financial crisis is indirectly affecting him. The title is Tagak at Tau (Egrets and People).

After my submission, I reviewed the finalists of the past year (finalists are given P1M to produce their scripts into films) and discovered that Cinema One is looking for out-of-the-box scripts, unlike Cinemalaya where their focus is realism and humanism. Cinema One welcomes experimental, science fiction, fantasy, and even horror. These are the genres I so love doing! Alas, I discovered that fact too late. And so, I lost again.

Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. Alright, let me get this straight. I didn't join this year because I already conceded right even before I could start writing my entry to the short story category. I have joined for the past two years already -- first in the full-length Filipino stage play category, second in the English essay category -- and I lost, lost, lost! This year, I tried reading the entries of past winners, because the new Palanca website has made them available. The reading experience brings back memories of high school where you are required to read literary works which you barely understand, full of vocabulary words. I had no idea how my "dumbed down" works could fit in their roster. I decided not to join.

1st Philippine Digital Awards. This contest is very memorable to me because it's the first time I won an actual award/trophy. My entry was my Balangingi short film, which was classified under the ETC Short Film contest. The awarding was held at the World Trade Center in Manila, and it was the first time I delivered an acceptance speech on stage in front of the audience, composed of people I don't know and famous people like Gary V.

Ateneo Video Open 10. We joined in three categories: Short Narrative, Documentary, and Music Video. For short narrative, we submitted Ing Bangkeru and Balangingi. None of them made it to the top 5. For documentary, we submitted Sexmoan Adventures. It made it to the top 5! But when all the documentaries where screened at ADMU, Diego and I already conceded to Ang Pasko Ni Intoy. For music video, we submitted the music video of Oras by Mernuts and Alang Anggang Sugat by 5 Against The Wall. We can't figure out why none of those two became finalist, because honestly, the chosen finalists were blah. But hey, that's life. We got nothing in the end. At least our documentary was the funniest during the screening.

Most Outstanding Kapampangan Awards 2008. Lost in the Youth Category to a doctor who sortof like trained young people or something. Lost in the Culture and the Arts Category to a visual artist. Had I been entered in the Mass Media category, I would have also lost to internationally acclaimed filmmaker Brillante Mendoza. Oh well, another case for a 21-year old trying to compete in the contest of adults -- even in the Youth category.

Here are some more contests I joined, the results of which are still to be determined:

1st Flash Fiction Script Writing Contest by ACPI. ACPI stands for Animation Council of the Philippines, Inc. Yes! They (along with UNESCO) launched this contest that sought for scripts good for a 5-minute animation! Being a fan of anime and cartoons, I told myself I should join no matter what. I have been dreaming for the past few days of having a break in the young Pinoy animation (original content) industry by joining this contest and hoping to win! Not as an animator though; as a writer, because that's what the Pinoy animation industry needs.

I kinda like to think I have an advantage here. You see, scriptwriting for animation is a whole new discipline. It's not just any script. It's a very visual script. Try researching on it and you will understand. Are the literary giants to be feared here? Only if they are into animation and animation scriptwriting. Because no matter how good they are in writing, if they can't transform their works into an animations cript, it won't suffice. On the other side, we have the animators, or the animation students. They have long been exposed to this kind of skill, but the question now is--are they also good in creative writing?

Forgive me for sounding mayabang. I'd just like to think happy thoughts to save me from insanity in case I, again, lose in this contest. Anyway, I submitted Ang Mga Tagapangalaga Ng Bundok Arayat. I have often dreamed of making a comic book out of them, but since I can't draw much except for a couple of poses, I brushed off the idea. But I revived them for this contest.

The Farthest Shore: Fantasy From The Philippines. This is a literary contest seeking for Philippine secondary world-short stories (in English). What's a secondary world? Think Middle Earth of LOTR. Or the world in the Nick toon Avatar. Or the Mario World. Or, heck, even the Ibong Adarna world. In short, they were looking for stories written by Filipinos set in worlds that do not really exist, worlds only created by the writers. I wrote mine while I was having a vacation in the US. Title is The Destiny Twines of Makaru, set in a continent called Quemardican, in the country of Kasulipan. Fusion of local Kapampangan folklore and advanced psychic technology.

On the other hand, even though I often lose in contests, there is this thing I find weird. I may always be a contest loser, but how come I often get invited to screen my works? For instance, just last Friday, I was invited to deliver a talk on indie filmmaking at the Red Horze Muziklaban Rock Challenge, which now also embraces Indie Filmmaking, Tattooing, and Extreme Sports.

I had my own Indie Film booth at the kickoff party where I was able to screen all of my works to those interested to see. Shorts, docus, music videos, PSAs, and even the first episode of Kalam, I all screened! And then, when it was time for me to give a lecture, I also had two music videos shown (Alang Anggang Sugat and Kaplas) on the big screen on stage.

I'd like to think people were "amazed." After the event, I was even approached by this adult man named Bobby who so loved my work, he said he won't leave the party unless I give him a copy of my works.

Speaking of film, I also became the sole Pampanga participant in the Cinema Rehiyon Film Festival last February. Ing Bangkeru was screened at the CCP Dream Theater to represent Kapampangan indie cinema.

The music video of Oras by Mernuts which I directed has been accepted in the Tong Hits segment of MTV Pilipinas, making it the first ever Kapampangan music video to penetrate MTV. Two of my projects have been featured in Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho separately. First was RocKapampangan, in their feature on the regional-language rock scene in the provinces. Second was Kalam, in their feature on regional-language TV dramas and films.

Ing Bangkeru has also served as front-act film to Brillante Mendoza's internationall acclaimed films (Manoro, Kaleldo, and Foster Child) when they were screened at the Holy Angel Auditorium. Around two thousand pairs of eyes were watching, and it sent shivers down my spine when they applauded after watching Ing Bangkeru (after watching the arrogant student get mentally owned by the lowly boatman).

In the field of literature, I was also chosen by UP Pampanga to represent Kapampangan literary writing (Junior Category) in the 1st Taboan Philippine International Writers Festival held at Quezon City.

In the field of cultural work, I have been invited to speak in various lectures. Language-related. Film-related. Culture-related. In both Pampanga and Quezon City. I've often been interviewed for the theses of different people. Even postgrad theses.

This is what I find weird.

I often lose in contests.

But I often get invited in these non-competition stuff.

I should be proud, I know, but I don't know... Maybe I yearn to win in a competition because it will give me a sense of hard-earned victory, defeating all others who joined... which is more valuable than just being "chosen".

Oh well, Regine Velasquez will always be my constant reminder. How she lost in more than 50 contests, and now, look at her! She's lovers with Ogie! And, oh yeah, she's a Songbird.

May 11, 2009

Nievera's 'Lupang Hinirang' - another exaggerated issue, proof of Pinoy shallowness

Conrado De Quiros wrote pretty well about the Martin Nievera issue. The brouhaha about the so-called "desecration" of the national anthem by proud nationalists is proof how insecure Filipinos are regarding their patriotism. They are superficial.

Theres The Rub
Footnote to a false note

By Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:22:00 05/11/2009

I beg to disagree with some friends on this. “This” is the way Martin Nievera sang “Lupang Hinirang” in the Pacquiao-Hatton fight, which has brought him into a brawl with preservers of Filipino tradition.

The fight has so far been lopsided, with many authority figures, from congressmen to historians, knocking him down with a chorus of irate voices.

I myself have no problems with it. In fact I have a couple of reasons for liking it.

The first has to do with the barb that Nievera went the route of show biz by aping the American singers (mostly black) who make the “Star-Spangled Banner” sound like Motown each time an American boxer takes to the ring. Which, as the nastier remarks go, is probably because Nievera is an American at heart and on paper. I leave others to argue where Nievera’s loyalties lie, though given all the open and closet “statehooders” here—Filipinos who long for the country to become a state of the United States—not least among the congressmen, I wouldn’t advise pressing this point too loudly.

But even if Nievera went show biz, what of it? Boxing is pretty much show biz, of the loud and glittery type. And though Nievera did not sing “Lupang Hinirang” traditionally, he did not disrespect it either, to use a word much favored by African-Americans.

The reason Americans do not mind their National Anthem sung like gospel (or its modern reincarnations; I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes hip-hop one day) is that they are secure in their patriotism. They are secure in their sense of country. They are secure in their loyalty to flag and country. Enough to withstand Jimi Hendrix’s “sacrilegious” interpretation of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” which he did in Woodstock, his awesome guitar blaring out the din of discord in protest against the Vietnam War. That version has since been elevated to iconic status by baby boomers.

Our prissiness with orthodoxy is in fact a symptom of an affliction as worrisome as swine flu. We like revering tradition because we prefer form over content, because we like showing our love of country in ritual rather than in practice. We like to build busts and monuments to the heroes without liking to follow their ideals and actions, which is really the best tribute to them. The religious equivalent of this is that we like to hear Mass and receive the sacraments without liking to live lives that are not given to lying, cheating, stealing and murdering.

It’s like that line in “Lupang Hinirang:” “Ang mamatay nang dahil say iyo” (“to die for you”). I’ve always said that was a perfect, if ironic, commentary on us. We’ve never had problems dying for country, we’ve always had problems living for it. I’ve always suggested—utter sacrilege!—changing it to, “Ang mabuhay ng dahil sa iyo” (“to live for you”).

My second point is: Why on earth should we regard tradition as intractable or unchangeable?

Even the Rock, or the Church, changes. I still remember the time when the Mass, which used to unfold with Latin incantations, gave way to idiomatic English. Or indeed, horror of horrors, when the Gregorian chant gave way to the “Guitar Mass.” Once things that threatened to make the faithful faithless, plain language and (middle-of-the- road) pop (if not rock) are rock-solid orthodoxy in Masses now.

In the case of historical tradition, I should think changes should not just be acceptable to us, they should be welcome to us. I say this because our lack of sense of history—truly notorious in that we can’t even remember the recent past—owes in great part to our tendency to embalm history. To treat it as something dead and gone and remembered only on the historical equivalents of All Saints’ Day. One natural consequence of this is to turn history into sacred text and the heroes into untouchable objects of worship.

I still remember how we used to look at Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Apolinario Mabini and the other heroes that way, courtesy of high school and college. Something the new wave of historians led by Renato Constantino corrected, turning them into ordinary folk who did extraordinary things in their time and place. No less, or more, than the activists did in their time and place. The process of demystification, or “humanization,” would culminate in historians like Ambeth Ocampo who would make Rizal et al. as contemporary as, well, Nievera’s rendition of the National Anthem.

Which makes me wonder why Ambeth in particular should disapprove of that rendition. I recall that when he was pilloried by purists for “watering down” history with his “pop” version of it, I wrote a column saying that far from detracting from the worth of history, he added to it. Specifically by making the past present, by making the dead living, by making history not history in the idiomatic sense of “we’re outta here” but history in the sense of current events. The power of history lies precisely in its being living history, or a “continuing past,” as Constantino put it. One would imagine that a continuing past uses the idioms or idiosyncrasies of the flowing present. That’s what makes the past worth remembering. That’s what makes the past worth living.

It’s not just that I don’t think Nievera has done any harm by his version, it is that I think he has done much good with it. Anything that hooks the youth in particular of this amnesiac country to their past, even if it feels like a right hook to those who take that past reverentially, is fine by me. History has been known to rock, history has been known to roll. Sometimes, history has even been known to OPM.

In any case, I have a lot of friends who’ve always thought the National Anthem wasn’t “Lupang Hinirang” but Juan de la Cruz’s “Ang Himig Natin.”

May 10, 2009

New Kapampangan rock music video - Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mothers' Day (Masayang Kayaldawan da ring Ima) to all of our dear mothers! Before I left for the US, we were able to shoot the band scenes of Mental Floss' music video for their RocKapampangan song "Ing Lugud Ning Indu" (Love of a Mother). We really intended to finish the video by Mothers' Day, but sadly, we didn't.

So I'll just say: Abangan! Here are some screen captures from the video. If you notice, the vocalist is pregnant, too! She's soon to become a mother! Congrats, Nicole!

Meanwhile, here is an old video of Mental Floss performing 'Ing Lugud Ning Indu.' Don't you think it's a nice Kapampangan song?

May 7, 2009

The Pacquiao Victory: Pop Icons and National Pride

By Jason Paul Laxamana
Urban Kamaru
Central Luzon Daily

In a certain forum on the Internet, members are arguing on whether Manny Pacquiao's victory against Hampton should be given that much of a deal, to the point of labeling a boxing champ a national treasure. The thing is, in the Philippines, it's no longer a question of whether it should given that much of a deal because obviously, it already has for past years.

Named the “National Fist” of the country, everytime Pacquiao's match abroad arises, the Philippines—from the urban to the rural—is expected to lay still like it's celebrating a holiday. All eyes, regardless if they belong to Muslims, Christians, the poor, or the elite, are on his match, and the unofficial celebration rivals even Ramadan or Good Friday. Crime rate can go as far as zero percent and comes the time Pacquiao knocks out his opponent, we all jump together in triumph like winning a war against an invading country.

I am not here to judge whether this is bad or good. In the country of Barbados, RnB sensation Rihanna is very admired, in that the government decided to appoint a Rihanna Day in its calendar. It's a national holiday! In South Korea, international pop star BoA has been given an award by their President because her musical prominence in both South Korea and Japan is said to have contributed to the easing of the tension between the two countries (South Korea was invaded by Japan in the past).

However, it's slightly different in the Philippines because Pacquiao's victory, whenever it arises, seems to be the most important moment for the Filipinos. Pride rises from the heart to the head, and it makes the Filipinos think, “Damn, I so love being a Filipino.” In fact, I don't think our national hero Jose Rizal has ever causes current Filipinos to feel that way.

Manic with Pacquiao

The reason Filipinos are manic with what some intellectuals call “shallow” bases of pride—such as Charice Pempengco making waves in the US, Manny Pacquiao's winning in matches, or even Apl De Ap's inclusion in the Black Eyed Peas, is because we are a quasi-nation state.

A quasi nation-state is a community (like the Philippines) where the state was formed first before the nation. We know our Philippine history. The Spaniards forced us together into a country, not caring about our cultural diversity, linguistic dissimilarities, and regional competitions. Mindanao, they say, has never been conquered by the Spaniards; that is why they are asserting their “right” to secede from the Republic.

There were several ethnic groups that, in the past, formed several small “nations,” with their own specific languages, goals, songs, customs, etc. These small nations were forced together against their will. And so, trouble begins.

Now that the physical invaders are gone, and now that the Philippines is left to the hands of the natives, we are struggling to make ourselves a nation despite the long existence of the state. Difference is, the state was formerly in the hands of foreigners.

This quest for nationhood is the reason we have the National Bird, National Song, National Dance, National Language, etc. even though for example, the Northern Luzon people do not dance the tinikling, or even though majority of Visayas and Mindanao people used to not speak Tagalog at all.

Each ethnic group has its own precolonial gems of pride—local heroes, folklore, dances, literature, and cuisine—but since we are now one, these are usually dissolved. Lucky are those that get absorbed into the national scene, like the Barong Tagalog and the Sinawali style of arnis, to become Filipino property instead of, for example, Cebuano, Pampango, or Igorot properties.

Vacant positions

Since the Filipino nation is a new thing, we are desperate in finding other sources of Pinoy pride. Kapampangan pride, Ilonggo pride, Waray pride—these are all to be shut off because regionalism is said to be one of the major hindrances to national unity. “We need Filipino pride!” nationalists wail. The government and the educational institution solve this by trying to produce competent contemporary artists in the realm of high art: painting, ballet, classical music, cinema, etc. But honestly, do the masses look up to the high arts? Does even the middle class look up to the high arts? I think they look up more to pop icons.

So when popular cases like Pacquiao, Pempengco, Apl De Ap, or even the Filipino chefs in the White House, reach the consciousness of the masses through local mass media, they rejoice and claim they are proud to be Pinoy, because without them, we feel we are losers in the global arena, with all the bad news and reputations we have—corruption, unlawfulness, tax evasions, scandals, and poor waste management. Other countries like China, Korea, or the US don't care if any of their citizens or expatriates make it big in the Philippines because they appear to be not insecure.

We are insecure!

This artificial, fragile pride of ours is also the reason that whenever someone blasts the Filipinos, we whine like crybabies. Remember the so-called ethnic slur from Desperate Housewives? The 'Family Guy' cartoon and the 'Mr. and Mrs. Smith' movie also had made fun of Filipinos in one of their lines, but they're lucky Filipinos didn't pick them up. And let's not forget the Hong Kong-based columnist.

That's how fragile our national pride is. Atuan me mung bagya, kumiak ne. I am quite sure there are plenty more Filipinos who have wrote negatively about Americans, Koreans, or other nationalities, but I am also quite sure we never heard anything from them—nothing compared to how far we want to go to express our national disappointments. They never made petitions or rallies or whatever, asking for public apologies and stuff. American shows make fun of Koreans, Chinese, Frenchmen, Canadians, and Mexicans more but they don't act like crybabies like Filipinos.

Omitting the Quasi

The transition from being a quasi nation state to being a genuine state is a hard one. It's going against our nature because nationalizing ourselves means extinguishing some items that make up our diversity, as the less powerful ethnic groups are systematically forced to succumb to national policies (that are supposed to be democratic). Remember how Ramadan used to be NOT a holiday for non-Muslims in the Philippines, yet Muslims take a holiday during Christmas because government said so?

This is not unique to Filipinos though. China is undergoing the same process, trying to eliminate its diversity with its “Zonghua Minzhu” concept. “One China,” the People's Republic says. Rebels like the Tibetans are pacified and Taiwan is endlessly being wooed into unifying with China. Only Mandarin is the language in China and the others are systematically reduced to dialects (like in the Philippines). What makes them successful in their nationalizing actions is that they have an authoritarian government which has access to lots of resources.

The Filipino government cannot do that because it is poor and democracy is highly fought for.

May 4, 2009

East Versus West (Asians and Americans think differently)

By Hana Alberts

A psychology professor dares to compare how Asians and Americans think.

Richard Nisbett used to be a universalist. Like many cognitive scientists, the University of Michigan professor held that all people--from the Kung tribe that forages in southern Africa to programmers in Silicon Valley--process sensory information the same way. But after visiting Peking University in 1982 and partnering with an Asian researcher, Nisbett found his beliefs challenged.

He embarked on a project to probe the thought processes of East Asians and European Americans. His experiment presented subjects with a virtual aquarium on a computer screen.

"The Americans would say, 'I saw three big fish swimming off to the left. They had pink fins.' They went for the biggest, brightest moving object and focused on that and on its attributes," Nisbett explains. "The Japanese in that study would start by saying, 'Well, I saw what looked like a stream. The water was green. There were rocks and shells on the bottom. There were three big fish swimming off to the left.'"

In other studies Nisbett discovered that East Asians have an easier time remembering objects when they are presented with the same background against which they were first seen. By contrast, context doesn't seem to affect Western recognition of an object.

"I thought there wasn't going to be any difference, and then we kept coming up with these very large differences," says Nisbett, a stately, white-haired man of 67, as we sit in the Upper East Side headquarters of the Russell Sage Foundation. In lieu of his regular salary, he has a grant from Sage to research the nature of intelligence while on sabbatical from Michigan's psychology department, where he has taught since 1971.

Scientists now attach gizmos to people's heads that track eyeball movement; these experiments have confirmed Nisbett's findings, recording that Americans spend more time looking at the featured object in an array while Asians take in the entire scene, darting between background and foreground.

East Asians see things in context, while Westerners focus on the point at hand; the former are dependent, the latter independent; the former are holistic, the latter analytic. There's a social aspect to these differences: Asians are collectivistic, Westerners individualistic.

Even if cognition does differ across cultures, why should we care? For one thing, it might help explain why we're prone to bubbles. In Nisbett's 2003 book The Geography of Thought he describes a study in which students were shown a graph with a line snaking upward across it, representing a trend like world deaths from tuberculosis or the gdp of Brazil. Investigators asked subjects to indicate how they thought the trend would continue. Many Americans sketched a line that continued skyward, while most Chinese forecast a peak and then a decline. A colleague of Nisbett's also showed that while Canadians predict a stock whose value is rising will continue to rise, Chinese think what goes up will come down. An intriguing difference, although one wonders if 1998's pancontinental financial crisis in Asia or the real estate and stock market crash in Tokyo affected students; in the U.S. the Nasdaq crash of 2000--02 was not as memorable. Nisbett doubts the theory but admits "the Confucian idea that the future will resemble the past is deeply ingrained in the Asian mind."

He reasons that cross-cultural differences can also explain societal phenomena. Nisbett defines a nation's preference for lawyers over engineers as a ratio: the number of the former divided by the number of the latter. When he compared America's ratio to Japan's, he found that the U.S. preferred lawyers over engineers 41-to-1. The American system, he says, prizes win-or-lose judgments, while Japan's preference is for middlemen who draft compromises.

In his most recent book, Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count, Nisbett asks why Asian-Americans score higher on the sat than other Americans and why students in Asian nations do so much better on international math and science exams than their U.S. counterparts. The answer is not, Nisbett says, that Asians are smarter. Rather, he writes, "Asian intellectual accomplishment is due more to sweat than to exceptional gray matter." The tests measure proficiency as much as innate skill, and the proficiency comes from cultural forces, such as the Asian sense of obligation to the family. Another factor is that math lessons in Asian schools have a student working out a problem on the board as classmates chime in. That kind of collectivism confirms the commonly held belief that learning by organic induction is more effective than rote memorization.

Why do you find, in a music conservatory, a lot of Asian would-be concert pianists but comparatively few Asian opera-singers-in-training? There's a physical limit to how many hours a day a person can sing, Nisbett says, but not to how many hours one can practice sonatas.

He attributes these differences to history. East Asian agriculture was a communal venture in which tasks like irrigation and crop rotation had citizens acting in concert. In contrast, Western food production led to more lone-operator farmers and herdsmen. Greek democratic philosophy emphasized the individual; the Reformation stressed a personal connection to God; the Industrial Revolution made heroes of entrepreneurs. But in Asia, Confucius said virtue hinged upon appropriate behavior for specific relationships, say, among siblings, neighbors or colleagues.

These tidy generalizations are not without critics. A San Francisco State University professor who edits the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, David Matsumoto, holds that while Nisbett attaches his observations to fascinating raw data, he takes some conclusions too far.

"In cross-cultural work researchers are too quick to come up with some deep, dark, mysterious interpretation of a difference with no data to support it," Matsumoto says. "It's difficult to draw one conclusion [from] a snippet of behavior, and that's what this work tends to do."

Though Nisbett believes our behaviors are shaped by 2,500 years of history, he also thinks they are malleable.

"I got interested in whether you could make people better at reasoning and problem-solving by certain kinds of education, and it turns out you can," he says. If Americans are asked to think about how they are similar to other people they know, they view the aquarium scene more like Asians--and vice versa. "So these things aren't necessarily locked in."

When it comes to cross-cultural business, Nisbett observes, East Asians want to establish relationships, while Westerners tend to keep their business connections at arm's length. Westerners operate by the exact wording of a contract, while East Asians hold that if circumstances change, so should the agreement. Marketers, of course, are aware of cultural differences. For the same phone, Samsung emphasized contrasting messages: In the U.S. the message was "I march to the beat of my own drum," whereas in Korea the ad campaign focused on families staying connected.

But Nisbett noticed shifts within the Asian cohort last year, after he observed a group of Chinese students at a Procter & Gamble ( PG - news - people ) focus group.

"My goodness, they were as lively as any group of American graduate students I've ever had. If I said something they didn't agree with, they let me know. … I would never, ever feel that way with Japanese or Koreans, who are more concerned with harmony," he says. "I think the Chinese will be more successful than the Japanese have been because they have that sense of obligation to family, but they're also going to get this more Western attitude of wanting to succeed as individuals."

Perhaps, Nisbett speculates, the personal drive one sees in Chinese entrepreneurs is a consequence of China's one-child policy. Because two parents and four grandparents dote on an only child, individualism is emphasized more than it used to be. As a result, Chinese youth are moving in a Western direction.

In the last half-century Japan has undergone a huge shift toward democracy, but this hasn't been accompanied by an increase in individualism, Nisbett says: "Japan is evidence that nothing changes. China is evidence that things can change like mad."

Why is Nisbett something of a lone wolf in studying the role of geography in cognition? His answer: "A lot of politically correct academics can't stand to hear about differences. They automatically assume that if you're pointing to difference, you're assuming superiority of your own culture. Well, that's just nonsense."

The upshot of Nisbett's research is that differences are real. They might not always be for the better, but they matter. Perhaps Americans should temper their optimism, Asians their reluctance to take center stage. For it seems to Nisbett that those who will be most successful in the 21st century are the ones who grasp what's best about both worldviews.

May 3, 2009

Violin + Hip Hop Dance = Henry Lau

There's this 13-member boy group (world's largest number of members for a boy group) managed by SM Entertainment, a Korean record company.

This boy group is called Super Junior and they have so-called subgroups, such as Super Junior M (Mandarin) for the Mandarin-speaking market, Super Junior Happy, Super Junior T (Trot) which capitalizes on the so-called trot music or pongjak of Korea, Super Junior Happy which specializes in happy/uplifting pop songs, and Super Junior KRY for the more mature fanbase of the boy group.

A Chinese Canadian boy named Henry Lau, although not an official member of Super Junior, was admitted as a guest member for the subgroup Super Junior M.

I find him very cool because he plays the violin while dancing hip hop! Ain't he enviable?! I sure wish I were him. Or something.

He guested in one of Super Junior's tracks titled Don't Don, where he also appeared on the video. You have to wait until the middle part of the video to see Lau in action.

Cooooooolness! And I learned he plays the piano, too. Now I'll just have to wait for him to come up with ways on combining hip hop dancing and hitting the keys.

May 1, 2009 The Thrill of Chatting with Random Strangers

By Jason Paul Laxamana
Urban Kamaru
Central Luzon Daily

There are a couple of reasons we chat with people we don’t know online. Back when I was still a Yahoo! Messenger chat addict, I went to chatrooms the name of which sparked my interest, like “Atheist VS Christian chatroom” and “Tambayan Kapampangan,” carrying the assumption that I would have the opportunity of chatting with people who shared the same interest.

Some who entered the chatroom merely lurked (an Internet term which means to be a member of a chatroom or forum, but not shouting out anything; an observer of the exchange of messages instead of a participant), while some debated with, or even flamed (an Internet term which means to debate with argumentum ad hominem) people who held beliefs different from theirs. A frequent case in many chatrooms though, regardless of their topic, is the abundance of perverts, meaning people who go online and try to pickup anyone, and probably invite him/her to some SEB (sex eyeball), or the so-called cam-to-cam (cybersex through webcam).

Now how about joining a chatroom that sets you up a session with a random stranger from anywhere in the world?

Introducing Omegle

One of my time-killers in my recent vacation in California was logging on to this website called Omegle (, which my big brother introduced to me. The introductory message of the site says it all: “Omegle is a brand-new service for meeting new friends. When you use Omegle, we pick another user at random and let you have a one-on-one chat with each other. Chats are completely anonymous, although there is nothing to stop you from revealing personal details if you would like.”

I personally found the concept appealing. You know, being paired with a random person in cyberspace. Questions popped in my mind such as: What country will he/she come from? What age? What school level, course, or job? What interests? Will he/she be worth my time? Thinking of all these variables whenever Omegle paired me with a chat-mate gave me excitement, and I have chatted with a variety of people so far—from an interesting linguist from London who knew stuff about the Filipino language, to a Han Chinese university student who was forced to take up English.

I had a long chat with the linguist from London, who was not surprised with my proficiency in English, since he knew about the status of English in the Philippines, a country which, he said (and I agreed) had “stupidly big malls for a third world country.”

Sometimes, chats become very interesting in that I would chat with them until the wee hours of the morning, and we end up adding one another in some social network website like Facebook, like that Canadian French student whose ambition is to become a famous literary writer in Francais someday, the Mexican girl who is into spontaneous photography, and an independent grunge musician from Holland who hated his country’s wintry weather.

Despite the global accessibility of Omegle (even China allows it), the countries where participants usually come from are the United States, Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Holland, Brazil, and China. The only Filipinos I know who use Omegle are me, my big brother, and my cousins in the United States.

Disconnecting, Jerks, and Perverts

But not every stranger is fascinating. In fact, the chance of being paired with an interesting person is slimmer than being paired with a blah person. The good thing though is that you can disconnect with your current session, and Omegle will then pair you with a new stranger. (You can’t chat again with the previous person you’ve chatted with because contacts are not stored unlike in Yahoo! Messenger; unless serendipity is by your side and you get paired with the person among all other users online from all over the world).

Many times, the first thing you chat-mate would ask you would be your ASL (age, sex, location). A lot of times as well, if the person on the other line is a typical guy, and learns that you are also a dude, he would then disconnect without explanation. But the obvious explanation is that he is looking for someone from the opposite sex.

There are those who disconnect after learning what country you come from, or after learning about your age.

I’m not trying to be a jerk, but I usually disconnect without justification when the person on the other line answers briefly with questions. Like when I ask about how it is going with his/her country, and he/she answers with only a word, I disconnect. I yearn for more articulate people who just want to have a nice chat about anything under the sun. Some, usually high school students who are 12 to 14 years old, aren’t just very worthy of my time. Hey, I have the freedom to be a jerk, too.

Sometimes, I play pranks with people, too when I feel like it. I pretend to be someone else and make up my own fictional character description. I already have pretended to be a single mother from Japan addicted to communist ideas, an intelligent American male hustler wanting to commit suicide, and even an alien medium from India proclaiming the arrival of the aliens from a faraway galaxy.

It’s a nice exercise for fictional writers like me, hehehe.

About the Philippines

I have this habit of asking my chat-mate if he knew where the Philippines is, because I have encountered a lot who didn’t know where it is. Some didn’t even know it was a country. One stranger from Belgium thought it was one of the states of the US. One thought it was in Spain.

So what are you waiting for! Let’s add more Filipinos to the Omegle community! Log on to

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