For my Students, 4 December 2016

Note: It has been a tradition for me to do a “sign-off” as I end my classes every semester. It’s a  final encouragement for the semester, a “bon voyage” or “last hurrah from me” after they finish their final projects. This semester’s was different. Attached is somewhat the text of what I told them. I hope it helps you, too, or at least makes you think. I realize – as teaching usually makes you realize – that I need to say these things to myself, really, more than to my students: 


I wish the conditions in which I give my sign-off to you were different.

I wish it were as easy as my other classes where I read them “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” or “This is Water” or some graduation speech by some well-known figure. Not that any of those are bad choices (In fact, you should go read them now if you haven’t). It’s just that now, I don’t have the luxury of choosing to sign off with something arbitrary, one that works for any other year. There is a very real (pressing, urgent and even pungent) backdrop that is coloring the plateau unto which I open the gates for you. It’s the backdrop against which your first job will play against. It’s the administration, political climate, and people  unto which you will give your first few taxes to.

At the beginning of the class, we talked about how creativity is not just for creativity’s sake. We talked about how coming together with others fans the flames of an idea and/or purpose. We talked about platforms and serendipitous meetings and even those weird words, archaeopteryx and exaptation. We talked about Steven Johnson, Elizabeth Gilbert, Edward de Bono, and if you were listening or at least 75% awake on a Saturday morning, you would remember a lot more.

But most importantly, probably, is that you remember how we talked about – no, rather, how I kept pounding and pounding into your ears the principle of creativity as a tool to solve real problems. How we must get into the other person’s head and heart to be able to serve up a solution, and not just another app she will delete after a few days, or another headache on top of the traffic situation.

This is very, very important. Not just for creativity. Not just for marketing. Not just for advertising. Not just for democracy. But for being a human being.

Today, we are being terrorized in a different way. We are being terrorized to shut up. To just go with the flow. To not jump in lest we be drowned in the maelstrom that is a comments section. Social media, supposedly the freer way to express, has been weaponized as an aid to this terrorism. Relatives and friends avoid talking about political opinions. “Good vibes” is being taught as the “greater good.” Young ones are being told they have no right to assemble peacefully and voice out their discontent because they were not alive during a certain time of history.

As an option, we are being taught to shout each other down with stereotypes, with insults, and with an attachment of the affix “tard (which to me, insults those with mental retardation, by the way)”. We mob one another into submission. Or thinking that facts are enough, we throw statistics into windows looking for food and electricity, and shove historical data down thirsty throats.

Thus, we are being taught to not see where the other person is coming from.

I hope this class, at the very least, after much of my insistence, and after so many times we tried, has taught you to locate who it is you are serving, to give her a name, to know that many times it’s a person we actually know, to be patient enough and understanding enough to know her deep fear and desire, and to be hardworking and smart and bold enough to try to solve it. Again, it is important for marketing. It is important for a democracy. It is important in being a human being.

That is the only way we will be able to discuss well again. When we are prepared with more than just facts, but empathy. When we are prepared with more than just data, but with understanding. In this our era, when Oxford has named “Post-Truth” as the Word of the Year (“an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’”), we must strive to recover what is true, but also to make the truth known in a relevant and compassionate manner. We must be able to converse again as human beings, and not as “keyboard ninjas” slashing one another covertly in comments sections.


We must find out why people are so scared (Think Brexit, think Trump, think Philippines) and so angry and so frustrated that they will use their sacred vote to choose and defend someone who might not seem to be as skilled or prepared or humane, but seems to understand their plight more. We can not be just intelligent and skilled, but we have to go deep into the MRT and jeep-smelling skins of our people. Why are we so angry? Why are we so distraught? Look at that anger straight in the face and ask it. Because that anger probably comes from so many years of unfulfilled oaths and promises.

So go and fight. Yes. Go to rallies – of whatever side. Be informed. Be vigilant.

But go beyond personality.

Because while we have been very good in kicking people out, we have not been equally good in dismantling the systems that perpetuate the injustice, and allow the respawning of these evildoers. The systems that continue to leave our people in different forms of chains.

So be intimate with the story of our people. Not just the surface and facts level. But the deep stench of who we are. And from there, create solutions that matter.

That’s not just for this class. It goes not only for all your classes. Again, it goes for democracy. It goes for living.

So it doesn’t really matter what your political leaning is, or who you voted for in the last elections, or what color of the political spectrum you think you might have, or what you think the Philippines will be in the next five years. The point is you care. That you inform yourselves. That you can be human enough to be more than just correct.

And that you care enough to participate, that you care enough to not allow yourselves to be shut up.

Because they will tell you to shut up.

But you have inspired me, with your Theanine drink and your Disquiet exhibit,  your heartfelt “Homeland” papers, your ingenious (and hilarious) “Catechetical Zumba,” your Chindogu, your bravery to sing a composition in front of strangers, and your determination to stay awake in my class.

So when you come to me in the future, seeking advice because you’re being told to shut up, I’ll remind you of that light within, tell you to get back right up, and get your voice heard. Because I have seen how you are compassionate and competent enough to know the story of another person, and creative enough to solve his problem.

Have a good weekend, or what’s left of it.





Kalayaan in a time of Kurakot

Holidays like yesterday reminded me of my college days, when I was also taking up my Minor Degree in History. I have forgotten many of the research techniques, names and dates, but I don’t think I can forget the different way with which my teachers made me see our history and our people.

We used to celebrate June 12 with parades. Then flags were made more available even through Takatak Boys. Then today, social media affords us a chance to declare our affection for our country, remind us of our duty, and even display cute pictures of how we celebrated Independence Day by celebrating freedom from our diets.

If, however, you felt pressured and obligated to celebrate Independence Day with the same fervor as your Facebook Friends, take heart. Here are some sobering thoughts to help us put June 12 in a bit of a more level-headed context, but also inspire us to act concretely and daily.

independence day 5 peso bill 2

  1. Independence in Tagalog is NOT Kalayaan.

Some well-meaning statesman or politician must have translated it as thus. The US, for example, has no problem with loss in translation, since they know what they celebrate: independence on independence  day. For us, however, we run into all sorts of expectations from just one day.

I remember, in Grade School and High School, a favorite essay questions (worth 10-15 points, mind you), is “Ngayong araw ng kalayaan, tunay nga ba tayong Malaya?”

I don’t know about you, but that formed me to expect too much from the celebration, and it expected a greater deal of patriotism for me than what I was ready to give. The reality is – we are INDEPENDENT.

Sure, Independence can lead to freedom. It is a necessity toward freedom. However,  the word FREEDOM just puts a lot more pressure on us than there actually is. FREEDOM is a very loaded word: it belongs to discussions that have to do more with God, Love and Justice, than it does to government-mandated holidays.

I am NOT SAYING that we shouldn’t put pressure on ourselves to work for freedom. All I’m saying is that FREEDOM is our goal. Freedom is what we work for – daily. All I’m saying is  – don’t get disillusioned and angry at our country just because you can’t find it.Don’t call the holiday meaningless just because you don’t feel “free” as a Filipino.  It’s not meaningless to celebrate Independence Day, because it should remind us that our Independence was already won for us, and now we must work for our Freedom.


  1. It was a declaration. Not a celebration.

When the scene on the 5 PESO bill (the newer generation might not be able to relate. Gosh.), was first played out, we were in the middle of a war. In fact, Emilio Aguinaldo had just come off declaring one of the first Martial Laws our country will experience. Mabini, for one, didn’t think we were ready to hoist flags and declare anything. Yet, we did.

The trials of our country wasn’t ending at that time. Sure, there were bright spots in the military campaign, but it was probably due more to the fact that Spain itself was weakening as a world power. In December of the same year we declared our independence, (Dec 12,1898), we were sold to the United States in the Treaty of Paris. The following year, the Fil-Am war was going to be played out. So by no means were we independent yet. Yet, we declared that we were going to be.

So don’t be disheartened if you feel that the country is not in the shape you want it to be yet. I agree, we must be incensed by evil and cry out against it and combat it everyday, but don’t throw in the towel just because it’s been tough.

Simply because independence, while not perfect, or achieved in its fullness, is something we declare. It is something we shout to the world: that though we are not perfect, we desire to be better. Though we are crippled by malaise our own hands have wrought, we will heal. That though we have courted darkness, we will struggle to turn our faces to the light. We declare.

Just as in 1898, our Republic was not perfect. But Aguinaldo and our heroes believed and declared who we could be. So heroism in our context today is, when you think about it, that same declaration done daily.

So when you’re asked the question, “Why celebrate June 12 when we’re still in the middle of our fights against corruption?” The answer is, we declared it in the middle of a fight way back in 1898. And today, we resolve to continue to declare it in the midst of whatever fight we find ourselves in.

  1. JUNE 12 is an arbitrary date.

It’s a lot like Christmas. Jesus wasn’t born on December 25. Scholars say he was born sometime during the summer months. So when was Jesus’ real birthday? And if his real birthday wasn’t really on December 25, then why are we kind and compassionate only during that season? Which gives more reason for us to say that every day should be Christmas day, that every day should be a day of love, giving, and charity.

So it is with June 12. It could have been July 4 – when we were freed by the Americans after their occupation and the Commonwealth government ended. It could be that date when Lapu-Lapu’s troops stopped Magellan’s. It could even be February 25, that date when the power of the people stopped the mayhem and madness of evil. But for some reason, we chose June 12. The load of celebrating who we are fell on the shoulders of this one date.

Which leads us now to this: Declaring our Independence and our love for our country shouldn’t be on just one date. It is something we should live out everyday. The flying of the flags is necessary, I guess. And it’s cute, too. However, the very arbitrariness with which we selected the date tells me that the date itself is not what’s special. It’s what we celebrate. And that it should inspire us, whatever the date on the calendar may be.


This Independence Day gives me hope. It tells me to steady myself, that this seeming onslaught of corruption is happening in just the first quarter of what’s going to be a long basketball game that we can still win. The celebration this year allows me to think of patriotism and freedom as a scale. That though we are not yet there, we desire to be fully free. And we will declare that with our deeds. Daily.





It has been a week since the Habagat that flooded several cities in the Philippines, stole properties and loved ones in the middle of the night, tested a people’s perseverance, and also its resolve in actually fixing a problem that has lasted for ages.


It has been a year since the Loren Legarda Senate Bill 2759 was approved in its third and final reading in Congress. 2759 is the Total Plastic Bag Act.


It has been almost a year, too, since House Bill 4840, the Plastic Regulation Act.


It has been more than a decade since the Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.


It has been billions of pesos in property, pesos and opportunity lost.


It has been billions of pesos wasted in being merely reactionary and focusing on relief efforts instead of preventive solutions.


It has been lives and loved ones lost again and again and again.


It has been one traumatic experience after another for families who cringe at the very pitter-patter of rain on their roofs.



What in Noah’s name are we waiting for?



Whatever version of the plastic ban law you believe in and are willing to have your lawmakers sign, whatever you lost during the flood, whatever the amount of time or resources you gave to the relief efforts, and if ever you believe that global warming is real – the problem is that we have not talked about it enough. We have debated on merely on issues that are fashionable and topics that are trending. But my guess is that the best time to try to solve flooding and waste management is not when people are in a state of panic, running up their stairs with one hand holding the electric fan, the other holding their kid.


While I do applaud and am proud of the Filipino’s ability to stand tall despite rising waters, and of his resiliency to rebuild his nation, and of his generosity to help his brothers and sisters, I still hold our discipline of the daily and mundane, suspect.


As Conrado de Quiros so well said, we, as a people, have shown the capacity time and again to die for our country. The gargantuan moments, the EDSAs, the coming together in relief centers. But we have not proven to ourselves that we can die daily. That nation-building is an everyday work. That we can make the connection between my 7-eleven plastic bag that I didn’t need anyway because I just bought one bottle of water, and the flood that submerged my neighbor’s house.


2013 is an election year. Midterm time. Local (Mayor, Governor, Barangay), Congress and Senate seats are up for grabs. These are the seats that will translate anger, desire and dreams into actual letters of the law. If we have to remind ourselves (I think we do), then let’s remember that their power rests on our votes and if their issues align with what we want for our country.


Here is a question to ask: Does your mayor, barangay captain, governor, congressman and senator have a plan to actually solve the flooding? I’m not saying they will stop all forms of flooding from now until the Final Reckoning, but that when the flooding does come, urban planning (or lack of it), improper management of waste, and irresponsibility on a national magnitude will not be the culprits. It will really be force majeur.


Baha ka lang. Pilipino ako. Let’s see if we can translate that spirit into something we can do everyday.