Monday, November 5, 2012

Atoms of Hell

art by the author

Earlier this afternoon, I was in a full-packed eleven-seater jeepney—which could easily pass for a nine-seater—going home. At the Biñan area, when the vehicle is in a full stop, a kid got into the jeep carrying her baby sister. They are Badjaos. The girl wobbled going to the front of the jeep, poorly balancing themselves, as she hurriedly distributed tattered standard mail envelopes to each passengers. Now, almost as common sight when in the area, we already knew what they need, as written on the envelope of what seem to be a child’s penmanship: “tulong” or help. But this time, the girl stood at the middle and sang a song whose lyrics I cannot understand. The song, in her raspy voice, reverberated and spoke for them: their weariness, their hunger, their pleas—and that stung me. I gave her my snack-pack that I always kept stashed in my bag (I am no philanthropist though). She collected her envelopes then they got off the vehicle. 

However, before they totally got off, the woman in front of me said, “sigurado na ang punta ng mga ‘to sa impyerno.” They are sure to go to hell. I was taken aback—shocked. But more so, some passengers nodded, smiled and exchanged a few lines with each other. They seem to acquiesce with that notion. I was tempted to object, to challenge that erring idea but instead I held back. I halted the jeep and got off on a fiery road and walked, I don’t mind the sun because my innards—yeah! Gut and all!—were more fiery—ablaze!

My thoughts: perhaps they truly are in hell because the people around them have condemned them, and that the government that supposed to support them has ignored them—apathetic to a more lasting solution, not the dole out that they were being given, if there is any. Where is the social support that LGUs are supposed to provide? And even the national government? Where is the human dignity that under law should be assured? What did these smiling politicians who have so flamboyantly displayed their faces along the San Pedro-Biñan area ever did to ascertain their continuous development?

And to that woman, this is what I restrained myself to say: “Maybe these kids are in hell already. And if so, around her are their demons!” 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

More than the Verdict

photo edited by the author

With the national limelight focused on the final day of the historic impeachment trial—undeniably, it will be the talk of gossipers on the streets, thread in social medias, and a rich topic that writers could dissect and siphon dry for weeks—but there is more to it that I goad myself to acknowledge. What I hope to believe is that we have achieved so much more than the conviction of the highest magistrate in this country whose background and appointment inchoate of integrity and hounded by anomaly.  More than this “cleaning” and the current government’s righteous purgation—which has been their double edged sword from the beginning—what I want to see is that the people’s acceptance of that shard of possibility to break away from the ancient tethers that held them, this very chains that mired development and the growth of the nation. Acknowledgement of this opportunity, no matter how miniscule accommodation it settles within a person could provide a much needed starting point to liberate one’s mind from that archaic prison it was detained to.

But could we break away from that when all else failed. History tells us that although we are a heroic people, although heroes arose to defend the rights of their brothers, it also shows us that time and again our leaders have pandered against our oppressors to gain whatever comfort and luxury they could pilfer as their own. Look at the illustrados’ behavior in the Philippine revolution who had taken seats in the fledgling republic only to take bigger pieces of the cake for their own. Look at the conspirators to our colonizers—they are the elitist and those who call themselves nationalist who have exploited their own race. Look at our politicians who viewed their seats as a privilege for their personal economic progress and their own asinine legacies for their emblazoned family names.

In spite of this plight, whenever I see this malaise that stricken us— more than the economical emaciation is the psychological implant it carved into our collective beings—I remember the words of Renato Constantino, “…when history has a goal, the past ceases to dominate the present and to hold back the future. Then history could be consciously made.” Here, in my own, humble interpretation, it connotes that if people aspire for a single encompassing goal for the nation then we could rise above ourselves to form a better nation no matter what mud and stain was hauled into our images. Yes! If we come together as a nation we could develop, we could progress, we could all have better lives.

Now, what does this have to do with the dethronement of the chief magistrate from his seemingly indomitable office? I would not claim to be well versed of judicial proceedings nor am I the repository of evidences, instead my eyes have set into interpret the symbol that the former chief justice, unknowingly or willfully, embodied, and the downfall that we all witnessed.

Whether the allegations were true, most of the people whom I have come to get the opinion of has seemingly, unanimously, agreed that his reputation is hazy and his persona conceited; they became even more convinced when his melodramatic, asinine speech was delivered in the senate hearing and his impertinent exit was witnessed by the nation. His calloused and arrogant demeanor before the senate was a figure and character most of our public officials and employee have towards their position. Instead of serving the people, ironically, it is the people who are serving them. They became drunk with their positions and like most drunkards they forget, they become oblivious to the world and to the people they would run amok upon. These pompous leaders get what they want. They have the law to shield their readied siphons set to channel growth to their own illusory, corrupted nirvanas. Yes, the law could be bent and its malleability depends on how much booty they could dispose.

On top of that, they could perfume their images anew, cloth themselves in a nationalist ideologies and pro-masa projects that curtains their voracious scheming. It is like hiding an elephant underneath a worn-out flag and telling us nothing is there. I believe, for I have witnessed, because I too live in that neighborhood where population is highest, where politicians go to when they need majority voting, I come to realize that they, although most of them, in spite of not having a prestigious college degree, are not dumb! They know too well these politicians need their votes for their own vainglorious wants. And they could feel, most sensitive to it even, that vaunted distance, that condescending, irksome demeanor these politicians emanate which fumes out from their faked and forced smiles. But they know too that they cannot eat morals. They need to first attend to their stomachs and to the many dependent on their scavenging. They sell their votes to the highest bidder, if not to those who swore their allegiance.

How much farther the people could see these scheming, I do not know. But politicians know how to suck it up during elections. They are seen gallivanting with townsfolk. These are all for show. After election, they take their seats and begin the plunder. Politicians and officials not like them are more of an exemption than the rule. Because of this traditional politics that has carved into our history, people came to accept it. “We cannot do anything about it.” “We cannot change anything.” These are the usual reactions you get.

But what if the disgrace of the chief justice could signify that there is some fighting chance to change and break this traditions and perspectives of power in this country? What if this verdict could actually serve as a symbol that traditions can be altered? What if with this historic event, we could trace the roots that impinged our growth as a nation and take action to amending it.

Yes, we know too well, that behind the man of chief justice, and the many political leaders, public officials, is an ominous shadow that created them, a system that tainted the aspiring leaders, the faithful servants of mother nation, and turned them into vicious tyrants and hoodlums, corrupting our very nationalist DNAs.

Yet, with this verdict, I hope to believe that there is so much more to it. I hope to believe that it is more than political vendetta but rather that heroic consciousness that awakened from its apathetic slumber. I hope to believe that it is so much more than mere words and spoiled actions but a genuine path towards change.

With this verdict, I hope there is so much more that I have seen to believe. And my sanguine faith that maybe people too have seen this, no matter how elusive that fissure of hope to change is in our long history of redemption.      

Sunday, April 8, 2012

We are Travelers

Photo by Mel Spencer Sucgang

“All journeys have a secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”
                                                                                           -Martin Büber

Palaboy. Wanderer. This is what my grandmother would always quote when she sees me violently scratching my foot. Even though I know this was all part of her superstition I would always be amazed as to why, when I am always confined to the safety of my room fiddling with the pencils I treasured so dearly.

Only recently have I realized that I have been so all my life. I have been to places that people would rarely dare go either because of financial restriction, of comfort, and/or of opportunities. I have been to slums, to islands, the rural areas, ate buffet in five-star hotels, feasted on bagoong and boiled fish at barrios, climbed a mountain, visited provinces, islands, puzzled with our native dialects, and found myself in places drunk in awe from the setting suns. All of these simple things I deemed so unique. These were the marvels of travel.

However, these feats accomplished have not always been a credit from my solitary escapes but, those that mattered, was shared with other individuals, when I am part of a group. One of them, I have bonded with yet again for another adventure.

For three straight days we have explored the hidden wonders of the Ilocos region: Vigan, Laoag and Pagudpud. We were all bedazzled by the pristine beauty of the places. As we drove further up north one could feel the essence of the places imprinted on the sceneries that unfold before us. It was breathtaking. The people we encountered—most hospitable; this must be the Filipino hospitality one describes in textbooks. We were even invited to a graduation party by our friend’s relative and were welcomed with open arms, as if we were all part of the family.

As I was counting time, nearly a decade has gone by since we have been introduced (at my count 8 years have already passed).  It was in that huge hall in the Lasallian auditorium were students from various colleges gathered—thirty to fifty in number—to join a volunteer organization called SERVE. The hall was filled with many faces: bored, curious, tantalizing, the dumbfounded, and almost all of the faces represented by Yahoo’s smileys—yes, even the drooling, the alien and the clown. Yet from fifty the members (the active ones) got less and less in number. No matter what convincing one does there is no stopping the unwilling. But with that uncertain period, our bonds were unknowingly shaped in that unheard-of room in the University.

The old mangy veranda in the then SBC building was like a haven to us volunteers. We call it the Workroom. But really, it is more like a home to us. It is our sanctuary. No rules! No D.O.s! We are simply there. Free to do what we want to do. But because we are free to be who we are, the relationship that we have were all minus the mask. And with this strong alloy that sealed us, we were able to go into the communities and trust each others’ gut. We could sense each other and know where to butt in and/or walk away. It was a mutual respect of space and personalities that integrated us and that is why I believe our work has been effective all throughout. Sure there were trials. Sure there were fights and subgroups. But at the end of the day we could all laugh it out and raise our bottles to a toast.

Recounting on our Ilocandia trip, this sense of affinity I ascribe to our group is ever present. No mold. No rust. And because of this, as a proof, we could always be ourselves without erecting bastions of defenses protecting pride and ego. We do not need to piss higher than the other for there was no use at all. Medals, salaries, licenses, diplomas did not matter. Every one could just come as they are.

Perhaps this trip was not only a road in which we had moved forward, but also a mirror that plunged us back in time when we shared meals and fares, tears and laughter, jokes and heartaches. Those collegiate years that are still alive in memories were brought forth again in the short span of time we have spent.

Boldly, I could say that the greatest comfort that one could get will not be from the posh accommodations or fancy hotel rooms but from the people you are with. It is your fellow travelers which are the greatest luxuries one could have. They become rare treasures during a nebulous voyage where you are cold and clueless on what to find—they are certainties in an often uncertain journey which you could always turn to. And this is mostly true in travels and in life.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Our Commercialized Education and the Mold that Creeps in It

artwork by the author

The other day, news coming from the Commission for Higher Education (CHED)—actually issued last 2010—created a lot of unease to many students and school administrators. The CHED memorandum order no. 32 series 2010 is aimed for the suspension on the opening of selected college programs (graduate and undergraduate) which will be effective for the school year 2011-2012. The reports said the department issued a circular that would limit the number of enrollees in nursing, business administration, teacher education, HRM, and IT. Their memorandum would either force the school to transfer their students to another school with the same program or by choosing a totally different program for their current students.

The good part is that this is only for schools with low passing rate of graduates in the nursing licensure exam that has been dropping through the years.  However, the passing rate was not the main basis of the said prohibition but of employment.

The unemployment rate of nursing graduates (I am using nursing in particular because they are of the main concern and at the spotlight right now) has reached an alarming number of 200,000 in 2010 and the numbers are accruing. To compensate, some nursing graduates—non-board passers and the registered ones—accede to jobs that are beyond their expertise, or should we say tasks that they have not specialized in during their collegiate years such as in call centers, sales, marketing, online teaching and so on. I know one who accepted a job as a private assistant for a Korean family in an exclusive village which later as I found out the title was a euphemism for a yaya. But the travails of our graduates—not only nursing—do not end there.

Apparently, there was also a roundabout in working in a hospital or for the many “getting experience”. They have to pay to be able to work as a trainee, volunteer, apprentice so that at the end of 50 to 100 hours they would get a certificate that they could present to their employers abroad. Another option is to look for recruitment agencies that have a direct link to employers internationally. And for some, they head straight to foreign lands to gamble in uncertainty for the hopes of a veiled employment.

It is true that we have a lot of manpower resources not only in nursing but in many other fields. Maybe too much.  Ironically, in sectors such as education and healthcare—where the needs are magnified—the scarcity of professionals that is in service to their own country have been decreasing steadily over the years.

Why is this menacing satire pervades? It is because the resources aren’t spread evenly. While the cities abound medical practitioners, those from the barrios are left out. The concentration of professionals is mainly in the metropolitan area where profit is good and where chances of going abroad are high. What could the barrio give them or compensate them with anyways? Surely, financial convenience would be the last of thought. And security of placement and of the place itself is veiled. Even the supplies and other means would be stiff and scant.

Would there be a logical person that would take up this burden? Where they could see their colleagues prosper. Where they could see them flaunt their Porsches or Mazdas while they commute everyday. Or while their friends have purchased their dream homes, they remained in their dilapidated apartments for rent. For sure, this is not what nursing has promised them.  
Let me digress.

I witnessed some years back the same department that is CHED to have promoted the nursing course. In fact they made a list of profitable courses that students should consider and at the top was nursing and this was so for years and years. The “promotion” was because of the high demand of the said professionals internationally. A news program aired before: foreign hospitals preferred Filipino nurses because of their virtues (or is it all because of that?). And true to that claim, most of the nurses sent abroad—with their astronomically converted monthly salary of 50,000-150,000 Pesos—became opulent. For sure they wouldn’t be so if they have worked here. They would be shuffling in their hands the meager salary of 8,000 to 15,000 Pesos to last until the next payout.

The promise of fortune was made even more forceful when DOLE also commercialized nursing jobs abroad. In result because of the high demands on the market and with the longing to move up in the dung heap parents encouraged, even forced their children to enroll in nursing programs. What could a youngling do anyways? They are not the ones sweating with blood for the payment of tuitions. They are not the ones who hassle with overtimes to pay bills. So in the end they follow the behest of their parents; such is the close ties of Filipino families. There are some who, with no clue on what they want to do, took up nursing because of their practicality and of the high demands across the globe.

With this craze, colleges opened nursing programs to accommodate this need. Nursing schools mushroomed everywhere with promos and packages for those who would enroll. While the computer colleges thirsting to fish some of the greens that the craze have brought, changed their specialty from computer science to nursing. How insincere and crass this is. And how terrible this commercialization can be. While this has sufficed for almost a decade, a sudden shift in the world market demands has shaken the government from their drooling slumber of remittances. They awaken to a nation of unemployed professionals who would do anything just to sail away from their motherland to earn a living. Some of them possess an adamant resolve never to return again.  

Who is to blame in this ballooned problem? Who is but the government itself for the policies they have created, for the dream they fed to the people, to the youth. And to the parents who was dazzled with stories of success and comfort. They have conditioned their minds to the promise of fortune in another country. And at the same time, they have encouraged the educational institutions to cater to this dream that they are creating.

Of course, part of this problem is burdened to the schools and colleges that allowed this. Why did they not predicted this when it is so obvious and common sense? Why? Because nursing—but not limited to it only—has continued to become their watering holes until now that kept their institutions ambling. They have become money-making corporations that profited from the hype than an educational institution. They have appeared more similar to fast food chains that appeared across the country without the thought of the by-product of their serving. Yes, nursing programs are questionable in some schools. In the end, aren’t they making a fool out of the students they are accommodating hiding in the cloak of education? They have made nursing more of a merchandise, a franchise than a profession—a degenerating form of consumerism that discounts choice because they are driven into a corner in which they are cornered to pick from a or b.

However, most importantly, the problem should be answered by the students, the individuals themselves for they are the ones face to face with it. They are in direct contact with this malady. They are the ones that will go through it. It should be a challenge for them to find what they truly wanted to do in life for in the end when the pressure is pummeling them this is what they would keep them going. When their stomach is murderously churning they could proudly say: “this is what I love to do! I chose this!” Let’s reject the formula that has been handed unsparingly. Instead they should ask themselves: what is it that I love to do? What are my passions?

It is a challenge to us to rethink our definition of education and what it represents. We do not go to college just to go through it. We do not study because at the end we would be earning, and profiting from it; more so it is not to gain social prestige and status. We go through college, pursue graduate courses, doctorates so that we could do what we want to do in life. We do not study just so that we could earn. But because by doing so we could have more power to do what we wanted to do in life. We have more freedom to pursue what we truly wanted to do.

It is a challenge for the students to go beyond the commercialized education. It is a dare for them to look through the façade that it is being presented to them. The reason behind this is that as soon as these demands are changed so too are the needs in the corporate world; we all could see once this need have been satisfied, the excess would have lost their supposed value; they are marked as "oversupply", and what a miserable tag to give to a candidate. Like a fashion trend that is due to expire. And by then the formula that the government has presented would have been junk.

What’s next? Culinary arts? HRM? Midwifery? Caregiving? We could not let the market demand to us what we want to do, but instead let us decide that for ourselves. For at the end of the day we will be before our own selves and we cannot hide the lies that we continuously tell ourselves.

The mold that creeps in our educational system is that it was paraded by the government without any reservation. Perhaps in their mind they said, “let’s get the most out of this.” Sure, we got billions of remittances from them. Sure they made the lives of people comfortable and the economy as well. But what they have not anticipated—what it seems their grave mistake—is that the need was, the demand and interest is, solely for foreign countries.

What they have silently done is to promote a diaspora of able workers, of qualified professionals to work outside the country (some would never return, the others view this country as vacation places, the others of course come back). This has stripped or blockaded the minds of the people to think more of our national demands instead those of another countries'. They have commercialized the American dream or nowadays it was transformed to an any-country-would-do dream.

More so, the reason why it perverted the educational system is that we—the students, the policy-makers, parents, officials, the people—have allowed it. We have accepted the concoction that they have given us. A band-aid remedy for a deeper incision in our ailing nation. We should go beyond what we could see.

Follow your passions. Follow your dreams. But more importantly, dream for this nation for you will be forever tied to it. No matter how much you wish to cut the umbilical cord to your motherland you are forever identified with it. No matter how many times your skin goes whiter, and your slang varies you are of this nation. We can never escape the warmth of its embrace and also of the pain that have been smothering it. We only have one mother no matter how much we renounce them.

To you out there, think of this nation. Act for this nation. Let your education be a shining light to the seemingly endless dark of the tunnel our nation is passing. And with the same light, with that same fire burn the mold that creeps!

copyright benjamin ryan rañeses, iii sailingontheclouds® January 8, 2012