Thursday, September 13, 2007

why we need a kick in the head

PROGRESS DOESN'T ALWAYS pave the way for a smooth-sailing life. Road congestion continues to be the bane fo urban living.

Regarding this problem, here's a reprint of my opinion column in the op-ed page of Sun.Star Cebu (4th of September, 2007):

All the way

TOUGH luck, but it’s not totally berserk to bring the “tartanilla” back.

For many motorists in Metro Cebu, getting kicked by a horse might be no more tragic than being trapped in the midst of traffic. With the former, at least, one would hurtle away from one spot to another really quick. Broken bones, too, couldn’t be more dismal than the headache and heartburn triggered by mayhem on the road.

As it is, finding a way out of the woeful state of our major streets soon looks as farfetched as discovering a unicorn.

Putting the cart before the steed, it seems, has long been the way of Cebu’s movers and shakers gone helter-skelter in pursuit of progress. No wonder Paul Villarete, the Cebu City planning and development officer, must have felt like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were just a snort away.

“Almost as many cars run in Metro Cebu as in Manila, but Cebuano authorities are not improving the major roads,” Villarete rued in a recent forum on Environmentally Sustainable Transport (EST). Only an escape artist like Houdini could have wiggled free from the cramped streets in Cebu City against these odds: at least 8,329 units of public utility jeepneys (PUJs); 5,788 units of taxis, and 952 units of buses and mini-buses.

Through all this, of course, the air doesn’t go straight to anybody’s lungs like mountain mist and ocean breeze.

Thumb your nose down, too, at Desiderata; there’s just no way you can go placidly amid uncollected garbage, flash floods during rain, the procession during fiesta, and the stream of mourners on the heels of a hearse. (Was the death due perhaps to road rage, cancer by recurrent inhalation of traffic fumes, or the burst of a blood vessel arising from existential anxieties only a traffic jam can cause?)

As if it’s not enough that there’s a shortage of new infrastructure improvements in the city in the face of its burgeoning motorists, making matters worse is the dearth of discipline: the uncurbed issuance of franchise for public utility vehicles, the surplus of motorcycles as public transport, as well as drivers and pedestrians who are up and about like they got nine lives.

Horse sense and time are of the essence, true. And while Villarete’s proposal for a “a high-occupancy bus” or mass transport system is long overdue, better count on the bureaucracy to get going in the back of the snail and the turtle.

And because such a proposal can be green-lighted only with the prerequisite of political will, could the vote-fueled leadership steel its stomach to buck the backlash from displaced PUJ drivers come election time?

Elsewhere in the world—particularly in Stockholm, London, and Singapore — the race is on to steer clear from clogged thoroughfares with eco-friendly innovations. By tapping the resources of corporations like International

Business Machines (IBM), these megacities have come up with the “biggest green initiative coming down the road these days,” according to New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tomas Friedman.

“Congestion pricing—charging people for the right to drive into a downtown area—is already proving to be the most effective short-term way to clean up polluted city air, promote energy efficiency and create more livable urban centers, while also providing mayors with unexpected new revenue,” writes Friedman.

Progress, in the long run, is about giving the will and imagination a full rein. So as not to be left behind, it’s up for Metro Cebu’s leaders to hold no horses with an open mind.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

madeleine and her majesty

DEATH HAS REASONS to gloat and romp around with the royalty of his harvest so far this year: filmmakers Ingmar Bergman and Michaelangelo Antonioni, tenor Luciano Pavarotti, and most recently, author Madeleine L’Engle (She was 88.)

With her hoard of poetry, plays, childhood fables (particularly the children’s classic, A Wrinkle in Time, etc.) and religious meditations as well as science fiction, L'Engle has "transcended both genre and generation." So much so that the sheer range of her oeuvre has been cited in the Dictionary of Literary Biography for its “peculiar splendor.”

I've been a fan of her writing since I devoured her book, Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (which I bought at the Doulos ship when it docked in Cebu in the late 90s.) If there's one book that lifted my feet an inch higher from the ground since then, this is it. No other work of non-fiction, besides those of Diane Ackerman and Pico Iyer, has unleashed a rapacity to partake of its wisdom and grace with a pilgrim's need to mark it--with underlines and dog-ears-- for a revisit time and again.

Here are a few nuggets from L'Engle:

When asked where faith stops and art begins: There is no separating the two, she reasons, "it means attempting to share the meaning of my life, what gives it, for me, its tragedy and its glory."

Encouraging her readers to shift gears and slow down through the helter-skelter compulsions of survival, she argues for the imperatives of inspiration to turn the "chaos of life" into the "cosmos of art" by staying attuned to one's creative spirit: "Unless we are creators, we are not fully alive."

"Complicated creatures we are, aware of only the smallest fragment of ourselves; seeking good and yet far too often unable to tell the difference between right and wrong; misunderstanding each other and so blundering into the tragedies of warring nations, horrendous discrepancies between rich and poor, and the idiocy of a divided Christendom."

When one interviewer told her that God doesn’t send more trouble than a person can stand, L’Engle replied that she sometimes asks God, “Why are you overestimating my capacity to this extent?”

“Why does anybody tell a story?” she once asked, even though she knew the answer.
“It does indeed have something to do with faith,” she said, “faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”

Thursday, September 06, 2007

gone is the giant


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

overcoming the ocean


awry in uniform

GUESS WHO'S ALWAYS getting bad press apart from the craven crop of politicians? Policemen, that's who. As much as one yearns for more exceptions to the rule of misdemeanors and maladroit conduct, there's just no stopping the rain of rotten tomatoes.

Here's a reprint of my recent opinion column in Sun.Star Cebu (28 August 2007 issue):

Of vice and men

Crows may turn white, but wouldn’t it be a mere flight of fancy to see the future of police in a new light? It may be a thing with feathers, but hope looks like it needs to be huffed and puffed up with hallucinogen to lull us into seeing doves instead of vultures and bats.

What’s the true color of our cops?

If you were on a psychedelic high, you’d probably see a swoop of low-flying creatures with the habits of chameleons. You’d hover into the Vice Control Section (VCS), for instance, and you’d end up winking at the way some of its operatives adapt so adroitly into the instincts of its enemies. Yes, until its itch and stench sticks like second skin, and you’d wonder no more how three policemen— “extortionists,” cried a businessman— reportedly evolved into birds of the same feather.

Fly me to the moon, you’d shrug, instead of the sun-lit frontline in the campaign against illegal gambling, prostitution, and prohibited drugs.

Asked if there are other VCS officers into the same rotten fray, the Police Regional Office (PRO) director in Central Visayas isn’t miming the monkey who neither sees nor hears evil. “We have reports of people involved in the organization, not only in the Vice Control Section,” he concedes.
Reality check, and it’s all right if you don’t mind being green-eyed with envy at the blind and the deaf.

And then we heard the VCS was immediately disbanded. True, morality may be a fledgling concept among a few cops floundering neck-deep in the sewer. But as a police’s brainchild against badness, doesn’t the disbandment seem like throwing the baby along with the bathwater even if it now appears no more cuddly than “anak ni Janice,” the

Last we looked, the underworld is still breezy with vile smoke all over the region. No doubt the VCS has still so much task at hand. And despite the fact that its fingers have grown hair and talons, a scissor and a clipper every now and them could have done the trick instead of a demolition crew gone gung-ho with a cleaver.

For a while there, it was as if the top honchos of law enforcement were no less as vulnerable as the benighted villagers in Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Go on with entrapment and squeeze out the scalawags at the VCS with smoldering pincers, good, but it would have been the better part of valor to save the unit. After all, it hasn’t outlived its functions yet. Or as Cebu City Councilor Sylvan Jakosalem averred: “All international police agencies have their vice squads, which are very specific in their duty in running after violators of either local ordinances or national laws pertaining to vices.”

Letting the VCS be and making the entrapment as incessant and steadfast as possible might yet be a feather in the cap of police hierarchy. Not unless the bigwigs were scared at the prospect of more controversies flying smack at their faces, the VCS—being such a lure to the lawless with uniforms—would have been like a focus point for spotting more shenanigans until all the undesirables would be discovered and come undone. Yes, like those stuck after preying on a flytrap.

Then again, that would prove that many in the police couldn’t soar no higher than flies feasting on rubbish, carcass, feces.