I write this piece not from a legal point of view, because persuasive legal arguments have already been forwarded on why Akbayan should not be disqualified from the party-list race and I have no desire to repeat arguments already made. I write this by way of personal reflection not just on the incidents of the past few days that have made it to the front page news, but on what it means to me to be Left and working for government, and why it is a challenge but not a contradiction. I write this knowing that I am not schooled in ideological discourse: my sense of right and wrong refined only through everyday observation and daily practice as an alternative lawyer. Most of all, I write this as a member of a Party whose struggles and dilemmas I have borne witness to as it reconciles the aspiration to accumulate political power amid imperfect terrains whilst maintaining commitment to its truths.

Much venom has been levelled by Anakbayan and company against Akbayan chosen party nominees who they accuse of being puppets of the current administration. To that we say, let’s look at the nominees one by one. Our second nominee they like to describe as Usec Barry Gutierrez, as if attaching the title “Usec” magically signifies capitulation to the State and deletes a long history of alternative lawyering for the marginalized, in Barry’s case, the urban poor. Check Barry’s litigation record and one immediately sees not just a bias, but a clear and uncompromising commitment to the poor and underrepresented. Angie Katoh, AKBAYAN’S third nominee, indeed is a Commissioner at the Philippine Commission on the Urban Poor – she sits precisely as representative of the urban poor and not as a career bureaucrat. Angie was arrested defending a workers’ picket line in Mindanao. Her release was secured with the intervention of NGOs and religious groups in Mindanao. She is a woman, handicapped and from Mindanao. The next time anybody wants to call her unrepresentative of the marginalized, please tell them to look her in the eye and tell her that directly. Walden Bello, whose positions against globalization and anti-neoliberalism are perhaps the most documented of all three nominees, perhaps needs no explaining. But it may help our friends in Anakbayan to look at the position Walden took on the issue of Karen Empeno and Sherilyn Cadapan (a student of his) as member of the UP faculty. In fact, Walden has defended their ally Sarah Raymundo from the charge that she is to blame for the abduction of Empeno and  Cadapan and fought for her right to tenure.

Secondly, it is saddening that Anakbayan, et. al. has chosen to argue that AKBAYAN is unrepresentative of the marginalized by conflating “representation of the marginalized” with adherence to the position of the National Democratic line. For example, on the issue of agrarian reform, they argue that AKBAYAN is unrepresentative of the marginalized simply because it has chosen to throw its support behind the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program of the state – disregarding the many examples of farmers who were benefited by CARP. They also argue, by way of another example, that AKBAYAN is not representative of the marginalized because it supports the “sin tax” which according to them “burdens the masses in the guise of going against tobacco corporations.” How it burdens the masses, they fail to explain, unless they mean masses who smoke. To them, disagreement with their frame of reality is betrayal of the marginalized – a position that is at once totalitarian, reductionist and dangerous. The documented record is that AKBAYAN has helped shepherd important people-centered legislation and policies, from support to breast-feeding to Cheaper Medicines to Reproductive Health to agrarian reform to empowerment and local governance. And it will continue to do so, at whatever historical juncture, in whatever political climate.

Thirdly, it may be imperative to unpack the accusation of ‘red-baiting’. While I agree that red-baiting (i.e., the act of vilifying a particular organization or person simply because of membership in a communist organization or adherence to communist principles, or accusing an organization or person of the same) is in violation of the right to association and the right to speech and may imperil civilians, I don’t think the accusation of red-baiting should be instrumentalized to shield anyone – communists or not – from scrutiny and legitimize morally-reprehensible behaviour. I say this as a member of an organization called Peace Advocates for Truth, Healing and Justice (PATH) that works with survivors of the Communist purges and as a lawyer for landless farmers in Bondoc Peninsula whose farmer-leaders had been killed on the assertion that they were counter-revolutionaries for supporting state-sponsored agrarian reform. Hurling accusations of ‘red-baiting’ simply cannot be used as a stop-gap response to legitimate questions on specific acts and practices of the armed Left that should be open to scrutiny. In the same manner that AKBAYAN has frontally responded to the question of Hacienda Lusita and its being an ally of the sitting President (Akbayan made an unqualified call for land distribution and an unqualified denunciation of the stock distribution option), there is no reason to insulate organizations like Anakbayan from challenges to denounce – not Communism per se or communist organizations – but specific acts and practices of the non-state armed Left.

AKBAYAN is a work in progress and an evolving narrative. Has it made some mistakes as it muddles through its chosen path of reform and social change? Yes, I think so. The Party has a vibrant history of Party-mass movement dynamics  – AKBAYAN’s decisions are the product of  internal debates, assertions, corrections. We believe this is beneficial, even necessary, for a Party committed to change.  Has it breached its bottomlines? History will bear us out, but at this juncture, I will be bold enough to say no.

Posted by: Jae | January 5, 2012


Took a picture of this so I’ll always know where I was during the happiest moment of my 2011. 

Happy New Year to all. May 2012 find you where you want to be. =)



Posted by: Jae | October 23, 2011

My Favorite Things

While growing up, whenever I felt sad, I would put on Sound of Music. It was my one and only cheer-up movie. Today I was feeling sad and sick and alone and so I watched it again.

For days that hurt your heart, there’s a Sound of Music song to make it all go away. This is mine.

Posted by: Jae | October 7, 2011

Of Snow Globes and Fellow Wanderers

It was the eve of my birthday, and I was hungry. My Peruvian school mate Ronnie and I were in Morocco and we had made plans to eat at a nice restaurant to celebrate my birthday. We both were looking forward to a fancy dinner and perhaps some boy watching after, so I could not understand why he was suddenly dragging his heels. “I want to leave my laptop at the front desk. It might not be safe in the room”, he said. “Ok, so leave it,” I said. “The receptionist for the night shift is not there yet,” he countered. We waited for a few moments. I kept on standing up to check if the receptionist for the night shift has arrived, consumed with the self-entitlement of the birthday brat. Wait a moment, the afternoon guy kept on saying, with a lopsided grin. He is late, it is raining in his town, his car had broken down. He kept on cracking small jokes and forcing me in his broken English to exchange high fives. I was getting more and more irate by the second – even more, when I noticed that people I did not know were going to the small lobby of the youth hostel as though there was some event. “We need to get out of here, Ronnie, there’s some party about to take place, we’re not invited and we look awkward sitting here. I’ll carry your stupid laptop to dinner.” I hissed. Suddenly, the lights went off and everyone began singing Happy Birthday. The owner of the hostel and the high-five guy walked in from the kitchen carrying a big cake and walking towards me. It was a surprise party, and it was the idea of the high-five guy when he noticed my date of birth from the passport I presented at check-in. They forced Ronnie to keep me from leaving. My 31st birthday was made forever memorable by an Arab man with a lopsided grin who in all likelihood, I will never get a chance to give a high five to ever again.

In my room here in The Hague, I have a collection of snow globes from the European cities I’ve managed to visit during my year here. Whenever I get back from a trip, the first thing I do is open my suitcase or backpack, retrieve the snow globe from between the clothes, unwrap it from its package and lovingly put it in place on the table beside the earlier globes. My English friend calls them “tacky monstrosities with putrid water” – such name-calling the result, I suspect, of being made to walk around Edinburgh’s souvenir shops with me when he’d rather be sitting in a pub with a pint. I like them because they remind me of adventures taken and roads walked, of travels I’ve managed to afford on a student stipend through strict military-precision budgeting and home-cooked meals.

But most of all, they remind me of the fellow human beings I’ve met along the way, the randomness and sheer richness of encounters with strangers, and the gentle graceful dismantling of the walls and webs coming between people. On a ferry to view the Norwegian Fjords during an unfortunately-foggy day, a middle-aged lady and I stood beside each other, taking pictures of what just appeared to be a gray haze over blue waters. “To be honest, I don’t know what a ‘fjord’ is”, she said to me in a stage whisper. “Neither do I,” I stage-whispered back. “No one back home will be impressed by my pictures,” she said, peering into her camera. “I come from the Philippines, an archipelago. I won’t even try.” I responded. We laughed together. I soon found out that she was a professor at the MIT in the States and was in Oslo for a conference that ended the day before. We ended up spending the rest of the day together, sharing a giant bowl of mussels, white wine and easy conversation about politics, life, travel, family, love. She had two sons and no daughter, she told me I made her sad she did not have a daughter. I told her she made me miss my Mom. I promised to call when I find myself in her country. She and her husband are planning a trip to Southeast Asia next year; for me, they’ll swing by the Philippines.

How many more micro-stories there are! The Australian girl in the hostel room in Pisa who borrowed my moisturizer and lent me her hairdryer. We got into a long, lively chat and she told me that she has a Filipina stepmother. The Italian graduate student sitting on the next table who came up to me while I was reading “Dangerous Love” and told me that Ben Okri was his favourite author. The Indian lawyer who I met in a walking tour around Edinburgh and is now in my facebook. The chatty grandfather who showed us a different side of Paris and told us that the best coffee to be had was in a small cafe manned by an old Guatemalan woman who spoke no English and smiled in all languages.

My one-year stay in Europe is drawing to an end, and I write this because I need to remember. There are enough pictures of me in the Eiffel Tower, by the Prado, in front of the Big Ben, all plastered in my Facebook page. What I need to remember are these tiny vignettes, the gentleness of random human interaction, the tentative ways we give and seek out kindness in a strange place. And afterwards we marvel at how profoundly we are shaped by the most fleeting of encounters.

Posted by: Jae | June 12, 2011

How To Write About the Philippines

This entry is inspired by and takes off from these hilarious pieces: How to Write About Africa and How to write about Pakistan

To write about the Philippines, two metaphors must find their way into the first three pages, or else your narrative is rendered suspect.

The first is the weather, sunny and warm, used as a metaphor to describe the warmth and smiles of the Filipino people, and the hospitable embrace with which we welcome you to our lovely shores. To establish early on your capacity for philosophical depth, you can up the ante by talking about how our warmth and smiles belie the grinding poverty and wretchedness of our lives.

The second is a metaphor to describe the color of our skin, and this we leave to your own literary inclinations, as long as it sounds earthy and exotic.  Some pegs that you might want to consider are (1) golden rice fields, (2) caramel, (3) sun-kissed anything.  The most important thing is to praise the skin. To win over your reader, you might want to add a phrase or two about the pasty-white color of yours.

You will now want to decide where to set your story. If in the countryside, remember to use the words “idyllic” and, with a view to impress, “bucolic.” All farmers are kind-hearted and earnest and oppressed by a landowner in a horse. God forbid you suggest that there are some farmers who steal fertilizer or overprice their vegetables. You may want to zero in on one particular farmer – a hardworking, weatherbeaten, wise man who can only say things like “the earth is our mother, woe to those who abuse her” and is incapable of more mundane conversation like “why did you forget to put the beer inside the fridge?”.  But that farmer will have a daughter,  single but of a child-bearing age – “in full flower” is a good handy phrase. She will be frightened by you and your throbbing Western masculinity; and you will be taken by her long hair, slender figure and skin the color of __(insert selected metaphor.)  You need to work in the word “nubile” at some point.

Be generous with the description of the provincial lass, and remember that it is not possible to overstate her virginal state. Later, you will be needing that description as reference when you compare her to a Filipino prostitute you meet in one of your anthropological forays into the dark and grimy side of the Philippines.

Which brings us to the second option of setting: Manila. Sweltering, throbbing Manila, moving to its own frenetic dissonant beat.  You will want to describe Manila as one searing hotbed of urban poverty, and an important word to use is “underbelly.” Yes, underbelly, under the belly. Manila is, after all, just one big mass of pubic hair: smelly, forbidden, and in dire need of landscaping.

Here, though, you can have more fun with the cast of characters. Make sure you include an inquisitive child who asks questions, calls you “Joe”, thinks all white people are Americans and wants to be just like you. His mother is a devout, almost fanatical Catholic who prays everyday to win the lottery and puts lotto tickets beside crucifixes (commentary on religion). His father is an alcoholic policeman who engages in petty malfeasance (commentary on corruption). His brother is a cross-dressing homosexual with a heart of gold (God forbid you depict homosexuals as having anything other than a heart of gold). His sister is, of course, the prostitute. She wants to sleep with you but instead you offer to buy her coffee, and she proceeds to tell you about how she was molested by a priest when she was nine.

Of course, pepper the entire narrative with quirky little details: karaoke singing, eating balut (boiled duck embryos), drinking San Miguel Beer, getting stuck in traffic whilst inside a jeepney whose driver has fear of neither law nor God, a weekend at a beach – the most beautiful beachfront of your life it drove you to tears! — and a random shocking illustration of the obscenity of wealth amidst so much want.

If you want a “sidekick” – a friend you meet along the way, an “intellectual” who will explain the rudiments of Filipino culture to you – you will probably want him to be educated abroad, here only for a short vacation.  Because of course, the Philippine education system does not have what it takes to create a worthy interlocutor for you. His way of explaining Filipino culture will be sheepish in parts, wryly proud in others. Yes, he is a “he” because if your sidekick is a Filipino woman, sexual tension is inevitable and she will probably want to  marry you and have your babies.

Remember that the Philippines is a Catholic country. The Muslims are confined to a small part in the South. To avoid confusion, you must describe them as Filipino Muslims. To describe Filipino Catholics, you may simply say Filipinos.  Remember that in the Philippines, there is no such thing as a non-Catholic Christian,  a person who is not crazy for karaoke, or a girl who is more educated/well-read than you and is not interested in you.

End by professing undying love for our beautiful islands, the Pearl of Orient Seas, the Far East. Remain blissfully unaware that there is a big statue right in the middle of the “underbelly” dedicated to the fierce warrior who stood up to the first foreigner that tried to patronize us. The foreigner’s name was Ferdinand Magellan, and to his progeny I offer my condolences.

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY, PILIPINAS. The struggle against hokey stereotypes continues. 🙂 

Posted by: Jae | May 25, 2011

Eat Pray Whine

(first written as a Note on Facebook)

And so it came to pass that my friend Diane and I went to catch the screening of “Eat Pray Love” last night. We had wanted to watch it ages ago — perhaps subliminally hoping that little epiphanies would come to us unmarried girls, presently navigating through the murky thicket of love and relationships while learning to read maps, getting lost in a jumble of straats and huises, and deciphering the bewildering babel of tongues through which the people around us speak.

But no. No epiphanies here. Sorry, Julia Roberts.

And our central objection to the movie is this: 99% of the population of the world cannot afford to hie off and travel around the world on a blizzard of self-entitlement, just because she woke up one day feeling sorry for herself. Boo-hoo. And why does she feel sorry for herself? Because she has a big wooden chest under her bed with cut-out travel articles of places she could not yet visit, and because her husband has suddenly decided (*gasp*) that he wants to finish his Master’s degree. But instead of diving head-first into the issues of her marriage and communicating with her spouse, she dives head-first into the arms of a struggling off-Broadway, new-agey type actor with and bullies her way into a divorce and out of answering her husband’s valid questions.

Finding that love does not magically appear genie-like from under the haze of incense sticks or after tantric sex, she ups and leaves (again), to eat pray love in three different places around the world. In the meantime, the rest of us plod through our own life-issues and come to grips with the not-so-pretty realities of human relationships, and keep our jobs or go to school.

Because, well, honey, that’s how the world works. You don’t abscond from your problems like a spoiled, whining brat. You face them and deal with them and beat them down to the ground before they beat you first. You don’t take out your platinum credit card and book the first direct flight to Rome, where you hope to regain equilibrium by stuffing your face with pizza.

It’s the whole first-world smugness that incensed us so much, the vulgarity of using excessive consumption to solve problems that in all probability, were caused by excessive consumption (having too much, and therefore finding it difficult to attain satisfaction), and the fact that there was absolutely no effort in this movie to see through non-Western eyes. She goes to India and the film zeroes in on the gut-wrenching poverty, with a sidebar commentary on women’s rights and forced marriages. She goes to Bali, learns from a Medicine Man with funny English. Of course she falls in love with a Brazilian expat who would move heaven and heart for her. (Because apparently, there is no such thing as relationship karma when you look like Julia Roberts). But then again, maybe there is karma — and she paid for her karmic debts by fulfilling her “White Chick’s Burden” and making her rich friends write a check to buy a poor woman a house. $18,000 just like that.

Note to the director from the global south: please don’t exoticize us, our issues, our poverty. Poverty tourism is keeping peoples poor.

Ok, so maybe you think I’m as bad as the movie is, going on a whining binge about how the whole movie is so far removed from the tableau of real life (my real life). But the difference is, after I finish writing this, I’m actually going to do my readings and finish my assignments, so that I finish my Master’s degree in good time, and go back to my country to a job that keeps me whole, happy and free — give or take a few dysfunctions. 🙂

Posted by: Jae | May 21, 2011

Judgment Day

Apparently, there’s this guy named Harold Camping from the Christian Network Family Radio  going around America announcing that Apocalypse is coming on May 21, 2011. Judgment day, he calls it. We may yet eat our words, but the general consensus worldwide seems to be that the only judging that will take place is of him and his kooky Kool-aid crew by the rest of the planet.

In the spirit of Judgment Day fever however, I have taken it upon myself to list the 10 things that I am judgmental about. And no, I’m not talking about statements like “I am judgmental of child pornographers.” Or “I am intolerant of intolerance.” I am talking of snarky, petty little judgments for which there can be no justification or redemption.

Here is my list. I judge:

1. People who, when asked what their favorite book is, include any book by Dan Brown, or in the alternative, list “The Secret” as the book that has changed their life. (The worst though would have to be those who make a verb out of “The Secret” , i.e., “Yes, i Secreted him last summer, and now he’s my boyfriend.” “I am Secreting that wish tonight, maybe tomorrow, I’ll have a job!”)

2. Affected accents. Especially affected American accents.

3. Tortured poets/misunderstood artists, ten years out of University. Especially when the poetry or the art is mediocre to begin with.  You’re not Kafka, babe. You’re not Sartre. But yes, hell can be other people if you don’t get hold of yourself.

4. Girls who flaunt their chick-angst and psychedelic dramas — thinking it’s still cute and quirky and charming — past the age of thirty. Unless your name is Winona Ryder. Angst can’t be helped; if it’s there, it’s there. But celebrating it as though it’s 1994 and the Reality Bites soundtrack is the soundtrack of your life is..well.. just sad.

5. People who have bought more than three things from Home TV shopping; also, people who have had more than three relationships that began online. There’s something to be said about gullibility and the human condition.

6. Able-bodied non-elderly tourists that get on hop-on, hop-off double deck buses when visiting a new city just because it’s more convenient. You’re lazy. And  boring. I wouldn’t want to be your friend.

7. Those who don’t get it. Few years ago, I was on a first date with someone and we were getting to know each other. “Do you drink”, he asked. “Social drinker,” I replied. “Do you smoke,” he continued. “Social smoker (at the time)”, I also replied. “What don’t you do socially,” he asked, teasing lightly. “Climb.” I said. And his answer that made a second date not possible: Well, it’s always good to climb with other people. 

8. The grossly uninformed — and extremely opinionated. Ignorance is forgivable, ignorance with the iron-clad certainty of one’s convictions is not. i.e., “Israel is absolutely the victim in the Middle East conflict. Look at all those suicide bombers! Huh? What? What flotilla bombing?” Also, the grossly-uninformed and proud of it. i.e., “Oh gosh, I haven’t been following the news in the Middle East because I have a life..(insert giggle).”

9. Facebookers who either have more than three active online games (farms, restaurants, cities), do not know personally more than 20% of their Facebook friends, or successively use  famous quotations lifted from google as status messages to disguise their inability to come up with original content.

10. People who spend money on skin-whitening products.

And by way of ending —

Happy Judgment Day, everyone!!! =)

***And in case you feel the compulsion to judge me, here’s some fodder you can use:

– I can’t bike.

– I can’t swim.

– I can’t sing (in a country where everybody sings).

– I have the occasional chick-angst that I try to contain by being contemptuous of chick-angst. I fake my rock-steadiness sometimes. 😉

Posted by: Jae | May 8, 2011

“Motherhood statements”

Earlier this evening I was packing my luggage in preparation for my school trip tomorrow to England. I wanted to bring shoe bags and I know I brought a couple from Manila. I decided to check the maleta I used coming here, in case they were hidden in one of the many deep pockets. My search unearthed a tiny pouch filled with what felt from the outside like fridge magnets. I opened the pouch and found these:

My Mom made them for me, slipped them unobtrusively into my luggage and it lay in the dark crevices of my Samsonite until tonight, the eve of Mother’s Day.

I remember what she called them as she slipped them into the bag: Motherhood statements.

Thank you Mama for your wit. And for your love.

Posted by: Jae | June 21, 2009

Goodbye for Now

I’ll come back when I get my groove back.  🙂

Posted by: Jae | May 21, 2009

One for the Road

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