Posts tagged supreme
Posts tagged supreme
MANILA, Philippines - This past week, the Philippines experienced an unwanted visitor by the name of Maring. As this article goes to press, the storm-enhanced southwest monsoon has left 16 persons dead and 41 injured, and of the 1,000,000 affected, over 670,000 are located in Central Luzon.
When tropical storm Ondoy hit in 2009, it left behind unprecedented disaster. The then National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), whose sole job was to prepare for the unimaginable, found itself underwater, in a manner of speaking. Our own government was incapacitated and looked toward the private sector for help. Those with resources gladly pooled together what they had. We took to the streets, to social media, to every available avenue to get families off rooftops, and while it took more time than we had hoped to accomplish what we did, we were left with a glimmering sense of Filipino pride. “Bayanihan,” we said. “Where I come from, everyone’s a hero,” we said.
Four years later, the seemingly apocalyptic storms show no signs of stopping. There is at least one massive storm every year that ravages our cities and provinces, submerging our roads and crushing people under currents of dirty floodwater. The private sector has since stepped up far beyond its call of duty. For instance, Ateneo Task Force Noah, founded in 2004 as a means of addressing the natural disasters in Nueva Ecija and Aurora, has expanded into the Ateneo Disaster Response and Management Team (more commonly known as the Ateneo DReaM Team). Enderun Colleges, known for its culinary and hotel and restaurant management programs, consistently puts their kitchens to work in times of crises such as this in order to make hot meals for thousands of traumatized evacuees. RescuePH, once a mere hashtag in the beginning of social media rescues, has grown into a well-oiled machine where people can submit information on those in need of rescue, and after contact has been made, a rescue team is dispatched to those in need.
The government, on the other hand, has since renamed the NDCC the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. They have restructured the council without actually minimizing the risk or managed the terror these disasters have wrought. There have been no tangible developments in flood control as far as we can tell, and the most we have gotten are a few hot meals provided by DepEd and DSWD’s call to help repack relief goods. These are actions, which while good, are not nearly acceptable enough.
Pork barrel scandal
With Maring coming at the heels of the pork barrel scandal (which, if you haven’t heard about, you should really read up on), the people are livid. So livid that in the midst of this most recent disaster, the name Napoles kept coming up with a litany of angry comments, getting muddled in the good work that everyone else was trying to do. And as far as the sentiment goes, it’s completely understandable. See, it’s no secret that our government is riddled with corrupt politicians, that the taxes paid by dutiful citizens have gone to more pockets than country-wide improvements. But to be faced with actual names and numbers, what else are we left with but rage and questions? How does10 billion go missing without anyone raising questions? Where should that money have gone? Had there been a more honest soul in the place of the accused, would where we are today look much more different?
We are so desperate for good men to believe in that we take photos of public servants doing good work in past crises and say, “That’s the one who should have been president.” We are so blinded by anger that we organize marches that don’t necessarily have an end goal, except to show that we are outraged and that we want change, even though we are clueless as to how it should come about. We are grasping at straws because something called a Priority Development Assistance Fund should see what we’ve seen after the assaults of Ondoy and Pepeng and Gener and Maring and nameless torrential rainfall, and should be utilized so we don’t have to leave each disaster with a need to start all over.
We tear each other apart on an issue like reproductive health, which while worth discussing, is no more important than flood control or urban planning. Because we have gotten to a point where rain is no longer an issue of simple traffic management, but an event that causes fatalities that can and should be avoided. Each time we’re greeted by storms such as these, we are surprised not only at the number of people who are lost because they were victims of the circumstances, but at those we lose because they risked their own lives to save others. And while there is no one among us who does not want to help the other if it is in his capacity to do so, how many more times do we have to call for donations of canned goods, how many more times to we have to ask our brothers to rage against the flood to initiate a rescue, and how many more lives do we have to lose before those we elect see the funds we entrust to them as more than a means to fund their lifestyles? Even as a matter of politics, of all the issues we can disagree on, I hardly think making structural improvements to avoid unnecessary deaths is one of them.
There is a place for kindness and for idealism, and certainly there is no situation so dire that all hope is lost. But the consolation private citizens have gained from words like “The Filipino spirit is waterproof” has become very brief and dissolves like salt in rainwater. We are begging for progress, for justice and accountability, and at the very least some shred of respect for the electorate who repeatedly put their lives and their loved ones’ lives in the hands of a system that repeatedly betrays them. We extend love and prayers to each other as we plug up the holes in our boat, doing our best to keep it from sinking, while our government kicks back with a Dom Perignon and idly watches us work. We deserve more, and we should demand for more, but the real question here is how do we get it?
Originally published on 24 August 2013. Online release can be viewed here.
Career highlight for me. Still can’t believe this happened.
MANILA, Philippines - In the beginning, there was Lea Salonga. For those of us who grew up listening to the music of Miss Saigon and Les Miserables, who drank Klim and possibly hummed along to its very memorable jingle, who cried with Agnes as she longed for Jerry in Sana Maulit Muli, Lea Salonga has been our sister, our kabarkada, our beacon of local artistic pride. These days, however, she dons a tougher suit armed with honest criticism and quick comebacks as one of the most talked about judges onThe Voice Philippines. Supreme sits down with the Broadway darling to discuss her coaching style, dealing with haters, and the road towards becoming a living, breathing icon.
SUPREME: What drew you to The Voice Philippines?
LEA SALONGA: I’m not the biggest watcher of the show, but what interested me more than anything was the Blind Audition (fans of the show will know what this is, but for those that haven’t seen it yet, it’s when a singer auditions for the four star coaches whose backs are all turns to the stage). The thing that I loved about the experience is that I didn’t know anyone’s sob story prior to hearing their voice. It was talent first, background information later. Truth is, everyone has a story to tell, but we needed to get to the heart of the matter first, and that was that singer’s voice. The Blind Auditions here in the Philippines were particularly special. So much so that we had to increase the number of team members from 12 to 13 per team. So I guess the Blind Auditions drew me… the format itself drew me… that the coaches in those red chairs were world-renowned performers who could absolutely teach a thing or two to anyone willing to listen.
What do you think sets the show apart from its international counterparts? Is there something specific you’re looking for that caters to the Filipino market?
We’re just looking for amazing singers that we feel the Pinoy public can latch on to and fall in love with. It’s not about someone’s looks, but about their talent first. If there’s something unique that watchers and listeners can relate to, that’s huge. We have singers on every team that are different sizes, skin colors, heights, voice types. And they all deserve a shot. I think the thing that sets this show apart is that the coaches will always, up until the very final show, have a say in who stays and who goes. We still have a hand in it, and I like that very much.
What about coaching do you find to be most challenging?
Figuring out what it is a particular artist needs. I’ve been brought into productions as a “troubleshooter,” given instructions from the director or associate director of a production and assigned an artist to help out. Sometimes the troubles are vocal. At others, the problems are emotional accessibility. It might be a singing thing, an acting thing, a blocking thing, a “Please keep still” sort of thing. As I know my team members, I slowly figure out what their unique needs are. For one, it’s figuring out the right song that will make their voice ring. For another, it’s helping with lyric interpretation. It’s really fun, not to mention rewarding, when you and your artist have a breakthrough.
What about the other coaches’ teams or coaching styles do you think makes them strong contenders, and, on the other hand, what vulnerable spots do you think they have?
I’m neither privy to the other coaches’ coaching styles, nor do I want to know what happens in another camp. I want to focus my energy on my team. Truth of the matter is, the title of The Voice of the Philippines could go to any singer remaining on any team. I saw the list of the final 24, and it’s a list of strong, able singers. It’s an incredibly talented bunch of artists assembled. The public is going to have a very difficult time picking someone to vote for during the Live Shows, which begin on Sunday, Aug. 25.
On The Voice Philippines, we’ve seen quite a different side of you, for which you’ve been dealt a bit of backlash. What has it been like dealing with the critical reception of your performance as a judge on The Voice Philippines?
There’s really nothing to say, except that I respect their opinions. However, I don’t like it when the criticisms turn to insults. There have been some that I’ve interpreted as such. To them I say, you are a rude, mean human being, and your mother must be ashamed. Ha!
I felt the need to be enthusiastic, to show that singer that I will be enthusiastic about them being on my team. To play it cool might give them the wrong impression, thus risking their choosing another coach instead of me. Trust, things have gotten significantly more subdued since the Blind Auditions ended and the Battles began.
How has the transition to television been for you, especially wherein you’re not playing a role and not giving an interview, but having to be the more critical version of yourself in front of millions of audiences nationwide?
All the four of us can be is ourselves. I did receive a fair amount of criticism from many people — both from the media and the anonymous Twitter peeps — who found it a bit jarring to see what I know to be “the real me” on TV, what with my exaggerated actions, singing along, making loud comments, that sort of thing. Truth is, what people don’t know is that the reality is probably even more heightened when I’m not in front of a camera. My close friends know me as loud and outspoken (when I’m watching a musical, if I have any friends on stage, my cackle serves as a homing device), and demonstrative. One friend, right after the first couple of episodes aired, wrote a long message on my Facebook page to say how truly happy she was that what my friends knew, the rest of the country was getting to know. “That’s the real Lea I know,” she wrote. It meant a lot to me to see that.
Has there been any audition in particular that you felt truly resonated with you?
There were a couple, one who I didn’t turn for, and one that is on my team. Lee Grane (who is on Team Bamboo) sang Anak, and I didn’t turn for it. We then asked her to sing another song, Angel by Sarah McLachlan, and I was on the verge of tears listening to her. Goosebumps, chills, name it. The other one was for Kimpoy Mainit, who’s all of 16 years old. I thought at first it was a girl singing, and then when I turned around, I discovered a young man! I loved his vocal quality. I felt how badly he wanted the opportunity. I played it cool sitting in my chair, as I didn’t want any other coach to turn for him.
I love everyone on my team. They each have something unique to add to this music industry. We have folk, rock, R&B, soul. I think we have it all covered.
What was it like for you when you were the one entering the audition for the iconic role of Kim inMiss Saigon? Do you remember how you prepared and did you have any idea that this would be as big a break as it was?
I had prepared three days prior to my audition, learning On My Own from Les Miz to sing. A pianist I was working with came to the house to accompany me, and I think we beat the hell out of that song, singing it so much. I thought I was ready, but when I stepped into the room and saw Cameron Mackintosh, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michael Schönberg sitting there in front of me, my knees started to knock against each other and I was shaking. How I managed to keep my s*** together, I’ll never know.
Do you still feel nerves whenever you’re set to perform onstage? What do you hope to convey as an artist every time you step out in front of an audience?
Oh, always! I hope that never goes away. Every time I step out in front of an audience, I only want to convey joy. It’s pure joy that I feel to be doing what I love to do, and that I’m still able to step out and sing my heart and lungs out for an audience willing to sit and listen for a couple of hours. It’s a lot of fun.
As someone who’s conquered so many avenues of entertainment and artistry, who’s been presented with accolades and is very much considered a national treasure, is there any one accomplishment you’d say you’re most proud of?
I’d say, being able to retain my sense of humor. More than any award, that’s what I’m proudest of. Oh, and my sanity.
If money were no object and you had every resource available to you, what would you say your dream project would be?
Building a theater that was properly built with great acoustics, the best sound system, the most comfortable seating, and really comfy hotel-style dressing rooms. For guest musicians, a Steinway baby grand in every room. And another would be to collect every single recording made of Filipino music and digitally restore and archive whatever was deteriorating, and make that accessible to the public in order for them to truly appreciate the music of their motherland.
Having had such a prolific career, you’ve traveled extensively and could have chosen to live in any corner of the world. It’s beautiful and admirable that you chose to come back and settle down in the Philippines. What made you decide to do so?
Would you believe my husband? He moved here to pursue a business opportunity, and of course I moved along with him. No regrets! We love it here!
We’ve grown up with you, and we’ve pretty much seen that you are a force to be reckoned with creatively. What else can we expect from the great Lea Salonga?
I don’t know… and that’s the fun part.
Originally published on 3 August 2013. Online release can be viewed here.
There’s been some talk as of late about how one should go about raising children with “early homosexual tendencies.” (Quotation marks necessary because the term alone is questionable.) Personally, I am by no means an expert on this matter — I am not a mother, I am not a homosexual, and I am not a sanctimonious psychologist who works on the local counterpart of The Jerry Springer Show. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about how I would raise my hypothetical children, or how I would approach rearing one who might happen to be gay.
See, if I had a son, I would encourage him. If he expressed an interest in cutting hair or cooking or arranging flowers or was particular about the way he dressed, I would bring him to the places where he could learn to do those things best. I would take him to see the German guys who charge an exorbitant fee to cut my hair, but cut so well I wouldn’t need to see them again for at least three months. I would buy him one of those gender-neutral Easy-Bake ovens or acquaint him with our kitchen and words from the likes of Ree Drummond, Mark Bittman and Ina Garten. I would take him to Laguna with my mother so he could watch her carefully choose the plants that would inevitably sit in the garden of my childhood home. I would take him to the ateliers of my friends who are tailors and fashion designers, and watch as he begins to understand the differences between a roped and a continental shoulder.
If I had a son, I wouldn’t tell him that these things weren’t appropriate for a boy to be interested in. I would tell him that I wore nothing but skirts until the age of 11, but was also so into basketball I wanted to reschedule my tonsillectomy so that I wouldn’t miss the finals of Bulls versus Jazz. I would tell him that I wore black the day Owen Hart died, but also chased the Moffatts because I believed someday, Bob would realize he loved me. I would tell my son that his interests are simply interests; and even if he was actually attracted to other boys, these interests have nothing to do with his sexual orientation. More importantly, regardless of what his attractions may be, these interests certainly don’t make him any more or less of a man.
If I had a son, I would tell him that what makes him a man isn’t the masculinity of his clothing or his choice of spectator sports. I would tell him that what makes him a man is his confidence in his own skin, his consideration of others, being true to his word, and his commitment to seeing things through. These things — honor, decency, character, and kindness — are all he needs to be a true man by any measure.
Now, if my son happened to be gay, I would remind myself that none of this is anyone’s fault. My son is not sick; he is not broken; he is not in need of healing or fixing. This is not the result of a parenting flaw or a bad draw of luck; it just is what it is. Some people are gay while some people are not. And if it proves to be a struggle for me, then I will remind myself to think what more for him, as he is the one on this journey. The sooner I accept this, the more I allow myself to be present for my son.
If my son happened to be gay, he would first learn to be a gentleman just the same. I would teach him to open doors for other people and give up his seat on the train for the elderly. He would learn to say “Please” and “Thank you,” and would not impose on others. He would be courteous and considerate. And I would remind him, as I would remind any son of mine, to be respectful and to understand that if someone clearly does not reciprocate his affections, he must not push.
If my son happened to be gay, he would receive both honesty and assurance, which are not always the same thing. I would tell him that he isn’t like most people, which can make the road ahead much more difficult. Then I would tell him of his uncles — my best gay friends — many of whom knew from the age of four that they were different, that they would love differently. I would explain how they paved the way for him to have the freedom to be himself, how he should take full advantage of that, and how I would be with him every step of the way.
If my son happened to be gay, I would teach him how to pray. Not because I want him to be further confused by Christians who spew hateful bile in the name of God, but because I know what kind of road lies ahead for my son. I want my son to understand that the God I believe in is large, incomprehensible, forgiving, and someone who thought I deserved such a blessing in a beautiful (and gay) child. And if my son is ever in a desolate place where almost no one can reach him, I want him to know that while my hands might be too small to hold his life in them, a greater force is there to catch him.
If my son happened to be gay, I would want him to be proud. I want him to be proud of everything that he is, of all the sides that make up who he is, including the fact that he is gay. I want him to live a life that isn’t solely defined by who he is attracted to, without being ashamed of the fact that his heart beats for the same sex. I want him to reach for the skies and dare to dream things that maybe no one thought possible, and believe that he can achieve them. I want him to love himself, because he deserves it, and he deserves to be able to love others without trying to fill some hole someone left behind.
This may seem idealistic or far too presumptuous that I would know anything about motherhood. But my point here is that I would try, not to give him the world, but to give him the ability to see the world as a place he can conquer. Because I feel that if my child is ashamed to be himself, then I have failed him as a mother. Because if I had a son and he happened to be gay, I can only hope that he would be built by massive amounts of love and encouragement, by defiance of the world’s expectations and surprising strength, and the hope that someone so extraordinary would garner more stellar adjectives than merely “gay.”
Originally published on March 16, 2013. Online release can be viewed here.
I remember how my father used to laugh that my mom thought she would never be married at 26. I later realized that this was actually a sensible idea for a time when the normal marrying age was 19 to 21. After all, I am now 26, and considering I live in a time where people are married in their 30s or as close to it as possible, I have begun to wonder whether or not I’m meant to be coupled permanently.
Singles my age have taken to blaming Disney for their unrealistic expectations, which I disagree with. As a child, even though I loved The Little Mermaid, I knew Ariel was a blithering idiot for giving so much up and putting her family through hell to have a shot at a boyfriend. Sure, he was a prince, but there was no story to him other than perfect hair even in a rolling storm. Girlfriend needed to get her priorities in order. So no, Disney has nothing to do with my standards; instead, I blame my parents. They’ve set an impossible example, having loved each other as well as two people possibly could for over four decades. They’ve done well by each other and by their children, to a point where I feel like it would be difficult for me to be married and not have the same kind of partnership, or the same capacity to provide for my future spawn.
Personally, there is a part of me that feels like I still have a lot of time to figure all of that out, and then there is the rest of me that goes to weddings and gets asked the question, “O ikaw, kailan ka?” It’s said jokingly, while you’re looked at as though you’re the lone Michelle Williams in a room full of Kellys and Beyonces. (Being a sassmouth, I have learned to reply with, “I’m still on the hunt for the perfect African American boyfriend,” and then it gets wonderfully awkward for everyone.)
But that’s how it is, isn’t it? It’s almost like, as the song suggests, you’re no one until someone loves you. I’ve met women who hold positions that allow them to cause media blackouts on certain incidents within international companies, whose jobs entail restructuring governments, who are so good at what they do that they are constantly courted by competing firms with higher salaries, greater perks, bigger offices, and more prestigious titles. Women who are well-respected for their contributions to the way the world is run, but also shamed into thinking that their success is something they should be apologetic for, because they have failed to lock down a life partner in pursuit of personal ambition.
Alone but not lonely
Now, I’m not saying that you have to be one or the other, that you can only be either accomplished or married. You can be absolutely everything that you want to be, given enough hours in the day and enough resolve to work at a career and a relationship. What I am talking about is the lack of understanding for a breed of female (or even male) that chooses the former and enjoys the comfort they create for themselves. It’s always assumed that you are looking to be the other half of something, without which you are incomplete. And if by chance you do well on your own or choose not to be accountable to someone else, you’re deemed as selfish or hopeless or cynical. There is never just, well, “single.”
I remember sitting in this Catholic singles group and hearing a bunch of guys tell me that they’d like to settle down in the near future. This is porn to some women, but all I saw was needy and creepy. That wasn’t what I went there to hear. I didn’t want someone to tell me to hold out hope that God had designed a man for me. I wanted to talk about the grace in being alone. Being accomplished and alone, being godly and alone, being loved and alone, being un-lonely and alone.
Single and hot damn fabulous
In fact, what I hear most often is that it’s simply the bitterness of the single woman, that to be single it must mean you’ve given up on love altogether. And sure, at this age, it begins being exhausting, trying to navigate the mind of the opposite sex. I was talking to a guy friend of mine recently, who told me about how sexy it is when women are accomplished and powerful, and then told me that his perfect ex was this girl who cleaned his apartment regularly and had a hot meal waiting when he walked through the door. (I told him he wasn’t looking for a girlfriend; he was looking for a cleaning lady.) It’s like they want you to be everything — successful and financially independent, but also the kind of woman who can take command of a kitchen and empty the lint trap of a clothes dryer. They want you to drink beers with them and have the patience to sit through a football game, but still walk like a graceful goddess in 10-inch stilettoes. It’s difficult, but avoiding all that isn’t the main idea of why it’s important to be alone.
What so many people gloss over is learning to love yourself — maybe because so few people really understand it, and maybe because it sounds like a hippy dippy concept meant for the feelings brigade. But for anyone who’s ever been in a relationship that’s ended, they know how unfair it is to rest all your hopes on someone else. To hope that the other person fills all the holes that you couldn’t, to be assured by someone else that all your quirks are indeed lovable. It takes courage to stand alone, to be by yourself, to look at yourself and know that in spite of your shortcomings and fat ankles, you’re pretty amazing. It sounds like a self-help cliché that people who are obsessed with The Secret would spit out, but there is no sense to life if you can’t love yourself. This isn’t just so someone else can love you, but that self-acceptance is a pre-requisite for any kind of happiness. You should be able to own how beautiful and complex you are, to love your life whether or not it includes a partner, to be unapologetic about being single and hot damn fabulous.
I am at an age where everyone starts to feel the pressure of building a life plan that involves children, a two-car garage, and decades of time with someone else. All of these are wonderful things that certainly, I hope to have someday. But I have a greater hope to travel the world by myself, to meet and work with people whose careers I admire, to learn new things and hear fascinating stories, to try delicious food and get piss drunk every now and again without having to explain myself, to keep getting out of my comfort zone and challenge myself creatively, to make new friends and create enduring relationships. I hope to make a dent, to be remembered for making a lasting contribution to humanity, and to never lose that sense of wonder. None of these things involve being loved by a man, but all of which involve me being able to love and understand myself first.
Someday, I may find my match, but it’s also very possible that I might not, and I’m okay with that. I am single — it’s not a disease, or a crime, or even a romanticized blessing. It just is, and it’s been fabulous, and for that, I am grateful.
Originally published on February 9, 2013. Online release can be viewed here.
MANILA, Philippines - I remember watching Jodie Foster when I was much younger. She had these huge, expressive eyes and this memorably unpolished crunch in her manner of speech. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it then, but I remember thinking that she never seemed altogether there. It was as if her golden tresses shone to distract from some secret she kept hidden, away from the public’s eyes.
At the recently concluded Golden Globes, Foster came out in the same way many celebrities have as of late—award in hand, subtly acknowledging a partner, saying that those who matter in her personal life have always known, and talking about her right to privacy. It took her 47 years within the industry before coming out with it, with the support of many and to the utter surprise of no one. Ricky Martin, whose own coming out was on the same news flash level as “bears shit in the woods” and “the Pope is Catholic,” was one of many who tweeted out support of Foster’s “bold” move. He said, “On your terms. Its [sic] your time! Not before nor after. Its [sic] when it feels right!”
And all I could think of as all of this unfolded was how envious I was.
Clarify sexual preferences
Now, just to be clear, I am actually straight. I do, however, have an inordinate amount of gay friends that I hold as close to me as I would my own heart. And while, all over the world, the dialogue has turned to whether or not it has become passé for celebrities to clarify what their sexual preferences are, I find myself envious for the ones that I love.
We come from a culture that relates to one another with almost distasteful familiarity, greeting one another with how much weight we think the other person has lost/gained since we last saw them. We are in each other’s business all the time, constantly sharing stories about people our friends don’t even really know. And because we are so familiar with one another, we are also incredibly prone to passing judgment on things we don’t necessarily understand, like same sex love.
Our society is patriarchal, traditional, and rather straight, as it were. We have allotted spaces for gayness. We’re fine with gay people being gay so long as they’re in the parlors or at the gym or making clothes or in the entertainment industry. So long as they’re being funny and don’t flaunt their relationships with their partners in public. So long as they aren’t making us uncomfortable by asking to be recognized as an actual civil union or to have children or to not be defined solely by their sexual orientation. The second we feel threatened by such unfamiliar territory, we are suddenly very quick to whip out words like “unnatural,” “abomination,” and “hate the sin, love the sinner.”
Frankly speaking, however, Manila is teeming with card-carrying members of Team Rainbow, to the point where I cannot turn in any direction without running into someone who happens to be gay. There are public figures whose sexual preferences are of the “open secret” variety, or at least perennially in question. (Holler at me, Piolo Pascual.) It’s a case common for those who prefer not to risk their careers by making a big show of their preferences, but a practice so detrimental to a more realistic understanding of homosexuality.
A queer manifesto
In 1993, Michelangelo Signorile published “A Queer Manifesto,” a piece that not only pushed for those closeted to come out, but for anyone who knew someone closeted to convince these gay loved ones to come out. To some extent, it seems a bit much, but it is also beautifully determined at crushing the hate associated with the idea of being gay. One of the things to note about Signorile’s piece is that it discusses the responsibility of those who are gay to broaden the idea of what it means to be gay. Signorile writes, “We must all tell our parents. We must all tell our families. We must all tell our friends. We must all tell our coworkers… If they don’t know we’re queer—if they think only the most horrible people are queer—they will vote against us.”
There’s a responsibility to clarify that being gay is not just men who put on make-up or wear dresses, and that even men who do such things on their off days can handle business just as well as their straight counterparts do. We want people to understand that being gay doesn’t make you a sexual predator (unless you are actually a sexual predator, which has more to do with being sick than it does with being gay). We want people to understand that these emotions aren’t as unnatural as we’ve been told, that it’s not a choice someone would make if they really could, that you cannot be “turned” gay simply by being around someone who is. We want people to understand that you don’t have to be ashamed, because love is and will always be love, and not even straight people have the best grasp on what that actually means.
A Jodie Foster kind of enlightenment
It is in this vein that I hope for the Philippines, for a Jodie Foster kind of enlightenment. For a moment where we can see someone with soulful eyes and a career filled with remarkable talent taking the stage to tell us how who she’s been attracted to hasn’t minimized or amplified her potential. I hold out hope for someone brave enough to be the equivalent of Neil Patrick Harris, a gay man who is not only exceedingly funny with such a beautiful family, but portrays characters believably and endearingly regardless of their sexual preferences. I pray that all those who are struggling because they don’t fit into some convenient homosexual stereotype find role models across local TV screens and in boardrooms across the land, of people who are successful and kind and decent and intelligent, but simply happen to love a different way. I pray that those with the kind of reach that enables one to at least question the mold, if not break it, do so.
Maybe for the rest of the world, a gorgeous woman coming out like this is passé, but for a country and a culture as young as ours, it seems almost like a distant possibility. I stand in steadfast hope for the day that brave souls are able to stand up and pave the way for a kind of acceptance that surpasses comfort, convenience, and tolerance. I stand in steadfast hope for the day that others see these brothers and sisters of mine as I do, as nothing less than beautifully, remarkably human.
MANILA, Philippines - The last few years have had our eyes trained on yesterday’s date, which should have been the end for us all. But alas, you woke up today, picked up the paper, and began reading this article. So it’s either Philippine Star has the uncanny ability to distribute even in the midst of the second coming or someone should’ve supplied the Mayans with more stone tablets for their calendar-making activities. Whatever the case, I believe congratulations are in order: you’ve managed to survive the Mayan fauxpocalypse.
It seems “the end” is always upon us. Let’s remember radio evangelist Harold Camping who predicted the occurrence of the rapture — a time when Christ would return to reap the good souls and leave the not-so-good ones to die in Old Testament style (brimstone, plagues, pools of fire, the works). Camping predicted the rapture not once, not twice, but three times. The first time was in 1994. Obviously, this didn’t happen, so his prediction was revised. May 21, 2011, he said. The day came and went without incident, but Camping insisted that it was only the spiritual portion of the Great Judgment (nice save, dude), saying that the physical part would take place on October 21, 2011. I believe the only rapture that occurred that day was the delight I felt in my afternoon nap.
Nevertheless, our awareness of the end of the world has reached an all-time high, with incidents that used to be the mere illusions of Hollywood and its silver screens. Pablo. Ondoy. Sendong. Torrential rains with no names but fraught with pure destruction. Earthquakes in Japan. Tsunamis in Thailand. Katrina. Sandy. Events such as the Maguindanao Massacre, one that no one has been found accountable for in the three years since the murders happened. Or the more recent and infinitely heartbreaking Newtown shooting, where children as young as five years old saw the end before they could even relish a beginning.
It gets better
If Mother Nature has finally decided to push back after how we’ve laid waste to the land, and if this is how people are choosing to regard the lives and innocence of our children, maybe some people feel like we’re left with no other choice but to hope for the end. The world is turning into a labyrinth lined with razors, and we are turning to the idea of this being the end as a last grasp at hope. It seems easier to believe that the end is near because it is as every end-of-the-world plot says: It all goes to hell before it gets better.
However, Madonna, living legend and infamous for her access to many a shaman, said in one of her concerts that what the Mayans had predicted wasn’t the apocalypse, but a revolution of humanity. The end of their calendar meant a beginning of a new way of thinking, of loving, of relating to our fellowman. It may sound like a lot of crunchy yogi hippy dippy hoo-ha, but in the midst of where we are as a civilization, it’s a sentiment I can get behind.
The human ego is the highest summit one can conquer; we’ve produced civilizations, art, sciences, iPhones, the Internet, and Ryan Gosling. But we are also realizing now, more than ever, that despite our best efforts, we are still incredibly finite. It’s a truth that shakes us to the core, to desire permanence and a way to make an indelible mark on whatever we leave behind. But it’s also a truth that makes life so damn exciting. We are still here, and yet we are only here once. YOLO and all that.
The real question isn’t how it all ends, but what we’re doing with what we’re given until it does. And it doesn’t have to be some beauty pageant answer of striving for world peace and love for all mankind. The answers are simpler than that — be true, be generous with compassion, don’t wait until tomorrow to pursue your dreams. Treat others as you would like to be treated, love someone, love everyone, be kind when all else fails. Then it won’t matter if you’re eclipsed today or if the world is blown out like a birthday candle tomorrow, because it will all have meant something.
But today, we’re here and we’re alive. What comes of it is entirely up to you.
Originally published on December 22, 2012. Online release can be viewed here.
MANILA, Philippines - There’s been a surge of interest in infidelity media as of late. It began with the box office record-breaking No Other Woman, where Anne Curtis and Cristine Reyes literally clawed at each other in skimpy swimwear over Derek Ramsay. Beautiful girls, hot guy, a ridiculous mother figure, and a hundred or so campy one-liners (not excluding a Magkaribal reference) seemed a formula for success. Variations on the theme have been released in the form of The Mistress, A Secret Affair, A Beautiful Affair and Temptation of Wife.
The fascination honestly escapes me. We have in front of us shows and films pretending to have the capacity to discuss a subject as sensitive as infidelity, but in reality, they always come up short, using it instead as a marketing tool. We’re told that it’s modern, mature, a different take on relationships. But we’re never given a window into how difficult it is for a man and wife to bounce back after such a large misstep, how once trust is broken it can remain so until everything crumbles. We never really see how people in relationships are accountable for the choices they make, especially when the choices are made with their bottom halves rather than their brains. Neither is it portrayed that sometimes, men really do leave their wives for the other woman and things don’t stay pretty or contained. What we receive instead are images painted thick with gloss and glitter, the glamorized interpretation of an affair.
We are fed portraits of long-suffering wives, both young and old. They are all obviously smart (in other areas of their lives, at least), capable, beautiful women who are content to be taken for granted under some false sense of loyalty. The older women dole out campy advice to be tweeted and re-tweeted by audiences post-film, if only to defuse the fact that it is generally bad advice. While I accept that films are a fantastical representation of reality, what mother in her right mind would, especially after being cheated on herself, tell her daughter to keep fighting after the daughter’s been made a fool of? What mother advocates going after the mistress instead of dealing with the husband directly, and deciding the fate of their relationship reasonably? I mean, if this is a situation I ever find myself unlucky enough to be in, I’m pretty sure my mother would skip the camp and go straight to “cut off his balls.”
In addition, it is unfair how much the people who craft these stories lean on characters being cut and dry: mistresses are hypersexual and constantly crave attention, wives are loyal to a fault, and men will always be men. These characters aren’t crafted to be people you would recognize and fall in love with, understanding that their decisions call to their very nature. These characters are crafted with no other consideration than to make questionable decisions that drive plots forward. There is very little love or respect for these characters that grace the screen — not the women who suffer, not the women who are content to be cheated with, not the men who decide to cross the line of trust. They are tied up in neat little stereotypes and moved around like predictable puzzle pieces.
In the third season of Sex and the City, Carrie had an affair with Mr. Big while he was married to a young stick figure named Natasha. It was complex. Carrie and Big had a long-standing history that was difficult to beat, and although the two of them were involved with other people, they engaged in a relationship that quickly degraded from five-star hotel hook-ups to meeting in dank rooms without air conditioning. In one particular scene, Charlotte tells Carrie, “You’re the other woman.” Carrie replies with, “I’m not the other woman, I’m not. I mean I know I am, but I’m not that woman.”
Considering this was hardly one of the most realistic shows of our time and it actually did much to glamorize most things, the show had the decency not to sensationalize the concept of cheating. I respect that none of it illustrated some foregone conclusion. Carrie knew she was doing something terrible, but she didn’t want to believe that she fell into the neat little box of “the other woman.” Neither was she given a free pass just because she and Big had a history. On the other hand, Natasha managed not to take it lying down without having to make a hair-pulling “Don’t mess with my man” kind of scene. There was a sensitivity to how easily lines could be crossed and justified, how familiarity could push the gravity of a scenario out of focus. More so, there was respect for the characters who were asked to bear the weight of their actions. What started as fun quickly turned cheap, and later on, as these things tend to, pulled out the architecture from under their feet.
We live in an age where media is so easily accessible that telling stories comes with an even greater responsibility. The easiest way to turn a profit isn’t necessarily the most beneficial to one’s audience, and reveals a lot about how much mainstream machinery actually respects its audience. Cheating wives and husbands aren’t the only stories we have left to tell. There is so much beauty and tragedy that comes at the cost of living life, worthy of being explored onscreen with dignity and compassion without being absent of sex, humor, or excitement. The real question is whether or not, like the long-suffering wives in these tales of infidelity, mainstream media believes we are worth much more.
Originally published on October 27, 2012. Online release can be viewed here.
MANILA, Philippines - Anyone who’d ever seen or met Marilou Diaz-Abaya understood her tenacity and her strength. They knew her as someone who had the balls to make films that talked about important topics few people were comfortable discussing. She made some of the most significant films about women to ever come out of the Philippines (Moral, Karnal, Brutal), after which she discussed things like life-threatening child labor in illegal fishing trades (Muro Ami) and the intricacies of the long-standing Muslim rebellion (Bagong Buwan).
Direk, as she preferred to be called, believed in the power of film to shape a culture or console a broken heart. She spent hours explaining that films were the manifestation of primitive practices, when cavemen used to sit around a fire and tell stories. The stories allow each person to adjust the focus of their pain, to connect with someone else, and find consolation in the shared experience. She used to say that one could spend thousands of pesos going to see a doctor, or spend P150 to sit in a cinema to forget for 90 minutes. She was the proof, too: On days when her chemotherapy was unkind to her, she would ask for her copies of the Pink Panther films and laugh.
A mythical katana
She was was an enigma, especially for those of us privileged enough to have been her students. She was light and dark, inspiration and discipline, meditation and chatter. She was a mythical creature comprised of complex emotions, high intellect, oceans of talent, and the rare ability to speak in haikus and tankas. Direk used to say that she was a katana — “forged in the fires of hell, and tempered by the waters of paradise” — used to cut us down to size when so required.
But she was never all business all the time, and delighted in keeping us on our toes. I remember my first year at film school in 2007. At the time, Direk was still undergoing chemotherapy, and she beckoned me outside the classroom, asking for a cigarette. I almost pissed myself. I was in her school, on her property, at her mercy, and I didn’t know how to say no. A panicked voice squeaked out of me, saying, “Direk, I really don’t think it’s a good idea.” She slapped me on the wrist and giggled. “I’m just kidding. You really froze!”
Years later, we were in pre-production for the last film she would ever direct, Ikaw Ang Pag-ibig. We had a particularly brutal meeting, after which, she batted her eyelashes at me and said, “Anak, I need something sweet.” I told her, “Direk, bawal.” She stared me down and declared, as though commanding my own beheading, “You will not tell me what I can and cannot eat. You will call Chowking and you will get me the largest halo-halo. Now.”
Inside the classrooms, she was different. What she taught us was designed not only to make us able directors, but better people. She would tell us to position our cameras with our hearts, record sound with our imaginations, and edit on emotions instead of actions. It sounds corny now, but the veracity with which she taught made us believe that this was the better way of getting things done.
Another favorite lesson of hers was economy and precision. “Don’t use three words when you can use one,” Direk would say. “If you manage to get it down to one word, don’t tell. Show.” She wanted us to get to the heart of the matter as succinctly as possible. She wasn’t impressed by how many words we could use or how witty we were, but by how appropriately we could use words or images to shed light on important human stories.
To her, precision was integral, especially with her favored concept of “one plus one equals three.” For example, a man and a lipstick-stained collar in one frame is no longer the mere presence of a person and an article of clothing. When two ideas are juxtaposed, it can create an entirely new context and meaning. It is the exciting part of any creative venture, albeit an unmeasured power that requires responsible handling.
The importance of character
But of all the lessons Direk imparted, her most valued was the importance of character. Everything we did, she asked that we center it on the character, on his significant human experience. The key thing we were asked to consider when constructing characters wasn’t the details we peppered them with to make them “real” — the music they listened to, their astrological sign, their favorite color, which movie they’d be most influenced by. The most important thing about a character, the only thing that really defines anyone we choose to tell a story about, is this: who they love, how they love, and what sacrifices they are willing to make because of that love. “Every movie is a love story,” she said.
Two years ago, we were waiting for a flight to Naga City, where we shot Ikaw Ang Pag-ibig. Direk and I were having a random breakfast of siopao and apple turnovers while our other travel companions dozed off. She brought up the reality of her sickness, and the difficulties she rarely ever shared. She would always downplay the cancer, and make jokes about how her outfit for her coffin already hung in her closet. But that morning, underneath the fluorescent lights of NAIA terminal 3, I saw the more fragile side of this mythical creature. She said that every day wasn’t poetry. That even in the midst of terminal illness, there were arguments and struggle and heartache. She said that she tried her best as flesh and blood, and though she was mostly ready to go, she wasn’t sure if she was ready to leave her sons behind. She said that if she could stay for them, she would.
A lasting legacy
Today, Direk is survived by thousands of sons and daughters, who might not be fruit of her loins, but whom she allowed to grow in her heart. She reared us all with her wisdom, her anger, her affection, and her faith. It was with love that she measured not only our work, but each of us, and it was with love that she lived. So we mourn, not because her suffering has finally met its end, but because we understand the privilege it was to be loved by her.
An instructor of ours, upon news of Direk’s passing, posted the poem “Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep” by Mary Elizabeth Frye. It captured, with economy and precision, the final words Direk would probably have wanted us to hear:
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there,
I did not die.
Originally published on October 13, 2012. Online release can be viewed here.
Dearest Philippine government,
You must be pretty flippin’ pleased with yourself.
It’s all over the news, and all over the Internet that you’re trying so hard to regulate. We’ve heard about how quickly the Cybercrime Law’s approach to modern technology has thrust us into the dark ages. You’ve managed to give yourself the power to seize devices, restrict access to data, and prosecute literally anyone on mere suspicion of so-called subversive behavior. You’ve also managed to set parameters so vague that anything can be actionable, from blowing off steam on a blog after a bad day to a simple “like” on a Facebook page. You’ve even managed to make it retroactive, so that past offenses can be prosecuted, and set penalties so high that we’d all understand you mean business.
As it stands, violating the Cybercrime Law wins the offender six to 12 years of imprisonment, or a fine of 200,000 to P1 million. I wondered if it was just me, but that seemed a little steep, so I turned to the Revised Penal Code for reference. I was surprised to find that conspiracy to commit treason warrants a penalty of five to P10,000, and a sentence of as little as six months to a maximum of 12 years. Meaning someone with real, premeditated plans to bring down our government has more of a chance at a minimal sentence than someone who wrote an offensive comment on a social networking site. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the former would pay a mere .01 percent of what he would’ve been fined had he chosen to break the Cybercrime Law instead.
To add insult to serious injury, your people keep playing dumb. Really? The provisions weren’t in there when they signed off on the bill? Did no one bring up the contentious parts of the bill the entire time it was being discussed? Was there some evil veiled ninja (Sotto, perhaps) who decided, “We’re going to digitize martial law, suckers” and slipped in those provisions while they weren’t looking? Did someone hotbox the entire Congress, both upper and lower chambers, so that people couldn’t even tell what they were signing? These provisions were said to be on record as early as January 2012, whereas the Senate passed the bill on June 5. So it’s either everyone who signed off on this bill is physically incapable of hearing/speaking/reading/critical thinking, or they simply weren’t doing their jobs.
Threat of punishment
A law — especially a penal law — is written to be followed to the letter, under threat of punishment. It takes literally hundreds of people to go from drafting a bill to enacting a law because these laws navigate the democracy of a nation. This is a task that demands perfection, because although revisions and regulations can be made and certainly loopholes can be found, they will never be enough. Revisions are simply cement over potholes. They can minimize damage, but cannot perfect essential flaws within a structure. So as far as we know, the damage has been done and can never be completely undone. Congratulations, you’ve sufficiently screwed us over.
You (or at least Senator Angara) can tell us that all this fear is self-created, but the intent is pretty clear. There are so many questionable provisions in this act that it’s hard to see it as something other than deliberate. This law comes under the guise of addressing issues that do deserve solutions, such as child pornography and Internet-based crime, but allows you to position yourself so that nothing is private. It seems to me that this law isn’t about justice; it’s about control. It’s about showing us that you can shut us down any time you see fit, especially if we don’t keep ourselves in line. You can now take anything you want, have the catch-all for any course of action you decide to take, and you expect us to be grateful as you have yet to abuse this newly-acquired power.
The real problem here isn’t your excuses or your sheer desire to avoid all accountability. The problem is that you’ve lost sight of who we are as the electorate. Let me remind you that our rights don’t come from you. We were born human, and so come with rights no State can bestow or detach. We are born with the right to freedom of thought, opinion, and expression — which, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, “includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Regardless of what you or your people might think, our freedom is not yours to regulate. Our worth is not yours to determine or weigh, it’s for you to simply recognize and so protect. Your job is to safeguard our freedom by the laws you create, and not to be the entity that takes the first strike against that freedom.
You beg for our trust and flatter us with promises for the prestige of a title, even if the job it comes with is one you are clearly unable to fulfill. You have dealt in so many back rooms and traded dignity for power so many times over that you’ve forgotten who put you there in the first place. We are not pawns in your little chess match. We are the Filipino people; to serve us is your privilege. And on the 3rd of October, you, as a governing body, officially failed us.
Vaclav Havel, in The Power of the Powerless, says that armies quaked in the presence of a poem. The power these armies had was fragile, because it dreaded the masses coming to the realization that a totalitarian rule could only exist so long as the people accepted it. One individual, one voice, one truth could incite the overhaul of a steeled machine of lies. This is a lesson you would do well to remember. You can feign ignorance and brush this all off like it isn’t the affront to human decency that it is, but if you think we’re simply going to stand for it, then you’ve got another thing coming.
(Not so) respectfully yours,
Originally published on October 6, 2012. Online release can be viewed here.
After the shoot for this week’s Independence Day issue of Philippine Star SUPREME, with the handsome all-around Supremo David Milan and our beyond awesome cover girl, THE Eugene Domingo. (I am such a fan. I can’t even.)