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December 26, 2016 / emmanintheworld

MMFF 2016

Damn. The 42nd Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) has now started and it’s definitely a different experience.

My usual MMFF routine is to watch one film with the family on Christmas Day and watch another one a week after if the buzz is good. But this year, I’m planning to watch almost all of the entries this year (still not sure about Vince & Kath & James though).

I’ll add my thoughts on the movies I watched below:

1. Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2: #ForeverIsNotEnough
Director: Marlon Rivera
Writer: Chris Martinez

The (movie) crew is back and they’re creating a romcom this time around. With her character looking to make a comeback after a sabbatical from showbiz, Eugene Domingo is determined to make a record-breaking commercial success. However, her “suggestions” are exactly the opposite of what director Rainier (played by Kean Cipriano) had in mind for the film.

After the original Septic Tank made fun of Philippine independent filmmaking and how it was slowly becoming mainstream, the sequel made a 180 and looked at how different an indie movie is when compared to a mainstream movie.

In Rainier’s mind, The Itinerary will have Joel Torre as the leading man for his world-weary look and subdued acting.  But Eugene Domingo keeps on imagining Jericho Rosales in the leading man role since they have “chemistry”. She also wants new characters (“Kailangan may bakla!”), a theme song, and an origin story for the leading lady.

Obviously, the approach from an indie and a mainstream perspective is wildly different. Randomly adding Eugene’s suggestions-slash-tropes into the scenes that Rainier had in mind emphasized the absurdity of it all. Imagine your best friend suddenly calling you to dish out relationship advice (and ask for ube jam) at the exact moment when you made the decision to leave your husband. It’s jarring and funny as hell at the same time. You just can’t help but be exasperated with Joel Torre.

The contrast between Rainier’s home life and work life is also a nice touch from Rivera and Martinez. For example, the scene where we see Rainier for the first time ended with the camera panning out to capture him working while his wife and child are in the other room – you can feel the distance between the two. On the other hand, the scene where we first saw Eugene and Rainier together ended with a  groufie (with laughing sounds to make it realistic) in the spa resort.

The film culminated into a fight between Eugene and Rainier about mainstream vs indie movies. Eugene defended formulaic movies as moviegoers wanted a safe and predictable escape from their daily suffering. However, Rainier refuted this by saying that movies, or at least The Itinerary, should reflect the lives of ordinary Filipinos given how personal filmmaking is to the creators.

“Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2: #ForeverIsNotEnough” is a strong contender in the 42nd MMFF because it balanced being funny and thought-provoking. Although the arguments above are nothing new, I think it’s still very relevant and worth thinking over. Are the two sides really mutually exclusive? If not, how do we bridge this gap? Is it arrogance on the part of the filmmakers to treat their market as an afterthought?

2. Saving Sally
Director:Avid Liongoren
Writer: Charlene Sawit-Esguerra

 

The plot of this movie is simple enough: Marty, a comic book artist, is in love with his “weird and nerdy” best friend, Sally. Naturally, he can’t confess his feelings for her since he’s too shy and is waiting for the right moment. Sally, on the other hand, is an inventor who is too busy dealing with her home life and secret projects that she hasn’t noticed Marty’s affection for her.

What makes Saving Sally stand out is the animation. It’s obvious that the heart of the animation team was poured into this film since the flow of the drawings is so smooth. Plus, the animation is cleverly incorporated into every part of Marty’s life. He sees almost every character as a monster, which gives the production team space to draw random creatures out of thin air. There’s even one monster who is shaped like a penis – specifically a dickhead! Sally’s gadgets – from a floating night light to a automatic ironing machine – are also very creative and well-drawn. These gadgets are light and quirky enough that it didn’t feel too confusing when they’re all out.

 

On the scenes where the setting is also animated, the wit of the creators shine through. What is one of Marty and Sally’s usual hangout places? Sandara Park. What’re the names of the stores behind Marty when he was acting as the bridge for Sally and her boyfriend? “Martyr” and “Beh Botika Nga”. Little jokes like these made me chuckle and appreciate their attention to detail.

Saving Sally’s exceptional animation isn’t there just for the movie to be cute or fluffy. It also highlighted the moods of the characters in the scene. It’s an effective tool especially when Marty finally revealed his feelings for Sally.

The dialogue of the movie also sounds natural. Each character, no matter how little screen time they get, have their own distinct voices. Marty’s dad is ever-distracted with his toys while Tito sounds like…well, a joker of an uncle who never had a serious moment in his life.

Saving Sally knows what kind of film it is. It consistently avoided adding unnecessary drama to spice up the conflict between the characters. The movie is about Marty saving Sally from the monsters in her life, whichever form it may take.

At this point, I only watched two movies in the entire film fest but I’m already sure that this will be in my top 3 list.

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September 5, 2016 / emmanintheworld

BRT: From TransMilenio to TransCebu

Everyone knows that the traffic in Manila is hellish. The highways become parking lots even if the rush ‘hour’ has long since passed. Public transportation is ill-maintained and disorganized. There are tens of thousands of vehicles that pass through the overcrowded EDSA, the main highways of Metro Manila.The situation is so bad that President Duterte wants the Congress to grant him emergency powers to solve this issue.

But what exactly should be done in order to solve the ever-present traffic problem?

One of the solutions that has long been proposed is the development of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in urban cities. The BRT is a system where buses have exclusive lanes (typically in the center of the road) to avoid mixed congestion. This is usually done at surface level, which basically means that BRTs are like subways on the street-level.

The benefits of the BRT, compared to the present setup in the urban cities in the Philippines, are obvious: (1) Unruly bus drivers won’t be able to clog traffic because of the dedicated lanes. In this setup, they are physically limited to a single lane and passengers can only board on specific terminals. (2) Colorum buses won’t be able to operate anymore since they would be prevented from entering the bus-only lanes. This should maximize the bus occupancy rate during the off-peak hours. (3) Private vehicle owners would be incentivized to use the BRT instead of driving the cars given that the bus lanes would have faster traffic flows. Buses also have priority in intersections, which would contribute to the commuter’s shorter travel time. (4) Unlike railways and elevated roads, the construction of BRTs should be faster and at a fraction of the cost since it is only surface-level. While the 16.9-kilometer MRT line in EDSA took 5 years before it was inaugurated, the time it took for the initial BRT line to develop, from idea to operation, was 36 months.

Perhaps the most famous example of this system is TransMilenio, Bogota’s 112-km BRT line. The world’s largest BRT system began in December 2000 and was so successful that commuters are saving 233 hours annually. Air pollutants are down by 40 percent since the implementation of the system. There was also an observed reduction in fatalities (92 percent), injuries (75 percent), and collisions (79 percent). That viral quote about the “rich using transportation” is also attributed to Enrique Penalosa, the mayor of Bogota who championed for the use of the BRT.

Given that the BRT system has been successful in many urban cities around the world, how are we not pushing for this to be present in the Philippines?

Well, there are already plans to develop a similar system in Manila and Cebu. President Aquino has approved a 12-kilometer Manila-Quezon line last December 2015. There are also talks of BRT systems in the present administration (one along EDSA and one replacing the LRT-2 line), though none has been finalized yet. Although these proposals could be at risk of being stuck in government bureaucracy, there is already a BRT project that should start construction soon: TransCebu.

The BRT system in Cebu City , which has an initial line of 11-kilometers, will start construction in 2016 and should be complete in 2018. This project is financed jointly by the Philippine government and the World Bank. The dedicated bus lanes would also have a total of 176 buses and would service an estimated 330,000 passengers daily.

With the way public works projects are usually handled in the country, it is worth checking if the implementation is up to international standards. The Metro Rail Transit, for example, had delays in every phase of the project because of perceived irregularities and lawsuits. From the awarding of the contract in 1989, the MRT project was in limbo until construction finally started in 1995.

According to the World Bank status report released on June 2, 2016, the Cebu BRT project was rated ‘moderately satisfactory’ on the both ‘Progress towards Achievement of Project Development Objective’ and ‘Overall Implementation Progress’. However, the risk attached to this project was bumped to ‘High’ from the ‘Substantial’ rating it got in the previous status report. The higher risk rating comes mainly from the Technical Design and the Institutional Capacity for Implementation and Sustainability categories. It seems like the bottlenecks are caused by lack of technical knowledge and slow decision-making (particularly on environmental and right of way issues).

In order for a smooth and immediate transition from the current setup to the BRT system, it’s important that the Department of Transportation and the Cebu City government look at TransMilenio as a learning experience. The Colombian BRT line has been lauded internationally given the agreeable partnership between the government and its stakeholders in its initial line.

An office under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) used TransMilenio as a case study for successful private-public partnerships (PPP). It attributed the BRT line’s success to a number of factors including the participation of stakeholders in the transport industry, the political and financial support for the project, and the allocation of technical support. The roles of the public and private sector are clearly differentiated. Both the Ministry of Transport and the city government work as regulators while a specific government-owned corporation oversees the construction and maintenance of the BRT system. Lastly, a private consortium controls the operations.The details of the operations are also defined between the bus operators, fare collectors, and the control center.

With the differentiated roles between all stakeholders, there is minimal gray areas where misunderstandings (and lawsuits) can take place. Financial equity has also been a priority during the consultations which may have contributed to the working partnership between the stakeholders. Private bus operators are also consulted from the start in order to ensure an agreeable deal given that the BRT may push some drivers out of business.

At the same time, we should also look at how TransMilenio is currently having problems scaling up its initial successes since critics from both inside and outside the systems are opposing its expansion.

The former deputy general manager of TransMilenio, Dario Hidalgo, said that the opposition facing the BRT line is caused by the lack of political support for the system. He said that former Mayor Penalosa’s opponents attacked TransMilenio because it was his pet project. It is also bucking under the weight of its own success since buses and terminals are now overcrowded with commuters. Hidalgo said that they didn’t prioritize high quality user experience when coming up with the cost scheme, which resulted to lower quality service during peak hours. Confusion over the routes is also possible given the lack of maps in each stations.

These are issues that the officials working on the Cebu BRT should study since it is easy to imagine it happening in the country. If the TransCebu project is perceived to be a pet project of a particular administration or political family, it would be criticized similar to the 4Ps (which was pushed as one of President Aquino’s tangible legacies). The development of the BRT should be user-based given that political support for it would also depend on public opinion. Quality service should be prioritized, even at the expense of cheap fares, since government subsidization could always be done.

There’s a lot riding on TransCebu since it is seen as a prototype for the Manila implementation. If done properly, this would not only solve the traffic but also usher in economic growth to both urban cities and the surrounding rural areas. With luck, Manila won’t be the “gates of hell” anymore.

July 27, 2016 / emmanintheworld

Irrational is Rational

Law and Order. Iron Fist. Emergency Powers.

Duterte supporters know that these are exactly what the Philippines needs. Corrupt authorities and incompetent leaders have done nothing in the face of drugs and crime. Pushers and addicts, along with the harm that they do to society, have been ignored for far too long. The drug lords that supply the poison that ruins each life it touches are allowed to live in luxury, whether they’re in prison or ‘the outside world’.

Don’t call them stupid for yearning for change. Before Duterte came, they have been slowly losing confidence in the ability of the government to provide a safe environment for their family. When others turned a blind eye, or perhaps took on a more active role, in the normalization of illegal drug use in the country, they resigned themselves to the fact that crime would be an inescapable fact of Philippine society.

That’s why Duterte is such an appealing figure for them. He’s not the usual politician who promises results. He’s the type of leader who will do everything, opinion of others be damned, just to provide results. For someone who wanted and expected change in a long time, this is something to look forward to.

Sure, they know that the vigilante killings are terrible. Innocents may have been shot and tossed aside. But, ultimately, the loss of some lives would be worth it if the hundreds saved from drug-related crimes are still alive and kicking.

Extrajudicial killings. Human rights violation. Martial Law.

Duterte critics, on the other hand, know all too well where this violence is headed. The blatant disregard for human life and dignity is familiar, especially for those who lived during the Martial Law. They know that if left unchecked, the Duterte administration would slowly turn into the Duterte dictatorship.

Don’t think that they’re just yellow zombies who are bitter about the May elections. For them, this goes beyond politics. Their protests should not be taken as a form of obstructionism to Duterte’s policies (a la Binay’s UNA during the Aquino administration) but rather as a defense of civilized society.

That’s why they’re so frustrated when Duterte supporters underestimate the effect of neglecting due process. It’s one of the few safeguards from injustice in this country and trivializing its importance would mean weakening our already vulnerable institutions. If Duterte supporters still advocate for the ‘iron fist approach’, then they’re just being zealots who refuses to think for themselves.

Sure, the government is finally having results in their fight against drugs. The mass surrenders and public naming of corrupt officials give Filipinos hope that a safer Philippines is within reach. Illegal drug use is shamed rather than tolerated. But, the senseless spilling of blood could and should have been avoided if the Duterte supporters took a moment to consider the consequences of their fanaticism.

July 26, 2016 / emmanintheworld

TraPolitics

ADJOURNMENT OF SESSION

REP. DURANO. Mr. Speaker, I move that we adjourn the session until May 23, 2016 at 4:00 p.m. I so move, Mr. Speaker.

REP.COLMENARES. Mr. Speaker, kanina pa po naghihintay ang mga tao dito, Mr. Speaker. THE DEPUTY SPEAKER (Rep. Padilla). There is a motion to adjourn the session. Is there any objection? (Silence)

REP.COLMENARES. Kanina pa naghihintay ang mga tao dito for this historic moment to override, Mr. Speaker. Dapat tindigan po natin, Mr. Speaker, ang historic na override ng veto ni President Aquino, Mr. Speaker, sa SSS.

THE DEPUTY SPEAKER (Rep. Padilla). There being none; the session is adjourned until May 23, 2016, at four o’clock in the afternoon.

It was 7:40 p.m.

 

The exchange above happened last February 23, 2016 and was the last day of the 16th Congress. This shows how the leadership in the Lower House shut down the efforts by Rep. Colmenares to have the SSS veto be overridden by a vote.

They shouldn’t have been allowed to ignore Colmenares’ objection to the adjournment. This is not how democracy works!

Note: This came from the Congressional Record here. There’s also a speech by Rep. Turabin-Hataman about the Bangsamoro Basic Law in the same file.

July 26, 2016 / emmanintheworld

The Third Man

It’s official. Sen. Aquilino ‘Koko’ Pimentel III is the Senate President of the 17th Congress of the Philippines. How did the guy who protested his way to the Senate become the Senate President in five years?

In his inaugural speech, Pimentel acknowledged the odd situation of him being elected to the top post despite being the only member of the PDP-Laban in the Upper House. He credited it to his fellow senators’ selflessness and willingness to try new approaches. In particular, he credited Senators Drilon, Sotto, and Legarda for making it all possible.

Obviously, the senators didn’t vote for him as an act of selflessness. Like a traditional politician, Pimentel was very much open to making deals in order to secure his goal even if it means making his party-mates vulnerable to criticism. In this case, he gave out powerful committee chairmanships to Senators Leila de Lima and Panfilo Lacson, notable critics of the new administration.

This is not surprising since Pimentel doesn’t really have a record of consistency and credibility.

Coming off the win on his 2007 electoral protest, Pimentel packaged himself as an opponent of injustice and advocate of the rule of law. As the chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, he supported the decriminalization of libel in the Philippines. No less than the United Nations Human Rights Committee has characterized the libel laws in this country as excessive.

He also said in a 2015 interview that criminals should be treated with respect and dignity as human beings. He pushed for reforms that would improve the efforts to rehabilitate and train prisoners for social reintegration.

However, Pimentel reversed himself in both cases. He withdrew his support for libel decriminalization in May 2014 in the aftermath of the Napoles’s affidavit on the pork barrel scam. He did this not just because he thought the bill wouldn’t pass the plenary; he wanted to use the libel laws to sue Napoles and some media outfits himself!

Pimentel also forgot his advocacy for criminals’ right to be treated with respect and dignity when he defended Duterte’s statements on media killings during the campaign period. His justification was that the Constitution doesn’t protect journalists from violence if they resort to violence.

Also, Pimentel was one of the few senators who pushed for a probe on media killings during the Aquino administration. In fact, he kept on calling for one even during the campaign period. However, he hasn’t provided any statement on the extrajudicial killings since President Duterte won the elections.

With these inconsistencies as his record, it’s especially hard to imagine him following the footsteps of leaders like Manuel Quezon and Jovito Salonga as the Senate President. Let’s just hope that he shapes up quick or else the Senate as an institution will be a mess for at least the next three years.

 

 

July 24, 2016 / emmanintheworld

Chinatown

If there’s one thing that is present in any diverse country, it is a Chinatown. The gate that symbolizes the friendship between the local Chinese community and the host citizens, Buddhist temples which attract both the religious and the curious, and hawkers selling cheap (and possibly unsanitary) street food are familiar sights to most people all over the world.

This is why it comes as no surprise that the different Chinatowns will be compared. Which Chinatown sells the cheapest branded bags? Which one has the must-visit restaurants? Which one has the best temples? And of course, which one is the ‘most Chinese’ of them all?

This is where Manila’s Chinatown comes in.

Filipinos know that Binondo, despite being the oldest Chinatown in the world, is not the most traditional of all Chinatowns. In fact, it’s full of contradictions. Just walk along Ongpin Street and you’ll hear Filipino tricycle drivers shouting at each other. Ube-colored firetrucks, possibly the best representation of Binondo itself, parked beside kalesas, a throwback to the Spanish occupation of the Philippines. Walk a few meters from one of the Chinatown gates and you’ll see Binondo Church, a Dominican church which also commemorates the first Filipino saint. These contradictions have a huge effect on the perception of Binondo as a legitimate Chinatown.

A few years ago, my Sociology and Anthropology professor organized a ‘City Senses Tour’ in Chinatown. One of the most common observations from the class was that exploring the place didn’t feel like going to China. Unlike other Chinatowns, any attempt to immerse in the Chinese culture would be hampered by distinctly Filipino influences. It also didn’t feel like any other Chinatown since the Buddhist temples are hidden instead of showed off as a point of attraction. In fact, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in the country, Guan Sheng Fu Zi Temple, is inside a maze of buildings and back alleys.

The initial purpose of enclaves is to preserve and showcase the practices and values of a specific community. In that respect, Manila’s Chinatown is failing. But it is successful in something else: showing how culture evolves without losing its core values.

Perhaps, a perfect example for this would be the ube hopia of Eng Bee Tin. This pastry catapulted the third-generation family business into nationwide fame because it improved on the Chinese delicacy, using the Filipino ube, without losing its essence.

The beauty of Binondo is that it adapts. It doesn’t let itself be restricted by being a traditional Chinatown and is more than willing to look outside the box for ideas. In this lens, the constradictions of Binondo reinforces the fact that the district is alive and evolving.

Although Binondo is not the traditional Chinatown, it’s one of the ‘most Chinese’ in the sense that it knows how to adapt and keep evolving in this world.

P.S. One of the things that people often forget about Binondo is that it existed even before a Fililpino culture and identity was formed. It’s not just a ‘country within a country’ like other Chinatowns. Ours is a witness to Manila’s defining moments: from the Spanish occupation to post-World War II reconstruction. It’s possible that Ongpin Street is as integral to our nation’s history as EDSA itself.

 

 

April 18, 2013 / emmanintheworld

Inequality in the Philippines

With the surprise GDP growth rate that the country achieved last year, many are hoping that the good news would carry over this 2013. Fortunately for PNoy and his administration, a lot of things are pointing to that direction: the high level of business confidence for the Philippine economy, benign inflation rates, historically-low interest rates, the recent investment grade status from Fitch, and the increased consumer and government spending that is expected from an election year. Early warnings of the pricey valuations of most stocks in the Philippine Stock Exchange index have also contained the adverse effects of the correction on the economy to the minimum.

Challenges, however still remain as these economic gains are mostly felt by the upper class or the private sector. Majority of Filipinos, for example, can’t feel the effects of the Fitch upgrade. In an article for Rappler’s Thought Leaders, Ronald Mendoza argued that the upgrade would have minimal effect for the majority of poor Filipinos as there is little credit being extended to SMEs, which is made up primarily of lower-income families, from financial institutions. It also remains to be seen if the Fitch rating would lead to job-generating investments as the Philippines ranks low in the World Bank’s 2012 Ease of Doing Business Index.

Self-rated poverty also rose during October 2012 from 47% to 53%, according to Social Weather Station’s survey. Despite the impressive 7.1% GDP growth during the third quarter (which is the highest compared to other countries in ASEAN), more than half of the whole population thought that they were poor. According to the same report, food threshold or the budget for food remained ‘sluggish despite considerable inflation’. This means that households’ food budgets did not increase with inflation, which implies a lower standard of living. Food budgets even declined in Metro Manila and Visayas.

The 6.6% GDP growth in 2012 is also not shared equitably among Filipinos as it is driven mainly by the services sector. In fact, the agriculture sector, where most poor Filipinos are, only grew a measly 2.7% compared to the 7.4% growth rate of the services sector. Inflation-adjusted gross national income data also shows that the agriculture sector only contributed 8.5% of the total output which is far away from the service sector’s 43.5%.

What’s more depressing is that last year’s inequitable growth has been going on for decades. Increasing inequality in times of rapid economic growth is, in fact, a characteristic of the whole region. According to a report from the Asian Development Bank, the Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality where 100 indicates absolute inequality, of the region has risen from 39 in the 1990s to 46 in the late 2000s. The Philippines’ Gini coefficient, although declining, is not really something to celebrate about as it only went from 49 to 45 in the twenty-year period.

In a separate World Bank report, income inequality is more evident as the Gini coefficient of the Philippines has never reached levels below 40%. Although the Gini coefficient is on a downward trend after hitting a high of 46.2% in 1997, its level in 2009 is almost the same as what it was in the early 1990s. The lack of improvement with regards to income inequality in the country has made it lag behind other ASEAN members like Cambodia and Thailand, which, at different points in time, have had higher Gini coefficients than the Philippines. Even China, which actually doubled its Gini coefficient from 1984 to 2009, is still better off than the Philippines.

Aside from the differences between the richest and poorest 10%, income inequality is also manifested in the differences of income between regions. Understandably, the National Capital Region has the highest average family income among the regions. However, the gap of P70,000 between NCR and Calaborzon, which has the second-highest average family income, is too large. This is a far cry from 1988 when there was only a gap of P33,000 between NCR and Central Luzon, which was then second region in terms of average family income.

With the elections coming up, one would expect that senatorial candidates, especially from the United Nationalist Alliance, would pounce on these to criticize the government. Although some did and went on record, it hasn’t caught on with the rest of the candidates. For some reason, people have less and less interest with the problem of inequality that it is not even a key election issue. The most anyone could get from these candidates about the topic is a mention of how the rich are oppressing the poor.

It is disheartening to hear this because inequality is so complex that a simple ‘rich vs poor’ argument would only be a scratch in the surface. This topic is also about the gap between the poor and the middle class, the imbalance of resources between regions, the skewed growth towards the unproductive services sector, and so much more.

Inequality is a structural problem that all want to forget, or at the very least ignore.

 

 

 

Sources:

1. http://www.rappler.com/thought-leaders/24978-investment-grade-philippines-inclusive-growth

2. http://www.nscb.gov.ph/sna/2012/4th2012/tables/1Q4-Rev_Summary_93SNA.pdf

3. http://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/ado2012-highlights.pdf

4. http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/world-development-indicators /

5. http://www.indexmundi.com/facts/indicators/SI.POV.GINI/compare?country=ph#country=cn:in:id:my:mm:ph:sg:th:vn

6. http://www.nscb.gov.ph/secstat/d_income.asp