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Thoughts on the New Academic Calendar

This article by Prof. Winnie Monsod on the proposed change in the Philippine academic calendar caught my eye, one of the latest opinions about the shift to an August-May system. Of course, the arguments for this move have already stated the obvious: the Philippines is the only country to stick with the June-March calendar, while other Southeast Asian countries have adopted the August-May calendar or the September-June calendar (the one used by most of the Northern Hemisphere countries).

Prof. Monsod disagrees: she says that Thailand, one of the countries reported to have adopted this international system, still held out with their own traditional academic calendar for Thai schools. Evidently, she believes that this latest move is simply a desire to copy (in a template manner) the United States and other Western nations, and she says that this is a rush to judgement. She also points out that the cost of air-conditioning the schools during the hot months of March, April and May has not been included in the decision-making process. I am inclined to be sympathetic to her concerns, since most of the governmental decisions of the day are truly rushes to judgement (or prejudice or just plain stupidity), and that we should explore other alternatives, but I disagree with her that this shift is purely a desire to copy.

So far, the arguments (both for and against) are largely directed outward, toward “compliance with the rest of the world”. I shall argue from an endemic viewpoint, which is the best viewpoint for these decisions that affect only the Philippines, why a shift is essential – international students or no international students. All of these points are actually obvious and some have already been argued, but still must be emphasised, since the question of whether to align with the outside world is moot, as the Philippines has been aligning with the outside world ever since 1935 (a bit unsuccesfully).

Firstly: the shift will afford the academe and students a vacation scheme which will lead to a more productive study or work habit, as the case may be. Vacations are important for the academe: they define the extracurricular activities and improvement activities of departments and school districts. The academic calendar must regulate vacations, in accordance with the laws regarding national holidays. The shift will place the inter-term vacation from June to early August, which means that students will avoid the most rainy months of the year. The end-of-year vacation will be from mid-December to early February, which not only enables people to fully enjoy the Christmas-New Year holiday, but also to enjoy the cool weather during the rest of this period. Under the present system, students are being forced to study for midterm exams in January. The holiday creates an obstruction for the student’s study habits, destroying their momentum.

Secondly: Prof. Monsod’s argument about the airconditioning of classrooms is too trivial. Under the present calendar, the rainy months are actually still steaming hot – and more humid than the three months preceding. The majority of students (that is to say, those in the public schools) actually manage with no airconditioning in the classrooms. A good ventilation system is needed, and that is not very expensive to maintain, whichever season classes are held. As regards the comfort of students in these hot months, I dare say that students will be able to work harder during these hot months than in the rainy months – and there are no suspensions of classes due to typhoons or otherwise unfortunate weather events due to the rain. The shift is, therefore, actually highly practical when viewed in this way.

Thirdly: I suspect that the main opposition to this shift comes from the religious bias of most academics, who are accustomed to having the Christian Easter holidays fall in the midst of the school year-end vacation, and the All Souls’ feasts in the semestral break. But let us face it: the Philippines is multicultural, and our government has taken baby steps to recognize other faiths as worthy of its consideration. We have already recognized the Muslim moveable feasts (Eid ul-Fitr, Eid ul-Adha), and this year recognized the first day of the Chinese New Year, as non-working holidays. This is another topic, though, regarding the placement of national holidays, but here it suffices to say that the academic establishment, of all societal institutions, is supposed to take the lead in overcoming this governmental preference for Christianity, and that the shift is a way to express the academe’s equal treatment of all students and faculty regardless of religious affiliation or non-affiliation.

Fourthly: The shift will enable us to undertake more substantial reforms in the education system. At present, the K-12 system is being readied for implementation. This reforming of the academic calendar is yet another sign that we are genuinely interested in rebuilding our education system, now through a real democratic desire for free, easily accessible education, instead of the desire for control that the Americans had when they introduced their own education system. It might be a largely psychological phenomenon, but it matters heavily in a country that has been weighed by massacres of journalists, systemic corruption and its laborious cure, and practically every little instance of stupidity and brazenness by public officials.

However, the truth is, as one of the distinguished academics of UP Diliman points out, academic flexibility is more important than the calendar. I say in addition that the academic calendar is only as beneficial as the academe is competent. Granted that the shift is a positive development; however, the whole outlook of the Philippine academic community must change in tandem with these structural changes. Without the change in outlook, without the desire to change the system for the sake of the students, it will be as Prof. Monsod and others are fearing: simply a template-copy of the systems in other countries, for absolutely bullshit reasons.

Emotional Stockholm syndrome, Part 1

You weren’t part of my plans. You just strode into them, like the arrogant person you seemed to be.
But I admit, I thought of you. Of how you would like me. It mustn’t strike me as a surprise, then, that you glowed like a neon light in the red-light district of Manila in the seediest places in my mind.

We went out, together with a few friends. You had someone who was very phlegmatic. I wondered what sort of ruse he put on your pretty neck, but I guess just anything might do. I never believed it, but his best friend told me that you were very, very interested in him.

He must be a poet – but never mind.

Well, I’m sorry from the bottom of my heart for thinking of you. Not because you are a hornet’s nest of lust, but I have to own my mental failure. You do like him, I see it in your eyes. So I am very ashamed of this infatuation, aggravated by three things, to wit:

1) the way you touched my face when you said goodbye: patronizing, yet special
2) your name, which is at once easy to say and hard to comprehend why it is this easy to say.
3) your aura of arrogant nonchalance toward me: I do not understand it.

I seized upon you to wage war against the machine, the company, the administration, the government. You were the government, I was the revolutionary. I aimed to bring you down with my music, with the poetic means I had. I was furious at you – furious beyond measure! But I fell. I didn’t fall hard – wasn’t possible because I already had my bearings – but I fell. So, sorry. That time we ate at Maria’s Italian restaurant, I was feeling terribly awkward already. I couldn’t even finish my garlic bread.

So, we part ways in peace, Peace. Maybe you will remain like this forever, but really, I couldn’t care less. No offense, though. You stay where you are, like a cat, and I will stay where I am.

Ang Sagot ng Pilipinas sa Liham ni Yolanda

Dear Yolanda,

Natanggap ko ‘tong sulat mo kamakailan lang. Hindi naman kinakailangang humingi ka ng dispensa. Ikaw naman – para namang wala kaming pinagsamahan ni Ondoy, ni Reming, ni Osang, ni Milenyo. Tsaka ‘yung mga kawalan ng kuryente sa bahay, naku, kung nandito ka lang nu’ng 1990, baka tinaob ka ng Napocor at Meralco bago mo sila pataubin. Ikaw lang ang pinakamaanghang na baklang dumalaw sa bahay ko, pero dahil sisterette ka din, gora lang – kahit pinagsasampal mo yung mga puno ng niyog sa bahay.

Wala ka naman – hindi ka naman boyfriend na nanggagamit, nangi-iwan. (Nakatatlo na ‘kong lalaki, ‘wag ka – taob ka sa byuti ko.) Wala ka namang mga anak na lagi na lang umaasa sa iyo, na pati ikaw pinaglalaruan. Yung sinulat ni Jose Rizal tungkol kay Sisa? Maswerte pa siya, naku. Ikaw lang talaga – actually, bawat dalaw ng mga katulad mo dine, lagi akong malinis. Salamat.
Pero ayoko namang namamatayan ng anak. Please, sa susunod alalahanin mo yung tatlong mokong na yun na nanloko sa akin ng mga anak ko. Tsaka yung mga anak ko na nanloko sa akin muli. Lumihis ka siguro, dalawin mo din si mareng Taiwan o si ate Vietnam, si lola Tsina, o pwede din si madam Indonesia, pero hinay-hinay lang. Sige ka. Tatanda kang walang jowa.

Pero seryosohan muna tayo, ineng. Tama ka, kailangan kong angkinin ang aking mga pagkakamali. Dati kasi, ang ganda-ganda ko eh. (Talaga.) Lagi namang nililitanya ng mga tao ang mga karanasan ko, parang love story ba, parang telenovela. Hindi naman pinakikinggan nang mabuti. Pero (sa madaling salita) ang tanga-tanga ko kasi. Sama ako ng sama sa kung sino-sinong lalaki, hinahanap ko sarili ko noon sa kanila.

Hanggang ngayon, marahil.

Yung sinabi mo tungkol sa pera, wala namang halaga sa akin iyan, wala nga ako niyan eh. Ginamit ng mga anak ko. Eh ano pa nga ba, ibibigay ang lahat para sa kinabukasan (dapat) nila. Hindi ka kasi naging nanay, isa ka lang haliparot na padaan-daan at nakikitsismis. Yung “blame game”, mare, ‘yan ang paboritong pastaym ng mga anak ko. Ikaw din ba, laro mo din ‘yan? A, wala, talo ka sa iringan nila:

“Ma, si Kuya o, walang pakialam.”
“Ma, si Bunso o, kabata-bata mahilig na sa tsiks.”
“Ma, si Gitna o, sigaw nang sigaw.”

Minsan naiisip ko, ibenta ko na lang kaya katawan ko. Pero ang ginawa ko, ano, Yolanda, ang ginawa ko: pinamigay ko yung mga anak ko sa mga kapitbahay. Yung mga mababait, yung mga masisipag, yung mga mukhang may laban sa buhay. Sana daw, lumaking mas maayos sa piling nila.

Kaya iyong nakasuot ng barong na nananaliksik ng paraan upang pag-aralan ang nervous system? Anak ko ‘yan!

‘Yung sikat na rapper at miyembro ng banda na sikat na sikat sa buong mundo? Anak ko ‘yan!

‘Yung taga-NASA na nakatuklas ng tunay na itsura ng Antarctica at ng North Pole? Anak ko ‘yan!

Anak ko iyang mga ‘yan, marami pang ibang tulad nila, nananahimik. Alam kong hindi nila ako ikinakahiya, kahit ayaw nila sa mga kapatid nilang narito sa akin. Alam mo kung bakit ko alam? Simple: lagi pa din akong pinapadalhan ng postcard. Linggo-linggo nga eh. Miss na miss na daw nila ako. Ipe-petisyon nga daw nila akong makapiling nila, ako lang naman itong ayaw, dahil lupa pa din ng mga magulang ko ito, ng mga kapatid ko, ng mga kalaro ko noong bata pa. Akin din itong lugar na ito.

Hindi naman ikaw ang taga-suri, mare. Ako – ako ang inspector ng mga anak ko. Medyo mali ka, kasi kahit sa gitna ng iyong, ehem, “dalaw”, nag-aaway pa rin ang mga anak ko. Please lang, ano. Kung magtigil kaya sila diyan ng lamangan, at magtulungan, mag-usap nang maayos at nang masinsinan. Dati naman nilang nalalagpasan ang mga pagsubok ng mga jowa ko sa kanila, bakit hindi ngayon? Aysos, gawin na lang nila, ‘kako, yung dapat na gawin. Minsan naisip ko na rin kung mali ba ang pagpapalaki ko sa kanila.

Ngayon ko siguro natatanto na marahil nga.

Hindi naman ako galit sa iyo, nagpapasalamat pa nga dahil may napagtanto ako. Sana, kayanin ko pa. Sana, hindi ko na lang iwan itong mga balasubas na ito at ikahiya sa harapan ng madla. Hindi mo man ako matutulungan, Yolanda, tutulungan naman ako ng mga anak kong ipinamigay ko dati. Pero sana hindi mangyari na isuka ko na lang bigla ang mga talipandas na mga anak ni Satanas na ito, itong mga humuhuthot ng pera sa akin, na iluwa ko sila sa laot. Hindi lang sila ang anak ko. At hindi sila ang buhay ko. Ako ang buhay nila.

Nananatiling matatag,

Pilipinas

What “Jungle Book” omitted

I passed two exams today.

The first exam was an exam of the mind. It determines my future. The world it opens is scary, but so worth it – I hope. I might fail this future, but I jump into the void with only the clothes on my back.

The second exam…I might fail the future it brings, but I jump into the void with only the clothes on my back. The world it opens is also scary, but also so worth it – I hope. It also determines my future.

Life is a jungle, I knew that all along.
But I was a tiger in search of a fellow tiger.

Image

I was young when they took this picture. I’m posting this in advance of Throwback Thursday.

Aside

Cold Conditions

In observing and thus explaining phenomena, scientists have realized time scale is key.

They’ve managed to slow down a lot of phenomena, using liquid nitrogen or liquid helium (as the case may require), so observing them occur at a slower rate. And then, discovering that their understanding of the phenomenon is faulty, they make new measurements and formulate new explanations of the phenomenon.

Things happen slowly in cold conditions. Flying atoms are reduced to crawling. Electrons whizzing become electrons jumping. I wonder if light also defies temperature, but as it was already shown that light is particular, it just also might be the case that light obeys temperature.

Not the irreligious impulses of the heart, though. A special kind of cold is required, a special quench. So here I am, the subject in the nth experiment, waiting for the quench. Don’t worry about me, it is not so bad. I am told everyone experiences this anyway, just not in the same degrees. And few would dare to call themselves lab rats, but in effect this is what we all are.

What I’m trying to say is, the cold air in Hsinchu City is not working on me.

WHEN YOU WRITE POETRY, MAKE IT ABOUT THE LAST FIVE PEOPLE YOU FELL IN LOVE WITH

every love is unrequited.
why, you ask?
why do you ask?
i’ve just come to the conclusion,
yes, after the last person i fell in love with

he or she is a friend, a foe, a mistake, a correction
a valley-of-death-and-eventual-resurrection
a submission – an insurrection!
she or he makes your heart yearn
for them, and not for them.

even your self-love is unrequited.
you love yourself, but you do not love yourself back
silly, i know, but such is the truth.
in loving yourself you destroy yourself -
and i’m not even drinking tonight in saying this!

so, every love is unrequited.
friendly, romantic, sultry, pedantic,
horny, insipid, run by boss, run by Cupid,
familial, inspiring, infernal, or tiring -
and not just persons; also things can be such cruel masters.

and yet the ultimate solution, yes,
is to love still more. to love with all you are,
still deep, unconfounded, unmoved.
in the face of rejection – defiant and intense.
as we say of good steel – UNYIELDING

it looks as if the one who said,
“if you lose your life for me, you will find it”
has said true, so even if we are weaklings
we should try each day to love a little more
and please make me some black tea

it has to have exactly two spoons of sugar.
thanks very much.

The Middle Children of the Republic

I was born in the year Marcos was overthrown by EDSA.

There really were no Martial Law horror stories for me from my family. No one was arrested, tortured, or even just censured a la Ariel Ureta – this last one was confirmed false by Ureta himself. Our family was greatly at peace during the Martial Law period, being insulated from politics.

I grew up in a Philippines struggling to get out of the dictatorial rut the Marcoses had driven it in. It was not a simple problem of brown-outs, mind you, or the peace and order situation. It was the fact that the military’s top brass had considered taking over the government, and if they had succeeded, they would have made us like Myanmar, and Corazon Aquino like Aung San Suu Kyi. The West would have romanticised us once more, and we would be very popular in art circles. But that didn’t happen because Cory stood her ground and fought the power-hungry generals as much as she could. She had help from Fidel Ramos, who became the next president, and up until the end of the Ramos presidency we had a semblance of parliamentary dignity. (Miriam will disagree, and I totally understand, but the very fact that she was active in the political scene during the Ramos presidency is proof that we were at least trying to work things out.)

I and my second brother were the first of the family to grow up in this post-EDSA environment. My elder cousins, my aunts and uncles, my parents, my grandparents – they experienced another world. This world was so fascinating to me, the period of the 1960s and 1970s – the period people would demarcate as “Martial Law” (incorrect) or the Marcos Era. If Marcos was bad, my young mind reasoned, why did people elect him? I read up on the achievements of this period, as well as the human rights violations and the general degradation of society at that time.

It turned out to be – surprise! – a problem from way, WAY back. It wasn’t the Marcos Era that was wrong, I thought, but the entire four-decade block post-independence! I read about the machinations that propelled Magsaysay into power, the defeat of Garcia’s Filipino First dream, Macapagal’s decontrol policy, the student riots of 1968, 1969, and 1970, the First Quarter Storm.

Why am I bringing this up on the anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law?

There is this article by Benjamin Pimentel making the rounds, asking us to never be swayed by the Marcos loyalists who told us that it was much better back then, during the Martial Law period.

I actually didn’t want to write for this day, because in all honesty I do not see that now or back then was any better. I saw it as an exercise in futility to argue for or even against the return of a dictatorship in the Philippines. Lee Kuan Yew was laughing at us, wasn’t he? Let him, I said. He’s right, but not in the way the Marcos loyalists think he is.

Of course – back then, when the peso was about equal in worth to the dollar (that meant that the peso was really strong in the world market), our purchasing power was much larger. We also lived a much simpler life, content with our modest work opportunities in the Philippines. Those who could go abroad, went abroad, usually to the US, the eternal-forever-and-ever mother ship, and did great there as immigrants. We looked like a faraway American province: not really a banana republic, but more like the brown, non-state version of Arizona. But we did well in geopolitics, domestic economy (we were poised to take off after the reconstruction), and tourism.

But there were other problems, and this is why I’m writing. Chief of them is the maintenance, and even strengthening, of the crushing principalia class, all the way from the Lacandolas to the present political families. Several families made their fortunes crushing other families and making them work as peons. Our past mainly-agricultural industry was filled with it. Sugar? Coconut? Rice? Corn? Tobacco? And now, there are more industries being ruled this way. This is one thing we have never neglected to point out. The Philippines, from that period up to this very moment and continuing, is a multiple oligarchy. ‘Feudal’ doesn’t even cut it. We are under simultaneous dictatorships from each ruling family. They rule primarily our political lives, but also our economic and social lives.

It doesn’t feel like a dictatorship, because these dictators are too small in scope and even contradict and fight with each other at times. We pass through dictators every day, and the funny thing is that they don’t freaking have to be – because we are the masters and we could vote them out of office, only we do not because we’ve become too freaking comfortable with the devil we know.

The article I mentioned was written to the people born after Marcos, which, in an umbrella-like fashion, includes me. Consider the following paragraphs my response, then:

Mr. Benjamin Pimentel, sir, I believe you mean to write to the people who grew up during the Estrada and Arroyo presidencies. Our half-generation, which sprouted from just before Marcos was expelled to the end of the coups, is (I dare say) different. We perceive, more than either your generation or the generation you must be writing to, that nothing has been changed by EDSA. It is still the same sick system of oligarchy and massive, shameless corruption. And we perceive that because it is we who have been made so sick by it that we wanted to disassociate ourselves from the country in shame. We love the Philippines, but we hate its politicians and its politics, especially because they are the same old faces and (more important) they have the same old oligarchic agendas. This is why the little things in the news tick us off like crazy, along with the more important and anger-worthy news items.

This is why we are so angry about (the naive) Jeane Napoles. We see her, we see Imelda Marcos, we know nothing has changed.

This is why we hate the VAT. We see it, we see the bank accounts in Switzerland used to store the sequestered taxpayer money, we know nothing has changed.

This is why we are enraged about Dan Brown’s “Gates of Hell” comment. We hear him, we’re reminded that Manila is one of the dirtiest cities in the whole world, physically, mentally and spiritually, we know nothing has changed.

Sir, nothing has changed. We’re still eating bitter herbs from the coconut shell that certain people of your generation have made for us to eat like dogs. The sad news is that we’re being expected to renew the country, and by ourselves. Even horses do not work well when malnourished. But we’re doing the best we can, because we love the Philippines.

We are the indicators of how everything is in the country, we, the lost generation of the Philippine Islands. And we would like your generation’s help.

Sincerely yours,

one of the middle children of the Republic

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