Writing features painlessly

REMOTE CONTROL
By DANTON REMOTO
10/13/2009 12:45 AM
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com
Views and analysis

Of course, there is no such thing. Any kind of writing–be it a poem, or a short story, a novel, a play, or yes, a feature article–involves some kind of struggle. The poet T.S. Eliot called writing “this intolerable wrestling with words,” and I know you will agree with him.

The Random House Dictionary defines a feature as a “newspaper or magazine article or report of a person, event, an aspect of a major event, or the like, often having a personal slant and written in an individual style.”

I love to write features. They don’t have the cold objectivity of news, or the rigid logic of the editorial. Of course, we can argue that news writing by itself isn’t “objective.” By our choice of words alone, by the slant we take, by the very fact that we are individuals with our own biases, doesn’t guarantee the “objectivity” of news. Of course, the editorial can also touch lightly, like feathers against the skin. But there is always a direction, something relentless, in the editorial.

In high school, I wrote a lot of features for the school paper: harmless little articles that had no teeth in them. In college, I wrote about the National Assembly (Batasang Pambansa) and called it a “puppy parliament” that followed every whim of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. In a grand stroke of irony, I would later work as an Editor for the Secretariat of the Batasan.

My officemates were great, but I slaved in that job. I corrected the transcriptions of the plenary sessions. I edited lines like “Excuse me, Your Honor, but you’re barking at the wrong train.” Either that or this line: “We should be careful with the national airline, Mr. Speaker. The airplane I took yesterday almost collapsed.” It was impossible. Every afternoon, I would go home in a bus full of employees in their immaculate uniforms. I would stare at the sun beginning to sink behind the mountains, and felt sad because I had written nothing again on that day.

After college, I applied for a job at the National Media Production Center, which wanted to revive Archipelago, the art and culture magazine of the Bureau of National and Foreign Information. For my application, they asked me to interview the now-departed historian Teodoro Agoncillo. His wife, Anacleta, who was a medical doctor, said I could do so.

“But only for an hour, Mr. Remoto,” the good doctor said, “since the Professor is busy writing his next book.” And so I read what I could about him–his CV, his previous interviews published in various magazines, one of his books. Thus armed, I went to his house.

Professor Agoncillo and his wife lived in a big, white house beside busy Quezon Avenue. Their house was a stylish version of the Filipino nipa (grass) hut. The sloping roof was painted red, though, and the walls were made of thick concrete done in white. His wife, a small woman in glasses, opened the gate and ushered me inside the house. Professor Agoncillo was wearing a loose, white T-shirt and light-brown shorts that reached down to his knees. He had thick eyeglasses, and a shock of black, too black, and wavy hair.

The professor was in his element, slashing at his critics with the scythe of his tongue. I sipped my coffee with trembling hands. When I asked him about the five-volume history of the Philippines that Mr. Marcos was supposedly writing, the professor said he read the recently-published volume one. And what is his prognosis? “It’s beautiful, it’s a beautiful piece of fiction.” He laughed merrily, and then cautioned me not to quote him verbatim, things being what they were at that time.

What about the volumes of history published by another professor whose politics leaned to the Left? “Well, I read them too,” said the good professor. When his eyes began to twinkle with something that hinted of wickedness, I knew he would release another volley of words.

And what, I asked, is his prognosis on the gentleman’s books? “Oh they’re excellent, they’re excellent pieces of political analyses.” But most of his comments were off the record, he cautioned me, so I just put down my pen and paper, turned off my tape recorder, and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon in the spacious living room.

This, after all, was the man who wrote The History of the Filipino People which, then as now, is the standard text on Philippine history required of many university students. This, after all, was the prize-winning poet and short-story writer who turned his generous gifts into research–and the writing of tomes on the country’s history. This, after all, was the man who wrote about history from below, from the point of view of the poor and the colonized, and not from the point of view of the colonizers.

But Professor Agoncillo was also a man capable of great tenderness, especially when he spoke about his children. “One of them,” he said, “is sick. We have had to take care of him since he was young. A father loves all his children, but he is really the one that my wife and I love the most.”

His wife gave me only one hour for the interview, but the good professor and I talked and talked for three hours. I was only too glad, because I had a lot of material for my feature article.

He even brought me to the second floor of his house, to his library full of books and magazines dating back to the 1920s. He also showed me the first drafts of his books, which he had bound in black leather, and the awards he had received. Only then did I discover that the historian, Professor Agoncillo, also wanted a place in history. Nothing wrong with that. We all write because we have that dim hope that our books will outlive us.

I guess one secret in interviewing for a feature article is to do your homework. Have you read the author’s books? Do you have a copy of his CV? Who among his friends could throw in an anecdote, an episode, which could illumine the subject’s inner life?

All of us have inner lives that go on and on, sometimes in contrast to the masks we wear in public. Good journalists should ask the right questions, probing but not prying. If they are sensitive enough, or lucky enough, the subject will say or do something that will open a door to that inner life.

But I interviewed the professor years ago. Now I myself teach English at the Ateneo, write columns, work part-time in publishing. When I can tear myself from all these, I write my poems, stories and essays. And oh yes, I sometimes take a look at my first novel, with an eye for revision. Again and again.

But I will never leave journalism, even when some wags call it “literature in a hurry.” If done well, it’s still literature. The glory of the byline is one of the few pleasures in life. As the Random House definition states, you can put your own indelible stamp onto your feature; you can impress your thumb mark on it. That’s why good journalists should always be alert, their noses sniffing for news all the time, and for the possible feature story behind that news.

Moreover, their mental muscles must have definition and tone. Sadly, many young journalists today seem to have flabby minds. I still get frantic calls from editors of daily newspapers asking me to edit raw copy for them fulltime. Aside from sound grammar, feature writers, as Kerima Polotan once said, should be able to capture the time of day, the subject’s emotional weather, and make them come alive before the reader.

How to do all these?

Try to use the tools of fiction in your features: crisp dialogue, the telling detail, description with the clarity of water. Read Truman Capote’s Music for Chameleons, and learn the art of New Journalism. Well, not really new, but still helpful.

Observe people with the sharpness of a spy, with the delight of a lover. Open the pores of your skin. Listen to gossip, but don’t believe them. Believe the essayist Michel de Montaigne when he said, “Nothing human is alien to me.” Write with daring and with dash.

Live.

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Prepared Remarks of Barack Obama:Back-to-School Event

Prepared Remarks of President Barack Obama
Back to School Event

Arlington, Virginia
September 8, 2009

The President: Hello everyone – how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today.
I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.
I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.
Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, “This is no picnic for me either, buster.”
So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.
Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.
I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.
I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.
I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.
But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.
And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.
Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.
Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.
And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.
And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.
You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.
We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.
Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.
I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.
So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.
But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.
Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.
But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.
Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.
That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.
Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.
I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.
And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.
Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.
That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.
Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.
I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work — that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.
But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.
That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, “I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.
No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.
And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.
The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.
It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.
So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?
Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

Emo culture

By Danton Remoto
Remote control
Views & analysis
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com
Posted July 14, 2009

More than 10 years ago, I had a student who came to class wearing an all-black ensemble. His fingernails were painted black, his shades were darker than night — and he wasn’t even gay, snickered the straight guys in class. I didn’t mind, because he wrote well, asked difficult questions, and made the teacher think.

Later, he became a friend of mine and last I heard, he was making short films that were being screened all around the globe.

He seems to be the precursor of the emo phenomenon that is sweeping some (okay, a small) segment of the studentry. In 2009 Philippines, what does emo mean?

Since I am now between the age of 40 and death, I had to ask the help of my students in figuring out what it is. They tell me it began with an underground music scene. It all loops back to the mid-1980s in Washington, D.C., where the bands played with pitch and passion bordering on emotional overkill. The subject matter of the songs thrummed with images that are dramatic and poetic – all served up in contemporary melodies. Thus was emo born, emo being shorthand for emotive hardcore.

Quoting Frederic Trasher, a student of mine said that young people cluster together because of common likes. “Peer groups function in two ways: they substitute for what society fails to give them, and they provide relief from suppression (of feelings). Thus, peer groups fill a gap and afford teenagers a form of escape.”

And if it happens in the West, can its clone in the Philippines be far behind? The emo movement has also made its mark here. My students cite bands like Chicosci, Typecast, and Urbandub as emo, whether self-proclaimed, or hailed so by their teenage fans. Young people swoon at lyrics like “I’ll bleed for you like a new tattoo. In my heart you’ll stay permanent . . . permanent . . .” Or listen to these lines: “Caught you in the arms of another, and I’ve been dying every day since then.”

They add it is not unusual to see the teenage fans imitate the way the band members look. Clones of Chicosci’s Miggy Chavez, Typecast’s Arsie Gabriel, and Urbandub’s Gabby Alipe abound. The look is generic: asymmetrical haircut, black nail polish, skinny jeans. The looks telescope the feelings welling up from within. My student, Jamir Tan-Torres, calls these “unstable moods, dark emotions, suppressed feelings. In a way, their personal style is reflective of their current state of mind.”

The young ones also bristle at what they perceive to be emo stereotyping.

Jamir says: “It is a misconception that people who are part of the emo culture cross the boundary of what is normal. It is unfortunate that some people view them as disturbed, self-mutilating and apathetic individuals. Just like the punks and Goths before them, people immediately pinned a label on them. Even media worsened the situation by using the term emo loosely, in several cases portraying the teenagers in a negative light.”

To prove his point, Jamir interviewed a 15-year-old girl who is a self-confessed emo. “Her profile did not fit the description of my notion of the emo look. She was wearing white short shorts and a bright yellow shirt with the figure of a smiling sun. She wore French tips and not black nail polish. Her reply to my comment that she looks so un-emo was a raised middle finger and a laugh. She said she does not like the typical emo look. For her, being an emo is not a matter of physical transformation but a decision to be ‘true to one’s self.’ It is a way of feeling and there is a sense of freedom and acceptance in being an emo.”

However, I have also received some e-mail – mostly from my hyphenated readers (Fil-Am, Fil-Brit) in the West—that emo takes on a much darker hue in the West, with teen suicide as one of its fallout. The location, of course, is the West, where angst, alienation and anomie – and a sense of drift and rootlessness – hounds the young and the restless.

But wherever one is, emo, which used to be a term for a subgenre of punk has, like all its earlier reincarnations, taken on a complex form. Another young Filipino artist I know describes emo in the form of the images that she draws. Her roses have black petals. The tears streaming down the faces are like black knives. Even the blood gushing down a cut wrist is black. And I hope, the way I am sure her mother does hope, that the last image is only alive in the world of her invention and imagination

Panlilio eyes youth vote for reform candidates

By Rommel C. Lontayao, Reporter
Manila Times
July 13, 2009

Gov. Ed Panlilio of Pampanga said “reform” candidates like him are counting on the youth to choose non-traditional politicians when they vote in next year’s elections.

“I hope they will choose someone who can bring good governance, and responsible and ethical leadership in the national government,” Panlilio told a roundtable with editors and reporters of The Manila Times on Saturday.

The priest-turned-provincial-governor had expressed his intention to run for either the presidency or the vice presidency with Gov. Grace Padaca of Isabela as his running mate in the 2010 polls.

Panlilio and Padaca are members of social and political reform movements that champion ethical governance.

Fellow “reformist” Gov. Teddy Baguilat of Ifugao said that changes in the government could be realized through a new generation of voters.

“The youth sector is a big sector. Their decision on whom to vote for can dictate the results of the elections,” Baguilat added.

“That is why we are calling on these young people to go out, register and vote for people who can effect changes in our government,” he said.

Panlilio said that they are going around schools to speak about ethical governance to the youth.

“We already went to several schools,” he added, mentioning some colleges and universities in Metro Manila. “We realized that the clamor for good governance and ethical leadership is now very strong.”

On July 18, Panlilio and Padaca will launch Kilos Na, a political movement that will support non-traditional politicians.

Panlilio disclosed that they will discuss their political plans this early and will come up with a decision by late August on who will be their candidate for president in the 2010 elections.

“We still have to look at the surveys to see who has a fighting chance to win. We also have to consider the resources, machinery and who has the greater determination to go all the way up to 2010,” Baguilat said.

Rizal for our times

By Danton Remoto | Remote Control | 02/17/2009 7:00 PM
http://www.abs-cbnNEWS.com

I am old enough to remember watching the plays of Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) at the Rajah Sulayman Theater, in the ruins of Fort Santiago in Intramuros. After watching a highly controversial play during the darkest days of martial law, we would go home but would quietly watch our backs, lest some secret marshal would be following us.

Last year, I watched Ateneo teacher Christine Bellen’s play, Batang Rizal, at the new and lovely home of PETA in New Manila. It’s a nifty musical about the young Rizal, and on the way there, the playwright said that what pleased her most was the audience the day before – a gaggle of around 50 tykes who had filled up a small van. As they say, if you can please such a young – and certainly most difficult – audience, you can please the most makunat of them all.

And pleased they certainly were, and so were we, when we watched the musical unfold before our very eyes. A small stage and a low-tech production did not hamper the unraveling of this memorable work directed by Dudz Teraña. The setting is now. The young Pepito (the talented Christian Segarra) of Jose Rizal Elementary School breaks the face of Jose Rizal’s statue newly commissioned by Mayor Ishmael Rapcu (played with pitch-perfect, idiom-breaking English by Wilfredo Casero). The indignant mayor then threatens the teacher (Bernah Bernardo with the funny, rubbery lips) that he would shut down the school unless the statue is fixed. The poor, hapless Pepito – butt of jokes for his matchstick-thinness and poverty, then stumbles upon a big book containing the biography of Jose Rizal. He enters the realm of the book, and is transported to 19th-century Philippines, during the time of the young Rizal.

This device, of course, is nothing new. It was employed in a variety of texts, notably in The Never-Ending Story. But it works seamlessly here. For when Pepito and Pepe (the young Rizal) meet, past and present clash (What does the word English “wow” mean? asks Rizal’s sisters). Not only language, but the great horse of politics is in fine fettle and form here. Pepe gives Pepito a seven-day tour of his time, starting with Domingo (Sunday). The bells ring and the fraile come, punishing the Indios for the smallest mistake.

When Pepito said to Pepe (in my English translation): “So during your time, the authorities punish those who they think defy them and make them disappear?” Pepe nods. And the Pepito said something that made our blood run cold: “Oh, it’s the same with us. Nothing has changed.”

As the song Pag-asa ng Bayan, written by the prize-winning musical director Vince de Jesus, goes: “Sa dami ng nagbuwis ng buhay/ Alang-alang sa bayan/ Ang kalayaan ba’y ating nabantayan?/ Tingnan mo ang paligid mo/ Ang lahat ba ay malaya/ Tingnan mo/ Malaya ba’ng mabuhay nang payapa,/ Malaya ba’ng magsabi ng gusto/ Ang lahat ba ay pantay-pantay ang turing/ Walang nasa ibabaw/ Walang nasa ilalim.”

I like this play because it shows you that history should never be a bitter pill to take for our children. The young people in the audience had a merry time watching. They rocked and rolled to the rap song of “The Monkey and the Turtle,” with shadow-play animation by Don Salubayba. They sat entranced when Dona Teodora Alonso Rizal sang to the young Pepe, telling him not to be like the moth that came too close to the candle flame, burning its wings. But when the young Rizal (played with wide-eyed wonder by Abner Delina Jr.) said, “Yes, mother, but the light! How bright the light!” another shudder ran down my spine.

Later, it is the young Pepe’s turn to go the 21st-century Philippines, with its color and cruelties. The stage becomes a rainbow of colors coming from the students’ costumes and the play of light; but the very same children could also be source of such cruel lines against the poor. It is not heavy-handed because it is sung, or danced, or shown through gestures (the sticky Spider man act of one of the young bullies, complete with a hissing like that of a snake’s).

In the end, the play interrogates the notion of a hero. Is he the one only cast in stone? Or venerated blindly by people who do not really know him? How to be a hero in a society that hails the ignorant and rewards the corrupt? Are these questions that come closer to the bone, in this Age of the Graft-Ridden and the Corrupt?

One answer lies in breaking time and space and bringing us back the young Jose Rizal – who also gets upset, is lazy, proud, fearful, friendly and in the end, lonely. But even if the young Rizal knows he would die, he still returned to the past so this would happen, we would all be free. From the shadow of his fear he vaulted into the light, like the moth with its wide-open wings, into our hearts.

Batang Rizal was shown at the Luce Theater in Dumaguete last week. It is currently having a series of campus tours in the country. Information about Ang Batang Rizal at PETA Theater and its mobile shows are available at tel: 410-0821, 407-1418.

HS students speak on leadership: “I can make a difference”

By Lei Chavez, abs-cbnnews.com
February 13, 2009

I am a leader, I can make a difference.

With this premise, 12 senior high school students delivered speeches on
true leadership in the recently held grand finals of the Voices of
Leadership Elocution Competition on Wednesday.

The public speaking contest is a corporate advocacy of Volvo Philippines
launched last November 2008. It was organized by Viking Cars Inc (VCI), the
authorized dealer of Volvo cars in the Philippines, and Scandinvian Motors
Corp. (SMC), the official importer of Volvo cars in the country.

As varied as the schools the contestants came from, each speech gave
numerous definitions: from the universally known concept of “A leader is a
servant” to endearing ones as “Ang lider ay isang salmon” to serious
notions as “Leadership is a way of life.”

For Chinese-looking (but purely Filipino) John Xavier Valdez from Ateneo de
Manila High School, “Leadership is not about power or charisma. It is not
social class or distinction. It is not about job experience or education.”

In his grand prize-winning piece, Valdez said that leadership is “something
that transcends age, class, social distinction, gender, even the shape of
one’s eyes. Leadership is about influence, nothing more, nothing less.” He
added that, “Under this definition, every man, woman, child, in this nation
of 90 million is a leader in his own right.”

Regina Isabelle Jaimee Ranada of Miriam College, the first runner-up,
played with the concept of the word yes. “Yes is a response. Leaders must
be responsive. A leader should care not only for the task at hand, not only
for the members of her team, but also for herself. Second, yes signifies
acceptance…you have to accept the fact that you are not perfect. Yes, is a
positive reaction. Leaders should react positively no matter the situation
may be. She should be ready to give affirmation,” Ranada explained.

As for second placer Christian Earl Castañeda of La Salle Greenhills who
brought the house down with his quirky speech, he compared a leader to a
tree. “Ang puno ay nagbibigay buhay at pag-asa sa ating lahat. Ang puno ay
nagbibigay lilim sa atin kapag tayo ay naiinitan o nauulanan. At higit pa
dun, ang puno ay nagbubunga ng masasarap na prutas, ngunit hindi para sa
kanyang sarili.”

Regardless of the many metaphors, the majority of the speakers agree on one
thing: everyone can be a leader and everyone should start to create
positive and substantial change in their little ways.

“Marami kang matutulungang tao at pag-ibayuhin mo ang iyong talento. Kung
magaling kang kumanta, maaaring kanta mo ang sunod na kakantahin ng mga
Filipino ngayon. Kung magaling ka sa sports, malay mo, ikaw na ang
kauna-unahang mag-uwi ng gintong medalya sa Olympics,” Castañeda said.

Being a good leader, as Ramada puts, “is about saying yes to being a role
model, which ironically enough, encompasses a lot of Nos.” She adds that
“One yes inspires more Yeses.”

Valdez further encourages that, “If we recognize the fact that we are all
leaders, and that we all have influence, and really use that in our daily
lives, we will bring out change. And we will become the very Messiah our
country desperately needs.”

The other finalists are: Rebecca Ambil (St. Paul University Quezon City),
Anna Pizarro (St. Scholastica’s College Manila), Maldova Marcos (OB
Montessori), Senando Santiago (UP Integrated School), Geraldine Felicio
(Assumption College), Miguel Roman Perez (Colegio de San Agustin), Beatrice
Sheena Tan (Saint Jude Catholic School), Joseph Chan (Xavier School), and
Marinella Belen (De La Salle Santiago Zobel).

Only the first

“It’s the first and it’s an advocacy that we’d like to continue,” Albert
Arcilla, VCI president and chief executive officer, said after the event.
According to him, the results of the first batch were positive and
inspiring.

“We were very surprised, these students are very much in tune with reality.
They want to share their thoughts and their ideas. I think this is one
forum that will correct a lot of misimpressions about the youth,” Arcilla
told abs-cbnnews.com.

The mechanics of the competition are quite simple. After receiving an
invitation, interested schools are will choose three representatives and
send these students to a two-day leadership seminar. During the seminar,
students are trained in different skills that enhance leadership and
responsibility among the students. They are also guided in the art of
public speaking and writing their pieces for the competition.

“We trained them in skills that we think are important for their own
personal growth and their contribution to society. When they came back to
their respective schools, they have their own respective competitions,”
Arcilla explained.

The winners in the internal school competitions will become the official
school representative in the grand finals, that way, every participating
school is represented.

Speeches should “best articulate the concept of “true leadership” inspired
by integrity of heart and excellent skills, God-centeredness, and
accountable and responsible stewardship,” according to Arcilla.

The grand prize winner received P50,000 and a Voice of Leadership plaque.
The first and second runner-up each received a Voice of Leadership plaque
and P40,000 and P30,000, respectively. The winners’ home schools also
received the same amount to support a school program to propagate the true
character of leadership among the faculty and staff. But the remaining
finalists didn’t go home empty handed. Each received a Voice of Leadership
medal and P10,000 while their schools received P20,000.

Kaya Natin! creates chapters nationwide

By Karla Pastores
The Manila Times

More than 100 student leaders and professionals came together in the first ever Kaya Natin! Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship Training Seminar held last February 7 (Saturday) at the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City.

The participants came from different places all over the country including Ilocos Norte, Laguna, La Union, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Bulacan, Rizal, Zambales, Camarines Sur and Davao. Facilitating the seminar were Kaya Natin! Convenor Harvey Keh, who also serves as the Director of the Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship program of the Ateneo School of Government, Simon Mossesgeld, organizer of the Ayala Young Leaders Congress, and Atty. Arnel Casanova, faculty for Social Entrepreneurship of the Ateneo School of Government.

The training seminar aims to develop leaders for nation building, particularly through the Kaya Natin! Movement. The participants organized themselves into Kaya Natin committees and brainstormed about possible activities aimed at promoting good governance and ethical leadership to all Filipinos. The seminar marks the first step towards an empowered movement with young leaders all helping towards changing Philippine politics.

“We want to be able to empower more Filipinos to take the lead and help bring about positive change and effective governance in the Philippines through their own small ways,” Keh said.

Mae Paner, who plays YouTube sensation Juana Change and is a core group member of Kaya Natin, was also present during the event to promote her latest videos and encourage the participants to take a more active role in fighting corruption in the government. Mayor Sonia Lorenzo of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija also gave a talk on how she as a leader was able to transform the small municipality of San Isidro into an empowered community with responsible and enabled citizens.

During the day-long seminar, Keh, Casanova, and Mossesgeld lectured on the Kaya Natin! leadership framework as well as leadership through social entrepreneurship. The participants were then given a chance to develop their own strategies for leadership according to the framework through the five different Kaya Natin committees—Communications, Membership, Research and Recommendations, Marketing and Fundraising, and Special Projects, as well as a separate group to manage Kaya Natin chapters that the organization is forming all over the country through the initiative of volunteer members.

This will be the first of a series of leadership training seminars that Kaya Natin! will hold around the country.

The next seminar is targeted on February 28 in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija, while the second Manila session will be held on March 14.

The Kaya Natin! movement was initially convened by Keh. Its founding leaders include Lorenzo, Mayor Jesse Robredo of Naga City, Gov. Grace Padaca of Isabela, Gov. Ed Panlilio of Pampanga, and Gov. Teddy Baguilat Jr., of Ifugao.

website, http://kayanatin.com or send an e-mail to kayanatin@yahoo.com.

Real change, real people

By Karla Angelica Pastores
http://www.inq7.net blog

THE first time I met Jesse Robredo, Grace Padaca, and Among Ed Panlilio, I wasn’t star struck. They did not have an air of superiority around them, and they certainly did not walk around waving to everyone and shaking hands with people whose arms are not even extended. To me, they did not look like politicians, let alone award-winning ones.

No, I wasn’t star struck when I met them. I was awestruck.

Over dinner at Club Filipino one June evening last year, I was listening to these three government officials talk about their problems in their provinces and offer solutions and support to each other. They were seated across from each other, engaging themselves in a lively conversation. As I sat there, a young, somewhat inexperienced fresh graduate, I felt very privileged to have met these leaders and be privy to their thoughts and ideas.

Several months and two more exceptional public servants later, my respect and admiration for Mayor Jesse of Naga City, Gov. Grace of Isabela, Among Ed of Pampanga, Gov. Teddy Baguilat of Ifugao and Mayor Sonia Lorenzo of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija have only grown. In my work for Kaya Natin!, I interact with these five people on a regular basis, and like that evening in Club Filipino when they first met, I have the chance to know them as people, not as politicians.

As people, these leaders are as real as they get. They have more right to say that they’re just regular people than television and movie stars have –just regular people who have problems and issues albeit scrutinized by the public eye. At least with celebrities, they’re compensated with more than enough; with government officials like Mayor Jesse and Gov. Grace, it’s only their heart for the people and the country that keeps them in public service despite the difficulties.

In today’s political arena where corruption seems to be the norm, government officials like the Kaya Natin! champions are a refreshing twist to the story. Here we have leaders who, while far from being perfect, have put it upon themselves to serve the public with integrity. Not only are they challenging the rules of the game of traditional politics, going against big names, but they do so with a genuine commitment to changing how politics works in the Philippines. They are the faces of effective and ethical leadership in government.

The reality is that these champions of good governance are not that much different from the rest of us. Before taking on the challenge of public service, they were ordinary citizens who only wanted to do something and be someone for others. It was a sacrifice they were ready and willing to make, and it was a sacrifice that was worth every pain and disappointment if only to see their fellow Filipinos leading better lives. They are still ordinary citizens; only now they hold jobs aimed at serving the public.

Ordinary people? Quite probably. Extraordinary characters? Most definitely. The best part is, they’re all real people.

Schools and communities for peace

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BY Professor Danton Remoto
Lodestar column
Arts and culture section
Philippine Star
http://www.philstar.net

The Schools for Peace is a project under the Act for Peace Programme of the United Nations Development Programme Philippines. A School of Peace (SoP) is an elementary or secondary school in conflicted areas in Mindanao. It is a school that seeks to strengthen capacities on integration and mainstreaming of the Culture of Peace principles, concepts, and values through Peace Education and Teacher Education.

Mainstreaming process involves integrating peace principles, concepts and values in all subject areas, both in formal and nonformal education through the use of Enriched Lesson Plans and Peace Exemplars, or role models.

As defined by the United Nations, a Culture of Peace consists of values, attitudes, and forms of behavior that reject violence and prevent conflicts by going to their root causes. The endpoint is solving the problems of conflict through dialogue and negotiation among people, groups, and nations.

Actor Robin Padilla – the former Bad Boy of Philippine cinema – is now among the Peace Exemplars of the Act for Peace Programme of the UNDP. Early this month, he and UNDP Country Director Renaud Meyer went to Datu Odin Sinsuat, Shariff Kabungsuan province, to visit the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) staying in the evacuation centers. They also launched ACT projects in Mindanao.

Meyer and Padilla led the launching of the Early Recovery Project implemented by the UNDP-Act for Peace Programme for the IDPs. They were joined by Act for Peace Programme manager Diosita Andot and Governor Ibrahim Ibay of Shariff Kabungsuan. Among the projects were a children’s health and daycare center, as well as bio-intensive gardening for the evacuees. Food and non-food items were given as direct assistance, and a rubber-tree nursery was also set up.

Meyer said that the UNDP will continue to assist the Peace and Development Communities and the Schools for Peace so that the communities and schools can be transformed and provide better lives for their constituents and students. Moreover, the Act for Peace Programme approaches the conflict-affected areas in two ways. It helps in capacity-building by giving assistance to the communities and their leaders. It also makes sure that those areas affected, but not involved in the conflict, can live as normally as the other communities in the country.
Meyer adds: “After we acknowledge the situation, we make sure that the population suffers the least possible impact due to the ongoing conflict. Another important aspect of our role in dealing with the internally displaced persons is not to let them get addicted or dependent on assistance. We help them build and sustain their hope to go back to their homes and assist them towards recovery.”
For his part, Padilla – who is a Muslim convert – appealed to his brother Muslims and Christians to work hand in hand. Lines of communication should always be open, he added. “Lapit-kamay po tayo. At sana, ballpen at papel ang hawak natin at hindi baril. [We should join hands. And I hope, we should have ballpen and paper, not guns.]” Padilla’s daughter, Queenie, also visited conflict-affected areas in Mindanao last Sept. And Padilla himself has set up the Liwanag ng Kapayapaan [Light of Peace] Foundation, a preparatory school that gives free education to mostly Moro children in Quezon City.
Padilla added: “Hanggang may eskuwelahan at daycare centers na ginagamit bilang evacuation centers, hindi uunlad ang karunungan ng mga bata. Ang pinag-uusapan natin dito’y ang kinabukasan ng mga tao – lalo na ng mga bata. Lahat na po ng kailangan natin para magsimula muli ay narito na. Wala na tayong maidadahilan pa para hindi natin makamtan ang kapayapaan. Ipakita natin ating buong suporta sa pag-asang dala ng UNDP at ng Act for Peace Programme. [As long as there are schools and daycare centers that are used as evacuation centers, the children’s knowledge will not improve. We’re talking here about a people’s future – especially that of the children. Everything we need to start anew is already here. We have no more reason not to achieve peace. Let us show our full support for the hope that UNDP and the Act for Peace Programme bring.]”

Act Programme Manager Diosita Andot said that the assistance has no deadline and does not end after the evacuees have already returned to their homes. “We do not treat them as victims. We deal with them as people who have the right to plan for themselves and who can do something for themselves. We also see to it that our recovery and livelihood programs will be vehicles for social cohesion, where everyone from different cultures, religions, and beliefs can work as one and in harmony.”

The Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) government led by Governor Datu Zaldy Uy Ampatuan is the lead implementing agency of the programs and projects implemented in the region. The UNDP serves as the managing agency for the programme and MEDCO serves as the overall implementing agency. The Act for Peace Programme supports 250 Peace and Development Communities all over Mindanao.

Afterward, Meyer and Padilla joined a storytelling activity among Muslim and Christian students at the Broce Elementary School of Peace in Barangay Tamontaka, Datu Odin Sinsuat. Broce is one of 31 Schools of Peace supported by the Act for Peace Programme to promote quality, basic education grounded on the values of non-violence. Padilla read a story of tolerance, goodwill, and friendship among Muslim and Ilocano children. The children listened with rapt attention – and applauded heartily after Padilla’s inspired reading. The story was developed under the Big Books project of the Kids for Peace Foundation, Inc., of Cotabato City, which is supported by the UNDP and the British Council. The stories are written by core groups of children from Mindanao themselves, who interviewed their parents and elders, and then wrote the stories themselves. In the true tradition of communal ownership, young and old weave stories that spring from their culture and community.

Among the stories are Bagong Golis [New Golis] of Dalingaoen, Pikit, North Cotabato; Pangadapen: Ang Kuwento ni Kandutan {Pangadapen: The Story of Kandutan] of Barira, Carmen, Cotabato; and Ang Balon [The Well] of Ranzo, Carmen, Cotabato. Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) helped in the writing of two more stories. In addition to the five stories, the young people have banded together and are now working on the following storybooks: the centuries-old Moro Watch Tower in Guinsiliban, Camiguin; the musical instruments of the Aromanen-Manobo, Matigsalug, and B’laan tribes; and on the Sheikh Makhdum mosque in Simunul, Tawi-tawi.

These kids’ stories introduce them to the glories of their past and made them take a peek at their culture and history. Moreover, it also asked that if peace reigned before, why can we not have peace again – at present?

And when you start with the young – in their houses and their schools – you can never go wrong.

***
Photos by AKP Images / Ruby Thursday More

A world of readers

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rain

BY Danton Remoto
Remote control
Views and analysis section
http://www.abs-cbnNEWS.com
December 30, 2008

“Read to lead” is a soundbite that we hear more often these days. Happily for us, the National Book Development Board (NBDB), the government agency tasked with doing this, is working hard and fast to make sure that our people – especially the young and those glued to their YouTubes – would also find the time to read.

But words need not be fixed just on the page. The NBDB, under the inspired leadership of executive director Andrea Pasion-Flores, has taken the act of reading into the 21st century.

Proof number 1: their “Tulaan sa Tren” project in the LRT Line 2 station that runs from Recto in Manila to Santolan in Marikina. It is a take-off of the poems read and posted at the Tube (subway) of London, but who cares?

In partnership with the Optical Media Board and the Book Development Association of the Philippines, the NBDB chose poems from some of the country’s best writers, asked a host of celebrities to read them, and printed the poems on small posters. The readings are broadcast on the LRT stations every morning and late afternoon, in time for the rush hours, and also at noon.

And the poems? Printed on coated paper and set beside colorful photographs by Jay Alonzo, the poems are posted on the LRT trains, at the eye level of our harried commuter.

Our lawyer and fiction writer who now heads NBDB said: “We hope that people who will perhaps encounter our poetry for the first time in this novel way will realize that Philippine literature is something that we can all be proud of. I hope that they will also look up the authors, whose works we featured, so that they could discover more treasures.”

Among the readers of the poems were Edu Manzano, Miriam Quiambao, Nikki Gil, Matt Evans, Lyn Ching-Pascual, Romnick Sarmenta, Harlene Bautista, Chin-Chin Gutierrez, Rhea Santos and Christine Bersola-Babao.

And the list of poets is headed by National Artist Virgilio Almario (a.k.a. Rio Alma), Jose Corazon de Jesus, Cirilo F. Bautista, Gemino Abad, Benilda Santos, Marjorie Evasco, Jose Lacaba, Vim Nadera, Conchitina Cruz and myself.

When they were asking my permission for my poem “Rain” to be included in the “Tulaan sa Tren” project, I teased the NBDB by saying: “ I have written nationalistic poems and religious poems, why do you want an erotic poem?”

“Rain” is my most anthologized poem, written a thousand years ago, and I am glad that Harlene Bautista did a great job of reading it. Several students of mine sent me text messages when they heard the poem inside the train, or being broadcast on the LRT stations. They said it was, uhh, kinda sexy and one of my fellow teachers at Ateneo said that now, you are a public poet, à la Pablo Neruda, because your poems are no longer read just in the solitude of one’s library carrel.

So on that sunny afternoon, celebrities and poets took the LRT train from Santolan to Recto and back, then launched Rio Alma’s latest book of poems, the appropriately titled Mga Biyahe, Mga Estasyon (Journeys, Junctions), with luminous translations by Marne Kilates and published by Anvil.

One of the assigned readers failed to make it to the event, so Karina Bolasco of Anvil asked me to read one poem in Filipino with an English translation. I promptly said, “Yes,” and read the two works en face. Anvil gave me a free copy of the book, and the one I bought I cheerfully gave to my fellow Ateneo teacher Danny Reyes.

And if you think that was clever enough, NBDB then sponsored a reading of Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere from Nov. 8 to 9. Yes, an all-night reading that continued well into the next morning. We read from Virgilio Almario’s excellent translation of the Noli, which was a winner of the National Book Award, handed out by the Manila Critics Circle.

I was assigned to read the hilarious chapter on the neighbors who outdid each other in counting their accumulated rewards in heaven. It just convinced me that, indeed, Rizal is not just our national hero but a great writer as well. He could X-ray the very motivations of the characters, and then show to us their shadow and light against the sun.

Proof positive of Rizal’s timeless novel is the Penguin Edition of Noli Me Tangere, whose first and second printings have sold out. The third printing is also selling briskly, proving that Rizal’s timeless novel still has a home in the hearts of readers in the 21st century. A hundred years ago, one man wrote two novels that led to his death – and to the precious freedom that we now all enjoy.

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