I Know I Live In Hell But Thank You, Mr. Brown, For Confirming It

I do not claim to be socially responsible. Truth be told, I am far from being socially aware. That admission shames me. Trust me, it does. I am the stereotype of my generation, the seemingly apathetic. I can come up with a thousand and one excuses but it does not deny the fact that, while I am not a government official abusing power, I am just as morally and socially inept; and just the opposite, I think it emphasizes my lack of cultural consciousness.

I dutifully pay taxes, it appears, but that is because it automatically gets deducted from my paycheck. If not, I don’t know how I’d be able to do so on time and file my 2316 on or before the 15th of April every year. I was never good in math but I’ve always been good at procrastinating.

I hardly watch the news and when reading online, I skip most of the local news. I do this for a number of reasons. First, the evening news is on while I’m having dinner before I head for work. I don’t know about you but images of bloodied victims of shootouts and old politicians shaming women who use the pill just don’t go well with my food. I read the news online but I skim the headlines and skip the recycled ones. This borders on being judgmental but I can only be a masochist to a certain degree.

Sometimes there are news stories that would just call out to you no matter how apathetic you are.

1. Take the case of Kristel Tejada. You would have had a heart of stone to not have been touched by that tragedy. I’ve written about it here

2. Take the RH bill and how backwards some of our lawmakers are. As a woman, the arguments presented by some politicians were offensive and shameful. They were sickening and disheartening at the least. But when the bill got passed, I celebrated along with the Filipinos who have held on to the promise of slow steps towards progress.

3. Take the recent national elections and how disappointing for many Filipinos the results are. I only voted four senatoriables, the ones I considered worthy, and all of them lost. I was floored. This was a heartache worse than when that good-on-paper guy did not ask me to be his girlfriend.

The aftermath of the elections is just as fiery as the events prior to the elections, if not hotter. This is the time when even the apolitical cannot help but react to the poll results. Practically everyone has something to say about the candidates, both the winners and the losers. I still think it is a shame that most of the winning senators, in my belief, are unqualified. Most of them are from famous/infamous families, which apparently, these days is the only qualification you need to be elected. I’m looking at you Grace Poe, Bam Aquino and the crowd favorite, Nancy Binay.

Yes, I did not vote for them and I think it’s a travesty that they won, yet I also have to accept the fact that we are a democratic country, and these three, among others, have been voted by the majority. Obviously, I do not agree with the majority but I respect their opinion. I truly mean that. What I don’t respect are the so-called “educated” voters, mostly the middle class, who have been shaming the masa voters for their choices. There had been a lot of name calling especially on social networking sites. The “masa” had been called a lot of names: tanga, bobo, gago, mal-edukado. There is no excuse for rudeness and name calling is not only immature and crude but only weakens, if not destroy, your argument.

We have our own reasons for our own choices. We live in a free country. And while freedom may not be absolute, we should not be judged as inferior or stupid because we chose someone different.

4. Then just last week, many Filipinos cried foul when international bestselling author Dan Brown (from The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons fame), described Manila in his book as the gates of hell. MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino was quick to defend Manila’s honor by writing to Mr. Brown and refuting the author’s description of the city. The outcry on social networking sites have been loud.

Again, to each his own. We are entitled to our opinion. And I don’t know about you, but on many occasions, I have described living in the metro hellish, too. Hell, just the heat, overpopulation and traffic are reasons enough for me to believe I live in hell. But Mr. Brown, I don’t think traffic, even at its worst, is a six-hour jam. That is absurd! It’s only five hours! Four at best! I kid, I kid.

I’ve been approached one too many times and offered hookers. And I’m a girl! My good friends Jayby and Kent can attest to this. Try crossing Aurora-EDSA bridge late night or early morning. The sidewalks of Aurora also has a booming flesh trade. I work nights and I used to pass by that area. From Mr. Brown’s description, he can’t be far from the truth. I imagine Manila has the same business prospects, if not, better.

Pickpockets, panhandlers, who would claim to not have seen those? If you seriously haven’t, then you’re not a resident of the metro or you’re a sheltered trust fund baby who’s being chauferred from your dreamy castle inside Forbes to your little international school inside a gated subdivision south of the metro, in which case, I regret to inform you that you don’t count as a Metro Manila resident.

So far, those have been the news that caught my attention. Well, there’s the opening of SM Aura but meh, anything about Mr. Sy and his empire is disgusting to me anyway. I know I still buy groceries from SM from time to time but darn, his empire is everywhere it’s hard to escape him. There’s also Vin Diesel and Sarah Jessica Parker visiting our country. Hmm. Not interested. I’m mostly like this when reading the news. So I guess I’ll see you next time some headline catches my fancy. In the meantime, I’ll wait for my chauffeur to bring me to Shangri-La for lunch.

Excerpt from "Inferno" by Dan Brown

Excerpt from “Inferno” by Dan Brown

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Half Of A Dream Kind Of Job

On April 10 just before midnight, I officially threw myself into the sea of job hunters. No, I did not quit my job nor am I dissatisfied with it. I was merely testing the waters as others might say. Plus it has been more than a year that I had been checking this certain company’s job openings, hoping for a vacancy that I’d be qualified for. And then last week, it finally happened. My excitement while updating my resume and carefully crafting my cover letter was accompanied by the guilt of some form of disloyalty to my current job.

This would sound defensive but the reason I want to work for this company is the desire to contribute more than just paying taxes. RepRisk is a “provider of dynamic business intelligence on environmental, social and governance risks for an unlimited universe of companies and projects. Its mission is to help clients achieve long-term success through transparency and risk management.” That’s a direct quote from their site. Basically, they have this database, which has a list of corrupt companies, especially those with environmental violations. They also have other tools that companies may utilize to ensure transparency and risk management. If you know me, you’d understand why I want to work with them.

On April 12th, I got a reply from Mr. Peter Ing, who just happens to be the Financial Data Provider & Sales Channel Manager in Zurich. Of course, you could just imagine my excitement when I saw I had an email from him. But my face fell as soon as I read its content.

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I was truly disappointed with the pay scale. For a company such as theirs, I was hoping for a higher figure. The offer’s ceiling is even lower than my current company’s offer back in 2009. As my friend, Red, had said (he also applied with RepRisk), “I’m not sure how they got the figure but it was really cheap.”

I didn’t know how to reply to Mr. Ing’s email so I didn’t. I figure I could wait until Monday to send a reply. Or better, maybe he won’t notice my lack of response from the sea of applicants. But no such luck because at 9:19 a.m. of the 15th, I saw a new email from him.

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So now I really had to reply. Not only would it be disrectful and unprofessional not to, I was also afraid to be blacklisted from the company. The problem was how to tell him I would not be pursuing the application because the pay is cheap, without me looking so financially motivated. But then again, me as a member of the labor force and yet also on a job hunt has indirectly tagged me as financially motivated. I settled with this short response.

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What I really wanted to tell Mr. Ing was this:

Even if I had not pointed it out, I’m pretty sure it was apparent that I’ve decided not to pursue my application because of the pay scale. I believe it was not commensurate to my skill set and experience. I really would like to join your company and could imagine a fulfilling career furthering the company’s advocacy in transparency in the corporate world, though that may sound like an oxymoron. I could imagine the job fulfilling my desire to do more for the community yet I have to be honest that I also believe in financial stability. I would not want to sacrifice that.

Nevertheless, thank you for considering my application. I hope you find a suitable candidate for the position. If not, you can always raise your offer and maybe we can talk again.

Dreams, Nightmares And Reality

Photo courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

Photo courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

When I filled out my college application form and chose film as a major, I failed to consider tuition and film-related expenses. I was a sixteen-year old dreamer who grew up seduced by mass media, especially films. I was so sure back then that if I study film at the premier state university in the country then I could easily be the next Lino Brocka, minus the fatal car accident, of course.

When I got into UP, I was ecstatic. The summer I entered Diliman was probably the happiest summer I had. I was a smart, sixteen-year old dreamer who was going to change the world through my award-winning movies, and then probably marry Keanu Reeves when I turn 28. I was also naive and had been pretty much sheltered when I was growing up.

Then of course it didn’t take long for reality to come crashing down on me. I grew up thinking I was smart and then UP made me realize how average I actually am, sometimes even less. Also, a passing grade was not what you aim for. I actually had to work my ass off to get truly decent grades, UP’s definition of decent. Then while at it, I had to polish off my Tagalog (I am Waray) because the one I knew was classroom Filipino, and my embarrassing vocabulary was not helping my already fledgling self-esteem. But the worst of it all was realizing that my parents could barely afford my studies.

My tuition, board and lodging expenses, daily allowance and budget for film projects were obviously way above my parents’ public school teachers’ salary. When I was a sophomore, I seriously considered shifting to another major for financial reasons but my father forbid me. He made it clear that I had to finish what I had started. And so I did. My parents borrowed money from everyone they know just so their dreamer “not so smart after all” daughter could become a film director.

After five years and one semester (yes, I overstayed in college), I finally got my degree. Bachelor of Arts in Film and Audio Visual Communication. So now I have two Urian Best Picture films, one Oscar Best Foreign Film nomination and yes, Keanu has proposed to me on my 27th birthday. NOT!

After graduation, I helped with some friends’ productions including that Jeturian award-winning film, which actually included my name on the credits. I also worked as a casting coordinator for a modeling agency, which in reality meant that aside from pre-qualifying and assigning models to specific projects, I was also a photographer, videographer, talent scout, telemarketer, among others. I was underpaid and had to pretend that my boss and his business partners were not involved in prostitution.

Then after my stint at the modeling agency, I joined the BPO industry and had been stuck ever since. Pay is good and the benefits are decent. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for my job. In fact, I love what I’m doing now. But yes, there are still times I feel guilty about not pursuing film. I still feel like I’ve not only let down my family, but the institution to which I owed my education.

If you have attended UP, you are taught to value the opportunity of attending the “top” school and that you are in fact subsidized by the taxpayers. So after studying, you are expected to give back. So far the only way I’ve given back is through my taxes and signing petitions for various causes. I’d like to believe they count. I also have intangible and not so legitimate contributions like fervently wishing the downfall of the Chinese government and ill wishes on the health and safety of inefficient traditional politicians. But those don’t really count.

So why did I have this sudden urge to confess my college drama? Because just last week, a young bright UP student took her own life because she could not afford to pay her tuition anymore. It was the most heartbreaking story I’ve heard in a while. I’ve pretty much avoided the news due to gore and sensationalism but this one just hit really close. I was once in her shoes. I was once desperate and too poor to pay my school expenses. I cried too many times because I thought my parents won’t be able to find someone who could lend them money or that I was again late for my rent or that I still haven’t had my paper printed out because my allowance is gone.

Well, sure, suicide is complex. Kristel did not simply kill herself because she was no longer a UP student. There are many factors at play here that led to the finale of this tragedy. One thing is clear though, her forced leave of absence was the final trigger.

One of the issues the many isko and iska had been fighting for and taking to the streets for the government to pay attention to is the budget cut on the university. The faculty are not well compensated, which is very upsetting since the university has the best there is in the country. Researches are not funded, and a lot of other cost-cutting measures are done.

Clearly, there is something wrong with the system. UP had been struggling with budget cuts from the government but it had also successfully leased some of its assets to multinational companies. And tuition has tripled since I graduated. Yes, I don’t understand all the facets of the budget issue that the university faces but doesn’t the university have a commitment to educate the brightest minds of the country? Kristel was a young, bright student who dreamed but her dreams were crushed by the very same institution who promised to guide her on her journey to learning and a better life. Her dreams were spat on by bureaucracy who valued profit rather than upholding its commitment to education. Because Kristel could not afford to pay her tuition she was rejected as a member of the academe.

UP prides itself for the eternal quest for knowledge and service to the country as symbolized by the Oblation. Forcing Kristel to file a leave of absence due to inability to pay her tuition certainly does not validate the values of UP. Taking away her school ID so she could no longer enter the premises was the final act of ostracism. They drove her away and so she decided to go somewhere else, maybe a better place. Wherever she is now, hopefully, she is not being judged for her finances or the lack thereof. May she be in a place where she can continue her education without worrying about tuition and student loans. And may she help us pray that UP can soon fix the problem before another life is sacrificed.

Photo courtesy of panoramio.com

Photo courtesy of panoramio.com