February 28, 2008

Begrudging his bedazzling

"The fact that Obama is exceptionally easy in his skin has made Hillary almost jump out of hers. She can’t turn on her own charm and wit because she can’t get beyond what she sees as the deep injustice of Obama not waiting his turn. Her sunshine-colored jackets on the trail hardly disguise the fact that she’s pea-green with envy."

(Clever. Click Maureen Dowd in today's NYT for the rest.)

Happy 80th birthday Mama!

I WAS in Boracay, just about to go down from my room to have a late breakfast when I received an urgent text message from my sister back in Manila. "It's Mama's 80th birthday pala!" she said. I was like "huh?" Wasn't she just 70-something last year?!

We have never been sure how old our mom really is because she has never come clean about her age. For the longest time, I remembered her saying she was just 45. Then she was 50 for about five years, then 60, so on and so forth. You get the drift.

Then I recall there was this bit about her finding her birth certificate in Manila City Hall's archives, courtesy of an uncle who worked there, and discovering she was a year older than she had always thought. So I still couldn't believe our mom was turning 80...especially if you consider the fact that she really doesn't look it.

Anyway, I texted my sister back, asking what we're supposed to do and she said we should hold a small dinner party for our mom, with just a few of her closest friends and our immediate family. We would have about 25 people tops. Okay, I said, "bahala ka na," and told my Ate I'd just fork over my small contribution for the expenses when I see her. (I had by then already bought Mama a gift which made a slight dent in my budget for the month, so I was totally unprepared for this party.)

The event was hurriedly put together...we had the same menu as we had last Christmas...spaghetti, roast turkey, lengua con setas, and lots of leche flan. Frankly, I thought the menu was a tad boring, but like I said, my sister and I really didn't have much time to plan the party.

(Mama blowing out the sparklers on her cake. Photo by Boo-boo)

Maybe I should just buy a special cake to give the menu some zing. Now if you read dear Ms. Jessica Z's blog, you may have probably come across a photo of a yellow cake covered in flowerettes just recently. The minute I saw that cake, I hyperventilated and texted Jessica because I wanted to have one immediately. It was just so gorgeous and her description of it just made my mouth salivate: "layers of crisp walnut meringue interspersed with thick mounds of delicately sour lemon curd, beneath a veil of chantilly cream and lemon roses." Say it with me people...Mmmm.

Ms. Z sent me the number of her friend, Carlo Estagle (aka "the dessert diva"), and I contacted him a couple of times so we could have coffee and a cake tasting with Jessica and Francine. Unfortunately, our skeds just never came together. Fortunately, Mama's birthday presented a good opportunity for me to finally order the Torta Limone (yes, the one on Jessica's blog), and I was really excited to see it and finally have a taste of it.

After everyone ate dinner, my niece Mitch and I, scrambled to get the cake out of the ref and stick eight sparklers/candles on it. Shet. We were both panicked because the effing candles wouldn't "sparkle" and they started to drip on the cake. But we managed to pull ourselves together, and we brought out the cake as everyone started singing the Happy birthday song. Mama was a bit surprised (she had been making parining the whole evening that she didn't have any cake with her dinner) and I saw her holding back her tears. The stupid malfunctioning sparklers notwithstanding, everyone marveled at how beyoootiful the cake was, as Mama blew out her candles.

I hurriedly cut the cake and passed out small portions to everyone while I smiled and cursed under my breath thinking that yes, I should've ordered a larger size from Carlo. But shet man, it's expensive kasi and I was already on a tight budget. But then I spooned a slice into my mouth and I swear, the breath almost left my body. The sweet taste of the icing first hits the tongue, then I bit into the toasty crunch of the crust and the walnuts. Then the lemony taste of the cream filling gently wraps around the palate. As all the flavors played around my mouth, I felt totally divine. Heck, I thought, the price I paid for that cake was well worth it!

Everyone at the party, especially Mama, loved the Torta Limone and asked who made it. (I played coy at first, then said I made it, before finally admitting who was the genius behind it. Yes Carlo, these women will bug you soon enough.) The cake was gone in an instant, small and delicious as it was. The next day, we ordered another one from Carlo, this time, my mom paid for it. She's always been the cake hag in the family so she knows a good one when she tastes it. Btw, the cake is actually white, and not yellow as I initially thought.

The heavenly Torta Limone aside, Mama had a splendid party and obviously felt happy to see all her closest gal pals around. My sister and I practically patted ourselves on our backs for having put this party together despite the short notice. If we had more time, we probably would have tweaked the menu a bit, invited more of Mama's friends, held it at a different venue...sigh. But it felt really good to see our mom looking still so fabulous at 80, and having a great time on her birthday. She's a nut but we love her just the same.

February 24, 2008

When you're past your 40th birthday

IT had been a most unusual day.

I woke up rather early, at 5 am, and couldn’t go back to sleep. I watched Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age while waiting for Sis to wake up so we could have breakfast. Usually, it is she who wakes up early and eats breakfast while she leaves me alone lolling in Dreamland.

We were in Boracay with Pangs for my birthday last weekend and even before we arrived, the island had been suffering from a spot of unusual weather, battered as we were by strong gusty winds and intermittent rainshowers. Phooey!

There were hardly any people awake as we went down to the resort’s restaurant for our morning meal. We plunked down in an empty cabana, and I stared at the breakfast menu for the first time in three days since we arrived.

After giving out our food orders, we stared at the dark heavy clouds and shuddered in the cold winds. I wondered when I would ever get to swim in the beach and if the sun would ever sneak a peek from behind those billows in the sky. Then the faint strains of some groovy ’70s Motown music started wafting through the restaurant speakers, feel-good doo-wops that my older siblings were singing and dancing to back when I still toddled behind them. Sis and I were like, “Wowwww!” Suddenly the gray morning didn’t look so bad anymore.

As The Moments’ “Love on a Two-way Street” played away, we heartily dug into our bangus belly à la pobre and beef lugao. We swayed and sung along as we laughed and exchanged stories. We were amused at how these songs from our childhood, tunes from Pangs’s CD as we later found out, just put us in a freakishly good mood. They just made us feel that everything was perfect and all right in the world. Stories of Benjamin Abalos and his $130-million cut, the raging controversy on the ZTE-NBN deal, just seemed so far away. It was as if these songs held a promise of better things to come.

We were not disappointed. As soon as we were done with our meal and finished with our coffee, the pillow-like gray clouds began to part, and the sun’s rays finally broke through. Yay! The powdery white sand was finally dotted with shadows from the beach umbrellas, the tables and chairs, and the people walking. Salamat, Lord!

Still, the waters were just much too cold for swimming. I froze my hefty buns off as soon as I set them down on the water, which made me instantly leap up and run back to shore. Brrrr!

But when you get to be my age -- for the record, it is 23 forever -- you learn to appreciate the small stuff. At least the sun was out, and although shaded by a huge beach umbrella as I lounged on the beach bed, I was enjoying a mild dose of vitamin D. I read my magazine, spied on the young gorgeous European hunks nearby playing volleyball, and sipped on my cool mango shake...what more could I ask for?

I take my birthdays very seriously. It is usually a time for me to offer up my thanks to the Great Almighty above for all the blessings in the past year, as I look forward to another one full of exciting possibilities. It’s just like celebrating the New Year, as my reflections take on a more individual, closer-to-the-soul note.

Unfortunately, there are certain realities one cannot escape as one rushes past 40.

Like, no matter how my brain thinks I’m still in my 20s or 30s, there are just some days I wake up in the morning with the wind whistling through my bones. I am creaky all over and feel too tired to get up. Of course, my age is also an advantage, because this is probably the only time in my life when I can actually declare that, fudge all that! I shall stay in bed the entire day! If I were in my 20s and 30s, I’d still get up, despite a hangover or a fluish condition, and haul my carcass to the office.

I can’t hold my liquor as long as I used to. Time was when I could start drinking from 6 pm until 4 am the next morning, and still go to work the next morning. These days, three glasses of red wine is cutting it too close and the sulfites in my drink will deaden my brain right up to next day. (Again, staying in bed is usually the solution.)

My forehead has two fine horizontal lines and I have dark spots on my cheek that refuse to go away. No matter how many anti-aging creams I slather on my face, they just sit there staring back at me from the mirror. Unfortunately, my unpredictable cash flow won’t pay for any Botox injections. Besides, I’m a coward when it comes to needles and even if I had more financial resources, I will probably spend the money on traveling and good food rather than on my face.

I am now prone to allergies. For some strange reason, some food or beverages which I had no problem ingesting only a few years ago, now give me a rash or a headache. Take cheese, for example: I used to eat all my favorite nutty and intense varieties at any time and any day. But now, I noticed that as my period approaches (excuse me, gentlemen), eating cheese gives me a migraine. Added to that, the migraines sneak up on me more often than they used to.

And as I mentioned in this space two weeks ago, I am now on maintenance pills to restrain my hypertension, a legacy from both sides of my parents’ families. Thanks to mom and dad, I have to watch what I eat, making sure I stay away from Aling Mila’s lechon and Two Seasons Resort’s sinfully good Crispy Rack of Pork and Char Shiu Rice forever. I cannot afford to miss a single class of yoga, otherwise my blood pressure may start hiking up a treacherous path.

(UPDATE: Three days ago, my doc took me off the anti-hypertension meds, pronouncing me in the pink of health...well, almost. Just need to exercise more. But at least, this is one reason to feel good on this birthday.)

To top it all, I hate exercising, and any effort spent on a treadmill or stationary bike makes me feel cheap. I love my body and I’m happy with it, but somehow I still feel I need to conform to society’s standards of beauty and wellness.

I don’t have the patience to read books anymore. A bookworm since I knew how to read, I now can’t sit still through three pages of any novel, no matter how high up it was on the New York Times bestseller list, without my mind wandering off somewhere. I think of my schedule for the entire week, the recipe I’ll be using at dinner, or what I’ll wear to an interview I’m conducting the next day. Maybe it’s because I already do a lot of reading on the Internet that having pages of printed words on paper just doesn’t hold my attention anymore as staring at my computer. If I do read a book, it is usually a biography or a collection of short stories. My favorite reading materials now are magazines -- Vanity Fair, Gourmet, Travel + Leisure, Interiors.

Finally, I want someone to come home to other than the mother and the maid. It doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a pet. There are just days when you want to cuddle with someone because you are feeling awful and need to feel secure or comforted. Or just do the nasty with every night. Because Johnny Depp is already hitched to that beyootch Vanessa Paradis, I might have to get a cat instead.

But in all things, I take the bad with the good. You can’t have a happy sunny morning without going through some voluminous rainclouds first. So, thank you, Lord! Thanks for another fabulous birthday in Boracay with my best buddies. Thanks for those relaxing massages I got. Thanks for that gorgeous birthday spread and for all the lovely meals we enjoyed. To all those who remembered my birthday and took the time to greet me, Bless you all! It feels great to be alive and well, the sometimes creaky bones notwithstanding.

The ultimate reality bite: It’s the little things in life that count the most and make me happy.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. Photo from BusinessMirror.)

February 20, 2008

From G.'s spot

Something Like Life
Feb. 15, 2008

I MET G. a couple of years ago to do a profile on her and her company for a glossy magazine. She struck me as one of those cool women who were smart and sexy and knew exactly what they wanted in life. Since then, we’ve struck up a casual friendship and have kept in touch largely through Facebook. I always look forward to her new photos with her “boys,” her two teenage sons who obviously adore their mom to death, and their travels together.

But like most of the confident self-assured women I’ve met in the last couple of years, G. is also unattached. In her particular case, she is separated from her husband.

I am single and have never been married, and I’ve always found it a tad difficult to remain engaged in the dating game. Like many single gals in their 40s, I’ve reached a particular stage in my life where I know what I like and dislike in a man, or in a relationship.

But I often wondered how women like G. would do in this arena. Because of her youthful looks and killer bod, I’d presumed that G. would have no problem snaring all the available men she would meet following her separation. And, certainly, this Valentine’s Day, she probably would have a lot of them lined up at her door just begging to be her date on this red-letter day.

G., however, dismisses all my assumptions with a laugh and says she doesn’t even believe in dating. She also feels that she “attracts losers!” Oh, wow, this I couldn’t believe! I wanted to find out more about her take on dating and why, despite her obvious gorgeousness and availability, she still hasn’t found Mr. Right. In the first place, is she actually looking for him?

“I don’t date. With the kind of life that I lead now, I am just too busy maintaining everything at a sane pace. Of course, I still dream of meeting someone, but I just don’t have the time.” She adds that she isn’t the type to actually go out and seek out the men like most young single girls probably would, like go to bars and party every night and such.

But like most women with well-meaning friends who just want them to be happy in a relationship, G. admits that she’s had to give in and allow her friends to set her up on dates. “Friends have always told me to date or sometimes they will bug me because they have someone they want me to meet. But, honestly, I am not into the dating scene. I do give in, once in a while, but I tell you, one look at the guy and I know if it’s going to be a long night or coffee or dinner—you know what I mean? I don’t know, but I think I attract a lot of losers. Sometimes I wonder if I come across as too strong that weaklings naturally find it attractive—parang to harbor ba?”

She adds that her teenage sons are actually open to the idea of her dating or pursuing a relationship. “But I guess, it’s not my time yet...[or] I think I am too old for [it]. Besides, my work already makes me meet a lot of people and, by the end of the day, I am just too pooped to go out and meet some dork. So I’d rather go home and cozy up with a good book. Perhaps, you think I’m too jaded na, but I just don’t like the dating game where the guy would try to impress me. I see a lot of those in my ‘field’ already.”

But I also think G.—like most unattached women who are already past 40—just has slimmer chances of meeting available and date-able guys in the same age group. By their late 20s, most men are already hitched. Even government statistics will bear this out: there are actually more single, separated, or widowed women than men who are in the same categories. Imagine all these gorgeous unattached women fighting over a handful of bachelors or available men? (Or what another bitchy gal pal derisively calls “scraps!”)

“I think I look young for my age because younger men are ‘warming up’ to me—which makes me kind of wary because I am done with mothering.” (Loka! Just think of yourself as Demi Moore to their Ashton Kutchers!)

G. also thinks that she comes “across as too strong, and I don’t think men like that. Well, that’s their problem, not mine.”

But G. isn’t closing her doors to finding love again. She confesses that there’s someone she likes whom she met at work, but because he isn’t based in the country, pursuing the relationship could just be too complicated. “There is this guy and we still maintain contact after all these years; meet up whenever our schedules allow. I am fine with that arrangement for now. I think I am too set in my ways that it will be difficult to again adjust to the demands typical in a relationship.”

Does she have any advice for women who are in the same spot as her? How does one get back into the groove, so to speak, when it comes to men and dating after going through a separation or divorce?

“You know, there’s nothing wrong with dating or going out again. It just didn’t happen to me because we all have different priorities. I was too set on making things work with myself and my family. I guess, being ambitious, competitive and a go-getter make it doubly difficult, because my sights are aimed on something else. But if your friends egg you on to date, by all means, go ahead! What is important is that first and foremost, know yourself. Do you want to date or have a man because you feel incomplete? If that’s the case, you’re already doomed! Don’t! That’s a sure formula for failure and it will be a vicious circle, woman! No one can complete you or make you feel you better but yourself. Work on yourself first—that, I think, is the best step to take when you’ve just gone through a separation or divorce.

“Listen to yourself, your body signals. They usually warn you if you are going into a wrong relationship. Don’t be fooled by the giddy feeling of being in love. Don’t be in love with the idea of falling in love. I know it’s easier said than done but it can be done.

“And lastly, never settle for anything less! We all deserve the best! Darn! Life is already difficult as it is and settling for someone mediocre is selling yourself short! It’s adding to the burden that we all have, one way or another.”

Amen, sistah!

February 14, 2008

Don't change the gov't without me!

I need a break from all this political squabbling, and brazen lying of the Arroyo government. I shall be conveniently away on vacation beginning tomorrow when the militant organizations' rally in Makati is staged. Then also on Sunday, when ex-President Aquino leads a prayer rally in La Salle Greenhills. (It's my birthday so please excuse me, Tita Cory.) I shall pray with you in Boracay and especially for Jun Lozada...that brave, brave man. I really hope he gets through his ordeal. Nakakaawa na sya talaga. Pati ako naiiyak na sa mga engot at paulit-ulit na tanong mga senador natin. Hay, anovayan!

Someone asked me if I wasn't going to tomorrow's rally because it could already be the "tipping point." Sorry, I don't think entire country is that enraged yet, despite the nauseous Mafioso-like activities of the presidentita and her henchmen. (Just call them The Sopranos.) I really don't know what the people are waiting for. Parang, something is still holding us back from rising up and kicking these corrupt family and their people out of power. I guess, we're all still hoping that the presidentita actually becomes enlightened, shazam! kapow! and she changes for the better. This reminds me of woman in an abusive relationship. Sinasakal ka na, sinusuntok ka pa, pero ayaw mo pa din iwanan ang asawa mo. Feeling mo your love will save him, and he will still change. Paking shet.

Anyway, talk to you next week guys. Just don't change the government without me.

* * * *

AY, and as Jessica says, Happy Kris Aquino Day! (Or Happy Juan Ponce Enrile Day! ick, obvious ba ang leanings on the ZTE-NBN Broadband deal?)

And the winner of Amazing Race Asia 2 is...

...NOT the Philippine team unfortunately. Awww...did I hear a collective sigh of disappointment amongst you? Ah well, when it came down to it, brains won over brawn so the Singapore team of Adrian Yap and Collin Low won the last challenge which was to identify all the flags of the countries the teams visited, and put them all in order. I dunno what Marc Nelson was thinking...he did say he was good at geography, so why did he allow his partner Rovilson Fernandez take up the challenge. Hay anovayan, boys!

(Love your hot bod, Marc! Photo from Kapamilya Photos)

But okay lang actually, because the Philipine team did so much better this year than in the first race last year when Ernie Lopez and his wife Jeena were the first to be booted out of competition. So Marc and Rovilson landing in third place really isn't so bad. The boys performed extremely well and were the most focused among the teams. It's just a bit disconcerting considering that they had consistently landed first place in most of the race's legs! I was literally on pins and needles watching tonight's final episode. It was a nice touch that the boys unfurled and ran with a Philippine flag even if they came in last of the three teams. Hay, sexy ka lang talaga Marc. Now take your shirt off and kiss me. All will be forgiven!

But then it was almost like a fairytale ending where the lead in the story, always with some sort of disadvantage or disability – in Adrian's case, he is hearing-impaired – wins the girl. In this case, he and Collin get bragging rights as the first place winner of this year's race AND! $100,000! Actually I had a sneaky suspicion that they had won the race as their Sony handicam and TV ad kept on playing towards the last legs of the race. Ah well, these guys really deserved it. The winner was a toss-up between the Singapore and Philippine teams so it's good the Singaporeans won. These guys are smart and always remained cool under pressure. Furthermore, Adrian was a good example to all different-abled and physically-challenged individuals by showing that his disability was not an obstacle in accomplishing menial tasks nor grand productions. Bravo!

(The Singapore team of Collin, left, and Adrian. Photo from The Star Online)

Well I was really surprised the Chong sisters of Malaysia made it to second place, beating out the Philippine team. They were constantly fighting and calling themselves stupid. Honestly, I didn't think they stood a chance in making it to the top three. Pamela, the squat sister, just constantly screamed and hurled all sorts of insults at her prettier sister Vanessa (who lost her memory temporarily after diving into a pool, poor girl). Well, this is really what you call, a surprise ending.

To all the teams, congratulations on a job well done. I'm looking forward to next year's exciting , ay Amazing pala, race.

February 11, 2008

Why Romy Neri refuses to tell the truth (from our mailbox)

For Immediate Release

Contact: Vicente R. Romano III, 0920.9615610
Leah Navarro, 0917.898.1957

Dear Friends,

Here's a short write-up that Jun L wrote sometime in October. He wanted me to disseminate it without attribution. I believe he was motivated both by his genuine concern for a beleaguered friend who was being maligned no end, and his desire, even then, for the truth to somehow surface. He left it up to me as to how and when to disseminate it.

I did not find any compelling reason to get it out then. But now that Jun has told it all, and Neri is being invited back to testify, I believe the public deserves to know what was (and maybe still is) in the mind of Neri – at least from the point of view of a friend. I'm sure Jun will not mind.

Let's get this out in the open.

God bless,


* * * *

"What is Neri afraid to say and Why?

Many speculations have been made as to what Neri knows about the ZTE-NBN most particularly the direct involvement of Pres. Gloria Arroyo in this abominable affair. After his damaging “Sec. May 200 ka dito” demolition of Abalos, the discredited former Comelec Chairman, many were left disappointed when Neri suddenly clamped up when the Senators started asking him about the nature of his conversation with Arroyo, no amount of coaxing, cajoling and threats was enough to break his Code of Omerta. The question on many people’s mind was, What was Neri trying to protect when he repeatedly invoked “Executive Priviledge” during that gruelling 12 hour Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on live television?

We have known the Truth all along as one of the few people that Neri confided his predicament during those fateful days of April 2006, and how he wanted to resign his post of NEDA Director General and Secretary for Socio-Economic Planning over this incident where he lost all his moral respect for Pres. Gloria Arroyo.

We are doing this document to give the public an understanding of this predicament.

What is Neri afraid to tell the public? He is afraid to tell the public that after he reported the Abalos P200 million peso bribe offer, Arroyo casually told him to ignore it and work for its recommendation for approval anyway. That when he protested that it is too controversial and may attract the wrong kind of attention from media, Arroyo retorted back Pakulo lang ni Joey yan and his father”. When he tried to reason that it may not be accommodated in the Chinese ODA package because it has been filled up with a list of projects already, Arroyo again ordered him to remove the low cost housing project and some water project to accommodate the ZTE-NBN deal in the ODA loan. That when he attempted to reason that it may not be approved in time for the Boao Forum which was only two days to go from that fateful April day, Arroyo with raised voice told him to include the ZTE-NBN project in the agenda of the following day’s meeting of a combined NEDA Board and Cabinet Committee, who as expected promptly approved the project paving the way for the contract signing between ZTE and DOTC in China the next day. Neri is afraid to tell the public that this conversation took place between him and Arroyo because it might spark another impeachment complaint against Arroyo.

Why is Neri afraid to tell the public about this conversation with Arroyo? He is afraid that another impeachment will simply result to more expenses of public funds similar to the Hyatt 10 impeachment crisis, because as DBM Secretary who replaced Boncodin, he was entrusted with the large scale DBM payola operation of Arroyo to Congressmen, Senators and Governors not quite similar to the crude Panlilio incident that the public is witnessing now. He is afraid with a more partisan Andaya at the helm of DBM, more public funds will be spent to buy the silence and favour of these greedy legislators and local executives.

He is afraid that with Arroyo’s firm control of public funds she can buy all the necessary support from most sectors of society to keep her in power.

He is afraid that even if the opposition knows about this conversation with Arroyo, he is afraid that the opposition will not pursue a serious impeachment proceedings against Arroyo, because it is not to their political interest that Noli de Castro becomes President in case Arroyo is impeached and becomes a more formidable political opponent in 2010. This insincere and unpatriotic goal of the opposition is already being manifested by the malicious speed that the Erap pardon is being cooked by Ronnie Puno together with the Erap camp to hastily put a united front of “Birds of the same corrupt feather” coalition against the emerging JDV led political opposition.

He is afraid that even if the Church knows the truth about Arroyo’s direct involvement in the ZTE-NBN deal, the Church will still not call for her resignation due to the closeness of Arroyo’s trusted lady liason to the Cardinal of Manila who was very effective during the “Hello Garci” crisis. That Arroyo’s Religious Affairs Operators have the Bishops firmly in their “donation” graces, as again manifested by the quick rebuttal of the Mindanao Bishops’ of the call of their fellow bishops in Luzon who where calling for the resignation of Arroyo just after Arroyo gave them a visit in Mindanao.

He is afraid that even if the military knows the truth about Arroyo’s direct involvement in the fraudulent ZTE-NBN deal, the AFP brass is much to indebted to Arroyo for their position and the perks that goes with their position, that they have demonstrated this twisted loyalty with their willingness to detain, remove from the service and even shoot their own men for voicing out their legitimate concerns regarding the corruption and moral authority of their Commander in Chief. It is a sad spectacle to see the respected warriors of the Marines & Special Forces rot in jail with their ideals, while their men are dying even without receiving the measly P150 per day combat pay that was promised to them by Arroyo due to lack of funds & generals gets a gift bag similar to those given to the governors and congressmen just for having dinner with Arroyo the day after that infamous breakfast & lunch meeting where bribe money flowed scandalously free.

He is afraid that even if the Media knows the truth about Arroyo’s direct involvement in the ZTE-NBN scam, Media will simply wither in the torrents of cash and favors similar to how the Hyatt 10, Hello Garci crisis were killed in the media headlines and Radio& TV coverages. Although he believes in the integrity of a handful of Journalist, he believes that a handful of these mavericks cannot withstand the hordes of paid lackeys of Malacanang. Especially that the Arroyo crisis team is now being handled by the best mercenary money can buy, from Ramos Sulo Operation, Erap’s DILG and now Arroyo’s troubleshooter, Ronnie Puno. Ably supported by the Media and PR money from PAGCOR being handled by Cerge Remonte to buy positive airtime, headlines and editorials.

He is afraid that even if the Business Sector knows about the truth of Arroyo’s direct involvement to defraud the coffers of the taxes they are paying, the businessmen will be reluctant to rock the boat of the current economic uptrend, especially with the very close personal and business relationship of the so called leaders of the big business like Ricky Razon of ICTSI, Donald Dee of PCCI and Francis Chua of the Filipino-Chinese Federation to Arroyo herself. He is afraid that the hard earned remittances of Filipino OFWs that is keeping the economy booming and that can keep the economy afloat even under any administration is being wasted under this unholy alliance of Arroyo and her favoured businessmen.

He is afraid that even if the Civil Society knows the truth about Arroyo’s direct involvement in the ZTE-NBN deal, that the Civil Society is now tired of mass actions after witnessing two failed EDSA revolutions, that Civil Society is now afflicted with a “Rally Fatigue” and cannot muster enough public outrage to denounce Arroyo’s “corruption with impunity”. He is afraid that the middle class is now indifferent to the corruption that goes around them, not realising that the middle class are the ones mainly carrying the burden of the loan payments for these corrupt deals. He is afraid that the middle class are more interested to become an OFW & to leave this country leaving their family and children behind, and may not care anymore about the crimes being committed against their country by its own President.

He is afraid that even if the Masa, the students, the workers knows the truth about Arroyo’s direct involvement in the ZTE-NBN deal to steal precious resources from public funds, that they are now too poor and impoverished to be able to afford the time to join mass actions against the abuses of the Arroyo administration, that these former vanguards of mass actions in the country are now completely dependent on financial resources of professional organizers and have turned themselves into a “Rally for hire” groups rather than a true and genuine political gathering shouting for reforms.

He is afraid that the public may not know the extent of corruption in this country and may wrongly believe that they can cure corruption by simply replacing Arroyo with another person. He is afraid that the public may overlook the systemic and institutionalized nature of the source of corruption in this country, he is afraid that the people will again opt for a regime change without concern or a plan to correct the root causes of corruption in the country. He is afraid that people may not realize that it is not bringing Arroyo down that is difficult, it is establishing a new order that is the difficult task.

This is the predicament of Neri which I want people to realize especially to those who are asking Neri to tell the truth."


February 09, 2008


THIS is what I felt like after listening to Jun Lozada, the latest witness in ZTE-NBN Broadband scandal. His statements during a press conference at the La Salle Greenhills and at the subsequent hearing at the Senate showed just how far the illegitimate Gloria Macapagal Arroyo presidency will go just to protect its corrupt acts.

Smacking of Soprano-like Mafia tactics, Lozada was kidnapped, and only released after media became too nosey and noisy about his disappearance and Lozada signed, albeit forcibly, papers saying that he requested for security and protection from the PNP.

I don't know how the presidentita, FG Mike "Baboy" Arroyo and their minions - Environment Secretary Lito Atienza (fallen leader of a fake Liberal Party faction), PNP director-general Avelino Razon, and DILG Secretary and special ops expert Ronnie Puno can stand themselves lying with straight faces about the stunt they pulled. Do they actually think the public believes them?

How can these people especially retired Comelec (more like Kumolek) chairman Ben Abalos sleep soundly at night, knowing that we all know how crass and dishonest he is? He will supposedly file a libel case against Lozada. For what? For having the guts to tell the truth?

The man obviously could no longer live with himself, knowing what he knew about this nefarious deal with the Chinese. And no matter how the presidentita tries to steer clear away from this mess, ordering the DOJ to investigate the case, the grubby hands of her minions has stained her indelibly. (Take note, DOJ's Gonzales actually wants to investigate Lozada the whistleblower, instead of those who have been accused of enriching themselves in this caper. Magkano ba'ng sa'yo Sec?)

I empathize with Mr. Lozada. He is obviously someone with no political affiliations. He's just an ordinary man with a telecommunications and engineering background, whose expertise had been tapped by the government for what it felt was a vital broadband project. He has nothing to gain in coming out in the open with what he knows, and yet a lot to lose. I felt the pressure he was under and my tears welled up as well as he sobbed in frustration and fright at what he had done. He put his life in danger, also that of his family, just because di na nya masikmura ang pangungurakot ng mga tiga gobyerno. (I remember a foreign investor telling me once that under the Marcos regime, only he took 20 percent of any project as kickback. Today, under the GMA administration, kickbacks are par for the course from the lowliest civil servant until Malacañang, with bribes as much as 50 percent of the cost of the project. The punchline of course is, you can't even be sure that the project will actually be implemented. That's how garapal this government is! Yikes, there it goes, the bile up my esophagus...gotta barf folks!)

What's even more troubling about Lozada's revelations is that he confirmed that we are virtually living in a police state where Big Brother can just home in your conversation or intercept your cellphone text messages without you or possibly your telecom provider even knowing it. It's scary to live this way...you will always have to be careful about what you say or text, constantly look over your back even if you have done nothing wrong, because anything you say or do might be misconstrued by the powers that be and you will be picked up, kidnapped, possibly even tortured and killed. GMA's motto after all is, "If you're not with us, you're against us." Tony Soprano is that you?

As for you runny Romy Neri, how dare you even try to stop your friend from coming out with the truth. Bakit, tinanggap mo na ba ang P200M bribe ni Abalos? Why are you now sucking up to your presidentita? Hino-hostage din ba nya ang boypren mo? Nakakahiya at nakakasuka ka talaga!

No matter how Malacañang tries to play this, the public knows the presidentita and her ilk are the bad guys, the liars, the cheats, the corrupt, while Lozada and Joey de Venecia are the ones telling the truth. We are not fools.

It's about time we fight back and kick the shits out of these people in Malacañang.

Five hours in the E.R.

Something Like Life
Feb. 8, 2008

I THOUGHT it was just another migraine which I could dismiss with a cup of coffee. I was talking to Francine, who had just come back from a vacation with her one-year-old boy, but even if I wanted to talk to her some more, I had to stop her rather abruptly telling her my head was starting to ache. I was already getting blinded by the light and the tum-tum-tum in the middle of my head was getting heavier and louder.

After a cup of java, I closed all the lights in my room, did my yogic breathing exercises and tried to get some sleep. But by 9 pm, I knew it was time to go to the hospital. The searing pain in my head just wouldn’t let up. It felt like a butcher’s knife had just split right through my medulla oblongata (a favorite word from grade-school biology class, yes), as an invisible hand tried to pry my skull open and, reaching inside, pulled and twisted every cerebral artery within its grasp.

I knew my blood pressure was high because of the throbbing pain at my nape, and a neighbor’s nurse confirmed it as 160/110. So off I went to the emergency room of the nearby government hospital, once a shining example of the greatness of the Marcos administration, now a shadow of itself, barely sustaining its ER with equipment and personnel.

The staff called my doctor who had prescribed, as I later found out, an anti-migraine drug. It was supposed to work within 30 minutes, but didn’t. But I sat patiently, trying to massage my head, and looked around at the bedlam that night. The people were basically spilling out of the E.R., with relatives trying to keep close to their ill loved ones. But there just wasn’t enough room.

A woman dressed in a stylish black-and-white top, and in heels, came in with her husband who could hardly move or speak. I wondered if they had just come from a party. As she tried to explain the circumstances of their trip to the E.R., he stopped breathing. The wife started jumping up and down, screaming, “Baby! Are you okay?” and to the nurse, “Is there a doctor?! Give him something! Oxygen!”

We’ve seen movies and TV shows where the E.R. staff is rushing about, treating patients, reviving them, the scene punctuated by loud voices from doctors trying to restrain relatives from breaking down. In this E.R., the staff moved quite slow and deliberate. It was as if there were no emergency. There was just a lot of people—the sick sitting in seats badly needing reupholstery with needles stuck to their arm for intravenous drips, and their relatives milling outside as the guard shooed them away. “Para sa mga pasyente lang ho ang mga upuan!” There were two doctors receiving patients in the reception area/lounge, while the rest were huddled in their inner sanctum doing godknowswhat.

I finally spoke up and told one of the doctors that I was getting no relief from the drug they gave me, and that maybe they should give me another dose. I told her I was used to taking two tablets of Biogesic or two capsules of Excedrin with caffeine when coffee failed to work its wonders on my migraine. (Okay, so I had underestimated this recent migraine attack and failed to down my usual drugs.) But they said they couldn’t give me an additional dosage because my blood pressure might drop substantially.

They come back to me saying that my doctor ordered a CT scan to check my brain. I was like, why? All I have is a migraine that has gone out of control, can’t you do something about it? Give me another drug or something to bring down my blood pressure at least, I pleaded. The doc on duty tells me, “We’re not sure if it’s the pain that’s causing the high blood pressure, or the high blood pressure’s causing the pain.” Which is why they were treating me with the anti-migraine medication first. But a CT scan?!?! Recent episodes of House MD started flashing in my head. (Where are you when I need you Hugh Laurie?!?!)

Okay then, let’s get the scan done now. Para matapos na. (I never liked sitting around doing nothing.) “Ma’am, we’ll call you. Pahinga muna kayo d'yan.” The machine was being prepared, they said. In the meantime, a female technician from the pathology department tried to get a blood sample, but she couldn’t find a vein. She stuck me with her needle twice before I told her that maybe we should move to the reception table which was well lighted and where she could position my arm properly. Of course, with her long hair falling all over her face, I had my doubts that the move was going to help. I’ve had CBC (complete blood chemistry) and FBS (fasting blood sugar) done before without a hitch. This girl was probably new.

I turned away as the technician poked yet another needle in my arm, and struck up a conversation with the chubby intern with a clear complexion dressed in her green gown. I noted that there was an unusually large number of ER cases that night. And then the damn broke. She told me that they were really under pressure trying to find rooms for the patients who had been admitted, but there were none available. Sweet girl, she was trying to hide her discomfort, and pleading for understanding. “So hindi po namin kasalanan na walang makitang kwarto para sa kanila. Kasi wala pong vacancy talaga.” She obviously was getting disheartened as patients and their relatives kept blaming her and her colleagues for the hellish long wait in the E.R. She pointed out a disheveled patient seated in one corner, his legs full of scrapes and cuts, who had suffered stroke and he was just resting with an IV dripping into his arm. Still no room for him. Truth to tell I was suddenly embarrassed that I even complain about the seeming neglect of the E.R. doctors in my case considering there appeared to be more patients with life-threatening illnesses than mine.

(I remember earlier going inside the rest room, passing all the other patients in bed. Some were sleeping, the others had their spouses or children waiting on them. The woman whose husband had stopped breathing was holding his hand. All the eight beds were occupied...it was a really small ER, I thought, compared with the ERs in private hospitals I had been to. In private hospitals, they have at least 20 beds and an adequate lounging area for relatives, so there’s no crowding. All I could think of was my taxes that were supposed to be supporting primary government facilities like this one were apparently still insufficient to push them to higher quality standards. Well, we all know why that is.)

The intern went on with her litany and then added, “Ma’am, pasensya na po kayo, darating na ho ’yung technician para sa CT scan nyo.” I wondered why there was no technician around in the first place. I saw the instruction in my file saying that the procedure was “STAT”—meaning immediately for those of us not in the medical profession. She told me that in the evenings, there was just a technician on-call but as if to appease me, she said he just lived nearby and was already on his way.

I arrived at the ER before 10 pm, I finally had the CT scan at about 2 am. By the way, this hospital asks you to pay for the scan in advance, even before you actually have the procedure. Segurista.

The technician was candid enough to explain his delay and said he lived in Sampaloc. “Alam nyo naman ho, gobyerno, ayaw ho magbayad [ng extra]. So on-call lang ako.” I marveled at the brand-new Philips 40-slice CT Scanner, which, according to the guy who wheelchaired me back to the E.R., the hospital got because Philips gave a free LCD TV. Superb marketing tack, Philips!

Anyhow, as the technician strapped my head and my arms in place, I closed my eyes and was wheeled into the huge circular machine with cameras whirling inside. I started saying my Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glory Be’s, praying that they don’t find anything wrong in my brain. (I had a brother who passed away from a cerebral aneurysm, so you can imagine the litany of novenas I prayed.)

Well, at least the free TV was put to good use because as my brain was being photographed, my family was in the adjacent lounge watching Happy Feet. Actually, we didn’t want to leave the lounge anymore.

But the long wait continued at the E.R. The doctor who would read my CT scan result hadn’t arrived as well. Sigh. I would think that in government hospitals, with the large number of patients going there because of the relative inexpense, there would be more in-house staff to act on every complaint fast, treat the patient immediately, and get their patient’s butt out the ER door quickly.

By the time my CT scan was read, it was close to 3 am. The doctor in charge said she couldn’t get hold of my primary-care physician, presumably because he was sleeping already. But she said the result of my CT scan was “normal”. (Yay! I do have a brain!) So I decided to go home. I wasn’t about to stick around waiting for my physician to wake up and tell me whether or not I should be confined. In the first place, there were no beds available, and secondly, the drug they gave me finally kicked in after an hour. I signed a waiver and again prayed to God to keep me safe that night.

As my mom and sister went off to pay my bill, the guy with the stroke was helped on to a bed, to be carted off (finally!) to his hospital room. I caught the eye of the chubby intern I had spoken with a while back, and she gave me a tentative “hay salamat” smile. I could tell she was a good kid, just trying to do her job in the best way she could, and breathing a sigh of relief after being able to accomplish it well.

As for me, I was just glad to be out of there. Period.

(My column Something Like Life, is usually published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. Cartoon from Pioneer Telephone.)

February 01, 2008

I wish I was an American right now

NO, I'm not being unpatriotic.

I just thoroughly enjoyed this morning's Democratc Party presidential debate between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton which was carried live on CNN and I couldn't help but wish we here in the Philippines would have the same kind of electoral process that would be able to weed out the weak candidates from the stronger ones.

It was very exciting to watch both the Democratic Party frontrunners discuss issues intelligently and present their ideas and would-be policies to the voters. (Both were very cordial to each other btw, as if they had already agreed earlier on that what was more important to convey was party unity.)

I think the most important issue raised during the debate was on the Iraq war...why the U.S. got into it in the first place, and how the next president will get the country out of that mess. It is a topic that is really close to the hearts of a lot of American voters because most have friends and family serving in the military assigned to Iraq.

Clinton: (responding to a question on her failure to vote for an amendment requiring Bush to report to Congress the result of U.N. inspections before going to war) "You know, I've said many times if I had known then what I know now, I never would have given President Bush the authority. It was a sincere vote based on my assessment at the time and what I believed he would do with the authority he was given."

Obama: "I think it is much easier for us to have the argument when we have a nominee who says, 'I always thought this was a bad idea — this was a bad strategy.' "
(The full transcript of the debate at CNN.com)

It didn't matter to me who nailed the debate because both argued strongly on issues they had already earlier been identified with, but what really appealed to me was the fact that the Democrats now have the best candidates to choose from.

You can almost feel the electricity in the air. Talagang excited sila sa States! Everyone is so galvanized to register, organize, speak up, and vote. Even if it's just the primaries. I suppose it's because they feel the Bush administration just so fucked up its seven years in office that the voters want a change and choose wisely this time.

So honestly, nakakainggit sila. Kasi, as far as the present crop of would-be presidential candidates here in the country goes, we don't have an Obama or a Clinton that can inspire us. You know, the kind that will be able to push us out of our comfort zones to help ourselves and our country to get its act together? Someone who can seriously kick butt and get the government to work for the people. For example, how many hours do you have to stand in line to get your driver's license, SSS ID, your baptismal or birth certificate, or your passport? (Answer: Longer than the hours you have to line up at the U.S. Embassy to get a visa.)

But I think part of the reason we don't have any more seriously competent politicians to serve the interests of the people is because of the following:

First of all, our electoral process is just chaotic. Like there are just too many political parties, and its members are just switching sides all the time naman. Magulo!

Then, we have a Commission on Elections that lacks the right equipment and credibility among its people to actually conduct honest and clean elections.

Third, all our politicians are trapos. Even the young ones have already adopted the style of their elders. You scratch my back, I scratch your back. There's always a quid pro quo involved in any resolution or bill passed by Congress or the Senate. They close their eyes to lobby money changing hands, even if they themselves don't get their share.

Kawawa na masyado ang Pilipinas. People just want to leave and move to another country. Hindi na bale mag-maid, mag-yaya, magpahid ng pwet ng matatanda sa ibang bansa, basta lang malaki ang sweldo nila at pamilya nila makakain ng tatlong beses isang araw.

They feel there's no hope. And we need a President who may not have all the solutions to our country's problems a hundred percent, but at least give us back the hope that things are going to change for the better.

In the States, they need change. Here in the Philippines, we need hope.

How honest should you be with your friends?*

I’VE always been a picky person when it comes to friends.

Right now, I can count on my 10 fingers just who I consider as real friends…people who I can see spending my twilight years with while we continue gabbing about ugly people we know, having regular pot luck dinners with, traveling to really fabulous places, or still lusting after the young men. (You know who you are bitches!)

A number of these close friendships have been built up through the years. For some people, they meet someone new, they click at once. Well that’s not me. I find that these quick friendships are the ones that peter out soon enough.

Some of my closest friendships have undergone the most trying of circumstances, peppered by shouting matches, with a few silent treatments thrown in, but thankfully, no hair-pulling incidents…yet. I mean what’s a friendship without a bit of high drama right?

Friends are part of one’s extended family and most often, they can be closer to you than even your own siblings or parents. You can tell your friends anything without getting the third degree unlike family members who can be very judgemental. Friends are very accepting of each of our faults and frailties, so even if you do joke about each other’s quirky habits (even behind each other’s backs), they often do so out of love and understanding.

So it can be really depressing when someone you’ve trusted for the longest time, does something to hurt you, knowingly and without remorse. You are stunned and unable to believe that here was this person you’ve probably shared your innermost fears and secrets with, just stabs you in the back. Et tu, Brutus?

In the last few months, I’ve known some people who’ve been virtually kicked from behind by people they considered their friends.

Like I know one lady who was unceremoniously given her walking papers and the next thing she knew, someone who thought she was her friend was already taking over. Incredulous, I asked her over an accidental lunch one day, “But Tita, I thought she was your friend?!” All she could manage was, “I thought so too.”

Despite how disappointed she must have been feeling, kudos to her, she didn’t sound bitter at all. Perhaps all the years she’s spent in her crazy business, she was no longer surprised by the turn of events. Power can just be too attractive (and addicting) that one can be drunk enough with it to sacrifice a friendship.

Pangs and I had a running discussion about this since we’ve heard the gossip about these two ladies in the business who were so-called friends. Pangs is my food and travel buddy whom I’ve known for close to 20 years. We’ve had our differences but I guess we’re already quite used to each other’s weirdness that any misunderstanding between us doesn’t last very long. So yes, we can call each other family.

According to him, he would be happy to have a friend take over his job since he isn’t the type who’d hang on when he’s not wanted. Dispassionately he said his friend doesn’t have any obligation at all to tell him about both of their fates. Geez, was this just a guy thing?

Because to me, more than the generosity, kindness, or esprit de corps friendships bring, what I value above all, is honesty. I told Pangs that if I were being asked to take over his job, I would tell him so. In fact, I would even think twice about replacing him because it just feels weird and treacherous. It just leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth, you know? My conscience would bother me if I don’t say anything. (But then I’m the type whose insides get torn up when I don’t call my mother.)

I mean, there are just certain hard and fast rules in friendship. And foremost of these rules is that you don’t betray those close to you.

Yes, it can be difficult to remain honest in a friendship. Do we tell our friend she looks gawdawful in her new dress? Do we tell her that she looks fat and looks like she’s been locked overnight in the ice cream factory? Do we tell our friend her husband’s sleeping around with another woman? Do we tell her we’re even friends with that woman? Do we tell our friend that she’s losing her job tomorrow?

I heard someone say once that one of the most overrated virtues is honesty. Why unduly hurt someone with the truth? That just doesn’t sit well with me. If I know by keeping my mouth shut my friend will end up looking like a fool, humiliated before the entire world, then I have to speak up. It’s a no brainer. In any relationship, we all have the responsibility to look out for each other. That’s just what being a friend is all about.

* * * *

Since last week, I have been receiving a barrage of text messages and phone calls from numerous public relations practitioners and media relations specialists who read my column on the “Media-PR relationship” (Something Like Life, Jan. 25, 2008).

A few congratulated me for hitting spot on what was wrong in their industry. (Laziness!) One incredulously asked me why I was mad at PRs. A couple of them joked by calling me “Estella.” Then another asked if it was too late at night for her to text me. One thought my column was great for pointing out his colleagues’ foibles, and then proceeded to violate every rule in the PR handbook himself.

One close PR friend, only one of the very, very few allowed to call me on a Sunday even late at night, joshed that he had already suggested that I be invited to their group for a tete-a-tete/lecture, because God knows just how many “idiots” were now polluting their industry.

I didn’t think the column would create such a storm, but I just thought it was about time someone said something. I’ve noticed that over the years, more and more of us in the media have been sharing horror stories about PR practitioners. I remember starting out in the media profession, I had very few, if none at all, complaints about any PRs. (But like one reporter friend recently wrote on my blog, she had encountered a PR guy who demanded that they use his press release as is. Verbatim. Kapal.)

I should point out though that there are still a number of PR practitioners who are really tops in their field. They know how to serve their clients well by coming up with really creative ideas, and treat the media with the utmost respect. It’s just that they are becoming too far and in between. Sad.

* (This should've been column 106 in BusinessMirror. Photo from allposters.com)