Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Dust, Holes And Mud

One of the quaint experiences one can surely have when he is in the province of Surigao del Sur is traveling on the province's famous dirt roads.

When I use the terms "quaint" and "famous", it is, of course, with a great deal of sarcasm and an equal degree of frustration. After all, in this age of multiple lane highways, expressways and all the miracles and advances in modern, high-speed transportation infrastructure, the people of the province are still blessed with the best examples of old fashioned, traditional and picturesque dirt road engineering utilizing the best of obsolete road making and maintenance technology dating back to the middle of the last century.

At the sorry state of most of the roads now, they are beginning to look like proving grounds for the latest off-road vehicles or endurance courses for dirt bikes. Or perhaps they are attempts to recreate the experience of what it would be like to drive on the surface of the moon or the wastelands of the Martian landscape.

Bring in the rainy season and then you can have spectacular results like deep ruts, quicksand surfaces, landslides and flooding. Navigating through all that can be the supreme test not only of vehicle durability, capability and power but also of driving skill and prowess. Never mind the mental torture and aggravation plus the physical discomfort and agony of it all.

To be fair about it, the government has started to pave with concrete some of the existing road sections but the effort has been largely notable for being sporadic, lackluster and slow-paced. This is more true particularly in the middle municipalities of the province especially around the Lianga area which essentially links the northern and the southern areas.

So whenever visitors call me up about plans to visit Lianga or any place within the province, I usually have only three pieces of advice. First, they must either bring a heavy duty vehicle with off-road capability or just resign themselves to using the public transport system. Second, is to bring plenty of anti-motion sickness pills and vomit bags for the more queasy travelers. And finally, to prepare themselves physically and mentally for one of the bumpiest, dustiest and roughest road trips of their lives.

For the local inhabitants, however, the rough roads are no novelty. They are something they have to live with and endure every day of their lives. And it looks as if they would have to, at least, for the foreseeable future.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Mute Witness

In the municipal park of Lianga right just beside the parish church is a monument to the national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. It is similar to the thousands of other monuments of like design that can be seen in practically all towns and cities all over the country.

Our Jose Rizal has stood and watched over the town since as far back as I can remember. As a small child I played with other children under his gaze and watchful presence.

In those days, a water pump located in a small cavern underneath his pedestal pumped water to four circular fountains that threw the water up into the air in lacy and graceful arcs and when dusk came, colored lights danced on the curtain of falling water drops. The magic of those moments remain clear and vivid in my memories.

Through fair or stormy weather, through the heat of countless summers and the drizzle of unnumbered rainy seasons, the statue gazed with unflinching resolve at the town center, the marketplace, the coastal sea and beyond to the blue-green waters to the far distant mouth of the Lianga Bay.

It had been a witness to many of the tumultuous events of the town's contemporary history. Ah, what I would give to have seen what it could have seen. Imagine the stories it could tell if it were capable of doing so.

Now the fountains are gone and covered with earth and the plants and grasses grow where the waters used to play. The decades have passed and change has not been kind. The town's golden age has come and gone. There is an atmosphere of listlessness and languor that pervades the streets and collective souls of the townfolk.

The people who pass through the park everyday do not really see Jose Rizal on his monument. They do not even see the statue. Not even the students who pass the park everyday on their way to their schools. Not even those among them who are forced to study the life and works of the man whose stone image stands so calmly and bravely above them as if in defiance of their indifference.

Reflect on that and weep.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Going The Parliamentary Way

"No! They just want to stay in power, that's why."
"Our congressmen know best. They know the law, they make it, so therefore, they know what's best for the country."
"I will never approve of a system where the people cannot elect the leader of the government themselves. It's not democratic!"
"Parliamentary, presidential or federal....it's all the same! The rich have the power and the poor have no say at all. It's all bullshit!"

I just stood there bemused as I listened to some of the common folk in Lianga express their views on the issue of constitutional change particularly on the proposal to change the present system of government from the presidential type to one based on the parliamentary model.

The few who did bravely voice their comments were aware that their opinions would matter little in the actual deliberations on this very crucial question of the day. Most if not all of them also freely admit that that they have not received adequate and unbiased information either from the government or from the media. And for all of them, who never had any direct experience living under a parliamentary democracy much less the occasion to study the workings of one, grasping fully the mechanics and processes inherent to parliamentarism can be an insurmountable task.

The advocates of constitutional change have cited the example of many countries in Europe and Asia who have had a long history of parliamentary governments and are vehement in their belief that a similar system implemented in the Philippines can be the key that will unlock political stability and economic progress for the country. On the other hand, staunch defenders of the presidential system and those leery of the "hidden agenda" of the politicians advocating charter change are as deeply convinced that the parliamentary system is merely another of those harebrained schemes that will simply lead to political chaos, anarchy and economic disaster.

To those in Lianga who are tensely awaiting the outcome of this on-going national debate, the question that is uppermost in their minds remains how credible and sincere are the motives of those politicians and individuals on both sides of the political controversy. In the absence of a credible and unbiased information campaign to educate the majority of the people on this issue, that is all they can really make a judgement on. That makes for a rather pathetic situation and not the ideal for what is supposedly a working democratic system where the people are supposed to be the final arbiters of political and constitutional change.

I have always been personally open to the idea of constitutional change and even to a shift to a parliamentary system of government. But only upon the most deliberate and open discussion and consultations with the greatest number of the Filipino people. That is why I, like so many Filipinos, was deeply insulted at the way the pro-administration representatives in Congress have sought to ram the idea of a constituent assembly down our collective throats. It smacks of legislative arrogance and tyranny of the most despicable kind.

If these are the people who will be in the Philippine parliament of the future and who will be in charge of directing the future course of this nation then the call by many sectors opposed to charter change for the Filipinos to take to the streets is call that we all should answer. The Filipino people are, in most cases, willing to accept change in all things and even in the area of politics and government. But it must be on their own terms and it must be for their own well being and welfare.

On the question of charter change, it does seem to be neither here nor there.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Children In The House

Having children in the house can be a double-edged situation.

On one hand, they can be irritating, obnoxious and inconsiderate. They also make unwanted demands on your precious time. They sap your energy, break your concentration when you are doing something really important and they can drive a saint to rage and despair with their persistent attempts, whether maliciously intended or not, to get your goat and drive you up the wall.

But they are also, in the final analysis, the reason why we are here and why we strive to be greater than what we are. They arouse the most overpowering feelings of tenderness and affection. They make us laugh with their frolics and antics, sympathize with their fears and anxieties and marvel at their emerging genius and intellect.

Because they are our future, we protect their welfare and safety with our very lives and it is in them that we realize the only form of immortality we can have on this earth.

I have asked myself so many times what is it about children that I like the most. Upon reflection I can come up with one answer.

I like children best because they are the ones who can teach us the greatest lesson about life and the art of living. For them, life is the greatest adventure and that the best way to get the best of what life has to offer one must go boldly into the world and embrace new experiences with zest and boundless enthusiasm.

To them the world is an exciting arena of opportunities and infinite possibilities, an exciting a colorful playground to cavort and play in. And where harsh reality may be limiting fun, their limitless imagination break down walls and boundaries and redefine that nature of fun and play.

So when there are children in the house I let them play to their heart's content. It can be noisy, disruptive and irritating sometimes and doing something else productive in the midst of such chaos can be next to impossible.

But it can indeed fun especially if you can let down your adult inhibitions, once in a while, and join in. After all, when it comes to finding joy and excitement in the most mundane times and places children are the supreme masters of the art.