Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Last words

This may come as a pleasant surprise to some members of the Filipino community in Toronto who have been repulsed by the critical observations I have often raised in this blog. Particularly those who had been averse to criticism as if no one is beyond reproach. The time has come, therefore, to say goodbye to this blog. All those elated to hear this news will surely feel a great sense of relief—like an unexpected but wholesome Christmas gift. Good riddance, others would probably say.

There are myriad reasons for this decision to announce my blog’s ending just about the close of 2010. I was hoping when I started posting that I would eventually reach 200 blogs before shutting it down for good. Due to shifting priorities and lack of adequate time to produce quality posts that my readers so deserve, I have chosen to embrace a life of quietude, like that of a monk who has chosen to lead a more or less contemplative life apart from the world.

However, as it is against my nature as a contrarian, I will not go quietly into the night.

In my first-ever blog, I wrote that contrary opinions play a very useful role in understanding the truth or its meaning no matter how unpopular they are. Reactions to my postings confirm the loneliness of critical dissent, but not so much of the willingness to accept the truth. For in a multitude of times, truth is somehow what is perceived as popular, neutral and safe, even though by simple logical observation it could be wrong or false. The real truth, oftentimes, is drowned by the voices of the mob and consigned to oblivion.

One community leader’s reaction to my blogs is typical of the arrogance of a few who believe they are clothed with papal infallibility. This type of leader does not take criticism mildly, not just from anyone who is beneath their mighty position in the community. This leader had the audacity to make known to all and sundry that she would never back down from criticism, whether right or wrong, especially if it is coming from this blog.

Leaders like them should be subject to a public review of their performance, for the ideas they espouse, and their apparent disdain for democratic dialogue where contrary opinions are also allowed equal space and opportunity to be heard. But like other leaders in the community, they have barricaded themselves with like-minded officers who are timid and afraid to stray from the official line when circumstances demand.

Thus, our community leaders will continue to lead and think insularly, instead of engaging with the bigger civic society. Every year they will continue to stage beauty pageants, song and dance contests, parades and other events that do not reflect our rich culture and heritage, but those that perpetuate our bondage to our colonial past. Our community organizations, as they are now, will always be instruments for the community’s self-anointed cream of the crop, for highlighting and sharing their personal milestones and other anniversaries, not to mention their trips to foreign and exotic places. We will continue to be absent from bigger and more inclusive events that celebrate our kinship with other Canadians and their current priorities. We will prolong our marginalization, thanks to our leaders and elders who do not have the vision of our youth who have long recognized the need for greater civic engagement.

Perhaps, we need a community Ombudsman who will review and assess whether our leaders truly have the interests of our community at heart. Internal reviews are self-serving and no current leaders in the community will allow herself or himself to be painted in bad light by their own committees or organizations. This may sound unrealistic, but not unachievable by any means.

Our community is presently served by a proliferation of local newspapers run by so-called journalists and profit-driven publishers who are only interested in racking up advertising revenues. A by-product of free press and the free market, our local press has become billboards for posting social and family gatherings such as weddings, birthdays, coming-out parties of society debutantes, and personal and familial promotions. Whereas we could do with three or at least five of these newspapers, we are constantly barraged, biweekly or monthly, with more than 12 similar editions of local news from the Philippines and the latest entertainment gossips. It is not so much the quantity of newspapers, but rather the mediocrity of writing and reportage that these newspapers suffer from.

Improving the quality of our local newspapers can be a worthwhile project of the Filipino press association, as they can perform audits of these newspapers if they conform to accepted standards of professional journalism. But they have to know correct English grammar and syntax, a prerequisite towards change and improvement. This may appear more unachievable given the inherent stubbornness of many Filipino-Canadians to learn how to speak and write correct English, which stems from the mistaken belief that having English as the medium of instruction in schools in the Philippines exempts us from training or even re-learning it as a second language. That is why ESL classes are filled by people from nationalities (not Filipinos) who admit that they could profit from learning English for work and for integrating within the larger Canadian community.

Just as we need a watchdog for our local newspaper reporting, the same notion may also apply for our chat or email groups on the Internet. This would, however, be enormously difficult given the neutrality and unregulated character of the Internet. It can be done through self-regulation by chat groups such as those that belong to professional alumni organizations. You may think I am making too much of this, but if we publish our thoughts on the Internet, those who regulate us should also be responsible in maintaining that we observe not only decency and respectability but also proper and correct English usage.

Take for example this message from an alumni president wishing his members good wishes for the Christmas season. While the intent was clearly to spread the good news of Christmas, it somehow vanished when he included “the material things we possess” as among those blessings we should pause to reflect on. So, if you have a Lamborghini or palatial accommodation, be thankful for not being among the ranks of those who lost their jobs and their homes due to the economic downturn or those street people who have to seek shelter from the cold this frigid winter. The message stinks of insensitivity to others who may not be as fortunate like him and his kind. A few months ago, the same leader said that “there is more to Filipinos here in Canada than care giving.” The true message he wanted to convey got “lost in translation” because, without proper grounding in grammar, he missed the intricacies and nuances of the English language whose syntax and rules of composition can oftentimes limit one’s ability for self-correction. Too much credit is given to being UP alumni, not only for tribal pride but also as a guarantee for mastery of the English language.

In all these aforementioned instances, what is clear is the need for us to have a process of accepting criticism and for correcting our faults—whether these are mere ideas we espouse to the greater public, the way we exercise our leadership, or with the statements we publish that may expose our continuing difficulties in grappling with our second language. Fundamental to this process, however, is embracing an attitude of accommodation of the opinions of others—however difficult to accept—because they come from people we deem beneath our estimable stature.

During his last Sunday homily, our parish priest said that the true spirit of Christ’s Gospel comes from justice and love. This is also the simple message that we may wish to share with others this Christmas, that there be peace, hope, love—and openness—in our hearts.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Note: I am not posting my regular blog this week but instead would like to share with my readers some excerpts from the blog written by Michael Moore, Oscar and Emmy-winning director, regarding his take on WikiLeaks and the arrest of its c0-founder, Julian Assange.

Why I’m Posting Bail Money for Julian Assange
By Michael Moore

Yesterday, in the Westminster Magistrates Court in London, the lawyers for WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange presented to the judge a document from me stating that I have put up $20,000 of my own money to help bail Mr. Assange out of jail.

Furthermore, I am publicly offering the assistance of my website, my servers, my domain names and anything else I can do to keep WikiLeaks alive and thriving as it continues its work to expose the crimes that were concocted in secret and carried out in our name and with our tax dollars.

We were taken to war in Iraq on a lie. Hundreds of thousands are now dead. Just imagine if the men who planned this war crime back in 2002 had had a WikiLeaks to deal with. They might not have been able to pull it off. The only reason they thought they could get away with it was because they had a guaranteed cloak of secrecy. That guarantee has now been ripped from them, and I hope they are never able to operate in secret again.

So why is WikiLeaks, after performing such an important public service, under such vicious attack? Because they have outed and embarrassed those who have covered up the truth.

WikiLeaks deserves our thanks for shining a huge spotlight on all this. But some in the corporate-owned press have dismissed the importance of WikiLeaks ("they've released little that's new!") or have painted them as simple anarchists ("WikiLeaks just releases everything without any editorial control!"). WikiLeaks exists, in part, because the mainstream media has failed to live up to its responsibility. The corporate owners have decimated newsrooms, making it impossible for good journalists to do their job. There's no time or money anymore for investigative journalism. Simply put, investors don't want those stories exposed. They like their secrets kept ... as secrets.

I ask you to imagine how much different our world would be if WikiLeaks had existed 10 years ago. Take a look at this photo. That's Mr. Bush about to be handed a "secret" document on August 6th, 2001. Its heading read: "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US." And on those pages it said the FBI had discovered "patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings." Mr. Bush decided to ignore it and went fishing for the next four weeks.

But if that document had been leaked, how would you or I have reacted? What would Congress or the FAA have done? Was there not a greater chance that someone, somewhere would have done something if all of us knew about bin Laden's impending attack using hijacked planes?

But back then only a few people had access to that document. Because the secret was kept, a flight school instructor in San Diego who noticed that two Saudi students took no interest in takeoffs or landings, did nothing. Had he read about the bin Laden threat in the paper, might he have called the FBI? (Please read this essay by former FBI Agent Coleen Rowley, Time's 2002 co-Person of the Year, about her belief that had WikiLeaks been around in 2001, 9/11 might have been prevented.)

Or what if the public in 2003 had been able to read "secret" memos from Dick Cheney as he pressured the CIA to give him the "facts" he wanted in order to build his false case for war? If a WikiLeaks had revealed at that time that there were, in fact, no weapons of mass destruction, do you think that the war would have been launched -- or rather, wouldn't there have been calls for Cheney's arrest?

Openness, transparency -- these are among the few weapons the citizenry has to protect itself from the powerful and the corrupt. What if within days of August 4th, 1964 -- after the Pentagon had made up the lie that our ship was attacked by the North Vietnamese in the Gulf of Tonkin -- there had been a WikiLeaks to tell the American people that the whole thing was made up? I guess 58,000 of our soldiers (and 2 million Vietnamese) might be alive today.

Instead, secrets killed them.

For those of you who think it's wrong to support Julian Assange because of the sexual assault allegations he's being held for, all I ask is that you not be naive about how the government works when it decides to go after its prey. Please -- never, ever believe the "official story." And regardless of Assange's guilt or innocence (see the strange nature of the allegations here), this man has the right to have bail posted and to defend himself. I have joined with filmmakers Ken Loach and John Pilger and writer Jemima Khan in putting up the bail money -- and we hope the judge will accept this and grant his release today.

Might WikiLeaks cause some unintended harm to diplomatic negotiations and U.S. interests around the world? Perhaps. But that's the price you pay when you and your government take us into a war based on a lie. Your punishment for misbehaving is that someone has to turn on all the lights in the room so that we can see what you're up to. You simply can't be trusted. So every cable, every email you write is now fair game. Sorry, but you brought this upon yourself. No one can hide from the truth now. No one can plot the next Big Lie if they know that they might be exposed.

And that is the best thing that WikiLeaks has done. WikiLeaks, God bless them, will save lives as a result of their actions. And any of you who join me in supporting them are committing a true act of patriotism.