“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”

Privately, a woman’s touch is often needed in the White House, whether it’s a steadying hand on the shoulder or a judo chop to the back of the neck. Publicly, nearly every First Lady has flourished an identifying issue (Lady Bird Johnson, highway beautification; Nancy Reagan, “Just Say No” to drugs; Michelle Obama, physical activity and healthy eating). Melania Trump’s was to be cyberbullying, a ludicrously unself-aware, doomed-from-the-start crusade, given her husband’s stubby-fingered prowess as chief Twitter Troll. As any number of people have observed, if Melania really wanted to curb cyberbullying, the first, best thing she could do would be to confiscate her husband’s Android phone and flush it down the toilet. Good luck with that. Given his nocturnal addiction to Twitter, he won’t surrender his phone until it’s pried out of his cold dead hand.

The First Lady’s degree of sway rests on her hubby president’s being cognitively supple and emotionally receptive to persuasion, and on his trusting, respecting, and being willing to listen to his wife (or, here, darling daughter), to take her seriously as a person and perception.

Can Melania Trump Ever Be A Great First Lady?, James Wolcott, May 2017, Vanity Fair

This is the rare time that being up to date with the news is chicken soup for the soul. We have already abandoned the Ozamiz City weekend happening and hot on the trail on the real-life Mr. and Mrs. Smith show. Or, the next big thing between the Commission on Elections Chair Bautista and his estranged wife. I guess this is what we can call a “first lady’s” judo chop. Although, now that it’s out there if I were the wife I’d be scared to go back to the “conjugal” house. Ah, but this might finally lead to the truth in the rumors that simply won’t die about Smartmatic having made fools of Filipino voters. Let’s see.

Religion and ethnicity are incidental, in plenty of cases

The other passengers and I were waiting for one more individual before we could finally go on our way. Everybody was growing restless. Outside our vehicle, the scorching noon-time sun was painful to the eyes. Still, I watched the stream of people outside which I suppose is what people seated in the front do. So I was doing that and then– the two young men, barkers, standing near the headlights and who were just talking the last I saw them suddenly broke into a fight. My heart jumped up my throat. I was travelling alone and in a city that’s a melting pot of armed groups. I feared that any second they’d bring out guns from somewhere the way they were grabbing at each other’s necks. Should I stay put or get out at the driver’s side? Things happened quickly. In a minute, the area swarmed with more men who tried to break up the two young men. But they were bent to get at the other. Finally the men were able to get them to the back of the parking area which was when my breathing returned to normal. When we left, they were still in a heated discussion.

Thinking about the incident during the trip, I realized that nutrition, the lack of, may have played a significant part. Think diabetics experiencing erratic sugar levels. The men are Moro and Muslims and since it was Ramadan, on a fast. I have been amazed and curious from observation of Muslims during Ramadan here– they continue to do normal amount of work. But wouldn’t common sense tell you that with less food going in, energy usage need to be conserved. In short, less food and drinks means one has to cut back on physical work, physical movement, and the like. Otherwise, the body is put under extraordinary strain.

I then typed up a message to someone I knew: minsan, sa kakulangan lang talaga ng sugar sa katawan dahil sa pag-fasting nila ang dahilan kung bakit madaling uminit 🙂

‘Moro’ and ‘Muslim’ are over-rated, often cited as the reason native people in this region are violent or hot-blooded. But as it turns out there are other factors why people would become violent, in this case, perhaps, nutrition. What this points to is that the Moro as well as the Muslims, setting aside religion and ethnicity, are, simply, human beings, and just like the rest of the specie, we show our fangs when our stomachs and brains are drained of food and nutrition. And the reality for this specie is, only a few do get to become saints out of fasting. The majority grow temporary horns (I’m in this category which is why I don’t fast so much from food during Lent. I fast in other ways though like staying still and becoming quiet which is very hard to do).

I guess the solution there is that when we have to fast from food and drinks our entire waking hours, we take care to avoid situations in which our biological vulnerabilities could take over our rational thinking (the ability to think rationally requires adequate and right nutrition hence food, just observe nutritionally-deprived school children).

Which brings me to ask, what is the poverty incidence level in the poorest areas of this region (eg. ARMM)? In other words, imagine going on a decades-long fast.

The conflict in Mindanao from the perspective of Malthusian theory

There’s a joke that Muslims here like to tell, to which Muslims and Christians alike laugh at. It’s this- Muslim men could have as many as four wives max and still be legit by standards of their religion and law. Beyond that, however, they said they’d have become Christians. I hurt my stomach the first time I was told this. I couldn’t stop laughing.

In a way, this joke summarizes the complicated relationship between Muslims and Christians in the region particularly as you move further south where it’s more visible. If certain Muslims have taken arms to defend their sociopolitical and cultural survival in a country of 80-90% Catholic largely mainstreamed into the globalized economy and with that it’s sociopolitical and cultural ethic and, for some other groups, to defend at whatever cost the dictates of their conscience, there is or was, following the rule in physics, also the corresponding movement from Christians in the region- the Ilaga.

The Ilaga, the most notorious among the Christian vigilante groups, was reported to have been organized by seven local Christian politicians (“Magnificent Seven”) who were bent upon preserving their respective power and expanding them further by infiltrating and dominating areas traditionally controlled by Muslims. It was reported also that the Ilaga was supported by some influential Christian capitalists and logging magnates. The Ilaga group was the most feared to many Muslims primarily because of what its members did to their victims, like carving out ears, slashing nipples, plucking out eyes, and marking bodies with cross.

Yasmin Busran-Lao, Human Development, Economic and Social Costs, and Spillovers of Conflict: The Case of the Province of Lanao del Sur, background paper submitted to the Human Development Network Foundation, Inc. for the Philippine Human Development Report 2005

That dark period in the region’s history is apparently an experience that people here Muslim and Christian alike do not want to forget hence is passed on to younger generations in the form of stories which in turn may explain why there is still such vigilance, in their unconscious, between the two (which only a few have truly transcended the ones who are free to “cross over” invisible yet palpable boundaries such that we hear for instance Muslims protecting their Christian neighbors when armed fellow Muslims raid villages). Such stories were given as part of the orientation I had about the region. I was not yet five days old in the area. I was, what? can you spell that out please, because, for the life of me, I haven’t heard the word until then (I guess the reason is, I was schooled abroad).

Nothing apparently is what it seems. To truly understand the situation in Mindanao, ML or not, one must approach the subject with humility and in the calm or neutral spirit of scientific inquiry ie. if one is a Muslim, to be ready to accept that Muslims or certain Muslims are culpable and if one is a Christian, to be ready to accept that Christians or certain Christians have also had a hand, and, for both, in accepting that, to be open to the fact of our shared humanity which is that there is only one earth, one Philippines. How the planet, the country should be divided up for each and every human being should be done through intelligent and peaceful means (otherwise we have not really transformed from our ape past). Then again the rhetoric of ‘One Philippines’ need to be unpacked.

In one of the community discussions, somebody mentioned about population growth and population control as a related issue. Oh? I said in surprise. But it was obvious although not readily perceived. Filipino Catholics make up 80-90% of the country’s total population, and what is the total population? 100M. This means Catholics, whatever the ethnicity, greatly outnumber Muslims whatever their ethnicity. Such is true in the region. In other words, the droves of non-Muslims in continuous migration to Mindanao in search for land and greener pasture just by their sheer number easily overpower the original settlers hence easily impose their politics and culture on the “new land.” Now, population control. Catholics/Christians, since they make up much of the population, should share the bulk of the responsibility for birth control (the most rational, strategic, and intelligent means to population control (hence adequate space and quality of life for all)). That is equity. But the funny thing is, they are the ones, the Church leaders at least, who cite religious teaching as justification for disallowing Catholics to openly subscribe to a civic responsibility.

Without any checks, population would theoretically grow at an exponential rate, rapidly exceeding its ability to produce resources to support itself (Thomas Malthus).

I remember another joke about the root cause of this world’s problems, which is that, if it’s not economic, it must be sex. This brings us back to the joke about the wife taking.

Pyjama diplomacy

So… I was not mistaken with what I thought about the news, which until President Obama’s recent joke about the event dwelt on cute Prince George in pyjamas and dressing gown who stayed up past his bedtime so he could be part of the welcoming party, details of his monogrammed bathrobe said to be surely copied again by the rest of the world, and details inside the Kensington Palace’ apartment said to lack the opulence expected of royals which meant less maintenance expense to English taxpayers.

What I noticed were the underlying themes in the otherwise well-meaning greeting between Prince George and President Obama:

(1) Power. An outgoing President of a republican nation, the most powerful on earth today, making an official visit to a long-time ally, a Prince, third in line to the throne, who greets him in his bedclothes, the monogram on it could’ve read oh, bother! calling on me at this hour eh?— for this meeting’s many significances the Prince’ dress code really does feel “like a (royal) slap on the (commoner’s) face”.

(2) Manners. History and biography books say that English kings and queens take care to dress for the occasion. Was the young Prince’ dressing gown moment a lapse in English manners? Or, a sampling of British humor? Hmmm…

(3) Race/Color. The impact’s more so when one’s black. Prince George’ parents purportedly hid the word ‘negro’ from a painting in their apartment, and while successful, somebody forgot to efface the pun in the white bathrobe. “Black enough” for you, Mr. Balack, sir? Sir?

These made me think about our own dealings with China over the South China Sea / West Philippine Sea. What is that brilliant move which would soften China to us on that matter? Ha! As if?


Imagine the daily horrors, intentional or not, the politico’s wife has to witness and endure although on the positive side these things school one in the art of maintaining dignity in all things which soon inevitably develops into a happy steeliness. That or collapse at the slightest of remarks. In any case, one can always laugh the whole thing off, or attend to that carrot patch.

Workplace yoga

Who says the office is not the place to do yoga?  Vu Le shows how.

Reclining Warrior

This position stretches the lower back and neck and allows the arms to relax while enhancing circulation to the legs and pancreas.


Downward-facing Budget 

Breathe deeply while staring at a point on the floor. This position allows blood to rush to the temples, enhancing brain activity.

Restricted Funding

This position enhances balance and increases adrenaline flow.


Sustainability Plan pose

Repeat these motions ten times. This pose stretches your arm, neck, and adjusts any abnormalities in the energy meridian.

Mountain of emails pose

 This position stretches your back and allows your arms and fingers to relax.

How we become development workers

I have reconnected with a former senior Monitoring and Evaluation manager at my former employer’s regional office.  He was our unit’s boss’ boss actually hence our regular interaction with him.  Despite his achievements internationally, he has remained grounded, humble, and true to the development ideals. 

He shared me the compendium of his development “adventures” and “misadventures” which I immediately devoured.  The story on the first page, I’m sharing here below, is distinctly him, reminding me of his wit, as we in the M&E Regional Network which he headed tried to make common meaning of development results.  The Filipino, in his stories, often comes out the hero simply because he was Filipino.  The other nationals took this good-humoredly.  In exchange for their sportsmanship, other nationals are by turns made the heroes.       


How we become development workers

There was an international workshop on development at a riverside hotel in Bangkok, Thailand.  One of the topics was how to attract the best and the brightest to the development field. The workshop went very well. The resource persons were development specialists (an American, an Englishman and a Filipino). They were excited to write the workshop report and send it out. At the end of the workshop, they went out for dinner. They were tired of the hotel food like prawns, crabs and lobsters.

After dinner, they decided to walk back to the hotel.  They would like to have a closer look at the Chao Phraya River at high tide. At one point, they were convinced it was deep. They then heard people shouting. They found out that a little girl fell into the river. It was clear nobody was about to rescue her.  Suddenly, the Filipino was swimming in the direction of the hapless little girl.  After a few minutes, both of them were on the riverbank. He was mobbed by cheering spectators. They profusely thanked and congratulated him.

Upon seeing his colleagues who were smiling widely, the Filipino quietly asked them, “Who pushed me into the waters?”

The Geographer at Work

Groping for something else to fill the silence, she got in her word first.  ‘And what do you do?’ she said.
‘Oh,’ I said, grateful for the usual filler, ‘I’m a geographer.’  And even as I said it, I felt the safe ground turning into the familiar quagmire.  She did not have to ask the next question, but she did anyway.
‘A geographer?’
‘Er … yes, a geographer,’ said with that quietly enthusiastic confidence that trips so easily from the tongues of doctors, engineers, airline pilots, truckers, sailors and tramps.  After all, everyone knows what they do, and off the conversation goes on the awful ‘flu epidemic, the new bridge, the latest jet, the long haul out of Kansas City, the storm in the Bay of Biscay or the doss houses of Saskatoon.  But a geographer?
It has happened many times, and it seldom gets better.  That awful feeling of desperate foolishness when you, a professional geographer, find yourself incapable of explaining simply and shortly to others what you really do.  One could say, ‘I look at the world from a spatial perspective…’ or ‘Well, actually, I’m a spatial analyst,’ … Or there is the concrete example approach.  ‘Well, at the moment we’re calibrating an entropy-maximizing model for a journey-to-work study…’ or possibly ‘We’re using a part stochastic, part deterministic, computer simulation model to examine the threshold values in a regional development programme,’ all of which would be true up to a point.  But the words, with their precise meaning for geographers, convey nothing to others, and end up sounding like some private and deliberately obfuscating jargon.  Which would also be true.  Up to a point.  Often, in a desperate attempt to build a bridge with more familiar words, one ends up by saying, ‘Well, actually, I teach geography.’
‘Oh really?’, and laughing.  ‘What’s the capital of North Dakota?
– Peter Gould