Modern life phenomenon:  Minister for Loneliness

On Wednesday, the U.K. made political history by creating an entirely new, untried political role: the world’s first “minister for loneliness.” The post is designed to combat what Prime Minister Theresa May called “the sad reality of modern life” for many people.

Half a million British people over 60 only talk to another person once a week or less. People who self-report as lonely are more likely to experience dementia, heart disease, and depression. When it comes to life expectancy, the long-term health effects of loneliness are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

The World’s First Minister of Loneliness, Feargus O’Sullivan, Citylab

Maybe there’d be less songs for the lonely in the world, let’s see.

Today, the International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women

We, in the Philippines, need to review the current Anti Violence Against Women and their Children Law (Republic Act 9262) to include non-spousal violence. This requires a real and comprehensive understanding of gender inequality, that is, violence done to women (and their children) isn’t confined within a male-female relationship, but also, in many instances, within a female-female relationship as for example a mother-daughter relationship wherein either is the perpetrator or abuser. As I’ve written in earlier posts here, women also abuse other women in covert and overt ways. What if your own mother assaults you and your children in the middle of the night? What instant legal remedy could you avail of? Authorities and public services, per RA 9262, respond only to women-victims of spousal or partner abuse. It’s the saddest thing when authorities are themselves at a loss when you tell them that you want a protective order against your mother. 

One might argue there are in the Revised Penal Code remedies against non-spousal violence. True, but, you see, the treatment under this Code differs from that in RA 9262. In the latter, there is urgent response and “special” considerations ie. arrangements that are sensitive to needs of the woman-and -child(ren) victim which are not provided for in the former (RPC). 

The lesson here is, policy-makers, in enacting gender-equalizing and protection laws need first to understand the concept of gender and women ie. it is not just men who are violent or abusive. And what about domestic violence done to LGBTQ? Moreover, enactment of laws such as RA 9262 cannot be divorced from laws such as on divorce given that women’s rights are non-divisive. One’s right to life cannot be divorced from one’s right to education. Sama-sama lahat yan. Policy-makers need to understand these in order to draw up effective policies.

International day elimination of violence against women

More on Burnham Park

This is Baguio City’s only park but how come City Hall couldn’t maintain it as it should? Is City Hall bankrupt?

Seats around the lake and elsewhere. They’re the same old ones from my childhood and my parents’ college years. What’s not doable with improving say five seats a year following modern design (as below) until every seat has been updated?

Park seating design

The grass at Melvin Jones football ground. Shamefully patchy and an embarassment to City visitors if not City residents themselves. The City’s tree planting activities should expand to grass patching in this area.

“Let a thousand flowers bloom” so goes the Panagbenga banner. Where else in the City to show this but Burnham Park? But, for several years now, the statement is like the truth in most ads: believe it at your peril. Take for instance, Pantene’s current TV ad of it’s 3-Minute Miracle Conditioner. This beautiful lady with the beautiful long hair goes off to stand inches away from a jet plane’s engine. The engine is started and the turbine whirls sending the hair flying in all directions. The turbine is turned off and…”damaged hair”. But no worries, Pantene Miracle Conditioner will save the day. Thing is, in the real world, there’d be no more hair (or, head of hair, wait, in fact, no more beautiful lady) to speak of when you stand right in front of a jet’s churning turbine. At full speed it’d send you off to Laguna de Bay if not suck you in…a bloody mess for the airline’s mechanics to clean up. Back to the Park. Anybody with eyes, a City resident or a tourist, can see that the few surviving flowers at the Park are near-wilting. Or, perhaps since the City has not actualized the bloom of a thousand flowers since the first festival it’s time to revisit the slogan to see if it’s still appropriate. The phrase is actually borrowed from Mao Zedong:

Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land.

In reality, however, according to history, “many of those who put forward views that were critical of Mao were executed”. 

The Children’s Park. On hot windy days, earth from the grass-less ground is carried by the wind to end up on children’s skin and into their lungs. Meanwhile City Hall declares itself a child-friendly City.

The Cycling Area. The place is full of potholes. City Hall has leased this part to rent-a-bike entrepreneurs who, obviously, have not done any maintenance work. What are the provisions in their contract with City Hall? Whose responsibility is it to maintain and repair the area? If it’s the entrepreneurs’, what’s City Hall doing to ensure they act on their responsibility? The area is not private property that maintenance is left to the whims of the users.

The Park as a cultural space. For culture to thrive, grow, and be appreciated and enhanced, it needs to be made a regular part of community (or, public) life. Where else to do that best than at the Park? The mall has become the place to see, hear, and know culture but what’s hosted there are the commercialized versions. As a result, people now believe that them buying and putting on a pair of earrings of native design is culture. That’s similar to getting pranked on April Fool’s Day. Culture is a mindset, that shows in one’s daily decisions, actions, and habits.

Theater stage modern design

How else could Cordillerans pass on their indigenous legacy than through stories, songs, and dances, art forms very much indicative of who they are? Once a year as in street dances on opening day of Panagbenga is not doing their culture justice. These require a public staging place. How else did the English influence the rest of the world with their culture? They were staged (in short, written and replayed again and again to audiences who in turn passed them on to and through their networks and so forth, similar to Facebook’s friends of friends business model).

Open public theater

Speaking of Panagbenga, City Hall should’ve by now come up with minimum quality standards that booth-owners renting space at the Park should comply with (otherwise, go find the place where polluters are so welcomed). This sounds heartless but, think, this is the only remaining Park we have in the City- would we leave it’s health to business which if left alone to do it’s thing will naturally maximize free resource in order to squeeze out the most profit? The years have shown that the businesses that rented from City Hall were just that. 

Booth design sample starbucks

Finally, the felled trees of the Park. Where were they brought to? They should be publicly-displayed artistically, something like the one below, with appropriate captions (name, age, specie, history) as monument to ancient ones that had lengthily served the City and it’s people; also to educate and develop appreciation among the public for the City’s tree species and the role of trees in the survival of human communities.

Tree logs public display

To build or not to build: City parking at Burnham Park

Baguio City is back to two of it’s more contentious topics- parking and Burnham Park. The long term solution to this, given that the City’s land area is non-expandable unless the mountains around it are bulldozed (I say this because it’s actually started for inappropriate residential and commercial projects and I don’t know if some people have just totally gone mental) is usage of economic tools to manage vehicular traffic within the CBD in particular and car ownership in general. There has been no initiative from City Hall toward this, despite persistent recommendations from local architects and planners, which is why parking has grown and grown and grown into this monstruous problem now.

In the short- and mid-term, parking buildings could be considered which as prerequisiite should’ve undergone environmental impact assessments. Anybody who’s done an EIA would know that risks posed by construction of a parking building in Burnham Park include:

  1. Cultural – loss of heritage (mana) for the City’s present and future generations, as in, ano na lang ang mamanahin ng mga anak natin at ang kanilang mga anak? a graveyard of parking buildings?;
  2. Environmental – during the 1991 7.6 earthquake and aftershocks, those of us who were trapped in the CBD and spent the night (or, days) at the Park know, from experience, that the ground there is water underneath; increased pollution from incrrased vehicular traffic in and out the Park; increased heat island effect as a result of pollution and conversion of green space; accelerated loss of biodiversity as a result of pollution and habitat disturbance; decreased capacity of the Park to provide ecosystem services eg. air filtration, protection from solar rays, carbon absorption, climate regulation;
  3. Socio-Economic – loss of space for the City’s civic activities (eg. jogging, morning exercises especially among senior citizens, strolling instead of in malls thus benefitting from fresh air and natural Vitamin D) that promote health and wellbeing in the population; loss of green space offering to tourists and visitors (they don’t come to this mountain City in order to drool over a parking building but rather for the zen effect of mountain foliage and cool weather that are fast becoming a thing of the past by the way);
  4. Etc.

Such an assessment, together with cost-benefit analysis, will provide scientifically-correct data and information on which to base decision as to whether project risks can be mitigated or the entire project scrapped.

Let’s say City officials take the road oft-travelled which is, to go on ahead and put up, without being informed by an EIA, the parking building right in the Park. Common sense will still say the project has got be done in a way that it  will “continuously compensate” for the losses, hardships, and inconveniences it brings to the community. What are some of these compensations?

One, design. The reason why City folks (and others in the country) are protesting such a project is because of how ‘parking building’ has been normally imagined by Filipino builders: a massive concrete box and nothing else. Walang ka-arte-arte. The word now in building design is ‘green’ as in integration of carbon minimizing aspects of the naturally beautiful natural environment into built spaces.

Parking area design

Green building design

Green building design

And, since the City is the residence of choice of artists, the building could be a mount for their works (which by the way should be regularly maintained and, resouces permitting, changed periodically. One of the City’s bad habits, which it needs to change, is inaugurating a work of art in the public space and then completely forgetting about it until bugs have eaten it away and there’s nothing to see, or a passerby had to be hospitalized after the rotting thing fell on his head).

Green building facade design

Two, as talk show host Boy Abunda always reminds his audiences, be kind. This in today’s design sciences means, buildings are mindful of the needs of people, both their residents and visitors. An unkind building is one which has not for instance a single bench for children, the elderly, pregnant women, people with disabilities, or the suddenly ill to sit or rest while, say, waiting for the elevator to come up or down from the 100th floor.

Once, at a posh department store, at the ground-level parking area, I saw a man, maybe 50s, shopping bags of women’s brands to his side, sitting on a narrow bench just outside the mall doors. He was apparently waiting for his partner who I guessed, if she’s female, was still deliberating on a thousand choices of shoes. He looked spent and close to imploding. That area of the mall was hot but I had a feeling his state of being was more due to discomfort. Where he was waiting wasn’t exactly heaven and if he was inside his car, well, these days everybody’s saving on gas, and if he waited inside the mall he had to do it at a cafe or restaurant which meant he had to buy, again. 

Green building interior design

A kind building has thought ahead about it’s users and visitors and purposefully integrated human needs into it’s entire space (versus throwing in a bench or two on afterthought). My point, basically, is for buildings or technology to cater ultimately to humans (people) and not to things. When planners, decisionmakers, and builders use this as their guiding principle there’s no reason for most people to protest or suffer from effects of mindless decisions.

Home is where it all begins

In the 23 September 2017 episode of The Bottomline, one of the three male guests, Chair of International Studies of DLSU, gave this response to the host Boy Abunda’s query on why martial law appeal to many people,

People are looking for order… and a simple explanation to complicated issues hounding the country, and these they find in him (the President)

True. Just go at a street crossing. There are still plenty of people who, despite the red light, cross the street, arrogantly and defiantly too; despite the zebra crossing in school areas, do not slow down. Media as well, it persists on violating citizens’ rights to privacy and fair trial despite feedback provided them. And so on. Deviants only stop whenever police are present and go back to doing what they like when authorities aren’t around physically.

Martial law in this context is intended to correct persistent law breaking until such time deviants become law abiding, or law and order in deviant communities restored. It is after all the State’s duty to preserve law and order for it’s citizenry. However, since it’s real-world human communities, it is difficult, if not impossible to actually isolate x from y a relatively easy task in laboratory experiments. In the real world of humans, there is always spillover effects on the innocent or law abiding population. To make operations easier, therefore, the starting point is at zero ie. everyone is suspect. This is when martial law becomes problematic. Everyone starts blaming the implementer. But really the ones to blame, if pinpointing must be done, are the deviants, those without thought or care for the effects of their actions on others, the bad-influencers. Who was it who pushed the State to it’s limits (of tolerance, patience) in the first place? There were personalities who wanted the throne on the pretext of change. But was there ever a legitimate leader who gave up the throne to an usurper? You defend it like you naturally would your house from attackers. One could become ruthless doing this, naturally, angered by the attackers’ daring. Pasensya na lang kung ikaw ay naisama sa mga inaakalang kalaban. This is the context of Marcos’ martial law. I hope we won’t let history repeat itself again, and I say this to personalities who are wanting the throne in the pretext of democracy or righting human rights violations.

The Philippines is still relatively more tolerant, more free in the UN sense of the word than it’s Southeast Asian neighbors. Go to Malaysia, Indonesia, or Brunei- outsiders are bound to respect certain Muslim rules (here, we scoff at such rules confident Catholic ones are the only rules). Go to Singapore, traffic law breakers are fined without fail. Outside the region, go to the US or UK, zoning rules are taken seriously. Internally, Metro Manila is relatively more free, more secure, with more infrastructures, goods, and services than many cities, towns, and villages in Mindanao and rebel-infested parts of Visayas and tribal communities of Northern Luzon. But people in the Metro take to the streets as if they’re the most naapi sa lahat. When they yell No To Impunity, where do they mean? whose community, city, town, or village are they referring to? in whose behalf are they saying it? Moro Muslims? Mangyans? Ibanags? Ilocanos? themselves, in the Metro? How Metro-centric even in protest.

I suggest that in order for the Metro’s protesters to know the difference they go immerse themselves for two years in, say, Maguindanao, Masbate, Kalinga, Abra, or in the hinterlands of Zambales. Then afterward tell us how to go about doing rights and freedom. My point is, let’s stop protesting about ideals and instead start doing, faithfully, in our own neighborhoods and villages the change that we want to see. Talk to your Barangay LGU about making your village more child-friendly and gender aware. Organize your village youth group into making a journey within themselves and with other youth, dialoguing toward a purpose-driven life. Conduct adult literacy classes in your neighborhood. Educate transport groups in your barangay on customer service. Help the elderly with their grocery bags. Organize a single-parents club. Attend and speak up in barangay meetings (show rather than tell this ought to be the norm). Make neighborhoods and villages happy, safe, and secure, that media won’t have anything “newsworthy” to report anymore.

Eleanor roosevelt quote human rights

CCTVs and broadcast media

​Twenty years ago, on 19 April 1995, a disaffected veteran named Timothy McVeigh drove a Ryder truck stuffed with explosives into downtown Oklahoma City and destroyed a federal office building, killing 168 people, including 19 children, and maiming hundreds of others. That much we know.

We also know that, within 90 minutes of the bombing, McVeigh was pulled over near the Kansas border and arrested, alone, at the wheel of a glaringly improbable getaway car, an ancient, spluttering rust bucket of a Mercury sedan with no licence plates, which made him a sitting duck for any passing highway patrolman.

How could such a callous, carefully planned attack have come to such an incongruously slapdash end? After a vast investigation headed by the FBI , three trials mounted against McVeigh and his co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, and an avalanche of court documents, there is still no definitive answer to that question.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the Oklahoma City bombing – by far the most destructive act perpetrated by a home-grown assailant against fellow Americans – is not how much we’ve learned over the past 20 years but rather how much we still do not know.

Oklahoma City bombing: 20 years later, key questions remain unanswered, Andrew Gumbel, The Guardian

Another equally-riveting incident but closer to home was that captured on CCTV footage in 2014 of the artist Vhong Navarro mauled by a certain Cedric Lee and companion after Navarro raped the actress Deniece Cornejo, well, that’s according to media reports at the time. It repeatedly televised the footage and speculated on it like ten thousand judges speaking at the same time long before the trial had even started. In fact, analysis by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility shows it was a field day for media companies,

Air time vhong navarro case by cmfrTurns out, those statements about that particular footage were misleading (there was or were other footages that media didn’t include in it’s broadcast, one of which of Cornejo and Lee kissing after they had brought Navarro to the police station). And so, just two days ago, the DOJ decided for the acquittal of Navarro.

What these imply is that, judgement made on criminal or illegal acts is not made basing solely on CCTV evidence; much more information is needed in order for a crime to be attributed beyond reasonable doubt on the accused.

One is the required authentication of CCTV recordings in order for these to be admitted as evidence (in court). The authentication procedure is provided for in the Rules on Electronic Evidence of Republic Act 8792 (E-Commerce Act of 2000),

(Section 1, Rule 11) [a]udio, photographic and video evidence of events, acts or transactions shall be admissible provided it shall be shown, presented or displayed to the court and shall be identified, explained or authenticated by the person who made the recording or by some other person competent to testify on the accuracy thereof.

(Section 31) access to an electronic file or an electronic signature of an electronic data message or electronic document shall only be authorized and enforced in favor of the individual or entity having a legal right to the possession or the use of the plaintext, electronic signature, or file and solely for the authorized purposes.

Also, as posted earlier, the Broadcast Code of the Philippines has provisions for the handling of similar material,

Sec. 4. NEWS SOURCES

4.b. Only news that can be attributed to a source shall be aired. When a source cannot be identified by name, the reason for this should be made clear in the news report.

4.d. News sources must be clearly identified, except when confidentiality of the source was a condition for giving the information.

4.c. Information provided by confidential sources may be aired only if it is in the public interest to do so.

4.e. Before airing information provided by a confidential source, an effort should first be made to look for a source who can be identified or who can corrobotate the information provided by the confidential source.

4.f. Rumors or gossips shall not be aired in the guise of news. Using terms like “anonymous source”, ” confidential source”, or “unknown source” shall not justify the airing of rumors and gossips especially in news programs.

Sec. 7. UNCONVENTIONAL NEWS GATHERING AND REPORTING

7.a. In the most extreme circumstances, when information being sought is vitally important to public interest or necessary to prevent profound harm, the use of hidden cameras or microphones and other similar techniques of news gathering and reporting may be resorted to. Before resorting to such techniques, conventional methods must first be exhausted. In all cases, the use of such techniques must conform to the law.

7.b. When material obtained through such techniques are broadcast, this must be presented fairly, factually, and in the proper context. The right to privacy must be observed and harm to the innocent avoided.

7.d. When materials that have been obtained through unconventional techniques are received from third parties, their broadcast must conform with the relevant provisions under this section.

Other relevant legal provisions include,

  1. The Data Privacy Act of 2012, protecting citizens from the misuse of data for profit;
  2. The Anti-Wiretapping Act of 1969, deeming it unlawful for any person, not being authorized by all the parties, to any private communication or spoken word, to tap any wire or cable, or by using any other device or arrangement, to secretly overhear, intercept, or record such communication or spoken word by using a device;
  3. Executive Order No. 2 of 2016 on the freedom of information

SECTION 3 . Access to information . Every Filipino shall have access to information, official records, public records and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development.

SECTION 4 . Exception . Access to information shall be denied when the information falls under any of the exceptions enshrined in the Constitution, existing law or jurisprudence (ie. Bill of Rights, Revised Penal Code, E-Commerce Act, Data Privacy Act, Anti-Wiretapping Act)*terms in parentheses, mine

These relative to media’s practice of broadcasting CCTV footages begs the question, are the footages authenticated? If not, then the public has been, or is being fed with unverified recordings. The public, at least those who passively believe what they see and hear a hundred and one percent, are made complicit in the perpetuation of speculations presented as news. Take the case of Vhong Navarro. (Or, the camera footages shown the past two days of the President’s partner Honeylet Avancena. The first was a teaser of some sort, the report containing no other details just that she’s in NYC “attending the UNGA”. The second one, shown on the following day, was a bit more detailed ie. she’s on a personal trip to attend First Lady Melania Trump upon the latter’s invitation and that expenses are on Avancena. What do media outfits want to convey by this? By broadcasting the footage ahead of the basic who, what, why, where, and how, the reporters came off as mere paparazzi stalking a celebrity, in effect, degrading themselves and their profession and missing the opportunity to promote the capacity of a Filipino woman to discuss global or regional issues with other women leaders of the world). The news coverage, based entirely on one footage, and despite Navarro’s subsequent acquittal had inadvertently planted the seed of doubt in the mind of many a Filipino. That’s irreparable damage to name and reputation not to mention emotional trauma and the resulting ill effects on the body, loss of potential income (as a result of potential employers shying away), and the slow-but-sure birthing of a mindless bully public. Imagine this being done through the screen on a daily basis, just because.

Broadcast media companies should take a serious look at their business model – how is their kind of journalism different from actions of human rights violators that they report hard about, how is it not peddling moral panic and an influence to impunity and toward establishment of a Surveillance State as a result of it’s indiscriminate use, in effect, promotion, of recordings of citizens to summarily sentence them without fair trial – and revamp it. Media holds a very important role in building a stable State, nation building, and development. It should hold itself up to the standards of that role. 

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.