During the last three months of the coronavirus pandemic Filipinos have seen at least three significant manifestations of the ruling government’s obsession with its effort to suppress opposition and criticism. First, the the conviction of Rappler chief Maria Ressa for libel, the first of many harassment cases against her currently pending with the courts. Then, the vigorous passage of the “Anti” Terrorism Law, which among other things, allows a council made up of the President’s alter-egos to authorize the warrantless arrest and detention for up to 24 days of any person they may designate and suspect as “terrorists”. Then, just today, the denial by the House of Representatives of a new broadcast franchise to the country’s largest broadcaster, ABS-CBN, effectively shutting it down and depriving millions of Filipinos, especially those in far-flung islands of this country, of crucial information and entertainment in this pandemic. Other recent manifestations of suppression include violent dispersals and numerous arrests and detentions imposed against ordinary citizens who have taken to the streets their expression of resistance.
I have my own opinion on some of the issues ABS-CBN was implicated in–notably that of its labor policies regarding “talents”, and of the tax avoidance schemes it employs to legally avoid billions in tax assessments. (That being said, my gripe is really with the government’s labor and tax framework that legally allows all this). But now is not the time to discuss all of that, when the public service rendered by the country’s largest and most pervasive broadcaster is ever more important in a public health and economic crisis. Besides, some of the issues thrown at ABS-CBN are for courts to resolve, not for congressmen to speculate on, or at the very least they can be resolved by Congress without shutting down the network and depriving employment to the company’s 11,000 employees.
For the rest of the issues, there is, in my opinion, nothing technically illegal with what ABS-CBN does because, as I’ve mentioned, the very legal framework that exists today allows the conduct of everything the government is alleging against the broadcaster–from the entry of foreign investment in mass media through depositary receipts, to the tax deductions and incentives ABS-CBN is able to claim to save on taxes, to the labor contracting scheme it hires its workers and ‘talents’ under.
I had looked forward to the start of July to restart writing on this blog–the beginning of the second half of the year seemed like a convenient and appropriate marker to start, I guess, any habit that one wishes to keep for the rest of the year or even longer, sort of like New Year’s resolution at midyear.
I’ll go ahead by stating the obvious–for everyone else I am quite certain–the first half of the year has been defined by the coronavirus pandemic and our collective response and experiences around it. Besides that, I am sure so many other things have happened in our respective communities, societies, and our personal lives. As to my own, I don’t know where to start. It isn’t even just the first half of the year that I’m making up for lost recollection–it’s the entire year since my last blog entry in June of 2019. This includes the entire time I was in Paris as a graduate student, the defining experience of the last twelve months.
Perhaps that’s where I should start with this brief recap. A few weeks ago I had just officially completed my Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree in European law at the Université Paris II – Panthéon Assas. (The last three months of which I spent at home in Manila, through online classes with our professors. I chose to fly home for refuge last March after everything went coronavirus haywire in Europe and Asia). My year in Paris was a remarkable experience I sincerely wish I had kept in better posterity in an online journal, with photos and well-written prose, rather than through bits and pieces of tweets and Instagram posts and private snapshots on my phone. More than the masters program, it is the experiences with new friends in Europe, and the many travails of trying to adapt in a seemingly impenetrable society in Paris, that truly made a lasting impression on me. I will try to write more about these experiences through bits and pieces of recollection in future blog entries perhaps.
Note: This is an ante-dated post (actual date of event)
We all wished we didn’t have to protest during a pandemic but protest becomes imperative when the erosion of our liberties become increasingly a reality.
The House of Representatives has passed the Anti-Terrorism Bill for the signature of the President. The bill, if it becomes a law, empowers a council made up of the President’s appointed alter-egos to order the arrest of anyone, without warrant, suspected not only of committing, but of merely planning to commit the vaguely-defined crime of terrorism–for up to twenty-four (24) days!
Note: This is an antedated post (actual date of photos)
It has been more than two weeks since I arrived back in the Philippines from Paris–thus completing my ‘self-quarantine’ period with no symptoms whatsoever. This afternoon I had to run an important errand outside the house. I took it as an opportunity to take one walk around the Academic Oval of the deserted University of the Philippines Diliman campus at sunset.
June 11, 2019. This was my penultimate day in Bali. My friends and I booked our flights separately, and we were to return to Manila on different days. I was going ahead because I wanted a full recovery day before going back to work the next day.
So on our last day together in the island, my friends and I spent a good part of the afternoon exploring the Garuda Wisnu Kencana (GWK) Park in south-central Bali. GWK is a cultural theme park centered around the gigantic 21-story tall monument depicting Hindu deity Vishnu riding the legendary bird Garuda. The entire complex felt like a modern theme park complete with standard theme park amenities and shops, minus the rides. It’s a relatively new development on the island, and I think they plan on setting up more amenities in the next few years.
There is an hourly cultural show at the amphitheater where Balinese dancers perform different sets of dances, depending on the schedule you get to watch. That afternoon, we were able to catch the Barong Keris dance, which depicts the mythological tale of a half-lion spirit beast and a Bali noble family. To be honest, I had to rely on the pamphlet to understand what was going on.
June 10, 2019. Not a lot of travelers go to Bali to trek its jungles and hike to its waterfalls. I realized it’s one of the things I that makes Bali a great travel destination–there are activities that cater to different types of travelers. For the more adventurous types, there are numerous cascades to trek on the island. For this particular adventure, we chose Sekumpul.
Before narrating further, I note that the night prior, Robby, one of our friends arrived from Manila to catch up with our trip. He couldn’t make it sooner, so for the first two days, it was just Rap and I. Henceforth, there were three of us buddies exploring the island.
We started our day early because it takes three hours to drive from Seminyak (where our hotel was) to Sekumpul far north of Bali. That morning, Joe, our driver, was sure to make a stop-over halfway through the drive, at a roadside shack that resembled your regular Filipino sari-sari store. There was your typical junk food and snacks. We had, aside from coffee, ta-da, more pork skewers! What’s with Joe, or Bali in general, and their penchant for babi (pork)?
Anyhow, after three hours on the road, through verdant rural landscapes and mountain passes, we arrived at Sekumpul. It was around midday, but we decided to postpone lunch and begin our trek into the jungle. It wasn’t really a trek trek, because much of the way has been paved with concrete. Although the climb down to the valley to the base of the waterfall and the hike back up was still as strenuous as it could be because a hundred vertical meters is, still, a hundred meters of pure physical effort.