Thursday, October 28, 2010

The fury of HIV infection - is the Philippines ready?

The National Epidemiology Center released the September 2010 data for newly diagnosed HIV cases in the Philippines.

Last month alone, there were 153 new HIV Antibody seropositive individuals confirmed and reported to the HIV and AIDS registry in the Philippines. A 173% increase (53 cases in 2009) for the same period last year. Most (95%) of them were males and the median age was 28 years (range: 18-58 years). The largest age group affected was 20-29 years (54%). Half (~50%) of of the cases were from the National Capital Region (NCR).

Of the 153 new cases last month, reported mode of transmission was sexual contact in in 98% (150 cases) with only 3 cases reported from re-use of needles among injecting drug users. Males having sex with males (homosexual or bisexual) was the predominant type of sexual transmission (83%). Most (9%) were asymptomatic at the time of reporting.

Three (3) of the cases in September 2010 were documented AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). The median age of the AIDS cases is 25 years. All three cases were males having sex with males.

Based on demography, 14% (N=21) of the reported cases last September were OFWs. Most (91%) were males with a median age of 32 years. All cases acquired the infection through sexual contact - 75% males having sex with males.

The total number of reported cases from January - September 2010 alone was 1,201 or an average of about 4 cases per day. In September alone, the number had the highest jump to 5 cases a day being reported positive for HIV infection.

From 1984-2010, we have reported 5625 cases of HIV infection alone, with 85% of those infected being asymptomatic. Males (77%) outnumber females (23%) in total number affected based on sex. Almost 20% of those afflicted with HIV infection belong to the age group 15-24 years old. At least 6% have reportedly died due to AIDS since 1984.

I share the update with my blog readers so that they are informed on the situation of HIV infection and AIDS in the Philippines.

What do the data show?

1. That there are more new cases reported daily. These new reported cases are voluntary. And therefore the statistics are an underestimation of the true situation of HIV infection in the country. It is surmised that it probably is only the tip of the iceberg. Which means that most probably we are looking at about 10-25% of the actual cases of HIV in the country. Extrapolating that to the real scenario would mean that there are about 5 new cases a day.

2. The practice of safe sex is mandatory in the current post-HIV scenario. Of course, I am in no position to demand monogamy, but if it cannot be avoided, I advise people to please try to contain the consequences of unsafe sex among themselves. While I see all the billboards splash the walls with the NO SMOKING ads and the NO SECOND HAND SMOKING advertisements, HIV is very much like this as well. Confine the infection to yourselves. If you cannot abstain from having sex, do not get others infected at the very least.

3. No one dies of AIDS. In a country like the Philippines where infectious diseases is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality, an era where you have both HIV infection and say, tuberculosis, is devastating. You will not need contraceptive methods to decrease the total number of Filipinos multiplying in the country. HIV infection is a debilitating illness that not only drains the family emotionally but the government financially as well. If we have an outbreak of HIV infection, that will put the country three steps back in any of its program to move forward.

4. As you will notice, the bulk of the age group affected are young. Very young. I can only surmise that these are those who probably engage in unprotected sex and promiscuous behavior. As evident in the data, the bulk are males and the bulk are those that engage in male to male sex (whether homosexual or bisexual in nature). While the data for the mother to child transmission rate is very low, this is good data. If a program is in place early, it can focus on target individuals especially the teenagers who have very minimal information on sex education because the church and government officials are struggling to find a middle ground on when and whether it is time to provide sex education to our students.

5. There is a need to educate the OFWs as well on the growing problem of HIV infection. While it is true that loneliness finds its way to seep into the loins of those separated from their loved ones, it is sick to cavort elsewhere and bring the infection home to scatter the seeds of wrath with your beloved.

The data is alarming and should be a wake-up call and an awareness especially among the youth and those that practice unsafe sex. There is no excuse for ignorance. Technology today has changed the pace of the world by providing access to valuable information for everyone. We can use technology to our advantage by disseminating this information.

But there will be those that will choose to ignore this. And use the internet for desires of the flesh - a source for meeting up scrupulous people for copulation and lust. A recent study showed that the youth are most vulnerable to the latter. Raging hormones in this age group is no reason for acting careless and stupid.

What goes around, comes around. The fury of HIV infection has not yet reeled its ugly head, but the 5 NEW cases a day from last month's data should serve as an early warning that this storm is not far behind.

Knowing the Pinoys, they will never be ready for this, unless we change our paradigm today.

[Data from the National Epidemiology Center, Philippine HIV and AIDS registry, Department of Health, Philippines. Click on the illustrations/graphs/tables to see a larger image of the data]

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Primetime's mendicancy: The return of Willie R.

For the record, I am not a fan of Willie Revillame.

It was, however, interesting to watch his new show titled "Willing Willie" on TV5.

The show runs for 3 hours - from 6:30 - 9:30 in the evening. And Willie R is the only host (with Mo Twister on the sideline acting like an emcee for a beauty contest). What's new with the show? Nothing. It simply is a take from the defunct "Wowowee". New sets don the new home studio, but it looks like the same crowd. The sexy dancing girls are gyrating and doing splits to the various music that's bombastically barraging my eardrums. The endorsements are endless and so is the cash!

The take here is that the show runs smack against two major networks' news shows - GMA 7 "24 Oras" and ABS-CBN "TV Patrol". It trickles into the reality show of GMA after 8pm and a telenovela of ABS-CBN.

And here's the kill.

"WIlling Willie" is mass-based. I was telling my mom over dinner that this is one show that the masses will get enticed to watch. Not only because the show gives away money to studio participants, but to home viewers as well. It's like, for 3 hours, you see so much money being given away. This doesn't of course include a jackpot price of a car, a house and lot at Camella Homes (developer is Sen. Manny Villar who happens to be Willie R's business partner for his Wil Towers) and P1M in cash - all in one prize pot!

True enough, 5 minutes after I discussed my take on the show with my mom, Willie blurts out "bakit pa kayo manonood ng news, eh dito sa atin, may pera na nakakatulong pa"! (Why do you want to watch the news when in my show, we give away money and we can help you financially?)

The studio participants are mass-based. They are those who belong to lowest quintiles of society - the C, D and E. They're also his greatest and most loyal fans. They follow Willie wherever and whatever TV channel he moves to. Like the paupers on the streets of Manila, the mendicants will always be avid followers of those that give dole-outs.

But the C, D and E classes make up more than 75% of Philippine society. The segment of society that is most neglected by both the rich and the government.

It is the same class that bands together in order to preserve their existence in the urban jungle. They are rabid and will never understand why mendicancy is a crime altogether.

Never mind if they will look stupid or crazy or dance like a chicken or crow like a lunatic in front of the camera. Never mind if they will share their life story of hardship and financial disarray or broken homes and tragic lives. For the money they can bring home, even if it means licking and sucking up to Willie R, it will temporarily provide food on the table.

After all, the Filipino is used to being beggars in their own nation. During an election period, people will exchange their votes for a measly amount of money in order to provide food or medicine for their family.

While there is nothing wrong about giving money away (I like that thought), the thought that the way the show is being aired leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Today, Willie R talks about the rising ratings of his 3 days old show. Indeed, a 33.8% share of primetime is impressive. And I am sure both Channels 2 and 7 honchos are scratching their heads on this.

Why is that?

It's simple. The ratings game commands sponsorship (TV commercials). The higher the rating of the show, the more commercials it gets. Which means that the show of Willie R can demand a higher fee for a commercial slot eventually. With limited resources, why do you want to put a commercial on a show that has a dwindling follower?

Interestingly, is how the two giant networks will now have to focus on re-inventing their news program. I mean, what will make every Juan de la Cruz interested in having to hear people dying from a bus falling off a ravine or some SK official getting shot during a poll violence or some starlet having a lurid affair with a boxer? Is there money for me in all these cheezy news? Nope! Will it make me P10,000 richer overnight? Nope! Would I care less if the mayor of some pathetic town rolled over and died? Nope! Will it matter to me if somewhere in Paris, the French people went up in arms against their own government? Nope! In short, what would interest the 75% of the viewing public is now focused on what they can gain from the show of Willie R.

If the trend continues, the next 3 months will be crucial. Slowly but surely, there will be a large chunk of TV viewers that will shift gears to watching a game show than watching some dreadful tsunami pummel a country. The latter, after all, does not concern them and is a one time event. If the trend on the TV ratings continue, there will be a change in time slot for the news shows and they will need to replicate a show that will go head to head with Willie R.

At this point in time, it would be interesting to see the turn of the tide. Only two things can happen. Willing Willie will flop and lose it's following and Manny P would have gambled for naught. But Pangilinan, at this point, is willing to stake his balls for the jugular against two giants in the industry. And Willie R is his secret weapon. Why else put him right smack head to head against two institutional giants and primetime news at that?

It does not take a genius to see this interesting battle for primetime supremacy.

Will Willie R have the last laugh?

As they say in showbiz...ABANGAN ANG SUSUNOD NA KABANATA! (to be continued...)

[Photos from Pinoy Gossip Boy and]

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The eulogy

It's not just because All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day is around the corner that I blog about death.

The last month alone, I had several friends and/or their parents who have gone to the other side of the world. There are no words to describe the outpouring of sympathy for them. As I have always said, it is the ones we leave behind that are left traumatized or emotionally scarred by the untimely demise...gone too soon.

The email groups were flooded with memories of classmates and schoolmates that we once shared our laughters, joys, and tears with. Flashbacks into lives of where we were and where destiny has led us.

I recently bought the new CD of Trijnte Oosterhuis (Traincha) a favorite artist of mine. Many of the songs in her new album were songs of Michael Jackson. One that struck me and left me teary eyed and staring at a blank wall for a few minutes (no I did not have a seizure episode!) was the song entitled "Gone Too Soon".

I have copied the lyrics and uploaded the YouTube version of Traincha's 3:25 minutes rendition.

Like a comet
Blazing 'cross the evening sky
Gone too soon

Like a rainbow
Fading in the twinkling of an eye
Gone too soon

Shiny and sparkly
And splendidly bright
Here one day
Gone one night

Like the loss of sunlight
On a cloudy afternoon
Gone too soon

Like a castle
Built upon a sandy beach
Gone too soon

Like a perfect flower
That is just beyond your reach
Gone too soon

Born to amuse, to inspire, to delight
Here one day

Gone one night

Like a sunset
Dying with the rising of the moon
Gone too soon
Gone too soon

I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did. It is, in so many words, the eulogy to those who have crossed this world to a more peaceful place...home.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The problem with the Philippines IS...

On my way to giving a lecture last Thursday, while traversing the traffic of Metro Manila, someone asked me what I thought of the ODD-EVEN scheme that the MMDA is proposing to implement along EDSA.

As if our troubles of having to share the road of Metro Manila with these public utility vehicles were not enough with the number coding scheme (it's the last number on the plate number of our cars that determines whether you can use your car for the day or not).

THe proposal of the MMDA is to make all cars whose numbers end in ODD not allowed entry into EDSA on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while those that end in EVEN not allowed to access EDSA on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Sanamagan! What an idiotic idea!

The discussion ended with me giving a treatise of the actual scenario of the Philippines.

Is there hope for the Philippines?

NO. Even if PNoy had himself castrated live on TV, I seriously doubt that there would be hope. Not in this generation. Not in this lifetime.

I am not being anti-nationalistic here. Believe me when I say that I love this country, in spite of all the faults of the people running it. But I can only share my love so much. Seriously, I am no martyr and am not willing to take a bullet for the other idiots that seem to be pathetically embroiled in so much graft and corruption.

I am sad to say that the people running this country (or even the local government at the very least) are clueless (and that's a kind word to describe them). Whatever experience they have or whatever credentials in governance they claim to have has no bearing on their capability to run this nation.

The basic problem of the Philippines is lack of DISCIPLINE. This is the core problem of the people of this nation. This is the problem that is impossible to tackle unless with an iron fist. At the rate we are going, all these limp wrist government officials are simply providing temporary solutions to a permanent problem. Daig pa nila ang mga bakla sa pagiging balimbing at pusong mamon!


What are rules and regulations and laws for if no one can follow them or implementing them will always have exceptions to these so-called rules?

You will have to agree with me that it takes a monumental love for country by each individual citizen to imbibe the culture of discipline.

The logic here is simple.

The MMDA claims that some school called University of the Philippines studied the traffic problem in Metro Manila and said that the sheer volume of private car owners traversing EDSA is a major reason for the congestion along this highway. Well call me silly and call these researchers stupid, but honestly, this was a myopic view of the actual problem on EDSA.

First is the fact loading and unloading in various public vehicle areas is the major problem of this country (not only Metro Manila). People think that when they stop a jeep or bus or tricycle in the middle of the road, that vehicle must come to halt and pick up their majesty. While there are loading and unloading areas for public vehicles, have you ever seen a place that loads and unloads them properly? These public vehicles will always jockey for passengers. Why? Because they are all paid based on commission or what the operators call boundary. Which means that they earn whatever excess of the minimum amount each operator allows them.

Traversing EDSA, on your right window you will see the buses. I counted the buses on the way to Novaliches from the same starting point. Bus 1 had 5 passengers, Bus 2 had 4 passengers, Bus 3 had 8 passengers, Bus 4 had 10 passengers, Bus 5 had 6 passengers, Bus 6 had 2 passengers, Bus 7 had 9 passengers and all these buses were headed for the same direction. The conductors and barkers were busily shouting their destination and of course, waiting for passengers to load the bus at the Guadalupe area. Why do we need all these buses which are practically not full? Gimme a break! One bus can put all these passengers (and still have extra space even if the passenger carried a pig as a carry on baggage) and head towards the same destination without hovering the already crowded highway. So why then blame the private cars?

The roads in the Philippines are NOT enough for ALL of the cars and public vehicles. Period.

But it does not mean that the private cars will need to make the ultimate sacrifice for these public vehicles. It is but logical that as more cars are available, there is less need for public vehicles. This is again secondary logic. Of course having more cars will mean that there more people can use their own vehicles moving from Point A to Point B without the need for public vehicle. Hence, as more cars are on the road, there should be logically less public vehicles accessing the same route. Simple logic. Something these people at MMDA lack. No brainer!

I am not saying that we remove all the public utility vehicles. The law of supply and demand is basic economics - you need to reduce them as well. Put a schedule for public transportation. Put only what is required and time the next destination. Why is it that we're willing to wait for the next train if we're taking the MRT? But if it's the bus or jeep or tricycle, it's got to be a royalty approach - they pick you up where you want to ride and if you could drop them off right at the doorstep of their house, so be it!

And media in all its claim of fair game, will always try to get the side of Claire de la Fuente who apparently heads the buses association. She should just go back to singing and not trying to defend what is only in their own vested interest. The impact to the Philippine economy of losing $2B a year on wasted time for having to traverse EDSA is not enough even if Claire sang gazillion songs a day! Or had all their buses burned!

My heart bleeds to the poorer people who need these so-called jobs to feed their family. I will be blunt. They should get a life. Is being a barker a job? Jeez! When they apply for a job in another country, they can type down in their resume - BARKER at Guadalupe EDSA. M*th*rF*ck*rs!! Legitimate jobs require that they PAY taxes. Do they even pay taxes? I seriously doubt that. They pay tithes - sin taxes to all those Kotong Officers (MMDA and policemen). And that includes these public utility drivers that earn their daily wages using the boundary method. They are legally employed! It's no wonder that when accidents occur, they scamper off and go into hiding, only to find another job in another public vehicle company another day! And private vehicles owners like you and I have to pay road taxes, incredibly high taxes on our cars, insurances at sky rocketing rates to protect our cars against public utility vehicles because when you get into an accident with them, the driver will just scratch his head and his balls and say that they have no money to pay (what ever happened to the third party liability) and the operators are simply in cahoots with the police officer who will make the police report so that they're scot free from liabilities.

Alright. So I am being mean. No, let's change that. I am degrading these nincompoops who need to get a life. Sarcasm is my middle name.

So these people are poor. But being poor is not an excuse for being stupid and not being disciplined. Discipline is the hallmark of any industrialized society. Unless we learn to cross at the pedestrian lanes, not spit on the road anytime our throat itches, pee on the walls with those tiny Pinoy penises hanging out in all the glory and splendor of yellow piss watering the steaming asphalt roads, learn to fall in line and wait for our turn, follow directions that are already splattered all over the walls and in our faces, load and unload in designated areas, have lesser graft and corruption so that proper urban planning for the metropolis is the rule of the game (and not see every SM or Ayala Mall shop rise somewhere in the middle of all the urban jungle), kids who are underaged should not be on the driver's seat raring to show off to their pathetic friends that they know how to drive, that texting while driving is dangerous not only to your life but to everyone as well, that everyone who drives a motorcycle should wear a motorcycle helmet and not some industrial hat and so on and so forth...


What do you expect to teach a young boy who rides with his father who is a tricycle driver about discipline if the father picks up passengers in the middle of the street and then pees against the wall of a house? The boy will think what the father is doing is cool. It's right. "If TATAY can do it, so can I."

There was a Nestle commercial a few years ago that ran a theme on DISCIPLINE. In the eyes of a child, what they see their parents do, they follow it blindly - thinking that its alright since the parents do it and get away with it anyway. They grow up that way and another generation bites the dust.

I remember that a few days ago when I arrived from San Francisco, the queue at the immigration area of the NAIA was long because all the other airlines had arrived. It was jampacked with OFWs. I went to the designated lane - Residents. I saw that the lanes for Visitors were also occupied by these OFWs and other Pinoys on my flight. It was after all a shorter queue, but really why is it that when these idiots see these signs in another country like Singapore or HongKong or the US, they fall in line properly? What is in the Filipino that when he is in his motherland, he does not seem to want to follow directions? It's like "Welcome Home" to the Philippines where the Filipino lives in anarchy. I was wondering how the foreigners on the same flight I took thought of the Filipinos. No read, no write! And we get angry when somebody lambasts us about being stupid! We have only ourselves to blame.

I took my queue, took out my iPhone and began playing a game while I was in line. There was this sneaky woman who saw that our line was moving faster so she sidled up to my side and started cutting the line. I think she thought that since I was busily playing "Angry Birds", I wasn't minding the line. It was not her day. I snapped at her at gave her a dagger look.

"Are you in line?"

She retorted proudly - "yes".

"Don't make me look stupid. You are not the person who's in front of me. Where is your line?"

Then she sheepishly points the other lane.

"Go back to your line. You Filipinos have no discipline at all. Go away and die."

She then sidled back to her queue.

I think she thought that I was a foreigner (of course with my looks and accent I am always mistaken for one). It's shameful to be berated over something as simple and as basic as DISCIPLINE.

But the Filipino has a thick hide. Over the years of stupidity and mediocrity and graft and corruption, we have been callused over the idea of instilling discipline among ourselves. Our reason - if the rich and powerful can do it, then so can we. A distorted reason but reality in the clearest sense of the word.

The one way conversation over the ODD-EVEN scheme ended when I got to my destination. The guy I was having a conversation was quiet and then said that he totally agreed with me and felt really sad about the situation in the country. We have a basic lack and that needs to get addressed today if we plan to change this country in the next 25 years. Enough with the temporary solutions to permanent problems. Enough with having to give in to the poorer sector of society. They will survive and they do not need dole outs in order to live. Seriously, they can just all join the various game shows and reality shows and somehow will manage to make ends meet. We need to stop making poverty an excuse for being pathetic and lazy.

I hate comparing us with other countries, but I cannot help it. Filipinos are as gentle as lambs when they are in Never Never Land but as ferocious as wolves when they are in their own country. You see them obey rules and regulations and laws in another country. They will not chew gum, they will cross pedestrian lanes, they will wait for the bus as scheduled, they will car pool when needed, they will wait in line.

The problem with the Philippines is the Philippines. We make too many exceptions to the rule. Ang problema - lahat gusto maging bida!

{Note: Photos from Panoramio by Dudz and free photo share]

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Social networking and my next door neighbor

Facebook, Multiply, Twitter, Friendster, Myspace, LinkedIn - these are but a few of the social networking sites in the world.

Danah Boyd from the University of California at Berkeley and Nicole Ellison from the Department of Telecommunications, Information Studies and Media at Michigan University studied these various social networking sites and have proposed a definition for SNS.

Boyd and Ellison "define social network sites as web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. The nature and nomenclature of these connections may vary from site to site."

Over the last decade, technology has advanced in leaps and bounds.

During my growing up years, the closest I and my friends got to knowing other people were through formal affairs. Our parents grew up in the years where the closest they came to with technology was owning a pager which would holler each time someone would need them at work or at play.

Mobile phones are not what they used to be - where you could simply text or make a call in order to communicate with someone. Today's mobile phones are all adrenalized. If you had a phone that is capable of only text messages and calling, you're probably technologically deprived. The adrenalized mobile device has camera, video and internet surfing bundled into a joyous handheld device. Then comes the iPhone 4, which as advertised, has changed the era of mobile phones - it introduces FaceTime.

In 1997, social networking had its humble beginnings. Boyd and Ellison puts the timeline in this figure.

Social networking has its pros and cons.

The major purpose of SNSs is not to meet casual strangers for a tryst or a jump in the hay. Boyd and Ellison point out that "what makes social network sites unique is not that they allow individuals to meet strangers, but rather that they enable users to articulate and make visible their social networks. This can result in connections between individuals that would not otherwise be made, but that is often not the goal, and these meetings are frequently between "latent ties" (Haythornthwaite, 2005) who share some offline connection. On many of the large SNSs, participants are not necessarily "networking" or looking to meet new people; instead, they are primarily communicating with people who are already a part of their extended social network."

This being the major purpose of SNSs, there are opportunists who will turn this really cool technology into a social disaster. By allowing unknown people into your private lives is akin to allowing a thief into the night. When you're all asleep, the opportunist will take advantage of your identity and this can backfire on you eventually. But keeping to a closely knit circle isn't the major purpose of the SNSs. It hopefully intends to expand one's horizons. Getting to know your friend's friends and finding out eventually that some of us have a common denominator. Of course, that does not escape us from knowing that some of our enemies happen to be the best friend of our close friend. Which means that we either get to hate our friends or eventually love our enemies. The latter is so "sick".

For obvious reasons, the interaction is limited to those that have access to the internet or to a mobile handheld device that has internet capabilities.

Why then has SNSs become so popular from the school-age child to grandparents and great grandparents?

The study of Boyd and Ellison show that "social network sites also provide rich sources of naturalistic behavioral data." It's not a matter of being cool and hip and up-to-date with technology and with the times. It provides a source for sharing information, communication, and business arrangements to some degree. Undoubtedly, however, the privacy of our lives is intertwined in this complex technological advance which makes it sort of difficult to separate half-truths and half-lies. This becomes a major concern especially for the younger generation that tend to be carefree and careless when sharing their private lives online. There needs to be some discretion in the kind of information (private or public) that we are willing to share. We cannot all have shout-outs that expose and ruin the remaining privacy of our lives.

A friendly reminder is that SNSs are designed for a purpose. It's not the quantity of "friends" we make or "fans" we have but the quality that eventually counts. At the end of the day, they all won't be at your funeral giving your obituary.

Not all SNSs are actually a wild game hunt. There are those that are exclusive and are shared only by professionals who exchange business information with colleagues. The advantage here is that from one part of the world, we can find counterparts and business opportunities and careers in a country spaced 8000 miles apart.

I for one have been a participant and recipient of the several advantages of social networking. It has played a major role in my career and friends whom I have not seen in the longest time or have not had the chance to say hello to have suddenly popped up from somewhere so that even when distance and opportunities in a far away land has kept us far apart, the SNSs have kept us updated on their lives.

It's like living next door to them...and keeping abreast with their lives once more has somehow made the difficult times easier again.

The Social Network is the movie about the founders of Facebook. It stars Jesse Eisenberg who plays the role of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg became one of the world's youngest billionaire at 23.

While the movie opened in the United States on October 1, 2010, it is scheduled to be shown in the Philippines on October 26.

The movie is a true-to-life story of Zuckerberg, the man who has changed the way SNSs is today.


[note: The photo is from the movie poster The Social Network. The figure is from Boyd and Ellison's publication.]

Friday, October 8, 2010

Reunions in two acts in San Francisco

The American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition meeting in San Francisco was the agenda for my trip to San Francisco this October.

In between the meetings I spared all the rest of my time bonding with friends who had migrated to the Bay City. I stretched my stay an extra 2 days and in between their very busy schedule, I appreciated the fact that they too, took an extra 2 days off just to be with me.

I will not blog about the conference, as it would not interest my readers on what did and what did not go on in the meeting. It was, however, a good meeting considering the fact that the last AAP meeting I had attended was over 6 years ago. This was a reunion for my continuing medical education.

I had missed the wedding of my goddaughter in Manila last year. With my sister suddenly being in the hospital and all, I had sorely missed the day she said “I do”. She, her husband are based in San Francisco. Malu had flown there a few months ago to take care of her when she gave birth. Maggie who is now 2 months old was a joy to behold. Aside from the fact that she reminds me that I am now much older, I have come full circle in my medical career. My goddaughter had grown up with me and she is now a mother as well. How time flies. Malu, my kumare, looked contented and peaceful. Her giggles, laughs, stories and pride could not be contained.

I have always believed that life is like a play. It is made up of two acts – the first act is one of achievement. That is the easiest role to play. We try to find ourselves in the first act. How we play our role in Act I prepares the storyline for the next act.
The second and last act is one of depth. It is the most difficult because this story builds on the first act. Our roles are more challenging because we need to sustain the role we played in Act I. It creates the epitaph of the life we have lived. And there is no rewind here. No retake. One final performance before curtain time.

I think Malu has found her final act. Her contentment. She has finally find home, in San Francisco.

My other friends were with me during the various days. Jojo, Francis and Roland had relocated to San Francisco varying from several decades to several years ago. Each with their own stories to tell. Each had a reason for turning over a new leaf or finding himself or herself in San Francisco. Each finding a place where they could move on.

Perhaps like many of our countrymen who find a place to start over again or begin a new chapter in their lives, San Francisco has provided as a haven for my friends in some way or another.

During the few days I was there, we talked about old times. We dug up memories from our closets, we reminisced on our growing up years. Friendship bonds built over three decades drew moments where I became misty eyed. I had to put on my sunglasses or turn my back on them so they could not see how emotional it got to be.

We shared stories at where life has led us. The bitter pills we had to swallow. The road less traveled. The people who were part of our lives. Those we left behind. The people who are now part of our lives. The pains, the joys, the successes, the failures. The lives we shared that intertwined with our lives.

Between the laughter and the stories we shared I could not help but wonder where life would eventually lead us. I missed those days where I could have friends to turn to at every tragic event or run to when problems are too difficult to handle. I missed those times that I needed a friend to talk to or console me when I’m feeling down and out. I miss the days when I would not have to be accountable for my misdeeds or would get a pat in the back with my accomplishments.

I missed being free and being me.

On the way home from Stanford on the last day, we talked about where life would bring us next.

It was towards the end of the fall season in the US. And like the seasons in our lives, we are in the fall season. We watch the younger ones grow up within our midst and sometimes envy the youthful decadence and radiance we once had.
It is reunions like these that remind us why friends will always be a reason for appreciating the changing seasons in our lives.

And I will always be grateful that somewhere in our lives, our paths had crossed and intertwined.

It is the final act in the stories of our lives.

Wherever life will lead us now, I know that our paths will meet again. Because there was depth in this final act.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Saradong Katoliko

It's a Sunday here in San Francisco where I'm attending the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition at the Moscone Center.

While the pediatricians from Manila, Philippines seem to be packing the meeting (they ran out of badges for international delegates, which means that I got one that said that I'm American), I've been reading up on the newsfeed on FaceBook during the break periods.

So here I am, blogging in the meeting of one of the sessions, on a raging difference of opinion between the Reproductive Health Bill of the government and the opposition of the Catholic Church in Manila, Philippines regarding this.

Which goes to the reason why the title of this blog is "Saradong Katoliko", or in English - Closed Catholic.


I shudder at the fact that there are still "closed catholics". I thought that fanaticism died a long time ago. I didn't realize even if this is already the 21st century - where information is at our finger tips and we derive more reliable sources faster than the speed of light, where mobile phones are now used not just for texting or calling but for surfing information and getting emails, and where people are more endeared to work on saving the environment and are trying to help their fellowmen through programs at community service or discovering "heroes of the year" - some people who preach from the pulpit refuse to accept change in relevant views that will impact on the future of society together with the times.

I will not go into a lengthy debate on the raging sides that people have taken regarding the issue of passing the reproductive health bill. This is something I am more than willing to do on LIVE MEDIA COVERAGE. What peeves me are those who refuse to listen to the side of reason because of beliefs. Using "beliefs" as a reason for not bending to change is not one that is based on rational logic. They are called fanatics. These are the "closed catholics".

There is a difference between a believer and a fanatic. That difference is a matter of defiance. And it is the perfect ingredient for misunderstanding, disagreement, and unfortunately, violent outcomes.

Many have died and sacrificed and have been punished or ostracized in the name of beliefs. For example, homosexuality was condemned by the church several centuries ago. While the church still condemns the practice of homosexuality, they have changed their stance - they do not condemn homosexuals, but only the acts between them. DUH? Meron bang virgin na bading? Eh kung sila sila nga eh naiipit sa eskandalong ito, sino sila para humusga sa kapwa? I am trying to understand - did these people of the cloak put some laxity on their stand because some of their members performed gay lascivious acts on the young altar boys? But it took centuries for them to change their stand on the issue of homosexuality. While still a limited stand, a change in the stand nevertheless.

On a public health level, the reproductive health bill of the government is receiving a lot of flak from the Catholic Church. The latter has threatened possible excommunication of public officials in the government (especially the president) to the large Catholic population in the Philippines. It has pushed the citizens of this Banana Republic to embrace one side - the church or the government.

Excommunication is not a threat one is afraid to face any more. It is irrelevant as religion has not served to lead the majority of the Filipinos to the promised land. It is also irrelevant as most of the men in cloak have not actually created programs palpable for the poorer Filipino community. This palpably lacking guidance of the men in cloak to the poor have been the major reason for the rise in Renewed Christian movements.

Which means that the income generated by the various Catholic Churches all over the country have reached a significant low. It's funny how all the masses end with a second collection - for the wayfarers, for the Pondo ng Pinoy, for the missionaries in Africa (what ever happened to missionaries in Tawi Tawi or Maguindanao?), and so on and so forth. The Renewed Christian movements have actually eaten up the financial contributions of the country to Rome. Had it not been for the significant Opus Dei movement in this country, there would be more financial retribution in the Philippines. But the Opus Dei group is limited to those that belong to the upper 5th quintile of society. The exclusive group (deemed snobbish by non-members) has yet to see an ordinary Juan de la Cruz admitted to it's BY INVITATION ONLY membership program. Only the who's who in society are invited to this society.

But facts will remain facts.

The population of the Philippines has tipped over 90M to date. In a few years, we will hit the 100M mark and this is a disproportionate rise. The number of deaths due to abortion and due to infant and child mortality has NOT changed in this country. In 1990, 1 out of 8 children in the country less than 5 years old DO NOT REACH the age of 5. So the mother is able to give birth. What kind of environment do the children in this country have? Many of the children are abused in homes not suitable for growing up and turn out to be decrepit members of society, who pay back society with criminal acts during their older years because they grew up in conditions not suitable to quality lives. Majority of the poor do not understand anything about sexuality. For some, it is part of being subservient to abusive husbands. To others, it becomes a way of life - a way out of the proverbial poverty they are all mired in. And the church is also opposed to sex education in school, especially public schools. They think that by introducing sex education, they will make overnight whores out of these young children. Who takes care of them? Each time government attempts to provide a solution to the problem the officials of the church are up in arms and call these programs immoral and not in cognizance with the teaching of the church. And these pompous idiots who preach from the pulpit, do just that - PREACH. It is wrong to do this. It is wrong to do that.

So what's their solution?

To them, that is is not their problem anymore but the government's problem. I thought that we're in this together. One cannot ask the government to just simply change the game plan only for them to interfere again later on because of their beliefs. They need to change their paradigm in this ever changing world. I am not saying that they should change the Holy Bible. There has got to be a middle ground. The church will need to play a new and active role and not just leave it all to the government to implement these much needed changes.

The flock has gone astray NOT because some evil spirit has come our way. The flock has gone astray NOT because of the evil that men do.

It is because the shepherd was nowhere to be found.