Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wishing to be happy

It takes loneliness to discover happiness. Emptiness to discover fulfillment. Sadness to find contentment. And confusion to find peace of mind.

The road to happiness is not easy. It is full of challenges and more often than not, we end up frustrated and in pain.

Someone once said that "people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they did not slow down to enjoy it." Happiness is relative to each of us. Some may find it in material things, of love lost and then found again and then lost again and then found again, of being cured from a terrible illness, of ambitions gained and winning a jackpot, of redeeming oneself from a wrong accusation, or simply achieving peace of mind after a battle with the evils from within.

When I was young, life was not easy for me and my family. My dad and mom seemingly had to make ends meet, for tuition fees for my sister and I. Celebrating an occasion - birthdays or christmases - would be frugal. During Christmas, my dad would drive us around the metropolis so we could see the various lantern displays and to COD in Cubao to see the mechanical display (in those days, this was considered the place to be) of toys a-dancing and a-singing. There was Holiday on Ice at the Araneta Coliseum, which served as our annual New Year holiday treat.

And I believed in wishing upon a star. Life was not easy for me growing up in an all boys school. The teasing and bullying hurt like hell, and there was no soft spot for me to cry on. I rarely made friends and because we probably were not both wealthy and I had gender problems, I was not popular in school. Focusing on my academics came easy, because it served as an outlet for all my misery. There was a loneliness that only I felt. Even coming home to parents who tried to make ends meet was a dreadful one.

I was surprised that in spite of the meager income, we had food on the table and a roof over our head. My dad made sure that we went to good schools. It was his way of giving us his share of happiness. As I grew older, I never waivered on the hope that some day, my more material and tangible wishes would come true.

Not all my wishes came in a silver platter. There were challenges that came along the painful journey of reality. There was love lost and love found. There was life lost and grief followed. There were questions more than answers. Yet in between the years and tears, I remained optimistic that someday I would look up to a clear night and close my eyes and wish all my might that all the pain would just go away.

I have come full circle in life, knowing now the lessons of wishing to be happy. There will be pain in our journey, but finding happiness and its true meaning is within us. Being happy is not about me. It's about other people. It's about accepting that things that are meant to be come together at the right time and at the right place. There is an alignment of all things that become our final journey - and wishes don't come instantly. It's the same way my parents saw it as they raised us. "Some people suffer but become amazing witnesses to all the graces in this world. Others go through the very same trial and become angry for the rest of their lives."

Remember: The sun that melts ice is the same that hardens clay.

The choice is left to us.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Wrong answer!

It's the season of Bazaars (a.k.a. Tiangges) in the Philippines. It's the week before December, and well, yes, in this country these make-shift bazaars ply their trade in what I would call a large garage sale - from food to fake designer items.

And while the Bureau of Internal Revenue (a.k.a...Internal Robbers ?), go merry making by tax mapping the doctors clinics in wild abandon, these Bazaars are having a heyday!

Out of curiosity, I called the BIR last Wednesday morning and posed as a writer for a leading newspaper. I told the woman I talked to that I am making a short story for the newspaper about Bazaars and taxes and she hurriedly called the guy in charge for this.

This was how our conversation went: (the comments in italics was what my mind wanted to say to the guy from the BIR)

ME: Good morning. I am ___ and I'm working for the ____. I'm making an article regarding Bazaars and Tiangges and I hope you don't mind if you answer a few inquiries I have for a few minutes so that I can piece my article together.

BIR: Sure. What's your question?

ME: Do these concessionaires in the Bazaars have to issue receipts when customers buy from them?

BIR: Of course. Everyone that does business has to issue a receipt! (Correct answer)

ME: I noticed that whenever I go to a Bazaar, they don't issue receipts. For example, I went to Mercato night food market at the Fort the other week and went to 3 different stall and none of them issued a receipt.

BIR: Humingi po kayo pag di kayo binigyan (Ask from the if they don't give you one) (WRONG ANSWER MORON!)

ME: Why do we have to ask for a receipt? Shouldn't it be SOP?

BIR: Well, yes, but if you have a complaint, you can call us and file a complaint. Some of these Bazaars, we don't know about them. (WRONG ANSWER AGAIN MORON! WHERE ARE THE IDIOTS AT 2AM? WHOM DO I CALL AT 2AM TO ASK FOR A RECEIPT FOR 6 PIECES OF MACARONS?!?!)

ME: But these Bazaars announce way ahead that they have an activity like this. It's even featured on television and is therefore a public affair. Even the TV newscasters endorse them as a lively festivity that ushers in the holiday season. It is unlikely that the BIR does not know about these activities.

BIR: You see sir, I will give you an example. Quezon City alone is a very big city. There are not enough people in the BIR that will monitor all these events and will monitor all these activities so you have to inform us if someone is violating by not issuing receipts. (WRONG ANSWER AGAIN MORON! YOU CAN HAVE THE TAX MAPPERS IN THE HOSPITALS AND DOCTORS CLINICS GO TO THE BAZAARS AND TAX MAP THEM ALSO! SANAMAGAN!!! THEY HAVE ENOUGH PEOPLE TO TAX MAP THE HOSPITALS AND CLINICS BUT THEY DON'T HAVE THE TIME TO TAX MAP THESE BAZAARS? OMG!!! WHAT KIND OF EXCUSE IS THAT? PERHAPS THE BIR IS IN CAHOOTS WITH THESE ORGANIZERS OR SELLERS!)

ME: But these Bazaars only run for a few days. Don't you think that you should check them before they are allowed to operate? After all, they publicly announced weeks before that they have a Bazaar sale. For example, St. James the Great annual bazaar in Ayala Alabang has their signs posted all over Muntinlupa already for their upcoming 500+ or more concessionaires. Isn't it your obligation to talk to the organizers and make sure that they issue receipts when you buy in the bazaars?

BIR: Hindi na namin sakop yan po. (The city is not within our jurisdiction.) (WRONG ANSWER! YOU SHOULD SAY - ALRIGHT I WILL CONTACT THE DISTRICT HEAD FOR THE BIR IN MUNTINLUPA AND INFORM HIM.)
Kung gusto ninyo bigay ko sa inyo ang telepono nila at kayo na tumawag. (If you want, I can give you the telephone number of the Muntinlupa BIR and you can call them). (Naubusan na yata ng English ang taga-BIR.)

ME: Okay, give me the number.

BIR: It's...wait, I cannot read their number (then he calls someone and says that his eyes are failing him and dictate the number of the Muntinlupa office)...It's 5560176 or 8561223.

ME: Okay, thank you for your time.

BIR: You're welcome. (In fairness, the guy was polite, accommodating and well...had all the wrong answers.)

I tried calling the Muntinlupa office from 10AM to 5PM, to no avail. The lines were busy and my secretary gave up after calling gazillion times.

I have nothing against Bazaars. I just wanted to make a point with the taxation system in the Philippines. If you can get away with paying taxes, then so be it. And these Bazaars come and go once a year - but by law should be obligated to pay taxes. Someone told me that at least we get the goods, 12% less because they won't issue receipts. Fine! Whatever! I would give my patients 12% off my rates if they don't ask for receipts as well. Is that the answer to the problem or the question? NO. Wrong answer. Fair is fair. It's either the law applies to all, or to NONE AT ALL.

I headed off to the St. James the Great Bazaar last night. And out of curiosity, headed off to three stalls - one selling ham, one selling pili, and one selling orchids. True enough, I went home without any receipt from any of these stores. When I asked for a receipt with the one selling ham, the girl looked at me and said - wala kaming recibo (we don't issue receipts).

Tangina talaga!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The least, the lost and the last

I was putting up the Christmas tree this morning and thought about blogging the holiday season. With all the work that's been swamping me, it took me awhile to get into the mood of putting up the lights and ornaments.

I will veer away from the political and showbiz scenario that's been driving the Filipinos into a frenzy from the momentum of Christmas.

The TV stations have their jingling cheers, the Ayala triangle has all the lanterns adorning the warm humid air, the tiangges (a.k.a. bazaars) are back with the holiday sales and midnight madness, the malls are decked in garlands and sparkling glory, and Santa Claus is in warm and humid Manila! While I have nothing against all the festive preparation, I cannot help but wonder why we're all mired in this commercialism.

I guess the main reason why many of us, adults and children alike, look forward to the Christmas season is the bonus and 13th month pay, the exchange gifts and the toys to open on Christmas day, the feeding frenzy of parties and the wild abandon of using the holiday season in order in to indulge in gluttony. Some say that it's that "once a year" that good tidings and cheers are shared by all because of Christmas. And that's what saddens me - that the meaning of Christmas gets lost in the material celebration and the commercialism that has gone into creating an artificial sense of "joy to the world" among people.

I've always been a believer that everyday should be Christmas day. Every day should be a new year - turning new leaves in the chapters of our lives. Every day should be Valentine's day - celebrating the true meaning of love found. Every day should be mother's, father's or grandparent's day - giving due respect to those who matter most. Every day should be your last and that doing good should not be reserved for an occasion and that an occasion should only serve as a reminder that our doing good is worth the celebration.

To most of us who have more "blessings" in life - a roof over our heads, food on our table, people to love and care for us, a family to celebrate occasions with, a good and fulfilling job that provides us with the comfort of life and health - every occasion becomes a vibrant celebration.

But there are those who celebrate Christmas in make shift homes under a bridge or children who wander in the streets on a rainy Christmas day selling sampaguita and singing some carol of good cheer or those who are abandoned by parents or children who wake up each morning hoping that someone would make each day a Christmas day or better yet, a better day for them. Those who are terminally ill and would probably see this as their last Christmas season.

The needy, the hungry, the sick, the thirsty.

We don't really care much for them because we get mired in the thwarted true meaning of Christmas from all the commercialism that's been shoved into our throats. Somehow, somewhere, the meaning of Christmas has become tiring and routine that each year, that many of us have become callous in finding the real meaning of the holiday season. We reason out that because we work hard year in and year out we need to get "rewarded" at the end of the year for all that hard work.

Has business really slapped us in the face and made us look at Christmas in a different way?

Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" sends home the true message of Christmas even in modern times - the way that we should truly celebrate. In the character of Ebenezer Scrooge, we see the lives of people who come and go our way. It's changing our lives in the spirit of doing good and sharing with those who need us most that matters. It's that life changing experience of having done something that cannot be repaid in material values but also in sharing goodness to others that makes the spirit of Christmas come alive.

Each year, instead of buying trinkets and gifts to my friends, I simply donate the money to a foundation or a charitable institution that will create an impact on the lives of others. And I sign the gift in their name. And that my "grown up Christmas wish list" would be that some day, somehow, the blessings I have received in my lifetime would have been shared well with the least, the lost and the last.

Wouldn't it be a greater joy if we all paid it forward?

Happy holidays my readers!

[My all time favorite Christmas song - My Grown Up Christmas List by Kelly Clarkson]

Thursday, November 17, 2011


I have nothing against Gloria getting medical treatment for whatever is ailing her today. Whether she gets it in the Philippines or in some other God-forsaken country is beyond me.

What peeves me is the fact that the Arroyos (and all the entourage including that woman called Horn) has the temerity to make a scene (or as Leila de Lima puts it - EKSENA!) in order to gain ground for sympathy among the underdog-loving Pinoys. Their first attempt to leave the country for a supposed medical check-up and treatment in Singapore last Tuesday ended up in a media cavalcade which has become the talk of the town, surpassing the Ramgen murder and Pacquiao fight stories.

For whatever it is worth, let me give my personal opinion as I, an ordinary Filipino citizen, see it:

1. The Arroyo camp insists that Gloria is in pain. You could see from the pictures or the newsfeed that she's wrapped around that thingamagig around her head, neck and body, making her look like little Frankenstein. With that said, I don't think that I would want to travel to Singapore in that contraption via Hong Kong. It would mean that I would have to fly 2 hours to Hong Kong, wait an hour or two at the Chap Lep Kok airport for the next departure from Hong Kong to Singapore which would be a longer route (in terms of both miles traveled and time spent on a cramped airplane - even on Business Class).

Yes. She and husband Mike A. were on a flight to Singapore via Hong Kong that fateful Tuesday night. Watdfuk was that Horn woman talking about when they were drumming up sympathy for Ate Glue! They think that we're all idiots born yesterday! If they needed to go to Singapore, there are direct flights from Manila to the Lion City without having to go through Hong Kong.

There are 4 direct daily flights for Philippine Airlines and Singapore Airlines from Manila to Singapore:
SQ915 departs 0810 and arrives 1145, SQ 917 departs 1415 and arrives 1750, SQ 919 departs 1710 and arrives 2045, and SQ 921 departs 1900 and arrives 2235. PR 0511 departs 0600 and arrives 0930, PR 0503 departs 0720 and arrives 1055, PR 0501 departs 1510 and arrives 1855, and PR 0505 departs 1935 and arrives 2315. Both Philippine Airlines and Singapore have BUSINESS CLASS services on their aircraft.

I did not mention Cebu Pacific because it's a budget airline and has not business class cabin. I don't think the Arroyos (who've been used to flying on chartered planes or on first/business class) are willing to fly a budget airline. For every one's information though, Cebu Pacific flies directly 3 times daily from Manila to Singapore on flights: 801 leaving at 0625 arriving at 0900, 805 leaving 1325 and arriving at 1655, 803 leaving at 2030 and arriving at 1235.

2. The major concern of the senators and some congressmen is that with the defiance of the justice secretary and the President of the Philippines on the TRO (temporary restraining order) of the Supreme Court, a constitutional crisis may emanate. We all know, however, that majority of the sitting justices, including the Chief Justice were all Gloria appointees. And while Renato Corona may be parrying all accusations of bias towards him and the Supreme Court, deciding arbitrarily and quickly for and on behalf of the WLO (hold departure order) for Gloria and hubby, it cannot be denied that justice indeed is not only blind but serves only those whose interests need to get payed back. With so many cases pending in the Supreme Court, what was the rush to address this case? After all, isn't she and her husband getting the "best" of care from the highly touted JCI-accredited center for excellence in health care called St. Luke's Medical Center? And excuse me when I trample the media that Gloria has a rare condition of hypoparathyroidism. Duh?!?! If our endocrinologists in the country can't fix the problem, that's an insult to the hoards of endocrinologists in the Philippines. It is not rare, it is just not common. And there's a difference in this term in medical parlance. The Arroyos, are lucky that they are filthy rich and are already afforded the level of health care matching their life style.

3. Karma is a bitch! That's all I can conclude from this EKSENA! I've always wondered how fondly Ate Glue and company flew in and out without tiring from her trips abroad during her term as president (or did she really steal the presidency and therefore was NOT our legitimate president during her term?). Whatever it was, you could tell how well coiffured she was with matching designer outfits and flying and dining in first class restaurants. There was never a complaint from her nor her doctors about neck pain, was there? During her term as president(?), her annual physical exams were always "perfect"! The stress and pressures of running a country is not an easy one. It behooves me that one year into her more laid back life, she has "suffered" from these unexplainable aches and pains and illnesses. Is is mere drama or is it karma?

4. Joker Arroyo had said that de Lima is ignorant of the law. Talk about big time ignorance. His first name befits him. Once upon a time, his opinions were well respected. But respect is earned. And you can lose respect as easily as you've earned it. For a joker in the midst of the senate, I just lost my respect to this guy. You know that when he opens his mouth now, it's only when his former boss - Ate Glue - is in trouble or that when he has tirades against the current president, PNoy. He's now simply a noise in the gallery. And Miriam - who takes her seriously? She said on TV that she wanted to commit suicide by slashing her wrist! From a woman who has been the humor in the senate, go ahead - make my day! (Now you know why suicide runs in the family and it's no surprise her son took the path of least resistance by committing suicide.) Seriously, while Miriam has a mouthful to say and more often than not makes sense, her tirades are not taken seriously because of mental flipflop. These two make more "eksena" in the senate than anyone else I could imagine. It makes the mental ineptness of Lito Lapid look like a harmless kitty cat.

5. And as all (if not most) lawyers are - it's all about money. You could get the best lawyers if you had the cash and the Arroyos are awash in that. And so they defend their clients to death. After all, they get heftily paid, even if justice looks the other way or is beheaded. It is without doubt that some of the seats that are occupied in Congress by the Arroyo clan are vacant - with Iggy in London for medical care, Gloria on leave for health problems and Mikey - uhmmm, this guy is on tax evasion charges and is leaving for the US for some sort of seminar and talk. I mean gimme a break - Mikey is representing the marginalized sector of security guards! Watdfuk is he going to talk about in the US of A?

As I see it, the Arroyos are all out in their "eksena" to make the Aquino government look bad and gain sympathy to them. While the Aquino government has its faults, seriously, impeachment for not allowing the ex-president to go out of the country for treatment is a bit cockadoodledoodoo even for lawmakers! Come on, gimme a break - she stole the presidency not ONCE, but TWICE! What greater crook was there in history of Philippine politics! All you need is to recall the atrocities and excuses during the Arroyo regime and that in itself would have told you that it's payback time.

As they say in politics - "weather weather lang yan". But take the Pinoys for short-term memory. How easily we even forgot the Marcos atrocities that we even put their families back in the limelight by electing the children and his wife to governmental positions. Susmaryosep! Only in the Philippines!

And like all telenovelas evolving in either Philippine business, politics and showbiz - "eksena" - happens to be the trend of becoming famous after being infamous.

As long as this kind of charade goes on, don't worry about not getting out of the box - we will remain a third world nation and the exodus will continue. After all, the Arroyo drama is as downright pathetic as it gets.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Philippines Worst FSP and Credit Card Program...

And the winner is.....

Rustan's Credit Card, FSP and Discount Card

You gotta hand it to this Tantoco owned high-end store. They wouldn't have made it to the top of the riches if not for the scheming, raunchy, thieving lousy FSP, Discount Card and now - Credit Card program.

First is the FSP that expires! They don't tell you that it has expired. Sadly, I had to find out when I got to the counter that my FSP2 had expired 2 weeks ago. I asked if I could get whatever I earned in the FSP2 card. The answer was a cold NO! Well thank you for not informing me that the program was about to end. Thank you also for not being considerate, considering that after all, I am a frequent shopper! With their FSP2, you could even hardly get any rebates unless you were spending more than P1M a year to make that FSP program worth your while. When FSP started a few years back, it was more convenient and should I say, more rewarding.

The FSP2 program substituted the original one with more buying in exchange for rebates. Aside from that, the FSP2 is to put it bluntly, one helluva lousy program. You pay a fee to join and you can't even credit consignment sales or purchases from other Rustan's SSI (store specialist stores) to the FSP2! You needed to buy all that junkyard cheapy items at Rustans to get credit.

Their Discount Card is as pathetic as well. You get discounts only for regular items and 10% if paid in CASH! And some of the SSI stores (Gucci, Prada, LV, Bulgari, Hermes, etc) stores are not included. Lacoste, Marks and Spencer, Armani Exchange have their own frequent shopper program and discount card. WATDFUK were the ingenious idiots thinking?!?! Well, they were thinking that they could scam the stupid Pinoy into paying for a discount card but not being able to use it (so many X items or consignment items in the store, so it's not applicable as well).

Finally, is their credit card. When I got a Citibank Credit Card for Rustans when the program started, it looked like a good buy - concierge service, some freebie goodies and services, 3% rebate on Rustans items...and then the other perks just vanished. At P5000 annual dues, this just wasn't worth it! The rebates were also restricted to only SOME SSI affiliates of Rustan's. The concierge disappeared. I had to queue just like the rest and well, there were no more free goods. And each time I attempt to discontinue my card, Citibank offers waiver on the annual fee as long as I enroll my pathetic utility bill. As a Citibank client, I suggest that Citibank stops badgering or encouraging people to stay on the Citibank Rustan's Credit Card or risk losing another client. Even if Rustan's Corporation is far wealthier than I, karma will catch up on sleazy businesses like these eventually.

Strike 3, for Rustan's and congratulations for being the worst FSP/Discount Card/Credit Card program in the Philippines. My advice to all my readers - don't renew your FSP, don't get a Rustan's Credit Card, and finally, don't even bother with the discount card. They serve no purpose in your life!

My advise to everyone who plans to get a Rustan's Credit Card, or even sign up for the FSP or discount card the fine details in print. An stay clear, very very clear from Rustan's promo programs. Believe me when I say that this is one program that has no purpose at all except to scam the Filipino buyer. Shame on the Tantocos!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

It's about time we fly right

All my bags are packed and ready to go...

November is here and I'm quite sure that we've all planned some vacation of sorts for the upcoming Christmas holidays. Some of us spend the holiday season in some other province or country - just to get away from it all. As my niece puts it, we all need a vacation!

I won't blog about destinations but about airlines and flying.

1. I don't really mind flying on economy class so long as the flight is less than 4 hrs. Anything above that becomes quite uncomfortable, so to speak, and I would prefer flying on business class if my budget (or airline miles) will allow it. Seriously speaking, long hauls (more than 4 hours) on economy becomes uncomfortable not only because of the time differences but also because of the level of comfort. In short, why does one want to arrive at his or her destination looking like part of the baggages when you can arrive there in comfort? After all, even the flight itself should be part of a vacation! There's really no better way to fly on long haul flights than on business or first class.

2. You'll have to contend with the seat mates on the plane. Unfortunately, you can't choose the person who sits next to you. I had the unfortunate experience of having an autistic child sit at the back of my seat in one of my flights from Bacolod on Philippine Airlines. The young boy was seated beside his nanny while his grandfather sat on business class. Aside from the fact that he was making several wailing sounds throughout the whole flight, he kept kicking my seat in the 1 hr flight. I simply put on my iPod and drifted into la-la land. When the flight stewardess approached me to ask me to remove my iPod because we were landing already, I whispered to her that I'd slap her if she forced me to remove it. After all, it was all that was keeping me sane from the 1 hr kicking from the poor kid seated behind me. If the airline was going to allow these neurodevelopmentally challenged kids on board, they should place them all the way to the back of the plane where they would have no passenger to harass!

3. Then there's a flight I took going to Cebu the other month. Because it was business, I was allowed to fly on Mabuhay Class. It was when PAL had a bad strike because of retrenching some PALEA employees. I didn't actually mind the in-flight service. I was irked about the fact that the woman behind me was playing Bejeweled Blitz at full volume. It was downright irritating! The bitch was either deaf or dumb! And the flight attendants didn't give a care in the world that her gadget was open during take off and landing!

4. Of course, you'll have to contend with the various types of passengers seated beside you. Those that have body odor...gosh...imagine having to breath the same air as these people. People who are overweight (I mean really obese) should pay for more than one seat, or should be mandated to sit in business class. You can hardly move and breath in your seat or even get up to pee, especially if you're seated in the middle or on the window area. Airlines should leave the bulkheads for the disabled and NOT for those carrying babies. When you're flying on economy, please use the bathrooms reserved for your section. Children (and at times adults) usually zip in and out of the economy area so that they can use the bathrooms reserved for those in the business class section. Don't forget to flush the toilet or lift the toilet seat (if you're a guy) so that the next passenger who uses it isn't inconvenienced or dies from seeing all that sh*t floating in the toilet bowl. A little consideration in an airplane goes a long way.

5. When checking out the flights for your destination - check on line before booking with your travel agent so that you know more or less how much it's going to cost you. Check all available airlines so that you get the best time for your planned destination as well as reliability and frequency of on time service with the particular airline. You can also check for the kind of services the airline provides as well as read reviews of the airline on various websites based on the experience of various customers. Don't forget to enroll in frequent flyer miles and start collecting them. Believe me when I say that it pays off to be enrolled in a frequent flyer because you can get your next flight either free or upgraded from all the traveling one does.

6. A budget airline IS NOT necessarily a budget airline as it claims to be. For example, I was checking for the fare for Cebu Pacific from Manila to Seoul for a certain date and I found out that while the flight going to Seoul cost me about P5780 only, the return flight was horrendous at P17000!!! Which ended up more expensive than the round trip that Korean Air or Asiana Airlines was giving for the same dates! Be warned of supposedly low cost airlines!!! Why is it that the local airlines (Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific) end up being more expensive than foreign airlines? Seriously! It's more expensive flying on our local carriers from Manila to most destinations of the world than flying the flag carrier of other airlines!

Maybe you all have a story or two about your own vacations. I have friends in the travel industry business and they can help you decide by giving you pros and cons on your next journey. Sometimes, the travel agent can even give you fares much lower than purchasing on line! With the internet at our fingertips, you can always verify their claims so that you're abreast of what you're purchasing.

Remember - that it's the journey that counts!