Sunday, October 21, 2007


THE MALL attacks last Oct. 19 reveal our new vulnerabilities.

Last Friday, I left my workplace, pleased to finally get back in the open. But in the jeepney, I inwardly kicked myself when I saw the slow-moving traffic leading to an uptown mall. Selecting the place for a rendezvous was not a bright decision as a mall-wide weekend sale was just kicking off.

However, this mall had the nearest Vhire terminal, convenient for the person I was seeing, so there was nothing to do but queue up behind the lines, first of motorists, then later of pedestrians. Weekends, as well as major marketing events, funnel many Cebuanos to the malls.

Taking a shortcut to the atrium, I met newsroom colleagues setting up for a pictorial. Alex, the newsroom’s chief photographer, explained that there was a last-minute shift in photographer assignments due to the standoff at a Mactan mall, shut down for alleged violations by Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Arturo Radaza.

Our groceries! I groaned for the second time, before remembering that we had just shopped a day ago at a grocery located at the same Mactan mall. Though my reaction is irrational (we are within driving distance of at least three other malls), any modern neurotic can sympathize. Locked in by timetables, we nurture habits, shaving off minutes from errands and hoarding time by, for instance, getting groceries at the one store where we know a can of milk costs P5 less than in uptown places or where the check-out counters have an unbeaten lightning record of efficiency in scanning, swiping and bagging.

At home, we swallowed our dinner, washed down with TV reportage of not just the Marina Mall closure but also the explosion at Glorietta 2, which killed eight and injured scores of victims. Like its Cebu counterpart, the latter mall had also the usual weekend crowd, swollen by a mall-wide sale.

At 7 p.m., surfing for Glorietta, I got, among the first 10 websites in a Google search, three reports on the 2003 stakeout at Glorietta by 300 soldier-rebels. At 8 p.m., as my mother was wrapping up our phone chat, she mentioned my choice of this uptown mall for fetching a friend.

I groaned, not for the last time that day. I’m sure, behind her solicitous inquiries, Ma was just repressing an outburst: whatever were you thinking? You’re in the media. Don’t you know better than to choose a mall after what happened in Mactan and Glorietta?

Less than five years ago, I got the surprise of my life when, at the University of the Philippines in the Visayas Cebu College, a batch of sophomores tried to beg off from a feature writing assignment that required them to report about shopping in Colon. What do we ride, 04B or 04C jeepney? Pwede Ayala na lang, Ma’am?

Medora, another student, stuck out, primarily because of her mall-going habits. Asked about Oscar Lewis’ treatises about poverty, I suggested that Meds check out a Lewis title or two in a bargain bin at an uptown mall. The campus activist, a regular fixture in street rallies, told me she hadn’t been inside a mall for years.

I’m not betting there are two Medoras out there. It’s more likely that I have several clones who, like me, can’t afford to even windowshop and trawl for brands but enjoy every mall’s centralized cool atmosphere, bright lighting, clean restrooms, civilized queues at adjacent Vhire and jeepney terminals.

Malls, sprawling networks of interconnected retailing units, have taken root in suburban life. No longer just about shopping, the mall is touted as the next evolutionary step in living. While downtown is the bombed out remains of a former civilization—a place now lost to pickpockets and lack of parking—the mall is the modern walled city, impervious to petty crime, weather change, last season’s trends.

But apparently not all that impervious. Last Friday showed that every mall, thrumming with the masses, is an open wrist under the knife of opportunism. 09173226131

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Science of happiness

A RESEARCH official was unhappy with the results of a recent study on what makes Filipinos happy.

According to an Oct. 10, 2007 Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) report, the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) released a Happiness Index, which had 167 Filipinos ranking family, health and religion/spiritual work as the top three sources of happiness.

The NSCB secretary general releasing the report was none too happy though. According to the PDI report, the official was “incredulous” that other factors did not fare better. Sex life, for instance, was just no. 14 while politics figured last at no. 17.

His speculation was that the respondents may have been just “too shy to reveal their true feelings” about the national obsession with sex and politics.

Given how every government tic and blunder causes rippling waves of discontent among the populace, it mystifies that public resources and work hours would be spent measuring such a scarce quality as happiness. Shouldn’t the state care more to monitor the levels of toxins poisoning Filipinos?

A check with Internet sources reveals, fortunately, that happiness studies are quite in vogue, not pursued only by the terminally wasteful and marginally productive.

According to a BBC report, the science of happiness is undertaken precisely because the feeling is too vague. Thus, the best brains have tried to pin down this emotion.

Mike Rudin, series producer of “The Happiness Formula,” a six-part series BBC aired in 2006, writes that measurement techniques range from the social scientists’ straightforward method of asking a person, “are you happy?” to “ecological momentary assessments” using handheld computers and personal digital assistants (PDAs).

One adviser to the British prime minister even speculated that PDA data may be used soon for assessing the extent governments make their public happy. Will being bleeped and asked to answer a 20-point questionnaire on happiness not just predispose one to anxiety and impatience, observable among executives diagnosed with Blackberry Syndrome?

The BBC also reports that surveys with large respondents show that happy people live longer than depressed ones. While heavy smoking shaves off six years from a smoker’s lifespan, an American psychologist cites records showing that a disgruntled lot kicked the bucket nine years before a control group with a sunny disposition.

The BBC report was not clear though if among the disgruntled were smokers forced to stop cold turkey while the happy survivors counted among them a few blissfully puffing away till the end of their lives.

PDI also reported the Philippines ranks in the “middle range” of the World Database of Happiness Index (WDHI). This means that a Filipino is approximately as happy as a native in India, Iran, Poland and South Korea. Denmark currently tops the WDHI.

The WDHI may raise the assumption that prosperity is a cause behind happiness. Not so, says many happiness researchers.

While pleasure from the material quickly wears off, the happiness from relationships is deeper and lasts longer, even granting natural immunization from certain microbes. According to BBC, one British economist calculated that one needs only “extra cash amounting to £50,000” to make up for not having friends.

Then again, it is unclear how long £50,000 can last.

Assuming it works, marriage creates enough happiness to prolong a man’s life by seven years, a woman’s by four, says the BBC report. On the other hand, the loss of a good spouse causes serious setbacks.

According to positive psychologists, happiness can be found by seeking meaning in something “bigger than oneself.” Happiness scientists say meaning can be found in spirituality and challenging goals, but left out sex and politics. 09173226131

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Mirror, mirror

THE PRICE of freedom is steep. Few can be more familiar with that burden than media workers.

Recently, two events pushed again to the forefront the conundrum faced by media: how responsible are we in using our vast resources for information and persuasion?

Last Friday, ABC Studios and producers of “Desperate Housewives” apologized for the anti-Filipino remarks made by the Teri Hatcher character in the show.

Certain demands though—such as banning the series from Philippine free and cable TV, editing the controversial scene of Hatcher to correct online viewing, and requiring a future episode to air a retraction or correction of the offending sentiments—seem melodramatic and excessive.

More encouraging is the realization that, contrary to the popular bias that the Boob Tube caters only to the shallow and the apathetic, today’s media audience can be critical, vigilant and assertive.

In particular, the Oct. 5, 2007 report of the Philippine Daily Inquirer singled out the “political muscle” of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in protesting derogatory articles. OFWs blogged to condemn columnist Malu Fernandez for mocking overseas Filipinos in her People Asia article. Fernandez later apologized and resigned.

Lest we get swept away in American-bashing and self-righteous finger-pointing, the “Desperate Housewives” faux pas should make us reflect on our own cultural sensitivity and awareness of and respect for diversity.

Local sitcoms also pick on minorities’ quirks and other stereotypes for a few laughs. We are quick to bristle when other nationalities stereotype Pinoys as domestic helpers or sex workers. However, we ride along when local actors exaggerate the Bisaya’s “hard” pronunciation, the Tagalog’s imperialistic posture, the Chinese-Filipino’s dishonesty, the Indian’s usury, as well as countless jokes at the expense of physical disfigurement (the short, the fat, the dark-skinned, the dwarf).

The public’s deafening silence to these local lapses should be cause for worry. Either few of us are watching these shows and patronizing local entertainment or many of us agree with the stereotypes and enjoy the minority-bashing.

Closer home, ABS-CBN’s termination of a reporter, camera man and driver involved in the airing of tampered news footage has set off reverberations. Many viewers and media colleagues are taking up the cudgels for the axed workers, arguing that the network’s punishment was “too harsh” and that another chance should be given, considering their years of service with the network, deprivation of livelihood, and consequences to their families.

A dismissed media worker truly faces extreme odds to find again employment within the same industry. “Reinvention” may force one to seek work with former competitors or rivals, go freelance, or do public relations work for clients—if the axed media worker can get such jobs.

For the reputation of members of the media is just as fragile as those of the public figures and private citizens they cover. Sometimes, one thinks that a media worker’s credibility is even more tenuous. The knowledge, skills, news instinct and reputation for credibility acquired painstakingly in the field or at the desk over the years can all be lost with one human lapse in judgment.

That is the cross of those who take on the task of holding up a mirror to society. We in the media must be able to look at our own faces without flinching, as well as accept the reality that some errors don’t go away after we run a simple erratum. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Oct. 7, 2007 issue