Saturday, October 29, 2011

Be streetwise

TREE-LINED and recently spruced up, Osmeña Boulevard is pretty as a postcard scene, and as deceptive.

Last Friday, at midmorning, my mother’s attention was caught by a group of teens that jogged across the street while the traffic lights turned red. One boy slowed down to pick something from the nape of a female passenger in one of the idling jeepneys.

Before my mother could blink, the youth was standing on the curb, sliding the medallion up and down the broken chain, as if taunting its owner, who, my mother thinks, may not have known what hit her.

Media reports and anecdotes from victims and eyewitnesses attest that a culture of street crime runs through this uptown area.

Remembering the 1980s when “rugby boys” started roaming the area while inhaling from bags containing this high-inducing glue and knowing the heavy traffic of tourists and pedestrians in the area, the trend does not surprise.

What perturbs is the rapacity of the current street operators. What they lack in years and height, they more than make up for predatory instincts. They hunt in packs, begging from or distracting victims before striking. Even in daylight, they chase those whose bags or valuables they fail to snatch at first attempt. They threaten and scare security guards or bystanders who intervene between them and their prey.

Who would have associated the ages of 11, 9 or 7 with mayhem?

Others blame drugs and alcohol abuse, not just by the youths but by their parents, if they can be called such. Often cited for worsening juvenile crime now is a juvenile justice law that keeps youths below 18 years out of jail. Among the “batang hamog” in the streets of Manila, a birth certificate is carried around to facilitate their release in case of an arrest.

The breakdown of family, environment and social institutions is blamed for the corruption of youth.

Yet, is it possible to view this in another way, that rather than deteriorate, the youth are sharpening and peaking? By some oversight, lack of imagination or failure of nerve, we fail to channel their energies into areas that benefit society, such as finding solutions to problems they best know how to tackle?

Remembering my mother’s anecdote of the necklace thief at Osmeña Boulevard, I found myself revising my initial assessment of the teen’s flaunting of his booty: would a hardened criminal risk all for a moment’s prank?

The failure of one generation to understand and thus reach out to another generation lies at the heart of a disaster like the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 that was authored by Senator Francis Pangilinan, as well as the botched attempts of the police to drag juveniles out of the street for some desultory feeding, hair-trimming, clothing and lecturing (attempts proven to misfire as soon as the same youths are picked up again from the streets for another crime for which the law refuses to hold them accountable for).

Yet, what can we learn from the efforts of some groups to wean away some of the hardened veterans of streets and even get them to motivate former allies and compatriots to leave their brotherhoods?

In March 2012, the Kaspersky Conference for Young Professionals will be held in Hong Kong to involve youths in fighting cybercrime. According to Katlene O. Cacho’s Oct. 25, 2011 report in Sun.Star Cebu, the Information Technology (IT) security company, Kaspersky Lab, invites students to work with other experts. Philippine students have until Dec. 1 to submit their papers in the competition for the best original research on Internet security and cybercrime.

IT’s not tapping something new in tapping the young. Shouldn’t we be applying this approach, too, in our streets?

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Oct. 30, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Divine at 15

DID the parents of Divine Saludaga foresee, 15 years ago, that their child would grow to become not just divine but uncommon?

Divine is a senior at Tipolo National High School. According to Justin K. Vestil’s Oct. 18, 2011 report in Sun.Star Cebu, Divine was recently honored as one of Mandaue City’s Top 20 Outstanding Children.

The 20 students were chosen for their academic and community work in their schools.

Although the Sun.Star Cebu article contains no particulars about the students’ achievements, Vestil captured the uniqueness of Divine who, at 15, is unsure whether she will become “a nun, a teacher or a journalist”.

Her being the school paper’s editor-in-chief makes her lean, though, towards journalism.

I expect sass and spunk but hardly poignancy from fifteen-year-olds. (Or perhaps I have watched too many videos.)

What is it like to be 15 and consider options few adults will even glance at as options?

For a foolish reason sustained for a few foolish seconds after reading the Sun.Star Cebu article, I wished Divine stays 15 forever. Anything—her elders, a spike in the hiring of overseas Filipino workers, or even Divine herself—can trigger a change in her life’s decision.

She may realize that, however she decides, she will be embracing a lifetime of work.

Rather, I mean service, the term applied for work that will never be fully compensated.

I’m sure salaries and benefits are better now compared to those in the past, but I believe—based on experience and observation—that the labors of teachers, journalists and nuns can never be covered by paltry things like a pay slip or pension.

Is there a scheme to standardize salaries for the individual exercise of creativity, passion and excellence? There are numbers to prove the aberrations—masses of lazy and incompetent teachers, lazy and corrupt journalists, lazy and sanctimonious nuns—but the sterling exceptions are not as rare as we think.

There are teachers who don’t let poverty—of local families, of the educational system—dim the dreams of their students.

Among those frontliners who can count their official holidays with fewer than the fingers of one hand, some journalists make the extra effort to be accurate, accurate, accurate every time: go to libraries, archives and the streets to verify information; try to reach sources that didn’t, won’t and can’t give their side; and reread drafts to check that no interest is sacrificed or promoted except that of the public.

And nuns—timeless butt of inanities for being childless and sexless—who have been champions of the poor, ignorant, voiceless, abused, abandoned, degraded, soulless, in a word, final resort of those who ran out of options: can you insult the salt of the earth by saying, here is compensation for doing the work that no one else will do?

Can you be 15 and then wake up the next second?

No one can cling to the flush of youth. But here’s my hope, Divine, that you stay always as uncommon as you were at 15.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Oct. 23, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Origin of evil

IF I were to curate our times, I would begin at the comfort rooms.

CRs, as we call them in this shortcut-loving country, reflect the values and temper of an age.

When I was still in uniform, we could eat in the CRs of our school, run by nuns. The air was so pure, these places seemed only remotely associated to Bodily Function No. 1, and hardly to No. 2.

Cleaned once a day by the staff, the CRs were maintained this way the rest of the day by us students.

It was a feat. Anyone with an idea of the amount of powdering, combing and fixing up girls subject themselves to in privacy before appearing in public, will be in awe of how we never left even a telltale strand of hair on the sink long after the last class.

Decades later, I ran into a friend when we both used a CR in our alma mater. About to wash my hands, I stopped when I saw the congealing swishes of pink foundation and hair strands of assorted length marking the white bowl. When I looked up, my batch mate shook her head and said sorrowfully, “Things have changed.”

My college years introduced me to other kinds of CRs. In this university, students protested about tuition fee increases that were forever lining the priests’ pockets and not improving the students or teachers’ lots. Yet, by rigging CRs with whistlebombs that only sometimes whistled but almost always blew doors off hinges or cracked bowls, these students were reducing the functional CRs on every floor and increasing the bladder-challenged among a population better known for lifting more bottles than books.

Why was I not surprised that these petty anarchists were also bigots? In the girls’ CR, the bombs planted were not the whistling variety because, they claimed, the girls could be counted on to supply the acoustics.

When I transferred to a state college, it was impossible to ignore the reek of state-subsidized education because the library was beside the girls’ CR.

“What kind of library is this?” often warred with “What kind of girls use this CR?” for my quote of the day.

Though I gave up on research attempts with references that may have been abandoned in the mass retreat before the Japanese Imperial Army (the campus was a holding center in World War II), I could not snob the Origin of Evil, as our CR was called by the boys (whose CR, across the hall, proved there was indeed a Residence Beyond Evil).

Before it was taken over by the Crying Girl (a spirit, urban legend or noisy manifestation that interrupts many a visitor’s No. 1 or No. 2), the OOE was notorious for its three cubicles—Bad, Worse, Worst—that did not only refer to the frequent occasions when there was no water, or too much.

When I was an undergraduate, the cubicles were the final bastions of campus freedom. Every comment that could not get past the faculty advisors of the student publication or the rally marshals checking ideology and grammar on placards and streamers ended on the CR walls and cubicle doors with the genteel wooden louvers.

Adding more atmosphere to the material and astral haunting of the place were the graffiti that, in Cebuano, English and CebGlish (never Tagalog), roasted students, teachers, God, landladies and Charlie Chaplin.

How could anyone write such a long scurrilous insult without the ballpen ink drying up? Share the brand please. What kind of spelling ignoramus are the taxpayers educating? Want to know the secrets of passing Math 11? Hoy, it’s not “in” but “on” the bowl. (Hoy)2X! The preposition depends on the object, object ka?

Times have indeed changed. Student groups now raise funds for CR sanitizers and must field student agents to check if you are handwashing properly. It’s not only choosing to do No. 1 or No. 2 but knowing eye and wrist coordination to shoot inside one of at least three CR waste receptacles to prove your IQ and EQ on segregation.

And today’s bare and unstained CRs prove only that the young have moved away to post on their Facebook wall and through their Tweets what used to be the unmentionable, unintelligible and memorable in the CRs of my time.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Oct. 16, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

Friday, October 14, 2011

Copy and perish

“HELL Week” is inaccurate but apt for this time: the last remaining weeks of the semester when some students wake up and find out there is a final grade due and it’s not a white rabbit they can pull out of a trick hat but a computation based on their outputs and performance, or lack of it.

Is it my imagination or am I seeing more uniforms in libraries and churches?

Not all, though, rely on their own labor or divine intervention.

Others fall back on a dependable alternative: “borrowing” someone else’s work to pass off as one’s own.

Hours silently passed with fellow teachers, poring over manuscripts, made me realize that Hell Week, in the Bright New Age of Copy and Paste, increasingly means tawdry assignations with an infernal triangle: student, teacher and Plagiarism.

Aside from being uncomfortable with threesome arrangements, I dislike the effort wasted by a naïve or ignorant second party on a third party, known and visible to only the first party.

That is because I line-edit manuscripts to offer suggestions for rewriting. In a memorable interlude, I ended up asking myself how could it help Diana Athill to know that I thought she botched her transitions? Or writer X, who did not believe the low grade I gave her essay on spirituality, ghostwritten unknowingly by Athill, an editor who reviewed for half a century the works of Jean Rhys and V.S. Naipaul?

At that time, of course, X did not argue. She could hardly blurt out that I only thought I had been reading her but was actually reviewing Athill, or Athill chopped up and stitched together with a horrific disregard for clarity and cohesion that calls to mind Hollywood and Dr. Frankenstein’s attempt to bring to life the Creature.

Years later, after I acquired a secondhand copy of the Spring 2006 issue of the Granta magazine and read Athill’s essay, “God and me,” I remembered the disbelief of X and had to belatedly agree with her. Had I known that she robbed Athill, I would not have failed her composition. I would have asked her to repeat the course.

Academic honesty and scholarly discipline should not be fully entrusted to chance. For years, teachers required several drafts to ease students into the process of prewriting, writing and rewriting. This method allows both writer and teacher to discover, familiarize and immerse oneself with the writer’s voice: the signature that reveals how a person uniquely thinks and expresses.

Now, detecting plagiarism has been updated by Copyscape and other software that can trace plagiarized text, even those buried deep in the 100th page of documents uploaded on or outside the Net.

According to Professor Rose Arong, who uses Copyscape to verify her suspicions, the program can assess if at least 10 percent of a work is copied, the minimum for establishing plagiarism. Without proper attribution of sources, a student has a hard choice to make: admitting and apologizing for committing plagiarism (reaping failure for that exercise) or denying any wrongdoing (with evidence of plagiarism, repetition of the course is the consequence).

Given the gravity of content theft and its consequences—academic failure, dishonor, a pall cast on future accomplishments—the investigation of plagiarism should be carried out only by a disinterested panel of experts. On no account should doubts or suspicions be posted on Facebook, possibly leading to trial by publicity and cyberbullying.

Failing grades and criticism, though, do not go to the heart of plagiarism: why does one claim someone else’s work? Plagiarism doesn’t render vulnerable only the lazy and deficient but also the most promising and passionate to copy words, images and other forms of expression. One eventually stumbles in the race to excel? The best form of praise is imitation? There is no original thought? Or the Internet ends all taboos?

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Oct. 9, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Books, not flyovers

IT’S not possible to read all the books in a human lifetime.

It’s possible to let others read the books you can’t read in your lifetime.

That didn’t come from a fortune cookie but from four years of “Their Books”.

A brainchild of accidental journalist/children’s rights revolutionary/baby blogger extraordinaire Insoy Niñal, “Their Books” is sustained now on its fourth year by the campus volunteers of Tsinelas Association Inc.

Composed of students, teachers, professionals and just about anyone who believes every child should be entitled to at least a book, an education and a life, Tsinelas cooks up a lot of schemes to put public school students through high school AND college, set up reading centers or libraries, discover drawing, theater and other ways to release their inner artist, or just play, laugh and have a good time, rare and endangered for many children in difficult circumstances.

For the past two years, Tsinelas timed their book sale for a cause on a weekend coinciding with Sept. 21, anniversary of the declaration of martial law in the country and the local celebration of Cebu Press Freedom Week.

A few weeks ago, though, Joni Sarina Mejico, president of the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu chapter of the Tsinelas volunteers, posted an invitation on Facebook for donations to generate the cache of books, magazines, textbooks and other references that will mostly be put on sale to the public when “Their Books” is held on Nov. 17-19, 2011, at the Ayala Center Cebu, their corporate partner over the years.

Mejico posted that textbooks and children’s books will not be included in the sale but donated to Tsinelas’s beneficiary schools for reading centers or libraries.

This year’s poster is slick and avant-garde (I suspect award-winning artist and hardcore book lover Josua S. Cabrera has let loose again his inner child to play around in a virtual playground. The design shows a curtain of black slashed by a stylized, inverted number “4” and a plain sheet that reflects the reverse image of the letter “B”. The slashes creating number “4” expose, as if through rose-tinted lenses, an image of book spines arranged on a shelf.

The image is either voyeuristic or poignant. If you thinks reading is better than sex (lasts longer, doesn’t entail making a soul-tearing choice between natural or artificial methods of restraint, allows several trials if your first attempt to connect with the author flopped), the sight of “Their Books” will ignite the fantastic collision between the male-electric and female-magnetic forces infusing all acts of creation.

In plain words, “Their Books” gives every fan a chance to own a book once held, read and collected by idols, icons or objects of fantasy. Want to peek into the novel editor emeritus Cheking Seares brings along when he sits in his favorite daytime nook, downing several cups of coffee and stirring bottomless vats of stories-behind-the-stories? Stab for luck and get your hands on the extremely beautiful, inside and out, specimens that journalist-and-fictionist Isolde Amante reluctantly lets go each year from her collection. Pine for Mitch So, for whom the word “hunkess” should be invented? At least, get closer to her aura by picking up one of the novels competing with “From Junquera with love” for this editor’s gimlet-eyed attention.

For all the orgy of senses stirred up by “Their Books,” there’s a particular poignancy to the yearly efforts of student volunteers from UP, St. Theresa’s College, Don Bosco Technology Center Cebu, Southwestern University and Cebu Technological University, as well as “Their Books” donors and patrons, to raise funds and give more than a fighting chance to students in mountain barangays and urban inner cities.

Do you think our children deserve more than flyovers and erroneous textbooks? Call Tsinelas volunteers to pick up the crates of books you’ve not read for more than a year. Or see you at "Their Books" on Nov. 17-19.

( 0917-3226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu's Oct. 2, 2011 issue of the "Matamata" Sunday column