Sunday, February 23, 2014


ARE we moving forward or backward?

On March 29, 1994, the Philippine Network Foundation (PHNet) used a 64-Kbp leased line connection to connect its member institutions to partners in the United States.

For the first time, the country was linked to the Internet and the so-called Information Superhighway.

By this count, this coming March will be our 20th year of being “wired,” which, along with “online,” “hooked up,” “connected,” “web-enabled” and other synonyms simply means that we are using “computers to transfer or receive information, especially by means of the Internet.”

Those of us born at a time when information was first acquired only at great cost and delay—which often meant that when it was available, the information was useless—see the Internet as a godsend.

Would it have taken us 20 years to oust the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his minions if we had the Internet to boost the opposition and make activism a less bloody, protracted struggle?

According to the 2009 “Philippines – Public Access Landscape Study” conducted by a team from the University of Washington Center for Information and Society, the growth of the Internet in the country was hindered by the lack of Internet infrastructure, its cost and corruption in the government.

Twenty years later, where are we? We have an untold number of smalltime businessmen renting out laptops and USB Internet connections to local families who cannot afford to buy their own.

These families are learning to go online so foreigners can pay in foreign currency to watch Filipino children pose nude or simulate sex or self-abuse before webcams.

According to BBC News, an Angeles City raid in 2012 arrested Timothy Ford of Kettering, Northamptonshire for paying Filipino parents that got five of their children to “perform” before a webcam.

Ford paid the parents 13 British pound sterling, equivalent to P970.71 today, for the entire “show”.

Last Feb. 18, I received an SMS breaking news alert from Rappler that the Supreme Court (SC) upheld as constitutional most of the provisions of Republic Act No. 101751, also known as the Cybercrime Law. Included in the approved provisions is the controversial provision on online libel.

As of this writing, word is spreading online and through the old but still reliable word of mouth that Internet users are meeting for a #notocybercrimelaw assembly on Feb. 22, 1 p.m. at the College of Law grounds of the University of the Philippines Diliman campus to discuss the next strategies for opposing the Cybercrime Law.

A Manila Times online report quoted a group called the Bloggers and Netizens for Democracy (BAND) as “lamenting” the Supreme Court decision to uphold a law that curtails freedom of expression even as the country will commemorate its 20th anniversary of being wired and a year before the Asean integration.

The Band spokespersons said laws exist to combat cybersex and cybertrafficking. They argued that the Cybercrime Law threatens five principles of Internet freedom: expression, access, openness, innovation and privacy.

As we find ourselves with actual roads and highways, we are at a crossing in the Information Superhighway.

In 1993, the PHNet was born after the Department of Science and Technology partnered with colleges and universities, including the University of San Carlos in Cebu City. The vision was to connect the country to the Information Superhighway, specially schools, for the growth of learning and global competitiveness.

A day before the SC upheld the Cybercrime Law, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) raided a private school in Muntinlupa that also served as a center for child and adult cyberporn operations.

The president of the academy denied that she knew the illegal nature of the enterprise that rented two of their “computer labs”. She denied that she benefited from the operations where young men posed as young women and conducted sex chats with foreigners. She said that the rooms’ rental subsidized their scholars.

In Internet slang, a “glitch” is a sudden, temporary break in the system. Is there a term when the fault becomes permanent and widespread?

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Feb. 23, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Sunday, February 16, 2014

V is for

SHE certainly was not the only naïve creature in fairy tales. But I think Little Red Riding Hood, who mistook a wolf for her grandmother and got eaten alive for her troubles, was a victim who got off lightly.

In one version, a hunter slays the wolf and slits its stomach to release grandmother and grandchild, a little slimy but intact.

No bath. No lectures. Not even a rent in the red hood. When I was a child, hers was one of the happiest endings.

Today, I wouldn’t tell her story without adding spoilers: Don’t go alone, get a buddy. Look before you leap. Stranger danger! Don’t let anyone touch your privates. Trust no one, not even a priest. Or your grandmother.

In the good old days, when parents told stories at bedtime, the only sad endings happened when the storyteller fell asleep and didn’t finish the tale to the listener’s extreme frustration.

Today, I can imagine the extreme parental challenge is not just to stay awake for bedtime stories but to also inject some realism and pragmatism without setting these classics on fire with one’s darkest, deepest fears.

Ours just happens to be the age when the unspeakable are crawling out into the open. I doubt it if Cordova is the only place where children commit explicit acts before a webcam, following the directions of their parents or elders.

To those who are smug enough to crow their home is disaster-proof, I ask: do you know what your family members are looking at on their tablets or smartphones?

A recent survey found that last year, an increasing number of Filipinos turned to the Internet for sexual encounters. Researchers of the University of the Philippines (UP) Population Institute and the Demographic Research and Development Foundation, Inc. found that among these respondents, the Catholic Church’s hold was waning. Also noted was an increase in premarital sex, online finding of partners and swapping of sexually explicit material.

Released last Feb. 6, the 2013 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study was not referring to pedophiles and dysfunctional couples but a nationwide sampling of Filipinos aged 15-24.

Are we better off in the age of Facebook? The young are not only still restless; they also seem to be clueless. The UP study found teen pregnancy on the rise, with last year’s young moms twice the number in 2002.

It is a sign of the times that Feb. 14, traditionally a day for lovers, was the date chosen by women’s groups in 207 countries for celebrating One Billion Rising (OBR). Gabriela issued a statement that the groups are “rising” to call for justice for victims of violence and abuse. OBR participants claim a “femicide” is claiming more women and girls as victims.

Yet, what is a victim? A recruiter arrested for human trafficking said that her 11 “recruits” (including four minors) knew they were going to be sold for sex. “They’re fine with it,” the mother of two was quoted by Sun.Star Cebu’s Gerome M. Dalipe last Feb. 11.

Some victims may not have been tricked; they may even be “fine” about a transaction that’s “mutually beneficial” to all parties. For inflicting harm on themselves—whether it be a revolving door of strange men to service or sexually transmitted infection from unprotected sex—some demand that society should not waste time and resources for their rescue.

But victimhood also refers to the harm done on a person, whether willing or not, naïve or not. OBR focuses on justice denied of victims by government, police, the courts and other institutions.

The greater challenge is to change the mentality that creates victims by beginning, not with institutions, but with the victim.

In an age of too few happy endings, the Little Red Hood rides on. The online writer who doesn’t walk out even when she’s ordered by her employer to upload naked photos or make sex chats. Chat room regulars trawling for virtual or eyeball partners for the “uncomplicated fuck”. Recruits who watch while their recruiters and strangers exchange envelopes over dinner.

V is for victim. V can also be for victor. How do we change this?

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Feb. 16, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Other side of midnight


It was educational to listen to the recent interview by broadcaster Korina Sanchez of beleaguered showbiz personality Vhong Navarro.

Navarro has been accused by Deniece Cornejo of raping her. Navarro has accused Cornejo of conspiring with Cedric Lee and friends to maul him and extort money from him. The opposing parties have filed their respective cases in court.

In the YouTube version showing snippets of the interview, Navarro first said that this incident taught him to be careful in deciding whom to trust. The second lesson was, in his words, “dapat maging (we must be) faithful”.

When I was listening to the evening primetime news, what struck me was Navarro’s spontaneous admission of his failure to be faithful to his girlfriend and his gratitude that, in the thick of the controversy, she was more concerned of his welfare (“mas iniisip pa niya ako”).

The following day, news media also singled out this particular revelation. “Vhong Navarro learns fidelity the hard way” headed an report.

Will Navarro boost monogamy better than a million sermons or testimonials about self-denial and constancy?

By the logic of the serially unfaithful, a priest bound by celibacy or a husband in terror of wife or in-laws can no more pass the test of choices as a vegetarian being confronted by a table groaning under the weight of succulent meats.

The association of food and women is inescapable. When the interview was aired on the news, I heard Navarro say that since he was younger, he had always been keen on women, “lamas (spice) ng buhay”. I cannot find this phrase anymore in the videos of the interview uploaded on YouTube.

Even if I misheard Navarro, there are plenty of allusions to women and food in language. A “chick’s boy” is, defying the literal translation, not limited to only one but probably the whole henhouse. “Ito ang manok ko (this is my choice)” is the blurb of a popular comedian and TV host (not Navarro) promoting a brand of grilled chicken but, not inexplicably, also featuring a South American model-actress.

A day after Navarro’s interview, the media reported that young Filipinos are getting “more sexually adventurous,” according to the 2013 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study conducted by the University of the Philippines Population Institute and the Demographic Research and Development Foundation, Inc.

Navarro’s endorsement of fidelity could not have been better timed. Perhaps in the collision between raging hormones, New Media, unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and Aids, young people may pay more attention to the remorseful confessions of a reformed rake than to scientifically monitored social trends.

Being faithful to a partner who’s also faithful to you offers better health insurance than a condom. That’s the obvious fact eluding many raised in the strict code of machismo.

It’s the same code framing Navarro’s “illumination”. Navarro admitted that he sneaked again behind his girlfriend’s back to return to Cornejo’s place, expecting more after she had given him oral sex during a previous visit. He did get more than actual intercourse, according to his account: a mauling, threats to his life and his family, a videotaping intended for extortion.

Compare this with Navarro’s girlfriend, who, despite his unfaithfulness and public humiliation, “stands by her man”. In macho lingo, it’s Bad Woman versus Good Woman. Moral of the story: “Dapat maging faithful”.

Rather than close the story on this hopeful note for fidelity, I’m curious about Navarro’s girlfriend, the silent presence in the controversy. I first heard about codependency while covering the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group meeting at Redemptorist Parish in Cebu City. The late rector Fr. Paddy Martin told me that there were also other self-help groups with members addicted to drugs and sex, as well as for their codependents.

Today, the term no longer just applies to couples suffering from alcohol, drug or sex addiction. A codependent is in a relationship that she or he considers as more important than her- or himself.

According to, a person should examine the costs to oneself of maintaining the relationship. When one partner controls the relationship and the other does all the “fixing” to make the relationship work, the solution calls for more desperate measures than fidelity.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Feb. 9, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Sunday, February 02, 2014

He said, she said

PINK and red, the tote sports a quote that screams headlines.

The tote is by Kate Spade; the quote, from Dorothy Parker: “I don’t care what is written about me so long as it isn’t true.”

And the headlines: pick any woman who screams rape.

Right now, the woman in the hot seat happens to be Deniece Millet Cornejo.

Cornejo claims Vhong Navarro attempted to rape her. Navarro denies the crime, claiming instead that Cornejo’s friends led by Cedric Lee beat him, extorted P1 million and threatened his family.

The case is in the courts. Its outcome hardly rests on the slow turning of the wheels of justice. Public opinion is quickly assigning the guilt.

Netizens, housewives, professionals, columnists and taho vendors have no need for “evidence”. The case is being decided upon the strength of whose view is favored.

Students of journalism learn that the weakest stories rely only on the “he said, she said” angle. Some 30 years ago, a group of women also thought pitting the accuser against the accused was pitiful evidence with which to seek justice.

Today, violence against women is not just an acronym. VAW is ascribed a permanent niche in the law, medicine, media, academic studies and culture. There’s even a “9262 Club,” of which Vina Morales, mother of Lee’s child, said she is a member.

Morales is referring to Republic Act (RA) No. 9262, also known as the Anti-violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004.

Punishing all forms of violence (physical, sexual and psychological) and economic abuse, the law is the refuge of women blackmailed by an ex posting intimate photos on Facebook, whose child has been abandoned by its father, or who are simply the battered halves of “tough-love” Romeos.

Before RA 9262, before gender equality and women’s empowerment became trendy enough to embellish Kate Spade’s “call to action” line of overpriced totes, there was just “family trouble”.

According to a paper published on, “family trouble” was often blamed as the reason why women creditors defaulted on their loans. But no one, from Nairobi to the Philippines, knew what it exactly meant.

Lihok Pilipina, a Cebu City non-government organization (NGO) advocating for women, asked around in barangay centers, hospitals and police stations. Based on the testimonies of women placed by “family trouble” in these places, the term was a euphemism for domestic abuse. A Lihok Pilipina survey established that six out of 10 women said they were battered within a year.

Probing more, the NGO found out that it was not just the law that was silent about domestic violence. Authorities did not want to get involved with “family trouble”. Barangay captains advised couples to kiss and make up. Women were reminded to “take care” of their partners. Victims went home to another round of abuse. To escape the vicious cycle, women had to be removed from their homes as bodies.

Female victims endured recounting their ordeal to men, from the barangay to the police station and hospital. The police did not want to blotter the complaints, which rarely ended in court and only added to their list of unresolved cases. Social workers were threatened with violence by partners angered by their “meddling”.

Doctors often told a rape victim to spread her legs in the presence of other people since she had been raped anyway. Journalists added to the trauma by squeezing victims for a blow-by-blow account of how the rape was carried out. Live, on air, with music and sound effects.

When Lihok Pilipina organized Bantay Banay in Cebu City on Jan. 31, 1992, it had little resources. But the women came.

Through the family/community watch project, women wouldn’t stop knocking on doors and shouting until a batterer stopped abusing a victim. Women created space behind cabinets to hide a victim. They pitched in for food and fare.

The first victim helped by Bantay Banay was a mother who brought her eldest, aged nine, with wounds still bleeding from being beaten with a wire by her partner. The mother didn’t ask for a lawyer. She only wanted the battering to stop.

Between this woman and the members of today’s sensational “9262 Club,” the realities may differ. But let the evidence speak. And stop the abuse.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Feb. 2, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”