Friday, November 20, 2009

The Pacman Cometh

In his prize-winning play, The Iceman Cometh, Eugene O’Neill presents a drama about the human need for hope and illusion as a response to the conditions of despair. If ever the Filipino people needed a distraction from the wearying conditions of despair that surround them, now is the time and Manny “the Pacman” Pacquiao is the man to provide the hope and illusion. He is our Iceman.

With his spectacular victory over Miguel Cotto on November 14, Pacquiao has won an unprecedented 7titles in 7 weight class divisions. No one is ever likely to challenge that historic accomplishment - to go from a 112 pound flyweight prince to a 145 pound welterweight king in 10 years. Remarkably, it would have been 8 titles if he had won the light flyweight championship at 106 pounds when he started his fighting career.

With an electrifying performance which made believers out of even the most cynical of doubters, Pacquiao has cemented his claim as the best pound-for-pound boxer of our time. Whether or not his fight with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. materializes is immaterial to the claim because Mayweather has made a habit of avoiding the best boxers while they were at their prime (Margarito, Cotto, Mosley, to name a few). But not Pacquiao “the Mexecutioner”.

Pacquiao has also achieved the unimaginable for a Filipino. He is now up there in that rarefied territory of elite athletes who made history, achieved global fame, and transcended their respective sports. Think Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, David Beckham, and Michael Phelps. His promoter, Bob Arum, though often given to hyperbole, was really not exaggerating when he said Pacquiao is the best boxer of all time, better than Mohammad Ali.

Even before the Cotto fight, commercial interests were already voting with their dollars and lining up behind Arum’s post-fight statement. Nike’s famous swoosh was ubiquitous with special Pacquiao shoes selling briskly for $135 on retail and $500 on EBay. Even reputable publications like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times featured articles about the Pacman. Time kicked it up a notch and put him on the cover of Time Asia.

But Pacquiao achieved something else very noteworthy: He has made his very ethnic, very indio-like, brown Filipino face – with no trace of any Mestizo-ness whatsoever – seem “cool” and attractive to Filipinos. Consider all the TV and movie stars of the Philippines today, virtually all of whom showcase light European features. But now they all bow to the brown king Pacman.

Pacquiao’s appeal has crossed over to mainstream America. His easy smile with eyes that light up, the religiosity in his pre-fight motions, the charming grace under pressure, the humility in his words, have made Americans who have seen him on TV overlook his heavily accented and grammatically- challenged English. By all indications, the American public has been smitten with him as his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live showed.

In the process, Pacquiao has instilled national pride among Filipinos who, at the same time, are also finding out on their own that with talent and tenacity, success is possible even with an ethnic face and an accented English. This pride is evident in shirts and jackets and accessories all proudly sporting Pacquiao’s image and Team Pacquiao logos. It is evident in water-cooler conversations all across America – with Filipinos talking of their sense of affinity and similarities of provenance with The Filipino People’s Champ.

How did this poor boy from the poverty-stricken streets of General Santos City in the island of Mindanao get to this point? For sure, he could not have done it in sports like golf or tennis for, although they too are individual sports, the monetary costs of achieving competence in those fields are prohibitive. He certainly could not have achieved it in the sport he loves, basketball, where height is a major factor in success.

Truth be told, savage and primitive though it may appear to some, boxing is probably the most democratic and most meritocratic of all sports. It is “cheap”: poor kids dabbling in it just borrow gloves from each other and practice on their own without the need for any real expense. It is also capable of instant feedback: you get your butt kicked if you can’t hack it, and if you’re not willing to give it your all, you’re better off dabbling in something else before you get into real physical trouble.

For all the good things Pacquiao brings to the country, there is a dark side. In a country of 90-million plus, an overwhelming percentage of which is comprised of poor impressionable kids all dreaming of becoming the next Pacquiao, makeshift boxing gyms and unregulated boxing matches supposedly feeding into the hopes of these poor boys are on the rise all over the land. Most of the Pacquiao wannabes will discover, soon enough, that studying real science subjects in school is a lot easier than learning the “sweet science” of boxing.

In The Iceman Cometh, broken men with hopeful dreams await the arrival of the big-spending Iceman, Theodore Hickman. When he arrives, he encourages his cronies to pursue their ambitions, believing that only failure will make them face reality. “To hell with the truth! As the history of the world proves, the truth has no bearing on anything…The lie of a pipe dream is what gives life to the whole misbegotten mad lot of us, drunk or sober,” he says.

Let's ride this pipe dream as long as we can. All hail King Pacman!

Fil-Am History Month

If you google "Chinese American History Month" or "Japanese American History Month", the search engines will all direct you to "Asian Pacific American Heritage Month" which, you will be informed, was enacted on October 28, 1992 to honor the achievements of Asian/Pacific Americans and to recognize their contributions to the United States.

All 30 or so Asian ethnic groups in the US were lumped together as “Asian Pacific Americans” and given one month – May – to celebrate our collective and individual cultures, histories and heritage in the United States. May was selected because the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the United States on May 7, 1843 and the transcontinental railroad, which employed hundreds of Chinese immigrant laborers, was completed on May 10, 1869.

The month actually started stated out as “Asian Pacific American Heritage Week” when Pres. Jimmy Carter signed the Joint Resolution on October 2, 1978. It became a month-long celebration in 1992 when Pres. George H.W. Bush signed the law permanently designating May of each year as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

As a publicly elected official in San Francisco for 18 years, I regularly attended the annual kick-off celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in San Francisco’s City Hall since 1992. It would always be awkward for me when Japanese Americans would recount the day in May of 1843 when the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the US and when Chinese Americans would recall the day in May of 1869 when the Chinese-built transcontinental railroad was completed and I couldn't very well reminisce about that day in May of 1898 when Commodore George Dewey destroyed the Spanish Fleet which later resulted in the US invasion and colonization of the Philippines.

For years since its founding in Seattle, Washington in 1982, it was always the goal of the Filipino American National History Society (FANHS) for Filipino Americans to be given our very own month to celebrate our history and culture in the United States.

At its biennial national conference in 1988, FANHS members unanimously passed a resolution to "establish Filipino American History Month to be observed annually and nationally throughout the United States and its Territories during the Month of October commencing in the Year 1992 to mark the 405th Anniversary of the Presence of Filipinos in the Continental United States.”

The resolution also expressed the belief that such a month long celebration would be “a significant time to study the advancement of Filipino Americans in the history of the United States, as a favorable time of celebration, remembrance, reflection and motivation, and as a relevant time to renew more efforts toward research, examination and promulgation of Filipino American history and culture in order to provide an opportunity for all Americans to learn and appreciate more about Filipino Americans and their historic contributions to our nation, these United States of America.”

Just as Japanese Americans could celebrate the day the first Japanese immigrants landed in California in May of 1843, Filipino Americans could now also proudly commemorate the day the first Filipinos (“Luzon Indios”) landed in California on October 18, 1587, more than 33 years before the first English Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620.

After the FANHS resolution was publicized, Filipino Americans began celebrating October as Filipino American History Month with celebrations and festivities throughout the US. Various states, aside from California and Hawaii, would routinely pass resolutions as Michigan Governor Jennifer Granhom did when she proclaimed “October 2006, as Filipino American Heritage Month in Michigan, and I encourage all citizens to recognize, applaud and participate in this celebration of the many contributions made by Filipino Americans that enhance the quality of life in Michigan.”

But the celebration in various states somehow just wasn’t enough. As the Wikipedia entry on this subject noted, “October as Filipino American History Month has not yet attained the prestige of other similar minority celebrations, such as the Black History Month in February, Women's History Month in March, and the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May. This is evidenced by the fact that no United States Congress has ever resolved to recognize Filipino American History Month.”

The Wikipedia entry now needs to be updated.

On November 3, 2009, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Massachusetts) stood up on the House floor to announce that on October 29, 2009, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee had unanimously approved House Resolution (H.R.) 780 celebrating October as Filipino American History Month. It was originally sponsored by Rep. Bob Filner (D-California) with over 50 members of the House signing on as co-sponsors, he said. Rep. Lynch also announced that the US Senate had unanimously passed a similarly worded resolution (S. 298) on October 1, 2009. He asked for the unanimous consent of the House to make the bill into law.

Before the vote could take place, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R- North Carolina) stood up and deplored the lack of substantive resolutions being passed by the House but joined Rep. Lynch in asking for the unanimous consent of the House for HR 780.

When the call was made for the vote, it passed unanimously. October is now Filipino American History Month in the United States! Hurray!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Overpopulation and the Catholic Church

Senator Noynoy Aquino leads in all the presidential polls that have been taken in the Philippines in the last month, receiving more preferential votes than all his opponents combined.

But before his supporters can start planning a yellow-themed celebration in May of 2010, there are still formidable obstacles standing in his way and they are not Manny Villar, Erap Estrada, or Gibo Teodoro.

The first obstacle is the P7.7-billion automated electronic voting machine system contract that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) awarded to Smartmatic, a company that allegedly has ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

There is a pervasive fear that automated voting machines can be easily rigged, with no paper trails to document abuses. The voting system source codes can be obtained from the company and manipulated to award votes to a particular candidate. The voters may be at the mercy of computer programmers.

The second obstacle is the Philippine Catholic Church, which issued a “veiled warning” to Senator Aquino indicating that the senator's support of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill could be detrimental to his presidential aspirations.

Other Church officials like Fr. Robert S. Embile have even threatened excommunication to anyone who endorses or supports the RH bill. In a letter published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on October 20, 2009, Fr. Embile wrote that “any believer who does not abide with the teachings 100 percent is not a genuine Catholic.”

In a visit to Cebu City on October 17, 2009, Senator Aquino reiterated his support for Senate Bill 3122 (The Reproductive Health and Population Development Bill) explaining that it can help provide the sex education that present and future generations need. It is an attempt “to come up with a defined national population policy framework.”

Senator Aquino said he supports the plan to have government health centers ready to let the public avail themselves of contraceptives and that parents should take responsibility for birth spacing. He told the Cebu press that if the Catholic Church will boycott him in the 2010 elections because of his support for the RH Bill, he said he would rather heed his conscience.

“I believe we have a population problem. I believe I have a responsibility to help so that our children have the opportunity to live better lives,” he said. He cited the fact that the Philippine population has “probably doubled” since the first Edsa revolution. Not quite but close.

The Philippine population in 1906 was 6 million people. By 1949 it had increased to 19.3 million; by 1970, the population passed the 38.5 million mark, and by 1989, it had risen to 63.8 million. It was 70 million in 1991, and since 50 percent of the people are under the age of 18, the projection is that the figure will pass 100 million shortly after the year 2010.

As environmentalists have pointed out, while the population has exploded, “the mangrove swamps are being destroyed, and 80 percent of the coral reefs, which are among the richest ecosystems on the planet, have been severely damaged. A third of the soil is severely damaged, two thirds are partly damaged, and the rain forest that once covered over 90 percent of the area will, it seems, soon be totally gone—only 10 percent survives now.”

The issue of Philippine overpopulation came to the fore recently with what blogger Dean Bocobo called the “sheer apocalyptic scale of the Ondoy-Pepeng diluvial calamity.”

As Dean pointed out in his blog, “Overpopulation created our overcrowded cities with their teeming slums and urban sprawl. Overpopulation filled full our waterways with our own garbage, that later submerged the neighborhoods of rich and poor alike. Overpopulation created the thousands of pockets of vulnerable millions that have suffered Ondoy and Pepeng.”

“Overpopulated societies foster poverty and unemployment, and the widespread lack of proper food and water, since whatever is available is being diminished by an ever growing denominator of millions more mouths to feed, clothe, and shelter. And rescue! Overpopulation magnifies the woeful inadequacy of the government to deliver emergency relief and long term reconstruction. Every reconstruction plan and every attempt to achieve a secure ‘preparedness’ against the next Ondoy or Pepeng is forced to deal with a population that is increasing at a rate of more than 2 million people per year.”

The controversy around the Reproductive Health bill attracted the attention of the New York Times which described the problem of poor Filipino women unwilling to have more children but helpless to stop it (“Bill to Increase Access to Contraception is Dividing Filipinos,” Carlos Conde, October 26, 2009). The bill would “require governments down to the local level to provide free or low-cost reproductive health services, including condoms, birth control pills, tubal ligations, and vasectomies. It would also mandate sex education in all schools, public and private, from fifth grade through high school.”

According to one research study cited by the New York Times, 54 percent of the 3.4 million pregnancies in the Philippines in 2008 were unintended with 92 percent resulting from not using birth control and the rest from birth control that failed. Those unintended pregnancies, the study found, contributed to an estimated 500,000 abortions that year, despite a ban on the procedure which is mostly performed clandestinely and in unsanitary conditions.

While the bill seeks to prevent unwanted pregnancies that results in a massive number of abortions, the opposition from the Catholic Church is based on the belief that the bill would legalize abortion by promoting the use of abortion-inducing drugs. In Catholic churches across the country, signs have been posted that read: “Yes to Life! No to RH Bill!”

The New York Times reported that various Catholic officials have been calling on opposition Senator Aquino to renounce his support of the RH bill but he has refused their pleas. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, on the other hand, has said that she will let her Catholic faith guide her. Presumably, her anointed presidential candidate, Defense Secretary Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro, will toe the same religious line in his attempt to woo the Catholic Church.

The battle lines for the 2010 Philippine presidential elections have been drawn.