Family and Personal Life


Random memory:

When I was in college I was an intern at an NGO/think tank/public interest law firm. While I was there we got a new executive director who had previously been high ranking in the Clinton administration, so he was kind of a big deal. He wanted to have a barbecue at his house as a welcome/staff bonding event.

My boss asked if I could help the E.D. set up for the party – shopping, food prep, etc. When she asked me to do this, I got really pissed off. What immediately went through my mind was “I got hired to work in an office! I in’t get hired to cook and clean in no white man’s house!”

After a couple days of stewing about it I decided I was going to tell my boss that I refused doing the assignment on principle. If they would fire me because of my decision, so be it, but as an organization that had fair labor practices as one of its core advocacies, it would be really bad form if they fired me.

Before I could talk to my boss though, the E.D. personally sought me out to thank me. He basically said “I know this is way beyond your job description. But, I really personally appreciate that you’re willing to help out and I’ll try to make it a fun day for you.” That changed my mind and I decided to do it.

It did turn out to be fun day. I ended up bonding with the E.D. over shopping for cannolis and slicing up crudite. I appreciated that we did the work together – he didn’t just sit around while I worked – and he made the effort to actually talk to me about my life, political opinions, professional ambitions, etc. In the following months he ended up becoming one of my early mentors.

Lessons learned: Matagal na pala akong pasaway, angry at the system, and all that, but at the end of the day I’m also kind of a softie. Being a gracious manager will make even your most asshole employee go beyond the call of duty. No matter how supposedly “high up” one is, the willingness and how one performs manual labor is still a telling measure of a man or woman. Besides going through war, cooking and having beers together are probably the best methods of bonding.

The other day, the following conversation randomly ensued between my mother and me. I’m still smarting.

Mom: Did you look for a man while you were in the Philippines?

Me: No.

Mom: Why not?

Me: I’m don’t want to get married.

Mom: You HAVE to get married.

Me: Why?

Mom: You HAVE to.

Me: Ayoko.

Mom: But who will take care of you when you’re old? Lalo na gusto mo mag-istay sa Pilipinas, children take care of their parents there. Here it’s ok because you have pension, but not there.

Me: I want to die young.

So after over a year of feeling like I abandoned this blog, I’ve decided to dedicate more time to it. This is prompted in part, admittedly, by an unexpectedly deep and emotional conversation with an even more unexpected person. It’s prompted by the fact that since inauguration I’ve had a lot more time on my hands (if idle hands are the devil’s workshop what about and idle mind – yikes!). It’s prompted by the realization that soon I’ll be going back to school and after the past 2+ years of CANVAS, NDI, and campaign mode, I’ll have to shift from full-time strategic thinker (or some would say plotter) and good soldier and re-learn how to be conceptual and introspective.

At one point last week I actually read this blog from its inception in 2006 until now. I realized 2 things. First, I actually have always been this way. Magaspang, suplada, galit sa mga elitista (or in hip hop lingo, angry at the man), hungry for justice. Hungry to show all of them, friend and foe alike, that I do not fit into the insultingly narrow limits of what you think I am and what I could be capable of, or as Jay-Z puts it “I can’t base what I’m gonna be off a what everybody isn’t.” Shit, it’s just now that I’m remembering attending a church retreat in high school and when the facilitator asked “what’s your aspiration in life” mine was “to change the world.” At that time I don’t think I had any idea how I would do it – probably through music or something. I definitely never imagined it would be this way.

Second, while I thought I had abandoned this blog while stuck in the corporate NGO machine DC lifestyle, when I went back through the blog I realized that there was still at least one entry each month, and it was almost inevitably about Philippine politics. This ish is in my bone marrow now. I couldn’t quit if I tried.

These past couple months have been a crazy ride. Well, ride is perhaps not the appropriate term – what’s an appropriate metaphor when the means of transpo is 15% you steering and 85% the universe whisking you where it wants? Perhaps the more appropriate metaphor is a choose your own adventure book where you try to be strategic and make informed decisions, but at the end of the day you don’t actually know what the hell you’re doing and at any moment things can blow up in your face. The only thing that makes Philippine politics different from a choose your own adventure book is that in politics, if you’re good enough, there’s always the chance for a glorious recovery. You can always choose to bust through a wall or sneak through a window or, if we’re sticking with our metaphor, tear out half a page here, pencil in a couple lines there…but I digress.

Philippine politics is still a man’s world. We can have two women presidents, women Secretaries of Justice, Supreme Court Justices, Senators and Congresswomen but the vast majority of power players are still men who stay out with each other at night drinking beer, brandy (or Coke) and making sophomoric jokes. The powerful matriarchs do exist, and I would dare to say that the women kingmakers that do exist are lightyears more sophisticated than their male counterparts, but they are few and far between. The vast majority of women you see in traditional political circles are props – either in the sense that they are seat warmers for their husbands, brothers, fathers, etc or cute executive assistants, paralegals or simply arm candy; or in the sense that they are “propped” up by the men that make their political careers. You rarely see women in the seedy side of below the radar operations.

All humility aside, the two things that have most consistently gained me access to places and people where a neophyte like me should be nowhere near are: 1) The Akbayan network and of course my beloved comrade bossing, and 2) People seem to find me pretty. And me, being my brash-ass, no shame self (with encouragement from bossing and ingkong of course) utilize this to the full. At the risk of giving away trade secrets, this is how I go places and attend where I am not invited and probably “don’t belong.” I just go and people tolerate it cause they think I’m pretty. Props. Then I hit them with the shocker – instead of sitting and smiling demurely I conduct myself with just as much swagger and arrogance, and when I’m lucky, intelligence, as any of the “big boys.” They don’t know who I am, they don’t know what I do, but they know I’m nobody’s muther-effing E.A.

I still get the feeling, however, (and this is where it gets depressing) that no matter how brash or witty or smart I try to be, most of these men still look at me and see little more than, in the words of Jill Scott, “good looks and a wet hole.” Maybe that’s why I made the fatal mistake of letting my guard down with the first bolero who said he thought I was smart. Thus, I still haven’t quite figured out if on the whole this physical appearance is helpful or harmful. It’s definitely been helpful in the opening doors part, but I wonder if I’m walking though them – no, I know I’m stumbling through them making the path as I go and running into rocks and stones and shards of glass. Fumbling backwards and then rising up to peek through the door again. Hm, sounds like life.

But what kills me is how they wanna hide me from their legitimate lives as if something is actually going down. Keeping me for the back room meetings and late night drinking sessions as if acknowledging my existence in public or quoting me or openly considering my ideas will somehow let your wife or partner know what you are thinking. I haven’t even fucked you but apparently I’m your mistress.

Anyway, going back to the bane of being a woman in politics. When I was with the Women’s Political Participation Team at NDI, we often heard that the biggest opposition women faced when trying to enter politics was from other women. So true. Of course, the men egg us on, the men assume we won’t get along when there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. And of course, yet another reason why I love my comrades so much – we love each other and celebrate each other’s beauty proudly as sophisticated feminists do and as all women should. But unfortunately not all women in politics are sophisticated feminists. The high school clique, the sexless harem mentality remains and I see them look me up and down as if to say “What is she doing here and who does she think she is?” When are we going to grow up and out of this?

Speaking about the woes of being a young woman in politics, as I was hanging out at the Deputy Executive Secretary’s office, two young (probably around my age or younger) and I’m assuming bright young paralegals came in to talk to the Deputy ES. Both were considering quitting because they wanted to start looking for husbands and having families. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be a mother. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a stay at home mom either. But, you are in a country where good jobs are hard to come by. You’re on the winning side of a victorious presidential campaign and you’re working in Malacanan at a very powerful office. Ok, fine, all of that is fine. But, the killer is that when would you EVER hear a man quitting such a promising position because he felt it was time to settle down and have a family? Even in the Philippines where you have yayas, a woman finds it necessary to end her career to have a family (because of course the idea of asking the husband to take part in raising the child is utterly ridiculous)? Again hurts my feminist sensibilities…

My Dear Fellow Ilonggos,

Please please DO NOT ELECT RAUL GONZALEZ as mayor.

Do I really need to explain why?

So now that I’m here at my parent’s house enjoying the quiet life…so far from the craziness of international political activism (and missing it like I can’t explain!) In the meantime I’m enjoying taking care of my family. Today I made some really good chicken by combining different recipes and fudging around a bit, so I figured I better write down what I did before I forget in case I wanna make it again! Of course, all measurements are approximate

Basil Lime Honey Lemongrass Chicken

about 1.5 lbs. of chicken breast

which I cut into strips (for faster marinating – don’t forget to cut against the grain) about an inch thick and then marinated in:

3 cloves (2 tbsp?) minced garlic

1 tbsp minced ginger

juice of 1 lime

3 stalks of lemongrass (which I cut in half, tied and muddled)

1/4 honey

1/4 c. minced basil

black pepper

I pounded the chicken a bit when it was in the marinade and marinated for about 2 hours.

then, i toased about

2 tbsp sesame seeds in a wok (had some extra, really old sesame seeds around the house)

I stir-fried the chicken on high and took it out when half cooked. Of course, while frying, I put a little salt to bring out some flavor. Then I took out the chicken and  stir-fried 3 stems of scallions just until soft, re-added the chicken and cooked it till it was just about done. Then I added:

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp vinegar

2tsp brown sugar

the sesame seeds

1 tbsp flour

which i had mixed together beforehand to make a sauce. I also aded the rest of the marinade. When it seemed the four had cooked out and the sauce was kinda thick, I added vegetables (some frozen veggies and a can of bamboo shoots that I had onhand) and some cashew nuts. I cooked it till all the vegetables were soft and everything was coated. I tasted it a couple times while it was cooking and added additional salt, soy sauce (it was quite bland as listed, so I actually added a  lot more salt) and pepper.

 

I served this 2 ways: over plain rice and also as a filler with bihon and rice paper, to make Vietnamese-style summer-roll inspired idea (thanks to my Brisbane Viet Tan peeps!). Both were really really good! I just used whatever vegetables I had on hand, but next time I’d like to try broccoli, cauliflower, baby corn, snow peas, muchrooms…all the usual in Chinese stir fry. I’d also probably add more ginger (my ginger was still frozen and so I had a hard time peeling it, and we were out of ginger powder) and cashews – i only added a handful of cashews to this batch and i think they didnt really lend anything to the dish in their small quantity. I’d also make more sauce on a second attempt – the sauce was really good! Also, now that I think of it I think you’re supposed to add salt to marinades (helps with osmosis?), so i’ll look it up and try it or not accordingly next time.

best of all, the tanglad, basil, and spring onion came fresh from my mommy’s garden (aka growing in random places in the backyard). yay!

Thought for the day:

I’ve heard so many people say that the Philippines is not advancing because there is something culturally wrong with Filipinos. Perhaps by far the most popular statement is that “Filipinos have no discipline.” I’ve even heard some old timers yearn for the early days of Marcos because people at that time “had so much discipline.”

I would like to vehemently disagree. The problem is not that Filipinos have no discipline. The problem is that Filipinos have too much discipline. The problem is that Filipinos have so much discipline and are so well-taught not to speak up against figures of “authority,” that they just grin and bear it even when they see something wrong happening. Filipinos have so much discipline that they stay fervently loyal to particular people, names, groups and areas, even when these objects of their loyalty have moved far beyond whatever it was they or their predecesors did to earn that loyalty in the first place. Filipinos have so much discipline that they listen to their parents when choosing a course or career; they make life decisions based on their parent’s natural proclivity towards stability rather than their own natural proclivity towards greatness. Filipinos have so much discipline they work and work extra hard in a system that makes the its perpetual victims because “that’s just the way it is.”

The problem is not a lack of discipline. It’s too much discipline.

It’s been a while since I last wrote, and so much has happened. I spent almost the entire month on January in the Visayas with the parents, which was amazing. I was not expecting to miss them as much as I found I did; it was so refreshing to be around people who know me and my history and to not have the burden of the properness of Filipino society. Moreover, being with them allowed me to connect to Antique and Iloilo in a way that was not possible when I traveled there without them. But that’s a story I will reflect on at a later time.

As I write this I am in Belgrade, Serbia, attending a CANVAS training. I am to become a trainer teaching people skills necessary for successful nonviolent struggle. Again, I am facing the same insecurities. The trainers are meant to be veterans of successful nonviolent struggle. There are amazing people here, the Canvas core are basically the people who organized the toppling of Milosevic; there are organizers from the Rose Revolution, the Cedar Revolution, the anti-apartheid movement and the anti-Pinochet movement.

I, on the other hand have not been directly involved in a successful movement. I suppose, though, that I am a member of the post-Marcos struggle. I was not part of EDSA I or even II for that matter, but I am the result of them and I continue the greater struggle that those events failed to achieve. Well, I suppose for now that justifies my participation here.

Thus, as our struggle continues, I find myself taking the mindset of a student, trying to understand how to bring the ideas to our struggle in the Philippines. Who am I to teach others?

As I sit here doubting myself, knowing that certain other people in our part here doubt me as well, I remember that the Canvas organizers themselves know my history, my lack of experience, or perhaps I should put it as they know the experience I do have. Yet, they still insisted I come. Perhaps there is something they see in me.

Today was our first day of sharing and I am incredibly excited to begin the curriculum. Our introduction to Belgrade has been amazing…in the less than 48 hours I’ve been here I can say that I love this country! I have completely been over-consuming milk and cheese and hard homemade bread – those very European things that I loved in New York that are hard to come by in the Philippines that are in abundance here. And I love how I am now the smallest person around! After living in the Philippines where I am bigger than most girls, where for the first time in my life I was called fat, everyone here calls me the tiny Filipino. Oh, and did I mention that they sell beer in plastic litres! Like soda!

Serbs are huge partyers, perhaps even more so that Filipinos. We partied till 3 am last night, then I woke up at 6:30 earlier to work out before breakfast. After not sleeping well Tuesday night or Wednesday night, not sleeping at all on Thursday night to go to the airport at 3AM Friday morning, I have no idea how I’m surviving, but I feel great. Reverse jet lag?

I had a ridiculous amount of really good wine last night, and I find that I really like Serbian music! The Middle Easter/African influence is very much felt in the minor keys and syncopation, every time a song started last night I would say to myself, “hey, that’s a cumbia beat,” or “hey, that’s a salsa beat.” As ethnomusicology, how I miss thee. I think it’s time for me to JSTOR.

So just call me Ceca (pronounced Tzetza) 😀

So it’s been a while since my last post and as today is the last time I’ll have internet access before the end of the year, I feel compelled to write something to closeout the year in some way.

So since my last, only semi-political post, a million and one things have happened in the political situation as well as my life (as related to politics anyway). From Manila Pen to the Spain Junket to Bukidnon, tuloy tuloy pa rin the headlines. Is it lazy for me to say I’m burned out and don’t want to write about those things and just want to enjoy holiday mode?

2 large reasons why I’m burned out are probably the overflow of year-end events and Christmas parties (that actually started at the beginning of December, hence the lag since my last post), as well as Simbang Gabi. Office during the day, Christmas party at which you continue to work because these parties inevitably become networking events at night, then church at 4 AM, then start all over.

Something interesting however, has happened in this past month, and that is my unexpected forray into the inner circles of the Liberal Party. Now, don’t get me wrong, despite whatever Mon Casiple may say about me, I am far from a card-carrying Liberal :). Do I think that the LP is the most progressive (or at least has hte potential to be) of the traditional political parties? Well, yes. But in the end, do I still believe it’s a traditional political party? Of course. And that is the exact reason why I still am not open to committing myself. That and I must say I’m still romanticized by the outsider-activist within me.

I suppose I had my first taste of elite class…stuff while working at the Brennan Center. That was the first time I was around people whose family names I actually recognized (um, FAO Schwartz for example). That was the first time I met people whose bathroom soap cost more than my most expensive pair of shoes (NOT exaggerating). People who could eat at Nobu just because they felt like it and call up Bill and Hillary just to chat.

But of course, elitism has a completely different level of ridiculousness here in the Philippines. (the Gini Coefficient comes to mind). I’ve gotten used to a simple life here. I buy fish and vegetables at the local urban poor wet market. I jump on and off moving busses commuting around the city. I had milk and cereal at a hotel this month and realized it was the first time I’ve had fresh milk and cereal since I’ve been here in the Philippines and it was unbelieveable how good it tasted.

And then this month, welcome to the uppity of uppity events, which of course, despite how exhaused I am I always make sure to attend because if going to college at NYU taught me 1 thing, it was never to turn down food and drink at someone else’s expense. So here I am, taking my lunch at Club Filipino, having hors d’oeuvres and free flowing shiraz at Discovery Suites, and dining and dancing at Mandarin Oriental (Malacanang’s caterer by the way) with people whose last names include Roxas, Aquino, Araneta, Drilon, Daza and Salonga.

Who am I and whose life is this? When I came here I was (and still am) overwhelmingly excited at the idea of hanging out with urban poor and peasant organizers, people who lived and fought in the underground, hunted and tortured by the police and military, only to change their ways to fight the elite with nonviolent means. And now here I am, people with widely recognized names actually recognize mine. And the kicker: I don’t really know why they recognize mine.

I don’t know why I’m invited to these events. If it’s a function of having some weighty friends, of having the guts to make some memorable comment at a forum with big hitters, of being pretty much the only young woman in a room of old politicos (at least the only one who talks). I don’t know how I got into this mess. And in fact, even when I took on a staff position at IPD, I thought to myself, “Who am I that they’re actually making this offer?” And now I’m revisiting that state of incredulousness as I think “Who am I that Governor A is complimenting me, Real Estate Magnate B is giving me beso beso, and Senator C is giving me a ride home?” What’s really funny about this situation is that when my aunt from the states was here visiting, she was worried about me because she said no matter how smart I think I am, people in the Philippines will just look at me like I’m nothing by an (with disdain) aktibista. (enter the shallow understanding of what it is to be left/a reformer).

When I went to the Liberal Party Christmas party with two friends (whose names are much more well known than mine in the political sphere), Mar Roxas indicated to us to sit at a table in front of the room. My two kasama were inching towards the back but I insisted that we sit where Mar signaled. They indicated some hesitation, some hiya, “Mga VIP ba tayo?” they asked. At the time I was amused at the idea. Now, however, when I think about it, why not?

I guess these feelings show once again the remnants of the class divide in the Philippines. One of my partners felt especially out of place. As I reflect, why should we, those of us from humble beginnings, feel out of place in such situations? Why should we feel inferior to the “elite” who are elite by accidents of birth and not necessarily accomplishments or character. Perhaps this boldness was developed as I was growing up – a working class kid in an affluent school. And yet I hung with the best of them, and if I can be a little gassed (and I don’t feel bad about it in this case because, well, they were bitches), I surpassed most of them. My mom always sat in the back of the crowd during school events which hurt me more than I can say. She was embarrassed at her humble clothing and origins. Yet, I was damn proud, we came from nothing and made something of ourselves. They all came from a lot and just maintained.

And I see this mentality continuing, especially with my older relatives. They warn me that when I go out I should always dress nice, I should always act with class and they almost seem embarrassed to talk about our origins, highlighting factors that would make us sound like we come from the sosyal class and hiding other details. I, however, say it with pride. I am the daughter of a jeepney driver. I used to work in a warehouse. I hang in La Loma. And if you want to compete in terms of class, intelligence, and strength, I may not win but I’ll put up a hell of a fight.

Totoo naman, wala akong hiya.

Mga Kapatid:

This month witnessed an incredible display of mobilization among Filipinos and Filipino-Americans as people took to the internet, to the newspapers, and to the streets to exclaim their anger over a single line on Desperate Housewives.

I agree that outrage and action were justified; Filipino-Americans cannot allow such comments, even if they are just “in passing” or “jokes.” However, I also agree with the sentiment of most opinion columnists here in the Philippines: Why is it so easy for Filipinos and Filipino-Americans to organize, mobilize and act over less than 1 minute of a fictional drama, while there is little or no reaction to the ongoing and very real drama we are all living through?

We here in the Philippines are at a point of complete frustration. Over the past few months we have witnessed the unfolding of one scandal after another:

1) The $364 million USD (that’s right, US Dollars, not Philippine Pesos) ZTE National Broadband Network deal, which was overpriced by $160 million so that there would be adequate funds to bribe competing firms, bribe people within government to stay silent, and line the pockets of first gentleman Mike Arroyo and former Comelec Chief Benjamin Abalos.

2) The PhP 26.5 billion CyberEd deal, wherein the Philippines would get a loan from the Chinese government and award a contract to a Chinese firm to install satellite TV in almost all public schools in the nation. Mind you, the vast majority of public schools do not have adequate rooms, chairs, toilets, water or electricity (electricity, by the way, is necessary for TV).

3) The 3-page joke of an impeachment claim filed in the House of Representatives, which came complete with offers of up to Php 2 million from KAMPI (the President’s party) members to members of the opposition in order to support the claim. There is allegedly an attempt to get the opposition to support the weak impeachment claim in order to block a real impeachment claim for the following year. (The Constitution says only 1 impeachment claim can be filed per year).

4) The October 11 meeting at Malacañang, where 190 congressmen and 48 provincial governors were handed between PhP 200,000 and PhP 500,000 each in paper bags. The office of the President and various cabinet departments are all contradicting each other as they point wily fingers at each other while simultaneously confirming and denying that any money was handed out in the first place.

5) The revelation that Erap is now seeking complete amnesty from the President, and the President, “elated,” has ordered the Department of Justice to move swiftly on the matter. After 2 People Powers which divided the nation, 6 years of waiting for a result, and a guilty verdict that gave many hope that justice in this nation could prevail over wealth and connections, what are we left with?

And then comes the catastrophic #6: The explosion at Glorietta Mall on Friday afternoon which killed 11 and wounded almost 100. The investigation is still going on to uncover the real cause of the explosion, but this has not stopped various factions from airing their conspiracy theories. Fingers have already been pointed at the Rajah Solaiman/Abu Sayaaf/insert generic Muslim extremist group, rogue elements of the military, opposition forces, and even the Ayala group itself. The most common theory at this point, alarmingly, is that the bombing was a diversionary tactic by the GMA administration itself in order to take attention away from scandals #1-5 above.

I do not know if the administration is responsible and I will not venture an opinion as I believe it would be counter-productive at this point. However, the very fact that people believe their own government is responsible for this act of mass murder is a testament to the sorry state of Philippine politics today. People do not trust the government. They do not trust what Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo says. They truly believe that Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is so desperate to hold on to power that she would resort to such acts. In the end, we cannot blame the people, as the almost 900 dead and disappeared journalists and activists since Madame assumed the presidency in 2001 demonstrate that this is an administration willing to turn a blind eye to murder, if not commit murder itself.

And this is all happening as the United Nations in New York is being presented with a report on the state of human rights in the Philippines this very week. UN rapporteur Philip Alston has prepared a damning report; presenting the status of human rights in the Philippines as under attack and identifying the Armed Forces of the Philippines as the main violator. In response, GMA has sent Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita to the UN to work damage control. Ermita will be in New York until Sunday, October 28.

Where are the hurting masses who claim to be fighters for the dignity of our people? Why can we be so angry at an actress reciting lines and not at a president who recites whatever excuses she can to stay in power? Why is it that we are offended by a network insensitive to our race, but not by members of our own race who, instead of protecting and supporting us, lie, steal, cheat and kill us?

If ever there is a cause for which Filipino-Americans and Filipinos all over the world should mobilize, that cause is the escalating crisis in our nation. Ermita is in New York right now. Show him that Filipinos living abroad care about what is happening back home. Whether or not you choose to believe it, it affects you too.

Feeling reminiscent:

Bagels (especially fresh toasted with scallion cream cheese)

Hard, crusty bread like ciabatta and real baguettes. (“french bread” here is still soft crust)

Foccacia bread

European cheeses, and fancy cheeses with herbs infused

Real New York Pizza, either loaded with toppings or the 2 plain slices and soda you get for $2.50

$4.00 Deli burgers and fries

Having an oven

Global cuisine (that’s actually good and affordable), Indian, Thai, Russian, Mexican, yeah

Huge sub sandwiches

Buffalo wings and…

Varieties of beer

Sushi Park

IFA-ers

West Indian Connection

Clubbing every weekend in places where you can actually move cause they’re not wall to wall packed with 16-year olds

Roti with curry goat

coconut naan

having some money

having a microwave

my x-box

Rice and beans

Sausage, egg and cheese (epecially at 3 AM from RobinRaj)

My unlimited metrocard

Suburban Barbecues that include…

Flip Cup

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