felix felicis

felix felicis: April 2013

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Sa Wakas, A New Rock Musical (Review)

Sugarfree’s music had always been associated with my high school and early college years. I dunno why. Maybe because those were the years when Filipino pop rock and alternative bands enjoyed their heydays—they dominated the airwaves and topped local music channels’ hit charts. Along with Hale, Bamboo, Imago, Moonstar 88 and even Spongecola, my friends and I began to find their music weaved with our adolescence, our dreams and all the other things in between those teenage years. By the time they began to compete with newer acts for stage presence and airtime and recently the band’s break up a few years ago, Tulog Na was slowly fading at the back of my mind.

And then I saw over the internet that Sugarfree’s songs will be featured in a new rock musical entitled Sa Wakas. I said wow. I was looking for somebody who might want to join me watch the musical at PETA Phinma Theater when Ate Anna gushed about the play during one of our office breaks. Ok then. We caught the 8PM show last Sunday when it should have been tomorrow night. No worries, except that Kuya Paulie wasn’t available so RJ used his ticket.

Sa Wakas was a love story—the end of one and the beginning of another. There’s Topper (Victor Robinson III), professional photographer who falls in and out of love with two women, Lexi (Laura Cabochan), an ambitious neurosurgeon vying for residency and Gabbi (Justine Pena), a budding writer.

The play has two acts and the story is told through a series of flashbacks and several flashforwards. The plot, for me, was quite typical: Lexi tries to balance love and career, Topper felt he was on the backseat; both try their best to make up for lost time and missed opportunities but eventually Topper kind of give up. He meets Gabbi, sleeps with her, Lexi learns of it and the two end their five-year relationship. Time gives the characters a bit of relief and from there, new beginnings form for everyone.

The whole soundtrack courtesy of Sugarfree’s powerful songs and Ebe’s stirring vocals gives the play a fresh spin. I hope more Filipino songs get this kind of treatment—there’s APO’s, which got featured in Chris Martinez’s film, I DooBiDooBiDoo. A play with an Eheads libretto might also be good. But what will thrill me most is when playwrights decide to use Aegis’ heart wrenching songs as their soundtrack. I’d pay to see that one. Hahaha!

I like Act Two better than Act One. The first half was just a bit messy for me. I tried to weave the whole thing through the flashbacks but the scenes came in too fast. Plus, I felt Topper was just such a douchebag. He can’t make up his mind and his indecision hurts much more. He could have just ended the relationship. But of course, it wasn’t easy.

The second half was much better and was more coherent. I liked the scene where Gabbi and Topper were on top of a building just swapping stories and then Kwentuhan plays. But of course, the last scene was both romantic and hurting—Lexi and Topper just moved in together and they were chatting happily of how they met, the future plans that they have for each other and the promise to stay together in the end. They dance and sing “Parang atin ang gabi, para bang wala tayong katabi, at tayo’y sumayaw na parang di na tayo bibitaw..” and then, the lights fade to black.

It can be both true and not in real life. I wouldn’t really know because I haven’t been in any relationship at all. But I guess, with the stories I heard, the movies I saw and the experiences I’ve seen from friends and other people pretty much gives me general picture of how relationships tend to get not-so-happy endings. I get sad for them in a way, but well, that’s how some things end.

3.5 out of 5.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Quotes from Papertowns

These are just some of the quotes from John Greene's Papertowns that I thought were nice. Hehe.

"It is so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.The thing about it as a game, is that in the end it reveals a lot more about the person doing the imagining than it does about the person being imagined."
"We can hear others, and we can travel to them without moving, and we can imagine them, and we are all connected one to the other by a crazy root system like so many leaves of grass—but the game makes me wonder whether we can really ever fully become another." 
"That’s why I had to leave. As much as life can suck, it always beats the alternative."
"Because it’s kind of great, being an idea that everybody likes. But I could never be the idea to myself, not all the way."
"Forever is composed of nows."
"The pleasure for me wasn’t planning or doing or leaving; the pleasure was in seeing our strings cross and separate and then come back together—but that seemed too cheesy to say."
"“Nothing ever happens like you imagine it will… but then again, if you don’t imagine, nothing ever happens at all.” Imagining isn’t perfect. You can’t get all the way inside someone else. I could bever have imagined Margo’s anger at being found, or the story she was writing over. But imagining being someone else, or the world being something else, is the only way in. it is the machine that kills the fascists." 
"Did you know that for pretty much the entire history of the human species, the average life span was less than thirty years? You could count on ten years or so of real adulthood, right? There was planning for retirement. There was no planning for a career. There was no planning. No time for planning. No time for a future. But then the life spans started getting longer, and people started having more and more future, and so they spent more time thinking about it. About the future. And now life has become the future. Every moment of your life is lived for the future—you go to high school so you can go to college so you can get a good job so you can get a nice house so you can afford to send your kids to college so they can get a good job so they can get a nice house so they can afford to send their kids to college."
"Light the visible reminder of invisible light." T.S. Eliot

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Recent reads

I’ve recently finished reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, the prequel to his epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings, halfway through Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and almost done with John Greene’s Paper Towns. Overlapping reads, eh? Not really. I’m thinking that I’m just using a lot of idle time to ~devour as much literature as I can before summer ends. That means that when May ends and June begins, I have to stop reading fiction for now and face the reality of serious reading materials, i.e. school stuff.

Anyhoo, I totally enjoyed Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I wasn’t sure of reading it before because I had figuratively bled my nose trying to begin LOTR. Dwarves, wizards, orcs and hobbits in a make-believe world speaking Old English is just a bit of an overload for me. The closest thing I had of LOTR-ish lit was George R.R. Martin’s first four installments of A Song of Ice and Fire (that’s HBO’s A Game of Thrones series, just so others get it).  I felt that if I appreciated and understood Martin’s lit language, I’d be able to take on Tolkien. But lo and behold, I still wasn’t able to commence reading Fellowship. Ate Fina recommended The Hobbit. It was written as a storybook for children complete with inked illustrations, so I thought why not? I began reading it during LRT rides on my way to the office and home. When the holidays began, I sped off and in two days, I was done. Turned out I liked the whole thing.

The book was all about Bilbo Baggins’ amazing journey with thirteen dwarves who are set to defeat the dragon that destroyed their kingdom under the mountain and took hold of all of their treasures. It might be a bit scary for kids to listen to bedtime stories with terrible-looking goblins attacking Gandalf, Bilbo and the dwarves or even imagining Smaug the Dragon destroy the dwarf stronghold. But I felt that because it was written using light language, where the narrator was really just telling the whole story interlaced with witty puns and humor, the whole idea of leaving the comforts of your home and going on an unexpected journey became very much appealing to the readers, kids and adults alike. Tolkien just made himself understandable for both hardcore LOTR fans and regular bookworms who thirst for a nice read. A good book, I must say. I also felt that I could at least push through with my pending LOTR reading or I can always settle on the couch and watch the three movie installments along with the Director’s cuts. That might be better. Hehehe.

As for the second book, it was again Ate Fina who recommended Dostoevsky’s famous novel, Crime and Punishment. Ate Vi actually began reading the book but after a month or so, she managed to get until page 15 and then passed it on to me. She said she was totally bored by the winding descriptions of the plot’s settings plus she felt the story was too heavy for her. She decided to borrow my copy of Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood mainly because she felt Naoko’s sexually liberated character was something she can at least relate to. I took Crime and Punishment with the promise that if I get past the 15-page mark Ate Vi made, I might as well continue reading it. After two weeks of reading it in several doses, I was already halfway! I made it! Wow. I thought that I could finish it, although I really have to take it in average doses or I might end up being swept away by Raskolnikov’s angst against the world. I wouldn’t want to overthink things really so yep, average reading.

After reaching halfway through Crime, I stopped for a few days and decided to try John Greene’s Paper Towns. The epub copy comes again from Ate Fina, the black market ultimate ebook producer. So while inside the LRT again this week, I just happened to flip through the pages of my iBook. The next thing I know, I’m left with 90 pages until I find out what really happened to Margo Roth Spiegelman. The story telling technique was very much like any other young adult fiction/ coming-of-age tales I’ve read. There’s Stephen Chbosky’s Perks of Being A Wallflower or even Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore. The speakers of the story were outlining the whole plot as if they’re just talking to someone over coffee or tea. It’s light but a lot of lines were also packed with substance and in-your-face realities—those lessons you’ve already heard or even known before, only they’re told with more drama and swag that’s why it felt like it punched your gut. Pretty cool and exciting, don’t you think? I might as well forgo a few hours of sleep tonight just so I can be done with the remaining pages.

I plan to post a few quotes I underlined/ highlighted while reading. Maybe on the next blog entry. Those lines that I felt were worth sharing and reflecting onto. And also, it might come handy should we need a bit of pop culture reference on inspirational messages or speeches I’d be drafting soon. Hehehe. By the way, I tried using Sam Gamgee’s nice statement on believing that Middle Earth’s still worth fighting for even if people are as wretched as Grima or the Orcs or Saruman. He was encouraging Frodo Baggins that time to continue with the battle. O but then, as much as it was a very powerful quote to use, the speaker and even the audience knew little about Tolkien’s fascinating Middle Earth, hence, it was scrapped. Better luck next time, I guess.

Anyhoo, phone batt’s quite full. I’d have to continue reading if I’m to post quotable quotes a la Good Reads tomorrow. I recommend these books for reading—there’s a children’s story (The Hobbit), and a young adult fic (Paper Towns) and even an adult reading material (Crime and Punishment). Or if you can’t, then just try. Nothing will be lost anyway.

Happy reading for the weekend everyone!

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Rappler Senatorial Debates

I was curious how live political debates go so I decided to get tickets for last Saturday’s senatorial debates organized by online news group, Rappler. Jorace, one of my college classmates, messaged me over Facebook and told me about the event. It’s just around QC Circle plus it’s free, so why not?

I thought Rappler’s mood meter foretold the fate of the guest senatorial candidates. Well, at the very least of course. If anything can be said about Philippine politics, there’s always something unpredictable and surprising about it. The debate was graced by six candidates: Benigno “Bam” Aquino, Grace Llamanzares-Poe, Risa Hontiveros, all from the Team PNoy slate, Eddie Villanueva of Bangon Pilipinas, Teddy Casino of Bayan Muna and Richard “Dick” Gordon of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).

It was divided into three parts: the first part was what I call the question-exchange portion. Two candidates are given three minutes to introduce themselves and their platform of governance. Another two minutes is allotted for Candidate A to ask Candidate B of any issue or whatever under the sun. Candidate B, in turn, has two minutes to answer this. Another minute is given to Candidate A should he/she wishes to do a follow-up question. Candidate B has a minute to answer the follow-up. After this round, roles are reversed. Candidate B will now be given the chance to ask Candidate A and so on.

The second part was another question-and-answer portion. This time, the questions will come from Rappler, chosen from a pool of questions submitted by their social media followers. Another set of six questions came from the audience. The questions were a mix of pressing social issues plus other election concerns the public would want an answer to. All candidates are again given two minutes to answer these questions.

In the final round, the candidates were once again asked to come up the stage to answer the question, “Why should we vote for you?” It’s a crucial three-minute speech for all of the six candidates. I felt they all tried their best to answer this tough one.

After each speech, the mood meter scores of each candidate were shown onscreen. The emotions included were happy, inspired, angry and annoyed. They were generated again from Rappler’s social media followers plus a select number of people from the audience who are asked to rate the candidates. As said, it shows part of how the people feel about each candidate and the elections in general too. A lot of the viewers were annoyed as shown on the screen tallies. Maybe because they felt the speeches of the candidates were either trying too hard to please or too good to be true. Of course there were wow moments. Some candidates were able to balance their annoyed and happy mood scores while others got a bit of a nudge in the happy mood. Of course, the level of those people inspired by the speeches delivered remained at an all-time low. Hmmm, I guess it’s high time for our candidates to work more on adding inspiration and the right amount of positive vibes onto their speeches. The voting public had already grown mature; at the very least I’d hazard to say. They’re critical now more than ever—I guess because most of us have seen too much corruption and evil in politics that we wouldn’t want another monster to lead us. But that deserves another blog entry.

Here are some of the photos I took as soon as I got the chance to get closer to the stage. Hehe. J

More photos at my www.kyemeruth.jux.com. :)

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I Suddenly Wanted Sushi

“Always look ahead and above yourself. Always try to improve on yourself. Always strive to elevate your craft. That’s what he taught me.” – Yoshikazu Ono (Jiro’s elder son)

Before the weeklong web fasting we did, I listed several movies I planned to catch over the short vacation. First on my list was David Gelb’s documentary on the life of world-acclaimed sushi chef, Jiro Ono. It was one of 2012’s highest rated documentaries, at least according to Rotten Tomatoes’ and IMDB’s movie meters. Curiosity won over, so I downloaded a copy and passed it on to officemates. Kuya Paulie watched it before I got the time and he said it was good. Here’s what I thought:

The whole documentary was visually pleasing and vividly entertaining. Various kinds of sushi were shown in between interviews—there’s the usual tuna meat on top of the sticky rice and then of course, all the other sushi permutations it could take. There’s shrimp, octopus and egg. Yes, egg. Egg sushi. It looks like a Japanese cake except that it’s square. Even the footages taken in the fish market was just so nice. You could see life teeming from all those fresh sea catches. I was glued to the screen the whole time.

One thing we also get to see in the movie was Jiro’s relationship with his two sons, the elder is his top apprentice while the younger decided to open his own sushi restaurant somewhere in downtown Tokyo. I always thought Jiro’s younger son was more privileged because he got the chance to break away from his father’s shadow to open up his own restaurant. The documentary explained that in Japan, elder sons are expected to take over the business once their father retires or dies. The achievements and accolades received by his father raises the standard for their restaurant. If the elder son fails to exceed those expectations or even manage to live up to it, it might signal the decline of Jiro’s wonderful sushi legacy. I guess the elder guy wouldn’t put to waste that legacy. Throughout, we see Jiro’s elder son showing exceptional sushi-making skills but well, Jiro is not yet willing to retire. The son has to wait. The other one has to make good of what he learned from his father.

One can’t help but wonder how the 85-year old Jiro never gets tired of creating and inventing new sushis? His elderly looks betray the childlike wonder he exudes whenever he gets his hands on the fish meat slices and newly-cooked rice. What I liked most about him, aside from his energy, was his dedication for his craft. He considers sushi-making not just his bread and butter, it’s his passion to create something wonderful out of something. Before the sushi snack filled the streets of Japan, the meat and fat coming from tuna fishes weren’t much of a fare. And then, a revolutionary idea brought this once obscure fish onto the top of the fish food chain. Jiro added celebrity status to this famous Japanese food. Despite his restaurant’s humble exterior plus being located in one of Tokyo’s subway stations, it was awarded three stars by Michelin. People who would want a taste of Jiro’s sushi masterpiece would have to book a year ahead to get one of those ten seats. Worthy of your bucket list, no? Yes, it is! So much for dreaming.

5 out of 5.

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Arab Spring and Its Aftermath: Has Democracy Finally Found Its Way In The Region?*

*This essay was written as a final requirement for my one of my grad school classes. Feel free to comment away. Prof wasn't able to critique this so I guess it'll be better if readers would give their piece of mind over this issue. :) Salamat!

After the revolutionaries in Tunisia and Egypt succeeded in toppling their governments and ousting their respective leaders, there was much talk and debate on the possibility of liberal democracy finally reaching the oil-rich shores of the Middle East and the North African region. This was further touted when other countries in the region also waged civil wars against their own governments—Libya against Muammar Gaddafi and Syria against Bashar al-Asad. Yemen and Bahrain also showed discontent through demonstrations but were easily quelled by much stronger military forces backed by their governments. Until today, Syria is still war-torn, and might possibly turn into a bitter stalemate if strongman Asad remains in power.

News about the revolution quickly spread throughout the globe mainly through Western media outlets like CNN, BBC and Fox News, as well as Qatar-based Al Jazeera. These media outlets even featured English-speaking scholars from these beleaguered countries strongly pushing for more government reforms as well as a greater degree of freedoms enjoyed by civilians. The revolution in the Arab region also enjoyed considerable support from a growing virtual community perpetuated by famous social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. These networking sites were also said to have helped revolutionaries gain not just a global platform to air their grievances and redress but more so, it had also pushed younger individuals in their own countries take up arms and express their discontent in the streets. The global community found this a novel event, eventually dubbing it the Arab Spring—alluded to the bright hope the spring season offers; and rightly so, it came after a long time of winter, characterized by the cold and bitter winds of repression and autocratic form of governance.

Two years after the first fires of the revolution were ignited, it is justified to ask if the Arab Spring, as a whole, really made a stark difference in the lives of the people who made it happen. Did the promise of freedom and eventually development finally planted its initial seeds in the Middle East—two concepts that accompany an embrace of a liberally democratic government? Or was it a false hope—a fundamental mistake to wage a war when victory would be phyrric and bleak in the end? This paper then, seeks to understand further the Arab Spring and draw lessons from this turn of events in history.

In order to better understand the Arab Spring, the first section of the paper surveys the events that led to the uprisings and various demonstrations in countries in the Middle East. Literature provided three major reasons for these revolutions: (1) increasingly corrupt regimes, (2) lack of economic reforms, deteriorating standard of living, and heightened poverty, and (3) limited democratic space for Arab citizens. A brief discussion juxtaposing the strict Islamic laws adhered to in most Arabian countries and the principles put forward by liberal democracy will also be included in this section. The feasibility of melding Islamic beliefs with the more “secular” and principles espoused by a liberal democratic government is taken into consideration.

In order to understand the value of the antecedents to the Arab Spring, the next section will discuss the impact of revolutions to leaders, both inside and outside the Middle East and other stakeholders, i.e. women, the middle class and the intelligentsia.

In the conclusion, I will try to fit the pieces of the puzzle by drawing concrete lessons from this bloody, heartless yet liberating event in history. After all, the Arab Spring provides a bitter yet important realization about the growing desire of ordinary Muslims to democratize and enjoy higher degrees of freedom and governance.

Fuels that Ignited the Revolution’s Fire
The Arab revolutions were primarily fueled by discontent from the current state of affairs in these Arab countries. The lack of political reforms and increasing rate of unemployment fed these social tensions that were gradually brewing in the past few months. It would be gleaned from the sentiments of these revolutionaries that they would want first, to wage and win the war against their greedy dictators and eventually establish a government that is receptive to their needs. The gains of development and freedom would come after this initial goal was achieved. A quick look on each country’s situation is provided in the succeeding paragraphs.

Increasingly Corrupt Regimes
The first fires of the revolution began in Tunisia. A fruit vendor in the busy Habib Bourgiba Avenue set fire to himself as a sign of protest against an increasingly corrupt Tunisian regime.

It should be noted that Tunisia established one of the more secular regimes in the Middle East. The principle upheld by the Tunisian government is simple: niqabs and beards are “political manifestation(s) of a religion that should properly viewed as a private affair, expressed not in terms of ostentatious symbols but rather quiet good deeds (Bradley, 2012).”

The pre-revolutionary government’s firm stance on secularism also extends to their economic policies—they have pioneered liberalization and privatization as well as gender-sensitive policies. Ben Ali’s predecessor, Habib Bourgiba was hailed as the “Builder of Modern Tunisia” and the “Liberator of Women.” While several political freedoms were not prioritized, Bourgiba ensured that his constituents are receiving quality life through stable jobs and decent wages. He allowed women in Tunisia enjoy as much liberty as men do—marriages were considered voluntary contracts between a husband and wife, the selling of young girls as brides were outlawed, and family planning campaigns are heightened. Women are also given equal access to formal education—a right that is usually denied of women in other Arab countries.

By the time Bourgiba’s regime waned, his former head of security and eventual prime minister, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali took the helm. His slogan, “Tunis wa aman!” or “A safe Tunis!” was his guiding mantra. Ben Ali’s regime, however, was clear on certain things: no Islamist or Communist state, and not a rapid move towards democracy. Those who cross these lines suffer their fate from a wide network of secret police. It was not an easy transition—there were coups and other forms of demonstrations against Ben Ali—but he managed to survive, mainly because he continued the secular policies espoused by his predecessor and cultivated an economically- viable community. Tunisia, in many ways, can be characterized as a welfare state—there is free education and health care for all. He was also a reliable ally of the West and had been one of mediators for the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

But as soon as the 2008 Financial Crisis struck the world, Tunisia was not spared from its paralyzing effects. This has brought much strain on the country’s middle class—recent graduates find it difficult to get a job and in turn, it had increased the unemployment rate to all-time highs. Such problems were exacerbated when Wikileaks exposed the “extensive corruption among the president’s extended family.” Newspapers then, reported how Ben Ali’s second wife, Leila Trabelsi, was very much alike Imelda Marcos of the Philippines—she squandered the national coffers and supported cronies of privatized companies. The events had angered the Tunisians—their leader has tarnished the beautiful legacy created by the late Bourgiba, eventually breaking the social contract that guarantees the support of his own people.

Given such, Tunisians started questioning their leader’s capacity to bring back a better standard of living. Eventually, their discontent led to their questioning of the government’s political censorship. This then, paved the way to the demonstrations in the streets, men immolating themselves as a sign of protest and finally, the revolution that will topple Ben Ali’s regime.

Abject Poverty Sparks the Revolution
It was a different situation in Egypt. The country is already suffering from the pangs of poverty and their leader, Hosni Mubarak and his legion of military men cannot do anything to lift their people out of that pit. Instead, they continue to rob the national coffers in order to support their lavish lifestyles while the ordinary Egyptians continue to succumb to all forms of poverty. Men are pushed to become prostitutes and sell their bodies to foreign tourists in order to get a source of meager income. Further, Mubarak’s regime reeked of unlawful arrests and gross injustice committed on both guilty and innocent Egyptians.

Unlike Tunisia, a lot of Egyptians supported the revolution. The people had had enough of Mubarak’s brutal rulership hence, their solitary goal of removing him from power. Such move, however, led still to unacceptable results—Mubarak was one man, his military men still assumed the interim regime.

By the time Tunisian and Egyptian revolutionaries succeeded in toppling the governments they have grown to loathe, uprisings were already brewing in other Middle Eastern states. There are already demonstrations against their respective governments in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain, as well as small protests in parts of Saudi Arabia.

In both Libya and Syria, the revolutionary movements have gone awry as the rebels waged a civil war against their governments. Rebels situated in Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya were able to round up supporters from other provinces in the country—they even managed to get support from neighboring countries by way of arms and other forms of weapons. On the other hand, the rebels in Syria continue to hold siege because their strongman, Bashar al-Asad still refuses to relinquish power.

Boxed Out From Democratic Spaces
Many scholars have pushed for the idea of having a more democratic Middle East because such a change is necessary to really spur growth and development in this arid region of the globe. They are strictly and rigidly observing the provisions of the sharia law which were basically culled from the tenets of their Holy Book, the Qur’an. Islam then, the Arab world’s dominant religion, is seen as some sort of a hindrance towards this path, hence the constant encouragement to democratize and increase the degrees of freedoms and liberties enjoyed by its people. Such encouragement is very much evident through the foreign policies employed by Western democracies to these Arab countries, most prominent of which is the close friendship maintained by the United States with the State of Israel as well as its strategic alliances with Saudi Arabia and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

It could be said that much of these alliances are maintained to ensure that the interests of the United States, namely oil and regional security, are well-guarded, with their call for democratization used as a noble front. But whatever their vested interest may be, it is of prime importance that Muslim societies in the Arab world are given the equal chance and access to democracy.

We ask then, why democracy in the Middle East? Would more freedoms guarantee stable jobs for unemployed Tunisians or food on the table of poor Egyptians? Would liberties wash the wounds of the victims of both Libyan and Syrian civil wars? Would it make a better Yemen or Bahrain, for that matter?

Larry Diamond, in his book The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Across the World, presented Seymour Martin Lipset’s argument on democracy being a luxury of richer societies. Lipset, as quoted by Diamond, argues that the richer the country is, the greater the chance that it would sustain democracies. The argument stuck and scholars like Adam Przeworski were even able to present a case study showing “a striking relationship between development level and the probability of sustaining democracy.” This means, as Diamond points out in his book’s analysis: “With every step up in a country’s level of economic development, the life expectancy of a democratic regime increases. In upper-middle-income countries (specifically, those richer than Argentina was in 1975), democracy never breaks down, whereas in the very poorest countries, democracy has a 12-percent chance of dying in any particular year, with an average life expectancy of eight years (2008).”

It could be said that democracy is difficult to maintain, let alone establish, given the case studies presented in the previous paragraph. We shift our focus by taking the case of those countries which revolted against their governments in 2011.

John Bradley, in his book, clarifies that “for the Arab masses, the chief grievance was not a lack of political freedom, but of jobs.” He even presents an Egyptian statistic that shows “only 19 percent of respondents said a desire for democracy was a top motivation for toppling Mubarak” while an overwhelming “65 percent instead pinpointed the state of the economy” as their prime reason.

People who revolted during the 2011 Arab uprisings were suffering from famines, albeit figuratively. They were all frustrated by their own governments’ insensitivity and inaction over their plights—they need stable jobs that will give them a steady source of income to put food on their tables, bring their children to school and live a decent life.

1998 Nobel Prize Laureate for Economics Amartya Sen provides a strong case as to why it should still be pursued in poorer countries like those in the Middle East. Sen argues that “people in economic need also need a political voice. Democracy is not a luxury that can await the arrival of general prosperity [and] there is little evidence that poor people, given the choice, prefer to reject democracy (1999).” To argue then, that these revolutionaries only stood up for poverty alleviation through an economic boost and not of democracy as a whole, suffers from a major loophole. Democratic governments are a necessary tool to spur growth in a country as well as pursue greater heights of development because their governments, through “mechanisms of political accountability” and transparency, are given “the powerful incentive to be responsive (Diamond, 2003).” In turn, it allows the people to legitimately demand more services and facilities from their respective governments.

In 2004, known Islamic Studies academician Noah Feldman wrote that if we “fail(s) to support democracy in the Muslim world, the consequences may prove to be very dire… Revolution remains a meaningful possibility in a number of Arab and Muslim states so long as democratization makes no progress. The governments that would come to power through revolution would be far worse than the governments that would be selected democratically—more irrational, more hard-line… and more violent.”

When 2011 came, Feldman’s words find some semblance of truth in the events that have unfolded. The Arab Spring then, should not be just seen as a spur-of-the-moment decision or a knee-jerk reaction towards an unfeeling government. More so, it is anger pent-up waiting for its time to be released. And just like a dormant volcano, too much pressure from the earth’s plates pushed them to explode and affect everything that is in seeming order. The immediate and efficient introduction of democracy then, gains necessity given the recent turn of events.

Making “Islam Democracy” Happen
We now get the idea that while Islam and democracy have a superficial disconnect—Islam being too rigid while democracy is liberal in every sense—the previous discussion gave us enough ground as to why it should still be pursued. The question now lies as to how we would be able to undertake it.

A radical theory on international relations or democracy is not needed, as Feldman aptly points out in the same book, rather, “a subtle shift in perspective regarding the deployment of familiar techniques” would do the trick. In the shorter sense, the same wheel is used and a simple reinvention is just what is needed to make things work better.

It is worth noting that democracy should be considered as both an end goal and a means to achieve development in a certain society or community, as Sen theorizes. For development to become an end goal, it has to be able to expand the basic freedoms enjoyed by a certain individual or the community as a whole, i.e. deprivation from hunger or starvation, education, health, political and civic participation and freedom of speech, to name a few. It is said that the level of development achieved by a certain country is assessed basically through the degree of expansion of these basic freedoms that they have attained. On one hand, if it is low, then it can be asserted that it is a flawed or a paralyzed form of democracy. On the other, democracy has succeeded vis-à-vis the level of development attained by that society.

We extend the analysis by saying that democracy works the other way too—it is a means to achieve development. According to Sen, there are five instrumental freedoms necessary to pursuing development: “(1) political freedoms, (2) economic facilities, (3) social opportunities, (4) transparency guarantees, and (5) protective security. These instrumental freedoms tend to contribute to the general capability of a person to live more freely, but they also serve to complement one another (1999).”

Based on Sen’s theory on instrumental freedoms as means toward development, a framework for incentives that can be used to push for democracy in the countries that were heavily affected by the Arab Spring can be crafted. Feldman, in the same book, provides us with a mix of positive and counter-positive incentives, depending on the governments dealt with, which can be utilized mainly by Western powers to push for more democratic societies. For one, “this means being prepared to call Muslim allies’ bluffs when they insist that they cannot respond to … prodding because of internal pressures. When [we] defer to this excuse… it encourages bad behavior, creating perverse incentives for undemocratic governments to preserve the most threatening opposition groups while repressing moderate opposition that might look more palatable…(2004).”

An example of a good approach is the use of targeted and conditional economic aid given by Western powers to Arab allies/ countries—aid in whatever form, i.e. security, humanitarian, in exchange for sustainable and measurable political reforms. This can be very much effective to Arab states like Egypt and Jordan which has no oil to support their economies. As described in the previous section, Egypt is in bad shape and is in need of foreign aid to lift its people from poverty. Direct arms or humanitarian aid from the United States, for example, will make a big difference in the lives of those who will benefit from it. In exchange for such, the US may demand for more political freedoms for the ordinary Egyptians or the conduct of free and fair parliamentary elections.

However, for countries like Iraq, Libya and Saudi Arabia which has massive oil reserves in their bedrocks to support their authoritarian regimes, a much sterner approach may have to be used to really push for democracy. Economic sanctions like embargo on aid might be thought off but is not really plausible if you have cold-hearted dictators who would rather see their people die from hunger and civil war than bow down for help. Their preservation to power is of primary necessity that they resist not to do something to help alleviate the plight of their people. Military intervention may be justified but at a cost. America’s invasion of Iraq in 2008 was considered a terrible mistake even if the Bush administration says it was for democracy to flourish. The noble cause was overridden by the obvious “greedy” realpolitik employed by the Americans, hence inviting the rage of many Muslims.

Impact of the Arab Uprisings
Given the recent turn of events in history, we now ask how this has affected much of the revolutions’ stakeholders. As outlined in the introduction, the discussion will flow from the impact of the revolutions to the leaders of these Arab regimes as well as those outside the Middle East. The impact of the revolutions to other stakeholders, i.e. women, the middle class and the intelligentsia, will also be briefly discussed.

Tyrants Found Their Match
Ben Ali and his wife, Leila, were tried and proven guilty of corruption and unlawful possession of foreign currency and other state-owned wealth while Mubarak was forced to resign from his post. Gaddafi of Libya, however, suffered a much gruesome fate in the end. He was killed by an angry mob while desperately asking for their mercy. His dead body—beaten to death and filled with bullet holes—was then paraded in the streets of the country’s capital while mobile phones feasted on recording the whole procession. It is indeed “a reflection of the nature of a fallen regime and the reaction of an oppressed people (Montefiore, 2011).”

The Chilling Effect
It could be said that the revolutions sent a chilling effect to leaders of both Arab and non-Arab governments. The uprisings saw the power of collective will—while such maybe said of other previous uprisings recorded in history, the revolutions in the North African and Middle East region was coupled with a more revolutionary weapon: social media. The internet had served as an additional platform to amplify the voices of those who are taking up arms against their despotic governments. Critics of the revolution may say that the social media was a minimal contribution compared to other forces—we say, however minimal the contribution was, it had set a different tone to how protests are done. Arab leaders, as well as those non-Arabs, are now compelled to be more sensitive to the needs of their citizens or suffer the fate of Ben Ali in Tunisia, Mubarak in Egypt or worse, Gaddafi in Libya.

Women Are Again Second-Class Citizens
Alongside unemployed men and young people protesting in different Arabian streets, women have also been there. The mass demonstrations’ possible success was seen as a golden opportunity for Arabian women to finally gain equal access in political and social spheres historically dominated by men. It should be gleaned that Arab societies are strictly paternal—women are considered second-class citizens, usually relegated to household chores and menial tasks.

The reality on the ground, however, seems to be contrary to what we have assumed. Women are again driven back to their homes doing household chores. They are again wearing their hiqabs and veils to cover parts of their faces and bodies. We see that a lot of reforms have to be done before women in Arabian societies are treated fairly, if not treated as men’s equals.

Moving Forward
The Arab Spring gave us lessons that are very much applicable to the present realities of politics and governance, not just in the Middle East but around the world.

For one, the experience in the Middle East underscored the importance of accountability and democratic space where people can participate in “running” the government. Leaders of governments would have to be more careful with the policies and programs they tread on lest they risk being overthrown from office or worse, killed by a lynching mob. This is not to say that they have to please everyone even extremists, for that matter. I think the more important thing is to become sensitive to needs of the people who put you to power or those people whom you have vowed to serve in case of monarchical governments or appointed leaders. The key is accountability—but this can only be done if political structures are placed with mechanisms that encourage transparency and responsibility.

This leads us to our second lesson—it is high time for Arab countries to finally embrace the principles of democracy. It need not to succumb to everything the West prescribes because Asian societies are known to have been able to infuse seemingly disconnected ideas—Confucian principles with democratic governments, for example. Islam then could be used with democracy if given the right incentives and entrusted with the right people positioned in a more empowered socio-political structure like the government. It could always be argued that the entrenchment of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East was US- backed, to begin with. Of course, it is true—the choice is between powerful clans that swear loyalty to the Americans versus the communist rebels that loom in the grassroots. Vested interests took the helm when moderate political organizations in the civil society could have been chosen instead of the two extremes. But that was before. The challenge today, in order to avoid such a paradox, is “to insist, at each stage, that greater political openness actually follow on the offer of assistance. Once parliaments become more lively (sic) and effective in countries like Egypt… and Jordan, the next stage of incentives will be aimed (2004).”

Leaders cannot be expected to be perpetually in position. Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi were already dead. Mubarak was ousted and the same happened to Ben Ali. Asad remains in power but is in an unstable position. He can be expected to design “elections” that would still be allied with him, but that doesn’t guarantee that they cannot be softened with the promise of aids. It may not be an easy task which involves a lot of negotiation and convincing. But a country that is torn by a bloody civil war and is still on the process of restoration can be easily influenced by conditional aids targeted at democratization.

Of course, Bradley is quick to counter the idea by arguing that: “In the Arab world, when the gift of democracy is unwrapped, it is the Islamists who spring out of the box (2012).” So, while they may not oppose the entrance of democracy, fundamental Islamists twist and tweak its principles to suit their extremist notions of statehood and governance.

Such argument would have to be reduced to a concession. Countries that are given more leeway to discuss their political ideas are expected to express a broad range of concepts on governance—some may push for a more secular government or a moderate one while others may really gear for a more Islamic state. It should be said that the discussions will not be as passive and apathetic as Bradley thinks it would be because machinations of political freedom were already in place due to the incentives mechanism. Time will prove that the people will choose from these differing views and might as well experiment which best will suit them. What is important is that “the ideas of liberal democracy are sure to spread in countries where they are initially given the chance. If these ideas are inherently attractive, they will find adherents all over the Arab and Muslim worlds (2004).”


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Easter Sunday with The Script

The band already visited the Philippines a few years back, I don’t remember exactly when, I think it was 2009. They were touring to promote their debut album. I promised myself that I would watch them and hear them sing “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved” live and in the flesh. But lo and behold, I wasn’t able to save enough for their concert. I was in college back then and photocopies of lessons were of prime importance. Concerts were kind of a luxury. I let it go and went on to looping my playlist with their songs that night. Ah, lost opportunities.

They gave me a chance to catch them live this year. I first learned that The Script would be returning to Manila on March 2013 November last year. By December, Ate Anna and I decided to buy our tickets for the much-anticipated show. We thought of shedding around 2k bucks to get to Upper A of Smart Araneta but by the time we bought, only Upper B and Gen Ad tickets were available, the rest were already sold-out. We settled for the 1.5k-worth Upper B.

Fast forward to March 2013. We’re finally inside the Coliseum. Show starts at 8PM. It’s only 7PM and the whole stadium’s already jampacked. Some already settled on the steps because almost all of the seats were occupied. We can’t find seats so we just stood and waited for the show to start. 8.30PM the lights went out and Danny and the gang began an hour and half show. Totally worth it! Pictures from afar would show this. J

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

The odds were up our favor: PHL nips TKN, 1-nil

Here are some photos from the awesome football game we watched last Tuesday night at the Rizal Stadium. The Philippines and Turkmenistan battled it out for the top position in Category E—the surest ticket to the AFC Cup in Maldives on 2014. Before Tuesday’s game, the Philippine Azkals were able to secure a sure win against the Cambodians, 8-nil. Given such, they only have to get one goal to ensure a clear edge against the Turkmens (12-10) or at the very least go for a draw to protect their overall lead in the category (11-10). That night was more jampacked than the Sunday match against the Khmers. The weather was also good so the match’s good to go. There was also an added thrill because the Azkals were underdogs yet again. They never won a game before against the Turkmens so the pressure to push for a draw or get at least a single goal was relatively high. Nonetheless, we scored a goal and won the game! The Philippine team is going to Maldives next March and attempt to win the AFC cup. We’re hoping they win. In the meantime, here are some of the pictures I took during the game:

Angel Guirado tries to get past the Turkmen player.

Ref whistles for a change in possession.

Ball will be released.
Seriously watching the play.

Meanwhile, a young girl takes advantage of the Kris-James recent rift. Leggo, Team Azkals!

That's your cheering crowd right after Phil scores a goal. :D
Behind the railings. Players wave to their fans. :D
With the birthday boy.
Brader and me. :D

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