A Mad Migraine

Allow me to rant about the present mining situation in my country, the Philippines, once, the Pearl of the Orient Seas.

To start off, my country has the worst Department that is mandated to protect its rich natural resources. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, it seems to me, is suffering from a dangerous case of schizophrenia – endangering the very people who mandated the Department and its Mission, and endangering the resources that it’s supposed to protect and conserve. This Department is in charge of protecting wildlife, endangered species and landscapes. It’s supposed to protect the biodiversity, nay, the mega-diversity (!) of this great country. Not to be too harsh on them, but in some cases they are true to their nomenclature. A pawikan saved here and there, an occasional eagle they helped release in the wild (dolphins and whales are under the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) or a tree-planting activity in one of the Local Government Units (LGUs).
Then they will just drop a bomb and say that they will lift the moratorium on mining applications and literally sell-off the Philippines to foreign mining investors. Highest bidder gets to fuck this poor country (excuse my French, but fuck is the most appropriate word I know of in this instance). As a matter of fact, I think China just won one round in this gang bang. 1 Billion US dollars of investments! Investments in what, if I may ask? Food security? Climate change mitigation? Peace process? Noooooo, investments in digging abysmal holes in our virgin forests, raking in OUR metals for THEIR products! And mining cohorts give a one-page ad in Inquirer saying ‘Thank you, Mr. President.”
I can’t help but utter a curse whenever I see that advertisement in television, that one which says that mining corporations have been rehabilitating forests during and after their operations. How stupid can that be? How do you rehabilitate an old-growth forest (forests that sustain billions of life in an interconnectedness that we cannot even fathom) back to its pristine state when you have changed the composition of its soil, water, rocks? You cannot bring back its old state. Once you churn around the earth and upset the chemicals that took millions of years to stabilize, you cannot have the same diversity as that old forest, now dead. Once an area of mega-diversity has been disturbed, you create a chain of disastrous events – starting with the littlest fungi, to the ants, to the giant trees – ultimately leading back to our own species. Compound that problem with an island ecosystem and you might want to volunteer erasing the Philippines off the coral triangle and off the 17 mega-diversity countries.
We are a threatened species. The once mighty Homo sapiens sapiens is nothing compared to the Earth trembling. We are reduced to scared Neanderthals, back in their caves, whenever a typhoon comes battering our streets and our beloved technologies. Compare that to the deaths that are daily caused by our own kind. A mother killing her own child in Manila, a man killing innocent children in Norway, a mad stampede in India, a war in the name of God somewhere, a war in the name of drugs in another place. Amidst all these threats, we continue fanning the flames of our own deaths – of others’ deaths, hell, of our children’s deaths. We sign 1-billion-dollar contracts selling off our minerals, we sign our deaths. Our wounds have not even healed, the burns continue to fester in Marinduque where the Marcopper disaster occurred, yet here we are prying open our country’s vagina to foreigners.
We cannot now trust this schizophrenic Department of Environment and Natural Resources. How can you trust a man patting your back reassuringly, with a knife in his other hand? Even its name blows up its cover. Of course ‘natural resources’ will always be a ‘source’ or a supply. But where is the RE (prefix meaning again and again) in the ‘resource’ if it’s not renewable? Minerals are NOT renewable, therefore it is not a RE-source.
There are alternatives to foreign-operated mining. Agricultural and eco-tourism relies on the richness of our lands. These are two of our alternatives. They may not give us instant revenues as mining does, they may not be easy, as mining is (because we leave the thinking and the operations to non-Filipinos) but they are better and sustainable alternatives.
When I am old, I want to photograph Lake Sebu in South Cotabato – with the same golden sun washing its waters and the same happy children bathing. I want to photograph Mount Isarog in Camarines Sur with that same lush, green and dense light coming from the forest top. I want to go back to Culion in Palawan and swim with its violet and blue corals, and meet Nemo once again in his comfortable sea anemone!
All these areas are threatened by mining. As we all are.

Killing God: Sagittarius and the B’laans

In a course of a year, hundreds, even thousands of people would have already been displaced by mining companies all over the globe, most especially in Developing Countries. Consider, for a moment, whole families being displaced not because of any natural disasters or wars but by mankind’s insatiable appetite for metals and minerals. Thinking about all these people, I often ask myself: “how can you transfer a plant to a new pot, when you’ve left the roots on the old pot?” Surely that plant would die.

There is, in Mindanao, an area of cultural wonders, where one can immerse back to pre-colonial Philippines and where people still sing the creation of the world in a language all their own.

And in this same area, an ulcer the size of an open-pit mine, also broils feverishly: the Tampakan Project of Sagittarius Mines in South Cotabato.

For hundreds of years, the lumads (Visayan word for ‘native’) in this area of South Cotabato have created a unique culture distinct from among themselves, and especially different from their Muslim and Christian neighbors. Their environment has shaped not only their world-view but their modes of living. Animistic, these tribes believe in the very sanctity of the land under their every footfall, the water that gives life and the air that nourishes them. This belief in the sacredness of the earth has shaped the weltanschauung, worldview, of the lumads that in a sense, to destroy it is to virtually destroy their identity as a unique group of people. Not only is it equivalent to terminating their character as a tribe but also a damnable sacrilege to their gods! Imagine demolishing the Vatican or the Ka’aba just because it has a good amount of copper and gold underneath!

The Tampakan Project in South Cotabato is just about that – the “Vatican” and the “Ka’aba” sitting on, supposedly, the largest copper and gold deposit in Southeast Asia.

The B’laans and the T’bolis in that area just know it as “home” since time immemorial. Then all of a sudden, “people of the spade” come with their foreign idea that the earth is a dead thing they can buy, quarry, divide, pollute, and transform according to their whims and wants. Thelumads scratch their heads for they do not understand what kind of monsters would believe and do such things to their home, to God even! What antimony to the source of Life!

We have been made to believe that economic progress necessitates such actions – that in exchange for the lumads’ dis-locations, that in exchange for toppling mountains, that in exchange for exterminating species of plants and animals, that in exchange for the annihilation of age-old cultures – our government coffers will be full, that we will all be rich!

I say: better to be poor than to be a nation of blind murderers.

Resist this sacrilege! If needs be, invoke religious rage.

Freedom from the Headset

I was looking at the Avaya phone on my office desk and I was reminded of my old job as a Call Center Agent. It was not an easy job, mind you. So I’m posting an article I wrote way back 2007 after I, ehem, graduated from a Call Center job. READ:

I admit it. I went AWOL (pronounced as EY-wol by my TL and never knew where it came from) from a leading Call Center in Eastwood City, Libis.

Aside from the lure of money and the shadow that was constantly dogging me here in Naga, I gave in to the prospect of working as a BPOE (Business Process Outsource Employee). Looking back to the process of employment, I realized that it was not easy as promised by some Job Fair guy or the seductively chaste web pages of some companies. It turned out to be my 6th sorrowful mystery; you know what I mean and there’s no need to elaborate, just imagine any of Mel Gibson’s recent movies.

I was fortunate enough to have been chosen as one of the 5 who made it for the day out of 30 plus interviewees, and then was told I need to attend a month-long training for the account I was employed in.  During training, I discovered the call center-invented word ‘petiks’ which has the literal connotation of “walang ginagawa,” very popular for the trainees and later on while I was on the floor and taking-in calls, the most sacrosanct and much anticipated word. Used loosely: “petiks lang pare, walang calls.”

Life with the headset is life with Mussolini or Hitler or worst, living with RULES – unbreakable, immutable and unmindful of Marx’s popular maxim of ‘The law is made for the people and not the people for the law.’ You have to log-in exactly, by the minute or else you lose some much needed moolah (cash cash cash!), there is also a ton-load of possible infractions you can get just by forgetting some spiels or lines like “Thank you for calling (name of the company)” or if you’re doing an outcall, “This call may be recorded for quality purposes.” Forget those lines and your busted big time. And a LOT of other infractions blah blah!

Concerns about security and possible accidents while reporting to work at 2am or 3am has also been hard-wired in my mind. It settles in every inch of the cerebral cortex that you virtually remember all those long-forgotten childhood saints that you’ve read in the Hagiography or The Lives of the Saints. Walking in Cubao, Q. C. at 1am is definitely not a walk in the woods. The experience can only be described as akin to Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. My past was constantly swimming before my eyes each time I struggle to go to work, like as if each step was the last (but of course I forgot to mention my tendency to over-react.)

The lack of sleep is a persistent companion. I sleep for more than eight hours a day, but it was not enough. I was a sleep-walker and I contracted the deadly disease of lethenomia where I forget names, ahhm nah, this has been an old pathos.

Lack of sleep can be funny sometimes. I tend to sleep in the middle of conversations or calls.  I actually have this one caller that I asked permission to be put on hold for 2 minutes, the next thing I knew she hung-up and I discovered I was sleeping for about 10 minutes already and the drool on my workstation was a new-found Philippine lake that I named after my caller, Mrs. Pilkington.

Then it came to the day when I decided I must return to the daylight and shed my nocturnal aswang wings. It was the realization that I was wasting precious time, that what I was pursuing was money and not, well, happiness – that the initial impetus for my work was escape from poverty and the shadowy prospect of my future. I recognized a deeper need. And it was way beyond finances or names. It was a pursuit for something that completes rather than depletes, may it be energy, effort or dreams.

I never tsk-tsk my friends or total strangers who want to work as a BPOE or as agents in Call Centers. I cannot, of course, fathom their desires for financial freedom or stability at an exceedingly hefty cost; I’ve been there. Just go, discover the life of the AVAYA or the MANUAL-IN or the God-given ‘PETIKS.’

As for me, a friend counseled: it is never too late to become the person that I might have been.

A Failed Attempt at Depth

So, it’s a monday and I’m here in the office with the damn aircon creating a new ice age on my scalp. There’s definitely something wrong with that aircon, I think it forgot that it’s in the tropics and people usually hate the uber-cold here. Now you know where to find me on mondays – Alaska.

Let me tell you something about this first post. Well it’s about nothing in particular. (Yay!) It’s just as Shakespeare would have it: “much ado about nothing.” The good thing about writing nothing in particular though, is that I can write everything that comes to my mind, blitzkrieg – style. So in the blitz of the moment, I’m starting with the film Sherlock Holmes, Game of Shadows. Or the gay-ness thereof.

Robert Downey Junior plays Sherlock Holmes in this movie where scarves, hats and lipsticks equally matches the number of guns, cannons and, and… and poison dart arrows. I was watching this film and the whole time my ever critical mind was wondering just how many scarves did Sherlock Holmes brought with him when he went to France and Germany? I think I was currently counting at four when Dr. Watson, played by Jude Law, piqued my interest more than counting Holmes’ scarves. Dr. Watson got married in this Holmes’ sequel to a very, well, English lady whom everybody (moviegoers and characters alike) gave the littlest ounce of attention and empathy. Never mind Dr. Watson married this Olive Oyl, this is Jude Law we’re talking about. And we all thought, hey is Holmes jealous that his bestfriend is finally married, is it schadenfreude or, hell I’ve got this crazy idea, but is he in love with this Watson guy? Take as a prima facie evidence, the sad fate of Holmes’ love interest, who in the early part of the movie died of a “rare case of Tuberculosis.” There’s also the time (in the train scene going to Brighton) when Holmes said, “Watson, lie down with me.” Also, Holmes refers to Paris as a more desirable honeymoon spot than the one Watson had chosen… with him of course and with no Mary in sight. Ho hay Holmes! Ho hay Watson!

Though there’s an attempt to become witty, and Holmes challenges us to workout the neurons in these unforeseen pivotal moments, I nevertheless failed to capture a deeper meaning in the movie. Mainly because of all those flying debris in slow, slooooow motion and all those scarves!

Speaking of depth, just yesterday I was in a coffee shop with a friend talking exactly about that. I was wondering how in a world of touch screens, Wikipedia, Google, a cyber world connected by the internet, can depth be achieved? In this time when information is literally at the tip of our fingertips, how is this affecting the way we think? Ask a College student about his understanding of ‘humanism,’ and you will get an answer straight out of Wikipedia. At first you’ll ask yourself how this classmate of yours became level-Einstein all of a sudden while you’re still left at level-Dog. Then you discover that he got his answer from his Iphone. Pretty neat, but real thinking and parroting are two different things.

Are we losing this depth of thought? Are we really thinking or are we parroting other people’s thoughts and ideas? Babbling and blah and blah and blah and blah without any really understanding of what you’ve just said. Superficial. Loose.

On the other hand, can originality be still achieved in this day and age? Originality of thoughts, of ideas – a creativity that is you and yours alone. Are not what we say as being original, in fact, recyled? Recycled thoughts, recycled ideas, recycled creativity.

There is then a real challenge to us, children of the web: to use the brain. Yes, the brain. That heavy something inside your skull, between your ears. When asked about something you barely know, use the brain and actually think, recall stuff, be critical, analyze.

But if in 5 minutes you fail to answer correctly… Google, you stupid troglobyte!