Wednesday, February 29, 2012

ICCHS: The Centennial Celebration

Iloilo Central Commercial High School. ICCHS. Huasiong, as it is popularly referred to by its Hokkien name. Founded February 25, 1912. Now with two campuses: the main campus in downtown Iloilo City, and the newer and larger Ledesco Village campus in La Paz, Iloilo City. The 100th Founding Anniversary, February 25, 2012. A week-long celebration whose highlights included the countdown to the centennial, Feb 24; grand parade, morning of Feb 25, and the alumni homecoming, evening of Feb 25. Photos by Sharmaine Vidal, Herajen Barrido, and Sianne Jaleco.

At the quadrangle, around 11:30PM, Friday, Feb 24, half an hour before the countdown to the centennial. Batch 2009 Honors Section Guava, represent!

The fireworks display - as magnificent as any on a New Year's Eve - heralding February 25, 2012, Iloilo City time. Look at the fireworks/ light up the sky ("Blackout," In the Heights).
 After the grand parade on the morning of Saturday, Feb 25. At the grand ole stage. 

Batch 2009 (at least, the 30+ of us who went), Alumni Homecoming, Saturday Feb 25.

In the Chinese community, when you speak of ICCHS or Huasiong, you are actually speaking of generations of alumni, of people now virtually everywhere in the country and in many parts of the globe. The next three photos (by alumnus Joseph Du) are from the Alumni Homecoming that filled the Ledesco Village campus soccer field and covered court (as seen in the 2nd and 3rd photos) to the brim. And that's only a very tiny fraction of the entire family - no kidding. 


Here's to the next hundred years!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Why You Should Be Scared of NAIA

No, this is not another post about Terminal 1; it's pretty much a given that the entire building is a danger to society, structurally and aesthetically. And I won't be lamenting the runway congestion issues either, even though my flight last night, originally scheduled to arrive at 8:30PM, landed an hour and a half later, inclusive of circling the Manila airspace.  (That did afford me a spectacular nighttime aerial tour of the entire Metro, though - C5, The Fort, Makati, Ortigas, EDSA, Q-Ave-Rodriguez, North-West-East-Timog, Diliman's Academic Oval, the traceable Commonwealth Avenue, Balintawak, NLEX.) 

No, I'm here to talk about Terminal 3. Yes, that beautiful thing that is, for now, our country's best answer to go with the pantheons of Incheon, Changi, Chek Lap Kok. You see, if you think we've learned our lesson from the horrors of 9-11, which many people think is an exclusively American thing, you're wrong.

Because you can actually enter the terminal building without having to go through security.

Yes, you read that right.

The arrivals area is a huge place. It is separated into two: the baggage claim hall, which is exclusively for arriving passengers; and the well-wisher's area, which is open to the public. It is in the latter that you have the elevators and escalators to the departures hall - this is for those who actually have to claim their baggage first before proceeding to the departures hall for another flight. But this is also convenient for those who do not want to fall in line (a really long line) just to get on an overpriced cab (get what I'm trying to tell you? Yes, that's right, exit the terminal at departures - you can do that - and get your cab there).

So, what can someone not like me do? Get off at arrivals, grab one of the freshly used luggage carts lying around (if you have lots of things), enter the well-wisher's area, use the elevators, and get to your check-in counter without all the fuss of initial security checks.  

So now, can you imagine what someone of no good intentions can do??? Because with that kind of system, anyone can actually enter the terminal without getting checked. They can lounge around the well-wisher's area, go to the restrooms, and even to the departures hall - UNCHECKED. With that, one can actually bring a suitcase (which can contain, oh I don't know, a crocodile or something) and drag it all the way to the check-in hall without it getting scanned. And if that isn't clear enough, what I'm saying is, ANYONE CAN ENTER THE EFFING TERMINAL WHATEVER THEIR BUSINESS IS. 

Right now, that scares the shit out of me. Maybe I'm just paranoid or something, but there is a very, very, very, very, very serious problem here. NAIA, you are  so screwed.

L-R: A bit of Laguna de Bay, Mt. Makiling, Mt. Banahaw-San Cristobal (top right). The road you see traversing the lower right quadrant is the one popularly taken to go to Quezon and onwards.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Solutions for Solutions

The following speech was one of the six grand finalists in the 2012 Search for the Philippine Representative to the ESU International Public Speaking Competition (IPSC) held in UP School of Economics in Diliman, Quezon City, Feb 18. Around 48 contestants participated in the said tournament and were first divided into six groups of eight for the morning elimination round, after which the top four of each group proceeded to the semi-finals. The semi-finals had two groups of twelve, where the top three of each group eventually advanced to the finals. Judges included Palanca Hall of Fame winner (with 33 prizes!) Edgardo Maranan, ESU Philippines president Dr. Ma. Luz Vilches (of the Ateneo School of Humanities), and former Ambassador to the UK Cesar Bautista. This year's nationals theme was "Wisdom of the Youth." The winner of the contest and this year's Philippine representative to the IPSC in London, May 14-18, 2012, is Bryan Chua from De La Salle University.

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One of the biggest lessons my mother taught me as a kid was this: Clean up your own mess! So, at five years old, I came home one day beaming with pride as I showed her my bag stuffed with what I now know as garbage. My classmates and I made a huge mess in school, and I heroically cleaned it up myself. Looking back, I think I’d just been watching too many episodes of the cartoon series Captain Planet, whose title character’s main job is to save the world from pollution.

Five years ago, when the film An Inconvenient Truth won the Oscar, I was tasked to speak at a district scouting camp on saving the earth. This time, I wasn’t Captain Planet, I was Al Gore. My audience? One hundred and fifty… first graders. It was crazy! The entire time I was onstage, I didn’t know if that silent crowd of kids was actually listening to me, or to their teachers whispering to each of them to clap loudly when I’ve finished – and well, the applause that came after was certainly rousing.

But what followed my speech was even crazier. This huge group of kids approached me and just suddenly began regaling me with all sorts of ideas on saving mother earth and how they themselves could actually help do it. I thought, “How cute!”

Now this eight-year-old cousin of mine – she’s even cuter. She once asked me why the Philippines is poor. I told her that among other things, it’s because our leaders are not doing their jobs properly. So she said: “That’s easy. They’re bad. We just have to change them.” Well, open your TV, grab a newspaper, and see how long it takes to change just one man in government.

But here’s what I’ve realized: The youth are not afraid to think big, and do big things. They may not always know the right answer to every question, but they know that there is an answer. Cynics would call that foolishness. I call that wisdom – one that is not so much a gift of age, and certainly one not many older people can claim to possess.

I believe the single most important thing we can do for our youth is to cultivate that wisdom. Science tells us a child’s brain is at least four times as active as an adult’s. Nearly everything that has to do with our development, learning in particular, happens in the first ten years of life. So then, what I think we ought to highlight in schools is how to find the right answers. In short, creating solutions. How can we prevent something from happening? How can we achieve a desired effect?

In high school, I attended the Mathematics Trainers’ Guild program, or MTG. It’s a twelve Saturday session that, to put it bluntly, teaches calculus to second year high school students. That’s like teaching sixth grade math to fourth grade kids. We were graded not by arriving at a final answer, but by how we arrived at the final answer. If a problem is worth ten points, nine would be allotted to our solution. In life, that’s how it works: We spend 90% of our time thinking of a solution.

Every year, hundreds of Filipino kids trained by MTG go abroad and compete in various competitions. I… was never one of those kids, but every time I read of another delegation bringing home hundreds of medals, I see hope for this country.

A month ago, the international bank HSBC predicted that by the year 2050, the Philippines would already be the 16th largest economy in the world. That’s 38 years from now, and by then, this world would already be run by the wisdom of an entirely new generation. You know, I can almost hear our Department of Tourism saying: “2050. More Fun in the Philippines.”

Many of us here were once young. A lot of us here still feel young. To nurture this culture of searching for solutions and finding the answers will be the greatest legacy the higher generation can leave us – the Filipino youth. Who knows? If all goes well, by 2050, we might all as well be saying, “Cleaning up your mess. More Fun in the Philippines.”

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1. Arizza Nocum, if you get to read this, you were my girl. Thank God - and Allah. ;-)

2. Mr. Chua, by the time you're in London, the Sweeney Todd West End revival would already be in full swing, with the Michael Ball playing the title character. Just sayin'.

3. I'll be 21 on May 20, 2013.  I wonder what that means, given that ESU IPSC has a maximum age limit of 20. 

4. I must go back to my pelvises and cervices and family planning methods now.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

You're a Brilliant Dog, Snoopy!

It is suppertime, and Snoopy is very, very hungry. But instead of eating in silence after his master Charlie Brown has filled his dog bowl and left, Snoopy clambers atop his dog house, donning a top hat and grabbing a walking stick in the process, and breaks into boisterous song and dance on his favourite part of day, a prayer-before-the-meal of smooth, jazzy rhythms that gradually swell into big, bursting melodies and lyrics that go, "Bring on the soup dish, bring on the cup/ Bring on the bacon and fill me up/ ‘Cause it’s… suppertime."

Soon, his human friends join him, clad in blue robes and clutching tambourines, swaying and singing in the backdrop as those high-belting African-American gospel singers in the movies have done for decades.

Consider this, the aptly titled “Suppertime”, the eleven o'clock number of 9 Works Theatrical’s fifth musical production (seventh, if you count two reruns of Rent), a highly entertaining if relatively lightweight You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, whose 1999 Broadway revival undeniably made a star out of Kristin Chenoweth.

Snoopy here is played by Lorenz Martinez, who, among other credits, is the youngest actor ever to have played The Engineer in Miss Saigon. Though definitely not yet a household theatre name hereabouts, this spirited, perfectly comical performance as the eternal Charles Schultz beagle should widen his audience.

That’s one way to put it for this production of the small-scale Clark Gesner musical comedy based on Schultz’s Peanuts denizens. Because from another perspective, the other performances simply pale in comparison to the amount of consistency or clarity that Martinez puts into his character.

That’s not to say they don’t ever rise to some level past satisfactory at some point in the show; it’s just that, well, Snoopy owns this one. For someone whose brand of humour is more Sex in the City or God of Carnage, this dog, or the brilliant actor behind it, might just be the one reason to get through those two hours in the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium.   

With the way this musical is structured, though, even the most ‘adult’ of brains would end up being somehow drawn to it. The plot is, to put it bluntly, four weeks' worth of your local daily's Peanuts glued end-to-end - and viola, a sensible story it makes!

At its very core are six characters that would certainly have Nietzsche and Sartre jumping up and down their seats. Kids both physically and behaviourally, they roam the stage constantly knocking their heads off, looking at the state of life and their lives from every possible angle in this pastiche of quips and quotable quotes that those ‘mature’ enough would easily dismiss as a plethora of juvenile concerns.

There’s the thumb-sucking Linus, whose one biggest contribution to the world as a Schultz creation is probably the popularization of the term ‘security blanket’. Here, he is convincingly played by Franco Laurel, and as the highly articulate resident academic, his is perhaps the performance closest to Martinez’s level.

Though his fine tenor, last seen in his ‘Anthony’ in Repertory Philippines’ latest Sweeney Todd, is evidently not designed for those lower notes in “My Blanket and Me,” Laurel nevertheless infuses his Linus with just the right amounts of little-boy charm and know-it-all eagerness to make him both lovable and worth rooting for.

Never mind that this Linus is also one who, many times, threatens to (but thankfully, does not) tip the balance towards sheer, hair-tingling awkwardness while dancing a fusion of tango and ballet with his blanket in that big solo of his.

Robbie Guevara as the title character is just as equally dependable. Bald and eternally clad in sunshine-yellow, 9 Works’ resident director churns out a sympathetic Charlie Brown whose subtlety and facial expressions are undeniably his greatest assets.

At the beginning, Linus’s sister Lucy remarks to Charlie, “Yours is the perfect example of a failure face” - and failure it is, superficially written by a slight bend of the brow or curl of the lip. This must be what "facial comedy" means, and Guevara proves himself a master of that art.

But for those hungry for more big production numbers, look to Tonipet Gaba’s Schroeder – at times dangerously coming off as too structured and rehearsed – offering a suave “Beethoven Day,”an anthem to the German composer on whom his piano-playing character obsesses upon.

Or the Act-I ender “The Book Report,” though marred by a few incoherent spots as the voices join together blurting out varying lyrics; or “Happiness,” the musical’s capable match to, say, Spring Awakening’s “Song of Purple Summer,” or Next to Normal’s “Light” – and performed most sincerely and illusion-free, too.   

What’s not so crystal-clear for this cast of six, however, are the two women: Sweet Plantado-Tiongson as a relatively tame and less unpredictable Sally Brown, and Carla Guevara-Laforteza playing an appropriately crabby and forceful Lucy, if only a tad too loud in a few places.

But the fault, it must be noted, is inherent in their characters or how the book says they should be played. Apparently, mimicking little girls’ voices takes more than just two performances and a media preview to get right, especially when one gets to the singing part.

For while Plantado-Tiongson has long been the dependable lead singer of The CompanY, and Guevara-Laforteza has breezed through Miss Saigon and 9 Works’ Rent with a standout Maureen Johnson, here, their vocal cords and diaphragms can only do so much with the singing style expressly captured by the Filipino ‘ipit’ – clipped, caught in between.

Sally Brown’s “My New Philosophy” never really gets to soar to those prized lofty heights, while Lucy just plain thins out in her high notes, and gets too shrill for comfort one too many times in her spoken parts.

But for a musical comedy that requires swift scene changes and brief, witty dialogue delivered as how comic strips must be like acted out, this production is fairly consistent.

Thus, this early, applause must already be given to Director Michael Williams for keeping the cast constantly paced and thoroughly cohesive – and more importantly, for guiding the production to achieve a child-like buoyancy that the material demands.

Charlie Brown runs for three more weekends, and when one finally gets the chance to see it, it is of prime importance that one does not expect a saga of vocal cord-defying show tune after show tune (like Rent) or big song-and-dance moments interwoven with dialogue (as in Sweet Charity).

This is a musical created from the eyes of a ten-year-old or a ten-year-old at heart, whose main goal is to display how children would think intelligently, not to mock their level of intelligence.

Case and point: Guevara-Laforteza’s Lucy adroitly delivering a self-appropriated monologue on creating her own ‘queendom’, with a hilarious reference (if you’re sharp) to Alice in Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts in the bag.

More than anything, this production knows that what it must foremost achieve is keep the viewer smiling or snickering or roaring with laughter in remembrance of a not-so-distant childhood. On those grounds, at least, 9 Works’ Charlie Brown fully understands itself and is one to be considered a good show.  

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The remaining shows of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown are at 3:30PM on Feb 19 & 25 and Mar 3, and at 8PM on Feb 18 & 25 and Mar 2 & 3. It runs at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati City. For tickets and more information, visit the company's website at  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Missed Arrows

The thought that was crossing back and forth in swift, wispy movements before my mind's eye, as I worked through our hundred-point multiple-choice exam on pregnancy this morning, was this: Is it guaranteed that by making a choice in this exam - the intended first technical rehearsal, in theater parlance, for what is to face us in the real world a few years from now - we raise our self-esteem a notch higher and become more assured doctors-to-be with a right answer, or clear the field of one more possible misdiagnosis or mismanagement with a wrong one?

I hope so. I hope that exams are truly what I hope them to be - an open-field try-out, a place to discover what one has missed or failed to understand, that one may avoid committing the mistakes thereafter. We gather information - fresh, unstained, yet to be soaked in the proverbial pool of sweat and blood - then try as much as our minds would permit to find every bit a place in our system, cramped and limited as it is. Then we are summoned to shoot our first arrows, and we either hit the target, what is considered a theoretical right answer, or we miss. And when we miss, we leave the arrow there to mark the spot, and that is one more wrong eliminated.

Take this one, for example - a still-bloody wound, I say: Which would be the most important and likely finding of a vaginal examination near term? Between 'pelvic capacity' and 'placental location', I thought the latter and answered the former. Hey, might as well make sure mother's safe from placenta previa (or a placenta that's obstructing where the baby's supposed to exit at birth).

I hope I'm right in hoping that reality is as I choose to see it. No one knows, after all, how things really work, or are supposed to work. No one bothers to question the system anymore - no one tries to; we just settle and follow. I hope we are not deceived and blinded, misguided and misinformed. That there be no unseen devilish Cupid plucking out the arrows out of the wrong spots that we may make as many misses as evil desires.  

But if there is an award for the most consistent student in terms of exam results, I believe I may have a shot at winning it. The glaring exception that would ruin my case for me, of course, being Renal (but it doesn't matter as it's probably my favorite module). They rise, they fall, and I just watch them from my noble throne, sitting through the silences and ruckuses.  

I need to write something on youth and the way it thinks, its mind, the wisdom that it has within it yet to be tapped by the world. Today my parents have been married a good twenty-five years, and my dad, as is the case every year, woke up clueless as to the significance of the date.