Friday, March 12, 2010

Summer Trips

Dear Lucas

Driving through the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) last week, I realized your first long trips out of Manila was through this great new road. First, when you were six months we drove to Subic and on to Zambales. And the second was a trip further up north to Baguio.

Perhaps one day when more infrastructure are built crisscrossing these islands you look at our trips fondly, recalling with nostalgia that single smooth drive through the countryside with Mama and Papa. Who knows, you may be taking a superfast train or zipping through the sky on your personal aircraft.

My own trips up north growing up are made up of very fond memories of gentle moments with your Lolo Pablo, Lola Del and your Titas. They all grew up in Olongapo City where your Lolo served as City Engineer in the 1950s and 60s, so when summer of the 70s came it was standard to head for the Subic bay beaches to visit with old friends. Either that of head up north to the beaches of Bauang, La Union where Lolo grew up.

Your Titas’ memories go back further, at a time when they would all cram into the back of the Chevy stationwagon (the size of today’s Suburban) while I would be in a baby basket placed at the foot of Lola’s seat (talk about leg room).

But I don’t remember that. What I do remember is the early 1970s when your Lolo had this aqua 1967 Toyota Crown, which had wrap around airconditioning (blowers in the front and back) and a built in refrigerator in the trunk. He’d stock up on canned Real Fresh milk and chocolate drinks for the trip – softdrinks were available anyway in any sari-sari store along the way.

As we made our way through EDSA, we’d swing by the only Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet then – at the Bonanza compound – to buy a bucket of fried chicken for our lunch when we hit the beach. Then we’d zoom off to the North Diversion Road – the beginnings of today’s North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) – which made it a express drive up to Guiguinto, Bulacan.

From there we’d drive through Bulacan and Pampanga via the tree-lined MacArthur Highway, but always not missing that little store in San Fernando that makes and sells Allied peanuts. Your Lola Del would buy a half gallon can – the same that they use in today’s Arce Dairy Ice Cream – and order extra toasted garlic which they would fill on the top.

From there we would either go towards Lubao and on to Olongapo or head further up north through Tarlac, Pangasinan and La Union and Baguio.

That’s, of course, when the whole family would go on the summer journey. It was slightly different when I would go with Lolo Pablo to his business trips up north – just us boys. In our solo flights as we’d sneak in a little something here and there, like when he would actually teach me how to drive on the highway when I could barely reach the pedals. But the best was when we would stop at Hacienda Luisita.

No, it isn’t the mall and restaurant row we know it today. The Tarlac entrance to HL was nothing but a field of giant trees shading the roadside. Under one tree sat a carinderia, reminiscent of those truck stops which feed the weary truckers plying their northern route. Here I always ordered the best breaded pork chops I have ever tasted, then we’d sip the remainder of our cold Pepsi (in the old frosted bottles) under trees.

At times Lolo Pablo would decide to take the bus instead, not the classy airconditioned ones but the quick hopping ordinary Rabbit lines. It would be like a rolling market with vendors of all sorts of goodies sold throughout the five hour journey. Between naps I would feats on hard boiled quail’s eggs, balut, popcorn and Sarsi.

Once in La Union, we’d hit the beach and never leave until the sun sets. In the early mornings fishermen would land on the beach with their catch and Lolo would get first pick for our lunch grille, before the fishermen could haul their catch off to the market.

And throughout the day we would subsist on what the manangs bring us while we played and built sandcastles on the shore. Early in the morning they would bring us those triangle-shaped suman, sticky rice wrapped in leaves with and with very subtle sweetness and saltiness. As the day progressed they would bring ripe mangoes, duhat and sineguelas. When the tanginess or sweetness would become a bit too much, all we’d do is dip the stuff in the salt water and the balance of flavors would be achieved.

We spent so much time in the beaches of Olongapo and La Union that come the start of the next schoolyear in June my skin would be so dark and would slowly lighten as the semester progressed. Some of my teachers worried that I was sick because I was becoming pale, and they would struggle to ask your Lola Del such a delicate question about my failing health during the parent-teacher conference. Of course she would just laugh it off... she always assumed the worse, like they were prepping her for a report of my latest act of juvenile delinquency.

But that’s another story.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Good Morning, Mrs. President

Dear Lucas,

As I write this the casket bearing former President Cory Aquino is being loaded into a flower laden flatbed truck at Lasalle Greenhills. Your Mama is sad because Cory is one of the few people she wanted you to see and learn about – or perhaps even meet – once you’re old enough. But that will never be. You will just have content yourself with the lessons your school will be telling you of this great person. One advantage you’ll have is that your parents had direct memories of her and her greatness.

In any case, allow me to reproduce here a short essay I wrote at the request of Tita Letty Magsanoc, Editor in Chief of the Philippine Daily Inquirer – another great Filipino we want you to meet really soon. This was published last Sunday, August 2, in a special section of the Inquirer.


I GREW up in West Avenue Homes in Quezon City, a few steps away from Cory’s Times Street house. I remember my mother saying Cory went to the same salon (back then they called it “beauty parlor”), Priscilla’s on West Avenue, across the Philam Homes gate.

It was the 1970s, Martial Law had just been declared, and Ninoy Aquino was in jail. There was uneasiness in the way my mother told the otherwise inconsequential story – small talk really – but in hindsight it was just like the uneasiness of the neighborhood where homes of the Marcos administration’s officials and critics and political oppositionists he had jailed stood side by side.

In the mid 1980s I joined the Mr&Ms Special Edition staff straight out of college. While paid as fulltime staff (you wouldn’t believe the rate) we found that we could make extra bucks contributing to the company’s sister publications like the glossy Mr&Ms Magazine.

Kris Aquino was turning 15 so I took the opportunity to take on the assignment because it paid extra and it meant just taking a few steps to Times Street to do the interview.

The interview took all afternoon and straight into the evening. Cory arrived with eldest daughter Ballsy from Hacienda Luisita and found that nobody had prepared dinner yet. In typical Filipino fashion, she had the maid whip up some pork tocino and rice – always the emergency provision.

I was done with the interview and was about to leave, but Cory would have none of it. She insisted I stay for the meal. I imagined: just like my mother who would not have a guest leave the house with a horror story that the host did not bother to feed him.

Cory asked how my interview with Kris went. I told her that Kris was seriously into singing and may probably have a career in showbiz one day. Kris smiled while Cory sighed: “Oh, please, JP. Don’t encourage her!”

Apparently, Kris had been keeping the household up all night with her karaoke.

Much later, as the political winds blew stronger and the streets glimmered with yellow ribbons, I visited Cory at her Makati office. Ballsy showed me to the office.I saw Cory behind her desk I greeted her: “Good afternoon, Mrs. President!”

“That’s not funny, JP!” Cory told me in mock anger.

I moved on to be a reporter for the Inquirer, covering President Ferdinand Marcos and his snap election bid.

History whizzed by, and before I knew it, the subject of my Malacañang coverage shifted from the main palace to the Guest House.

And I was now saying: “Good morning, Mrs. President.”


I pray that someday, when your time comes, you are blessed with your own great leaders. I pray we, your elders, are able to pave the way for that.



Thursday, July 9, 2009


Dear Lucas,

One of the greatest things you have in your generation is the freedom to reach the widest audience possible for whatever you want to express. By the time you can manage to fully manipulate your computer’s mouse or bang away at the keyboard, I’m sure that whatever form the Internet will have it will be more accessible, more sophisticated and will simply be so awesome in depth and reach.

But, great as that may be, you will be vulnerable to the threat of doing more harm than good. There will be many instances when what you think is fun will cause much pain.

Just yesterday, Papa received an email of what it claimed to be a warning to women. It contained a story about a girl being raped inside a plane of a major airline enroute to Manila. Right there it set off an alarm in my head since it was something that never saw reported in mainstream media, aside from the fact that the story claimed to have happened way back in 2005.

So I Googled it and in turn went to the trusty hoax buster, and saw that it was indeed nothing but a hoax. The sad thing about it was there were some discussion forums (or is it for a) where some members were already up in arms about it. A needless rise in blood pressure.

More unfortunate is the fate of the so-called source of the story – the one whose name and contact info was on the bottom of the email. One of your uncles managed to find her on Facebook and she denied authoring the email. We believed her, simply because the original email, as revealed in the earlier editions, was from a different source and this young lady whose identity is in the latest incarnation of the hoax email is just a result of its indiscriminate forwarding.

There are thousands of other such hoax emails like the alleged recovered photos of a passenger from within a crashing plane which turned out to be scene stills from a TV show, or even a supposedly inspiring story of a boy’s perseverance to recover from his mangled face and eventually growing up to be Mel Gibson, or virus alerts that claim certain normal computer system files are deadly viruses waiting to pounce on your computer thus you should delete them.

Many of these have been small practical jokes that have cause no major harm except using up bandwidth as they bounce around the Internet (on the other had, their volume may be more harmful to efficiency than we think). But some hoaxes like the “plane rape” are so serious that it damages reputations and destroys livelihoods and lives. So serious that the airline named has warned that the email is libelous and that forwarding it makes the sender subject to legal action.

Yes, my son, at this point in the Internet’s life the law is catching up with the technology. Computer forensics and the nature of the technology itself has allowed law enforcement to track down those who upload materials to what server, those who forward the material… there is an electronic paper trail and footprint, and it is traceable.

Take a look at the story of that journalist who was killed in Pakistan, Daniel Pearl. It was amazing how the police were able to trace the guys who uploaded the photos of his captivity – to the very unit of the crowded housing buildings. (Of course it was more exciting watching how they did it in the movie A Mighty Heart starring Angelina Jolie.)

And, not far from home, our very own National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) was able to track down and arrest the guys to uploaded the Hayden Kho – Katrina Halili video which – I must emphatically state – I have not seen nor intend to see ever.

As of late, there is a test case in court for libel. This is for the blog written by a girl who claimed her father and brother were beaten at a golf course by some politicians and their body guards. How the justice system will handle that remains to be seen, but the result is sure to be precedent setting.

The point is, Lucas, that by the time you are old enough to enter cyberspace you will have more freedom and, yes, even more responsibility. You will be more empowered than any generation to live your life to the fullest, but at the same time it will cost you more should you choose to live that life disregarding its effects on others.

I pray that when you type out your own blog or receive messages that say “please pass” or “forward” you will take time to think, assess and not hesitate to delete or tell the source to take it back.

All my love,


Monday, June 29, 2009


Dear Lucas,

We (me, your Mama, your Titos and Titas and everybody you can think of) have had some bad experience with all this new technology lately. Well, by the time you have your "new technology" ours will be old... so old that you'll probably say: "What's that?"

But I believe some things never change -- like complaining about poor customer service. Like when telephones were still rotary (look it up on Google or whatever your preferred source of information is in your time) we used to bitch about party lines and 100 people per 1 line phone desity etc etc. Its all about the balance between the promises the service providers make and what we consumers finally get.

Anyway, the following is a blog I wrote not too long ago for one network website. Hope your own experience is better than what we had in our time.




WE TAKE the internet for granted. It’s just another fixture of modern life. Surfing, emailing, Googling, blogging… activities that fill our everyday lives, as automatic as pressing the floor number button on an elevator. You don’t bother to know how it works. You just use it.

Think about it: the wonders of modern communications technology allows us to access information resources all over the world at a blink of an eye. We can do things faster, better and cheaper than ever before.

That is, while you’re connected.

A few weeks back the DSL line in our office just went dead. A call to the provider – one of many unsuccessful attempts – revealed that they were doing “systems upgrade” and would resume service shortly.

We felt somewhat relieved for the obvious implication of the word “upgrade” meant that it would only be better. But something felt wrong with the whole thing since they didn’t inform us before hand that they were cutting service to do that upgrade.


Major withdrawal symptoms. Suddenly we felt so unproductive being cut off from the rest of the world. When it was obvious that our DSL service wasn’t going to be restored within the day, we connected laptops via dial up modems while the rest headed to the nearest internet café.

Then one day turned into two, then three, then four – with our insistence for satisfaction the provider finally sent over a technician. His first order of business: blame the customer. He kept insisting that there was something wrong with us and not them. After walking him through our own system and how we were set up, he finally discovered the problem. Our broadband router – which automatically connects to our internet provider – had a different login name.

Apparently, it was the old login name which was changed by the DSL provider days ago as part of the so-called systems upgrade.

“You mean they did not inform you of the new login name?” Mr. Technician asked.

That flash of lightning that rushed through my thoughts, of course, just remained in my thoughts. I simply refuse to argue with those who came before me in the evolutionary chart. Such a waste of saliva.

So our DSL service went back to normal. Upgrade? Well, now we can easily remember our login name because they changed it from a randomly generated set of numbers to the telephone number on which the DSL service passes through.


Intelligent World

WITH the way our telecommunications service providers brand themselves you’d think that perception is reality.

But is it?

One telco, branding itself with global reach has failed me more than once in my foreign trips. First as a postpaid client, the system did not allow the use of the roaming service abroad despite assurances that it came with the service.

Later shifting to their prepaid service where the claim is to simply register with customer service prior to leaving for abroad to avail of roaming, it failed again despite instructions followed to the “T.” In a later trip we did the same thing but, as a precaution we registered a week prior then made a follow up call three days before. It was as if the request never existed. So we went through the process again, only to find out the day before the trip that the request had not been acted upon.

The lesson learned? Get to know at least a Vice President of the company just so you can name drop. Failing that, call the VP and tell him or her how lousy their service is.

Or go to the competition – the one that claims to be the intelligent choice in its branding. Not that their customer service is any better. In fact, here too you have to know a VP upwards to get some action.

But it’s hard to beat decent customer service out of a company that makes outrageous fortunes despite legions of complainers like us. Either we suffer through the service or risk being disconnected.

Consider this: would you spend so much time, effort and money attending to customer gripes when, despite that, you get 21 months pay for the year? That’s right, 21 months is what their employees were paid for the year – while most of us who do pay for the service are lucky to get our mandated 13th month pay.

Customer service, therefore, may not be a smart move.

That’s life

STILL, you can’t help but wonder at the awesome power modern technology gives us. There is nothing in mankind’s history that has impacted lives so much than the power of today’s information and communications technology.

It has enriched out lives, boosted productivity enormously and has enhanced creativity like never before.

And on the other side of the spectrum, it will leave us in the deepest end of despair and frustration when it fails. It kills us whenever we get a busy signal or fail to connect.

Think about it – when will this wonderful technology be most needed and most appreciated?

In times of calamity, of course. We can coordinate emergency resources, call our loved ones to check if they are okay, act quickly to save lives.

And when will these things bog down for sure?

In times of calamity, of course. There will be no power, no way to charge mobile phones and radios, transmission towers and cell sites will collapse, fiber optic cables will snap.

Your top of the line, quad band, 3G connected, Bluetooth capable, wifi ready, energy efficient, high-resolution-camera-PDA-GPS-FM-radio-TV-cellular-telephone will be as useful as the rock you will need to defend yourself when the food riot starts.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Processing Death

Dear Lucas,

I didn’t expect to write to you about death this soon – perhaps it’s just too morbid, given your age etc etc. But it’s a fact of life and – given your Papa isn’t getting any younger – it crosses my mind more often than I want it to.

The trigger, this time, is the sudden passing of Dr, Michael Brillantes at the Veteran’s Medical Center last June 17. Mike was a classmate from Grade 1 all the way to High School. His death was sudden, at least in the way I received the news. Over lunch with some other classmates we were texted that Mike was in the intensive care unit, something to do with his pancreas. Before I could finalize plans to visit him in the hospital that night another text came in that he had died. Early the next day I was informed that he was already cremated. It seems that the events just kept rolling in faster than the speed I could process them. At this point I am still processing the first text message, how could Mike be that ill – a gifted physician, and among the most positive people I know?

I remember Mike as someone who was just there. That was a unique trait in an exclusive boy’s school like the Ateneo de Manila, especially those in the Honor’s Class where most if not all had alpha male traits and aspirations. In that world you either stepped up to dominate – got the medals, won the trophies, bullied the rest – or just shrank in a corner where nobody knew you existed and hoped nobody would notice you.

But not Mike. He was not alpha, but he was there. Just being there, smiling, being a friend and supporter to all, never rubbing anybody the wrong way… that was Mike.

However, I do recall vividly one afternoon football game in high school, in a rare display of power (having possession of the ball) Mike charged towards the goal. Perhaps due to the sudden burst of raw energy he lost control and just slammed into the goal post and fell on his back, unconscious.

We gathered around Mike, who lay sprawled on the grass. “Patay na (He’s dead),” one classmate blurted out. We giggled– we were young, in our most energetic time, and death was a concept that was unreal.

Mike opened his eyes seconds later, but did not get up until a few minutes more. He was in a daze, perhaps trying to remember who he was. But when he did, it was as if nothing has happened and we went on with the game. And for the next 30 or so years Mike continued to be there for all of us.

Mike’s death is one of those deep losses that are sometimes very difficult to fathom. Your Grandfathers’ passing was easier to grasp as they lived full lives. My father, your Lolo Pablo died at 69, the national average but still too young to many. But he had an extension of over 30 years because of a successful experimental treatment in the 1950s. If this didn’t happen, I would not have been born.

Your mom’s father, your Lolo Tony, passed away after a lingering illness well into his 70s. My mom, your Lola Del, had been bedridden for many years and hit her 80s when she passed on.

Your cousin Ana passed when she was just months old – and while it is sad I guess her life impact and potential had not dawned upon us and remains to this day vague possibilities and what ifs.

In the middle --
Mike Brilliantes being there made the night in our most recent gathering

Mike, though not a blood relative, was a brother whose timeline ran parallel to mine. Just before his passing I was still looking forward to days and years of project planning and implementing, of building dreams into reality, of running around crazy with you. Mike died, left a wife and kids, left a career, left some dreams and aspirations we still talked about in those class reunions. Mike’s death takes longer to process. But he will go on to play the game, and will as always be there.

Isaiah 51:11 – Therefore the redeemed of the LORD shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.

As any father who loves his child I fervently wish to save you from such pain. But it will come so I take comfort that the Lord will watch over you at that time and will provide the comfort and joy you need as you go through that process.

All my love,


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Writers Write

Dear Lucas,

On this day you’re one year, three months and 14 days old. And in this short time I’ve seen you do the most fascinating things I’ve ever seen. It seems like almost every day you show me some new thing that you can do. On your second day in this world you lifted your head up on your own, even the pediatrician was surprised. Then like magic you were soon waving hello and goodbye, making wawawa sounds by moving your hand to and from your mouth, grinning wide to show your teeth (you almost had a full set even before you turned one!), crawling backwards to the edge of the bed to make sure you dismounted butt-first to avoid injury and whining with frustration whenever Papa would say “no” to your attempts to touch the electrical wall outlet.

Papa’s friends and relatives have been asking why he has not been writing for some time. Well, I have, but not for public consumption. I guess they just got used to seeing my by line and works in various publications for so long that they assumed that I just stopped altogether when they stopped seeing my name in print. But the fact is I’ve been writing for a living – as strategic communications counselor (wow, big words) all my thoughts, ideas and recommendations have to be written.

I’ve written the occasional feature and guest column from time to time. I also started writing a blog for a major TV network’s news website. But after sometime I felt disconnected from my audience although I would get tremendous feedback. Later I was just uninspired.

I felt I was back to that point when I left journalism. As a young reporter I felt I had a mission -- a noble cause to keep Filipinos informed so that they could live their lives, pursue their dreams and have a purpose. But I guess life and its harsh realities have a way of whittling away all that good vibe. I just got tired of reporting on earth-shaking events that had no meaning or purpose a few years later. People have short memories… they forget… they screw up all over again.

So I decided to turn my pen (or keyboard) towards writing that had a direct influence on public policy, providing my communications skills to organizations and people who could effect change. Not as glamorous, but very effective.

All that changed on the day you were born, Lucas. You had a gleam in your eyes that was full of hope… of dreams yet to be fulfilled and dragons still to be slayed. I just knew I had to go back to journalism, if only to report to you, share my analysis, thoughts and aspirations.

I cannot tell you what lies ahead. All I can do is give you is a chronicle of the times we live in today and a sense of where I came from in that hopes that you can make sense of your own life and times

So here, I start with my letters to you. Maybe someday you’ll write me back, perhaps to say I’ve been right all along or to prove me wrong on my warped views.

All my love,