BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Illuminating the Shadow

Do you often see negative qualities in other people? More often than not, these qualities are actually in us but we just don't or we just choose to ignore it.

We also have positive shadows, that kernel of lively energy we have in us potentially but do not see.

In psychology, the shadow represents our hidden qualities. According to Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist Carl Jung, the shadow contains all the parts of ourselves that we have tried to hide or deny.

These are qualities hidden from ourselves and from others; everything about ourselves that we do not know our refuse to know.

“It is the sum total of the positive and negative traits, feelings, beliefs and potentials, we refuse to identify as our own,” says the Carl Jung Center of the Philippines.

What causes these qualities to hide?

All shadow issues are a form of denial. We choose to avoid what is unpleasant.

However, to become a truly mature person, one has to embrace one’s shadow.

People who do not accept criticism get stuck but Jung says that if you want to move forward, you have to listen and accept the shadows.

Having the courage to uncover the shadow is to come to terms with one’s self.

Individuals who face their shadows achieve a more genuine self-acceptance, defuse negative emotions, feel more free of shame and guilt, recognize the projections that color their opinions of others, heal their relationships and use the creative imagination to own their rejected selves.

In Zen practice, eating the shadow is the practice of reclaiming these hidden qualities, realizing they are part of us.

“Zen practice is the practice of doing this – eating the shadow, sitting and knowing that we ourselves contain the entire world,” according to Brenda Shoshanna, author of Zen Miracles.

Thus, be one with your shadow. Embrace one's self. And just let go. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Remembering a Massacre

Below is my latest blog for The New Internationalist:

WE remember them, all 58 people who died three years ago today, on a barren windblown hill, under a glistening yellow sun, in a place they called home.

They were massacred and some of the women were raped in what would be the worst election related violence that shocked a country like the Philippines which is so used to political tensions.

It happened on November 23, 2009 in Maguindanao, a province in the southern Philippines that is so rich in agricultural resources yet teeming with poverty.  

Members of ruling clan in the province, the Ampatuan family massacred the supporters of rival political leader Esmael Mangudadatu, the vice mayor of a small town in the province.

All 58 victims including Mangudadatu’s wife and more than thirty journalists were in a convoy on their way to the municipal hall to file Mangudadatu’s candidacy as governor of the province the following year.  But they were stopped by dozens of armed men and forced to a hilltop – a pre-dug mass grave -- where breathed their last.

The massacre was clearly to stop the group from filing Mangudadatu’s candidacy – a move that could end the Ampatuan clan’s decades-long rule in the province.

Citing a study by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, the New York Times said in a 2009 article by Carlos Conde, that the Ampatuans’ control of Maguindanao is almost absolute.

“Most of the province’s 36 towns are run by mayors and deputy mayors who are either sons, grandsons, cousins, nephews, in-laws or close allies of the senior Mr. Ampatuan,” the article said.
Three years after the gruesome killing, the families of the victims continue to cry out for justice.
Philippine president Benigno Aquino III, whose father died in the name of democracy, promised to speed up the quest for justice.

But two years into his presidency, the perpetrators have yet to be brought to justice. Only two of the eight Ampatuan clan members in jail have been arraigned, according to a statement signed by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.

Some witnesses have already died or are missing while some relatives of the victims are on the run, fearing for their safety.

Today, journalists, press freedom advocates and families of the slain victims of the Ampatuan massacre marched to the presidential palace with 153 mock coffins to demand swift justice.

“Each mock coffin bears the name of the every victim of journalist killings, including 32 of the 58 people killed in the Ampatuan massacre,” said the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, organizers of the march.

In the Philippines, 153 journalists have been killed since 1986 when democracy was restored. 

Three years ago today, 58 people were massacred on a barren windblown hill, under a glistening yellow sun, in a place they called home. Today, the quest for justice continues. We remember and we remember still. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Three Years Ago Today


Aquino gov't policies, politics, inaction
delay justice for Maguindanao martyrs

THE FAMILIES of the 58 victims of the Nov. 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre are starting to lose hope in the justice system, and the government has only itself to blame.

As we commemorate the third anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre, where 32 journalists and media workers were among the murdered, only two of the eight Ampatuan clan members in jail have been arraigned. Some witnesses have died. Some relatives of the victims have fled their hometowns following receipt of death threats.

In August 2010, President Benigno S. Aquino III promised five crucial reforms to help speed up the quest for justice. Among these were improvements to the Witness Protection Program, the formation of quick-response teams to investigate media killings, measures to speed up the pace of the trial, and a review of the Rules of Court to mitigate possible abuse and manipulation.

The problems raised are hardly imaginary. As a Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) study shows, some 100 warlords continue to rule areas in the country that have chalked up the most number of media killings.

Even as fear of reprisals continue to haunt witnesses and plaintiffs in the case, the government of Mr. Aquino and other major political parties in the country have embraced the Ampatuan clan.

At least 72 Ampatuan clan members are candidates in the May 2013 elections, nine of them running under the Liberal Party, and 34 others under the United Nationalist Alliance of Vice President Jejomar Binay.

The big number of candidates from the clan bares an intact financial and power infrastructure. In fact, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) shows that Andal Ampatuan Jr. has managed to sell eight prime properties, an outrage when the government has pledged to forfeit wealth that multiplied many times as the clan consolidated its powers with help from successive administrations that wooed the clan’s formidable voting machine.

Nov. 23 is also the International Day to end Impunity. A Southeast Asian Press Alliance report shows the Philippines, supposedly the region’s most vibrant democracy, remains the most dangerous place for journalists.

A total of 153 journalists have been killed since 1986. Of these, at least 14 had been murdered during the administration of Mr. Aquino. Of the total cases, only 10 cases have won partial convictions. No mastermind has ever been brought to trial.

A survey of all cases of media killings will show that half of the suspects are state actors – policemen, soldiers, and elected officials. The Aquino administration’s embrace of a clan long known for warlordism only highlights how state policy can fuel impunity.

Aside from the killings, Mr. Aquino has consistently exhibited a penchant for proposals to curtail press freedom and freedom of expression.

Despite his avowed pledge to implement “tuwid na daan,” he has reneged on a promise to prioritize the passage of the Freedom of Information bill – an initiative that could help his government fulfil its promise to rid the country of corruption.

What he has supported instead is the patently unconstitutional Cybercrime Prevention Act, a law which grants the state draconian powers to crack down on dissent and critical expression on digital space.

Lately, the President has even mentioned in glowing terms the Right to Reply initiative, which would force the press to hand over its space to the whims of politicians and other powerful individuals and groups seeking to manage the flow of information.

Taken together, the acts of commission and omission by the Aquino administration betray sheer lip service to justice and press freedom, and a dangerous tendency to sacrifice both to the exigencies of power.


Center for Community Journalism and Development
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
Philippine Press Institute
University of the Philippines-College of Mass Communication

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Art of Mastering Pain

On the second day of my two-week isolation, I am in a place where there is nothing to do but think. Or perhaps it is the only recourse so I can forget the pain.

Recent griefs come to mind and there is no lack of painful stories. From friends. From family. From loved ones.

And the only question that's left to be asked is why? Why, in a world where each and every individual struggle to find love, does pain exist? Why does a woman leave her man and two children? Why does a man die with not a friend or loved one beside him? Why would a mother leave her offspring, her very own flesh and flood? Why did she abandon her four children when so many other women whose lifelong dream is to become mothers, don't get the chance to have even just one child? Why is there genocide? And war? And rape? How about child abuse?

Why does a brother leave home and why does his mother allow it? Why does a mother tie her child up to die in a fire?

Why does the body learn to accommodate pain instead of fighting it? Why does the brain get used to seeing 300 blisters all over the body? Why does the human spirit make room for grief instead of yearning for happiness? Why does it settle for the hardships? Why, in a world where love is the better option, do we choose anger, misery and pain?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tiong Ed

When someone dies, we remember all of his or her good traits. There is hardly space to think about the bad qualities. Tributes overflow with the only the best words we can to describe the deceased. Most often, the loved ones wish to remember only the good things.

But this is not the case with tiong Ed.  If you come to think of it, there really isn't anything negative to say about Tiong Ed. He was simply an altruistic person. It's not that we chose to highlight only his good traits. I personally couldn't remember him having negative qualities. He was just one of those rare individuals who had the kindest of hearts. In a world of artists, photographers and journalists, a world where individuals have the biggest of egos, where backstabbing was a daily fare, where genuine admiration, mentoring and respect often took the backseat over self-preservation and where men have a tendency to be bigger than themselves, Tiong Ed stood out as a kind soul who had only the best intentions for people. Not once did I hear him backstab a person. On the  contrary, he supported and mentored each and every individual who came his way. He listened and listened well. No biases, no judgement. He didn't care for recognition, he only did his best. He helped friends even if he personally could not. He always found a way to help those in need. He was there on all occasions that were important to those he considered a friend -- birthdays, baptism, the death of a loved one. And he was there every night. He was always there even if he had to walk a mile or to borrow money to get there. Yes, he was always there to ease the burden.

He died on an ordinary Tuesday morning, in a government hospital with nothing in his pocket but ninety pesos he borrowed from his landlord; no friend or loved one to hold his hand. But the life he lived was rich and extraordinary enough, an endless sea of friends and loved ones came to his wake and laid him to rest. It was a life well-lived by an individual who stood out in a world so insane that those who deserve to live longer die ahead of so many others who dont.

Paalam, Tiong Ed. Maraming salamat sa lahat ng ala-ala.

Photo by Jes Aznar. August 14, 2009.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Day the Cupcakes Fell

On the day a good friend died, someone sent me a box of freshly-baked cupcakes -- carrot, cappuccino and plain chocolate mini cakes.

It was an afternoon of errands, going from one bank to another as I scrape the barrel in search of funds to pay the bills.

I secured the cupcakes in the backseat of the car, making sure each cake would still be safe and sound by the time I get home.

It was perhaps the only conscious thing I was doing that day (I am always careful not to spill or let food just go to waste) because I was literally walking around numb. A good friend died that morning. I couldn't really think or move well but I needed to go to the banks because of past due checks I issued.

I met up with Jes later in the afternoon. He was also out doing some errands. I was excited to share with him the cupcakes.When he stepped inside the car, I volunteered: "No fights today...please?" I meant it to honor tsiong Ed, our dear friend who succumbed to a heart attack earlier in the day and the one person who unwittingly brought us together.

Not that we've been fighting a lot the past days but fights, like death, come like a thief in the night -- fast and furious and in a whopping surprise. Fights come in the least expected moments, in the happiest of hours. A fight can turn a cloud 9 into the darkest nimbus. It roars and explodes and by the time you realize what had happened, the disaster is worst than any hurricane or thunderstorm put together.

And so in honor of tsiong, I wanted to make sure. Thus, my preposition. Jes, the cool guy that he is, made me feel that there was no need for such a request. "Of course."

We went home after doing the errands. Upon reaching the gate to our tiny shack, I carefully carried the cupcakes to the table, walking slowly to make sure I wouldn't slip.

Jes went on to brew coffee for us, the perfect companion to our cupcakes. Oh what a good afternoon snack we would be having!

When I opened the box, I gasped as I saw that some of the icing had melted already. I wasted no time and put the cupcakes in my tiny fridge to cool the icing a bit. I went inside the room to wait.

And then...

Jes opens the ref. Split-second.

He snaps and shouts. This is the sound of madness. A raging bull.

The brain tells me something bad had happened. I rush outside to see.

The box of perfect cupcakes is now a portrait of disaster -- one cake after another and melted icing spread all over as a painter does when he splatters his canvas with color.

Jes heaves a giant sigh of frustration and exasperation as he blames my alleged careless positioning of the box in the ref, which he believes led to its inevitable downfall. I blame his careless and sudden opening of the ref, which I believe led to the box's inevitable downfall.

The tempest brew in a fraction of a second and there was no stopping it. For a while there, in a tiny shack on a quiet afternoon, there was nothing but two people lashing against each other, voices reverberating to the high heavens. And a box of cupcakes all smashed up.

Up there, tiong Ed must be rolling over in belly-aching laughter.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Philippines Must Tackle Its Human Trafficking Shame

My latest blog in The New Internationalist:

I will never forget the expression on the face of the victim’s mother. It is one of anger and ripping pain, the kind that lingers a lifetime.

It was many years ago and I was a rookie reporter assigned to cover the police beat, where horrific stories of crime and poverty hit will punch even the coldest of hearts.

One late afternoon, police officers presented to us police reporters a group of human traffickers engaged in the sex trade.

The police rescued some of their victims in a midnight raid in a sex den, somewhere in the northern part of the Philippines. There they were, four young, thin and frail-looking girls probably 14 or 15 years of age, whom the traffickers sold to foreigners like candies.

That was more than seven years ago and is just one of the many cases of human trafficking recorded in the Philippines.

Now, many years later, the problem still exists and has remained alarming, according a visiting United Nations expert on human trafficking.

Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, called on Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to exert more pressure to combat the problem.

Through the years, I have personally observed as a journalist covering the Philippines that human trafficking continues to exist because of the connivance between immigration officials and port authorities on the one hand and the traffickers on the other.

Ezeilo, as quoted in an article by Xinhua, told reporters in a press conference last week that the Philippines ‘remains a source country’ of human trafficking and that the problem has not declined.

In the same article, the UN expert particularly noted the low rate of convictions of human traffickers and slow-paced court trials.

One way to address the problem is for the government to establish a specialized court to fast-track the trial of trafficking cases.

‘I urge the government to continue to show leadership and mobilize adequate resources to combat trafficking in persons, protect and assist victims, while increasing opportunities for legal, gainful and non-exploitative labour migration,’ Ezeilo said.

This was not the first time that government attention has been called on the serious problem of human trafficking in the Philippines.

In 2011, the US Trafficking in Persons Report on the Philippines noted that the Philippines is a source country for men, women and children who are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour.

‘A significant number of Filipino men and women who migrate abroad for work are subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude worldwide. Men, women and children are subjected to conditions of forced labour in factories, at construction sites, on fishing vessels, on agricultural plantations, and as domestic workers in Asia and increasingly throughout the Middle East. A significant number of women in domestic servitude abroad also face rape and violent physical and sexual abuse,’ according to the report, as published by

The first ever conviction of a labour trafficker offender was recorded only last year, the report noted.

‘During the reporting period, the government convicted 25 trafficking offenders in 19 cases – compared with nine traffickers convicted in six cases during the previous year – including the conviction in February 2011 of a labour trafficker who sold two women into domestic servitude in Malaysia, where they were enslaved for nine months without pay,’ the US report said.

Despite these numbers, hundreds of Filipino victims continue to be trafficked each day, no thanks to rampant corruption in government and an inefficient judicial system.

I fervently hope that our government will address the problem in the same way that it trumpets its economic gains. Human trafficking is just one of many real problems that are affecting the people of this country.

It is my dream that no man, woman or child will fall victim to human trafficking, be trapped in dingy brothels or locked up in an abusive employer’s home as domestic helpers. In a just world, there is no place for such a heinous crime. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Preschool Homeschool: You Can Do It Too!

Ever thought of homeschooling your child but not really sure if you can do it?

Homeschooling advocate and my fellow Kindermusik mom and educator Mariel Uyquiengco says it can be done.

In a talk on preschool homeschooling last Saturday, Mariel shared her experience as a homeschool mom to her four year old daughter and two year old son.

Mariel, who documents her homeschooling experience in her blog, The Learning Basket, believes that parents are their children's first and best teachers. And as such, are better than any other adult or education expert.

She convinces parents that preschool homeschool can be a better option over the traditional schooling method because parents can ensure that they are building the best foundation for their children.

"Childhood is fleeting. It is the time to build a foundation of love and trust with our children," she says.

Mariel herself took that leap of faith when she decided to homeschool her eldest daughter. She knew that she was no expert but being her daughter’s parent, she believes, is enough to take on the responsibility of being her first teacher.

As a homeschool mom, Mariel did a lot of research on the Internet, with fellow homeschool moms and even from accredited organizations in the Philippines.

She uses the 4 R’s method, introduced by homeschool advocate and blogger Susan Lemons as her guide.

The first R is Relationship, which Mariel says is the most important step a child needs to grow and develop.

“And the most important relationship they have is with their parents,” says Mariel.

Taking the cue from here, she encourages parents to work hard to build a healthy relationship with their children, one that is defined by love and trust.

The second R is Routine, which is not about having something to do every hour, by the hour.

Mariel says that children need to know what will happen next in their day because this helps build stability for them.

“Routine is very important in children’s emotional development,” she says. 

Readiness is the third R. This stresses the importance of making children “ready” to learn.

“Children learn faster and better when they are developmentally ready,” Mariel says.

Lemons, in her blog, says that readiness is helping children become physically, emotionally, cognitively and spiritually ready for the experience” of tackling new tasks.

The fourth “R” is Reading Aloud, which Mariel says is the single best thing that parents can do for their young children.

“Reading aloud to your children is the single most important thing that you can do to help them learn.  Reading aloud, and the discussion that goes with it, does more than teach the content of the book you’re reading:  It also teaches pre-reading skills such as learning that letters make words, learning that print moves from left to right, learning to value and enjoy reading/language, learning the basics of grammar, learning correct pronunciation, and so on.  It also is a great relationship builder,” Lemons says in her blog.

During Mariel’s talk, parents shared how reading aloud really helps children become curious with the world around them and how it boosts their imagination.

Some parents, like homeschool mom and blogger Tina Rodriguez shared during the talk that they read to their children in the morning and before going to bed.

Guided by the Four Rs, Mariel does homeschooling using play-based methods. She uses imaginative play and open-ended toys such as wooden blocks. When reading at home, she uses classic picture books and discusses with her children the elements of the story.

In teaching math concepts, Mariel relates this with real life situations such as having her child set the table, count the utensils to be used and measure the food.

Assigning simple chores to the children can help them a lot in developing a sense of responsibility.

She also does activities that help develop and train a child’s character so that she learns the values of politeness, obedience, gentleness and kindness among others.

“Everything can be a tool to help children in character training,” says Mariel.

Mariel assures that while the concept of homeschooling seems daunting, it can be done.

Dr. Benjamin Spock, author of the child book used by generations and generations of parents said, “Trust yourself. You Know more than you think you do.”

Mariel, too advises parents to relax, saying that it’s the best way to homeschool.

“The best way to homeschool your preschooler is to relax,” she says.

She also encourages parents to take the homeschool path to be able to participate more in their children’s growth and learning in the early years.

“Childhood is fleeting. When I think about what we’re doing, I think it’s helping preserve our children’s childhood. It’s not school at home, it’s learning,” Mariel says.

I couldn’t help but agree. As a mom to my only daughter, I never want to miss a thing. When she was a newborn, someone told me to cherish every moment because it will be gone before I even know it.

Homeschooling may not work for all families but whether you choose this path or not, let us remember that as parents, we can be our children’s best teachers and we only have one chance to do it with them. Real life is the best curriculum and every moment can be an opportunity to teach.

Indeed, childhood is fleeting. Let’s make each moment with our children as magical as possible.

(Preschool homeschool inquiries may be addressed to Mariel at The Learning Basket. Photo by Jes Aznar)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

C' est La Vie

I enjoyed reading Rachel Alejandro's piece on the way she enjoys life. 

I couldn't agree more with her when she shared the way she spends for the "good life." Like her, I don't invest my money on those so-called essentials for the future. I live in a rented shack and make-do with a five-year old average sedan. I can even skip the ride and settle for the dusty commute if necessary.

I don't have a collection of branded shoes or clothes. I buy stuff from Divisoria and from a Korean shop inside the CCP compound. I don't have an iPad or Kindle or those fancy cameras. I just have a Blackberry (issued by the company) and a point and shoot Lumix I traded for an iPad I won.

Yes, I am stingy. And I'm also not.

I spend my hard earned money more on life experiences than material things.

I love to travel and would not hesitate to spend big to see and experience a foreign land. I marvel at breathtaking wonders of nature, strange cities, mythical temples, historical landmarks and train ridesI love the Philippines, too and have gone to the ends of the earth, at least in this country.

Aside from travel, I am a spa addict and feel no regret spending money for my weekly spa visits. Massage is one of life's simple pleasures, my reward for working (usually) hard the whole week long.

I also spend a huge chunk of money on books. The pleasure of reading a good book is priceless.

Call me stingy yes. But I don't mind. For my money, it's life's experiences that matter.

Photos of some of my stuff/places/moments. Top to bottom: Books, Java, Macau, Portugal and Palawan

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

My Piece on Enrique Razon in the November issue of Esquire Philippines

Special thanks to Erwin Romulo, Roel Landingin, Jupiter Kalambakal,  Nana Soriano and Tammy David. (Cover photo from

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ilocos Trek (final leg)

The trip took all of twelve hours, on a seemingly endless stretch of road from Manila but the experience was worth the arduous ride.

Visiting Ilocos region in the north is both a visual journey and a gastronomic adventure.

We left Manila before the crack of dawn to go back to the summers of my childhood. My parents used to bring us to Ilocos when my siblings and I were kids.

I could hardly remember those summer adventures until my recent trip. Memories of the famed Ilocos Empanada, longganisa and the hand woven Iloko blanket all came back as we reached Laoag some twelve hours later.


As soon as the sun rose the following morning, we left for Vigan, Ilocos Sur for a journey back in time.

Vigan is a place of old Spanish-era houses and cobblestone streets. There are quintessential horse-drawn carriages or kalesas that take tourists around the city and there are so many places to see.

Our ride started at Plaza Burgos, to the Bell Tower for the first stop. The Bell Tower is more than just a backdrop to the late Fernando Poe Jr.'s Panday movies. It is quite an experience to climb up.

We then stopped at the pottery place to buy some souvenirs but the best stop for me was the very relaxing Hidden Garden, an oasis tucked away just a short distance from the Plaza. It is a huge garden, filled with wild plants, dish gardens, flowers in full bloom, bonsai and your choice of freshly made fruit shake to cap the visit.

How can one go to Vigan without seeing Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson's Baluarte?

The Baluarte or bailiwick is filled with horses, ponies, birds, ostriches and Singson's favorite pets -- his tigers.

One can eat the famed Ilocos Empanada while going around in the kalesa or eat a sumptuous dinner of Ilocano dishes after.


The next day, we were off to Pagudpud but not before stopping first at Cape Bojeador or the lighthouse, which is more than 100 years old.

The journey to the beaches of Pagudpud isn't complete without another stop, this time at the Kapurpurawan rock formation -- good backdrops for photos.

Then we finally hit the beach, which is nothing like Boracay or Palawan's pristine white sand beaches but enticing just the same.

We capped our afternoon swim with fresh buko drinks.


The last stop of our Ilocos trek saw us at the Malacanang of the North or Malacanang ti Amianan in Paoay, Ilocos Norte. It is a reminder that once not too long ago, the Philippines was under martial law under the reign of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his First Lady, Imelda.

There's also the Paoay Church and the Marcos museum and the usual curio shops for great Ilokano finds such as the intricately woven blankets, colorful foot rugs and native bags.

All told, the Ilocos region is a place worth visiting, not just for history lessons but for the gastronomic delight. 

Photos by me

Thursday, November 1, 2012