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The Cybercrime Law, RH Bill, and a Call to Vigilance

Whew. What a crazy couple of months it’s been here in the Philippines. While the country’s still in the heat of the Reproductive Health Bill battle, a new law was passed that made both pro- and anti-RH advocates pause in their tracks, gape at each other, and utter a collective, disbelieving “What?!” Last month, Pres. Aquino signed the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 into law, an act ostensibly meant to prevent abuse of technology but managed instead to threaten personal privacy, the right to due process, freedom of expression, and other civil liberties. It went into effect on Oct. 3, inciting an uproar of protest and outrage heard around the world.

I honestly think that part of the problem here is that many of our legislators simply don’t understand the massive, unique, and ever-changing culture of the Internet. Heck, the senate president doesn’t even know what a blog is. When you don’t understand something, it’s easy to either dismiss it, or demonize it. Thus we have politicians trying to tell us not to make such a big deal out of the loss of online freedom, while others are standing firm behind the Cybercrime Law in the belief that it will shield us from the evils they imagine are lurking in every website. This technological naïveté doesn’t surprise me, and in the ordinary course of events, I don’t really care. I don’t expect every politician to have a Twitter account, or to show up for a Reddit AMA. However, when they’re crafting a law that deals specifically with this technology, then I do expect them to educate themselves. How can anyone regulate what they can barely define? Do your freaking homework, ladies and gentlemen. Is that too much to ask?

On the other hand, there are also those politicians who do understand the power and scope of the Internet, and fear it. They know only too well that cyberspace is a venue for real, organic, and unrestrained political discourse that both reflects and influences the offline world. They know that the Internet is fostering a citizenry that questions, investigates, and debates everything, and will not hesitate to expose lies and cover-ups of any kind. You can pay off or intimidate media executives to manipulate the news in your favor, but you can’t silence the hundreds of online writers analyzing events independently. You can hire a staff to plagiarize bloggers for your speeches, but you can’t bribe every netizen who finds out. On the Internet, every voice has a megaphone and it only takes a few clicks to verify the facts, which is good news for democracy but bad news for those who are threatened by the truth. These are the people who will fight tooth-and-nail to preserve the Cybercrime Law as it is, and with the ignorance of their colleagues and the carelessness of others, they just might succeed.

But for now we have a reprieve. The Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on implementing the law yesterday, which wouldn’t have been necessary in the first place if it hadn’t been carelessly rushed through the legislative process. And no one can deny that the process has been careless, inexcusably so. When Filipinos reacted in shock and dismay at some of the blazing red flags, they found out that they weren’t the only ones surprised. Even some of the legislators themselves were not fully aware of what they had created. Edgardo Angara, who authored the bill, seems baffled by some of its provisions, while Chiz Escudero and several other senators basically said, “Oops. We didn’t notice how bad it was when we voted for it.” (The irony increases when we recall that Angara and Escudero, among others, have actually filed bills decriminalizing libel, and now they’ve just approved a law punishing it for up to 12 years in jail.) Tito Sotto, who sneaked in the much-hated libel provision at the last minute, admitted that he wasn’t aware that online libel was already addressed in the constitution. Meanwhile, Senate President Enrile blamed Miriam Defensor-Santiago for not catching the flaws of the bill despite her Constitutional expertise, apparently because in an institution composed entirely of lawmakers, she was the only one they counted on to know the law. I truly believe that we have reached the pinnacle of government incompetence, ladies and gentlemen. At least, I dearly hope so, because I’m praying to God that it won’t get any worse.

Let me just state for the record that I am not against fair and sensible policies promoting responsible use of technology. The Internet is a double-edged sword, and we must learn to wield it wisely. But this defective bill, with its sloppy, ambiguous language and alarming provisions that violate civil liberties, should never have reached the president’s desk unrefined, and he should never have approved it. The fact is that modern communications technology is a new legal frontier which poses  unique questions and is constantly evolving, so it deserves careful, adaptive legislation, not a haphazard law produced by distracted, uninformed politicians.

In contrast, the Reproductive Health bill, despite being supported by mountains of meticulous research as well as overwhelming public approval, is still struggling to be approved after almost 15 years. Of course, the biggest difference is that the influential Catholic Church has no problem with the Cybercrime Law, while it is pulling out all the stops against the RH Bill, even to the point of threatening to campaign against its supporters, separation of church and state be damned. Now that the long, excruciatingly drawn out debates are finally over, they’ve resorted to having senators and congressmen  drag their feet through the amendment process, hoping to delay it indefinitely. Yet when they are called out on these dilatory tactics, the same lawmakers who couldn’t be bothered to plug the gaping holes in the Cybercrime Law respond by blinking big, innocent eyes at us and saying that they’re just being extra careful, really, and besides, there’s no need to rush. Never mind that the RH Bill is urgently needed by millions of women and  children, for whom this issue is a matter of survival. Never mind them, our politicians need to make sure that they don’t offend the Catholic bishops first.

With  these two controversial measures, the RH Bill and the Cybercrime Law, dominating the political landscape these days, the upside for us voters is that we can observe which ones of our public servants are worthy of the name. These politicians are slowly catching up to the fact that they are under a closer watch than ever, and that Filipinos are becoming more responsive and harder to fool. I urge my kababayans to keep their eyes on these issues and practice constant vigilance. Never underestimate what an ordinary person with a conscience and a willingness to get involved can accomplish. As for politicians, you should know that we’re learning from our mistakes. We expect performance, not personality, and we will remember those who fail to live up to their promises. Our current struggle to get the good governance we deserve is a rude awakening, but it’s an awakening nonetheless.

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Losing Faith

It’s over. Finally, I can breathe. I can have a life again, something apart from always trying to be there for you. I can stop trying to understand, trying to make you see that we can work through this, that our love is worth fighting for. All the uncertainty, all the confusion, all the pain of not knowing where I went wrong, is finally over.

D*mn you for putting me through all that. D*mn you for taking my belief in love, my belief in forever, my belief in you, and handing them back to me broken, saying you can’t deal with them anymore. You will never know how much you hurt me by just giving up, you will never know how much you scared me from loving as much as I loved you ever again.

I did not deserve to be hurt that way. And you didn’t deserve my trust.

So much wasted emotion. I had so much more tenderness to give, I could have stayed with you longer, but you didn’t think it would be worth our while. I know you still love me, as I know that you were too d*mned scared to be vulnerable. And I was stupid enough to hope I can help you conquer that fear, or live with it, so that you can take the risk of letting me into your heart. Not anymore. You would rather hurt me than let down your guard.

I loved you. Honestly, bravely, intensely I loved you. But it wasn’t enough. Or maybe it was too much.

I hate the fact that we could have saved us, but we didn’t. We simply gave up something rare, something that doesn’t come along everyday. I hate the emptiness. I hate the regrets.

But the worst thing about all this is the simple, stupid, and pathetic truth that I miss you. I miss you. I knew losing you would be painful, but pain, I can deal with. I can cope with the sharp, intense rush of emotion that cuts like a knife, but is relieved somehow by tears and is dulled by the passage of time. What I didn’t expect was the sadness – the steady, lingering hurt that comes with the realization that you will never again look at me as if I’m precious, special, and infinitely cherished, you will never again call me “mahal ko” with the tender amazement that I really am yours. It’s the constant heaviness that haunts me and makes me wonder if I’ll ever be whole again without you, of if I’ll always mourn the part of me that died with our love. I miss you. And I’m to be totally honest with myself, I’ll have to admit that I’d do anything, give everything even go through all the confusion again, just to find a way for you to keep believing in us. But there’s no chance of that.

Some goodbyes are final. I have a feeling this one is.


Plagiarism has its benefits. I was trying to retrieve some of  my published articles (with the  pseudonym garnet_fire) that were lost when peyups.com changed its format, so I googled a few phrases that I remembered.  Well, whaddayaknow, it turned up on several blogs, without the byline. But at least I got a copy. So thanks, I  guess. Haha.

(Btw, this is an old article. People I know in real life, don’t panic that I’m experiencing this emotional turmoil at present. Yes, I’m talking to you, Ma. I know you read my blog. ;))


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Coke Floats and Letting Go

My mind drifts as I watch my plastic straw chasing the chocolate syrup around the bottom of my coke float. It’s four o’clock in the morning, and nobody else is on the second floor of the 24-hour McDonald’s. It is my first time to be here alone.

For two years now I’ve been trying to say goodbye to him. I’ve been trying to escape the memories, trying to accept that the dreams we had would never be more than dreams. He is gone. Forever. The finality of it chills me, and I am starting to discover that there are some hurts that even time cannot erase.

I scoop up some of the sundae floating on top of the cola and I can’t help but reminisce about our long,easy conversations over this same table. For hours we would talk about anything that caught our fancy. We quoted movie lines and discussed books, we laughed about other people and about ourselves. But mostly we talked about dreams. And life. One night the mood turned philosophical and he told me that there are certain times when life itself resembles a coke float: soft and sweet on the surface but dark and acidic underneath. I looked at him for a long time after that remark, then he winked and tried to steal some of my sundae with a french fry. I laughed, but what I really wanted to do was to hold him and try to heal the brief flicker of painful memories I had glimpsed in his eyes.

Looking back, I wish I did. Because looking back, I know that I would never get another chance.

One week later, a split-second misjudgment of a taxi driver robbed me of the chance to hold him again. In one brief, life-changing moment, I lost the man who held my dreams and my heart in the palm of his hand. Suddenly, I was left with a wound that nobody’s embrace could heal. Suddenly, I had to learn how to say goodbye.

For two years now I’ve been trying to say goodbye to him. Tonight, in the place where he had taught me so much, I realize that I don’t have to. Because just now, as I remember the pain I once saw in his eyes, I suddenly recall the intense, irrepressible hope that also shone in them. No matter what bitterness lay in his past, he was determined to dream again. In that fleeting, unforgettable moment, even when he had no idea what it would mean, he had given me permission to move on. He had given me courage to take the pleasure along with the pain, and to see our memories not as a reminder of a future that we can never have, but as souvenirs of a past that is too precious to be forgotten.

He will always be a part of me. When love comes again, he will be that inner voice urging me to settle for nothing less than what we had: tender, spectacular, and real. And I will listen to him. He has, after all, taught me all I need to know about forever.

It is almost morning. I raise my empty glass to him in a silent salute. Then finally, after a long night, I smile and walk out to welcome the dawn.

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“Stay”

Tonight’s the perfect night to think about you. The rain is falling hard on the trees outside, the wind is rushing through the night, and a woman is singing of memories and regrets on the radio. So tonight, I remember you. I remember us. And I wish, I wish on the silent stars hidden by the rainclouds, that I could somehow turn back time tonight.

What have I done?! I should have known this was coming. I should have known, the moment I said goodbye, that there would be a thousand nights like this. But it’s too late now. It’s too late to finally admit that I can still feel you, and that I’ve never lost the feeling.

I honestly thought it would be easy. I honestly thought I could just walk away from you without leaving the best part of me behind. But the undeniable emptiness inside me is telling me that I’ve just made the biggest mistake of my life. It’s telling me that I was a fool for wanting to chase El Dorado whan Heaven was already mine. I’m starting to realize that what I tried to escape wasn’t entrapment, but the only real freedom I have ever known. So now I have what I wanted, only to find that it isn’t what I needed at all. How could I have been so blind?

Let me come back to you. How I wish I could say those words. But I don’t have the courage, and I don’t have the right. I forfeited it when I decided that my fear over your power to make me feel so much was more important than the future I could have had with you. You deserve someone better, someone who would never even think of hurting you as deeply as I know I did. And me? I’ll try to forget you. I’ll try to forget your warmth, your laughter, and the way you brought life to everything you touched. The way you brought life to me, and changed me, and made yourself part of everything I am. But how can I escape myself?

Tomorrow, the rain will stop and the wind will be silent. But for me, there will always be memories and regrets. Only a miracle can change that, but I guess the heavens have decided that miracles are wasted on me. I look up to the stars for wishes, but the stars are crying, and my wishes are unheard tonight. All that’s left for me to do is to whisper to the wind what I wish I could say to you.

I love you. I am so sorry. Thank you for the best days of my life.


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El Nido Summer

He was older and witty and smart, and I fell for him, of course. I was young, passionate and idealistic, and I felt that he loved me, too. It was a season of hope, promise, and shared dreams; and its memories are as deeply imprinted on my soul as the limestone cliffs are rooted in the shores of El Nido.

El Nido. The name itself brings on a rush of nostalgia. It is a land of contrasts: soft, powdery white sand against stark, somber boulders and the ever-changing sea pounding on dark cliffs that are as steadfast and immovable as faith itself. It was there that I spent my eighteenth summer; it was there that I began to truly live; and it was there that I finally learned that living is a cocktail of both joy and pain.

His name was Nathan. He was there as a tourist from Bagiuo, I was there to visit an aunt who lived alone. We met, naturally, on the beach. He was watching the sunrise, I was gathering seashells. I saw him first, a tall, solitary figure paying homage to the crimson sky. The wind was tugging at his hair and his jeans were drenched by the surf, but he didn’t seem to care. I watched him watching the sunrise, and he must have sensed it, because he turned directly towards me as soon as the sun was well above the horizon. My first startled reaction was to turn and walk away with embarrassment, but he smiled and walked casually towards me. I watched him come closer, and I knew, as clichéd as it sounds, that it was meant to happen exactly as it did.

That morning was the beginning of a meeting of souls that I have never experienced before or since. At first, our meetings were coincidental, and then we gradually found ourselves wanting to spend more time with each other. We walked on the beach, chased the waves, and counted shooting stars. We shared every sunrise and dreamed of sailing off into the sunset. And we talked. We laughed and listened and learned about each other in endless conversations about anything and everything. I asked him why he loved the sunrise, he told me that he found beauty in beginnings. Then he asked me why I collected empty seashells, and I confessed that I was trying to find meaning in death. For the first time since a year, I shared the pain of losing a baby brother my family had prayed for for so long. I wept and he held me, and as the night wind dried my tears, I knew for the first time that I would heal.

The end came sooner than we expected, an intrusion into the world we had woven with the summer enchantment of El Nido. He received a call at his hotel from his family in Baguio, urging him to come home because of his sister’s car accident. I went with him to the airport, and I almost had to pry my hand from his and force him to leave. It was ten years ago, but letting him go was still the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. As he walked away from me, it was like losing a part of me that I never even knew existed before I met him.

I never saw Nathan again. There were no cellular phones yet in those days, and the only way to keep in touch was through the mail. He wrote my address in his palm a few minutes before he left, but for some reason I forgot to take his. I never heard from him. Maybe my address was erased, maybe his letter got lost in the mail, or maybe he simply didn’t write. I don’t know. And slowly, the dream died. Years passed, and those wonderful weeks in El Nido were revealed for what they were: an interlude of beauty, a gift of grace. I am old enough now to accept that the odds of us meeting again are slim. And it is okay. I have made my peace with losing him.

I stand now on the shores of El Nido, ten years from the day that we met. The sunrise is breathtaking, a masterpiece of the softest pinks and glowing yellows. It is a reminder of how beautiful beginnings can be; a compensation perhaps for the bittersweetness of endings. I remember how, ten years ago, a part of my life ended and another one began. On this very spot, I had stepped away from the easy comfort of childhood into a complex new world, a world where the memories of first love linger, but summers always end.

* also posted in peyups.com

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Crossroads

Shall I leave now?
The glitter of promises
lead me away from the hope in your eyes.

I am reluctant, though, and afraid
to leave the safety and the shelter
of the song in your arms
where l am seen, and heard, and known.

My dreams, my immortality
are just beyond the horizon.
I can reach them now, if I dare
if I hurt you.

But I want to linger a lifetime
in the depths of your words
to turn to your voice,
to surrender
to everything you are.

Oh, to be numb
and able to turn my back.
Dreams have a price, I know.

Help me.
Help me to give you up.

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