Pulse: An Amazing Song in Response to the Orlando Massacre



Eli Lieb & Brandon Skeie

So you say this is human
Your heartbeat versus mine
I’m in chains cause I’m choosing
showing love or living life
I shouldn’t have to leave where I stand
I shouldn’t have to change who I am
To count as a human
Feel my pulse
With your hand on my heart
You know it beats just as hard as yours
Feel my pulse
Feel my pulse
Can’t you see that I’m scarred
I’m just the same as you are so just
Feel my pulse
I wish I could reach them
And strip away what separates
It’s the same air we’re breathing
The same tears run down our face
So I don’t have to leave where I stand
And I don’t have to change who I am
To count as a human
Feel my pulse
With your hand on my heart
You know it beats just as hard as yours
Feel my pulse
Feel my pulse
Can’t you see that I’m scarred
I’m just the same as you are so just
Feel my pulse

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A Reflection on the Orlando Massacre

I hear people of the same faith say that the violent acts fellow believers do, do not truly represent their religion in thought and action.  After all, their faith is really a religion of peace and not of conflict and hate.

I find no reason to dispute such rationalization because almost all religious expressions countenance a momentary face of love and tolerance with others as foundation of their faiths especially when confronted with controversies.  It is an expected knee-jerk reaction, I suppose.

But that’s only half of the story.  The other half of the story is not a pleasant one, I must say.

We have to ask and find out what believers truly believe.  Perhaps by asking and finding out what is the bottomline of their faith—that is, their religious mission in life—will unmask the true face of one’s self-proclamation.

And why is that?

Well, because we have to ask if it is the mission of that religion to convert the so-called non-believers or infidels into its fold.  Or it is the mission of that religion to create a world according to its own image.  If the answer is affirmative then trying to religiously set oneself apart from the extremist actions of fellow believers is not only intellectually dishonest but also morally reprehensible.

I know it is an easy thing to say that “we’re not like them.”  But how can one make sense of such rationalization in the context of another proselytizing religion whose main purpose is to convert people into its fold and to create a world according to its own image? How can believers then set themselves apart from others and be spared from blame?

Everyone has blood on their hands.  At the end of the day, these faith believers are all responsible for making our already sorry state as mortals worse by this face of intolerant moralism and vindictive behaviorism.  Unfortunately, such blame is the fate of all claimants of universalistic and dominant religions and hegemonic ideologies of the world, there’s no exception.

I am disheartened about what happened in Orlando especially because it will happen again.  But I psyche myself not to lose hope.  There’s one thing I’d like to remind myself of, and quite often, just to put matters in perspective.

Every time a person or an organization rears its ugly head of death and destruction by agitating its followers into a fool’s errand of frenzied supercilious moralism and cultural domination, that image of a pale blue dot does not fail to remind me of the puniness of our exaggerated sense of self-importance.

On October 13, 1994, the astronomer Carl Sagan presented in his lecture at Cornell University a 1990 photo of Earth taken about 3.7 billion miles away by Voyager I

launched by NASA in 1977 on an interstellar journey within the Milky Way Galaxy (home of our solar system with over 400 billion stars, and yet, it is only one of the estimated 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe).

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 9.29.01 AM.pngThe Milky Way Galaxy

Dr. Sagan was quite moved by this image of our tiny world.  Here’s that beautiful speech:

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest.  But for us, it’s different.

Consider again that dot.  That’s here.  That’s home.  That’s us.  On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.

The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.  Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.  Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.  Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.

In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.  The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life.  There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate.  Visit yes. Settle, not yet.  Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character building experience.  There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

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“Nagalaw pa ba iyan (Is he still alive)?” The end of Philippine politics

If there is a question that symbolizes the culmination of our so-called Philippine-style democracy, it is this: “Nagalaw pa ba iyan (Is he still alive)?”

What struck me first was the question’s rawness and sheer brutality flowing from the lips of a mother. But I guess over the years, the Philippine political theater is replete with these hints and incidents.  They’re not unusual, I suppose.

But the more I ponder about it, the more convinced I am that our political fate is founded upon something that is deeply rooted, almost organic, and actively internalized. And it seems that there is no way out of it.  It is self-inflicting, self-perpetuating, and self-fulfilling.  Like in a film noir, there is something dark, gothic, and gangster-like about it.

How can it not be? It’s a political genre that did not emanate from a political theorist or a military strategist but from an unlikely person in an unlikely place.

pix_aguinaldo_ff_largeSadly, the demise of our democratic subculture may be traced from what our parents have taught us—particularly from Trinidad Famy Aguinaldo, mother of the first Philippine president, Emilio Aguinaldo who wanted guarantee to this question: “Nagalaw pa ba iyan (Is he still alive)?” from General Luna’s assassins after watching from a convent’s window the overkill of his son’s alleged rival (http://opinion.inquirer.net/88427/the-way-antonio-luna-died).

Mercilessly pierced and hacked, General Antonio Luna had no chance of surviving several wounds inflicted all over his body.  Trinidad wanted to be sure that Luna was dead.

Since then, Philippine politics is almost like a rerun of the Cabanatuan set up. While the ruse tells us of our sad and familiar story of betrayal, death, and corruption —all of which still plague us today—I think it’s more than that.

A_lunaFor me, what transpired in the murder of General Antonio Luna symbolizes the political intersection of the value of personalism and the practice of institionalism.  The former depends in the force of the family to organize and control power while the latter relies in the force of law to legitimatize and enforce authority.

When institutionalism’s impulse prevails, it’ll be easier to persuade our people that we have politically evolved and kept up with societal changes. Also, it’ll be easier for our people to accept the notion that the best way to regulate the general welfare is to limit the traditional familial power with institutional power.

Unfortunately, in a highly personalistic culture such as ours, personalism tends to impose itself at the expense of the latter. As a result, it creates a structure of power susceptible to the urges of dynastic system of politics. That’s why we have too many hyper-privileged political families in the country who believe that they are not only destined to rule over others, but also, entitled to be treated special. And they will not hesitate to employ any means necessary to maintain or expand the advantages and control of their families.

The dominance of dynasty politics is the dead-end of Philippine politics. That is, for us there is nowhere else to go. Unless, of course, we institutionally construct the diffusion of political power or change our political narrative to a multidimensional rather than unidimensional mode of power. But that is another topic.

As to the source upon which our political fate is currently founded, I can say that as early as my college years, I already harbored an anti-hero sentiment. I did not bother my friends about it because it’s not fun to “rock the boat.” I wanted to fit in. But over the years, I have not changed my stance. Anyone who worships a hero or a heroine is bound to be disappointed.

Without it, I have learned to trust myself as well as my capabilities. After all, at the end of the day, all that there is to depend on is one’s disponibilité—one’s readiness and availability. As Bishop Desmund Tutu aptly puts it: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

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How do you solve Metro Manila traffic? You don’t.

Let’s be realistic. There is nothing that anyone can do to solve the traffic woes of Metro Manila, even with the ingenuity and hard work of the MMDA chairman.

Here’s why.

trafficWith its current population of more than 12 million that swells to about 15 million during the daytime, Metro Manila is the undisputed primate city in the country whose close competitors such as Metro Cebu (2.5 million) or Metro Davao (2.2 million) pale in comparison in terms of population size.

According to the World Bank report, Metro Manila currently houses 56 percent of the total urban land development and more than 70 percent of the total urban population of the country. Worse, three of its 16 cities— Manila‘s 42,857 people/sq km; Pateros’ 30,456 people/sq km; and Caloocan’s 27,916 population/sq km—rank as the top three most densest cities in the world respectively dwarfing Mumbai’s 23,000 people/sq km; Paris’ 20,150 people/sq km; or Toyko’s 10,100 people/sq km.

Now you tell me, how do you manage that?

120807122548-philippines-flooding-1-horizontal-galleryThe incidence of thousands of commuters and motorists spending long hours stuck in a traffic jam especially after torrential rains and consequent flooding is a given. We should not have the illusion that our existing and on-going efforts will ameliorate our traffic problem once and for all. Our state of urban affairs is like what the legendary Yogi Berra used to quip. “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

By now, we should already have learned our lesson that there’s no amount of urban revitalization or urban renewal can remedy the unsustainable and cancerous growth of our leading primate city. Short of wiping out the entire metro area and starting from scratch, there is no other way but to find the solution for its problem somewhere else. That is, the key to solving its overdevelopment is the development of other provinces.

I share the frustration of former MMDA Chief Francisco Tolentino because he bears the flak despite his best efforts to a problem that requires a different solution. I think the undue criticism is not only unfair but also misdirected. And yet, I thought he was quite intuitive and on the right track when he intimated a political solution to depopulating Metro Manila via the creation of well-planned urban centers in central, northern and southern Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

I say political solution because the master planning, engineering, or architectural components to development are the easiest tasks to do. For me, it’s not difficult to plan and design a medium-range or long-range growth center plan. It’s not a problem at all. But engaging in a political solution is. And that’s an entirely different ballgame.

Both in my academic work and urban planning consultancies, I have consistently espoused the re-rooting of our development to the origins of the city-state that the classical Greeks talked about. And I advocated the role of growth points and maritime development employing innovative and sustainable urban designs consistent to the natural and social characteristics of our island nation.

What is interesting about city-state planning is that, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Already, we have successful models to learn upon. In fact, the successes of Monaco, Macau, Hong Kong, or Singapore can be traced to the application of the city-state model of development.

Unfortunately, there are people who have the planning skills and expertise like me but do not possess the motherboard of urban or town planning. In short, someone has to exercise the political will to fulfill the vision of a new development from the beginning to the end.

It’ll be interesting to find out in the coming election. Who among the political contenders local as well as national do possess and articulate the vision and the determination to finally implement the long overdue, serious, no-nonsense, and non-distracted development expansion throughout the archipelago?


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The Waterlord

Animated-spratlys-carousel_32E61848983340AFADC5BB0A6DF2579BThere is a growing consensus that the next global conflict will be staged in South China Sea between two major powers—China and the United States of America. However, if ever this big boys’ feud for the coveted maritime chokepoint is to represent the conflict of The Great Game alluded to by Rudyard Kipling in his 1901 novel Kim between Russia and Great Britain in Central Asia, I am not so sure that the current game is a rerun.

With smaller and weaker littoral claimant states (i.e., Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan) morally or legally making their ill-feelings known to the world from being harassed by an oversized bully, the major players in the region such as the United States and Japan who are allegedly sympathetic to their respective cries for justice and protection may have whispered promises of support in the vast disputed territory without actually sticking their necks out in a manner resembling a threat of a gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Strategic Asymmetry

And why is that? Well, because of its economic and political asymmetry. That is, the feud produces mutable, measured, and uncertain prolonged self interest outcomes always hanging in balance.

That is why in the absence of a credible and swift retaliatory action against the bully, the affected kids are encouraged to simply sing the campfire’s “Kumbaya” of self-restraint while the bully is allowed to grab unhindered like a claim jumper from camp to camp, so to speak.

Or, while the major players coax affected claimants to resolve the overlapping territorial claims in a civilized fashion of international law and order, China insists it is an ancient and historic sovereignty issue.

Or still, telling the U.S. to butt out, as it is not a party to the territorial row. And to top it all, warning the U.S. of economic repercussions and inevitable World War III if it does not back down from its meddling in South China Sea dispute.

China’s remarkable ingenuity of asymmetrically framing the conflict favors its superpower ambition because it is thinking long term rather than short term. There is no doubt that it is protractedly committed into this conflict for the long haul based on its fundamental strategy of grab and control.

Where does this strategy emanate? What is its foundation? I think China’s approach is founded upon what Lao Tzu observed a long time ago. He said: “the sage transforms the world by controlling water.” While spoken about three thousand years ago, the import of his ministerial admonition could just be as well what is now happening in our neck of the woods.

In the meantime, China is largely unstoppable as it heeds what the ancient Chinese philosopher predicted a long time ago that he who controls the water, controls the world.

The Great Wall of Sand and The Iron Curtain

fiery-cross-reef-file-photo_0D0E637D242F41BB9F14496EF79FC181Undeterred, China has implemented the step-by-step master plan of building “The Great Wall of Sand” to establish its alleged territorial claim encompassing the so-called “9-dash line.”

Reminiscent of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s Cold War characterization of the Soviet Union’s expansionist policy as “from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent,” China too has drawn the battle lines in South China Sea buttressed by its ever-expanding wall of artificial sand counterforts.

Through this unprecedented land reclamation, China now sees the entire South China Sea, not only as a vast territorial hub ripe for the taking, but more importantly, a maritime benchmark to altering the balance of power in the world. That is, gaining and having the de facto possession and control of the most important chokepoint for maritime transit in the world.

South China SeaJust imagine what South China Sea means for China. Consider the consequential advantages that come with possession and control of almost 90 percent of the 3.5 million square kilometer of South China Sea with its strategic islets, resource rich grounds, and waterways.

According to a 2013 report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the region has an estimated oil reserves of 11 billion barrels and an estimated natural gas reserves of 266 trillion cubic feet. Needless to say, that more than half of the world’s annual merchant fleet and a third of all maritime traffic worldwide passes through this maritime chokepoint.

Indeed, the control of water will have deep political and cultural repercussions in this emerging global conflict. With China at the center stage surrounded by smaller littoral states with subpar self-defenses, I am afraid to say tragedy will befall the latter.

Unless there is a drastic change in the region’s status quo, I am not optimistic of what lies ahead for all of us.

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Upgrading Democracy in the Philippines

UnknownDoes our democratic subculture possess any traction to direct us as we head off to our second century?

While we call ourselves democrats, the assurance of the political tone with which it is expressed is not matched by intellectual coherence and practical outcome of what is being conveyed.

After more than a hundred years as a nation, we are still languishing with a third world per capita income where our economic future is still opaque to our political leaders and a better standard of living is still elusive to the majority of our people.

Why is this so?

For me this question is an instructive reflection on how our democratic version was constructed as a copy. As a copy, it is not just a copy but also a poor copy of the original. Our version is at least four-times removed from its source—the American Democratic Experiment whom the French philosopher Alexis Tocqueville characterized as uniquely favored by four kinds of conditions: the structure of its government, geographical accidents, historical accidents, and the culture of its people.

Lost in Translation

As things now stand, we are lost in translation! We do not have America’s federal system aimed at promoting a serious local autonomy; we do not have the virtually empty continent of North America to expand; and we do not have the strong hold of Protestantism in America which provided the ethics of the American Dream and the Town Hall Model of democratic self-government.

In contrast, we have a national cacique government which normalizes patronage and mendicancy; we have an archipelago stripped of its resources and subjected to a never-ending natural as well as political disasters; we have a structure of social inequality where the rich and poor coexist side-by-side wedged by a lattice of 10-foot concrete walls; and we have a dominant medieval religion which exacts a hierarchy of top-down obedience and conformity to sometimes outmoded beliefs and practices.

In the absence of those conditions, picture how far our image is removed from our reality. How then do we make sense of it? Why do we still make sense of it? Or can we really make sense of it? Like many of our compatriots, I mulled over these questions and our country’s prospect for a long time.

Our democratic version with its customary imperial praxis is a notion of a misplaced priority, especially given the fact that our commerce is global. The incongruence is obvious— our economic development is regional but our politics is still imperial.

Imperial Bureaucracy

images-2How can our democracy survive in an imperial bureaucratic setting that has no bearing whatsoever to a serious territorial representation?  Particularly, a pork-barreled bureaucracy that is more responsive to favoritism than to transparency and accountability?  As the Ilongo would say: “Kon sin-o lang ang lapit sa luwag” or the Cebuano “kon kinsay duol sa luwag” (whoever is close to the ladle).

Over the years, I have come to the realization that our democratic subculture is fated to fail because it exposes the depth and breadth of our political mind as well as our political behavior.

Consider this. Despite the trillions of pesos that our imperial administrators had spent over the years on their respective ad-hoc and discretionary political priorities, we have not moved an inch beyond the politics of patronage. And worse, all we can show is how to squander and behave badly and then escape the just punishment for our actions.

Unless we do things differently, there is no way for us to salvage our democracy.

Where does my hope lie? My hope lies in the clear understanding of our natural and intrinsic strengths—three of which predominate: our archipelagic landscape conducive to maritime development; our geothermic proximity to the ring of fire as source of energy; and our highly educated gentry endowed with intellectual, technical, and organizational capabilities to succeed.

City-State Planning

Against this backdrop, we can craft our country as a maritime society of territorial and functional city-states (either as city-provincial-regional-or-island-based).

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 3.18.24 AMBy maritime society, I mean the re-rooting of our development to the origins of the city-state that the classical Greeks talked about. In fact, the success of Monaco, Macau, Hong Kong, or Singapore can be traced to the application of the city-state model of development. Future-wise, this model will prepare us better to face our naval challenges in West Philippine Sea.

Geographically, it is pointless to exhaust the cultivation of our limited land resource. Instead we must conserve it by making maritime trade and services as our chief economic activities. Unfortunately, our preoccupation with the former is the main reason why our people are still being fatigued by a never-ending agrarian conflict. And yet, land is not our main resource!

Crux of the Matter

We can design a medium range or long range maritime master plan. But the crux of the matter is implementation. And not just implementation, but a no-nonsense, and a non-distracted implementation!

And who can do this? Here are some ideas.

First, we need an incorruptible strongman committed to the tasks of maritime development, no matter what.

Second, we must selectively replicate all over the archipelago special districts à la Subic Bay Metropolitan Area (SBMA) and Clark Development Corporation (CDC) that the American military originally planned. If we do it right, this is the closest we can get to our city-state development model.

Third, we must restructure our country into honest-to-goodness programmatic and integrated territories. No more gerrymandering of political power via invented special interest groups or skewed representation of senators and government functionaries from Luzon at the expense of Visayas and Mindanao.

Finally, there is the easiest, and yet, the most painful option. We can simply maintain the status quo, romanticize our political atrophy, or render our people’s democratic chance a heart-breaking déjà vu.

Can we change our future for the better? Yes, we can.

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The Philippines and Human Trafficking


Listening to my favorite radio station on my way to work, I heard a hauntingly beautiful voice that tells us of:

“White lips, pale face
Breathing in snowflakes
Burnt lungs, sour taste
Light’s gone, day’s end
Struggling to pay rent
Long nights, strange men

And they say
She’s in the Class A Team
Stuck in her daydream
Been this way since 18
But lately her face seems
Slowly sinking, wasting
Crumbling like pastries
And they scream
The worst things in life come free to us
Cos we’re just under the upperhand
And go mad for a couple grams
And she don’t wanna go outside tonight
And in a pipe she flies to the Motherland
Or sells love to another man
It’s too cold outside
For angels to fly
Angels to fly…”

What caught my attention the most were the words: “And in a pipe she flies to the Motherland.”

Like a thought that gnaws at your conscience, I found myself choked up. For I can’t even begin to imagine the substance abuse and pain that she must have endured as she thinks of home.

I wanted to learn the rest of the lyrics and the title of the song.

I couldn’t hurry enough to get to my office because of the snarled traffic near my exit. But as soon as I arrived and sat in front of my computer, I googled the song and found out that it was written and composed by Edward Christopher “Ed” Sheeran, a 24-year-old English singer-songwriter, who in 2011 broke through commercially with this single that debuted third on the United Kingdom’s chart.

Now and then by happenstance, you find gems of songs such as Ed Sheeran’s A-Team that push the right buttons and touch you in a familiar and deep sense, and in a very emotional way at that.

Recently, I have been reflecting a lot about our country’s involvement in human trafficking. For a small country such as ours to be branded and ranked as one of the top five locations for human trafficking is not only difficult but also very painful to accept.

Many of our women in order to support themselves and their families go where the perceived economic opportunities of the moment are. It strikes me that the reality of abject poverty for millions of our people becomes the very source of how our country moves along, if not, how it financially survives. Today, that means an international market that grades the value of our women as well as men by services rendered and prices paid, legal or not.


Our role in human trafficking is too profane that I cannot scarcely recall a moment that both our local and OFW women have not been stereotypically marginalized in the public domain, sometimes celebrated on the dais as the new heroines, while at the same time, denigrated as sources of cheap sex and labor.

Theirs is indeed a cold and cruel world “for angels to fly.”

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