The Circle of Responsibility

“Look closer.”  So goes the tag line of the critically-acclaimed  film “Smaller and Smaller Circles.” Its producers could not have chosen a more apt invitation to the Filipino moviegoer.   Based on the award-winning novel written by F.H. Batacan,  SASC, as its growing cult following refer to the movie, is more than a well-crafted Filipino crime thriller about two priests on the trail of a serial killer in Payatas. More importantly, It is a compelling invitation for its viewers to look closer at two levels.

At the first level, SASC urges us to look closer at the continuing battle between hope and despair as it is unfolding in our church and in our government. Hope is what the viewer would glimpse as one watches Fathers Saenz and Lucero rage against the dying of the light perpetrated by Cardinal Meneses and Monsignor Ramirez.  Hope is what would greet the viewer as one observes the clash between what is right  as championed by NBI Director Lastimosa and Deputy Valdez versus what is convenient as epitomized by NBI Director Mapa and Atty. Arcinas.

The passion and resilience of Fathers Saenz and Lucero along with that of  Director Lastimosa and reporter Joanna Bonifacio are reminiscent of the grit and tenacity that must have been displayed by my teacher in philosophy who died a few years ago.  Disturbed no end by the threat posed by a corporation to his community, he waged a protracted albeit non-violent battle against the powers that be. Alas, it proved to be a lonely battle as well. The validation that he thought he could expect  from his colleagues never came. Dismayed by the lack of solidarity and the surfeit of ostracism that he was subjected to,  he  fled the country and eventually  died alone and penniless in the cold streets of New York.

Which brings us to the second level that SASC is exhorting its viewers to take a closer look at.  As we realize, to our horror, that the evil that is at the centre of the battle being waged by Saenz et al. came into being precisely because hope requires solidarity to prevail against despair, the movie challenges its viewers to answer the question: what will you do about it?

Shall you hound Ramirez to the ends of the earth a’la Saenz? Or shall you sweep the dirt under the rug like Cardinal Meneses? Shall you take the long and difficult route to the truth like Director Lastimosa? Or shall you go for the easier  path preferred by Atty. Arcinas? Shall you be as involved as the feisty Joanna Bonifacio?  Or shall you choose to look the other way like the fearful classmate in Emong Ricafrente?

I remember the three classmates I had the privilege of sitting next to in a public seminar somewhere in Makati. All three could have led comfortable lives in Europe where they all hail from.  Yet they chose to throw their lot with the marginalized in our country by providing second chances to reformed juvenile delinquents.  Moved by their dedication for the less privileged, I profusely expressed my appreciation for what they do. After thanking me for my kind words, they then asked me if I was willing to help them in any way. Looking back from the lens of SASC, they might as well have said: now that you know what we do, what will  you do to help us continue what we do?

The fact of the matter is that  not every Father Saenz in our country could rely on a Director Lastimosa or a Joanna Bonifacio. Not every Father Saenz could depend on a Father Lucero. Consider what happened to my late teacher.  Consider for that matter,  what could happen to the mission of my three classmates if the greater majority would choose to imbibe the apathy of an Emong Ricafrente – a kind of apathy that is bred by fear of the attendant consequences of involvement. It is precisely in this regard that “Smaller and Smaller Circles” ultimately and inescapably  brings the Filipino viewer within the circle of responsibility that  Emmanuel Levinas so powerfully describes and echoes from Fyodor Dostoevsky: “I am responsible for all, before all, and I more than all the others.”  


Two for the Road

Here is the second article that appeared in the newspaper I grew up with.

Without a doubt, it was inspired by my catching up with Dr. Rainier A. Ibana. Dr. Ibana was my mentor and thesis adviser during my graduate school stint  at the Ateneo. I wrote this shortly after I consulted with him on exciting possibilities related to research and writing. Not surprisingly, its backbone hinges on two of  the key motifs of my MA thesis which, in a feat of inspiration,  I linked to a painful chapter in my country’s history. My thanks as well to FH Batacan who penned “Smaller and Smaller Circles.”

Muli, maraming salamat po, Doc Enyeng! Mabuhay po kayo!

This Way to Happiness

The comedian Jim Carrey once asserted that “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

Chief Business Officer of Google X Mo Gawdat knows whereof  Carrey speaks. For years, Gawdat struggled with his own personal happiness despite his over the top material success. To give you a picture of how materially successful he is, Gawdat could easily pull off  the following as far back as 2001, “One evening I went online and with two clicks bought two vintage Rolls Royces. Why? Because I  could. And because I was desperately trying to fill the hole in my soul. You won’t be surprised that when those beautiful classics of English automotive styling arrived at the curb, they didn’t lift my mood one bit.” (p. 3) Alas, this realization apparently extended to the rest of his life as he reflected that “In my constant quest for more I’d become pushy and unpleasant even at home, and I knew it. I spent too little time appreciating the remarkable woman I’d married, too little time with my wonderful son and daughter, and never paused to enjoy each day as it unfolded.” (p. 3) When it came to a point where he could no longer bear this state of mind, Gawdat resolved to apply his engineering expertise to resolve his personal crisis. Thankfully, after a decade he was able to develop an equation for happiness and how to sustain it in one’s life. But it took the death of his beloved son Ali in 2014 for him to share his equation with the rest of the world by way of  his book Solve for Happy.

sept 2017 blog

True to his engineering background, Gawdat formulated the following equation for happiness:

“Happiness = your perception of the events in your life – your expectations of how life should behave.”

In other words, it is not the events that happen in our life that make us happy but rather how we think of these events.  To prove his point, Gawdat challenges his reader to think of an unhappy event in his/her life.  As you think of the unhappy event, purposely replace it with another thought.  Once you do, the painful insult loses its power. The rude remark no longer hurts. As he would put it “once the thought goes, the suffering disappears.” (p. 27)

Gawdat further argues that happiness is our default state. He cites the case of children anywhere in the globe. “They may live in a hovel, but as long as they have food and a modicum of safety, you’ll see them run around hooting with joy” (p 18.) It applies to us as well. We are happiest when nothing annoys us, when nothing worries us, when nothing upsets us. How then does one get to that point? His answer: one can only be happy if he/she chooses and decides to be happy.

Easier said than done, of course. One could easily argue that Gawdat has obviously not heard of how terrible our situation is in Manila which was recently ranked as the 10th most stressful city in the world –  where a 4km commute takes 2 hours to complete, where drug suspects are executed before their families, where  corruption co-exists with government. Gawdat’s incisive differentiation between pain and suffering is instructive here.

Pain is something short-lived and serves a crucial, practical purpose. Since the traffic is long, one inevitably adapts by getting up early.  Injustice compels people to take to the streets so that it  will one day come to an end.  Corruption inevitably provokes media expose’ thus leading to its eventual end.  “As much as we hate it, pain and the discomforts of life are useful.” (p. 30.) Suffering though, points out, Gawdat is something else. “When we let it, emotional pain, even the most trivial kind, has the capacity to linger or resurface again and again, while our imaginations endlessly replay the reason for the pain.” (p. 31.) The way out is the way in: we can choose to let the suffering persist or we can choose to stop it. Thus, he writes: “Happiness starts with a conscious choice” (p. 33) He offers his personal tragedy to prove his point. He could choose to condemn his life to despair  or he could choose to grieve but honor his son’s memory by how he lives the rest of his life. Neither option would bring his son to life but only one will bring him back to our default state. He chose b.

In 347 pages, Gawdat introduces us to the path that would help us make such a choice as our way of life: 6-7-5.  6 is for the 6 grand illusions that confuse us and distract us from happiness. 7 stands for the 7  blind spots which if fixed, will lead us to happiness. Most importantly, 5 refers to the 5 ultimate truths which guarantee a lifetime of happiness. If we follow his thought process through these 3 numbers, we would be able to make sense of his son’s enduring message: “The gravity of the battle means nothing to those at peace.”  Like the character of Neo in The Matrix, like the father in Life is Beautiful, like the character of Walter Mitty, we can indeed come to a point where nothing can trouble nor disturb us.

This book has so much explanatory power that it invites a second and even a third reading.  Among its many incisive insights what resonates the most to me is his chapter on control.  Control, reflects Gawdat is an illusion. Ultimately, there are only two things that are within our control, how we look at things and what we do with what is before us. I particularly liked how he contrasted the attitude of Tim and Tom who both woke up late for a scheduled appointment but ended their day differently, Tim in prison and Tom in date.  “We’re each handed a set of cards – some good, some not so good. Keep focused on the bad ones, and you’ll be stuck blaming the game. Use the good ones, and things become better; your hand changes and you move forward.” (p. 156)

Gawdat’s inspiring reflections offer a logical grounding to what has hitherto been my faith-based response to despair and hopelessness.  There is St. Therese’s wise counsel: “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you, All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things; Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.” Fairly recently, there is St. Pio’s more contemporary advice: “Pray, hope and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”  Both of these, of course, flow from the assurance shared by the carpenter’s son from Nazareth 2,000 years ago: “…do not worry about your life, what you will ear or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air: they do not sow or reap or gather into barns and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his lifespan?” 

After reading Gawdat, I now appreciate better why Jesus warned that unless we become like little children, we will never enter the Kingdom of God. For only those who choose and decide to be happy can truly forgive others and entrust themselves to God.   His son Ali would have approved.

sept 2017 blog 2

Move On


“Life is  like  a box of chocolates,”  as Forrest Gump once put it,  “You’ll never know what you’re gonna get.”  Take my second stab at the full marathon last February 19, 2017. Up until the start of the second half which is where  my coaches point out  the real marathon starts, I was still hopeful that I would beat my personal best from 2016.  Alas, what played out was not what I thought things would turn out to be.

To be sure, one can easily argue that, notwithstanding my more elaborate marathon preparation this year compared to my preparation for my first marathon, my 2017 race results is clearly a failure. Numbers, as they say, do not lie. But, more than a week after I crossed the finish line, I am all the more convinced that it would be grossly unfair to me and those who helped me cross the finish line a second time to dismiss it as such.

You see I just recovered from a serious case of what is called the ITB Syndrome. Even worse, as I began training for my second marathon, I had to endure what turned out to be an  Achilles tendonitis on my right foot.  This was precisely why I decided to sign up for a series of therapy sessions and a triathlon coaching program. In my effort to figure out how to overcome my injuries, I came across several readings which pointed to triathlon as a tried and tested way of strengthening the runner’s legs even as it ups the ante of endurance training by introducing the runner to two other disciplines: swimming and cycling.  Part of my therapy session was a video analysis of my running form.  The year before I really appreciated the insights occasioned by the Chi Running video analysis that I invested in.  I was hoping to arrive at even more instructive insights.  I was not  disappointed as  I discovered through the analysis that my  left leg apparently  had faster ground contact compared to my right leg. To address this, I was advised to try two things: form the letter T with my thumb and forefinger to ensure my arms were not crossing when I ran and improve my cadence by investing in a metronome.  The theraphy sessions provide by PACE Prehab managed by Coach Francis Diano along with my determination and drive to stick to the 22-week plan designed by Coach Jim Lafferty,  The Bull Runner Dream Marathon (TBR DM) founder Jaymie Pizarro and Coach Lit Onrubia which in turn was modified by Coaches Noy Basa, Al Gonzalez and Pao Leano of Inside Track Athletics gave me hope  that I would not only  triumph over my injury. I would eventually achieve a PR this year.

Here’s how it  actually went down on February 19, 2017.

The Sweet  Half

A running skeptic in the office would often say, what’s the point of running long distances when you can always take the car or get an Uber or a Grab alternatively? He misses the point completely. Running a marathon  is not about getting from point A to point B. It is about the 22-week preparation and the 3 to 6-hour validation of one’s passion, hard work and dedication on race day itself. It’s about the journey rather than the destination, as the cliché goes.

Enjoy the journey I did particularly during the first 21 kilometers  of the race.  The festive atmosphere, the smiles of friends and fellow runners at the starting line  and  the encouraging words of the TBR Dream Chasers were more than enough to pump us up with enthusiasm and excitement as we started at 2am.  The cool temperature, the happy exchange of comments and stories among fellow runners, the endless cheering by past TBR alumni along the course track, the expansive  sky full of stars and, for the first time in  a long time,   my playlist in the background made the experience even more awesome.  It is not an exaggeration to say that the TBR DM experience is really such a powerful experience of pure, unadulterated energy, positivity and affirmation compared to  all the other races I’ve ran for the past 4 years. Nothing comes close.

The Bitter Half

As I  entered km 22, I started to detect muscle tightness on my right calf. It surfaced in trickles to a point where I thought it would go away.  Having gotten a preview of the experience in my past races and my recent LSDs,   I knew what to do.  I did what worked during my training particularly  the 30km practice run.  I ran backward and sideward every so often. I also walked uphill and ran downhill. By km 30, I saw a number of runners doing the same thing. Were they imitating me or did their coaches and teams also teach them the same thing?  I smiled at the thought.

Shortly after  going up the round-about for the second time, I modified my approach to  a 1- minute run, 2-minute  walk to lessen the muscle tightness which gradually became progressive. There was a routine though that I discarded upon my therapist’s  advice (i.e., forward leg swinging and sideward leg swinging), as he said it would just worsen the cramping. By the time, I got to the Miriam College uphill leg of the race course  for the second time, the 1:2 gave way to the lamp post technique I learned from both Coach Lit and Coach Francis. I stuck to this until I got to the u-turn of the Republic Wakeboard leg of the course. To my dismay, that was where the cramping practically  forced  me to stop dead in my tracks.  Remembering my coaches’ advice, I decided to walk.  The tightness appeared to lessen. To my horror, my left toes also started cramping along with my right calf.  Thankfully, I had the good sense to head for the nearest first aid station where I borrowed a foam roller stick. That helped a great deal. God bless the Dream Chaser who handed me a salt stick.

“How in the world could this happen to me despite all my preventive measures on top of following my training?,” I asked myself.  Consider the following: I’ve pumped my body with 500ml of buco juice every single day one week before the race. I was eating bananas daily 2 weeks before race day. I followed my race nutrition plan taking in energy gels  every 45 minutes. I did all the stops to sip water and interspersed the same with Gatorade even if I did not feel thirsty. I lost count of the number of bananas I ate on the race course when the muscle tightness started surfaced.  I followed the metronome setting of  180 strides per minute until it became problematic to do so.

As I made my way back from the junction, I decided to just walk off the rest of the race. I knew my target of  finishing within 5 hours was gone. I just smiled and muttered my thanks to the kind and generous Dream Chasers who cheered me on. I really wanted to run as I passed by them if only  to reward them for their kindness and generosity but I was terrified of repeating  my Run United 3 experience  where I limped to the finish line after I cramped at km 18. A number of the Dream Chasers, it turned out,  were my batchmates from TBR 2016 who gleefully cheered me on: “Takbo, Von, takbo!” “Von, may camera, run!” I just smiled at them after waving  and sharing  that I have cramped.

My heart sank further as I passed by Head TBR Coach Jim Lafferty who was waiting at km 38. I wanted to explain my situation and tell him that except for the week in December when I got sick, I followed the TBR plan like my life depended on it and more but I kept this to myself. I  wanted to thank him for the program  but I was not so sure how it would have come across. Walked on I did until km 39 where I came across Coach Al who was all smiles and who encouraged me by saying: “Konti na lang. Good job!” He also recommended that I try running and walking backwards but I said I’ve done that already.

By km 40, an unexpected grace came my way by way of 2 lady runner friends of Team Bulalo who coaxed me to run by pacing me. One of them, Anne, reminded me that: “lalong bibigat yan.” So run I did out of “hiya.” Surprisingly, the salt tablet may have kicked in along with whatever was left of my adrenaline.  I actually got to run the last 2km without any issues. That I guess was what made me smile as I  capped a bittersweet finish.  I actually ran my way to the finish line despite my cramping earlier.

I teach a module on Adversity Quotient (AQ) which espouses the growth mindset. Stating the thing broadly, it is not what happens to you but what you do with what happens to you that will make you grow and develop. Failure is to be regarded as a stepping stone to improvement. It is not the last chapter of your life.   The centerpiece of the module is what AQ researcher Dr. Paul Stoltz calls the LEAD approach.

Listen to your adversity response

The way I see it, there  are two options available to me.

The low AQ response says: I should be sorry for myself and this failure is massive. The high AQ response says: I should be grateful I still managed to finish the race despite my injury. This failure is but a detour to better things to come.

Explore the origins and ownership

The low AQ response is not grounded in reality. The fact of the matter is that the race results revealed that I need to strengthen my body further and I need to heal completely  to run faster.   The cross-training did help. The techniques taught by Tai Chi and Yoga would no doubt also prove helpful as my coaches in swim and cycling also point to my stiffness and tension as a development opportunity.

Analyze the evidence

The evidence clearly says this setback is not permanent. There are tons of lessons to learn from this which would help me become a better runner and, at the same time, help me gear up for my first sprint triathlon.

Mindset is clearly part and parcel of race preparation. Rest should not be underestimated. Food intake should be scrutinized and reviewed consistently. Being at the starting line an hour before gun start is much better. Strength training is not an option. Flexibility training is just as critical.  Forgiveness of oneself is a grace to pray for. Gratitude and appreciation for those who helped you cross the finish line is a must.

Decide to take action

I suppose this is why the following day,  I readily signed up for my first Triman even as I capped my second marathon day with a 2-hour swim drill which validated my readings once again. Swimming does hasten muscle recovery and is a perfect sport for the runner.

While signing up for another race makes your succeeding efforts more focused and intentional, I strongly felt that part of moving on is to allow my body to get a much needed rest so my injury could heal more completely.  Then and only then could I truly say, it is time to move on. The best is yet to come.

If You Can Keep Your Head

I have always been fascinated by the flying genius deftly displayed by Capt. Chesley Sullenberger at New York’s Hudson River on January 15, 2009. You can imagine my delight when I learned that his heroic act as celebrated in his  memoir entitled Highest Duty – My Search for What Really Matters would be turned into a movie. More so when I read that no less than Clint Eastwood would direct the film that would topbill Tom Hanks as Capt. Sully. For months, I looked forward to finding out how these two world-class talents would transform a 315-paged autobiography into a 120-minute film.  And so when we read about Sully opening in our city, we wasted no time catching it on Imax.

Here are 5 takeaways that made us even bigger fans of Sully, and, by implication, Eastwood and Hanks.


Sense of Purpose

Both in the book and in the film adaptation of the latter, Sully consistently refused to refer to himself as a hero, choosing instead to share the credit with his co-pilot and crew.  As far as Sully was concerned, he was simply a professional aviator who got the job done out of a strong sense of purpose.  To be sure, this strong sense of purpose did not grow in a vacuum.  In the film, Eastwood points us to three compelling elements in Sully’s life that proved pivotal in this regard –  his love of flying during his growing up years, his military aviation training and his wife and kids.  The book though takes us even farther, specifically, to how he was formed and raised by his dad who served in the military and his mom who was a grade school teacher. Both did a fine  job of forming his strong sense of purpose  in words and deeds.  “When we’re not around, we’re counting on you” my mom would tell me. My dad would say, “You’re in charge.” (p. 63.) Being a military man, Sully’s father “impressed upon me that a commander’s job is full of challenges, and his responsibilities are almost a sacred duty. I kept my father’s words with me during my own military career, and, after that, when I became an airline pilot, with hundreds of passengers in my care.” (p. 57.)    And so it was that despite the fact that Sully lived in an age when being a  commercial pilot is no longer as glamorous and as high-paying as it used to be in the old days,  his sense of purpose – to care for both his passengers and crew come rain or come shine – was as undiminished in 2009 as it was when he first flew with his instructor Mr. Cook in 1967.  That the movie was screened during the week celebrating Good Shepherd Sunday all the more amplifies his characteristic  insistence to always  be the first to lead and the last to leave, always choosing to put his passengers ahead of himself every time, all the time.

Law of the Harvest

I like how Director Clint Eastwood uses Sully’s love of running to take us back to critical snippets from Sully’s past. There’s one scene in the movie where Sully catches sight of an F-4 Phantom on display towards the end of his run. It was one run that augured well with his attempt to center himself during a period of tremendous self-doubt. That’s because the F-4 was the same aircraft where he and his co-pilot got involved in his very first   near-miss when he was still  a military aviator. He describes this in vivid detail in the book: “perhaps the most harrowing flight of my military career came in an F-4 out of Nellis…We were at a very low altitude, and I felt the plane move by itself. Imagine being in your car, driving along, and all of a sudden,  without turning the steering wheel, you start veering to the left. It would be a bit shocking.” (p. 121.) Even then, Sully was the take-charge pilot that he was during the Hudson River incident.  Instead of being swallowed by fear, “I immediately pulled the F-4 skyward. I needed a rapid climb  to get away from the unforgiving ground. I had to buy myself time and give myself room. At a higher altitude, Loren (his co-pilot) and I might be able to make sense of the malfunction and deal with it more effectively. More important, if the situation worsened, we would have the time and altitude to be able to recover or successfully eject and survive.” (p. 122.)

In yet another scene in the film where the viewer learns that his career as a military aviator was largely influenced by his teenage years flying crop-dusters in Denison,Texas Eastwood once again turns to running to evoke Sully’s reminiscences of the same.  Lest the viewer think that everything started when he did his first solo as a teenage boy, his memoir reveals that Sully considers himself “lucky to find my life’s passion at a very young age. I have a clear recollection that at age five I already knew I was going to spend my life flying airplanes.” (p. 131.)  Yet another reiteration of how world renowned theater personality Lea Salonga frames her landing the role of Miss Saigon. To wit: a classic case of preparation meeting with opportunity. Make no mistake about it.  Capt. Sullenberger’s feat at the Hudson River was not a flash in the pan. Far from it. It was premised on flying for thousands of hours  with optimal aptitude and passionate attitude.

Critical Thinking

The scene in the film where Sully discusses the value of striking a balance between following flight protocols and exercising a judgment call  reminds me of a recent talk given by Rock Ed founder and advocate Gang Badoy.  In her talk, Badoy decried the dogmatic approach of some overzealoous  employees even in situations which clearly call for a certain degree of latitude. One involved a hotel staff who refused to lend a thermos for making coffee  to a hotel guest who wanted to use it to bathe as it’s against hotel policy. The other involved a nurse who refused to administer an extra dose of anesthesia to a pregnant woman who was clearly in dire need of it given government policy about  patient-anesthesia ratios. Good thing that in both cases, it was Badoy’s critical thinking that fortunately triumphed over dogmatic compliance.   At the time of the flight emergency of Flight 1549 in 2009, critical thinking could be said to have saved the day. Consider how Sully’s thought processes concluded that  there were two options available to him when the crisis set in. One was for the flight officer to fly the plane so that he, the captain would have the time to figure out options available. The other was for the captain to fly the plane himself while the first officer sorted out the applicable trouble-shooting solutions. Sullenberger reflects thus, “Even in those early seconds, I knew this was an emergency that called for thinking beyond what’s usually considered appropriate. As a rush of information came into my head, I had no doubts that it made the most sense for me to take the controls…For one, I had greater experience flying the A320. Jeff (his first officer) was much newer to this type of plane. Also, all the landmarks I needed to see in order to judge where we  might go were on my side of the airplane. I also knew that since Jeff had just trained on the A320, he had more recent experience practicing the emergency procedures. He could more quickly find the right checklist out of about 150 checklists in our Quick Reference Handbook (QRH.)” (p. 211) Can you imagine what would have happened had Capt. Sully blindly followed the first option?

15 Years After

The timing of the movie’s screening could not have come at a more apt day of the year, opening as it did to phenomenal reviews by both critics and moviegoers 3 days before the 15th anniversary of 9/11. As one character in the movie  puts it, “It’s been a while since we’ve heard some good news about New York especially about planes.” More than providing us with a piece of good news about the city that never sleeps though, this Eastwood opus is also a tribute both to the beauty of this awe-inspiring metropolis and the spontaneous compassion of New Yorkers who came to the rescue of US Airways Flight 1549 on that fateful day of January 2009.  From its famous skyscrapers which have adorned hundreds of Hollywood movies to its busy streets brimming with so much energy and diversity, New York City as it is presented in Sully  beckons the moviegoer to visit this great city at least once within one’s lifetime.  And of course no less than Capt. Sullenberger points to January 15, 2009 as yet another great day celebrating the best that New Yorkers have to offer. “In the stress of the moment, there was an efficient kind of order that I found absolutely impressive. I also saw examples of humanity and goodwill everywhere I looked.  I was so moved when deckhands on ferries took off the shirts, coats, and sweatshirts they were wearing to help warm the passengers…I was seeing dozens of bystanders acting with great compassion and bravery – and a sense of duty. It felt like all of New York and New Jersey was reaching out to warm us.” (p. 250-251.)


Kipling Revisited

Quite possibly, the most surprising revelation of this film even after having read Capt. Sully’s memoir was how unsympathetic and skeptical  the National Safety Transportation Board (NTSB) investigators were from the very beginning of their investigation.  That was not clearly explicitated in the book.  On several occasions in the movie, the NTSB sought to point out that Capt. Sully could have saved both the plane and the passengers had he decided to land in the nearest airport instead of gliding the plane and executing a water landing in the Hudson River.  While the whole world outside the investigation room was celebrating Capt. Sullenberger as a hero, the NTSB investigators were keen on proving he was the exact opposite for having done what he did.  That he was having the beginnings of a post-traumatic stress disorder during the investigation period only made the situation even more stressful.  As Capt. Sully notes:  “It took me a couple of month to process what had happened and to work through the post-traumatic stress…They told me I’ve be sleeping less, I’d have distracted thinking. I’d lose my appetite. I’d have flashbacks, and I’d do a lot of second-guessing and “what-iffing.”  (p. 273.) To the credit of Eastwood and his crew, Sully takes us on the backseat of what it means to go through such a harrowing experience as the movie offered various cinematic glimpses of how Flight 1549 could have ended tragically.  Thankfully, in the end, despite the self-doubts and the skepticism that came his way, Sully’s wife and partner, Lorrie observed that, “He is feeling better today. You know, he’s a pilot. He’s very controlled and very professional…I have said for a long time that he’s a pilot’s pilot, and he loves the art of the airplane.” (p. 276.) Reflecting on how Tom Hanks portrayed the steady demeanor of Capt. Sullenberger throughout the movie notwithstanding his self-doubts and the doubts that his heroic actions elicited in the NTSB, I can’t help but remember a poem by Rudyard Kipling. If, according to my  literature teacher, is an eloquent portrait of what it truly takes to be truly human. My classmates and I enthusiastically dissected this Kipling masterpiece line by line in search of wisdom to guide us during our high school years. We were amply rewarded with lessons that would last us a lifetime.  In Capt. Sully’s actions that fateful day in January 2009 as well as the many times he fulfilled his highest duty from the time he flew his first solo to his sorties as a military aviator, from his first commercial flight to his celebrated water landing onboard the A320, we have been blessed with a true to life contemporary reiteration of  Kipling’s admonition.

"If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!


From Kenya to Manila

“A film, a piece of theatre, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference.  It can change the world.”

                                                                                                                           -Alan Rickman

eye in the sky 1

Property of Rain Dog Films and Entertainment One

I’ve always been a fan of the spy thriller genre. Thanks to the edge-of-your-seat bestsellers  of Tom Clancy, Jack Higgins,  Robert Ludlum, John LeCarre and Frederick Forsyth during my growing up years.     It is noteworthy that the best works of these authors are those which are able to deftly combine never-before-read action sequences with dilemmas that disturb and compel the reader to think.  Eye in the Sky (2015) could have been written by any of the preceding   authors.  It is a tribute then to both its scriptwriter Guy Hibbert and director Gavin Hood along with their fine cast of actors  that the movie created such a positive impression on this viewer and, more importantly,  based on the critical reviews as well as box office ticket sales, on quite a number of audiences worldwide.

The movie which stars two of the most critically-acclaimed character actors of our time (i.e., Helen Mirren and the late great Alan Rickman)  is about the question: does the end justify the means? Stating the thing more broadly, if you have the means to strike at an enemy whose main strategy is to sacrifice the innocent, would you do so even if it means sacrificing the innocent? If you put the context of these questions against the backdrop of the twin evils of our time, the stakes exponentially go higher.  At the global level is the ongoing war on terror being waged by the West and its allies against Islamic fundamentalism. At the local level is the ongoing war on drugs being led by the newly-elected president and his police chief.  There is no need to belabor that terrorism and drugs are evil and that all decent human beings everywhere should waste no time putting an end to both in the soonest possible time.  The historical evidence against both are simply overwhelming.  And there, as my favorite columnist Conrad de Quiros used to say, lies the rub.  Where would we stop to end the scourge of terrorism and the horrors of drug dependency?  Is the life of an innocent girl whose only crime is that of being a dutiful daughter worth sacrificing? Can morality be reduced to a numbers game?  One  life sacrificed for a thousand to be spared from slaughter?  Alas, when real lives are in the balance, the answers are not that easy to come by. And this is what this superb piece of film making succeeds in articulating even as it reels you in with a number of its fascinating cinematic elements.

eye in the sky 2

Property of Rain Dog Films and Entertainment One

There is the amazing interdependence of geographically-separate units whose singular objective is initially to locate and capture some of the most wanted terrorists operating in Nairobi, Kenya.  The so-called eye in the sky is actually the surveillance provided by the USAF team piloting the MQ-9 Reaper drone while  based in Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The more up-close and personal intel which completes the surveillance input is care of  the short-range ornithopter (i.e., unmanned surveillance miniature aircraft resembling a bird)  and insectothopter (i.e., unmanned surveillance miniature aircraft resembling a  bug) cameras controlled by two Kenyan undercover agents led by Jama Farah (i.e., Barkhad Abdi.) US military personnel stationed in Pearl Harbor provide facial recognition info.  Orchestrating the interface of all these critical elements is Colonel Katherine Powell (i.e., Helen Mirren) of the British Armed Forces who is conducting the mission in Northwood, UK. Supervising Powell is Lieutenant General  Frank Benson (i.e.,  Alan Rickman) along with the British Attorney General (i.e., Richard McCabe) and other civilian higher-ups all of whom are located in London. Together, these five geographically separate teams comprising the “kill chain” seek to complete Col. Powell’s  mission even as they argue amongst themselves about  the  letter and the spirit of jus in bello (i.e., the right conduct in war) through an elaborate mechanism of checks and balances in place. According to the International Committee of Red Cross,  jus in bello stipulates that  “the acts of war should be directed towards enemy combatants and not towards non-combatants caught in circumstances they did not create.”  It is precisely the implications of jus in bello relative to the mission led by Col. Powell  that makes the movie  intriguing and ultimately, nerve-racking.  Consider, for example, the contrast between how the British Foreign Secretary (i.e., Iain Glen) could not summon the courage to decide on whether or not to authorize a kill order and how the USAF pilot 2nd Lt. Steve Watts (i.e., Aaron Paul)  could firmly stand his ground in requesting for a revised CDE (i.e., collateral damage estimate) before rifling a Hellfire missile to assassinate the terrorists they have successfully located.  For that matter, consider how the  U.S. Secretary of State could easily make a call regarding a kill mission order in contrast to how Sgt Mushtaq Saddiq (i.e., Babou Ceesay)  found himself being co-opted by his commanding officer to ensure the execution of Powell’s mission is perceived as aboveboard based on his revised CDE.  These two well thought-out behavioral juxtapositions starkly  remind me of what the writer John Maxwell once noted. Leadership is truly not a position. In truth, anyone at any level of an organization can lead because leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less.

Adding even greater  tension and excitement to the dilemma faced by the five geographically separate teams   is the  prominence  of cutting edge military technology throughout the movie.  The MQ-9 Reaper drone does exist as a matter of fact. This $ 16.9 million weapon of war  can indeed carry up to 4 Hellfire missiles. It can really see that far and that wide in real time. More to the point, it can cover a 100 km area using 368 cameras capable of capturing 5 million pixels each. The AGM-114 Hellfire missile does exist and has, in fact, been used in the targeted killings of high-profile terrorist personalities. Weighing  100 pounds, each Hellfire missile is currently priced at $ 110,000. The ornitopher and the insectothopter  both exist as technologies albeit not at the same fascinating level that they are portrayed in the film. But as Bill Gates once reminded us in his book The Road Ahead, we live in a time when anything you can imagine can eventually be converted to reality one way or the other. It’s just a matter of time.  Facial recognition technology, of course, is something that has been with us for a time now that even civilian institutions use it along with voice biometrics to protect client privacy.

eye in the sky 3

Property of Rain Dog Films and Entertainment One

But the one thing that really gets to the viewer  is how the perspective of the kill chain meshes  and eventually crashes with the perspective of the innocent civilian who is perennially caught in the crossfire  represented here by a sweet Kenyan girl named  Alia (i.e., Aisha Takow.) Alia’s  only crime is that she loves her parents so much that she dutifully helps them make both ends meet by selling bread in between her school work and her fascination for the hoolahoop. In her simplicity and naivete, she reminds me of the Syrian boy refugee whose dead body was washed ashore. There but for the grace of God go our own children. In Alia’s plight and the indescribable pain that her passing caused her parents, we truly get to appreciate what the character of Alan Rickman admonished the civilian leader (i.e., Monica Dolan) who expressed disgust over how the mission eventually ended: “never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war.” In point of fact,  one need not be a soldier to know the cost of war.  And this is where the global war on terror appears to completely part ways with the Philippine war on drugs. While no leading government official of any of the countries comprising NATO or its allies in the Asia Pacific  would dare to  explicitly  violate  jus in bello to advance the war on terror, the current head of state of this country has practically given the license to kill to the military and the police to put an end to the drug menace at any cost. Worse, those who dare to oppose his draconian stance are publicly  demonized.  Would that our president and his advisers could one day find the time to catch this movie.  Perhaps given his background  in law, it would somehow remind him as Major Webb (i.e., John Heffernan) reminded Col. Powell that “the law isn’t here to get in your way. It’s here to protect you.”  It is so in Kenya. It is so in Manila.

inquirer pic

Property of the Philippine Daily Inquirer





Rock Star

gary g 1

Si Gary Granada ayon kay BenCab

Habang tayo ay abala sa ating kanya-kanyang mga buhay, apat na   antolohiya ng musika ni Gary Granada ang halos magkakasunod na tahimik na  lumabas sa kabila ng patuloy na paglaganap ng Spotify at Apple Music. Ang “3-CD set” na The Essential Gary Granada Collection ay inilabas noong 2011. Noong 2014 ay  lumabas ang Musika ni Gary Granada sa CD at maging sa plaka.  Pawang sa pamamagitan ng Polyeast Records at pahintulot ni Gary Granada nailabas  ang mga ito. Pero ang pinakakomprehensibo na marahil  ay ang 20-CD Essential Works of Gary Granada mula sa GaryGranadaMusicworks na lumabas ngayong 2016. Bagama’t masasabing kagilagilalas na makapaglabas ng 20 albums ang isang musikerong Pinoy sa siglong ito, importanteng isaalang-alang dito na noon pa mang 1994 ay may 22 albums nang  nailabas  si Granada ayon kay Eric Caruncho ng Philippine Daily Inquirer (Punks, Poets, Poseurs:Reportage on Pinoy Rock and Roll by Eric Caruncho, p. 143.)

gary g 2

Mula sa Polyeast Records

Anupat sa halos apat na dekada ng pagiging kompositor at mang-aawit ni Gary Granada ay  nakalikha sya ng maramiraming mga  obra maestra  na pinasikat nya at pinasikat ng mga kapwa nya mang-aawit.

gary g 3

Mula sa Polyeast Records

Ang “Dam,” “Bahay,”  “Mabuti Pa Sila,” “Pag Nananalo ang Ginebra,” “Kung Ayaw Mo Na Sa Kin,”  “Eroplanong Papel,” “Balon,” “Iisa,” “Kapag Sinabi Ko Sa Yo” at “Hanggang Kailan, Hanggang Saan” ay ilan lamang sa mga pinakasikat nyang awitin na unang narinig sa 70s Bistro at Conspiracy at unang nairekord sa “cassette tapes” bago isinalin sa CD.   Ang “Iisa” at “Kapag Sinabi Ko Sa Yo” ay lalo pang pinasikat kamakailan  ni  Johnoy Danao sa Soundscan. Binigyan din ng natatanging interpretasyon nina Ebe Dancel, Bullet Dumas at Johnoy Danao ang “Iisa” sa kanilang matagumpay na konsyerto sa Music Museum nitong Pebrero.

gary g 8

Mula sa GaryGranadaMusicWorks

Sa mga di nakakaalam, si Gary Granada ang  kompositor sa likod ng “Kahit Konti” na unang inawit ni  Florante sa MetroPop,  “Pag Nananalo ang Ginebra” ni Bayang Barios, “Salamat Musika” ni Nanette Inventor,  “Tagumpay Nating Lahat” ni Lea Salonga, “Aawitin Ko Na Lang” ni Bong Gabriel,  “Paano Mahalin ang Katulad Mo” ni Cooky Chua, “Ang Kailangang Gawin” ni Dong Abay at “Itatawid, Ihahatid Kita” nina Noel Cabangon at Cooky Chua.

gary g 7

Mula sa GaryGranadaMusicWorks

Gaya ng prutas ng granada na natatangi dahil sa dami ng butong nakapaloob dito, may mga ilang bubulagang sorpresa mula sa  “box set” na nabanggit pagdating  sa iba pang natatanging obra ni Granada.

gary g 6

Mula sa GaryGranadaMusicWorks

Bukod sa apat na  CDs na “compilation” ng mga pinasikat nyang obra,  may tatlong  CDs na naglalaman ng mga awiting pansamba. May apat na CDs na katatagpuan ng  mga natatangi nyang areglo ng mga klasikong awiting kundiman sa Tagalog at Cebuano. Dalawa sa mga CDs  ay mga OPM “musicals.”  Ang Sino Ka Ba Jose Rizal? (1996) ay pinangunahan nina Noel Cabangon, Cooky Chua at Lani Misalucha habang ang Lean (1998)  ay kinatampukan nina Chikoy Pura, Cooky Chua, Bayang Barios at Noel Cabangon. Mayroon din syang mga CDs na  pangsilid-aralan  gaya ng suporta nya sa “creative approach” ng kanyang anak sa pagtuturo ng matematika at mga CDs na mainam na kasangkapan sa pagtuturo ng mapagpalayang Araling Panlipunan. Narito rin ang huling  “studio album” nya na pinamagatang  Basurero sa Luneta.

gary g 4

Mula sa GaryGranadaMusicWorks

Kung maraming sorpresang naghihintay sa kanyang bago at lumang tagapakinig sa 2016 na “box set” ni Gary Granada ay mas marami pang sorpresang naghihintay sa mga papalaring mahuli syang umawit  sa entablado – isang bagay na di na nya gaanong ginagawa ngayon dahil sa pagpapahalaga nya sa kanyang  kasalukuyang  adbokasiya na  pagtuturo ng “Choir Ng Bayan” (i.e., ito rin ang  pamagat ng isang app na akda nya.)  Bagay ang kanyang middle name na Gamutan upang ilarawan si Gary Granada pag sya ay nasa entablado dahil kahit napakinggan mo na ang Gary Granada Live (i.e., na isa sa mga CDs ng “box set” nya)   pihadong magugulat ka pa din  sa “gamut” o lawak ng kakayahan nyang mag “edu-tain” o magturo habang nagbibigay-aliw. Gusto mo ba ng acoustic instrumental music na pwedeng makipagsabayan kina Noli Aurillo, Nitoy Adriano at Johnny Alegre?  Ganun kahusay si Gary Granada.   Gusto mo bang tumawa habang napapaisip tungkol sa lipunan, relihiyon, pulitika, ekonomiya, pilosopiya, teyolohiya, sosyolohiya, kasarian, kasaysayan at kapaligiran? Ganun ka-“versatile” si Gary Granada. Gusto mo bang masilayan ang mga kwento  sa likod ng mga awiting pinasikat nya? Ganun ka-kwela si Gary Granada. Gusto mo ba ang lahat ng nabanggit nang walang “costume change” o “choreography,” walang “smoke and mirrors,” walang “Powerpoint” at “lasers”? Ganon ka-astig si Gary Granada.

gary g 9

Si Gary Granada sa Conspi

Anim na taon na ang nakararaan mula nang inilabas ni Gary Granada ang kanyang huling studio album na pinamagatang Basurero sa Luneta.  Sa liner notes nito ay may ganito syang mensahe sa kanyang mga tagahanga at tagapakinig. “50 years old na po ako, 33 years nang musikero, di pa rin naging rock star.”

Marahil ay tama si Gary Granada lalo na kung ikukumpara nya ang sarili nya kina Bono o Sting.

Ngunit mainam itanong kung ang pagiging “rock star” ba ang puno’t dulo o sukatan  ng  buhay ng isang musikero o ng kahit sinong namumuhay sa mundo?

gary g 5

Mula sa GaryGranadaMusicWorks

Ayon sa bantog na manunulat na si John Maxwell ang puno’t dulo ng buhay ay ang pagyamanin ang binigay na talento sa atin at gamitin ito para pagyamanin ang buhay ng iba. “Ang magtagumpay ay ang matuklasan kung ano ang  misyon mo sa buhay,  lumago sa kaibuturan ng iyong buod at maghasik ng buto na makatutulong sa iba.” Hindi nga ba’t sa “hierarchy of needs” ni Abraham Maslow ay nasa pinakamatayog na antas ang tinatawag na “self-actualization” o ang pagsasakatuparan ng buod ng ating pagiging tao. At ano nga ba ang buod ng ating pagiging tao kundi ang isinasaad sa talinhaga ng talento? “At sa sinomang binigyan ng marami ay marami ang hihingin sa kanya.”  

Ito sa ganang akin ang tunay na panukat ng tagumpay at kung ito ang gagamitin ng mundo, di hamak na matagal nang  “rock star” si Gary Granada.

gary g 10

Rock Star