Category: Culture

UP: ‘Mga Iskolar na Mayayaman’

 

The Manila Times, April 29, 3013

 

“Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of men..” Horace Mann, American educator, 1848

RATHER than “Iskolar ng Bayan” (Scholars of the People) with its connotation that they’re from the masses, students of the University of the Philippines are mostly “Iskolar na Mayayaman” (rich scholars).

Based on official UP data, its typical student is from the upper class, whose tuition taxpayers heavily subsidize: 72 percent are among the A and B brackets, or those whose families have income of at least P500,000. Only 6.2 percent are from the lowest E bracket, who are not charged tuition.

This conclusion is extracted from the UP’s report on beneficiaries of its Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program. The number of those in the AB could be a bit inflated, based on the argument that the UP’s requirements to prove one’s eligibility to the STFAP program is so rigorous that many of those not from the upper classes do not bother to go through the process. I don’t believe this though: Really poor parents would do all they can to save a few thousands in tuition they deserve.

The class structure for a university the state subsidizes is scandalous. The UP’s full tuition for a year is P54,000, while its actual cost has been estimated to be nearly triple that, at P150,000. Why would the government—us taxpayers—subsidize a rich college kid’s tuition by nearly P100,000?

The data shows something deeply wrong in the UP, as a heavily subsidized national university. UP Manila student Kristel Tejada took her life when she fell into deep depression that she had to stay out of school as her application to be moved to the E2 bracket (full tuition subsidy and a stipend) was not acted upon.

And how many UP Manila students were in the E2 bracket? One hundred ninety-eight: 3.3 percent of the UP Manila’s 5,938. If Kristel was taken in into the E2 bracket, that poorest strata would account for just 3.4 percent of its student population. Was that such a difficult decision from UP Manila’s administrators?

The UP system’s budget is about P10 billion. How many poor students are there in UP who do not have to pay tuition fee? Just 2,544 or 6 percent of its 41,356 students.

In the US, college tuition accounts for an average of 17 percent of a family’s income. In the UP tuition is just 5.4 percent of those in the A bracket, or those with at an annual income of P1 million. The P54,000 the 72 percent of rich UP students pay for tuition is dwarfed by their families’ annual budget for such leisure as for eating out, or a summer vacation.

Even in such things as the state-funded national university, the elite manages to use it to perpetrate itself.Continue reading

Filed under: Culture, Manila Times Columns, Politics

Are terrorists just too religious?

Exodus’ biblical terrorist? Artist’s depiction of the Angel of Death killing all Egyptian first- borns to terrify the Pharaoh to release the Israelites.

The Manila Times, April 28, 2013

Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too/ /Imagine all the people / Living life in peace — “Imagine” by John Lennon

THERE is something deeply disturbing about terrorism, and it is not just the horrific killing of innocents, as in the death of an 8-year old boy and two other bystanders in the Boston bombing.

It is its nature that while it is a most gruesome deed, it is done not to satisfy the terrorist’s basest, selfish impulses—as ordinary crimes are— but for something he believes, or thinks he believes, is a noble cause, something that is bigger than his small self.

Bin Laden is most probably a megalomaniac mass murderer, but after all has been said, there is still that lingering question why a scion of a Saudi Arabian clan would devote his life and probably his billions of dollars to what he believed was a holy war against the US infidel that he even reveled in the killing of 5,000 human beings in the World Trade Center carnage.

The suspected Boston bombers—especially the 19 year-old Dzhokhar Tarnaev— could have lived a comfortable life in the US. They instead believed that they had to risk their lives to kill people for what they thought is some higher good. Timothy McVeigh killed 168 of his fellow Americans in his bombing of an Oklahoma building in his belief that this would spark a revolt against what he believed was a tyrannical US state. Terrorism seems to arise from some deep human impulse, albeit in a perverted version: Man’s need to transcend himself, to become part of bigger whole. Yes, quite ironically, it’s the same impulse responsible for much of humanity’s achievements and its religions.

You would be surprised that a defining mythic episode of Judaism and Christianity would fall under most definitions of terrorism.

In the Exodus, because plagues and infestation weren’t enough, it was the killing by the Angel of Death of all Egyptians’ first-born that convinced the Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery. If that were true, it was terrorism on a genocidal scale. With an estimated Egyptian population of 3.5 million at that time, that would have meant the killing of about a million innocent firstborns, from those in the cradle to the elderly nearing the grave—in order to terrify the Pharaoh.

The Old Testament indeed relates many episodes of terrorism, an indication that such atrocities were not rare in ancient times. When some Israelites began to worship other gods, Numbers 25: 3-4 narrates that Yahweh ordered Moses, to terrify them: “Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the Lord against the sun.”

Could all these Biblical accounts of an angry God killing innocents for His higher purpose been etched in humanity’s collective consciousness that the notion that to murder for such lofty aims is all right? Indeed, this justification was obviously that of the Spanish Inquisition, which ordered thousands of “heretics” burned to the stake. Even (St.) Thomas More, a lawyer, social philosopher, and Renaissance humanist had six “heretics”— actually the first Protestants—executed when he was Lord Chancellor.

It isn’t terrorism but a heinous crime when a gang kidnaps a tycoon’s and demand millions of pesos in ransom. It was terrorism though when the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped tourists in Dos Palmas and demanded ransom, and claim that they did it as part of their jihad to establish an Islamic state. It seems there has to be a broader, even higher purpose for a violent act to be classified as “terrorist.”

But the religious would point out that the most horrific episodes of terrorism—to broaden the use o—f the term —are those committed by atheists—Hitler most especially, if one believes he rejected his childhood Catholicism, as well as the communist megalomaniacs Stalin, Mao, and even Khmer Rouge Pol Pot.

But these mass murderers also didn’t kill for fun, or to amass fortunes. In the same manner that the faithful believe in some higher (Divine) purpose, these mass terrorists believed in something bigger than themselves (defined by what they thought by history and “rationality”), the achievement of which for them justified the killing of millions of innocents.

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Filed under: Culture, Manila Times Columns, Philosophy

A Filipina mother’s master at the Masters

 

The Manila Times, April 21, 2013

 

THAT’S Jason Day, who finished third at the Masters Tournament last Sunday in Augusta, Georgia, ahead of Tiger Woods and other golf greats like Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els.

It was a bit surprising that our sports journalists paid little attention to Jason, the first golfer with Filipino blood to ascend the Olympic heights of what many think is the most difficult sport in the world.

Early in the final round last Sunday, Jason even seemed on the way to wearing Augusta’s trademark green jacket of the champion, and was the leader at nine under, ahead of the eventual winner, the Australian Adam Scott and the Argentinian Angel Cabrera, who placed second. But such is the game of inches; Jason missed three putts to fall behind the two in the last three holes.

No matter, I’d bet now— as many in fact did when he finished 2nd in the 2011 Masters—that he’d be the next Tiger Woods. After all, he’s just 25, while the winner Scott is 32 and second- placer Cabrera is 43. Tiger at 37 may have already peaked.

Jason at Augusta demonstrated much of what makes golf different from other sports: supreme tranquility that seems to be meditation in motion, yet with a focused mind. With his pre- shot routine of staring for unusually many seconds at his target, visualizing the flight of ball, he plays patiently golf’s inner game. Jason’s swing was so effortless and so smooth that Tiger’s seemed to be jerky, and too tense.

In news accounts, Jason was merely identified as the “other Australian”, who placed third at Augusta with 7 under.

Jason’s parents though are immigrants to Australia. His father Alvin is from Ireland, a country known for its love of golf and which has produced over the decades some of the greatest golfers, among them Fred Daly and Harry Bradshaw. His mother is a Filipina, Adenyl (“Dening”) Grapilon from the third- class municipality of Carigara in northern Leyte, the outskirts of where the New People’s Army still operates. News accounts of Jason’s life say that his parents got together by mailing each other, and that both were workers in a meatpacking factory.

Jason’s story no doubt is another indication of how Filipinos have spread throughout the planet, so much so that Filipino blood is finding its way in the arteries of the best of the human species.

But it’s more than that. Jason’s ascent to become one of the world’s top ten golfers is an inspiring story, a classic tale of how the father provides the son the vision, with the mother taking care of the nitty-gritty of how that vision will be fulfilled.

And then, there’s the critical ingredient—the individual defying fate, and deciding, as that Wiliam Henly poem put, to be master of his fate, captain of his soul.

Jason related an embarrassing episode in his life, which reminded me of a very common practice of struggling Filipino immigrants in the US ( which actually inspired the enterprising among them to start the ukay- ukay craze in our country):

Asked by a golf writer if it was true if he wore “Salvation Army” clothes in his youth, he answered:

“Yeah, five bucks a bag. We’d go there with 10 bucks, and my sisters and me would cram in as much stuff as we could. I turned up at school one day in this shirt I had from the Salvation Army—it was this tight, button-up, short-sleeve T-shirt that was two sizes too small for me—and everyone from school teased me because they said I looked like a refugee. They said, ‘Did you just get off the boat?’ I was the only Asian kid in my school so they thought I was just off the boat.’

But as was the theme of one of my favorite movies—Woody Allen’s “Matchpoint”— sheer chance is more often as important as our will.

Jason’s career started out with his father finding a discarded old three wood in the garbage bin at his workplace and gave it on a whim to his three-year old son as a toy. Jason kept swinging it a tennis ball for hours that his Dad thought he was a natural, and could make career out of it. His father nurtured his interest, and by six, with a halfset of used golf clubs a neighbor gave, he was playing regularly at the public course near their home in the small town (population: 15,000) of Beaudesert, Queensland.

But then chance took a different turn. When he was 11, his father died of stomach cancer, a month after it was diagnosed. He was devastated, as I think most pre- teens who idolize their father would. Jason narrated that period of his life: “I didn’t really care about anything. I was very wild. I got into trouble a lot [ and] did all the bad stuff.” He had even become an alcoholic, and regularly got into fist fights at school.

Filipina mother Dening (from her Facebook page) and his pro son Jason

I don’t think his mother Dening was a golfer nor would have known that it is a sport one could make a fortune on. Still though— and probably because it seemed to her as the only way to turn around his son’s life— Dening sold the house she and her husband got to own from their working- class wages in order to send Jason to the $ 20,000- ayear Kooralbyn International School in Brisbane, a renowned boarding school with a golf program. (Another alumni is Adam Scott who won the Masters’ last Sunday.)

Jason’s mentor Colin Swatton described her determination: “Jason’s mum, Dening, did what she had to do to put him through the academy. For as long as I have known her, she has always worked one or two jobs in a bid to give Jason every opportunity to do well. She has done exceptionally well.” Jason even credits his mother for the kind of determination he had demonstrated in the golf tours, that she would methodically and ruthlessly pursue his king on the chessboard until it was cornered.

I can’t help quoting quotes to describe Jason’s life, this time the Roman “Fate favors the brave.” Swatton, a golf coach at Kooralbyn, thought he had a rare talent for golf that he became Jason’s golf guru to this day. He has been by Jason’s side in all tournaments, as his caddy.

There was another chance event for Jason, but only so since he was already into golf. In the school’s dorm, somebody left a book on Tiger Woods which related among other things that he was already a scratch player at 15 years old that Jason vowed to match that feat. Most probably it was also the fact than a half-Asian like him could be the world’s no. 1 golfer that inspired Jason.

Turning professional at 19 years old, Jason has become the world’s no. 7 golfer at 25, and I’d bet he’d be no. 1 soon, the very first Pinoy golf great.

“I want to become No. 1 in the world. I was taught in my life, by my parents, that you don’t get anywhere without working hard,” Jason said. Words not only of wisdom, but of respect.

Filed under: Culture, Manila Times Columns, PH in the World, Philosophy

Why more Filipinos are missing the mass

Source: Social Weather Stations

The Manila Times, April 13, 2013 

It’s shocking news for the Church hierarchy: Only 37 percent of Filipinos go to church weekly, according to the Social Weather Stations’ poll February 2013, and the figure has continually gone down from its peak of 64 percent in 1994.  That’s even lower than the comparable 42 percent figure in the more secular US, which inarguably is less religious and less catolico cerrado than the Philippines.

Church leaders expectedly have been in a paroxysm of protest, claiming that they see with their own eyes that their churches are full every Sunday.  They should read columnist Solita Monsod’s fascinating computations that with only 37 percent of Filipinos attending Church weekly, the country’s 6,400 churches would still be filled up every Sunday.

There are several reasons for this surprising data.

While the SWS did not provide data on the demographics of Church attendance, similar studies elsewhere show that the decline in church attendance is steeper among those in their 20s and 30s.. This means that more of the young generation have become less religious or have found church attendance irrelevant to their lives.

One reason for this is that the younger generation has access to unbelievably more information than their parents, giving them rational tools to conclude that much of the kind of religiosity of the past is simply superstition or disguised materialism,  e.g. that one can convince the Deity to give him enough luck to win the lotto or be employed abroad.  In Scandinavian countries for instance where the level of prosperity and educational attainment are high, church attendance has plummeted to single digit-levels that many churches have been sold or leased to become trendy bars and bistros.

One reason for the decline in church attendance could be logically due to the rise of agnosticism and atheism.  I don’t think though that this is the main reason. Not too many Filipinos would embrace the idea that an afterlife is as much a myth as Peter Pan’s Neverland. Nor would they junk the very soothing conviction that Papa Jesus and Mama Mary are taking care of them in their adulthood and especially in their old age, just as their parents did when they were kids.

The decline in religiosity may not really be steep, deducing from the SWS data, and going by anecdotal evidence. Rather than being atheists or agnostics, a significant number of Catholics have instead joined home-grown religious movements which promise worldly prosperity and provide new forms of worshipping – among them, El Shaddai, Dating Daan, Jesus is Lord, the Kingdom of God movements.  With its  emphasis as a self-help organization, in which unemployed members are found jobs, the Iglesia ni Cristo  appears to be expanding fast, going by the ubiquitousness of their churches.

A major reason I suspect though for the drop in church attendance is because of the drastic changes for the reason for going there: the Mass.  Starting 1969, the so-called Tridentine or Roman Rite Mass decreed since 1570 was replaced by what is called the Mass of Paul VI, after the Pope who convened the Second Vatican Council that ordered the new mass.

There were two instances that jolted me into realizing how different the old mass was with present one. When I brought my late mother to a mall thinking that she would be more comfortable by hearing mass there, she scolded me and walked out angrily: “What kind of mass is this, in a mall?” She was right, it wasn’t a gathering of the faithful – as the mass is supposed to be – but of shoppers or would-be shoppers doing a chore that would spare them the penalty of a sin.

When instead of choirs, the Ateneo chapel had singers strumming on guitars singing “The Impossible Dream” or “Blowin in the Wind” during the mass, an elderly man beside me remarked sarcastically, “What’s this, a night club?”

Pope Paul VI, in his attempt to bring the mass “closer to the people” instead removed much of the solemnity, mystery, and sacredness – whether these were authentic or not – of the Tridentine Mass.

Ancient Latin was junked as its language. However, for example, the ancient “Dominus vobiscum” didn’t just mean “The Lord be with you,” but seemed to be sacred words that transported one’s consciousness to a divine realm.  It even got worse when the masses used Filipino. “Ave Maria” just doesn’t sound as divine as “Aba Ginoong Maria”. (And that even always distracted me as I couldn’t help wonder why “ginoong” and not “ginang”, and why “Aba”, which is a term of exclamation.)

It was my dalliance with Eastern meditative practices that I realized why the church was rather clever in using Latin in its mass for centuries in all countries.  In yoga, zen and all other eastern meditative disciplines, it is the stilling of the mind that is supposed to open one to the Divine, to nirvana, satori or whatever.  But the mind consists merely of internal, un-verbalized words.  So if you become absorbed in words (e.g., Hindu and Japanese) you don’t understand, especially if they are given rhythm as in yogic mantra and Zen chanting, the mind is stilled.  No wonder Gregorian singing and Tibetan Buddhist chanting have the same eerie effect on me.

Several other aspects of the new Catholic mass have really been turn-offs for modern Filipinos. That part when you’re supposed to give others a gesture of peace is a contrived, even hypocritical one. Evolution has hard-wired us to have our inviolable body-space, and we reserve prolonged linking of our body space with another only for loved ones.  Yet the mass often requires one to hold hands even with strangers for the two or three minutes as the “Our Father” is sung.

The Catholic mass has ceased to be a venue for simulating transcending one’s ego to feel that one is part of a greater whole, whether it is a community or a Divinity. Other religious movements have been able to simulate such a feeling of “oneness”, borrowing mainly from the techniques of the American Black Churches, where the faithful are gradually fired up to some kind of collective mass hysteria that they lose their ego, and recollect that experience later as their union with god.

Instead, the experience of the Mass now is as if watching the nth replay of an old movie, interrupted by somebody who hardly really knows what real life is, yet pontificating to his captive audience how he or she should live life.

Filed under: Culture, Manila Times Columns, Philosophy

Stop subsidizing the rich at UP

Tuition Fees Per Year in Pesos (36 units, or for a year): Education for all, certainly, but charge the rich

 

The Manila Times, March 27, 2013

WHAT makes the suicide of University of the Philippines student Kristel Tejada so tragic is this:

While she got so despondent that her family couldn’t afford her tuition fees, the university has actually been subsidizing children of the Philippine elite.

The UP’s “full tuition” fee (imposed for students whose families ostensibly make P1 million or more a year) is P54,000 for 36 units, for a year’s maximum academic load. That’s a preposterous 5 percent of their income that they’re allocating for their son or daughter’s college education, really the best in the country.That’s peanuts for the rich, not even close to what they spend in the year eating out.

The populists and Leftists at UP would protest that this—or any tuition level actually—is too high for a state university. But this is a subsidized rate: There have been studies that the actual cost for UP’s quality college education would be three times that, about P150, 000.

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Did Jesus Exist?

The book's cover

Sunday Read: Book Review

The Manila Times, March 24, 2013

You’d probably be aghast that I devote a column to what seems to be preposterous question.

But it has been asked starting way back in the 18th century by scholars. In recent years, interest on the question has intensified with probably a thousand doctoral and masteral theses, books as well as articles both from Christian and secular universities touching on the issue. In past few years a slew of books – both academic and popular – by scholars and authors called the “mythicists’”. They argue that Jesus Christ is a myth, concocted in the first and second centuries to become the core of a new religion.

The mythicists claim we cannot simply accept the myths and even legends of pre-scientific superstitious societies but examine them in the light of science and humanity’s bank of information.  This is obvious in the case of the Greek gods. Less obvious are the cases of  Santa Claus, Robin Hood, even St. Christopher  who turn out not to be real historical people but amalgams of persons mythicized over the centuries (e.g., Santa Claus a confused mix of a 4th century German bishop St. Nicholas and the pre-Christian Viking god Odin.)

The mythicists  claim that elements of the Jesus  story have been common in myths during  that era and in that part of the world. The theme of a dying-rising God has been common in ancient religions: Osiris, Attis, Heracles, Baal.  The Persian God Mithra (who was popular among Roman soldiers) was also born to a virgin.Continue reading

Filed under: Books, Culture, Manila Times Columns, PhilosophyTagged with:

Religions and empires

SUNDAY READ

The Manila Times, March 17, 2013

Painter’s depiction of the Battle of Tours, 732 A.D.: If the Christian Franks lost this battle, we would have been Muslims

It is when a new Pope needs to be elected that most people, through television,   get to witness the majesty and glory of Catholicism’s capital, the Vatican in Rome

Never mind that it was mainly financed by Pope Leo X’s so-called indulgences, basically pay-to-get-to-heaven schemes that triggered the Lutheran revolt that led to Protestantism. The Basilica of St. Peter must be the most magnificent building on earth, and as you walk beneath Michelangelo’s dome, the largest in the world that it signifies the heavenly firmament, you can very easily imagine – with the colossal statues of the evangelists, saints, and Popes looking down on you – that you’re no longer on earth but in the Palace of the Gods.

Thanks to the spread of television and in the Philippines, to the networks’ cerrado Catolico devotion, millions of the Catholic faithful watched the Vatican’s spectacle for choosing the new Vicar of Christ.  What they saw seemed unearthly scenes, and for many, a confirmation that the Roman Catholic Church indeed represents the Deity that rules all of the Cosmos.

A proselytizer would follow up an assertion of faith: 1.2 billion Catholics can’t be wrong in their belief.

The quick answer to that: There are 1.6 billion Muslims, 800 million Protestants, one billion Hindus, 800 million Protestants and other types of Christians, and 500 million Buddhists.  Scratch the surface of ancestor worship, and China (population 1.3 billion) and Japan (127 million) are atheist countries. Although difficult to estimate, atheists either of the strong or weak varieties are believed to number 1.1 billion, and by all accounts growing.

The long answer, which explains why Christianity and Islam are the two biggest religions of the world, and in one word: Empire.Continue reading

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Why no female Pope ever, never?

Poster of a 2009 film on a legendary female Pope

The Manila Times, March 15, 2013

A stupid question?  Not at all.  In fact, the question goes deep into the nature of the Roman Catholic Church.

It is a question that has even haunted, as it were, the nightmares of the Catholic Church.  Thus the intriguing reports through the centuries – dismissed though merely as legend by church historians – of a female  “Pope Joan” in the 11th century who disguised herself as a male, to be exposed, and killed, only when she gave birth in a pontifical procession.  The legend’s fascination even in the modern era is evident in that two movies have been made on Pope Joan, first in 1972 (and then more recently, a European one in 2009.

The persistence of the legend through the centuries is also evidenced by the fact that she is depicted in the Tarot as “La Papessa” (the Popess) or, obviously in order not to hurt Catholic sensibilities,  merely as the “High Priestess.”

It is the deep fear of a female Pope that explains the rumors that the last step in  the confirmation of a new Pope – portrayed in the hit TV series The Borgias —  is for the pope-elect to sit without his underwear in the sedes stercoraria, a chair with a huge hole in the seat,  so a bishop by groping can confirm  if he has balls, literally.

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ABS-CBN’s ‘Anak ng Dwende,’ GMA7’s ‘Aswang’

 The Manila Times, March 10, 2013

WITH their 6:30 p.m. slots, and with the metropolis’ horrendous traffic, I’m sure very few broadsheet readers, who are mostly from the middle to upper-class, get to watch two of the foremost television news programs that have been running ever since I can remember, ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol and GMA Network’s 24 (“Bente Kwatro”) Oras.

( Video grab from TV Patrol’s website)Korina Sanchez reporting on woman claiming her child was fathered by a dwarf.)

For the first time in many years, I watched last Friday the one-and-a- half hours of these two primetime programs, flipping from one station to the other, every time there’s a commercial, and you wouldn’t believe how many of them are. I strongly suggest you do so one of these days, and you will be either shocked, saddened, or angered.

In last Friday’s TV Patrol, a most distinguished multi-awareded TV journalist, Korina Sanchez, had a feature, maybe even an “investigative” piece, entitled Anak ng Dwende (A dwarf’s child). (I’m sure though Sanchez, a hard-nosed journalist, would not on her own touch with a 10-foot pole this story, and that some inane TV news producer just shoved this on her.)

She travelled all the way to “Sitio Tinago, Talavera town in Toledo City” (that’s on the farther, poorer side of Cebu island) to interview a poor young woman, Jenalyn Gimenez, who claimed a dwarf fathered her child, as she didn’t have any boyfriend or husband.

Sanchez reports ( translated from Pilipino): “Villagers were surprised one day when she gave birth to a child, since she didn’t even have a boyfriend. It is said that the father is a dwarf because the baby was so small, only as big as a soft drink bottle, and his ears were pointed.”

Sanchez interviewed her as she has interviewed probably thousands of newsmakers in her distinguished media career. She asks the woman: How did you get pregnant? The woman answers: “I fell asleep at the punso [a mound of earth, which superstitious Filipinos believe is a dwarf’s home], and that’s where the dwarf impregnated me.” The camera pans the yard of the woman’s home, as Sanchez voices over: “It is puzzling that there are many punsos here and it is said that a dwarf residing in one of these fathered Jenalyn’s child.”

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The future of newspapers is here

The Manila Times, February 24, 2013

MEDIA STUDIES

SUNDAY READ

As early as 5 AM, I can read this newspaper, and where I live,  even the most well circulated broadsheets would arrive at the earliest only after lunch.  And by “reading this newspaper”, I don’t mean its Internet version, which for most newspapers, except for its masthead, doesn’t look anything like the original print edition.

Rather, I read Manila Times, exactly  it is printed, using my Mac, my wife’s IPad, my Iphone, or even, if I wanted to,  in the Kindle devices.  You see, I’ve been a subscriber since 2008 of, and totally sold on, this internet service at www.pressdisplay.com. Check it out: It is the future of newspapers.

The Manila Times as it appears in pressdisplay.com

 

Bad news though: It’s not a free site, and costs $29.95 a month. But that’s just P1,220,  about double the cost of subscribing to two broadsheets (priced at  P18 to P20 a day).   And for P1,220, I can read two other Philippine broadsheets, three Cebu newspapers, four tabloids and a dozen magazines.But.. I don’t…ehem.. really care much about the other Philippine broadsheets. I’m sold at Pressdisplay as it contains, believe it or not, about 2,300 newspapers and magazines from 97 countries. (Not much use for me, but the newspapers the service offers are in 55 languages.)

Hence, in its “My Newspapers” button (the equivalent of “Favorites” in your browser), I have the International Herald Tribune, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, and The Daily Telegraph.   Just to emphasize, these aren’t the Internet editions of these papers but their facsimiles, in full color. So shown are even the advertisements, for example the full-paged ad Paul’s TV in West Covina  or Macy’s  one-day sale ad in The Chicago Tribune.

The newspapers available for viewing are listed alphabetically, per language, and by country. The lengthiest and most interesting listing is that for UK, which has over a hundred papers.  It even includes raunchy UK tabloids, like tje Daily  (and Sunday) Sport, whose name is as much a misnomer if Penthouse were instead called Men’s Fashion.  Using Pressdisplay, I can even check out how bad it is in Greece now (where I spent nearly five years as ambassador) by reading Kathimerini (English Edition).

I’ve been monitoring the Malaysian view of the armed excursion by followers of the Sultan of Sulu into Sabah, by bringing up The Borneo Post.  Nothing on that issue in the past three days, after its headline Feb. 20, “Room for talks with intruders,” which had the subhead, “Home Ministry all out to avoid bloodshed in crisis but warns no compromise on sovereignty”. The newspaper though is certainly being patriotic, as the article was accompanied by a huge photo of the Home Minister examining the assault rifles of his General Operations Force police.  The obvious message to our brothers there: “Either surrender or we will use shoot you with these rifles. Notice how ruthless our police look.”

From that newspaper, I learn that President B.S. Aquino’s kind of boasting isn’t unique.  The headline of an article in that Malaysian newspaper: “Economic growth driven by confidence in govt, says (Prime Minister) Najib”.  I wouldn’t browse be able to browse The Borneo Post this way if  were reading its Internet version.

For fun, and to remind me again and again to do my best to avoid being parochial (which I think is big weakness of the Filipino mind), I check out newspapers in countries totally out of most Filipinos’ radar.  Would you believe Pressdisplay has 80 publications from Russia, including strangely two magazines for pregnant women (Nine Months and Mama), and just 62 Australian publications.

The big reason though that I am such a fan of Pressdisplay is that it maintains the actual look of a newspaper, which has evolved to an art form for over a hundred years and is as important as much as the information it contains.  As one information theorist termed it, a newspaper has is own “shape of information”.

Its lay-out represents the editors’  hierarchical valuation of news: the banner story, the number two banner story, those in the inside pages.  The real “editorial” of a newspaper – or its political and ideological bias – is contained its layout.  Editors’ and their bosses mold the masses’ interpretation of a society through its layout.  Monitor the yellow press.  Everything nice about Mr. Aquino, every good news is in the front page, even in their banner story.  Everything not nice and bad, in the inside pages.

“This is important for you to know,” a newspaper tells a reader when it makes that news item its headline. “This is not important,” if it buries it in its inside pages.

Corrupt editors even put a higher price for paid “news stories” placed “above-the-fold” (upper half of the front page) compared to those “below–the-fold”, as even a cursory glance at a newspaper kiosk would put that “news story” put above the fold in the masses’ mind.

This is common knowledge for newspaper editors, with main purpose of the daily meetings of editors is determining what would be the banner story, and what are the stories to be put in the front page.

I had been for instance very critical of certain newspapers’ penchant for putting reports of opinion surveys not only above-the-fold but even using them as banner stories. This is something not done in mature societies which have realized that these surveys simply reveal the impact of media, so that reporting such survey prominently  is in effect a closed-loop kind of phenomenon, or a vicious circle.

On the positive side, it is through its layout that a newspaper’s editors and publishers can draw people’s attention to developments that are really important, yet which hasn’t been given such a value by other bigger, biased newspapers.  Thus, this newspaper has had several banner stories reporting on doubts regarding the automation for the May elections –which the yellow papers have been ignoring or downplaying.

I don’t see how the internet version of this newspaper can emulate for example our publisher’s vision (as British The Economist has been doing for decades) of providing readers not only with raw data, but crucial in an information-overloaded society, carefully analyzed information by its columnists,  put on its front page.

I haven’t seen a newspaper’s Internet edition accurately representing its print version’s layout, if that is at all possible.  A listing of news under Nation or Business sections as is done in Internet editions just doesn’t capture the “spirit” or valuations of its original print edition.

Pressdisplay could be the future of newspapers, a growing number of which in the US and Europe have been closing down, or having Internet editions only, as the Christian Science Monitor did starting last year. This is not only the result of rising costs for print but due to the migration of advertising revenues to  TV and the Internet.

The Pressdisplay kind of platform (I haven’t seen a competitor) maintains the print edition exactly as it is, yet transmitted through cyberspace, and no longer bound by the high cost of paper (which accounts for 70-80 percent of a publication’s expenses) nor by the physical constraints of distribution, quite steep in a country with weak infrastructure.

Just as many US newspapers have adopted, the business model might be having  limited copies of the paper (mostly for the senior citizens who naturally haven’t outgrown their reading habits), with the focus being on the distribution of facsimile of the newspaper, together with all its ads, in a Pressdisplay platform.

The facsimile version will be parallel to the Internet version, which would have its own advertisements, providing inter-active and real-time systems, and exploiting its advantage over the print version, which is unlimited space, so that even voluminous documents can be posted. Columnists, editors, and even reporters could have blogs in the Internet edition, to expound, correct, or add information to their articles limited by space constraints in its print edition.

Real competition emerges in such Pressdisplay environment, which will focus on that emphasized by an old dotcom industry aphorism: “Content is King.”

E-mail: tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com

Archive of the author’s columns at www.trigger.ph

This is the first of an occasional series on a critique of Philippine media, a crucial factor for  democracy by the author, who is also Dean of the Manila Times College of Journalism. 

 

 

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