Sunday, September 29, 2013

Let's (Not) Get Physical

The issue of participation by foreigners in local politics has recently received attention in the media.  publicity.  According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, such involvement by non-Filipinos is illegal, at least when it comes to elections for public office. Yet, as the Inquirer has noted, the Bureau of Immigration has applied this ban to include all political demonstrations as well.and went so far as arresting and deporting two aliens for joining  a protest criticizing President Aquino's State of the Nation address. 

Is should be noted that the Philippines is a constitutional democracy, and freedom of speech is a protected right. According to the" Inquirer" this right should extend to foreigners in the Philippines to the same degree as it does to Filipino citizens, as long as the former are not fomenting violence or civil unrest.

But even if the law were clarified to permit non-Filipinos to participate in  overt nonviolent displays of political and social activism, in my mind there is another matter to be considered: delicadeza i.e. a sense of propriety. As a non-citizen (although a permanent resident) in the Philippines, I still consider myself a "guest" in this country. And as such, is it proper for me to get into my host's  face by physically inserting myself in, say, by joining in an anti-governement march, even if I have a stake in the issue that's being contested?

And yet, as a foreigner the posts that I write in this blog are often critical of Philippine customs, culture, and society.  Isn't that just as rude and confrontational as physically participating in  a rally?  I think that there may be some differences. For one thing, in blogging, I'm not part of a gathering  that may be peaceful in its intent but somehow is goaded into violence. Further, my protests are passive.  Those who want to read my posts  must come to my site and read my work. Importantly, if they disagree with what I've written, they can  enter comments, including corrections to any errors I might have made. Unlike in a  demonstration, there's no chance my words will be disruptive or will inconvenience anyone.  On the other hand, you can't as easily argue with someone waving a placard and shouting slogans and / or who may be blocking traffic.

Another thing is that foreign demonstrators, especially tourists and other short-timers here, may be going off half-cocked because they've not bothered  to fully inform themselves about the matter that they're protesting.  Also, if the demonstration turns into a clash with law enforcement they may get injured or arrested..  In the event of the latter, they may think that their embassy will come to their rescue and bail them out (this is especially the case with Americans). That's not going to happen. Aliens who are taken into custody are subject to the laws and legal system of the Philippines just like anyone else here.

Ultimately, of course, it's up to the individual non-citizen here to determine the kind of involvement in which  (s)he will engage regarding local issues about which (s)he feels deeply. And perhaps the law should be amended to remove any ambiguities that stand in the way of foreigners involving themselves in marches and rallies, although as I've emphasized, personally such activity is not my cup of tea. However, until such time, I would urge such would-be protesters to ask themselves how they feel about foreigners demonstrating in their own countries (think illegals in the U.S. who take to the streets  waving flags of their country of origin and  making demands for rights to which they aren't even entitled in the first place), then decide on your course of action.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


As hazardous as driving is in the Philippines,  walking, especially in Metro-Manila  is also often a risky venture. So here are some important pointers to keep in mind while getting around on foot. 

Crosswalks are merely stripes in the road as far as most drivers are concerned, so do not assume that they will automatically yield the right of way. When crossing, wait until the approaching vehicles come to a stop before proceeding, lane by lane.

Sidewalks are often non-existent, even along busy streets.  And where they do exist, they tend to be  poorly constructed. They  are often broken, cracked, or have small, almost unnoticeable but hazardous bumps of concrete. I've tripped and fallen a couple of times over these protrusions.  So watching where you're going should include looking down as well as ahead.  In many places, walkways are blocked by lampposts, utility poles, traffic signs, street vendor stalls, and parked vehicles, just to name a few obstacles.  So if you need to step into the street to get around them and are walking in the same direction that the traffic is flowing, check behind you for vehicles before stepping off the curb.

If you are walking alone on a sidewalk wide enough for only two people and two oncoming pedestrians walking abreast approach you, the person directly in front of you won't drop back by behind his/her companion until (s)he is a few inches away from youliterally in your face. This is evidently due to the personal narcissism that pervades Philippine culture such that people here  often are oblivious to the existence of the "other" i.e., anyone who is not in their personal circle of interest.

I recall a humorous bumper sticker from my California days: "If you don't like  the way I drive, get off the sidewalk".   In the Philippines, that's no joke. If you're walking on the sidewalk along a busy thoroughfare, be aware that  motorcyclists sometimes use walkways as a shortcut to avoid heavy traffic. Be especially alert as they may come up behind you without warning. 

Don't be surprised to see jaywalkers climbing over median barriers when crossing the streets.  They are indifferent to the risk of life and limb and don't want to bother walking to the nearest pedestrian overpass or crosswalk instead, even though there may be  signs warning that pedestrians have been struck and killed trying to cross at that spot.

In short, when you're out and about as a pedestrian, hazards abound.  So stay alert.  Stay focused. Stay alive.