This week two noteworthy events involving the Philippines made headlines: the botched rescue of Chinese tourists taken hostage by a disgruntled former policeman, and a botched response to a question by Miss Philippines in the finals for the Miss Universe contest. You might ask, what do these two things have in common? Separately, not much, but taken together, they represent both the peril and promise of the Philippines today.
For many years pundits have commented that the Philippines appears to be heading backwards economically and politically, while many parts of Asia barrel toward middle income status and have maturing democracies. Yes, other countries have disputed elections, other countries' leaders do questionable things, and other developing countries struggle to achieve sustainable economic growth. And, yes, there are recent examples of fresh political turmoil and economic hardship not only in Asia, but throughout the world.
The difference here is, many of the countries experiencing political instability and economic dislocation don't have the things the Philippines has: agricultural self-sufficiency, a high literacy rate, and a largely homogeneous population. One Asian country that possesses these qualities - Indonesia - has managed to transcend monumental political turmoil, turn its situation around, get on the path to democracy, stay there, and become a darling of the international investment community. The Philippines had this in the 1960s. Why can't it have it now?
When I lived in the Philippines from 2003 to 2007, I was asked, what is the difference between the Philippines and Indonesia? My answer was, "In Indonesia, they have hope." I came to the conclusion that in spite of all the things the Philippines has going for it, its people didn't demand enough of themselves, or of their government. Political apathy and a willingness to accept a low common denominator of performance have taken their toll on the psyche of the Philippine people.
Filipinos should not therefore be surprised that the Philippine police tried to negotiate with the hijacker of the Chinese tourist bus well after a reasonable period of time had passed, negotiations had failed, and the lives of the tourists were clearly in jeopardy. Police from a variety of other nations would have simply killed him at the first opportunity, regardless of the fact that he was a former colleague. This SWAT team knew how to get the results that were required, but they failed to do so. Why? Their priorities were misaligned. The safety of the hostages should have been paramount - not the fanciful notion that a man who is desperate enough to take hostages would somehow come to his senses at the height of the crisis.
The result of actions like this are unfortunately consistent with the expectations many people have of performance in other areas. Politically, the Philippines has descended into an ongoing competition between political dynasties: Marcos, Arroyo, and yes, Aquino. What I don't understand is, why do Filipinos continue to vote them in, election after election? Is it because of a lack of viable alternatives? No. Is it because of political apathy? Possibly. Or is it because they have no expectations that anything will change, regardless of who is in power? Definitely. What does this say about the country's future? Nothing good.
Which brings me to the Miss Universe contest. Miss Philippines, Maria Venus Raj, is by anyone's definition fantastically beautiful, poised, and graceful. Many believe she should have won the competition, and she deserves a lot of credit for being the first Filipina since 1999 to make it to the finals. But her flubbed response to the question of what mistake she had made in her life and what would she have done differently apparently cost her the crown. How could this 22-year-old woman, who so diligently prepared herself for that moment -- at great personal sacrifice her whole life - not have come up with a better response?
She was nervous, she said. Well, who among the finalists wasn't? Other Filipinos have said English wasn't her first language so she had difficulty coming up with the right words. Really? How come no other Philippine contestant in the Miss Universe pageant ever had an interpreter? In preparation for this event it never occurred to her or anyone around her that such a question might be asked? Had she come up with a better response, it is likely the crown would have been hers, and the Philippines would be basking in her glow. Instead, it's just another instance of a missed opportunity, and Filipinos are making excuses.
If the Philippines wants to get its act together and live up to its potential, it needs to demand more of itself. It can achieve this by stopping making excuses for its failures and ending its acceptance of the lowest common denominator. President Aquino promised to put an end to nepotism and corruption in government. The people should make sure he does this. When the police screw up a hostage rescue, the people responsible should be fired. And when a beauty queen blows an attempt to become the glory of the Philippine people, it should be recognized as such.
Daniel Wagner is Managing Director of Country Risk Solutions, a political risk consultancy based in Connecticut.
A 22-year-old Mexico woman won the Miss Universe pageant Monday night after donning a flowing red gown and telling an audience it's important to teach kids family values.
Jimena Navarrete of Guadalajara was first to answer an interview question Monday night and the last of 83 contestants standing in the headline-grabbing pageant on the Las Vegas Strip.
Her one-strap dress flowed behind her like a sheet as she walked during the evening gown competition. Earlier, she smiled in a violet bikini as she confidently strutted across the stage.
Asked by Olympic gold-medal figure skater Evan Lysacek how she felt about unsupervised Internet use, Navarrete said the Internet is important but parents need to be careful and watch over their kids.
"I do believe that Internet is an indispensable, necessary tool for the present time," she said through an interpreter. "We must be sure to teach them the values that we learned as a family."
First runner-up was Miss Jamaica Yendi Phillipps, while second runner-up was Miss Australia Jesinta Campbell.
Navarrete — who's been modeling since she was 15 — is Mexico's second Miss Universe. Lupita Jones of Mexico won the title in 1991. Navarrete replaces Miss Universe 2009 Stefania Fernandez of Venezuela.
Navarrete's win thwarted Miss Venezuela Marelisa Gibson from giving the South American country a third consecutive victory. Neither Gibson nor Miss USA Rima Fakih made the top 15 finalists.
Navarrete was immediately congratulated on Twitter by Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala.
"Congratulations to Jimena Navarrete for her deserved victory as Miss Universe," Calderon said. "This will serve Mexico, (and) our image as a country."
With fans in some 190 countries watching on television and keeping tabs on social networks, Navarrete and her competitors introduced themselves while wearing over-the-top national costumes. They then danced in silver and black dresses for the show's opening number before the top 15 finalists were announced.The final 15 walked in swimsuits while Cirque du Soleil musicians played Elvis Presley songs including "Viva Las Vegas." The last 10 impressed in their gowns while John Legend and the Roots played a soulful medley including "Save Room."
By the end of the show, seven of the top 10 trending topics on Twitter had to do with the pageant, its contestants, its judges or owner Donald Trump. The mogul co-owns the pageant with TV network NBC.
The show was without any major gaffes, except for Miss Philippines' answer when asked what her biggest mistake in life was and how she fixed it.
"In my 22 years of existence, I can say there is nothing major," Venus Raj said.
Before the pageant, Raj was rated among the top contestants in an online poll on the pageant's website. She finished in fifth place.
Navarrete won a package of prizes including an undisclosed salary, a luxury New York apartment with living expenses, a one-year scholarship to the New York Film Academy with housing after her reign, plus jewelry, clothes and shoes fit for a beauty champion.
Campbell won the Miss Congeniality Universe award. Miss Thailand Fonthip Watcharatrakul won Miss Photogenic Universe and a second award for having the best national costume.
Fakih, a 24-year-old Lebanese immigrant from Dearborn, Mich., spurred celebrations among Arab-Americans when she won Miss USA. Pageant records aren't detailed enough to show whether Fakih is the first Arab-American, Muslim or immigrant to win Miss USA.
California health officials have warned consumers not to eat Transformers "Revenge of the Fallen" Crunchy Candies from one specific lot after tests found unacceptable levels of lead.
Consumers in possession of the candy should discard it immediately, the California Department of Public Health said Friday.
The candies are imported from China and distributed by Au'some, Inc., located in Monmouth Junction, N.J.
The affected lot was sold exclusively to 99 Cent Only stores in California, Arizona, Nevada and Texas. Au'some, Inc. initiated a voluntary recall of the candy after learning of the elevated levels of lead found by the state.
Recent analysis of the candy determined that the Lot No. 09168 of the candies contained as much as 0.27 parts per million (ppm) of lead. California considers candies with lead levels in excess of 0.10 ppm to be contaminated.
The candy is sold in 4.5-oz. packages (UPC No. 66097311718-3) and consists of compressed, hard candies that are pink, orange, blue and purple. The candies are visible through the retail package. The lot number is printed on each individual retail bag of candy in black ink on the clear plastic seam, located on the back of the packaging.
Ladies and Gents, we have another epic A-list battle on our hands. Our dueling divas -- Jennifer Lopez and Rihanna -- were both spotted out wearing the same striking Lanvin dress. Question is ... who wore it better?
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images Hellmuth Dominguez/PacificCoastNews.com
Back in April, J.Lo donned the Lanvin frock for the London premiere of her romantic comedy, "The Back-Up Plan." Accessorizing with a wide belt, Lanvin necklace, black Ferragamo heels, and a Jimmy Choo clutch, the actress topped off her look with a fab beehive inspired by the Lanvin models who walked the runway at the Paris Spring 2010 show.
Lat Monday, Rihanna stepped out in the same one-shoulder gown for a dinner at AGO in West Hollywood. Still rocking her signature fire engine red locks, the "Run This Town" singer kept her look simple with nude heels, a narrow belt, and barely any makeup.
Besides the fact that this dress conjured up fond memories of Jacobim Mugatu's "Derelicte" fashion line in "Zoolander," the gown looks amazing on both ladies. I love that Ms. Lopez had the confidence to rock that cool, retro hairstyle as it lends her an old-school Hollywood vibe, and her figure-flattering belt accentuates her curves in all the right places.
Rihanna dressed down her gown to perfection for a Monday night out on the town. Love that she kept it low-key. The only drawback with the "Rude Boy" diva's outfit is that her narrow sash doesn't give quite the same hourglass definition as La Lopez's wide belt.
So for me, Jenny from the Block wins this battle royale. Mugatu would be proud!
By Agence France Presse
Teenage Philippine singing sensation Charice Pempengco has caused an Internet uproar after having cosmetic surgery to improve her looks ahead of her debut on top US television show “Glee”.
The 18-year-old, known simply by her first name, had botox injections and minor surgery in Manila at the weekend to narrow her rounded face, with the procedure filmed and broadcast afterwards on a national television station.
“It’s one of the big preparations we are making for ‘Glee’ and of course I also want to look fresh on cam,” Charice said in a TV interview as she defended her decision to have cosmetic surgery at such a young age.
Fans, however, flooded the star’s official website, www.charicemania.com, as the issue became a hot Internet topic, with many lamenting the fact that she felt pressure to alter her face.
“At a very early age, she was made to feel inadequate and was told time and time again that, although she had a killer voice, she did not possess the looks to make it as a ‘star’,” a fan using the name Marie wrote on Charice’s website.
“I can’t even begin to imagine what that did to this child’s self-esteem.”
On another fan site, www.charicemusic.com, there was more concern for Charice.
“I hope she doesn’t change or undergo any more treatment and change herself… she’s just fine as it is… listen to yourself and not be affected by other opinions,” wrote a user calling themselves Mirana on that site.
Charice’s procedure was a top-10 global topic on the social networking site Twitter at one point this week.
Her plastic surgeon, Vicki Belo, said the procedure was meant to sculpt Charice’s naturally rounded face.
Belo said the botulinum toxin injections, which immobilise some muscles, would not have any effect on Charice’s voice.
The diminutive Filipina first gained global renown through video-sharing website YouTube and has since become a favourite of US TV talk show queen Oprah Winfrey.
“Glee” is an hour-long comedy series that follows an optimistic high school teacher as he works with a group of outcasts to revive the fortunes of the school’s performance art club.
By Agence France Presse
A devoted Filipina maid inherited six million Singapore dollars (more than $4 million) from her late employer after more than 20 years of service, a newspaper report said Wednesday.
“I am the luckiest maid in Singapore, with or without the money,” the 47-year-old single woman — identified only by the pseudonym “Christine” — told the Straits Times in an interview.
The maid refused to be named in public for fear of possible threats to her life in the impoverished Philippines, where wealthy people have been kidnapped for ransom and some killed by their abductors.
The windfall, including cash and a luxury apartment near the Orchard Road shopping belt, came from the estate of her employer Quek Kai Miew, a medical doctor and philanthropist who died last year at 66.
The maid had also taken care of the doctor’s late mother, and was told that she would be a beneficiary of her employer’s will when it was drawn up in 2008.
“There were no secrets between us. I was not surprised at all when she told me how much I was going to get,” the maid recalled.
“Christine” was devastated when Quek died a year ago, as the two were inseparable, and temporarily moved in with the doctor’s nephew for solace.
“It was heartbreaking for me as I saw more years with Doctor Quek than with my own mother. I would break down every time I thought about her. I could not be by myself,” she said.
“I was always beside her. Wherever she went, I was with her.”
The maid, who is now applying for permanent residency in Singapore, said her newfound wealth had not changed her lifestyle.
“I do not really think much about the money I got. I just live my life as I did before, and not as a rich person,” the maid, dressed simply in a blouse and slacks with short-cropped hair, was quoted as saying.
“I am still who I was before. I cannot behave differently because I have money now. Even my Filipino maid friends here still treat me the same.”
Nearly 200,000 foreign maids, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia, work in affluent Singapore, which has a population of five million.
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Independent filmmaker Joselito “Jay” Altarejos, whose work “Pink Halo-Halo” is competing in this year’s Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, says his goal is to have the movie seen by as many schoolchildren as possible.
Altarejos is one of five filmmakers in Cinemalaya’s first-ever Directors’ Showcase category. “Pink Halo-Halo” is up against Mark Meily’s “Isang Pirasong Pangarap,” Joel Lamangan’s “Sigwa,” Mario O’Hara’s “Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio” and Gil Portes’ “Two Funerals.”
“Halo-Halo” is about Natoy (Paolo Constantino), who finds joy in the simplest things, especially in eating halo-halo with pink gelatin and red sago. Thus he leads his simple and happy life until, one day, he catches a TV report about a wounded soldier pleading for rescue. The soldier is his father. Natoy’s sudden transition into adulthood starts when he and his mother Sonia seek help.
“More than touring the film abroad, I’d like to arrange screenings in at least 20 schools nationwide,” Altarejos told Inquirer Entertainment recently. “Cinemalaya films should reach a bigger audience than those who go to the Cultural Center of the Philippines.”
He added, “It doesn’t matter if they can’t pay for tickets. I’d like students, especially in the provinces, to see this movie.”
“Pink Halo-Halo,” written in 2004, was Altarejos’ final paper in a Creative Writing course at the University of the Philippines. “I dreamt of making a movie out of it,” he said. “It wasn’t exactly easy.”
Altarejos earlier directed the indie films “Ang Lalaki sa Parola,” “Ang Lihim ni Antonio” and “Ang Laro sa Buhay ni Juan.” While he normally finished a film in three days, he said, “Halo-Halo” took a week.
“We had a lot of day scenes and exterior scenes. Since our lead actor was a minor, we couldn’t work late at night. We were bound by the rules of the Department of Labor and Employment,” Altarejos explained.
The film was shot in San Jacinto, Masbate. He recounted, “We tried to get help from the provincial government, but since it was election period, the officials had other priorities.”
The Directors’ Showcase category is for Filipino filmmakers, who have directed at least three full-length feature films that have been released commercially.
Altarejos refused to be pressured by being pitted against veteran and award-winning directors Lamangan, Portes, O’Hara and Meily.
“I’m not after awards,” Altarejos stressed. “I just want to make a decent film. Winning would be a bonus.”
He added: “It was tough getting into the competition. I have a lot of good friends whose movies were rejected.”“Pink Halo-Halo” also features Allen Dizon, Angeli Bayani, Dexter Doria and Mark Fabillar. The 2010 Cinemalaya film fest will be held at the CCP from July