Philippine Democracy is a Farce: It is a Plutocracy!

“He who has the gold, makes the rules.”

I remember hearing this statement 11 years ago as part of my training as a medical transcriptionist. Back in those days, I was earning a rather miserable Php 7,000 a month, equivalent to about $160. At that time, I was fortunate that I was living rent free in a double-income family consisting of myself, my wife, and my 1-year-old son. Living my life as a so-called “Yuppie” during those days reminded me of a term that my wife uses to this day: “Corporate Slavery”. My wife and I had to slug it out in the harsh corporate world to earn some cash that barely covers our living expenses. I can only imagine how worse it must have been for my colleagues who had to pay rent plus have to support not only themselves but members of their extended family as well. Even as I rose from the ranks to gain positions of leadership, amounting to a somewhat better salary, it doesn’t help at all that around 30% or more from my gross salary would just go to taxes. Being somewhat well-informed, I then discover that my former line of work would earn at least thrice as much or more in developed nations. I began to ask myself why can’t we have the same thing here in the Philippines when we work our asses off as much as our brethren working in the same field for a lot more. Then it occurred to me that the Philippines is mainly marketed in the whole world as a source of cheap labor. Now the question is, who would promote the Philippine workforce in that way? It seemed to me the answer is none other than the oligarchs who own most of the big businesses in the Philippines.

Given that the oligarchs have priced the talents of the Filipino workforce in such a cheap way, many have resorted to going overseas as OFWs. We all know the reason for this: it is for none other than earning at least twice as much, sticking the almighty Dollar in their pockets in an effort to have the means to have a better quality of life back home. Now, is there any way that Filipinos can have a great paying job at home? In some way, the advent of freelancing websites like oDesk have made it possible, but only to a limited extent. The fact remains that it is only internet-savvy Filipinos who have the capability to do this, and I’m afraid to say if you take into account the general populace of the nation, they amount to only a small fraction. This is compounded by the fact that not a lot of Filipinos who try working from home via the Internet get great opportunities, no thanks to many Filipino freelancers who keep on driving the prices down to a miserable level. This in turn reinforces that Filipino labor is cheap in the eyes of the global community. I ask myself this: Has the Filipino been dumbed down by the oligarchs that even those who have set their sights on the global workplace would drive their rates down? The answer seems to be a big “Yes!”

It seems to me that one of the problems of Filipino society is an anti-competitive attitude coupled by mediocrity. The work ethic where “pwede na yan” (that’ll do) as a foundation results in — you guessed it — a cheap and mediocre product. Now, I speculate that the root cause of such thinking is none other than mind control by the oligarchs. For years, Filipinos have been conditioned to think that their talents and skills are cheap by local businesses offering 8- to 12-hour working days for miserable rates. The naturally persevering Filipino would then accept it as an inescapable fact of life they have to go through while muttering complaints under their breath about how miserable life is in the Philippines, so much so that they aspire to go abroad or go online for better employment opportunities. For the few who are successful enough like some OFWs and some online freelancers, they get to spend their money at home, purchasing products from none other than oligarch-owned companies and pay their taxes to the government. Since the oligarchs effectively use the government as its subordinate to strong-arm the people to their will, nothing changes: the economic playing field will always remain in favor of the oligarchs.

I suppose at this point one can see this vicious cycle going on:

1. Oligarch sets up business.
2. Oligarch employs local labor dirt cheap.
3. Local workforce continues to live under miserable conditions and aspires to go abroad as an OFW.
4. OFWs return home, some successful, some not-so-successful, but both will nevertheless spend money in oligarch-produced commodities and taxes.
5. Money goes to the oligarchs and the government, only for them to repeat step 1.

The success of this cycle maintained by the oligarchy relies on a number of factors, but the big thing is this: the restrictive, protectionist economic policy of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. Now, I am no economist, and what I’m saying right now is my personal observation, but it is what we are experiencing at the moment.

One will be apt to conclude that the Filipino masses are effectively rendered a captive market of the oligarchs. If you see it this way, you wouldn’t be surprised that they are staunch opponents of constitutional reform. As things look the way they are now, the oligarchs will control government in order to keep the status quo by closing off great opportunities to many Filipinos. They effectively do this by keeping competition out of the equation.

Now what’s all this got to do with democracy in the Philippines? A whole lot. The oligarchs will start conning the masses into voting for political aspirants with ties to the oligarchs. Vote buying and control of local media amount to some of the biggest methods for it. The oligarchs and the government will also try and make the populace become more dependent upon them by slowly creating a welfare state, the biggest example of which would be the conditional cash transfer program. By controlling their minds, their emotions, and their stomachs, these oligarchs will continue to exert control over voter choices and behavior. The so-called excess freedom of the Filipinos described by the late Lee Kuan Yew is being used, paradoxically, as an control agent. Filipinos are given freedom to do the most mundane and stupid things one can observe on the streets in exchange for giving power to the oligarchs. Sounds kind of like the Philippine masses are being drugged into willful submission.

It’s safe to say (as it has been said by a number of individuals way before me) that the Philippines is under a plutocracy perpetuated by the oligarchs. This will continue to be the case until we Filipinos get to have the balls to shake things up, revise the Constitution, and create a Free Market society that allows investors from around the world to come to the Philippines and create better opportunities. Should this happen, it will level the playing field for both oligarchs and the masses and then ultimately address the problem of economic inequality. If such changes were to happen, reports of a booming Philippine economy wouldn’t feel like a big lie . It’s high time we get rid of the rule, “He who has the gold, makes the rules.”

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The Prevalence of Idiocy

I just read a news item dated September 30, 2014 that says LTFRB executive Ariel Inton has proposed a ban on private vehicles on EDSA during peak hours as a solution to Metro Manila’s traffic woes. Now, the picture below is a phenomenon that every Filipino motorist has to deal with on a daily basis:

EDSA Cubao Traffic Photo by Towie Vasquez

(Photo courtesy of Towie Vasquez via Facebook)

Now,  given the fact that I (and at least a handful of others) witness this sort of chaos every day while driving on most major Metro Manila thoroughfares, would you really say that Mr. Inton’s proposal is the best? One is compelled to think how much LTFRB officials earn by protecting the interests of these bus operators. In the midst of this chaos, not once have I seen any of these bus drivers and operators pay the penalty for clogging up Metro Manila’s major highways. From my perspective, it seems that every person supposed to be in charge of organizing Metro Manila traffic (from the level of the lowest-ranking LTFRB, MMDA, and local traffic enforcement lackey up to their top brass) is keen on preying upon private motorists for the slightest infraction yet they would never tangle with the perennial traffic violators driving buses and jeepneys. That’s concrete evidence of impunity in Philippine culture, folks! I’d like to add as well that it simply is idiocy to propose solutions that don’t address the problems that are clearly seen.

Given the picture above, the solution seems obvious: a massive redesign of Metro Manila’s public transportation policies. Things that come to mind include one of the following:

  1. Get rid of all the colorum (i.e. illegal) buses.
  2. Phase out the jeepney (Why should we keep on using antiquated technology?).
  3. Implelement strict public transport schedules that could be found in various developed nations.
  4. Upgrade the present railway system.
  5. Implement traffic rules and regulations to the letter of the law.

Now, I understand that given the hypersensitive hair-trigger temper of my fellow countrymen (“balat sibuyas”), many will object to such suggestions which, I would admit, are not in any way unique. Such objections are the result of many things not limited to preference to the status quo, resistance to change, and resistance to any exercise in disciplined and organized behavior (as evidenced by the aversion to following rules such as the use of pedestrian walkways, a topic for another time). I also understand that implementing changes involves systemic revision, hence it is in no way easy. However, we have to start somewhere. The realization that a cultural change should happen has been long overdue hence this rather small reminder in cyberspace that the Filipino needs to shape up if it wants to deserve the sort of pride  it desperately clings on to. Perhaps it’s about time by starting to change how we Filipinos behave while we’re on public streets. If we Filipinos, as a culture, persist on keeping such chaos described above as the norm, we’re just demonstrating to the world the prevalence of idiocy in our country.

Morality in Music

It annoys me every time I read or hear one of these things:

  • Christian Rock is depraved.
  • Drums and electric guitars are the Devil’s instruments.
  • Christian Hip Hop is inconsistent with scripture.
  • Contemporary Christian Music is evil.

These and other statements have that air of bigotry and intolerance. I really want to ask such people these questions such as these:

  • If a hammer can be used to smash another person’s head to smithereens, should the serious Christian avoid using a hammer in carpentry because a hammer has the potential to be used as a murder weapon?
  • If a match can be used to burn a house down, should a Christian freezing at the mercy of wintertime avoid using a match to light a fire and keep oneself warm?
  • If a depraved person can use a fork or a chopstick to stab somebody in the throat, should Christians stop using forks and chopsticks because they have the unchristian potential to harm another person?
  • If Handel’s big hit “Hallelujah” from the oratorio Messiah features a 4/4 rhythm and features fast scalar runs similar to non-Christian guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen, should Christians stop singing the song because it shares a lot of traits with the “music of the world”?

More often than not, people who appeal to such rhetoric are those individuals who tend to impose their own musical preferences on other people. If we were to accept the fact that the style of music found in traditional hymns is the only proper way to worship God through music, isn’t that just simply confining ourselves to a particular musical culture that came out of Europe? Are we therefore equating European sacred music as the only kind of music that could glorify God? Sounds very ethnocentric and bigoted to me. Such arguments fall along similar lines such as the Authorized King James Version is the only acceptable bible ergo archaic English is the only kind of language acceptable to praise God. Such is hogwash.

Every genre and style of music can be considered a particular language that reaches people both in the intellectual and emotional level. Do proponents of such a narrow-minded view say that only traditional hymns are acceptable music for worship? Doesn’t that eerily follow the same line of thinking that the Roman Catholic Church followed when they did not allow the Bible to be published in languages other than Latin? Do we mean to say that people from Africa, Asia, and the rest of the world will be in sin if they wrote and sung worship music in the particular style of their culture? I would strongly disagree to such notions. Where is it that we read in the Bible that we cannot use pentatonic scales, percussion instruments, drones, and other non-European musical techniques in worship? We read it nowhere! Matter of fact is if we read passages like Psalm 33 and 150, it seems to me that ancient Israel used music accompanied by stringed instruments, trumpets, timbrels, and dancing. Now tell me, does that look like a choir accompanied by an organ or piano? In my mind, it sounds more like a big band rather than your hymn-singing choir.

Psalm 33:3 (KJV) even reads, “Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise.” It doesn’t sound like somber hymn singing to me. If we are to be really legalistic about this, then church should be burning their organs and pianos into one big bonfire and start training musicians how to play the kinnor and shofar and teaching the congregation to sing songs  in Phrygian Dominant rather than the more traditional major and minor scales. You sure can’t find in the Bible that organs and pianos are the only instruments allowed and that electric guitars and drums are the Devil’s. If you really are dead set on thinking that drums are evil, perhaps you should rearrange Handel’s “Hallelujah” in a way that the piano doesn’t sound so percussive. Oh, and if you have an orchestra that will play it for you, forget about using timpani too.  If you’re going to say that music that tends to elicit certain emotions is not appropriate for worship, why not go for something emotionally neutral like 12-tone serial music? I will be the first to tell you that is a ridiculous idea.

Don’t get me wrong: I love playing and singing traditional hymns and I play such music every Sunday at church. The fact that I have a strong disgust for are these people who brand themselves as Christians  imposing their own tastes on others and declaring that to be holy writ. Such bigoted declarations on music are the laws of men rather than the word of God and are bound to cause division rather than unity. I have always believed that music for worship should be composed in an appropriate way, matching the content of the words with the expression of music, using a delicate touch when being meditative and expressing power when proclaiming God’s magnificence.

I would go on to proclaim that music i.e. the arrangement of sound and silences in an organized manner is amoral. It’s about as good as a hammer can be when used to build a house and can be as evil as the same tool when used for murder. We can only attach morality to music depending on how it is used. You would never expect me to write music reflecting God’s omnipotence using a sweet-sounding flute and light string arrangements; It would be all out bombast with drums, brass,  and a distorted guitar to demonstrate that.

Want more info? Go to these links:

http://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-music.html

http://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-music.html

http://www.gotquestions.org/contemporary-Christian-music.html

Bassists Matter

People who ask whether bassists matter or not are just plain ignorant.

Again, I will repeat this: people who ask whether bassists matter or not are plain ignorant.

Every time you take out all the bass frequencies in any piece of music, it will sound bare. It’s as if you took out a person’s spine.

Some people try to further ponder upon the question, :Do bassists matter?” by examining isolated bass tracks. That is probably one of the most idiotic things I’ve ever seen on the Internet.

Here’s a better challenge to those who question whether or not bassists matter: Try to listen to tracks of any of these artists without the bass tracks:

  1. Rush
  2. Primus
  3. Iron Maiden
  4. Return to Forever
  5. Bela Fleck and the Flecktones

Any person who would say that bassists don’t matter at all after hearing bass-less tracks of these artists are idiots.

Old Stuff, New Stuff

It’s been so long since I last posted something here as I was very busy with graduate school activities and work as usual. I find it refreshing that I got some time now to write something. This past week, I completed a 10-minute piece which I submitted to my composition teacher, Dr. Kristina Benitez, and got some useful feedback from her. This coming trimester, my new task is to expand that piece into a multi-movement suite. Expanding it into a suite is very doable since that piece has a lot of ideas going on. The next question now is whether or not I can get it performed or at least be able to record a good mockup of it. Because of that, I started to explore the Sibelius 7  Sound Library.

These past few days, I was occupied with testing out the Sibelius 7  Sound Library on my MacBook Pro, and so I decided to dig up my musical history. I’m not very fond of listening to the old stuff I’ve written and recorded since it feels very much like reading your high school diary (the thought of which makes me cringe). However, in this case I wanted to hear what it would be like to try out my old compositions on a new sample library.

I use a number of sample libraries in my music production in various formats like NI Kontakt, Apple EXS24, etc. and I also used to have the old Sibelius 5 sound library. I was quite fond of it when it came out (even though it was far from perfect), and so it was very exciting for me to use that new library for the first time. Hearing my old, old works on new sounds gave it new life. It still sounds far from perfect of course but the Sibelius 7  Sounds are usable to create orchestral mockups. The percussion and piano sounds were excellent although the tremolo is still has that slight machine gun effect. The other samples like strings, woodwinds, and brass are okay. As with many sample libraries, I found the guitar samples to be less than satisfying. The classical guitar samples could have been good except that it can be oddly squeaky because of the default fret noise setting. Imagine hearing playing single scale notes with every note being accompanied by a fret squeak, and so it sounds so unnatural. The solution to that would be to dial down the fret noise knob. Steel string guitar sounds are okay. The distorted guitar sound is probably the most awful of the bunch. It’s a good thing that I’m a guitarist as well and so I wouldn’t need to use those guitar samples anyway.

I said a while ago that I’m not fond of listening to my old recordings but I did find something good about that little exercise. I was able to uncover musical ideas that I would call diamonds in the rough. Bits and pieces of melodic and rhythmic themes here and there would make good material to expand for a variety of compositions that I could craft in the near future. I just hope that I get the time and patience to further explore them.

So, going back to my  graduate school composition work, I plan to expand that into a suite. I should probably start once the weekday hits, or maybe I should talk to Dr. Benitez first to plan it all out. After scoring it in Sibelius, I will tweak the hell out of the MIDI to make it somewhat realistic and then practice all guitar, iPad, and piano parts before recording. That should enable me to submit a good recording by the end of the term. Afterwards, it will be time to work on my graduate thesis. Seems like I should savor these light-load days as I will be very busy in the next few months .

Is Jazz Dead?

Is Jazz dead? Depends on where you live. In the Philippines, it’s barely surviving, no thanks to local mass media, many of which are hell bent on keeping people stupid with anti-neuron “music” and TV shows. However, artists like Johnny Alegre and the Tomodachi Trio along with places like Tiendesitas try as much as they can to keep it alive. In the place where I serve, I’m the only guy who’s seriously into jazz, my bandmates know of it on a superficial level, and the rest of the folks attending the services have little idea of it. The way things go with the music industry nowadays, it is probably hanging on for dear life even in its birthplace, the U.S. of A. although because of its cultural value it might continue to live on. In places like the university where I attend, some semblance of it still lives through the popular music courses being offered. Unfortunately, we don’t do jazz in graduate school. I asked the dean numerous times if we had a jazz major or elective since I was interested. The reply was negative.

If you ask Wynton Marsalis the question “Is Jazz Dead?”, here’s his reply:

Maybe we could try asking Frank Zappa that question. He said, “Jazz is not dead. It just smells funny.” Perhaps you can take the word from someone who can be inspired by some of the most profound things on earth down to the most mundane of things like fried chicken:

Johnny Alegre’s Jazz Guitar Workshop @ Tiendesitas Super Jazz Weekend – Part 1: “The Experience”

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(Author’s note: Earlier this week, I asked permission from Mr. Johnny Alegre to post this piece. Last night, I was granted permission to do so and even got help completing the piece in its final form from the legendary jazz guitarist himself. I feel very honored.)

Around 3 p.m. last Sunday (May 25, 2014), I stopped by Tiendesitas to attend a very much anticipated jazz guitar workshop. This jazz guitar workshop was facilitated by none other than one of the top jazz guitar heroes of the Philippines, Mr. Johnny Alegre. I’ve heard of Sir Johnny around the late 90s, but I became acquainted with his work through his CD “Eastern Skies”. The blend of jazz guitar and the sounds of the Global Studio Orchestra (conducted by Gerard Salonga) was captivating to say the least, and I wondered how Sir Johnny was able to do his thing. This afternoon’s event was a chance I took to somehow find out how he thinks musically as well as gain some useful information to improve my jazz composition and piano/guitar skills.

The workshop kicked off with an interview conducted by Zach Lucero (former NU107 DJ and drummer of Imago and Humanfolk), which served as kind of an introduction to Sir Johnny. Afterwards, Sir Johnny tried to figure out what his audience was like that afternoon, a mixed group of people consisting of beginner-level guitarists to people who’ve had many years of experience, such as myself. The key tips in his workshop were:

  1. Be in tune.
  2. Play in time. Have good timing.
  3. Strive for the right tone.
  4. Have good visualization (e.g. practice playing all your modes across the fretboard, draw fretboard charts)
  5. Listen to great works of music.

The workshop had discussions ranging from some of the most basic topics such as getting in tune and scale shapes to more advanced discussions of jazz theory such as modes and the impact of Latin American music.

In terms of jazz guitar playing and composition, one of the points that greatly captured my interest was Sir Johnny’s discussion and demonstration about modal interchange and secondary dominants. Why is it such a big deal? It is because it explained a lot of things such as playing minor pentatonic or the Dorian mode over a major blues chord progression, “out there” soloing, the use of color/passing/approach tones, and other stuff that makes jazz sound like what it is. Modal interchange and secondary dominants make perfect sense as to how many jazz pieces (bebop and modal jazz in particular) start at a particular key signature, drift in and out of different key signatures, and then end right back at the original key signature without sounding jarring like a 20th-century serial composition (Ascension-era John Coltrane is a different case for another discussion). Sir Johnny’s words regarding the matter had confirmed what I have been hearing and trying to do before: Modal interchange has big implications not only in the way we approach soloing but also in reharmonization and composition.

The seminar sort of felt like most of my jazz theory discussions with pianist Steve Nixon, with the exception that this time it’s about jazz guitar. I have been learning jazz through a pianist’s perspective for most of my life as a musician, but this afternoon was the first time that I was able to learn jazz directly from a guitarist’s perspective. For years I have done work to try and understand the theory of jazz through a piano keyboard and have been trying to transfer that knowledge through the guitar. Thanks to Sir Johnny’;s workshop, I was able to confirm that I must be doing something right with all that experimentation and self-learning. More than that, I now have some understanding as to how Johnny Alegre approaches jazz guitar and this big musical language called jazz itself. Would I say that the workshop was a success? I would say yes simply because my understanding of how and why jazz guitar is what it is has improved vastly thanks to Sir Johnny.

So, how did it all end for me? Well, like a star-struck fanboy, I fumbled around thanking the man for the stuff I learned and I asked permission to publish this post (with snippets of the recording and photos). As star-struck as I am, I forgot to introduce myself properly, despite trying to converse with him three times, and I forgot to purchase his latest album (which I will BTW) despite having prepared some cash for it. I even made an embarrassment of myself by asking, “What was that piece you played at the end?” only for him and another member of the audience to tell me that it’s Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” in a tone that seemed like, “Isn’t it obvious that Johnny’s playing ‘You Are the Sunshine of My Life’? Duh…” Oh well, if I do meet him again, I’ll take note of these things and hope to be a bit more composed and refined in the way I conduct myself in front of him.

If time permits (and if I am allowed to do so), yours truly will  transcribe some of examples Sir Johnny performed in the workshop and make them available here (in standard notation and tab). Watch out for Part 2 of this piece as I try to retell some of the things I have learned from Mr. Johnny Alegre.

For more information about Johnny Alegre, his latest and past albums, and his other projects, please visit this Facebook page or his website.