Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Bagan in Myanmar

            Photographs by CBCabalza. Copyright © 2019 by Chester B. Cabalza. All Rights Reserved.

"This is Burma and it will be quite unlike any land you know about" - Rudyard Kipling (Letters from the East 1898).

From sunrise to sunset Bagan becomes surreal. It's truly majestic and mysterious. Hundreds of breathtaking temples and pagodas will certainly melt your heart away. Also, the Myanmar people are so kind and hospitable. Bagan is indeed so beautiful, a sinking wonder!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Perfect Strangers

By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2019 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

In the company of friends and family, identities can be unveiled from the secrets of your smart phone through the vagaries of social media.

The Perfect Strangers, a clever Italian film, is celebrated through hip convo and yummy foods that tell the evoking drama of a bunch of friends in their middle ages. Three couples and a bachelor. They gathered altogether for a house dinner while challenging each other for a truth or consequence game by sharing the contents of their mobile phones. 

Eva is a psychologist with a plastic surgeon husband Rocco. The lovely couple hosted the dinner in their apartment with a scenic balcony to watch the eclipse that affected their lunacy. Albeit the tension rises after Eva rifles through the handbag of her seventeen-year-old daughter Sophia who is allegedly banging her boyfriend.

The rest of the friends are not as affluent as Rocco and Eva. While Cosimo drives a taxi and dreams of becoming rich. His new wife, Bianca, a veterinarian adores him and sees no problem with their social status. Peppe arrives last and alone saying his virtual girlfriend has fever.

Lele and Carlotta express little warmth towards each other which may also explain Carlotta's drinking problem. The couple has two children, named Bruno and Rosa. The widow mother of Lele lives with the problematic couple of which Carlotta loathes about it. She even took off her panty before going for the dinner, a challenge she makes with his textmate while flirting with her. 

When Eva has suggested the crazy game, everyone has agreed to it. All cellular phones have been submitted atop the table and incoming messages must be read aloud. If someone receives a call, it should be verbalized on a loud speaker. No one is thrilled with the idea. However, refusing the challenge means conceding to a guilt or admitting a secret. As everyone played the game, all of them eat famous Italian foods and drink wine.

Cosimo gets the first message when he receives a text, saying, "I want your body". Everyone cajoles and mimics it. As secrets one by one is revealed, the girls are talking about Eva's breasts augmentation and Carlotta desires her mother-in-law to stay in retirement home. Lele is worried about his mistress who sends sexy photos every night at exactly ten in the evening. He connives with Peppe to switch with his phone since their devices are similar, and for Peppe to pretend that it's his girlfriend. As they swap, now the group of friends eats their main course, but more secrets are unearthed from their phones, even if the tiramisu desserts never get dished up. 

The premise of the film cleverly zeroes in on fear and substance. That being found out or "mabuko" in Filipino  is a fear in itself. Before secrets are shared by friends and between couples, but now it can be discovered through one's phone that makes one even a complete stranger to your loved ones. Our smart phone becomes the repository of our illicit behaviors, and the moment it's exposed, all is laid bare and with neither security nor protection, then you become vulnerable to judgments.

The best scene in this socially relevant movie speaks to the idea of loyalty of friendship over neutrality of devices. When Lele covers up for Peppe and allows a major revelation of his identity, he falls on his shoulders. It's also the only moment when anyone acts in the name of friendship and accounts to become adults to deal with mature situations.

In a quiet way, Perfect Strangers tells us the narrative how gadgets and social media have taken over our relationships and private lives. That despite the odds, friends' secrets would remain constant. We should also remember that all of us revolve with three lives - one public, one private, and one secret lives.

This contemporary Italian movie has a global resonance, particularly in the Philippines such as parents living with their married children composing an extended family. Homosexuality is closely forbidden to be discussed publicly before, but now it is slowly accepted in movies. Themes on teenagers committing fornication while adults practicing infidelity in marriage remains strong in the film. Perfect Strangers pulls off a strong message to rise above postmodern dialectics and temptations caused by human technological inventions and innovations through social media that can create havoc damages to our daily lives.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Crazy Blessed Asian in Singapore

Amidst the Asian century hoopla all over the world and the success of the novel turned into blockbuster Hollywood movie Crazy Rich Asians, I decided to have lunch in Singapore on my way to a real adventure in Bagan Myanmar and re-enact scenes inspired by the Kevin Kwan's book and Jon Chu's film, after a number of visits and official business trips to the merlion city-state of Singapura!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Life begins after 1979

Turning 40 draws my imminent desire to constantly reflect on life after four decades on earth. A razorback chipotle scrubs my ire like a sporadic ruckus that jolts to a new dimensional view of survival. The fountain of wisdom against the milieu of abeyance paints my world. It could be a splendid chapter of a walk to remember while celebrating youth and adventurism. As a new page dawns on me, there are more things to learn from life, enriched with human emotions and destiny’s surprises. A new beginning for what lies ahead of me…so help me God! Here are the 40 commandments I have learned in my 40 years of living! #february15 #lifebeginsafter1979  

1. Find your dent in this crazy world. Enjoy the roller coaster ride of your life full of swinging frills and thrills. Choose freely and wisely and make the best out of it. 

2. Teach your kids to dream the impossible dream. Keep your promises alive. If you break it, comb your words affectionately for kiddos to better fathom the milieu.

3. Adore and respect strong women who can challenge your wicked ideas. The more you’ll become clever and maverick.

4. Love and be loved. Always be proud of your family members.

5. Live simply. Serve audaciously your country without self-entitlement. You don’t need all the fancy things in life to be happy.

6. When you’re blessed, always give back. Help without anything in return. But when you borrow something always return in good faith. Believe in good karma.

7. There are many things to be grateful in life. Say thank you even to your snappy dog and things that spark joy to you.

8. The world is our oyster. Travel with substance and embrace world culture.

9. Celebrate the totality of life through music, arts, sciences, and sports. Taste different plates of food using your fingers when you travel everywhere. It’s awesome to be always young at heart.

10. Understand others’ faith and never impose on your own beliefs. Sincerely pray whenever you visit a church, temple, synagogue or mosque. Respect all people from different walks of life.

11. Look up to mentors and role models who can inspire you the most then become the best version of yourself. If you hear their flaws, they too are humans, always remember their good traits.

12. Not all aged men and women are wise but crooked. They either become putschist or corrupt. Lead by good example and walk the talk. 

13. Listen to millennials and digital natives. They too are champions and have interesting stories to tell. Love their innovative and revolutionary minds.

14. It takes a village to raise kids. Young people are the present and future. Invest on them.

15. Knowledge should be inclusive and nurtured. No one has the monopoly of learning. Education gives you a framework but life teaches you everything. 

16. Read, read, and read. Reflect, reflect, and reflect. 

17. Write. Just keep on writing. There are no rules to becoming the best writer in the world. Just tell the truth whether it’s ugly or beautiful.

18. Indulge in sports. It brings out the best in you. Sweat is priceless. Remember no pain, no gain.

19. We are all achievers. Just recognize what’s real and reel.

20. Pamper yourself. Wear nice clothes. Connect with adventure groups. Scuba dive. Compose songs. Write poetry. Paint. Play a guitar. Invent and innovate. Long drive. Eat like a king on the street or fine dining. Lick ice cream and bite chocolates like a child. Do extreme sports. Check your bucket list. Just be crazy once in a while.

21. Buy a piece of land and plant trees.

22. Believe in the power love. Just believe. It’s magical and it can happen.

23. Say sorry to people whom you have sinned. Be genuine when you say it. Many times they will judge you but prove them wrong. Your past mistakes will not define your evolving principles. Learn to forgive and ask to be forgiven. 

24. If colleagues abhor you and attack you due to professional jealousy, deal with it gracefully. Excel more and keep yourself on the ground. Kill them with kindness and stay humble.

25. Not all who wear the sweetest beam are good to you. You know a genuine smile when it’s not blemished with envy.

26. Choose your friends. Drink, eat, party and drive with them. You’ll share the old same stories as long as you’re friends. Be good to them and that’s what are friends for. Never stab their back.

27. There’s a time to weep and a time to party. Learn the best lessons in life then move forward.

28. Reunite with old pals, classmates, schoolmates from kindergarten to university. It pays a lot to look back from how you have matured.

29. Sometimes it’s ok to be naughty but suffer the consequences. Never forget to eat your prescribed medicines. Everyone is certainly vulnerable from sickness and death. 

30. Humor is a gift. Especially if in your youth you become a jackass or a butt of joke. As you turn 40, maintain your chill with dignity.

31. Just wait for your turn. Good opportunities come to those who are patient. Perfect timing comes in mysterious ways.

32. Enroll to unheard of subjects and unconventional courses. Create your own discipline. Adopt and evolve to changing trends. Work with passion. Love every single job you get in. Don't burn bridges to past offices. Gauge in your own niche. Be a pioneer and founder in your chosen field.

33. Venture into business or become an entrepreneur. If you can’t, befriend experts and aspirants then know more about their drive to succeed and feel their intensity.

33. Talk a lot to smart people. Adore their beautiful minds. You can be one of them. It takes one to know it.

34. Don’t be afraid when you stand all alone against the world to fight for what you believe in. You’re just too cool and tough to beat. Choose your fight. Wrestle with those bigger and not lesser than you. There's a lesson for every win or lose. Be yourself.

35. When you have the chance to talk to a president, prime minister, celebrity and monarch, ask them a number of questions. If they can answer your sensible queries, they deserve your respect.

36. Give chance to others to succeed. Sometimes, it’s better to just sit down at the back and see beautiful things happen to others. Don’t be greedy.

37. Always inspire and influence others for a good cause.

38. In silence there is wisdom.

39. You only live once. Remember to always chill.

40. We design our own life. Pray for it and live life in full circle.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Understanding Suicide Bombers and Foreign Fighters in the Philippines

Photo from Philippine Star
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2019 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

With doubts surrounding the jihadi terrorist bombings at the Roman Catholic cathedral in Jolo last 27 January 2019, the Philippine police and military forces boost suicide theory, killing at least 20 churchgoers and 111 people near the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The use of improvised explosive devices containing ammonium nitrate pipe bombs that exploded inside and outside the church may be similar to the tactic used by terrorists in the 2002 Bali blasts that ebbed fear by inflicting additional casualties to first responders in a widespread act of violence to Filipinos in southern Mindanao. 

Subscribing to forensic science, pieces of body parts of the alleged suicide attackers were strewn all over the entrance of the cathedral as far as 50 meters away from the door of the house of worship. An Indonesian couple were believed to have detonated the bombs separately, well-planned that suspects vigorously executed the attack to Christian believers and first responders simultaneously. Last 31 July 2018, the nearest example of a similar incident happened in Lamitan City in Basilan, where Moroccan ISIS member Abu Khatir Al-Maghribi took the responsibility as part of his martyrdom operation, killing 10 civilians and armed troops but local authorities debunked the suicide bombing angle.

The possible motive for the recent attack recreated a political backlash after the plebiscite of a new autonomous region in southern Philippines to quell secessionism, although the dominant ethnic Tausug in the Sulu province rejected the autonomy deal. In the Lamitan blast last year, the alleged suicide bombing occurred during the campaign of a rival Maguindanao ethnic group for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s peace process advancing the acceptance of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and signing of the Bangsamoro Organic Law. 

The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) which claims links with ISIS and prides itself an ally of the global terrorist network group has tendency to stage jihadist militancy and piracy following the Wahhabi doctrine. For more than four decades, the ASG has sowed terror in Visayas and Mindanao islands of the Philippines that carried out bombings and other felonies including kidnappings, extortions and rape. Despite the prevalence of terrorism in the archipelagic Southeast Asian country, preventing and countering violent extremism has not yet been minimized, alluding to the country’s top ranking position among countries most affected by terrorism in the Asia-Pacific region.  

Despite the prevalence of terrorism and violent extremism in the Philippines, accounting for 11 percent of Muslims in the country, early Spanish accounts documented juramentado that saw suicide attacks called parang-sabil, as part of jihad in the Moros’ Islamic faith in southern Philippines. However, the Moro juramentado were acted out during the colonial periods against the Spaniards, Americans, and Japanese in their fight for anti-colonialism and Western hegemony. This apparent tradition may also be construed to the fact that even if Filipinos practice juramentado, there is no single account that would prove Filipino perpetrators committing to practice suicide bombing especially if the victims are Filipinos themselves. Nonetheless, if there are cases of suicide attackers and bombers in Mindanao, these are all foreign terrorists and Muslim converts. Relatively, religious extremism has not yet fully penetrated the Islamic doctrines in the Philippines.

Certainly the foreign fighter threat has tremendously evolved. It has morphed into a global network that has turned into a cottage industry for small terror group actors. This vivid and wide-range networking of foreign fighters fostered by global religious brotherhood has infiltrated the online recruitment and tactical operations of terror clusters, notwithstanding the financial and intelligence support of each group. Ferocious female and children foreign warriors are used in this strategic warfare redounding to their own legal advantage for which the presence of local and international laws can protect them from felony.

This silverlining in understanding terrorism has brought a mix of socioeconomic marginalization, political corruption, and ignorance towards foreign fighter returnees which has created a time bomb for the Philippines, particularly in addressing the escalating security threat on terrorism and violent extremism. Hence, the presence of foreign suicide bombers and fighters in the Philippine soil hinders the elusive peace hoped for by Christians, Muslims and the indigenous peoples in Mindanao.

Finally, the holistic effort for the reintegration process of foreign suicide bombers and fighters should bring synergy of efforts from different stakeholders including the government, civil society and the local community. Education and equal employment opportunities should be addressed to widen the awareness of Filipino citizens drawn into poverty and ignorance. The Philippine government should also consider the maritime border security along its southern coastlines that would determine who and what is allowed and denied in access to the state’s territory that creates a confluence of actions from various stakeholders in upholding its territorial integrity and national sovereignty.   

Friday, February 1, 2019

Philippine Policy Options to China’s Grayzone Strategy

Photo from U.S. Navy
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2019 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

Last week, a Chinese naval escort fleet, two missile frigates and a supply ship docked at the shores of Manila Bay for a five-day friendly visit. The ships pass through en route the contested South China Sea, a validation of non-resistance from the host country’s soft stance to its new big brother, in spite of a placid bypass of authority from Philippine Navy and port authorities.

The Philippines’ policy of silence on asserting the arbitral award of the Arbitral Tribunal hounds the rapprochement of President Rodrigo Duterte on China’s encroachment in the West Philippines Sea. The recalibration of foreign policy in pursuit of Philippine national interest impacts the giant neighbour’s gray zone strategy. This geostrategic ambiguity falls between the wartime-peacetime spectrums. As China, a revisionist power, sophisticatedly applies a non-military, non-kinetic and unconventional means to achieve long term political goals, it also exploits available means of national power to attain political objectives employing ambiguous expanse of the peace and war continuum.

China recently downplayed its civilian activities plunked with the deployment of weather stations and permanent rescue ship including military aggressiveness despite the reported deployment of missile launchers and radar-jamming equipment on its man-made islands. For the time being, Beijing’s naval diplomacy can be summed up as a glossy promotion emanating from its international economic footprint on “Maritime Silk Road Initiative’ aimed at enhancing China’s good neighbourliness policy by creating a peaceful and harmonious environment within the region. On a strategic level, it may also extend the iota of mining opinions like a forum shopping from small-state neighbours to discuss uncertain maritime zone delimitation set by the ocean’s constitution through the UNCLOS.

Now that China’s friendship with the Philippines has been strategically elevated, cementing a self-ascribed status for its gigantic and historic sphere of influence, the two Asian sovereign states continuously renew a warmer bilateral relationship in different fronts, recalibrating a post-arbitration award. But the Philippines hedging policy, apparently acknowledging that China’s intentions in the South China Sea are not benign, crossing to no single betting approach, still carving a niche to its tenuous independent foreign policy into multiple and mutually counteracting and contradicting policies.

For instance, the Philippines’ 2018 National Security Strategy underscores the overarching principle that national security and economic development are closely intertwined and mutually reinforcing concepts. The raison d’etre why the archipelagic Southeast Asian nation needs the “China money” as it hedges with its new big brother as an internal process of regime legitimation, anchored on the ruling elite’s ability to advance their interests is also a reality for the United States, the Philippines’ longest treaty ally, recognizing China as a strategic competitor with revisionist worldview that was explicitly transcribed in the US 2017 National Security Strategy emphasizing a new page in the Indo-Pacific region.

There are two scenarios in which cases China can displace the United States and its allied friends in the Philippines to become victor to the heart of Philippine government and lessen Filipinos’ anti-Chinese sentiments in one of Southeast Asia’s most acculturated countries. For China, the win-win solution will only happen if the Philippines sets side the sovereignty issue in the South China Sea and bandwagons with the new regional power through joint exploration, joint conservation of the environment, joint development and tourism, and sit down to incessantly engage dialogue with China by sharing with them their vision and will in the Indo-Pacific region.

Hence, “the greatest victory is that which requires no battle,” beautifully opines by revered Chinese strategist Sun Tzu. Harvesting the seeds of goodwill, China’s effective naval diplomacy to Manila sets a tone of a “new era” of ties between China and the Philippines, manifesting a promising bilateral relations, two months after President Xi Jinping’s productive visit, signing 29 juicy deals including a memorandum of understanding on the cooperation on oil and gas development with the Philippines last November, while some critics poke at the Philippines as part of the Middle Kingdom’s province amidst a major legal triumph over China in July 2016. 

The win-lose scenario could occur if the Philippines chooses war against China and puts it reliance with the US military which has more nuclear warships and submarines than all claimant-countries in the contested waterways in the South China Sea. By allowing China of an offensive strike, it can heighten a military campaign just like what the People’s Liberation Army did in the Battle of Chamdo, retaking the Chamdo Region from a de facto independent Tibetan government after months of failed negotiations on the status of Tibet.

Now that China, a new naval power under Xi Jinxing has resurged, the Philippines should not be complacent of the status quo and current asymmetrical bilateral defense with the giant neighbour. China’s domineering attitude can be summed up to Sun Tzu’s wisdom on the importance of self-knowledge and of knowledge of one’s enemies. Given the ambiguous security environment especially when external defense provides a severe shock that invalidates prevailing assumptions, it can be construed that most of the time, the Philippine strategy is a reflection of reactive policy decisions rather than a well-defined national security strategy based on foresight and appreciation in the evolving regional and global security landscape.