Manila Vanilla

What it's like to be a U.S. Fulbright scholar, basketball player, journalist, and the whitest man in Metro Manila.

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Location: Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

New Yorker by birth, shipped across the globe to the world of malls, shanty-towns, patronage, corruption, basketball and a curious burnt-toast smell that wafts around at dusk

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Hayden Joe!

This Hayden Kho scandal has got legs! I circulated press accounts of the video (including a download link for the world's sexiest rendition of Careless Whisper) and ensuing brouhaha at Harper's Magazine, and within an hour editors were huddled in an office, laughing their asses off at the playboy-cum-plastic surgeon. One editor sent this out:

There is something so innately hilarious about that video that you don't even
need the backstory to appreciate it. It's like they createda ridiculous Internet
meme of dancing-and-bad-singing and THEN happened to be incredibly famous and
venal just to make the meme supremely awesome, and to make it possible to enjoy
their humiliation even more.

That video definitely has viral potential. Can it break through to computer screens in the U.S.? Time will tell. I've been watching for days and I can't get over how goofy it is. Hayden doing the Alyssa Alano and mumbling his way through the lyrics he doesn't know. Katrina being so maarte that she has to towel down his sweaty chest. Doesn't she know that a glistening chest is SIZZLING HOT! The Senate hearing is also precious, with one of the many choice moments coming towards the end, where Sens. Jinggoy and Bong (Resiklo ng Saudi!) struggle to understand the mechanism that allowed Doc Hayden to transfer video from his camera to his laptop. I hope this story makes it into Harper's Weekly Review next Tuesday. 

Monday, May 25, 2009

Good stuff at FireQuinito

FireQuinito is a very, very impressive Philippine sports blog, and I'm not saying that only because the guy who runs it reads my stuff. The blog's take on Philippine sports is funny and right. And, coming on the heels of my Pacquiao roundup, I'd like to link to FQ's take on a classic Pacquiao post-fight development -- his being named a special intelligence agent by the DOJ -- which I'm kicking myself for not including in my post yesterday. Also, his reference to Anak ng Kumander is classic. MV and FQ may be getting lined up for a terrible movie-reference arms race, as I am determined now to work Katas ng Saudi into this blog by the end of the week. Hail Jinggoy!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Pacquiao Roundup

I love Manny Pacquiao. Readers of my blog, if there are any left, will probably notice that few topics other than the Pacman can drag me out of hibernation and get me to post something new. Pretty much anyone who watches a Pacquiao fight ends up loving him as a boxer -- his hand speed, his punching flurries, the reckless abandon with which he fights, his improvisatory flair -- and you can count me among them. But my absolute favorite time in a Pacquiao fight isn't during the bout itself; it's the fallout over the next month, when Filipino politicians scramble to share a piece of his limelight and when Manny gets a chance to rest and indulge in hobbies like billiards, basketball, videoke and cockfighting.

Representing on fight night.

After the De la Hoya fight, Pacquiao brought to life the classic sports comedy scenario of the boss who puts himself on the court, when he decided to play semi-professional basketball with the team he owns in the Liga Pilipinas. He also accepted an honorary doctorate from Southwestern University in Cebu. After abusing David Diaz last year we got to witness the brief but charming Pacquiao/Kevin Garnett courtship. With June rapidly approaching, let's take a look at the tornado of hyperbole swirling about after Pacquiao's May 2 flattening of Ricky Hatton.

Exhibit A) After Manny's victory, the Philippine department of health asked him to consider remaining in California with his entourage, rather than returning to the Philippines immediately, just in case a member of Pacquiao's posse had contracted swine flu in the States. The Philippines is always proud to be one of the last countries officially hit by pandemics. I remember when I arrived in the country for the first time, in November 2005, the first thing I saw was a giant blue placard that read WELCOME TO THE BIRD FLU-FREE PHILIPPINES! I wouldn't be surprised if the government was mocking up a new version of this poster for swine flu just around the time Manny planned his return, and I can imagine Health Secretary Francisco Duque (BTW, shouldn't his nickname be Frank Dux, like the Canadian-American martial arts champion portrayed by JCVD in the movie Bloodsport?) brooding over the fact that Pacquiao's victory parade, with all that hugging and high-fiving, and how it could ruin his swine flu sign. Pardon me, Franky, but your position here seems slightly myopic, given that 1) the Philippines recently slaughtered 6,000 pigs infected with swine ebola; 2) no one is fooled by the "no recorded cases" of bird/swine flu gag, just like no one believes it when entire provinces report zero crime for an entire year; 3) the country faces public health woes far greater than swine flu.

Exhibit B) Laguna Congressman Edgar San Luis submitted a resolution in the Philippine House of Representatives that would grant Philippine citizenship to Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach. This is a nice gesture; a little silly, but I don't mind the idea of honoring Roach with citizenship. However, since I tend to see events through the prism of Philippine basketball, where Filipino ancestry and citizenship is a very contentious issue, I also have to think of the Fil-foreign players toiling in the Liga and the PBL because no one will pay to fix their papers for the PBA draft. I think of former imports like Norman Black, a PBA hall-of-famer, who chose to spend his life in the Philippines and has played a vital role in the development of basketball in the country. Black still isn't a full-fledged Filipino citizen, although he could probably become one if he called in a few favors. And what about Alex Compton, the Manila-born American citizen who has been beloved by millions of Filipinos since 1998, when he arrived in the country to play in the MBA? Of all the Americans floating around the Philippine basketball world, no one loves the country more than Compton, who has become a fluent, even elegant Tagalog speaker, who stayed in the country even after the MBA folded and it was unclear how he'd be able to make a living. Freddie Roach, merely by helping Pacquiao become such a great fighter, has made a legitimate contribution to Filipinos' lives, but citizenship wouldn't mean as much to him as it would to these other Americans who decided to build entire lives and raise families in the Philippines.

Exhibit C) Manny's money. Pera ni Pacquiao. How much of it does he have? What will he do with all of it? Who gets a piece of it? We've seen the stories about how Manny gives away rice and small wads of cash in General Santos City. My favorite was a Ronnie Nathanielsz piece on how Bob Arum, Pacquiao's promoter, wants to protect Pacquiao's money.
Arum said: "I'm not going to stick that money [fight earnings] in his bank. I am going to sit down with him and Jinkee (Pacquiao's wife) and guys like Lito (Atienza) and Chavit (Singson) whom I respect, and make sure he puts it some place where he can't get his hands on it."
Really? Manny's money will be safe in the hands of a boxing promoter, Lito Atienza and Chavit Singson? It's tough to come up with two slimier trapos (traditional politicians AKA corrupt dynasts) than those two guys. This is like Arum saying, "I want to protect Manny's meat locker, that's why I am turning it over to these two hyenas."

Exhibit D) Finally, the main event -- politics. With national elections now less than a year away, much has been made of Pacquiao's potential in politics. He's openly stated his plans to run for congress again in 2010, and Lennox Lewis is out there writing columns saying that Pacquiao will be president. Most of what has been written is brainless hype. Pacquiao's mass appeal does have a ton of political potential. But it doesn't look like Manny himself is going to be the one who exploits it. Instead, higher-ups like Noli de Castro (ninong to Pacquiao's infant daughter, Queen Elizabeth Pacquiao), power brokers like Singson and Atienza, and even relatively clean, opposition politicians like Sen. Chiz Escudero and Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio seem poised to campaign aside Pacquiao and ride his popularity to their own electoral victories. Pacquiao indeed has the fame to come out in the top-12 of a senatorial ballot, and perhaps to challenge for the presidency, but his political advisers (many of whom senators, senatorial candidates, members of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's administration and presidential hopefuls), for reasons that seem steeped in self-interest, seem to be steering him to more modest goals.

The American press has picked up the political angle -- A USA Today story mentioned Pacquiao's plan to run in 2010 -- and they have accepted the fools' explanation of Manny's failed 2007 bid for Congress, when he lost the race for GenSan's seat to Darlene Custodio. As the story goes, Pacquiao lost because voters thought serving in Congress would interfere with his boxing career. They were looking out for him. How sweet. Actually, he lost because he made the mistake of challenging a political dynasty in a local election. This is a correction that really shouldn't need to be made, but Conrado de Quiros set the record straight nicely in an appropriately cynical column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Pacquiao lost to Custodio because local elections are still about machinery, and Custodio's family has controlled elections in General Santos for generations. Philippine senators are elected nationally, so having name recognition like Pacquiao's could easily make him a lock for a seat.

Every time Pacquiao fights, the chatter surrounding him becomes a little more unhinged, while at the same time the political side of the story becomes more realistic. Who knows what could happen if he fights and defeats Floyd Mayweather, Jr., at the end of this year.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Conan's budget-cutting broadsword

From yesterday's New York Times article on the California budget clusterfuck:

Facing a $21.3 billion budget deficit, Mr. Schwarzenegger is requesting a $6 billion loan from the federal government, and has proposed a variety of politically unpalatable cuts, including commuting prisoners’ sentences, taking away health insurance from some poor children, reducing aid to community colleges and eliminating a large chunk of financing for shelters that serve children and women who have been abused.

How much does Arnold wish he could return to the halcyon days of Commando, when he blew up mercenaries, while riding in a yellow Porsche with Rae Dawn Chong, and still had time to share a soft serve cone with daughter Alyssa Milano?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

That wily Philippine Navy

Earlier this month a lieutanant in the Philippine Navy, Nancy Gadian, went public with allegations that in 2007, top Navy officials skimmed funds from the 46 million-peso pot intended for the Balikatan military exercises. Balikatan is an annual joint operation between the Philippine and U.S. militaries. For a few weeks every year, soldiers get together to do public works projects and training. All that ditch-digging and handing out rice at schools must win a lot of local hearts and minds, because Balikatan is a perennial public relations shitestorm. This year, there were prostitution scandals breaking as soon as U.S. troops arrived, with papers reporting that local pimps and mamasans in the Bicol region were busing in extra girls to meet the Americans' demand.

It is also unfortunate that Gadian's revelations are also unsurprising. Catching the top brass of any Philippine institution with their hands deep in the coffer is like discovering raccoons in your dumpster. What make this case of malfeasance entertaining, however, is the Navy's recent ultimatum to Gadian: Turn yourself in to the Navy, and we won't be forced to apprehend you.

This woman is already in hiding, for good reason. The idea that the whistleblower will turn herself in to the institution she has outed is lunacy. That's why I like it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Real-life Bakekang story!

Thanks to one of my legion of fans, who remembered so fondly my role as Brad, the baby-slapping, domestic-abusing deadbeat dad on the GMA telenovela Bakekang during the tail end of 2006. For those of you who don't know, Bakekang was a prime-time soap opera on Philippine network television starring Sunshine Dizon and yours truly, although I definitely didn't receive second (or any) billing in the actual show. Dizon stars as Bakekang (a nickname that means something akin to an ugly duckling with no hope of becoming a swan), whose goal in life is to find a foreign baby's daddy to impregnate her with a mestizo, therefore attractive, child, who will then become a celebrity and make Bakekang lots of money. But Bakekang ends up having a drunken threesome with me and my African-American friend, and miraculously (impossibly, I thought until now) conceives fraternal twins by the two of us. I won't spoil the rest of the show. Actually, it would take a few thousand words to give just a bare bones description of the plot's Byzantine ins and outs, and I don't have the energy to write it all out. Let's just say that hijinks and drama ensue, and that many a tear is shed.

The real news is that the two different babies by different daddies coming out of one mommy at the same time scenario has just come true in Texas! Unfortunately, the source on this story is the UK tabloid The Sun, but before we reflect on The Sun's dubious reputation, let's allow ourselves to believe that miracles do happen, that Bakekang could actually have a shred of truth to it. Now I know never to question the logic of a telenovela. Time to go start downloading Totoy Bato in its entirety!