No Regrets

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Last Monday, I wrote a short piece on Facebook which garnered more attention than my usual posts. Some liked it and some did not. Some welcomed it, while others called me colorful names because of it. A few people suggested in private that I should publish it in my regular column and I have been wrestling with myself for the past hour or so if I should incorporate some realizations into the piece or just publish it as is.

I have decided to just publish it in its original form and deal with the reactions and my subsequent reflections on them in the next article:


I have been asked if I regretted voting for Duterte in 2016, with some even implying that an apology was in order for doing so.

The answer is no.

My vote in 2016 was a vote against the establishment, against the business-as-usual practices of government, against crime and corruption, and against smiling politicians posing for a photo-op with relief goods while secretly siphoning billions away of the people’s money.

My vote was a vote for federalism, for decentralization of power, and what I considered a better form of government. My vote was for a leader who could back words with action, who had tangible results to show from all his years in leadership.

So presented with the choices for president, though there wasn’t really much to like about the choices, I made a choice anyway and cast my vote.

So no, I do not regret voting for Duterte, and no apologies are forthcoming for exercising my right and making a judgement call based on what I thought was the best (as is anybody else’s right). Were I to travel back in time, I don’t think I would have voted any other way.

I will, however, express disappointment on several things going on in this administration. I am saddened by the needless loss of lives in this drug war. While I am all for conducting legitimate police operations, backing them up with proper training and equipment, I am against planting evidence and inciting suspects to “fight back” just to bury a bullet in their heads.

Unfortunately, the president did not live up to his promise to be “more presidentiable” once he assumed the mantle, and instead uttered careless words that many take as a justification for police to act with impunity. It does not matter if the words were said in jest, in hyperbole, or whatever spin they concoct. What matters is they were indeed uttered and lives have been lost in their utterance, and for that he is accountable and answerable to the people.

This is no longer election time when you have to regale voters with humor, double-speak, street slang and exaggerated promises. Now is the time for clear communication, to say what you mean and mean what you say. After all, you leave a very confused public when on the one hand you tell us that you will not tolerate police abuse while on the other, you encourage the police to give the alleged pushers guns so they can fight back and provide a reason for being shot down.

I am disappointed that General de la Rosa did not take seriously the suggestion that police should wear body cameras. If we are to be serious about transparency and accountability in operations, then he should not dismiss this for mere lack of funds but find ways in order to implement it. If there is indeed nothing to hide and operations are above-board, then why not? This will even aid in going after those cops who are indeed scalawags.

I am disappointed at how the CHR has been demonized and painted as a useless entity. As has been pointed out time and again, the CHR exists to protect us from government abuses. Despite the general term “human rights,” it is not their job to go after kidnappers or those killed by drug addicts (that’s what the police are for). The office was created with a specific mandate and that is what they are doing. For example, if the police are the ones abusing you, you understandably do not want to run to the police for help. You go to the CHR. That is not so difficult to understand.

I am disappointed as well in how “mainstream media” has been painted as evil and bloggers as a better alternative (especially if they are remunerated for their services by the Office of the President). While there are indeed dishonest media practitioners, the same can be said of bloggers. This does not warrant any sort of blanket generalization for either group.

So there, no apologies, but sadness and anger for the lack of due process, and a deep desire for this administration to step up and do better.


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Too Understanding

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I received an interesting reaction to last week’s article and would like to address it here:

We had email exchanges before about religion/God-related topic. I’m not sure if you will remember me. After that instance, I still continued to read your articles and remained subscribed.

Anyway, I have read today’s article about understanding people. Not bragging but I think have always been understanding. I listen and take a moment before reacting. I learned to put myself in the other person’s shoes several times in order to better understand situations.  There are times though that I need to vent so as to keep my sanity as well, especially, after hearing something that I do not agree with or something that makes me furious (I am human after all). It helps me “think out loud” and analyze what triggered that reaction from me.

However, now I have difficulty drawing the line between extending my patience to understand the context of the other person’s situation, and to categorize the other person as being plain jerk. I know doing things to the extreme is never good (is there such thing as being too understanding?) But honestly, I sometimes fear that the other person is probably taking me for a ride. I cannot always rely on gut feel because, as you know, not all “kutob/hinala” are true.

P.S. I am an HR Supervisor and facing this difficulty at work. Because of this behavior/ personality of mine (being understanding), I feel that it makes me look weak. Oh… striking that balance!

I will really appreciate if you’ll give me your two cents.

More power to you sir!

Hello again, and thanks for writing again. I admit not remembering at once who you were, but thank Google for well, Google, and I was able to see our last exchange which was way back in 2013.

Now, regarding your situation, let me answer that on two levels — personal and professional. First, in the context of personal relationships, yes there is such a thing as being “too understanding” and that makes you a pushover and people can take advantage of you. Part of understanding context is also discerning when the other person is indeed taking you for a ride, and then dealing with it in a manner that you see fit. Sometimes, it entails ending the relationship with the other person. Understanding does not necessarily mean condoning or even agreeing with the behavior.

For example, there have been several times when people have borrowed money from me in the past and have not paid me back. It would be easy to judge all of these people as opportunists and “unfriending” them not only in Facebook but in real life. But in trying to understand their situation, I found out that one is still struggling with finances and has a medical condition requiring constant treatment. I do not push the issue with that person and he still remains my friend. However, there is another person who borrowed from me at a time when he was in dire need of assistance, but a few years later, I saw him post in social media about being in this event, and attending this convention, and even getting married. So I figured that he already had a turnaround in finances. When I reminded him about the debt, however, it was like he had conveniently forgotten it at first, then he promised to pay, then I didn’t get any response anymore. Anyway, the amount was not that large so I decided to let it go, but I do not look at the person the same way anymore and he does not have the respect I once had for him.

Now, professionally, you say that you are an HR supervisor, and yes I understand the challenges of your job. I often have conversations with our own HR manager about cases and situations with our employees. On the one hand, you are there to implement the policies of the company but on the other hand, you also want to be on the side of the employees and not have them look at you as the enemy. You are caught between management and the workforce.

This would be my advice. Listen to the people, but do not get carried away by emotions. Be results-oriented, and implement policy based on results. What do I mean? If an employee always shows up late and explains it is because he has to help his sick mother get up every morning and accompany her to the market (because no one else is there). Yes, that is a situation we can understand, but what is the result? That he always clocks in late.

Perhaps here it becomes clearer when I say that understanding does not mean condoning the behavior. You could point out that you understand his difficulty but the result is his constant tardiness, which is against company policy. It would be unfair to give him special consideration because that would open the door for others to also ask for special consideration for whatever reason. You can then give advice based on this, like why doesn’t he wake up earlier so that he can be done with the market earlier, and so on.

Be firm, but also be fair and always be kind. Hope you find this helpful.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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Photo Credit: Rafael Edwards Flickr via Compfight cc

A woman went to buy coffee at a mall near the place where she worked. As she was about to go down the escalator, a man shoved her aside as he hurried down the steps, making her spill coffee on her dress.

“Hey!” she cried.

But the man did not even look back as he rushed out the exit doors.

“What a rude idiot,” she thought.

She was still mad about her ruined dress as she went back to the hospital where she worked. She was a doctor in the emergency room. As she was checking in, she saw the man who had shoved her aside, sobbing beside a bed that held the body of a young child whom the doctors tried to revive but failed.

Suddenly, she was not so mad about her dress anymore.

When my wife and I decided to go into business, it exposed us to a quite a wide variety of people. I thought that I had dealt with some of the weirdest kids when I was a teacher, but I never realized that some adults could be even weirder (at least, from my point of view — for all you know, I was the weird one in their world).

In dealing with these different types of people, I came to understand one thing — context matters, and it matters a lot. While these people may seem to act rude, weird, idiotic or stupid, they were doing so because of a certain context — it may be a family situation, or an ingrained belief system, or peer pressure, or anything else.

Too often, we judge people without stepping into the context under which they operate. We get mad, irritated, or even murderous over situations that would actually make sense if only we had taken time to listen and understand the details, emotions and motivations surrounding it.

Learning to be quiet, to listen first before reacting, has taught me how to empathize with the other person better and to come to a solution that we both can agree on, and it saves me the trouble of getting my emotions all riled up over nothing.

One of the best examples of understanding context that I can think of is another coffee story — the case of Stella Liebeck, otherwise known as the woman who sued and won a case against McDonald’s for serving hot coffee that was too hot. People used to cite this story as an example of how ridiculous the legal system can be and how lawyers can manipulate “facts” in order to win a case.

So let’s bring a little context into this story by filling in a few details from the American Museum of Tort Law. Liebeck was a 79 year old woman when she got burned by McDonald’s coffee, which documents show was served at around 180 to 190 degrees, 30 to 40 degrees higher than served by other companies and commercial home coffee machines. Liebeck suffered third degree burns on her thighs and genitals. Further investigation also showed that 700 other people had suffered serious burns.

Yet, even though the company was aware of that, they did not change their policy of serving coffee at that temperature. And even though Liebeck initially was willing to settle for $20,000 to cover her medical expenses, all that McDonald’s was willing to pay was $800.

So in the end, the jury awarded Liebeck with “$200,000 in compensatory damages for her pain, suffering, and medical costs, but those damages were reduced to $160,000 because they found her 20 percent responsible. They awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages. That amounted to about two days of revenue for McDonald’s coffee sales. The trial judge reduced the punitive damages to $480,000, while noting that McDonald’s behavior had been “willful, wanton, and reckless.” The parties later settled for a confidential amount. According to news accounts, this amount was less than $500,000.”

And then of course, media picked up the story and ran a headline that said a woman made $2.7 million by spilling hot coffee on herself and that version of the story is still being told and spread today, and Liebeck is probably still the object of ridicule for many.

But now that you know the context, I hope you’ll think better of her from this point forward.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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Sand Castle

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A man set out to build a sand castle. He had grand designs of it in his head and he was so excited he got up at the break of dawn to get started on it. Pretty soon, he had a crowd of curious people around watching him work. Someone asked what he was doing, and he stopped working for a moment to explain. Another person asked if he could help, and he said sure, why not?

Later on, some bullies came and jeered at him. He again stopped working, confronted them and had a heated argument with them. He was so mad after that he needed to get a drink and cool down. Then he went back to work and finished one of the castle turrets. Somebody else came along and criticized its design saying it looked ugly. The man looked at the turret and thought it was fine, his assistant thought it was fine too, but the critic was insistent and they spent an hour arguing about it.

Finally, just to appease the critic, the man tore down the turret and began building another one. A couple of small crabs crawled out of the sand near the castle and caused a corner to collapse. The man growled at the crabs and chased them, finally cornering them and crushing them with a rock. He rushed back to the castle to fix the collapsed portion.

Another critic came along and said the design looked too square and they should go for a more rounded look. The man and the critic spent another good hour arguing about it. Finally, the man and his assistant looked at each other, sighed, and began to tear down and rebuild yet again.

And so it was that late in the afternoon, the man and his assistant were left staring at a half-finished castle slowly being washed away by the rising tides.

In another version of the story, the man and his assistant got to work. The bullies came and jeered but the man just ignored them and continued working. The bullies soon got tired and left, but not before one of them kicked a corner of the castle. The man just took it all in stride and began repairing that part.

Then the critics came and the man and his assistant paused briefly to discuss their ideas. Then they decided to incorporate the changes they thought had merit and discarded the ones they could do without. The critics weren’t happy but the man just told them, “Hey, there’s a lot of sand in this beach. Go build your own castle.”

The crabs crawled out and collapsed a corner. The man just watched them go, shrugged his shoulders and fixed that part.

At the end of the day, the man and his assistant shared a toast as they looked at the castle, now complete and basking in the warm rays of sunset. It wasn’t the perfect castle, but it was their castle, and they had built it just the way they wanted it.

So I look at this story as a metaphor of life. I can go through my life arguing with my critics, fighting the bullies and the crabs, and going up and down an emotional roller coaster, and find out at the end that I had wasted too much time trying to please other people, or getting into petty arguments trying to convince them why I’m right and why they’re wrong. Or I could just ignore the bullies, thank the critics, but only apply what aligns with my vision and goal and get on with it. And yes, there will be crabs and the bullies will sometimes do some damage, but if I don’t waste a lot of time on them, there will always be some extra time to fix and readjust and recalibrate.

And yes, what I want for my life may not be what others want for theirs, but my life is my own as their life is theirs so I’ll just tell them, “There’s a lot of sand in the beach out there. Go build your own castle instead of trying to tear down mine.”

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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