Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 in Books

Ta dah!!! The obligatory annual book list! :) Titles in bold are highly recommended.

January 2011

1. Run To The Mountain: The Journals of Thomas Merton Vol. 1

February 2011

2. Running the Millionaire Lane: A Novice Runner's Spiritual Journey in the Material World by Ma.Leilani Andres Relucio
3. Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey
4. Surprised by Truth: Eleven Converts Give The Biblical and Historical Reasons for Becoming Catholic (ed. Patrick Madrid)
5. God Has Made A Bethlehem by Enrique Monasterio
6. Entering the Silence: The Journals of Thomas Merton Vol. 2

March 2011

7. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood
8. Father Brown Stories by G.K. Chesterton
9. The Little Black Book of Style by Nina Garcia
10. Angelology: A Novel by Danielle Trussoni

April 2011

11. The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
12. Intellectuals: From Marx & Tolstoy to Sartre & Chomsky by Paul Johnson
13. The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellenga
14. Gideon's Sword by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
15. A Search for Solitude: The Journals of Thomas Merton Vol. 3
16. Fever Dream by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
17. Dreams Made Flesh by Anne Bishop
18. The Invisible Ring by Anne Bishop

May 2011

19. Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop
20. The Shadow Queen by Anne Bishop
21. Who Are You, Filipino Youth? by William Henry Scott
22. Chips by William Henry Scott
23. Dinotopia: The World Beneath by James Gurney
24. The Playbook by Barney Stinson and Matt Kuhn
25. The Catholic Church by Hans Kung
26. Among Schoolchildren by Tracy Kidder
27. Catholics & Protestants: Separated Brothers by Leon Cristiani and Jean Pilliet

June 2011

28. A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
29. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

July 2011

30. Wild at Heart by John Eldredge
31. Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory by R. balmer
32. My Dream of You by Nuala O' Faolain

August 2011

33. French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano

September 2011

34. The Thoughtful Dresser by Linda Grant
35. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
36. Almost Like Heaven by Julia Quinn
37. When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James
38. Cold Vengeance by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

October 2011

39. The Magician by Lev Grossman
40. The Codex by Lev Grossman
41. Waiting for God by Simone Weil
42. Diaries of A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (Florence, Schmargendorf, and Worpswede Diaires)
43. Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World by Nicholas Basbanes

November 2011

44. Eon by Alison Goodman
45. Eona by Alison Goodman
46. Hagakure (Manga Edition) by Yamamoto Tsunemoto, illus. Chie Kutsuwada
47. Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Inazo Nitobe
48. Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

December 2011

49. Oishinbo: A La Carte by Tetsu Kariya/ Akira Hanasaki
50. Unpacking my Library: Writers and their Books (ed. Leah Price)
51. Lafcadio Hearn's Japan: An Anthology of His Writings on the Country and its People
52. Rashomon and 17 Other Stories by Ryonosuke Akutagawa
53. The Monstrumologist: The Terror Beneath by Rick Yancey
54. The Monstrumologist: Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey
55. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
56. The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto by Pico Iyer
57. The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life by James Martin, SJ
58. A Geek in Japan: Discovering the Land of Manga, Anime, Zen, and the Tea Ceremony by Hector Garcia
59. Eating in Japan by Japan: Japan in Your Pocket Series No. 3 by Japan Travel Bureau (JTB)
60. Salaryman in Japan: Japan In Your Pocket Series Vol. 8 by JTB
61. Who's Who in Japan: Japan in Your Pocket Series Vol. 9 by JTB
62. Japanese Inn and Travel: Japan in Your Pocket Series No. 14 by JTB

Previous Years:

2010 in Books (Total = 53 titles)
2007 in Books (the last quarter = 29)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Sojourn in Japan

(The Tres Muchachos and beautiful Hikone Castle)

“All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it.” – Samuel Johnson

I've just come back from ten days in a country so different from my own... a country fascinating in its paradoxical existence, merging ancient tradition with cutting-edge technology, Asian values and Western modernity. The land of the rising sun. Japan.

I now understand why there are people who save up and live meagerly just so they can have the funds to travel. I now feel exactly the same way! It's not just about seeing the sights and meeting the people, though of course, I enjoyed all of it tremendously. It's about the self-growth, the self-knowledge that comes as a result of challenging experiences that are an integral part to any journey.

I've been reading about Bushido as a way of life, and it was just so fascinating to see it enacted even today! For instance, it is visible in the remarkable politeness, etiquette and grace of the Japanese as a manifestation of inner spiritual discipline.

Inazo Nitobe writes: "Look under the skin of a Japanese with the most advanced ideas and you will see a samurai... What Japan was she owed to the samurai."

(I'd like to think that if you look under the skin of any Filipino, you'd find a warrior-poet equal to the best of any other nation. We've just forgotten our own greatness, as a people.)

It was extremely humbling to compare myself to the Japanese. I thought I'd been hardworking before, that I was disciplined before... but dang! All my illusions of grandeur were dashed to pieces. Everywhere I looked, from the humblest waiter to the well-off "sarariman," I saw what Tom Cruise's character in The Last Samurai saw: "From the moment they wake they devote themselves to the perfection of whatever they pursue. I have never seem such discipline."

I could go on and on, but let this short entry suffice as a summary of what struck me the most about this great nation.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

MIBF 2011 and the First Pinoy Reader Conference

I'm very proud of my twinnie! She was invited to be a panelist at the first ever Pinoy Reader Conference, recently held at the Manila International Book Fair. She joined a distinguished group of book bloggers and book club representatives as she spoke about Ex Libris Philippines. Many thanks to Charles Tan for uploading the mp3 file of the panel! Click here to listen.

Reading is something I love but nowadays get very little time to do... Reading for pleasure, that is, and not required texts or essays written by students. So the MIBF was a very welcome breather, in that I got to immerse myself in an idyllic world surrounded by people who are every bit as crazy as (if not crazier than) myself!

It's always a pleasure to meet with people who love the same things you do. You feed off each other's passion, and it can translate not only to good times, but hopefully, also to good deeds that will contribute towards making our country not only a literate one, but a literature-loving one.

Among the many issues raised during the conference was the one of literacy vs. love for reading. In the Philippines, we have a high literacy rate, indeed. But being able to read is very different from choosing to read, for fun!

Some people may think reading is for the elite minority whose intelligence is above the norm. My book club and I beg to differ.

Those of us who have the resources have an obligation to look for our own little ways to "spread the corruption," as Tata jokingly put it.

It's like what I told my preschool students today, when the birthday celebrant gave away one book per classmate instead of the usual loot bags.

5-year-old: Teacher, nasaan yung candy?

Me: Books are even better than candy! Once you eat candy, it's gone forever, but when you read books, you become smarter forever!!!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Beauty and the Beast

Image taken from here

The modern woman is expected to be capable of so many things... she's supposed to be a successful career woman and at the same time an excellent mother/wife/daughter, a veritable engine of efficiency both at the office and at home. She's supposed to be ruthless and fearless at work, then all sweetness and light for her family. Sugar and spice. Beauty and the Beast.

My job as a teacher is challenging because it also requires that I be two (and sometimes three or four!) different people, depending on whom I'm teaching. When I'm with my preschool advisory class, I am all "Beauty," always smiling and cooing at my little wards... my better self. But when they're dismissed, I don my version of "The Beast" as I meet my high school students and reprimand those who don't do their homework on a daily basis.

Sadly, when I get home exhausted after a long day's work, I find myself emptied of almost all goodness, too tired to summon the energy to go out and romp with our pet dogs, and too exhausted to read all those books and journal articles for my thesis... and quite often prone to snarling and snapping at my family during dinner. :(

In short, I leave the house as Beauty and return as the Beast.

I suppose I'm not the only person who's struggling with this juggling act called Life. And that is why I find it essential to write down, at the end of each day, at least five blessings that I was gifted with in the course of a hectic day. I find that, even during the "worst" days, I always find more than five things to be grateful for! :)

Ask any teacher, and they'll tell you that a single week in the school year is a rollercoaster ride of emotions. This past week hasn't been different. The biggest struggle for me is how to find time to get most of it down on paper, so I can process each event and learn from it!

This week, I'm grateful for:

1. P45.00 steals from Booksale (including an audio book of Frank McCourt's Teacher Man, narrated by the author himself!!)

2. Shakey's Thin Crust Party Size Pepperoni Pizza, best shared with my oh-so-"matakaw" siblings

3. RMM Glee (Club) rehearsals. There's nothing quite like singing as part of a group and making beautiful music together... being a part of something bigger than yourself!

4. an important lesson in humility and compassion, taught to me by one of our school's best pupils

5. Starbucks Venti Dark Mocha Frappucino... deadly on the paunch but heavenly for the palate and soul!

I find that as I enumerate the blessings of the past week, my aura has become brighter, happier! Truly, feeling joyful is a matter of choice. And when a face is filled with a sincere smile, no matter how "homely," it becomes beautiful as it reflects a miniscule portion of the radiance of God!

Let's all have a joyfully beautiful week ahead!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Looking Forward to Number Four!

I've always loved the number four, though I don't really know why. My class number has always been a multiple of four... usually its square (sixteen). My nickname's got four letters. Growing up, my favorite books had four amazing sisters (Little Women and The Little House On A Prairie series).

The fact that it's my fourth year of teaching that's coming up... well, I'm excited! :) I'm no longer a greenhorn, and this is the first school year that I'll be re-teaching subjects that I've previously taught. Which means I have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and will hopefully teach these subjects better than in the previous years.

The new challenge for me this year is the dreaded six-letter word, the Word That Must Not Be Named... T.H.E.S.I.S.

It's extra challenging for me because this is the first time I'll be writing one... you see, my Music undergrad.didn't require thesis-writing. I "only" had to sing in four recitals in consecutive semesters (the last one being an opera, whew!).

I'm hoping and praying that, if my thesis topic gets approved, I can pursue this subject that merges my loves: Teaching Preschoolers, Kodály, and Music!

I'm also looking forward to seeing more of my beloved brother, who'll be joining us this year as a practicum teacher. Yay!

This video captures the excitement I feel whenever I'm about to start a new school year! :)

Must sleep early tonight... for tomorrow until March, I'll be waking up at 4:30 every morning!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

On William Henry Scott and U.P.

One of the pleasures of Summer is having an hour or so of free time each day to read non-work-related books. :) Most of the books I read in a year are hastily consumed by my eyes during this golden period of lazy breakfasts and shorter work hours.

I've heard of William Henry Scott through my dad and former professors in UP, but never had the opportunity to read him until now.

My golly! I'm in love!!

He's a White Filipino, and I love him for loving the Philippines as much as much as every UP graduate and every Filipino ought to.

A Yale and Columbia University alum as well as being a lay missionary, his literary output is staggeringly broad as it encompasses scholarly works, sermons and strongly-worded articles speaking against the corruption of Martial Law, advocating unity among the Filipino youth and begging them to take action. But always, he writes with a distinctive voice that perfectly blends simplicity and profundity.

In one of his many articles, he writes:

"The State University (Aside: where he taught for several years, alongside the likes of Teodoro Agoncillo) ... is supported by the sweat of the Filipino people's labor and therefore exists only to serve them, and so it aims to produce public-spirited, civic-minded men and women conscious of the responsibility which their privileged status entails and willing to dedicate their skills to the service of their fellow men rather than to the advancement of their own careers and the prosperity of their own fortunes..." (emphases mine)

Several months back, a viral video went around featuring Winnie Monsod's last lecture, where she exhorted her students to help our country by staying in it. Since then, the video has inspired backlash, with a lot of expats rising to defend themselves (defensive much?) and lambasting Prof. Monsod for being narrow-minded, backward, illogical, etc. (Click here and here for anti-Winnie reads.)

I think we would do well to remember W.H. Scott's perspective. He saw nation-building as a godly act, and, like former UP President Salvador Lopez, understood that "not only our individual redemption but also the redemption of our country lies in the hollow of our hands."

The way I see it, it's a lot like Faith. Christians today (in the Philippines, at least) don't have the same appreciation for their faith because they are no longer being persecuted. They don't have to celebrate mass underground, hiding from fascists who seek to exterminate them for breaking the law. In the same way, many Filipinos today don't appreciate the freedom that our forefathers died for, since we breathed in the air of liberty from birth.

Freedom was just the initial step towards becoming a great nation, but if all of us leave the country, claiming that self-actualization is not a sin, who's going to stay in the Motherland to do the hard, dirty work? For as long as Filipinos love greener stateside pastures more than the dirty patch of land we call "ours," we cannot call ourselves "great."

I'm not saying that staying in the country is the right choice. I'm saying it's the HARDER choice. (It's a different case with UP graduates, however. For us, most especially, I really believe that staying in the country, working for its betterment, is the ONLY thing to do.)

It's harder to stay here, because it's unpopular, and migrating is so "now." Next, we have to live with all the corruption, traffic, heat, low wages, etc. We have to put up with a LOT, actually, just living our day-to-day lives. But it will not last forever.

William Henry Scott BELIEVED in our country, and loved it so much he chose to stay in it, despite all the terrors of Martial Law. Why can't we true-blooded Pinoys do the same?

Yes, I'm a fanatic. Yes, I've been brought up to believe that Filipinos SHOULD stay in the country, to serve it during the best years of my life and not to avail of its resources in order to leave it at the first opportunity. And yes, I realize that logic has little to do with this argument. It all boils down to FEELINGS. It all boils down to one question: How much do you love your country?

I've heard the arguments. I've talked to people on either side of the fence. But in the end, I've made my choice. I pray that I can hold on to it for the rest of my life.

Pasensiya na, I'm a UP grad. :)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Of Books and of Baguio

Recently, I had the most wonderful three-day weekend in Baguio with my bosom buddies from Ex Libris Philippines. We took the Victory Liner Deluxe bus (highly recommended! Only five hours travel time and no stop overs, with an in-house loo!) and arrived on a cold Friday morning. An unexpected blessing: early check-in was allowed at our lovely hotel, so we had more time to stroll around the Summer Capital!

Of course, we made it a point to visit as many bookshops as we could in the city proper, so we paid homage to CID, Jet, National and Book Sale. But Mt. Cloud Book Shop was in a class all by itself!

I arrived in Baguio with two bags, and departed with five. Three of those bags were full of books, some purchased for as low as P10.00 - P20.00!! \

Aside from eating, sleeping, and book shopping, we also played Guesstures, read aloud from Arnel Salgado's "Kidnapped by the Gods" (and learned new ways to use words like anon, foliage, firmament in everyday language!), and screamed ourselves hoarse during three hours of playing Left for Dead and Counterstrike in an internet cafe. Haha, we forgot to be our mature, professional selves and became high school teenagers all over again!

I felt a bit like Rizal, who spent most of his money on books when travelling abroad ... then again, I had ample funds left over to ensure that I took a shower and ate three lovely meals a day. :p Who needs mountains of souvenirs when you've got tons of memories, snapshots, and dozens of books?

Sa uulitin!!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

On Being Catholic

Image taken from here

Lately, the Catholic Church's been all over the news (and not in a very favorable light, either) thanks to a priest kicking out RH Bill supporters from a mass and some prelates making nigh-near seditious comments about our President.

It's gotten to a point that RH Bill supporters are being exhorted to bring handy gadgets to record priest's Lenten sermons... that fellow Catholics are seriously contemplating leaving the Church... and within the Church, the divide continues to grow between so-called "genuine Catholics" (by virtue of their "correct" stance re: the controversial bill) and other Catholics with "malformed consciences" who do not share their opinion.

I am Catholic.

I am pro-RH Bill.

All this media hullabaloo has become very personal to me, to say the least.

I'm sure there are thousands of others out there, like me.

This is why I'm glad I "stumbled" upon this gem of a reminder in the blogosphere, and I hope others will find it enlightening as well.

"To me, the Church is kind of like having an alcoholic mother: majestic one minute; engaging in some cringingly non-Christ-like behavior the next. But no matter what, she’s your Mother. No matter what, you love your mother. And the way you love her is you notice when she goes wrong, you grieve for her, you mourn for her, and then you silently resolve to help her do a little better. You don’t pretend not to see her faults and get all self-righteous and militaristic if someone attacks her—but you also don’t kick her when she’s down..."
Heather King, Shirt of Flame
(Source: Happy Catholic)

For the past several months, Filipino Catholics have been praying the Oratio Imperata for the Protection of Human Life towards the end of each mass. I know of some RH Bill supporters who refused to pray it, yet I find no conflict between my personal stance and this very-diplomatically worded prayer. I believe it's for ALL Filipinos, for both RH Bill supporters and detractors.

This Lent, let's pray for our country and our people. With one voice, let's put aside our differences, and come together... disregarding religious denominations and political stances, and pray that the Resurrected Christ guide us to a brighter tomorrow.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


"Summertime... and the livin' is easy..."
~George Gershwin, from Porgy and Bess

While most people would equate summertime as beach/party/snooze-all-day time, for my family and I, it's a different story. The past school year has gone, but there's a lot that needs to be done to prepare for the new one! So it's work as usual, only that it is less hectic than normal and I can look forward to leaving paperwork at the office instead of lugging it home. :)

For me, summertime means a leisurely breakfast in the morning, as opposed to the usual gulp-down-my-coffee-and-pray-the-water's-not-too-hot kind which I subject myself to from June to March. A summer breakfast would be something like this:

Then teaching duties in the morning, followed by handling a stream of inquiries in the afternoon, planning seminars, additional teaching duties... and who knows? Perhaps there's time for a half hour jog around the village before dinner time! And perhaps, a lunch or dinner date with friends during the weekend! No smoke-filled bars, of course... after all, I AM a teacher now.

~ ~ ~

Summer is all about bright cheery colors adding new zest to life! Here are a few of my summer blog favorites:

Matchbook Magazine, an online magazine for the classy lady who loves all things smart and beautiful! I could just EAT the layouts, they're that scrumptious!

Number two is Oh Joy! ,the delightful blog of graphic designer Joy Cho (assisted from time to time by various colleagues and her husband as well... isn't that sweet?). Reading this blog gives us a glimpse into the famous cozy, laid-back California lifestyle!

My next link is the personal blog of yet another graphic designer who calls herself Mrs. Lilien. Poets everywhere will be delighted with this page, a rolicking rampage of rhyming cadences! Illustrating the blog owner's philosophy in life through the "Seven Persuasions" instead of the Seven Deadly Sins, she exhorts us with one-liners like "The Persuasion of Making the Mundane Magnificent!"

And of course, nothing beats watching Nigella Lawson videos on YouTube! I especially love the dessert ones. I adore her passion for life which translates to her passion for good food, and how she insists on having nothing less than full-fat milk! The more chocolate, the better! A woman after my own stomach.

~ ~ ~

Lest you think I'm a totally decadent creature obsessed with leisure and all things frilly, I do have a few intellectual pursuits as well this summer. :)

Apart from the usual lesson planning for the year ahead, I'm also in the Thesis Writing stage of my graduate studies! Yay! I should have a clear idea of my thesis topic before June starts, so that no time will be wasted once I register for the necessary units. Will be doing quite a lot of serious academic reading... oooh... and a lot of academic writing. Better brush up on my academic jargon and Latin phrases over the next two months as well.

On the un-academic reading side, I'll be reading the James Clavell Asian Saga novels (Taipan, Gai-Jin, Shogun, etc.) since my twinnie bought them and hasn't stopped raving about how unputdownable they are. Yeeees... the Asian Civilization teacher within will out!

I also hope to be able to blog more frequently this summer... say, once or twice a week, just to get the writing juices flowing. Am badly out of practice, as my awkward, halting prose shows!

Here's to a fun-filled yet productive summer for everyone!


"Summertime... and the livin' is easy..."
~George Gershwin, from Porgy and Bess

While most people would equate summertime as beach/party/snooze-all-day time, for my family and I, it's a different story. The past school year has gone, but there's a lot that needs to be done to prepare for the new one! So it's work as usual, only that it is less hectic than normal and I can look forward to leaving paperwork at the office. :)

For me, summertime means a leisurely breakfast in the morning, as opposed to the usual gulp-down-my-coffee-and-pray-the-water's-not-too-hot kind which I subject myself to from June to March. A summer breakfast would be something like this:

Then teaching duties in the morning, followed by handling a stream of inquiries in the afternoon, planning seminars, additional teaching duties... and who knows? Perhaps there's time for a half hour jog around the village before dinner time! And perhaps, a lunch or dinner date with friends during the weekend! No smoke-filled bars, of course... after all, I AM a teacher now.

~ ~ ~

Summer is all about bright cheery colors adding new zest to life! Here are a few of my summer blog favorites:

Matchbook Magazine, an online magazine for the classy lady who loves all things smart and beautiful! I could just EAT the layouts, they're that scrumptious!

Number two is Oh Joy! ,the delightful blog of graphic designer Joy Cho (assisted from time to time by various colleagues and her husband as well... isn't that sweet?). Reading this blog gives us a glimpse into the famous cozy, laid-back California lifestyle!

My next link is the personal blog of yet another graphic designer who calls herself Mrs. Lilien. Poets everywhere will be delighted with this page, a rolicking rampage of rhyming cadences! Illustrating the blog owner's philosophy in life through the "Seven Persuasions" instead of the Seven Deadly Sins, she exhorts us with one-liners like "The Persuasion of Making the Mundane Magnificent!"

~ ~ ~

Lest you think I'm a totally decadent creature obsessed with leisure and all things frilly, I assure you, I do have intellectual pursuits as well this summer. :)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Living Life with Harmony

This past school year, I was the adviser to a darling group of children between the ages of 2 and 7. My first preschool advisory class, Casa Harmony, will forever have a special place in my heart! I really feel like I was the mother (albeit only for three hours a day) to fourteen adorable youngsters, and I shall miss them terribly this summer.

Handling preschoolers is a totally different experience! Some people look down on preschool teachers... I'm ashamed to say that even other fellow educators treat preschool teachers condescendingly. I once had a classmate in grad school scoff, "You're a preschool teacher? Wow! What do you guys teach them? ABC's?" *with matching superior sneer*

Yes, I teach them ABC's. I teach the basics. I teach them how to read and write, and how to count beyond their fingers and toes. I teach them to treat the people around them with respect. I teach them to wash their hands before they eat, how to button their shirts, how to greet everybody that comes in with a cheery "Good morning!" at 7:15 a.m.

I teach them to solve their differences peacefully, not by using their fists, but by talking and sharing their thoughts and feelings.

I teach them how to sing the National Anthem, how to say the Panatang Makabayan and how to raise their right hands properly. I teach them to treat the Flag Ceremony as a holy ritual, for in it we follow the footsteps of the heroes gone before us in swearing to love our country and work tirelessly for its betterment.

I teach them respect for other faiths as we pray together as a class... Muslims side by side with Iglesia ni Cristo, Born Again and Catholic students. I teach them to love everyone around them because everyone is a friend. I teach them how to eat with a spoon and fork like a prince or a princess, and how to clean up after their mess because we all must pitch in to take care of our environment.

And every day I teach them Music. We sing when we start the class, and we sing upon going home. I teach them that there's no problem you can't solve with a smile on your face and a song on your lips, matching the harmony in your heart.

And no, in the preschool classroom, we don't care how much your outfit costs, or how much money you make, or who your father is and what Ivy League school you came from.

In the preschool classroom, we love everyone by virtue of our common humanity. Which is as it should be.

There's nothing quite like teaching preschool students. Try it! It's good for the soul. :)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Repost: Maria Ressa's Speech

The Courage to Do What's Right

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you tonight. When Marco called me, I was with my family – my parents from Florida, my sister from LA, another sister who moved to Manila from NY. We were just getting off a plane – the first real break we'd had together in six years. Because of the timing of the request, I would've said no to anything else but it's very hard to say no to this topic – how to be successful AND be true to your values and ethics. Thank you to each of you – and to the management of MSD – for caring about it … and for asking me to put my thoughts together for you tonight.

I KNOW you can do both, but it's not easy to be both successful and ethical in our country today. Corruption is endemic. It infiltrates so many aspects of our lives. Influence-peddling is the name of the game. Conflicts of interest are all over the place. I found many Filipino organizations have a difficult time even defining what conflict of interest means. It's too easy to rationalize particularly when it means more money or influence.

Sometimes doing the wrong thing seems to be the only way to get ahead. I've heard so many Filipinos say that – particularly the street-savvy operators who are trying to get you to do the wrong thing!

You have to find the courage to say no. You have to do what's right – not just for your company, but for yourself. You have to find and set this line – a line you promise yourself you will never cross – because crossing that line means you're turning from good to evil. It's that simple. And you must make it that simple.

Why? This insight came from a dinner I had Tuesday night with an accomplished, incredible group of five women, fellow awardees for the TOWNS – Ten Outstanding Women in the Nation's Service. All 5 are doctors – two medical doctors, three PhDs. Everyone at the table was a teacher, and everyone had chosen to leave a western nation – from the US, London, Australia – in order to come back – to come home to the Philippines.

This group tries to get together at least once a year to support each other in our work, and to give each other feedback from our different fields. Our topic Tuesday was corruption and how we choose to fight it in our society. One woman said she was tired and needed to pull back. Another talked about how people who try to do the right thing seem to have to work so hard and get paid so little. Still a third said she was surprised at how good people can turn so evil – how people she knew from college are now so corrupt, and yet they don't seem to understand nor feel that they are doing anything wrong!

That was the insight: corrupt people don't think they're corrupt. Just like evil people don't think they're evil. Because getting there starts with one small step across a line.

Once you take that first step and cross over, the succeeding steps become easier, and before you know it, you're not just corrupt but are now corrupting others. This, for me, is like a reverse tipping point. You know the book by Malcolm Gladwell? The subtitle to the Tipping Point is How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. The idea is that it's the little steps that begin the change that simmers beneath the surface until the system hits critical mass, the boiling point.

When did we become endemically corrupt as a nation? The point when enough people took enough small steps to make it that way.

We have to change it. How do we do that? By understanding how we got there. It starts with each person making a choice. Draw the line in the sand. Do not cross it.

The most dangerous decision is that first one – when you move from being perfectly clean and idealistic … to being tempted … to wanting it… and then accepting it. Don't do it. Once you do, it's a slippery slope. Define that line and DO NOT CROSS it. If you've already done it, pay special attention to the four step program at the end, ok?

As a journalist, media corruption is a fact of life. Politicians, company officers and government officials have said they're flabbergasted by the number of journalists on their payrolls. I ask, "why don't you stop paying and expose them?" They say they can't because they're afraid if they don't pay, they would be attacked. It's so prevalent the radio guys coined a term for it – "AC-DC" – Attack-Collect-Defend-Collect.

Of course, paying also works in favor of the newsmakers: if they pay, they control what's written or said about them. They know when it will come out, and what type of exposure and PR they can get. That certainty, for them, is worth paying journalists. So the cycle feeds itself.

Young journalists say no because they're idealistic, but after a while, they start to see the way things really work. They begin to get disillusioned. The lines begin to blur together, particularly since so many of their elders are doing it.

Then the real test comes – the offer that's hard to refuse. Everyone gets that. If you pass that test, chances are you'll stay clean your whole professional career. It's a tipping point in a positive way. You've already said no to the hardest offer to decline – the one you wanted the most – so everything is easy. But the tipping point works the other way if you accept.

It starts with envelopes of money in press conferences. When I was with Probe, I thought, let's make it easier for the newsmakers and publicly state our position against what we called envelopmental journalism. So we did.

Strangely, other journalists – our colleagues – were critical of us for raining on their parade. During that time, it seemed to me that the clean journalists were the ones who were ostracized and cowed into silence. They didn't trumpet their beliefs because they were afraid others would say they're "nagmamalinis" – even if that really was what we should be doing. Our cultural values somehow doesn't extend to making others ashamed to be corrupt. A friend explained it to me this way: "I have no right to take that money away from his kids."

There are some simple truths. The more you say no, the easier it becomes. The more you do the right thing, the harder it is to do the wrong thing. It's a tipping point approach to building your identity.

My line in the sand was defined long ago. The tipping point happened in the mid-90's – when the fiancée of one of my closest friends offered me $150,000 to do a story for CNN. It wouldn't be traceable, he told me, and it would be deposited directly into my bank account. He gave the offer over lunch, and although I wanted to say no immediately, he held my hand and said, please take at least a night to sleep on it and think about it. I did.

I was shocked. I didn't even tell my friend. That night, I thought about it. But then reality stepped in. My sense of self is tied to being a professional journalist, and I couldn't look at myself in the mirror if I accepted the bribe.

I had drawn the line clearly, and I knew that accepting that money would make me a fundamentally different person. On this side of the line, I'm good. On the other side, I'm evil. It's that simple.

How do I define evil? I like the definition from a book I'd encourage everyone to read: THE LUCIFER EFFECT: HOW GOOD PEOPLE TURN EVIL by Philip Zimbardo. He did the famous Stanford Prison Experiment – when he took a group of ordinary students and put them in a mock prison, randomly assigning some as guards, others as prisoners. In less than a week, he had to stop the study when the `guards' became increasingly sadistic and the `prisoners' pathological. He analyzes these findings in the context of what American soldiers did in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prisons.

It shows how situations – culture if you will – can make good people do bad things because they conform, comply, obey or are seduced by the circumstances. They join the group. They justify. They rationalize.

These findings helped explain many things about Philippine society to me – endemic corruption and election violence, particularly heinous crimes like the Maguindanao massacre.

Zimbardo gives evil a psychologically based definition: "Evil consists in intentionally behaving in ways that harm, abuse, demean, dehumanize, or destroy innocent others – or using one's authority and systemic power to encourage or permit others to do so on your behalf."

The second part is as important as the first part because it means that you can't turn away and pretend you don't see evil done when you have the ability to stop it. It's a culture we need to create.

How do you do that? Let me jump a little here because it reminds me of the Princeton Honor Code, which each Princetonian writes on every single term paper, every single exam: one single sentence that says you have not cheated and – this is important – you promise to turn in anyone who does.

Teachers leave the students alone in a room, hand out test papers, and put them on their honor. It's brilliant in part because it uses peer pressure. Even if you tried to cheat, can you be sure everyone in the room will cheat with you by not turning you in? Even worse, are you willing to compromise not just your honor but everyone else's? You're part of a tradition that dates back hundreds of years, and you can't let the institution, your friends, and your family down. It was always with a sense of pride and great honor that I signed that pledge.

In my six years as head of news, I tried to bring that culture in – to use peer pressure to redefine up rather than down – to live according to our ideals. So we wrote a Standards & Ethics Manual.

We took a zero tolerance approach to corruption. No matter who you are, if you accept a bribe, you will lose your job. Instead of accepting offers, our people started reporting them. We proved peer pressure can also work in a good way!

I discovered a lot more than I bargained for. One employee reported an offer for about P12 million for a series of stories on one issue. It uncovered a systematic attempt to influence policy through news reports. Once you become aware, you can pick these stories in our major papers.

Elections were another matter. In Nov 2009 – months before the May 2010 elections, several people at our desk reported political candidates who offered sizeable monthly atm deposits in exchange for stories. We met with the candidates who made those offers and told them that if they didn't stop, we would do stories about their bribery attempts. We would start a series called corruption watch. I told them they didn't need to pay for stories.

Several of the candidates candidly said you know if we didn't do this, other journalists would be upset and write against us. "We're only protecting ourselves," they said. One talked about having to run a covert media campaign and asked for help finding someone who could run black ops. We gave them a grace period to stop and said we would run stories exposing these practices.

So let's go back to Zimbardo's definition of evil. He summarized all of this in one sentence: he said evil is "knowing better but doing worse."

Knowing better but doing worse.

What does that mean for you? I'm told most of you are med reps – what MSD calls Professional Healthcare Representatives. Two questions for you to think about. What is your relationship to the doctors you deal with? What role do you play in giving quality healthcare to Filipinos?

At dinner Tuesday, the two TOWNS doctors were very vocal about this controversial relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and the medical profession. They talked about how doctors accept free trips, junkets, expensive gifts and favors.

They said doctors rationalize: "Everyone is doing it." "I'd be stupid if I didn't take it." "The budget is there anyway." I like this one -"I don't have to do what they want anyway." I've heard the same excuses from journalists who accept bribes – and encourage others to do the same. It's like a virus that spreads.

Corruption cuts across our industries. This is a challenge for all of us. You know your reality better than I do. You have your business targets. So the question only you can answer is – what are you willing to do to get what you want? Where do you draw the line you will never cross? Where on this side you're good, on the other, you're evil?

How do you define your own individual battle for integrity?

The tipping point starts with each of us as people. Then it goes to your company. Merck's values include these statements: "We are committed to the highest standards of ethics and integrity. We are responsible to our customers, to Merck employees and their families, to the environments we inhabit, and to the societies we serve worldwide. In discharging our responsibilities, we do not take professional or ethical shortcuts. Our interactions with all segments of society must be transparent and reflect the high standards we profess."

Fantastic. A question for all of you: does MSD live up to its stated values? If you do, how do you fight against those who take shortcuts, who are unethical, who do evil?

Let me end with four ideas that have helped me find the courage to do what's right:

1. Be excellent at what you do. Work hard. Everything begins there.

2. Be self-aware. Ask yourself the tough questions and give honest answers. Be aware of how your actions affect others.

3. Take responsibility for what you say and what you do. Will you act this way if everyone can see what you're doing? Statements like "only following orders" or "everyone else was doing it" abdicates responsibility. Remember, how you behave is completely under your control.

4. Find your allies. Once you find the courage to say no and take responsibility for your actions, you reverse the tipping point for evil and begin to tilt the balance the other way. Fight the group that will drag you down. Find the group that will raise you up. You'll need help.

I wish you stamina and much courage for the battles ahead. If each of you decides to draw the line, you make a choice for good. It will make a difference for you, your family and your company. But it goes further – and gets much bigger – than that. When you put all our efforts together, we can push the tipping point for our nation.

Thank you.

One of my favorite songs of all time...

A Perfect Day

I daydream a lot. Sometimes I daydream about a perfect day. It would go something like this...

Wake up at 6:30 for a morning jog around the village.
A leisurely breakfast at the late hour of 8 a.m.
A thirty-minute vocalise before the piano at 9 a.m.
Browsing through Fully Booked Serendra's massive collection from 10 to 12:30 ...
Lunch with an old friend ... and coffee for desert... and since our conversation's so great, we'll go on talking until after dinner...
I come home to my personal library and stay up until midnight, reading my latest Thomas Merton book...

But my life (and everyone else's) is far from ideal.

I consider myself lucky if I get 7 hours of sleep a night.
Exercise is something I'm only recently trying to get back into... after three years (and - - additional pounds) of inactivity.
I'm at work 11 hours a day... sometimes more.
My only "rest day" is spent studying or working so I can tick off a few items from my never-ending to-do list.

Negativity released, catharsis done.

Going to mass today (and every Sunday) is a necessary activity for me. I literally recharge with the hour spent in my family's company (and the Lord's!). Earlier this morning, I realized something:

Perfect days don't come everyday for a reason. It's like having Christmas everyday. It's no longer special. We can't appreciate it anymore. There's nothing to look forward to with anticipation.

Tomorrow is the 14th of February. For some, it will be a perfectly romantic day spent with The One.

As for me, I will be spending it with my students. Working, working, always working... but when we offer all our exhaustion, all our efforts to Him... He will make our burden lighter. He will give us the strength to continue as we strive to make His world a better place.

Let us pray that tomorrow will be a perfect day... a day of perfect obedience, perfect humility, perfect trust in Him.

Aside: What would YOUR perfect day be like? :)
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