Category Archives: Articles

40 Time-tested Tips for Journalists that Never Go Out of Style

1. Always get the name of the dog.

2. Better to get it right than get it first.

3. Trust is our most important asset.

4. Endure the awkward silences in interviews.

5. Avoid clichés.

6. Pick up the damn phone.

7. And get out of the damn office.

8. Only quote when paraphrasing doesn’t do a better job.

9. With multimedia: complement, don’t repeat.

10. Know your equipment before you hit the field.

11. Give credit and thanks for user submissions.

12. Follow the money.

13. Ask open-ended questions.

14. Keep asking yourself: what is the story REALLY about?

15. Get good natural sound.

16. Experiment and take risks.

17. Capture more b-roll than you think you need.

18. When the eye and the ear compete, the eye wins.

19. Better to coach writers than fix broken stories.

20. Reports are about information; stories are about experience.

21. Arrive early, stay late.

22. Don’t let the powerful answer in the passive voice: “Mistakes were made.”

23. The best quote often comes after the reporter closes the notebook.

24. Journalism is a discipline of verification, not assertion.

25. Good writing is not magic, it’s a process.

26. Great journalism comes at the intersection of craft and opportunity.

27. Take responsibility for what readers know and understand.

28. Each reader brings an autobiography with them to a story.

29. In a nut graph, it’s not the graph that’s important, but the nut.

30. Place the emphatic word in a sentence at the end.

31. The antidote to procrastination is rehearsal.

32. Show AND tell.

33. Get a good quote high in the story.

34. Express your most important idea in the shortest sentence.

35. The most powerful form of punctuation is white space.

36. Write early to learn what you still need to learn.

37. Tell the audience what you know—and how you know it.

38. Don’t just interview the boss, talk to the mechanic.

39. To find stories, take a different route home.

40. If your mother says she loves you, check it out.



Life inside jails is a microcosm of what is happening in our society as a whole

Whenever I look at the conditions of our prisoners, I would always go back to what Atty. Roy Valenzuela of Bureau of Jail Management and Penology discussed during a forum on restorative justice and human rights back in 2013 at the Commission on Human Rights. He was explaining the difference between criminal justice and restorative justice. He said:

“In punitive justice, we employ this toilet approach in dealing with crimes. When somebody is convicted, we throw that person into jail right away under the common notion that it is the remedy to all crimes. We quickly flush a convicted person down the toilet, thus, the term the “toilet approach” which resulted to our congested prison cells. We treat prisoners as toxic waste. But what we are not aware of is that one day these persons that we flushed down the toilet, kept miserably in congested prison cells will return to their community either as an escaped convict or a freed prisoner who will again—unless there was proper rehabilitation, unless there was an intervention made—become problems of our society.

“With restorative justice, this will help segregate the “hopeless” cases from the “hopeful” ones to decongest prisons. Only those who are recalcitrant, those who continue to hurt other people should be the ones to be put to jail. And those who are compliant should be allowed to undergo conciliation or mediation with their victims or accusers to repair the harm done and restore relationships instead of automatic incarceration.”

Toshi Kazama, an acclaimed US-based Japanese photographer who recently visited the Philippines to give a talk about his human subjects on death row, once gave a suggestion that if you want to get to know more about a foreign country you’re visiting, if you want to know its real identity, its soul, visit their prisons.

This article of Ayee Macaraig gives us a glimpse of our prisons. Even if you consider yourself not a criminal, innocent, or “safe,” still, you must pay attention. Because no matter how much money or budget the Department of Tourism would allot for an ad (last I heard it was Php 650 Million) about the Philippines so investors and tourists would take notice of us,  it still won’t hide the fact the harsh treatment of many Filipinos, particularly those persons deprived of liberty.

Pay attention. Here is the article of Ayee Macaraig that gives the true identity of our country, of the kind of government we have.


Report by Ayee Macaraig | AFP | 5 September 2017

Accused murderer Manuel Cerna has languished in a Philippine jail for 15 years without a verdict, one of countless inmates enduring interminable trials that are expected to get longer as an unrelenting drug war overwhelms the courts.

A notoriously slow and under-resourced judicial system has seen a “tidal wave” of new cases as police have conducted a nationwide crime crackdown in response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to eradicate all illegal drugs from Philippine society.

The case of Cerna, 60, who almost died of tuberculosis in one of the nation’s most overcrowded jails as his hearings dragged on, is not unusual in that his time in jail while on trial is close to reaching the minimum sentence.

“I get depressed. Some others here committed suicide because their wives left them. They lost all hope of freedom,” Cerna told AFP in the Manila jail surrounded by rusting barbed wire and the stench of rotting food.

So-called “decader” inmates — because they have spent 10 years or more behind bars while on trial — are a symptom of a deeply flawed justice system that helped fuel Duterte’s rise to the presidency last year.

Duterte won the elections on a brutal law-and-order platform, promising swift justice chiefly by killing tens of thousands of criminals and a no-mercy stance on convicted criminals who he said could not be rehabilitated.

Duterte’s police have indeed shot dead thousands of people as they have scoured slums hunting drug traffickers and addicts, leading rights groups to express alarm at what they say are a wave of extrajudicial killings.

This has undoubtedly avoided many trials.

But another 96,700 people have also been arrested as part of the drug war since Duterte came to power, according to the presidential spokesman, adding to pressure on jails that were already nearly six times more crowded than they were built for.

Defendants often have to wait months between hearings, only for the session to be delayed because a judge is sick, a prosecutor fails to show up or a lawyer has another engagement. Sometimes the case gets reassigned to a new judge and the whole process starts from scratch.

In other cases, public attorneys assigned to defend poor suspects change jobs without handing over crucial documents to their replacement, or worse, files get lost, and again the defendant is back at square one.

– ‘Vicious cycle’ –

“There is a tidal wave flooding the judiciary. (But) there is no attendant increase in the number of courts, judges, prosecutors and public attorneys,” Raymund Narag, assistant professor at Southern Illinois University in the United States, told AFP.

“Extrajudicial killings are justified for Filipinos because of the failure of the criminal justice system. It becomes a vicious cycle.”

Trials nationwide last an average of six to 10 years, according to prominent human rights lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno.

A Supreme Court task force on prison decongestion last year also said “an innocent man is jailed for at least five years before he is eventually acquitted”.

One of the key problems is simply a lack of courts, prosecutors and judges.

There are just 2,600 criminal, civilian and other types of courts for a population of 100 million, Supreme Court administrator Midas Marquez told AFP.

Thirty percent of those courts have no judges, according to Marquez’s office.

This leaves the others with impossible tasks, with judges having to handle up to 5,000 cases at any one time, Marquez said.

– ‘Band-aid’ solutions –

The Supreme Court has in recent years sought to do what it can, such as by introducing computerised records and setting up a system to lock in a firm timetable for hearings. Otherwise many months pass without hearings taking place.

“(But) these initiatives are band-aid solutions. What we need are institutional solutions like adding courts and funding them, which require the support of congress and the executive (branch),” Marquez said.

The government is fast-tracking the hiring of hundreds of prosecutors and improving staff training, justice department undersecretary Antonio Kho told AFP.

Duterte has also promised to pour extra funds into the penal system next year.

But he has also repeatedly made comments that have raised questions about his administration’s intent on improving the nation’s jails and prisons.

“I prefer that they (inmates) sleep standing,” Duterte said in March when discussing the problem of packed jails.

In a lengthy assessment of the justice system, Duterte, 72, last month also claimed many prisoners wanted to stay behind bars because they became homosexuals while serving time and enjoyed regular meals.

“They don’t want to go out. Because the food is free and their lover, they are in love, they want to stay there,” Duterte said, as he insisted people could not be rehabilitated in the Philippines’ jails.

“They are already monsters.”

However Cerna, the alleged murderer, insists he is innocent and mourns the wasted years trapped behind bars away from his family.

“When my mother died, I wanted to break down. I wanted to shout but all I could do was cry,” said Cerna, whose real name cannot be disclosed while his case is pending, recalling how he was desperate to help her.

“I wasn’t able to serve her in her dying years.”

Source: Yahoo News

Inmates during a morning headcount inside Quezon City Jail in Manila. (AFP Photo/Noel Celis)

The Philippines’ notoriously slow and under-resourced judicial system has seen a ‘tidal wave’ of new cases due to a nationwide war on drugs. (AFP Photo/ Noel Celis)

Some inmates have spent ten or more years behind bars while on trial—a symptom of deeply flawed justice system. (AFP Photo/Noel Celis)

President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to eradicate all illegal drugs from Philippine society has resulted in 96,700 people being arrested since he came to power. (AFP Photo/Noel Celis)

Conditions inside the massively overcrowded jails are squalid and cramped. (AFP Photo/Noel Celis)

Inmates eat their lunch inside the Quezon City Jail in Manila. (AFP Photo/Noel Celis)

Dr. Raymund Narag: explaining drug trade in Bilibid and offering solutions

Before, I thought those who are in jail or prison cells deserve to rot and suffer for the crimes they have committed. After watching movies like the Green Mile and the Shawshank Redemption, I learned that these people in jail are not all evil. There was also this book I read, People of the Lie, by M. Scott Peck (do not read this when you’re stressed), I learned that there is still goodness within a so-called criminal when he– despite the consequence that he is going to face--admit to his crime. Then it really became an eye-opener when I was the one who documented a forum we organized called Human Rights and Restorative Justice four years ago. What I heard from the resource speakers shocked me, up to this day I still could not forget it. I’d like to believe that we’re not any different from those people in jail. We think evil things like them. Except that we choose not to do it. That is why we really need to help those people. I remember my younger brother telling this to me when we were discussing about interpersonal relationships: “Walang tao na sa harap at talikuran ay mabait. Ang kriminal sa kasuluk-sulukan ng buto nyan mabait yan.”

This post by Dr. Raymund Narag, a former detainee, is painful to read but in the end offers hope on how our country can resolve the overcrowding of inmates, the drug trade, the exploitation and corruption happening inside jails.

Explaining drug trade in Bilibid and offering more time

By Dr. Raymund Narag

Most Filipinos are puzzled by the reported resurgence of the drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP). Department of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre estimated that 10 to 15 percent of drug trade activity had resurfaced. He also suggested that the inmate drug dealers might have corrupted the Special Action Force personnel which had been in-charged of securing the Maximum Security Compound. Then Director General Benjamin Delos Santos clarified that drug-dealing activities had moved to the Medium Security Compound of the NBP and that the Maximum Security Compound is relatively drug-free. This implies that the SAF is performing well as the SAF is in charged with supervising the Maximum Security Compound and it is the traditional Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) personnel that supervise the Medium Security Compound.

Surprisingly, BuCor Director General Benjamin Delos Santos resigned from his post, purportedly to give Secretary Aguirre a free-hand to investigate the issue. This will now be the third appointment in the BuCor, for the first full year of the Duterte administration. This continues a trend in the BuCor leadership where two to three new directors are appointed each year. This dates back to the past 10 years, or since the time of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The BuCor, especially the New Bilibid Prison, is a powder keg that can erupt anytime, with direct implications to the national political landscape. Senator Leila De Lima is currently in jail, supposedly for her failure to suppress drug activities in the NBP during her term as the Justice Secretary. Her supporters now claim she is vindicated considering that drugs continue to proliferate inside the prison; it is an indication that the prison drug problem is intractable, and making her accountable hides the reality of her political persecution.

As I have said in previous articles: there were drugs in the Bilibid before De Lima became Secretary of the Department of Justice, there were drugs during her time, and there will be drugs thereafter. And as long as there is a continued neglect of the structural, organizational, and cultural conditions of the penal facilities in the country (detention centers, jails and prisons), the drug problem will continue to linger.

For starters, the structural condition refers to the overcrowding of jail and prison facilities. On the national average, overcrowding is now pegged at 500%, with some jails and prisons hovering over 2,000%. That basically means 20 inmates occupy a space good for one inmate. The drug war exacerbated this situation: in June 2016, the jail and prison population stood at 150,000; in June 2017, this now stands to close to 200,000 inmates (this number does not include inmates in the provincial jails, which is much more difficult to collect). Despite this increase in inmate population, the number of personnel stood the same, and there had been no construction of jail and prison facilities. Additionally, the operational budget of the BJMP and the BuCor had stood practically the same as the past years.

This structural deficit has led to coping mechanisms that have been tacitly utilized by the jail and prison personnel. Due to lack of personnel, inmate leaders, known as the mayores, are allowed to perform custodial, administrative, and rehabilitation functions. Due to lack of space, inmates are allowed to construct their own cubicles and living spaces. Due to lack of resources, inmates and their visitors are allowed to bring their own food, toiletries, medicines – developing a vibrant commerce inside the facilities. These coping mechanisms had been an integral part of jail and prison management, without them, jail and prison facilities will collapse. Thus, the coping mechanisms have short-term benefits—it keeps jail and prison management afloat.

However, these coping mechanisms are deemed informal and illegal. Thus, it is openly denied. However, due to necessity, jail and prison personnel tacitly employ these informal structures. Jail and prison personnel are formally admonished not to use it, but are informally advised to utilize it.

This lack of guidance on the use of these informal structures lead to abuse. Jail and prison officers can use their discretion when and whom to use the informal structures. This discretionary power can also lead to corruption and power-play inside the facilities. This becomes cultural and inmates and personnel must be acculturated to the emergent informal structures inside the facilities.

The interplay of the structural, organizational, and cultural dynamics of a jail and prison facility can lead to different outcomes, one of which is the proliferation of drugs. For example, due to overcrowding, lack of personnel, and lack of resources, inmates are organized by cells, where an inmate cell mayores regulates inmate movement and discipline. Inmates with resources are tasked to share their resources to other inmates, and will be rewarded with privileges, like ownership of a “kubol.” The presence of inmate leadership structure also creates a hierarchy among the inmates’ ranks, which provides the basis for inmate leaders to develop a political base where they can negotiate and demand with the jail and prison staff. Coupled with the boredom inherent in any place of deprivation of liberty, corrupted inmates may capitalize on the inmate leadership structure to lure corruptible jail and prison personnel. For example, corrupted inmates, through a daring inmate leader, may lure a jail or prison guard to bring in packs of cigarettes, which is considered a premium commodity inside the facilities. Once compromised, these personnel may be asked to bring in drugs, cell phones, and other contrabands. The spiral of corruption may then lead to higher-level offices—the gaters, custodial officers, and escort officers may partake of the lucrative drug trade. The inmate leaders and compromised jail and prison personnel, would even try to keep the “peace” within the facility—they control inmate disturbances, riots and other events that may call the attention of the outside world– to keep their lucrative trade running.

While the description outlined above is simplistic, more sophisticated dynamics can develop in jails and prisons with bigger inmate populations. The Maximum Security Compound of the NBP, with its 16,000-inmate population is currently the biggest Mega-prison in the world. In the NBP, inmate gang structure provides another layer of inmate cohesiveness, making the drug trade problem almost intractable. In the NBP, gangs control 95 percent of the inmates, with three gangs having at least 2,000 inmate members.

Prison gang leaders are the gatekeepers in the drug trade. While majority of the gang leaders abhor drug use and trade within their territories, a number of corrupted inmate gang leaders have utilized their gang muscle to facilitate the drug trade. These inmate gang leaders support drug dealing activities of inmate drug traders by providing access to cell phones, providing security against custodial searches, and harassing non-paying trade partners. Coupled by the support of corrupted prison guards and gang leaders, inmate drug dealers can operate freely inside the facilities and they come to dominate drug distribution inside and outside world.

Through the years, the government has tried to disrupt drug dealing and distribution in the NBP. However, most of these interventions fail to acknowledge the intricacies of the structural, organizational, and cultural realities described above. One approach is to utilize inmate leaders to squeal the beans on the inmate drug dealers and targeting them for transfer and isolation. This approach led to the identification and transfer of 19 drug dealers to the NBI detention cell in December, 2014. This approach failed as the purported inmate leader who served as government “asset” solidified his power and concentrated drug network in his hands.

The second approach is removing the entire custodial force of the Maximum Security Compound and replacing it with the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police. Three hundred police and battle-trained SAF personnel are thus manning the gates of the Bilibid. Most anecdotal accounts suggest that this had significantly reduced the drug use and trade in the Maximum Security Compound. However, reports suggest that this resulted to the transfer of the drug activity in the Medium Security Compound. Additionally, anecdotal accounts also suggest that some personnel of the SAF may have been lured to participate in small-scale corruption, like the entry of the pack of cigarettes. This eventually led to drug trade involvement.

Both of these interventions will fail. They do not account for the lack of personnel, the problem of overcrowding, and lack of operational resources. Both of these interventions depend on the use of the mayores and other informal coping mechanisms to keep the NBP afloat— practices that eventually create the cultural environment where drug trade can flourish, as outlined above.

The problem needs a long-term, sustainable solution. Here are some suggestions that I had been offering for the longest time:

a. Create small regional prisons. The Maximum Security Compound (16,000 inmates) and the Medium Security Compound (8,000 inmates) are two of the biggest Mega Prisons in the world. Even the best prison director will have difficulty managing such a big population prison. Regional prisons with population less than 2,000 inmates must be created for each region in the Philippines. The inmate gangs, which are based on regionalism, may be dismantled once this is in place. Regional prisons will also be more accessible to inmate visitors, thus facilitating their reintegration to their communities.

b. Integrated correctional system. The BJMP jails (city, district and municipal jails), the provincial jails (managed by provincial governments), and the BuCor must be integrated into the Department of Corrections. Currently, the BJMP has the most developed personnel among the different agencies. Instead of the SAF taking over the Maximum Security Compound, the BJMP must take over the entire BuCor facilities. The BJMP should also take over all provincial jail facilities. BuCor personnel and provincial jail personnel must undergo training in the National Jail Management Training and Penology Institute, with its ladderized course offerings. This entails infusion of resources to the BJMP and the NJMPTI in order to meet the number of fully trained personnel.

c. Human Rights Based Approach to effective correctional management. Most jail and prison facilities operate through the old penology—which are dependent on the use of gangs, mayores, kubols and inmate VIP systems. Majority of the jail and prison staff are not familiar with the principles of correctional management like inmate classification, housing assignments, inmate programming, and documentation and assessment of inmate behaviors. The criminogenic needs of the inmates are not properly identified nor addressed. This results to high levels of recidivism. A Human Rights Based Approach to effective correctional management that incorporates the principles of Risk Needs and Responsivity (RNR) and observes the basic tenets of human rights, gender and cultural sensitivity needs to be introduced. If the jail and prison facilities adopt this overall framework, the corrupt and punitive culture prevalent in our penal system may be overturned. Drug trade inside the jails and prisons may be fully eradicated.

The Other Prodigal Son

You’ve got to sell your heart

There are a lot of wonderful advices about writing. But this one I kept. Sharing this with you, from 1938.


Late-1938, eager to gain some feedback on her work, aspiring young author and Radcliffe sophomore Frances Turnbull sent a copy of her latest story to celebrated novelist and friend of the family, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Before long the feedback arrived, in the form of the somewhat harsh but admirably honest reply seen below.

(Source: F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters; Image: F. Scott Fitzgerald, via.)

November 9, 1938

Dear Frances:

I’ve read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.

This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories “In Our Time” went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In “This Side of Paradise” I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.

The amateur, seeing how the professional having learned all that he’ll ever learn about writing can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming—the amateur thinks he or she can do the same. But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is “nice” is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the “works.” You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.

In the light of this, it doesn’t seem worth while to analyze why this story isn’t saleable but I am too fond of you to kid you along about it, as one tends to do at my age. If you ever decide to tell your stories, no one would be more interested than,

Your old friend,

F. Scott Fitzgerald

P.S. I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent—which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.




Interschool debates on human rights issues

“Same sex marriage is now ripe for legislation.”
“Human rights must prevail over national security.”

Above are the topics that were debated upon during yesterday’s interschool debate, CHR Cup, in partnership with Ateneo Law School’s St. Thomas More Debate and Advocacy Society, held at Ateneo Professional School in Rockwell. And these are the vibrant law students from UP, UST, PUP, San Beda- Mendiola, and San Beda- Alabang who competed to outwit, outdo, and outlast the other.


Incidentally, and I felt happy about it, one of the first competing teams that I really sat through to listen became the winner, that’s San Beda- Mendiola. (Debates were simultaneously happening in different rooms.)

San Beda- Mendiola law students will compete with Ateneo law students on November 5 at CHR compound. And I’m so excited.

One observation, though: Debaters should speak in normal pacing. The problem with speaking so fast is that good communication is being compromised. On the other hand, I am guessing this can be a tactic to put obstacle to opponent’s listening comprehension and to not pick up info to rebut. When I brought this up with two of the gentlemen/adjudicators from Ateneo, they agree with me, that one should speak in normal pacing but perhaps because of their training in debate–which is to speak fast to deliver all your arguments within the 7 minutes limit–the burden is passed on to the audience to catch up on their fast train of thoughts.

More Writing Tips

Stuff that we have to remember if we want to write professionally.  The author, Jessica Zafra, wrote this for and was published online on September 2014.  The stuff she wrote, even after two years, remain a gem that we could learn from.


The Perils of Being a Writer

By Jessica Zafra

The original title of this piece was “Don’t Be A Writer”. The plan was to discuss the aggravations of being a professional writer – someone who makes a living off writing, as opposed to someone who does it as a hobby or a form of “creative self-expression”—and dissuade anyone who doesn’t have the discipline (or compulsion) from even attempting to write. However, I was reminded that irony is dead and I would have to use emoticons next to my title to make myself understood. Hence the less compelling, but clearer title.

1-No job security. So you embark upon a writing career and figure you can support yourself by writing articles for magazines, newspapers and other media.  “Freelancing” sounds adventurous, like being a ronin or samurai for hire. You get to write full-time, and only about the subjects you care about. In the words of countless refrigerator magnets and calendars, you are following your bliss. Good for you—if you’re independently wealthy or living off your parents.

Freelance writers’ fees have not changed substantially in two decades. In some cases they have declined, and in other cases the writer gets paid not in cash, but in gift cheques from advertisers. You don’t get paid upfront. You wait till your article is published, and then you wait another month or two to get paid. In the meantime, how do you pay your bills? Oh, and you don’t get benefits. The prevailing mindset seems to be: You’re doing what you love, and you expect to get paid for it? Grow up like the rest of us and get a proper job.

You could get a day job in a writing-related field, like the academe or advertising or journalism, and write your novel/poetry/plays at night. If you have the energy left. I hear screenwriting used to be lucrative—not anymore. (By the way, what’s the deal with those Wattpad novels? Can the writers actually live off the proceeds? When they’re sold to the movies, do the writers make big bucks?)

2-Nobody reads. Experts say long-form journalism is dead, and the death knell for print media and “physical books” rang a decade ago. (I suppose the magazines now in stands are zombies.) Come to think of it, the expert is dead—everyone can broadcast her own opinion in the social media now, and its validity is measured not in intellectual rigor but in “likes”.

Not that we had a lot of readers to begin with. A country of 100 million people, and a book that sells 5,000 copies is considered a bestseller. Our culture just isn’t into books, no matter how many teenagers you spot toting the latest dystopian young adult title. Maybe it’s the climate, which is cruel to books. This may be why as a people we have such short memories and make the same disastrous mistakes over and over, but that’s the subject of another column.

If there are no readers, what is the point of writing? Of course we write the stuff we want to read, but we still have to live.

3-The reading list is daunting. Before you can even dare to write, you have to read. You don’t have to major in creative writing or take writing workshops in order to write, but if you don’t read, you won’t know what good writing is. You will have nothing to compare your own work to and nothing to strive for. You will remain ignorant of the nuances of writing, and inflict your awful tone-deaf prose on the public. No wonder they don’t want to read.

My Jedi master, whom you can now find on Twitter advising people to go asterisk themselves, said that we read because we are essentially alone. We read in order to deal with the one inescapable face of existence: We are all going to die. Life is precious because it ends. Each novel that we read is an extra life on top of our own.

4-You don’t get days off. Writing is not merely the act of typing words on a keyboard or dragging a pen across paper. That’s just the penultimate phase, the physical transcription. When you’re a writer, you write all the time. You’re standing in line at a supermarket checkout, you’re thinking of what to write. You’re washing the dishes, you’re plotting out your next chapter. You can’t take a break. You can’t wait for the lightning bolt of inspiration, or you’ll write one paragraph a month.

Writing is a discipline. You train for it the way tennis players do. They practice serving a thousand times a day so that they can do it automatically. If you’re serious about writing, write every single day. 1,000 words a day.

5-You have to be alone. Think of writing as a conversation you’re having with yourself. It’s a form of public introspection. If you’re boring, if you have nothing to say to yourself, forget it.

6-You become a cannibal.  You don’t eat human flesh, just your own. When you’re a writer, everything is material. It’s your duty to your craft to lead a thrilling life, or be around fascinating people; otherwise, what would you have to write about?

Your own life is source material – not surprisingly, many first novels are thinly-veiled autobiographies, or if you want to sound smart, Bildungsroman. This can lead to existential questions like: Am I living my life, or am I just going through this for the story? What is my real self? Do I have a real self?

And when you have existential crises, you don’t go to a psychotherapist who will prescribe antidepressants so you can function “normally”. Are you kidding, and cut off all that potential material? (But if you could find a psychiatrist who does talk therapy, like Dr. Melfi in The Sopranos, that would be great.) When friends invite you to self-improvement activities, just say no. If you get “fixed”, you may find that you have nothing left to write. Great literature, art, music – they all spring from hunger, thwarted desires, unexpressed rage, unresolved “issues” and all the stuff self-help books promise to rid you of.

When you hear an interesting story, you feel like whipping out a notebook and making notes that you can use in the future. When you watch a movie, you can’t just sit back and enjoy it – you’re already writing the review in your head. When you read a book, you’re trying to figure out how the author did it or how you would do it better.

There are advantages to consuming your own life. You learn that regret is useless and embarrassment is fleeting. No matter how terrible your choices prove to be, you can still write about them. In fact, the more horrible things get, the more material you have. Because the truth is, horrible stuff is easier to write about, plus it has a wider audience. You may ask yourself, Am I an opportunist, a vulture sniffing out carrion? You should be so lucky.

7-You will get ripped off.  In the digital age, you are one cut-and-paste away from having your work stolen from you and claimed by someone else. In most cases you won’t even know that it happened. You can hound the thief and scream yourself hoarse until justice is served, but you will end up spending valuable time that you could’ve used writing something new. You will have to trust in the wisdom of crowds, and hope that a reader somewhere discovers the theft, and that the discovery goes viral.

Some years ago, a reader directed me to the blog of someone who had taken an essay I’d written and posted it as his own work. He cannot have been very intelligent because that essay had been published in one of my books. Worse, the essay was written in the first person, and when he changed certain details to make it appear that he was the author, his subjects and verbs did not agree. Bad grammar gave him away.

8-Happiness is counter-productive.  Have you tried reading something you wrote when you were madly in love and your passion was requited? It’s mush. When your life is fabulous and everything is right with the world, your writing goes straight to hell. Usually you don’t feel like writing at all, being content to sit there with a stupid smile on your face. On the other hand, when your world has fallen apart and even your dog won’t acknowledge your existence, whoosh, you write like one possessed. You dredge up the dark and icky glop from the bottom of your soul, and that’s the stuff of literature. The universe strives for balance.

9-You have to be your own worst critic.  This is your first line of defense against bad reviews. How can critics break you when there’s nothing they can say about your work that you haven’t already said to yourself?

Of course, in order to be your own worst critic, you also have to know your strengths. Otherwise you’ll be so busy picking on yourself that bad reviews won’t be necessary – self-doubt will prevent you from writing anything in the first place. Again, balance. If you think you’re brilliant, keep it to yourself.

10-The second you think you’re great, you’re finished.  Complacency and puffed-up self-regard will kill you. Don’t believe your own press. Just because you have fans doesn’t mean your work is worth anything. Be wary of your cult, make sure you’re not the designated human sacrifice.


When being strong is becoming a stereotypical role for women (A girl doesn’t need to be “strong” to be interesting)

It was not Sushmita Sen who captured my heart when it comes to talking about “the essence of a woman.” It was a 16 year-old writer.  I kept this article since 2014 after reading it from a newspaper.

Writing ‘strong’ women

Tris Prior, Xena, Natasha Romanoff, Katniss Everdeen, Lara Croft. Right off the bat we can associate these fictional female characters with the word “strong.” And in recent years, this has been the main kind of portrayal of women circulating in the media, or at least this is what people seem to value the most. But is this really a good thing?

Sophia McDougall, writer for the British magazine NewStatesman, put it this way in one of her articles: “Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong.”

Okay, I do love “The Hunger Games” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” as much as the next person, and I appreciate the ideas behind Katniss and Buffy. But “strong” cannot possibly be the only word defining them, and it is not. So why is that single word the one we use most to describe them? Women are as complex and diverse as male characters like Sherlock Holmes.

Don’t get me wrong. It is completely reasonable for people to seek strong female characters as a result of years and years of them being tossed to the sidelines as mere romantic interests and damsels in distress, but the growing issue is that a “strong” woman is beginning to be the only acceptable portrayal. It’s starting to seem like she has to be a strong, independent woman who refuses to show weakness in order to be deemed a good and inspiring character.

This just doesn’t seem right. Women can be complicated, shy, stoic, independent, afraid, or any other real characteristic, and still be valid and intriguing people. It should be okay for women in these stories, and in real life, to be not stereotypically strong.

It is important that we stop thinking that we will effectively get away from the ideas of sexism by promoting a single personality type. I understand that because of a history of passive women, people want to see stories in which women stand up for themselves, but writing one-dimensional characters will not help us beat sexism in the media and in real life.

Now we can say that there are quite a lot of female heroes in movies, TV shows and books, but a lot of them are still male-centered—or at least in the posters.

When you look at the movie posters of films like “The Fantastic Four,” “The Avengers” and even “The Smurfs,” you will see that the female hero is still one girl in a group of guys. Even with big leaps in gender equality, there is still a higher ratio of boys in most films and novels than girls.

Why can’t we write female characters the way male ones are written? Why can’t there be more female leads, sidekicks, mentors, villains, etc? In my opinion, we don’t need just one great woman in a story for it to be right; we need as many varied primary and secondary character roles for women as we have for men. I hope to see a 1:1 male to female ratio in the media. There needs to be equality.

And for too long, female roles have been there to help define other characters, mostly male. We need to start having fictional women in the media that aren’t mere props but beings with personalities. We don’t need strong characters; we need well-rounded  characters.

Take, for example, Pepper Potts in the “Iron Man” films. Is she strong? Well, not in the typical way, but she took Tony Stark’s place as head of Stark Industries, right? She’s smart, hardworking, loyal and resourceful. She serves an important function throughout the films. But she gets some backlash because she ends up as the damsel in distress in the stories, which people want so much to avoid. I know people might argue that in the third film she beat up the villain, but is it because of this that we will start legitimizing her as a proper female character?

And I have some news: Being a damsel in distress is bad only when that’s her sole purpose and if that’s the sole thing that defines her. If a well-rounded character just happens to be in distress at a certain part of the story, then there should be no problem, because  it  happens  to  everyone—to all characters and actual human beings.

In the case of Tris Prior in the “Divergent” series, she isn’t just a girl that can kick butt. She has many other things going on in her life, including how she’s being discriminated against because of where she came from and how she’s facing the challenge set before her. She has a soft side for her family. She is even afraid for some time. And this is why so many people are invested in her character. A girl doesn’t need to be strong to be interesting. She needs to be relatable.

JK Rowling, author of the famous “Harry Potter” series, pointed out that physical strength did not mean so much in her books: “I’m a female writer and, what’s interesting about the Wizarding World is, when you take physical strength out of the equation, a woman can fight just the same as a man can fight, a woman can do magic just as powerfully as a man can do magic and I consider that I’ve written a lot of well-rounded female characters in these books.”

It is normal for a girl to cry, to want independence, to need validation, to want a husband, to not need a man at all, and to have her own ideals and fears and strengths that actuality implies. A legitimate female character should be able to reflect experiences that real women have.

I want to see more female characters. I want to be inspired by them. I want to cry because of them. I want to hate them. Just give me something to which I can give a strong reaction. They can be strong, weak, neither, or a mix of the two. And any of those is okay because they are so much more than those labels.

McDougall of NewStatesman ended her article with a paraphrased version she made of the performance poet Guante’s work, “Man Up,” and it perfectly sums up the ideas I want to bring forth: “I want her to be free to express herself. I want her to have meaningful, emotional relationships with other women. I want her to be weak sometimes. I want her to be strong in a way that isn’t about physical dominance or power. I want her to cry if she feels like crying. I want her to ask for help. I want her to be who she is. Write a Strong Female Character? No.”

We can’t let ourselves be backed into a corner with the thought that we need to be strong to be noticed or valued. Authors shouldn’t focus on writing strong female roles; they should focus on writing people, with all the complexity that comes with them.

Written by Courtney Allison P. Tirol, 16, is a former editor in chief of her school publication, a book and film enthusiast, and an incoming freshman at the University of Asia and the Pacific taking up a political economy track to the Juris Doctor program.

(Published in Youngblood, Philippine Daily Inquirer/ 13 May 2014)

Advice from some old people

1. The most important person in your life is the person who agreed to share their life withygq7RK8 you. Treat them as such.

2. You might live a long life, or you might live a short one — who knows. But either way, trust me when I say that you’re going to wish you took better care of yourself in your youth.

3. Stuff is just stuff. Don’t hold onto material objects, hold onto time and experiences instead.

4. Jealousy destroys relationships. Trust your significant other, because who else are you supposed to trust?

5. People always say, ’’Make sure you get a job doing what you love!’’ But that isn’t the best advice. The right job is the job you love some days, can tolerate most days, and still pays the bills. Almost nobody has a job they love every day.

6. If you’re getting overwhelmed by life, just return to the immediate present moment and savour all that is beautiful and comforting. Take a deep breath, relax.

7. Years go by in the blink of an eye. Don’t marry young. Live your life. Go places. Do things. If you have the means or not. Pack a bag and go wherever you can afford to go. While you have no dependents, don’t buy stuff. Any stuff. See the world. Look through travel magazines and pick a spot. GO!

8. Don’t take life so seriously. Even if things seem dark and hopeless, try to laugh at how ridiculous life is.

9. A true friend will come running if you call them at 2am. Everyone else is just an acquaintance.

10. Children grow up way too fast. Make the most of the time you have with them.

11. Nobody ever dies wishing they had worked more. Work hard, but don’t prioritize work over family, friends, or even yourself.

12. Eat and exercise like you’re a diabetic heart patient with a stroke — so you never actually become one.

13. Maybe this one isn’t as profound as the others, but I think it’s important… Floss regularly, dental problems are awful.

14. Don’t take anyone else’s advice as gospel. You can ask for advice from someone you respect, then take your situation into consideration and make your own decision. Essentially, take your own advice is my advice…

15. The joints you damage today will get their revenge later. Even if you think they’ve recovered completely. TRUST ME!

16. We have one time on this earth. Don’t wake up and realize that you are 60 years old and haven’t done the things you dreamed about.

17. Appreciate the small things and to be present in the moment. What do I mean? Well, it seems today like younger people are all about immediate gratification. Instead, why not appreciate every small moment? We don’t get to stay on this crazy/wonderful planet forever and the greatest pleasure can be found in the most mundane of activities. Instead of sending a text, pick up the phone and call someone. Call your mother, have a conversation about nothing in particular. Those are the moments to hold onto.

18. Pay your bills and stay the hell out of debt. If I could have paid myself all the money I’ve paid out in interest over the years, I’d be retired already.

19. If you have a dream of being or doing something that seems impossible, try for it anyway. It will only become more impossible as you age and become responsible for other people.

20. When you meet someone for the first time, stop and realize that you really know nothing about them. You see race, gender, age, clothes. Forget it all. You know nothing. Those biased assumptions that pop into your head because of the way your brain likes categories, are limiting your life, and other people’s lives.



Who is the real National Hero–Rizal or Bonifacio?

Our national hero is Jose Rizal.  From high school to college we were taught to read and discuss about the life and works of Rizal who lived during the 19th century.  Rizal wrote the historically famous novels “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” that spoke against the tyranny of the Spanish regime in our country.  After his death, a lot of books from different parts of the world have been written about him.  But there have been constant debates from generation to generation that Andres Bonifacio is more deserving to be called our national hero than Rizal.  Others are firm that it is only rightful that Rizal was chosen as our national hero. Before, I like Andres Bonifacio more because he was an activist, a revolutionary, he expressed his rage through action by fighting against the Spaniards who were violating the human rights of Filipinos.  Bonifacio wanted freedom unlike Rizal who only wanted reform.  However, it must be mentioned here that it was Jose Rizal and his works that inspired Andres Bonifacio to establish Katipunan, a movement that was composed of Filipinos willing to go on war, risking their lives to release our country from the chains of the Spanish tyrannical rule. 

Regardless of whether who is more better, Rizal or Bonifacio, one thing is clear.  We owe so much of our freedom to them although sad to say, human rights violations are still happening everyday.  And worse, it is Filipinos against Filipinos.  There is a story that I like to share.  This was taken from the 1996 published book, “Scent of a Filipino, Anecdotes & Aphorisms” by Andrew Maria, MMHC. I discovered this while cleaning our bookshelves at home. Read on.


In one province, the governor organized a debate.  The theme was ‘Who is the real National Hero–Rizal or Bonifacio?

On the day of the debate, many people gathered to hear the most intelligent minds of the province to debate on the issue.  However, since the two debating groups were so brilliant, the judges found it difficult to decide who won.

At this, Arbularyo Ambo, the town quack doctor, proposed that he conjure the spirit of Apolinario Mabini to decide the case for them.  Everyone agreed.  And so, after his rituals, Arbularyo Ambo conjured the spirit of Apolinario Mabini.  A strong wind blew inside the hall where the debate was held.  The eyes of everyone were focused on the quack doctor who was convulsing and shrieking strange words.  Arbularyo Ambo rushed at the center stage and with a deep peculiar voice spoke.

“You came here to argue who is the national hero, whether it is Rizal or Bonifacio.  But I tell you, there is something more important which you must first resolve,” the voice of Apolinario Mabini spoke through the quack doctor.

“What?” the crowd questioned the conjured spirit of Apolinario Mabini.

“How you can be heroes like them!  This is a more important issue than the latter.”