Settling the Ketchup “Dictatorship” at Home

Today, I pause from all my work and resurrect the blog from its hiatus because I just want to write about ketchup. Don’t laugh. It’s not a funny story. I don’t even cook, but this matters a lot to me, and I think other people should know about it.I don’t write anymore these days, but for this, I am making an exception.

For the past few days, I have been tortured with the idea that my kitchen condiments have been in full support of a modern-day tyrant.Recently, the post about the horrible working conditions of workers of NutriAsia (owner and manufacturer of popular condiments like Datu Puti, Mang Tomas, UFC, Jufran, and my favorite Del Monte ketchup plus the recently buzzed about Locally fruit soda line) went a bit viral online.

This whole time, I was habitually dipping my hotdogs in ketchup stained with blood and sweat of people suffering under modern day slavery.  My adobo was filled with Datu Puti vinegar. I sometimes use Mang Tomas sarsa as my emergency viand when I only have rice left at home.

All this time, those workers making those bottles in production are made to work under 40-degree Celsius factories for 12 hours per day. People who get injured hide their injuries out of fear of getting fired. And they are contractual workers, only given contracts that get renewed every five months. There were no benefits. And the hazards were real.

I could not believe it. How can this still be going on at this time and age? Finally they mustered the courage to hold a picket line in front of the factory. A lot of people were arrested and brutally treated. Human rights activists were not allowed to go near them. And families have not been able to feed themselves as the remaining workers hold the fort and seek better employment conditions.

The infographic that circulated on Facebook was insanely disturbing. News outlets were compelled to pick up the story because it kind of made a few waves on the social media channels. An insider tells me there was a media gag on the story but they could no blatantly longer ignore the story because of the casualties, the people inhumanely arrested in the picket lines, and the horrible aftermath of the working conditions of these workers paid minimum wage for 12 hours of work. A puff piece was made but it did not gain any traction.

I never really realized that while I made the menial and basic choice of my condiments in the supermarket aisles, all of my money goes to the same pocket. And that rich, filthy pocket is enriched minute by minute with the sweat and suffering of grossly underpaid workers who are putting up with the shitty conditions because there are not enough employment opportunities out there.

So 2 days ago, I was having my usual breakfast with my husband. It was our favorite hotsilog meal. A bottle of Jufran was on the table, and I was telling my husband that in solidarity of all the abuse, we will no longer be accommodating or actively using any of Nutri-Asia’s products in our home. Jufran was my husband’s favorite ketchup.

There were some theatrics in the discussion with my husband. “How can you still enjoy that ketchup knowing how gross a tyrant the owner is to scores of other human beings like us?”

We argued over the ketchup decision for an hour. I still maintain that it was one of our best days as a couple because we have conversations that involved some depth and social involvement outside of our family unit. It was not about the usual drama you find about husband and wife such as in laws or child decisions. That kind of emotional shit is more exhausting, utterly damaging to the relationship, and usually pointless. At least, this was a substantial argument, small as the impact was to the rest of society.

I cannot bear to think that I am promoting or even sponsoring a tyrant. I want to boycott the brands by this horrible company. And I resent all those years that I have patronized their products.

My husband has his own counter arguments on the matter. He says that if I boycott the products and other people do the same, profits will dip and the company will downsize. That means layoffs. And it will make things worse for the remaining employees who are hanging on to their jobs. He tells me that my boycott, if widely spread and shared by a majority, can dent the income of the business owner and make him even harsher to those who remain faithful to their jobs.He also tells me that my other option in the market are expensive imported ketchup brands.

We lose the cost-friendly option of condiments in the supermarket and other people who cannot afford imported ketchup brands are at a losing end. Then he also tells me that if I support a foreign bottle of ketchup over this local NutriAsia monopoly of ketchup brands, I become a supporter or “tuta ng Kano” as most of the old school UP tibak kids would say.

It was a dilemma for the both of us. We laugh over it, at the incredulously intense intellectual argument that came out of a half-consumed bottle of ketchup over breakfast. But we persisted on the topic for 2 days, until he gave in. But he called it a kitchen dictatorship that I am banning NutriAsia products on our family home.He acknowledges my idealism and well, strange sense of nationalism. But he still thinks Jufran deserves to stay in our kitchen cabinet. I told him he can enjoy his Jufran ketchup and keep it in his office cubicle but it’s not going to enter our home  anymore.

I counter argued that even if we are not suffering from minimum wage, we should not forget to stand up and do something directly or indirectly for these people who are being oppressed and unable to speak for themselves.That no matter how old I get or how much I earn, I will not forget my roots. I will not let him forget it too while I am alive.

All that shit you achieve anywhere does not matter if there are still people out there being treated like slaves from the 15th century and you don’t take a stand for what you believe in.

I had classmates who went to school unable to feed themselves. Tinatakbo ang pagkain sa canteen. I saw poverty in the street as I grew up in a small barangay where killing sprees with a butcher knife were as regular as the sunrise.I don’t need manufactured immersion programs by burgis schools to expose people to assimilate the poor people’s lifestyles and somehow be more sensitive of the less fortunate people. I lived and breathed the stark poverty as my reality for almost 3 decades of life. Whatever income I had as I worked initially went to hospital bills which were unreasonably priced.

No, I am not going to leave my job to join the picket lines and hold banners and get teargassed.These things are not my style. I never joined any rally when I was in college. But surprisingly, I am really staunchly affected by this and I am reminded that I am still an iska at heart.

I won’t be supporting those products after what I discovered about how these things were made, what it actually cost just for me to enjoy my ketchup or other condiments on a meal.

It’s funny because it may seem petty to consider purchase decisions like this as a political statement. But if there is anything I have learned from 4 years of digital marketing work, it’s this: all purchase decisions are emotional decisions. It tells a message. What you buy, what you allocate your tangible resources like time and life and currency, is part of your top priorities. It speaks more about you than what you say. What you do speaks more volumes than what you say, and sometimes those two things are not the same.

So yeah, I am just posting about this in case anyone visits this space again. If you are a Filipino, let’s try to find other alternatives to these condiments. I am willing to pay 40 pesos for a ketchup bottle if it means that the workers of the manufacturer are treated well.

There is blood on our condiments, and I don’t mind owning up to a kitchen dictatorship at home because that is our family unit’s small way of showing support for those who have been wronged in so many ways.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Drug Addict Conflict

Yesterday was the first SONA under the new President Rody Duterte. And the internet, as usual, is polarized by the speech he made along with its script and adlibs. One of the biggest thrusts of his political agenda is eliminating the drug addicts in the country with a very aggressive strategy. My Twitter newsfeed is filled with people who are for and against the unorthodox methods of killing drug addicts who don’t surrender.

As someone who graduated from college and as a Catholic, I am not supposed to be happy about the barbaric #CardboardJustice and slew of extrajudicial killings that this may spur on. As a former neighbor of a drug addict who habitually beats his pregnant wife and starves his little children, I secretly looked forward to the cleanup drive espoused by this administration even if I did not vote for the man during the May elections.

There. I finally said it out loud. I looked at the viral photo of the wife crying over her husband’s dead body. And I do not feel anything. Maybe I should be alarmed?

I did not read about drugs in textbooks. I was not insulated from them. On a random day in my old home in Caloocan, my mom would tell me that a drug addict tricycle driver would come up to her and ask for Php 200 pesos from her. I would see neighbors on a high and stabbing each other and being dragged by the barangay tanod. I always had to go home early because if I walked in a dark alley, I may not turn up safe and sound. This isn’t Game of Thrones. This is real life.

I need not go far, in fact. Just one wooden wall away from the place I used to live, we had a drug addict there. My cousin was stupid enough to marry one of the most notorious drug addicts in the neighborhood. He gave her three children, a miserable life, and a constant black eye and other bloody handiwork on her face arms and legs. The “design” was so glaring and we often hear it when he imprints it on her body because we were only separated by a wooden wall.

Sometimes she would knock at our door and beg for food for her kids. She had to give birth during her 6th month of pregnancy. She had zero prenatal checkups and she only eats once per day. She would walk in broad daylight and one time, the guy even kicked her publicly in front of the neighbors. The premature child almost died and was in an incubator for weeks due to malnutrition, fetal distress, and many other complications.

Most nights, we could not sleep when the man is on a drug-induced rage and we hear him kicking her, screaming at her, spewing expletives at her. Did I tell you that they have two other children that are affected by this? They also get beaten up regularly. These are kids. A toddler girl and a 7-year-old, I think. My niece and nephew, to be exact.

“Report him to the police! Complain for violence against women and children. Go to the barangay.” That’s what most people would say.  However, the guy had a history of stabbing his own relatives with a kitchen knife. Even if we already pushed my cousin to sign up for a blotter, she was conditioned to accept the beatings and sometimes we feel like she is even actively looking for the pain.

Also, if we meddled too much, we only live next door and we do not have a well-paid security guard to intervene if he decides to get his kitchen knife and stab us for meddling in their affairs.

 

Sometimes I want to ask people who advise against this killings: Have you ever lived with a drug addict? Talked to one? Saw one in your neighborhood and be close enough to be stabbed anytime on a random occasion? 

Because I live just one wooden thin wall away from one. This was not Forbes Park, after all. And we are not from some prominent family. I wanted to rat him out. But I always ask myself: Can I still get my intestines back in my tummy if that guy randomly decides to pick them out with a knife? I am not perfect as peach but I am very much attached to my body parts most of the time.

I watch the news recently and see the cardboards and see the dead drug addicts. I feel neither outrage nor happiness. I feel bad for the innocent student who died in the line of the siege.

Call me evil or names, but I was secretly wishing that one day, I would see that guy neighbor’s name in the list of the dead reported in the news. I even contemplated calling up the Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency directly to volunteer his name or sign him up for the next round of arrests. But my Catholic conscience keeps holding me back.

Sadly, I heard from relatives that my idiot cousin took him to Masbate and saved his life from the current cleanup drive in the barangay. Among the reported deaths, his was the only one I genuinely looked forward to hearing. My cousin basically carried her torture device with her and dragged her poor kids along with her poor life decisions. The beating and bloody tattoos on her body and starvation continues to this day.

Is the ending happy? It’s not. Welcome to the thug life.

Sometimes, I fantasize about calling up the police in Masbate to tip them about his whereabouts and finally hear him erased from the face of the earth.

I am not saying that it’s right that people are turning up dead. I am just saying that it’s much easier for people to cry and whine on their social media accounts about “human rights violations” when they are not neighbors with a dangerous type of drug addict, when it’s not damaging their families, and when it’s not directly robbing them precious hours of sleep in the middle of the night.

All of them sheltered people can say “Oh, it’s wrong. It’s diabolical. It’s bloody murder.” And then they sleep in their air-conditioned rooms after, ensconced by their sheltered neighborhood.

If I am going to be completely honest, I don’t mind seeing the dangerous drug addicts wiped out.

This will deeply upset human rights apologists. Perhaps I have been made too jaded by my experiences. Fortunately, I am not in a position of power or political influence to make my opinions count. I am luckily a nobody and I do not have to make value judgments that affect a country. I can only blog about my thoughts. I am not some high profile journalist who will be shot for my opinion. So many hotshots are so quick to tell us about human rights when in fact, they haven’t lived near a murderous drug addict to see what it’s really like. 

During yesterday’s SONA, when President Duterte said not to use human rights as an excuse to destroy the country, I wanted to bang my fist “YES!” in total agreement to that statement. He knows what they are and what they do to get their drug fix. Former presidents with their silver spoons on their mouths and their golden slew of bodyguards have no idea how these drug addicts operate. Of course, there are sosyal social users of the drugs in the rich circles. I haven’t seen them kill yet. Their high education probably gives them some sort of decency while they were drugging themselves.

I was mainly more exposed to the vicious types who don’t have money and can kill people randomly when they don’t get their shabu supply. You know, the ones who don’t eat three square meals per day.

There were also other things I liked. The departure from the stupid exercise of making the red carpet look like an Oscars awarding event was a welcome sight. People actually looked business-like. It was not an eye sore to watch that kind of austerity after all the pompous displays previous SONAs have done in the past. 

Another part of his speech was about providing mandatory finance education to the OFWs, a thing which I truly wished my mother had before when she was in Saudi. There was that thing about not having to wait an eternity for government transactions. And then there was that thing where he began his speech about not finger pointing from past administration and wasting people’s tine.

I do not like everything he does, but I like those things.  

Some of the armchair critics from the sosyal universities post-SONA said that there was no macro-economic policy. But he spoke to the masses in a manner we can understand. Improvements to the poor were instigated. Protocol of pomposity was broken. Rallyists were allowed near the complex without bloodshed. He spoke of providing comfort and basic services. And based on his track record in Davao City, it seems like he can actually deliver those things. In spite of me not voting for the man, I came to respect him for that speech. I came to respect the peaceful turnout. I came to respect the business-like approach. In a month, he has done so much more than what other people have done during an entire term. And the results don’t lie. It’s not a perfect administration. But there are results.

Those are just my impressions. Some people will say it’s a dumb assessment. That’s fine. We all speak our own truths based on our experiences in life. And this is where my experiences got me. I do plan to read up more on economic policies so that I can appreciate the rants of friends with their neoliberal upbringing. I know that I may have this opinion and this can be wrong to nurture in the long-term. But this is where I am now, for now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okamura-san’s Smile

I was a fledgling GIS engineer assigned in Makati for an engineering support project for a couple of months when I saw Okamura-san for the first time. We never talked, really. He was involved in another project. But the energy of the office was supercharged with the Japanese workers’ strong work ethic. They work really long hours and do their best to get things done. It’s one of those projects where I experienced working an entire 24-hour shift and begging off from attending a meeting the following morning for my sanity. It’s like that with them. It’s normal. Overtime is to be expected.

I credit the entire Japanese team of workers for being exceptionally hardworking. But I single out Okamura-san because he had a pleasant and light aura. He was unlike most of them. He was not intense or uptight or stern with people. He is one of those people who seems to light up a room. He constantly wears this pleasant smile on his face and even when they talk in a language I do not really understand, I felt like this person makes the world a much better place simply by his existence. Not the same can be said for most people. He looked like he was someone’s very reliable brother. I used to think that maybe if I had an older brother, I’d like for him to be like that. I did not see him in a romantic way, really, but it was more of deep respect with the pleasant calmness that he seems to emanate naturally. I envy him for having that gift, even.

Imagine my shock when days after the horrible Bangladesh torture and killings last Saturday, I saw his photo and his name in the list of victims reported by The New York Times. I imagine that their consultancy development team was just unwinding in that Dhaka cafe after an entire week of back-bending work. In the picture reporting his unfortunate demise, he was wearing that smile that I remember him wearing in real life a few years back. He was alive, breathing, smiling ever so nicely to people and just being his pleasant self. I cannot really imagine the life permanently snuffed out of him, and in the most brutal way.

In my head, I only continue to remember that smile and it eludes me how someone so pleasant can have such a brutal end in the hands of complete strangers who probably do not even know him. What has the world come to now? 

The most disturbing part of it was that it was not even a stereotypical terrorist killing. They were tortured and killed because they were non-Bengalis. There were 7 Japanese men and 9 Italian men in that cafe. The elitist killers decided to let go of the Bengali natives and assured them that they will only be killing foreigners that fateful night. I have friends who work in development projects like these and they get deployed in different areas. Now, it makes me shudder to think that they are not safe, that they may be potential targets like him.

Thank you for your smile, Okamura-san. It was nice to have seen you wear that smile. Despite this harrowing tragedy, I choose to remember you wearing that smile on your face and I pray that your soul finds eternal rest along with the other victims unjustly tortured and murdered for the most senseless of reasons.

 

 

 

 

The Election Heat Wave

The social media claws are out for most of my friends. There is a rampage of unfollowing and unfriending on Facebook, Twitter, and probably even Instagram. My group chats and breakfast conversations are filled with political commentaries. And all this is because of the upcoming May 9 Philippine elections. Is there going be a real life Civil War for us all by next month? Social media is already a war zone as we speak.

Now that I am done with most of my writing tasks, I am scouring Youtube for the link to the last PiliPinas Debates 2016 hosted by ABS-CBN. I watched all religiously except for this last debate due to some unavoidable babysitting duties. It was a highly controversial debate because of the issues tackled and because some groups mentioned that there was bias in the coverage of the debate in favor of Liberal Party standard bearer Mar Roxas. I have yet to watch the debate to see for myself.

I already made a decision to keep my voting choices private, as private as my underwear. I refused to verbally join the mayhem because everyone thinks he or she is right and the others are wrong. We all have our unique reasons for choosing the candidates we are going to vote for. When you see someone hellbent on endorsing a candidate that you don’t like, it’s hard to convince them otherwise. I do admire those who are able to speak up bravely about their political choices.  It is necessary to campaign for our choices. But we don’t have to hurt each other and accumulate enemies needlessly as we do so. There is too much online vitriol already over who’s right. That makes me thankful that I no longer have my public Facebook account. Just that, the approach most people take does not really do anything other than widen the chasm of hate that’s permeated the social media channels.

Instead of posting, I read and consume all the posts I can get my hands on for each candidate. I spent my free time researching the platforms and track record of the candidates I am seriously considering. I read people’s social media accounts and news articles, although I have noticed that some publications are horribly biased in spite of the journalistic requirements of objectivity. I take a long and hard look at the working class where I belong. I remember what a friend told me recently about my voting decision: “You should be loyal to your own class.” I totally agree with him. I am going to think of the working people like me when I make my choice.

Whatever the outcome next month, I am truly hoping that the country can bounce back from all this active online hate and toxicity.

 

 

 

 

 

Robot Feels

I was surfing the net for interesting things when I bumped into this news article about Pepper, a robot that understands feelings. Some days after that, I read about this article on Google’s algorithm in their chatbot AI that can discuss with you on philosophical questions such as the meaning of life.

Wow. Wicked! So I guess the Will Smith film entitled Artificial Intelligence is no longer fictional, theoretically speaking. It can actually happen these days, can’t it?

I am really amazed at where all this is leading. Tech is super cutting edge these days and the pie is so huge in the development work that you can just carve out a tiny space in the computing universe and silently work your way in it. If a good community adopts you for open source collaborative work, then it’s wonderful. You are not stuck in that place where everybody is doing the same thing and you have to be a super alpha type to stand out. In the computing universe, you can pretty much do anything and then some more without stepping on other people’s toes.

These days, I think the problem is more on managing time to get used to the learning curve of these new technologies and applying them to real life problems. If you want to learn something, it’s all out there already. In fact, there are so many things that are engaging my interest that I am just trying to determine which one of these pursuits I have a sustained interest in. This year, fortunately, I have learned to say no. 🙂

 

Lessons from
the “Little Brown American”

I came across this very interesting article about an Americanized Filipino last night. It was a disparaging article about the Philippines, and understandably, a lot of people weighed in their comments (as we speak, there are almost 300 comments on the post). There was this long-standing verbal war between a Philippine Star columnist and his ex-friend which stemmed from a private conversation which should not have gone online and viral. But sadly, it did. It was at the expense of what could have been a good friendship between columnist and sad target of online bullying.

My husband was asking me to tell me what I think of the article. To be quite honest, I was not butt hurt by the claims of “Nasty”. I am not that onion-skinned that I will blindly consider this country as perfect. Far from it. I have my own fair share of disillusionment from here, and I have posted about it intermittently.

Most of his observations were actually accurate and factual. A lot of people reacted on his harsh manner of cursing the Filipinos who remain in this country. But I went past that; I moved past the obvious fact that it was dripping with bitterness. It is just clear to me that for the people who remain in this country, even if it is “a sinking ship,” there is a huge challenge to make the most of whatever is in here. I go more for substance than affectations. I really believe that someone who would get that much pain from the country is someone who, at a certain point, actually had so much love and it was made futile by his own circumstances. His pain spoke more palpably for me than the venom in his manner of disparaging the Filipinos. 

Ironically, I was so encouraged after reading some of the comments in the article. I saw some really smart Filipinos who pitched in without criticizing the embittered “brown American” and took it as constructive criticism. There were not many of them but out of the 200+ there were around 10-15 comments that I agree with wholeheartedly. Yes, I actually read everything there.

This country hates confrontation and you’d be a bitch for seeing things for what they are and saying them out loud. It was very interesting to see this article because I felt most of the claims pitched in there. Nothing that he said felt new to me. In fact, I have gotten quite used to it already and I just continue to resolve to contribute to making it better in my own small ways.

I think in the end what matters more is that I did my best and I did not give up. And if there are more people who decide to do that in here, it will be nice. The country needs more heart and intelligence. The mere fact that I am still floating and working my ass off day in and day out means that there is still something right going on. Reading the comments showed me that I am not alone in my opinion and decision to stay here and work here. My decision to stay transforms me on a daily basis. Even when you are on a sinking ship, you can just choose to grab as many life boats as you can and save as many people as humanely possible. It’s the hand we are dealt with.

I really believe that we are assigned in certain countries because we can make good with whatever skills or personalities we have to make it better. It does not matter so much if other people have an advantage to start prosperously. It’s their advantage and I cannot be anything else but happy for them. I do know that working from the very bottom also provides certain treasures that you cannot find when you have a silver spoon on your mouth from the day you were born. As a person who grew up in modest accommodations, I would know this firsthand.

 

I have my horrible days here and I feel like everything is meaningless, as previously posted. But the disillusionment fades, as with most feelings once I am done with a blog post. And what remains is the commitment and the decision which I continue to stand by.  I am here because I want to contribute life boats to a sinking ship, even if it’s just with a blog or making maps that matter or helping in flood control or disaster management with programming or simply just being a fairly good daughter or wife. I do not need medals for what I do; seeing something so bad made a bit better, even by just a tiny bit, is enough reward in itself. 

People here hate it when you go the extra mile. They see it as a threat. But everyone should keep on and be excellent. This country needs more people willing to do the extra work that the others have decided to leave behind. Once I arrived at this realization, no personal crisis was able to stop me from doing the work assigned to me. I wish I had this realization sooner. I could have done so much more if I had this realization really early. But it is still not too late; I have ventures, assigned and personally instigated projects that aim to just do it and make things better with all my might. 

I guess I am a really strange woman for being happy. I am not happy with the sad article. But I am happier with the comments of people who remind me that even if sometimes it really feels extremely undermanned, I am not alone. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Woman from Mars

I was reading the December 2014 issue of Reader’s Digest and I chanced upon the account of a man whose wife is being permanently sent to Mars in 2024. It involves this multi-billion dollar funded project called Mars One and the send off for Mars colonization begins after the fundraising.

There were over 75,000 applicants further shortlisted into the 705 candidates now eligible for the progran as of the end of this year. One of the candidates is a wife with two sons and she was bashed online for her decision to join. The husband penned the Reader’s Digest article and I felt the bittersweet mix of pride or support for his wife and the heartache of losing her forever to this one way Martian ticket.

The future of space exploration has taken new and interesting levels. I was just as fascinated when they managed to slingshot a probe to a comet from a rocket just recently; colonizing outside of earth is beyond groundbreaking and I would love to see a reality show hosted straight from Mars.

My husband tells me that he thinks that something is fundamentally disturbing about colonizing another planet. I do not seem to see it that way, though. I think it is dangerous and intriguing, but I won’t be able to form an opinion if it is right or wrong to invest in the Mars One project. There is an existing exhaustion of the earth’s non-renewable resources and I think that exploring a new place for potential habitation is quite creative and daring.

It is really something that I would be watching out for in the coming days. This is really the most amazing time to study science; it is already way beyond what the books can teach to kids.