Archive for June, 2010

Get The Balance Right

Posted in Family Life with tags , , , , , on June 12, 2010 by Ruffy Biazon

Last week, my wife and I agreed to take the kids out of town for a vacation before they go back to school because for them, summer was spent just in the house while their parents were out campaigning. It was pretty much a boring summer for them, and there wasn’t much quality time between us.

In fact, over the last nine years, I must admit that work pretty much came in the way of being a father and husband, although I did manage to squeeze in some quality time every now and then. But that’s just it…it shouldn’t be just a matter of “squeezing in” family time. There should be a time for work responsibilities and time for family responsibilities.

We decided to go to Albay, to a resort in Misibis Bay. The place is relatively new, they just opened last year. I never even knew there was such a resort. My wife and I are a curious pair, always wanting to try something new instead of repeating an experience over and over again and falling into a routine. I guess that’s one of the secrets of our staying together for twenty years now, even though we started out married life at quite a young age.

Along with us came my sister in law and her family, my brother in law and two of their cousins. We scheduled our departure for June 9, because I wanted to attend the proclamation of Sen. Noynoy Aquino. At that time, the end of the canvassing was estimated to be on June 8. But the canvassing was extended one more day so the proclamation was rescheduled to June 9. My dad wanted me to attend, suggesting that I reschedule our trip. Pia Hontiveros, a friend from the ANC (ABS-CBN News Channel) said that I shouldn’t miss this historic event.

Indeed, I did want to attend Noynoy’s proclamation. It was really a historic event and so far, in my three terms of being a congressman, there have been many historic events that I was part of, events that someday I’m going to tell my grand children how their grandpa was right there as those events were happening. I wanted this one to be one of those stories. And I also wanted to be there to take photographs of the event.

But I already made a promise to my family that we will leave on that day. And God knows how many times in the past nine years that I set aside a commitment to my family just to be able to be at an event as history unfolds or to do an important job in line of duty. Perhaps to me those events are something to forever remember as a chapter in our country’s history, but my family’s disappointment will be something that will haunt me until the day I die. I don’t want that.

And so I would miss the proclamation at Batasang Pambansa. I would get on a plane with my family and spend precious moments with them that will last a lifetime of memories, much more valuable than any historical event in the country.

Anton and I on the plane.

The plane ride to Legaspi City took about just an hour, although for me, it was an hour spent well. There is nothing compared to having your children depend their life on you. One of my sons, afraid of flying because of watching too much National Geographic Channel’s Air Crash Investigation, clung to my arms the whole flight, asking me to pray before we took off. It’s such a good feeling to have your children rely on you, although you will also have to train them to be self-sufficient and survive on their own. You just have to get the balance right.

The approach to Legaspi City airport was spectacular, with the majestic Mayon dominating the horizon. As we descended to land, the children were treated to seeing the volcano with a perfect cone spewing smoke. It was a clear day, and the clouds had not yet formed on top of the Mayon and she showed us her full glory.

Trina and I enjoy traveling.

Since we were a big group, we were picked up by the hotel’s coaster and we traveled for another hour to get to Misibis Bay. Along the way, the kids were treated to the beautiful scenery of Albay’s countryside. It was an educational trip for them, their questions about what they see around them answered right then and there.

The bus on the boat.

One nice experience for them was crossing a wide channel to get to the island of Cagraray where Misibis Bay is. There was no bridge but there was a roll-on/roll-off barge. The coaster was driven onto the barge’s platform and when it got to the other side, it just drove off onto the road. The kids were excited about the experience. My son, used to seeing the LCT’s and LCM’s in his video game, asked me if this RO/RO barge was the same as those used in World War II.

Not long after, we arrived at the resort, greeted by several dancers dancing to what sounded like tribal music. Welcome drinks soothed our parched throats and the well done landscaping and architecture already beckoned us to romp and play.

My kids love the water!

After checking in to our rooms and settling down, the kids were more than eager to go out and swim in the pool. The cold rooms and television were unsuccessful in enticing them to stay indoors. They completely ignored those and preferred the warm water of the swimming pool under the heat of the sun. I’m glad though, because back home, they’re indoors most of the time. There should be time for them to stay indoors and time to go outdoors. You must get the balance right.

Ice candy while in the way to be cool in the summer heat.

I joined my kids in the pool, playing with them as a father should. I particularly wanted to stay with my youngest son, who at three years old, spent his entire life with a father who had to give his time to his constituents. This was an opportunity for some bonding time.

As I played with the kids in the pool, all the worries and cares of this world were quickly set aside. For a while, I left all troubles behind and life became simple again. Whether it was in this resort or in another place, it doesn’t matter as long as you are with your family enjoying the company, life becomes wonderful. For a while I became not just a father but a kid as well.

Trying to get on was no easy task.

In the pool, there were inflatables for the children to play with. There was a scaled down version of a banana boat, that favorite ride of beach goers. But it was a bit too large for the kids, and they had difficulty getting on it. I decided to use it, to amuse the kids. But the funny thing is, once I get on top of it, I had difficulty staying on it.

Staying on was even more difficult.

Somehow, it was difficult for me to balance because of my weight which makes it top-heavy once I’m riding it. So I kept on falling over and over again, which made the kids laugh. Oh well, that makes their day, so I gladly got on and fell off over and over again.

Of course, I really tried to stay on it for my personal satisfaction but I really never was able to. I was always off-balance. For you to stay on top of it, you must get the balance right.

Trina and Ino enjoying the wind and water.

Later in the day, we went to the beach where there was an on-the-water playground for the kids and watersports for the adults. Now was the time for grown up activities. We rode Hobie Cats, small sailing catamarans that sliced through the waters with swiftness and speed that matched even motorized bancas. It had a capacity of four people, and rode really close to the water. We took off with such speed that in a few minutes we were already in the middle of Misibis Bay in deep blue water.

Enzo didn't quite know how to react.

It was my first time on a wind-powered vessel, and it was a great experience. I had always wondered how people could write a song about sailing, but riding the Hobie Cat, I could really related to Christopher Cross’ song “Sailing”. In fact, I almost immediately sang the song in my head as we were cruising through the waters of Misibis bay, with no sound except the splashing of the waves, flapping of the sails, and the whistle of the wind. Initially, there was some kind of weird feeling about the absence of noise from an engine while we were speeding through the choppy waters. But later on, it became a peaceful experience to be out there in the vast expanse of water which you can easily touch while the breath of God filled the sail to give you speed.

The other Hobie Cat trailing us.

Before one gets used to it, the Hobie Cat is a bit awkward to ride because it could tip over if the weight was not easily distributed and the wind blows the sail hard. But after a while, you get the hang of it and it becomes a such a wonderful experience. You just have to get the balance right.

When we got back to shore, other activities awaited us. I just had to try wind surfing. I’ve seen others do it before and I thought to myself, if they can do it, why can’t I? The instructor gave me the pointers on how to do it and I patiently waited for the lecture to finish. Deep inside I kept saying, “Alright, alright, enough with the talk, let’s go into action!”.

Yes! I windsurfed!

But it turns out that it’s not that easy to do. Just to get on the board and balance was tough enough, add to that the act of pulling the mast upright and catching the wind to make yourself move on the water. I fell down so many times it was starting to look like lessons on how to fall on water instead of how to wind surf.

As I fell into the water and got up to re-mount the board, I kept on scraping my knees on the sand and on the board itself. It wasn’t long before it was beginning to hurt due to the exposed raw skin. But I kept on doing it, because I was determined to see myself move across the water and claim to have been able to wind surf.

After almost an hour of trying, I was able to finally do it. Although the speed was not impressive, I was able to go a distance and turn to go the opposite direction. Yes! I can finally claim to have wind surfed. All I needed was to get the balance right.

Carpe Diem. Seize the day. That was our motto during our vacation. The following day was another opportunity to experience what life has to offer in terms of excitement. We started it with scuba diving, which was a much awaited activity.

Posing for a photo after the dive.

We were brought out into the bay about a kilometer off-shore to dive. A couple of us were certified divers, some had already done introductory dives (such as myself) while others were first timers. This was going to be an introductory dive, meaning we will just dive not more than twenty feet. Or at least that was the idea.

The most basic thing to remember in this kind of dive is never to hold your breath. Just breathe regularly, as you would do on land. Next is to equalize, which means to relieve the pressure on your ears as you go deeper. It is done by pressing your nostrils closed while slightly blowing air into them. It’s pretty much like blowing your nose if you have colds but in this case, you don’t let the air out. You will then feel the pressure in your ears being relieved.

You must be conscious about equalizing because if you don’t it could cause injury to your ear drums or cause discomfort. You just need to get the balance of pressure right so that you will enjoy the experience.

And enjoy the experience we did. I spent a lot of time scanning the ocean floor and admiring the underwater sea life, although it didn’t have as much color, vibrance, variety and quantity as other areas I’ve been too. I was told that dynamite and cyanide fishing in these areas were stopped only recently, so marine life had yet to fully recover. So sad, really.

Picnic on the sands of the beach

Of course, the food was great!

Lunch was served on the beach, set up by the resort management for the guests. After a hearty meal, it was back to the watersports. That day, however, aside from the Hobie Cats, kayaks and windsurfing, a jet ski and banana boat were available.

Of course, the jet ski was irresistible. The speed, the wind and sea spray in your face and the rush of momentary flight as you cut across the waves is an intense experience that gives you and adrenaline high. It didn’t take long before my seven year old son saw the thrill and wanted a part in the action.

Riding the jet ski with Ino

So it was that he rode tandem with me, and we cruised a distance from the shore. It was his first time to ride a jet ski and he asked if it was difficult to handle. I told him it was quite easy, not so much different from riding a bike. I told him that you just need to get the balance right.

And soon enough, he was enjoying it and asked for more speed. The longer we rode the jet ski, the more he wanted to go faster. He particularly liked the part where the jet ski jumps as it hit the waves. But for me, what I enjoyed more than the ride itself was my son holding on to me tightly in an embrace that I hoped would last forever.

We would not let the day pass without riding the banana boat. Together with my in-laws and their cousins, we got on the five-seater banana boat, hungry for the excitement. We were towed by a twin-engined speed boat which promised a wild ride.

The banana boat gave us an adrenaline rush

As we were towed out to sea, the waves made the banana boat jump up and down along the waves, making it difficult to stay on top. I pulled myself to a low profile, trying to keep my center of gravity low. As the speed increased, the excitement we felt increased as well, highlighted by my sister-in-law’s screams which was a mixture of delight and fear.

We slowed down as the speedboat slowed to do a turn. Then a funny thing happened. As we rounded what was actually a slow and safe turn, we got off balanced and we all fell into the water in what felt like slow motion. It was a ridiculous way to fall off the banana boat, during a slow turn. Simply because we didn’t get the balance right.

After getting back on the banana boat, we got ready for our second run. This time, we tried to go for the thrill of speed. The speed boat gradually picked speed, creating a larger wake behind it. This made our banana boat buck wildly, very much like a wild stallion being broken in a rodeo. The five of us were bouncing up and down on the inflatable banana boat which threatened to kick us off into the water.

It didn’t take long until we all completely lost hold of the banana boat and fell into the water. But this time, it wasn’t a harmless and ridiculous fall. As I hit the water, I hit an oncoming wave, and with the speed we were going and the angle that I fell, it felt like slamming onto a concrete floor.

I got the wind knocked out of me and my left chest felt like it was caved in. There was pain in and around my ribs and for a while, I couldn’t talk. After several seconds, I realized we were all quiet unlike the first fall when we were all laughing and talking. This time, it seemed we were all stunned by the impact of the fall. My sister in law had the same experience as me and we both had chest pain.

The ATV was challenging too

We did another round but in a more cautious pace. Were then brought back to shore where we still continued with other activities. In fact, later in the day, we rode All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV) on rugged trails up and down mountainous terrain. It seemed that no injury could stop us from having fun.

Kayaking is also fun

We had many other activities during this trip, which was only a three day break, including the time to travel to and from home. We would have wanted to stay longer what with all the fun we were experiencing, not to mention the quality time of playing together as a family.

But it was time to go back to the business of living life, which is actually a balance between work and play, spending and saving, resting and moving, and time to be alone and time with others. There is a purpose for us not to be excessive in one or lacking in the other. It makes us well-rounded and, of course, well-balanced.

As Depeche Mode said their song, we just need to get the balance right.


June 4, 2010- A Significant Day in the House of Representatives

Posted in Governance, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , , on June 5, 2010 by Ruffy Biazon

To the average Filipino on the street, June 4, 2010 was supposed to be just another day that will uneventfully pass just as the previous one and those before it have done in that person’s lifetime. In fact, for most of our countrymen, that day was nothing different from any other day, even including June 12, Independence Day, or July 4, Fil-AM Friendship Day or June 20, Father’s Day. To a big majority of Filipinos, everyday is the same, a day to survive the challenge of day-to-day existence.

But to those who have cared enough to take action for quite a number of years now, June 4 was a special day. It was the day that they had been waiting for since the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines was given life by the people’s voice in the plebiscite that institutionalized our country’s charter. It was supposed to be the day that the Freedom of Information Bill, mandated by the Constitution, was to finally become a law that would guarantee the people’s right to know how its government serves its constituents. After more than a decade of lobbying, June 4 was supposed to be Victory Day.

To me, June 4 was of special significance because it is the last session day that I will attend, my last day at work as a legislator. Although my term officially ends on June 30, I still intend to earn my pay by working for the welfare of my constituents until that day. But for me the work done in the committee hearings and plenary sessions is the essence of being a lawmaker.

After nine years as a member of the House of Representatives, I wanted the last day of session to be not just a day that would cap my three terms in routine fashion, but a day that would close with the passage of an important piece of legislation. I was eager to end the day with a vote ratifying the FOI Bill.

For the Secretariat of the House of Representatives, they prepared for this last day. For the first time in the history of the House, they prepared a special program for the closing session to honor the members of the House for the work that they have done in the Chamber. They intended to present to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd term members mementos of their membership in the House and compiled bounds of their legislative performance in a ceremony that certainly necessitated much preparation on their part.

It was just one day, but it had different meanings for different people. Actually, everyday is like that. What may be an insignificant, ordinary day for one is in fact, a special, life-changing or even historical day for some. It really just depends on what point for view we are coming from.

And so it was that June 4, 2010 was a significant day in the House of Representatives. While elsewhere in the country, anniversaries were celebrated, eulogies were being delivered, babies were being born, employees were punching out after their shifts, someone just lost his job…the session hall of Batasang Pambansa, the People’s House, was gradually getting filled with people attending the last session day of the 14th Congress.

The proponents, advocates and supporters of the Freedom of Information Bill filled sections of the gallery wanting to be personally present the minute that the vote of ratification institutionalizes this landmark piece of legislation. Many of them labored long and hard just for the bill to reach this day and they waited with anticipation for the proceedings to begin.

Actually, what was left was just a routine step of the process of passing a bill into law—ratification. The bill had already passed through the three readings of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It had also passed through bicameral conference. The Senate had ratified it, so the only thing left was the ratification by the House. Ratification was a simple ayes and nays vote of the House, the members not even required or expected to explain their votes. After that, it could be considered institutionalized as law. But in all its routine nature, it was a special piece of legislation.

The rest of the gallery was filled by employees of the House Secretariat, after having been directed to attend the ceremony to honor the Members of the House. Of course, also in the hall were the usual observers of the proceedings of the House, congressional staff and probably some curious citizens who happened to have time to spare to watch the proceedings.

But what promised to be a “special routine session” turned out to be quite an emotional one, with contrasting sentiments that pulled me in opposite directions.

The Members of the House were more psychologically prepared for the Honor Ceremony in the closing session. I would compare it to the emotions one had during high school graduation, the bittersweet feeling of wanting to move on in life while at the same time hanging on to the memories of good times spent with friends.

The honor that was to be given by the Secretariat also had its significance, since they were the people who served as our backbone during our work in Congress, and they were the ones who can truly make an objective judgment on how each and every congressman performed as a legislator.

Late by almost and hour, the session as finally resumed (it was just suspended in the previous session day) and the motion to ratify the Freedom of Information was immediately made by the Majority Floor Leader. As immediate as the motion was filed, the quorum was also immediately questioned.

Just by looking around the hall, it was difficult to make a judgment if indeed there were enough warm bodies present to constitute a quorum. When I entered the hall, there seemed to be not enough legislators on board. But with Malacanang joining the call for the passage of the bill, I did not expect that there would be a problem in the bill’s ratification. Nevertheless, congressmen began trickling in not long after the session was underway.

The session was suspended in order to resolve the issue that was raised. In this line of work, the adage “the squeaky wheel gets oiled” sometimes best describes this kind of situation. Many times in the past, when the quorum question is raised during a debate on a very important bill, the issue is settled after a little discussion with the one who raised the question during suspension.

After about thirty minutes of suspension, the session was resumed and the roll was called. Obviously, the quorum question was not resolved so the names of the members of congress were called one by one, with the secretariat staff ticking off the names in their list. At the end of the roll call, the Secretary General reported to the Speaker that 128 members of the House responded to the call. With that, the Speaker declared that with 128 members, there is no quorum and therefore, according to the rules, the House cannot conduct legislative business and would have to adjourn.

As expected, this ruling was met with vehement objections and impassioned pleadings from the proponents and supporters of the bill. Legislators pushing for the bill alternately took the floor questioning the results of the roll call and calling on the speaker to use a particular provision in the rules allowing the House to arrest the members who are absent. Understandably, emotions ran high and a bitter exchange threatened to mar the proceedings.

In the end, the Speaker stood pat in his ruling and adjourned the last session of the 14th Congress. What was intended to be a “special routine closing” and parting of friends now turned into a highly polarized legislative battle among peers. Definitely not what was envisioned as a last day of work for this Congress.

Naturally and rightfully so, those supporting the bill felt betrayed and cheated, and cast judgment on the House for failing to pass such an important measure. As I was doing live tweets of the proceedings over Twitter, I could see the numerous reactions of people online castigating the House most especially the Speaker. All the frustrations were posted and perhaps if not for the facility of the internet, people might have gone out to the streets to vent their anger.

The session had been adjourned but the honor ceremony still had to be undertaken. Actually, many had begun to think that it might not be appropriate anymore to have the ceremony. I felt it would not be taken well by the public who had just been treated to disappointment by the very House that would now give distinction to its members.

After quite a while of lingering, the Deputy Secretary General for Committee Affairs went on the public address system to inform everyone that the leadership of the House had decided to forego the honor ceremony, in deference to what the public might construe as the congressmen giving themselves a pat on the back after the emotional, divisive and controversial adjournment.

Her voice was cracking and straining under what seems to be a failed effort to hide her emotions. Clearly, she was distressed with what was happening. She went on to say that although the House leadership already made that decision, they in the Secretariat tried to convince the leadership to proceed with the ceremony. After all, she said, this ceremony, the first time held in the House’s colorful history, was initiated and prepared by the Secretariat to give due honor and recognition to the members of the House whom they had worked with on many important accomplishments of the institution. She pointed out that being first hand spectators to the performance of the legislators, they would like to proceed with the presentation of mementos and plaques of appreciation.

Indeed, while there are many highlighted occasions that the House had not displayed the righteousness that the people expect and deserve, there are many more unnoticed moments of low profile accomplishments that only the secretariat were witnesses to. They wanted to give due recognition to these accomplishments by way of the honor ceremony.

And so it was that under the contemptuous glare of the public, the House proceeded to honor its members. It basically consisted calling out the 1st-term, 2nd-term and 3rd-term members of the House in front of the hall and presenting them with plaques of appreciation and book-bound volumes of each legislator’s performance record (bills filed, laws passed, speeches delivered and transcripts of interpellations) and a CD version of the same. For the graduating congressmen, a Congressional medal was also presented in honor of completing the whole three terms in the House.

For me, it was a well appreciated gesture on the part of the Secretariat. What they presented was a symbol of the acknowledgment of the work I had done these past nine years. The mementos and volumes they gave me were things that I can present to other people to show that the mandate given to me by my constituents were not wasted and this was incontrovertible proof that I had earned the pay that people granted me the privilege to receive.

Indeed June 4 seemed to be an ordinary day. For some, it was. For others, it was a day that the House of Representatives failed the people. For me, it was the final day of a special period in my life when I had the privilege of being able to directly contribute to the welfare of this nation. Sad to say though, that by this final act of the House, the last thing in the people’s mind would be that the 14th Congress betrayed them.