Parker is Pimping on Skype

A video call comes through from this random person on Skype. I hit the accept button (because my curiosity always gets the better of me). A bearded American male in his 40’s (he later said he was 50) appears onscreen.

What follows is a condensed version of our Skype-versation:

Him: “Omg. You’re cute! I love it. I love it.”

Me: “Hello and thanks.”

Him: “Are you 18?” Me: “No. Take another guess.” Him: “You’re 25. You want to work for me?” Me: “Sure. What work is that?” Him: “All you need is Paypal, internet in your home, a video cam, and you do things on cam. I have 100s of Filipinas working for me.”

Do things?

This guy, whose handle was “parker”, was recruiting women to work for him in what I assume is cyberporn-related business. The town of Cordova, Cebu was once tagged as Cyberporn Capital in the region due to the high number of women, including minors, in the area who were “doing things” on camera for customers abroad. Mothers were pimping out their own daughters because they reason that there is no harm in “doing things” in front of a camera since there is no touching involved, and they get paid easily. Local authorities, with the help of the US Homeland Security team from the US Embassy in Manila, cracked down on the cyberporn ring and eventually snuffed it out of Cordova.

But it looks like the recruitment strategies of the pimps just upped their game as well. I think I met this Parker guy on Tinder. Whatever reasons pushed me to download that darn dating app, I regret it now. Nothing good ever came out of it. I didn’t meet up with anyone of my matches because most of them were only looking for hook-ups, and the decent ones I talked to are continents away. I deleted the app from my phone right after the Skype pimping incident. Parker, it seems, has made Tinder his hunting ground for Filipinas who might want to make money on the side “doing things” on camera.

Parker’s headhunting technique may be justified as to how he’s not forcing the women to work for him. He does make an effort to make sure the female isn’t a minor (he did ask if I was 18.) But still, isn’t this some kind of exploitation of women? Parker preys on women who, for monetary reasons, would expose themselves and “do things.” I have a decent-paying stable job, so I wouldn’t be inclined to take my top off and wiggle my girls in front of the videocamera so I can earn extra money. I can easily earn extra without having to show skin.

So the moral of this story would be these: if you must go to Tinder, tread carefully. Jerks and other undesirables lurk there, waiting to pounce on the young, the vulnerable, the unsuspecting. But then, you don’t have to be on Tinder to find a date. In my case, I’m praying the Lord will deliver the love of my life to me in the flesh or at least in the form of conversations. I have a weakness for men who can make me think and laugh, so a conversation in whatever form would be a possible springboard for Prince Charming to jump into my life.

On a serious note, do let me know if you see me, or someone who looks like me, in websites you don’t want your mother to know you’re visiting. Because if I appear there, I intend to collect every dollar I’m supposed to get from Parker.

The load that goes with 17 years

A few weeks ago, I marked my 17th year in Philippine government service. I certainly feel every day of those 17 years. All those press conferences, media events, interviews, trips, hosting stints, and stories packed into those 17 years that I feel its weight, and it’s not a light load.

The Philippine government can be described as a demanding lover. You cannot say no to requests for information after office hours or on weekends, particularly in my field of work which is government communications. If the President of the Philippines will drop by in my coverage area on a Saturday or a Sunday, then my social life is basically screwed as early as 2 days before and then 2 days after the visit. If a disaster strikes in my area, it’s expected that my phones are on and I’m online to respond to official and public requests for information. It’s not important how I make sure that happens, I just have to. Like the ad for Banco De Oro, we find ways.

In my 17 years of working for the Philippine government, I’ve had two relationships that didn’t last very long. (I’m still friends now with the other parties in these relationships so I guess all is well that ends well.) Since then, I’ve been in a relationship with my office desk.

Money is never a motivating factor to work for the Philippine state. Trust me when I say that civil servants can never fatten their bank accounts with honest public service. In view of the strict auditing rules, I have even shelled out my own cash several times to ensure that a project or an activity gets done without a hitch. I pay a higher tax compared to my married co-workers because when you don’t have any dependents, the government taxes you more.

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#iBLOGforBANTAYAN started from an idea and a couch

It was an idea that came out of another idea. It’s funny, and wonderful, when ideas seem to spark off each other, until it becomes a series of fortunate events that connect people to other people, to places, to other ideas.

Last year, after the Climate Change Advocacy Project between Philippine Information Agency (PIA) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was finalized, the Provincial Information Centers under PIA nationwide were given marching orders to roll out activities that would raise public awareness on what climate change is, and how Filipinos can protect themselves and their communities from its ill effects.

In addition to the generic activities that were required (campus caravans, Kapihan forums, media briefings) I wanted an activity that would get people writing and discussing about climate change. The generic activities usually only lead to spoon-feeding of information – you get people to gather, sit and listen to your inputs. But will this really lead to action? How can students and the youth learn about climate change if you don’t bring them outside and see for themselves what climate change is doing to the world?

It’s not enough to make people aware. You can be aware and yet not do anything about it. Experience remains to be the best teacher. Plus I’m a strong believer in the power of social media. No other modern medium out there can spread the word faster, can get people discussing, writing, arguing, debating, DOING, than social media. With the very high Internet usage in the Philippines, and the fact that Filipinos spend most of their time online on their mobile phones, social media is another platform that I wanted to use for the project.

I’m thankful that since I started working in Cebu two years ago, I’ve developed strong connections with the Cebu Blogging Community through Ruben Licera Jr. and Bjornson Bernales of CBC, both of whom are heavily responsible for how CBC is so organized and mobilized. I reached out to Ruben and Bjorn and pitched the idea of holding information sharing sessions between top bloggers in Cebu and local environment officials. I asked them if it’s possible to get the citizen media in Cebu writing about environmental issues from the perspective of someone who’s talked directly to concerned government officials.

You see, when it comes to information dissemination, access to government sources has always been limited to traditional media. Invitations to press conferences and media briefings with government talking heads – particularly in Cebu – have always been restricted to journalists from radio, TV, and print. Reporters cannot inject their opinions in their reports, but their opinions are shaped from their discussions with government officials. They just can’t write about it in their news stories.

However, bloggers, social media influencers, and citizen media have as much power to spread the information, and at an ever faster rate. Why not provide them with the same access? Most of the time – and I’m talking about Cebu here – the bloggers are tapped by hotels, resorts, restaurants, private businesses in the opening of new shops, or the telecommunication companies. Most of these bloggers, when they blog about government issues, rely on either second-hand information or what they learn from the news outlets.

Bloggers/citizen media are free to color their posts with their opinions. The ideal situation would be for them to develop informed opinions so that when they post it, the content they produce come from one whose perspective has been molded as a result of picking the brains of the experts. This almost always makes a difference. How many times have I heard a reporter remark after a press conference, that her/his opinion on a particular issue was changed after talking to a government official? They walk out of press events with informed opinions, that would hopefully lead them to make informed choices.

Thankfully, Ruben and Bjorn said yes. (These two are tight, to the point I would tease them there’s bromance in the air. They’re like ying and yang. They argue, they discuss, they bounce ideas off each other, then they reach an agreement.) They agreed to the idea, either they were just as crazy as I was, or because they were both too much of a gentleman to say no, or maybe – and I prefer to believe this was the reason – because they are ruled by the passion to do good, to make a difference.

This was what gave birth to the Bloggers Couch Chat Sessions under the Climate Change Advocacy Project in Cebu. No other PIA center nationwide is doing this, and I’m proud to say that we in Cebu remain to be the only one initiating these sessions. I hope though that once I’ve finished my accomplishment report for this particular project, it would inspire and motive the others to tap the social media influencers their area in communicating government messages.

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As for the couch, it actually stemmed from a photo I saw online. I was Googling for couch designs (there’s a frustrated interior designer in me), because we moved into a new office at that time. I was looking for L-shaped couches that would fit the corner in our office where I wanted to put up a receiving area. One photo that Google spit out was of a WordPress event where bloggers met up to interact. The photo showed an L-couch, and people were sitting on the couch and some were standing gathered around and just interacting.

It was a simple, harmless photo but light bulbs were sparking off in my brain like crazy. Of course! The bloggers sessions with the government officials should be set up like this, with couches, so that it won’t be too formal, and interaction should be free flowing and unrestricted just like you were talking with guests in your living room. Press conferences and media events are too formal and in a way, rigid. The bloggers sessions should be different in a way that these people aren’t reporters and discussions should be more like you were having a talk with guests in your living room.

This post is just the first of a series. In my next post, I’ll talk about #iBLOGforBANTAYAN, give you a glimpse of behind-the-scenes, the amazing writers we brought with us, how it is one of the best examples of Private-Public Partnerships, and the unforgettable paradise that Bantayan Island is, and how it lingers in the mind and in the heart long after you’ve left its shores.

Before I end, a little shameless plug:

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Championing the cause for a rabies-free Philippines

IMG_9730I’m now in the last leg of the three-part session of the Communicating Health Advocacy Mentorship Program (CHAMP) conducted by the Global Alliance for Rabies Control. Being a huge animal lover, this was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss, even if February has been quite the most toxic month for me in terms of event schedules at work. Rabies continues to be a public health concern, and having been a dog owner all of my life, this is an issue that hits so close to home for me.

GARC is an international organization that works towards the global prevention of rabies. Rabies cases among dogs and humans persist in the Philippines, and GARC aims to tap communicators in the goal for a rabies-free Philippines by 2016. Participants chosen for this communication training come from selected parts around the country from agencies like Philippine Information Agency, Bureau of Animal Industry, and local government units.

The course is broken down into three modules that taught us so far how to come up with communication plans and strategies to effect behavioural change, the educational media tools to use in executing communication projects, and running social media campaigns for advocacies.

So far, the course has been educational and very enlightening for me. This post is actually an output for the third module, which is to come up with a blog entry about the course. I’ll come up with another more comprehensive blog post on my insights and learnings in the next few days. I’m looking forward to being one of the champions for a rabies-free Philippines!

The questions I have put off asking myself on work, love, life

I hit the ground running at work when 2015 kicked in. Already, two agencies have permanently booked our Kapihan (I host a radio/TV forum) for the first two Wednesdays of the month for the entire year. Requests for activities are coming in from all sides, I have two more trips booked to Tagaytay for a mentorship program, and a possible business trip abroad from one of our clients (When someone asks you if would you like to go to ******, you don’t just say yes, you freaking scream YES! Fingers so, so tightly crossed on this one).

When this year started, I asked God for an open heart and for road signs because the last two years of my career have been life-changing and mostly fraught with challenges and angst. I told myself that I’m going to work my arse off this year like it’s my last year on the job, and to get at least two more stamps on my passport. Then December 2015 will be my proverbial fork in the road. It’s the month I’ve set to ask myself some questions I’ve put off answering for quite a while now: Do I continue on this career path which I haven’t strayed from for the past 16 years? Or do I take that turn in the road rife with uncertainty but also ripe with the potential for adventures and fulfilled dreams?

I have stuck to my comfort zone for more than 10 years. I know some people who have never moved away from their comfort zones for all their lives. They chose to live in that bubble, never stepping a foot outside it. I wonder if this was by choice? Or was this because there was never an opportunity for them to lose sight of the horizon? Should one even have to wait for this opportunity to come, like waiting for the wind to blow in the right direction in order to change sails? Or should you go and create those opportunities yourself, steering your own ship, carpe diem and all that?

I think wanderlust has bitten me lately. With the increasing popularity of travel blogs and me getting to know some accomplished travellers, I have suddenly been beset with the restless urge to go somewhere, anywhere, as long as it’s far away from my comfort zone. I have until now only been to 2 countries : India (Bangalore and New Delhi) and Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur). Both trips, which took place in the last 4 years, were paid for by someone else (India was courtesy of ASEAN, while Malaysia was a birthday gift from a very, very good friend). Both trips were epic for me. It changed how I see life, culture, race, people. It got me thinking and asking. It got me craving for more.

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