Of apologies

US Pres. Barack Obama wrote an apology to an art history professor for his “off-the-cuff” remarks about skilled manufacturing being a better career choice than art history. It takes class and guts for a President, or anyone for that matter I guess, to apologize, much less take the time to actually write it down when he could easily have sent an email or issued a formal statement to convey his apologies.

Another president I know is hounded by an issue over apologies involving a deadly hostage-taking. However, this apology is more complicated and monumental than saying sorry to an art professor. Relations between two countries is at stake. The reason for the apology withheld is that it will result to legal implications.

I know how hard it is to say sorry. I started out this year by apologizing to one of my clients for whom I was organizing a press event. It was my first presser for this year, and I messed it up by misreading the dates. Nothing like a major blunder to give one a painful reality bite. It was hard admitting that I made a mistake. It was my first blunder since I started managing our center in Cebu. I’m good at my job, but when I make mistakes, they’re epic. It’s like my blunders make up for all the times I’ve delivered the goods.

But apologize I did. Then I worked my arse off to remedy the error in whatever way I can, even if it was too late. For days after, I beat myself up over that faux pas, mentally banging my head on the wall for being such an idiot.

Humility is always a bitter pill to swallow, isn’t it? Apologies force us to see our flaws, making them stand out in stark relief.  Sure, we see the flaws, we just don’t want to linger on them too long.

When someone wrongs us, we expect them to grovel and ask for forgiveness. Okay, not grovel, just asking for forgiveness is enough. (Although some errors do require groveling.) Easier said than done, though, when you’re the offending party.

I admit that I can think of some people I’ve wronged that I have yet to apologize to. Mostly these people aren’t aware that I’ve done something to be sorry to them for.  You’d probably be thinking that they’re better off not knowing, but the thing is, I know. And I have to go to bed at night knowing. I can’t live with that, which is why saying sorry to them is in my bucket list already. I have to pep talk myself to doing this first, along with a shot or two for courage. I can think of a lot of things I’d rather be facing, like an enraged bull or jumping out of an airplane (now that would make one awesome bucket list to-do).

I’ll probably end up writing them a letter the Obama way. I have beautiful penmanship. That should help sweeten the deal.

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Hello, 2014

My last post here was in October last year, after the US Embassy event for regional journalists. Since then, to say that my plate was full is an understatement. I blame the deafening silence here to how crazy things got after the two back-to-back disasters that hit central Philippines. The 7.2-magnitude quake and Typhoon Yolanda hit just barely a month apart. Two deadly disasters right after another. My first year working in Cebu was a baptism of earthquake, typhoons, and one heck of a storm surge.

I can’t even begin to describe 2013, both professionally and personally. I would be at a total loss if I were asked to sum it up in one word. So many good things came along with the bad stuff, at work and otherwise. I learned to overcome some of my greatest fears, and the twin disasters taught me how to do my job better and be a better person.

Sometimes, when I look back at all that happened last year, a part of me is amazed that I survived all that. Sure, it was rough for the first few months, dealing with homesickness and culture shock. Although my parents raised me to be a strong and independent person, you never know how much you can take until you are put to the test, right? Not having your friends and family, your support system around you physically when you need them the most is a form of torture.

But it is character forming, like my boss would say. The more I deal with difficult personalities (“difficult” being a polite word I’m forced to use) the more I’m toughening up, but in a good way. I’m learning my tolerance level for, well, BS coming from other people.

The more I’m facing challenging tasks at work, the more I’m learning that I like challenges. There’s always a way somewhere, always a workaround to a knotty problem. If there’s none, then buckle up and go with the flow. Make the best of what is there.

When people say it can’t be done, I like to prove them wrong and I do it with relish and a red lipstick. (No woman can ever go wrong with a red lippie.)

2013 was the year where I was forced to face my fears and face them one by one. I feared hosting a forum on live radio and on TV. I feared managing a provincial center. I feared the constant traveling across the ocean. I feared introducing myself to VIPs. I feared living on my own.

Now I realize that these fears were silly. I looked them each in the eye and knocked them down one by one.

So, children, after that long-winded storytelling, the lesson here is nothing is ever as bad as it seems at the start. Don’t let the fear hold you down. You’ll soon have the opportunity to kick it in the balls. And it’s going to feel so good, I promise you.

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US Embassy Experience

My most unforgettable travel-related experience, so far, is the time I went to India to cover the Delhi Dialogue. The culture, the food, the people – India is an incredible country to be a foreigner in.

A few weeks ago, though, I had my second most unforgettable experience. The first time I stepped foot on US soil. Ok technically, it’s not US soil. I’m talking about the US Embassy in Manila.

I was one of the 20 journalists from the regions all over the country blessed enough to have been invited to join the first US Embassy Seminar for Regional Media in Manila. For two days, we were allowed to meet and interview top US Embassy officials who normally the mainstream media wouldn’t have access to.

It was a wonderful experience. We were each booked a room at Bayview Hotel (a hotel I’ve come to love), conveniently located right across the US Embassy. I arrived late on a Sunday, about 9 pm, because my Cebu Pacific flight was delayed by more than an hour due to the depressing weather that day. Then being a probinsyana, I got lured into riding those ridiculously overpriced taxis outside the NAIA, on the way to the hotel.

What struck me first was how much of a stickler to time the Americans are. The US Embassy Public Affairs Office was able to pack within a day 17 speeches from 17 officials. Every talk started on time. There were even bathroom breaks in between each set of talks. I couldn’t help but be impressed. It was all so efficiently done.

The Embassy had a policy about taking photos inside the facilities so I don’t have a lot of pictures to show off. But I walked away from the seminar with my mind nearly bursting with information on what the US Embassy does and how it affects Filipinos. I have to confess, I always thought the US Embassy only did visa applications. I didn’t know that they were doing so much more.

The US Embassy acts like an extension of the US Government on Philippine territory. So they have representatives from Homeland Security, FBI, justice department, etc. They have existing projects that aim to improve not only communities around the country but also efficiency in Philippine government like the Bureau of Internal Revenue. USAID handles most of the community-development projects, while the Homeland Security officials work with local government units to help boost their anti-crime activities. For example, Homeland Security is helping Cebu provincial government in stamping out the worsening cybersex industry in Cordova town. There is also a division inside the Embassy that’s currently working with BIR to improve revenue collection by reducing internal corruption.

Of course, the seminar wouldn’t have been complete without discussing visa applications. We got to meet and ask officers from the Consular section. Did you know that among the US Embassies around the world, US Embassy in Manila handles the largest number of fiancee visa applications?

We also had tours inside two important facilities in the embassy – the Chancery and the consular section. The Chancery is a beautiful building. Elegant and courtly, the revival-style mansion is like a grand dame that’s so well-preserved for her age. It was designed by architect Juan M. Arellano and gifted by the Philippine government to the US. The tour inside the consular building also gave us a glimpse of the other side of the window where the visa interviews take place.

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On the second day, we went to the very posh Raffles Makati for the Kapihan sa Embahada, a forum patterned after PIA’s own Kapihan, which works like a press conference. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr. was there to answer questions about US-Philippines Partnership for Growth program, a bilateral engagement that will assist the Philippines in achieving higher growth in key areas, in line with other high-performing emerging economic. (More info here)

Before the Kapihan, we also got to interview officials from organizations implementing US-funded projects in the Philippines. I’ll reserve the stories I gathered for another blog post.

The two-day seminar, all in all, was a wonderful experience. It was info overload, yes, but I’m not complaining. I learned so much that would help me in my job as a government writer, in adding context to stories related to US-Philippines relations that I would be writing.

I also bonded with other writers from PIA from other regions. Half of the 20 participating journalists were from Philippine Information Agency, and the other half were from private media. Betty Malone, the US Embassy spokesperson, said this was their pilot project, the first time they opened their doors for the media and they wanted to see how it would turn out. Based on the feedback that we gave them, I believe they’ll be holding another round next year for a different set of writers this time.

I’d like to thank the US Embassy for giving us a “backstage” tour of what goes on behind the scenes at the Embassy, and for giving us access to key Embassy officials. A huge salamat also goes to Miss Yolly for facilitating our travel and stay and making sure that everything goes smoothly. Miss Yolly and her staff did a great job in making us feel welcome and properly fed, too.

Personal blog of a storyteller

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