FILIPINA ‘X-FACTOR ISRAEL’ WINNER BREAKS ‘MY WAY’ MURDEROUS JINX

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The notoriety of Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ is apparently known, not just in karaoke bars in the Philippines, but elsewhere.

The lowdown is that the enduring classic of Ol’ Blue Eyes has gained a reputation for sparking drunken brawls and gun-toting in many a singing joint in the Philippines, sometimes, even leading to deaths.

A New York Times piece by Norimitsu Onishi entitled “Sinatra Song Often Strikes Deadly Chord” notes “… the news media have recorded at least half a dozen victims (of killings) in the past decade and includes them in a subcategory of crime called the ‘My Way Killings.’”

The article further asks, “Are the killings the natural byproduct of the country’s culture of violence, drinking and machismo?  Or is there something inherently sinister in the song?”

I think it’s because of a number of factors that, when put together, make a fatal combination.

One, the heady mix of booze and cocktails in karaoke bars easily gives way to violent tendencies.

Two, admit it, many of us are hypercritical (pintasero or, in current jargon, ma-okray).  We often have very narrow views on how others should look, dress up, speak, pronounce words, sound, laugh and, yes, sing.  When someone or something doesn’t fit certain “standards,” we are often quick to judge, criticize, laugh or exchange snarky looks or whispers.

Three, while many Filipinos are naturally gifted when it comes to singing (and many around the world will acknowledge this), there are also a lot who sadly aren’t.  How many nights could you not sleep a wink because your next door neighbor was belting an Aegis song like a mad dog?

Despite the auditory torture, we will exercise maximum tolerance because we’re usually non-confrontational as a people… until we snap and all hell breaks loose.

The New York Times piece offers another theory.  The article says “My Way” is an “arrogant” song.  Take a look at the lyrics:  There were times, I’m sure you knew/ When I bit off more than I can chew/ And through it all, when there was doubt/ I ate it up and spit it out.

Quoting Butch Albarracin of the Center for Pop, the article says, “The lyrics evoke feelings of pride and arrogance in the singer, as if you’re somebody when you’re really nobody.  It covers up your failures.  That’s why it leads to fights.”

For now, at least, ‘My Way’ takes on a new significance as it was the winning song that cinched the ‘X-Factor Israel’ title for Filipino caregiver Rose Fostanes.

Fostanes, who cares for an ailing woman in Tel Aviv, has been working in the Middle East for twenty years: four years in Egypt, ten years in Lebanon and the last six years in Israel, according to her girlfriend Mel Adel (yes, Fostanes is out and proud).

With 2.2 million Filipinos working overseas, their stories of struggle and hardship, and abuse for some, are sad realities for many Filipino families.

A Reuters report notes, Fostanes’ victory could help break the stereotype of Filipino as being synonymous with caregiver.  Fostanes says, “Everybody in the world will know that Filipinos, even working as a cleaner … can also share their talents.”

I take another look at the lyrics of ‘My Way’ and I can see why it resonates so much:  I’ve lived a life that’s full/ I traveled each and every highway…/ I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried/ I’ve had my fill, my share of losing/ And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing…”

And so, yes, a rendition of ‘My Way’ can also lead to a happy and triumphant finish.

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(Photo: screen grab from Youtube-X-Factor Israel finals)

BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO GO TO QUIAPO

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(Millions of devotees join the procession on the feast day of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila.  Photo by Jeff Canoy) 

Do not engage in a religious debate; no one wins, it’s been said.  But when traveling together with opinionated individuals of different faiths, a heated discussion on religion is bound to happen.

I found myself in this situation after weeks of being with other foreign journalists of contrasting beliefs: Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Christian from a socialist state, agnostic of Jewish heritage, atheist, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican.

I find myself reflecting about my own faith as a Filipino Roman Catholic as we approach the feast day of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila, a day of deep devotion for many, as it is about fanaticism for others. 

On January 9th, millions will once again join the procession of the Black Nazarene.  They will brave the violent, sometimes deadly, surge of the crowds in a march that may take 18 hours, just to be able to touch the image of the Nazarene to give thanks, to ask for favors, or to seek repentance for sins.

These extreme expressions of faith by Filipinos do not go unnoticed.  A journalism fellow asked me, is it true that some Filipinos perform self-flagellation and have themselves crucified just like Christ? 

It seemed bizarre to him, but I explained that it is a tradition for some devotees in the province of Pampanga during Holy Week.  They believe that it is a way to atone for their sins and be one with Christ’s passion.

There are, perhaps, two things which are most puzzling to a foreign eye: One, are these expressions of blind faith?  And, two, do these expressions lead to real conversion?

 Individualistic societies may scoff at such intense displays of faith.  Some will say that faith has nothing to do with one’s fortune in life – it is a result of decision, action, hard work and perseverance.

Some will question if real spiritual transformation takes place, or do we live out an “a la carte Catholicism.”  Are we free to pick and choose the Christian teachings we want to follow, and dismiss others when they are inconvenient? 

In one of our heated after-dinner discussions, one journalist fellow asked if, for example, it is acceptable to be a gay Catholic? Enter counter-arguments to the tune of Pope Francis’ recent pronouncement, “Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?”

In a similar vein, can a thief forego criminal activities on the feast day of the Nazarene to join the procession, then return to his old ways the next day?

Perhaps, there is no way to explain faith except to live humbly by example.  We are all sinners, but we also believe that God’s love and mercy are greater and wider than our sins.  And God’s gifts of forgiveness and redemption are open for us to receive freely anytime, and cannot be earned, won or deserved despite the very best of efforts.

I also believe that faith without action counts for nothing.  On Sunday’s solemnity of the Epiphany, when the magi saw and worshipped the baby Jesus, they went home using a different route.  The encounter with the blessed infant moved them so much, they altered their destiny by taking a new path.

And as today’s Gospel reading of Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fish reminds me, after the five thousand were fed, the disciples filled twelve baskets more of leftovers.  God’s love and generosity are more than enough to satisfy us.  This is an incentive big enough for us to get up, take responsibility for our lives and do something meaningful for others.

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