Saturday, November 09, 2019

The taming

WHEN I remember the eunuch cats of Bonifacio High Street, I realize we can still be drawn to the very things that upset us.

The first cat was lolling on a makeshift platform used by men working on the landscaping. It was a tom, as big as a dollhouse.

Yet, it allowed me to scratch its exposed stomach, an inverted yolk, white in the middle and yellowish at the outer ring.

On our way to a bookstore to pick up my books, my son and I had started from the Burgos Circle where there seemed to be more dogs than humans taking in the sun that Monday morning.

The dogs of Burgos Park are cosseted and urbane. They have no fear of humans.

These pets are as close to the otherworldly and the exotic in my world.

Where I grew up, the barbed wires enclosing the house we rented was ineffectual for keeping our menagerie of nine or so dogs safe in a neighborhood where any dog was free meat fueling several rounds of drink and feral singing.

After our guard dogs went the way of the ten little Indians in the nursery rhyme (“… and then there were none”), my father finally decided to keep small dogs who slept with us, locked away from the world with teeth, to borrow an image from Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House”.

The cats that suddenly showed up in our home were thin, fierce survivors who waited and waited, moving in to finish the meals only when the dogs napped or were shut in for the night. They melted away in a blink but it wasn’t long before I convinced my father to bring home a kitten from a cousin’s cat’s litter.

There is no lack for cats that no one wants. When I was younger, I brought home abandoned kittens: in my knapsack from school, in a shopping bag someone left on the side of a busy road, where I plunked into my shirt the mewling blind creatures that poured out like tomatoes about to be squashed into red paste.

The world jokes about steaming cats into buns. Feral survivors nurse on this mean teat. Most of the strays we feed at home never lose their wariness. In this country, a housebroken cat is often a dead one.

The Bonifacio High Street tom, complacent and suave, was odd as ferals go. We entered another promenade that hosted, years back, a community of cats. After a five-star hotel opened nearby, the cats were relocated, like absurd Third World artifacts.

I found just two strays napping on the benches that day. Neutered, enormous, and slack from human benevolence. Ignoring the signs that warned people about feeding and petting the cats, I scratched between two pointy pairs of ears, two furbellies.

A cat rolls on the ground and exposes its belly to a human it trusts. My prayer is that those cats will live not to regret this.

( 09173226131)

*First published in SunStar Cebu’s November 10, 2019 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Dog’s life

THE DOGGY lives I observed at the Burgos Park are enviable. I am a human on a park bench, wondering what great acts of compassion I must do to be reincarnated as a Yorkshire Terrier, a Samoyed or a Bichon Frise living a condo-park-pet spa existence.

Four hours after midnight, I woke up on a working Monday and was on the road in an attempt to cut down a two- or three-hour commute from the outskirts of Metro Manila. Bleary-eyed, I waited for the Bonifacio High Street shops to open at 11 a.m. so I could pick up the books I reserved.

I felt far from frisky, worlds apart from the rarefied plane bearing these beautiful creatures.

Yet, what struck me most that I am in an enclave that hardly resembles the Philippines was not this green oasis circled by the signposts of Western prosperity but the insouciant sociability of the dogs.

They are unlike the dogs I have been used to, commuting around urban centers and even living in gated communities for decades. There are two kinds of dogs in the country: the dogs that are part of families and those that are on their own.

I know the barely human specimens that have an instrumental regard for the family AsPin (asong Pinoy), chaining a dog and leaving it behind for weeks as if it were a burglar alarm with fur.

Most Pinoys, though, love their dogs. They may not afford vet services to spay, neuter or regularly check their pets. But the Pinoys I respect give their AsPins these minimum needs: sustenance, shelter, and family.

The dogs of Burgos Park gave me pause, though. Like humans, dogs enjoy meeting other dogs. A walk means opportunities to explore with their noses, roll in the grass, and carry out no. 1 (pee) and no. 2 (poo) as nature demands. The dogs’ caregivers and walkers picked and bagged their waste, keeping that park habitable for the humans and other dogs sharing the space.

These dogs’ existence had other trimmings, too. The perks—the humane leashes of extendable length that allowed a dog to wander to their doggy heart’s desire without being separated from their humans, the knit sweaters, bright socks, and treats randomly given for acts of obedience or state of cuteness—made a dog’s life definitely better.

It showed in the animals’ coat and the spring of their walk, the alacrity with which they accepted and did not shirk from strange hands petting them. While watching the uniformed guard of a snow-white Akita obligingly snap dogfies with the smart phones of enamored ladies and gents, I spotted a little cat cross the street. A motorist slowed down to let the stray cross without accident.

In Burgos Park, fractal humanity—which deals out cruelty as often as kindness—is at bay.

[Photo source: YouTube]

( 09173226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s November 3, 2019 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Magic circle

THE LITTLE cat crossing 29th Street looked it was about to go under a silver SUV when the vehicle slowed down. The cat reached the curb, unperturbed.

One cannot simply unsee roadkill. I still remember riding with my father and sister to school. In the 1970s, Mango Avenue in Cebu at 6 a.m. was a placid unspooling ribbon of asphalt outside the St. Theresa’s College.

And then a public utility jeepney roared down the opposite lane and hit a pack of dogs sniffing around on the street. One dog rolled in the gutter, a red banner tailing its hind legs, the keening more unendurable than the sight, still indelible all these decades.

Last Monday, the driver in the silver SUV was not speeding despite the morning rush. She or he slowed down, observing a rule observed by many motorists at the Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig, Manila to give way to the pedestrian. Even the four-legged ones.

The older son and I were sitting on a park bench at the Burgos Circle when the little cat crossed the street. The park is named after the patriot José Burgos, who, with fellow priests Mariano Gomez and Jacinto Zamora formed the Gomburza trio that died for espousing the equality of Indios and Spaniards during the Spanish Period.

Although members of the religious elite, they saw the discrimination of Filipinos, including the native clergy, and challenged the authorities to conduct reforms. In a mock trial, where their own lawyers testified against them, the priests were found guilty of stirring an uprising of workers at the Cavite Naval Yard. They died by garrote at the Bagumbayan, now the Luneta Park.

Against such history, is the Burgos Circle simply an enclave of the privileged? It IS surrounded by the headquarters of multinational firms, condominiums, and international chains of cafes and bars.

Yet, it is not only the moneyed or privileged benefitting from the Burgos Circle. Beneath its center island, the Burgos Park, is a retarding basin. Constructed at the initial phase of the BGC development, the P60-million retarding basin stores run-off during heavy rain, directing the floodwater to the creeks that empty into the Manila Bay.

The Burgos Park retarding basin is only one of two existing in Metro Manila, credited by the Department of Public Works and Highways as preventing the flooding of the EDSA and the Kalayaan Ave.

The Gomburza died proving that one can overcome the blinders imposed by class and privilege to fight for a just cause that benefits not only the people born sharing one’s circumstances and biases. One day in a park named after the patriot Burgos, I reflected how the Gomburza legacy lives on in our times.

( 09173226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s October 27, 2019 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”