Tuesday, July 17, 2018


IF a prostitute were mistaken for a politician, would he or she cry, “Foul”?

Or shrug off the slip as just hair-splitting?

The recent incident over a public official charged for misconduct stemmed when the official, a woman, verbally and physically assaulted hotel employees who mistook her for her male companion’s “escort”.

In the official’s own statements, the euphemism “escort” was replaced with the Cebuano slang for a sex worker, “pokpok”.

In street talk, the Cebuano word is often accompanied by or substituted with an index finger tapping a surface twice to mimic the sexual act of penetration.

While “escort” attempts to neutralize the negativity clinging to the world’s “oldest” profession, “pokpok” abandons the pretence. It is gutter talk, which, by treating the sex worker as an object to be penetrated, diminishes and degrades the person underneath the label.

In keeping with pejorative language, “pokpok” spares the customer, who completes the transaction. In the cultural superstructure, a line is drawn between the women deserving of respect and the rest.

I sensed this in the 1980s, when I was a young non-government worker traveling for the first time to Thailand with a co-worker. We were “escorting” a public school teacher, who wrote a prize-winning essay, to visit women’s groups in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

My co-worker was delayed from boarding by immigration officials. Since they were grilling her in Filipino, I rushed to assist and got roped in the laser-focus of their speculations, which, while no word ever surfaced, centered on their suspicions that we were workers joining the international flesh trade.

In the business class of the plane, the European flight crew gave us the same skewed regard. My co-worker and I hardly resembled “painted ladies”. Traveling from our rural assignments, we were simply dressed, carrying only backpacks. Perhaps we looked naive, ideal for a market always in need of fresh meat.

In Bangkok and Chiang Mai, I realized that sex work was a far cry from the “Pretty Woman” fantasy spun by the escort played by Julia Roberts in the movie.

For one, her character had smooth arms, not marked by needle punctures. Needle-sharing was common among the intravenous drug shooters. The prerequisites for sex work: body orifices.

Some of the workers we met were still young enough to enjoy the keychains given away by AIDS advocates pushing the use of condoms. “Break glass in case of emergency” said the sticker encasing a tiny condom, which caused a lot of amusement among us girls.

Another glass ceiling still exists, segregating the women deserving of respect from the Others.

(mayette.tabada@gmail.com/ 0917 3226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s July 15, 2018 issues of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata"

Sunday, July 08, 2018


I AM sure Max Ehrmann, author of the “Desiderata,” did not have, when he wrote the line, “as perennial as grass,” the Frog Grass in mind.

About half a decade of weeding this patch of ground outside our home makes me conversant about the one quality landscaping vendors will never extol in this variety: timidity.

Bashfulness does not sit well with gardeners, a pathological batch forever competing with the wildness of Nature to create the homeowner’s dream of the perfect lawn: immaculate, docile, and uniform.

We chose the Frog Grass because, aside from its comical name, its broad-leafed viridescence made us think of walking, barefoot, on a balmy summer day, cushioned by a swathe of springy, spongy grass as comfortable as an old shift of cotton worn for lazy laidback days.

The rule of grass: the more laidback the grass, the more wrought up the gardener.

Every time I uncover a patch of Frog Grass, already turning yellow-green, languishing under a mini-forest of soft-stemmed lily-like parvenus swarming over a spot where I went, the previous week, into hand-to-hand mortal combat with a couple of tough, rough, serrated blades, I wonder why the Frog Grass did not advance in the space I cleared for it, with all ten nicks-, cuts-, and callous-medalled fingers.

Frog or mouse? I have asked this grass that takes self-effacement to such an ungrasslike level.

We are competitive; nature makes us so. When I turned to gardening as an antidote for a day of theorizing, thinking I needed something concrete and earthy, I wasn’t prepared for cutthroat survival more in keeping with cafeterias attacked by lunch hordes than a patch of green.

The only way to win against alien encroachments—bombardments of undigested seeds encased in stools dropped by passing birds, pods of fecundity shaken free from the spikelets trembling in the wind, the vampire roots biding time after fragile stems are decapitated of their pale pastel heads—is to go down to the roots.

Yet, after I had perfected the weeding by uprooting starbursts of weeds that curtailed the diffident spread of the Frog Grass, my friend C. told me that I must not only leave unharmed this garden eyesore but also boil and drink—roots, leaves, and all, except flowers—this “miracle grass”.

Known also as goose grass, the Paragis is traditionally used as infusion or poultice in Asia and Africa to cure a variety of maladies, although no medical authority vouches for its safety and efficacy.

Growing in empty lots and sidewalk cracks, the goose grass makes the familiar strange: can I accept the uncultivated? Can I live with diversity? Will I embrace the wild? Nothing mouse-like about this grass.

(mayettetabada.blogspot.com/ mayette.tabada@gmail.com/ 09173226131)

*First published in SunStar Cebu’s July 8, 2018 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, June 30, 2018


I COUNT the days now. From years to months to weeks, the plan has finally come to shortening the gap by days or 24-hour cycles.

Soon, hours and minutes will measure how close I’ll be to Cebu.

This game helps to pass the time while I am a nomad by occupation, settling for now in Manila while work and the bulk of family are in Cebu.

I wonder if other migrants also keep track of time in increments or take recourse to phrases, such as “for now,” as if these were reassurances for the return journey. Plans can be charted; tickets, purchased.

The return, though, is mutable. While waiting to disembark at Mactan, I overheard a flight crew discussing plans for dinner. Any place, said someone, that does not require “crossing the bridge”.

We reside in Mactan, in the shadow of the bridges. Two bridges connect the cities of Lapu-Lapu and Mandaue. More often than not, these disconnect, being often locked down in traffic, with one bridge alternately serving as the “lesser evil” to the other, depending on the day of the week or the time of the day.

The stewardess must have been a frequent flyer to Cebu to speak like a native. Before Waze, Cebuanos referred to the “first bridge” or the “second bridge”.

“The bridge” is the generic term associated with hours of deadlock resulting in tentacles of snarled traffic trailing for kilometres on both sides of the islands. If you are rushing to catch your flight out of Cebu and encounter “the bridge,” there is no more memorable send-off.

To cushion my displacement, I read online about home. (A Google search of “traffic” and “Cebu" pulls out 9.7 million results in 0.64 seconds, still viewed as an odd pairing by someone who took lunch at home during the hour-and-a-half break in grade school during the 1970s.)

According to SunStar Cebu’s June 30 report by Razel V. Cuizon, the Regional Development Council-Visayas recently endorsed “priority projects” to “ease traffic in Metro Cebu”.

Urban experts identified a Mandaue-Lapu-Lapu Link Bridge, making this the fourth bridge as construction of the third, the Cebu-Cordova toll bridge, is underway.

An Urban Mass Rapid Transit (UMRT) system was also endorsed as part of the road and rail transport modes for 2050, when Cebu becomes a mega-city with a populace of over 5 million.

Nights when I cannot sleep, I pore over the Roadmap Study for Sustainable Urban Development in Metro Cebu. As a Cebuana, I don’t need the maps. I know my Cebu by heart.

Still, the order and clarity of computer-generated maps and plans comfort. Displacements—sons starting on their own; my coming home only to leave again—are “for now”. Cebu is “kanunay ania dinhi (always here)”.

(mayette.tabada@gmail.com/ 09173226131)

*First published in SunStar Cebu’s July 1, 2018 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”