Saturday, May 23, 2020

“Sa amoa”

TWO months of staying put in Silang helped me grow a few vegetables, calluses, and some certainties about “amoa”.

After the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) closed the laundry shop outside the village, the husband and I washed our clothes by hand. In the afternoon, we pulled weeds and planted the seeds of vegetables he turned into our meals.

Then the authorities borrowed again from the alphabet and came up with new acronyms. Cavite, where we currently live, was placed under general community quarantine (GCQ) starting May 16; Metro Manila, under modified ECQ (MECQ).

Scrabble players may be familiar with the mini-storm stirred when a player comes up with a strange combination of letters that just happens to hit double- or triple-the-points squares.

Comprehension of meaning became a lower priority than establishing the existence of novel acronyms reorganizing the new normal after the lifting of the ECQ.

In four days of GCQ, the Cavite governor opened and then closed all malls for violating safety protocols. More than three thousand citizens were arrested for violating one or a combination of the five measures aimed at containing the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic: leaving home with a quarantine pass, wearing a mask in public, maintaining physical distancing, observing the curfew, and following the liquor ban.

In the alphabet soup stirred up by the latest acronyms, Covid-19 was shunted aside as families trooped to the malls and clogged highways. What happened to fears of a second or a third wave of the pandemic reinforcing the indisputable logic of staying home?

Unless one needs to report to work, “home” remains the best one-syllable arrangement of letters responding to Covid-19. Acronym soups calibrate but also obfuscate official responses.

I prefer the easier-to-understand logic of survival, sanity, and community embedded in the slogans charting the pandemic timeline: from “Stay home, stay safe” to #HealthyAtHome and #TravelTomorrow.

Among Bisdaks (native Cebuanos), “sa amoa” is a phrase that captures the self-possession of being in the sanctum sanctorum that is one’s home. In my generation, one did not treat guests to eat out in restaurants. “Kaon ta sa amoa” invites a stranger to more than a home-cooked meal; it means to be with the family.

Perhaps because Cebu, my home, remains under the ECQ status that stringently restricts people movement, I am immune to the temptation of misreading GCQ and MECQ. I promise four puppies born here in Silang, though, that when it will be safe to travel, “uli mi sa amoa (we go home)”.

Peacock. Lapu-Lapu City, 23 May 2020 (pix by Carlos Q. Tabada)

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* First published in the May 24, 2020 edition of the SunStar Cebu Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, May 16, 2020


IF you cannot handle the small ones, get ready for the big ones to walk over you.

I re-enrolled in the school of discipline after whining to my sister about the scratches and nips I got from four puppies collectively called the K-pups (K for “kinit-an (abandoned)”).

Discipline them, admonished my sister. Since they have no mum, you are their mother and must teach them the dog stuff.

In Sydney, my sister and her daughters take on part-time dog minding. The lap dogs who have stayed at their home while the dogs’ guardians are away are snapshot charmers.

Of course, realities are complicated. The first boarder taken on by Joanna, my niece, was Ollie, the Chihuahua profiled by my sister as: “Sheds a lot and wees a lot. Not toilet-trained at all.”

“All the world’s a potty” is also a K-pup mantra. That must be a dog thing, sniffs my cats, who cover up after doing their business.

Toilet-training a puppy is practical because it is less easy to change the set ways of older dogs. During Ollie’s stay for a week or so, the household adjusted to curmudgeon Ollie’s dislikes (teens and other dogs) and loves (my sister). Ollie followed my sister everywhere, even binged on chips and K-drama.

Shih tzu Riri came after Ollie. Called very properly Rita by her Muslim mum, toilet-trained Riri ate only once, promptly at 9 p.m. So my sister delayed her snooze time to fix Riri’s well-balanced meal of meat and veggies.

Sociable Riri left some in her bowl for Angel, the family’s rescued Shih Tzu. A confirmed non-vegetarian, Angel considerately left the leftover carrots for my sister.

Then came Gizmo, the stereotype-buster. Aged about 10 years (about 70 years in human terms), he was in touch with his inner pup, snapping up his blanket to rush out for a weekend with Angel, chasing dogs much bigger than them in the park.

During one weekend, Zara and Pipa were left by their separate owners. Zara became Angel’s BFF (best friend forever), which must have erased her faults in my sister’s view (like Ollie, Zara also dropped out from potty school).

Despite her avowed iron stance on dog discipline, my sister and nieces hardly use tested techniques to punish misbehavior: harsh words, timeout, isolation. I suspect they are quite the pushovers for a floppy ear, eyes that swallow the world, and deep canine appreciation for Korean melodrama.

And there is the other queen, of course, Angel the Anal, who loves to bark at the cockatoos peeping through the windows and chases around the park to challenge birds and dogs but always showers and is never unclean on the bed, which she deigns to share with the lesser royals.

In teaching a dog you mean business, you must first be the dog.

Critics’ night. (From front to back) Angel, J., and Ollie following the KD-of-the-moment.

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* First published in SunStar Cebu’s May 17, 2020 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, May 09, 2020


THE OUTDOOR kitchen is where our mother cat Kitkat nursed her third litter last year and gave birth to her fourth litter recently.

When we adopted four puppies a few weeks ago, they also crowded inside the kitchen for midday naps and overnight sleepovers.

Three adult cats, four puppies, and two humans make this small space the intersection of our domestic affairs. In our admittedly crammed-to-the-rafters household, the kitchen doubles as the nursery.

Remembering how Kitkat nursed three kittens there last year, we again placed a newspaper-lined box on the kitchen floor for the anticipated birthing. Last Sunday, Kitkat, after shredding the sheets, settled down in her nest.

By Monday dawn, the kitchen-nursery had a third use: as the newborn kittens’ charnel.

Four kittens were born, in between Sunday lunch and dinner. In associating the births with mealtimes, I mean no irony. For that is what happened: the kittens were born and all except one ended up as meals.

Hearing the first mewling after lunch, I entered the kitchen and saw Tigr, a full-grown tom from Kitkat’s first litter, inside the box with Kitkat. Pulling him out, I saw the blood pooling under the small head, still wet from the amniotic sac. We buried the first kitten.

The second, third, and fourth of its siblings were born while I ate dinner nearby, guarding Kitkat in her box. We improvised obstacles to prevent entry from the garden but Tigr, an expert hunter who invades birds’ nests by sinuously creeping up the “Kamuning” bushes from inside that dense, intricate network, returned before midnight, when we discovered a second bloodied kitten and a missing third.

At dawn, I saw Kitkat feeding inside the box. Missing the usual crackling sound of cat biscuits, a bowl of which was placed nearby, I did not look inside the box. When I did this later, there were only some stains and the ripped sheets. No kittens.

I do not know why Kitkat, a good mother with previous litters, did not fight off Tigr as she did the other toms in the past. I cannot fathom why she possibly ate her own young. Animal behavior experts say that stress—from threats presented by animals or humans—may push a cat to eat her own.

Both feral when we adopted them, Kitkat and Tigr may have reacted instinctually to the sight and smells of newborn kittens, defenseless creatures in a sense but also, sources of protein.

Guilt, regret, and pain meshed into a lattice in the days following the coming and going of the four I will never know. Up and down this matrix the cats and puppies go. Only the human dangles in the intermeshing of what mothers know too well: of appetites and rupture, love and odium.

Out of the box. Silang, Cavite, 5 May 2020

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* First published in SunStar Cebu’s May 10, 2020 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”