Saturday, March 10, 2018


I OWN four pairs of eyeglasses. Two for reading, two for viewing. Two pairs are quite old, bought in and brought from Cebu.

The two recent pairs of glasses, as well as the newer lenses of the older pairs, were bought from Dr. Nella Sarabia when I started my studies last year.

During my visits to Sarabia Opticals, I got more than an eye check-up. Dr. Sarabia told the stories behind her family’s collection of antique optometrist equipment and vintage cameras, the storytelling imbuing the artifacts with myth-making powers.

The storyteller herself seemed to have stepped out of myth, silver-maned yet ageless, silver-tongued yet gifted in listening.

On the optometry shop’s walls were enlarged prints of sepia photographs of Zapatista rebels and women revolutionaries she brought from living in Mexico as a student and then as wife and mother. These launched our digressions about parenting and rebellion, art and meaning, and the Virgin of Guadalupe.

While I was choosing the frames, Dr. Sarabia flexed the temples to show how the horizontal arms holding the glasses to the face were pliable as bamboo. In geometry, curvature refers to the degree a line deviates from a plane.

Deviations upset plans and structures. For someone like me, prone to falling asleep while reading library tomes, flexible eyeglasses are, pardon the pun, eye-popping.

These past semesters, the new frames bear up despite falling off, being dropped, slipping under bodies and backpacks, and being slept on.

Last Thursday morning, the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman Shopping Center (SC) went up in flames. Destroyed in the two-hour fire were 48 shops, including Stall 39, Sarabia Opticals.

As reported by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the SC was the fifth UP Diliman campus structure to go up in flames within a span of eight years. Three of these were academic buildings—the Alumni Center, the UP Faculty Center, and the Institute of Chemistry Building. The fourth structure was the Casaa canteen.

The losses to the community cannot be measured in terms of the material. As with the other landmarks, the SC fire disrupted a web of relationships involving those who, in salient and unheralded ways, make academic life possible, endurable: the photocopier and binding operators who asked at times about one’s studies; the food, school supplies, and souvenir sellers we turned to for treats after surviving one trial after another; and the ladies who made “free” and “clean” compatible realities in the SC toilets.

Taking shortcuts with the natural rhythm, farmers sometimes start fires to clear the land and return the soil’s fecundity. Will this digression hold true now? The smell of smoke overwhelms.

( 0917 3226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s March 11, 2018 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Lies, alternates, and metaphors

“THIS is a work of fiction.”

Found on the flyleaf of novels, this line may change the way I will tell stories to my future grandchildren.

With their fathers, I opened tales spun out of make-believe with, “Once upon a time…”

My grandchildren will be born in a post-truth world. To exist with “alternative facts,” will disclaimers be needed, even for timeless rituals like bedtime storytelling?

Last week, I was downloading ebook versions of Ursula K. Le Guin’s novels after having an online chat with a former mentor about the “Left Hand of Darkness”.

A national chain of bookstores stocks Le Guin in the section for children and young adults: “Catwings” and “A Wrinkle in Time”. I have a feeling that Le Guin would not look down her fastidious needle of a nose to be classified this way (many children are more critical and discerning than many adults).

Published in 1969, “The Left Hand of Darkness” is at home in this post-truth world. In the universe called The Ekumen, where gender is neither of two boxes to be ticked neatly (“male” or “female”) but fluid (“male" and “female”), the narrator Genly Ai begins the tale: “I'll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination.”

On Feb. 2, 2017, Le Guin wrote a letter to the editor of “The Oregonian” in reaction to another letter that “compares a politician's claim to tell ‘alternative facts’ to the inventions of science fiction”.

“The comparison won't work,” she wrote.  “We fiction writers make up stuff… We may call some of it 'alternative history’ or ‘an alternate universe,’ but make absolutely no pretense that our fictions are ‘alternative facts’.”

Le Guin was most likely referring to U.S. Counselor to President Trump Kellyanne Conway, who referred to White House falsehoods as “alternative facts”.

In their lexicography, politicians use “alternative facts” when sidestepping from truth. Splicing “fake news” requires greater sleight of mind; one can tell the truth but still be faking if this version disagrees with the official view.

"The test of a fact is that it simply is so - it has no ‘alternative’,” Le Guin wrote in 2017.

“A novelist’s business is lying,” she wrote in the 1969 Introduction of “The Left Hand of Darkness”. “All fiction is metaphor.”

A metaphor for what? She answers her own question: “If I could have said it non-metaphorically, I would not have written all these words, this novel.”

“In most times, most places, by most people, liars are considered contemptible,” wrote Le Guin in 2017. The late author, who passed away in January 2018, was making a fine point, and I don’t mean it metaphorically.

( 0917 3226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s March 4, 2018 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, February 24, 2018


FLUX one expects in journeys. Moving from place to place, we seek what is pleasurable and shun the distressing.

In human terms, life is fleeting when we are happy; agony slows it to a crawl.

What would be the standpoint of a meteor (“bulalakaw”)?

Traveling at 72 kilometers per second, a shooting star may perhaps regard flux not as discrete turning points but, literally, as one unimpeded flow, “flux” being derived from “fluere,” which, in Latin, means “to flow”.

For three days and two nights, our family travelled from Cavite to Cebu, taking four crossings on the Road Roll-on/Roll-off (RoRo) Terminal System (RRTS): from the Port of Batangas to Calapan City, Oriental Mindoro; Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro-Caticlan, Aklan; Iloilo City-Dumangas, Bacolod; and San Carlos City, Negros Occidental-Toledo City, Eastern Cebu.

Also known as the Philippine Nautical Highway System, the RoRo implies, by the sound of the contraction, a continuous streaming through a network of highways and ferries connecting our many islands.

Not quite. Although Google and Waze yielded ferry schedules and destinations, the reality on the ground was seldom in sync with virtuality. Heading for the Port of Roxas, we discovered that driving at night through the eight towns or so lying between Calapan and Roxas demanded also dodging motorists and bicyclists perversely driving without lights in the dark.

Our nerves were not at their best when we reached Roxas. The port was a scene cut-and-pasted from rush-hour Edsa: a stagnant stream of vehicles, flashing red lights and spewing a fog of carbon monoxide.

No one knew if trips were leaving for Aklan that night. No one knew how to get in those outbound ferries.

Sleeping in the car, waiting, like everyone, for a ferry or answers to emerge from the dark, I remembered how purgatory is also depicted as waiting.

Hungry but too scared of the public toilets to eat or drink; sleepy but too anxious to close one’s eyes. Waiting can be a foretaste of purgatory.

More than 48 hours and two islands later, our family drove under the canopy of towering pine trees thriving in the Municipality of Don Salvador Benedicto in the Negros Ecotourism Highway.

Stretching for nearly two kilometers, the grove is man-made and maintained by the community.

Travellers relish ephemerally the pine-scented chill. Dwellers from Barangay Igmayaan to the Poblacion drink deep and long, though, from the perpetually renewing cornucopia yielded by their foresight and patience to plant and nurture trees.

The RoRo experience is harsh on the seat and travel expectations. For those who want to live, just once, as a “bulalakaw,” go RoRo.

( 09173226131)

*First published in SunStar Cebu’s February 25, 2018 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”