Sunday, December 31, 2006

Death by denial

AFTER the Last World War, denial replaced capital punishment as the last and only deterrent for crime.

As the smart bombs nearly wiped out the entire human race, as well as all of private property, it seemed superfluous to make petty distinctions between bicycle theft and rape, for instance.

It was hard to find a wheel, let alone a bicycle still standing. A man had to walk through thousands of miles of devastation before he might chance on another human being. All that exertion put an end to one’s soles, as well as any instinct, base or noble.

In any case, if someone broke the law, there were precious few left to do the squealing, arresting, interrogating, judging, guarding and rehabilitating. It was less tedious to just deny any crime.

But after the reconstruction was well under way, the Religionists feared that the search for wheels and companionship could no longer keep at bay the dark side of humanity.

The Religionists believed a new world order could only come to be if a person succeeded in subjecting the body to the discipline of the will.

Believing that the human skin, as the root of all sensation, was the hotbed of criminality, the Religionists outlawed any kind of baring, private or public. They figured it was easier to deny if people were also incapacitated from desiring and touching and getting into all sorts of monkey business.

Hence, the invention of the Suit. A cross between a monk’s cassock and a knight’s suit of armour, it was totally devoid of fashion sense. It did have strategic chinks for breathing, smelling and other bodily functions.

In hot or cold weather, it was torture inside the suit. One was always fighting not to drown in sweat or die of blood loss from extreme chafing. The suit took care of all cravings criminal in nature until the year 0917 when an Asian male assigned to the Museum of Past Glories attempted to do the undeniable.

Listed as No. 80-8 in the index of demographics, the duster was tasked to keep spotless every artifact in the Hall of Ancient Egypt. Although they had routinely denied till they were blue in their face, the Religionists were all too aware of 80-8’s near mishaps: once, in Oceania, and then twice in the wilds of America, his suit had dangerously overheated, indicative of a rise in criminal desires.

Figuring he could do no wrong in a room full of mummies and moth-eaten sarcophagi, the Religionists reassigned 80-8 to Ancient Egypt and promptly forgot he existed.

This suited 80-8. In the course of his duties, he chanced upon the half of a head of a prehistoric queen. Whether during some forgotten war or the Last Great One, the yellow-stone head was sheared clean from the top, leaving only a dimpled cheek, the imperious jut of chin, and full, shiny stone lips that 80-8 longed to warm with his own.

The suit, of course, restrained him. He could not bend down or lift up those forlorn jasper lips. The slit that sliced the upper bow of those engorged lips so distracted his days and nights, it finally drove him mad.

When the Religionists rushed to check what was burning up the Ancient Egypt Wing, they found that 80-8 had burnt to a crisp inside his suit. They did not suspect he perished from a fatal denial of desire as the head of Queen Tiye, consort of Amenhotpe III, was its usual half, even very well dusted.

Ruling that self-immolation usually purifies any hazardous remnant of the human soul, the Religionists dumped the charred remains in the State Pit. After they fiddled with their digital file, 80-8 ceased to exist. This spared the Religionists from having to deny him at all. 0917-3226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu last Dec. 31, 2006

Monday, December 25, 2006

At heart

IN THE mountains, Christmas is a brown affair.

From makeshift stalls along the highway, the colors of tinsel sometimes glimmer. Silver or gold can be glimpsed in the latest braided belt or hair clip of habal-habal (improvised motorcycles) passengers taking a break from work in the city.

But for these reminders, the mountains are unchanged by the holiday cheer that has taken over the city we left behind.

Recent rains have left the place green. But it is the ordinariness of brown that provides rest to senses fatigued by the city clamor.

Brown is the hue of old newspaper, folded, crushed and tied to become an improvised bag holding candies and gum.

Why does such an ordinary thing, when it hangs above a blindfolded child swinging a pole, draw from children a sound like a thousand lungs bursting?

Brown, too, is the color of half an onion, forgotten and molding behind plastic containers of water.

Water is buried deep in this mountain bosom. Yet, in the moist December air, a sprig of green sprouts from a shriveled onion cheek.

Our hosts offer pork stewed, diced, fried. But it is the bisol in its gnarled brown skin that we peel and name.

Bisol in Alegria is bisol in Dalaguete, lying on the other side of the mountain.

Public school teacher Domingo knows the root crop as karlan in Davao; apara in Negros Oriental.

Why would such a homely lump go by so many names?

Fellow teacher Nene observed, after decades of crisscrossing Visayas and Mindanao, that bisol is central in life in the mountains.

Few can compare with the bisol’ for sustenance and dependability. It stores well so people fall back on it during drought or in between planting seasons.

Not half as pretty as the purple-veined gabi, bisol thickens and makes any soup tasty.

How is the root crop called in English?

We trail for a while after yam and plantain before giving up. Quite possibly, bisol does not exist in the English language.

Edwin, teacher of Spanish, believes we can only name what is part of us.

Orange in color and sweetness, dawat (newly harvested coconut wine) is savored by two kinds of sips. Tilaw will test the brew’s character, whether it is tam-is, halang-halang, kisom, aplod.

Edwin claims that among friends meeting in a tayakan or tuba-an (place collecting and selling tuba or coco wine), friendship is savored slow and best through takmi.

Who has time for takmi today?

Looking around the table, I see persons who could have halved their backlog had they chosen not to play under the sun and shout themselves hoarse with school children.

I remember unexpected gifts with clods of earth still clinging: the weed mangagaw to be brewed to shield a child from dengue, the elusive kutsitsai finally found and brewed for diabetes, and bisol of course.

I am grateful for the endless, listening silences found in a life in the mountains.

Most of all, for the gift of stories. One of my favorites comes from Edwin, who spent seven years as a student-missionary in Mexico.

The Aztecs’ version of “kumusta” is polysyllabic: tlenketohuamoyoltzin.

Rather than ask politely how someone is doing, the Aztec addresses directly his or her center: what says your heart? 0917-3226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 24, 2006 issue

Rooster with Personality Disorder

TO THOSE drunk on late-night reading, no figure can be more fiendish these days than that of the petty poultry potentate, the rooster.

As a self-respecting devotee of cats, I have no love for birds.

Yet I am now bleary-eyed from concentrating for a cue from this fowl creature.

The reason is simple. In barely five hours, the pompous green-purple-with-a-dash-of-orange rooster of our neighbor will warble in a deep baritone that it is three A.M., time for our household to wake and prepare for the first of the nine-day dawn masses.

Our neighbor’s rooster loves his crowing so much, he can barely wait for the night to decently roll up its mat and keep the dawn from seeing its barbaric state.

But while admitting that our neighbor’s rooster has a better chance than I of meeting and exchanging call cards with San Pedro’s very own manok (chicken), I concede that, for love of my God and my family, I attempt, every year, to be more Catholic than lapsed.

As my yaya never fails to remind me, the faithful who attend the whole nine-day novena of the Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi are assured that their petitions receive a fair hearing at the Pearly Gates.

If not turned a blinding white, a soul as dingy as mine may still trick the weak of eye that it has been leached of 9.9 percent-blackness.

All these thoughts I direct now with all malevolence and malice to our neighbor’s rooster who, by the deep silence reigning on their side of the fence, must be sleeping as soundly as an innocent babe.

When it will be my time to nod off, the creature will begin his breathing exercises before launching on to full orchestral maneuvers.

So are the sinful punished.

This year, to spare my heathen soul, I am attempting not to sleep anymore so even before Bach-a-doodle-doo starts crowing, I am dressed and ready before anyone else.

Alas, my Internet trawling has snagged me more of the feathered wretch. From Alejandro R. Roces’ Dec. 14, 2006 feature for The Philippine Star, I first learn that the Misa de Gallo tradition, which culminates with the Misa de Aguinaldo or midnight mass on Christmas eve, literally means “Mass of the Rooster.”

Not only is my Fowl Friend naturally obeying his inclinations, he even has doctrinal permission.

According to Roces, Rome decreed that the Philippines follow Mexico in offering masses at cock’s crow during the 16th century. This was to give farmers and their households a chance to worship before leaving for the fields.

Much has changed though since the 16th century. The elegant terno and barong, which Roces says filled churches to the rafters, have been replaced with jeans, shorts and Chuck Taylors.

The scenes he paints of community—brass bands playing Filipino Christmas classics to wake families and parish priests knocking on doors of every home—seem quaint and somehow alien.

I should say that now, if the faithful do attend mass, they do so despite their perceptions of some priests and the lack of leadership in a Church still groping in the darkness of abuse charges and worldliness.

Times have changed. In pre-Christian and Christian mythology, the rooster was held up as a herald of sunrise, symbolizing the triumph of light over darkness.

This belief in man’s resurrection after every fall from grace stems from the legend, which Roces quotes, that a rooster crowed when the Child in the manger was born, “Christus Natus Est (Christ is Born)!”

A Latin-speaking bird is rather too much of a mouthful to swallow. But roosters now have my sympathy.

For in Biblical lore, the phoenix bursts into flames but always rises from its ashes. According to, a mother pelican will pluck her own breast during famine to feed her own young before dying.

But no such consistency for the rooster. Sometimes it is a herald of resurrection; at other times, the traitor that crowed thrice after Peter betrayed Jesus.

Two more hours and then I go join Christiandom. At cock’s crow, who will the flock see leading the offering of the Holy Eucharist: herald or traitor? 0917-3226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 17, 2006 issue

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Lights on

ON THE phone the other night, my mother asked me to describe how the streets looked.

With my thoughts mainly on supper, my sons’ assignments and my own paperwork (in that strict order), I rattled off about the new lamp-posts, gigantic parol and impressive island landscapes.

Well, how do they look? my mother pressed.

I found I had no details to share.

Even if we pass blazing streets on the way home, I realized I didn’t see the lights.

The boys’ Christmas fair practices and the shopping-swollen evening traffic have us now crawling out of the city long after the sun has set.

But it might just as well be some other disc hanging in the sky for all the notice I give the sun, moon or alien bubbleship.

I keep time with my scratch-faced Seiko, set half an hour advanced.

My mother’s question made me recall a comment I made while chatting with fellow teachers before our 7:30 A.M. classes. To a remark that Christmas seemed to take a long time coming this year, I added that I missed the cool air.

Its nip, along with my father’s coffee and first cigarette of the day, used to wake me at dawn. Our family’s ageless pepper-shaped Christmas lights (22, working; 2, busted) were usually blinking by then, without sound.

It’s odd how the young associate light with food this season.

Despite my father’s repeated caution, it was a burnt index finger and thumb that showed me how the red peppers running along our small manger were as hot to touch as these were fiery to look at.

Last night, when we passed clusters of light swaying from trees along Mandaue, Juan, 8, said they were like Lola Veling’s grapes.

After taking another look, I realized he was right: they truly looked like the swirls of light reflected by the crystal “ice-drops” in my grandmother’s tree, which once held scarlet balls that were like sour-sweet macopa to my eyes when I was my son’s age.

Seeing the street lights with the eyes of an eight-year-old made me realize how I nearly made a mistake of thinking that Christmas was never coming.

When Christmas came after anticipating the 13th-month pay, I found it to be quick and short. But the quiver of expectancy from watching lights flicker on, one by one, leaves inside a glow that’s as warm as a child’s hug.

With many of the streets decked out for international visitors, it is quite a spectacle now to drive to places in the evening. From the inside of a car, the city is entangled in streaming ribbons of fantasy.

But nothing beats walking home at day’s end and singling out, from the myriad ornaments shimmering in the neighborhood, a set of lights remembered well: the porch bulb, the fluttering tinsel star pasted in a rush for a class project, lights from familiar windows.

My wish is that each of us finds the beacons leading us home this Christmas. 0917-3226131

(Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 10, 2006 issue)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Father Veils

ROSARIO’s mother heard mass on Sundays because she believed good Catholics sacrificed to receive the body of Christ.

Rosario, then 9, only felt the sacrifice: waking at dawn, walking three kilometers to town, putting on her shoes only when they reached the highway.

In the church, it was another sacrifice not to close her eyes from the warmth of so many bodies packed tightly within those eggshell-white walls.

Rosario preferred it when all the pews were occupied. She and her mother then had to stand near one of the alcoves.

Because her mother was preoccupied keeping her place in the crowd and fingering the beads of her rosary while listening to the priest, Rosario could look, undisturbed, at the statues enshrined in the alcoves.

Aside from candle melt, sweets and flowers, there was sometimes a miniature or two left at the foot of the statue of a saint or the Virgin Mother.

These miniatures were often chipped, faded or dirty. These were gone after a week or two. Rosario revised her first impression that these were offerings left by devotees.

The statuettes, she believed, were taken back by the owners when they thought these had absorbed some of the power in the church statues.

Rosario believed this because, whenever she lifted her gaze to the statue towering above her, she always found the glass, marble or painted eyes gazing back at her.

The girl imagined that infinite knowledge and infinite acceptance were reflected in those lacquered eyes fringed with stiff, brush-like lashes.

Rosario felt different about the Holy of Holies, the cabinet placed in the center of the altar. Before this, her mother prayed on her knees, genuflected, and prostrated herself on too many occasions to be counted.

Rosario’s earliest memory of mass had been the priest’s hands opening the cabinet doors, painted white and gold, to reveal red curtains.

A young Rosario had asked her mother what the priest was hiding from them.

But even the hushed tones of her mother telling her about the Body of Christ in the tabernacle had failed to impress Rosario.

If anything, the red curtains reminded her of the stage backdrop put up in the plaza during fiestas. That plaza curtain covered cracks and holes gouged in the wall.

When Rosario entered high school, she left her mother to work for a family in town. She studied in exchange for doing housework.

When the parish priest approached her mistress about a youth choir he was organizing, the devout lady volunteered Rosario’s Saturday afternoons.

Once, after choir practice, the priest instructed Rosario to return the music sheets to his room. That night, Rosario did not return to her employer’s house. She went back to her mother. She stopped schooling.

A day before she was to leave to become a helper in Dumaguete, she went to church, not to hear mass.

But she did not see him. Or if it was the same priest, he wore a mask. When his lids swept down and hooded his eyes, Rosario remembered the sensation she had as a child, watching red curtains fall and conceal what her mother and others could only whisper about. 0917-3226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 3, 2006 issue

Monday, November 27, 2006

The end

A PAGE I found the other day reminded me of a short story I glimpsed and then lost.

I remember Jorge Luis Borges penned the tale. But I don’t remember its title or the collection it came out in.

In the bookstore, I had been indulging in my usual pastime of scanning first pages. I devised this test to pretend that I am more restrained than I am, that I am immune to the blandishments of the cover, the blurbs, the smell and feel of unopened pages.

Dazed and near-blind from the book-covers crowding around the periphery of my vision, I was midway down the first page of Borges’ tale when I realized that a man was talking about a book hidden in the heart of a warren of rooms.

But before I could turn the page to know why the book was important or what happened to his search, my eye was caught by an alien craft resembling a power drill with rows of teeth that illustrated a sci-fi title by Philip Dick.

So I reached out for Dick and, applying the rule of reading only first pages, got lost in the future.

When I returned days later to the bookstore, I had forgotten about Borges’ tale about a man in search of a book.

I remembered only when I discovered a torn page of a pocket-sized dictionary left on the floor of my classroom the other day.

The dirty sheet contained page 15 (from all to allright) and page 16 (from all-round to alter).

Underneath the dusty outlines of countless shoeprints, I could read other words: alleluia (joyous exclamation in praise of God) and almoner (one who distributes alms).

Would the dictionary owner come back in search of the missing page? I looked at the r, g, a, e, b and z obscured by half-moons of dirt and an outbreak of creases, and slipped the page in my notebook.

Borges’ tale of a man driven by a book that’s just beyond his reach is tantalizing precisely because desire is such an endangered thing these days.

It was my former student Vera who taught me that you could download from the Internet classics that belong to the public domain. Family and friends who lurk in the infinite reaches of the Net, as well as the book havens of the West, offer their belief in technology and the market economy to find even titles that are out of print or, as my cousin Ito in New Jersey sniffs, are titles “hardly any human being I know reads.”

I wonder though if Borges’ searcher of a book looked forward to its finding.

When the search yields fruit, what does a searcher do after devoting hours, years or an age living so intimately with the elusive?

Of the celebrated Pacquiao-Morales match, I saw only glimpses but one sight was enough. In the last round, Morales ends up again on the floor after being felled by the Filipino’s lightning fists.

The man from Tijuana has a look in his eyes. Those eyes see beyond the moment, the ring, the exploding crowd.

What these eyes see perhaps is the setting of the man’s next fight, some dusty corner in his hometown, watched by a few old men who remember the days when a youth was just earning the spurs to be called El Terible.

It is the look of someone whose search has come to an end.

Borges, blind but canny spell-weaver of Argentina, would have known the effect of a discarded page retrieved and hidden in a notebook filled with notes on writing.

Even if he wrote a different end to his short story of a man in search of a book, Borges must have seen how a man driven mad by an illusion is less piteous than one deprived of his search. 0917-3226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 26, 2006

Friday, November 17, 2006


GET scarce.

According to Nelly, locals will be endangered when the foreign ministers blow into town.

Nelly is the lady taking care of my mother’s ingrown toenails. Her day job as an on-call manicurist requires her to commute to this hotel outside the city.

Two months ago, she and her co-workers were briefed that the authorities wanted fewer assembly points in the city. A scheme was hatched to transfer Nelly’s usual pick-up/drop-off point to ease “security monitoring” during the Asean meet.

Nelly’s worries were not for the police and their concerns that terrorists might exploit crowded places to stage a stunt.

Not for her the shadowy tango between terrorism and security. Nelly just wants to know how she’ll go to her day job.

The girl has yet to realize that, on the second week of December, all locals are sentenced to take a holiday.

It hasn’t occurred yet to the official imagination that an enforced break, without pocket money, is more dislocating than refreshing.

Housewife Leny heard from her tricycle suki that Mactan drivers were told to go on a holiday during the summit week.

How will I go to the market, Leny worries. Multicabs don’t enter her sitio.

How will we eat, Leo worries. The tricycle driver and family man envies Cebu City jeepney drivers. He heard their City Hall will be giving them a P200 allowance for every day they stay off the streets.

Leo will be happy just receiving P100. It’s good only for 4 ½ kilos of No. 14 corn grits.

That’s better than nothing, which Leo expects he will get from his City Hall.

Corporate headhunter Roy plans to go on holiday, too. Although unsure yet if it will be to the mountains or to the sea, his family just wants to get out of the city when it’s “Aseanized.”

The dispersal of Cebuanos in the exigency of the international meet is given the positive political spin of promoting “provincial” tourism.

Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmena offers to fund any local government that can keep its constituents from coming to the city.

Of 47 municipalities and four component cities, only Toledo City and Moalboal town have accepted the mayor’s offer.

For P200,000 from Cebu City, Toledohanons can amuse themselves with a barbecue festival, nightly concerts, amateur singing contest and bazaar.

Mayor Tom didn’t invent diversionary tourism. In Rome, they once staged gladiator matches and fed Christians to lions to keep tabs on the populace.

It’s a holiday, too, for cops riding jeepneys without paying. An irate Cebuano texted that some members of the police reinforcements think that jeepney drivers plying the routes to export processing zones can show their appreciation of the cops’ peace-keeping presence by ignoring the fact that cops are ignoring to pay the fare.

Some things though remain the same with the new holiday tourism.

Ian’s college students are volunteering for the summit. He fumes that organizers have trained the coeds to refer any delegate inquiring about the euphemistically titled female escorts to the equally euphemistically named official committee on nightly entertainment.

Ian’s just being naïve, of course. All manners and excuses of diversion are expected in an orgy of holidays. 0917-3226131

* Published Nov. 19, 2006 in Sun.Star Cebu

Friday, November 10, 2006

Studs and Stripes

YOU don’t have to own cattle to be interested in stud watching.

Last Monday, while waiting in line at banks, I had my first sighting of one in the Nov. 6, 2006 copy of Time I was browsing.

Predicting who will prevail in the fantasy and adventure “Survivor” sweepstakes, the newsmagazine singled out Yul Kwon, described as “smart and studly (italics mine).”

When did word merchants let the stud out of the pen to propagate an adjectival offspring?

After checking out Kwon’s photo though, I agree that, except for the dimples, there’s nothing in the man’s construction that would not be coveted by a bull about to service a pen full of mooning cows.

A stud, according to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language (Fourth Edition, 2000), is an animal for breeding. A well-developed physique and a clear sense of one’s predominance in the circle of life are prerequisites to join the Stud Club.

But, like some misbehaving scions, studly exhibits non-endearing qualities that can’t be traced to the root word but on context.

In the same Time issue, studly appears again in Richard Corliss’ review of Patricia Foulkroud’s “The Ground Truth.”

The documentary shows how young Americans are seduced into joining the military because of its “seemingly studly glamour.”

One soldier’s brainwashing began in high school when he saw the Marines: “I was like, that’s it! They’re mean, they’re tough, they got cool uniforms, and chicks dig ‘em.”

Corliss’s use of studly hints of artifice and deception. Strength is not just the prowess to spawn but also to destroy and conquer, or “keep the peace” through invasion and occupation.

What makes one studly spectacle more viewable than the other?

Footages of war, carnage and atrocities make good TV news. Unless you’re a student of animal husbandry, a habit of watching rutting pigs or humping dogs is borderline, if not pornographic.

That one version of studly is packaged as heroic while the other is bestial surely requires a drafting of word use, such as the Rules on Stud.

Last Nov. 8, when websites first reported the overwhelming victory of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, my idea for studly protocols was reinforced.

The Democrat takeover, ending 12 years of Republican rule, has been seen as a rejection of President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq.

Unhappiness over the bloodshed, ambivalence over the invasion and interference, impatience for a conclusion to a war that has dragged on for four years—media point these as the reason why American voters booted out the Republicans in all regions (conservative, liberal and moderate) and districts (urban, rural and suburban).

The victorious, aside from the Democrats, also included independents, moderates and suburban women.

For someone who was so “steadfast” in “staying on the course (of war)” or “constantly changing tactics to meet the situation on the ground,” Bush has not had the distinction of being described by Time as studly.

But if, years after 9/11, the man decides the legacy of that day of infamy is dialogue, human rights and trade, not hatred and war, I will be first to draft him for perpetual membership in the Hall of Stud.


* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 12, 2006 issue

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Whale of a story

A WHALE is a mammal is not a fish.

This I remembered from the children's book on whales that I dropped on the sand one October twilight when the dorsal fin of a butanding (whale shark) sliced the waters off Matutinao, Badian.

The shadow, as long as a sedan, jostled aside the white buoys no more than 100 meters away from the shallows where my sons were snorkeling.

The fellow was a long way from the coastal town of Donsol in northwestern Sorsogon, the so-called whale shark capital of the Philippines.

In local lore, the butanding translates to a “gentle giant.” According to scientists who’ve studied the Rhincodon typus, its great size and enormous mouth are typical of a filter feeder, whose gills strain water for plankton and krill as food.

But a great blue-black scythe of a fin somewhat alters the facts.

During the brief appearance of that fin, life stalled along this stretch in Matutinao.

Here was the version of a resort owner: “The other day, when two whale sharks circled around a school of fish within sight of the shore, a Taiwanese nearly packed off his children and wife. We could have lost guests.”

This story came from fishermen fixing nets: “A neighbor was down in the bottom, looking for fish to spear. When it darkened all of a sudden, he looked up and saw the biggest fish. And then he lost all the nerve to spear it. Guess who doesn’t want to spread this story?”

From the owner of a two-boat fishing operation. “Nobody knows why but the big sharks show up here when the year is ending. Sometimes one ends up in the nets. These are costly to buy and repair. The fish is a nuisance.”

A friend, marooned in the asphalt wastelands of Manila, texted his reaction to the unusual sighting: “Your lucky 2 have seen 1, always wntd 2 see 1 4 myslf.”

A little belatedly, I remembered to pick up the book on whales I had been immersed in. Written by Vassili Papastavrou, this Eyewitness Book draws many lines linking the lives of mammals in the sea—from whales to dugongs—with the mammals on land.

Although the whale shark is not a mammal, the world’s biggest fish is, like other sea creatures, eloquent about evolution.

Papastavrou writes that 55 millions of years ago, the hoofed ancestors of whales and other marine mammals adapted to their food-rich water colonies by changing form.

Nostrils moved to the top of the head to become blowholes for breathing. Hind legs diminished until they disappeared. Tail flukes showed up.

The evolved torpedo shape, where even the sexual organs are tucked away in a genital slit, keeps marine mammals streamlined for staying alive.

How do we measure up? According to current consensus, modern man appeared less than a tenth of a million years ago.

But to sustain our efforts to remain alive, our seas have only “about 50 years” left to yield fish harvests.

According to the BBC News website, an international team of researchers says we are going through the oceans as if we had others in reserve. True, we have bigger vessels, better nets, new technology—but where is the fish?

Why evolve if only to think in the end, while face to face with a mystery like the butanding: can I eat this?

(,, or 0917-3226131)

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu, Nov. 5, 2006

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Misfits at play

BOYS will be boys.

Some guys though might have to sprint up the hard road to become real men soon or else.

One hopes this realization has dawned, even if belatedly, to the two policemen being investigated for using an official vehicle for a personal visit to a motel on official time.

I watched on television PO2 Junicar Estiñoso insist that an attack of diarrhea forced him to use the motel facilities. If he was making a “clean breast” of things, he was citing the wrong piece of his anatomy.

Someone must tip off hopefuls trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes that rapid-fire blinking while answering a reporter’s questions is not the best technique to crawl back to credibility.

The public cover-up, whether done by greater or lesser misfits, goes to show that telling the truth is considered as inimical to “heel preservation.”

If a misfit will ever slash his or her own throat by owning to the truth in public, you can be assured it wasn’t intentional.

According to the code of scoundrels, the second most dignified exit is to be kicked out of office while protesting innocence to the last breath.

Most dignified, of course, is to be spared the indignity of punishment, never mind exposure.

Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña wants Estiñoso terminated from the service and PO1 MC Stuart Balang, transferred back to Mindanao.

Balang was at the wheel of Patrol Car 004, newly purchased by the city government, after Estiñoso got off at the motel in the North Reclamation Area before 6 a.m. The patrol car bumped a parked taxi, denting the side panel.

Balang has pleaded that he was just ordered by his superior, Estiñoso, to drive the car. INQ7 quoted Osmeña as saying: “I want to make it clear to all policemen, if you follow illegal orders, I will run after your neck. Don’t say ‘I was told to do it’.”

While some alibis show impressive longevity, there are limits to the layers of mud one can apply to cover up the original sin.

For this reason, it is interesting to follow the recent furor over photos showing German soldiers posing with skulls in Afghanistan.

Last Oct. 25, 2006, the BBC News ran a story about Germany’s outrage after the tabloid Bild published pictures of German troops stationed in Afghanistan in 2003.

One of the photographs shows a soldier holding a skull next to his exposed penis. It is speculated that the desecrated skulls came from a mass grave.
What old pretext or fresh lie will the soldiers use to defend the offensive prank?

“Exhibit A shows male adaptive reflexes to war. Before: live penis. After: bonehead.”

Given the masculine propensity to play in ignorance of ethics, law and public taste, should selective emasculation be considered to cure public lying?

Since the Aristotelian ideal of the Golden Mean advocates swinging away from all extremes, it is only essential that we understand the reasons why some boys will always be boys.

Balang is one of 400 out-of-town policemen reinforcing the local peacekeeping force for the coming Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in December.

According to the BBC, the suspected soldiers involved in the “schock-fotos” row were among the 2,800 German troops stationed in Afghanistan within Nato's International Security Assistance Force.

“Unlike British, American and Canadian troops, who are fighting the Taliban in the south, the Germans are based in the relative calm of the capital Kabul and in the north of the country.”

Waiting and idleness make monkeys out of men. Therefore, a diversion is needed to engage their imagination and resources.

While waiting for terrorists to drive up with a baggage full of detonator caps and whatnot, perhaps the security reinforcements around Cebu City can take up reading or knitting.

That or be driven to embroider on the truth.

( 0917-3226131)

Saturday, October 21, 2006


ONE doesn't have to understand everything.

Though hardly the foundation of our entire learning system, it is a principle useful for reading someone like Tom Robbins.

One morning, while our one-toilet household lined up outside, fuming, I tried to penetrate Robbins' epic on perfume. “The beet is the most intense of vegetables” is how he opens his saga of a janitor searching feverishly for a bottle that contains the so-called essence of the universe.

What do beets have to do with scents?

Hunching deeper in my seat, I looked for help to the heavens, forgetting it was just the old ceiling.

There, amidst the mottled spots left by the family of kangaroo-size rodents living above (rent-free as far as I can remember), I spotted something strange.

A white cone, with a puckered-up, eyeless crater, pointed directly at my head. An invasion of wasps?

The usual wasp homes resemble open-necked water jugs that look as if they were shaped by potters using Loboc River mud.

The snow cone was dusted all over with mystery. I could see no hole on it. How then did the creature get ingress?

Tingling, I vacated my throne to solve the mystery. (Except for a few novels, our toilet cannot accommodate reference materials.)

I was sure eight-year-old Juan would soon discover the cone. I had to mirror the perfect combination of modesty and sagacity when he turns to me for answers. Given the stiff competition from the Internet and playground brigade, parents work hard these days for every ounce of their children's respect.

I remember, during recent morning rides to school, we saw a strange flock rising like a daydream near the tarmac of the new international airport. With S-shaped profiles, oatmeal-colored long beaks and black silk stockings, the birds stood out like swirls of calligraphy.

Shouldn't they be in Olango? The boys asked. One weekend, we had watched waterfowl feed around the tidal flats and seagrass meadows of the island sanctuary.

Unable to tell an egret from a curlew or a dowitcher, I worried how such delicate creatures fed among the tar and stones.

So I emailed a friend. A mother who had written that she had “some difficulties getting in touch with that (faith) part of me,” this former colleague swam with sharks before settling down for desk work.

She promptly answered, in the middle of a busy weekday: “maybe those are common egrets. not the chinese dowager or something that royal-sounding. maybe there are swamps or puddles near the airport… they have long beaks to get at small fish, crabs and crustaceans.”

She referred me to biodiversity experts who could precisely explain the anomalous choice of habitat: “maybe they've run out of food in their usual feeding places because/or they're just too many of 'em so they've spread out.”

And then she closed with this hypothesis: perhaps the tarmac egrets are just adventurers and thrill seekers after all.

As rare as brushing up against daily mysteries is finding answers, shivery as spider silk, which, I quote from the boys' science book, is the “strongest fibre known to man... five times as strong as steel and… more elastic than Kevlar, the material used in bullet-proof vests.”

Why underestimate spit, from wasps or otherwise? About to give Juan a bath one day, I found him rolling a ball of toilet paper, wetting it, and then hurling the “cannon ball” upwards. Already affixed beside the old one was an unmysterious cone, still wet.

“The ball just jumped out of my hands” is how my son prevented a domestic invasion of wasps. Truth, at times, is more baffling than mysteries.

(,, or 0917-3226131)

Monday, October 16, 2006

My father's casa

MI CASA, su casa. When a Filipino tells his guest that “my house is your house,” he's not trying to scare you that he's unloading the topsy-turvy household he lives with day by day.

Time-honored laws of hospitality require the Pinoy to give his guest the best room, the tastiest morsel, everything short of his wife, daughters and the car he just started amortizations for.

These days, expecting our Asean visitors, we're laying new coats of asphalt, offering a special prayer at the end of the mass, and grinding our teeth over the international convention center we all dream of being finished on time, without really believing.

This fever of anticipation would have amused my late father.

His personal philosophy was for “no maintenance” hospitality. He held that the practice in his hometown in Camiguin to sew new curtains or take out from hiding the best set of plates was “faking it” for the guests.

He said the effort to “put your best foot forward” came from laboring under the illusion that one had a favorite among the three or more extremities implied by the superlative “best.”

In which case, Papang contended, the matter does not legitimately concern a host but a podiatrist or an alien expert.

So while we served our visitors with the day's fresh catch, the best we could afford from the nearby market, my father insisted we left on the table the bowl of ginamos (salted fish) that frequent family dipping turned as murky and dubious as water stagnating in canals.

As my parents were separated by then, it fell on my yaya, raised according to the south's strict precepts on hospitality, to salvage a little of the family honor.

Shooing me out of the dirty kitchen, she would thrust a rag, expecting me to dust the assortment of ashtrays and chairs that inhabited our living room. Until she did this, we once had a guest who stood up from one of our chairs with a telltale circle of dust.

As she was not related to us by blood, dusting off that part of her that had been seated would have done irreparable damage to her honor, not to mention ours. The predicament was solved by remembering that staring was always impolite.

Years of dusting duties in my father's house should have made me into the opposite of what I am today, an indifferent housekeeper. Although I saw my yaya's point that dust could bury my family in ignominy, I never seriously attacked our chairs with my rag because our furniture was idiosyncratic, hardly conforming to the essence of chairness.

My father took care of the health of a friend and his family, among others. He would not charge a friend but he could not also refuse when his friend delivered from time to time the specimens cobbled together in his furniture shop.

Once it was an orange chair whose rollers refused to do just that. And then there was a bar chair whose too-short leg made it tipsy and deserving of its name. Assorted shapes I and my sister pretended were elephosaurs (leatherette-clad ancestors of elephants). A jade-green chair that lounged like the sticky-hued lizards sunning themselves on the trunks of coconut trees.

My cats favored this chair. I noticed that guests wearing wool or polyester avoided seating here. In summer, it indeed became a hot seat (or our guests could have been persuaded by the fur balls and the bared fangs of our feline companions, quirky in their hospitality from years of living with us).

Chairs that defied sitting, my three-packs-a-day father's ashtrays that thrived like a subculture, the living room wall of glass that broke and then got patched up with Playboy pin-ups my father and I taped together one whole afternoon--if our home wasn't exactly Better Homes and Gardens material, my father solved it by eventually inviting just guests that enjoyed Marlboro, San Mig, political dissection and the sight of well-upholstered anatomies requiring no immediate surgery. Mi casa, su casa.

(,, or 0917-3226131)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

City tour

THE CITY termite was so excited to have his country cousin visit him. His family tree linked him to most of the 1,700 species in the termite world, but he always felt proud to claim blood relations with this particular fellow.

Cousin Global was well-traveled, having eaten his way in and out of furniture exported all over the world. So, despite his humble start in a mound buried in the bamboo thickets of Lepanto, Alegria, Global was a cosmopolite who awed his Cebu city-residing relation, Local.

On their first night in town, they guzzled beer while watching news footages of a giant billboard curled around a car flashed on a gigantic flat screen.

“Milenyo flushed away a million of our relatives in the south,” Global commented. “But the very next day, a couple of queens on our maternal side made up with a few million births.”

“Long live the queens,” Local toasted, keeping an eye on the level of his beer (his wife gave him only a little pocket money, aside from it being a fact of nature that termites have no pockets).

“Why do humans make billboards, cuz?” he asked. As no one could catch Milenyo winds to file a case against it, the report said the public trained its fury on giant billboards that caused one death, downed power lines and flattened cars.

“They have poor eyesight,” Global told Local. “Humans cannot see what’s in front of them unless it is a nostril blown up to the size of a small island.”

“You said our cousins in Transvaal, South Africa have built mounds whose spires reach 15 ft,” wondered Local aloud. “But our mounds house the whole colony: workers, soldiers, reproductives, the king and queen. What are billboards fit for?”

Both termites listened to the reporter say that officials were still trying to locate the owners of illegal giant billboards so they could be sued and asked to pay damages. “The human condition is tragic, cuz,” Global said. “Their god sees the infinitely small sin but humans deny whatever gets too big to be ignored. Let’s order another mug, shall we?”

The next day, the cousins hopped down from a delivery of rosewood cabinets to take in the sight of what Local bragged was the latest landmark, the Cebu International Convention Center.

He spouted figures he memorized before consuming the newspaper report for breakfast: “According to the governor and the architect, 750 humans are working in two shifts to complete this. Its floor area is 25,000 square meters. It will use 2.8 million kilograms of steel. The center is 90-percent complete.”

Global, seeing the edifice’s holes and hollows, was reminded of a cat carcass abandoned temporarily by fire ants too sated to finish it.

To spare his cousin’s Bisdak feelings, he commented elliptically: “The church of the Holy Family in Barcelona became famous to Filipinos when it became the backdrop for Toni Gonzaga and Lucky Manzano in ‘Crazy for You.’”

“You mean that ugly church whose spires look like birthday candles left to melt and burn out?” asked Local, who liked Lucky-Toni less than Lucky-Anne Curtis.

“The Church of the Holy Family was designed by Antonio Gaudi, Spain’s most eccentric architect,” said Global. “Critics say its four towers resemble ‘elongated termites’ nests.’”

“No wonder the cathedral is hailed as a work of art,” exclaimed Local, who quite forgot his earlier bias.

“Oh, yes,” said Global, looking thoughtfully at the center’s shapely ribcage. “Gaudi never finished the church but, as with billboards, humans can never tell. Shall we go for a beer?”

(,, or 0917-3226131)

Sunday, October 01, 2006


THAT’S what you get when an oldie discovers blogging.

Until I sat beside JV Rufino, editor chief, I confess to a lifelong habit of ignoring technology.

Young but au courant, Rufino was one of the Manila journalists invited to a Press Freedom Week forum on the challenges of using the new media. During the luncheon preceding the forum, the first question he threw my way was: “Do you blog?”

My mumble that I occasionally visited the blogs of fellow writers and friends was carried away in the undertow of his engaging but personally confusing commentary on web logs or online journals.

When I had the chance to check the Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia, I found that the word “blog,” when used as a verb, means to “maintain or add content to a blog.”

The more honest answer to Rufino’s question then should have been: no, I don’t blog.

I inherited my late father’s belief that the reading of books alone can keep one occupied for a lifetime. Anything newfangled was to be acquired only after the hype was over and the price of the old model dropped.

So we replaced our busted black-and-white with a colored television set when the former was phased out. While everyone was watching VHS, we were just discovering Betamax.

If I couldn’t shut out the Internet and texting altogether, it was because I worked in the newsroom when sources’ tips and assignments were no longer relayed through Pocketbell.

The Net did not just make research faster; it stirred up less allergen than digging in the newspaper morgue or tramping the city streets.

But if technology could be rationalized for acquiring information, I couldn’t quite get over my neo-luddite tendencies when it came to information sharing on the Internet.

It wasn’t just that I had no interest and no resources to go beyond text and explore uploading photos (photoblog), videos (vlog), or audio (podcasting).

Keeping a diary online seemed, in intent and habit, the total reversal of the diaries and notebooks where I crammed the untidy, disjointed and totally without public merit musings from childhood, adolescence and advancing years.

What were the chances for an old-style journal-keeper to keep her head in the brave, new world of social media?

For someone who never could finish the instructions creating a Friendster, Flicker or Multiply account, the process of following the three-step instructions of Blogger disproved the adage that you can make stone bleed before you can make a blogdie learn new media.

By way of content, is little more than an online folder where I file some of the pieces published in this space, albeit in my chosen template featuring pleasing shades of green.

Other blogs beat typecasting. According to wikipedia, citizen-journalists have used blogs to apply political pressure. Blogs can even challenge traditional news media, as demonstrated in the “Rathergate” scandal when bloggers presented evidence that TV journalist Dan Rather used less than the highest standards in journalism to question President Bush’s military records.

While highly unlikely that I will be moving into a moblog (written on a mobile device like a mobile phone or PDA), I learned something from the whole afternoon it took me to find a way to comment on a comment left in my site.

Whether recording, commenting or advocating, blogs are newfangled ways to do the old-fashioned: stay connected.

(,, or 09173226131)