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.

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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.

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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.

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