Sunday, February 18, 2007


FRIDAY baon (packed lunch) once marked a divide between my sons and I. Fish Friday has always been so designated since the boys spent the whole day in school. But, optimistic or desperate, Juan wasn't tired of proposing alternatives.

Why not luncheon meat, he once suggested for a lunch box entrée that wasn't born with a tail or scales.

Luncheon meat has sodium nitrite, I said. It's a food preservative that can cause headache, nausea, breathing difficulties, even collapse and death.

Not only does it contain a chemical in the US list of hazardous substances but its original iconic brand, Spam, is a syllabic abbreviation that means, according to wikipedia, “Something Posing As Meat” and “Shoulder of Pork and hAM."

My inner gloating that I won over my sons to “Fish Friday” is tempered by the realization that, every time I sit down for dinner, I ingest something more nauseous and harmful than sodium nitrite-bombarded chopped pork shoulder meat.

This election year, my Spam Suppers are full-course lauriats of murder, mayhem and starlet news, sprinkled liberally with political ads.

I should count myself lucky. There are much worse sights than Loren harvesting rice in a classic crisp white blouse cut along designer lines.

There are few smiles as blinding as the ones flashed by laborers mixing cement with their buddy in construction, Manny of the middle-class housing billions.

There are more bottomless depths language and symbolism have stumbled into. Greater dishonesties. Cheaper deceptions.

Except that, with political ads, I swallow them with my dinner.

Nightly, the unrealities of Loren the Sharecropper, Manny the Laborer and Sonny the Statesman step out of the family TV and strangle my appetite like vengeful Japanese yurei (Japanese ghosts bound to the physical world by strong emotions that do not allow them to pass through to the next world).

And the election is still three months away.

Jean Hays, editor of The Wichita Eagle, says US political ads are specialized, depending on the proximity of the elections.

The first ads aired are “introductory” for building name recall. Other ads may be the “inoculation” type, where a candidate makes the voter resistant to attacks against the politician through motherhood statements, which are hard to verify.

When the election is close, candidates will focus more on accomplishments, or the lack of it in their opponents. Hays advises readers to fact-check ads and find out how true or false are such claims.

In the Philippines, the edges blur. TV viewers are spammed into swallowing infomercials for their bleeding-heart liberal causes and pseudo-sincerity.

According to an online Newsbreak article by Carmel Fonbuena, senatoriable Manuel Villar has recast his past winning formula of celebrity endorsement, catchy jingle and dancing to break new ground in the “Babae ako (I am woman)” ad.

Villar partnered with the women party list group Gabriela and got celebrities like Angel Locsin, Jennilyn Mercado, Rio Locsin, and Tessie Aquino to call for respect for women.

Will I vote for Manny, honorary woman and my kapwa (sister)?

Anyone who shells out P261, 855 for a 30-second ad in ABS-CBN's “TV Patrol” or bankrolls a package deal of P5 million to produce and air a respectable TV campaign will have, once he gets into office, more than gender and labor concerns to recoup.

What's good for Juan's Spam should be good for me. I say don't vote for politicians with TV ads. 0917-3226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu's Feb. 18, 2007 issue

An interior life

“DON'T forget desert flowers in winter.”

Al-Hasa, deep into the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, is full of oases.

Crossing this region to Qatar years ago, Tonette Pañares came upon for the first time mushrooms buried in the sand dunes.

The accidental meeting with beauty reminded the historian of her teacher in college, Sr. Ma. Delia Coronel, ICM.

Although work and marriage had taken Tonette away from her alma mater, St. Theresa's College (STC), in Cebu City, Sr. Delia kept in touch with her, as she did with many of her students dating back to the '60s.

One day, while in Saudi Arabia, Tonette received a postcard with only one line written in the familiar Quink turquoise ink: “Don't forget desert flowers in winter.”

The line was quintessentially Sr. Delia because, Tonette reveals, she had a natural aptitude for the different.

While most of the nuns teaching Tonette favored her intelligent and accomplished classmates, Sr. Delia favored the talented but the original.

Her Al-Hasa discovery made Tonette realize how this contrary nun regarded her girls as mushrooms in a featureless landscape.

I came upon Sr. Delia while researching for an article on the Folklife Museum of STC.

Except for a sepia photo that showed me receiving my grade 1 diploma from the mini-skirted nun, I had no recollection of Sr. Delia when I began my search among the collection of artifacts she started with her Philippine history students.

Her papers though made me want to go to Manila and visit her at the ICM retirement home.

Elegant and provocative, her body of works embraced magazine articles, short stories and poetry.

The stories of her fellow sisters and long-time colleagues evoked a character, a “maverick.”

But it was an email from a former student that lifted one more veil in a question that I've always found tantalizing: what makes a teacher?

Dr. Amor Hernando emailed me six pages of her recollections, notes and anecdotes to give a “fair perspective” of the “educator-artist-nun.”

It wasn't just Ms. A's use of the hyphenated, triple-noun modifier that made me read and reread her “rambling thoughts.” The person who gifted Sr. Delia with Quink ink deserved, I believe, more than a reading.

“She had a way with her students,” Ms. A emailed. “In the 1960s, she ate out and saw great movies with them. Her favorite orders were pancit (noodles) and siopao at the old White Gold House located in Magallanes St. Later, she opted to eat at Majestic Garden beside the Belvic Theater.”

The “plain, yet very witty and funny” nun also had many students disliking her.

“We were trapped in her kasaba (scoldings) and her kasabaan (being noisy and persistent with her sugo or orders),” Ms. A. writes of her mentor. “(But) we found ourselves willing victims of her 'oppressive' ways.”

The nun who earned her bachelor's degree in literature and journalism (summa cum laude), masters in English (meritissimus) and doctorate in philosophy (benemeritus) at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) was disliked “mainly because 99 percent of us got failing grades during the midterms.”

Born in Luzon but nurturing a deep love for the south till her retirement, Sr. Delia upheld art and all things that reflected the Filipino.

“Despite the criticism, we adored her because… deep inside, she cared for each one of us in a different way.”

Finding it mind-boggling that her teacher stayed in the convent, Ms. A made it a point to observe her praying in the STC chapel.

“When I saw her on her knees, praying like she never prayed before, this set me to thinking: holiness is found in the interior life.”

Or as the turquoise ink would have traced it: “Don't forget desert flowers in winter.” 0917-3226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu's Feb. 11, 2007 issue

Lost in assignments

I WOULD like to learn pebble-crunching.

The other night, while waiting for Juan to return and finish his Math practice problems, I missed what my husband was asking me.

On its third or fourth repetition, his question sounded like: what's my life's goal?

The image of a dirty soccer ball rolling away from my feet, locked at the ankles by a sea of papers, occupied me as I tried to do two things at once: check, comment and diminish the height of the pile of manuscripts from my students while counting in my head the number of steps my son needed to reach the kitchen, drink a glass of water, and come back to finish his assignment.

When my husband, thinking perhaps that the TV news had drowned him out again, repeated his question, he got an answer that was unexpectedly deviating in context and violence of tone: “Marika, maghuman ta (let's finish this once and for all)!”

If my home is still intact, the implicit threat unrealized, it is because I interviewed days before two diverse professionals: a psychologist schooled in logic and observable behavior and a healer, operating with phenomena and people's ethereal shields or aura.

Interviewed separately, they say the secret to life is found in the pebbles.

The man of science said we are each born with a glass that's half-full.

Trials drop into our glass like pebbles. Each pebble makes the level of water go a little higher.

When we fail to clean out the glass, that mini-mountain of pebbles will make the waters slosh out.

That, according to science, is the explanation why volcanoes erupt, parents go amok or silently implode during homework time when their children think there is a correlation between the number of glasses of water drunk and the time spent to correctly solve each assigned item.

Dragging my feet from the awful self-awareness that, at 41, I am unable to deal maturely with Grade 2 fractions and simple and complex machines, I looked forward to absorbing some positive vibes from a psychic and healer.

Alas, she took one look at me and read whole black holes in my ethera, the electro-magnetic field surrounding each person.

When happy and balanced, a person radiates an aura of pulsating, rainbow radiance.

Never really feeling I had recovered yet from the snowballing of assignments and school projects that every school feels is required to justify today's tuition fees, I no longer felt I had to rummage around in my akashic records to see the dull greenish glow I must be radiating.

In the alternate view of wellness, a person's electro-magnetic field gets bruised into a pulpy pus-like shade of green when you attract, not deflect, meteor-like showers of toxins.

Taking pity on me, the medium told me I could still save the present by looking at my past lives.

By some remarkable coincidence, this was what we did, Juan and I.

A tightly balled wad of paper, fished out from the nameless sticky debris that boys culture in the multiple pockets of their school bags, turned out to be a Chinese seatwork.

I observed to my son that it was remarkable how a zero needs absolutely no translation or training in writing characters.

Juan looked at the score in the paper. And then he fixed me in the all-seeing stare of one intimate with reincarnations and karmic destinies.

“Why,” my son the Medium intoned, “did you not tell me that we would be having an unannounced seatwork?”

He who is not without flaw, throw the first pebble.

mayette.tabada@gmail,com/ 0917-3226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu's Feb. 4, 2007 issue