Saturday, April 28, 2007

Blind and bee-stung

BLIND fools make sluggish students.

In the early 1980s, when my husband and I were just friends and working with different communities in Cebu province and Central Visayas, the unpredictability of fieldwork dictated that we dated only when our paths would cross.

Sometimes this meant a motorcycle drive for him if he found himself free, after a meeting with a cooperative based in the southwest, and I happened to be just “nearby,” meaning on the southeast tip of Cebu.

Since I worked in Alcoy, Boljoon and Oslob, we often motored to Dalaguete, where no one except a friend knew us.

In sleepy towns, an unmarried woman and man seen talking for longer than five minutes is bound to set tongues and minds spinning stories that go through unbelievable contortions. Wanting to chat without having to put a whole basketball court between us, we chose to hang out with our Dalaguete friend.

His mother sold food and drinks at a place known as the “kiosko.” A few days ago, I was scanning a book when one photo held my attention.

After the smoke-wreathed memory of countless tulingan and nukos sinugba cleared away, I recognized the “kiosko.” The Poblacion watchtower is one of three in Dalaguete. It was constructed in 1768, part of the first line of defense the warrior-priest Fr. Julian Bermejo initiated to fortify the coastline from Sibonga to Santander against the attacks of Moro invaders.

I squirmed at another memory of my younger self walking around the second-floor pavilion of this Dalaguete landmark because I was looking for a protruding nail to flip open my bottle of Coke before it got too warm to drink.

Except for being assailed occasionally by twinges from remembered follies, I found the “Cebu Heritage Frontier” a good read and a timely wake-up.

It is slim and handy, perfect as a companion for your explorations of the Poblacion of Argao, Dalaguete, Boljoon and Oslob. These are the four southeastern municipalities adopted by the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (Rafi).

The Cebu Heritage Frontier (CHF) is Rafi’s contribution to assist communities recognize, restore and preserve the legacy of the past. By merely flipping through the pages of the CHF guide, the south-bound in Cebu will look forward to more than chicharon and ampao.

Or better yet, learn to recognize landmarks that don’t have a certain black-and-yellow insect hovering with its tireless grin. (Two youths were once overheard wondering if there was a Jollibee outlet found in between Minglanilla and Carcar, which have embraced prosperity and kitsch by the way they’ve insinuated these fat-reeking joints in their historic plaza and rotunda.)

The CHF reference devotes a chapter to each of the heritage towns, including a colored fold-out map of the Poblacion landmarks, beautiful sepia photographs of selected houses, churches and other sites, as well as trivia clarifying what it is to be a Cebuano.

Due to some irksome lapses in the text and the spareness of details, the CHF guide is no match to hours of reading at the Cebuano Studies Center of the University of San Carlos, where the books and references, not to mention the spirit of the place, leaves one light-headed and proud to be a Bisdak.

But since not everyone has the excuse of work or passion, getting a copy of the CHF reference at the Casa Gorordo Museum should be an excellent incentive to get out of the city and reclaim what is ours before it’s swallowed up by modernity, termites or—may the saints preserve us—bees. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Apr. 29, 2007 issue

Friday, April 20, 2007

The guard

EVIL survives.

It’s not just in movie epilogues that the killer’s hand bursts out of its earthly grave.

Two days after a student massacred 32 people at Virginia Tech and then committed suicide, excerpts of the killer’s last message were aired and published by media.

As a media worker and consumer, I understand too well the prominence and significance of the student killer’s statement.

Virginia Tech student Cho Seung-Hui’s 23-page write-up, 28 video clips and 43 photos were mailed to NBC News during the two-hour interval between the first and second attacks.

The multi-media package tantalizes, with its clues to a personality described by schoolmates and authorities as a loner.

But on another level, I am disturbed by my culpability, no matter how indirect, in becoming an audience for the evil done that day.
Curiosity, human interest, fascination with disaster—these are just some of my reasons for following the news on the Virginia Tech killings.

But what is the price of this information?

At least two studies of school-age killers imply that these massacres, while horrifying many, also inspire perverse admiration and even imitation of the violent means to exact vengeance for real or imagined grievances.

According to, psychologist Robin Kowalski’s study on school shootings and a US Secret Service study of 37 school shootings reveal that the killers leave behind statements to make sure that they exit in a blaze of “self-glorification.”

Although an “acute rejection episode”—whether single or a history of teasing, bullying and other acts of alienation—precedes the killings, Kowalski writes that it is not people’s treatment but the killer’s psychological problems—like severe grandiosity, bipolar depression and schizophrenia—that make them susceptible to violence, including a morbid fascination with death and guns.

The Secret Service study also reveals that campus perpetrators don’t just “snap” due to the rejection but plan months before carrying out the killings. This preparation apparently includes watching the videos and websites left behind by other killers, who are idealized and imitated.

Cho referred to “martyrs like Eric and Dylan” and expressed his desire “to inspire generations of the weak and the defenseless people.”

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were behind the Columbine massacre.

The cult for anti-heroes thrives because of today’s easy access to information. According to the BBC analysis, the internet was the portal of choice for Harris and Klebold, as well as by the Canadian campus shooter Kimveer Gill, for their final statements.

Cho’s video contains graphic images similar to those in Gill’s web page.

Though their exhibitionism is disturbing, a greater unease should stir us to ask harder questions: does the glut of information help us understand better what sparks the violence? Forewarns us about showing the intolerance that scars people so we lose them to hate and violence?

A psychologist interviewed by BBC prefers that media should focus more on assisting survivors and their families to cope in the aftermath. Depression and suicide are “not unusual” consequences in the weeks or months following a campus killing, the expert points out.

Unless we are on our guard, the evil in Columbine and Virginia Tech will just bid its time and surface somewhere again. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Apr. 22, 2007 issue

Taking measure

ON MY way out of the office, I passed by a man weighing stacks of newspaper. The sight stopped me on the stairs.

It made me remember being in an outhouse in the uplands recently. Looking around for a bin to deposit my used tissue, I espied, dangling from the side, a sack full of pieces of paper, including several balled-up sheets torn from tabloids.

Paper, when it’s available in remote places, is often crushed in the hand until it’s soft enough to wipe away waste. After its use, the paper is collected and burnt under some fruit trees to aid flowering. Water being scarce, the paper is rarely flushed away as it uses up too much of this rare resource.

This memory rushed in while my co-worker was weighing and bundling newspapers for recycling.

Ending up to fertilize mango trees is not as bad as being unread or recycled into handbills posted where it’s explicitly stated to “post no bill.”

The relativity of measures came up again after I read Apr. 13’s publication of the Pulse Asia survey. According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) report, 54 percent of Filipinos feel that “their quality of life today is worse than their situation two years ago.”

The trend of disgruntled Filipinos is true in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, as well as across all socio-economic brackets.

While “quality of life” may mean different things to individuals, the report quoted Pulse Asia founder Felipe Miranda as saying that the phrase can refer to life “as a whole.”

It’s notable though that, from the United Nations to the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), for the rich and for the poor, “quality of life” is generally defined by economics and politics.

So, according to the KMU, the poor is worse off now because noodles, no longer rice, is the staple food.

Veering away from fuel, transport and power rates as barometers of life was the writer May Sarton.

By the time she passed away in 1995 at the age of 83, Sarton wrote “53 books: 19 novels, 17 books of poetry, 15 nonfiction works including her acclaimed journals, 2 children's books, a play, and some screenplays,” according to

More impressive than her prodigious creativity is the honesty with which she examined her life.

In her “Journal of a Solitude,” she is 60, struggling with bouts of depression and loneliness, the former making it impossible for her to live with another beyond a few hours and the latter, restraining her from touching the bottom of the solitude needed to “resume old conversations” with the self, essential for a life of creating.

Yet this soul, who often woke up in tears, who whines that she “wrote too many letters and too few poems,” believed that “absolute attention is prayer.”

“I woke to the sun on a daffodil,” wrote Sarton who often rewarded a morning of preparing tax statements with ordering seeds for her garden. “It is only when we can believe that we are creating the soul that life has any meaning, but when we can believe it… then there is nothing we do that is without meaning and nothing that we suffer that does not hold the seed of creation in it.” 0917-3226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Apr. 15, 2007 issue

Reader of paths

THE thing that first struck me about Buboy was his feet.

They resembled no pair I knew. If they were not found at the base of his person, I could mistake them for a gnarly giant root of ginger freshly dug up, with clods of earth still clinging to them.

Those feet went everywhere with Buboy. They took us up and down paths not known to habal-habal (upland motorcycle), truck or cart. They blended where the desiccated soil lay like dust balls. Their toughness just sloughed off the slimy water pooling in road furrows, as well as the evening chill or dawn fog we wrapped ourselves against with towels and malong (blanket).

Where was Buboy while his feet took us everywhere? The man was even more silent than his feet, if that were possible. He ate with the group but quickly. I never heard him venture a story, a joke, an opinion in a season when even the remotest hole in the southern ranges echoed with the crawling of politicians.

Given the laconic nature of Buboy and his feet, his companions tried to compensate.

Of the stories I heard, I remember this best: no one can see the paths hereabouts better than Buboy.

To a city dweller like me, mountain paths have been an education. A trail that goes steeply up reminds me I don’t need all the stuff I carry around my gut. On the other hand, a footpath etched against eroded slopes, with no bush or root to hold on to, all loose soil and heights, makes me appreciate all the gravity I can command when I hunch, squat and slide down, after warning my companions to get out of the way.

But I’ve usually done my crossing of paths in daylight, which, I gather among my companions, is something anyone with legs is at least expected to do. Crossing by day kilometers of brush and slopes, enough to connect one mohon (boundary marker) to another, is not a matter of skill, only a measure of how well you can take your burden, bringing enough water and provisions to prevent dehydration and fainting.

Walking at night is another thing.

The city slicker’s faith in flashlights is misplaced as an anemic, quivering beam does not diminish but only heightens the anomie of walking in the dark. That insipid pool of yellow can make a root seem to wriggle across the path. Walking is an act of balancing what is within you with what is out there. A battery-illuminated path only singles you out, small, stunned and watched by the night breathing around you.

Buboy and our companions had no such handicap. On the first night, a perfect orb swung in the night sky. I thought this was what gave the dan-ag (brightness) that kept us on the right path.

But they explained that even in the moonless dark, a path remains bright. The passage of many feet cracks a line that runs in the dark. You see that line with each tamak (step). Better than the eye, the feet can read, from flattened grass, broken branches, absence of rocks, roughness worn down, that this is a path people have made, or only animals know, and a few others keep secret.

In the prosaic ritual of cleaning up after breakfast, stories of how some feet are more gifted than others in reading the liquid dark lie cold and inert like last night’s campfire.

But when we all take up our burdens and follow the lead taken by Buboy’s feet, I remember why the need to keep in touch can overwhelm distance, the elements, even the absence of light.

I wish I had stayed to listen to the unspoken, never-before-heard tales of Buboy’s feet, if they could speak. 0197-3226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Apr. 8, 2007 issue

Lenten acts

FEW can equal the Philippine theater of the absurd.

In Sun.Star Cebu’s page 1 story yesterday, Oscar C. Pineda and Isolde D. Amante reported the contrasting styles of two mayors reacting to their suspension over the Asean Summit street lamp purchases.

While Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Arturo Radaza quietly surrendered his seat after kissing goodbye his vice-mayor and political rival, Mandaue City Mayor Thadeo Ouano sought a temporary restraining order, and set up a blockade of supporters and heavy equipment at City Hall.

The spectacle alone in Mandaue should merit another mention in wikipedia, google and other sites on the Internet.

Under the entry on “ochlocracy,” the Edsa Revolution is already cited as a historical example of the use of a mass of people to “intimidate constitutional authorities.”

Mob rule or “government by mob” challenges the rule of law. The Mar. 31 Sun.Star report described the “irate crowd” in Mandaue as protesting “the ‘vigilante justice’ dispensed by the anti-graft office.”

Many in the crowd “stayed up late the previous night for a vigil.” Yellow armbands were spotted. The supporters also stayed “under large white tents marked with their mayor’s name.”

In contrast, Radaza’s supporters wore red armbands. They were assembled in the lobby but “stood quietly… while the suspension order was served.”

While Teddy’s politician-son and Teddy’s politician-father came out later to thank their supporters, Radaza went around shaking hands with co-employees and constituents before doing the same with his vice-mayor and her running mate. The crowd cheered when he “suddenly” kissed his rival on the cheek.

Two mayors, two contrasting styles, the same lack of shame.

If it was melodrama for Mandaue, Lapu-Lapu had comedy as the main act.

True statesmen would have spared Cebuanos the orchestrated absurdity.

Living in this country for 41 years has a way of lowering expectations. To stay sane and not break out into epileptic fits of desiring greener foreign shores, I’ve taught myself to expect nothing of politicians.

But the P150-million deal on the overpriced summit lampposts is not exactly nothing.

Driving twice a day, six days a week, past the Mandaue, Lapu-Lapu and Cebu lampposts, it strikes me as surreal that: a) the government was charged P224,000 for each lamppost while a similar one installed in Naga within the same period cost only P16,000; b) the involved officials have not taken a leave of office so as not to prejudice or obstruct the investigation; and c) Cebuanos like me can drive past the lampposts daily as we don’t find a) and b) absurd at all.

Until last Friday’s tribute to Laurel and Hardy, the comic and tragic duo of silent films.

According to wikipedia, Polybius in his Histories wrote that okhlokratia demonstrates how the kratos (rule, power, strength) of okhlos (mob) can turn pathological (mob rule) and be subverted from the good (democracy).

Polybius should have met the local Laurel and Hardy. In the Philippines, it’s not the mob but its handler that matters.

The synchronized colors of the supporters’ shirts, armbands and tents, as well as their collective reactions (“irate” in Mandaue, “quiet” in Lapu-Lapu) told a story that veered from the official performances.

All that was missing perhaps was the discarded remnants of packed lunches.

I hand it though to Radaza, master at mime, for deciding, right after he relinquished responsibility to his rival, that he might as well start campaigning.

Encore for political penitence. 0917-3226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Apr. 1, 2007 issue

Etiquette for the hungry

WRITING makes me hungry.

When my college teacher Eileen Mangubat was overhauling my lead, she did not tell me this.

Now that it’s my turn to initiate students to the 1-2-3 steps of writing, I make the same omission.

But the agony of hours, days for some, that precedes the first sentence committed on paper or electronic screen exacts a violence on the old digestive system that can only be relieved, I often think, by a 20-course meal fit for someone about to be executed the following day.

But anyone familiar with the routine knows that writers have to live another day because of the next deadline.

And since the next day also augurs another set of expenses, the most expansive gesture I have made immediately after completing an article is to type my initials with a flourish—and then walk to Manang’s place before the kapilya at Don Pedro Cui Street and order a bowl of lomi.

For P5, I get a plastic bowl that’s smaller than a five-year-old’s cupped hands. A few tiny bones held together by some flap of skin I don’t analyze too long float in a brown liquid on which the cook used watercolor techniques to suggest delicate strips of egg and secret spices.

But it is hardly artwork I am after, and the lomi—hot, instant and cheap—is all I need to ease off the hunger beast.

But, learning from President Gloria Arroyo’s reaction to the Social Weather Stations (SWS) hunger survey for the first quarter of this year, I realize now that I have only been harboring under the illusion of being hungry.

Nearly one in five Filipino families has been hungry at least once in the last three months, points out the SWS survey. The figures establish that hunger is still “at a record high 19 percent from November 2006” and worsening in Manila.

While her critics use the SWS findings to question her administration’s claims that the economy is on an upswing, the president said that the Filipino’s “spending patterns” could be a reason behind the hunger.

“I have missed a few meals myself,” she was quoted in news reports.

Rather than blame poverty and lack of opportunity, the President wants Filipinos to get the basics first before buying phone load and other luxuries.

To distinguish imitation from authentic hunger—which is “involuntary,” according to, because the victim "experienced hunger, and did not have anything to eat”—here is the Strong Republic’s etiquette for the hungry:
1. You are only faking it if all you have is a fear of food, exacerbated by extreme diets, stinginess or a near invisible basic pay.
2. If you think you are hungry, ignore the symptoms. If you keel over or end up cultivating ulcers, it was real after all.
3. The mind plays tricks. So the children roaming Gen. Maxilom Ave. and sniffing glue in broad daylight are not hungry. They are visionaries.
4. To get rid of unhealthy appetites, watch political ads.
5. Think of the bunch of thieves to be reelected after May. To paraphrase the President, there are worse things out there than hunger. 0917-3226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Mar. 25, 2007 issue

Pancit and movies

THE SECRET ingredient behind Third World creativity is, apparently, instant pancit canton.

Indie filmmaker Ruel Dahis Antipuesto shared that he subsisted on this noodle dish during the three months he took to make his animated feature “Snake’s Pit,” which won the 16th Gawad CCP Para sa Alternatibong Pelikula at Video for best regional entry and first runner-up in the best animation short feature in 2004.

My recent interview with Ruel was focused on the twin accolades he received last February for Publio J. Briones III’s “Ang Pagbalik” (best regional entry and second place in the best short feature category in the 19th Gawad CCP award) and Jerrold Tarog’s “Carpool” (best short feature in the same competition).

Ruel was the cinematographer of both features, as well as Pagbalik’s editor and co-producer and Carpool’s co-editor.

Yet while the 33-year-old civil engineer from Ozamis City was blasé about these recent achievements, he was almost boyish in recounting about his 2004 Gawad.

The award was his first. “Snake’s Pit,” based on an outdated game played on the obsolete 5110 cellphone model, was also his first attempt to make a video using flash animation.

Convinced that he had a story to tell and that this was the best way to carry out his “visual storytelling,” Ruel forced himself to learn. His Pentium 133 was not only slow, it was long overdue for the dustbin.

While the latest supercomputers now need only half a minute, his Pentium 133 needed at least 40 minutes to convert an image to viewable format.

So, while waiting, Ruel went to a neighbor’s stall and took his canton meals.

Due to his equipment’s state of antiquity, his learning by doing, his “independence” (of creative vision, as well as of resources), the seven-minute animated feature took three months to complete.

So its outcome at the 2004 Gawad award was, for Ruel, “encouraging.”

Though no longer working, the cellphone and the computer used in the feature are still kept in his room. It’s a move that is, in equal parts, sentimental and pragmatic.

Though cinematography is both art and science—mastering lighting and photography to capture film’s pictorial and emotional language—Ruel would rather emphasize the storytelling as “technology is always available.”

Or malleable. Years of indie work convinced him that “whatever (equipment) we don’t have, we don’t need.” The improvised lights he brought during the fieldwork he and Pubs did for the 2006 documentary “Killing Journalists: The Cebu Experience” are startling in retrospect, given that many viewers singled out the cinematography to praise almost as frequently as the documentary subjects’ insights.

While subsisting on pancit canton is not everyone’s thing, Ruel, Jerrold and Pubs are bullish about the potentials of cinema for the young. They have been presenting and discussing their different takes on visual storytelling in local campuses. Covering so far the Cebu Normal University and the University of San Carlos, the series can be held in any interested campus for free.

Among the outputs exhibited and discussed is a behind-the-scenes documentary of a feature that was never completed. Believing in a “chopsuey” of flexibility and adaptation—in improvising equipment, using non-actors, following the story in its digressions—Ruel and company believe in showing the rough takes and mistakes in order to learn from them.

It’s a comfort to know that, far from starving, Third World storytelling has pancit canton and chopsuey to fall back on. 0917-3226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Mar. 18 issue

Love in the time of Mighty Bond

LOOK. That’s where my Japanese friend Noki rented something to wear for his wedding yesterday.

This is Harry speaking. Our neighbor drives a taxi. I occasionally ride with him.

Behind the culverts and the dust rising like steam from the unfinished road, a rectangle of glass showcases smudges, a reflection of scurrying workers, and two gowns cut from some shiny cloth that sticks out.

Is this the same Noki who lost more than a million pesos in a barbecue venture last year?

Harry says yes. Harry became a wedding sponsor. Noki also invited the manager of the beach club where he swims daily. He wanted many sponsors, many witnesses.

Poor man, Harry muses. He never really believed he would be allowed to marry.

Which one did he finally settle down with? I remembered someone a few years back. Noki gave her a cellphone but her parents, I think, made her return the phone because it was a secondhand one. This model also did not take pictures.

Harry says Noki’s Fay is 18, a high school graduate. She is the second eldest of a man who sells dirty ice cream. Sometimes, he’s allowed to sell to club guests. That’s how he met Noki.

I think Fay’s parents made a very good deal. Harry slows down to let a gaggle of zone workers cross.

Noki visited many times the home of the dirty ice-cream vendor. He met all 12 children and Fay’s mother, always nursing a baby, which may or may not have been the youngest. Harry swears that he has never seen this woman not pregnant or not nursing. Fay was still in her high school uniform then.

Noki always left something for the family because he pitied the younger children who sometimes had no underpants.

Fay didn’t figure in the equation yet, Harry insists. Noki then was seeing a 17-year-old department store clerk who lied about her real age. Another girl Noki was keen on also maintained a Korean. She chose that fellow when Noki’s barbecue business went kaput. Fay’s mother had been working as a cashier there for a week.

Harry believes Noki would not have been desperate to get married had his father not died. As his other brother lived far from the Chiba home, Noki worried about his 80-year-old mother living alone. He had to close his Tokyo photoshop so he could go home and drive her around. Finally, he drove to Narita airport, left his car there, and flew back to Cebu with no intention of returning without a wife to take care of his mother.

That was weeks ago. Once, Noki speculated to Harry how much his car park fees could now be while they waited for an official who demanded P5,000 to issue the marriage permit. Harry advised Noki not to bother about car park fees.

Harry knew his friend shelled out P16,000 for the priest, chapel and the waiver of wedding bans. Noki gave P100,000 to Fay’s father for the reception at their home. Noki’s father-in-law, who is, at 41, the same age as his son-in-law, asked an additional P50,000 to buy forks, spoons, plates, chairs, curtains and electric fans for the barrio that, invited or not, would surely flock. More witnesses, Noki tells Harry.

The day before his wedding, Noki remembered he had nothing to wear. Then Harry saw the roadside place renting out wedding costumes.

After the wedding, while boarding Harry’s taxi, the right heel of Noki’s rented shoes fell off. “Shoe, why? Why?” Harry remembers Noki murmuring.

Harry drove the newlyweds to a nearby gas station, where he glued back the heel with a tube of Mighty Bond.

Then the wedding broker/ wedding sponsor/ bridal car chauffeur drove Noki and Noki’s bride to the house Noki dressed up for the wedding feast Noki held in honor of the day he could fly back to Narita, redeem his car and bring home a bride for his mother, widowed and alone in Chiba. 0917-3226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Mar. 11, 2007 issue