Saturday, June 30, 2007

Return of the pharisees

YAYA badly mashed the onions she was slicing as she recounted that our parish priest now forbids women from hearing mass in jeans. When I asked her for the priest’s name, her look speared me.

It must fill her with frustrated fury that a devout, albeit trousered, mass-goer like her is in the same batch lined up for excommunication as soulless heathens like me, who last went to mass, pure in heart, during my baptism.

To pacify her, I looked up the dress code for the faithful. In the website Civilization of Love, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that the Archdiocese of Manila clarified that the dress code is a mere “guideline” and that violators will not be “instantly ejected” from the church.

Included in the Archdiocese of Manila’s list of proper attire are collared shirts for men and long-sleeved blouses and long gowns for women, as well as school, office and corporate attire.

Prohibited are “caps, jerseys or undershirts and shorts for men, and spaghetti-strap (sic) or tank tops and other sleeveless blouses, plunging necklines and skimpy shorts and skirts for women.” An archdiocese spokesperson also clarified that acceptable clothing can still be considered improper if these are “too tight, translucent or too brightly colored.”

There is hope though. In the online dress code, jeans have not been denounced as verboten for women. This apparel is popular because for most folks, it is durable and functional.

What is after all better for mass salvation: blue-jeaned pews or near empty rows except for a long gown or two?

Clothing was by no means the only aspect that showed the Church leadership cares as deeply about the externals of faith as it does about the eternal fate of souls.

Pope Benedict XVI has signed a universal indult (or permission) for priests to bring back the Tridentine Mass said in Latin.

According to, the elaborate, heavily ritualized and—for those who don’t speak Latin as a mother tongue or a second language—incomprehensible Traditional or Classical Mass was used for nearly 1,500 years by the Church. Dating back to the time of St. Gregory in the sixth century, the Tridentine Mass was restricted by the Second Vatican Council in 1962-65.

Reform-oriented bishops then introduced the New Mass in the vernacular to “make it more accessible to contemporary audiences,” reported Times Online.

Pope Benedict’s move has been interpreted as favoring Church conservatives that want a return to orthodoxy. As an AWOL Catholic, I’m not really excited about the strategies of those who manipulate the faithful like “pieces on a chessboard.”

But I remember my friend walking out of a mass said in another friend’s wake. The magnetic young priest sang and gesticulated beautifully; it must have been his Latin—or Korean or Venusian, who knows? I did not think that my fuming friend was exaggerating when he walked out, muttering about “colonial relics.” But I did so want to see if our departed friend—a non-government worker who spoke as many dialects as the decades she spent living and working with the people—would not step out of her coffin and smack hard this beautiful, deaf young man.

I respect the desire of those who wish to experience the Latin mass whose beauty, according to its advocates, lies in the prescription of perfect uniformity in the priest’s movements and gestures. I can also appreciate that the return of orthodoxy may solve some of the Church’s problems.

In the Traditional Latin mass where the priest faces the altar, it should be of little concern if the Dress Code is upheld or violated by a spaghetti strap as the priest does not even see the congregation he has turned his back on. 09173226131

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

Best milk

NEVER have breasts been milked for all their worth.

A battle royal raged last week when breastfeeding advocates and health officials clashed against milk companies over the lifting of the temporary restraining order (TRO) on the Milk Code.

Signed in 1986, the Milk Code had its revised rules issued in 2006. The TRO has stayed the Code's stiffer rules, such as the ban on ads for breast milk substitutes.

What makes the issue riveting from the start are the evenly matched combatants. In one corner are the pharmaceutical and milk giants, with their marketing spin doctors, lobbyists, and bottomless budgets.

Not outdone and never good to underestimate is the tandem of government and non-government advocates, specifically the 21 women flashing their breasts outside the Supreme Court where oral arguments on the Milk Code are being heard.

Street parliamentarians command the streets like no other. But if last week's lightning demo was a “masterstroke,” it is only in the sense of sensationalizing the cause.

It should hardly be viewed as a substantial, penetrating and sustained campaign to get more women to recognize and choose breast milk as the “gold standard” for infant nutrition, natural and lifelong immunity from some diseases, and early mother-child bonding.

Arugaan Foundation and Save the Babies Coalition--whose members took part in the rally--may have seen painting slogans on breasts as our gender's answer to the ritualistic face- and body-painting carried out by primitive men readying for the hunt or battle, or modern diehards brawling for their team.

But by baring breasts without any hungry infant in sight, the NGOs' breastfeeding advocacy gets lost in translation.

Ours is no longer an innocent time when every child and grown-up sees breasts in their biological progression--from flat as a board for children and men to the peaks coaxed by adolescence, the fullness of pregnancy and lactation, and the resignation of advancing years.

Instead of overturning stereotypes, the sloganeering conducted outside the Supreme Court just abets the mentality that nails breasts up on billboards higher than a four-story building so liquor and jeans can be sold to commuters.

In the Age of the Celebrity Cleavage, how can the best-intentioned breast compete with its virtual cousins--augmented, airbrushed, pushed upwards and outwards, pendulous with associations, as imaginary as mirages?

For it is not just the milk lobby marginalizing the boob--slashed it from the primary stream of feeding babies--but also business and media, the demands of materialism pushing women to work away from home and cutting short the ideal of breastfeeding for the first two years, and the perceptions of girls and women about beauty and being.

In these image-addicted times, it is not the breast activist on the streets but that small round head latched on to the areola of one of the two moons that should be the iconic image.

Photos of breastfeeding, en masse or alone or in tandem--seen lately was a wire photo of a Filipina nursing her twins simultaneously--cause a phantom pricking even in breasts that have forgotten the suck, nip and bite of a newborn's gums.

There is more to breastfeeding than colostrum, yielded during the first few days and rich in proteins, vitamins, minerals and immunity factors found in no other source.

Watching that yellow liquid, turn whitish later, trickle from a tiny mouth, silent and sated for the moment but quick to purse, is to quicken in answer, with a prick that's more than reflex, stronger than desire, older than hunger, a hardening, a loosening, and finally, the gush and flow of warmth, enveloping, drenching, mingling, all anguish, separateness, ownership, possession, and finally, abdication to a tiny mouth ringed in white.

To give the breast is to feel, without even knowing, that this milk is best. 091763226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 24, 2007 issue

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Monkeys don’t

AN INTERESTING movie to watch for Father’s Day is “War of the Worlds.”

In Steven Spielberg’s 2004 film version of the H. G. Wells’ classic, Tom Cruise plays a father battling to survive and save his daughter, played by Dakota Fanning, when America is invaded by aliens.

At the start of the movie, his estranged wife shows a great reluctance to leave their daughter to him. This tips off the viewer that Cruise’s character is far from being a paragon. Not only does he not have custody of the child, whatever visitation rights the state has awarded to him elicit telling misgivings in a former intimate.

But the prodigal turns out to harbor a deep well of feelings that go beyond the merely fatherly to the feral.

In the climactic basement scene, father and daughter play hide-and-seek with the aliens. When their male companion starts shouting and threatens to give them away, Cruise ties a strip of cloth across Fanning’s eyes. While she whispers a lullaby to herself, he closes the door to a room and murders the deranged man.

Would things have turned out differently had the script called for the mother to be the parent hiding with the child? Would she have silenced the threat or tried other ways to defend herself and her young? Who is better at ensuring the child’s survival: mother or father?

Fatherhood and motherhood are regarded as complementary halves in raising a family. But in culture, specifically language, both sleep with different bedfellows.

Roget’s Thesaurus has “mother” paired off with “origin,” “wellspring,” and “inspiration,” with the verbs even hewing closer to the biological: “conceive,” “bear,” “nurse,” and “nurture.”

To father, according to the same reference, is to “sire,” “beget” and “create.” According to Roget’s, fatherhood is not exclusive to the procreative function as it also relates to invention, authorship and religion.

The English language has more permutations on species survival for mothers. Roget’s has 15 nouns and 16 verbs that are synonyms to mothering, compared to the 12 nouns and eight verbs that refer to the father’s role with their offspring.

Is motherhood then the quintessence of humanity?

On the contrary, asserts Margaret Mead, “human fatherhood is a social invention” and thus, is the perfection of what it is to be human.

The acclaimed thinker studied primitive people to draw insight into modern sociology. In her book “Male and Female,” Mead writes that the human mother’s ties to her child is so “deeply rooted” in the “biological conditions of conception and gestation, birth and suckling, that only fairly complicated social arrangements can break it down entirely.”

On the other hand, humans and primates differ only in one behavior. While human and primate males claim lordship over the females that grant them sexual favors, only humans provide food to their women and children. “Among our structurally closest analogues—the primates—the male does not feed the female… He may fight to protect her or to possess her, but he does not nurture her.”

In her 1950 treatise, Mead contends that “while women may be said to be mothers unless they are taught to deny their child-bearing qualities,” “men have to learn to want to provide for others, and this behavior, being learned, is fragile and can disappear rather easily.”

Half a century later, how do Mead’s ideas sit with a generation that sets apart this day to pay tribute to “the provider?” 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 17, 2007 issue

Saturday, June 09, 2007


I WOKE up in the unfamiliar dark, and listened to my partner breathe, in and out, inandout. I am intimate with this old dryness, know this back-in the-throat parchedness has nothing to do with water.

Still, how strange, at 41, to be caught unprepared for desire.

At 11, the blue silence of dawn found me at our dining table, writing until morning rituals caught up. At 13, the secret reading that kept me awake long after our household stirred somehow blurred inchoate yearning. Yes, yes, I want to go through those gates, but let me finish first this chapter, these stories.

I can’t fix the time when I started watching to make sure the gates were closed. But the march of regimented days did make me impatient with awkward metaphors and other snarls that sometimes woke me at a blue hour.

Then I took an article’s advice to jot down what I had to do the following day. I woke up less. And if I did, I just wrote down what I forgot.

What made this recent visitation different?

Last week, I interviewed a couple of young men. Entrepreneurs and collectors, their individual passions ranged from exotic fishes to vintage cars, from solving the knotty problem of creating a pond to getting young parents to play more with their kids.

These men in their 30s seemed to have laid to rest the conundrum of desire: can you still want something you already possess?

The Latins believe unknowability is the essence of desire. We covet what we cannot possess. In the Latin tongue, desire hides the celestial and the remote in its roots: de + sidus (constellation). Can anything be more desirable than the star beyond one’s reach?

Yet on daily terms, I can think of nothing that induces insanity quicker than having an itch that one cannot scratch. Teenagers and poets, especially teenaged poets, might need unrequited passions to fatten portfolios. I want the sanity of a tidy list that will let me sleep undisturbed for another day of battling deadlines.

During my last interview for the week, I saw beyond the figure of a young father playing with his sons this tree. For girth of trunk, spread of canopy, grandeur of shade, this patriarch has no equal in the city.

My source explained his property abutted a private 10-hole golf course. In my mind, I saw workers fit like a puzzle identical squares of grass. Beneath the tree’s solitary, inviolate majesty is just this uniform, manicured green.

It is worlds away from Patong, reputedly the highest point in Cebu, straddling the mountain borders separating Dalaguete in the southeast from Badian in the southwest. Somewhere in its fog-wreathed and uninhabited fastness is a forest.

Though man-made, the woods have not been thinned. The trees grow far too close. One has only to look at the canopy shutting out the sky to feel the competitive lunge for sunlight, space.

To stray from the foot trails is to sink in knee-deep humus. No one remembers who planted the trees. No eye witnessed the leaves fall and molder. No one denies that invisible, imperious sucking.

Perhaps it is that which woke me.

Astrologists and diviners refer to a sidereal day as one measuring the Earth’s rotation in relation to the stars. While a solar day is defined by the sun, the sidereal, like desire, traces its melancholia to a separation from the stars.

To pine, lose, miss—what else is both human and divine? 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 10, 2007 issue

Saturday, June 02, 2007


NOT all searches are created equal.

This was my unvoiced thought when I lost my way again.

Finding a parking lot among high-rises should be elementary. I failed that effortlessly. After circling blocks in this uptown park, my husband might have guessed that I was going counterclockwise so he asked me to stay put and end his agony.

Why are some searches hell and others, a breeze? Physically finding my bearings is a strain, not always to me unfortunately.

While waiting for an appointment in a multinational company, I could not find my way from the toilet back to the visitor’s lounge. Freezing before one too many centrally locked doors that did not have my retina pattern in their code, I finally saw the ratty tote I left on the familiar sofa reflected on the cold granite walls of a corridor.

I was just in time. Building security were about to arrest the industrial spy skulking in the corridors and reading invisible instructions on the walls.

For another assignment, our team had to look for a home in an exclusive mountaintop subdivision. I copied the map in the guard house but could not later make sense of the scribbled arrows. We found the house because of our photographer’s presence of mind: Allan took a shot of the map with his digital camera.

Fortunately for my newsroom employers, my skewered internal compass is least active when I’m tracking down information. Seized by an anxiety attack over spelling, preposition or idiom, I google away the panic or do a Boolean.

Online searches are nearly idiot-proof. Just typing “and,” “not” and “or” with a subject starts a search, which matches me to references containing the keyword, a related phrase, relevant concept or similar documents.

What else can be more perfect than this virtual wandering, where even misspellings yield what the techies call a fuzzy search?

Another place where I don’t need a search party to come after me is around dictionaries.

I could hang around pages where seemingly accidental couplings result in dramatic turnabouts. After a preposition like “to” sidles up beside a word like “correct,” the resulting infinitive implies the opposite of the adjective’s pure repute.

Dictionaries are portable, which make them better than an Internet connection. And more detailed than maps, to boot. Once, a relative’s request to track down a plot of land brought our family to the mountains of Alcoy. After a sweltering half-day search, the hubby’s superior sense of direction tracked down the bald and severely eroded parcel, just on the opposite side of a deep ravine.

I did not see a cable car that could take us there. This thought remained unvoiced as a more relevant observation would have been William Henry Scott’s chapter on Cebuano terms for farming.

From the dictionaries compiled by Jesuit priest Francisco Alcina and others, Scott made a roll call of the many terms and meanings 16th-century farmers used in staking ownership of the land, clearing it, leaving it fallow, cultivating and harvesting.

No less than 14 verbs were used to detail land-clearing in the 1600s.

Many words have since passed on from common use. Even upland old-timers don’t recognize patkal, the branches cut from a tree to stake claim. Few now distinguish between hadhad (chop down full-grown trees) and goro (slash through bamboo or vines). In this age of tax declarations, land claimants and kaingin, who has use for such distinctions?

Reading Scott and Alcina would have brought us to the exact spot where a morning’s hard scrambling took us, to a world lost beyond the impassable. Perhaps some searches are equal after all. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 3, 2007 issue