Saturday, December 26, 2009

Halfway place

A few days before Christmas, our family returned to Alegria in the southwest of Cebu.

On the last day, after we achieved our purpose for going upland, my husband broached an interest to visit the sitio chapel.

Just as the sun began its visible descent and the air nibbled with metal teeth, we, along with our two sons, hiked up a slope.

I’ve yet to go around our country, but I feel this must be true anywhere: to the outsider, the “kapilya” always seems to be constructed in the remotest, most forsaken spot.

Yet to the community, their “little church” is where it should be: nearer in physical and emotional terms to them than the historic edifice the Spanish colonizers ensconced in the town center down by the coast.

A mountain barangay usually has at least one but can also have as many as three “kapilya,” depending on the distance and terrain separating households.

Though a “kapilya” is removed from the daily ministration of the parish priest and loiters only around the periphery of parish life, the chapel is but a short walk from upland homes and farms.

Perspectives differ, of course.

To an uplander used since childhood to carrying farm produce twice or thrice his body weight down slippery gorges or up steep slopes, a “short walk” may not even warrant the pursing of the lips that, in the mountains, translates to a fair amount of strenuous activity a city dweller will associate with Olympian quests.

We refused our friends’ offer to accompany us as there still was livestock to feed and keep away for the night. But when we took their advice to “just go beyond the hill,” we realized how much we took for granted when, after cresting one hill, we saw, as far as the eye could see, how many more hills there were behind it.
We found the chapel before the fireflies came out.

To the outsider’s eye, made more critical by the gut-squeezing travails to locate it, a “kapilya” looks emaciated and forlorn beside its more substantial brother, the monumental cathedrals erected by conscripted labor, hewing stones and gouging forests out of the virgin pagan heart of centuries ago.

In constrast, this chapel was a diminution.

Just as the eye is challenged to guess at the span of waistlines of priests regularly plied a steady stream of eggs, native chicken, sea catch and other offerings by a devoted flock, there was so little of the “kapilya” for our eyes to grasp.

Perhaps it was because we searched for stained glass windows, the marbleized flesh of saints and martyrs bleeding rosebuds of blood, or, following the vogue in the city, overwrought chandeliers and boxes spewing artificially cooled air.

This chapel did not even have a cross.

Until a new priest replaced the previous one, this chapel never even witnessed a mass. Apparently the failure of the lot owner to donate to the parish prevented the parish vehicle from reaching this spot during fiesta.

So the flock had to go down to the coast to seek its shepherd.

Did this denial reduce this little church to the bare insubstantiality of a soul?

In October, when the hand-carved icon of San Miguel is taken from the safekeeping of a local family and restored to its spot in the altar and the nocturnal fog is dissipated by the heat from Petromax lamps and bodies compressed inside that crude dwelling, the “kapilya” is a lidless eye mirroring the moon in the dark sea.

Then, many of the locals walk for an hour or two after supper to come here for the novena, sing, talk. Sometimes, strangers join them, outsiders drawn to the beckoning warmth, the beacon of belief. Eleven years ago, my husband turned up and dedicated our infant son, born with a hole in the heart, to the celestial guardian squashing a serpent underfoot.

In December, when the dawn masses draw the faithful to the churches along the coast, many a “kapilya” in the mountains are empty shells.

This halfway place in Talayong did not even harbor the stray nest of a chicken.

In the twilight, I saw the silhouetted rows of sawn coconut trunks, barks still intact. Parallel to these crude pews was a bare altar. Nothing distracts, in the manner of a community, tied to the soil, follows a rhythm that varies little from getting up to work and lying down to rest.

In the darkening, I heard the nonstop chatter of my sons and was comforted. 09173226131

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 27, 2009 “Matamata” column

Dear Father

I LOOK forward to the dawn masses every year.

I can’t say I feel the same for many of the priests that challenge my miniscule piety, if not my attention.

Apparently, a lot of them think it is humor that will keep the faithful wide awake.

Maybe. I suppose, in the land of Wowowee, a company is bound to work the pulpit as if it were playing to the gallery for a grin a minute.

Had I wanted to be entertained, wouldn’t it make better sense to sleep until noon for the usual TV variety fare?

At the blue hour of 2 a.m., a shower lashes like a recollection of sins, accumulated, entangling, stinging.

Those who put the flesh to death to heed the 4 a.m. tolling of the bells in the blue dawn must deserve something a little more than St. Peter jokes.

Such as a priest who comes on time.

A shepherd who chooses what he says, knowing very well the human limits of his flock: their attention span and sleep deprivation, school and work schedules, traffic and public transport, even lack of a seat.

A pleasant, smiling visage on the wide screen is a reassuring visual for those of us following the mass from outside the church. Wouldn’t it even be better to have someone who does not belabor the point that he could have been God’s gift to Eve and her sisters had he not embraced theological studies, obedience and celibacy (no mention of humility)?

Also at the top of my wish list is a shepherd who cares for the community, truly.

One who will not only request for order from the crowd outside the church so that “the collectors can pass without obstruction.”

Hearing this announcement said without variation during three dawns in a row makes me conclude that some priests see no farther than the pulpit. Or the collection plate.

Do these fathers not see the crowd spontaneously make way for the old and the young, for people carrying their own chairs, for pregnant women, women with infants, children running after their parents, teenagers looking for their friends, parents running after their children?

For several years, there’s been an unspoken segregation observed in our parish during dawn mass. Even in the farthest reaches of the crowd milling outside the church, you will smell someone smoking a cigarette only seldom, if at all.

That’s because the smokers—mostly men whose tired, hard visages banish thoughts of political correctness—voluntarily cordon themselves in a spot across the street, away from the church grounds where women and children congregate. I’ve yet to see a public sign or a tanod direct this spontaneously eddying pool of nicotine lovers.

Despite the lack of divine intervention, the puff addicts and the rest of us take part in the mass. They can hold on to their ciggies to keep the cold and sleep at bay. We keep our lungs.

That must be why the priests in the parish make special mention of the collectors’ access to the crowd; that might be the only view from the pulpit.

Lucky for us, with only the night’s dome above our heads, we have something even better than a wide-screen monitor: a star-studded infinity that brings everyone—saint and sinner, joker and whiner— under one family. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” 09173226131

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 20, 2009 “Matamata” column

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Martial law redux

“I am so not getting this.”

Seemingly among words, the trigger-happy senator, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, has few peers.

During the joint session of Congress on Proclamation 1959, the senator questioned the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao.

“Show me the rebellion,” she fired off, according to Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec.11, 2009 story.

But I like better her broadside skewering the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, also contained in Presidential Proclamation 1959: “I am so not getting this.”
“Sakto”: the senator pins it down for me.

But unlike Santiago, who suffers from no inferiority complex in her grasp of the political and the acerbic, I grapple with sentiments that may be the reverse of what she means.

Befuddlement: I am so not getting what’s happening in Maguindanao. Or to the whole country, for that matter. Am I seeing the big picture?

Paranoia: Where’s the rebellion? may be the cry of those who doubt the constitutionality of Proclamation 1959. Mine is: where’s the opposition who confidently predicted that the Filipino people will never allow martial law to be imposed again in the country? “Tama na, sobra na.”

During this year’s Cebu Press Freedom Week celebration, I listened to University of the Philippines (UP) professor and martial law survivor Randy David tell a rapt audience of students and teachers that today, unlike in 1972, guarantees “instant public resistance to any attempt to impose martial law.”

The rise of technology-enabled social media—cell phones, the Internet—gives people the power to monitor, mobilize and prevent the government and the military from overriding civil law.

David shared this belief with fellow journalist and blogger Manuel L. Quezon III, who also spoke about New Media’s empowerment of citizen journalists in a different forum during the Cebu press’ annual commemoration of press freedom and other civil liberties suspended by Ferdinand Marcos when he signed Proclamation No. 1081.

Yet, when President Gloria Arroyo signed Proclamation 1959 last Dec. 4, the immediate reaction against her imposition of martial law was—nothing.

I do not know what you were doing on this day, but I was listening to Newsbreak’s multi-awarded investigative journalist Miriam Grace Go challenge local Mass Communication students assembled during the McLuhan Forum at the St. Theresa’s College Little Theater to “watch the watchdogs.”

From Gigi and other working press colleagues I heard the questions I did not see anywhere on print or on cyberspace: why were there so many journalists, many of them from the same outfit, joining the ill-fated convoy massacred in Ampatuan? If the objective of the news coverage was the filing of Buluan Vice Mayor Ismael “Toto” Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy at Shariff Aguak, why did the press not go directly to the Comelec provincial office located there?

I am so not getting this.

The irrelevance of lesson plans for learning journalism was set on Nov. 23. In the morning, Mass Communication students listened to the Peace and Conflict Journalism Network (Pecojon) talk about the “invisible” victims maimed, killed, displaced by war in Mindanao.

“It is a story that has not been fully told even inside the country,” Pecojon’s Antonia Koop told an academic audience that viewed a sampling of the works of Mindanao photojournalists as if we were viewing the last rainforest tribe, so absent are these pictures from the local and national press.

That evening, we went home and watched the killing fields of Ampatuan yield the first bodies of the massacred 57. Last Dec. 11, I saw my first Facebook photos showing the uncovered remains of Ampatuan victims.

Melting and oozing, the bodies were none too fresh but, in a sense, still meat displayed on an online slab. It took me 15 minutes to read fellow-journalists’ tagged notes on Cebuanos’ concern over martial law in Maguindanao, but less than a minute to scan the ripe body shots.

In Journ 101, I learned and now teach writing captions to contextualize photos. On Facebook, no cutlines are required; visuals talk. My students who come from Mindanao or who visited parts of it complain that what’s hogging the news media is not all of Mindanao, not even 1/99th. It’s just that what bleeds, leads. That’s Journ 101, too.

As I write, it’s 13 days till Christmas. I am so not getting this.

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 13, 2009 “Matamata” column

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Of mice and women

THE TINY dirty kitchen at the back of our house has, shall we say, been colonized by tiny invaders.

Tiny meanies. Big ears. Or plain mice.

The euphemisms I think up primarily consider the feelings of my mother, who believes naming Them aloud will dispatch Them on a frenzy of ratty destruction.

Nibbled a favorite pair of pants that can never be worn unless I want people staring at the oddly placed holes. Left in my Mary Janes fuschia pellets so pretty I thought of windblown seeds until they melted and smelled.

Though oblique, the evil we bear against Them is sleepless and undying.

Of us all, no one is colder and more calculating than our companion, Puring.

When the supermarkets seemed to run out of this fast-selling poison that dimmed the rodents’ sight so they sought the light and died conveniently out in the open, Puring discovered that a pail filled with a little water was as efficient and a lot cheaper.

Placed overnight under a tracery of branches from where They usually divebombed, the pail was a death chamber that always had two or three floaters, who gave up the ghost after swimming all night. Though masters of escape, even They could not scale the murderously smooth insides of the pail.

Any morning survivor was thrown out with the water in our garden, where a cartel of cats controls all operations.

Winning our war against the rodents just bugs me a little.

You cannot be around rats and not know how smart, or smarter, they are.

You think you run a clean place? One day, the floor drain you always figured was stuck suddenly pops us and black beady eyes look you up and down.

So I wonder why They always fall for the death-by-drowning extreme challenge nightly plotted out, with no variation, by our companion.

Are They becoming intellectually sluggish from eating what we’re also eating?

Do They regularly prune the clan of the bad and useless sort so the plastic death chamber is actually a convenience, a ready pit into which they can toss off their rubbish?

Without a doubt, the bodies I glimpsed before the cats took them away for processing were tiny and immature. I didn’t see the corpse of one of the semi-bald, battle-scarred veterans that are as big as cats, they think they are the cats and cuff around my spitting and bottlebrush-tailed felines as if they were kindergarten kitties.

So, Sherlock, what can we conclude? Adult rats never take a swim?

Or it’s only the babes that fall to their deaths, and the survivors simply watch and take their cue and endure.

I wonder if this is one of the pitfalls of naivete or just natural selection among rats?

Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu is challenging Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. in next year’s Maguindanao gubernatorial election.
Reports reached Mangudadatu that his political rival will chop him to pieces if he files his certificate of candidacy (COC).

What does a man do when someone threatens his life?

On Nov. 23, 2009, Mangudadatu sends his wife, sisters, aunts, aides, lawyers and journalists to file his COC at the Commission on Elections office in Shariff Aguak.
Mangudadatu believed that the women and the journalists would “deter” an attack.

In the tragedy that has come to be known as the Maguindanao Massacre, at least 57 people were abducted, tortured, buried alive and desecrated, not just in the killing fields of Ampatuan but in invasive news images and reports.

In more than one interview with the media, Mangudadatu does his version of breast-beating: he enumerates, by each harrowing detail, the atrocities carried out on his wife, Genalyn. He keens for justice before seguing into his political ambitions.

I am a woman and my instinct, in danger, is to gather my loved ones and shield them. I do not understand Mangudadatu.

But as with our Tiny Meanies, I will not give up observing and drawing the parallelisms of mice and women. 09173226131

* First published as Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 6, 2009 “Matamata” column

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What is owed

EMILIANA Catipay Catubig had a choice few are granted.

She chose the manner of her going.

Tuesday afternoon. The 89-year-old woke up in her own bed. She was in the house her late husband, Gregorio, made for her. She first entered it as a bride of 18.

Now, after a lifetime of farming, livestock raising and housekeeping for a husband and 11 children, she hardly left her home now. She distrusted motorcycles for hire and disliked asphalt and cement, which made her feet swell.

That Tuesday afternoon, before the dream of Gorio even left her, she told her daughters, Santa and Pastora, to get ready. They had to go to the Poblacion in Samboan the following day.

We’re going to buy more rice; a lot of people will be coming here tomorrow.

This is what Toring recalled her mother saying, when she recounted this story later to the others who came home as soon as they knew.

When Emil said that their father had called out to her in her dream, her Toring blurted in Cebuano: don’t go, Ma, don’t listen to him.

In answer, Emil said she wished to wear the dress her children gave her during their golden anniversary.

If it’s going to be hard to put me inside it, just put the dress over my body, she directed.

Then she asked Toring to comb her hair, Antang to wipe her body with a wet cloth. The women changed the house dress their mother wore for a fresh one. When Antang went down to fetch something from below the house, Emil leaned against the arm Toring braced to support her, and passed away.

To contrast with our arrival in this world—violent, bloody, screaming—our departure from this place should afford us some kernel of solace.

Can’t death be at least tranquil? A homecoming without the fuss, a gentle slipping away to sleep? Winding down the story to return to that cocoon of unbeing before the spasms shook and expelled us, before we got pushed out to this world of light and noise and tumult.

Last Tuesday proved me wrong and correct. While Nang Emil left this world to enter her dream, I was following the news for the body count in Maguindanao.

From the 40 first reported as abducted last Monday, the media reports rapidly spiraled into a crescendo of infamy: 21 bodies found, which became 24, then 35, and, as of last Friday, “at least 57.” Never until now has the qualifier, “at least,” been unequalled in its power to chill.

In this country, a death is an occasion to celebrate the dead among the living. Travelling by bus, motorcycle and foot, Emil’s family, friends and neighbors gathered within hours to keep vigil, fulfilling her foreknowledge that more rice would be needed in her household.

While a son and neighbors made her coffin, stories were told and retold; even jokes, swapped. A modest woman who only ventured out to till and hear mass, Emil was known never to turn down a neighbor in need, ready to share milled corn or meat preserved from the fiesta.

Five days after the abductions, a colleague tagged me on Facebook for the names of the 32 journalists massacred in Maguindanao. One is still unaccounted for. I’ve tried to look for the names of the other victims, if only to fight the numbing chill of a deathwatch-by-the-numbers.

Each of the victims was a person. Each had a family, loved ones for whom the vigil will be an unquiet one, not broken by remembrance and jesting, a mourning that will not end with the burial.

Last Thursday, the sun shone when Emil was brought down to the Poblacion for the last time. A downpour nearly drowned out the priest saying last rites in the church. But the sun was out again when the community walked to put her to rest in the local cemetery.

Uneventful, ordinary. A suitable passing that’s denied the 57 Maguindanao massacre victims, “at least,” their families, our country.

For what is owed, let there be then no forgetting; no resting until the rule of law brings the murderers and conspirators to justice.

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 29 “Matamata” column

Saturday, November 21, 2009

When words eat us up

IN THE age of borderless connections, we celebrate disconnecting.

Around Christmas, the New Oxford American Dictionary announces its Word of the Year (WOTY).

For 2009, the WOTY is “unfriend.”

Explaining their choice in, Christine Lindberg attributed the new verb’s “real lex-appeal” to its “currency and potential longevity.”

The senior lexicographer for Oxford’s US dictionary program traced the origins of the unlikely verb to the act of demoting a friend in online social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn.

In her online column (, The Huffington Post’s “Friendship Doctor,” Dr. Irene S. Levine, observed that “the act of unfriending (or defriending) is part of the normal pruning process of maintaining a presence on social media… It's easy to collect more friends than you want or need.”

Levine cites possible reasons for this reversal of electronic affections: “if someone posts too often, bores you, lurks without posting, has questionable politics or ethics, says something caustic or insensitive, acts unpredictably, or even uses too many exclamation points.”

The speed of connecting and disconnecting on the New Media has left me— still does—hopelessly panting and choking in virtual dust.

I learned to text only in 1996 when the husband threatened to cite my anti-technology mindset as an “irreconcilable difference;” sent email without my sons-slash-instructors watching, in 2000; and finally posted in my Facebook Wall, without my 11-year-old teacher hollering in frustration, just this September.

As a blogdie (my moniker for oldies who finally create a web journal or blog), I use merely shovelware, having never uploaded material I’ve written only for the Web.
Yet, even if I am simply cutting and pasting my columns from our website to my blog, I still go over a piece I’ve already edited several times before emailing this to my paper’s opinion editor.

Growing up with books and newspapers, I believe the published word is a commitment.
Before passing on information, a writer must verify with many sources. To write with nuance and insight, you must connect to hidden, more difficult pathways: remembrance, experience.

Writers must do their best to get it right the first time. An error demands you make amends: apologize, correct, move on.

But for as long as a copy exists, a mistake can have a life unanticipated by its creator. Lies bloat and float.

On the Internet, hit the “delete” button and empty the bin. It’s that easy to trash. Or unfriend.

Yet certain online content is indelible.

On Nov. 3, Celebrity Nation TV uploaded a video showing Manny Pacquiao driving away from the “Jimmy Kimmel Live” show. Beside him, an unidentified woman passenger shields her face from the fans and paparazzi.

After the Nov. 16 thanksgiving mass, “TV Patrol World” aired a footage of Pacquiao’s wife, Jinkee, crying and then rejecting the boxing champion’s embrace during the “Peace be with you” segment.

If you missed these videos on their original portals, Youtube preserved these. If you’re not wired, you can’t miss the tabloid speculation, the radio buzz, the roadside gossip. By way of different channels, the “Manny, Jinkee and Krista” circus was spread.

The more virulent of media viruses do not confirm before crucifying; they damage by allusion.

Viewers razed a TV network for airing the “Crying Jinkee” footage because, allegedly, Pacquiao was not part of its TV family. But the other network that exclusively aired the Pacquiao fight but did not air the Jinkee video was also panned for, allegedly, failing to live up to its company motto of “no bias, no slant.”

Even a learning institution was pilloried for featuring Krista the starlet in its infomercial touting the university’s motto, “Man for others.”

Given the roadkill left by videos rampaging on the Information Highway, another new verb might be handy: “vidhex.” Mommy Dionisia can blame her son was vidhexed, cursed by videos and not by his own poor timing or self-control.

Did I call it a verb? Perhaps, it’s a noun, as in a scapegoat. 09173226131

* First published as “Matamata” column in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 22, 2009 issue

Sunday, November 15, 2009

In defense of mania

I WAS shelf-shocked.

One afternoon after class, I swapped lunch for a visit to one of my haunts for used books.

My mind was on finding body parts investigated by Kathy Reichs’ forensic anthropologist, Temperance “Bones” Brennan, when I spotted the greenblack spine resting on top of a pile of mint covers.

Breathe in, out. That’s what Tempe did when she came upon the freezer holding a serial killer’s collection of meticulously labeled plastic bags, mementoes of various kills.

Except that the book, age-mottled and seemingly abashed to be in such bright company, made me empathize more with the human predator, scanning lovingly such ghastly souvenirs and relishing the memories.

Was it possible that the gods of bibliophilia were smiling on me? Had I exchanged cold tuna and rice for a rare and valuable find?

Alas! The book did not turn out to be the Gutenberg Bible or even Shakespeare’s First Folio.

According to its title page, the “Het Boek der Psalmen” was published in Amsterdam in 1905.

By five years, it’s on the wrong side of the 19th century, which demarcates the period interesting to antiquarian book collectors.

A few years ago, I interviewed John, who now lives in Cebu but stores his treasured collectibles in another country he would not even disclose.

Unlike the rest of us who read books to breathe and only incidentally beg, borrow or steal something to read, John, due to his book trade and his proclivities, lives to dive to the bottom of bargain bins on the chance of bumping into, say, a first edition or, better yet, a handwritten artifact made before 1455, when Europeans discovered printing and first used the word “edition.”

While John confirmed that it does seem that the country is not as crazy about reading as texting or running for public office, he said we were at least conducive for book hunting and collecting.

Book sales and secondhand booksellers in the country ensure that books are still energetically sold, exchanged, even occasionally hurled at incorrigible readers in one of their deaf-to-the-world trances.

John the Collector impressed me, but I remained dubious. Aside from inescapable chores and bills, termites and humidity cool the passion for collecting books in this clime.

Surrounded by public schools without libraries and children who have never lost themselves in a book, it is also a sin to cling to bibliomania, the mild (only because it is not criminal) disorder dictating the compulsive accumulation and hoarding of books.

Then there is the Filipino value of “pakikisama,” or coexistence, which warns you to leave space in the marital bed for the person you marry, who will not take kindly to being displaced by any stiff-backed rival with perfect binding.

But a 104-year-old book of psalms converted me.

The first collectors in England moved to rescue books when the minions of kings plundered and stripped the monastic libraries.

Book collecting may seem downright exotic in this country, where public purses favor libraries less than flyovers and waiting sheds.

The volume I weighed on my hand was not owned by Voltaire, whose ownership made priceless his copy of an 18th-century book written by an author no one remembers.

Though neither bowed nor shelf-cocked, from resting crooked in a cabinet, the psalm book has its collectible value further reduced by the provenance written on its brittle flyleaf: “Minnie De Zeeuw, March 27, 1908, 12th birthday.”

This volume’s endpapers are stuck and torn; many pages, dogeared. Like a luckless fading beauty, the book has not escaped foxing, the brown spots that will someday tan as a prelude to crumbling.

Worst of all, the book is in Dutch and nearly covered in musical notes, two languages locking me out.

So why did I bring her home with me? Perhaps it was the price: P50. Curiosity about its first owner, Minnie-who-would-be-113-years-old-had-she-lived-till-now.

And a feeling that the obscure can illuminate; the deranged, enthrall. 09173226131

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 15, 2009 issue

Skewered symbolisms

Judging by its bumper sticker, this Multicab I spotted during rush hour dreamed big: “When I grow up, I want to be a dump truck.”

Hours later, even after a grueling morning and a delayed lunch, I still had the chuckles when I recalled that wee car and its owner’s Goliath-sized humor.

I wish the same bug bit the brains behind those political ads.

Night after night, they’ve thrown everything at hapless voters eating their doomed dinners. Everything but humor.

From-rags-to-riches Manny. Loren Kalikasan. Chiz the Chipmunk. Now-showing-Erap. Noy and the Fireflies, flipsided with Galing at Tiyaga.

One night, I caught myself wondering if it was spray net or glue that kept Noynoy’s top strands from rearing up and flickering their forked tongues in the combined heat generated by the native torches in that sing-along ad.

Then I became ashamed. I missed the point.

The message wasn’t about not letting the journey towards democracy ruffle one’s hair. I think it was about the son of Cory and Ninoy not being overshadowed by overpriced imported lampposts.

Still niggled by a feeling I missed the ad’s subtlety, I consulted the third edition of “Media Effects Research” at the excellent library of St. Theresa’s College.

According to author Glenn G. Sparks, researcher and teacher at Purdue University, media effects research holds that there are two ways to convince people. The central route to persuasion appeals to reasoning.

However, this high road has the disadvantage of stimulating people to think of arguments to counter the persuasive message.

The cognitive approach to persuasion is particularly limited with audiences that perceive the message as counter-attitudinal. When you are exposed to something that is contrary to your beliefs or attitudes, you are naturally critical, defensive and combative.

Does that mean ads are useless on political foes?

Villar’s ads meet the two values of successful propaganda, as laid down by Fritz Hippler. According to Sparks, the mastermind of Nazi propaganda attributed Hitler’s success to his campaigns’ simplicity and repetition.

I’ve lost count of the ads multiplying Manny the Compassionate during primetime. I don’t remember the other dramatic personas he projects through his ads.

But I can confidently hum the ditty accompanying the little girl miming her way around one of the townhouses constructed by a Villar-owned company. So whenever the TV screen shows the latest paid-by-friends-of-Villar ad, testimonial or pseudo news story, I supply my own background music: “Bulilit… bulilittttt (small person).”

If not for foes, are political ads then for one’s supporters?

Sparks writes that fear, guilt and humor may be used to reinforce persuasion. The third element specially disarms people, a good tactic in these joke-ready islands.

But a joke that’s gone too far may be something that wasn’t one in the first place.

Noynoy’s overproduced MTV spotlighted the showbiz “friendships” forged by his popular youngest sister. In this glitzy sphere, perhaps the makeover of Noy’s sparsely furnished head was inevitable in the footages, even in his cut-out image sprayed on a yellow banner.

Noy’s media handlers should know that his believers (count me in) don’t mistake Noy the Wispy for Noy the Wimp. Those few straying strands covering his noggin might be all that distinguishes his profile from that of a mushroom, but I think the fellow offers a drastic change from the Fungus in the Palace.

So if neither for friends nor for foes, for whose benefit then is the airing of political ads?

When a message is packaged as mere entertainment, this peripheral route was found to be more effective in introducing changes. People watching gyrations in a noontime show are not gearing up like a talk show audience to rant and pummel their agendas into their opponents’ skulls.

Political ads may just be exercises in the driest form of humor, packaged ostensibly as samples of the art of self-delusion but actually inviting the audience to find the caricature, take aim and have a chuckle.

In the cost-conscious world of primetime advertising, there is no time to account for performance, discuss programs, recommend solutions. It’s not unlike being caught in traffic.

You have time to read a bumper sticker.

And hope you get the joke at the end. 09173226131

* First published in “Matamata” on Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 8, 2009 issue

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Live, work and die

NEARLY all of us work to live.

According to this article, we also work to die.

The news website,, published the findings of a British study showing the link between death certificates and means of livelihood.

According to Andy McSmith’s Oct. 30, 2009 article, “Cause of death? It depends what you do for a living...,” a Southampton University research team collated the findings from 40,000 death certificates issued during the 1990s.

They established a pattern of death among people pursuing a certain occupation.
Asbestos puts to the grave a high number of carpenters, fitters, electricians, plumbers and gas fitters. Coal dust shortens the life of so many mine workers, black lung disease is also called coal workers' pneumoconiosis. Silicosis, the oldest known occupational disease, dooms sandblasters, rock cutters and miners inhaling silica in quarries or mines.

But the researchers also caution: “The results are purely statistical, which means that they cannot prove a causal link between an occupation and a disease, proving only evidence of a statistical association."

Instead of lifting all the veils, some of the findings deepen the final enigma, death.

Some examples:

Male hairdressers are more likely to die from Aids; women hairdressers, less likely. Researchers’ conclusion: cutting hair does not cause Aids.

Also exhibiting greater than average risk from Aids are tailors, dressmakers, nurses, journalists and creative people.

If Aids is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and HIV is spread by intercourse, contaminated needles, blood transfusion and contaminated breast milk, what risky behaviors are shared by hairdressers and journalists, nurses and dressmakers?

Literary and artistic types are more likely to die from drug abuse, established the Southampton University study.

If one is tempted to blame the casualties on intellectual meltdown, The Independent report dispels this: drug abuse also claims a lot of construction workers.

Another mystery: Lymphatic cancer claims many in teaching. Query the researchers: Is there something in the classroom or a lecture hall that is silently killing them?

Yet the academics have a very low death rate from lung cancer or heart disease. One statistician’s theory: sensible behavior.

The British statisticians stress a third point: there may exist “‘spurious consequence’ of an unusually high incidence of a different cancer.”

Thus, the suicide crashing doctors, dentists, vets, nurses, and ambulance workers is not from work-induced despair. The researchers say that health workers know how and can get hold of the means to rush to their own conclusions.

Among the most likely to be killed are bartenders. The risk is not from underworld denizens wheelin’ and dealin’ in clubs, but the elevated levels of violence bar patrons are prone to after putting away a lot of liquor.

Is there one unquestionable certainty the reader can extricate from this sticky web of statistics and interpretations?

Stay away from cars, advises the death monitors. During the study period, nearly 50 percent perished in car accidents while at work.

Will mass transit prolong our lives or rush us to premature oblivion? 09173226131

* First published as “Matamata” column in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 1, 2009 issue

Sunday, October 25, 2009


WHAT’S caught in the crossfire between student activists and the military?

Truth and democracy, assert student organizations and cause-oriented groups calling for the release of three student leaders recently arrested after an encounter described by the military as a “shootout” in Zamboanguita, Negros Oriental.

Truth and democracy, assert the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which have charged the arrested youths, including one shot and killed during the encounter, as rebels. Officials allege that the Communist Party of the Philippines-NPA-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) is duping students into joining its armed struggle.

In this “crossfire” of opinions and assertions, there are other “collateral damages.”

The term refers to casualties and damages unexpectedly caused among civilians or non-combatants during military operations.

The promise of a life unrealized. Hopes of parents, a family’s second chances. The inimitable vision and energy of the young, who believe even before changes are realities.

Of the proposals forwarded to break the impasse, nothing satisfies.

Choose organizations well, the police advises the young.

Then they ruin their own advice by naming organizations they’ve tagged as subversive.

Do the authorities have a dossier on every member in these hotbeds of rebellion? If they do, why don’t they file a case and present their evidence in the courts?

Don’t ruin your future by joining the underground, admonishes a local government consultant.

Then he blows his own horn by praising their countermeasures to offer livelihood in exchange for rebels’ surrender.

We must be succeeding, chortles the bureaucrat. The Left now resorts to recruiting the young instead of adults.

Use the youths then as a bureaucrat’s benchmark and indicator, he could have said.

Don’t use the young in your power struggle, a party list leader challenges the CPP-NPA-NDF.

The rebels are “masters of deception” in duping the youth, notes the police.

Student groups assert that the military infiltrates campuses with their Student Intelligence Network (SIN), fielded through programs like the Reserve Officers Training Corps.

Some schools deploy their own version of student intelligence agents or student intels, like SIN, to monitor and report on campus organizations and publications in exchange for money, exemptions or other incentives.

When student leaders are found in the mountains, the military lumps them with the rebels infesting the area.

That must be why the military says they have no SINs in campuses, only overaged and overstaying sympathizers.

As an alternative to violent overthrow, teach students to believe in education to cure society’s ills, asserts an educator.

Yet, some of our students are disillusioned, he also admits.

We do have isolated cases in the masses crowding the halls of academe, is this believer of education’s final say.

Can the young be blamed for being idealistic? asks a religious leader.

Track your children, the police remind parents.

In this country, where something worse than the heat drains the heart and mind, we are bound to lose some of our young.

To parasites, big and small, invincible and invisible.

To greener pastures.

To comfort, self-denial and forgetting.

But also to history. 09173226131

* First published as “Matamata” column in the Oct. 25, 2009 issue of Sun.Star Cebu

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Beyond Big Brother

NOBODY watches like Big Brother.

In George Orwell’s “1984,” Big Brother embodies the chilling concept of a totalitarian state that is omnipotent in its access to the innermost recesses of the life of Everyman.

Currently, some women regard the state with ambivalence, uncertain whether to take Big Brother as their last resort or the final blow in the arena of sexual politics.

Take, for instance, the National Statistics Office (NSO) -issued Certificate of No Marriage Record (Cenomar), which indisputably proves that a man or woman is single and thus free to enter into marriage.

Women attested that they and their children were easy to jettison because their common-law partners have a Cenomar attesting that they are unencumbered by an existing marriage.

In this paper’s columns published on Sept. 13 and 20, and Oct. 4, 2009, I’ve also written about other women who used the Cenomar to their advantage. For verifying a suitor’s true status, a Cenomar is cheaper than a private investigator and more reliable than a card reader.

More importantly, a Cenomar also opens doors for a woman to leave an exploitative relationship and move on to independence or a better relationship.
However, even Big Brother has limits.

A reader who wondered if the NSO can track the number of marriages her overseas husband contracted outside the country will not find anything in his Certificate of Marriage (Cemar) to confirm or negate her suspicions.

Lawyer Rosemarie Olaño-Versoza, a Cebu Media Legal Aid member and University of the Philippines in the Visayas Cebu College lecturer on media, law and ethics, confirms this. “If the marriage was entered into outside the country, then our country will never have such a record… Hers will always remain a suspicion until she can get someone to confirm that her husband indeed is having another relationship abroad.”

Warned by friends about the other family, the same reader tried to clarify the matter with her husband, who instead quarreled her. Alienated by her husband’s physical and emotional distance, this reader wonders who can help her and her children.

Versoza notes that, “with or without her husband marrying the ‘other woman,’ that… is still marital infidelity. Of course, if the husband indeed married the other woman abroad, he can be criminally liable for bigamy.”

Worse than emotional and sexual disloyalty is financial neglect. Two readers have long excised their unfaithful partners from their lives. One thing still rankles, though. Eight years after her separation, this reader still fights for her daughter’s rights. “(My ex) supports (our child) but only (when) he wants to.”

She considered filing a petition for support in court but hesitated due to her finances. “Under our Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) law, failure to provide support to the children is now a crime: financial abuse. So, fathers who don't provide support to their children can now be criminally charged under VAWC,” opines Versoza.

According to the June 17, 2009 special report by Cherry Ann T. Lim of Sun.Star Cebu, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa), the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (CBCP-Ecmi) and Lihok Pilipina help wives locate their overseas husbands.

Lim quoted Owwa data ranking as the top complaint the non-remittance of financial support by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). “On the surface, the problem is non-remittance… But usually this is a manifestation of other ‘hidden problems,’ like a conflict in the relationship of the couple, or the OFW having vices or another family already.”

Aside from the free legal assistance given by the Department of Justice’s Public Attorney’s Office (DOJ’s PAO) to the indigent, Versoza says that the Children’s Legal Bureau Inc. (CLB) “assists cases involving child custody and support.
Sometimes, these services are for free if the woman can show that she is financially incapacitated. But if the woman can afford to pay, they ask for legal fees, which is actually lesser compared to those that are being charged by private lawyers.”

Readers can be updated on the rights of women and children by following the weekly column of lawyer Joan Saniel, CLB's executive director, and published in Sun.Star Superbalita (Cebu) and

While nobody watches like Big Brother, no one can help you like yourself. 09173226131

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Oct. 18, 2009 issue of the “Matamata” column

Sunday, October 11, 2009


AFTER lunch at her home this week, my grandmother served this “sera gana” to sate our appetites: fresh “lomboy” mixed with dried “kyamoy”.

It was my first time to eat this combination. Instead of the rock salt of my youth, the preserved plums gave the “lomboy” its bite.

The brick-orange plums were in turn soaked in purple juice.

Popping into my mouth a dark moist plump seed and having my tongue discover instead the sweet-salty grittiness of the preserve was to be reduced to a state of startle-tongued pleasure.

But even this paled to my lola’s story: the “lomboy” was given to her by a nephew, who picked them from a tree that flowered and bore fruit for the first time in years.

As someone whose shirts were often smeared with the irremovable stains of “lomboy” juice, I can confidently place “lomboy” in the same season as “siniguelas.”

These are summer fruits, sweetest in May, when the sun drove us children so restless, we braved even the brittle treacherous branches to gorge ourselves on the black beads silhouetted against the sky.

In my 44 years, I’ve never heard of “lomboy” in October.

I have yet to hear my tito’s explanation for the strange behavior of his “lomboy” tree.

But if there is something I have absorbed from farmers and folks who live close to the earth, it is that there is nothing that happens without cause.

Trees bud. Fruits drop to the ground.

Cut trees. Without the bracing roots, soil slides away, forests slide away, lives slide away.

Yet, the calamities that battered us and will batter again, have not placed optimism and will in the list of casualties.

Just as typhoon Pepeng swept through the country, I received a potted seedling and an invitation to join a nationwide tree-planting spearheaded by the Aboitiz companies last Oct. 10.

The seedling of Cebu Cinnamon is endemic to Cebu. According to a company press release, 26 companies with a total of 800 volunteers are targeting to plant “approximately 1 million trees to offset the carbon emission of (Aboitiz) companies.”

Last year, when I visited the Kan-irag Nature Park located at the headwater of the Kotkot river watershed, the Cinnamomum cebuense trees pointed out by the Cebu Holdings Inc. guide towered over me.

The Aboitiz-given seedling enabled me to touch and observe for the first time the almond-shaped leaves with their perfect parallel stripes.

It is bracing to realize that two Cebu-based companies participate in conservation efforts to bring back indigenous trees. According to the Cebu Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc. (CBCFI), the Cebu Cinnamon is “one of the world’s rarest trees.”

My first sight of the tree that grows only in the last remaining forests of Cebu and nowhere else was the computer image printed on the CBCFI poster tacked outside the Natural Science bulletin board in my college.

Since it was first described by Kostermans in 1986, the Cebu Cinnamon has been the focus of community-based conservation, involving individuals, local governments and the private sector. A 2008 paper uploaded on notes that there were more than 800 Cebu Cinnamon trees spotted in the six largest forests in Cebu in 2006, up from only 49 trees counted in 2003.

When I transplant soon my Cinnamomum cebuense in the uplands of Alegria, I hope to notch one more tree to make up for my own carbon emission (“a tree can capture an estimated 0.7 tons of carbon dioxide in its lifetime,” notes the Aboitiz tag).

Selfishly, I hope, too, my grandchildren savor its shade some day. 09173226131

* First published as the “Matamata” column in the Oct. 11, 2009 issue of Sun.Star Cebu

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Hope for the bitter half

BE careful about what you wish for.

Local civil registrars require Filipinos applying for a marriage license to submit a Certificate of No Marriage Record (Cenomar) issued by the National Statistics Office.

This paper is at the root of many a woman’s lament. I’ve written about the Cenomar in the Sept. 13 and Sept. 20 issues of this paper.

Here’s the pattern of the Cenomar’s misuse and abuse, as shared by readers:

- Jun uses a Cenomar as a pièce de résistance to start affairs. His common-law partner, Gabriela, endures the emotional abuse for the sake of their youngest child, whose college studies Jun still supports.

- In reaction to the Sept. 20 column, Tonette Rellin posted in the Sun.Star Cebu website that her common-law husband secured a Cenomar to apply for permanent residency in Canada. He now lives with and supports a woman, who is legally married to someone else, after abandoning and denying support for his children with Tonette.

- Applying for a boyfriend’s Cenomar, V. receives a Cemar instead. Knowing he can’t marry her is not as bad as realizing he lied to her.

Yet, despite the philanderers using the Cenomar to camouflage their abandonment of partners and children, Tonette believes women should “be smart enough not to be fooled (by) so-called ‘love,’ they have to use their common sense.”

Tonette and Gabriela are actually fortunate because their common-law partner’s Cenomar guarantees them the same freedom: they can marry another person.

This is the encouragement made by lawyer Rosemarie Olaño-Versoza, a member of the Cebu Media Legal Aid (Cemla). When I recently met the GMA news anchor and fellow Mass Communication lecturer at the University of the Philippines in the Visayas Cebu College, I asked Rose to share her advice as a lawyer and social advocate, as well as a happily married wife and mother.

Rose says a woman’s course of action depends on her honest answer to the question, “What do I want to do after I accept that my partner is comfortable about The Others (women and/or family)?”

We believe that couples can work to save their marriage after an infidelity if the unfaithful partner is repentant and desires to reform. But a serial philanderer not only scars a woman but also their children. Worse, ignoring or forgiving infidelity makes a woman a conspirator in her own abuse.

As the saying goes: “the first time he plays around, shame on him; the second time, shame on me.”

Like wedded ones, common-law wives deserve their partner’s fidelity and support or, at the least, the honesty to end ties before starting others.

In making decisions about her future, women must think long and hard about their children, adds Rose. It’s not only because children bear the effects, often lifelong, of abusive and failed relationships. The “bloodiest” legal struggles are waged over the custody and support of children, she warns.

But enduring a partner’s abuse “for the sake of the children” is a mistake that ruins not just marriages but parenting ties. A monster of a husband can be a saint to his children, who may blame their “workaholic” mother for pushing their father to stray.

Honesty about the reasons behind the decision to separate and civil behavior in working out support and visiting arrangements is the ideal, difficult but not impossible in typically inarticulate, indirect Filipino families.

Lastly, Rose stresses that a woman must earn her own money to cut free from abusive relationships. This financial independence buttresses her will and sustains the long, expensive legal struggle to live without compromising one’s dignity or the future of one’s children.

L. didn’t need a Cenomar to wake up from the “perfumed nightmare” of marital betrayal. Though childless, L.’s peace of mind and work suffered following the abandonment by her doctor-husband after six years of marriage. He was already unfaithful when they were newly wed.

When he denied that they were legally wed, L. secured a Cemar from NSO. Her suit against him is now being handled by a non-government organization offering legal alternatives for abused women.

“i love my husband but I also hav 2 luv myself more,” she texted after reading the Sept. 13 column. “lyf s 2 short 2 spend… with a person not worthy of my trust and (devotion).” 09173226131

*First published as the “Matamata” column of the Oct. 4, 2009 issue of Sun.Star Cebu

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tibak, 37 years after martial law

THERE was a well, one day.

And later, plants encircling the ancient trunks.

A swathe of pebbles blanketed the ground another day. Workmen watered the shiny, carnivorous-looking leaves. Petrified blocks of wood became a table, a bench when, under the timeless trees, a student sketched on a pad.

Leaving my class one morning, I saw that the mouth of the well was a mosaic of glinting pieces of broken glass and tiles. It was so good enough to eat, I looked around for Hansel and Gretel to appear from behind the trees.

I have taken this path too many times to count. When I was a student, this route had straggling grass pushing past broken stone slabs leading to a decrepit office where tibaks (activists) made out, painted placards and streamers, read Ibon tracts and Issues Without Tears, tattered from being passed around.

This space we shared with the campus security, some administrator’s feeble attempt at check-and-balance.

We who were antsy about campus militarization sometimes went around to the other office to ask the guards to jimmy open the locked door when someone got too drunk again to remember to bring the key to the student council office.

We who were brusque and crude about the military, the state and the church would always knock first on the guards’ door in case we would catch them at an awkward time, changing into their uniforms, with their pants down or their ear glued to the thin walls, listening to someone read aloud Engels or poor Marx in mangled German.

Then as a teacher, I saw the struggling grass finally flattened and the ground, tamped on by students trooping to the new undergraduate building, rising amongst the trees.

When classes failed to normalize, the edifice remained “new” for quite a time. The security guards (another batch) accused students of stealing the starters to disable the fluorescent lights in the classrooms. The students took potshots: yes to consultation, no to overpricing, yes to state subsidy for education, no to corruption!

When the sun set and the trees cast longer shadows inside the classrooms with the missing starters, professors either graded recitation or resorted to storytelling. I transferred all my classes to 7:30 a.m. and have not changed my mind since.

A room that’s too dark to see the writing on the blackboard is still not as bad as the old Bagong Lipunan (New Society) classrooms located across the street. If it rained, the roofs dripped and the pathways flooded.

BL10, where aspiring journalists and broadcasters studied, was reportedly haunted: first, by agents that left electronic ears to monitor our teachers, prone to outspokenness and mini skirts; and then by A, a classmate who cleared her clogged sinuses by systematically blowing her nose on every inch of the room’s curtains (we never told the younger batches).

For all its waterlogged state, the BL10 years left more than an impression on me. I had teachers of all stripes: daughter of a Marcos crony, daughter-in-law of an opposition stalwart, mother of society columnists, daughter of the First Quarter Storm, estranged partner of an underground fighter and then wife of a consultant for international aid.

Teaching the young horrified by an early morning start, I try to pass on what I learned: embrace passion and a dictionary. I wince when I read, sprayed on the boulevard: “Outs Gloria!” I beam when I read my students blogging about the abandoned, the abused, the silenced, the hunk in very short shorts.

The garden emerging from the trees stopped me. A Fine Arts student’s final thesis, this spot of quiet and retreat is discordant with all that I remembered of the past 37 years.

Yet, isn’t that what we live for: capture space, leave a mark, be not left unmarked? 09173226131

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Sept. 27, 2009 issue of “Matamata”

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cenomar, take two

LAST week’s column about a serial philanderer who used a Certificate of No Marriage Record (Cenomar) to weasel out of his responsibilities to his family and take on multiple partners drew reactions from readers.

Issued by the National Statistics Ofice (NSO), the Cenomar establishes that a person has not contracted marriage.

Though technically unmarried, Jun (all names used in this column are aliases to protect real persons), intermittently goes home to Gabriela, his common-law partner of more than two decades.

Aside from using Jun’s NSO-certified eligibility to absolve him of any moral obligation to his family, his past and present partners flaunted the Cenomar to taunt Gabriela when she tried to assert her rights, as well as the interests of the children fathered by Jun.

Here are some of the reactions of readers, shared in the hope of clarifying matters. Whether a Jun or a Gabriela, you are meant to live with authenticity, with or without a Cenomar:

Reader, with mobile number 639268765589, texted that his or her Bohol-based niece was not yet able to apply for a marriage license as she still has to procure a Cenomar, which is one of the requirements stipulated in a municipal ordinance.

According to official websites and many blogs, only the following must be submitted with an application for a marriage license to the local civil registrar: a certified true copy of the parties’ birth certificates, parents' consent (for those aged 18-21 years) or parent's advice (for those aged 21-25 years); and Certificate of Attendance in a pre-marital counseling and family planning seminar conducted by the Division of Maternal and Child Health at the municipal/city hall where the parties have applied for a marriage license.

Those seeking to clarify if the Cenomar is required or not can email

The same reader complained about the high costs of documentary requirements for marriage.

While the expenses are considerable (online applications for birth certificates and Cenomars range from P315 to P415, reportedly P1,000 or more if “facilitated” by a third party), the risks and insecurity of live-in arrangements are also not inconsiderable.

Another reader, in her 20s, asked how to procure the Cenomar of the person she is dating. He is 10 years older than her and living alone. She doesn’t want him to know of her plans to apply for the Cenomar, but wonders if an online application will require more than his name and birthday, which is all the basic information she knows about him.

I advised the reader to visit the official NSO website at for information and the for online applications.

According to the former website, one can request for certifications of civil registry documents, such as the Cenomar, from the Office of the Civil Registrar General (OCRG) of the NSO.

The requesting party or his/her representative has three options: a personal application at any Census Serbilis Center (all outlets are posted on; the postal service system; or the e-Census website (

To facilitate verification of the records, the NSO requires the following information from those requesting a certification of no record of marriage: complete name of the person, complete name of the father, complete maiden name of the mother, date of birth, place of birth, complete name and address of the requesting party, number or copies needed, and purpose for the certification.

Perhaps before considering marriage with anyone, it is best to know more than just the basic information about him/her.

While irrefutable, a Cenomar cannot buy trust and peace of mind. 09173226131

* First published in the Sept. 20, 2009 issue of "Matamata" of Sun.Star Cebu

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Love in the age of Cenomar

UNLIKE other serial philanderers, Jun does not rely only on sweet words and favors to woo the woman of the moment. (Real names are not used.)

He presents a Cenomar to prove that he is what he claims: unmarried, without impediments. His honeyed technique clinches the deal.

The Cenomar is the Certificate of No Marriage Record issued by the National Statistics Office (NSO).

Bigamy (contracting a second marriage before the first has been legally dissolved) is a crime punishable under Article 349 of the Revised Penal Code. The second marriage is considered null and void under Article 35 of the Family Code of the Philippines.

The Cenomar is not required for marriage. But this piece of paper may bring peace of mind to those mulling to get hitched or, at least, probing the seriousness and honesty of a lover’s intentions.

But opportunists like Jun warp the law’s best intentions. Jun received his Cenomar after applying online at the e-Census and paying a fee of P400, which includes courier charges.

Gabriela, Jun’s common-law wife of more than 20 years, is sure Jun did not yet use the Cenomar in winning his No. 2. But No. 3 and No. 4 were quick to brandish the NSO certificate as part of their arsenal during their confrontation. Their point: since Jun did not marry Gabriela, she had no right to consider herself as No. 1.

It’s not only in telenovelas that love is deathless for the Pinoy. But so is its abuse.

Gabriela met Jun when he was just an apprentice and she, a clerk. Their two children came before the savings that could have sealed their union in civil or church rites. While he hopped from company to company, she earned extra money by accepting subcontracting work for accessories. Her funds kept the children in school, with occasional handouts for his mother when she came to her, not him, for aid.

Finally, Jun found steady employment. He rose up the ranks and became chief. And discovered, Gabriela recalls, that the world was “full of other skirts.”

At first, she fought the usurper, struggled to keep their family whole.

But the women’s names changed too fast to track. Jun himself kept a killing schedule, coming home after dinner with No. 3, leaving after to fetch No. 4 as she went off from work. He would leave her and the children for weeks, then months, without explanation. In every quarrel, he stressed that they were not married, that he owned the roof over their heads.

Still holding a clerical post and a clerical rate in her mid- 40s, Gabriela cannot afford to gather her tattered dignity and live apart. When their eldest challenged Jun after he hit Gabriela with an empty bottle during a fight, Jun stopped supporting the child’s studies.

Now, when Jun calls to arrange a pick-up of his allowance for the youngest, Gabriela grits her teeth and prays he will give enough this time.

She stopped counting after No. 4. She is civil to Jun when he shows up at home, in between affairs, because their youngest is graduating soon. Not too far behind, their eldest works at the college where he studies. When they learned that Jun fathered a third child, the children tell their mother they will find work soon so she will have the last laugh.

Sometimes, Gabriela doubts if she is the best mother/father she can be. Her children reassure her; I tell her to listen to the only judges worth heeding.

Gabriela and her girl friends laugh when I mention that the Magna Carta of Women and other laws protect women and children from physical, psychological and economic abuses in marital, dating or common-law relationships.

The same laws put a Cenomar in the hands of men like Jun, giggles Gabriela. The best revenge is to see your children succeed, retorts a friend. The best revenge is to find Mr. Right, asserts another.

After the giggles dissipate, I wonder aloud: if you don’t move out, what are the chances that Mr. Right will turn out to be Mr. Wrong all along?

In these tales of deathless love, don’t you smell a whiff of rot? 09173226131

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s September 13, 2009 issue of “Matamata”

Putting to rest unspeakable Spanish

FOR once, I was glad my boys have difficulty untangling certain Spanish-influenced words in colloquial use.

While our family was listening to a late night TV report, the anchor mentioned the word “pendejo” to refer to Luis “Chavit” Singson.

The deputy national security adviser was recently accused by his common-law wife of physically and emotionally battering her due to jealousy. Chavit denies that he hurt his partner, whom he says he caught in the act of sex with another man.

He alleges that his partner has had a string of lovers during their live-in arrangement of the past 17 years, a fact he sighs he would have kept private had she not publicly accused him of abusing her.

Authorities and advocates of women’s rights have condemned Singson for violating Republic Act 9262. The Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act of 2004 prohibits the physical, sexual, psychological and economic abuse of women and their children.

This law protects the human rights of wives, ex-wives and other women who have a “sexual or dating relationship” or have “common children” with the accused.

Recently, the Magna Carta of Women was also passed, strengthening the state policy of outlawing the violation of women’s rights in all spheres, from the personal to the social.

But that late-night newscast shows that Singson is not the only “Neanderthal,” as one paper’s editorial alludes, with an inability to accept the changed terms of gender relations.

When the broadcaster dropped the term “pendejo” in his report about the Singsons, I shot a glance at my boys whose expressions hardly registered signs that they heard anything at all. Spanish-influenced terms, such as those used for counting coins and telling time, still befuddle them.

On the other hand, I wondered about the media man’s choice of word, which retains the literal meaning as the English word, “cuckold,” but spits harsher implications.

In many Spanish-speaking nations, “pendejo” is never used in polite society. It is based on the Latin “pectiniculus,” referring to pubic hair. At its most diluted, the insult alludes to an oaf of bumbling incompetence. At its most virulent, the “pendejo” laughs at and pities the fool that does not know how to handle his woman.

While my grasp of the language is limited only to 12 units of unspeakable Spanish in college, I can hear the sneer and the smirk in the three-syllable profanity for the thrice-insulted: in the boudoir, in his place as head of the family, and in the company of other males who will applaud him if he drops his pants for other women other than his wife but who will jeer and call him names behind his back if his wife or her lover pulls down his pants for him.

In the ancient lingo of machismo, another sticky leftover from nearly four centuries of Spanish rule, the “pendejo” never goes stag. For every emasculated imbecile, there is his partner, the “puta.”

While the origin of the word is listed by the Royal Spanish Academy as uncertain, the Wikipedia cites popular usage for shortening the Spanish word “prostituta (prostitute)” to “p’uta.”

In referring to any female of “loose morals,” the catchall may do for the street walker as well as for the traitorous wife, both of whom machismo lumps with other she-devils who deserve what they get, their dignity as forfeit as their life.

That is what RA 9262 seeks to redefine. No matter what the female provocation—addiction to nagging, execrable cooking or shopping, an uninvited guest in the marital bed—men must never cease to communicate with their partners, seek counseling and pacific resolution of domestic problems, and curb the Neanderthal reflex to resort to violence.

But first, we must throw out the dirty macho talk. 09173226131

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s September 6, 2009 issue of “Matamata”

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Jealousy and the Pinoy

A SPATE of tragedies makes me wonder if jealousy may rival politics as the national passion.

While refilling grocery shelves, a worker was recently stabbed to death by a rival who suspected the victim of having an affair with the latter’s live-in partner.

Three other incidents in August led authorities to also blame the love triangle.

Approximately a week before the grocery attack, a female call center agent was stabbed to death by her partner, who also turned the knife on himself, in Lahug.
In Lapu-Lapu City, two kids had their throats slashed by their father, who then hanged himself.

In Mambaling, a woman was stabbed dead within hours after reuniting with her family. Her children blamed her live-in partner, who was overheard accusing their mother of reuniting with an old flame.

Psychologists hold that jealousy is part of the human condition. Even five-month-old infants are observed to exhibit insecurity and possessiveness.

But what triggers jealousy, defined as a fear of losing something or someone of value, to leap from self-inadequacy and sadness to murderous rage and an obsession with retaliation?

In the four cases mentioned earlier, the attackers were all males. All suspected their partners of being unfaithful; two were actually left by their partners.

Why was violence resorted to by the aggrieved males? Is it, as sociologists say, due to the primary insult inflicted by their partners against their machismo, the personal sense of identity and honor that decrees men must dominate, at least be regarded as better than other men?

Three of the four attackers were unemployed. Is the act of infidelity also perceived by the male Pinoy as a more grievous form of emasculation, specially when the replacement is younger, employed, better at providing; thus, the alpha male edging out the weaker rival?

Novelists and soap opera script writers always show males fighting to win the affection of their woman. Did it ever occur to the attackers in the four cases to win back their love? By seeking a priest or counselor to help them repair their union; cleaning up their acts and looking for a job; or pleasing their partners in bed, in the kitchen, with the kids’ assignments, in all fronts that matter? Was reconciliation ever considered? Why did everything have to be reduced to “me or nothing”?

Why does a man retaliate against an unfaithful partner by killing their children? According to philosopher Johan Frederik Staal, “runaway evolution” explains why there are masculine characteristics that are exaggerated to single out males as more virile, stronger, the better bet for survival.

So if the peacock can fan out his tail, the rooster strut with his brilliant cockscomb, and the male fiddler crab snap an enlarged claw, perhaps some males regard children as their extensions, proof of paternity and patronage.

The Lapu-Lapu City attacker texted his partner, “You can’t take our children with you because you have hurt them.” Then he slashed the throats of the children, aged four and six. Would it have hurt to ask the children to choose between being betrayed or staying alive? Did he not think he could raise two children by himself?

Perhaps suicide, like male inarticulateness, is not evolution-dictated, only mass media-created. Few things can be as addictive as pining heroines and strong and silent heroes.

But for the sake of those victimized by the runaway green-eyed monster, I hope the stuff of our melodramas can create new machos: one for whom relationships are lifelong processes, not mating competitions; whose self-esteem is not just in holding on to their women but also nurturing families. 09173226131

*First published under the “Matamata” column of Sun.Star Cebu’s Aug. 30, 2009 issue

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Deliver us

CAN one have two contrasting but gut reactions to an artist?

I first saw “Hapag ng Pag-asa,” a painting showing street kids eating with Christ, being sold as a postcard in the souvenir shop of a church.

Religious kitsch, I thought.

There were other postcards featuring the works of the same artist. Embedding the familiar biblical figure in contemporary scenes, the artist’s attempts to juxtapose material and social deprivation with redemption was as heavy-handed and vexing as a megaphone blaring during a street demonstration.

The postcards were not out of place in that shop selling commodities of varying degrees of piety and sentimentality.

After I made a circuit of the place, I stopped before the postcards’ display and picked up one reproduction of “Hapag.” What distinguished this from a glinting cardboard fan showing a red-and-gold icon or a pretty rosary bracelet with multi-colored stones and a tinkling crucified Christ?

The artist, I realized after some musing. I was curious about the person behind the visions emerging from the brush strokes.

Last Saturday, I joined the crowd milling around the exhibit of Joey Velasco in an uptown mall.

Velasco created “Hapag” and the other oil paintings featured in “Ang Ginoo Uban Nato.”

With a title referring to Velasco’s trademark motif of the Christ mingling with the poor, powerless and anonymous, the “heART EXHIBIT,” as billed by the Salesians of Don Bosco-Social Communications Office, drew many students, teachers and families.

I saw Fr. Fidel Orendain, SDB, social communications officer of Don Bosco Lawaan, and Velasco engage students and other members of a sizable audience in an informal, enthusiastic give-and-take. There was a crowd milling around a long table where poster-sized reproductions of the Velasco paintings were displayed for sale. Autograph-signing was lined up after the program.

After circling the paintings displayed outside, I entered the installation arc and came upon the actual “Hapag,” among other works.

Although they span nearly a decade, the paintings look, in the uniformity of their theme and technique, as if Velasco painted them in quick succession, with short breaks in between sittings.

This would be a glaring flaw, if I only wanted to chart Velasco’s expansion and depth as a painter. But as I understood from the exhibit handouts, Velasco is “more comfortable” about being called a “Heartist” than as an artist.

Seen from his perspective, his paintings attest to his inner journey, as leaves lifted from a journal will document the fall and redemption of someone who recovered from a “near-fatal illness” and mid-life anomie by discovering art and faith.

Understanding the role of social communication—the use of media for a specific social or political purpose—made me see the Velasco works in a new light. Certainly, the exhibit curatorship, which paired each painting with the artist’s reflection and stories behind the works, helped me find something to value beyond the visual clichés and sentiment weighing down a Velasco tableau.

When I was still in my high school skirt and blouse, I saw a newspaper review featuring two works from the Crucifixion series painted by Ang Kiukok. Ugly and brutal, the images stayed with me long after, flashing vividly when I crossed picket lines to cover strikes or penetrated inner cities to write about urban “resettlement.” Asked why he painted with so much anger, most notably during martial law, Kiukok replied, “Why not? Look around you.”

Watching school girls and their parents walk away, clutching their autographed reproductions, I hoped Velasco would deliver them from my Kiukok epiphany.

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Aug. 23, 2009 issue of the “Matamata” column

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Curtain call

AFTER the second street performance, my fellow passenger—another woman—interjected: The crazies are crowding the streets. Someone must do something about the price of gasoline!

I was on board a jeepney, one of the many choking the route along the piers.

The heat and the dust had hermetically sealed us in our separate cocoons of catatonia when traffic stalled our jeepney beside a woman bathing at the curb.

With a canister that once held cookies, she was scooping canal water and splashing it on her torso, arms, head.

The man across snorted. Two fellows exchanged comments I could not catch; the grins on their lips did not quite reach their eyes.

The rest of us, mostly matrons wilted from errand runs and young office workers, looked at the bathing woman in silence.

She wore only a pair of shorts. After each pouring, she shook herself, fiercely, like a dog shooting off missiles after the shock of water. Her breasts lashed from side to side, the brown nipples like runny yolks about to slide off the quivering mounds.

One of my nightmares is to find myself walking without clothes among the Monday morning rush hour crowd. Across me, a mall employee used the traffic lull to retouch her face, her compact an open clam revealing small beds of color and glitter.

In those dreams, which I’ve entitled “Retirement Panic,” my nakedness is just one of the details. What I dread is the precise moment the drones notice I am not one of them and turn on me.

So the woman bathing by the curb converted one fan in our jeepney. No marionette could match her mechanical stoop-scoop-splash-shake before a canal swollen from the recent rain. Was this not a bravura performance, I wanted to ask my snorting neighbor: See how the sun lights her up, how the jet-black water clears away and softens.

Sweltering, fidgeting, mumbling, we crawled on. When we stalled again in front of an abandoned commercial building, a woman wiping her naked torso on the steps forced a fellow passenger to blurt out her theory on the mental cost of rising prices.

While her comment drew out the men, seemingly relieved to clutch at reason and argumentation, I watched the woman methodically apply her rag behind her ears, under her arms, beneath her breasts.

Flesh spilled when she stooped over two piles of clothes. From one, she removed an item of clothing, which she transferred to the other pile. Remove, transfer.

A person dressing up or checking out apparel before purchase will hold up an item to spot a flaw or imagine how its features will play up her virtues.

This woman was beyond pedestrian vanity or covetousness. She picked up and piled up as if she was: about to wash them, knowing how clothes are a neverending trap for dirt; planned to burn them, as fire would finally deal with dirt; or was sorting clothes into two piles on a Tuesday afternoon “just because.”

Before The Sorter could break her rhythm to give me a clue, our jeepney moved on. My fellow passengers were now on the proposed jeepney fare hike, arguing with the driver why only fifty centavos, not P1, should be the ceiling as many PUJ drivers were currently not returning the fifty-centavo change for every P7 paid at the present P6.50-rate.

When our jeepney entered the tunnel of dust leading to the mall, the lady snapped shut her compact and the rest of us covered our faces with hands or hankies. If I didn’t clap, it was only because applause is rude in between performances. 0917-3226131

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s “Matama” column, published on August 16, 2009

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The dollhouse

The woman gave a start. The lady she espied turned out to be a geisha doll reflected on the mirror of a cabinet door that swung open.

She was one of the regulars who came to check this seller of usable junk. Cabinets, mattresses, rugs, bicycles, washing machines, freezers, fax machines—still serviceable, these goods were clustered along with their kind in sections marching neatly under the tin-roofed sheds in that sprawling lot.

Then there were the items cannibalized from junk and now grouped with objects having the same shape but different function. So small cowhide balls gathered dust beside multi-colored gashed bowling balls and opaque spheres of stone that could be paperweights or balls in a game the woman had never heard of.

It was her habit to stop first by these oddities, musing to find a reason why the clerks categorized as they did: what did fire hoses have in common with flexible hoses salvaged from discarded machines? Perhaps there was a housewife out there who might improvise a flexible clothesline, convertible for emergency escapes?

Her private game done, she inevitably drifted to the section of the dolls.

The first time she came upon them, she wondered if a museum had fallen on hard times and was forced to auction off its collection, lot by dirt-cheap lot.

There were court ladies swathed in glinting brocade, samurais, noblemen, wooden Kokeshis whose pale, pearl-like surface reflected beneficent expressions. A Meiji period battle horse raised a hoof and cocked its head, the fine, ash-white mane seeming to shiver in the vacuum of its box.

They seemed to have just stepped off a story, conjured from whimsy and so requiring the cases of glass and wood to prevent hands from pawing a lacquered coiffure, arranged in the ginkgo-leaf style, or the gossamer folds of a sleeve slipping a little to reveal a fine-boned wrist.

Wood and silk, stitch and paint, slight enough to disappear in a palm or glowering down on her like a painting come to life—the dolls fell into three or four easy-to-remember categories. No doubt to simplify purchasing decisions, the clerks priced dolls falling below half a foot to a thousand pesos; a bit higher, a few hundreds of pesos more.

Or perhaps, she mused, the clerks just factored more if the glass and wood case was thrown in. Houseless dolls, or parts of it, were in a jumble on one shelf.

During every visit, she invariably noticed women, even some of the men, gawking at the dolls. Then they moved on to the ceramic ware. A huffing clerk once complained he had the hardest work: to find and cluster same plates and bowls because customers liked to buy in sets.

Workmen cementing the ground outside attested that ceramics was one of the shop’s bestsellers. In the doll shed, the ground either invited visitors to wallow in its mud or set off little dust devils that coated finely the unsold display cases. A huge termite mound nearly covered one of the kiri wood boxes.

Despite the smell of damp and the sticky feeling of many eyes on her, the woman lingered longest among the dolls. They were a long way from home, where they were heroes of lore and myth, painstakingly made by hand, keeping faith with the ancient, bequeathed to the young, and now awaiting termites or a buyer.

The woman rarely thought of the dolls without thinking of their creators. But she had no space on her shrinking work table, not even a hundred pesos. She bought a small brass urn for fifty pesos, thinking of the paper clips that could be finally organized, and went home to catch the afternoon news. 09173226131

* First published in the Aug. 9, 2009 “Matamata” column of Sun.Star Cebu

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Yellow rules

STRENGTH assumes more power when encountered unexpectedly.

It rained heavily when I woke on Saturday morning. While I was switching on the laptop, my sons, aged 10 and 15, asked me if it was true that President Cory Aquino died. A Reuters story was the first article to confirm this.

When Ninoy Aquino was shot on Aug. 21, 1983, it was a sweltering Sunday. My father broke the torpor of our siesta with this breaking story, which he first heard from the old Sony radio that he always carried around.

It was one of the few times I saw Papang agitated. He predicted “anarchy” would break out. In the days that followed, the same fear dominated the thoughts of many, specially those who lived through the turbulence before and during Ferdinand Marcos’ imposition of martial law in the country.

For my generation of Martial Law babies, the Aquino assassination sent a frisson of anticipation. Finally, it seemed that anti-Marcos sentiment was crystallizing.

The Aquino slaying, a political act unprecedented in blatancy and recklessness, coalesced an unlikely alliance: politicians that seemed just shades darker or lighter than the tyrant residing in Malacañang, the Left, human rights victims and activists opposing the involuntary disappearances, muzzling of the press and other abuses of the regime.

Our noisy but outnumbered and fragmented group was now joined by the middle class, somnolent, determinedly non-committal but powerful in its resources and influence.

All around, the blinders of non-involvement were being taken off. People who did not boycott Coke, San Miguel beer and other cronies and who could not stop reading the officially sanctioned disinformation in the Manila Bulletin, Daily Express and Times Journal were turning up in the streets. You could hear the whisper sweeping the country, becoming more than a whisper: enough’s enough.

Yet many of us still had our doubts if the nation would be galvanized long enough to end the dictatorship. The cynicism was partly induced by history. We have few rivals in being overwrought but fickle, fervid but forgetful.

And then there was that unlikely figure uniting the Opposition: Ninoy Aquino’s widow, a woman whose soft, quivering and pallid voice could make the most impassioned call for an end to the dictatorship sound like a sonorous, sleep-lulling novena.

To many anti-Marcos veterans, Cory seemed more of an incongruity than a symbol. Her demure yellow callado shifts and yellow-rimmed granny glasses were reminiscent of picnics and old classmates’ reunions, not demonstrations and street polemics.

It was her color that should have cued us. Yellow is often portrayed as the color of cowardice. At its most innocuous, yellow is the sunny hue of smileys. In the palette of protest, no person or party ever adopted that shade, with its associations of betrayal and naivete.

The housewife not only reinvented the color yellow, she changed my perception of leadership. While she repudiated social injustice in no uncertain terms, Cory also stood for dialogue, reconciliation and peace. These were not just political catchphrases either with her.

She stood for the spiritual in an arena that worshipped power and influence. She walked and prayed the rosary when protests often ended in blame-throwing and clashes, even bloodshed. She was religious long before she came into political leadership, a contrast to other leaders who court the religious for political expediency.

And she voluntarily faded into private life, a rare bloom in a jungle that dictates tampering with laws and morality to cling to power.

In keeping with a lifelong class act, Cory Aquino asked the many concerned for her when she was diagnosed with cancer to “continue praying for the nation.”

When she passed away at dawn on the first day of the month that also saw her husband’s assassination and her unforeseen initiation into our country’s history, the rains poured heavily. It was as if the heavens also paid tribute to a soul that did not live by this world’s rules. 09173226131

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Aug. 2, 2009 issue of the “Matamata” column

Monday, July 27, 2009

Open Sesame!

ORDINARILY, a newly arrived package of books sets off a rash of sniffing around the spine and cover, usually to postpone the anticipated first taste of the first page.

However, when I touched the pouch containing the biographies of Isaac Newton and Pablo Neruda, I felt a third unexplained spine.

It was a notebook, nearly six inches by nine, covered in blue cloth, with about a hundred blank, acid-free pages.

On a card inserted inside the notebook, the seller said the notebook was a gift.

The Internet is amazing. Where is the marketplace that can bring together strangers whose purposes cross and match: one person wants to clear his apartment to make way for other books, the other is just dying to read the unwanted titles?

Where else but in this online chaos can the intangible and the impersonal produce a thing as blank but definable, as common but inimitable as a notebook?

Nothing, even on the Internet, can be as magical as a notebook.

In elementary, I used to pass on my school books to a friend who visited our family during summer vacation.

Although she was two or three years younger than I, she pored over those books, a feat that amazed me not only because this was done in summer, a time I used for thinking of creative ways to do nothing. A. told me that in her hinterland barangay, neither her schoolmates nor her teachers had these books or any books at all.

A. just wanted to read my old books because she hoped that, after finishing sixth grade, her parents would send her to high school.

My friend was specially drawn to Math. She spent nearly an entire summer just scanning my workbook before she asked me, a bit hesitantly, if she could also have my old notebooks.

I was about to tear off the unused pages but A. showed me how to remove the staple wires. She painstakingly snipped off the used pages, aligned the trimmed blank sheets, and backstitched with twine to bind a new notebook from the remnants of my old ones.

Today, I see some of my students bringing these “green” notebooks. Some deconstruct old notebooks and create a new one, using saved string or yarn, even shoelaces with neon smileys. In a sidewalk bin downtown, I saw notebooks made to look as if they were handmade.

It’s quite a trend, hip and cool for some youngsters.

All those summers ago, A. was not driven by a trend. She swam against the currents and eddies swirling her family and neighbors round and round their tiny sitio.

When she practice-solved the mathematical problems in my workbooks, she wanted a notebook that would fix in place and hold for keeps all her trials, errors and final solutions.

Doing her Math on loose slips of paper would not have worked. How would she know if she was doing something right if she no longer had the proof when a problem whose solution she had worked out years earlier would suddenly turn up in that remote classroom, by chance, by magic (what else could have made some things materialize in a blackboard in a classroom where no books warmed the hands and opened the minds of teacher and the taught)?

When I think of my friend, now entrusted with the finances of her long-time employer’s varied businesses, I am sure A. unknowingly started something else when she faced those blank, bound sheets as if she were Ali Baba unsealing the doors of the cave of wonders with the cry of magic, “Open Sesame!” 09173226131

* First published in the “Matamata” column of July 26, 2009 in Sun.Star Cebu

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The messenger is the medium

I learned about the deaths of Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Walter Cronkite from the Internet.

But after reading in one website about the transitions, I automatically surfed the Net for other sites and related stories.

More than curiosity, a need to verify the information fuels my reading.

Despite the power and the glory, the influence they wield over the public and the private, the awards and the accolades, journalists err.

I have to thank growing up during the Martial Law years for this unforgettable insight of media.

But in between reading and then rejecting the crony papers, borrowing and passing around underground papers, Xerox journalism and the alternative press, I also had a class reading assignment on “broadcasting icons,” among them, Walter Cronkite.

This Walt Disney lookalike, a fixture in American households for covering milestones such as John F. Kennedy’s assassination and Neil Armstrong’s first steps in the moon for mankind, urged everyone who hung on to his words, who trusted him more than any politician, who felt that nothing would shake order and continuity for as long as he would wrap up each day’s happenings, the trivial and the disastrous, with his Zen-like wrap—“And that’s the way it is”— to take to heart the exact opposite message of his TV-conferred image: “'For God's sake don't! Be skeptical. Be careful.'"

Cronkite was quoted as saying this to a fan who exclaimed, after meeting him, that she believed everything he said.

His passing last Friday brings back the memory of that class assignment, specially because now, more than ever, news-mediated realities are our closest approximations of truth.

Technology improves by leaps and bounds. In contrast, public’s trust of media shrinks, sputters, inches forward.

This love-hate relationship must give hope to journalists and the public. For media workers, it’s a challenge to make each article, every newscast matter. For the audience, it’s a call to do more than read, listen and view.

Think, said Cronkite.

Cronkite didn’t reach his peak in this age, jaundiced against journalists, governments, priests, advertisers and all other gods of clay.

He enjoyed a 20-year honeymoon with an American public that was still virginal, starry-eyed and dependent on national TV in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Watching his archived broadcasts on YouTube, I got a glimpse of the iconic shadow cast by the man for whom pundits created the word “news anchor.” Ever the professional, he reported facts, not speculation, and told audiences where the information came from (when fellow CBS reporter Dan Rather filed that Kennedy was dead, Cronkite noted that there was still no official confirmation of the president’s condition).

But such was the man’s credibility and the TV medium’s power to amplify, Cronkite’s handling of his black-rimmed eyeglasses magnified the moments when the news stirred the person beneath that impartial anchor’s demeanor: after he read the flash report citing official confirmation of Kennedy’s death, Cronkite removed his reading glasses, looked down as if avoiding the camera’s intrusion and swallowed convulsively. I can’t imagine anyone in the audience not breaking down then.

Or when Apollo 11 successfully made its lunar landing, Cronkite chortled off-cam, “Man on the moon!” Seconds later, removing his black rims, he muttered “Boy!” and rubbed his hands, like a child just delighted by the magical and the unimaginable.

Yet, what makes Cronkite a giant in my view is that he didn’t believe in the hype his adoring public created around him. He went on field before reporting the news, parachuting in during D-Day and covering the bloody Tet offensive from the ground. Based on his wartime coverage, he spoke out against military solutions, in Vietnam and after 9/11 in particular.

During and after his TV career, he never ran for public office, never endorsed a politician nor any brand of dishwashing liquid.

Until he died at the age of 92, he believed that journalists should take the time to think before opening their mouths, and that the public should think and think again after consuming the news.

Salamat, Mr. Cronkite. 09173226131

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 19, 2009 edition of the “Matamata” column