Sunday, April 19, 2009


IN the Age of Information, being informed is the challenge.

A man goes home and finds his wife bleeding from a gunshot wound in the head. He brings his wife to the hospital but she dies without regaining consciousness.

What is the story?

If the police investigate, if the evidence points to foul play in the woman’s shooting, if there is a probability of the commission of a crime THEN the police identify the suspect, arrest and file charges against this person, and prosecute the perpetrator in court.

Such a tidy, clear procedure is nowhere to be seen in the primetime TV spectacular that the Ted Failon and Trinidad Etong story has become. Failon, Mario Teodoro Failon Etong in real life, is recognized in households as an ABS-CBN news anchor.

Few news stories have mutated so rapidly. While most stories have news angles that “develop,” the Etong shooting twists and leaps, making reporting seem to be the latest pseudoscience and closest rival of crystal-gazing: from being a domestic tragedy to suicide-speculated-as-crime-of-passion, to attempted cover-up and obstruction of justice, to police conspiracy, retaliation and brutality, and, as of this writing, the War on Human Rights (with sideshows of “The Wake,” “The Love Story” and “The Public’s Exoneration of Ted”.)

Over this towering Babel of layer-upon-layer of news angles is one force: Media.

Am I blind? Many will insist that the issue has shifted from Etong’s possible suicide and Failon’s possible involvement to Police Brutality, the lawlessness of the Law.

I confess I sat through countless replaying of the TV footages catching the men in uniform inviting for questioning the members of the Failon/Etong household using strongarm tactics, as if the shocked and unresisting persons were already culprits, savage and desperate enough to try to break for it.

But would we have seen this use of excessive force by some members of the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) if there were no press cameras recording the acts, if journalists had not witnessed the harassment?

As Failon himself speculated, the QCPD’s 360-degree departure from standard procedures of investigation may be settling an old score: the Feb. 17, 2009 alleged rubout of carnappers in Quezon City by members of the QCPD, which was aired nationally by Failon’s station, ABS-CBN.

If, officially, the QCPD is now looking into possible violations of police operational procedures during the Quezon City police encounter, and if Filipinos are now denouncing the Quezon City rubout last February, as well as the harassment of the Failon/Etong members, it wasn’t because the police had an attack of conscience and suddenly took to wearing their heart on their sleeves for the human rights of suspects.

It was because the media was there. By doing their work, the media elevated what happened beyond “deniability,” placed Truth a bit within the people’s reach.

And yet I am certain that some members of the audience will, at the same time, seize on this latest demonstration of media’s omnipresence as another case of “gilding the lily.”

If you did a lot of channel-switching these past days, you may have noted two distinct reporting patterns: one station interviews authorities for information and interpretation, and another puts before the camera any person ready with a sound bite or two—the deceased woman’s girl friends, business partners, showbiz acquaintances and medical specialist—on the questions hogging everyone’s mind: the deceased woman’s suicidal intentions/goodness/innocence and her beleaguered spouse’s husbandly perfections/goodness/innocence.

As a nation of TV diehards weaned on the Network Wars, we may shrug these reporting differences as media branding again: one station shows what professionalism and technology can achieve in approximating the truth, and what journalism can’t do as it will always be outside the event, reporting and not participating; the other station has no qualms in demonstrating that a line divides news reporting and news making BUT such a division is porous to market demands.

Not that any of these moves audiences hopped up on infotainment.

William Shakespeare, who had no inkling of TV, wrote “King John” in 1595: “Therefore, to be possess'd with double pomp,/ To guard a title that was rich before,/ To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,/ To throw a perfume on the violet,/ To smooth the ice, or add another hue/ Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light/ To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,/ Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.”

And so we tune in and wait for our boon and bane, witness and joker, truth-seeker, ass. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Apr. 19, 2009 “Matamata” column

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Secret tempest

OVER the long weekend, I took several books to Santander but read only one, from cover to cover, one sultry afternoon, as a bird’s egg blue chased orange then red and finally purple across the skyscape over Siquijor and Negros.

My copy of “kulokabildo” was given by Hope S. Yu, who edited the interviews her class made with 24 Cebuano writers.

During the launching of this book and Erlinda Alburo’s Dictionary of Bisayan Arts last April 3 at the Buttenbruch Hall of the University of San Carlos, I was struck by the passion this assignment awoke in the students.

Perhaps this first attempt at publication may account for some of that beginner’s effervescence.

Yet as I listened to the interviewers’ tribulations and triumphs in locating and conversing with the writers, the videotaped interviews, and the sharing and readings made by some of the featured writers on that rainy afternoon, I became curious about “kulokabildo”: what did the 24 say about the state of Cebuano literature?

After reading the book’s 354 pages, I reconfirmed two long-held realizations.

First, publishers should pay attention to those who write, in Cebuano or English, the stories that define us.

Second, while waiting for this publishing miracle to happen, readers must seek assiduously these writers, no matter how obscure and dwindling their niches become.

Yet, should you be one who thinks publication should respond only to market forces—specially the one that aggressively asserts the primacy of the homogenized pap that passes as popular culture nowadays—“kulokabildo” still exerts a magnetic storytelling pull as 24 different personalities explain how writing seduces them again and again.

While other writers wait fruitlessly for their Muse, Temistokles Adlawan narrated to Kiddie Marie A. Cabunilas how he discovered writing in the worst of times, in the midst of World War II. While feeding the family pig, the 12- or 13-year-old sharpened a twig and dreamily carved on young coconut palms words dedicated to an imaginary sweetheart.

When Tem confides, “Little by little I honed my tool of love for words with love-letter writing,” I reflected on how his wisdom echoes a golden rule in teaching writing to reading-resistant youths: what one does for love can never match what one submits for grades or out of fear of repeating the course with the same reading and writing requirements.

Love in all its splendors saturates the pages of “kulokabildo”: the game Isolde Amante’s mother devises to make a disastrous English grade jumpstart her daughter’s lifelong commitment to words; Ulysses Aparece’s empathy for his students’ hunger for learning and his desire that they “make use of imagination;” Melito Baclay’s balancing of seaweed farming and writing on the scales of desire (“The human heart must prevail”); Butch Bandillo’s creed for writing poetry (“a poor man’s way of acknowledging this gift (of life)”); and Richel Dorotan’s servitude to the imperatives of the Cebuano voice (“mahinungdanon kay kita mga tawo man sad nga may kaugalingong panilaw unsa ang katam-is ug kapait sa kinabuhi”).

But even if you happen to be uncomfortable in the presence of the overwrought, “kulokabildo” still harbors enough of the secret tempest that’s alluded to in that most restrained and subtle of forms, as can be witnessed from Adonis Durado’s poem, “Ang asawa sa madyikero”: “Gitarget siyag kutsilyo/ Sa gatuyok nga roleta./ Sa kahon gipriso;/ Gigabas kaduha./

“Gipalatay sa alambri—/ Panyo gitaptap sa mata./ Gipahadla sa tigre,/ Gipalabang og baga./

“Ug limod sa kasayuran/ Sa nanan-aw nga publiko/ Nga siya usa ka inahan/ Labihan ka ngilngig moluto./

“Maayo nga motangtang/ Og mantsa sa nilabhan./ Ug dali rang malisang/ Kung ang anak hilantan.” 0917-3226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Apr. 12, 2009 “Matamata” column

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Harvest of words

I DON’T recommend wet shoes, wet clothes and wet skin for sitting through three hours of academic talk.

But though last Friday’s flash downpour made me drip all the way to chilly Buttenbruch Hall, nothing could keep me from this book launching.

It’s not every day that you get two replacements when the sun hides behind a summer squall.

Last April 3, the University of San Carlos launched the “Dictionary of Bisayan Arts” and “Kulokabildo: Dialogues with Cebuano Writers.”

The publication of a new dictionary should be a matter of rejoicing. Next to politics and religion, finding the right word is the cause of great contentions.

The last time I sat before a work station as an editor, I had two invaluable references when it came to pairing meanings and words in Cebuano. Work mates Josua S. Cabrera and Leticia S. Orendain are artists of different persuasions, but both inhabit the language like their original skin.

The other reference, of course, is the writer. When a word or phrase in a contributed poem snagged my reading, there was sometimes no Jos or Sangay to holler for a lifeline. So I had no choice but to plunge into that vortex of sound and images and hope to find, like the missing treasure at the becalmed bottom, a glint of the poet’s vision.

Such strategy was not without risk, as I learned from repeated rereading of Richel Dorotan’s “Aliluyok.” Emerging from the fugue of vertigo I descended into, I realized that if poetry reading, like diving, is a treacherous business, it is not always due to the environs but the diver’s skills and experience.

Thus, for this enthusiastic but raw reader of native writing, Dr. Erlinda K. Alburo’s “Dictionary of Bisayan Arts” comes as a lifeline, thrown out to those floundering among words, native but unfamiliar in association.

The 308-page reference expands on the “Dictionary of Cebuano Arts,” which she compiled, edited and published in 2006. With grants from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Toyota Foundation, the Cebuano Studies director researched for 10 years, compiling Cebuano, Hiligaynon and Waray words—the languages representing the three sub-regions of the Bisayan islands—that will allow students, artists and cultural workers to talk about their art in their own words.

The first step in owning is naming. When radio commentators declare “tataw kaayo,” I interpret them as believing the matter is clear and open only for one interpretation. Under Alburo’s section on verbal arts, the term “tataw” refers to a condition in painting or writing when a color surpasses another or “some letters more than the others.” Since local radio polemicists argue that truth is not perception and selection but the clarity inherent in the argument, “tin-aw kaayo” may be more apt then since the word, according to Alburo, means “clear, transparent.”

Our native tongue has a multi-hued palette. “Tibangtibang,” in Waray, refers to the rainbow of colors that make a hammock or scarf a shimmering presence. “Tinggad” is the color that stands out for “vividness and luster.” “Tiriktirik” means being dotted all over.

The “Dictionary of Bisayan Arts” made me realize that our art and our language are not just “tumung” (dyed black) or “uburun” (white as the heart of a banana stem).

In the hands of Cebuano writers—specifically those featured in “Kulokabildo: Dialogues with Cebuano Writers” (more next week)— language, memory and identity coalesce into the weaving and summoning of “tibangtibang.” 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s “Matamata” column of Apr. 5, 2009