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”