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