Saturday, March 26, 2011

The baby blogger

I’M a fan of mall events, specially the unplanned ones.

Recently, while accompanying the husband and teenage son to check out gadgets, we turned a corner and almost bumped into celebrities.

My foot-dragging made me swerve in time and avoid a collision with Rei’s baby bump. Rei is the first of my former students I saw get married on Facebook.

That evening, Rei and Baby Bump (BB) were accompanied by The Baby Blogger. “Insoy,” I babbled. “I’m a fan of your baby blog.”

The bleary-eyed fellow eclipsed by Rei’s beatific smile and BB is known better to readers of news and the Sunday Light section of this paper as the editor, Lorenzo P. NiƱal.

Every Tuesday, in the op-ed section, Insoy can be entirely blamed for the “Insoymada” column.

A habit of reading Insoy has made my Tuesdays wry, dry and off-the-wall. Yet I’ve noted that, for the past months—nine months, to be exact—the driest Insoymada to sink and break your teeth on in the land shifted tone, actually becoming gushing, warmer, generous, tasting almost suspiciously like breast milk, or what the milk of human compassion would taste if it came direct from the pair attached to a former seminarian who skedaddled when he couldn’t swallow transubstantiation, morphing into a writer, poet, agitator for Bisrock, save-the-children advocate and recently, father, husband and this paper’s unofficial savant on infanticipating.

Looking at The Baby Blogger in the flesh, it was hard to believe it took this guy an extraordinarily long time to find his groove. He looked so terrible—bluish half-circles under the genuinely bottomless holes that only fatherhood can bring, nest of a hair cut circa-BBB (Before Baby Bump)—I now can accept that this guy is really having the nesting instinct bad, that he wasn’t just being cocky and stealing the limelight from Rei when he wrote in response to a reader of his December 2010 column, “Tastes like Baby Spirit,” that “wala pa mi nagpa-ultrasound.”

Aww: how many do you know break the barrier separating Me from We?

When his blog,, generated a flurry of likes on Facebook, I realized how it takes the Other Better Half to celebrate March as the Month of Women.

We’ve become so desensitized by the statistics on domestic violence and abandonment and the cases of and-they-lived-unhappily-ever-after that we miss the fellows who make it possible for us to enjoy being mothers, wives, professionals.

In 2005, the Province of Aurora in northern Luzon passed a reproductive health code that, among others, pushes for and recognizes the contributions of men in the household, from planning families with their partners to taking care of the kids day by day.

According to the Mar. 7, 2011 article of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the men and women of Aurora walk tall for having the lowest annual population growth rate of 1.07 percent, first recorded in 2007. A provincial health officer observed that fatherhood should not just mean working away from home but also being present for loved ones: cooking for and bathing the kids, bringing them to school, minding baby so the mother can recover after birth.

Being contrary and skewered, Insoy keeps a column and blog that attest to how boundless, creative and mysterious fatherhood can be: inducting BB to the hall of music but substituting rock and heavy metal for lullabies whose lilting melodies mask violent lyrics (“Smells like baby spirit”); discovering during Mother’s Class medical proof that men’s breast do have some use (“Breastmilk is best for fathers, too”); and giving up smoking, drinking and bad literature for the sake of future generations (okay, so he still has to write that column).

As he’s written ad nauseam, Insoy says he’s not a perfect human but that doesn’t stop him from trying to be a good husband and father.

Okay lang. We recognize a beautiful soul (even when they’re ugly and infanticipating).

( 09173226131)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

To the trees of Perrelos

“DON’T they want oxygen?”

That’s a question exasperated student Preran Chowdary asked his forest minister when the Indian government publicly announced its plan to cut trees to transform a 60-feet road into an eight-lane superhighway in Bangalore, India.

According to a Nov. 10, 2010 article posted on, modernization rationalizes the removal of 856 trees, averaging about 40 years old, that are in the way of making “leafy Jayamahal road” smoother for traffic.

A non-government organization has contested the government estimate, saying the trees to be felled are nearly 1,200. About 2,000 students and residents vowed to form human chains to protect the trees.

The government’s answer to the tree huggers? Oxygen is nice but we want development.

The irony of trading off fresh air, shade and green heritage for road right of way (RROW), air and noise pollution and vehicular accidents is always lost when translated by those drawing up blueprints and spending public funds.

The fate of the Jayamahal trees may also fall on the trees of Perrelos if the Department of Public Works and Highways implements a road-widening project in Carcar.

Even if you’ve never taken a ride to the south of Cebu, you might still see a glimpse of the trees of Perrelos in coffeetable books or travel articles. No photo or flight of praise can do justice to the majesty of this green corridor, a rare experience in this extensively denuded and severely eroded island.

Even in a cramped, creaking mini-bus whose windows’ size and placement were designed for the comfort of Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs, an adult can, with flexibility and perseverance, glimpse the symmetry and grace of the great trunks arching across the road to form a green vault, shot through with golden filaments of sunlight or mist-wreathed on a rainy early morning ride.

Once, on a ride back to Cebu City, I had to get out of our vehicle and stand under those trees while my companions lined up and peed. To the sound of tinkling and much sighing, I looked up. I saw not just a hint of sky but my first intimation that the mortal is just a mote in the gaze of eternity.

Like tree-hugging, remembering one’s place in the web of life may seem loony to those whose visions require them to always look down at modernization plans and check the bottomline.

According to the theory of inevitability, development is rational and inescapable. First, roads targeted for RROW clearing connect to a national highway and international airport, as in Bangalore. Second, traffic levels reach at least 3,500 passenger car units (PCU) per hour, which calls for decongestion.

Lastly, tree-cutters always promise to plant trees to keep the “green tag”.
With some tweaking, the same development theory may be copied and pasted in Carcar. It’s “inevitable” to find P8 million to decongest the traffic clogging Carcar’s rotunda, but not the P700,000 required to remove and transfer a tree.

Bangalore protesters claim that road widening will not keep vehicle traffic from growing. Wider roads pose difficulties for children, elderly, disabled, and pedestrians, too.

Did road expansion ever inspire a poem? When I looked up the trees of Perrelos, my insipid youth gave voice to my awe by reciting Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees”: “I think that I shall never see/ A poem lovely as a tree.”

A few days ago, my cousin Ito posted on Facebook these lines written by Rainer Maria Rilke: "Through the empty branches the sky remains./ It is what you have./ Be earth now, and evensong./ Be the ground lying under that sky. / Be modest now, like a thing/ ...ripened until it is real,/ so that he who began it all/ can feel you when he reaches for you."

If road widening cannot awe me into silence, why can it reduce me to tears?

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Mar. 20, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” column

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Breathing lessons

THE START of Lent assembles an unusual company of fishes on our table.

One lunch, I found “katambak” in the “tinowa,” fried and shredded “anduhaw” in the mixed vegetables, dried “lagaw,” and a dip made of fermented, nearly transparent “bolinao” known as “puti-an” in the southern town of Alegria.

Except for the stewed “katambak,” still gasping and red of gills when bought from the market, all the other dishes were reheated, remains of older meals. It’s just not Lent and abstinence that explains the absence of meat leftovers. My boys are pork-nivores who view fish as suitable only for old people or cats.

Is this piscine bias an acquired taste or a hunting hangover from the days when we chased, tussled with and conquered the four-legged for food but only had to trick the creatures living in water into swallowing the worm-garnished hook or swimming blindly into our traps?

Even this connoisseur—who regards fish as friendlier than red meat on diet and budget—is not above a certain insensitivity to finned creatures. How many times have I crunched head, speared poached eye from a runny socket or sipped flesh from dismantled lips and jaw—barbaric acts committed in full view of the guppies swimming in the bowl placed on our dining table?

Fish is food.

We become only food for the fishes when the divine balance is upset. Fans of “The Godfather” must remember Luca Brasi, the slow-talking but utterly loyal “enforcer” of Don Vito Corleone. After assassins kill Luca Brasi, they send to the Corleone family a fish wrapped in Brasi’s bulletproof vest.

According to the novel written by Mario Puzo and the movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the fish explains an “old Sicilian message”: “ It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes."

Yet, while eating fish is more palatable than sleeping with them, humans can take breathing lessons from fish and other creatures. According to experts, the diving reflex, the descended larynx and the capacity for breath-holding indicate that we share an aquatic past.

Among terrestrials with this adaptation, though, humans are less gifted. Compared to our rudimentary and undeveloped diving reflex, a sea otter, for instance, can reach depths of 330 feet and stay under the water for up to four or five minutes. Larger lungs and flexible ribs aside, sea otters have a lot of myoglobin in their muscles. To hold its breath, the sea otter relies on the myoglobin to tolerate the carbon dioxide building up in its blood stream and prompting the instinct to breathe.

Seals and whales don’t even hold their breath. They store oxygen in their blood and release this from their lungs as they dive. An automatic mechanism cuts off breathing so that when a seal or whale becomes unconscious, its lungs will not fill with water.

In contrast, deprived of oxygen, a person will pass out within three minutes. Except for a curious local case, our breath-holding capacity is often associated with our desire to survive, or to escape the very quality that defines our mortality.

Last Mar. 10, Sun.Star Cebu’s Justin K. Vestil reported the death of a high school student days before her graduation. The distraught mother believes that her daughter held her breath and died after she was scolded for coming home late.

Online sources hold that “incredible will power” can enable a person to hold her breath until she passes out. Death is not possible, though, since involuntary control takes over and an unconscious person automatically resumes breathing.

While fishes may indeed have an edge on us in surviving under the water, many people also exhibit “incredible will power,” or an exceptional talent for challenging mortality: children living on the streets, families separating for greener pastures, overseas workers Skypeing to families, in deprivation, war or disaster, to “text lang”.

May this Lent help us see the parity of breath-holding techniques, whether because one can do nothing with one’s world or because one must what one can.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Mar. 13, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Past imperfect

The recent commemoration of the People Power Revolution, which ousted a dictator without bloodshed, drew a lot of re-examination in the media. Listening to people from all walks of life remember events of 25 years ago, I am reminded of a manufacturer’s warning printed on the rear view mirror of a vehicle.

The eternal passenger, I was trying to help a driver negotiate a tricky maneuver but ended up reading the warning printed in fine print: Things seen from this mirror may seem nearer or farther than they are.

It’s sobering to reflect how much of our identity is tied up with memories, sieved and stored by the mind, as faulty and prone to idiosyncrasies as the rest of our finite body.

When my former student, TV journalist Rachelle Marie Dangin, asked me for my recollection of the Yellow Revolution, she assumed I was already a reporter covering Cory Aquino and the Opposition. I clarified that in February 1986, I was still a graduating student of UP Cebu, spending more time walking out of classes than staying inside classrooms.

On Facebook, my former schoolmate, Olive Caday-Fillone, recalled the same experiences—“the daily marches to Fuente, bonfires at night”—but also other things besides.

Then the chairman of the UP Cebu Student Council, Olive wrote that UP Cebu was the only campus in Cebu that openly supported Edsa 1 through boycott. (I only remembered that it was hard to sit on stony, uneven ground under the UP trees, listening to speakers drone on about tyranny and repression. Reading a comic book about Hegel and Marx helped a bit.)

While I recalled teachers as either haranguing or pleading with us to return to our classes so we could graduate “on time,” Olive remembers one teacher donating boiled “camote (sweet potato)” so we wouldn’t go hungry, debating about human rights and class struggle in the perpetually overgrown UP fields. (This remembrance startles and shames me because I was one of those who mocked this teacher behind her back for trying to inculcate proper etiquette and decorum in our “Social Orientation” classes held at the old Bagong Lipunan (BL) classrooms.)

Even if the mirror warns you about the deceptiveness of reflected distance, it is still human error that rams the car, isn’t it?

So finding the Anvil biography of Malay was, with apologies to Hegel and Marx, God-sent.

Malay was a reporter, columnist, teacher, street parliamentarian and grandfather of children who stayed under his wing and that of his wife, Paula Carolina, while their parents—the Malays’ daughter Bobbie and partner, Satur Ocampo—were underground.

Armando J. Malay’s journalistic career spanned more than six decades, making him a witness and a participant of turbulent but defining moments of our history, from just before the outbreak of World War II until post-Edsa (he passed away in 2003).

What makes Malay effective in his role of “remembrancer” was his lifelong passion for “exactitude,” according to the UP obituary, “Dean Armando Malay writes 30.”

His biographers, Marites N. Sison and Yvonne T. Chua, wrote in their preface that Malay’s notes helped them write “A Guardian of Memory”. From November 1974, when he began a planned autobiography, “mostly in longhand,” until 1990, when age and failing sight silenced the pounding of his typewriter, Malay compiled a manuscript that encompassed 52 volumes.

History is often held hostage by historians. Yet, in Sison and Chua’s book, Malay is faithful to the Muse of Exactitude because he did not just remember, he wrote it down. As a result, he rescued remembrance from romanticism and deconstruction: the concrete and the specific anchor the sweeping panorama of history. The notes of Malay spare no one, not even the man making those notes.

In the Foreword of “A Guardian of Memory,” Juan L. Mercado applied to Malay a word used by poet, columnist and judge Simeon Dumdum in “Speak, Memory”. “In ancient times, a remembrancer collected debts,” wrote Mercado. “But the remembrancer also reminded people of what they preferred to forget.”

“A Guardian of Memory” came just as I was beginning to mistrust the act of remembering.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Mar. 6, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column