Saturday, November 26, 2011

Survivor’s guide to P.C.

ODD couples sometimes work.

The pairing of words not usually seen in each other’s company made me stop and reread an Associated Press (AP) article published last Nov. 25, 2011 by Sun.Star Cebu.

“Female boxers shoot down skirts” was the “head” or headline of the AP report.

For suggesting that in the London Olympics 2012, female boxers wear skirts, instead of the usual boxing kit, the International Amateur Boxing Association (Aiba) had to dodge accusations of sexism.

Aiba suggested that the skirts make the women pugilists “stand out” from the men.

Although women boxers from Poland and Romania did don skirts during last week’s European Championships in the Netherlands, their British counterparts snubbed the apparel.

“Most (of the women boxers preparing for the London Olympics) would say we have earned the right to be boxers and we want to go as boxers, not female boxers,” commented a coach.

Since 2000, the year when I first worked full-time for a newspaper, “political correctness” has circumnavigated a route that has taken the concept from the unorthodox but proper to the satirical and sarcastic, and back again.

To be politically correct means to refrain from showing any bias against a race, gender, economic status, age, belief or any orientation.

Covering social issues, I got my instruction on how to be a P.C.P. (or politically correct person) from untangling the Gordian knot of terminologies used by non-government organizations and activists (or, to be more P.C., cause-oriented advocates).

It isn’t P.C. to report about “street urchins” and “prostitutes”. Use “children in conflict with the law (CICL), “ “children in especially difficult circumstances (CEDCs),” “sex workers,” “trafficked persons” and “sex care provider” to avoid being labeled as ignorant and insensitive (or “neuronically challenged” and “socially misaligned” to the P.C.Ps.).

Yet, when some P.C. terms became longer (or more “syllable-prolific”) and thus, tongue-twisting and silly, the anti-labels turned into labels and turned off even the most flexible.

For instance, while news readers like accuracy, few may be able to deal with the distinctions made by very activity-specific terms that capture the increasing specialization of the sex trade, such as “Men Having Sex with Men (MSM)” and “Women Having Sex with Women (WSW)”.

Outside of reporters and editors (whose character-counting lives are compressed by shrinking news holes and modular layouts), does P.C. disrupt the lives of people on the streets (not “street people,” which anyway, according to P.C., have moved out to make way for “informal settlers”)?

Recently, an Iranian got his foot shot after he argued with street bums (“displaced homeowners” or just “occupationally challenged”?).

According to Joy F. Tumulak’s Nov. 23, 2011 report in Sun.Star Superbalita, two cousins were hanging around a street corner in Guadalupe when the Iranian and a Filipino friend biked past them. The cousins cried out, “hey Joe! Hey Joe!”

This angered the Iranian who got into an argument with the two men. When he was about to ride away, one of the bystanders shot him.

Female boxers may start the fad of “skirt-shooting”. Lovers of English may die each time an editor uses “waitron” to skirt the gender slurs of “waiter” and “waitress”.

Yet, in a post-9/11 world, intolerance means more dangerous exposure than name-calling.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 27, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Evergreen and floating libraries

HOW do we covet?

Hannibal Lecter, that fastidious cannibal, memorably said in “The Silence of the Lambs” that people learn to covet what they see.

In my case, reading undoes me.

These past weeks, two emails stand out in my inbox. One informed me that the Ateneo Press Bookshop is holding a Christmas book sale from Nov. 14 to Dec. 15 at the Ateneo campus in Quezon City.

My former student Joy also wrote that the Logos Hope, tagged as the “world’s largest floating book fair,” is due to visit Cebu in January and February 2012.

Not only will coffee, tea and Christmas cookies come free with browsing at the Ateneo Christmas sale, this university press is known for the excellence of its publications.

According to a press release, the Logos Hope is the sister ship of M. V. Doulos. Since 2009 was the Doulos’s last stopover in Cebu, I’m looking forward to losing my way around the Logos Hope’s over 5,000 titles.

Covetousness is fairly simple to fill when it’s just about one person’s desire. How does one sate an entire public system famished for reading?

Given the timing and reduced rates of these two book fairs, are public school librarians taking advantage to buy new titles or order more copies of the staples and classics?

Unlike private schools, public education has greater constraints in resources and processes. Yet, if a library stops acquiring new books and other references, it will come to assume, in this age of exploding information, the relevance of the rotary dial telephone or typewriter: a modern oddity that’s both funny and sad.

Yet, despite public mispriorities and mazelike bureaucracy, there’s hope that books find their way to public school students and teachers.

Many book lovers are as generous as they are voracious in their reading. Not for them the self-absorption of the collector. Some like Edna give back to schools in whose libraries they explored the ludic magic of opening a book and disappearing into other worlds.

While updating a school library they support, Edna’s family donated the previous collection to Tsinelas Association, Inc. To keep students in school, this non-government organization raises funds through book fairs, such as “Their Books 4,” which is now on its last day at Ayala Center Cebu.

When her niece outgrew her Nancy Drews, fellow writer Melanie asked around and also selected Tsinelas to be the conduit for several boxes of books, keepsakes of a well-read girlhood.

One of the recipients of a Tsinelas grant to start a reading center was the Valencia Elementary School in upland Alegria, south of Cebu. A dedicated head teacher and a parents-teachers association willing to construct shelves and attend reading appreciation talks more than made up for the expenses of transporting books, some sourced from outside the country.

Book donors do not just meet the numbers but also recognize the importance of including storybooks, fiction, poetry. The public school system has barely funds for textbooks but any book lover knows that when one picks up a book not to study but to enjoy and escape, that is when reading takes hold, not just for the moment but for a lifetime.

“Spontaneous pleasure reading (ludic reading) deserves attention for at least two reasons,” writes Victor Nell. “It is an important goal of reading instruction, and it offers rewards that are powerful enough… to sustain reading for long periods...”

One quiet afternoon in the faculty room, I sat down to prepare a syllabus incorporating creative nonfiction. I left behind academia when I lost myself in literary journalism, memoirs and personal essays. Such ludic excursion is impossible in the desert of state-funded libraries.

Fortunately, for UP Cebu, Carol Ediza-Marin of Illinois remembered the school where she once taught. She sent all the programs boxes of books. That quiet afternoon spent among her books refreshes for me why we read: to enjoy, to share, to breathe.

( 09173226131)

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

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A dream of Rain

THIS lot looks most unlikely to be in trafficking.

Jhanika is into photography the way her sister, Micah, was so into music when I first knew her.

Troy has a high sweet voice that hoists a pure clear bell above my head and slowly settles it down as the last few notes of benediction trail away.

Joni wears many veils. She looks too slight to be a hard worker. Yet, after she cried once, her shaking body as slight and breakable as a bird’s, she walked away and came back, with a half-consumed bottle of water, to resume work grief and cruelty almost interrupted.

Nikka studies Mass Communication at St. Theresa’s College (STC). Joni and Troy are pursuing the same course in the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu. They are my students. They are engaged in the oldest profession known to man, now given a modern monicker: trafficking.

When Nikka handed in her seatwork last Tuesday, she crowed that she and her fellows were very busy during the sembreak. The girls found it a challenge to cope with the demand. “The offers were unending,” she reported.

STC is a major transhipment point in this ring, I picked up.

While enrolling students at UP Cebu this week, I overheard Troy discuss with his cohorts their plan to “price” the goods in school before moving the hoard to STC. Then, cool and blatant, he asked my help to spirit away the goods, which includes several of my babies.

My insides trembled. I wanted to sneak after Troy and his gang to catch them in the act. Don’t let those baby faces trick you.

Their youngest member has not turned a year old yet. Ulan (“rain” in Cebuano) first saw print in Sun.Star Cebu’s “Insoymada” column. While his parents cavorted in the rain, which carried a whiff of the radioactive fallout of myth from Japan, Ulan waited for his cue to leave Rei’s womb and take his place in the inner circle.

Ulan will take up after his parents, Insoy and Rei. If you are scandalized by those web cam-wielding fiends peddling their own flesh-and-blood overseas, you haven’t heard yet of trafficking by nature and nurture.

When Rei first sat in my classes, she was light on her feet and grounded in her writing. Then she met Insoy, who by then, despite a lifetime of handing chalices of the host to uncountable priests in Pinamungajan, finally dropped the host in his senior year at the seminary because the concept of transubstantiation stuck in his throat, wrote for a living and embraced the dangerous thinking that one can change the future of youths.

Now this trinity is into trafficking, along with their baby-faced recruits from STC, UP, Don Bosco Technological Center, Southwestern University, and Cebu Technological University.
Where will this end? I’m not a member of this syndicate but I might as well be, for giving up many of my babies to them.

Recently, I’ve been having this dream. I’m old, wizened, my face has melted and hangs around for breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snacks with my knees or maybe it’s the other way around. Getting up from bed is horror. The unmentionable is crawling to plug my equally decrepit laptop with the busted battery and switching on and waiting for my Facebook page to load and reading on my wall this message from Ulan:

“Hi, tita, do you have any donations for ‘Their Books,” now on its XCIX year? We can send the children/grandchildren of Joni/Troy/Nikka/King/Chai/Tala/etc. to pick it up.”

“Their Books” is an annual book-selling project, now on its fourth year. The volunteers of Tsinelas, an awarded non-government organization, sell donated books and use the funds to keep less privileged students in school, give art workshops, start reading centers, and hold reading seminars.

“Their Books 4” takes place on Nov. 18-20, 2011 at Ayala Center Cebu.

You can still give your books to any Tsinelas volunteer or bring these to their office at the Sentro sa Katilingban in STC, along Gen. Maxilom Ave.

( 09173226131)

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

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Chicken soup and kindness

IF you shared chicken stew with a person, would he spare your life?

One wonders if doubt ever assailed Lea, 15, during the 17 hours her father kept her hostage in their home in a mountainous village an hour’s walk from the Poblacion of Borbon, a northern town in Cebu.

In Davinci S. Maru’s riveting account in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 4, 2011 issue, the family hostage drama that kept the Borbon police at a standoff from Nov. 2 afternoon till Nov. 3 morning ended with no life lost.

It’s difficult to write that tragedy was averted.

Several parallels can be drawn between this Borbon family (Sun.Star Cebu editors did not disclose names to protect the underaged children) and the Ponces of Talisay.

Last Oct. 16, suicide and murder claimed the lives of five members of the Ponce family, and that of their house helper.

Both families endured discord. The wives endured abuse, physical as well as emotional. Marital and family problems drove the husbands to consider suicide.

According to the Sun.Star Cebu report, Anthony, despondent about being estranged from his wife, drove away his children from their home in Borbon as he said he was going to kill himself.

Responding authorities later found that Anthony had tied his daughter’s arms and lashed himself to her. He had a gun.

What prevented the crisis from escalating? The police kept watch but were ordered by superiors to resume negotiations in the morning. At 7:30 a.m., Anthony fired his gun at the window but surrendered after receiving a promise that he would not be harmed.

More than the authorities’ handling of the crisis, the decision of the Borbon couple’s 15-year-old daughter to stay with her father may have defused the situation.

According to Sun.Star Cebu, Lea did not leave her father even though he was already drinking rum and carrying his revolver. She told Sun.Star Cebu that she did not believe he would kill her: “… they even had dinner together. They had chicken stew… Her father only asked her that she not leave the house. She said she cared for her father.”

In the Talisay tragedy, Emmanuel Ponce, who shot his wife, three children and their helper before killing himself, spared the youngest of his children, a 13-year-old daughter. According to reports, she was the sole member of the household who spoke to him.

The Filipino family, it has been said, is in a crisis. Commentaries have noted that Emmanuel was a former overseas worker. Yet, even families staying in the country face similar forces that pull them apart. A security guard, Anthony sometimes visited his wife in Cebu City, where she worked in a store.

Married for 18 years, the couple was estranged since their furniture-making venture failed. She said he had vices. He suspected her of having an affair.

If the family is endangered, how much more for its members? Encroached by various addictions, separation and other dislocations, the biological family, which used to be the stabilizing and nurturing core, will have to be replaced by modern proxies, families redefined and reconstituted.

For Embrelaince Ponce and Lea, the notion of family will have to include the authorities, which, by law and mandate, will provide psychiatric evaluation, counseling and rehabilitation.

Can institutions hand out resilience?

According to the Stockholm Resilience Centre, resilience is “the capacity to deal with change and (to) continue to develop.”
In the resilience theory, an environment shows resilience when it withstands climatic, political or economic shock, and rebuilds and renews itself.

Long after the reports have faded from memory, I retain two images: Lea sharing chicken soup with her father while the dark surrounds them; and Embrelaince Ponce feeding the family dogs on the first morning she returns to her home, where her family died.

In life, trust a few things, like chicken soup and kindness.

( 09173226131)

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