Monday, January 28, 2013

Woman’s lot

JUST when you think education and reproductive health boosted my gender, here comes Johnny and Gigi.

Last Wednesday, the primetime TV soaps faced stiff competition from Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano.

Embroiled in controversial Christmas gift-giving and an aborted coup, the senators shifted to a verbal tussle, using the timeless weapon to bring down a man: a woman.

In keeping with the jargon of soap, I correct myself: Cayetano lobbed a bomb, also known as The Other Woman, against Enrile.

According to a Jan. 24, 2013 Rappler report, Cayetano dragged back into open speculation Enrile’s chief of staff Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Gonzales-Reyes when he depicted her as lying at the root of the two men’s enmity.

Cayetano’s privilege speech was explicit about Reyes’s closeness with his political enemies. Yet, by being elliptical about it, his privilege speech peeled back layers from the “closeness” between Enrile and Reyes.
Enrile’s denials fanned even more speculations of an illicit relationship, a secret outed by other newspapers, reported Rappler.

On Jan. 30, 1998, the Chicago Tribune wrote that Enrile’s tryst with a top aide 30 years his junior led to his wife Cristina walking out on him. The Tribune named Reyes as the “other woman,” who made Cristina, married to Enrile for 40 years, finally make the break and quip that “she no longer could tolerate his chasing after other women, including domestic helpers, cooks and assistants”.

On Jan. 24, 2013, the Philippine Daily Inquirer referred to Reyes as the “24th senator” for her “extraordinary” power to sign cheques in behalf of the Senate President and speak out during Senate caucuses.

As the Tribune commented, womanizing is not strange in the corridors of power.

It disappoints, though, that the root of that verb has not yet escaped from that pejorative, despite the sacrifices, efforts and gains of leaders who are principled, ethical, inspiring and female.

When public figures become twinned by mass media into “tandems of power” –before Johnny and Gigi there was Ferdinand and Imelda, Fidel and Baby, and Erap and his mistresses—both the man and the woman may actually be exploiting position and privilege. However, despite the lack of information or veracity of rumors, it is always the woman who falls lowest and irretrievably in public perception.

Why this misogynistic bent? Is this “hatred of women” only directed at the Other Woman or embracing all women?

It is as if by her nature, woman is illicit. So any power she acquires when she becomes twinned or partnered with a man immediately becomes tainted and suspect. Enrile declares he trusts Reyes and that is the only reason why he wants her back after she “irrevocably” resigned in the wake of Cayetano’s privilege speech. In our living rooms, we titter, acting as if we, too, are privy to Senate whispers.

Why can’t a woman’s indispensability at work not always be traced to her sexual availability to those with the power to grant her privileges?

On the other hand, one doesn’t have to be a student of history or journalism to assert that when there’s smoke, there’s fire. Or that she’s the Eve to his Adam.

It is just a woman’s lot. According to the, “lot” is “that which happens without human design or forethought; chance; accident; hazard; fortune; fate”.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Jan. 27, 2013 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday main op-ed column

Friday, January 25, 2013

Fallen stars

SHE saw them take down the stars. It may be that she’ll never see stars the same way again.

Each star was nearly as big as a person. In driven white, the “parol (Christmas lanterns)” dangled above the parishioners one day last December.

Theatrical as stalactites, the stars framed the immense crucifix bearing the back-to-back images of the Christ that hung above the pulpit at the center of this church in this city.

Wrought by renowned artists, the church has a unique dome shape. Imagine the concave half of an egg, with a hole cut out in the center.

Suspend from this hole with a tracery of thick cables a heavy cross of old, dark wood, bearing the carven images of Christ. One shows the body of the carpenter they crucified. At the back is the resurrected and risen, lording over death and sin.

Despite their size and placement, the stars are just d├ęcor. There’s more than enough art to engage anyone in this church. In the flurry of ornamentation during the holidays, three or four stars draw no comment.

The crew of three and the woman got in just before the gates closed in mid-morning. The men’s red shirts must have been what made the woman look up. Kneeling near the altar, surrounded by pews radiating from the center, she looked up and caught her first glimpse of the man reaching for a star.

The worker was balanced on the suspended web of cables that held the immense crucifix. He leaned against a cable to reach for the rope holding a star. A co-worker looked down from the hole in the ceiling, lowering what was needed. Another fellow waited in the pulpit below for the stars to descend.

The team worked in perfect silence. They must have done this work countless times to work in wordless synchronicity. They were efficient.

The woman lost count of her rosary beads. She finally looked up because when she bent her head to pray, she expected the fall.

It took a long time for all the stars to come down. The worker tightroping above the pulpit had salt-and-peter hair. The shock of that whiteness and the red shirt were burnt in her pupils.

As he leaned and reached over empty space, his torso, arms and legs seemed to intersect, a silhouette of another crucifix. Only a harness was his lifeline if a foot slipped. She waited for his fall.

Finally, the last star came down. The worker on the ground carted it off. The assistant on the roof also came down. Releasing the lock of his harness, the last worker gripped the rim of the hole for handholds while inching his way across the void. His slipper-shod feet clung to the cable like a pair of commas.

When he approached the pulpit to take away a piece of rope left behind, he turned out to be shorter and slighter than he seemed while up in the air. The dismantled stars were bigger than they looked when they still dangled, pretty and too paltry to risk a life for.

The stars went into storage. The workers left. The woman went away. The church stood empty.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebus Jan. 20, 2013 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday main op-ed column

Monday, January 14, 2013


THERE are milestones to look forward to. When my grandmother and I happened to be in her garden, I got curious about a certain herb.

My grandmother laughed and said I was showing my age. There’s more than half a century between us, but I’ve finally slowed down to share one of her interests.

Or should I say: caught up? Age has a way of sloughing off details once thought of as essential.

Never fond of cut flowers and dead things, I’ve come to appreciate more and more trees and other roadside survivors that turn existence into an art.

Some milestones, though, leave me ambivalent. A mammogram, for instance.

All of three syllables, the medical jargon actually means more than a mouthful. If I were a first-grader in a spelling bee, the double m’s would be very tricky.

My experience, though, is that persons in pigtails rarely have to deal with a real “mammo”.

And if there’s something trickier than a mammo, it would be a sonomammogram.

Had I made acquaintance with these terms in a dictionary, I might be less finicky. As it was, I deciphered them from the prescription of my obstetrician-gynecologist. Even if I didn’t know what these exactly were until they performed it on me, I found there to be one too many unsettling undulations in both terms, turning that small note into a sea roiling with serpents.

Having an overactive imagination, though, is not the best accessory to bring while waiting in hospitals. When I felt the mass on my left breast on the first day of the year, I saw in a flash all the things I had to do.

Yet, when I finally met HMO coordinators, doctors, technicians, receptionists and sundry professionals, I found out that what they required was certainly not a knack for imagining one’s future in cinematic snippets.

For instance, memory. Everyone, even the lady writing your name on the envelope holding your “imaging,” wants to know your birthday. And the age when you had your first period, your recent period, your babies, abortions, whatnots. Since I remember better experiences rather than dates and figures, I think I failed miserably in accuracy. I was only certain about having two sons and a complete set of the major organs.

Dispassion is another virtue essential for waiting. The term can also be rewritten as “diss passion” since it’s best to be rude to all your emotions and just bring along reason and composure, which are obedient fellows who will not mind reading all that waiting room literature.

Of which there are two general types: magazines with women who don’t know what to do with chests that overflow from their gowns and the page, and magazines featuring women who have lost one breast, two breasts, an armpit and more. The latter publications were still in mint condition so I read these. Aside from learning how to spell “mammo” and “sonomammo,” I learned you can also get an upgrade for an MRI. Why doesn’t this seem as exciting as an upsize?

Humor, too, is always reliable, but there’s no place in a hospital for a sense of irony. After I had stripped and bared my chest to the freezing air and technician in the mammo room, I was asked if I had implants.

I knew this lady half my age was just dutifully ticking off boxes in a checklist. However, to be asked if I “had” implants after I had removed my bra, crucifixes and inhibition is not just mortally wounding but obliterating vanity.

But if I’ve learned something from the nearly 10 hours spent in a medical center (a euphemism purged of the sinister sibilance of “hosssspital”), I realize that living requires some shedding. Shed some, keep some.

If lucky, you can choose what to shed. Seeing how nearly half of the fellows I shared waiting time with wore a scarf on their head, I touched the hair my barber keeps short. Maybe I’ll let it grow long, for a change. 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Jan. 13, 2013 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday main op-ed column

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Believe it or not

THIS is a true story.

In this university, known slightly more for its distaste for religion and all forms of orthodoxy than for its scholarship, water bottles line up along one corridor.

For a while, it was assumed that this was an art installation making a political statement whose profundity was not as clear as the water or liquid filling the plastic bottles.

The mall-weary suspected a commerce-oriented reason behind the march of water bottles, which remained undismantled long after the usual span of novelty stirred up by advocacy or advertising.

Finally, when a class was desperate enough to try to postpone the submission of a paper no one had made a decent stab at, a student asked her professor if he knew the story behind the silent brigade of bottles in the corridor.

The professor was once a student walking down the same corridor. He saw through the guile and collected first the papers, which was generally only worth recycling to save the environment (the paper, not the ideas on them).

Then the teacher explained what janitors and other specialists at keeping sanitation and order know: the bottles, with contents so clear they serve as mirrors, prevent the cats from peeing in the corridor. No cat will desecrate its own image, which it loves next to nothing.

The university, aside from harboring atheists and moon-worshipping liberals, also supports a growing population of cats, who did everything that the humans did except flunk courses or acquire intellectual pretensions.

Lest the reader thinks the morale of this tale is that a university education can still surprise, I want to share another true story. It concerns a moth, some very learned ignoramuses, and a barefoot savant.

Among southern upland families, some scientists introduced a fast-growing, high-yielding, commercially desirable vegetable. The farmers were convinced to shift from planting corn for their sustenance and try the vegetable in the hope that their first harvest will turn them into millionaires, their children into professors, who can then whip these pushy outsiders for forcing the ill-educated poor to test their ideas for them.

Predictably, it did not happen as everyone expected it to happen. The trial sowing did not just fail to produce a bumper harvest of millionaires (not even the dwarf variety), it did not even reach the budding stage.

The learned gentlemen immediately saw the problem: a diamond back moth whose eggs, deposited on the leaves, unleashed ravenous larvae that instantly ate up everything protruding from the ground.

Finding the solution, though, was a little tougher. Being civilized, the scientists did not bombard the plantations with chemicals. Why poison the farmers, who were very good unpaid lab rats for experiments in agricultural science and social justice?

So the men of science tried, gave up and tried again many forms of biological warfare to defeat the moths that were freeloading on their precious crop. Nothing worked. The moths kept flying around and reproducing. Their young ate up everything as soon as they got out of their cocoons. The hungry farmers looked at the frustrated scientists and wondered if they could swap sides.

Fortunately for everyone, a farmer found a way to level up with the moths. The savants immediately descended on his tiny farm and watched as the farmer, who never finished first grade, coated the leaves of his plants with soapy water left from his wife’s washing.

Someone wrote a paper and published it in a scientific journal. He did not remember the farmer’s name. The foreign aid donors were happy to disburse funds to distribute seedlings of the now impervious vegetable, and even happier to report that the farmers remained poor and dependent on foreign aid and consultants who will never let farm soil touch their pallid soles.

These stories have a moral, believe it or not. Cats learn, humans maybe. (Written to honor the victims of New Year revelry.)

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Jan. 6, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday main op-ed column