Saturday, June 29, 2013

How Titanic is your love

IF marriage is tricky to get out of, are Filipinos working harder to stay married?

Or do couples evade marriage now?

Most intriguing are the recent findings of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal.

From 2012 to 2013, 186,367 couples said yes at the altar. That’s a 12-percent increase from the previous year, the CBCP was quoted in a June 18, 2013 article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI).

Over the years, the CBCP also recorded a 10- to 15-percent decrease in the number of marriages nullified by the church. The exceptions are Metro Manila and Cebu, where annulments were “high”.

Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, tribunal head, said that of about 100 cases for nullification handled every year, only 9-10 cases are affirmed.

While more couples tie the knot, cohabitation is also popular. A couple who lives together without marriage can also part “whatever time they like,” said Cruz.

Married couples can also just split and avoid the hassle of annulment. The church calls this “canonical separation,” reported the PDI.

In the 1970s, when my parents made their nth and final canonical separation, society was not as tolerant of broken families. My sister and I stayed with my father on weekdays; with my mother, on weekends. However workable the arrangement was, I was resigned to explaining my odd family ties to homeroom teachers, who were a bit upset I could not pull out a complete set of parents to attend school functions.

These days, “odd” is the new “normal”. When A. and I reunited in this city, we compared who had more grey strands in the head, more cysts in mammaries, m

A. rescues dogs intended for the pot and feral cats. When she goes on long trips, she stews chicken necks (no bones to choke on) and freezes these in ice cream canisters for partner G. to defrost in batches and serve hot to A.’s adopted menagerie.

G. doesn’t love animals, specially street survivors with fleas and an ill-mannered tendency to snap at the hand that feeds them. However, that such an arrangement has prevailed for 20 years--A. doing what she can to make it easier for G., G. doing for A. what she would never do on her own—puts another meaning to “maximum tolerance,” which is an apt synonym for marriage.

Yet, since same-sex marriage is not allowed in the country, A. and G.’s commitment cannot be formalize in church or court.

Are they likely candidates for separation being never ritually conjoined? Will this country run out of chicken necks?

Some fowl-like flexibility is demanded today of couples. J. got married to T. in Vegas. His family disowned him but he stuck to her, even if in family parties, his side was represented by school chums and officemates only.

Then T. got promoted. Soon, J. and T. lived in different time zones. Or perhaps planets? J. considered the canonical solution. Friends brought him to a priest for counseling. Priest said give marriage a chance.

Fortunately, T. made a career compromise. The couple went on a second honeymoon. They had their first child, and then another.

The happy endings did not end there. The priest advising J. also got married.

A rosewood violin immersed in seawater recently fetched a high bid in an England auction. The violin was found in a leather bag strapped to the body of Wallace Hartley, who led his band in playing “Nearer, My God, to Thee” and other hymns while the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic.

Hartley was never parted from his violin, a gift from his fiancĂ©e Maria Robinson. The violin has a silver plaque with this engraving: “For Wallace, on the occasion of our engagement. From Maria”.

Maria never married. When she died in 1939, she left the violin to her sister.

If the Titanic had not hit an iceberg, if Wallace had married Maria, would the rosewood violin even be in an auction? If Wallace had married Maria, would they have stayed married? The Titanic was not the only one with a submerged complex.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 30, 2013 editorial page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Love lost and lasting

AT its most obsessive, love can plunge the beloved into a scission, a cleavage between what’s real.

There is no other country as intoxicating, which sunders us open to await exploration, mapping, possession.

When the fever passes, love leaves no territory unmarked.

I met D., a survivor, scorched but unrepentant, at a UV Express terminal. For a living, he ferries commuters from Bicutan to Ayala and back. D.’s real work is in animation and photography.

Subcontracted by the Disney franchise, D. rode the crest of the animation industry in the 1980s-‘90s. In the year 2000, D. lost his contract, his cushioned existence, his family.

When I mentioned to D. that my husband was in Bicol, I saw his face visibly change. That’s my ex-wife’s place, he said.

D. plays the field but swears never to get involved again with anyone from Bicol. You cannot overgeneralize, I said. Never again, D. repeated.

More couples got hitched around the country from 2012 to 2013. There is also an overall nationwide drop in couples seeking annulment. Yet, in urban centers, like Metro Manila and Cebu, there’s a spike in unions being nullified.

A June 18, 2013 report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer quotes Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz about these current marital trends. He heads the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal.

Cruz explained that couples in cities are more exposed to Western influences that shake families, such as divorce and same-sex marriage. He’s not the first and only one to sound off the alarm that the dissolution of marriage foreshadows the demise of the family.

The traditional family—nuclear, headed by heterosexual spouses—perhaps. Yet, in the wake of failed or at risk marriages, families still thrive. Single parent-led; run remotely by a biological parent in absentia and held together by grandparents, close kin, even helpers; headed by homosexual partners; run by the eldest of siblings—many modern families defy convention, mend and refurbish, improvise, move along.

The flexibility of families makes me wonder if it is just the institution of marriage that has failed to adjust to the invisible but tectonic shifts in contemporary society. For one, the financial independence of women.

The recent CBCP finding does not compare the number of annulment cases filed by women and by men. Years back, while interviewing women who survived domestic abuse, I noted that the professionals were the ones who sought and received annulment. Even though not one of the 10 subjects contemplated marrying again, these financially independent women chose a drawn-out, expensive process to close this chapter in their lives.

Yet, these women did not stand in the way of their children and ex-spouses reconnecting, even after years of silence and little or no counterpart for child support.

For these abuse survivors, sustaining a mutation of family life was even part of healing and moving on. A failed marriage without closure, was not. If women in the past waited for death to release them from the domestic yoke, women with education and the means had more palatable options to exit with dignity and sanity intact.

Should men be threatened by such women? When I got married 20 years ago, a German godparent cautioned me from expecting “too much,” specially on the wedding night. An uncle, asked about the secret of the longevity of his marriage, simply said, “agwanta (endure)”.

When my older son recently introduced his best friend to the family, I skipped the advice on sex and sacrifice. I asked him if his mutual understanding (MU, meaning more than friends, not quite steadies) shared the same attitude towards money. If they didn’t, could they talk about it?

The wife who compulsively spends more than the conjugal earnings; the husband who holds office at the casino; the swinger who supports his families with bribes; the unprotected sex advocate who shirks from facing up to the consequences of unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections; the eternal baby who cannot accept his wife earning more than he does.

Love may be the mortal itch. Money comes close. But an inability to communicate is at the root of many a marital hitch.

( mayettetabada. 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 23, 2013 issue of the editorial page column, “Matamata”

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The testing

A CAT stuck in a tree is a classic dilemma.

There is no test quite like it. A dilemma is a zone of discomfort, where one is stuck between two options of varying unattractiveness.

On campus, when I heard the first mew and traced it to a striped kitty perched in a hollow between two branches about 10 feet from the ground, I considered two possibilities and their undesirable consequences: rescue the kitten and end up like Humpty Dumpty, or ignore the kitten and live forever with a conscience as rotten as the corpse ripening in the tree facing the shed where I write my papers.

I chose the latter, of course.

Unlike one-half of the human population, I like cats. I envy their extreme self-confidence, including the tiny contradiction that enables a cat to scoot up great heights without twitching a whisker and then disables it from going down.

Kind-hearted readers will be horrified that I left a kitten to starve in a tree. Let me correct your poor opinion of me: I left the kitten to starve but not to die. I reasoned that if hunger made it miserable enough, the kitten will try to climb down. It has to use those claws, no?

Dew was still in the air when the mewing began. I built a scaffold of arguments for a paper to be passed. I ate lunch. I edited my paper. It drizzled. The mewing became as miserable as the day. When it stopped, I assumed the tired youngster napped.

When it began anew, I swear I could see that small throat throb with the fury and despair of its abandonment in the dark stillness of the rain-drenched canopy.

Before I left for my evening class, I went to the tree and told the youngster to put one paw before the other, just one paw before the other. It did not mew back. What did I expect? Humans also don’t take advice. A cat, which has more sense than a human, would be even more disdainful, even at 10 feet above the ground.

The following day, I had unwrapped my breakfast when the mewling began. The passing of more than 24 hours in that tree had made the kitten hoarse and querulous but not hungry enough to take its chances.

When I bit into the double pimiento layers, I tasted broken glass. The yellow-and-black cat that stakes these sheds as hers jumped on the table and eyed my sandwich. I tossed it a piece and asked her to talk some sense to the youngster. Two orange tabbies joined her. The three had eyes only for my sandwich. They didn’t even look up as the mewling burst with renewed frenzy.

An hour later, a young man circled the tree, investigating the overgrown grass. I looked up from my novel and told him the cat was up, not down. He looked dubiously at the canopy and predicted it would find a way to get down. I said it’s been there since yesterday. He looked at me as if I had confessed that I was a cat-killer. He walked away to smoke.

Just before lunch, another young man slowly sidled up the tree. He tried to be casual, as if young men circled trees every day. It seemed as if his cat-rescuing instincts confused him. It apparently confused the kitten, too, because the mewing resumed only after he had long left the trees.

Finally, rescue. Young lovers and best friend moved in the next shed. When the mewing finally penetrated their giggling, Romeo declared he was rescuing the cat. I checked him out and had my doubts. His head was wreathed in cigarette smoke, and his pants threatened to break away for freedom.

Love conquers all, though. After gallantly jettisoning his cigarette, Romeo was up in the tree, having his hand clawed to ribbons. Juliet received the ungrateful kitty, who raked her and best friend before running away.

As the three giggled about the Cat Liberation Act, I watched the kitten run here and there, pursued by the yellow-and-black cat. The mystery of how the kitten got up the tree was solved.

Before I left for class, the yellow-and-black cat sauntered back, alone. In the twilight, I thought I heard the same plaintive cry come from the darkening grove of trees. Cats have to face up to their demons, like the rest of us.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 16, 2013 issue of the editorial page Sunday column, “Matamata”

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Life and death at the MRT

LAST Sunday, when I went back to this city, another man jumped to his death at the Metro Rail Transit (MRT).

My husband told me operations shut down for five hours.

I replied: At least it didn’t happen on a Monday.

Does callousness come with the extreme anxiety one absorbs through the pores, living in a place teeming with nearly 12 million people? That’s 19,000 humans sharing a square kilometer, according to population density monitors.

As the most populous of the country’s metropolitan areas and the 11th most populous in the world, Metro Manila deserves the MRT.

Even if the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) counts the Manila Metro Rail Transit System Line 3 (MRT-3) operations as lopsidedly subsidized by the government and disadvantageous for public coffers, no president since Gloria Arroyo has upped the rates.

Who would raise the ire of Metro Manila’s teeming millions? For daily commuters like me, the MRT is a lifeline. Fourteen pesos is the costliest fare to commute from the North Avenue station to the 13th station, Taft. A taxi ride crossing the MRT’s route of four cities (Quezon, Mandaluyong, Makati and Pasay) will run to hundreds of pesos—IF you find an honest driver who will not take you in circles.

From the standpoint of the commuting public and urban planners, the MRT’s chief virtue is the guaranteed rapid transit. My daily nine-station run takes an hour and a half BEFORE the morning rush hour. It’s twice or thrice longer if you drive your own vehicle just going one way, specially during school months. Counting gasoline consumption and elevated stress levels, a trip via private vehicle along the EDSA thoroughfare is a fool’s errand.

The MRT is faster and cheaper. Is it better? Better is relative. The MRT-3 is part of a transport hub. MRT stations connect to the Light Rail Transit (LRT) System, bus and jeepney terminals. The Araneta Center-Cubao station siphons masses to the long-distance buses going to towns outside Metro Manila. At least two stations, North Ave. and Ayala, connect to malls owned by retail rivals, SM and Ayala. In Manila, malls are not just public lounges and urban parks; they’re halfway homes.

Thus, crowds are the one abiding element at the MRT. As Metro Manila empties only during Holy Week, the MRT closes also then for its annual maintenance. Otherwise, it’s open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. It accommodates at least four batches of rush-hour crowds: 7 a.m., noon, 5 p.m., and nine p.m., after malls close.

Surviving the MRT means charting its moods and timing your trip. Only the strong or patient should venture when it’s a mall weekend sale, Monday, Friday, payday, Friday/payday, Sunday, holidays, the release of the yearend bonus and cash gifts, and the Christmas-New Year stretch.

Sometimes, the MRT gets a kink during a run. We come to a full stop. The air-conditioning shuts down. Doors slide open but the air is unimaginable. The crowd shifts as the seconds tick. That’s the closest I’ve been to imagining what would happen if this huge, mindless creature generically referred to as the masses ever panics and exercises the power it does not know.

Even when rush hours are at the worst, the giant shifts but goes on sleeping. When someone jumps down on the tracks and grips the rails as the train is pulling in, THAT can shake its slumber.

Googling “MRT suicide” will disclose the suicides last May 8 and June 2, as well as on Oct. 22, 2006 and Jan. 5, 2011. In the recent incidents, Twitter users were “the first to report the suicide,” notes

Skewed from their schedules, forced out of their routines, clambering for available public transport, or reduced to walking. It’s like being trapped in a MRT car. Someone cuts off the oxygen; everyone inhales the dreadful carbon dioxide all are emitting.

“Oh, MRT. Why must you do this to me?! :( #lateforclass,” tweeted one.

Some giants should be left to slumber.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 9, 2013 issue of the editorial page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Keepers of the faith

THE CHALK trick worked like magic. Or should have, if only some wise guys did not repeat the trick every year.

At St. Theresa’s College (STC), some textbooks were rented. Before the school year ended, we returned the books but not before readying these for next year’s users.

The most unpopular task was sanding the sides of a book. Sandpaper was rubbed carefully to remove the stains without tearing old, fragile paper.

Every year, I was resigned to a day or two of sneezing. Increasing my annoyance was inhaling dust from textbooks I hardly opened. And then in fourth grade, I saw some classmates rub chalk on the sides, turn in their copy with immaculate sides, and walk away as cool as cats.

Perhaps the gods that spot cheaters were back from coffeebreak because when I tried the same trick, my teacher opened and slammed shut my book in quick succession. Not only did I inhale paper AND chalk dust, I had to sand the sides until the book looked as if it had jumped straight from some virgin forest. To think that I read no more than five pages of that grammar tome.

My short-lived career as a chalk artist made me realize some shortcuts take longer and are dustier. And a book is loved best when it is read and shared.

Thus, nothing strikes greater horror than coming upon a school library with books that look as if they were last opened when someone wrapped the covers with plastic. Reacting to “The empty shelf” (published in this space last May 19, 2013), Ara Chawdhury, a University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu alumna, recalled that in a public school she attended, the library was held off-limits to students. The librarian was afraid that the few books they had would be ruined or stolen.

Despite our chalk tricks and other antics, my STC teachers and librarians drummed in us the principle that loving the written word meant never defacing a book.

How are readers created? Ara suggests storybook reading and storytelling sessions when books are few and have to be shared.

Reacting to the same Facebook thread (permission was given to quote them), UP Cebu alumnae Eva Marie “M” Gamboa and Cris Evert Lato wrote about Basadours. “M” said they are “volunteer ambassadors” advocating for literacy by holding storytelling sessions with kids of various places and groups.

As a Cebu Daily News journalist covering the threatened closure of the Cebu City Public Library (CCPL) in 2008 and later volunteering with the Friends of CCPL, Cris felt that closing the library was “purely unacceptable”. Yet, she also saw how the place had become a “cemetery of dead books”.

“For us, Basadours, the library should be an activity center. Kanang sadya, bibo ug naay kinabuhi,” wrote Cris.

Fun and life. That’s exactly what’s in the rapt faces and wide-eyed expressions of public and private school children joining the Basadours’ storythons, storytelling, read-along and story writing sessions held at the CCPL, various daycare centers, barangay reading centers, barangays, and towns in Cebu and Mandaue.

Their Facebook page informs that the fledgling organization just turned two this year. Gathering young professionals as diverse as librarians, teachers, nurses, lawyers, media personalities and filmmakers, the Basadours partners with government, non-government and private entities to tell kids that nothing is cooler than reading.

After more than a hundred enthusiasts showed up for the first “Storytelling 101” last May 18, the Basadours invites the public to join another free training at CCPL on June 8, 2013.

Yet, if reading to a tough audience of young readers is not your thing, you may just be like Peedi Aranas who, when she was a teacher, opened her classroom during recess and lunch break for those who wanted to rest from scrapes, read, draw or just listen to tales.

With a lot of faith, there will always be readers.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 2, 2013 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday main op-ed column