Sunday, December 14, 2014

New Look for breakfast

MY idea of the Filipino breakfast is someone else’s. I’ve lost track of the times I lost track of my thoughts because the aroma of someone’s breakfast wafted by.

Recently, when I took out my purse for the second collection, the husband viewed me with some concern. Are you alright? he asked. Did the priest’s homily move aside the boulder of your objections about second collections?

I started to hiss—my issue is with the church’s lack of accounting, not the frequency of its mass collections per se—when there it was again, the ambrosial whiff of salted dried fish turning brown and crunchy in a pan of sputtering artery-clogging, stone-forming oil. What was the point I wanted to make? Ahh, the Filipino breakfast.

Even if I were to be strapped immobile and my eyes taped wide open ala “A Clockwork Orange” before a looped recording of my gastroenterologist, holding up a plate of Filipino breakfast with one gloved hand and a scalpel with the other, while reciting, “fried or sliced?,” I cannot repress what comes instinctively after the first whiff of someone’s Filipino breakfast: that tango of salt and oil automatically clicking a six-burner stove under the old belly, churning up the gastric juices, inflaming memories of golden feasts at the breakfast table of childhood, also known as the days of paradise before school started and brought all that nonsense about eating a balanced meal of go, grow and glow foods.

Let me be clear, though, that by “Filipino breakfast,” I do not refer to the pale facsimile hotels offer as an alternative to continental or American breakfast. These hotel versions do involve an orgy of frying but their choices—“tocino” with eggs, “daing” with eggs, “longganiza” with eggs, corned beef with eggs—do not move me.

To be sure the upscale Filipino breakfast’s combination of salt, oil and preservatives can still kill a horse or comfort a Pinoy. But the Filipino breakfast my heart (and the rest of my insides) craves for has to be the home-cooked one that attempts to tiptoe past my nostrils (and fails magnificently, of course).

This is the Filipino breakfast cooked by construction workers at their worksite, the salted fish in their pods of scales rolled around on glowing embers under the pot of rice, the clinging ash blown off but leaving a tinge of acridness, because, notwithstanding the cancer scare, the Filipino male will never be caught packing a frying pan and buying a tube of edible oil when he leaves home. This is the Filipino breakfast cooked for breakfast, lunch, dinner, a.m. and p.m. merienda or at any time the person wearing pajamas all day at home wants to pair stale rice with something filling. This is the Filipino breakfast that is never announced to the neighborhood (ever heard the folks next door holler, “let’s fry ‘buwad’ for dinner, dear”?) but everyone within sniffing distance is instantly alerted about anyhow.

So it is not a minor misfortune that where the husband and I live, no one has heard of a Filipino breakfast. This can happen only if: a) one has lived overseas for too long, the mere idea of frying “buwad” inside one’s dwelling may trip off sensitive pollution monitors; or b) one cannot cook. I belong to the latter. I have mightily strained my nostrils during my walks around the neighborhood, but I might as well be in Middle Earth where a Pinoy has yet to set foot on.

So imagine the scene when the husband and I walk in a deserted roadside diner for a late, late dinner. I order the P60-meal only because someone has written on the whiteboard “daing (new look)”. I think for P60, I will go for even a Zen version of “breakfast-all-day” just to quell the brewing rebellion in my gut.

When the Bicol lad served our meals, I smelled before I saw my Filipino breakfast: three butterfly slivers of crispy eat-from-head-to-tail New Look, the Bicolano cousin of the Cebuano “danggit”. It came with a runny-yolk sunny sideup, the Tagalog requisite of sliced ripe tomato, the all-Filipino mound of garlic rice, and Bicolano scimitars of red chillies in a saucer of vinegar that was just calling out to the New Look.

Before dinner came, I was planning yearend medical checks. But like I said, the Filipino breakfast has a way of derailing thoughts. What doctor?

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s December 14, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Monday, December 08, 2014


THE WIND takes me to places. The home of this farmer was reached after hours of walking. In wet, miserable weather, it seemed the house was on the fringes of the world. At some point, one came to doubt one’s sanity. It was insane to come so far; it was insane to turn back. Only by this reasoning did it make sense to continue.

When I entered the house for the first time, it had a floor made entirely of old, thick dark wood. The planks were worn smooth, looked cold but felt warm. Not only feet but bodies rolling around made the floor of the farmer’s home. Without being bidden, I lay down and stretched out sodden, half-frozen legs molded in boots of mud.

No other welcome rivals the boon that awaited sojourners in that farmer’s home on the fringes of the world. Yet, with the nearest neighbor a mountain range or two away and strangers unlikely to drop by in its forbidding remoteness, how did the farmer know how to be such a gracious host?

“Mi casa, su casa” does not come to mind when you prowl today’s home depots. In the age of do-it-yourself (DIY), it’s all about the self: self-improvement, self-reliance, self-protection. These days, they pipe in Christmas songs for background music. But it might as well be the evening news or lifestyle channel features played as ambient sound to keep up with the aspirational messages being shouted from the shelves and counters for the DIY home.

Certain fixtures were common in the homes of my elders. A turntable and a piano were not just displayed; these were used to entertain at a time when entertainment was communal, not a solitary pursuit. Aunts and cousins who played a repertoire of a song or two put in many hours for piano lessons and practice.

Then, I hardly appreciated why playtime had to be sacrificed to perfect a song that player and audience pretended to enjoy. Now, when I see families plugged to their individual gadgets during outings, I can hear echoes of the tinkling of family recitals. How can anything so amateurish be missed?

Homemakers of the past did not deserve the tag if they were without a sewing machine. As a child, my siesta was punctuated with the whirring that came from a sewing machine pedaled by the foot of aunts whose life calling was to keep the family stocked with pajamas, layettes, pillow cases and dust covers.

Just the other day, a shop selling “modern antiques” had a display of side tables decorated with a sewing machine minus the foot pedal. In a future I will never get to see, will they also sell closed-circuit television (CCTV) as wall décor or conversation pieces about the self-exterminating lifespans of gadgetry?

I watched myself on a shop CCTV. A salesman asked me if I wanted to see “other models”. Is there a CCTV that also offers makeovers?

There is one feature, though, that I appreciate about modern homes: their diminishing dimensions.

A tiny home is not just easier to clean. When friends visited, our dining table with just two benches started a conversation. We didn’t opt for chairs to save space, said the husband. Sit beside me, our friend told her husband. Missing me so soon, joked her husband. I remember my grandmother having the same long table, the same benches, commented our friend. In rural areas, mealtimes are still communal affairs, I said. Benches sit more, said the husband. Chairs demarcate: space as private property, he added. Anything to keep the wife close by, joked our friend’s husband.

And if you happen to eat alone, a bench can be converted into a couch, said the husband. Share your plate? coaxed our friend’s husband. Home is what you make it to be.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s December 7, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Sharing space

THE MOTH bats its wings against the pane of glass. I cup my hands around the dirty grey ribbon of its futile striving. The tiny creature settles on a finger. I move my hands to an opening in the window. When it feels the breeze, the moth leaves the finger and escapes.

We have recently moved in this house. It feels empty, full of old and new things that stand around like actors, waiting for blocking directions. There is little room to maneuver among the memories that fill a house you have lived in. Every pockmark on the wall, every pile of books piled helter-skelter in a corner is just waiting to ensnare you into the past.

No such risk in this house. A dwelling acquired in middle-age is different from the one that welcomed babies and watched them saunter away as adults. At this point in life, you may have felt the twinges of mortality and tire of possessions that crowd you in. So a house that feels empty may just be the place to find some space and quiet.

But I could be wrong. Before the first day was over, the husband and I noticed we were not quite alone. The only humans perhaps but not the only ones sharing space. The birds were the first, the noisiest, and the nosiest to announce this.

A tiny fellow swinging on the wire I first mistook for a speck in the sky until I traced the deep-throated bullhorn calls to it. I have tried to pacify the fellow by reading aloud from Robert Lowell’s “Notebook 1967-68”. But I think neither unrhymed sonnets nor twentieth-century Americana will calm down the General, although he does me the courtesy of letting me finish my recital before commencing another of his commands.

So every day or moment we find ourselves paying more attention. There are enormous ants to rescue from the drains, moths to save from death by befuddlement before a pane of glass, millipedes that wander from the yard to the living room, oblivious to door and slipper. A jumping spider led me on a merry chase in and out of the egg tray, I wondering if the fellow came with the refrigerator or if this was just a webspinner with a yen for the polar.

And the tomcats, of course. A squalling from the yard made me abandon the washing one night. Instead of a murder scene, I saw two white geisha faces turned to me, masks of guilelessness undone by twitching tails. A policy prohibits homeowners from letting pets wander on the streets: dogs, chicken, cattle or Komodo dragon. Cats live by no rules. Or at least, the rules governing us.

When the husband joked about the extraordinary activity of the local wildlife to the village association president, the man recommended pest extermination services. I wonder what the General will pronounce if apprised about the president’s ideas. As a movie suggested, aliens landing in our planet should be subjugated and colonized before they apply these ideas on us. What if we turn out to be the aliens?

Cleaning the yard, I came upon so much detritus: food wrappers, tin cans, twine, paper, rusting nails, cigarette butts, cigarette cartons, a child’s slipper, bits of faux crystal left from an earring, wedges of cement-reinforced plywood, faded shards that, when pulled, turn out to be entrails of plastic buried in the bowels of the earth, Styrofoam decomposing like toxic hail.

Guess who lives here? Clues: Likes plastic and synthetics a lot. Discards a lot. Cares that it is turning its home into a garbage pit, not a lot.

One argument is that other forms of life are opportunists living off our existence. The colony of ants stockpiling the grains of rice that fall from our tables. The birds, cats and rats made fat by the overflowing garbage bins.

We civilize wild life. We ease the old jungle rule for our fellow animals, from the island monkeys who snatch from tourists anything that dangles and is mistaken as food to the whale sharks that fishermen feed so they stay nearshore to delight the tourists.

Perhaps it is this version of sharing space that the General, impervious to poetry, rails against.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s November 30, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Bird drop

SO that is the sound a bird makes when it drops from the sky.

The husband and I were eating at a roadside diner that stood out by its lonesome in the strip of joints that was always full, lively and loud during the weekend exodus.

The diner served fry-ups, a teenager’s dream of ordering breakfast 24 hours a day. The place should be full except, in the past few weeks we’ve been eating here, we’ve seen only one other couple and a gentleman frequent the place, other than us.

Considering that the diner sold the same mass-friendly poison available nearby, it was a mystery why the place was ignored. Perhaps it was because a mall was being erected in front of it. Or that business was so sleepy, a gentleman in an ancient knitted hat requested the staff to play a cassette tape of the deathless anthem, “Born Free,” while we waited for our omelets to be served.

This is a generation that has no memory of Elsa the Lion. Or of cassette tapes, for that matter. Still, the little diner struggles. It printed its name on a tarpaulin gilded with lights, and mounted this on a metal ribcage in an attempt to rival the monstrous girders of the mall rising from the mud. In the evening, the diner’s tarp looks like a bejeweled kite left forgotten in the sky.

Perhaps the nighttime navigator thought so, too, before it rammed into the tarp tower and crashed a few meters from our table. When the explosion came, I thought, “rock,” and continued with my dinner. The husband went to the black mass on the ground and said, “Bird. Or once was.”

A few minutes later, he checked again, noting that the bird was now on its feet. I didn’t want to see a poor bloodied creature so soon after I finished my meal. But curiosity later won.

Not only was the bird seemingly unscathed, it bore an uncanny resemblance to Danny DeVito, the American actor who personified everything creepy and pitiful in his role as the Penguin, arch-foe of Batman. Its body was a black ball of feathers perched on a pair of stilt-like legs. Its beak curved like a scimitar, and was as effective in keeping me at bay.

The bird gazed back at us somberly.

The husband explained that the bird must be dazed, after hitting the tarpaulin or the frame. Remembering the sound I thought was made by an inanimate object, I winced.

Do you want to take it home? he asked. I took another look at the beak. Do birds fare better in captivity? This fellow is a traveller. Despite that nasty fall, I thought he might still prefer an unfettered sky to a cage.

Two workers walking home heard my next question, “What bird is this?”

“Tikling,” answered one. In Cebuano, the word means “skinny”. I looked at the two men, wondering at the coincidence that would gather the four of us and the feathered one, far away from our homes.

It was the men who raised the idea again of catching the bird. The husband stepped towards the bird, and it hopped away. The men lunged at the bird; there was a swirl of feathers as it inched away at the critical moment, still not making any sound. I could see on the husband’s face that he now didn’t want the bird caught. The situation had changed. We were no longer two plotting against one, believing ourselves as rescuers. We humans outnumbered the bird; we became a pack, conniving, intent at running down a prey.

When the men grew impatient and gave chase, the bird hopped, made tentative flaps, and flew away. The men laughed and walked on. The husband got in the car, and I followed, as silent. We outnumbered the bird; it had outsmarted us. This one, at least, got away.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s November 23, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The other soap

WHY do happily married women follow the TV lives of unhappy wives?

My sister and I often start and end our day commiserating with Yvonne and bashing Victor. Yvonne and Victor are the Guevarras, not really our neighbors except by way of television and the internet.

In the television series, “Two Wives,” the Guevarras were happily married until Victor moves out and lives with Janine, unmarried but with a daughter. Since it started last October, the teleserye about awry domestic lives has also upset ours.

My sister works four days a week in Sydney, keeps house for a family of four, organizes her “free” days around cooking, cleaning, washing, marketing, driving her daughters and husband to appointments, and lately, spoonfeeding the family dog with a slipped disc. Yet, she finds time to follow the teleserye on the net or walks to her in-laws to catch the episodes on cable TV.

My husband comes home earlier so he can eat dinner before the drama starts. (I always thought he came home late so he would be too tired to analyze my meals.) When he couldn’t escape the Guevarras, he switched off the TV set twice and placed it once on mute. Even from the sanctuary of our room, he complains he can still hear me hiss at Victor or roll my eyes at Janine.

When I retorted that one had to imagine the sound made by a pair of rolling eyes, he said I was up to this feat because I could muster fake sympathy for fake characters driven purely by a TV formula for making money.

According to the late Emil Rizada Jr., a pioneer in Cebuano radio dramas as “Sebyo the Boy Wonder,” soap operas began as continuous radio programs sponsored by multinational soap companies. Since its real purpose was to sell soap, the radio soap opera then was written for women.

Today’s women have more on their mind than soap, but TV serials seemingly still appeal to a predominantly female audience. Given the power of the soap opera format—one proof being that TV networks will invest in local productions rather than feature only foreign imports—cannot audiences demand better scripts and empowering messages?

The character of the feckless, faithless husband is probably indispensable in a format that has to show the dichotomy of good and bad within half of the allotted hour (commercials, like villains, being necessary evils in mass entertainment).

But why the depressing overpopulation of spineless females in soaplandia?

A recent episode in “Two Wives” has Yvonne and her friends chipping in to buy her a bikini and a cover-up. The objective: wrest Victor from Janine. When a friend questions this tactic (of course, Yvonne is deaf to the bellows of enraged wives from all over the world and the blogosphere), the “good wife” explains that she has to win back her husband for the survival of their son.

Why toy with the power of the subliminal message? After the writers and director put her up on the pedestal as the blameless victim, Yvonne resolves to get back “her man,” the same lowlife who sexually, emotionally and financially abandoned her and their son.

If the same network producing “Two Wives” can include “relationship experts” in a reality show involving real couples, why cannot they conjure up a social worker to help Yvonne with the Battered Woman Syndrome, which keeps the victim in thrall of her abuser, even at risk of death?

If my sister and I could rewrite the teleserye, we would entitle this, “Solo parents”. It will be about coping: how Janine tells her daughter why she is unmarried (much simpler and saner than paying a man to stand in as the father); how Yvonne and Victor assure their son that although they’ve ceased to become a couple, they remain parents to him (don’t lie to children or assume they are not as intelligent and sensitive as you); and how Yvonne finds work, gets government aid, starts an enterprise, or goes back to school (sleeping with the enemy is not the only option left for those going solo).

In the early days, radio could make listeners believe anything. Noy Emil told me he met radio fans who could not believe the young man he was then was Sebyo the wonder boy.

If the teleserye dignified women, I, too, would become a believer.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu's November 16, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, "Matamata"

Sunday, November 09, 2014

The fallen

HOW many fell?

In Oscar C. Pineda’s Nov. 5 report in Sun.Star Cebu, there is a detailed list of the trees felled to clear space for a P67-million sports oval in Naga City.

Cut down were 15 agoho, 12 mahogany, five neem and two narra trees.

The report quoted Eddie Llamedo, spokesperson of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

What sinks like a stone in the Sun.Star Cebu report is not the destruction of 43 trees. It is not even the same fate ordained for the 45 trees remaining at the Naga City Central School.

It is the realization that only a handful witnessed the passing of the trees. Would a student of Naga City Central School notice the missing trees and remember their names?

Two of the witnesses were there for the job. Llamedo’s is to document the process started after the DENR issued a cutting permit to the Naga City Government.

Pineda is another chronicler. The veteran journalist covered countless stories, at least a dozen of which must be more exciting than the death of “heavily leaning and sick trees,” as described by Naga Environment Officer Obdulla Lescano.

Yet, in the fifth paragraph of Pineda’s account, there is a roll call, a tolling of the names of trees that ceased to be part of our world last Nov. 4.

We keep a tradition of calling out names. At the start or end of class, a teacher calls the roll to determine who is present or absent. In prison yards, calling aloud names exposes who escaped.

According to the wisegeek, honorary roll calls list those who made their mark through distinction or death. In military tradition, a soldier steps forward upon hearing one’s name and submits to his superior’s inspection.

Why do we make a roll call of trees? Because we cut them.

The Aborigines of Australia pass from generation to generation the Songlines, sung by their ancestors as they crisscrossed the land, naming all the animals, trees, rocks, streams and feature they came across.

Bruce Chatwin wrote about this “earthbound philosophy” in his book, “The Songlines”: “The Aboriginals were a people who trod lightly over the earth; and the less they took from the earth, the less they had to give in return.”

In their version of Genesis, the story of creation, the Dreamtime narrates how man and all species came from clay. A clan took as its totem a species; for instance, a man from the Wallaby clan believed he descended from a universal Wallaby Father, who begat all Wallaby men and living Wallabies.

Related to all Wallabies, human and animal, a man with a Wallaby Dreaming found his way across Australia by singing the Wallaby Dreaming-tracks, “a trail of words and musical notes” scattered all over the land and serving as “ways of communication between the most far-flung tribes”. A traveler took only what he needed for survival; to “scar” the earth was to dishonor the Earth Mother.

After the Land Rights Act gave the Aborigines the title to their ancestral land, any project that potentially “wounds” the earth, such as construction of a railway, requires consultation with Aboriginal owners to avoid destroying a sacred site and severing a Dreaming-track.

Chatwin interviewed sources that said the law was noble but “rash”. From the viewpoint of Aborigines, the “whole of bloody Australia’s a sacred site”. It is easier to “visualize the Songlines as a spaghetti of Iliads and Odysseys, writhing this way and that” than to convince surveyors that “a heap of boulders were the eggs of the Rainbow Snake” or that a “featureless stretch of gravel was the musical equivalent of Beethoven’s Opus III”.

Critics say that respecting the Dreamtime is hallucinating that Australia can return to the days of hunting and gathering. Advocates say that at the root of the law is respect for the Aboriginals’ “most essential liberty: the liberty to remain poor or… the space in which to be poor if they wished to be poor.”

Should we be comforted that, instead of “singing the land back to the days of creation,” we routinely call the roll for our desecration: “15 agoho, 12 mahogany, five neem and two narra trees” down; 45 more trees to go; a P67-million sports oval in the future?

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu's November 9, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, "Matamata"

Monday, November 03, 2014

True horror

GOING home late, I took a second look at a neighbor’s gate. What I took at first to be a dangling head was a jack-o’-lantern in full regalia: corkscrews of spiraling cobweb and midnight-blue barrettes of bats.

You don’t have to be a kid to smell it in the air: first, Hallowe’en, then Christmas and the Sinulog are just beyond the corner. When I was just this high, just anticipating the holidays was like giving myself a good hug.

Being older complicates the holidays. Christmas also brings in another level of stress, specially for victims of domestic violence. Social workers and advocates even have a name for it: “holiday domestic violence”.

In 2012, CBS News reported that the number of calls to the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline drops traditionally during Christmas because of the social pressure to keep a façade in keeping with the holiday cheer for the benefit of family and friends.

A post on the FindLaw blog also pointed out that holiday stress makes couples flare up more than usual, leading to confrontations. A FindLaw post written by Andrew Lu lists down tips for preventing or escaping from a violent confrontation.

Some confrontations are overdue, though. One wife informed the bosses about her husband’s infidelity. The reason for coming out into the open: long deprived of his financial help in raising their children, she wanted to make sure that his Christmas bonus and other yearend incentives won’t also be going to the mistress.

Some who were privy to the case were harsh in their judgment—of the wife. Mostly men, they said it was imprudent of her to “rat” on him. After all, he could be suspended. Their family would lose more if he lost his bosses’ favor or became the butt of gossip during the office Christmas party. Her husband’s “straying” should be an opportunity for her to be “more Christian,” not “vindictive,” specially for the children’s sake.

Not too long after the wife reported her husband, he became the subject of a customer’s complaint on a serious breach of ethics and professionalism. Looking back, the red flags were up in this case: a mistress, financial abandonment of the children. So why did she wait until the holidays to speak out against the abusive husband? It might have alerted the bosses and prevented the husband from committing one wrongdoing after another.

Later, I learned that the husband had been involved in a previous affair. She endured their union and even had more children after the first infidelity. So it took deep reserves of courage for her to out her husband after he became unfaithful again.

According to the Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS), serious abuse leads to a mental disorder. Victims acquire a coping mechanism called “learned helplessness”. This condition paralyzes victims, prevents them from seeking help, and even absolves the abuser for their “punishment”. Many victims suffering BWS believe that the abuser will eventually realize their mistake and love them back.

Based on domestic violence online resources, it is in the “honeymoon” stage when the victim pardons the abuser and rationalizes the violence. The cycle of abuse continues.

Like the wife who complained about her philandering husband to his bosses, Josefina Tallado broke the cycle by speaking out about her fear of her husband, Camarines Norte Gov. Edgardo Tallado. She left him after he reportedly confronted her over uploaded photos showing the governor intimate with a woman alleged to be his mistress.

Facebook and the rest of social media have become the court of last resort for some seeking swift “justice”. Yet, for victims of domestic violence, specially those suffering from BWS, the online portal can easily worsen abuse.

If we know of anyone who is battered emotionally, sexually, physically, financially or otherwise, we should direct them to the authorities, who can issue a restraining order to prevent an abuser from threatening or harming the victim, and non-government organizations that will sustain them in the long road towards recovery and self-reliance. Family law attorneys counsel victims about their rights and legal remedies.

For the rest of us, our greatest usefulness to victims of domestic abuse rests on our capacity to listen and suspend disbelief. Disbelief that the holidays can be the worst times for others. Disbelief that the “more Christian” act is to escape from your abuser and get justice for yourself and your children.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s November 2, 2014 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Layers of fiction

WHAT must it have been for the family of Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton when they first heard the news?

One day, he’s tottering, discovering these sticks called legs. Then he’s rolling in the mud, it’s summer and the hose dribbles on the ground, the kid is a fish then a log of carnivorous teeth watch out he’s about to leap, he’s a frog. And he’s accused of killing a transgender woman named Jennifer or Jeffrey somewhere in a place called Olongapo the sin city and he’s a grainy profile caught by a newsman’s camera that could not get close enough to zoom in on his head no it’s a helmet to hide him from the pack baying for his blood is that our son?

This is fiction. What may be true is what was reported. U.S. media reports quoted Pemberton’s mother, Lisa, saying that she was not aware of all the details of the case but their family loves him “very much. Nothing is going to change that.”

The late Jennifer Laude’s mother, Julita, also said the same thing: she is loved.

Mother’s love, which we believe is pure and singular, can then be two things. Despite not knowing if her son is guilty of the crime he is implicated with, his mother declares her love for Joseph Scott.

The Laudes love Jennifer, too. She is Jennifer to them. While we grope for the correct pronoun to use, she is Jennifer to the woman who gave birth to him. Who would not flinch at Julita’s cry of despair: who would kill my child?

On the Internet, ignorance and awareness do not constitute the same love. Netizens are taking sides on the gender divide. “Justice for Jennifer Laude” is one Facebook community. “Support For Joseph Scott Pemberton” is another.

Some Netizens claim that discovery of the “deception” pushed the U.S. Marine “over the edge,” as if murder could be justified. A U.S. news website quoted an unidentified neighbor of the Pembertons in New Bedford, Massachusetts: “I wouldn’t want to be with a guy and find out it’s a girl. I’d freak out.”

What can justify reducing someone to an “it”? Other Netizens point out that it is perceptions like this that give away the gender bias and intolerance for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. They are the “Others” for choosing the “abnormal”. And for being different, the rules can be bent for them, too.

The online community is harsh on the LGBT’s “deception”. I would have expected the online portal to be more predisposed to sympathy for diversity and divergence. In the mediated worlds of the Internet, where avatars, role-playing, codes and cyber identities are normal, what is unusual about taking on a gender you prefer to your sex at birth?

Even today’s workplaces find use for multiple layers of fiction. Upon learning that a friend works at this outsourcing company, I asked if she met a former colleague of mine. I gave my former colleague’s name but my friend looked blank.

I said she may not have met him because of the number of employees or offices.

What name does he go by? my friend asked. When it was my turn to look confused, she explained that upon hiring, each employee was given a name, complete with a fictional biography, to be committed to memory. Overseas clients prefer to talk to a “Raven” of “New Jersey” rather than “Chinky” of “Poro Island”.

To help their role-playing, employees call each other by their fictional names even when they’re off duty.

This is an anecdote that may just as well be fiction for unbending moralists and online machos who brag that they would rather go to bed with the ugliest “real” woman than the prettiest transgender. Fiction is not for everyone. But if I’ve learned anything from a lifetime of reading, it’s that empathy begins once you step into the shoes of the character.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s October 26, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Monday, October 20, 2014

Down the toilet bowl

WHEN you lose your way, try Googling your way out.

After a week of listening to television reports about the death of Jeffrey Laude, I went online to clear up my confusion. It was not just the event and the circus that immediately pitched tent. The way it was reported and the manner I was filtering the story made me doubt if I understood myself at all.

How could the killing of a 26-year-old Olangapo resident shake my world?

First, I am the type of consumer who digests television news to stay updated. I know the risks of eating fast food (and being as cavalier with my news consumption) but news is a commodity I want served, at the end of a day of technical writing, as light as dinner and as a prelude to the series of soap operas that I hope will usher in at least eight hours of sleep.

But Laude’s death offers no easy escape.

First, he didn’t just die; he was killed. Second, Jeffrey was better known as Jennifer. According to accounts, he preferred to be her. That’s a choice that defined/defines him/her in life/death.

(Blame not just media but our entire culture for the slashes (/) that are liberally sprinkled in this story. According to punctuation rules, the slash frequently substitutes for “or,” referring to a choice of mutually exclusive conditions, as in “he/she” means “he or she,” assuming the one cannot be the other. But the slash can also be a way of not taking sides in a contentious point: for instance, using “freedom fighter/terrorist” to sidestep accusations of labeling or stereotyping. And the slash can be used to surface submerged connections between apparent contradictions: “love/hate”.)

All the TV reports I heard referred to the “killing of a Filipino transgender woman”. Would it have mattered if the media was simply reporting the killing of one Jeffrey Laude, not the Jennifer Laude?

I think the circus came to town the minute someone first reported, “Filipino transgender woman”. Male or female, news anchors latched on to the phrase, with voice inflections and glances more pregnant with innuendoes than a herd of promiscuous slashes. I saw how the phrase broke the composure of an official, asked on camera to theorize why Jeffrey/Jennifer was killed. Either the protocols of police training or broadcast performance prevented the poor man from raising his hands to cover the smirk that bloomed like molds as he imagined for us the murderous instinct that must have seized Jennifer’s companion when he came face to face with Jeffrey in the motel room.

On print, a reader of the phrase focuses on “killing” first, followed by “Filipino transgender woman,” according to the words’ order of appearance. A reader less lazy than I may even get up and Google “transgender” to better understand. Unlike a transsexual who resorts to medical intervention for sex change, a transgender chooses a gender identity different from his or her sex at birth.

But for a TV viewer like me, the eyes and ears are faster to the draw than vocabulary checks. I heard “gay prostitute,” “German fiancé,” and “American serviceman”. I saw nightly the death scene, described by a top-rating talk show host as “iconic”. She didn’t elaborate except to say, with portent, “we all know what this means”.

The head crammed into the toilet bowl may have one meaning, many or none at all. A TV host acting like a semiotician poses as many dangers as a journalist speculating on a police investigation within the time constraints of primetime TV news. When the case shows no fresh leads, the recourse is to turn on the victim, and disassemble his/her life. What happens to the victim and his/her family’s right to justice?

Yet, justice, too, is at the root of gender. What we consider as masculine or feminine is not determined by nature but nurture and culture. In a world that holds up the heterosexual as normal, we see only as shadows in our periphery the “others”: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

The news media can correct the myopia of gender-based crimes. Or join the queue in perpetuating violence against those we judge as “different”. We don’t have to actually ram heads into toilet bowls; we can just replay the image nightly.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s October 19, 2014 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday editorial-page column

Monday, October 13, 2014

Looking for art

ON campuses, it is easy to spot the Fine Arts students. Their hands are often tinkering with paint, clay, or bottle caps to be hammered into a towering anemone-like installation that reminds me of mobile breasts.

In the outside world, the artist is a creature so seldom spotted, I have begun to think that as soon as they get their diplomas and leave the gates of academe, artists dissipate like bubbles.

That’s not to say that I’ve given up hope of rare sightings. I ran into a most persistent fellow while trying to find my way past the idle rich in station 1 of Boracay’s White Beach to the more plebian surroundings of stations 2 or 3.

It was my fortune to dispossess him of his last wooden carving of the Holy Family, the fellow insisted. To prove that I was in the right place at the right moment to take home a one-of-a-kind souvenir, he rummaged through the crumpled sheets of newspaper in his tote as if to conjure the other carvings that he already sold.

It took me a day to carve the Holy Family but it will bless your home longer than eternity, he intoned while I traced the plaque’s crowd-pleasing features, which came from a plasticine mold and had never surfaced from wood grain, cajoled by a deft chisel.

Half an hour later, I was still wandering when I spotted again my artist friend, now showing the newspaper nest inside his tote to a Korean couple who had unlinked their hands to hold the man’s last great sculpture-please-bring-this-back-with-you-so-I-too-can-go-home-and-have-lunch-with-my-wife-and-seven-small-kids-thank-you.

To be fair, three days and two nights of wandering among the crowds in Boracay do not constitute a serious effort of tracking down artists in Aklan. I anticipated more from an afternoon’s jaunt in Paete, Laguna, named the capital of carving in the country during the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Traveling along the shores of Laguna de Bay, the husband and I passed first Angono, Rizal, which, according to a marker, is the Arts Capital of the Philippines. I saw several papier-mache “higantes (giant effigies)” along the road, which reminded me of fiestas and flag-burning protests, highlights defining the temperaments of the nation.

It’s not only an hour’s drive that separates Angono from Paete. Angono is a first-class municipality resembling any metropolis aspiring to have its first mall. A fourth-class municipality, Paete is tight and curled around itself, the streets clinging to the town center as the inner whorls curve possessively around the heart of a shell.

According to legend or history, the town was so named after a carpenter answered “paet (chisel)” a Spanish friar asking for the name of the place, thinking the man of God was interested in the implement he was wielding, not proselytization.

The chisels of Paete are still the major draw of this small town, although, according to reports, they are less applied now to wood and stone than to vegetable and ice sculptures dominating the banquets of cruise ships and luxury hotels.

In the falling rain, we walked the narrow streets and peered into shops. “Taka (papier- mache” masks and figurines, another legacy from a colonial past, competed for space with potbellied Santa Clauses on parachute, preening cherubs and American Folk (Faux) - styled birdhouses. If I were an artist, there is no contest between the siren call of dollars and local patrons who buy art only when it is decorative and not bulky for transport.

Neither dusk nor the brownout swamping the town for hours cloaked the monumental figures of San Miguel trampling the devil and the body of the Christ taken down from the Cross. Both were carved by the same man, one who worked with stone, narrated the store clerk. Only a master’s chisel used to stone could move on rare hardwood, without exposing an apprentice’s indecision or the indelibility of a mistake.

When we departed, night closed in on Paete, caught in the counterflow of stringent environmental laws, the Filipino diaspora, and a local art market that pigeonholes art into crafty birdhouses no self-respecting bird will ever make its nest in.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s October 12, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Letters in Simala

LAST year, when my niece had to be operated twice to relieve bleeding in the brain, family members prayed to the Birhen sa Simala for her recovery.

This September, my niece turned 17. My sister and her daughters recently came home, and I joined them in visiting the Simala church in Sibonga.

A trip down the south of Cebu usually offers a scenic respite from the city and its tawdry charms and charmless hustlers. Today, one can still string a couple of sleepy southern towns, where a dog sauntering across the street constitutes the biggest excitement in a week.

Yet, the church in Simala, with its reputation for miracles and its droves of devotees and tourists, has raised the local threshold for spectacles by several notches. I prefer empty churches, where one can hear oneself better. After several visits, I conclude that the church in Simala will never lack for two things: people and construction projects underway.

The pilgrimage up the hills of Lindogan in the barangay of Simala requires the same mindset and skills required to survive in the cities, if one chooses to visit on the 13th of the month or on weekends. On these days, the “habal-habal” drivers waiting at the junction connecting the highway to the upland road will be more snobbish than Manila taxi drivers mobbed by mallgoers in November when ATMs are disgorging Christmas bonuses.

The scenery in Lindogan is verdant and unspoiled, save for the parking signs that demand P50 for the privilege of parking under swaying coconut trees. Patronizing local sellers is a bit of a challenge, specially when a jackfruit about the size of two basketballs will make the buyer poorer by P700.

To avoid these vexations, we went to Simala on a weekday and ate fast food in Carcar. Leaving Lapu-Lapu City at midmorning, we reached the Simala church a little after noon, just in time to hear mass.

It’s been at least two years since I’ve visited the shrine. At the carpark, my reaction to the view of the church silhouetted against the bright blue mantle of a cloudless sky was the same as my nieces, who were there for the first time: It’s a castle! It’s a church! No, it’s a castle church!

What does it say of a faith if believers require monuments in stone and gilt to worship? I had no time to answer my question as I quickly packed bottles of mineral water and chips, revealing a mindset that perhaps answered adequately my confusion as to whether I was stepping inside a place of God or a theme park.

Fortunately, the rest of the churchgoers seemed to be less muddled than I was. In comparison to the church exteriors, with its towers, curtain walls and Disneyesque features, the place where the mass is heard is small and intimate. I found myself listening to the homily, singing the hymns.

There were children but they were nearly as solemn as the grown-ups. As we made our way to the image of the Birhen sa Simala, my niece whispered that no one jumped the line, a rare experience for her in the country.

The church interiors still resembles a warren but there is better documentation and organization now. The curation is interesting, the collection of crutches, wheelchairs and testimonials donated by the healed and the aided as riveting as the narrative accompanying the multiple images of the Virgin Mary.

To experience Simala is to be pulled in different directions all at once. We bought rosaries and religious items. We got our change along with the information that our purchases had already been blessed. It’s pretty efficient: from buyer to sales clerk, cashier and priest. Look, Ma, no lines.

What tames the heathen in me is not a miracle. It’s the tables with their sheaf of paper and pens. Like many others, I don’t consider a visit to Simala complete without writing a letter to the Virgin and dropping the folded sheet into a box.

The box slit is too small to accommodate a pair of crutches or even a graduation medal. Like the perpetual construction and trading occurring in the place, there must be a system, too, that sieves the letters of the faithful for archiving and showroom display.

Yet, in the near silence of bent heads and whispering pens, it is not impossible to believe in the impossible. In the Age of Disbelief, that surely counts as a miracle.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s October 5, 2014 issue of “Matamata,” Sunday editorial-page column

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Veronica & Betty, Rusty & Rusly

“AKLANON or Akeanon” is the mother tongue spoken in the province of Aklan in the island of Panay. According to the 2013 edition of “Ethnologue,” Aklanon’s unique feature among the country’s mother tongues is the close-mid back unrounded vowel. This is the phoneme, “ea,” found in Akeanon.

On dry script, these details about Aklanon’s mother tongue may interest only linguists. Travelling from Caticlan ports to reach Boracay, arguably Aklan’s most famous destination, I catch snippets of Akeanon, drifting like strands of seaweed in the fast-moving polyglot currents.

On the strength of a wide and interminable stretch of shore covered in sand so fine and unvaryingly cool despite global warming, Boracay draws sun worshippers from all points of the globe. I would be tempted to say that the universal language here is English, legal tender in restobars and sandbar.

Except that, after watching Filipino artists survive and thrive here, I think Boracay’s mother tongue consists of the digits from 0 to 9, including the decimal point. Years ago, while I was tangled in language bottlenecks while haggling in Bangkok and Chiangmai, Nattaya, my Thai colleague, pointed out that communicating was faster using the calculator.

In Boracay, calculators abound but other means can serve as well. While watching Rusty paint designs on a bar of resin he converted into a customized keychain, I observed the transactions between Rusty’s fellow artist from Maasin and a swarthy foreigner.

The latter wanted to get two customized bracelets for less than P35 each. That much I got despite his guttural, inchoate English. Rusty’s colleague scratched out prices on a pad of paper until the tourist walked away, his disappointment needing no translation.

My niece Joanna, visiting from Sydney, discovered haggling in Boracay. When we walked away with my pouch of keychains, she asked if Rusty gave me a good deal. I said I could drive a hard bargain for factory, mass-produced items. It didn’t seem right to lump Rusty with an assemblyline worker from China or our export processing zones.

For every keychain, Rusty, who hails from Manila but has a baby son waiting in Mindoro, gets P1 from the P25 a customer pays to Rusly of Alabang, the investor. He earns P2,000 a month, with free board and lodging for him and his wife. He works daily, with no holidays, on a five-hour shift, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

How can you tell the operators from artists? In Boracay’s White Beach, the merchandise is thicker than the seashells: selfie sticks, sea air-proof cellphone pouches, a husband daycare center (you just pay for his drinks while you shop).

In all that exchange of currency, talent still catches attention: boys who will make quickie sand sculptures for trysting couples (take a picture only after the artists abandon the sculpture or pay a fee for a selfie), fire dancers, and kitsch crafters like Rusty.

The son of a Manila portrait artist, Rusty can draw a landscape on a piece of vinyl no bigger than a name tag. Many seasoned writers are cowed by a blank screen; Rusty takes about 7.5 minutes to swirl his multi-colored pens and create a personality around a name. When I tell him that he has the Filipino’s penchant for horror vacui, he smiles and goes on designing. Typical tourist babble.

For two evenings in a row, we schedule dinner around the performances of the fire dancers. Two catch my sister’s attention. She calls them Betty and Veronica, after the Archie comic book characters. Dark-haired Veronica astounds with his feats of strength and agility, flinging around the flaming balls while keeping a heavily mascaraed mask of inscrutability.

It is blonde Betty, though, that commands the strip of beach. He transforms a nightly routine into a character or a tale with only a look under his eyes, a graceful swishing of a muscled torso. It’s theater; it’s camp, specially when they spring open a “tip box” at the end of all that drama and fire.

In Boracay, you have to hear better and scratch deeper, to find what’s innate and genuine underneath the sand and kitsch.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Sept. 28, 2014 issue of the “Matamata,” a Sunday editorial-page column

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Fifty shades

MY salt-and-pepper hair has given me perks, such as solicitous offers of precious MRT seats during rush hour and advice on hair coloring from a stranger during a jeepney ride. Recently, I added another one on my list.

One hectic Friday in a mall, I got a priority number for a bank transaction before popping in the next-door pharmacy to purchase my 75-year-old mother’s medicine.

There were about 40 other persons before it would be my turn in the bank. I was two numbers away from being served in the pharmacy.

Yet, according to the principles that skewer situations when one is in a hurry, the “express” senior citizen’s lane took an eternity to add more grey strands in my head. When I popped back to the bank, my turn had come and gone.

Cutting or jumping the line or queue is among the worst of uncivilized behavior. A band of yuppies was unable to budge their way into our queue for boarding a plane until someone in their party—with the shortest skirt drawn across a human posterior—smiled her way in front of a man in front. No way to win against two apes.

But in a mall on a Friday, with bags in tow and hours logged behind queues, I was beyond the threshold of forbearance. I explained my situation to the bank security.

The officer said he would ordinarily advise a person with a lapsed number to get in line again. Lowering his voice, he tipped me to tell the teller that I had gone to the toilet.

I told him the numbers being served were already a dozen or so past my number. Who would believe the toilet alibi?

The officer glanced at my head and said, still sotto voce: prepare your senior citizen’s identification card, in case.

I didn’t resort to ID abuse but still got helped by another officer, 10 minutes before bank closing. The windfall on a busy Friday night in a mall was, I suspect, boosted by a head full of greying tresses.

Yet, being elderly is far from being a walk in the park these days. You see stoicism but also exasperation as they wait interminably in pharmacies for their prescriptions to be filled.

Stools ease the waiting except that, for persons with mobility problems, sitting without a backrest and getting up without aid are Herculean tasks that may just end in a slipping accident and a trip on the last boat down the River Styx.

Senior citizen lanes are supposed to prioritize the elderly. The backlog can be due to many factors: prescriptions that are often more than a page; doctors’ penmanship to decipher; forms to fill; and the elderly’s need for slow and clear explanations.

So why is there usually only a single clerk manning this lane? Once, attempting to switch from a slow-moving senior citizens’ counter to the fast-moving and multiple regular counters, I was told I could not bridge the divide. Stick with slow. Slow is good. The elderly cannot possibly be in a hurry to go anywhere except to the terminal with no return ticket.

Thus, the donation of rocking chairs by the Silya Foundation and the Ayala Center Cebu to public places is timely.

It reminds us that we take for granted those we should spend more time and effort “to thank… the elderly because they shaped us to who we are… (and) to inspire the youth to care for the elderly,” said Tito Lorete Alcala, founder of Silya Foundation, during the Sept. 19 turnover of the rocking chairs in Cebu, reported Janelle Paula Blaire Arcayos, University of San Jose-Recoletos Mass Com intern in Sun.Star Cebu’s Sept. 20 issue.

Alcala said the donation won’t only consist of rocking chairs. Benches and other seats are welcome. What about treadmills and ballrooms?

Let’s not stereotype the elderly. To quote E. L. James, whom my mother still yearns to read, there are fifty shades of grey. At least.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s September 21, 2014 issue of “Matamata,” the Sunday editorial-page column

Mirror, mirror

AT a certain point, do all daughters come to resemble their mothers?

Across the dining table, my 75-year-old mother watched me fold a plastic bag left by the boys. I did not know she was watching me until she said: I am like you, unable to resist keeping a plastic bag others would have discarded.

How many times have I watched my mother, across the same table, put her maintenance medicine inside reused plastic bags from the pharmacy?

During the day, the dining table witnesses our different routines: I, to write; she, to prepare her medication. When I look up from what I’m reading or writing, my mother is still at it, folding, unfolding and folding the tiny bags holding multicolored pills.

Is it the bags that make me dizzy? My mother doesn’t label the bags, which come from the same pharmacy but contain different sets of pills for different intervals. After watching too often a shower of pills spill from the pocket of her trousers, I gave her a pillbox.

I’ve never seen again the pillbox. But the mini plastic bags never stop rustling when my mother and I sit across each other during the day.

Now something more than the pill bags holds my attention: quote I am like you unquote. Shouldn’t my mother say: you are so like me? Daughters take after their mothers, don’t they?

When my teachers and classmates met my mother for the first time, they looked at me as if to reproach me for defying type. Was I proof that aliens could have abducted my mother’s real daughter and put me in her place? I think even the aliens would agree without batting a lidless cyclopean eye.

Throughout the turbulent years—while I navigated adolescence and my mother, middle age—we found a common point by disagreeing about most things. My mother, a KBL loyalist, considered my revulsion for Marcos and embrace for causes as some kind of bug I picked up from the state university. She taught me birth control; I suspected she was prepping me for vassalage and the petty bourgeois institutions of monogamy and perpetuation of the race. She discovered religion when I thought disbelief had the answers for everything, including alien abduction.

Age catches up with all of us. I became a wife and then a mother. I converted to conservatism. My mother stopped perming and dyeing her hair; she became a grandmother and revels in the pure high only grandchildren can give.

We still disagree on a few things: Aquino and “Daang Matuwid,” her diet, and plastic bags. Or we did.

When she moved in with us some weeks ago, I found myself watching her across the glass-topped table where we have our meals. Am I becoming my mother’s daughter? It turned out she was watching me, too. Quote I am like you unquote.

All my life, I’ve had more men friends than women. Men come with a list of simple instructions once you get sex out of the way. Women are much harder to crack. And they keep their claws sharpened.

So I don’t know when I started to like hanging out with my mother. Was it when I heard her ask my sons if I knew how to switch on the stove (shared anxiety: my mother cannot boil an egg)? Or as we negotiated if she could add one more scoop of ice cream?

Or while holding on to the back of her neck as one of her doctors recently drove in a harsh truth, I remembered how my mother held me on her lap so the dentist could pull out a milk tooth and then announce, “You can now open your eyes… yes, both of you.”

Quote I am like you unquote.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s September 14, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Common bad

JOY. That’s the element jumping out of a photograph Alex “Chief” Badayos of Sun.Star Cebu took of couples sharing a truck ride during a free mass wedding of 173 couples in Naga City.

Though they are sitting on plastic chairs arranged on a flatbed truck, with only a handhold to keep their balance, the faces are all alit.

Hand-waves and laughter on their way to saying “I do”: it’s an infectious snapshot that captures not just levity but also a dignity and self-worth not usually associated with the common perception of “masses”.

Frequently, any reference made of large numbers of people or the majority of the population is equated with a lowering of expectations and standards. It’s as if there’s a social formula that transmutes the common into the lowest and poorest of terms.

Not so with the Naga City Government, which organized a mass wedding during its 7th Charter Day, reported Justin K. Vestil in Sun.Star Cebu last Sept. 4.

In its four years of sponsoring the event, the local government enabled 759 couples to have a wedding even the moneyed can only dream of. The city government took care of the required documents, such as the birth certificate, certificate of no marriage (Cenomar) to prove that one is single and unimpeded from marrying, and marriage certificate.

The government even included free marriage counseling, wedding cakes and food for the couples and their families. As the photographs taken by Sun.Star Cebu’s chief photographer show of that day, it was a picture-perfect moment for 173 couples, many of whom avoided tying the knot for years due to lack of resources.

The tone shifts when one applies “mass” to the transit system in the country. The general disarray is dramatized by the almost daily enumeration of woes from Metro Manila commuters riding the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) trains.

Yet, when news media and the online community monitor and debate over the recent MRT rides of Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya and Sen. Grace Poe, it’s a validation that, despite the country’s record for senseless deaths and waste of resources caused by transport “glitches,” prominence and politics count more than the masses’ routinary brushes with inconvenience, injury, and death.

Abaya drew criticism for riding the MRT with a retinue, including someone who held an umbrella to keep rain or flying objects from spoiling the official’s “gusot mayaman” barong. In a plain white T-shirt and with her hair drawn back like a schoolgirl’s, Poe lined up during rush hour. Unlike Abaya, she squeezed in with a crowd that wasn’t exclusively elderly, disabled or pregnant.

Yet these personages are hardly the authorities to review MRT services. At best, they were slumming to attest to good faith in the MRT’s publicworthiness. At worst, they put up with an instance of public inconvenience for private good.

Thus, it’s good to note that World Bank officials asked proponents of Cebu’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system to take note of its social impact to ensure better chances that the project will be accepted and sustained.

According to Linette Ramos Cantalejo’s Sept. 3 report in Sun.Star Cebu, the social acceptance of the BRT hinges on minimizing its negative impact on the trees and heritage sites situated along its route, as well as on the public utility drivers, residents and others whose livelihood and property may be adversely affected by the BRT.

“Common good” is a concept so much taken for granted, no one remembers when “common bad” became accepted as its substitute.

It took a photo of newlywed bliss to emphasize how uncommon is a sighting of “masa” satisfaction as a common disposition these days.

( 09173226131/

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Sept. 7, 2014 issue of the “Matamata,” Sunday editorial-page column

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pass the bucket

IT took nearly two months before the “Ice Bucket Challenge” showed signs of morphing.

Launched last June, the campaign has a participant endure having a bucket of ice-cold water dumped on her or him. The freezing sensation supposedly resembles the numbing effect of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), where nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord deteriorate until the person dies.

ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease after the baseball icon revealed his diagnosis to the public in 1939.

In the original version, one either took the Ice Bucket Challenge or donated $100 to fund research to find a cure. The version that’s currently popular involves taking the drenching, donating to ALS research, and challenging others to do the same.

Fueled by social media, the Ice Bucket Challenge has gone viral. According to Rappler, donations to the U.S.-based ALS Association reached $41.8 million during July 29-Aug. 21, 2014, compared to only $2.1 million during the same period in 2013.

Yet, it seems that the Ice Bucket Challenge’s success in fund-raising is not yet matched in the educational front. Critics say there is too much focus on the spectacle of a public dousing, with some participants not connecting the act to ALS awareness or uploading only their videos and not donating to credible institutions for ALS research.

When I came across Daphne Oseña-Paez’s Aug. 20 blog post about her response to the Ice Bucket Challenge, I appreciated that she emphasized in her video and post the effect of ALS on people and their families, the importance of donating to fund medical research, and breast cancer awareness.

According to the celebrity blogger, she included breast cancer prevention in her ALS challenge because the Philippines has the highest cases in the region. Since early detection is still the best option for saving lives, Paez donated free mammograms for those in need through I Can Serve Foundation.

Asian activists have also modified the Ice Bucket Challenge to respond to local realities and needs. According to an Aug. 26 report by the Agence France-Presse (AFP), Manju Latha Kalanidhi of India came up with the Rice Bucket Challenge. The rice researcher has convinced 138,000 Netizens so far to focus on feeding the hungry and not wasting water.

In Nepal, Fill the Bucket Challenge is mobilizing buckets of food and medicine for victims of flooding and landslides. In Sri Lanka, where drought and water scarcity affects communities, the Ice Bucket Challenge “insults” the suffering of those deprived of this basic, noted activists interviewed by AFP.

In its original version and various mutations, the Ice Bucket Challenge reaffirms the belief that social media can be used for good, that its reach and power to persuade and mobilize extend beyond the momentary and sensational.

Former students, colleagues and friends of Professor Madrileña de la Cerna recently banded to form a Facebook (FB) community. “MADZ,” the FB page they created, is dedicated to mobilize online help for Ms. Madz, who needs approximately P51,000 a month for her twice-weekly dialysis treatments in a private hospital in Cebu.

When she retired years back from teaching full-time at the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu, Ms. Madz was not just known for spreading love of history inside the classroom but also out of it. Indefatigable, she worked with nongovernment organizations and local governments to preserve and promote local history and culture.

A professional who embraced the concept of service so publicly is, by contrast, private in her personal life. Until the FB page was created by a colleague, few of us knew she shouldered her dialysis treatments for more than three years with her pension as a retired public school teacher.

Like the proverbial glass, social media can be either half-full or half-empty. The choice is ours.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s August 31, 2014 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


CEBU is not just lechon and danggit.

Waiting for my flight, I overhear a group plan the Cebu hoard they will haul back to Manila.

Roast pig and dried rabbitfish seemed to be on everyone’s list. What else? asked someone.

My flight got delayed so, with the extra minutes, I answered the question in my head until I realized I needed to write down the answers.

For how can anyone remember except through the papillae, tiny receptors that store taste as memory: chicharon (fried pork skin, fat and meat) and kusahos (sun-dried beef) in Carcar, pinabagtik nga baboy (crunchy pork cutlets) and tinap-anang tulingan (smoked fish) in Danao, inasal manok (roasted native chicken) in Dumanjug, ngohiong along Gen. Maxilom Ave., sweet or spicy chorizo in Guadalupe, fall-off-the-bones goat’s meat and goat’s head in Panganiban, fish head tinowa at Reclamation, nilarang (seafood in a sticky broth of black beans) and tuslob-buwa (puso or hanging rice dipped in sizzling pig’s brains) sa Pasil, bakasi (eel) and sa-ang (spider shell) in Cordova, adobo ni Carmen of Argao, budbod kabog (birdseed suman) in Tabogon, bibingka (ricecake) and tagaktak (fried sticky rice noodles) sa Mandaue, tabliya (native chocolate) and torta (unforgivingly made of pure egg yolk, tuba or coconut wine and pork fat) of Argao, guisadong kabaw (carabao menudo) in Carmen…

When I reviewed the list, I was dissatisfied. Fortunately, I’m not one to impose views on strangers. That enthusiastic band of first-time visitors would have been confused, flabbergasted or disgusted if I had rattled off my gastronomic recommendations, only to stick in an even longer list of caveats.

First, taste is personal. Picking a goat’s eyelashes from the tip of the tongue after one has swallowed eyeballs made gelatinous from several hours of slow cooking is hard to translate, even without the vexations that oppress a speaker remembering as a Cebuano and speaking in English to communicate to a Tagalog speaker.

Second is the trickiness of giving directions. In the 48 years that I’ve lived here in Cebu, I know where to find what I want to eat at prices I will not walk away from. Many of these places don’t advertise or run blogs. Some are still linked to the cooks that made the original recipe famous (Matmat, Gilang, Didang, Esmin and Auring) but many can only be located by minimal pre-Waze directions (by the highway, before the bridge, across the school, rightside of the market or, typical of a small-town mentality, by the pursing of one’s lips in the sought-for direction).

Destination is part of flavor. When the husband interviewed a taxi driver that took us from Taguig to terminal 4 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, the fellow—who was also a forest ranger, heritage warrior and guide for National Geographic photojournalists—gave us very specific answers to his favorite food eaten in Cebu: tinap-anan and puso-mais eaten “kinamot (with hands)” by the seashore of Danao City.

We have never eaten “hanging rice” made of corn grits, even the husband who traces his roots to Danao. But I don’t doubt the taxi driver’s endorsement of eating mais by hand. In the fish market of Pasil, P45 will get you a sarten or plastic plate of steaming corn grits, over which you pour sticky brown taosi sauce and mash with the nilarang ubod (eel). Even with the extra challenge of swatting at divebombing bluebellied flies (resembling fat taosi beans with wings), you will find yourself tapping your empty plate to loosen the mais grains stuck between your fingers for the grand finale.

Lastly, like all things in life, a list of Cebuano favorites is subject to change. A mural recently began outside St. Joseph’s Academy in Mandaue bears origami images of sharks and the message, “Dili mi karne (we are not meat)”.

As delicacies and aphrodisiacs, pawikan (sea turtles) and tadlungan (shark) violate the Law and nature conservation. Even without endangering species, one will still have more than lechon and danggit to occupy one’s plate and palate in Cebu.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s August 24, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Freeing the genie

THANK you, Robin.

I wish you could have stayed.

I saw “Mork & Mindy” when I was a schoolgirl raised on limited TV. I think that my father allowed this because the comedy was one of a few primetime programs, aside from “Little House on the Prairie” and “The Muppet Show,” that posed no danger to my sister and I.

Robin Williams, as the alien Mork from the planet Ork, lived with earthling Mindy in a state that was both connubial and celibate. This was, of course, TV reality. The success of this top-rating show in suspending the usual sexual tension dictating all TV-mediated gender relations owed much to the genius of Williams.

My classmates and I barked “Nanu Nanu!” and “Shazbot!” as if we were naturalized Orkans. Perhaps there was a writer or a battalion of them writing the show’s gags, but it felt like Mork was the direct conduit of Williams’s gift for making all things mundane and humdrum seem new, bright and wonderful.

His death from suicide this week seemed so out of character until I realized that—Shazbot!—Williams was making us refocus on what lies beneath the surface of another sensationally reported demise of another celebrity.

From local radio commentaries to online news reports, the death of Williams became pegged to a worldwide crisis in mental health, specifically what should be done to detect depression and help the suffering from considering suicide.

Severing the link between depression and suicide is as important as disconnecting the celebrity suicide watch from copycat self-inflicted death. After The Academy, which gives out the Oscars, tweeted “Genie, you’re free,” alongside an image from the movie “Aladdin,” where Williams voiced the Genie, the Washington Post and other media echoed the concern of suicide-prevention advocates that retweeting The Academy’s goodbye to Williams might convince those at risk of opting for suicide as a “way out”.

“Suicide contagion” captures the fact that everyone is vulnerable to suicide. The criticism over insensitive and dangerous reporting of suicide, specially dwelling on the method used and other intrusive details, has been balanced with coverage on what can be done to help people from going over the edge.

Face up to FACTS, advised an assistant professor of psychiatry in an article uploaded on F stands for feelings: is a person uncharacteristically sad or hopeless? A is for actions: check if a person is hoarding drugs or weapons. C alerts one to changes of appearance and behavior. T stands for direct or indirect threats about self-harm. S is for stressors, like broken relationships or lack of money.

The challenge here is to be unusually observant and empathetic. Even with our loved ones, we are not always vigilant. Rarely do we associate depression, a serious medical illness, with being “ma-uy (maudlin)” or “emo (youthspeak for “emotional” or “moody”).

Yet, based on reports of non-celebrities taking their life, depression, called the “black cloud” (Williams) or “black dog” (Winston Churchill), can be triggered by causes that other people might shrug off: sickness, old age, rejection, failing grades, a parent’s refusal, joblessness, pimples.

Depression may not push one to take one’s life but it can be just as devastating when it prevents people from fighting illness, reaching out to others, or just looking forward to each day.

Years ago, a friend and colleague’s suicide pushed me to write about another writer I knew who took her life. Both writers were young, gifted and rising. No one, even the ones closest to them, saw warning signs.

After my article was published, a person who mentored me in my first job got in touch. He lost a child to suicide. He asked if we could meet because he wanted to talk about it.

I don’t know if it was the memory of his kids that used to play in the office while waiting for their dad or the nearness of the deaths of colleagues and friends, but I found an excuse not to meet my mentor. I regret this decision.

Williams may not have freed the genie. But he made us realize how closely we should watch that the black cloud, dog or whatever does not blot out the love of life among us.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s August 17, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Monday, August 11, 2014


IN Manila, the height of craziness is to dash across the streets. It is not only messy to scrape you off Edsa or C5, but you may also jam traffic for hours and lessen the petitioners who will plead your soul goes up, not down.

On fieldwork in Cebu last summer, I observed that what’s crazy in Manila is normal in my city. Baby bump, grocery bags or cane: no impediment except a traffic enforcer waiting across the street keeps Cebuanos from crossing lanes as if they were just fetching a glass of water from across the room.

An accidental tourist in the nation’s capital for the past two years, I’ve lost the power to be street-crazy. Not only do I dutifully stop at intersections to heed the street lights, signs, pedestrian lane and the friendly enforcer lurking at the corner, I now read street names.

So it was neat to find out that there are 10 journalists with streets in Cebu renamed after them. Antonio Abad Tormis has a street in Cebu City renamed after him in 1966, a first-time honor for a peerless journalist whose campaign against corruption was snuffed by an assassin.

According to Cherry Ann T. Lim’s article, “Flame keepers,” published in “Cebu Journalism and Journalists (CJJ) 8” last 2013, Argao Mayor Edsel A. Galeos assured the approval of a proposal to name Argao streets after the late journalists Cerge M. Remonde, Wilfredo A. Veloso and Clod K. Bajenting.

When I first entered the Central Newsroom of Sun.Star Cebu as a newly hired editor more than a decade ago, I was given the table and chair that I was told were used last by Mr. Veloso.

In the CJJ8 article, Lim wrote that Veloso’s “acerbic columns flogg(ed) perceived scalawags in government,” which resulted in death threats. But according to newsroom lore, Veloso, as copy consultant, was even more unforgiving about sloppy writing and inelegant English.

When I got the ire of a frat known to dispatch victims with an icepick to the kidneys, my managing editor asked me if I wanted to be escorted home. Had I taken the offer, the ghost of Mr. Veloso might have kicked me out of our chair.

According to a CJJ timeline of press freedom in Cebu, Veloso was at his desk in the newsroom on Nov. 5, 1991, when Narcotics Command 7 chief Esa Hasan and three of his men barged in and berated the columnist for criticizing Narcom’s anti-drug campaign. Brandishing high-powered weapons, Hasan threatened to kill Veloso and his family.

It is said the columnist never blinked. Hasan’s grammar must have been better than his self-control.

The list of journalists with streets named after them intrigues. Two out of the 10 are women. Maria Cabigon was a postwar columnist whose “Bisaya” readers visited her home in Sanciangko St. to seek the counsel of “Manding Karya”. In 1979, Concepcion G. Briones founded with then “The Freeman” editor-in-chief Pachico A. Seares the Cebu News Workers Foundation (Cenewof).

The careers of these female pioneers may pale against the risks taken by “Morning Times” publisher Pedro D. Calomarde. During the Japanese Occupation, Calomarde wrote, edited and printed his guerrilla paper on a “small Chandler machine in a cave in the mountain barangay of Kang-ando, Barili,” wrote Resil B. Mojares in CJJ1. Just as he refused to kowtow to foreign imperialists during war, Calomarde stayed free of politicians after the war.

Perhaps that is what niggles about the renaming of streets after journalists.

Though we owe much of the street-renaming to the initiative of local leaders, Cenewof, the Cebu Citizens-Press Council, and the Cebu Press Freedom Week Inc., much can still be done to make citizens appreciate what drove these journalists and shaped their times.

Alongside street markers, can barcodes be set up to be scanned by mobile phones so information about the journalists can be downloaded? Can schools offer a subject on the history of journalism that introduces future journalists to not just Western and Manila-based icons but also local ones?

Can local historians deepen the documentation on Cebu journalism started by the CJJ, a publication released every Cebu Press Freedom Week?

Manding Karya did not just counsel about love but advised how women could acquire an education despite being married. A freelancer who chose independence over security, Cabigon penned nearly 400 serialized novels and hundreds of articles and poems in a career spanning 60 years. She wrote in Cebuano when everyone else wrote in Spanish. She wrote when only men wrote. She wrote.

If one can get all this insight from a street marker, think how much more we can reap if we go beyond streetwalking.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s August 10, 2014 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday editorial-page column

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Lose some, win some

TO book lovers, the sight of abandoned books has few rivals for pathos.

On an assignment to write about a heritage home in Cebu being dismantled and shipped piece by piece to be reconstructed in another province, I came upon a scene that reminded me of Ground Zero photographs of 9/11.

Even with the mask and glasses I wore, it was hard to breathe and see. It seemed as if the dust and the din were weapons the old house was flinging against the humans stripping it down to its carcass.

After only a few minutes, I sought the main door to clear my head when I almost stumbled on a box placed in the middle of the lobby. Tools, cans and plastic bags reclining against it suggested the carpenters’ temporary use for the box.

Inside the box were books, piled higgledy-piggledy. Handsome, leather-bound volumes bearing in gold print the name of its erstwhile owner. Once, these books must have formed the core of a law library. With the library now a hull, the tomes, coated in lead dust and paint flakes, were good only as a makeshift table.

Paper also makes good tinder to start a fire for cooking.

I never found out more about the fate of those books and the story of its owner. But it made me remember the stir among the neighbors when an ambulance stopped outside the house of my father.

Expecting to see my father carried out on a stretcher, they were surprised to see him tottering to supervise the loading of his tomes on surgery and medicine. Even when he retired from practice and then from teaching, he still woke at 4 a.m. to reread those tomes.

After he donated his collection to a government hospital, our mornings now started with his haranguing AM radio commentators. I was just grateful he didn’t load my books by mistake in that ambulance.

But which causes greater pathos: abandoning or letting go of books?

Some years ago, the niece of a colleague was leaving for college and wanted to donate her collection of Nancy Drew novels. I gave suggestions and the young woman chose Tsinelas Association Inc., volunteers who help public school students through book donations, storytelling sessions, scholarships and other programs.

When I ran into Insoy Niñal, founder of Tsinelas, I asked him about the Nancy Drews. He said they received several boxes, they had to arrange for its temporary storage and transport to their office.

Knowing something about the rites of passage one goes through from high school to college, I was still amazed by the maturity of the Tsinelas donor. Her aunt said she wanted to give the books where it would be read and appreciated.

Insoy’s account of “several boxes,” did not mean probably all the 175 volumes of the original Nancy Drew series, published from 1930 to 2003. But those boxes signify a whole girlhood of reading, a life of privileged exploration that would cascade into other discoveries for public school students.

I should know. I’ve given away books over the years but have never been able to let go of my box of Nancy Drews. She was the first detective whose novels I collected. My copies show how I wrote my name, wrapped the cover with plastic, and learned new words in the 1970s. I’ve bargained hard to get my sons and nieces to read the adventures of a super teenager created before feminism, political correctness and reproductive health altered the landscape.

But Nancy Drew, eternally 16, now reminds me how storytelling reinvents more than language. The campaign to promote reading and learning is driven by volunteer groups like Basadours, Zonta Club of Cebu II, and Beep Beep Books-Mobile Library.

Accepting book donations, these volunteers take time from work and family to promote storytelling. Basadours holds readaloud sessions at the Cebu City Public Library and public schools. It Matters takes its jeepney of books and storytellers to out-of-the-way places where books may soon not be an oddity.

Through the “Alimbukad” program, Zonta Club of Cebu II wants to empower parents to start and nurture home reading. They rotate book bags among families and train parents of students of Guadalupe Elementary School and Poo Elementary School in Barangay San Vicente, Olango, emailed Wi Suan Tiu, Alimbukad program director.

Where do you want your books to be?

(, 0917-3226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s August 3, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Land of readaloud

On morning trips, the Vehicle-for-hire takes me past a row of shanties. The slow-moving traffic affords time for watching people.

While mornings may find adults at their busiest, children are no less engaged in their enterprise. Naked, a tot scooped water from a plastic basin, which she sometimes poured on her head and sometimes sipped. While its mother read a paper beside a roadside stall displaying vegetables, a baby held on to the tail of a yowling cat.

Compared to adults automatically going through the motions of starting another day, children leapfrog, reinventing to make each day different from the previous ones.

For the past months that I’ve taken this route, I’m struck by one thing: I’ve never seen a grownup read a book to a child. Even when they seem to be trying out these things called legs for the first time, children are on their own. Many are minded by other kids, their attitude of watching traffic go by an unsettling imitation of adult pastimes in the locality.

Wednesdays, “Well Baby” day and the regular schedule for immunizations, insert little variation. Infants, carried by their mothers, spill out to the grounds outside the local health center.

Encircled by maternal embrace, each well-scrubbed young creature looks on while its mother chats with neighbors and health workers. Heat, noise and needle pricks set off the young. But no book in sight to catch all that wandering attention, silent absorption.

Why not introduce readaloud in these communal settings? Last June, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) asked its 62,000 pediatrician-members across the United States to promote reading aloud to infants from birth, aside from dispensing advice on breastfeeding and immunization.

A June 24, 2014 report in The New York Times noted that it is the first official stance taken by the academy on early literacy education. Studies show that important advances in learning occur during the first three years of life. Reading to children also improves their vocabulary and other communication skills.

With every baby visiting a doctor for immunizations and check-ups, health centers and clinics can serve as early libraries. It’s a crucial intervention, specially for the children of lower- income families, where parents may not have a habit of reading, don’t have resources to spare for books, or don’t see readaloud sessions as good for bonding and preschool literacy.

The same article reports that even well-off parents have to be won over to the basics of readaloud. Even though there are parents who play Mozart or read poetry to their children in utero, The New York Times repeated the AAP counsel prevailing parents to keep their children away from computer screens until they are aged two.

With price-sensitive smartphones and tablets engaging all spectrums of the economy, today’s parents may see it more as a feat than a liability that their children learned to swipe a screen first before they turned a page. Portable digital media can promote reading. It remains to be seen, though, if, like books, gadgets will prepare this generation for communication and its nuances.

As a reader of the old school, I was happy to read about the bags of books given to 75 parents of preschoolers of Guadalupe Elementary School. During the recent launch of the “Alimbukad: Basa Pamilya” program, the Zonta Club of Cebu II gave a bag of seven books each to the parents, who have promised to read these with their children. The bags will be rotated among the participating parents until all books are read.

According to the July 26 report of Sun.Star Cebu intern Nheru Veraflor of the University of San Jose-Recoletos, the Zonta Club of Cebu II hopes that the books in English and Filipino will encourage parents to bond with their children while nurturing a habit of reading.

It’s a shared dream: to come upon in communities everyday scenes of children and their parents absorbed in a storybook.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 27, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Lapu-Lapu, Hu U?

I’M not looking forward to returning to Manila, beloved of rains, flood and traffic.

But aside from having to attend to unfinished business, I read about a fellow Bisdak who’s also stranded in the Bad City.

This is the 40-foot brass statue of Lapu-Lapu found in the Agripina Circle of Rizal Park along Roxas Boulevard.

Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Paz Radaza wants the statue transferred outside the Hoops Dome in Barangay Gun-ob, reported Flornisa M. Gitgano in Sun.Star Cebu last July 14. In 2021, the city will celebrate 500 years of independence from Spain.

However, Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III prefers that the statue remains in Manila.

I don’t know about my fellow Oponganons but I’m sure I don’t want the government shouldering a hefty fee to ship a 40-foot brass statue.

Even if the statue could be levitated to Mactan without wasting taxes, I’m not in the proper frame of mind to contemplate this gigantic icon as I stew for at least an hour in the Vhire, crawling past the Hoops Dome, the alternate route serving the public while excruciatingly slow road repairs close most of the main thoroughfare in Barangay Basak.

Am I saying that Oponganons can’t appreciate the first Filipino to reject colonizers? I doubt transplanting a brass statue or erecting a two-hectare monument at Barangay Punta Engaño will make us understand better Lapu-Lapu, shrouded by myth more than facts.

His brass statue, donated by the Korea Freedom League to the Philippine Government in 2004 and erected at Rizal Park on the mandate of then tourism secretary Dick Gordon, says volumes about the hold of the first Filipino hero on Pinoy minds.

Called the “Motto Stella (Guiding Star),” the Rizal Monument is a mausoleum in granite, topped by a 42-foot bronze sculpture of the hero and set off by an obelisk in the background. There is continuous ritual guarding of the monument’s perimeter by the Philippine Marine Corps.

Rizal’s hold on public imagination is as formidable as his dominance of public space. Over the years and climaxing during his centennial in December 1996, we have not lacked for scholarly and popular articles, books, movies and other media about Rizal. Writer and academic Ambeth Ocampo contributed in making Rizal and Philippine history “familiar and approachable”.

In contrast, who is Lapu-Lapu?

We think the first nationalist is a long-haired he-man in “bahag (loincloth)” with no great fondness for foreigners.

We don’t even “know” Lapu-Lapu; we imagine him to be this way, based on visits to the Punta Engaño shrine, annual reenactments of the Battle of Mactan, and a controversial TV ad selling disposable diapers.

That’s a pitifully paltry pool for fanning hero worship. According to an “I-Witness” 2012 documentary of Lapu-Lapu, the hero may even have a different name. Kalipulako, Pula Pula or Cilapulapu? Historians don’t agree.

Can we worship a hero of indefinite name and visage? A 1933 statue of Lapu-Lapu showed him wielding bow and arrow. The same “I-Witness” documentary quoted residents recalling a rumor that this statue, with weapons pointed towards the old town hall, caused the death of three mayors. The mayor who replaced the bow and arrow with a bolo went on to live much longer.

In 2008, the Cebu Province commissioned 55 local histories for each town and city in what is known as the Cebu Provincial History Project. I would love to read the Lapu-Lapu City history researched and written by Ahmed Cuizon, now Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board-7 regional director.

But the publication of the local histories is, alas, also shrouded in mystery. Past thickets of myth and myth-making, the quest for the real Lapu-Lapu continues.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 20, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Monday, July 14, 2014

Harvest of pages

THIS week, I received two priceless gifts. The first was the day my mother turned 75.

The second came before that day ended, when I stopped by my favorite secondhand bookstore and found a hardbound copy of “The Hobbit” by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Reprinted in 2012, this edition was issued to mark the 75th anniversary of the tale that started “The Lord of the Rings.”

Before the movies, before the merchandise, there was the book. Actually not a trilogy, as “The Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Two Towers,” and “The Return of the King” are often called.

Before this singularly long novel—broken down into six books in three volumes—came “The Hobbit”.

In the 1930s, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was a professor at Oxford, wearied by the endless correction of papers when he found himself scribbling on a blank leaf: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

But as Tolkien’s sons Christopher and Michael remembered, their father first told them “a long story about a small being with furry feet” during “winter ‘reads’ after tea in the evening.”

Christopher, then aged four or five, urged his father to be consistent during his retelling. He pointed out to his father that Bilbo’s door was blue, not the green of later versions; and that Thorin’s hood had a golden tassel, not silver.

Encouraged by such a rapt, critical audience, Tolkien wrote down the tale and sent it to someone who read, who believed others would read it, too.

When I held the 75th anniversary edition of “The Hobbit,” I was struck not just by my luck to hold such a handsome volume, whose paper jacket and inside illustrations bore Tolkien’s original drawings.

Before generations of readers of all ages discovered “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” Tolkien was a parent who tried to balance his responsibilities as a family man with his passion for stories.

Told by a friend that the publication of “The Hobbit” may fuel a public clamor for more stories about hobbits (the first edition was sold out within a few months of its release in 1937), Tolkien replied that this comment raised a “faint hope” that “duty and desire may… (perhaps) in future go more closely together.”

Though my parents worked for a living, my sister and I never wanted for stories and books. For our bedtime sessions, my late father, then a government doctor, picked liberally from comic books, novels and newspapers. My mother bought us more books than clothes, which made me indifferent for life to fashion but never for language and stories.

My first paperback edition of “The Hobbit” bears this faded record at the end-page: from September till October in 2002, I started and finished the novel while waiting for my father to wake up from a stroke. For a weekend of hospital tests, I’m packing the 75th anniversary edition of “The Hobbit”.

If not for a habit of jotting notes like diary entries in the books I read and reread, I remember primarily the stories. As his children learned during Tolkien’s fireside sessions, a master storyteller can make you forget everything but The Tale.

I logged the first 26 pages of “The Hobbit” in Pages4Progress, an online campaign that encourages readers to raise $1 for every page they read.

World Education Inc., a non-profit organization based in the United States, works with local groups to improve people’s access to quality education in 22 countries. Through literacy, people can deal with poverty, displacement, violence and HIV.

The Pages4Progress campaign encourages people to read 20,015 pages by September 8, International Literacy Day. This is also the 2015 deadline for the United Nations to attain Millennium Development Goal No. 2 of reaching universal primary education.

Every page logged in Pages4Progress is matched by a $1 donation for World Education Inc. After the Pages4Progress emailed that the first 26 pages I read in “The Hobbit” earned $26 for its online literacy campaign, I see the circle connecting the Oxford don setting down a winter’s tale for his children to generations of readers.

As every reader knows, in our imagined worlds, we are neveraging children enraptured with every turn of the page. So read and log today if you want to unlock worlds for someone who has yet to open a book.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 13, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”