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”