Saturday, August 29, 2015

Food pyramid

THE RETCHING sounds in the supermarket drove me to instantly try to locate the source of distress.

Instead of a choking baby, I saw young tourists clustered around a display of durian. One of them bent close to the odorous pile, retched and theatrically retreated while her friends laughed.

Watching them replay that scene, I realized once more how food touches us at the gut level. Aside from satiating hunger, food leaves us vulnerable with its associations.

Complaints about their meals were recently aired by police officers deployed for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meetings held in Cebu. The Police Regional Office (PRO)-Central Visayas is probing nine caterers preparing the officers’ packed meals, reported Daryl T. Jabil and Princess Dawn H. Felicitas in Sun.Star Cebu last Aug. 28.

Why were the cops dismayed? Reports quote unnamed cops who compared the food to pig slop. According to Sun.Star Cebu, one packed meal included a boiled egg, two pieces of vegetable rolls, a cup of rice and a bottle of water.

Since I have to avoid overeating and certain food triggers for my health, my typical meal is just as sparing. There can be no arguing, though, with the same meal’s rejection by a policeman deployed for hours under grueling conditions.

Certainly, the perception of food sufficiency varies among individuals. By taking on the impossible task of satisfying the taste buds, not to mention gut capacities, of more than 5,000 cops assigned for the Apec, the PRO-Central Visayas embarked on an impossible mission.

Yet the practice of packed lunch works quite well in a commercial setting. An entrepreneur who has to convince a customer to order packed lunch has to offer the most favorable terms on many aspects, from quality and variety of food to sanitation, affordability and convenience.

With a captive market—such as cops who have no say about their food allowance—the quality of packed meals slides drastically.

So why does the government insist on packed meals? Last January, the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) also had to deal with criticisms about the meal allowances of police officers securing Metro Manila during the visit of Pope Francis.

For the Pope’s eight-day visit, a meal allowance of P2,400 was budgeted for every cop. Some of the Metro Manila officers posted on Facebook that they received only a portion of this allowance; others complained that they received neither food nor money.

According to NCRPO officials, an “organized messing” was made to ensure that cops would not leave their posts or go hungry because they were deployed hours early so they would be unable to personally pack their meals.

Like most jargon, “organized messing” has unfortunate associations. From the institutional perspective, to “mess” is to take meals with a particular person in a specified place. An “organized messing” is to carry out joint eating exercises for fellowship or efficiency.

For humans, a “mess” has other synonyms: disorder, chaos, trouble. This is a situation where persons (cops) get upset (hungry or frustrated) by conditions they cannot control (despite poor field feedback and official probes, packed meals prevail).

Another synonym would be “food pyramid”: the ones on top decide what crumbs to throw down to the bottom feeders.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s August 30, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Breathing lessons

“WE tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

The line came back to me as I squeezed in a room full of students waiting to view documentaries. The University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu declared alternative classes for the Aug. 20 afternoon screening of entries for the 4th Cebu International Documentary Film Festival (CIDFF) 2015.

The following day would be a holiday. Twenty-eight years ago, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. came home after three years of exile. Instead of uniting the divided forces opposing the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, he ended on the tarmac of the Manila International Airport (MIA), shot in the head by Rolando Galman. The hired gun’s ties to Marcos were widely speculated but never definitely proven.

One can speculate, too, if Ninoy, alive, could have united the restless but cowed middle class and the militant Left. There is no arguing, though, that Ninoy as a bloodied white-clad body crucified on the MIA tarmac galvanized the country.

In UP Cebu, students declared “alternative classes”. An intolerant and impatient bunch, we did not appreciate the black humor of sitting inside classrooms, pretending that theory did not make us fall asleep, while the country was coming apart.

Last Aug. 20, the UP Cebu dean declared alternative classes. Unlike the walkout staged 28 years ago by our generation, clustered under the trees and plotting how to rewrite history, the students were released by teachers from their regular classes for the CIDFF screening. Can viewing documentaries substitute for learning?

Standing at the back of a darkened room illuminated by a screen replaying stories from Canada to UK, including the Philippines, I learned how Joan Didion, writing then as a California hippy struck by the precariousness of narratives in the 1960s, was timelessly prescient when she wrote in “The White Album”: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

For a storyteller, there can be no audience scarier than a room full of teenagers with smartphones and tablets. While Jethro Patalinghug’s “My Revolutionary Mother” traced a son’s rediscovery of his mother’s journey as a former community organizer, I watched for but did not see tiny subversive screens lighting up among the audience. The story dwelling on the personal sacrifices of a political activist triumphed over the well-known Millenial itch for Facebook updates.

This should reassure freelance film maker Joni Sarina Mejico. When Joni studied news writing and interpretative writing with me more than four years ago, she was enterprising but diffident.

Joni has found her voice. She wrote and directed “Abakada ni Nanay,” the story of Librada Gemal, 80, school gardener, “hilot (folk healer),” and oldest grade 4 student of Tisa II Elementary School. When the camera lingers on Librada’s face in the closing shot, I find that I have lost the ability to speak. The documentary runs for about eight minutes.

How many eight-minute classroom lectures can silence listeners into sentient inarticulateness?

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s August 23, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Sunday, August 16, 2015


ONE of the tricks seniors play on a freshman at the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu is to ask this classic conundrum: 04B or O4C?

04B jeepneys take the Capitol route; the latter means commuting along Gen. Maxilom Ave. Up against scheming seniors, no freshman ever answers this riddle correctly.

I suggest trying both. Both routes will help you know this city. Both routes also end in Carbon Market.

After three years of whining about commuting in messy, noisy and smelly Metro Manila, the first ride I took in Cebu brought me back to messy, noisy and smelly Carbon.

We tend to be more forgiving of the shortcomings of our home. It would have given me a deep sense of displacement if I took a whiff just minutes before the jeepney entered the city’s historic wet market and didn’t bombard my lungs with a hefty dose of eau-de-Carbon: a heady mix of essential oils and aroma compounds that overpoweringly exude methane, manufactured exclusively by garbage rotting in dumpsites and 21 times more toxic than carbon dioxide.

If Carbon smelled as usual, at least it looked less unkempt. No mountains of garbage landscaping the streets and sidewalks; no discarded vegetables clogging canals like mutant flora.

Such consolation was short-lived. A young woman with several bags boarded our jeepney. From Freedom Park to UP Cebu, she fascinated me. For a quarter of an hour, she ate three fried lumpia, two medium-sized meatballs, and one lemon candy. She threw outside of the jeepney the plastic bags holding her breakfast-on-the-road.

From bottled water bought from a street vendor, she took a few sips before borrowing the jeepney driver’s Cebuano daily, where she delicately wiped her fingers before reading sports news on the back page.

Seated behind her, I regarded the tabloid-wiping as the coup de grâce. Here is a young person able to carry several totes loaded with meat and provisions. She has the energy and will to wake at dawn, make her way through Carbon’s human sea, and dash with all her purchases for a sought-after jeepney seat.

Yet, she cannot carry back with her two empty plastic bags and a wee wrapper, a wad that would fit in an infant’s fist.

Fortunately, the jeepney, with its open doors and windows, is invented for commuters like her. No vehicle is structurally better designed to create utmost convenience for chucking out trash.

A city ordinance requires operators to install a garbage receptacle inside a public utility jeepney. Since the bin is placed only in the main passenger section, a passenger seated beside the driver may be excused for treating the city streets as a free-for-all dumpsite.

We can always rationalize the irrational: the commuter who thoughtlessly disposes trash and panics when a sudden downpour turns streets into flooded obstacle courses; the smoker who cannot drop a butt into a bin but can aim it perfectly for the nearest much-abused bush. And the onlooker who sees all but does nothing.

It takes more than one person to abuse the earth. A “carbon footprint” refers to the total impact of greenhouse gases created by a group of people. Carbon Market, over a hundred years old, is a tourist attraction. Do we Cebuanos also want to be known for the carbon footprint we create with our garbage?

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s August 16, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Of gods and aliens

Dear God,

How are you? I marvel at your patience. It is beyond me to speculate why you ever chose us. These days, we seem to be even harder to understand, let alone accept.

Last Sunday, the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) celebrated its 101st anniversary. Learning from last year’s horrendous traffic choking areas in Manila where the INC gave away food packs, we stayed home.

I’m a Catholic but am apt to forget this when I am stewing inside public transport for hours because authorities would rather sacrifice the general welfare than turn down a request to hold public assembly on a weekday in key flow points by a group that counts 2.25 million members in 104 ecclesiastical districts all over the country.

However, there was no way to avoid the numerous, large newspaper ads placed by politicians over the weekend. By definition, a politician is a creature that will take a selfie with you and hire a team to make it “viral” on social media.

Falling short of this goal, a politician will pose with religious leaders. Or pay for advertisements that congratulate a religious group that practices unity or bloc voting. If I were running for public office, I might also be a little more pleasant to the INC, whose 2.25 million followers believe “working together for one purpose” expresses your will.

An old, cranky reader, I want to see grey columns of text when I flip newspaper pages, not ads that use a whole page or full colors as a social pretext for a political end to curry personal favors with a religious group. Too many adjectives spoil a sentence, Ernest Hemingway said, a lot more elegantly.

And the artwork makes this cross even heavier to bear. Some ads display a collage of Felix Y. Manalo, first INC leader, Eduardo V. Manalo, current INC executive minister, and “Yours Truly” (the politician placing the ad). The Unholy Trinity: Is the religious symbolism supposed to work as a political anointing or an artistic irony?

If the Tolentinos, Estradas and Revillas used their own money, I might just close my eyes and read news features about alien-sightings. But nearly all the ads displayed the official seals of government. Is that right to use thousands of public funds to greet your powerful friends while taxpayers line up for clean water, cheap rice, daily rides, subsidized hospitalization, public toilets, free coffins, and packs of “Lucky Me” noodles and sardine cans given after calamities?

“Hay, Ginoo ko (Oh, my God),” Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was quoted as replying to talks that he will run with Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in 2016. OMG, too, I said when I first saw the large billboard showing “Rody” posing beside a motorbike and cautioning Cavite motorists to drive carefully. When Rody showed up everywhere, a billboard saint for safe travel, I close my eyes, infantile avoidance but at least not adding to my considerable transgressions against Christian patience and charity.

I wish I could experience the visions of Jejomar Binay. After giving away rosary bracelets with his name at the back of the cross, Binay told reporters he will win the presidency, relying on “99-percent prayer”. He prays in the morning and in the evening. A mist gathers in front of his eyes when he talks to you. Lord, why is it that when I close my eyes at every politician’s foible, I just see a dark, dark hole?

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s August 2, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

WHAT do we know of rivers? Like other city dwellers, I remember rivers only when, swollen by torrential rain or clogged by refuse, these overflow and confront us with the detritus of urban life, ranging from the inconvenient to the tragic.

Alongside reports of metro flashfloods worsened by unfinished drainage projects ironically called “flood interceptors” are stories of children who drowned while swimming or after falling into a swollen river as they were going home from school.

I Googled and found out that nearly all searches associate rivers with disaster. Trash, not riverine life, dominates six of Metro Cebu’s major rivers, reported Sun.Star Cebu’s Jujemay G. Awit last June 4. Leading the Guadalupe River in Cebu City, Sapangdaku in Toledo, Guindarohan in Minglanilla, Luknay in Liloan, and Cansaga in Consolacion is the Butuanon River, classified as one of the nation’s worst by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) central office.

In some reports, rivers and creeks are left unnamed as if these waterways were not newsworthy except as sites of calamities.

Perhaps there lies the tragedy of rivers in our time.

How many of us retain a memory of rivers before we despoiled these? How many of us have seen a river without floating garbage, industrial waste or illegal settlements? How many of us can name a river? Or want to know its name?

What we cannot name, we cannot care about. What we cannot feel concern for, we cannot take part in its solution.

I realized this after reading and rereading the Sun.Star Cebu special report, “Swamped: Flood-proofing Mandaue City”. Written by Rebelander S. Basilan and edited by Isolde D. Amante, the four-part series was published on May 24-27.

Basilan reported on the incentives given by Mandaue politicians, from exchanging groceries for recyclable trash to offering food-for-work to weed out trash from creeks and rivers. Instead of dole-outs, local leaders should encourage “bayanihan (self-help volunteerism)”. In DENR river clean-ups, residents simply look on or point out garbage to the volunteers, reported Awit.

Poet Myke U. Obenieta once planned to compile the local lore surrounding rivers. His idea predates the Rivers of the World project. Through a British and Philippine partnership, elementary and high school students and teachers make artworks capturing the history of local rivers.

By following the meandering of history—“river of life, river culture, river city, resourceful river, polluted river, and working river”—it is hoped that the youth see and treat rivers as part of their community.

Long before Myke dreamt of following wherever riverine stories will take him, my cousins and I detoured from hearing Sunday mass to explore a “canal” along Mango Ave.

City-bred, we did not have the range of words that rural children have for natural waterways that are interwoven with their life: “suba,” “sapa,” and “sapa-sapa”. We thought “canal” was the Cebuano word for the Mango Ave. waterway that often overflowed, spilling slime and smell; hence, our name for it.

Later, odorous in our Sunday’s best clothes, we ogled our catch. Tiny and nearly invisible in the jar of tap water, the “canal” fish was a creature of wonder. Before evening, it went belly up.

Our youth deserve better memories of rivers.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 26, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

The readers

ALL I could see of the girl was two lavender ribbon barrettes that kept her hair in place.

But I could hear her very well. In the crush of boarding the MRT train for women with children, the elderly, and disabled, I wasn’t immediately aware of her.

But as the train went through its stops, I gradually noticed the girl and her father. Early morning rides are often the quietest. Even if half of the planet seems to be squeezed inside the train, morning commuters are cocooned in private, silent preoccupations.

Not this girl. From the window, she had an unimpeded view of the surly, smog-blanketed metro. Her father, squatting, had his head close to her. I thought they were chatting until I realized the girl was reading road signs, billboards or anything he was pointing out to her.

Unlike other commuters, the man did not have a mobile phone in his hand. The blue of his shirt was like something glimpsed under the waves. The girl’s clothes, too, were leached of color from frequent washing. The ribbons, though, were new. In that grey morning, they were like butterflies flitting astray in a silent train full of people.

The girl could read very well: Pepsi, Penshoppe, Jesus is Lord. For the first time, I saw the billboards of Edsa used as flashcards by a man who was talking to his child, not to a phone in his hand. Holding on to the hand strap, I forgot about my heavy bags and the fear of losing my gadgets to a pickpocket so I could follow the girl with the butterflies in her hair read anything the world threw back at her.

Travelling by MRT above the poor and the rich mired in Edsa, I’ve often reflected how civilizations rose in the deltas surrounding bodies of water, which served as ancient highways. Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, also known as Edsa, is notorious for traffic, billboards and flash floods.

That morning, a girl changed my mind. Edsa public library?

At Boni station, the train paused due to some glitch. The girl saw a sign and quickly read the first line in Filipino: “Bawal kumain.” The second line, a translation in English, made her pause: “Ea-ting not a-LOW-wed. Ano ‘yun, ‘Tay (what does it mean, Father)?”

What quirk decided this combination of English words? “No eating” is shorter and easier than “Eating not allowed”. An editor will point out that the second phrase is twice as long as the first, actually eighteen characters with spaces compared to nine.

My concern, though, is not with the science of creating signs or even translating for the masses. What made the day turn bleaker was the power of the past tense form of an ordinary verb to stop the girl with the butterflies. How could anything as pedestrian, phlegmatic and replaceable as “allow” suddenly become despotic and omnipotent?

When I got off at my station, the girl and her father had stepped out a station earlier. They held hands as the crowd eddied around them. If the girl is as sharp as I think she is, a second language will open doors, not keep these shut against her.

Watching the man pull his daughter into a sea of bodies, I could still hear him responding to her question: “Galing mo, ‘Nak (very good, daughter)!”

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 19, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Of termites and men

AGE makes it irksome to wake up at night and go down to the toilet. But if not for this nocturnal trip, I might never have discovered the quiet pleasure of looking down our sleeping street.

We live at the end of a cul-de-sac that sees more canine and feline traffic than the human. However, from the upstairs windows, I can see Laguna de Bay. On the way to church, we drive past a highway overlooking Taal Lake. When we go down to buy groceries, Mt. Makiling rises in the distance, often wreathed in mist in this season of monsoons.

It is disorienting to reconcile the many sides of Silang, Cavite. The province has many quaint-named barangays, like Putingkahoy, Pulong Bunga, Pulong Saging, Balite, Banaba, Iba, Ipil, Yakal and Pasong Langka.

But just as anachronism splits the old names of places and modernization, this part of Cavite juxtaposes roadside stands overflowing with fruits, ornamentals and heavy wooden furniture with export processing zones, business process outsourcing enclaves, and malls.

Looking for a second home, the husband and I wanted to live as far away from Metro Manila. Cool and green, Silang is low-key, overshadowed by its southern neighbor, Tagaytay.

Who would have thought that “conurbation” would make Silang part of the southward expansion of Metro Manila to as far away as Lipa City in Batangas? In his 1915 book, “Cities in Evolution,” Patrick Geddes coined a neologism to capture the agglomeration of contiguous cities and other settlements into one urban market interconnected by electric power, modern transport and industry. Geddes cited as examples the conurbations of Midlandton in England, the Ruhr in Germany, New York City-New Jersey in the U.S., and Southern Metro Manila.

Outside the blueprints and jargon of urban planners, our corner of Silang seems less a niche in a conurbation than a slice of the animal kingdom. The frogs keep me awake some nights with their incessant mating or arguing. In place of a TV reality show, I watch all kinds of creatures, some I cannot even name, converge on the closed windows lit by the outdoor lights. On most nights, the lizards win, 3, versus etc., 0.

One night, I looked out of the upstairs window and saw the street lamps sprout roiling dreadlocks. “Ibos (winged termites)” swarmed around the lamp heads in a kind of light rage that lasted till dawn.

According to Timothy Gibb, an insect diagnostician of Purdue University’s Department of Entomology, winged termites are called “swarmers” because they come out in large numbers, usually after a rain. I grew up thinking ibos “warned” of approaching rain.

It’s not the only bias against termites, a colony of which can destroy a home. We use their attraction to light to position a pail of water under a lit bulb; the reflection ends with the insects drowning. The broken wings and carcasses are easier to dispose of.

Gibb wrote that termites mate for life, with the queen producing as many as 100 million eggs in a typical “marriage” of 20 years. Only a few of these eggs become reproductives, the winged termites. Despite being given only one purpose in life—mate and reproduce—few ibos survive, eaten by other insects and predators or killed by humans.

Drawn by the light, two creatures with different outcomes: conurbation and swarming.

( 091732266131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 12, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

The good, ugly and dirty

DON’T be high blood.

There was a time when such an expression would have merited a sniff, the kindest snub Pinoys give to someone using “poor English”.

English may not be our mother tongue. Yet many Filipinos are obsessed about this second language, even more so than their own mother tongue or the national language, which many Visayans still refer to as Tagalog, not Filipino.

One only has to listen to the comments of those watching beauty contests. Whether it is a national tilt or a barangay pageant, audiences invariably gauge each candidate’s facility for pronouncing and stringing words of English as proof of “talent”. It does not even matter if the English-speaking candidate does not make sense. “Basta” proper English (sniff)!

Our pride as English speakers is understandable, given that many scrimp to put their children in the best private school (where English must be spoken even in the toilet or corridor) and hire an English-speaking yaya (“Bisaya-a aning bataa, uy” reproaches not just the nanny from Cebu or other parts of Visayas but also the parents hiring her for their Cebuano-fluent child).

Nurturing our love/hate affair with English is the recent recognition of “Philippine English,” meaning the “Filipino variety of English usage”.

Last June 26, the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) reported the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)’s inclusion of 40 Filipino words in its June 2015 update. The OED includes words used for at least 10 years in newspapers and novels.

The PDI also reported that the OED cited “Philippine English” for the first time, a “legitimization” of English spoken not just by Filipinos in the Philippines but also in parts of the United States with large Filipino populations.

More significant than the elevation of Philippine English into scholarly study, at par with British and American English, is our acceptance of the way we have adopted and adapted English for our expression and communication.

Every time I’ve received a backhanded compliment from a Tagalog speaker that I speak “good English,” presumably for someone coming from the “provinces,” I’ve always wanted to retort that the choice of language is only secondary to the abilities to think and to articulate one’s thoughts.

But let’s not be high blood.

According to the OED, Philippine English, like other global varieties, shows how English accommodates “loan words” and “changes in the usage of common English words”.

For instance, Filipinos turn the noun “high blood” into an adjective meaning “angry, agitated”.

That’s what the Puerto Galera Council became when they recently declared Kees Koornstra persona non grata. The Dutch citizen, residing in the country for 14 years, posted in his Facebook group photos of uncollected garbage with the caption “Puerto Basura (Puerto Garbage)”.

According to the “mangled English” of the council resolution, Koornstra’s namecalling was an “insult” to the “dignity of Puerto Galerans”. Yet the foreigner’s photographs do not lie: the mounds of garbage bags look like commuters descending on Edsa on a Friday afternoon when malls are holding monster sales.

So when will “pikon (onion-skinned)” make it to the next edition of OED?

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 5, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Commuting joys

I AM going home.

After three years in Manila, I’m wrapping up my studies. I’m packing odd mementoes of my exile.

Boxes are bursting with drafts and notes, a nauseating forest of paper I cannot leave behind. The Lenovo netbook, bought at the start of my course work, just gave a death rattle. Rather than replace the battery, I just plug this wheezing companion, which has stored without fail all the drivel I dished out these years.

But there is one partner I cannot take back to Cebu: the Metro Rail Transit (MRT).

My friend Olive, who took me on an MRT tutorial when I started my studies, texted me: “ur lucky ur graduating also from the MRT now that it’s falling apart”.

Three years of regularly commuting from Makati to Quezon City via MRT entitles me to claim personal knowledge of at least one extreme sport: MRT-riding.

MRT trains are “five times more deadly” than counterparts in other countries. Last June 19, The Philippine Star reported that the Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (Agham) disclosed that 3.48 injuries were recorded for every 100 million passenger-miles covered by the MRT in 2013. This is 2.78 higher than the 0.7 injuries recorded for U.S. trains.

The advocacy group’s findings were based on a comparison of the MRT and U.S. trains that were of 15-16 years. Trains of this vintage were plying US railways from 2003 to 2008. Since 2013 up to the present, the Metro Manila public commutes on MRT trains of the same vintage.

Agham’s call for better maintenance echoes the demand made for years by commuters, other advocates, and Netizens. A June 24 report in The Philippine Star disclosed that the delivery of 48 new trains intended for the MRT-3 will be moved from the last quarter of this year to January next year.

For commuters, this demands more endurance for MRT realities: queues snaking like human trains, crowds, frayed tempers, vulnerability to pickpockets and gropers, and discomfort and other risks for the elderly, pregnant women, nursing mothers, disabled, and adults with young children.

In Manila, home of a million and one malls, Fridays are to be fervently avoided by faint-hearted commuters. Since the MRT-3 covers about a dozen or so stations, which are connected to major malls, the eternal cycle of weekend mall sales redefines torture for commuters who must resort to the most primal instinct for survival just to hold on to their stake in a spot in the MRT no wider than their two feet.

Throw in the rainy season, flash floods, and people who dive under speeding trains—that’s the unlovely slice of commuting life in the bowels of the MRT.

So why will I miss the MRT when I go back to Cebu soon?

In a country where normal means nothing goes right, the MRT inarticulately argues why Pinoys deserve better. I sat beside a young mother and her toddler during early afternoon rush hour. Holding on to her son with one hand, she used her other hand to retrieve a water bottle from the knapsack she locked with her feet, cover herself preparatory to nursing him, wipe his face, chuck him under the chin, and brush her hair.

She did this without fuss as the ageing train lumbered past 10 stations. During one of those days when half of the metro seems to be inside the trains and the other half, waiting to go in. Don’t they deserve better?

(mayette.tabada@gmail.con/ 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 28, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”


TECHNOLOGY helped the good guys when “salisi” gangs hit Cebu recently.

According to Sun.Star Cebu reporter Daryl T. Jabil, “salisi” is Filipino for “going in different directions”. That’s how the gang operates, one member distracting the prey while the others steal his or her valuables or act as lookout.

When one becomes the object of such dedicated hunting, the end is foretold. Then Netizens rewrote the ending.

Last May 30, a businessman lost his bag containing P30,000 cash and other valuables in a fast food branch in Mabolo. His family got a copy of a security camera video of the incident and uploaded this on the social media site Facebook.

Last June 12, jeepney passenger Dirk was too scared to warn a fellow passenger when a “laglag barya” gang put her and her bag within their pincers. Yet Dirk had the presence of mind to use his smartphone to record how three men first distracted the woman with a coin dropped in a public utility jeepney plying the Talamban route.

The videos of the May 30 and June 12 incidents became viral. These did not only alert the public but helped the police identify gang members, who held records of previous arrests.

Jabil’s reports emphasize these lessons. Salisi gang members post bail and return to their old tricks. Public vigilance is needed.

Jeepney thieves also distract a victim by putting gum on the hair or throwing an insect at his or her feet.

The fight against street crime begins with victims reporting to the police and later filing charges. It’s an act that demands will power I was not capable of.

I’ve been a victim of street thieves. I was too shocked to do anything at first. Then I blamed myself for behavior that made me vulnerable to crime: wearing jewelry while commuting, bringing a bag that was easy to open, glancing at a jeepney passenger who dropped a sack with a clatter. I resolved to put those incidents behind me and move on.

Later, after talking to other victims, I realized how keeping silent perpetuates crime. It’s even more important to report crime when the modus happens away from the public eye.

For instance, con artists struck family and friends at home, managing to take away substantial savings and valuables. The modus shows common themes: a solicitation on one’s sympathy (i.e., an old woman seeking directions, a priest raising funds to go to Rome); the gang leader’s gift for talk, often described as a power to hypnotize victims; and after the criminals strike, the dawning realization of being duped, shame, fear of being judged and rejected by loved ones, and deep sense of violation that can immobilize a victim for weeks.

In much the same way that the police and the media keep a profile of criminals and their modus, criminals also profile potential victims. In their list, nice guys must top the list. A couple was too polite to quiz a fake priest. The husband assumed his wife knew the priest she invited in their home; the wife thought her husband was distantly related to the priest. The con artist took away the couple’s savings and shook up their belief in each other.

Criminals write the end of the story unless we let them.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 21, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Wise guys

TO hear mass, the husband and I go to Tagaytay. It’s a short drive but for the weekend traffic. There’s always an unbroken line of vehicles heading off for Tagaytay or Batangas and another unbroken line heading down from these places.

All those travellers need feeding. Travellers also require directions. Someone has yet to create an app that pinpoints how many more meters to go before reaching the roadside stall selling the best “suman lihiya” in Tagaytay.

Last Saturday, I saw a new sign tacked outside a waiting shed favored by many young men. The sign read: “Question-Answer: P20”.

I told the husband about the sign. Without taking his eyes off the road, he asked: “What does that mean?”

“Do you have P20? We can turn back and ask them to answer your question.”

Even before we were warned about the “intense cyclones” hitting us this year, we are already bracing for a different tropical cyclone. The presidential election in 2016 is also heralded by “torrential rains and strong winds” deserving of a public warning.

Anyone following the news these past weeks must be familiar with the “excessive rainfall” of political questions inundating the news: Who is going to run against Binay? Who will be anointed by P-Noy? If Poe will run, will it be for president or vice president? What will Poe and Escudero announce after President Aquino makes his last State of the Nation Address on July 27? Will Duterte surprise everyone?

Pundits compare Philippine politics to showbiz. Until the politicos file their candidacy by October, the 2016 presidential contest could also be a game show. Instead of text votes gauging the popularity of would-be presidentiables (TXT ROX/TXT POE/TXT LAC), we have Political Surveys.

Surveys showing voter preferences serve a function similar to the wise guys of the waiting shed in Tagaytay. Surveys simplify a process of making a decision, which many people spare less thought for than when they are on an intrepid quest to find the suman worth atoning for until next Lent.

Much loved by media and kingmakers, political surveys cost more than P20 a question. If we use these surveys to guide our vote in 2016, we will surely pay for our intellectual backwardness and civic indolence by settling for whatever catastrophe we put in Malacañang for the next six years.

So, despite deep misgivings, I tolerate the Philippine media’s current infatuation with questions and prefer this over their enduring love affair with surveys. Reading about who is No. 1 and No. 2 or was No. 1 and now is No. 2 is too much like watching a telenovela. With their more attractive stars and easy-to-follow plots-without-even-trying, a telenovela is much better than a survey.

The questions reported by Philippine media violate a journalistic principle that a report should be factual and accurate, not speculative and manipulative. Only a media-literate audience can discern the real purpose behind some of the political “questions” stirring up a media frenzy.

Yet, some questions are also worth our time because they don’t so much lead us to evaluate a politician as ourselves. Corruption, summary killing, culture of impunity, and citizenship—at their core is one question, posed not just to the wisest and wiliest but even to the youngest and pure of heart: do you love your country?

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 14, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Size matters

RORY, my niece, has a maturity, independence and accent stamping her as a child born of Filipino parents and raised in Sydney.

This blend of cultures is best shown when Rory is in a mood for anchovies.

What’s “bolinao” to her mother and “dilis” to her father is the “little fishes” for Rory, who sips from a glass of cold, creamy milk to soften the bite of every spoonful of the sweet-and-spicy anchovies only Leny, our long-time yaya, can cook.

I wonder how the milk from Sydney cows—unforgettable, crow our sons—pairs with bolinao from Bantayan. Yet, I’m happy that fish so tiny, it’s hard to tell the tail from the head, can make Rory’s Pinoy heritage poke out from under all that Aussieness.

Growing up with my father, my sister and I know fish very well. My father was born and raised in Camiguin; his coastal childhood pervaded our home, from his stories to our meals.

“Ginamos (fermented fish)” was the star of our dining table, from breakfast till dinner. There is no other soul mate for boiled unripe bananas, perfect after siesta. When we ran out of ginamos, bolinao was acceptable as No. 2.

Even when we later had to reduce the amount of salt in our diet, bolinao and other small fish remain in our weekly market list. Yaya never tires of recalling how during the 1970s, my father’s budget of P200 was enough for our week’s provision.

She could buy pork and crabs because small fish composed the bulk of her purchases. Fish then was not sold by the kilo but by “tapok (cluster)”. It cost about P15 a tapok, permitting the budget-conscious to buy more for the money.

Even now, “tamarong,” “bodboron (scad),” “tulingan (mackerel tuna),” and “tamban/tuloy (sardines)” hover around P100-150 per kilo. In Cebu, blessed by fresh and varied fish catch, only the rich will not blink at the premium prices commanded by “tanguigue,” “mamsa,” “rompe de candado” and “pugapo”.

Only big fish make appearances in restaurants, feeding the bias that small fish is good only for “inun-unan” and other home-cooked meals.

Not tomorrow, though. On June 8, World Ocean’s Day, 20 top chefs will serve small fish in their restaurants around the world. Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Micky Fenix wrote last May 28 that the chefs support the global campaign to focus on the small fish as an affordable and sustainable food “high in nutrients and low in toxins”.

The non-government organization Oceana points out that overfishing threatens the Philippines, regarded as the “center of marine biodiversity”. Small fish is presently caught and processed to feed farmed fish like salmon, chickens and pigs.

For this long-time piscine lover, there is no contest between the farmed fish like cream dory gracing buffets and fast food establishments and the likes of bodboron and tulingan. Even with extenders, the former relies on presentation to make up for its fishy inadequacies.

Fried bodboron can be eaten, head, tail and all. Little waste. The homely inun-unan is made from throwing inside a clay pot whatever is the freshest catch of small fish from the roadside “talipapa,” “iba/camias” (safer than vinegar), garlic, ginger, and “siling espada”. Heat it every morning for a cheap, healthy meal.

And leave some fish for Rory and future generations to savor.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 7, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Branding Cebu

NOWADAYS, Cebu is known for something else other than dried mangoes and “danggit (rabbit fish)”.

Tagalog-speaking plane stewards planning their overnight stay in Cebu discuss it. Bureaucrats from a Manila head office plot their Cebu City tour around it.

Searching on Yahoo for sites linking this to Cebu yielded 844,000 results. It’s a trifle, compared to “Cebu and dried mango,” 8,770,000 results; and “Cebu and danggit,” 11,100,000.

But for this Cebuano “lumad (native),” the illusion of consolation afforded by the Yahoo search dissipated instantly after we left the Mactan-Cebu International Airport to crawl for hours to go to Cebu City on a Friday afternoon.

Tragic but true: traffic in Cebu is as ugly as its cousin, the road snarls decongesting Metro Manila.

Many write about traffic in Metro Manila as if it were an actual person. Rich or poor, one tries to know its moods and whims and adjusts to these as a matter of coexistence.

At 76, my mother treats traffic in Lapu-Lapu, Mandaue and Cebu—cities she traverses daily to visit her mother—as if it were another teenager: predictably unpredictable.

I caught up with her in Cebu City after four hours on the road from Mactan: just three hours longer than my plane trip from Manila to Cebu. While gazing outside the taxi at the varying expressions of commuters crawling like us, I mused aloud about the timing of Cebu’s rush hours.

Sonya C. Solon Quintana, 76, road warrior: “Cebu has no rush hours. Cebu traffic is for the entire day.”

Ma’s stoicism is startling. She belongs to a generation that fetched their children from school to take lunch at home and bring them back just before the afternoon bell rang at 1 p.m.

When we were in our lower years, “rush hour” meant that in between noontime dismissal and the lunch that had to be eaten hot at home, we dropped by a family friend from whom we sometimes ordered home-cooked meals because my parents worked.

The essence of many terms other than “rush hour” and “noon break” has changed, too. Many private schools, once gender-exclusive, have turned coed in Cebu. Parental time to drive sons to an all-boys’ school and daughters, to an institution exclusively for girls is a privilege removed by urbanization.

Car pools were operated then by relatives or friends. It was unthinkable for one’s children to be fetched by strangers; family drivers, engaged for years, were entrusted with one’s children. These days, you pick a car pool covering your route and offering the best price.

So perhaps, the Metro Manilans who love/hate their traffic are right. It’s an entity you co-exist with; it’s not just a problem to solve.

Thus, city leaders must consult and listen to the citizens living daily with Cebu traffic. Unlike investors, tourists and other visitors, Cebuanos have a pretty good idea what goes on to transform overripe mango slices to dried mango, or danggit isda (fish) to danggit buwad (dried fish).

“Surreal” is a polite way of describing the colorful pennants decorating Mactan center island while crawling in traffic to and fro the international airport. “Free yourself from stress” and “Free yourself from daily commute” may set a record for branding a city but for the wrong reasons.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s August 9, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”