Saturday, September 19, 2015

Tango with millennials

AFTER a three-year hiatus to study, I returned to teach undergraduates and found the ground has shifted.

“How do you find this batch?” asked Ian, a former student who became a colleague. Disconcerting, we agreed.

Class discussions this September reinforced the impression. At the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu, junior Mass Communication undergraduates dutifully researched on martial law’s (ML) impact on press freedom.

Our attempts to link pre-ML press licentiousness, ML press censorship and early attempts at media self-regulation were fraught. Half of the class had glazed eyes, an invariable effect of history lessons.

Things dramatically improved when discussion bridged the past to the present. Another group of junior undergraduates named Rodrigo Duterte as the presidentiable to watch in 2016.

Duterte’s political tango (Will he run? Won’t?) tantalizes the young. The controversy over his record of human rights abuses does not.

The man who “cleans” the streets of Davao through his speculated links with Death Squads is deemed by half a class of bright, idealistic youths as the country’s next hope.

My younger son, a freshman in a private university, also recalled hearing Duterte’s name among schoolmates attending the prayer vigils for a slain student, a recent victim of crime.

Unlike Millennials, I have a knee-jerk reaction to vigilantism, which I associate not with the cleansing of crime-free streets but with the purging of dissent and opposition by the power-obsessed.

Even the memory-challenged must associate the month of September with the 1972 imposition of martial law.

The Cebu Press Freedom Week and the Cebu Broadcasters’ Month remind Cebuanos how civil liberties were lost and won again at great cost during the dark years of struggling in the iron fist of the Marcos conjugal dictatorship.

Born in 1976, Ian considers himself a “Martial Law baby”. Fond of the Carpenters, the Abba and Sesame Street, this Gen X member was an activist for human rights, then as a UP Cebu undergraduate and now as a lawyer.

Spanning the mid-1960s till the mid-1980s, Generation X witnessed the rise of mass media and the collapse of the Cold War. What prevented Filipino Gen Xers from getting completely lost in the hedonism of the MTV culture—the penetration of music videos shaped the youth culture at the turn of the millennium—was an anachronism called repression.

Born in 1965, I’m in between trains. I qualify for a front seat in Generation X. Yet I think I managed to squeeze in the last trip for the counterculture Hippie Generation of the 1960s, which opposed the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the Martial Law.

When our family left for work and school early in the morning, we passed a secluded spot where bodies were often dumped. An industrial zone, our barangay’s warehouses and high walls lack eyes and ears, the perfect witnesses for clean-up teams in summary killings.

Once seen, never forgotten. Hogtied and bloated, a corpse rarely resembles the person it was before torture and decomposition.

Millennials, straddling the 1980s till the 1990s, are also called the Generation Y.

“Why?” is a good lens for scrutinizing Duterte, who will never get pass the throwback of my 41-year-old memories of martial law: “Never again”.

( 09173226131)

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

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Road trip

IN the country, one of the guaranteed shortcuts for going native is to commute. Take a bus if you are that desperate.

When the husband and I returned to Badian on a Friday afternoon, we found out that, after 30 or so years, the South Bus Terminal has come full circle: from pandemonium to “world class” pretensions back to pandemonium.

Backpacking was the best way to travel in the 1980s. The Cebu City terminal for buses plying the southern route was an obstacle course favoring survivors, not beginners.

One had to be swift and nimble enough to climb and enter the bus through a window to avoid the horde clamoring at the lone entrance/exit. Or ferocious in bawling out lesser mortals lunging for the last seat.

A degree of civilization later settled in the terminal. Pre-departure comforts created the illusion that one was taking the bus to Tokyo, Rome or Ginatilan. Then management changed.

Too stiff-jointed now to fight for seats, I relied on my salt-and-pepper hair. The guard bawled out our silver-haired group because he probably assumed the elderly are all stone-deaf, but he let us in first.

Three young Korean backpackers shook their heads at the shoving. I approved of their luggage but not their choice of footwear. Those heels are not for scrambling in through a bus window.

“Do not overload” is a rule no one follows in the country. There’s a respite following a tragedy drawing a bad press and a public outcry. But in the days that follow, the normal abnormal is timeless.

Even though sidewalks overflow with vendors and their wares, pedestrians, and illegally parked vehicles, bus drivers can spot the lone person in the crowd who doesn’t have to make the right-hand pumping gesture that stands for eternal optimism: willing-to-stand-until-someone-gets-off.

So while you’ve paid and struggled for an aisle seat in an air-conditioned bus, expect to be prodded by an elbow, a hip or the entire person of the eternal optimist and his ilk, who are camped out in the aisle, along with their bags and the all-time favorite cylinder canister of cookies (after the cookies are polished off, the canister becomes a pail).

During peak season, bus aisles go the way of sidewalks in this country: they disappear after planks are pulled out from nowhere to connect the aisle seats for commuters boarding the bus along the route.

To leave the bus, passengers must clear the planks without knocking off the aisle seaters—a challenge one gets first taste of in the disorder at the Cebu City terminal, which proves the principle that for everything, including unreason, a reason.

The conspiracy not to leave any bus space unused is perfected by food vendors. When one nears Carcar City, men clamber in. They hoist huge bags of food. Their specialization is to insert this considerable load past all the animate and inanimate obstacles blocking the aisles to reach the passenger at the back of the bus who will scrutinize a tiny pack before, in keeping with the Cebuano virtue of stinginess, giving this back to the vendor because it is overpriced.

I am for free enterprise even though my principle when travelling is to minimize what I take in to limit the need for public toilets. Our “comfort rooms” deserve more than a column. Next time perhaps.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s September 13, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Queen’s confessions

FROM slippers to shabu. Hers is the story of Cinderella that went wrong.

Last Sept. 5, Daryl T. Jabil reported in Sun.Star Cebu about the arrest of Badian’s “queen of shabu”. When Jerami Matugas, 49, was arrested in her new home in Poblacion, Badian, the operatives caught her repacking the illegal white crystals for selling. On the streets, the packs might fetch P1.3 million.

Minus the substance, that domestic scene would have complemented the self-reliance stamping the story of Matugas.

According to Jabil’s nuanced report, Matugas once sold slippers made in Carcar. In November, an acquaintance introduced her to shabu so she could “send her children to college”.

Matugas has five children, aged four to 21. She told Sun.Star Cebu that, even without a father, her children “never went hungry under my care”. In February, the family moved from Barangay Awayan, Carcar to their newly constructed and “more comfortable” home in the town center of Badian.

The story moved to a different vein last March, when a warrant for her arrest was issued. Metamphetamine is concocted from several chemicals and then crystallized. Known also as “ubas,” “siopao, “sha,” and “ice,” “shabu” is smoked, snorted or injected by about seven million Filipinos or 10 percent of the population. It is the illicit drug “most used” in the Philippines, reports the United Nations.

Once associated with big cities and corruption, shabu has made inroads in new markets. Queen said the police have yet to catch other “big fishes” in the illicit drug trade in the south, which curves from Carcar City to reach as far as Alegria and Badian on the southwestern side of Cebu.

The day before Sun.Star Cebu reported Queen’s arrest, I climbed to the fourth-floor Capitol office of Vice Governor Agnes A. Magpale to get our copy of the Badian and Alegria town histories. From 2008 to 2011, my husband Roy and I were part of the team of writers, researchers and editors tapped by the Cebu Province and the University of San Carlos (USC) for the landmark Cebu Provincial History Project.

Last month, the 55-volume set of books narrating the local history of Cebu—the province, the Provincial Capitol, nine cities and 44 towns—was turned over to the local governments.

Roy and I met first in Badian. He was tapped by the USC for a research project. I was a development communication worker with the government. One rainy night in 1987, we met at a farmer leader’s house. I escorted a group of Manila journalists interviewing farmers about the impact of a World Bank-funded project.

Presuming he was the farmer’s son, I was surprised when he answered the journalists articulately in English. This bias shamed me, which worsened my ill temper with the journalists, who dawdled in our trip and kept the farmers waiting. Roy thought I was one of the rude visitors, who demanded the farmers be roused from their sleep so they could have their interviews before flying back to Manila.

Despite the checks imposed by all disciplines, from journalism to research, no discourse is ever complete. The shabu trade in the south is not in the town histories I co-authored. The Queen’s confessions reveal a gap that has to be addressed in the threads of “sugilanon (story)” interwoven one night in 1987.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s September 6, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”