Saturday, February 27, 2016

Happy ending

EBULLIENCE doesn’t come to mind when I think of Filipino voters.

The word comes from the Latin word “ebullientem,” which means “spilling over”. A website has even a stronger translation: “boiling over”.

The closest to capturing the spirit of being “very happy and excited” is the small yellow-throated bird that flits among the budding branches of the “tambis” tree growing outside our bedroom window.

As it moves among the fruits and the flowers—many of which are even bigger than itself—the bird is the very picture of ecstasy. Its color is a radiant flash among the ivory-hued blossoms. Unlike the big black bees hovering like uninspired drones above the blooms, the bird chirps and chirps away, even in the presence of the cats, sleeping nearby with a twitching tail.

With May 9 drawing close, I wish I had an eighth of the optimism in the tiny feathered body.

Elections come with a predictability that leave many Filipinos prematurely cynical and pessimistic. I was born in 1965, when Ferdinand Marcos began his first term as the 10th president of the country.

Fifty-one years later, as the nation is deluged by surveys that predict who may win the race to become the country’s 16th president, I wonder how to summon the energy to draw up a mental list of candidates I will cast my ballot for. Unlike the bird in our tambis, the choices facing voters are thin.

The most prescient assessment of this horse race does not come from journalists and scholars. It comes from the social media influencers who upload the creative, entertaining, irreverent memes parodying every political pretender, antic or gambit.

Policy and issues were the focus of the organizers, as well as the five presidential candidates, of the first presidential debate held in Cagayan de Oro City last Feb. 21.

Yet, gauging from the comments and memes proliferating on the Net, the Mindanao leg of the “PiliPinas Debates 2016” might as well have been every soap opera, romantic comedy or Star Wars installment captivating watchers with a fixation for personalities, drama and entertainment.

What cerebral discourse can hold up to the “kilig” power of DuRiam (seconds after they clinched before the debate, the embrace of Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte went “sticky” online and inspired unforgettable memes)?

Granted: Filipino humor can soften any blow the fates will deal us. Will we still be laughing when the electoral results will trickle in after May 9?

Last Feb. 25, the 30th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution, Martial Law survivors launched a campaign to oppose the vice-presidential candidacy of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. Aside from opposing the distortion of history, the anti-Marcos activists urge millennials to remember the lessons of EDSA.

Passing the half-century mark, I recall EDSA as a mixed success. Look what we brought in after the People Power Revolution: an Estrada and an Arroyo. Or, if you belong to the opposing camp, two Aquinos.

On the other hand, Feb. 25, 1986 demarcated the past, when elections meant killing fields, and the present, when a campaign tragedy is a meme that bombs. Thirty years should make us realize where hope lies: in an informed citizenry casting their votes only for those who love the country.

( 09173226131)

* First published in the February 28, 2016 issue of the Sun.Star Cebu Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Lost in details

SHOULDN'T the backstory be more important than political correctness?

My mentor, Sun.Star Cebu public and standards editor Pachico A. Seares (PAS), perfectly nailed the storm of reaction generated by Manny Pacquiao's latest foot-in-the-mouth

"They're tough on Pacquiao, soft on Duterte" was the title of his Feb. 19 column
"News Sense".

On why there was a more impassioned backlash to the boxer than the enforcer—
both have made statements that set off the public at one time or the other—PAS offered
four possible explanations: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activism,
global media's agenda-setting, culture of machismo, and greater public acceptance of
Duterte's record in public service.

Compared to Duterte, a wily fox in playing with the press, Pacquiao is, to put
it charitably, naïve with media.

In his self-ignited controversies, Manny outtalked Dionisia, his mother, who has
amply demonstrated her willingness to give reporters a guided tour around the insides of
her closet as well as her heart.

Like many celebrities, Manny is undone by his own gullibility in Mannydom.
Mother and son talk to the camera as if what they were confiding—birthday plans, agonies, bible readings, biases—is no less than the Truth about the world, according to Pacquiao.

Someone needs to tell Manny that in this age of heightened communication, he shouldn’t forget the filters. As a filter, intolerance is most intolerant of intolerance. To sugarcoat the bitter pill of reality, as well as other human blemishes like literal-mindedness and bigotry, political correctness (PC) comes handy.

We say what others want to hear. We say whatever it takes to get what we want. We say because we can always deny later. We can blame the press. We apologize. We are human, notoriously frail, after all.

Unlike Pacquiao, who chose the route of public atonement for PC, Duterte breaks rules with audacity. He seemingly gets away with disrespect for women—arguably the feeblest pillar, besieged by machismo, misogyny and sexism—and disregard for life and the rule of law.

Why are we unmoved when Duterte undertakes a kissing spree with women who flock to his sorties? When he casually mentions the roles to be taken by his wife, current partner and other women in his political future, there is no outcry from netizens. Even his critics have fallen silent when they used to probe his connection to vigilantism and street justice.

Has his network of social media influencers achieved a coup in political correctness? Perhaps these memes are effective in entertaining a section of the online public drawn to Duterte’s “authenticity”. Perhaps his tough-guy stance on criminality can hardly be double-talk or empty promise from a man who is open about his connection to the Davao Death Squads.

For this voter, Duterte is no longer a candidate to be seriously considered. Political correctness—or its opposite—matters only when one is probing the image for sincerity.

To gauge sincerity, knowing the backstory is essential. In literature, it is the flow of events that lead to the main narrative. Applied to an actual person, the backstory are the characters, decisions, actions, events, responses, and consequences shaping the person.

Fictional or otherwise, a person is more than what he or she says. On May 11, let’s dredge up the backstory before choosing the ones to lead us.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s February 21, 2016 issue of the “Matamata,” a Sunday editorial-page column

Suburban affair

IN the telling and retelling made in the days after the event, the most dramatic moment was not when the burglar slipped in after the grandmother, grandchild and nanny entered the house, leaving the gate and front door open as, according to her four-p.m. habit, our neighbor would then water the plants while her “apo” watched television.

Nor was it when the intruder knocked her down, hit her head, and tried to stab her with his two knives.

It wasn’t also when, despite pain and shock, the grandmother still made sure her grandchild and yaya escaped the intruder, running out barefoot, crying hysterically but also alerting neighbors.

In our village in Lapu-Lapu City, the retelling escalates after neighbors rush to prevent the stabbing, disarm the burglar, and pull off his mask—revealing the familiar, smiling-but-now-contorted features of the man-next-door.

Criminality—the vulnerability of citizens to its daily onslaught and the inability of authorities to curb crime, let alone prevent it—is one of the “decades-long issues,” along with poverty and traffic, that the Philippine Daily Inquirer tagged as priorities that deserve to be on the campaign platforms of the five contenders vying to be chosen this May as the country’s 16th president.

Only one presidentiable—Miriam Defensor-Santiago—explicitly states in the broadsheet’s series on electoral agenda an anti-crime stance: “launch aggressive fight against illegal drugs”.

Another candidate—Rodrigo “The Enforcer” Duterte—offers a solution that strikes at the heart of Pinoys who still remember the darkest years of the country under martial law.

In a political rally, the Davao City mayor declared he does not only favor bringing back the death sentence but also executing the criminals in public. He promised to take “full responsibility” for lawmen accused of killing criminals.

Macabre and horrendous, Duterte’s version of peace and justice would not have gone unapplauded in our neighborhood. A few nights before the attempt on our neighbor, we drove past a street commotion.

According to Flor M. Gitgano’s Feb. 11 report in Sun.Star Cebu, a gunman and accomplice ambushed a local official known for his fight against illegal drugs. Basak barangay captain Isabelito Darnayla survived multiple gunshot wounds.

When our family first settled in the neighborhood in the early 1990s, it was so bucolic, we longed for more public utility vehicles instead of grazing cows in the vicinity.

The prosperity came, as well as crime. Before our neighbor got assaulted in her home, a rash of break-ins hit our street. Suspicion focused on our neighbor’s attacker, who had a history of domestic abuse, unemployment, and an addiction to illegal drugs.

Over a thick undercurrent of suspicions, fear and anxiety are the signs: a familiar face emerging from a burglar’s mask, a tricycle left skewed on the street (Darnayla’s attackers rode a tricycle, the king of the road in sitio Kagudoy).

The signs confirm every citizen’s nightmare: crime has crept out of the news and lives nearby.

The night of his arrest, our neighbor’s attacker died while in the custody of the authorities. When we go home, the sight of two houses, blazing side by side in the night, does not just weave tales of a victim who can no longer sleep in her home and of an accused who died before the process of justice could begin.

These stories are about lawlessness, a suburban affair.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s February 14, 2016 issue of the “Matamata,” a Sunday editorial-page column

Love in the time of Zika

I SEE red everywhere.

A change of traffic lights from green to red gave us time to look at the displays laid out by street florists. White blossoms dominated funeral wreaths but red drenched, oozed and glistened everywhere, from the single long-stemmed beauty to the impressive bouquets resembling armor de amor or shields attracting, not deflecting, Cupid’s aims.

The son teased that I was afflicted with a bad case of Valentine-itis. I retorted that any Bisdak (native Cebuano) stuck in Junquera, Cebu’s historic red-light district, would be forgiven for thinking about love in the time of Zika.

Two coming holidays put the spotlight on couples. Chinese New Year ushers in feng shui predictions that augur what’s in store for love and money, two indispensables that drive the world mad.

And then there’s Feb. 14, which releases even more molten sentiments about the timeless quest for one’s half.

Waltzing lazily into this steamy scene is a spindly-legged, hump-backed fellow with the longest ardor-cooling proboscis: Aedes aegypti mosquito.

One of the smallest creatures is taking on the behemoths of church and state in the fight often tagged as “God vs. Evil,” or the reproductive health wars.

Last Feb. 2, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the “explosive spread” of the Zika virus as a “global emergency.” The mosquito-spread virus spiked the birth of babies with brain defects in the Americas.

A day after, the US Centers for Disease Control announced cases of infection transmitted through sex. In countries with Zika outbreaks, desperate governments have urged women to put pregnancy on hold for the next two years.

This stance seems to draw a clear line between the choices open to couples: practice protected sex or consider the abortion of babies born with life-crippling defects. The two options don’t have the endorsement of the Catholic church.

Whatever the religion, many women balk at contemplating the idea of killing the unborn out of fear that one will be unable to care for it throughout its life.

The WHO also advised pregnant women to avoid travelling to about two dozen countries in Latin America and the Caribbean experiencing Zika outbreaks.

The modern loosening of restrictions—in travel and sexual mores, for instance—has been seen as contributing to the explosion of diseases. This observation has invited a panoply of reactions, from the fire-and-brimstone condemnation that sinners are being punished by the wrath of God to the more rational and less hysterical approach of taking stock of one’s actions, applying restraint, and adopting self-help to counter threats.

Our health authorities advise vigilance against Zika, which begins with cleanliness of home and community. To prevent mosquitoes from breeding, the public must empty containers that trap rain and water and cooperate with communal fogging or fumigation.

The public is also advised to monitor loved ones exhibiting symptoms of Zika infection, such as fever, headache, and abdominal pain, and bring them to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) centers. In Cebu, the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center is RITM-trained.

More effectively than the state and the church, an infected insect has made us aware of the consequences of our actions on others. If that’s not true love, I don’t know what is.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s February 7, 2016 issue of the “Matamata,” a Sunday editorial-page column

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

When babies are not welcome

AS early as January, merchants began rolling out the Cupids and chocolates, the froth-and-tease that precedes the gift-giving hard sell that’s become Valentine’s Day in this country.

In El Salvador, the choices are stark: stagnant water and a government appeal not to have children for the next two years.

Last Jan. 27, the International New York Times (INYT) reported how Zika, a mosquito-borne virus, has “rattled” El Salvador and other countries in the region into scrambling for measures to control the spread of the disease that leaves infected infants with microcephaly, a rare condition marked by an abnormally small head and brain damage.

Zika is spread by the Aedes mosquito, the same carrier of dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya, reported the INYT. The insects thrive in the standing water pooling amidst the trash piling in congested cities.

What hampers the communities and authorities from cleaning up and dispatching the mosquitoes is another Salvadorean epidemic: gang violence. The INYT refers to El Salvador as the “Western Hemisphere’s most violent country.”

In a country where mosquitoes and gangs compete for dominance, one would think having babies would be the last thing on people’s minds, even with Feb. 14 approaching.

Yet, the government’s call for a two-year moratorium on babies, with the implied strategy of contraception, is an issue that is “complicated” to raise in this “conservative, religious” country, reported the INYT.

While the El Salvador archbishop fell sick and could not say Sunday mass immediately after the public appeal for a birth moratorium and the nation’s bishops had yet to meet to discuss how to react to the government’s “new theme,” Salvadorean women interviewed by the INYT said postponing the babies was not a problem for the top three reasons: gang violence, unemployment, and Zika.

We are better off than El Salvador: violence that’s much worse in the media reports than in reality, so-so employment, and no Zika.

It is understandable why, with Feb. 14 approaching, we are not preoccupied with clearing standing water, fumigating the neighborhood, and reciting a loop of Hail Mary’s from fear and desperation for a child that’s still in the womb.

It explains why health workers distributing condoms outside motels on Feb. 14 invite derision. It’s not that they don’t want unwanted babies; the government only works to please condom manufacturers, never mind if they promote sinfulness and break up marriages.

Two worlds: one that does not welcome babies, another that does.

However, if one took away the particulars of place and time, what can the women of El Salvador ask their Filipina sisters: prior to conception, what kind of world do you dream of bringing a child into?

A world where a young mother without a husband, an education or even a supportive family can bring to full term a child, no more certain of its place than its mother.

A world where one can believe one’s child has a fair chance at a better life than its parents.

A world that loves a child and its becoming.

Though we may be in far greater danger from the arrows of Cupid than from the proboscis of the Zika-carrier mosquito, we should ask ourselves like the women of El Salvador: into what world do we bring a child?

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s January 31, 2016 issue of the “Matamata,” a Sunday editorial-page column

Climb every mountain

THE BEST time to be in this town is after the revelers have gone.

Post-Sinulog, I realized this as I commuted around, examining the city of my birth like a homeowner who has been away for a long time and finds upon her return, the home altered beyond recognition.

A day after Sunday’s grand parade, the sons and I joined early morning commuters. The sight of the purged streets made me wonder about the rest of the city: still in bed, nursing a hangover?

My family’s experience confirmed the reports: traffic during the Sinulog weekend was also headache-inducing.

Uptown, a solitary roadblock was like a throwback, a remnant of the previous 24 hours when it served as a veneer of order and system. According to Sun.Star Cebu, parties took over the streets after the grand parade ended around 9 p.m. on Sunday, with some 90,000 revelers massing in the uptown area alone until dawn of Monday.

With immense respect, I viewed the few men and women still about, sweeping and bagging street waste.

The performances and spectacles hog the limelight during the festival. Yet, we owe a debt of gratitude to Cebu City Hall’s Department of Public Service and barangay environment officers, as well as to the informal clean-up crew—the scavengers collecting discarded water containers–for clearing the streets and making these operational and safe in a matter of hours after the street revelers quit at dawn and before the 8 .a.m. masses moved in.

Hercules himself would balk at the challenge. Every year, as the Sinulog grows in stature and fame, its trash record also piles up. In 2012, 100 tons were left by the estimated million joining the grand parade. This went up to 113 tons in 2013, then 170 tons in 2014. The 2.5 million drawn to Sinulog 2015 left the biggest whopper: 197 tons.

In 2016, the mound slid to 110 tons. Yet, we still need to clear this mountain before we can mention without embarrassment the zero-waste target we seem to set every Sinulog.

Clearing the trash required this year a workforce of 500 that started around 10 p.m. on Sunday and ended by 7 a.m. on Monday, reported Sun.Star Cebu. That’s not the only reason the environmental fallout of the Sinulog is hardly invisible: when the rains come and the gutters and canals overflow and choke the city in traffic for hours, we will know where the rest of the trash went.

Even more unpleasant than the crowd’s leftovers were miscreants in the mob. A day after Sinulog, office breaktime stories centered on personal anecdotes and social media posts about the drunken behavior of revelers and their assault on people and property.

Groping, bruising, verbal abuse and theft were often mentioned. In the 1980s, when I first and last joined the Sinulog due to a PE class requirement, the worst possible experience was walking for hours to get a ride, losing your wallet or getting your face smeared with canal waste by copycats of the Ati-Atihan face- and bodypainting.

It’s hardly reassuring that the official recommendation for future Sinulogs is to station more buses to temporarily hold drunks. The principle is apparently not to detain them but to allow drunks to sleep off their stupor in safety, with free coffee served, if possible.

Why does this proposal sound even more Mount Everest-like than a zero-waste Sinulog?

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s January 24, 2016 issue of the “Matamata,” a Sunday editorial-page column