Saturday, June 24, 2017

Coming home

WHEN one comes home, the time one has been away is measured by changes.

Many things vie to catch my eye: the cleaned and buffed Crucified Christ, the crown of thorns catching the glint of dying sun and dripping bronze blood; the light grey coating of molds dusting the carved Ifugao couple bearing harvest offerings; and the rubber slippers bearing the shape and weight of my soles I hunt for and find among his shoes.

Grey fuzz coats even the female figure’s soles, created with a few flicks of the knife.

I pick up and return the couple on the shelf, which displays couple figurines collected from various places. From Indonesia to the Philippines and Vietnam, these pairs invoke harmony in the union, as evidenced by the male and the female figures mirroring the same actions.

Only the Ifugao couple is different. Though having the same bald heads and dangling wooden earrings, the man stands astride while the woman kneels. In the store, the sight of her bare soles stopped me until I noticed that even while kneeling, her head is nearly at the same level as his.

The most telling changes are not found in objects but the living. It rains nearly every day now, but the rains came too late for the pepper. The leaves are shrunk and wrinkled, like crepe cut-outs of green framing the red and orange pods that respond to the rain like impertinent little boys’ penises.

I search for the oregano that once grew as high as my waist. The kamuning is lush but subdued; no fireflies and no full moon mean that, during this short visit, I will not experience the white kamuning blossoms perfuming the nights.

The bamboo remains a presence but has become a stranger. From being a few clumps of straggly stems, there is a marching row of bamboo that the husband’s onslaught of pruning has disciplined into a vertical mat of green.

My mornings used to begin before the bamboo that unpredictably broke ground or shot for the sky overnight. After the fog crept away and before the sun broke over Laguna de Bay, clusters of dew turned the stems into arcs of diamonds refracting light.

Birds once nested in this recalcitrant, unkempt growth. A wisp of bamboo spurred avian lovemaking, its pliability ending often with the bird on top slipping off and falling before instincts kicked in and the inept lover flew back and tried again.

Standing before this tidy, tame wall of bamboo, I hear no bird-song, no liquid rustling. Coming home, I notice how, while I was away, change came and made itself at home.

( 0917 3226131/

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s June 25, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Father and daughters

FOUR o’clock in the afternoon still brings my father home to me.

When he was working, he organized his work meticulously—from running a surgery department to teaching medicine—so that at 4:30 p.m., his blue Beetle was always parked outside our high school, just a few minutes after dismissal.

My father’s predictability enabled me to estimate that, except on days when I had to clean the classroom, I had just enough time to run to the library, borrow a book (that I searched for and reserved during lunch), and find my sister before we went to our father.

It was a fast rule that we should all be home before the Angelus.

Though simple enough for my father, this rule made it a challenge to survive high school without going to the meetings, practices, PTA assemblies, charity concerts, and myriad activities held after classes ended.

The germ of writing must have been activated from the number of excuse letters I drafted for my father’s signing to explain his Angelus rule to school administrators. Fortunately, they were nuns.

Even when I became a coed in a state university, I preferred the routine of going home with my father and sister. He still waited for her outside my alma mater at the usual place and time.

Then I discovered that a bakeshop at the corner where I alighted from the jeepney to walk to my father’s Beetle served hot bread at around 4:30 p.m.

Despite the loss of some molars, Papang enjoyed the steaming, crunchy crust, and I welcomed, for the first time, having a parent whose predictability of habits made loving a simple and daily pleasure.

The first crack in my adolescence came when a classmate tried to start a habit of walking home with me.

Since we both had to count centavos, we didn’t mind chatting while walking from the state university to the bakeshop at the corner, a little over a kilometer. However, I was adamant about parting ways at the bakery.

What would my father think if I brought back this boy along with a bag of hot Elorde?

At first, my friend took the four o’clock routine as a joke. Then he got hurt, upset, annoyed.

I also became sorry that this boy wouldn’t go away if I gave him an excuse letter. Perhaps I did grow more than a little fond of listening to such a well-read creature.

But there was no space for him in that four o’clock zone, which I shared only with my father, hot bread, my sister, and the family Beetle.

With his trademark sarcasm, my former classmate might ask me today if my father has turned every merienda with hot bread into a fraught encounter with cold memories.

However, I have sons and he has daughters. He can best answer the question: why do fathers spoil their daughters for other men?

( 09173226131)

*First published in SunStar Cebu’s June 18, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Love and oblivion

AT Santiago Bay, Camotes, the dogs live the life.

Low tide leaves a wide expanse of fine sand, enjoyed by early morning strollers, selfie worshippers, and dogs.

Recently in Camotes, I got to know the mutts very well. They are Asong Pinoy (Aspin), lean and even bony, with rough coats from living outdoor and eating scraps.

But the dogs have a contagious zest for island life. In an excess of brio, one puppy leaped up and pawed every stranger as if reunited with a long-absent mistress.

The ones napping on the shore were gradually isolated into isles by the incoming tide. When the water finally lapped too close, a dog snapped awake and plopped down on a drier spot.

While going through the motions of winding up the semester, I took minute breaks from theses defense by holding out my right leg, which bore the silvery shadow of a nail scratch from an Aspin encounter.

To crisscross the borderless sliver separating wideawakeness from oblivion: I envy the dogs.

During the last thesis defense of the semester, I glimpsed why, despite our kinship with the canine, we are fated to search for but never find this refuge.

Judelyn Felicilda is one of the strongest-willed young women that I have worked with. Before this month is over, she will don the Sablay, the official garment worn to culminate one’s journey in our university.

For Judhai, the years of searching for knowledge ended on the streets, where she engaged commercial sex workers (CSWs) who are men who have sex with other men (MSM) and transgender women (TG).

Last June 8, Judhai presented a video that seeks to convince CSWs to use a condom in every transaction as a protection from the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (Aids).

Judhai’s video rests on testimonies why, even among hardened professionals, love becomes the knife we turn against ourselves.

According to her, CSWs fall into two types. The professionals offer sex for pay. For the non-professionals, “harvat (gay lingo for “harvest,” meaning the need to earn) determines whether money exchanges hands.

Yet, some CSWs admit that “harvat” can be set aside for an attractive partner who looks clean (healthy and non-infectious).

However, when the CSW is in love with the partner, “modnoc (condom)” is never used.

Over the years, the rise of cases has been accompanied by the rise and fall of monikers for persons living with HIV/Aids: “Gset,” “shitsu,” “posit,” and “josh”.

These euphemisms may be attempts to blunt the cut of living with Ida (Aids).

As Judhai suggests, teaching CSWs the skills for condom negotiation can zero in on ways on how to cope with love.

Who among us is immune to it anyway?

( 09173226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s June 11, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Monday, June 05, 2017

Spirit diving

I EXPECTED least but got a baptism when I recently swam in the underground waters of two caves in Camotes Island.

A dedicated armchair tourist, I still somehow ended up in caves, from the wartime bunkers in Alegria, south of Cebu to the trans-water caves, with a few running for 2-km stretches, in Trang An, Vietnam.

Caves exert a powerful hold. From World War II survivors in Alegria, I learned how upland caves aided their escape from the Japanese Imperial Army and town collaborators.

Almost a quarter of a century after, survivors recalled vividly how the caves held water they took care not to spoil with human waste. Inside these caves, entire clans lived and wove mats of river reeds for extra warmth and barter while under siege.

Yet in caves, too, repose our primal fears. When the husband had me sit closest to the prow of the boat, he kidded that he only wanted to make sure I wouldn’t fall off while we were part of a group exploring the Underground River of Palawan.

Inducted in 2012 as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, the now-renamed Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park has one other thing, aside from stalactites and stalagmites inducing awe, that it has in common with other sites of natural heritage: tourists.

As tour operators and communities co-exist in uneasy compromise to manage traffic and the inevitable degradation, tourists of all persuasions—including newly-weds having their pictorial while balanced on a bamboo boat outside the trans-water grottoes of Trang An—dispel superstitions enshrouding caves.

Only some.

Perhaps because entering a cave involves descending and leaving a realm where light and air are taken for granted, caves bring to mind entering a crypt and never being able to leave it, like Persephone hostaged by Hades in the bowels of the underworld.

Bukilat Cave on Poro, Camotes is ideal for families. It has seven “windows” or natural ceiling apertures to let in light dappling the cool brackish pool, and serving as natural spotlight for selfie poses and Facebook memories.

High tide raises the level of the underground waters of the Amazing Island Cave in San Francisco, Camotes. A life vest and buddies helped me hurdle for the first time being dunked in the water to go past a low ceiling, competing for thin air in a cavern overcrowded with tourists, and kicking around like a day-old tadpole in waters about 9-ft deep.

Later, while drinking my fill of the sky above the sea in Mangodlong, I realized why swimming in caves draws and repels: as life throws a curve, caverns deprive us of our comforts and conceits, forcing us to claw inside and reach for that which we never knew existed just to break through.

( 0917 3226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s June 4, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”