Saturday, August 26, 2017

Dream university

SO indefatigable was the woman’s storytelling, she roped me in with her companion and perhaps the rest of the Toki jeepney passengers.

“Ikot” is the more popular version of the iconic jeepney that goes counterclockwise around the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines (UP).

The jeepney that goes around the campus clockwise is called “Toki,” which is “Ikot” spelled backwards. Had my curiosity won, I might have asked the Toki storyteller if she knew the legends behind the creation of these names.

However, when I disembarked, she was still in full stream, enumerating the members of her clan that graduated from, or taught or worked at, or was going to take the coming Upcat to enter the college associated with the different academic buildings in the Ikot/Toki route.

Passing the University of the Philippines College Admission Test (Upcat) is a ritual my sister and I went through, with varying degrees of uncertainty. UP was not my first choice for college, but I ended up finishing my undergraduate studies in Communication Arts at its Cebu campus.

My sister was unsure about her course so I suggested. She also finished Business Management at UP Cebu, quite happily as it turned out. Like many alumni, we can say our student identification numbers in our sleep.

My Toki companion’s discourse underlines again that the decision to choose UP is not just a personal or family decision but also a communal one.

Vivid oral historians are the Ikot and Toki drivers who have these past weeks been orienting senior high school students, parents and even grandparents seeking the Office of Admissions or Rodik’s for the iconic tapsilog break—part of the formal and informal rites initiating one to Diliman, the flagship campus.

What is most moving, though, are the students who must pass through the eye of the Upcat to enroll next year in their “dream university,” as one lass emphatically declared inside the Ikot, filled to bursting by her seemingly equally overwhelmed classmates.

For many takers, UP will remain just that, a dream.

Of the 87,000 who took Upcat in 2014, only 1,588 passed and were qualified to enroll in UP’s eight constituent universities across the nation. That’s a passing rate of 1.8 percent.

This year’s Upcat is historic, involving the first batch of senior high school students. How many takers will pass, enroll and graduate from UP? How many will enjoy greater subsidy or even the sustainability of free college education?

How many graduates will serve the people?

I would not mind sharing a Toki or Ikot with passengers brimming with stories of their UP-educated clans.

( 09173226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s August 27, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Chicks killers

ON Tuesday, ampalaya with egg was my breakfast and dinner. On Wednesday, ground meat in egg. On Thursday, rice fried with egg became breakfast. Friday, smoked fish and salted egg.

Except for changes in main noun and preposition, egg was the mainstay in this week’s meals. Perhaps the Pampangueño cooks just love eggs or cafeteria regulars do.

Many of my breakfast classmates and I take our eggs with a national daily, which are piled near the food trays.

Despite our conspicuous consumption of news, which prominently featured this week the culling of birds to stop the spread of bird flu in Pampanga, when the cafeteria closes by 4 p.m., the hordes have wiped away every trace of egg, presumably to return the next day.

I know because one of the Pampangueña ladies kindly whipped up an egg sandwich I could eat before my evening class.

On the sound theory of not biting the hand that feeds one, I’ve never asked the cafeteria crew if our eggs are sourced from Pampanga, where they are going after every chicken, quail, and duck suspected of or testing positive for the H5 strain.

I’ve tried to eavesdrop on conversations among cafeteria diners, who are mostly from the natural sciences. However, stepping up human resistance to viruses or implementing strict biosecurity measures does not seem to be on the minds of this learned crowd when they are tackling eggs and whatnots.

Being of the humanities discipline, I rationalize my eggs-cesses by creating backstories: for instance, the salted egg lying on its bed of sun-ripened tomatoes must surely be “old stock,” salted away long before some alien winged in from elsewhere in Asia to infect our sitting ducks.

Besides, even if a foreign extremist invasion of H5 carriers did corrupt the Pampanga stocks, I put full confidence on the martial solution to rebellion and chaos in the poultries.

After poultry workers in Pampanga refused to cull the infected birds even if promised the previously unheard-of daily allowance of P700, Malacañang called on the military to step in and terminate the threat.

Given the Philippine track record in extrajudicial killings, gassing and burying birds in pits will not even ruffle feathers.

On the same day the military was ordered to clear contaminated poultries, police officials shrugged off the deaths of 21 drug suspects killed in nine hours in Bulacan.

The deaths are “normal,” given these resulted from 22-25 operations, not just one, a police spokesperson explained the simultaneous operations called “One Time, Big Time”.

Since any form of math, even malicious math, is beyond me, I put my faith on law enforcement to also take care of my eggs, same place, same time.

( 0917 3226131)

*First published in SunStarCebu’s August 20, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, August 12, 2017

My way

GOING back to school in one’s 50s is like returning to kindergarten: at the end of the day, the senior student monopolizes the dinner conversation with “I did this” and “I did that”.

That’s a thought expressed by N., who's my classmate in two courses this semester. We sat across each other in our first class. By our next class, we were seated beside each other, swapping notes about our reading assignments.

Our classmates, who could be our sons and daughters, prefer e-books they can store in their phones and read while commuting. N. and I are old-school; we prefer to photocopy, highlight pages, and make longhand notes in notebooks that don’t require batteries.

N.'s children point out that one can also digitally mark pages, minus a sore back from lugging around all that paper. My boys—a husband and sons who speed around the information highway—rebuke me for holding back from technology.

N.’s rejoinder says it best: Let me do it my way.

I would be glossing over if I left the impression that the freedom to pursue my way is what alone distinguishes the two cycles of kindergarten.

A word of German origin, “kindergarten” literally means “children’s garden”.

The promised Eden of exploration and discovery was, I discovered when I was five, a terrifying place. I had to find a voice to get the teacher to give me permission for the toilet or plead with a classmate to return my pencil.

That voice never seemed to be around when terrors rattled the gates of my five-year-old mind.

At 51, being able to say what I want no longer seems as important as knowing what I want even if others doubt that I do.

I remember a terrifying first meeting with two poets. Both are decades my junior. My classmate has published a book of poetry; my teacher is awaiting his seventh.

In contrast, I wrote my last poem for the Silliman Writers Workshop perhaps three decades ago. The last poem I read, liked, and reread was three years ago.

Had I done the math, I would have fled that classroom as if all the wraiths of bards, from classical to free verse, were yapping at my heels.

Yet, I stayed in my seat for easily the most uncomfortable and illuminating discussion in nearly half a century of learning in classrooms: why writing poetry is the most useless activity, and why in this uselessness lies its greatest use for society.

There’s nothing quite like youth and its prodigious gifts of energy and self-regard.

But before the sap dries, one should put all one’s heart, soul, and strength into replenishing the well of one’s ignorance. The more we learn, the more we unlearn.

Or, as N. said: Let me do it my way.

( 09173226131)

*First published in SunStar Cebu’s August 13, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Closed encounters

IN Cebu, the bus exists largely as a figment of contention. In the labyrinth that is Manila, the bus rumbles out of the discourse and into the realm of the banal and inescapable days of our lives.

Traveling by bus used to be about romancing the countryside. As a young community worker, I learned a few tricks from traveling by land around Cebu and Central Visayas.

Bus tip #1: backpack it.

The terminal is where life begins. Come early and your ticket will still come with a seat.

Bus tip #3: watch life go past. In Dalaguete, the scenes outside the window replayed when the bus, like a car pool, came back for a regular passenger, who had been taking a bath.

In the city of queues, I arrived at the bus half an hour before it left. In the seat of dreams, one can nap or watch the movie on board to dilute reality with a bit of make-believe.

While my seat mates juggled dinner and smartphone monologues, I watched the night’s feature on “Cinebakbakan”.

Like me, Raymond Bagatsing travels from the province to the big city. His cousin introduces Serafin to Sarge (Tonton Gutierrez), who gives him a job and more guns than seems necessary to man the gate of a shack in the middle of nowhere.

Though naive, Serafin is not too slow to catch on that Sarge actually leads a kidnapping ring. When Sarge goes amok, Serafin tries to out-Adam Adam: return to the Eden where he was expelled.

The movie is full of stereotypes (chain-smoking journalists) and peculiarities (Serafin gets in the pool of mud with his carabao and gives it a back massage). Yet, when the bus vents gushed water instead of freezing air, I was the last to leave my seat for the safety of the aisle.

In the melee of corporate drones cussing like fish vendors, a barking driver, and the ticket collector passing around one sodden rag to stanch the shower on board, I followed Serafin’s changing fortunes: he emerges from the margin to assume a dead man’s fearsome reputation, marries a woman later possessed by an evil spirit, dupes a kidnapped child into regarding him as the father, and finally unburdens to a journalist who smokes more than takes notes.

Movies on buses are kitschy or pornographic. “Serafin Geronimo: Ang Kriminal ng Baryo Concepcion” is neither. I waited for the closing credits to reveal the director.

And got instead the opening scene of “True Lies,” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Of course, art is dead in the city. A bus is not a cinematheque.

But would it have hurt if deadened commuters went home that night, realizing that the movie we all got drenched for was the first one directed by Lavrente Indico “Lav” Diaz? Probably not. Bus tip #4.

( 0917 3226131)

*First published in SunStar Cebu’s August 6, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”