Saturday, February 25, 2017


WHERE was I on Feb. 25 31 years ago?

Like any member of the genus Neotoma, I pride myself in being a passionate collector. The genuine packrats in the animal world, woodrats stockpile debris in their nests.

Over the years, I’ve kept many of my notebooks. These are the old-fashioned ones: paper bound by thread, spring or glue. I took notes, planned lectures, reflected, and doodled.

The notebooks are not valuable. First, I can barely read my penmanship. Most importantly, I cannot remember where I kept the hoard. What use is a record that cannot be found?

Yet, yesterday’s 31st anniversary of the Edsa People Power Revolution reminded me why I would rather not part with a notebook.

In my attitude towards writing, reading and recollecting, I perhaps share more affinity with war survivors than rodents.

Persons who endured extreme deprivation in World War II cannot seem to let go of their possessions.

What’s worthless for others may be insurance against hardship. Or is writing just memories made tangible and easier to retrieve?

By stirring up people to express different perspectives about an event in 1986, President Duterte has made People Power timely and relevant again, a brilliant stroke in resuscitating Filipinos’ dependably undependable sense of history.

The Malacañang pronouncement that Filipinos should not dwell in the past and the President’s decision to skip the low-key ceremony did not prevent people from engaging like no past spectacle at the Edsa Shrine has orchestrated.

Yesterday, I watched TV coverage of a small group of black-shirted protesters move in after another group moved away from the Edsa Shrine. Against tradition, the administration held the Edsa rite at the military headquarters in Quezon City.

People choose their memories. Most of the faces holding up the black banner of protest were born after the Philippine Revolution of 1986.

A day before the 31st Edsa Revolution anniversary, I participated in a Cebu seminar training the media and members of civil society on monitoring the judiciary. The seminar kit came in a black envelope.

A former student, now a lawyer with a civil society organization, stood out in her black T-shirt with words bringing back an era in what the great historian Renato Constantino called as our continuing past.

On Feb. 25, 2017, I started to hunt for 31-year-old notebooks.

There is an online game called “a reunion of friends”. One is asked to describe a first meeting with one word. In the intersecting circles of friends, there is an infinite variety of words to describe first meetings.

For Feb. 25, 1986, my word is “community”. What’s yours?

( 09173226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s February 26, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Once upon a mais

NOTHING is more at home in the Cebuano gut than bugas-mais (corn grits).

For lunch, we had goso (seaweed), fried fish, and rice-corn combo. Since we are island dwellers, the first two dishes are regular fare on our table.

The third dish is courtesy of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) team, which conducted a recent inquiry to determine the feasibility of promoting a combination of 70 percent rice and 30 percent corn throughout the UP system.

What struck me while I was organizing the FGD in Cebu was the general puzzled reactions: why combine rice and corn?

The Institute of Plant Breeding, Crop Science Cluster of the College of Agriculture of UPLB placed the rice-corn blend’s health benefits on the product label: the low glycemic index of corn promotes slow digestion, which in turn prevents the sudden rise in blood sugar, builds up stamina, and diminishes the craving for snacks.

Though helping diabetics, dieters, and the “figure-conscious,” corn grits lag behind rice. According to an article by Dr. Serlie Barroga-Jamias on, some people think that mais is only fit for the poor or livestock.

To promote this “food for champions,” the UPLB researchers produced, after several taste tests, a rice-corn blend that “tastes and looks like pure rice”.

Perhaps needed in Luzon, is this dietary sleight of hand required in Visayas and Mindanao, traditional corn-eaters?

During the 2008 rice crisis, the Cebu Province promoted sinanduloy, which combines rice with the cheaper and more nutritious kamote (sweet potato).

However, it will take more than the nation’s problems with rice production and importation to reduce Filipinos to the measures demanded by wartime deprivation.

Contemporary Cebuanos eat rice and corn separately. Cebu has no shortage of sellers, with buyers even choosing the milled size of the corn grits.

In wet markets, Numero Disesais (no. 16) costs P700 for a sack of about 48 kilos. That’s about P28 per kilo of corn grits while the Ganador variety of white, polished rice costs about P50. For budget-conscious Cebuanos, the P65 price of a kilo of rice-corn blend is steep.

However, after learning that friends in the south of Cebu now buy bugas-mais when they once planted corn for consumption, I realized that more than taste trends and market prices determine the future of corn-eating.

Climate change has made many Cebu farmers balk at investing in fertilizers and pesticides. Raising pigs and goats is quicker and more lucrative.

Coupled with “unlimited rice” and the fast food trend of exclusively serving polished rice, will bugas-mais eventually disappear from our tables and palates?

( 09173226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s February 19, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Love bytes

MANY young persons don’t know how to write a letter. I’ve read missives without a salutation or a complimentary close.

Rarely does a young letter writer find out the name of the person he or she is addressing. Or verify the spelling, the position, or the gender.

And the tone, the tone of the letters. Millennials write a letter as if it were just another SMS, Tweet or status post on Facebook.

A teacher drummed into our senior high school class that writing a letter is not first about getting what you want; it’s about letting the words reflect who you are, crucial when the person reading the letter has never met you.

All that seems like worlds ago.

According to “Heartbreaks and Healing,” a survey of 500 Filipinos recently conducted by the online shopping site Lazada, technology and new media mediate in the relationships of many Filipinos.

To break up with partners, 58 percent of Filipinos used their mobile phones; 34 percent did it in person; and 6.3 percent gave a handwritten letter.

More Filipinos (30 percent) chose to text and break up, compared to the 22 percent who called and the seven percent who resorted to instant messaging.

Perhaps technology spares more feelings. And trees, too. (I imagine I would try to write a “break-up” letter, crumple and throw aside, start with a fresh sheet, crumple again, and so forth. Or perhaps mistake a ream of paper as fresh tissue for a freshet of tears.)

The same Lazada survey (no data about scientific rigor) revealed that “online profiling” is standard to check out a potential partner.

Fifty-four percent of the respondents visited the social media page of a potential date, with 60 percent of these respondents losing interest in someone they liked before they stalked them online.

Ages ago, my generation used the “FLAMES” technique as an alternative to card-reading, matchmakers, and the personal network of relatives and friends one could rely on to spy on one’s obsession.

I wrote my name and the name of the boy, crossed out the common letters, and counted the remaining letters. If the last count landed on “F,” it meant the boy and I would remain friends; “L” meant “lover;” “A” for “acquaintance;” “M” for “marriage;” “E” for “enemy;” and “S” for “sweetheart”.

One could try a variation of nicknames to get the coveted “S” or avoid the dreaded “A”. In the corridors where nuns and teachers were omnipresent, we giggled that “L” came before “M”—a daring sequence we found romantic but too racy to aspire for.

In the age of instant connections and bloodless breakups, I wonder about social media’s substitute for the firing squad on Valentine’s Day. Technology shouldn’t be destiny.

( 09173226131)

*First published in SunStar Cebu’s February 12, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Bartering news

IN the classroom, another way of verifying I’m generations older than my students is the newspaper in my tote.

My primary source of daily news is made of paper and ink.

No one else brings an old-fashioned newspaper unless I require it for class. Students check first smartphones or tablets for messages, chats and online discussions, which, for their generation, is The News.

Many young people treat the news found in traditional newspapers as DBEYR (don’t believe everything you read) or plain TMI (too much information).

When I recently asked students enrolling in “Introduction to Journalism” to study the issues of newspapers that recently redesigned their layout, I overheard comments that “it became smaller?” and “it doesn’t look anymore like a newspaper”.

One paper revealed its new design about four months ago; the other daily, last month. In this discussion, I must have sounded like an aggravated sphinx, impatient to answer its own riddles because it realizes the curse of the old is to remember what the young have no connection to.

Perhaps the apathy is not directed at journalism, only the traditional form in which it comes. My students say they enter our brick-and-mortar library only when teachers require them to read traditional books, not just Google websites, for their research.

Teaching writing to undergraduates for three decades, I’m fascinated by the lessons on reading and engagement I get in return. This is news literacy from the young but not newsless.

So recently, when social advocates discussed with me the cause they were championing, I had to disabuse them about my limited influence as a columnist and an editorial writer.

If last week’s column, “The snake, princess,” had 1,812 shares on Facebook within 24 hours, it was most certainly due to the clickbait subject: Ms. Universe and Snake Princess.

Could I replicate that online feat if I wrote about extrajudicial killings (EJK)?

These are challenging times when bloggers are dislodging journalists from the gaze of the public. Rather than look down our pens on social influencers, we should compete to engage the audience.

Central to communication is not just the sender or the message but also the receiver. Thus, we must pay more attention to the young and emerging and less on the “alingawngaw” or the noise of our generation’s judgment of Millennials.

During the Socio-Caravan Visayas held at the University of the Philippines Cebu last Feb. 3, Dr. Clarence M. Batan used this term to criticize the K to 12 system’s absence of a research-based foundation.

The word means hearsay or rumor. If anything, paper just means waste for Millennials. We cannot conclude that they are newsless.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s February 12, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”