Saturday, November 20, 2021


WAITING for the veterinarian to arrive for Saturday appointments reminds the husband and I of the times we waited with other parents for our sons to be dismissed from pre-school. 

To be first in the queue, we are early birds and end up chatting with other early birds. Just as I once learned tips from using bright hues for body stamps (blue is cool; yellow is sissy) to holding 10-minute sanity breaks for student and parent to survive supervised homework, I rediscover the Filipino as Fur Parent during the intervals preceding vaccination, spaying/neutering, check-ups, and other interactions with the vet. 

From these myriad waiting lessons is a standout: people’s usual reaction to the “asong Pinoy” (or “aspin,” meaning “mongrel”) we have brought to the vet’s clinic. “Hindi ‘yan aspin; may lahi ‘yan.” 

The intent of the speaker seems to be to compliment our dog or cat (“pusang Pinoy” or “puspin”) by observing that it looks far from being a “pure native” and shows traces of a foreign breed, implying a better bloodline. 

“Lahi” in Filipino refers to race. We take the compliment as a backhanded one, a distressing expression of the deeply ingrained bias disparaging local dogs as “askal (“asong kalye (street dog)” or “asong gala (strays)”. 

Too often, “stray” dogs and cats are blameless victims of families that move away and leave behind their pets, without a thought for the animals’ sustenance and anxiety from abandonment or dislocation. 

These “strays” are not only rendered homeless; their offspring are also doomed by human cruelty. Unspayed females mate with uncastrated males and result in unwanted litters.

The overriding motivation behind our, so far, five cat spayings and neutering of a sire or a male aspin is a commitment to end this vicious cycle of irresponsibly allowing dogs and cats to uncontrollably breed and then blaming the animals for threatening public safety and health.

Breaking this cycle means not just planning and budgeting for expenses in engaging a private veterinarian but also involvement in ensuring the animal safely fasts for at least eight hours before surgery and administering medicine for 7-10 days to hasten the healing. 

The crux of the matter in responsible pet ownership is reversing the racist mentality that only the more expensive imported breeds of dogs and cats deserve veterinarian care. 

After a fellow fur parent pleasantly asked me if we had intentionally cut off the tail of our puppies (born stumpless like their aspin sire and dam), the husband and I reinforce our belief that, whether puspin or aspin, the Pinoy deserves our best, not the scraping of the dregs of humanity.

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* First published in SunStar Cebu’s November 21, 2021 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, November 13, 2021


THE CARCASS was beside the highway. Due to its age and immensity, it looked like a boulder blasted from a mountain than a stump that had once seen a hundred years come and go.

The husband said that ten men could not move that trunk. Still of use, its branches were carted away. Before we pulled away, my last sight was of a few leaves littering the ground near the stump.

Yearends put to mind these leaves of mine, a mortal’s tale that pales to the stories from trees and mountains. Except that sometimes more than the tale, the telling is everything.

One of the things put to the test by the pandemic, running for nearly two years now, is our sense of time. In the naturalized order, we account for time. What have I planned today? Who will I be five years from now?

Until physical then social isolation disrupted the flow, the calendar paced our days. This Middle English word comes from the Old French “calendier,” which evolved from the Latin “calendarium,” meaning “account book”.

“Turning a new leaf” does not just physically correspond to flipping the calendar to the next month. In the book of days, turning a leaf means reading a saint’s inspirational anecdote or a historical turning point intended to elevate the reader’s life of the mind. 

I discovered recently on the Internet Hillman’s hyperlinked and searchable website of the 1869 classic, Robert Chambers’ “Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities in Connection with the Calendar, Including Anecdote, Biography, & History, Curiosities of Literature and Oddities of Human Life and Character”.

A Scottish gentleman whose inborn lameness prevented him from joining games, Robert swapped jam sandwiches for books. Later, he teamed up with his brother William to sell books for a living when poverty shut the doors to university and priesthood.

According to the, a habit of scrupulously accounting for his days boosted the Chambers’ bookstall. Robert woke up early to read; this way, he also reduced his use of candles. By reading aloud to a neighbor and his son as they baked, Robert added freshly baked bread to his paltry meals.

In the Chambers’ “Book of Days,” saints, royalty, and historical figures fill every leaf with ideas that met Robert’s criterion of “improving the fireside wisdom of the present day”. 

Since the pandemic began, the journals I keep each year harbor more ghosts than leaves of wisdom. These empty leaves are more redolent of the Irish singer Enya’s version of the “Book of Days”: “No day, no night, no moment,/ Can hold me back from trying./ I’ll flag, I’ll fall, I’ll falter,/ I’ll find my day may be/ Far and Away.”

With apologies to Robert Chambers, I’ll find my day.

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* First published in SunStar Cebu’s November 13, 2021 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, November 06, 2021


INTERESTING to follow are two foreigners who documented Visayans and the superstitions they believed at the turn of the century. Published in the July-September 1906 volume of “The Journal of American Folklore” is the paper written by W. H. Millington and Berton L. Maxfield on “Philippine (Visayan) Superstitions”.

Millington and Maxfield hold that the beneficent effects of the free public education introduced by the American colonizers were overpowered by the pre-colonial belief system; the “lizards, rats, and bats” that “swarm(ed)” and took over local households when the humans were away; and even the questionable actuations of neighbors that indoctrinated in Visayans “in general” the belief in “three kinds of spirits: the tamawos, dwendes, and asuangs”. 

More often than not, the people—whether believers or skeptics—are more interesting than the belief. Millington and Maxfield scoff at the “half-educated people” who share the superstitions of the “lower classes” in our islands; in turn, I am as fascinated by these two authors who, in their unquestioning faith in rationality, education, and class, were not as different as they thought from the people they studied as specimens.

The second to the last page of their paper mentions that on the evening of Nov. 2 or All Souls’ Day, the superstitious Visayans—at least, “most of the lowest class”—prepare a sumptuous supper and put this on the ground as offering to the souls of their departed.  

Would Millington and Maxfield (or their shades) be interested to know that the practice continues on Nov. 2 more than a century later?  Did they speculate how poor Visayans could afford to lay out a “rich supper” for the unseen when they themselves were starving? 

I prefer the version taught to my sister and I by Yaya, born on Nov. 2 or “Kalag-kalag”. 
In feasts, the living take precedence over the dead. This woman taught us to light candles at twilight outside our home so the light would guide the “kalag (soul)” wandering on Kalag-kalag.

I thought this intent was risky after imbibing in her injunction to always say aloud, “tabi (excuse me)” when walking outside in the dark to avoid intruding into the spirit space Millington and Maxfield diminished into an offshoot of poverty and ignorance, stratified into the cultured but acquisitive tamawo prone to luring children into their glass castles installed under earth mounds; the seditious dwende who crash into people’s gardens; and the “cama-cama” who dwell in wells and covertly pinch black and blue couples courting by moonlight.

When I voiced my doubts aloud, Yaya assured us that the light from candles and prayers draws the right spirits to us. Tabi, tabi, po.

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* First published in SunStar Cebu’s November 7, 2021 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”