Friday, February 23, 2007

What shall I tell this little boy?

(Today, February 23, 2007, is International Day of Action against Impunity. As we count the dead among us, we urge fellow journalists to wear black over the failure of government to solve the extra-judicial killings of journalists in the country, which has become more blatant by the day---a text message I got from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines-Davao chapter, which sent me rummaging into an old clothes bin, in search of a black T-shirt. )
I found myself talking to this little boy very recently. He was 13 years old and our topic was another boy who was about his age last year and whom he never met: my son. In a manner that was quite surprising, he was sharing with me some of his 13-year-old wisdom, giving out secrets how every mother should treat a son and how to keep little boys like him from telling a lie. “You should always keep your cool,” he said. “No matter how angry you are. If he senses that you’re mad, that will probably scare him and then, he’ll begin to tell a lie.”
“But what really prompts young people to tell a lie?” I asked.
“Fear,” he said. “Nobody in his right mind would ever want to tell a lie. Except when he’s afraid.”
My conversation with him would have been just another normal conversation with another 13-year-old child, except that we were in a room full of people, talking about how his mother and father were killed by unidentified assailants on their way home from work in Kidapawan city last year. A copy of the forensic report had been passed around to me to the little boy and I felt like snatching that document away from him. If the diagram of the bodies, showing bullet holes, had been too disturbing for a grown up like me, who has never known his parents when they were alive, how much more for this little boy? But the boy calmly held up the paper before his eyes, carefully touching the little dots with his fingers, counting them over and over, playfully maybe, but with calm solemnity he alone can muster. Those dots represented bullet holes on his mother's body. Then, a copy of a newspaper article was passed around showing a picture of his mother and father during happier times when they were still alive. “Do you miss them?” I asked, reluctantly because I didn’t want to touch the little boy, where he must still be hurting.
“Wala man (Not at all),” he said quickly, shrugging his shoulders. His reply reassured me for a while. Amazing! I said to myself as I looked at him again, seeing no trace of sadness, no resentment on his face as we listened to someone talked about how the couple were slain in broad daylight, in one of the city’s most populous areas, even in front of the house of a government official and everybody was saying nobody saw anything. Where were the people then?
Then, I heard the little boy speak to me again in the same jovial tone I’ve been very familiar with another 13 year old at home, only that for the first time, I heard in his voice that tinge of disappointment that up to that time, he had been trying so hard to conceal. “Why?” he asked. “How come nobody comes out? Was there really no one there? Not one? Siaro? Nganong wa juy mosulti? (How come nobody speaks up)?
Today, I feel the urgency of the little boy’s questions. The world has a lot of explaining to do to him because his parents’ death has ceased to be just his parents’ death. It has assumed another meaning to us who are living; and to every little boy growing up in these turbulent times, where you can easily get killed just for being “different.” What shall I tell this little boy? Shall I tell him that his pain is not my pain? Shall I tell him that he’s alone? Shall I tell him that I’m not his mother, so, I can’t feel what he’s going through? Shall I tell him to keep quiet? Shall I tell him to just follow what everyone else is doing because being himself might be a big risk? Shall I tell him not to speak his mind? Shall I tell him it’s all right for someone to keep quiet just to stay alive? What shall I tell my little boy at home? What shall I tell every little boy and girl that I meet in the street? What shall I tell every little girl and boy in school? What am I telling them in my silence? Shall I-who call myself a journalist, a mother--disappoint them by refusing to speak up when my freedom is under attack, by setting aside and refusing to answer their very pressing, very important questions???

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Under Siege!

When I unexpectedly bumped into another long lost friend over the weekend, I noticed that she was bringing along a copy of Andrew Marshall's Time magazine essay, "A Philippine Shame."
"Why on earth are you bringing that?" I asked Ruby Padilla for having missed her all these years, I was in a very jovial mood and was prepared to tease her about anything. But Ruby's answer shocked me.
"Because he was writing about me." I was puzzled because I had read the article earlier but did not see her name on it, so, I looked again and realized that the reason I did not recognize her was because she was using her husband's family name.
"Ruby Sison is waiting for someone to kill her," Marshall wrote in opening his essay. He met Ruby at a Kidapawan cemetery while paying their respects to slain journalist couple George and Maricel Vigo. George and Maricel were killed on their way home in June last year by unidentified assassins, one of the increasing number of journalist killings in the country that until now remain unsolved. For someone who had known Ruby back in our much happier, younger days in Kabacan, the simplicity of the statement struck me like a lightning bolt. The journalism profession is indeed, under attack and any self-respecting journalist could not afford to just sit around while state forces continue their assault on press freedom and freedom of expression, which is supposed to be the hallmark of a working democracy, the basic element in every journalist's quest for truth.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Dead Woman Walking

Seven years ago, Ian Fermin Casocot wrote in very plain, simple words what took me years to figure out and too much beating around the bush to put on paper: “Only a dead woman is a happy woman,” he began his essay on women in Contemporary Drama, which made up our final exams in Prof. Philip Van Peele’s graduate class at Silliman University. “Everything in this world works to make woman very unhappy."
Then, he proceeded to name the women characters---all tragic and sad---in Contemporary Drama by numerous playwrights from Ibsen down to Brecht and others to illustrate his point. It’s only now, seven years later, that looking through myself as the closest flesh and blood woman I happen to know, I felt the full impact of Ian’s words. “Why hadn’t I written that?” I had said the first time I heard it read in class seven years ago. “Why hadn’t I seriously thought of that?” I am thinking now, as I---standing in a doorway after slicing tomatoes, grimly realized the truth I am forced to swallow. I wish I could take a glance at that piece of paper again where he had written that essay but I have taken a close look at my life and finally gotten its message: Only a dead woman is a happy woman. A woman who seeks her own happiness will not likely attain it in this life so that a woman who truly and seriously wants to find her happiness has to take solace in Death as her only means to attain it. How true!

Sweet Valentine

Friday, February 16, 2007

Bloody Workshop

Shortly after the New Year, I bumped into a long lost fellow John Bengan at the SM lobby when the mall was about to close and I was already rushing on my way to the door. I heard someone called out my name and when I saw (with delight!) it was John, my first question was, "Did you go to Ava's wedding?"
He shook his head and threw me one of those morose looks that only John can do. "I was alone, I was looking for you," he said. "But I told her I can't come."
I told John that I did not make it. That it was impossible for me to make it. "I wasn't able to tell her," I said, my shoulders slumped. "I was looking for you, too," I blurted out guiltily because I knew that if I really wanted to look for John, I could just have taken a ride to Mintal and ask for him inside the UP Mindanao campus where he is teaching; and knowing too, that if John really wanted to look for me, he could just have gone out of his campus to look for me downtown, where I'd surely be roaming the dirty streets of Davao, scavenging for news.
Back in the summer of 2003, John and I were fellows to the Iligan national writers' workshop, where we met Ava and three others from Luzon and six others from the Visayas and Mindanao. One has to go through a writers' workshop before one can understand how the bond among the fellows develops, but until now, I continued to be amazed by how easily we took to each other after the bloody whipping each of us got from all the writer panelists in that workshop. Of course, we had a hell of an adventure in some waterfall in the outskirts of Iligan but we also enjoyed exploring each other's mind inside our room, we didn't feel it necessary to go out and have a drink.
I could not forget how Ava and I had taken that elevator up to the third? fourth?? floor of Iligan city's Elenita Inn on our last night there. Our works were the last one to be read by the panel (which included the lovable but highly critical Chari Lucero and the equally critical Leoncio Deriada), who were about to make their judgment on our stories.
Inside the elevator I told Ava the sickening feeling we both feel at that moment was the same one you get when you're about to give birth to your second child. You already know how intense the labor and suffering that awaits you for the night, you wish you could run away and get out of there, but how can you get that child out of your body? Then, I heard Ava's thoughts echoing my own. "Why am I made to suffer for attempting to write fiction?" But we went through the ordeals of that passage rite and in my case, did not regret it a little bit.

Holy Smoke!


Lost and Found

She said she had lost her poems. They were written a long, long, long, long time ago. But recently, she found them on the internet, this one posted by bisayanarsing:

Ginamos ug ang Kinabuhing Daplig-Dagat

ni Che Fiel

Wa tay mahimo.
Si Nanay nanangpit
Igawas ang garapon
Kay panahon na nga makuhaan
Ang mga bolinaw
Nga usa ka bulan ng giasinan.
Way kuha,
Matud pa ni Tatay
Kay ang mga isda ga iyahay
Sa lapa lapa sa lawud gataguanay.
Nangaon mi tanan
Sa ilalom sa bulan
Pagkahuman nanggawas ang mga silingan -
Ang mga inahan,
Gatapok-tapok sa may pantawan.
Ang mga amahan,
Gatinagayay ug tuba sa may lapyahan
Samtang ang mga bata,
Gapatintero sa basa.

Ug si Nung Tusoy gasugod nag balak
Dinuyugan sa gitara ni Undo nga iyang anak
Samtang ang bulan
Galili sa mga manag-uyab
Nga naggitik-gitik ug gaginukuray
Sa ilalom sa baga nga mga dahon sa Talisay.
Kay ugma kinahanglan na sad maghubang
Para ang pukot unya maandam
Kay sa Kadlawon nga musunod
Ihatud na sad sa mga inahan
Ang tingkarol
Samtang palawig ang mga amahan
Sa mga lawud nga wa pa naadtuan.
Ingon ini akong mahinumduman
Sa dapit nga among giput-an
Bisan ginamos among sud-an.

(Si Che usa ka babayeng balaknon. Sa una pirteng latagaw apan karun nahiuli na gyud. Ang iyang binisaya gidalit niya sa iyang kagikan nga anaa nanimuyo karun sa usa ka baryo sa likod sa kinatas-ang bungtod sa Zamboanga Peninsula, ginganlan ug Lumad. Gidalit pud niya ang iyang mga balak sa mga nagkadaiyang pwersa nga karun, sa iyang dughan ug alimpatakan, gasanggka ug gadula.)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Friday, February 02, 2007