Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sunday, December 13, 2009

12 graves

The place was deserted when the group arrived. But we can still see the telltale signs of the day before: The footprints on the fresh, sandy earth; the flowers, once fresh, beginning to wilt; the streamers soiled by the wind.
The sun burning furiously on my temple, I took the camera to frame the 12 newest graves. Twelve, I heard Richel say in a car on our way here, was the highest number of dead ever buried in the history of this cemetery. Behind the lens, a photojournalist once told me, one should detach oneself from the scene one was about to record; one should stop being herself and put ones self at the service of an image. So, as I crouched to frame the 12 graves, I was a bit puzzled by sounds. A sniffling or two coming at intervals and in increasing regularity, as each journalist crouched before each grave to offer a single flower, or light a candle. Until I put down the camera to take a candle to light, I never understood that sound.Until I, too, crouched on to the nearest grave, and caught sight of a name—just a name—and realized she was a woman. She must have been looking forward to do a story that day, aboard the convoy that left Buluan town in Maguindanao on its way to the capital town of Shariff Aguak; after an imam said a prayer at the house of the politician set to run for governor; after they took breakfast and went aboard the convoy, smiling--maybe, laughing--as they heard women in the clan saying, ‘women should be given more space in the leadership’ of that province because they can do many wonderful things simply because they were women. It suddenly crossed my mind that this woman journalist, whose name I happened to read, whose grave I happened to see, had left behind a son or two, a daughter or an eight month old baby, and may not have known what awaited them along the road to Shariff Aguak. She may not have known or believed there was this reigning culture of impunity in our midst, and that press freedom in this country was merely skin-deep. Did she secretly love covering that story? Was she thinking it was a big scoop?But there was no longer a story to cover that day. Over a hundred men armed with the most powerful weaponry under the command of a warlord clan who had powerful links with Malacanang, had killed the story right on the road to Shariff Aguak, in an isolated lot in Ampatuan town. They tried to kill the story by killing the representatives, lawyers and supporters of the political clan who wanted to challenge the ruling governor. They killed the journalists so that no one could write about it. They buried everything under the crunch of a backhoe, thinking that in burying the bodies, everything can easily be forgotten and everything will be business as usual in the province ruled by terror.
But the sheer monstrosity of what they did was a story that could not be contained; not by the perimeters of their power, not by the bounds of their territory. It was beyond words to describe; and because it was indescribable, it escaped language, itself. It escaped their hold and spread to the remotest corners of the world.
No one could probably know the extent of the horrors that those killed in the carnage suffered—not one among those journalists was able to file a story. But they continue to speak to us in many other ways; and the task of writing that story fell upon us, who remained.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I won't weep for the women

I won't weep for the women who died in the carnage in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao; I won't weep. I won't weep to satisfy their murderers, whose brutality and ruthlessness shock people around the world. I won't weep for the journalists who died, whose names have joined the growing lists of journalists killed in the Philippines. I won't weep for the culture of impunity and the reign of terror in my country.I won't weep for the government's reluctance to punish the perpetrators. I won't weep for the unholy alliance of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the political clan that puts her in power.
Sorry, I won't weep. I won't weep because the victims deserve more than what anyone's stupid tears can bring. They deserve justice and we, who remained--we who are here--, should see to it that it must be served. We shall never settle for less.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Few minutes before Madness

Just need to link this here before everything turns to chaos and my life will turn upside down.
Following the carnage in Maguindanao that killed at least 57 unarmed people (as of the press time the number continues to climb), members the international media group IFEX condemned the killing, describing it as a "crime of such scale and horror that is incomparable to anything we have seen."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Women's fiction in Asia

It’s sinful, I know. And besides, I already have a copy of Tony Nieva’s “Pasilyo 8” somewhere in my files at home, safely tucked in a folder with Leoncio Deriada’s “Road to Mawab” and the third name, I could not yet remember. Yes, they were the top three winners of the 1981 Asiaweek short story writing competition in that decade when Asiaweek still allot some of its pages to fiction. The magazine folded up two decades later, though; shortly after it reformatted itself as Asia’s business magazine.
I can’t remember now, if it was Ja who first told me about the Asiaweek fiction competition at the time when I was so crazy about fiction. (Until now, I still am, can’t you see?) But in 2000, while drifting inside the Silliman University library, I found the Asiaweek copy that featured these top three winners, and made sure to keep a copy.
Sorry. Actually, I could not remember exactly how I got that Asiaweek copy. Maybe, it was not a library copy after all. Maybe, it was only one of Ja’s old copies, remnants of his Asiaweek days for he could be that “sentimental.” He used to keep at home all those old Asiaweek issues where his stories appeared—but this was before he decided to live like Henry David Thoreau and cast away all his belongings (at our expense) and donated all his books and magazines to the Davao city library. But just to accompany me in my lonely journey to writing fiction, I decided to keep those three old Asiaweek winners among my files at home; and although I might find it hard to locate them now, without turning the whole place upside down, I have not forgotten yet that I still have them among my files.
So when I found a few copies of “Prizewinning Asian Fiction” (edited by Leon Comber) prominently displayed on the shelf of the National Bookstore—I almost went berserk. (Am I exaggerating?) The book features all the winning writers from 1981 to 1988. I felt I needed very badly to read the women!For among those fiercely vying for the top Asiaweek prize, were women (some identify themselves as housewives or someone from the academe, whose mastery over language and form had surprised Asiaweek editors. Of the 26 winners (some of them won twice in different years, of course), only nine were women, a small but nevertheless encouraging number considering how women have always been silenced from writing fiction close to a hundred years after Virginia Woolf wrote “A Room of Ones’ Own.” So, just to console myself because I don’t get to write fiction anymore (this semester will be gobbled up by my master’s project), I will treat myself to reading Niaz Zaman, Shirley Geok-Lin Lim, Evelyn D. Tan, Minfong Ho. Claralice Hanna, Fanny Haydee Bautista Llego, Ovidia Yu, Nina Sibal and Nalla Tan.

The Visit

Deep in the night, I dreamt of a woman sticking her brown elbow inside the front window of our apartment. She was trying to open the latch. When I turned to look, she called a strange name, a certain Mrs. B—(I could no longer remember)—so, I immediately called Ma, who in that dream was sleeping in my room as if she lived there. But looking back now, I thought the name that the woman was calling was a strange name, it couldn’t have been Ma’s. It could have been somebody who used to live in an apartment where we stayed, somebody who was a friend of the woman. But in the dream, when the woman called and saw me seeing her trying to open the latch, she said I needed not open the door, she only wanted us to know she was in distress; and she began telling me, half crying, that the landlady had kicked them out. She said something about the landlady suing her. She needed help, her four small children, around her, listening.I saw all of them outside the window she was trying to open. It was then that I suddenly realized it was Ja, not Ma, who was sleeping in the room. I decided not to wake Ja (who’d surely get mad for being interrupted in his sleep). I decided to talk to the woman, so, I began to open the door, drowsily reaching up to the latch, swaying in my half-sleep.
But then, as the door broke free, I was suddenly exposed to the bright white light outside and the woman was gone. It was then, that I realized the woman was an apparition; and suddenly everything turned into a nightmare. As usual, an unusual force whisked my body and sent it to the floor; I was unable to move. I tried to scream and when I managed to let my voice out, I awoke, feeling the crushing, tingling sensation that only a stupefying nightmare can bring.
I told Sean, once when I chanced upon him waking up that night, that I didn’t want to go back to sleep anymore for fear that the nightmare might come back. In the morning, he asked me what the dream was all about. Why it got me so scared. I told him about the woman. “It doesn’t sound so scary at all,” he said, in his own child wisdom. But I was totally shaken by the dream. The following night, I told Karl about it. He laughed when he saw me making the sign of the cross because he said I was supposed to be a pagan, [yes, i wanted to be a witch!] and there I was, making the sign of the cross. Why was I so easily scared by a simple dream? He asked. I said it’s because I could not understand its meaning. Until now, when I get to think of it, it still gives me the creeps. Who was that woman in distress? Why did she visit me in my sleep?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Light and Shadows

Now that the multimedia class is over; a class I had survived despite my most rudimentary piece of equipment, my slow and memory-challenged laptop, most of all; I needed to thank everyone who had made my work a success (despite its being a disaster.) At last, I decided to remove my disastrous video here, (it was not only because of poor planning that the images failed to match the story that unfolded, it was also shortage of time, lack of gumption, the vacillation of will. For, imagine making a long form documentary in a minute’s notice! While trying to master all those audio and video editing software I handled for the first time!) So, for the benefit of all of us, I decided to remove that piece of disaster to put in its place the only shot I liked in the entire video. It was a shadow cast by a worshipper on a wooden bench inside the small chapel in Mayo, a sitio about 30 minutes ride from Poblacion, Columbio.
For there was nothing I loved better than shooting shadows! This shadow was shot during what Ja always referred to as the “magic hour,” when the sun is already 45 to 30 degrees to the horizon, its yellowish tint saturate the colors on earth, sending even the most ordinary thing aglow, making everything looks so special.
Earlier, we had left the perfectly-decent, concrete church in Columbio. When we arrived, the small wooden chapel on the hill was awash with sunlight. The view of the surrounding hills and mountains was magical from the inside, framed by the chapel door; but something had prevented me from aiming the camera and pressing the shutter. Fr. Peter Geremia, PIME, was saying mass and I was worried that if I aimed my camera at the door, I would meet the rebuke of the faithful—! So, there! That was how I missed that magical door shot as I, instead, aimed my camera on the floor to record the shadows.

Monday, October 19, 2009

At home in Columbio

Over twenty four years after the killing of Italian priest Fr. Tulio Favali in a remote town of Tulunan in Cotabato, Southern Philippines, the Italian-born priest who was the target of his killers find a home in the Moro-influenced town of Columbio, Sultan Kudarat. Fr. Peter Geremia, the survivor, talks about the place he loves.



A Look Back

The anti-Moro and anti-Communist fanatic group Ilaga (rat) were on a killing rampage that day of April 11, 1985, looking for Fr. Peter Geremia when they found the Italian priest Fr. Tulio Favali responding to a distress call from a Tulunan church leader.
They burnt his motorcycle and when he came out of the church leader's house to ask why, one of the Manero Brothers, the leader of the fanatic group, asked, "Do you want your head blown off?" and shot him.
Afterwards, the elder brother, Norberto Manero alias Kumander Bucay, told the triggerman, "Is that all you do when you kill a priest?"
So, the killer poured all the bullets on to Fr. Favali's body and then, stepped on the body afterwards.
Following the People Power revolution in 1986 that ousted the dictatorship of former President Marcos, Favali's killers served their terms in jail.
But in 2007, Norberto Manero was released on Presidential pardon. He immediately went to the Kidapawan diocese to seek forgiveness from the man he wanted to kill 20 years back and lit candles on the grave of his victim. This site also tells a story about the killer's repentance, although much of his story here does not jibe with the survivors' and witnesses' accounts of what really happened on that ignominious day.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Durian time in Davao

Cheap durian has been flooding Davao streets for days. At every turn of the corner, people feast on the sweet, rich-textured fruit as prices plunged down to a dirt-cheap level of P20 to P30 a kilo. Prices used to hover at P80 to P100 a kilo before fresh harvests started coming from the farms about three weeks ago.
“We’re hardly getting any sleep,” says Susan Malayaw, a durian seller in a family rented block of stalls which opens 24 hours on a Rizal street corner. “Customers flock to our stores happy since prices are down, but we’re not earning anything much.”
“We’re earning better when the fruit was scarce,” said Judith VillaAbrille, at the next stall. “Few customers used to come but at least, the price was much higher.”
Even the City Agriculture Office admits to an oversupply. “We wish some people will invest in a big processing plant to absorb the glut in the market,” says Rocelio Tabay, city agriculturist. “It will stabilize prices.”
But whether prices are high or low, customers keep coming. “More people drop by at night, than during daytime,” Malayaw says. “Most people who buy in big boxes are travelers on their way out of Davao or people who spent the whole night in bars and restaurants.”
She expects the deluge of supply to last till November. “When we get tired, we just look for a place to lie down around here to get some sleep.”
In different parts of the city, men are emptying truckload of durians, hurling them onto waiting baskets.
Just a piece of advice to those who can’t stand the smell, though: You might have trouble getting anywhere. The entire city practically reeks of durian.
DURIAN BOY (left) quits school hoping he can save enough money working at a durian factory. A man (above) shows off his display.
SLEEPLESS. Durian seller Susan Malayaw (left) hardly gets enough sleep selling durian for 24 hours in a streetcorner in Davao. She says more people come at night than at daytime.

Durian time in Davao

THE HEAVIER, THE MERRIER. A man (below) weighing durian in a scale while a boy (left) sells durian at Magsaysay Park.Listen to podcast

Durian Time in Davao

Dirt cheap durian floods Davao city streets because of over supply. video

Friday, September 11, 2009

Student says no country could develop under US control

Karlos Manlupig, spokesperson of the League of Filipino Students in Davao. video

Student activists burn US flag in Davao

Chanting, "US imperialist, the number one terrorist," student activists burn the US flag in front of the Ateneo de Davao University campus to protest the continued presence of US troops in Mindanao. Students demand for the scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which allowed US troops in the Philippines to conduct combat war exercises with Filipino soldiers. Led by the militant League of Filipino Students, they expressed outrage over President Arroyo's "frontline" stance in the US war on terror, in exchange for military aid from the United States.
video

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Life at "Onse"

My favorite place assignment for Dave Clark's multimedia class. video

Monday, August 10, 2009

Yellow’s passing

When I caught a glimpse of Cory Aquino from my bus window during the snap election campaign somewhere in Kidapawan many years ago, I was still 16 on my way home from school after dropping by at the Kidapawan diocese where they showed some pictures. Now, as I heard about her leaving, I became aware that my little boy is 16, and I looked back to those tumultuous years, wondering how I first became aware of something about to burst, of something about to explode violently like a dam.

It was my heart. Silenced and deprived of “fact” all through the Martial Law years, I felt a creeping sense of disgust at the pictures I saw at the Kidapawan diocese that day. They showed dead bodies on the road; and one of those I did not recognize was the Italian priest Fr. Tulio Favali. Those pictures had the color of blood. But it was only much, much later, when I’d begin to associate the way that I felt with the right colors. Right at that moment, I thought the color was yellow.

So, when I heard the crowd chanting “Cory” that day, waving the Laban sign as the convoy of yellow and green passed by, I could feel my heart lurch. Laban was (and still is) the Tagalog word for ‘fight.’ I could hear the pulse of other passengers as we watched the passing convoy in silence.

Now they tied yellow ribbons in front of hotel facades to mark her passing. As the jeepney I took rolled by, I became aware of the yellow bells and the yellow marigolds outside the SSS building along JP Laurel street; of some rickety yellow car overtaking us; of the bright yellow scarf that the teenage girl seated across from me wore. Even the gibbous moon up in the sky was yellow. But in yellow, I feel an acute sense of absence; an acute sense of something missing.

Now, it’s all up to me to find out what it is!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Media's ideological bias

Our Media Law professor Mukund said this was not what he saw when he observed the press in the Philippines. Submitted as a paper in the Media Law class we took with the rest of the ACFJ fellows batch 2008 in the first semester of SY 2008-2009:

If media culture in the Philippines is plagued with ideological bias, it is not yet the “liberal left” bias that Marlin Maddoux talked about in the book chapter,” Free Press or Propaganda? How the Media Distort the Truth,” but more on what Noam Chomsky said about the corporate media’s hunger for profit that media oftentimes become an unwitting tool of those in power to “manufacture” the consent of the public.
In fact, one only has to watch five minutes of prime time TV in the Philippines and see how one gets bombarded by the conventional, subtly masochistic and sadly (some remnants of) colonial worldview.
The media oftentimes take the standpoint of powerful institutions (corporate, government and otherwise) and wittingly or unwittingly package this as unquestioned Truths.
That’s why, I consider it a good thing when liberal-left ideas, such as the concept of press freedom and media independence, creep into the consciousness of the mainstream press.
I say “creep in” because these liberal-left ideas have never been so “esconced” in the mainstream press despite the Philippines’ long tradition of press freedom.
The country’s tradition of press freedom that dated back to its struggle against its former colonizers over a century ago, only asserts and reasserts itself, depending on the political situation in the country.
For a long time, it has been considered a “given,” that the Philippine media is considered the “freest in Asia.” And yet, it has not been able to use this press freedom (coupled by advances in technology) to keep its citizens well-informed.
Most often, the media in the Philippines have become spokespersons and mouthpiece of those in power.
In between the country’s past, when it was not under the grip of a political turmoil that marked the time of the dictatorship of former President Marcos and now during the time of President Arroyo, the media as an institution was in a lull, driven by the ideology of market forces.
For instance, the left liberal idea of press freedom was very strong during the struggle against the dictatorship of Marcos in the 1970s and the 1980s, but rather weak during the market-oriented policies espoused by former President Ramos.
During the time of Ramos, the media (except for the few alternative presses) had carried the government’s standpoint hook, line and sinker on such policies as deregulation, privatization and the country’s supposed role and participation in the global free trade era.
There have never been in-depth reports coming from the mainstream media during the time of Ramos that challenged this government line. Except for those coming from few alternative presses, of course, most of the reports never questioned policies on deregulation, the privatization and even the country’s prospects in the liberalized trade era under the World Trade Organization (WTO).
It was a pity that the media at this time only mouthed what the government was saying. Yet, the impact of what was never discussed before is now staring us in the face.
For instance, the government’s classical WTO line during the time of Ramos was, the Philippines should only produce goods that the country has a ‘comparative advantage,” compared to other countries.
Both the country’s top industry players and government trade officials were saying that the country should only produce goods which local producers can produce fast and cheap and in better quality than those in other countries so that they can compete in the world market.
In other words, they were saying that the country should not bother producing goods which take much longer time--and more costly--to produce.
The Philippines would rather import those goods from other countries, which can produce them cheaper.
The country’s rice problem had sprung from this policy, which the media failed to check at the earliest stage of its inception.
Because of this policy of importing “cheap” rice, the government neglected its own agriculture. The country has become so dependent on other countries for the supply of this critical staple food, increasing the country’s vulnerability to price fluctuation in the world market and in the end, threatening the country’s food security.
This is an example how media’s bias for the powerful policy makers, trade and industry players has undermined its prime and important obligation of informing the public.
The Bill of Rights, Section 7 of the Philippine Constitution provides for the public’s right to know, by recognizing the “right of the people to information on matters of public concern.”
However, this provision in the Constitution is oftentimes set aside and forgotten in the day to day operations of the media. It’s only very rarely that citizens invoke this Constitutional provision to assert their right.
Government has also come up with policies and statutes that seek to block transparency of public records; like the Executive Order 464 that bar Cabinet and other government officials from testifying in Congress without the President’s consent.
Invoking national security issues, the government also came up with the Human Security Act, which also restricts media’s role in informing the public. Under this law, the media interviewing terrorist suspects can also be held liable and guilty of “acts of terrorism.”
At present, the Freedom for Information Act, which will require government offices to make available public documents in a matter of days, is still pending in Congress.
But the rise of institutions in the country fighting for press freedom, media independence and ethical practice, has ensured that the media become conscious of its role not only as watchdog, but also as an institution that can give voice to the voiceless in society.
Slowly, it has dawned upon most of the media practitioners to uphold their independence and police their ranks for abuses, rather than relegate this duty to some interest groups and powers-that-be who might subject the media to their own agenda.
In the Philippines, however, what has been denied from the people by the elitist Philippine media always finds expressions in political cartoons, which is the easiest and most accessible reading fare among the masses.
For instance, more people savor the biting humor of “Pugad Baboy” which expresses wry commentary about the political situation in the country in the most humorous way.
I don’t think that these political cartoons are “less biting” than those in other countries. They reflect Filipino humor and the country’s political situation that the masses can easily identify.
Despite of and amidst of the killing of journalists in the country, I can say that the political cartoons—dating from the time of Marcos to the Hello Garci tapes under Arroyo and onwards--are biting critiques of today’s Philippine society.
But it’s a different story altogether for television sitcoms.
In the Philippines, it’s very rare for television sitcoms to push the liberal left agenda. In fact, television sitcoms are still tainted with conventional, machosist bias and conservative standpoint.
The dominant network culture, as Noam Chomsky said, is market driven and is influenced by both corporate advertisers and top policy makers in government.
Despite its relative political freedom, though, the media in the Philippines do not, as a general rule, make outright fun of religious conservatives. As a rule, majority of media practitioners grew up and are still part of the predominant Catholic culture, hence, the subconscious reluctance to displease someone with so-called religious authority.
In fact, the marrying of corporate interest with that of the predominant conservative culture have their expression during Christmas season, when everything from soap operas to variety shows and public affairs programs tend to encourage buying spree for supposedly “gift giving” among the public, even amidst the increasing poverty and declining purchasing power of the Filipinos.
In this example, I understand what Maddoux was saying about the media using “repetition,” “selective reporting” and the “conscious dispensing with perspective” to promote the ideology of the market.

At a loss for words

To someone who inspired me enough to write this poem sequence--a set of poems that explore a single complication, like what's usually done in a novel, but this time, applied to poetry--as our untiring teacher-poet Allan Popa made us see; he who opened my eyes to paradox and ambiguity as we sat in the faculty conference room of the Filipino department on the third floor of ADMU's Horacio dela Costa building while outside the window, the leaves and gnarled branches of acacia filter the heat of summer. To my roommate Pratish, a natural poet who can recognize poetry by the sound of it even if it is in a foreign tongue she doesn't understand, to the people close and not so close to me who allow me to "see," to friends who have been tolerant of my long absences, disappearances and resurfacing, to the young writers of Matanglawin who sat in that class through thick and thin, while I - always at a loss for words in that "other" language they call Filipino but which is actually Tagalog - grappled with images and never let go.



SIMBAHANG BATO
(a poem sequence)


Gising

Inang nakaratay sa loob ng silid,
ama at tanong ng mga kapatid,
iniligpit sa isip
habang ika’y sumahimpapawid

Dito sa kabilang daigdig

Hinahanap mo si Kristo sa kasukalan ng Tondo
nang abutan ka ng Martial Law
at pilit iniligpit sa loob ng silid. Sa dilim ng curfew
naaaninaw mo ang mga anino
ng maraming inang gising na gising
sa iyong pagdating.

“Blood of Martyrs”

Matagal nang patay ang mga santo
ngunit ganoon pa rin kung patiwarik na ibitin
ang isang taong ayaw umamin

Isang timba ng tubig, naghihintay sa ibaba
naghihintay sa nahihintakutang mukha
doon ilulublob pansamantala
upang ilang saglit na mag-agaw-hininga.

Ngunit bago tuluyang lagutan ng hangin
hahayaang huminga sa pagkakabitin
hahayaang humingal ng iilang saglit
bago muling ilublob nang paulit-ulit
pabalikbalik ang halik sa tubig

hanggang wala nang maikumpisal—kundi tubig.

May Likha

Nakatagpo mo Siya sa pagitan
ng mga tula ng pagdurusa.

Nakatagpo mo Siya sa
pagitan
ng mga tula ng
pagdurusa.

Nakatagpo mo Siya
sa pagitan ng mga tula
ng pagdurusa.

Simbahang Bato

Sa loob ng simbahang bato
nakahilera ang mga santo
Naninigas sa pagkakaupo
ang nagmamanman sa may pinto
habang inuusal mo
ang banal na panalangin

Ayaw na yatang magising
ng pulubing nahihimbing

Damang dama mo ang mga mata
sa mga dinding na semento
Papaluhod na lumalakad
sa altar na ginto
ang kay raming may bagabag sa puso.

Pinagmasdan mo ang dugo
sa mga paang nakapako

unti-unting natutuyo.

Tinatawag

Kay rami nang patay sa liblib
na sitio ng New Panay
Patuloy silang tumatawag ng tulong,
kumakatok sa simbahan, nagtatanong.

Nasaan ang Diyos? Takot din ba siya
sa Cafgu? At di mo alam ang isasagot

Sa pinid na pinto at mga bintana
binubuklat mo ang aklat
pilit inunawa ang bawat salita
pilit inunawa kung bakit
ang Diyos ay biglang nawawala.

OB List

Mula nang mapabalita na kasama
ang iyong pangalan sa humahabang listahan

mga pangalang isa-isang buburahin
sa listahan hindi ka na mapalagay

Paano maninimbang sa pagitan
ng kanan at kaliwa ang aklat
ng magandang Balita?

Alagad

Balitang-balita ko pa
kung paano mo pinatakbo
ang luma mong Isuzu
sa gitna ng daang pa-Cotabato
nang mapansin ang mga motorsiklong
sumusunod sa iyo.

Ba’t mo pa kasi sinundan si Kristo
sa bako-bakong landas ng Columbio
upang dalawin ang mga musmos
sa mga dampang naghihikahos
sa mga bundok na pinupuyos ng takot at poot?

Kung naghintay ka lang
sa loob ng kumbento
upang pagpira-pirasuhin ang tinapay tuwing Linggo—

Di na sana sumabog ang matigas mong ulo.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Making Sense

Every morning, I yank myself out of bed trying to make sense of my crazy life in a room inside the dormitory near the juncture where Esteban Abada meets Katipunan in barangay Loyola Heights in Quezon city. Oftentimes, Pratish, my roommate from Nepal, would still be asleep as I grope my way to the bathroom to glance at my groggy face in the mirror. There, I could make out above the din of the tricycles the voice of the man calling out “atini yeow” “atini yeow!”
He was the dark man in a white shirt, calling out to students lining for a ride at the tricycle terminal outside the MiniStop. He was the man with the belly, Pratish pointed out. Pratish said he was so cute she wanted to bring him to Nepal as a souvenir.
It used to be so hot when we arrived here mid-April; so hot that we could actually feel the entire Metro Manila simmer, but then, the rain (and the floods) started to come leaving some remnants of mud in the otherwise clean brick pavement of the Ateneo.
Some time in between, typhoon Emong came and went out of Luzon while we were deep into a trance (in Fr. Bulatao’s hypnosis class) or we were having an agitated discussion of the phenomenon of the digital age with Cheryl, our professor in the new media culture. Or, was I inside the Filipino department faculty office on the third floor of Costa Hall building, where the poet Allan Popa (who reminds me of Nico) patiently opened our soul to the art of poetry?
Just the other night, Bryant asked me why I kept staying too long in the library. I didn’t tell him that the library, named after the Ateneo famous alumnus Jose Rizal, is one big Borgesian labyrinth. I didn’t tell Bry I discovered Apocrypha in one of the shelves and I got lost among the lives of saints--full of torture, gore and violence. Or, that I chanced upon this crumbly English translation of St. Augustine’s "Confessions," which I would have loved except for the outrageous things that St. Augustine said about women. I only told Wawan that when I made my way to the third floor of the general circulation section, I saw the new copy of J. Thomas Moore’s “Spinoza’s Ethics” so that I had to spend the next 30-minutes or so reading about the philosopher that had obsessed the leading Jewish character of Bernard Malamud’s “The Fixer.”
Wawan knew that Spinoza was a Portuguese whose Jewish parents escaped Spanish Inquisition in their country to live in exile to The Netherlands, where the Jews who escaped persecution ostracized Spinoza because of his wild ideas about God and religion. So, when Bryant asked why I’d been spending most of my time in the library, I told him I’d been researching for a difficult assignment on the “knowledge economy.” I didn’t tell him I found Fr. Albert Alejo’s “Sanayan lang ang Pagpatay” next to such titles as “Ang sarap Mabuhay” while looking for Lamberto Antonio’s “Hagkis ng Talahib.”
Inside the room I share with Pratish, I always look up at the big jalousie windows just above our bathroom mirror to see a row of windows in the upstairs room of the next house. It’s here where I see the first rays of sunlight but in the mornings of the M-W-Fs, there usually is no time left to think as we rush to the SS building (pronounce that as Soc Sci so that the tricycle driver would know where to drop you); we’d be huffing and puffing as we take the twisted stairway up to the third floor of the Department of Communication building for our “new media culture” class at the studio! Then, after the in-depth discussions on the digital age, we’d be so hungry for lunch at the cafeteria--just turn left past the Faura hall (the Rizal library to your right), where Yuri would eat bowlful of pancit Malabon (no pork please!) and fried chicken. Pratish would be looking for vegetables, as usual, and I’d be craving for eggs while Bryant would be talking about the competing freedoms—of the citizens and the state on the issue of freedom of expression and the so-called "national security." (I told him he talked like Luis Teodoro now and he nodded.) But then, as everybody finished her meal and was about to start another round of discussion, I’d leave for the building across the Rizal Library, where the white streamer marked “mula piedras platas hanggang payatas” in red hung near the wall entrance.
Later in the afternoon, Fr. Bulatao with his trademark stick he nicknamed as “tongkat ali” would walk inside the Psychology Lab on the ground floor of the SS Building; and will put the whole class in a trance. Bryant and me will struggle to get our spirits out of our body while Pratish would wonder what the hell is going on…

Monday, February 02, 2009

Creative Writing

I don't know whether to feel offended or flattered (huh?!) when another Filipino journalist abroad told me last month, "Bay," he said, addressing me. "I think you're more suited to this job I'm doing here. This is creative writing, not journalism. There's no such thing as freedom of the press here."
I blushed and for a moment, felt a sudden surge of pity, shame, humiliation, pain. But then, I quickly recovered, thinking of the suffering of those who have left us and those who are left behind.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Life with Ja

“Tell me, Ja, do you know how to pray?” I asked Ja this afternoon while I was taking a break from writing.
“Why?!” he asked.
I shrugged. Then, I said, “Last night, I was in panic. I had to edit five chapters in one sitting and I had to finish a three-part story about rice and the global financial crisis. You were all asleep but even if you were awake, I was thinking no one could ever help me now. I was really in big trouble and I needed some help! I was on the verge of madness. I was afraid I might snap. I wanted to pray but I don’t know how to. Now, I realize, it pays to learn how to pray.” I paused. “So, I’m asking you now, Ja,” I said, looking up at him, “Do you know how to pray?”
For a moment, Ja looked at me, stunned. He just came home from a trip downtown and he still had that handkerchief wrapped around his shaven head and there was something in the way he peered down at me through his thick glasses.
“Yes, I know what you’ll do!” Ja said, suddenly excited. “I know you! I can imagine you praying to Buda!” He pronounced it as Buda, as in Bukidnon-Davao. “Yes, Buda! And all sorts of Gods! Of all shapes and sizes! Including Mickey Mouse!”
“Ja!” I said.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Letter from Jegenstorf

I just received a letter from Monika, together with some pictures. She said she took those pictures on the first day of the year! Her letter is for all her friends in Mindanao working for change. "It was a wonderful morning," Monika wrote, "With sunshine glimmering on a brand new snow cover! All the dirt, the evil, was covered under the bright new snow and peace was over the land! I made a walk through the woods and I was the first human being, stepping on this New Year morning through the snow. How much I would have taken you with me to admire this nature phenomenon.The first four pictures were made out from my kitchen. The next three pictures I took in the woods and the last two pictures were taken in the Wallis, up on the mountains on 1600 meters.
Lets hope that this absolutely clean nature on the first day of the year, will be a symbol of more justice and peace in this world!"
Yes, Monika.

Getting over God

I still meet Pratish on cyberspace. She told me something and asked me if I was shocked. “No,” I said. “I also fall in love—with God. Are you shocked?!”
It was my turn to ask.
“No,” she said. “But how does it feel?!”
“I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can’t think, I can’t work, I can’t write, I can’t do anything but stare in space.”
I don’t know why she called me Emily Dickinson. She wouldn’t explain why. I just feel this lump in my throat every time I think of God. It was a curse that I saw him one morning in December, so thin and fragile as he climbed down his Isuzu Elf, I wanted to protect him. I was even surprised by my feelings.
If I hadn’t seen God in that state, maybe, I wouldn’t care if I’ve seen a big mouse on my way home the other day, being doused by a hose of water in Karwasan ni Jullan (open 24 hours on corner Nova Tierra and Lanang highway) by teenagers who have never seen a mouse that big before.
The mouse was as big as a cat, something that a mouse should not be, because it could challenge a cat and win. People do not like that. That’s why the mouse easily attracted the kids’ attention. I was so mad at those teenagers because the mouse looked so innocent and so fragile, shivering and wet at 10 pm in the evening.
The tricycle driver noticed I was already growling in my seat but I did not have the courage to stand up to confront those youngsters about the mouse.
Maybe, they’d laugh at me. Maybe, they’d open the tank of a motorcycle and burn it and when I’d ask them why, they’d train their gun at me and fire at me and blow my head off and then, after I’ve fallen on the pavement, the leader would ask, “Is that all you do when you kill a Woman?” and so, they’ll step over my body, empty all their bullets onto me and scatter my brain on the pavement.
So, I tried to turn my back to those youths so that I could not see what they were doing to the mouse. A boy lifted a very big stone to crush it.
But then, I realized how could I just close my eyes if I see somebody doing that to an innocent mouse?
I don’t know why, but the mouse reminded me of God. I just read an account how a suspected gunman had once aimed his pistol at God while God was driving his Elf in the outskirts of Sultan Kudarat. It was just lucky that the gunman missed.
God has been receiving plenty of death threats, I was wondering what God could be doing at that hour in the evening, at that exact moment that I’ve seen the mouse; whether he was still up, reading his copy of Newsweek magazine or if he has lain down to bed, exhausted after a long day.
Does anyone ever talk to God before he sleeps? I wonder what kind of bed God sleeps on. Does he prefer a soft bed that would bounce back when he drops his weight—or something hard and unyielding, like wood, perhaps?!
But then, in my accursed state, I don’t have any way of knowing anything about God. I live in another world. Without God.