Friday, December 29, 2017

Nights at Edsa

Chrismas shift at the newsroom

This was the second Christmas I spent inside the newsroom. Many things were happening in the regions, so, we could hardly look up from our desk to consider what day it was.  Three days before, Vinta made landfall on Cateel, Davao Oriental; and had badly hit the provinces of Zamboanga del Norte, Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte, and we had to keep track as the stories--and the numbers--kept coming.  It was not until I was about to go out hours before Christmas Eve that I noticed the many gifts  gathering at the bottom of the staircase and remember what they meant. I said goodbye to the guards and the last few people left behind.  Everybody was asking where I was going and what I would be doing during the next happy hours! I went out as fast as I could, my heart beating fast. How I loved to be alone with my thoughts and my readings at the strike of Christmashour!  Merry Christmas belated!

Thursday, December 28, 2017


They had this beautiful church in my Pa's hometown.  When I first saw the image, months after he passed away, I regretted that I could no longer show it to him to ask how it was to run or walk around its grounds as a boy? And if he ever was allowed to climb up to its belfry and when he was there, what did he see? Did he see the entire Mambusao, did he see his mother looking everywhere for him? Did he see a girl? Did he see an angel? 
Then, I regretted, too, that I abandoned my desire to visit his hometown. I was always broke during those times, I worked too hard--even on Sundays and holidays--and earned too little that the only way for us to push through with the trip was for Pa to shoulder the expenses.  I was not aware that he could afford it but I took pity of him (for having a penniless daughter like me) when I thought about the idea. Besides, his temper was the worst during those times; he insulted me for the flimsiest things he caught me doing, such as, talking to my cats!  Smarting from all the insults I got from him, I retreated to the deepest corner of myself, licking my wounds. Inside my room, reading a book,  I heard him badgering Ma, "What was she saying? She wanted us to go to Mambusao? Why? Shall we go?"
But I never pursued the topic anymore.  With pursed lips, I stopped talking.
Months after he was gone, while editing stories from the regions, I came upon the old church named after Catherine of Alexandria, and was wondering what could Pa's memories be of that church. Did he ever run around those grounds and how did it feel to be there as a boy? 

Monday, December 18, 2017

How I nearly lost all the important papers

Sometime in November--no, it was on November 2, to be exact; which was an All Souls Day--I went out of the house in B'la to Mrs. M. to follow up some documents on Pa's property while Eve was on her way back to Davao.  Eve dropped me off at M.'s house, along with all the documents, which were all very important, to talk to Mrs. M.; after which, Mrs. M. also handed me another set of documents, which were also very important, I had a hard time carrying them all in my arms. 
Mrs. M.'s house was shielded by shrubs of gumamela in a garden she made in her yard and the moment I went out of Mrs. M's gate--Mrs. M. was even so generous as to accompany me outside her gate and to hail a SkyLab for me, I thought it was still too early to go home.  It was 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and the hot sun was beating down my cheeks, hotly and fervently, like a long lost lover and I asked the SkyLab to bring me to Bansalan. 
Earlier, upon saying goodbye, Ma'm M said I could hardly find a ride going home to B'la from there, though, I knew I could, if I would only give the Skylab driver the right price quotation; but for some reasons, I did not go straight home. 
But I only went to the public C-R when I got there. Yes, you're right, I merely went to the comfort room to see myself before a huge mirror, then, went off to board another SkyLab on my way home to B'la. 
It was only when I was already riding another SkyLab, and we were already passing by Mrs. M.'s place, that I noticed  I was no longer carrying anything in my arms; no folder, no documents, no nothing! Those were the moments you could never describe the color of my face. I was already moaning and mumbling incomprehensible syllables, when the driver and some passengers, figuring out what was going on, had dropped me off in an area where I could most likely take a ride back to Bansalan.  
Every step of the way along the provincial and national highway that day was fret with unearthly pleadings to God and to the dead. I asked my Pa to please, take care of those documents; to not let it fall in other people's hands (who might not need it anyway) and to return it to me.  I even promised many things to Pa.  I promised to keep my hands off the land he had worked for most of his life, though, I was not interested in it but for the story. 
Something happened to me along that road.  The SkyLab driver, a soft-spoken, gentle old man, did not know the anguish I was going through.  I tried to speak gently to him. I tried to suppress my panic. Those were probably the longest ride I ever endured in my life.  As soon as we reached the public mall, I literally jumped off the SkyLab, stopped breathing as I stepped into the public toilet, and saw--for all the goodness in the world, and all the Saints in Heaven--that the two folders entrusted to me, was just where I left them; a little disarrayed, maybe, someone must have looked through it and found nothing, but they were there. Intact. I promised to light a candle on All Souls Day. 
I went home very wet and tired.  There was a downpour on my way home but I managed to protect the documents with a set of plastic bags I bought from a sarisari store.  

Friday, October 06, 2017

Missing Files

There's a full moon outside.  I went home, excited to open the new USB that Ja just mailed from Davao, thinking I'd finally find the missing journals that I thought would make my life complete.  But just as I suspected, Ja got it wrong again. I was looking for the 2015 and 2016 journals which have been missing in my collection of files which started back in 2008. So, I asked him to do the impossible thing of having my old USB cleaned by a technician.  It did not take very long for him to do that.  He soon texted me saying all my files, including my journals, were safe inside. I discovered, though, that all that the flash disk drive contained were useless files.  The drive only contained all my attempted projects for Adobe Premiere that would no longer open because their photos have been moved somewhere else. Suddenly, I  felt very tired. I opened my old photo files and found that even the photos can make a journal. This picture, for instance, says it was taken on March 7, 2016, a Monday; when I was alternating every two or three days going home to B'la to find out how Ma and Pa were doing.  It was the height of the drought but I couldn't sit down long enough to write.  I wanted to connect the drought happening in this part of the world with the melting of the glaciers somewhere in the Himalayas. That drought took rather long and I saw grass and vegetation begin to wilt.  But life, for me, was also speeding very fast.  The drought ended while I was inside the buses, or aboard a SkyLab on my way  to Bansalan and back.  The days moved even faster than a click of a camera shutter, a blink of an eyelid.  I mastered all kinds of public transport about this time. I also went to all kinds of strange places, saw all kinds of sadness and horror,  met lots of beautiful people, among them was the driver named Benny, who told me never to leave my Pa, no matter what. Did I follow what he said? I felt I did, though, I also felt I did not, and would sometimes feel bad about it.  But most of the time, I feel that I was right. 
I met lots of people who were kind and eager to help at times I least expected help. [I have to stop now because I'm having a sore throat that threatens to be a full-blown flu. I feel I need to rest. I think I'm sick.]

Monday, July 31, 2017


Do you remember when I talked to you that night when it was raining and the rain had soaked my shoes I left outside the door? I discovered it only in the morning when it was time to go and I realized I didn't feel like walking on a wet pair of shoes, so, Eve let me use her pair of black thongs which until now I haven't returned?
No, maybe, my memories got mixed up and I was talking of a different night. 
Maybe, it was not raining that night; but you, as usual, had your old tantrum. You called us names. You said words we never heard at home when we were growing up; words that made us wince with loathing. Ione must have given up on you, she merely sighed a tired sigh.  She had taken cared of you, night and day, and all she got was humiliation. Was that what she was thinking as she closed the door and went outside? 
Ma, I brought her upstairs to rest, ignoring your nagging, Beth-Beth! Asa ka, Beth?! Beth! She was looking very frail. I said, Eve, let Ma sleep here, I will be the one to watch Pa.  
For anyone to watch you at this time meant that one would not sleep a wink until morning. You would ask us for help to sit up and once you're up, you'd ask for help to lie down; and when you're already lying down, you'd say you want to sit up again; and this way over and over all the way till morning. I said, puslan man, Pa, you don't want to sleep, let's have a good talk, Pa. You said, what?! Your eyes glaring. I said, let's talk, and quizzed you about Lola, your father, your sisters. 
"Why do you keep asking me about the dead?" you retorted. 
I did not give up but backed out a bit by asking you about Upper. What the place was like before you came. Who was Ayok, Bagobo. How did he look like. 
"I don't take stock of people in the past," you said. 
I said I'm sick and tired of the city, I want to live in a place like Upper.  I want to plant trees. I want to live in the rainforest (and read Dostoyevsky, Foucault, Annie Proulx). 
You said I can squat there in Upper, there are lots of places to squat. "Squat?!" I asked, wildly amused, feeling betrayed. "Yes, squat," you said. "Many people squat there. You can be like them, squatter." 
"But how will I live?" I asked, feeling you just fenced me off your property.  
"You can plant corn, bananas."
I had that sinking feeling again.
"But I can't live there, Pa," I said, after a while. "I will still stay and work in the city until the boys got to finish college. I will see to it that they finish first, no matter what it takes, before I go and live in a place like Upper."
I heard you pause when you heard this.
It was only much, much later, after I've gone home and taken a bath and was watering my Oregano when I realized what that pause could have meant.
I remember our conversations in the past and I remember that boy who desperately wanted to go to school, but no one else out there had staked it out for him.  Instead, he ended up sending his younger siblings to school. Later, I would hear this boy asking his mother, why? Why? Long after his mother was gone.  He felt betrayed. No one remembered. Or so, he felt. 
You used to say to me, "and that's because I sent you there." "You have your life now because of me." 
You felt abandoned. 
No one come back to return the favor.   
So, when you paused that night, did you finally get it, Pa? Did you finally see a break from the past, did you see a return of a favor, did you see that no one is going to be left behind?

That conversation with my father

I posted this on social media, exactly three months after we brought him to the hospital and we grappled for the first time with the seriousness of his condition. By this time, he must have already been staying with me somewhere in Novatierra; or, was he already taken to that rented room in Ecoland? I could no longer remember exactly. I only knew the days during this time had bled unto each other, I could no longer tell when one ended and the other one began as I precariously struggled to eke a living, while at the same time, trying to face up to that reality that was Pa. 
But I took this picture some time in October 2012 or 2013, when he was still relatively strong. I decided to post this here because that conversation I had with him the night before was probably the last sane conversation I had with him. Perhaps, it was the only conversation in my entire life when I told him what was on my mind (or my heart, actually); what I've been longing to do for a long time; but which I never got the courage (or the time, the resources) to start:

July 1, 2015. He was still strong when I left home to take these pictures. He walked three kilometers, looking for me, thinking that I had gone away to the farm. He did not know I was only crouched in a neighboring ricefield; so, when months ago, I first saw him being wheeled to the x-ray room unable to get up, I looked back to this particular day, when he walked three kilometers looking for me; and when he did not find me, he walked back another three kilometers to the house; and I said, wow, Pa, you're still strong to cover all that distance in one morning!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Timber Dreams

“I want to plant timber, Pa, I want to collect them all,” I said, “I will cover the land with molave, Philippine teak, dipterocarp, Philippine mahogany, even the old lauans which used to thrive here.”
I told him how I loved indigenous trees and had already befriended someone who knew where I can source the Red Lauan.  I said I knew where I can find the seedlings of Ilang Ilang and all kinds of trees, including what other people think are useless ones. I said there is no such thing as a useless tree. I’ve been hunting for a tree called Makuno, or Ironwood, which an environment director once described to me as a wood so hard it could replace real iron needed for an important part of a ship engine; and in one area hit by a landslide, people talked about the fall of an old ironwood tree, which caused the number of the dead to swell. There, people began to fear an ironwood as they feared something evil but I figured out, the ironwood was only getting back what had been taken from the environment. After years of neglect and abuse, the soil where the ironwood stood, had loosened; causing it to fall.
I remember Pa beaming with excitement. In the morning, I had set out with my camera.  I found him sitting in the sofa and I said, I’m going outside to take some pictures, are you going with me, Pa? He smiled. I must have sensed him wanting to go.  I must have seen something in his eyes. But I only planned to go somewhere near the rice fields, where for an hour or so, I lay crouched under a rectangular trellis, the one used perhaps for ampalaya or upo or other crawling vine, which was not there anymore.  
I was trying to compose a picture, experimenting with different angles, while a farmer or two had passed me by, wondering what I was doing there. 
When I went back to the house, someone from the farm had been calling on my phone. “Are you coming? Your Pa is here, looking for you.”
He expected me to go to the farm.
He must have been excited by my dream to plant timber.  But my love for images, the impulse to capture the world through the lens of the camera, got in the way

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Argao belfry mirrored in the puddle of water

Shortly after the traditional nine-day prayer (novenas are always nine days, stupid), sister made an edict that Ma should spend some time in  Argao, Ma's hometown, just to see people from her childhood--and perhaps--to keep her mind off the memories of Pa (how can she keep off memories?!); and that, I should accompany Ma make the historical trip. I didn't know how sister got this outlandish idea, but I did not protest, and had accompanied Ma to the place, which also held my endless fascination since I was a child. "We should all go there, one of these days," I told my boys, "The soil there is white because it's made of limestone, unlike here in Mindanao, where the soil black," I said, without bothering to explain what difference the white limestone and the loamy black soil brings to farmers. 
But when we reached Argao, I never got the chance to go to the house on the hill where Ma grew up, and where we had summer memories looking out of its big windows out to sea. 
Right in the morning of our arrival, I missed the apple cider vinegar I've been taking to heal my skin rashes and skin sores, and decided to substitute it with two or three spoonfuls of the vinegar I found on the table.  Later, I was seized by chills and a fever.[Are you crazy? What did you do?" my Aunt, a biologist teaching at the Pamantasan ng Maynila, called in, angry, "You can't substitute that vinegar for apple cider--it's acetic acid!]   The doctor, also a relative, kept repeating, "No doctor ever recommended that you take apple cider," a veiled criticism for the relative she had seen for the first time.  She suspected that my stomach pain could have been caused by the vinegar  -  but she can't explain the chills and the fever, so she sent us to  the laboratory to have some tests taken but when  we got there, the lab was closed and would open only at 8 am the following day.
So, we went home and saw this puddle that caught the image of the Argao's belfry on water.  I never got to have that lab exams, though.  I know that it will still show the running allergy that kept showing in my past laboratory results and which I continued to ignore. I should go see the doctor soon! Promptly!   

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Things that fascinate me

September 13, 2012 

What did photographer Nick Onken say in his book “photo trekking?” 

Choose the subjects that interest you. 

Don’t only photograph subjects just because you are paid to do it  but explore also those that naturally fascinate you and attract you for some reasons.

This is how you develop your style, he wrote. 

Just a bit like writing, I think. But what are the things that really fascinate me? 

Alleyways. Skies (although I just found  how their colors change at different hours of day, as Ja used to point out to me). Mirrors. Doors. Windows. Labyrinth. Churches. Buildings. People. Roads. Shapes. Sillhouettes. Books. Shadows. Ceramics. Jugs and Jars.  Signs and writings on the walls. Cats.

Roads. Especially roads.


I discover this journal because I was looking for traces of Pa among the things I wrote before.

Monday, June 19, 2017

My greatest pleasure

Japanese Zero

As soon as we were back in Davao, I had asked Sean what he remembers about his Lolo; and he said, "That particular moment when we went home to B'la, and Dad and I were so crazy about airplanes, we were making airplanes made of cardboard, and suddenly, Lolo noticed what we were doing and said, Uy, eroplano man na sa Hapon!" For Sean and Ja used to make  Japanese Zero out of cardboard and scotch tape.  I remember holding one cardboard Zero when we left Nova Tierra a year after Pa's first attack; holding it up to Ja for I wanted to give it to one of the neighborhood kids, and Ja said, "Leave it alone with the garbage," and I remember feeling sorry both for the Zero and the neighborhood kid, who would be deprived of the joy of playing with an airplane replica, even if it was only made of cardboard, even if it played a cruel role in the war theater, I was only interested in it as a toy.
Yet, I remember, too, leaving a pot of wounded Oregano--its branch had been unwittingly cut off in the midst of our moving, and saw the aghast face of our next door neighbor when I left it to her to care for.  She never really loved plants, and never knew anything about Oregano, so, how can I expect her to appreciate the extraordinary mission of healing a wounded plant? It was only later when I realized my stupidity, for she actually  expected me to leave the healthy ones, and not what she considered a reject! So, to avoid further embarrassment, I followed Ja's order to leave the Japanese Zero to the garbage, instead of handing it out to Jamal, the Maguindanaoan boy who was our next door neighbor, because maybe, Jamal would not really love to have a  Japanese Zero made of cardboard.  (But still, I strongly suspect that he'd love it!)
Now, I'm warming to the fact that when Sean thinks of his grandfather, he remembers those times, he and his Dad were so crazy about airplanes, they were building Japanese Zero out of scotch tape and cardboard, and it was his Lolo who first took notice of what they were doing. Did they, at least, leave one Japanese Zero for him?  I wonder what Karl is thinking when he thinks of his Lolo, but as for me, I remember so many things, including an unfinished conversation when he was in pain and sleepless throughout the night.  I had a deluge of memories that needed to be sort out and taken down, one by one, never to be forgotten.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pa voted in 1965

But for whom? Did he vote for Ferdinand Marcos, who won that year and later, plunged the country into the darkest era of its history? Or, did he vote for Diosdado Macapagal, who lost that year but whose daughter, who got the taste of Malacanang at age 14, also became the president in the post-Marcos years, one of the presidents who faced a plunder case toward the end of her  term? I don't know to whom did he cast his vote but the moment I first laid eyes on his voter's ID, I was simply awestruck  by how young he looked. "So, this is the guy who had smitten Ma?" I asked.  A quick math showed he was still 28; if the birth year on the ID was right; though, we were told all our life that he was born in 1935, just like Ma; and later, I would discover another document which showed he was born in 1936. The place in Mambusao, Capiz, which held the documents of his birth had been burned during the war.
I found his voter's ID sometime in 2016, when he was in his 80s [age count based on the latest document]; and he was in Davao City, struggling with lung cancer, taken under the care of my sister Ai-Ai, while I had to rush to the house in B'la to oversee the sale of copra the following day.  I was alone in the house the whole night, when in the wee hours, armed with a flashlight and my reading glasses, I decided to trespass my way through his dust-covered nito bag, to rummage his old and yellowing documents.  I wonder about the life of that young man, then. Below the word occupation, the clerk had written, farmer. His entire life was the land and the coconut farm. I wonder what gave him so much pleasure then, what made him wince in pain, what made him sad, what were the dreams he dreamed of, what were the things he thought about so often, what were the monsters he feared. "I used to have lots of money because I was always working," he had told me, over and over, while we were in the hospital waiting for his diagnosis.  
"But I've always been working since the day I left college, Pa," I had wanted to say because my experience was different.  "I always had a lot of cash," he kept repeating.  
He told me all about his abundance of cash at the time when I never had enough to survive, so poor, I could not even afford to take a few days off from work. I had wanted to ask, so, where is your money, Pa? Can you save a daughter with your lots of money? But an admission of poverty would surely anger him.  "Pobre?! Kinsa'y ingon, pobre?!" he'd say, and so, I kept everything to myself. 
After delighting at the picture of the younger Pa, my eyes fell on the rather strong and uneven handwriting on the card's left corner, the same cursive that appeared on my birth certificate.  Even the handwriting spoke about my Pa.  It may have lacked the grace and spontaneity of someone accustomed to hold the pen but it showed the stubborn firmness, the grit and determination of the boy who was already working the farm since he was still nine years old.   When they got to Mindanao, he had wanted to study and be a pilot, just like his Uncle, he said. But when the family was able to buy land, he had set aside the dream and helped four of his younger siblings go to school.  At times, when he was bedridden, he still had his memories of Uncle Erin or of Uncle Jose--which of the two uncles was the pilot or the priest, I still kept confusing, until now--and how, he was taken in an airplane with the Uncle once, when he was still a boy.
The back of the card showed his thumb mark and the date, March 29, 1965, when the voter's ID was issued.  Both the presidential and legislative elections was slated in November that year, still a good eight months away.  Pa used to be either dismissive or tyrannical about his views of politics. Some time in the past, I could have picked up a hint whether he voted for Macapagal or Marcos. Sometimes, in fact, I had the vague memory of hearing it, not from his mouth but from the things he refused to say. 
Marcos had won the elections that year, which eventually paved his way to becoming a Dictator.  
I had the feeling that Pa wouldn't have voted for him. 
But that's only a daughter's opinion. 

Sunrise Breaking

This picture, taken when sunrise was breaking beyond the veranda of our home in B'la outlining the leaves of the Song of India, makes me think of my Pa. 
At the height of his ailment - those long uncertain months after his first hospital stay when we deemed it good to let him stay in the city - I used to leave Davao City at dawn to go to Bansalan to oversee the weighing of copra.  I was so insecure about the whole proceeding because: first, I didn't even know how to read the weighing scales used by the Chinese merchants to weigh sacks and sacks of our produce, so, you can imagine how strained I was, standing there, pretending to understand, when all the while, I was feeling like an idiot (of course, this did not last long because Pamela Chua, a Tsinay from Binondo, whispered to me the secret code--okay, this part is purely isturyang hubog, see, I put it inside the parenthesis?!); second, there was no one in the family overseeing the workers in the farm, which actually meant, we are slowly, gradually but surely, losing control of things over there.  So, to calm my nerves, I used to leave Davao City too early, when everyone else was still snoring;  to see to it that I arrived at the house at dawn so that I had enough time to be at the farm at 6 am, when everybody least expected me.  This would allow some time for me to get to know the people and to observe what was going on in the farm (though, I hardly had two hours to do all these).  During those months, I had studied the proceedings of the farm and studied the people there just like the way I read my books.  [Of course, I eventually developed a grasp of the politics and economics of the place, developed a feel of whom to trust and whom to be wary, honed my skills to read people's hearts and people's intentions; but I admit that up to now, I still can't tell a coconut ready for harvest  from a buko or a banana!  Uh-okay, I can tell a banana, but to tell a mature coconut fruit ready for harvest from a buko continues to be a puzzle to my untrained eyes! To compensate for this, however, I knew someone I can trust who can tell the difference.] 
Once, I overshot my target hour of arrival in Bansalan and had left Davao City at 2 am, which was rather too early. I arrived home when it was still dark and drank the loneliness of the house. I went to the upper bedroom and saw Pa's things and shirts scattered in different places in our frantic search for things to bring that day we left for the hospital. I felt this searing pain as I saw the pillow where Pa's head used to lie, the old Bisaya magazines he used to thumb through and had left in the corner, still half-folded; the glass, still half-full of water, where he drank that night, before he was seized by the pain which made him say, "Dios ko, Dios ko, Gino-o," as he made the sign of the cross; which made me send a text message to my sisters, "It must really be painful because I've never ever heard him say, Dios ko, before;" which made my sisters, hundreds of kilometers away, race for home days after. 
Still, I can't forget the sight: his slippers which were scattered in different directions, the discarded clothes, the poor state of his old shoes, worn, weather-beaten, gathering dust in a cordizo;  and even the dusty nito basket hooked to a nail on the wall, where he kept his documents.   

Friday, June 16, 2017

Why can't we just shut the door and only allow our dearest ones to enter?

The funeral did not really allow me enough room to mourn and grieve for my Pa.  There were so many people around; most of them someone I knew from childhood, but not all of them were offering a word of comfort. Some were there only to measure you and be critical of who you are. Some were really so tactless and mean that instead of consoling us in  times of grief, they only succeeded in upsetting me, and taking me away from thoughts of my Pa. For instance, there was this guy, who was so rude, he said I must have been so old by now because I was already far ahead in school when he and Eve were still in Grade One. Of course, he was Eve's barcada. "Day, ikaw ba, tiguwang na jud ka kaayo karun, Day, no, kay Inday na man ka daan atong naa mi sa Grade One ni Eve?" he asked. Of course, I told him, Hoy, don't ever assume that just because I was in Grade Three when you were still in Grade One, I was much, much older than you?! We were only a year apart but I was already ahead in Grade Three because I entered school as visitor at age 5 but was good enough to pass Grade One. (I should have told the guy: I bet, you were still struggling to read your first alphabets at a very late age, while I only breezed through it at 5! But I was not quick enough to say that!)
Recalling it now, I realized, I was not quick enough to shoot back my killer one-liner (the way I used to) because I kept telling myself I was in my father's funeral and I had to be very careful not to make a scene with tactless and unwelcome visitors!  There was another guy, who was already drunk, who started making some statements about the eldest daughter, because he mistook me as the youngest.  The youngest said,  ah, she's always mistaken as the youngest, which had alerted the guy. I was curious what that drunkard was about to say about me before he was stopped by his companions.  Was he going to blurt out something about my political beliefs? Or why I hadn't married?! 
Then, the wake was really a wake, because it forced you to stay awake, even if your body was already crumbling for lack of sleep.  I had to get along with some people, including the driver who told me pointblank in between gulped of Fundador, I should be ashamed of myself because at my age, I still don't have a house and a car, I should strive to have one! As if that is all that matters in the world. I told the foolish fellow those are not the things that I treasure most. What I treasure most are things that people like him could not see. But the guy is so stupid to understand what I was saying. Except for some kindred souls, the two women friends, who offered me some beautiful verses to light up the dark moments of grief (and surprisingly, they belong to another religious sect but they only came to pay their respect), most of the people at the funeral really upset me.  I was wondering why can't we just make the funeral a private affair?  Why not shut the door and only allow those closed to us to enter?


Things really happen so fast these days, but not really that fast, because I'm sure, I've been given sufficient signs and sufficient warnings of what lays ahead. On May 1, I was asked to go to Taiwan in a spur of the moment and while walking along Chino Roces with Pam before my trip, I had told Pam over and over again I had wanted to go to Butuan to visit my Pa but how can I do it? It's so difficult for me to do it because of something.  Do it, she said. You have to do it. But I still can't. Why? she asked. Because. Pam said, Do it. I said, maybe, I should talk with my Pa in other ways, through the mind, perhaps, or through dreams because it's very difficult for me to go there, Pa, you know. So, on the eve of June 1 when Eve called, I had to book a ticket to Butuan to catch up with my Pa, who had been bedridden there for about eight months and people said he was waiting for me.  When I saw him, I could not almost recognize him. His face had assumed the face of my grandmother, who was so fair and pretty, and his hair has gone long and white. Pa, nia na si Ate, Pa, said Eve from the door. Did I see a flicker of recognition on his closed eyelids? 
Oh, if you only knew the weight of those final moments.

Monday, May 22, 2017

View from my window on Zhongshan Street

I'm still sick so that excuses me from writing.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Break the ice, will you?!

I just finished all the four articles from Taipei and sent everything online except the pictures (which I fear I don't have) and so, I am posting this as an ice-breaker.  This picture reminds me that I never got to meet some ordinary folks in Taiwan when I went there the past six days.  Of course, I met some of them at the train station when we were heading to Hsinchu, a city about an hour south of Taipei; or, maybe, even our  Mofa friend Jack Li, who accompanied us throughout the tour; that is, if he considered himself just like another Taiwanese. But all I can think of were those folks at the train station. They were seated at the waiting area, some of them might have been pissed off with me for taking lots of pictures, but when I looked at this photograph in my photo file and saw these motorcycle-riding men, I realized that I never really got to meet some people in Taiwan.  We were shuttled around from one place to another to meet and interview the Ministers, and on the fifth day, we met the President at the Presidential Palace. Which was not really a good experience for me because I was the only one not wearing a suit. I left it in the Philippines in a hurry to leave Makati. I know that the office will kill me if they learn about this--which they might, when they see our picture with the President. Depending on how you look at it, it might be regarded as a breach of protocol, which it is. So, I cringe. I don't want to remember my trip to Taipei because I was the only one not wearing a suit when we met the President, and everyone was wearing their best, but I merely treated it as another day in the office, where I frequently told Lyca, no, it's not important what you wear there as long as your English grammar is perfect.  Now, I learned my lesson. What you wear is important, damnit! Maybe, I should not let anyone read this.  I should make the font so tiny so that no one could read. This is embarrassing!

Saturday, April 15, 2017


Lyca, April and I went to the Century Mall to watch Emma Watson's performance in the Beauty and the Beast but were flustered when we found out the movie house  already ran out of tickets.   Deeply let down, we ambled about the building, taking as much selfies as we can.

Setting sight on something

How the sky looked like the last time I went home

Happy Easter!

I've been holed inside my room for the entire duration of the Lenten break, so, I missed all the observance of the Passion here, which, based on the telltale signs I kept seeing on the streets on the days leading up to it, has been passionately marked by the community where I live. Still, I sat here deeply engrossed in my reading through out the Holy Week until this morning, when I happened to wake up late to find it's a Happy Easter, and I'd like to greet everyone out there, sending this image of the old the old belfry of the church of the Lady of the Abandoned, and its amazing stained glass windows, which have fascinated me since the first time I entered the church's dark cavernous hall alone.

Hunt for vegan food

I discovered this vegetarian outlet at the heart of Makati but I will only tell you about it later.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Postpartum reflection

I feel so devastated after that long-distance chat with my boy. It had started well, actually, but towards the end, he had been passing judgment on me quite unfairly about the choices I made in my life, without asking me how and why I made those choices. It hurt terribly. But in retrospect, I realized, who were the people who had been judging me that way and it was not my boy. So, I suspected, he just caught that narrative from someone else, just a whiff of an idea, which germinated and came out of his mouth as his own. That's the trouble with long-distance conversations, you only have such a next-to-nothing chance of getting heard, or having some points clarified, you could not even trace how and why he had said such things. I can glean from his lines that he had some issues with me, which had never been there before, well, it must have been the fertile ground for that wicked idea from wicked people to germinate. It puzzled me for a while until I realized where he had been to recently. He accused me of so many things, including perhaps, [because this was not said outwardly, but in between lines] blaming me for his difficult childhood. (Sigh). Life, of course, had not really been that easy for both of us and I had really tried to make it easier for him, though, my best was not really that good enough. But I still think I was not to blame. You know who was to blame. How could I ever make people understand when people can't even open their eyes? They're deaf and blind! 
So, well-what do you expect? He just came back from a visit to his father, so, are you still surprised? They always blame the women for all the effing wrong that happened to their lives, don't they?  Even if it was the women who did all the dirty work for them.
Yet, to hear those things from your own son. I was so disturbed, I did not write anything the whole day.  I was just staring in space and closing my eyes to feel which part of my body hurt the most. 

Open Air Altar

Just after the Jones Bridge, as you head toward Binondo's Santa Cruz church, tucked somewhere in between the highway's chaotic traffic flow, lies a miraculously tiny piece of land that holds this oasis of faith.

Prayers by the roadside

It's Maundy Thursday, the start of the long Lenten break, which for someone working the kind of work that we do, would be the only long holiday open for us for the rest of the year.  That's why, everyone was so excited as we rushed out to help put to bed the newspaper copy last night. Everyone trying his best to keep his cool, to keep his/her mind in focus because the spirit was already rushing out the door, getting inside the elevator in a hurry to get out of the building fast to the life of untrammeled joy and freedom outside.
I merely stayed in my place. I was thinking if I had only bought that ticket, maybe, I would also be rushing home, too. Rushing to the airport to catch the plane to where the heart belongs. But I did not have such a ticket.  So, all I have is the long hours of reading and writing open for me for the long weekend.
When I reached our street, it was already 9 pm, and the vehicle I was riding could no longer get inside because the neighbors had already set up tents outside their homes--yes, tents along the roadsides, and I thought,  is this another vigil for another funeral?  But no. The tent was only for the gathering of people for the prayers to the Jesus of Nazarene,  the cross-carrying image of Christ. I was amazed by the people's observance of the Passion here. It also reminds me how, a year ago, back home in B'la, while Pa was struggling with his ailment, and I still languished in bed to recover from the previous night's late sleep, Ja tried to shake me awake because the procession was already passing by the house. He said the procession was an amazing sight, I should see it, I should at least photograph it. "I thought you wanted to be a real, hardnosed photographer? What kind of a photographer are you? You lie there sleeping while a beautiful event passes you by!" I got the mouthful from Ja while I flitted in and out of dreamland.
When I managed to get up, I only caught the tail of the procession at the end of the road, and I saw an open air altar by the roadside.  Ja shrugged.  But the sight of an open air altar amazed me because it reminded me of the pagan ways. It reminded me of some faraway Greek altars when the world was young. It also reminded me of
the Bagobo altar tambara. I loved that concept of an altar because it lays itself bare and open to the elements. Most of all, it opens itself up to the skies.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Trying to blog

It took a while for me to write again because of what happened the previous month or so, when I was trying to clean up my ancient beleaguered laptop. I had unwittingly deleted the software that allowed it to detect wifi for me to access the internet.  Which explained my long absence
from this blog.
But last Monday, when the screen of the old laptop started to flicker and die, and I could no longer write even a simple journal, I began contemplating the long barren days ahead and decided that the prospect of not writing for a long time was not simply unbearable, it was unacceptable. So, I put my foot down and allowed myself to drift inside the Glorietta to get the cheapest possible laptop that my last sinsilyo can buy.
This was how I managed to return here. I'm still getting used to this new laptop, which keyboard feels strange and unfriendly, the font on the screen still feel rather painful to the eyes.  
I think that getting used to this new laptop is just akin to getting used to a new job.  Painful at first but later on, you'll get used to it.  You still feel so unfamiliar navigating the new territory psychologically as well as physically, at first, but soon, I promise, you'll get used to it.  I've already been here for over five months and going.
Back to this new machine: the port of my old card reader, which was still functional in my old laptop, no longer works here, so, I might have to run back to the mall again one of these days to hunt for a new one.
I still long for the familiarity of old things, such us my old laptop, but soon, I'll move on to more exciting things up ahead.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Thinking of the Cats

When I came home last month, I was glad that some cats still managed to survive without me, thanks to the care of T. I was glad to greet Muffin when she came home very late from where ever it was in the neighborhood she was roaming.  But it’s only now, when I’m back here in Makati, that I realized I never really had the chance to go nearer and talk to the cats. 
Muffin, like most of the cats at home, had gone feral, anyway, so it was not a good idea to cuddle her. The last time I cuddled Muffin, she bit my hands, thinking perhaps it was part of the play.  She wasn’t aware that I was not a cat. But looking back now, I could have at least talked to Muffin. I could have at least watched her beautiful eyes, which reminded me of the   eyes of a priest or a general, the bright yellow discs in the midst of a pitch black fur that earned her the moniker, Batman Cat.
Now, I'm missing her.  
My mind was preoccupied with everything on my short stay home.  It was full of Upper B’la and its depressing condition. 
I was also moping over the loss of Oreo, who failed to return home weeks before my arrival. Titing told me Oreo failed to return home a week before her sister-in-law poisoned Titing’s cat and the cats in the neighborhood. I’m wondering if Oreo happened to wander in their area, as cats often do, and had unwittingly eaten the poisoned food they had prepared.
Oreo was a good cat. Three days before Pope Francis arrived in Manila, some boys had left three kittens at the door of the Inquirer office in Davao. That afternoon, some “rugby boys” were rounded up by the police and I was sad because those might be the boys I caught feeding the kittens.  
Isn't it the height of cruelty for the police to round up the boys who had the heart to feed the cats? Some school girls from Kapitan Tomas eventually found the cats, and one fetched a carton box to bring them home during dismissal time, but minutes after she was off carrying the carton of cats, we saw an angry woman accompanying her, furiously asking her to put the kittens back to where she picked them up.  We saw them at our office door. The angry mother said her daughter cannot keep the cats because she had asthma, but I did not believe her.
Three days before Pope Francis talked about mercy and compassion, I carried the three noisy kittens in a jeepney and realized you can actually tell the character of people by the way they treat a cat.  A woman who sat beside me, I eventually learned, had thrown numerous kittens in rivers and across Samal Island. The young guy across my seat found the kitten yucky though he did not want to show it.  But a skinny, middle aged man, gently called the cats, Miiing, Miiing.
Among the three cats, the yellow one we later called HenriMatisse was the survivor, for he voraciously ate the giniling I bought from the store to feed them; then, the black one we later called Oreo, awoke from her carton slumber and joined the yellow one.  The one who did not take interest in food, and which I initially thought was dying, was the grey kitten we later called Eponine.
Eponine, who proved to be the most intelligent among the three, did not survive when he was hit by a slamming door during a Low Pressure Area (LPA) wind in February 2015.  HenriMatisse, the cutest and the most human among the three, I left alone in B’la at the height of Pa’s ailment in Davao.  I always get this image of him, sniffing Oreo inside the catbag, trying to help Oreo out. I should have put him inside the bag, too, but I realized he’s been surviving well in the village, and bringing him along might disrupt the good adjustment he was having in the place. So, I carried Oreo all the way back to Davao, where Oreo pissed on my pants when we reached R. Castillo. I never found HenriMatisse after that and I've been aching for a yellow cat with an L-shaped tail ever since, that cat who once glided the terrace of a neighbor, perked his ears when he saw me, and had bounded the whole neighborhood distance in three leaps when I called his name.
Ja described Oreo as a cat no one could ever love, except me.  In fact, it was because Oreo was that kind of cat that precisely drew her to me.  But Ja was only looking at the color of the cat, which was black, with irregular splotches of yellow in between.  The yellow spots above her eyes made Ja want to get his black pentel pen to cover the spots with black paint.  But Oreo, just like the other cats, is endowed with grace of movement and an elegance innate to all cats.  She was also full of cat wisdom and intelligence. She became pregnant months after the Pope’s visit and triggered a cat population explosion in our struggling household.  What was funny and amazing about Oreo was she never mind feeding three generations of kittens on her breast at the same time, even if her milk was already drying out. 

This simple tribute is not enough to describe such a great cat as Oreo.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

To Greet the Rooster!

I just can't get over the idea of Pam's herb garden on the 14th floor, where I spent the New Year hiding inside her room. As I thank the Monkey for an exhilarating year, I make friends with the Rooster to make this year a happier, healthier, more magickal one; but please, let us all survive this year, Rooster!  Give us your wisdom, your discernment, your talent; especially your unique way of turning up something when normally other creatures can't see anything! Give us that power to look and to see and to find the way out of anything that could constrain or oppress us.

Happier Times with Muffin

Yes, of course, but not really. Its properties showed that the picture was taken on December 31, 2015, no longer a happy time for the family but a really difficult and trying time. But it was quite a holiday for Muffin, who found the empty chocolate cake box a perfect place to rest.  She still had a lot of food to eat at that time, even if Pa, sick and bedridden, occupied all our attention. But eventually, Pa had to be rushed to the hospital, then, Eve moved him to the city, leaving the house empty most of the time; and Muffin and the rest of the cats pining for survival, except for Titing who continued to feed them! Now, I'm suddenly here in another part of the country, quite too far away. When can I ever go home to feed the cats?

White Abundant Light for Pa

I'm here on the second floor of this crowded fast food chain at a table directly facing the stairway, so that all the customers carrying their food-laden trays had to make eye-contact with me before they turn to the rows of tables to my left and eat in peace.  But it's very cozy here, a place conducive to writing (at least, to me), with a white ceiling light beaming directly above me and falling gloriously down upon my table. I plan to spend an hour or two here because I was told we have visitors at home and I don't feel like meeting people now that I'm fiercely craving to write--it's maddening, this desire to write is like demons to be appeased, you have to satisfy them because if you don't, you'd either die, get sick or go mad--but I don't expect anyone who has never experienced that to ever understand.
But the way the light falls upon my notebook page on this table reminds me of the white light at the hospital room where Pa used to spend time during his ailment. That was before the sisters whisked him off to Butuan with Ma. 
It was the largest and the most comfortable room in our hometown hospital, designed by a renowned architect who was the owner's son, with windows from floor to ceiling, and overlooking McArthur highway, where you can see buses, trucks and jeepneys on their way to Davao or Cotabato or the smaller towns in between.
The room, if you'd care to know, does not make you think of a hospital at all, with its abundance of light, and its plenitude of space, its tasteful curtains, which you can whisk away if you want to see the view, or whisk back if you don't, because you prefer the subdued light that can make you rest and relax.
The nurses, when they find you, are not as snotty there as they might be in the other rooms; they might even be a lot friendlier!  Pa and Ma and I were sitting there, looking out as we awaited the sisters coming home from Butuan the day Pa's ailment seemed to be at its worst and Pa, who was suddenly amiable and meek as a child, had been calling the name of his mother, in between moans of pain, in between the state of waking and unwaking.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Like Life Itself

It's the stairway I climb everyday. Just like life itself, it goes round and round and round in a never ending spiral. 
Yet, every time I climb it in the morning, I don't actually see it the way I'm seeing it now.  In the morning, I take it only one step at a time. All I see are the nearest steps before me, and the rails leading me to a slowly curving ascent, so slight and so gradual that I almost could not feel it. It's only upon looking down from the nth floor above that I get a glimpse of its shape below. Just like the series of days and nights that eventually form the seasons, and the seasons that gather into a year and the years that eventually form a lifetime, we hardly perceive them at first until we've gone a long way and we start looking back.