The chaos

Because sometimes you meet someone with no idea how and why it all happened and soon after you can no longer imagine your life without them. You see them in the future, a part of your every plan, and suddenly you care to discover the hidden things inside of them, their deepest secrets, their stories – unspoken, waiting to exist in another soul. You forget the old you because you’ve never felt more like yourself than right now, beside them – being seen, stared at… And with all the chaos inside your head, you are certain about one thing – love. This is love to me.

In the name of ‘growth’

Appreciate those who look after you, those who make the sacrifices for you and those who think about your growth as a person. The greatest mentors are the most sincere ones. We can all feel it when someone truly cares. Be grateful to them because not everyone is given the chance to work with these kind of people. With all my heart, thank you!

An eyesore in February

Have you ever seen a couple committing PDA (Public Display of Affection) and while you see them in your head as immature, nonconformist beings because they couldn’t contain their overflowing love and passion for each other, they also reminded you of how you perceive love?

In February, a jeepney driver played familiar love songs on my way to work. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to that type of music. I associated every song on his playlist with someone. In every line. In every pause. But something strange caught my attention. An eyesore.  A man and a woman sitting in front of me, who were in their early twenties, were entangled in embrace, whispering words in a somewhat heavenly language that made them participants of a cycle of the following order – stare, smile and giggle. At one point, they laughed in unison that it awakened the old woman who was beside me.

“What the heck,” the old woman uttered out of exasperation.

They looked at her and continued.

The young man was wearing a slim-fit jeans and medium-sized, buttoned polo shirt with an open-jawed crocodile logo on the left side. The vibrant woman was wearing a pink dress, which was tailored according to the Yaya Dub fashion craze.

It started raining. Inside my bag was my umbrella. Inside her pocket was his hand.

“They are probably on their way to a date,” I told myself.

I looked around like an investigator trying to determine the pulse of the other passengers. I wondered if the any of the adults would butt in the moment. Nobody said a thing. We were all staring at them. They were in a bubble, in a zone, in a place that’s not dictated by the culture, expectations, and norms of reality. For them, we were just strangers. That we’ll forget about them once we get off the vehicle.

The driver glanced at them twice through his rear view mirror. He clearly lost his spotlight.

My mind was juggling ideas. But above everything, there were two things. I closed my eyes.

One of them was cultural. They were the living examples of some members in my generation’s non-conformance to the conservative ways of our parents and the generations before. My mother always reminds us how she was courted by my father. There were gifts of variety of goods – sacks of rice, banana, and sweet potato. Livestock were also offered to the family of my mother. Kundiman was very alive. He serenaded her. But no touch. No dates outside the vicinity of the eyes of my mother’s parents. Until one day, she fell in love with him because of his charming smile, red lips, persistence and for being a gentleman as expected to a Bicolano. They finally had their first date when they pronounced their vows in the wedding.

Would you want courtship to still be this strict?

In this age, when Facebook is taking over the social media spectrum and as it promotes connection all over the nations of the world through Internet.org, our generation is slowly being disconnected in our own cause to the former path, the old conduct, the conventional ways of our forefathers on how we should handle ourselves on the matters of the heart. Those that belong in the generations before are judging some of us as immature and irresponsible by our “liberated” actions of expressing our feelings to the one that we love that they observe in public.

And the other one?

It’s the hypocrisy of some of us.

Pirated pornographic materials are rampantly sold everywhere despite the effort that the Optical Media Board (OMB) and other organizations put. Provocative, sexy dance numbers of human beings who call themselves “artists” in noontime shows are being viewed by millions of people. Prostitutes roam the streets of the key cities in Metro Manila during off-hours. We are aware of all these things. But isn’t it true that these are worse forms of immorality, of PDA, of violations of the values that we take pride us a people?

Some of us judge those who show their affection in public in a form of warm embrace, HHWW (holding hands while walking) and quick kiss on cheek.  We instantly put them in a negative light. But we are forgetting the bigger demons of immorality that are in front of our eyes. After all, we are a Christian nation, aren’t we? 

While it is true that courtship and relationship setups have changed as time passed by, there are still many Filipino millennials who take to heart the value of merely going out on a date with someone or spending time together in a museum or cafe, of waiting, of not making rush decisions to be with the one they love. They still care on how the people around them see them which is a responsible way of handling their hearts in public. And since it’s the love month, expect these eyesores to be more rampant than any other time of the year. 

As I opened my eyes, I saw the landmark stoplight few meters away. The “celebrity couple” was still giggling. The other passengers no longer care. It’s still raining. It’s cold. He’s keeping her warm. She loved it. I opened my bag and searched for my black umbrella. While I question everything that I understood about love and romance, I glanced at them again. For I know that I displayed my affection in public for the one I loved once in my younger years. And probably, you did too, right?

“Nong, para!”

Sincerity

You shivered when you
first saw her.
Your voice trembled.
Ice cream melted.
Coffee spilled.
Hands shook.
The ‘Hi’ and the ‘Hello.’
Do you still remember?
Because years from now,
you will smile about
these not as signs
of shyness but
as clues of
sincerity; to remind
you of how blessed
you are to be
with her.
That you chose each other
and you ended up
together.

First love

THERE ARE emotionless and soulless entities in the world that you have to live with. They will suck everything that you have until you can no longer recognize who you really are. They will try to fit you in the same box that the men and women before you had to endure. Don’t let them stop you. Please write, compose, draw, paint, innovate, and create. Challenge this world’s perspectives and have the courage to go against the tides with a clenched fist and a roaring heart even in silence.  And when you doubt yourself and that nobody seems to care, remember the reason why you accepted the fight. Embrace your first love, recognize your gifts, listen to the voice deep within your core… Never settle. Never give up.

Invisible or not

Today, we celebrate the 119th anniversary of the declaration of our people’s emancipation from Spain. But are we truly independent? In the clash in Marawi City between the government forces and the Maute Group carrying ISIS flag and ideologies, the President did not know of US help beforehand. He was surprised like a child despite being the head of the state who has access to every sensitive information and channels regarding national security. How about China’s irrefutable bullying when it leisurely transformed some of our territorial islands and islets in the South China Sea? But in addition to these, I believe that the invisible wounds in the past still haunt us: the declaration of Martial Law at the latter part of the Marcos regime, the death of Ninoy Aquino, Jr., the decay of the people’s trust and confidence to some government officials because of corruption, the unsolved crimes, the human rights violations, the forced disappearance of activists like Jonas Burgos, the Maguindanao Massacre where 58 people have been killed, the failures in the justice system, and the insensitivity of the machismo-laden Congress and Senate to children’s and women’s rights. We remember one or two of these every now and then not because we want to but because similar things happen or intertwined events surface on the news that hinder us to forgive and to forget. Who would want to forgive those who betrayed, abused, and beguiled us? Who would want to forget the hardships some of us had to endure or our loved ones had to experience? Maybe, we need this moment to know how we should move forward as a nation. Maybe, just maybe, today, we’ll understand the true meaning of independence that the dignified and brave Filipinos in our history fought for that we may live in a country that’s unchained, unlocked, and free from elements of oppression and suppression; that we may continue to be vigilant with a peaceful heart not with rage or with the spirit to destroy; and that we may transform this unhappy country together against the 15th to 18th century Spain’s variations today – invisible or not.

Pause and Pray

There’s an ongoing crisis in the Philippines that’s worse than the Maute group attack in Marawi City. Yes, it’s greater than the Filipino fascination with heroes and cursing of villains. It’s our attempt to simplify things by resorting to one-liners, labels, and generalizations. It’s more convenient to describe single mothers as ‘na-ano lang’; the 16 million supporters of the current president as ‘Dutertards’; the PNoy true believers as ‘Yellowtards’; the corrupt media men and women who sold their honor to be a voice of a particular party instead of binding with the truth and reason as ‘Presstitutes’; the millions of addicts as ‘sub-human’; the gays and lesbians in our midst as ‘worse than animals’; Muslims as ‘terrorists’. These do not accomplish anything but create more divisions. And while we are busy figuring out how others are different from us, or on how one’s opinion gravitates from fake news at a glance, we forget to listen, to read, to research, and ultimately, to convince ourselves that in times like this, it’s best to pause and pray for our country.

I hope

It’s Friday. The Cavs lost in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Metro Manila is in high alert due to the early morning attack in Resorts World Manila where 37 people died either by gunshots or suffocation while 50 got injured. The relatives of 11 soldiers who were killed by the ‘friendly fire’ of government forces in the Marawi crisis mourn and despise the senseless death of their loved ones. The supporters of the president continue to downplay the right and left criticisms when he joked that his soldiers can rape women under martial law in the Philippines. These may trouble some of us but not those whose eyes and hearts also see the awesome things around. It’s when someone gives up his seat for you on an MRT/LRT train or on a bus. It’s when you realize that you’re on vacation leave today because it’s your birthday. It’s when someone offers you food or drink for free. It’s when someone commends you for your valuable contribution to a cause. It’s when you face the truth that your balance is greater than your expected remaining amount when you are about to withdraw in an ATM caused by miscomputation on your part in the absence of receipts from previous transactions. It’s when you push the button for the elevator and it’s already there. And maybe, just maybe, it’s when you sense the calmness and confidence in Lebron James, coach Tyronn Lue, and the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers in their showdown against the 4-All Star backed adversity like the Golden State Warriors after a 22-point Game 1 loss to emerge in the end as back-to-back champions in the NBA.
I hope.

Train to Guadalupe

It’s Tuesday at around 2 P.M. about two weeks ago. I was on my way to work and about to get into the entrance to buy a ticket at MRT-3 Guadalupe station northbound in Makati City when I observed that the train was not moving. It’s stuck. The entrance has been blocked. Usual lines of people were nowhere to be found. Confusion and chaos were evident. Out of curiosity, I then asked one of the passengers who has been forced to get off the train earlier that afternoon: “Sir, what happened?” And then he responded: “A man jumped into the rails.”

I was shocked. I couldn’t utter a word.

At 2:10 P.M., I decided to take the bus going to Megamall. I have been told that there are P2P (Point to Point) buses there to get to North Avenue in Quezon City. Naturally, I was worried about the male passenger who was pinned down under the MRT’s first coach.

As I was onboard the P2P bus, I couldn’t help but ask these questions: Why did he attempt to commit suicide? What was going on in his mind? Why were there no platform screen doors at MRT stations to prevent suicide attempts and to protect the public from danger?

There was no way I could know the answers to the first two questions except if I’ll be given a chance to talk to the man in person. But the third one is worth pondering and requires the same degree of scrutiny.

In an interview, Deo Manalo, the MRT director for operations said the Department of Transportation of the present administration has a plan to install platform screen doors to prevent suicide attempts. But, when will they be installed exactly? This year? In a few months? When?

A quick Google search with the keywords “MRT TRAIN SUICIDE GUADALUPE” will give you an idea that it’s not the first time that this incident happened at the same station. In 2013, a man died after jumping in front of oncoming train. Pinky Webb wrote on the ABS-CBN News website: “After a male passenger allegedly committed suicide by jumping in front of the train, MRT general manager Al Vitangcol said they initially planned to put up screen doors only in three MRT stations namely Taft Avenue, Shaw Boulevard and North Avenue, by the end of the year… He said, however, that because of the recent incident, they will eventually construct the platform screen doors in all 13 stations of the MRT.”

Again. 13 stations. Where are they now? Why were they not have been put up yet four years later?

How many lives should be lost for the MRT management and the government to seriously act on this? How many limbs should be injured for those in power to make a move for the commuters’ safety? How many guards should accidentally fall off the tracks as they make sure that nobody steps on the yellow edge tiles with hundreds of thousands of passengers of MRT to attend to every day? How many more poor train drivers should be charged with reckless imprudence resulting in homicide after a frustrated passenger knelt in front of the train or positioned his or her head on the rail aimed to suffer critical and direct hit?

In a country that has become immune with inefficiencies around including the public transport, the psychological impact of being a witness to a suicide attempt is unspeakable and is sometimes forgotten. What if there are children on the scene? What if they become traumatized on the horror that just happened in front of their eyes? What if we forget that suicide attempts in our train systems should not be part of the normal?

Can you remember the LRT-1 suicide of a woman in 2012? How about the every now and then news of suicide successes and attempts on PNR rails?

In the 2016 South Korean action thriller “Train to Busan”, the protagonists lead by Seok-woo (Gong Yoo), a divorced fund manager and Seong-keong (Jeong Yu-mi), a pregnant wife of Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok) faced horrible dilemma as they attempt to spare their lives and flee from hordes of zombies on a running train which ultimately bound for Busan after several other stations have become havens of infected passengers. But here in our country, instead of boarding the train, some of us decided to face death by a train thinking that they’ll be killed instantly with the knowledge that they may look like the zombies in the movie on the next scenes.

I understand that it is not a piece of cake to have budget allotment approved in a snap for platform screen doors or any other upgrades in our train systems for public’s safety. These cost millions of pesos because more than the materials needed, the barriers on platforms must be calibrated which will only open when a train has arrived. But, isn’t it just a matter of prioritization and political will? It has been said that the transportation system of a country is a reliable barometer of its advancement, growth, and prosperity. If there’s an image of us that should be etched on the international stage, it should not be the death of a Filipino in the hands of another Filipino, or of an MRT, LRT, and PNR train rampaging a Filipino passenger as dictated by his or her will or not. Instead, we should aim to be a model of efficient and safe transport systems and services like our neighbors in South East Asia.

But while waiting for the changes to come, I’ll listen to the Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars or Beatles songs playing inside MRT-3 Guadalupe’s elevators and pray that nobody jumps off the train tracks again. You do not want to start or end your day standing in front of blood-stained rails, do you?

More than the crown

Unlike so many Filipino fanatics who watched the whole Miss Universe 2016 coronation last Monday, I watched only the Q&A portion in the replay out of curiosity. I chose to protect myself from getting hurt because days before the event, I had a pulse, after keenly observing her answers to interview questions, that the Philippines’ bet will lose for failing to provide a satisfactory and impressive answer in the Q&A portion. I hoped like former Miss Universe Gloria Diaz that I be proven wrong.

Since I did not watch the event on live TV, I learned of the outcome when I logged in on my Facebook account. Barrage of comments and posts of netizens stunned me on how Maxine Medina should have answered the question: “What is the most significant change you have seen in the world in the last 10 years?”

“Nasa huli ang pagsisisi” as the saying goes and we proved time and again how debilitated we are in accepting defeat. For a country that long craves to be recognized in the international scene, 7,107 islands – strong, another failure is a no-no.

“Sana, nag-tagalog na lang siya” one of my FB friends said. “Ang bobo ng interpreter. ‘Pangyayari’ ang sinabi imbes na ‘Pagbabago.’ And worse, another one commented: “It should have been Kylie Verzosa (the reigning Miss International 2016). She’s way better than her!” Have you ever wondered how we became this harsh online?

When Manny Pacquiao fought Juan Manuel Marquez for the fourth time and tasted another loss in his illustrious career, we were quick to wear our boxing analyst hat to declare that he should retire to not have his record tainted and to preserve his legacy. But how did we react when it has been announced that his “The Fight of the Century” bout against Floyd Mayweather Jr. has been inked? We were thrilled and exuberant. Some of us even watched the fight in pay-per-view in malls and bought pricey tickets.

Some of the most common answers to the question for Maxine Medina that have been shared by netizens range from the growth of social media, to advancement in technology, and to climate change. But what did they miss as they brag their wit online? What did they forget when they suddenly personified the character of the most prolific pageant expert in the world, the universe rather when they posted their status updates on what Maxine should have uttered? It’s that they shared those thoughts while they were in the confines of their room, in their home, with their family and friends or in some other place where pressure was nonexistent. They were not on stage, with millions of people watching and cheering from different parts of the world. They were not in a chaotic situation. No drama. No one to compete against. No judges.

Can those people even speak in public to share their thoughts given that they are as graceful as Maxine?

In a way, answering the question in Q&A portion in Miss Universe is a form of public speaking which is one of the top fears of the human race, alongside heights and bugs. It is no surprise that all the rational thinking of a person vanishes when in front of a huge audience. But like other skills, it can be harnessed. The mastery of the skill is not obtained overnight or in a few months, but this fact is something that we have forgotten. It is not a walk in the park. Miss Universe is a competition which requires its candidates to be confidently beautiful and to possess deep grasp of what’s going on; to be socially and politically aware as ambassadors for change and meaningful advocacy. It’s not just about what to say but how to say it.

And again, how did we become harsh online?

Alain de Botton, a Swiss-born, British author, observed that due to the increasing popularity of social media, people have shifted from keeping secret diaries inside their locked cabinets in which no one else has access to online bashing and bullying. It’s convenient. In just one click and a few brain cells, instant exchange of ideas of people they know and do not know happens. Internet is a free space for now. Unlike the real world, people treat their actions in the online world as an independent dimension with no direct impact into their lives which is scary. People experience relief after expressing their disappointments. The profane, degrading words that we see in the comments section of an article or at the homepage of social media accounts of different people like bobo, tanga, walang isip are just on the surface of what’s really going on in the psyche of some Filipinos.

At the end of the day, we should debate not what went wrong in the pageant, or what the perfect answer is to the Q&A portion, or what the correct translation is to the question but what’s happening on the ground to our Filipino women. Some of them are being raped, abused, and butchered. Even at this point in our history, we still hear news reports of sexual violence to our women in public spaces and public transport – jeepneys, buses, and taxicabs. We should direct our energy instead in addressing these issues and help preserve the purity of our women in which we Filipinos have been known in the past. Let us instill and strengthen the culture of respect to them which has significantly been overlooked in the past few years. I know we have changed a lot as a nation. But is it too much to ask to treat every decent, classy, and dignified woman as Miss Universe? That matters more than awarding her a crown with a shape reminiscent of Manhattan skyline made up of 311 pieces of diamonds, 5 pieces of blue topaz, 198 pieces of blue sapphire, 33 pieces of crystal and 220 grams of gold.

What is wrong with me?

Have you ever felt rejected because the thing you were good at was not valued, or worse – stigmatized?

“You’re related to Mrs. J, the Mathematics Division Coordinator, right?” my high school teacher asked. “Why can’t you answer the quadratic equation on the board? You are just good at public speaking.”

I stood for 1 minute. No, 2 minutes and 30 seconds. There was chaos inside me. I blamed myself. I felt small. Helpless. Someone raised his hand. Our math wizard. Her favorite. The superior being in a class of forty young and hopeful souls. I got everyone’s attention. And then I asked myself: “What is wrong with me?”

I knew it was coming. It also occurred to my classmate who had represented our district for creative story telling contest. A few weeks before, one of my classmates, who’s known as the best school paper writer, has been humiliated for getting the lowest score in our Algebra quiz. And the day before, another one, who has an inclination for the arts, overwhelmed by fear, anxiety, and inner turmoil cried in front of everyone else after being shouted at for failing to provide the solution to a word problem in Physics. Do these resonate with you?

We celebrate the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) geniuses in schools like gods in the heavens. We regard their achievements as more valuable than that of chess players, the athletes, the dancers, and the theater actors in our midst. We see excellence in creativity, sports, and arts to be inferior flashes of intelligence because they do not have comparable economic worth as dictated by capitalism and industrialism. But, is it sustainable?

Isn’t it true that most of the existing public education systems in the world have a hierarchy of subjects?

Creativity expert, educator, and author Ken Robinson said in his 2006 TED Talk: “But something strikes you when you move to America and travel around the world: Every education system on Earth has the same hierarchy of subjects. Every one. Doesn’t matter where you go. You’d think it would be otherwise, but it isn’t. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts. Everywhere on Earth. And in pretty much every system too, there’s a hierarchy within the arts. Art and music are normally given a higher status in schools than drama and dance. There isn’t an education system on the planet that teaches dance every day to children the way we teach them mathematics.”

We have been introduced to an education system that embraces linearity, conformity, and batching. We have been told that whenever there’s a problem, there are choices to choose from; be it A, B, C, D, or sometimes E. We learned that there’s only one correct answer for every question. And so, just like machines, some of us became stiff, immovable, and unable to go beyond the grasp of their imagination.

It has been said that kids are born scientists and artists. We were curious, weren’t we? We were explorers of our world and in return, we discovered how to use our senses to have a better understanding of what’s going on around us. We learn. We commit mistakes. But as we grew older, we became more and more afraid to try something new and be deemed wrong. Some of our peers’ dreams have been crashed by some adults and educators in their lives – intentionally or unknowingly. They lost their creative capacity in the process. Some of our teachers, relatives and friends told to us to blend in because that’s what everyone has been doing. As a result, they suppress their real identity to the point that they can no longer recognize who they are.

We have seen some people around us go through their lives without having a real sense of what they are organically capable of doing. We see them endure their jobs rather than enjoy them. We became witnesses of some people from different generations posting sarcastic “Happy weekend!” with emojis and smileys as if they have become slaves during the workweek. If you’re passionate about your work, shouldn’t you feel misery instead of cheerfully declaring that you’re at last free to spend your well-deserved weekend? Isn’t that a bold sign that you’re not doing the work that you genuinely love?

If the current education systems are concrete, sure ways for literacy and success, how come some of the biggest names today never graduated from college? Steve Jobs left school and founded Apple with Steve Wozniak. Mark Zuckerburg, the chief executive officer and co-founder of Facebook did the same thing. Bill Gates, one of the world’s wealthiest and widely recognized philanthropists, quit school and is the man behind the software I am using right now and the million others around the globe to pound their ideas into their computers.

About a year ago, Leonardo DiCaprio spoke about how real climate change is and the need to urgently work collectively together and stop procrastinating to solve “the most urgent threat facing our entire species” in his speech after finally winning an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. But, shouldn’t we also take a deeper look at the human ecology? Today, degrees do not matter that much anymore. Millions of fresh graduates are forced to spend their time not on harnessing their talents and abilities but on leveling up their characters in computer games. This simply tells us that there’s a great disconnect between what the job market needs and what the available supply has.

We have to revolutionize education to arm the coming generations for the future that they have to face and rethink existing principles that may be applicable for positive impact. We have no idea how challenging the world will look like in the years to come, but we can prepare them. We should stop treating ourselves the same way we treat machines in factories – for single purpose. We are too complex to be contained in a box.

And on the things they are good at? Let’s encourage them and be there to support them. Because it is only when they understand who they really are can they feel the comfort and security of being in their own skin and the essence of being alive. If we’ll do these, they’ll never doubt themselves and be more appreciative of the diversity and differences of human capacities. More importantly, they’ll never ask, “What is wrong with me?” but rather be more focused on the special and unique things that deeply lay in their core as key elements for human ecology to flourish.

Our talents and gifts have been stigmatized in one way or another. We should not let it happen again. For our children’s children and the generations to come.

We are what we watch

When did you last watch a locally produced film in a theater not so much for the stars who are in it as for its story, production values and technical excellence?

While the country goes through national cleansing from illegal drugs and criminality fueled by “The Duterte Revolution,” as termed by National Artist F. Sionil Jose, the annual Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) has revealed its own version of metamorphosis. As bravely announced by University of the Philippines professor Nic Tiongson, eight official entries were named, which the members of the MMFF board unanimously chose for the public’s viewing pleasure.

Surprising for me was the exclusion for the first time in the festival of “Enteng Kabisote” and “Mano Po,” which are on their tenth and seventh installments this year, respectively. That’s right: tenth and seventh. MMFF Goliaths “Mother” Lily Monteverde and “Bossing” Vic Sotto were shocked and frustrated. But should they be?

I visited the MMFF website and read its mission: “A festival that celebrates Filipino artistic excellence, promotes audience development, and champions the sustainability of the Philippine film industry.” And here’s its vision: “To develop audiences for and encourage the production of quality Filipino films, and to promote the welfare of its workers.”

Where is “Filipino artistic excellence” in a film that you expect to showcase, for the nth time, the same old formula: scenes of running, shooting and fighting fantastic creatures and other beings? Where is “quality Filipino films” in movies that time and again use the defense “Christmas is for kids” to justify poor storytelling and absence of creativity?

Are some of us that dumb that they make do with eating the same Noche Buena and Media Noche every MMFF season, with recycled concepts and forced twists in the script?

Renowned astrophysicist and thinker Neil deGrasse Tyson once said: “If there is a country without art, it’s not a country I want to live in. If there’s a country without science, you’re living in a cave. We measure the success of a civilization by how much … how well they treated their creative people.”

When I heard this, I remembered what Lily Monteverde had said: “You know, there is a time for the indie movies, but not the Christmas season. Christmas is for the family.” Are we treating our creative people rightfully if we seclude them from a festival over which she has been reigning as a queen for a long time? Isn’t that a degrading statement to indie filmmakers, who mightily try to survive in a country that has a trifling regard for the beauty of the arts and quality films?

So far this year, I’ve watched only one Filipino movie. A colleague invited me to join her family one Friday evening days before my birthday in July to watch a historical drama based on the memoirs of St. Ignatius de Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order. I was thrilled and curious.

“At last! A sensible movie!” was my reaction when the plot summary was introduced. “Ignatio de Loyola” kindled hope in me that Filipinos are too capable, competent and imaginative to be dismissed from the international stage. Truth be told, most of the mainstream movies shown after the blockbuster “Heneral Luna” in 2015 were not outstanding.

Are we not tired of the trend of our local films that, by just the title, reveals what the stories are, the flows of events, and their endings? Boy meets girl. Flirtation. Betrayal. They hook up even if one of them is in another relationship. Beach scenes. Sensual exchanges. Bodies colliding. Morning kiss. Characters dressed in white clothes. Reality kicks in. Guilt enters the picture. The forbidden relationship has to end. One asks for forgiveness. To move on, or to hold on? Frustration. Car accident. Amnesia. Final kiss. 5 seconds. Happy song. 20 seconds. The end. And the bloopers, for the members of the audience to believe that they had a great time.

Film as a form of art serves as a catalyst for the audience to take a sound look at what’s going on, to reflect, to empathize, and to act for personal and social development. We’ve heard the saying, you are what you eat. But isn’t it true that we are also what we watch? If we’re just content to spend our time watching rubbish posing as films and not have the curiosity to look beyond the horizon for better fare, maybe we deserve the chaos we’re in right now—a forgetful and gullible nation.

We have an opportunity in the coming MMFF to experience an unforgettable Noche Buena and Media Noche of high-caliber films. Let’s embrace the chance. It could be that the decades of slavery to mediocrity are gone, and we are independent, at last!

(This piece has been published in Young Blood, Opinion, Philippine Daily Inquirer on the 15th of December, 2016.)

Sasamahan kita

sasamahan kita sa unang taglamig sa ibang bayan, sa pagngiti nang sa wakas gapusin ng iyong kamay ang mga unang patak ng niyebe mula sa kalangitan

sasamahan kita sa mga paglalakbay, sa mga bundok, burol, ‘di kilalang daan, mga bagong bagay, tao, at pambihirang karanasan

sasamahan kita sa iyong mga pagtangis, sa mga pangamba, sa pag-abot sa mga bituin, sa paghiling sa mga bulalakaw, at sa bawat pagyapak ng iyong mga paa sa dalampasigan

sasamahan kita sa pagyakap ng ulan sa mga lansangan, sa pagsaksi sa lagablab ng araw sa umaga, at sa dahan-dahang paghalik ng dilim sa pisngi ng dagat

hayaan mong samahan kita.

The butterfly effect

IN MY childhood, I used to spend my weekend afternoons in our backyard watching tree clinging, 12-legged caterpillars transform into majestic flying butterflies. If nature permits, the cocoon would slowly break open paving the way for a beautiful creature to exist. It was magical. But today, I no longer see butterflies just as they are or their metamorphosis as a metaphor for 180-degree transformation. I see PDu30 in them.

A few days before he sworn into office, PDu30 said: “There will be a metamorphosis of the mind. From being a caterpillar, it will blossom into a butterfly.”

I still remember how hopeful and excited my mother was on the makeover that would occur on the most powerful man in this country. But did he really change? Can a man really change his ways in a snap to be more presidential? How can his demeanor reflect the way we see ourselves as a nation?

President Duterte knows exactly how to play his game. He got 16 million votes for a promise of strongman rule. Every time he curses, a microphone is in front of him to capture everything. Cameras are all over as he moves his mouth. He doesn’t care if you’re the Pope. If you made him wait in traffic for hours, feel free to listen to his wrath. He confessed every possible detail of his humanity that can be used against him during the campaign period – a womanizer, bloody murderer of rapists, and a killer of sorts. While this “playful use of words” has become second nature to him, a majority of us including the international media is caught unprepared, confused, and puzzled on what he really meant. He is willing to slap anybody even a former senator and cabinet secretary with his truth. He has “nothing to hide” he would say. And then expect his speakers and allies quick to interpret and explain what he just uttered.

Just recently, he headlined news reports for “cursing” President Barack Obama of the United States. But if you’ll play the video over and over again, he did not directly curse him. He addressed it to those who would question the way he handles the drug problem in our country in the ASEAN summit. I wonder why some media organizations say otherwise.

Every day, we witness his antics, we listen to the way he expresses himself, his expiration in controlling his mouth and emotions past midnight which is common to someone who’s 71 years old. He’s probably irritated, we would say.

But how did we get here?

Why did we resort to a cursing, foul-mouthed president instead of entrusting the kingdom to yellow king’s heir – masked with his signature elitist eyeglass – who has vowed to continue the fight for the straight path in well-tucked polo shirt? How about the short, dark-skinned man who reigned over the concrete jungle of the country’s financial district and prematurely announced his aspiration to the throne?

The answers to these questions are slowly revealing themselves in front of our eyes. We got tired. Our ears got to the spilling level on the traditional politicians with the same platforms that we sought for someone sincere and unconventional. We’ve become impatient of the inefficiencies that surround us that we made ourselves believe that who we need right now is a punisher, a strongman, someone who understands what we’re going through in our everyday lives. PDu30 is the exact opposite of PNoy when it comes to demeanor and manner of speech. I’ve never heard PNoy curse; PDu30 has it in his system.

We celebrate him despite of the knowledge that thousands have died in his world-famous war against drugs. Those who were killed either resisted arrest or tried to steal the gun of the police officer while being handcuffed, they would say. We believe on this reasoning because none of our family members has become a victim yet. Because we believe that nothing will happen to good people. And at the same time, we accepted full-heartedly that an innocent man could die. It’s the trade of the game. Because we understand that in any warfare there shall be collateral damage. They are just numbers flashed on our tv sets. Just another update for the day until someone close to our hearts becomes a lifeless face of that statistics. Can’t we see the disconnect on our own beliefs?

Suddenly, we became more involved. We post comments and status updates about the workings of the government. We watch his every interview. We listen to him like students to a teacher with the admiration to be catalysts for change. We talk about him during lunch at work and within the confines of our homes. No wonder, historically, he has one of the highest approval ratings among presidents.

PDu30 made us realize that we’re not genuinely happy inside. We’re unhappy with drug addicts and pushers roaming around backed by some corrupt law enforcers and government officials themselves. We’re unhappy to walk on the streets no matter what time of the day because there is no security.

Perhaps, President Duterte will still curse. He will still speak his mind to whoever claims to be a moral authority in the years to come. But shouldn’t we first seek to change ourselves? Shouldn’t we first seek to be contributors and vigilant actors to the nation-building advocacy that he wants us to take?

And the next time that President Duterte flaps his wings on stage or in front of a camera to deliver a 45-minute extemporaneous speech about the challenges and pressing issues that we face as a country, may we not just count his contradictions and the number of times he cursed but choose to see him the same way President Obama once described him:”Clearly, he’s a colorful guy.”

I love you, Nay

WHEN I was a child, I used to lay beside my mother and press my ear against her soft, warm belly. I would close my eyes and imagine the world inside her, on how the rice grains travelled from her stomach to her intestines after every meal and listen to the grumbling sounds which became my lullaby. While it is true that my mother was passionate about books and stories in her youth, I never fell asleep while listening to her reading or when sharing one. I would fall asleep every time I listen to the enticing borborygmi created by the movements of her intestines.

Lying beside her is one of the most peaceful places in the world. And then one day, chaos came in the real world and inside my head.

In May 1999, while sitting outside our house, my father saw the kitchen of an apartment building nearby. It’s on fire.

“Fire! Fire! There’s a fire!” he shouted at the top of his lungs as he pointed his finger to the apartment’s window on the second floor.

The people in the neighborhood were alerted. Confusion surfaced. My mother approached my father to calm him down. But she’s too late. He’s having a heart attack. Again. The second time in the past year and the third time in his lifetime. I shed tears. I was too preoccupied to process the whole scene that I peed in my shorts.

They rushed him to the hospital. He stayed there for months. During that period, our youngest and I only heard bits of news. We were not allowed to make a visit for we were warned that the hospital was full of sick people and we might get infected. My mother never showed any sign of weakness.

In July 1999, two weeks before my 9th birthday, on a round, wooden table with nothing on top of it, I heard the saddest news. “Tatay is gone… He passed away earlier today” our eldest sibling said who just came from the hospital. I didn’t know how to react or what to say. There was silence. And then cries of longing.

For a few weeks, after the death of my father, I’ve not seen my mother smiled even once.

I wondered how she would manage the gargantuan task of raising a big family like ours of 8 members. We were still attending school. Our eldest sibling was still in college. How about the tuition fees? How about the daily expenses? How can a laundrywoman and part-time dressmaker shoulder everything?

I still remember how she pleaded the sari-sari store owners in our place to lend us their canned goods, rice, instant noodles, etc. for our meals. We were turned down multiple times and despised at because we couldn’t pay our debts on time. There were times when we would skip meals. Our relatives on the other hand have been so supportive to make our situation better. But the support was not enough. It was one of the lowest moments of our lives.

My mother always said: “Someday, we’ll get over this.”

Looking back, all we could do is to smile. I understood everything that happened then. I still couldn’t believe that we survived and continued to fight all because of my mother who stood by her principles. All of her children graduated from college and I know that she’s proud about it.

Whenever I had an assignment about essay writing in grade school, she was there like a hero who’s always ready to rescue the one in need. I didn’t know how to compose a sentence or recognize an independent clause then. She has shown me the wonders of stories and on how to spark the curiosity of the readers. In public speaking, she shared the importance of confidence and on how the manner by which you stand in front of everyone else can either leave them fascinated or disappointed.

My mother is our family doctor. I couldn’t remember a time that she did not take special care of any of us, her children when we’re sick. She would buy the necessary medicines, have us drink Gatorade to avoid being dehydrated and would prepare and apply wet cloth on our foreheads to lower the body temperature. Even her siblings, my aunts and uncles, would contact her for advice when it comes to health issues. We’ve become witnesses of a woman who stayed in hospitals for months because of my father’s condition. And by that, she gained experiences and tons of information for simple types of sickness.

My mother will turn 63 in October this year. She’s a senior citizen and the evidence of her old age is her constant complaint of body aches. Another proof is whenever she willingly and proudly waves her senior citizen I.D. at Jollibee, Chowking and Mercury Drug Store for discount on her purchases and in theaters in Makati City to watch a movie for free.

I stare at my mother whenever I have a chance and ask her random questions like, “What is your favorite color, or favorite food, or what place do you want to visit next, Nay?” I go on a date with her every time it is possible.

Whenever I felt down or it seemed like the world has revolted against me, whenever I had a bad dream, I would lay beside her. I would press my ear against her belly and she knew our routine: I would embrace her, kiss her, and close my eyes. And finally, I would whisper: “I’m thankful and grateful to God that you’re here and you’re my mom. Thank you for your courage and love. I love you, Nay.”

Concert in a Classroom

HAVE YOU ever been made to stand in class for the rest of the period because you were unable to answer a question or gave the wrong one?

“What is the matter?” Prof. X asked. Nobody wanted to answer. Our room, which only a few minutes ago was filled with laughter and stories about Anime, NBA and our classmate’s latest smartphone, turned silent, again, just like yesterday, or last week, or even last term. We were thrilled, in a bad way. We were too scared to make a mistake, or to even try.

She looked at me and said: “Mr. Zenarosa, do you know the answer?” Having a surname that starts with the last letter of the alphabet has some advantages. You are called last in a system where “Abel,” “Almeda,” and “Asuncion” are always at the front line. And yes, Abel stood longer than I did. Again. Everyone was standing, just like when Eraserheads or Bamboo or Adele is on stage, having the time of their lives in a concert. And we? We, too—35 young minds—were having the time of our lives, at the worst.

Have you ever wondered why this is? When one experiences a humiliating situation, will it make one question oneself, pretend that one is a superhero, and ultimately change in a blink with an imaginary cape? Isn’t the classroom supposed to be a venue for free thinking, for an exchange of ideas with a teacher, who, after having obtained a doctorate, should know more than anybody else that fear does not always result in learning or knowledge or the evolution of ideas?

Ken Robinson said in a TED talk: “I like university professors, but you know, we shouldn’t hold them up as the high-water mark of all human achievement. They’re just a form of life. There’s something curious about professors … not all of them, but typically, they live in their heads. They live ‘up there,’ and slightly to one side. They’re disembodied. They look upon their body as a form of transport for their heads.”

When I heard this, the image of Prof. X popped into my head, and one other. They walk with so much civility. Their minds and their understanding seem way beyond normal, so that the public—in this case, we, their students—cannot even chat with them during break times or when we bump into them in the hallway. They should be respected, no doubt. But is this the best we can have?

Isn’t it true that there are some main actors in our education system who engage in practices that kill not just the creativity but also the drive and the spirit of some of their students? Our lives are altered, our outlook changed, and in the end, some of us give up, thinking that we are not good enough. Some of us are shouted at for not finding the “x” and “y” or slope in a math problem in front of everyone else, with a piece of chalk, or a white board marker, in our hands, trembling—the longest minutes of our lives. We feel inferior in an instant. We start to believe that we can go nowhere, even if, in some areas of our lives, we are succeeding.

And the other one?

I was bullied in high school. But it was not your conventional bullying, which is student to student; it was teacher to student. The topic was atoms. The teacher asked: “How many holes … does this sponge have?” She then looked at me from head to toe and told me to rise. “In your case, how many holes does your face have?” she said. Being born to a family that seems to have so much regard for the propagation and safekeeping of pimples from one generation to the next, I looked down.

Last row. Right wing. Seat 45. For a boy whose surname starts with the last letter of the alphabet, and who was made to stand, again—this time, the first one—to answer a question that had no relation in any sense to the topic, it was infuriating.

She laughed. Very hard.

Ten seconds. I was crying. I wanted to teleport from where I was sitting to my bedroom. To hug my favorite pillow. To hide. To forget.

Fifteen seconds. Everybody was laughing. I had an out-of-the-body experience for the nth time.

After an hour, everybody settled down for their lunch break.

I was still at Seat 45. And with all the courage that I could muster from my thin, young, ashamed self, I chose not to leave.

Looking back, did those episodes really make me stronger?

We grew up in a culture that views such episodes as normal. That a kid in every other block should somehow experience these things. That he or she is weak and that someday, he or she will be thankful for the “challenge” put to him or her. That bullying, in different levels, is a part of growth. But is it?

Some of us are good at painting, photography, or the other arts. Some of us are sent outside the four corners of our schools for writing, public speaking, or athletics competitions. We gain confidence for every success story. We are this country’s future.

But some of us are silently keeping our pain inside. We are becoming casualties, in certain ways, of the mentors our parents want us to meet in learning institutions.

We are a people with much regard for hard work. We know from childhood that we cannot reap what we did not plant. But I was wrong to apply this principle in those situations. I was not supposed to experience those terrible moments. Nobody is. I was discriminated against and was wronged. We were made to stand for more than an hour inside or outside the classroom, supposedly for us to work harder, to give us more time, so that next time, our mouths will be a fountain of beautiful answers. She wanted us to realize something.

And do you wonder why I still remember those details? It’s because I got hurt. And just like the other faces of hurt that this world can offer, those experiences will never be forgotten or deleted as old, ugly files in my personal awareness.

I chose to improve. The education system and the way things are done can flourish over time. But we have to rethink how students should be treated in any classroom, whether they have the answer or not. We can do better than shouting at them or bullying them.

And at any rate, your brain dictated “Matter is anything that has mass and weight” as the answer to Prof. X’s tricky question. Be ready to pack your things, confidently stand for an hour, inside or outside the classroom, with a heart.

(This piece has been published in Youngblood, Opinion, Philippine Daily Inquirer on the 4th of February, 2016.)

#actinganlangtouy

Sabi nila isang linggo ka lang,

Dubsmash sa Bulaga? Anong suicide attempt ‘yan?

Ayun! Muling gumuhit ng kasaysayan,

‪#‎ALDUBMostAwaitedDate‬ umabot 10 million tweets lang naman!

Ano bang meron ka at kami’y nahalina?

Dahil ba acting mo ramdam naming totoo na?

‘Di gaya ng Pastillas na pilit pinahihinog,

Walang puno, ‘di bunga – hanap ay irog.

Wally

Napangiti ako nang makita kang muli,

Itinaon sa kaarawan ng kaibigang matalik,

Sa harap ng TV, nakayukong nag-sorry,

Bakas lungkot sa mukha, humihibik.

 

‘Di ko naisip na may pangalawang pagkakataon,

Sa iyo’y igagawad sa susunod pang mga taon,

Nguni’t pinatunayan, may higanteng kaloob,

Sa sibat ng manguusig, ‘di nagpakubkob.

 

Sa unang Kalyeserye, inaabangan ka,

Sampu ng milyun-milyong tao na umaasa sa komedya,

Himala ngang tunay, ang kalimutan ng madla,

Iskandalong bumalot, anino ng mala-payasong karera.

 

Traffic sa EDSA, nawawalang parang bula,

Tindahan nagsasara, taxi at trike tigil-pasada,

Nando’n sila nakatunghay, naguumpukan,

Animo’y mga langgam, bago pumatak ang ulan.

 

“Lola Nidora” ang trending mong ngalan,

Sa Wikipedia entry, mababasa kung bubuksan,

Nacurious ako sa pinanggalingang bayan,

Bikolano ka rin pala, gaya ng aking mga magulang.

 

Nais kong malaman mo – nagagalak kami para sa’yo,

Kahit alam naming sa loob mo, puso’y nagdurugo,

Dahil pagkatapos ng palabas, papasok ang katotohanan,

Isa sa mga anak – nasa pagamutan, malubha ang kalagayan.

 

‘Di lang ako natuwa nang iyong hadlangan,

Pagkikita ng Albub, ‘di na lang split screen ang pagtitinginan,

Acting ni Maine Mendoza, mukhang totoo na!

Akala ko ba dapat mahinhin, gaya ng isang dalagang Filipina?

 

Naisip na pamagitan – plywood lang naman,

Maigting na pagyakap, hindi pa pinagbigyan,

Ilang dipa na lang ang agwat, ‘di pa nag-atubili,

Ano ka ba Alden? Nag-moment pa kasi!

 

Iyong mga kasama, todo ang suporta,

TVJ pangunahin na, si Michael V nag-post pa nga,

Commendation, wika niya, sa’yo ay nararapat!

Nakabangon ka na nga, sa pagpapala ‘di salat.

 

Inyong programa, may dalang aral sa tuwina,

Pagtupad sa pangako at salita, walang kasinghalaga,

“Patawad mga kababayan,” ilang beses nang nasambit,

Panghahawakang mahigpit, pagbabagong pilit.

Sampung misteryo sa isang bahagi ng mundo

Una. Kailan nga ba magkikita ng mukhaan sina Alden Richards at Yaya Dub?
Ikalawa. Ano bang ipinaglalaban ng INC members nang mag-rally sila sa EDSA-Shaw noong Biyernes, araw ng sahod?
Ikatlo. Anong ginagawa ng MMDA Chairman sa Albay sa Bicol samantalang ang bigat pa rin ng traffic sa EDSA?
Ikaapat. Bakit sandamukal na permit ang kailangan para lang makapagtayo ng cell site sa isang lugar para mas mapabilis ang internet speed?
Ikalima. Sino si Martin Romualdez na biglang may malasakit sa buong bansa?
Ikaanim. Anong klaseng espiritu ang pumasok sa pagkatao ng mga leader ng Bureau of Customs ng ipagutos nila na pagbubuksan ang balikbayan boxes ng OFWs?
Ikapito. Paanong nangyari na nakapag-bail si Sen. Enrile sa isang non-bailable offence na gaya ng sinasabi sa Constitution?
Ikawalo. Anong itsura ni “Babala” na asawa ni “Babalu”?
Ikasiyam. Kung walang Forever, anong tawag mo sa kung anong meron yung nanay at tatay mo (at yung mga sinaunang homo sapiens)?
Ikasampu. Nasaan na ang diary na naglalaman ng mga sikreto ni Lola Nidora at bakit ayaw niyang magkatuluyan yung dalawang karakter sa una?

Sa sobrang traffic sa EDSA

Sa sobrang traffic sa EDSA, kung na-busted ka sa SM North, ‘pag bumaba ka na sa Guadalupe, pakiramdam mo nakamove-on ka na.

Getting over the “Fight of the Century”

Cheers were replaced by sighs. Nobody wanted to leave the theater. We were shocked. Everybody hoped that maybe Jimmy Lennon Jr. read the scores incorrectly. “‘Yun na ‘yon (Is that it)?”, the old man sitting beside me shouted in exasperation. We waited for the climax of the movie pictured mentally by hundreds of millions of fans all over the world – Mayweather, the wife-batterer – blank-faced, defeated, on the canvas after being hit by Pacquiao in a barrage of punches in every angle. It never came.

We were fooled. We are living in a country facing international conflicts on the West Philippine Sea and the government is “exhausting all efforts for the lives of the 88 Filipinos in death row” including the much-publicized Mary Jane Veloso who has “innocent face and will break your heart” as described by Neal Cruz. Poverty is all over the place. Some children roam around the streets of Manila with no clothes on. MRT and LRT have become havens for pickpockets and other thieves. 44 members of the PNP-SAF were massacred, most of them on a cornfield, exposed to enemy fires. Corruption is rampant in almost all levels. And as a passionate people, we placed our hopes in Pacquiao’s powerful fists that we might forget all these, on that bright, glorious day. That we can laugh our hearts out after 6 years of expecting. But then again, it never happened. His camp revealed that he injured his arm weeks before the fight. We believed that “I’ll be at my best come May 2nd”. Or should I say, “We were made to believe”?

Sports breathes from hope. And to engage yourself in sports is a way to relieve the different forms of stress of life. However, if used the improper way, it can be lethal. A promise of escape from reality can be turned into a nightmare that will forever haunt the minds of people.

Looking back, Pacquiao fought a good fight. He never backed down. It takes greatness and strength to take a punch or two to finally get inside Mayweather’s defense and launch one good shot either on the head or to the body. Pacquiao lost some credibility for not disclosing his real condition before the fight.

Boxing has faced one of its deaths that day. At least, the curiosity and interest of millions for boxing may rest within themselves. And while I look forward to Lebron James and the Cavs bagging a championship from one of the major sports in the US of A for the people of Cleveland, I still cannot believe how expensive the tickets were of the memorial service I attended on May 2. That was the day when I first saw vibrant and lively fans transformed into zombies in a matter of minutes, walking slowly towards the exit – to go home.

Palengke

Palengke, isa sa mga lugar sa mundo na may tumatawag sa’yo ng kung anu-ano. Minsan, “kuya”, o ‘di kaya “kuyang naka-shades”. O ‘di kaya, “Pogi”. Depende na lang kung titigil ka at magpapadala. Magtataka ka na lang na pati ‘yung anak nila ikinukuwento na sa’yo. Ang gusto mo lang naman bumili ng bangus at sibuyas. Isa mga lugar, bukod sa Derm Clinic, Bench Fix at ‘yung barber shop sa sunod na kanto.

Vulnerable

We are so vulnerable. While we boast that we reached the modern life that we enjoy today, with laptops, gadgets, and etc., we still cannot count all our hair as what a verse in the bible says. Just like the other mysteries in the world that we cannot comprehend that we will soon forget – we can be forgotten. But the good thing is, we can try to leave a mark on those who will be left. It may not be as grand as the works of Mao Tse Tung, or of King David, or of Napoleon Bonaparte, but what’s important is that it is based on truth. And you can expect that it would exist over time.

Rest

In this long weekend, let your mind and heart rest from everything that happened in the past. May you find your cave in this fast-changing world even under the light of a thousand stars. And come back stronger.

Bata

Bata – nagpapaalala sa’yo na noon:

Inisip mong kaya mong lumipad gaya ni Batman, pero, mali ka pala dahil may Bat Mobile si Batman, hindi lumilipad kahit saan gaya ni Superman;

Lahat, itinuring mong kalaro – ‘yung kamag-anak, kapit-bahay at maging nagkakara-krus sa kanto;

May gumagawa ng projects mo. Ngayon sa utak mo mismo galing ang proyekto;

Nag-try kang ipunin lahat ng enerhiya sa katawan at ilagay lahat sa isang hintuturo para sa Raygun, ngunit, walang lumalabas, kahit naisalin na sa’yo ng lahat ng kalaro mo ‘yung spirit power nila, ayun! naisip ninyong naglolokohan lang kayo. Tumirik na ‘yung mata ninyo sa kakatitig, walang nangyari. Ibang laro na lang, ‘yung may Kamehame Wave, sabay sipa, batok, tadyak sa kalaban;

May malaking puno malapit sa inyo, inisip ninyong magkakalaro na may duwende at tirahan ng maligno, kaya naghanda kayo ng panlaban – potion na may bawang, sibuyas, alateris, asin, paminta, at kung ano pang nasa Bahay Kubo. May game plan – aatake kayo ng alas-sais ng hapon o sa takipsilim o bago pauwiin ‘yung Mama’s Boy sa grupo. Kapag naisagawa na ang plano, magtatakutan kayo. Niloko n’yo na naman sarili n’yo;

May burot lagi sa laro. Ngayon, ‘di mo na maasar, dahil malaki pa sa’yo. Baka bigla kang itali sa poste ng Meralco;

Ang liit pala ng bola na gamit ninyo noon. Akala mo ang lupet mo na, dahil dakot mo ‘yung bola. Dinadakdakan mo ‘yung ring sa inyo, sabay sabing, Gori! o In your Face! Hanggang lay-up at jump shot ka na lang ngayon sa tunay na court. Point guard ka na lang. Dati center ka, ang liit mo pala;

OK lang na may uhog sa ilong (o braso matapos subukang tanggalin) o kahit walang brief. Ang cute mo, ang sabi nila. ‘Pag ginawa mo ‘yon ngayon, kadiri ka. Rapist. Exhibitionist tawag sa’yo;

Busog ka na sa Zest-O with mamon o sa soup na pinipilit ipaubos sa inyo ng teacher mo, kundi abono ka;

Pinipilit kang patulugin ng panganay ninyo sa hapon. Samantalang ngayon, ‘di ka na makatulog sa dami ng bagay na nasa utak kahit gustuhin mo;

Ang dami mong panahon, pero mabilis palang lumilipas, gaya ng ilang bagay na hindi mo na maalala dahil dumating na sa kanilang wakas.

Ulan, Tren, at Gabi

Naramdaman mo ba ‘yung hangin, tila malamig?
Parang may sinasabi, sa una’y malabo ang himig,
Ngunit habang tumatagal, lumilinaw, nauunawa,
Hindi ko alam kung dahil sa ulan, o dala ng awa.
 
 
Napansin mo ba na tuwing gabi, madalas,
Naglalakbay ang diwa, hindi mo namamalas,
Gaya ng ibon sa himpapawid, isip mo’y laya,
Nagbabago kang bigla, nagiging makata. 
 
 
Noo’y iniisip ko, lahat ng tao ganito,
Ngunit nagunita na mali ang akala ko,
Hindi lahat may ganitong pagkakataon,
Ang ila’y nagsasabi na walang kabuluhan, dapat itapon.
 
 
Pinilit kong itago ang pag-ibig sa letra at salita,
Dahil ang inhinyero, sabi nila, ay marapat na hilig ay agham at matematika,
Hindi ba’t marami pang higit sa numero?
O dahil makitid ang daluyan ng dugo sa kanilang ulo?
 
 
Magsulat ka hanggang kaya mo,
Gaya ng ginawa ni Rizal para sa’yo,
Hindi siya nagpapigil sa armas ng kalaban,
Dala niya’y may kapangyarihang humiwa, tagos kalamnan.
 
 
Naramdaman mo ba ‘yung hangin, tila may ibinubulong?
Sa tuwina na lang habang nasa tren, jeep o naghihintay sa kakanlong?
May mga namumuong ideya, pangungusap, kumakatok, naghahanap ng masisilungan,
Mapalad ka, kasapi sa lahing tagapag-ingat ng kanilang pahingahan.
 

Other half of rule number 1

I had set 2 rules for myself to survive the onslaught of college: rule number 1 – finish your bachelor’s degree in 4 years; do not hold any position in any student organization; rule number 2 – go back to rule number 1. That was the master plan. But, just like other stories on TV and books, mine have twists too.

Eight years ago, the senior students in my course spearheaded the founding of a new student organization in the campus named BSEE Guild (or BSEEG, Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering Guild). Its mission was to promote academic excellence and camaraderie among electrical engineering and electrical technology students in the campus. It was said that a question popped up from nowhere and they asked, “ECE has IECEP, why can’t we have our own?” With the strength of more than 200 members, the organization was founded. Naturally, our seniors, the experienced ones, held the top posts in the organization. There were more than 10 Accredited Student Organizations (ACSO) at the time in the campus, academic and non-academic, and BSEE Guild was one of them.

After a year, the officers were able to organize activities that helped furnish the loop holes and the challenges of taking care of the newbie in the campus. It was the start of the first semester for academic year 2008-2009. I was a sophomore. It was announced that the election for the next set of officers will be held a week after.

The election came. The outgoing BSEE Guild president started with, “The nomination for president is open, any nomination?” I was holding my notebook at the time in preparation for the exam the next day. I really didn’t care about the meeting. I just wanted to attend as told by our class president. And then, for some reason, while I am reviewing Newton’s Laws of Motion, falling in love once again in the concept of gravity, and smiling all by myself for the realization that my answer to the question, “What is Matter?” is wrong all along as explained earlier that day by Dr. A (our professor in Physics and Chemistry), my classmate who was sitting beside me on the floor) suddenly looked at me and said, “Ben, na-nominate ka!” (Ben, you were nominated!). I was irritated at first and asked, “Ano ba? ‘Wag mo kong guluhin! (What? Don’t distract me!). I came back to reality. Everyone was looking at me. I looked at the white board and saw my name next to the words – Nominees for President. I observed that no one’s listed other than me. I heard the crowd saying, “Unanimous na yan, siya na president natin! (It’s unanimous, he’s the new president!). I can’t believe it at first. I lifted my black bag and stood in front of them. I told them my rule number 1 – I do not want to hold any position in any organization in my stay in the campus. But still, they insisted. I saw them smiling back at me. The mood was positive. They told me that I can do it. They shouted my name as if I won a boxing match. They learned that I was an officer in high school and represented the university in an inter-campus speech competition; they thought I was the right fit. Finally, I accepted it. That afternoon, I received the congratulatory remarks of everyone. Just like what might happen to any rule, half of rule number 1 was thrown out of the window.

Things changed in a blink of an eye. My day no longer ended in my affair with Calculus but by saying goodbyes to other student leaders in the campus after attending a meeting. Sometimes, they would call me Mr. BSEEG instead of my first name. My bag no longer contained just notebooks, pens and books, inside, it also had a clear book where almost all of the important documents of the organization were kept. While my classmates were solving word problems in Strength of Materials at home, I was still in the campus, preparing a document to be submitted to the Office of Student Affairs as a permit the next day. Or while one of them is inside his room, thinking about the type of flower to give and the lines to utter when he finally ask one of my classmates for a date, I was there, staring at the heavens and chatting with the guard, waiting to talk to a professor from other university in the metro with a master’s or doctorate degree in social sciences or engineering, convincing him or her to be the next speaker for a seminar or training – for free. Most of them declined after hearing the last 2 words of the invitation. Suddenly, my opinions mattered. I found myself attending symposiums with the officials in the main campus in Manila and other universities. I also gained more friends.

Like the colors in a rainbow, there were days when l felt blue. There were days when I was frustrated and angry as yellow because things didn’t go my way. Most days, like red, I was oozing with confidence and passion that our projects would be realized.

One day, the other half of rule number 1 was in danger. My grades were not impressive. I can no longer give time to the people close to me. There were pressures all over. It was as if I was in a tank full of water and there was no way I can breathe. I wanted to resign.

I searched for advice from different people. But inspiration came from inside. I told myself that if I give up now, I will give up the future. And almost everything went well.

After a year, we successfully organized more than 20 major and minor activities, had more than 20 organizational meetings and were awarded the “2nd Most Active ACSO” in the campus. I attended more than 20 internal meetings (meaning inside the campus) mostly sponsored by the Supreme Student Council and more than 10 activities organized by local and national organizations like the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines – Alumini Community (TOSP-AC) and the Institute of Integrated Electrical Engineers – Council of Student Chapters (IIEE-CSC). I have met some personalities like the president of the university system, student leaders from other campuses and Sonia Malasarte-Roco, the wife of former Senator Raul Roco.

Looking into everything, I realized 3 important things. First, you are just a passerby. You will leave your position someday, be it chairmanship, or presidency or any other posts. You will soon graduate and a lot of people might forget about you. Make the most out of it, live in the moment and leave a positive mark. This is also true with your job. Second, relationships matter. You may be the president or an officer of an organization, but keep your eyes wide open to the micro level. Give time and appreciation to those who value you more than anyone else. I failed to keep one person in my life and realized that she’s more important than any awards and recognition I received. Lastly, not everything that you learned is right. Just like what your mind dictated you as the answer to the question by Dr. A., “Matter is anything that has mass and weight.”

Yes, I have violated half of rule number 1 but I have never imagined how good life would get.

No regrets.

Beyond The 44

How much does peace cost? Does it require the displacement of more than a million families or the deaths of thousands and the revision of a Constitution even before you and I probably were born?

I am always curious as to how beautiful Philippines is. More than its scintillating and 7 Wonders of the World caliber spots, the smiles of its people, Muslim or Christian, I wanted to discover its cultures no matter how diverse. I wanted to know their stories. However, the line that divides its people became more evident now more than ever. The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), or what others call it, “the sole key for peace in Mindanao”, is still in the air but nobody seems to have the will to have a grip of its wings, for now.

Six years ago, 58 trembling souls had departed, one by one allegedly because of those who are seeking political immortality in Maguindanao. And just over a month ago, still in Maguindanao, on January 25, 2015, Clash of Mamasapano happened. At the height of passing and pushing of BBL a tragedy surfaced. There was a news-break “44 elite Philippine National Police – Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) combatants were killed. The best of the best were massacred”. The day the news broke, the country was saddened. There were angry, dismayed, and emotional senators, congressmen and government officials on TV giving interviews. A proposition of “all-out-war” against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway group of the MILF, has been the subject of discourse. Professors of universities and the intellectuals of the different sectors of societies were debating whether BBL is the real answer for peace in Mindanao or not. And there were “instant experts” in the peace process as well in social media.

But the truth is, according to Rappler, “…the number of fatalities in the day-long clash to at least 68. The incident also claimed the lives of at least 7 civilians, including a 5-year old girl.” There were Muslims or Moros and civilians who were killed, but the “44 PNP-SAF” combatants were those highlighted because they are from the government. They are regarded as “heroes” and the other victims of the clash as shadows and smokes and dusts of the “misencounter” (a new term used to describe what happened; it is not found in Merriam-Webster dictionary).  It is not that I do not feel the sentiment of the families of the PNP-SAF commandos; it’s just that equality is nowhere to be found by observing and listening to every word that comes out of the mouth of non-Muslim government officials.

As a country with the majority of its people calling themselves Christians, we know a little about those we call our “brothers” (a description we remember during Ramadan). Here are the limited facts that I know about Muslim or Islam or Moro.

“Moro” is a political or cultural term that refers to a society of people or an individual which are mosly living in Mindanao. “Muslim” on the other hand is a “faith-based” term that refers to a society of people or an individual who believes in Allah (their God) and has “Islam” as his or her religion. We usually see them selling DVDs, cellular phones, and other gadgets in malls. “Bumili ka sa Muslim” is a generic phrase being used by those living in the metropolitan areas whenever they have to transact to “Muslim” people in the market for cheap goods. We enclosed them in a box of identity just like this. These people are usually wearing long, white clothes. Some have their faces covered. They are unusual for first timers and for those who are used to seeing women wearing short “shorts” and fitted shirts and pants for men. There are communities of Muslim people in Taguig City and at the southern part of Visayas and most are living in Mindanao. They have structurally elegant Mosques where they practice their Islam beliefs. In elementary, we tackled Islam as one of the religions in the country and that there are different identities of Muslim in the Philippines, politically. Tausug people are the more famous. They live near the seas and known as “the people of the current.”

At the dark side, they are referred to as “terrorists” by some governments which in my opinion is improper and unethical for there are billions of Muslims all over the world and attaching the term to these people or even to make it sound synonymous for those who listen is injustice, unjustifiable and racist. Their argument is that most of the terrorists in the world are Muslims.

If only we make reforms in the education system for children in the young age to achieve a better understanding for the biases and differences and practices of all groups, ethnic or local, religious and political, we may have a better future. Once we understood and built respect on one another, bullying in the grade school level related to differences in religion will just be part of history. Not only that, we can have leaders who are sensitive enough, objective, and who will not let events aggravate their emotions and destroy the very mantle of the long history for peace process and goodwill in that part of this nation.

I hope that positive change happens sooner to save another family from being displaced in their homeland, or for a child to continue to have the education and learning environment and basic rights he or she deserves under the Constitution and for Christians and Muslims to finally meet half way and make an understanding that is more important than any resources this world has to offer.

In an interview by Boy Abunda (in his show The Bottomline) with a representative from Mindanao, he asked, “What it’s like to be in that place (in Mindanao)?” Then she answered, “It’s such a nice place”. Being the second largest island of the Philippines, Mindanao has resources that we should have been utilizing for the growth of the country. Malacanan boasts an average of 7% economic growth. But the reality is, this growth is only felt by those in classes A, B, and C. – the rich and middle class. How about the masses, those in classes D and E? We are an archipelago and we need every help we can get to alleviate the sufferings of the greater number of people from inside.

The Nobel Peace Prize is still in the horizon for the president, if indeed he is running after it as a seal to his legacy. And yes, it is not commensurate to the gravity of loss of lives we have witnessed in the past decades because of this conflict. I hope that that glorious day would come that Christians and Muslims go hand in hand in fighting the more aggressive demons of humanity like poverty, corruption and the inability to weigh things that are of greater value for the afterlife. After all, we all want peace and everyone loses in wars. Our eyes may not see it but at least, our children will. We have to give them a blood-cleansed land where they can go visit the provinces in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao without any troubles in mind that one of their own can change it in a blink of an eye. We can weep. We can blame everybody. But looking at the bigger picture of things, there is no better alternative.

There are different paths for peace. The only question is what path to choose and if we will take the first step to attain it today and beyond.