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.

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The butterfly effect

“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?”

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.”

Dear Boy who’s named after Superman

Dear Boy who’s named after Superman,

From the moment
We laid our eyes on you
We imagined the great things
We’ll do together and we
Knew something was real:

You got us with your smile, Kent.

Every time we held you
Your warmth ruled us with
Pure, unpretentious love
A feeling that God has
Reserved for us.

You travelled with us, talked to us
In a language that at first we
Couldn’t understand
But the joy in between us
Bridged the gap.

We were given two years to enjoy
Each other’s company
It was a short time
We will surely miss you.

We’ll miss how you stare at us
How you tried to mimic how we speak
How you embraced us with
Your soft, tiny arms
How we held hands when
You had your first walk.

We’ll miss how an icing
Covered your face on
Your birthday and your
Dimples made our day.

We’ll miss your sincerity
Your voice, your peace
Your laughter in times of
Chaos and celebration.

We’ll remember you for all these
For the adventures that
We shared together.

And everyday we thank God
For meeting you
For witnessing your
Extraordinary journey.

You will always be our Superman
Our little boy with an imaginary
Cape made from heaven.

Love you always,
Your family

I love you, ‘Nay

“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.”

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.”