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!”

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.

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.)

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.