Change: where and how do we begin?

PETER WRITES ON THE INTERNET, “I sure hope he dies soon enough so he is relieved of all his burdens and that I am relieved of calling him a fellow Filipino.”

No, he was not referring to some bandit, cult leader or Philippine president. That wishful thinking was for me.

Peter’s reaction mirrors the kind of comments I got when I wrote “Who wants to be a Filipino?” some years ago. In the essay, which was well-circulated in both print and electronic media, I asked, “If you were reincarnated and given the choice, would you want to be a Filipino again?” I said no. I would rather be a Frenchman in my next life, what with our tradition of mediocrity, identity crisis, inhumane level of poverty and never-ending episodes of turbulence.

Reactions poured in from Filipinos here and in many parts of the world. To many, I am an ingrate, a prodigal Filipino, an insecure young man. Some reactions were sympathetic, but most were agitated and some beyond reason.

With this experience I realized that we Filipinos are extremely sentimental about our nationality but our love of country does not go beyond the simple fact of acknowledging that we were born in this part of the world. Ours is a blind nationalism, definitely not an enlightened one. For what is in the Filipino that is superior compared to other peoples of the world? What is there to hold our heads up high for? What do we do to make our nation proud?

I have to say that while I did wish to be reborn in a better nation, I also promised to do everything I can, at least in this lifetime, to be the best Filipino that I can become so that at the end of the day, they can call me an ingrate but not one who has not done his part. Thus, since then, I have tried to look closely into the Filipino situation, with a strong desire to help bring about change and reform.

In humble ways, I have attempted to identify where and how we could effect change in our national life so that the next generations of young Filipinos will, at the very least, won’t have to write essays like this one. I certainly do not entertain illusions of getting close to being the next E. San Juan, Paulo Freire or Randy David, but I am determined to go on despite my pragmatic side’s whispering that I might be shooting for the stars.

For where should change begin? Should it begin with the government? With a President who is generally distrusted and whose moral authority to govern perpetually remains suspect? With the military and police who have become the very elements they should fight against? With the judiciary that is inutile and corrupt? With our legislators? (No explanation needed.) Or with COMELEC officials who arrogantly show, not without minor injury to our already benighted land, critical symptoms of second childhood? Or maybe change must begin with the church? With bishops who turn a blind eye on excesses while accepting money from the devil? With religious ministers who dictate on their followers the politicians they should support, lest they be cast in hell? Or with Mike Velarde and his psychedelic suit? (Emen? Emen!)

One is tempted to say that our hope rests with the youth. But where are the youth? They are in the malls salivating over the latest models of cellular phones, in computer shops playing the most violent network games. The more unfortunate ones are in the streets, numb to the realities of drugs, crime and sexual exploitation. For their part, supposed youth leaders exploit the first political agency of corruption and ineptitude—The Sangguniang Kabataan which, unfortunately, escapes abolition until today.

They say education is the key but I have some doubts. Top schools dominate our national academic life and so we hold them largely responsible for all the chaos in our country today. Universities and colleges have willingly become, and proudly so, pimping stations for the interests of greedy multinationals and colonial powers.

Yet, the greatest failure of our educational system is that we train young people to be good doctors, lawyers, IT professionals or whatever, but in the process fail to make them good and responsible citizens.

So where do we start? Every now and then, our political leaders float the idea of dancing the ChaCha to solve our nation’s many ills. Changing the constitution, however, assures as of a future less dim only as much as changing the wordings of a marriage contract assures a blissful marital life. Raul Roco, the best president we never had, was right to remark that it is not the paper, but the people we must reform.

Ahhh, change… I have engaged in long and exhaustive discussion and debate with young writers, journalists, academicians, public transport drivers, farmers, friends, and just about anybody who has anything to say on this matter. But no one could tell me what to do. We always end up saying, always with ambiguity, that change should start in each one of us in our own ways no matter how small. It makes sense. But how do we unify 90 million individual efforts and make them material at a national level?

I am still in search of answers to my questions. But others obviously are not as patient; thousands of them jump off from the sinking ship by the day. Shortly after he received his nurse’s license, my friend Dindo, a medical doctor, went to the Embassy of the United States. He got a working visa. And there was a sparkle in his eyes. Meanwhile, my relatives scattered in many parts of the world dread the idea of coming back, except for a vacation.

My heart is with the overseas Filipino workers but I refuse to call them “modern-day heroes.” For if they beef up our economy, thanks to their dollar remittances, it’s only incidental that they do. No one goes abroad for the national economy. One leaves the country for personal needs, interests, whims and caprices. And no matter how noble their intentions, OFWs are not heroes, definitely not the catalysts of change. Victims they are of either need or greed.

But many of those who stay, either by choice or by circumstance, are not any better. They are obsessed with whitening soaps and concoctions and exhaust all means to camouflage everything that marks them as Filipinos. They live in the realm of soap operas and game shows. What better way to take relief from this dog-eat-dog world?

Sometime ago, I fell victim to a holdup man in Manila. Oh, how bad I felt when the culprit pointed a knife at my side and took my jewelry and some cash. But there was something more that hurt me.

I realized that the most painful part in being Filipino is when you have to assume that everyone, be it in the streets, in church, or in the state halls, will do you harm. It breaks my heart that one has to look at his brother Filipinos always with eyes of cynicism and distrust. It’s difficult but it’s the only way to survive. With no one trusting no one, the idea of a concerted effort to bring about change lurks in the dark. Everyone cries for change. But where and how do we begin?

I can stay here and spend my whole life just pondering on and trying to resolve these questions. Or, like Peter, I can move to another land, pledge my allegiance to another flag and, to mitigate my guilt feelings, proclaim to the whole world, via the Internet, how big, noble and unadulterated my love is for the Philippines. For whatever reasons we consider ourselves Bayang Maharlika, I am clueless.

But in the spirit of noblesse oblige (nobility obligates), I take a deep breath, cross my fingers, and stay.


Reader Conrad Llaguno writes via email, Your article making parallel comparisons to 2 Glorias was a very touching masterpiece. Keep up the good work. By the way I would like to call your attention to this website, I think what these Paoayeños do is truly very remarkable!”.

Herdy’s Riknakem: If you want to be inspired by what little things simple persons like you and me can do to make the world a better place, even if you are not from Paoay, go visit their site. To the organizers: agbiagkayo apo!

Jeans Cequina, my kindred: THE Quirkyalone

JEANS CEQUINA is an idol-turned-colleague-turned-friend. Little did I know that she has been my kindred soul all along.

“Kin” dreams of singing in a bar where battered souls and wounded hearts go for healing. I dream of frequenting that bar. In Jeans, reality meets fiction. Born and raised in a sugar plantation in Bacolod, this artist is as sweet and gentle as the pandas that she slept with (until she realized that sleeping alone is still best). I am eternally indebted to Jeans for being a lighthouse in my stormy days. How can I forget those mornings when on my table I’d find notes, paintings, candles, or food– from Jeans who proclaims the gospel of being okay?

Once, on our way to the office, rain poured heavily, I grabbed her hand and ran. To my surprise, I saw Jeans genuflecting, all wet, her left knee hurting. “Even if it were acid rain I wouldn’t run, she said”. She got up and walked gracefully, as if wearing a gown. People who saw the fall laughed at her… but we laughed at ourselves harder. That’s vintage Jeans.
In her essay, which I am posting in this blog (and will hopefully feature in the print edition of my weekly column come February), this woman of many passions celebrates the joys of solitude and being out-of-the-box. If there is one person who can write–with sincerity, depth, and magic– about being a quirkyalone, it is she. I am reminded that one time when Jeans, I, and other friends met for dinner after a long time of missing each other (we meet veeeery rarely), this life-of-the-party wanted to be home before 1o pm. The reason? The next day, the Ilongga was to have a very important date with a very important person–her self.
This spiritual comrade is nothing more, nothing less…than a woman who finds joy in life and in living, …because she views life not as a cross to be borne, …or a world to be remade, …or an oyster to be opened, …or a time to be suffered, …but simply as days to be lived in harmony with all men, …for the glory of our Creator.

(Quirkyalone noun/adj. A person who enjoys being single (but is not opposed to being in a relationship) and generally prefers to be alone rather than dating for the sake of being in a couple. Also, a movement and an international holiday that happens to fall on February 14.)

Read on…
QUIRKYALONE: a self-portrait
I am the puzzle piece who seldom fit with other puzzle pieces.

But I didn’t choose to be different, as you didn’t choose to obey the rules. I was born to a new age of pois, pandas, pixie dusts, dawns, rain dancing, colored sea stones, celtic music, gaels, lighthouses and an eternal love affair with my paintbrushes, my pen and papers.

My rules are not conventional. My spirit cannot be contained in a single receptacle.

I gravitate towards the lowly, idiosyncratic, peculiar and unpopular. I refuse to get entangled in the mishmash of sales invoice, bank statements and or a dismal display of that signature coffee cup in hand. I am your cat in the rat race.

I am different.

My friend is the moon. My music is the bagpipe and the pennywhistle. The only steps I take are tapped and in harmony with the ‘riverdance’. Sunrise is my ally but shadows always teach me things.

I am my own style but I am also beyond it. I partially reside in a closet with a mélange of moods, mystery, magic and other manifestations. I am shaped by my atypical interests and they steal pieces from each other, every single moment, making me a shape shifter and a beautiful walking mosaic.

My irreverent approach to life is driven by my endless imagination (and yes, often by hunches too!) and never a conscious pathetic attempt to look cool or conform to an existing public image.

Making magic and fairy tales come true, for me, lie in seeing the world with a heightened perception like seeing a drop of poetry in the most mundane of things.

My frame of mind is an eternal journey to more and more mystery. And my eyes, aside from being an icon of creation, is merely a peephole to the full shebang that goes inside my heart.

I am different.

I resist the tyranny of ‘couple-dom’. I have a positive space in my heart for singles like me who choose to be single rather than in a mediocre relationship. Yet make no mistake: I am no less concerned with coupling than your average serial monogamist. Secretly, I am a romantic—romantic of the highest order. But I want a miracle! Out of millions, I have to find the one who will understand.

I am different. I inhabit “solitude” as my natural resting state. In a world where marriage, proms or tandem bikes define the social order, I am, by force of my personality and inner strength, a REBEL.

I see the world with different eyes and I am continually amazed by the beauty and madness around me. like my lighthouses, i have a wealth of lovely people beside and behind me ready to fire me up endlessly. and just like a lighthouse, i reflect myself back to them with a connection that is way beyond words.

I am different. I am a “quirkyalone”…and loving every minute of it!

I am overwhelmed because being different gives me all the leeway to sashay my blots, blemishes, failings and flaws. No regrets. No shame.

I am different. I don’t have to be perfect to be whole and happy.

That’s my take on the world.

–jeanscequina (08-08-08).

Agosto, buwan ng ‘Lip Service’?: Patuloy ang pagdedma sa mga katutubong wika

Tuwing sasapit itong buwan ng Agosto, abala ang mga paaralan sa pagdiriwang ng Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa. Programa diyan, patimpalak dito… hindi magkandaugaga ang mga mag-aaral at mga guro sa mga kaganapan.

Nagbago na ang hugis ng Buwan ng Wika. Kung noon ay wikang Filipino lamang ang binibigyang pansin, ngayon ay pinagpupugayan na ang iba’t ibang wika ng ating bansa, na sa huling bilang ay isandaan animnapu’t walo. Walo dito ang mga pangunahing wika, kabilang ang Iluko. Bukod tangi ang pagdiriwang sa taong ito lalo na at ang 2008 ay itinakda ng United Nations bilang pandaigdigang taon ng mga wika.

Ani United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), tunay na mahalaga ang mga wika sa identidad ng mga grupo at indibidwal at ng kanilang mapayapang pakikipamuhay sa isa’t isa. Ang mga ito ay estratehikong sangkap para maging tuluy-tuloy ang pag-unlad at magkaroon ng maayos na pag-uugnayan ang global at lokal na kapaligiran.

Gayunpaman, sa tingin ko ay isa lamang pag-aaksaya ang taunang pagdiriwang na ito kung patuloy na magiging malabo ang papel ng mga katutubong wika sa ating buhay pambansa. “Lip service”, wika nga sa Ingles.

Ayon sa UNESCO, pagkaraan ng ilang henerasyon ay mawawala ang mahigit kalahati ng pitong libong wikang sinasalita sa buong daigdig. Walang isang kapat ng mga wikang ito ang ginagamit ngayon sa mga eskuwelahan at cyberspace, at karamihan ay ginagamit lamang nang panaka-naka.

Minsan ay sinubukan kong pasulatin ng sanaysay ang aking mga mag-aaral gamit ang Iluko. Ito ay sinalubong ng maingay na pagtutol. “Nagrigat, sir! English lattan”, kanilang protesta. Ako ay nalungkot ngunit akin silang naunawaan. Ako man ay hirap din sa pagsusulat sa Iluko. Ang totoo ay tinangka kong isulat ang kolum na ito sa Iluko ngunit makalipas ang limang oras at limang tasa ng kape ay dalawang talata lamang ang aking natapos at hindi pa ako nasiyahan sa kinalabasan.

Bakit nga ba hirap tayong gamitin ang wikang kinagisnan maliban sa payak na pang—araw-araw na huntahan?

Sa isang sanaysay, inilahad ni Propesor Randy David, ang pangunahing sosyologo ng atingbansa (at naging guro ko sa Diliman), ang kasagutan. Narito ang ilang bahagi ng kanyang diskurso:

“Ang pag-unlad ng wika at ang pag-usbong ng kamalayan ay magkakabit. Pareho ang kanilang ugat–ang pangangailangang makipag-usap… Habang lumalawak at lumalalim ang kamalayan, yumayaman din ang wikang ginagamit. Kung mababaw ang kamulatan, sapagkat hindi naging malakas at madalas ang udyok na makipag-usap, mananatili ring payak ang ginagamit na wika.

“Kapag ang wikang katutubo ay nagagamit lamang kaugnay ng maliliit at walang halagang bagay, at ang wikang dayuhan ang nakakasanayang gamitin sa mas mataas na uri ng talastasan – ang wikang katutubo’y nabubusabos habang ang dayuhang wika’y namumukod. Sa kalaunan, ang karamihan ay mag-iisip na sadyang nasa katutubong wika ang kakulangan. Kung walang nagpupunyaging isalin sa katutubong wika ang mahahalagang literatura at produktong intelektwal ng mga dayuhang kultura, iisipin ng marami na may likas na kakapusan ang ating sariling wika, at walang ibang lunas kundi pagsikaping pag-aralan ang wikang dayuhan.

“Walang wikang umuunlad kung hindi ito naisusulat at nababasa. Walang wikang umuunlad kung ito’y hindi sinasanay na maglulan ng mga produkto ng kamalayan at iba’t-ibang kaisipang hango sa maraming kultura. Kailangang makipag-usap ang ating katutubong wika sa mga wika ng ibang bansa, sa halip na isantabi ito, sa maling pag-aakalang hindi na ito angkop sa bagong panahon.”

Malaki sana ang magagawa ng pamahalaan upang isulong ang paggamit ng mga wikang katutubo sa pambansang pagmumulat at sa global na pakikipagtalastasan. Batid ng mga pulitiko ang kahalagahan ng ating mga katutubong wika sa mabisang pagpapahayag ng damdamin at kaisipan. Hindi nga ba’t tuwing halalan ay vernakular ang kanilang ginagamit upang suyuin ang taumbayan?

Ating maaalala na wika ang isa sa mga naging isyu nuong tumakbo sa pagkagobernador si Apo Michael Keon, hindi daw kasi siya bihasa sa Iluko sa kabila ng maraming taon na niyang paglilingkod sa lalawigan. Ngunit nakita naman ang pagsisikap ni Keon na magsalita sa ating katutubong wika. Headline sa TV Patrol Laoag noon kung paano niya isanaulo (at nalimutan sa kalagitnaan ng pagbibigkas) ang isang talumpating isinulat sa Iluko. Subalit ngayong siya ay nasa puwesto na, tuwing maririnig kong magsalita ang butihing gobernador ay Ingles na ang kanyang ginagamit, at hindi na siya nakalilimot.

Si Gng. Gloria Arroyo man ay nakinabang sa kanyang kakayanang magsalita sa iba’t ibang wikang Pinoy. Pinaniniwalaang bahagi ng kanyang popularidad sa Kabisayaan ay bunsod ng kanyang kakayanang mag-Bisaya. Bagama’t hindi ako maka-Gloria, aaminin kong napahanga niya ako at nahaplos ang aking puso nang minsa’y dumalo siya sa pista ng Laoag at nagtalumpati gamit ang Iluko.

Ngunit sa kabuuan, etsapuwera ang ating mga katutubong wika sa ating mga panlipunang institusyon. Nakalulungkot na sa mga session hall sa kapitolyo at sa mga munisipyo, sa ating mga hukuman, at sa ating mga paaralan, Ingles pa rin ang pangunahing daluyan ng talastasan. Kung tunay na masang Pilipino ang pinaglilingkuran ng ating mga lider, ano ang pangangailangan ng paggamit ng wikang banyaga sa paglilingkod-bayan?

Noong 2003, si Gng. Arroyo, sa bisa ng Executive Order No. 210 na may pamagat na “Establishing the Policy to Strengthen the Use of the English Language as a Medium of Instruction in the Educational System”, ay nag-atas na ibalik ang Ingles bilang pangunahing wikang panturo.

Dahilan ng pangulo: Our English literacy, our aptitude and skills give us a competitive edge in ICT.

Subalit marami nang mga pag-aaral ang naisagawa, kabilang na rito ang mga pananaliksik ng UNESCO at ng mga Pilipinong iskolar tulad nila Bro. Andrew Gonzales at Dr. Bonifacio Sibayan, na nagpapatunay na ang paggamit sa unang lengguwahe o wikang kinagisnan ay lubos na nakatutulong sa pang-unawa ng mga mag-aaral sa mga mahahalagang konsepto maging sa mga asignaturang agham at matematika.

Patunay dito ang resulta ng Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) na ginawa noong 1999 kung saan ang Pilipinas ay pang-38 sa Math at pang-40 sa Science sa kabuuang 41 na lumahok na bansa. Ito ay sa kabila ng pagtuturo ng agham at matematika sa wikang Ingles sa loob ng mahigit na isang siglo. Maaari namang maging mahusay sa science at math kahit ito’y hindi itinuturo sa Ingles. Patunay dito ang karanasan ng Tsina, Hapon, at Rusya.

Patung-patong ang mga suliraning kinakaharap ng ating sistema ng edukasyon. Nariyan ang laganap na katiwalian, pulitika, at idagdag pa rito ang hindi sapat na budget na inilalaan para dito. Lubos na di-makatarungan na isisi sa paggamit ng mga katutubong wika ang mababang performans ng ating mga mag-aaral. Sa tingin ko ay sasang-ayon dito si Propesor Janet Rivera, ang masigasig na direktor ng Panrehiyong Sentro ng Wikang Filipino na nakabase sa MMSU.

Ayon pa rin sa mga pananaliksik, ang paggamit ng unang lengguwahe ay tulay din upang matutunan ang pangalawang lengguwahe at ang mga wikang banyaga. Bilang halimbawa, ang isang Ilocanong matatas sa wikang Iluko ay mas madaling matututo ng wikang Filipino. Ang pagiging bihasa sa Iluko at Filipino ay tulay naman upang matutunan ang mga banyagang wika tulad ng Ingles, Mandarin o Pranses. Sa wari ko, ang isang taong hindi nilinang ang sarili sa wikang kanyang kinagisnan ay magiging palpak sa kanyang pakikipagtalastasan kahit anumang wika ang kanyang gamitin. Ang dila niya ay walang pinanghuhugutan.

Sa isang bansang watak-watak, hindi lamang sa heograpiya, kundi pati na sa pulitika, ideolohiya, at pananampalataya, malaki ang maaaring gampanang papel ng wika sa pagtatamo ng pagkakaisa. Ngunit, hindi ito nangyayari, bagkus ay pinapalala pa ng mababang pagtingin sa ating mga katutubong wika ang hidwaan sa pagitan ng mayaman at mahirap, edukado at hindi, taga-Maynila at promdi.

Minsan sa isang mall, nasaksihan ko ang isang pagtatalo. Sa gitna ng kanilang di-pagkakaunawaan, pinaulanan ng isang kostumer ng sangkatutak na malalalim na Ingles ang saleslady. Ang kawawang saleslady ay hindi na nakaimik. Sa eksenang ito, malinaw na ipinabatid ng kostumer na hindi sila magkalebel at siya ang tama sapagkat marunong siyang mag-Ingles. Ipinamukha ng kostumer na mangmang ang saleslady dahil katutubong wika lamang ang gamit niya. Nababagabag ang aking kalooban tuwing nakasasaksi ako ng mga ganitong eksena. Hindi ba dapat sa panahon ng di pagkakaunawaan ay mas lalo pang gamitin ang wikang makapaghahatid ng malinaw na mensahe?

May isang mambabasa ang nagbigay ng komento sa akin: ang galing mo palang magsulat. Bilib ako sa’yo. Ang lalalim ng mga ginagamit mong salita sa English. Hindi ko nga maintindihan e! Idol talaga kitang mag-English para kang abugado.

Hindi ko ikinatuwa ang komento, bagkus ay nalungkot ako. Una, dahil hindi ako lubos na naiintindihan ng mambabasa. Ito ay isang kabiguan sa bahagi ng isang manunulat tulad ko. Ikalawa, tila tanggap na ng taong iyon na ang paggamit ng nakaka-nosebleed na Ingles ay kaakibat na ng mga mahahalagang propesyon tulad ng abugasya. Kung ikaw ay may kasong kinakaharap, biktima ka man o nasasakdal, hindi ka ba mangngamba na ang iyong kinabukasan ay pinagtatalunan sa hukuman gamit ang isang wikang hindi mo lubos na nauunawaan?

Dalawa ang maaaring maging pananaw sa pagdiriwang ng Buwan ng Wika. Maaari itong tignan bilang “kaarawan” ng isang buhay at yumayabong na wika. Sa kabilang banda, tila ito ay isa nang lamay para sa mga katutubong wikang walang habas na kinikitil ng patuloy na pagsasaisantabi hindi lamang ng ating mga lider pampulitika ngunit pati na rin ng bawat mamamayang masahol pa sa malansang isdang nagpupumilit kumahol. ###


“Ma’am ana’t English ti pastor?”, saludsod ti maysa nga estudyante iti unibersidad.

(Nagmalanga ni maestra gapu ta Ingles met ti sao a “pastor”, isu nga impagarupna a “synonym” iti sallsaludsoden diay estudyante.)

“‘Preacher’, barok”, insungbat ni Maestra.

“Tenkyu ngarud, Ma’am”, panagyaman daydiay estudyante.

Idi panagipasaanen iti paper, daytoy ti insurat daydiay ubing:

“My father is a pritcher of animals. He pritchers carabaos, cows, and goats in the farm.”

Ito ay isang tunay na pangyayaring ibinahagi sa akin ni katotong Marlyn Cacatian, kapwa guro ko sa MMSU. Natawa ako nung marinig ko itong kuwento, ngunit nang humupa ang tawanan,

…ako ay nabagabag.

Blast from the past: Questions of a budding atheist

(NOTE: Reading fellow columnist Pepito Alvarez’s “Christianization of the North” reminded me of this essay I wrote as a student some years back. Although this discourse got a grade of 1.0 and a generous marginal note of ‘Excellent!’ from revered sociologist Randy David, much of my views have changed and matured since then. Still, I would like to share this with you if only to generate discussion. Instead of chastising the Herdy Yumul of yesteryears, please look closely at the questions he sincerely asked. Many among us have been bothered with the same thoughts at some point. While I may be a thinker out of the box, let me assure you that I have not lost my faith in Bathala, who has always been faithful to me despite myself. If at all, asking these questions led me to an enlightened understanding of my relationship with God, which I will be glad to share with you in a next column.)
“THAT IS A MYSTERY we finites could never understand.” My professors in theology owe it to this statement that they managed to get away each time they failed to answer my questions.
I never pretend to be a profound philosopher or a thinker of some stature. No, I am just a young man full of questions, questions that have been asked many times before. I am a person looking for someone to talk to. If you have time to spare, please have a seat and let’s talk. Let’s talk God. I have a creeping suspicion that he does not exist. Here is my story.
I have always asked questions about God and I have always hungered for answers. I am not exactly ignorant about the teachings of the Catholic Church. As a young boy, priesthood was my dream. From grade school to college, I consistently won in religion and bible quizzes. In San Beda, I got a string of 1.0s in my theology subjects. In our neighborhood in Laoag City, our family is known to be one of the most religious. At the age of 6, I have learned by heart the three sets of mysteries of the holy rosary, the Ten Commandments, and the seven deadly sins.
But I remember that when I was a kid, I wished I were never born. Adults told me horrible descriptions of hell—the never-ending and inescapable fire, the ugly creatures, the weeping and gnashing of teeth. Most people, I was told, will go to Satan’s lair. Even Moses, they explained, was not allowed to see the Promised Land simply because he knocked a stone twice when God’s instruction was to knock it but once. It must be virtually impossible to go to heaven then, I thought. As a kid, I always had feelings of guilt and I always thought I would go to hell.
Later, I realized, isn’t God the Alpha and the Omega? So, he must have known even before my birth that I am hell-bound. If he already knew that I would not qualify for heaven, why the hell did he create me in the first place?
“You have free will to do good or bad. In the end, it will always be your choice,” advised Fr. X in class. “But Father, God is not bound by time. He is not only present in the future. He is the future. He knows how I would live this life and he surely knows my fate in the next,” said I. Pushed to the wall, the Benedictine monk replied, “Mr. Yumul, please don’t be so close-minded. Otherwise, you would not really understand.” I was being close-minded? Oh my God!
That made me understand why Mark Twain said, “Faith is believing in something you know ain’t true.” Then the pragmatic me wondered, if God does exist, why doesn’t he come out of the clouds and personally tell us “Hey guys, I’m here. Stop the debate.” Is God all-too-busy or all-too-important to participate in a class discussion?
Among the atheist arguments, I am struck most by the Argument of Evil. It goes this way: If God exists, He is all-powerful (omnipotent), all knowing (omniscient), and all good. The existence of evil and suffering is incompatible with the existence of God. Evil and suffering exist. Therefore, God does not exist.
Why is there evil in the world? Who created corrupt politicians, greedy capitalists, drug lords, terrorists, and priests who rape altar boys? Why do people of this kind continue to rule planet earth? Tell me, my friend, why did God create mosquitoes?
Why is there suffering in the world? Let’s take the case of street children. Can’t God help them? Or is He simply unaware of them? Or maybe He doesn’t really care? Would you believe a malnourished street child if he claims to be multimillionaire/preacher Mike Velarde’s son? Isn’t it all the more improbable that the dirty street child has a father who is all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing all at the same time? God is perfect, right? So, how could he have created a world so imperfect? Ours is a world of pain, suffering and violence. You want a proof? Everywhere you go, there are hospitals and police outposts. You want more proof? Read the papers.
In many parts of the world, countless people die of hunger, of excruciatingly painful ailments, of crime and violence. Let’s also mention natural calamities like volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and typhoons that perennially claim lives and destroy property. How about sea and air tragedies? Why didn’t God lift a finger to melt the iceberg that sent the Titanic and 1500 souls down to the bottom of the freezing sea? What has God been doing? Why has he been so inept on his job? What difference has he to a policeman sleeping on duty or to an energy secretary who acts as spokesperson to greedy oil firms?
This makes me ask. What is God doing in heaven? Is he waiting for anyone to commit mistakes so he could impose punishments? Is he trigger-happy? Why does he always want to be praised? Is he conceited? What is his name, by the way? Is he Yahweh, Allah, Buddha? Or is he Herdy? Isn’t God the main cause of war in Mindanao? What has God got to say? At all, does he care?
Or could it be that when God rested on the seventh day he never woke up again? Why are there born Ayalas while others are born Batumbakals and die Batumbakals? Mendiola St. is a perfect irony. At one end, you would see awful human beings sleeping in the cold pavement above a stinky swamp. At the other end are snakes, crocodiles and other reptiles in the bulletproof presidential palace.
“Life at times is unfair,” concedes Dr. Maxwell Felicilda, my professor in Philosophy of Man. That statement might be a cliché but that is one of the best things I learned in college. We, Filipinos, have all the reasons to resent God. We are a Christian country for nothing. With all the fiestas that we celebrate, the novenas that we observe and the statues that we venerate, we remain a wretched country with nowhere to go.
But resentment is for those people who expect too much of God. People who, when in personal crisis, say “This is just a pagsubok, a test of my faith in God.” Then, when better days come, thanks to their own efforts, these people exclaim: “I thank you Loving Father for your blessings!” In the end, nothing is credited to their own volition, like puppets with pull strings that extend up to the high heavens.
This reminds me of my Mom, one of the most devout Catholics I have ever known. She always tells me that she would rather see me become a Christian scavenger than a spiritually poor billionaire. Seldom would she ask how I am doing in life or how I envision my future. But she never fails to ask me: “Have you heard mass?” Oftentimes, just to make her happy, I am obliged to lie.
I believe that man is the only master of his destiny. If you were really dull and lazy, you’d still flunk the exams no matter how many candles you lit at St. Jude’s Church. I join existentialist philosophers in their belief that the concept of God hinders the actualization of man’s full potentials. Maybe this is one reason why our country is crippled with poverty. We expect too much of God. To everything we say “Diyos na ang bahala” (God will take charge).
It is with these thoughts, my friend, that I suspect that God does not exist. This, so far, is the only acceptable answer to all the questions I raised in this essay. You think I am a miserable man? Maybe, but so is everyone. I join Friedrich Nietzsche in asking you: Is man one of God’s blunders, or is God one of man’s blunders?
But guess what? When earthquakes rock the earth, my instinct is still to go out of the building, look up to the heavens and mumble with a quivering voice: “Lord, please forgive me. Oh, Lord, please forgive me.” I fear dying. To a great extent, the stories about hell have stuck to my mind. H.L. Mencken was right: Fear is the be-all and end-all of religion.
One time at the airport, I chanced upon a promotional brochure depicting the Philippines as paradise. If the Philippines were paradise, I am afraid to imagine how hellish hell can be.
But what could be more hellish than to live a whole life of fear, deception and resentment because of a God that does not exist. ##

“Farmer son of Batac” writes

This columnist was delighted to receive an email from reader Ernesto Rabanal Lagmay, who calls himself “farmer son of Batac”, although he is now based in Norway. He writes:
“Hello Herdy! I just read your column and I am impressed that you appreciate the farming life of the Daguro Family in Agunit, Marcos. It is true that the younger generation today aspire for white collar jobs simply because farming in the Philippines is not a promising profession. This is because farmers are being neglected by the state leaders who are very much busy working for their personal interests. There is too much corruption everywhere. You know, farmers themselves cannot do all the necessary improvements like irrigation, easy access to modern farm machines, and scientific farming, among other things.
“Prosperity in a society has to start from the top and it must be a team work. Just have a look at those countries which are so progressive because of farming. Denmark, for example, has no oil. It exports mostly agricultural products–wheat, livestock, and bi-products.

“Personally speaking, I really do not know when it will happen in the Philippines. Filipinos are talented and well-educated, but other countries are reaping the benefits of having our well-educated doctors, nurses, and engineers. Will our leaders remain contented to have our teachers work abroad as domestic help?
“Sorry to say, but there isn`t much that you or I can do at the moment. So, I do not blame the mentality of the older generation of farmers that they strive so hard to send their children to college to attain a degree. It is because, for them, it is the only way and means for a future better than agriculture.
“Good luck to your semester in farming!”

Herdy’s Riknakem: It is normal to expect change to start from the top. But, if government is not doing enough, or is burying the people deeper in the graveyard, conscientious citizens must realize their supreme power to make a difference in the national life. Mechanisms for popular participation in policy formulation and program implementation are embedded in a true democracy. Citizens who complain and do nothing are not any better than the leaders who are subjects of their discontent.
The letter sender writes, “Sorry to say, but there isn`t much that you or I can do at the moment”. Given our gloomy scenario, it is easy to feel helpless and inadequate, especially if and when you are alone. Instead of rambling individually, however, ordinary folks like you and me should come together and talk about solutions that can be executed in our own spheres of influence. There is strength (and magic) in collective action.

Profound social change is brought about not by individuals but by movements. Like-minded citizens should come together and feel alone no more.

Qui tacet consentit! He who is silent consents! Mang Ernesto broke his silence. When will you break yours? ###

Kablaaw: To all residents of MMSU Coed’s Dormitory, warm regards and congratulations for a meaningful socialization program. Kudos to Men’s Wing President Albert Daguro, Women’s Wing President Jonalyn de Ocampo, Dormitory Manager Corazon Agpaoa, and to my fellow advisers. // Happy Birthday to Professor Michelle Reynera, mathematics department chair in our university, one of the jolliest souls I have met. Keep ‘em bursting in laughter!

A tale of two Glorias

IN AN EFFORT to show that the benefits of the government’s much-trumpeted economic efforts are trickling down to the masses, the president spent a considerable amount of time honoring everyday heroes in her eighth State of the Nation Address which she delivered two weeks ago before fashionable members of congress. Wearing a pale fuchsia pink “modernized Maria Clara” gown created by top designer JC Buendia, our head of state recognized—to the exaggerated applause of a friendly audience—farmers, lady welders, and ordinary folks who made a difference in their lives and, by induction, in the nation’s.
Allow me to follow Her Excellency’s lead by writing about “the other Gloria”, one of my everyday heroes. In doing so, I will juxtapose Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, referred to here as La Gloria and “the other Gloria”—Manang Gloria, our househelp.
Please do not raise your eyebrows, the president herself claims to be a granddaughter of a labandera and is proud to be so. Thus, she is not at all offended when people taunt her with the novelty song: “Gloria, Gloria, labandeeeeera!”. This, I say, deserves our praise.
Gloria Portela Valencia, 51, hails from Barangay Bacsil in Dingras town. Manong Rolando, her “First Gentleman”, is a tobacco farmer who tills less-than-a-hectare of land that is not theirs (makitaltalonda laeng). The eldest among her siblings, Manang Gloria started working as a “kasambahay” at age 13. When she got married and bore kids, this devoted mother quit her job and stayed home to take care of their family. Eight years ago, however, when her children started going to college, Manang Glory decided to come back as a kasambahay so she can help send her children to school.
Honesty and integrity are among Manang Gloria’s many virtues. We could trust her with anything, even the most valuable of our possessions (and secrets). Given her deep sense of fairness and delicadeza, natalged ti riknami iti uneg iti pagtaenganmi. (We feel at ease inside our home). In contrast, under La Gloria’s watch, the Philippines has been largely perceived as the most corrupt economy in East Asia. It does not help that members of her family have been tagged in a number of scams and shady deals. As a result, La Gloria figures in the surveys as the most distrusted post-Marcos president.
On the day of the SONA (for which 200 million pesos of the Filipino people’s money was spent), there were no traces of the national crisis in the newly-refurbished Batasan. La Gloria and her cohorts were in the perfect mood to take a bite of Hollywood by walking on a long, thick, red carpet even as the nation was ailing—very much like dancing the papaya dance in an Intensive Care Unit. Manang Gloria has never set foot on a flashy red carpet but she knows door mats and cleaning rags pretty well—trapos are her tools, but she is not a trapo.
Manang Gloria is no saint, but when she commits a mistake, she says “sorry” and means it. She accepts her blunders and strives to make amends. Such was the case when she broke the glass cover of an expensive cooking pan. She looked sincerely regretful, offered to pay for the damage (which we refused), and promised to be more careful next time (which she did). Two years ago, a teary-eyed La Gloria delivered over primetime national television a well-rehearsed (but poorly performed, said veteran actress Susan Roces) “I.. am… sorry” speech for an offense she would never admit and, ergo, would never rectify.
A Doctor of Philosophy in Economics, La Gloria posits that the E-VAT is one of the best things that happened to the economy. While not claiming to be a financial technocrat, Manang Gloria, who only reached grade six, knows with certainty that E-VAT is a curse to the Filipino masa.

In her SONA, La Gloria declared: “I care…” and “nag-aalala ako” for her suffering constituency. Manang Gloria may not be as eloquent in expressing her feelings but she shows that caring entails sacrifice and self-denial. La Gloria, along with a typically bloated delegation, went on with a junket to the US of A even as Typhoon Frank lashed the country and left hundreds of casualties in the deep blue sea. Manang Gloria would not have been as callous to do the same. In fact, she once volunteered to postpone her day-off when the rains poured heavily and leaks on the roof plagued our abode.

Because of her good nature, Manang Gloria has no known enemies unlike La Gloria whose foes are as abundant as the pirated DVDs sold just a few steps away from the Laoag City Hall.
Wait, Manang Gloria does have two critics: me and my dad who sometimes complain of her salty cooking (naapgad/maalat). But well, saltiness is something very easy to remedy compared to a leadership turned sour.
We want to keep Manang Gloria for as long as we can, but we know that she will have to leave us in due time, certainly when her children become professionals, so she can go back to being a full-time nanang. Yes, we want to keep Manang Gloria beyond 2010!
Her poverty notwithstanding, Manang Gloria says she sleeps soundly at night. We can only hope that La Gloria enjoys the same luxury. ###