If we really want SK beyond 2020…

 

Sharing with you the thoughts of Commissioner James Ceasar Ventura of the National Youth Commission regarding Pagudpud’s Paloma beauty pageant that the town’s SK willingly got involved in, and in general how SKs around the country have been doing by far. Note though that here he is giving his personal position as a young leader, and his statements should not be taken as the position of his agency. It would be worthy to listen to his thoughts because James is sincerely one of those who truly want the SK to succeed.

james Ventura
James Ceasar Ventura

“At a personal level, Sir, I don’t believe we really need pageants right now. It’s too costly for entertainment. Waste of resources. That’s regardless of SK man yan o Buwan ng Wika, Tourism, whatsoever.

“Plus there are too many things we need to prioritize. In Ilocos, it would be teenage pregnancy, jobs, access to quality education, life skills kung kabataan ang pag-uusapan.

“I appreciate the SKs for helping their LGU implement its programs and activities, but I would have appreciated them more if they opposed the Paloma pageant for these reasons:

“1. They could have asked LGU to give them the funds which could be used for a scholarship or a training on crime or illegal drugs prevention.

“2. By supporting the activity, even without paying for it using the SK funds, the SK officials consented on inefficient budget use, and tolerated the culture of reducing gender issues as a laughing matter.

“I’d be honest, Sir. Many SKs are at a loss hanggang ngayon. They do not know what to do while they are also under pressure to do something ASAP. Hence, they become welcoming to proposals such as pageants and sports activities. Templated na kasi at madali nang gawin.

“I hope there were more of us at NYC to really guide them on the ground. I pray that their Youth Development Officer, their LGU and other youth leaders are already sitting down to plan for their kabataan. If that doesn’t happen, I don’t look forward for another SK election by 2020.”

I thank James for making me believe in youth power despite my cynicism. I was hoping the reformed SK would produce more noble young Filipinos like you, but what we have now, as in the past, are many SK officials and federation presidents elected not on the basis of their skills and zeal to serve, but on the strength of their blood relations. Trapo manipulation of the youth remain strong. And, as you said, SK officials are at a loss on what to do.

My humble advice to them is to carefully craft relevant, high-impact, and sustainable programs instead of falling to the allure of tokenism and Instagram fame. SKs have been in the position for only a few days and there have been activities done here and there and more lined up in the coming weeks. Coastal clean-ups, blood letting activities, sports programs are good, but they must be a part of honest-to-goodness programs and not turn out as sporadic activities that only look good on Instagram.

I don’t believe in the necessity and relevance of SK, not anymore at this time in our national life, as it was a bane in the past two decades. It was a nice idea that belonged to another era. It’s a dead intervention that should have remained peacefully in the grave of our collective political memory. But because the SKs are here and they are given public funds, let us, with all we can help them succeed. If this be the last batch of SK, may they build good memories before we bury this idea back to the grave of ignominy.

 

SK is back with a blast! Ilocos Norte town SK get busy with beauty contest

Pagudpud SK
Pagudpud SK Officials pose with their winning bets.

THE REFORMED SK is back. It’s officials in Philippine barangays assumed office on July 1.

Much has been said about the reforms made in the new edition of the Sangguniang Kabataan, through Republic Act 10742 or the SK Reform Act,especially on how youth leaders have been empowered to better contribute in national development, thereby erasing the reputation it has sadly earned in years past—that it is irrelevant, corrupt, and a bane to an already bloated bureaucracy. Bringing SK back to life was a big challenge, but its believers, including my friend James Ventura, who is commissioner-at-large of the National Youth Commission, are holding their hopes high.

It seems like the youth leaders of Pagudpud town here in Ilocos Norte are up to the challenge. In their first days in office, they got themselves busy with their first assignment, their baptism of fire: a beauty contest. The town is celebrating its 64th Founding Anniversary, and SK officials in the different barangays were in charge of scouting for candidates and preparing them for competition, and in serving as ushers and production staff during the competition proper. I learned from my interview with Rex Benemerito Jr., the SK Federated President of Pagudpud, that these assignments were given to them by the Municipality’s Tourism Office. What kind of competition did they get busy with?

It’s actually the brainchild of the town mayor. Straight males get dressed and made up as women, inspired by the Paloma character in the epic television soap, Ang Probinsiyano. Ten contestants from different barangays vied for the title, Miss Paloma 2018. While the competition is already on its third year, Kevin Riveral, the SK chair of Brgy. 2 explained, “Kami po yung partner ng LGU para maging possible ulit ang Miss Paloma 2018.” (As the partner of the LGU, we—the  SK—made possible the restaging of Miss Paloma 2018.) Kevin said he is “so happy a naisabak kamin uray katugtugawmi pay laeng.” (We are so happy that we got to work immediately even if we have just assumed office.)

The event was a crowd drawer. Expectedly there was a lot of laughter as it’s an old, tried-and-tested formula to get Filipinos entertained by male cross-dressing. But what actually did Pagudpud achieve with this? Well, organizers say, it gave men the rare opportunity to experience what a woman goes through.  But isn’t it lame to have that mindset? Being a woman is certainly more than wearing heavy make up and high heels. You could, in fact, be a woman even if you have a different sense of fashion.

If at all, the pageant only perpetuates gender stereotypes. “It doesn’t promote gender sensitivity because the candidates are being a laughing stuff,” PJ Quitoriano, a well-distinguished young transgender from Pagudpud, notes. He also lamented that the show fell short of promoting neither the empowerment of women nor the LGBT. The same sentiment was echoed by the Head of the Committee on Gender and Development of the nationally acclaimed Sirib Ilokano Kabataan Association: “It only promotes the culture of domination because participants are reduced to being objects of laughter.”

I will leave it to you, dear reader, to assess the merits of the first activity Pagudpud’s youth leaders embarked on. I will be cruel if I don’t give them credit for their effort. Some of them (and I know this because I was their speaker on Public Service ethics during their mandatory SK training held in May) may actually be truly eager to serve and make a difference.

But they started on the wrong foot.

While SK is back to life, I maintain that there are things that should have remained dead.

I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

Demonizing our tricycle drivers

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ONE OF THE favorite punching bags of netizens, at least those in my social circles, are tricycle drivers. The most common complaints include overpricing, refusing to convey, and rudeness.

While I believe that some passengers do have legitimate concerns on certain instances, and it is well within their rights to file a formal complaint ant to rant on social media, I lament that tricycle drivers have, in general, been treated contemptuously and have been “othered” as if they are cruel predators from another world.

I have read a fair amount of literature on tricycle drivers, particularly because one my past thesis advisees, Ralph Lasaten, had the tricycle drivers of Batac City as the subject of his sociological study. Among the observations that struck me was of Colbert Bellevue, an American. He said that because tricycles are in demand in most cities and towns in the Philippines, “tricycle drivers can command and exact chartered fare prices without any room for bargaining or haggling for a fair fare.” He went on to say that “the glitter of money in the heart and soul of a tricycle driver extinguishes the human kindness, compassion, helpfulness and goodwill to strangers; and henceforth, he becomes a ‘crocodile’ and a ‘wolf’ waiting for a prey at a corner of the road.”

I wouldn’t dispute Colbert’s observations. Indeed, the world is filled with opportunistic beings, and some of them happen to be tricycle drivers. In Batac where I work, complaints against tricycle drivers are also aplenty, and the famous line, “Dobliemton, ading” (Please double the fare) is met with revulsion. In Vigan and elsewhere, there have been cases as well of overcharging.

I usually have a great deal of tolerance with people ranting on social media, and this includes their ordeals with tricycle drivers, but a young lady’s Facebook post particularly caught my attention. You be the judge if the tricycle driver deserved the badmouthing he got from the lady’s sympathizers.

The young lady, a college graduate, rode a tricycle in queue (nakapila) at a shopping store in downtown Laoag. The tricycle driver said that if the lady was willing to pay twenty pesos, they would go immediately. The lady complained that it was too much and that with twenty pesos, she could already pay a bus fare to Batac. She noted that the jeepney terminal she was going to was just near. “It’s okay, but would you be willing for another passenger to go with you?” the driver asked. The lady agreed. But perhaps because of her impatience, she later told the driver, “nayunak to lattan,” she will just give an extra amount. So they went. Upon reaching the destination, the lady paid the driver 15 pesos. It is four pesos more than the regular 11-peso fare. However, the tricycle driver demanded 20 pesos because that was the amount she had earlier asked from the passenger. The lady reasoned out that she never promised to pay twenty pesos, and that she only offered to give something extra. After the short spat, the lady grudgingly paid 20. Shortly after, she ranted on social media, there posting the tricycle’s sidecar number.  The lady gained support from her friends who branded the tricycle driver as “abusado.” Many suggested that the tricycle driver be immediately reported to the police, to which the lady agreed.

As I said, there’s no denying that some tricycle drivers may be rude, some are choosy with their passengers, while others demand for more than the usual fare. But let us analyze the case of the young lady.

The tricycle driver was in a queue. He may have been in the line for at least half an hour. When passengers are scarce, the wait for a tricycle driver’s turn to get passengers could take an hour or more. It is definitely justified for them to have at least two passengers. But the young lady wanted special accommodation (she wanted to have the tricycle go pronto and all to herself) and that is why she offered to pay extra. The tricycle driver thought the young lady was willing two pay 20 pesos, but it turned out she would only give 15. I am not good in math, but I am sure that if only the lady was willing to wait, she would have paid only 11 pesos, and the tricycle driver would have earned at least 22 pesos, 33 if there were two other passengers, and even more if their destinations were farther, as 11 pesos was only good, according to the official fare guide, for the first one kilometer. Pray, tell me, how could the lady, in good conscience deprive the driver, who waited a long time for his turn, with the earning he rightfully deserves?

Five pesos. That’s the difference between what the lady was willing to pay and what the driver expected. Five pesos. The reason why the tricycle driver was portrayed as a monster, a crocodile, a dirt and abomination of society.

Hinay-hinay lang naman, mga kapatid. Please take it easy on them. Life is hard, yes. The tricycle drivers’ lives could even be more difficult than ours. Most of them do not have their own vehicles and have to pay a daily boundary to tricycle operators. In Laoag City, it’s around 250 a day, and that does not include expenses for gasoline. Only after they produce boundary and gasoline do they start earning for themselves. It should also be noted that the current minimum fare of eleven pesos was set by the Laoag City government in April 2011, that’s over seven years ago when prices of fuel and basic commodities were considerably lower.

“It’s not our fault that the queues are long, or that the driver does not have his own tricycle, or that transport fares have not been adjusted, or that life is unfair” one may justify, but it totally shows a lack of empathy for one’s fellowmen. Tricycle drivers, let me make this clear, are not our enemy.  They suffer like we do, and they even surely struggle more than the rest of us who can afford to spend a lot of time ranting on Facebook.

Because of scarce parking spaces, I prefer to commute when going to the centro, and tricycles have always made life easier. I pay more than what they ask. I pay more when the heat of the sun is punishing, or when the rains have the drivers soaked all day. I pay even more especially when they don’t ask for more. I do so not only because I can afford it, but because I want to. And each time I alight from the tricycle and hand them my fare, I say a word of thanks.

Like anyone, I could also be short-fused when the tricycle drivers are rude and in which case I don’t try to hide my disgust, but those are very rare instances, and as much as I could, I just take a deep breath and say a little prayer that God may help the fellow get past a bad day. I wouldn’t report anyone to the police—who already have more than enough in their hands—unless I am seriously aggravated. If it’s just my ego that’s hurt, I try to suffer a little, let it pass, and still keep my faith in my fellowmen.

It’s funny though that many professionals and high earners tend to be harsher in treating tricycle drivers. I know many of them. In stark contrast, Manang Glory, our help for  many years who has since retired, to this day refuses to use her Senior Citizen privileges, pays the regular fare, and most of the time gives even more. “Kaasida met” (I pity them), she would say. What a show of empathy. What a redemptive humanity!

This leads me to reflect on why tricycle drivers are easy targets of complaints both on social media and in the police station. And why people feel entitled to use the harshest adjectives on them.

While tricycle drivers are very much a part of our daily lives, we have become insensitive to their own concerns, blind to their sufferings, deaf to their pleadings, and while we ride their vehicles as they bring us safely to the comfort of our homes, we have only always seen them for their use but never for their worth. We have shamelessly “othered” them. And because they are disempowered and lowly, we easily pick on these tricycle drivers, for the smallest reasons, to be at the receiving end of both our personal frustrations and social disillusionments.

If only we could be angry with corrupt politicians as much as people verbally assault a tricycle driver for asking a few pesos he has rightfully earned, we could live in a better place. But no, we call our officials “honorable” even as they plunder millions from the public coffers. There is no enough outrage for inefficient and corrupt public works contractors, greedy capitalists who can’t let go of contractualization, no anger for the leeches in electric cooperatives and water distribution utilities, no disdain for big-time thieves and scoundrels.

For there is always the tricycle driver to hate and demonize.

And we could always feel better about ourselves.

God bless our trip.

Here comes the Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School

House of Representatives

RA 10965

Expected to open next year in Laoag City, particularly in Brgy. Vira—a hilly village where large Fariñas estates are located—is the Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School.  President Rodrigo in December signed Republic Act No. 10965, the law mandating its creation.

People had mixed feelings about this news. While the creation of a new, modern, well-funded science high school in Ilocos Norte is a welcome development, not a few are baffled with its name.

The most vocal critic is Board Member Vicentito Lazo who repeatedly pointed out in the sessions of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan that “a street, plaza, or government building could be named after a person only after 10 years after his death except when that person had attained highly exceptional achievements or when the cause of death is due to patriotism or in the service of men.” The new science high school is named after Congressman and Majority Floor Leader Rudy Fariñas’ son JR who perished in a vehicular accident in 2015.

I would not deal with JR’s worthiness for such an honor or whether other great men and women better deserve the distinction, lest I be accused of disrespecting the dead, something I am not inclined to do. The Fariñas family, through the good congressman known for being a devoted father, have all the right to honor their departed loved one by any means allowed by law. And the law creating this science high school is by no means a weak piece of legislation.

After all, it was the Majority Floor Leader together with no less than the Speaker of the House, Pantaleon Alvarez who introduced House Bill No. 5235 entitled, “An Act Establishing a National Science High School in the City of Laoag, Province of Ilocos Norte to be known as Laoag City National Science High School and Appropriating Funds Therefor.” Note here the originally proposed name of the school.

After going through the process in the Lower House, in August last year it was sent to the Senate, requesting for concurrence. After being read on First Reading, it was referred to the Committee on Education, Arts and Culture chaired by Senator Francis Escudero and the Committee on Finance chaired by Senator Loren Legarda.

The joint committee recommended the bill’s approval without amendment and was thus presented on December 6 to the plenary for Second Reading through its sponsor, Senator Escudero. It must be noted that on that day, the senator made an omninus  sponsorship speech for 17 bills that seek to establish, separate, convert, and/or rename one elementary school and 16 secondary schools—including the Laoag City National Science High School.

In his explanatory note, Escudero posited that “Laoag City, being the capital of the Province of Ilocos Norte, deserves to have its own science high school to cater the needs of its growing number of elementary school graduates every academic year. The establishment of the Laoag City National Science High School aims to offer courses that focus on the fields of science, technology and mathematics. These courses will enable its students to be equipped with the proper training and adequate education for a science-oriented career. Thus, the Laoag City National Science High School will not only provide free and quality education but will also facilitate better opportunities for the future of the city’s youth.”

Normally, senators are given time to review proposed bills before the period of interpellation, but considering that the 17 bills are of local application and that local legislators, in this case the members of Congress who sponsored the bills, are “better informed and better equipped to make a judgment on these proposed bills,” the senators proceeded with the interpellation.

But no one stood during the interpellation and no amendments were proposed for any of the 17 bills… save for one. Senator Franklin Drilon made a manifestation proposing that the Laoag City National Science High School be named instead as Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School. This proposal was accepted by the Sponsor, and there being no objection, the Body approved the amendment to House Bill No. 5235. It was approved on Second Reading that day, and was subsequently approved on Third (and final) Reading on Dec. 11 through a unanimous vote.

On Dec. 13, HB 5235 was sent to the Office of the President of the Philippines. A few days after, Dec. 19, it was approved and signed into law by President Duterte, and became Republic Act No. 10965.

What I wanted to show here is that the law creating the Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School clearly went through the process and had the overwhelming support of the legislature and the Philippine president.

Is it legal? Yes. Unless someone challenges R.A. 10965’s constitutionality in the Supreme Court where it is declared as unconstitutional, it is a law that must be enforced and respected. But will anyone challenge it before the High Court? And who?

I don’t think even Governor Imee Marcos will go at great lengths to challenge this in the Supreme Court. She is now busy in her senatorial run, and this is not the best time to be at loggerheads with Congressman Fariñas. The memories of the 7171 congressional probe are still fresh. In fact, the inquiry has not yet even been fully, finally terminated and thus remains a potent bargaining chip of Congressman Fariñas.

Granting that somebody brave would challenge the wisdom of the Legislature and the Executive Branches of Government and would actually file a case in the Supreme Court, such person would all be but a hopeless martyr, if not a fool, wasting time and resources, and not least because after the Sereno impeachment, who among the justices would wish upon themselves the ire of a major presidential ally such as Congressman Fariñas?

And so we can say now with certainty that the Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School, barring any major political upheaval or popular dissent, will open next year. According to news reports, the initial science building will cost at least P110-M and will stand on a three-hectare government lot. Indeed, I have no doubts that Congressman Fariñas–especially because their family name, his beloved son’s name is at stake–will do everything within his vast powers to make it a good one, a great one, one hell of a model science high school in the country. And if this happens, the Ilocano learner will stand to benefit.

But this science high school, having been named the way it was named, will also be a publicly funded monument of a family’s love for a departed member. It will moreover be an unmistakeable proof of something we in this country already know and are doomed to endure for a longer time, perhaps for eternity unless we move towards political maturity: that politicians do things because they could.

What I owe MVF

Laoag City Vice Mayor Michael V. Fariñas
(Photo from philstar.com)

If there’s one blogger-journalist who has hit hardest on Michael V. Fariñas, both when he was mayor of Laoag and in his tenure as vice mayor cut short by a tragic accident last night, it could be me.

Over the years, I have written about him on a range of issues, nothing personal and all of public interest. Each time I’d do so, people would ask if I was not afraid. He was, after all, the leader of the city, a member of Ilocos Norte’s powerful family, and a man preceded by a certain reputation. Even my editor at The Ilocos Times—deeply concerned with the political repercussions it will have on our publisher who is now back in politics as a barangay captain—once edited out some lines about a throwback issue people today not dare talk about.

Was I afraid? I wasn’t. At all. I think Sir Michael fully embraced critics like me—and here I remember my late friend Steve Barreiro who also wrote explosive columns on MVF—as an important part of a democratic city. To his credit, MVF never caused injury nor harm to me or my family, and my commentaries notwithsatnding, he always flashed for me a smile and extended a firm handshake each time we cross paths. As he does to other people, he prepends my name with “Apo” as in “Apo Herdy.”

On one occasion some years ago, I told him: “Sir, you are my favorite mayor,” to which he replied with a chuckle, “Paborito a tirtiraen.” (You’re fond of hitting me.) Then we had a nice photo together. His wife, Mayor Chevylle and his kids are also very nice to me.

Last April, in what would be our last encounter, MVF visited us at home during the “last night” of the wake for my dad. Surrounded by barangay captains, including my brother Herry, he stayed for seven hours until almost the break of dawn. I sat right beside him for about half an hour during which he told me how he has always respected my thoughts and how he chooses not to get affected by criticisms and unfair accusations and how he prefers to “just do his job.”

Never that night or ever did he tell me to shut up or tone down.

I love living in a city where a person can freely and responsibly express views, no matter how uncomfortable it may be to the powerful. That is why as a dutiful son of Laoag, I share my thoughts and talents in the ways I know, always with pure intentions, always with humility, and a dash of courage.

MVF helped make that possible. He consciously made Laoag a fertile ground to write, a safe place to disagree, a conducive place for the practice of journalism.

I thus say that MVF, simply by being MVF—with all his human strengths and frailties—helped me nurture a career in writing.

For that, I am thankful.

So long, Sir Michael. Rest now. May God be with you.

Is Imee Marcos running for Senator?

By the looks of it, yes, Imee Marcos is seriously considering a senate run next year, 2019.

The governor, whose third term ends next year, has been going around provinces from Nueva Ecija and Pangasinan to Metro Manila cities, and, as I write this, to Iloilo where the Dinagyang Festival is ongoing.

Imee presses flesh in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija (Photo from the Imee Marcos Facebook page)

Once hesitant to run for a national post (she said she would rather go back to her first loves: filmmaking, graphic animation, and theater), Imee seems to be now considering the growing clamor for her to run for senator. Such clamor, I suspect, is getting stronger as the vice presidential protest of her brother Bongbong is at snail pace. Bongbong can’t run for the senate without jeopardizing his protest, and people want a Marcos in the national scene.

Imee is no stranger to legislative work. Prior to becoming governor, She was representative of the 2nd District of Ilocos Norte for 9 years. As governor, she focused on programs for education and youth empowerment, agriculture, economic development, tourism, and the advancement of clean energy, winning for Ilocos Norte a host of awards.

Whether her clash with Rudy Farinas—House Majority Floor Leader and himself a possible senatoriable—which led to congressional hearings would affect her chances remains to be seen, but judging by the very warm reception she experienced in places she has visited thus far, a senate seat is not beyond her reach.

Discrimination in Mister Laoag decried

mister laoag 2018

Laoag City could be one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in the Philippines. A third of its elected councilors are openly and proudly gay. There’s Rbee Ablan who comes from a prominent political family, businessman Handy Lao, and Mikee Fariñas who happens to be a daughter of the power couple—the city mayor and vice mayor. All three city councilors ran on a platform of gender equality and promised to promote gender-sensitive legislation. True to their promise, they pushed for the passage of The Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Ordinance of Laoag City which is currently under review by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. Moreover, Mayor Chevylle Fariñas is known to be friendly with the LGBT community, and gay people are highly placed under her administration. Gender discrimination was unheard of at the Laoag City Hall…

Until lately. It comes as a surprise that there is much resentment among members of the local LGBT community at this time because of an issue surrounding an event spearheaded ironically by Councilor Lao—the Mister Laoag pageant.

One aspirant is believed to have been rejected on account of his suspected relationship with a gay person. The basis? A photo of him in an intimate pose with a transgender. Note that the picture showed no nudity or any taint lewdness, but did give event organizers a hint that the aspirant could be in a same-sex relationship. During the interview held open to the public, the controversial aspirant (CA) was asked by the seven-member panel if it is true. Out on the spot, he denied it. The panel also felt at liberty to ask CA what roles he played in bed. Note that these questions were not asked all candidates.

Thirty-six applicants vied for 16 slots, and CA did not make the cut. In an interview, Councilor Lao explained to me that every aspirant was assessed holistically and that total personality of each aspirant was assessed. While Lao belived that CA was not rated based on one issue alone, the councilor did not deny that the issue could have, indeed, hurt his chances. It was a split-hair decision. Of the seven members of the selection panel, 4 voted to reject CA while 3 wanted him in. Lao was with the minority.

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Laoag Councilor Handy Lao

According to insiders, the organizers were worried at how having CA would affect the reputation of the show. Lao said they also wanted to protect the candidate from possible bashing and ridicule. They felt it was not time to have a candidate like CA in Mister Laoag.

There was outrage among LGBT members in Ilocos. Feeling insulted and rejected, they cried foul. They were quick to point out about hypocrisy and double standards. They felt betrayed by the bigoted act, especially because it was committed by friends. Those friends send the messages loud and clear: Having a same-sex relationship will deny you opportunities;  LGBT relationships ruin credibility.

Lao was well-aware of the outrage, and, in an interview with me, he confessed to have shed tears over the controversy. While he stands for the collegial decision of the screening panel, he accepts that shortcomings and excesses may have been committed. These, he said, will be seriously addressed in the next editions of Mister Laoag. As of our time of interview, the councilor is yet to reach out to CA or the members of the LGBT community. He said he was still collecting his thoughts and planning how to proceed.

“Needless to say, yes, something like that happened,” remarked Councilor Fariñas, promising to look closer into the matter. As an advocate for equality and respect that is due all human beings in the city, the councilor says he is disturbed by the issue. “I don’t think anybody should be judged based on their relationships because acceptance and respect inspire human persons to perform better and do well.” He said that the mayor is bent on gathering parties concerned to shed light on the unfortunate controversy.

Councilor Ablan, for his part, stressed that he will never tolerate discrimination. “I, for one, suffered from discrimination almost all my life. I know how it feels and I know what a person in this situation goes through,” he shared before asking, “Do we all have to have the same lives to enjoy the same rights?”

Aian Raquel, provincial tourism officer, makes this sad note, “Everybody knows what’s happening. No amount of sugarcoating and euphemism can hide homophobia even within the bakla circles.”

It is my fervent and sincere hope, dear karikna, that this issue is properly addressed so that we can honestly advance the right of individuals to freely affirm their sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression.

As for Laoag City and its illusions of LGBT advancement, the bubble has been burst. Only if we successfully shrug off the medieval, parochial, bigoted tendencies of people—especially those who make decisions that bear an impact on our collective consciousness—can we truly move forward.

We wish the Mister Laoag pageant well, and its pure, immaculate, unsullied reputation, and I seriously pray that this issue is settled in the soonest time. There should be no place for hate and hurt, not only because we will be celebrating the Laoag City Fiesta and Ilocos Norte’s bicentennial in the next days, but more because everyday we struggle in a world already filled with manmade misery and conflict, to live and let live.

Congressman Fariñas, non grata

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BY A resounding vote of 8, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Ilocos Norte in their regular session on June 27 declared Rudy Fariñas as persona non grata. The congressman was expectedly piqued, but he was right to point out in his statement that referring to someone as persona non grata is to say that “he or she is ostracized, and that such a person is for all intents and purposes culturally shunned, so as to be figuratively non-existent.” That exactly is what board members have done to him.

The term “persona non grata” is Latin for “a person not appreciated.” It was originally meant for diplomats and foreigners who have been deemed undesirable or unwelcome, but it is not the first time a Filipino citizen has been declared non grata in his own country.

Ramon Bautista was declared persona non grata by the Davao City Council for his hipon jokes in a party in the city during the celebration of Kadayawan Festival in 2014. Bautista joked that many women in the city are “hipon” which is a derogatory term for a person with a sexually appealing body but with a less attractive face.

Last year, the Sagguniang Panlalawigan of Pangasinan also declared Dr. Dexter Buted, president of the Pangasinan State University (PSU) as persona non grata after he snubbed the board’s three invitations to him and other university officials to appear before an inquiry.

But this indeed could be the first time a sitting congressman is declared persona non grata in his own province. What are its implications? Continue reading “Congressman Fariñas, non grata”

Why Rudy Fariñas won’t probe Laoag’s missing funds

 

(Note: Publishing here the reply of Congressman Rudy Fariñas on my previous article taking him to task for diligently investigating the Ilocos Norte 7171 — and detaining six Capitol employyes in the process — while turning a blind eye on Laoag City’s missing funds under the administration of his relatives.)

Herdy, Laoag’s missing funds were the accountability of Elena Asuncion, and she is presumed to have misappropriated them. The loss of the huge amount of money is of public knowledge and the COA, NBI and Ombudsman are investigating it.

On the other hand, the case of the misuse of the funds from the excise tax on tobacco, was granted by law to the beneficiary for specific purpose. It is incumbent upon Congress to review the law, aside from the fact that the acquisition of the 115 motor vehicles was overpriced and made through cash advances without public bidding.

Worse, all the documents relating to the transaction could no longer be located. If I did not initiate the investigation, would we have known about such? Do you believe that the 6 provincial officials detained, especially those who requested, received and/or approved the cash advances amounting to P66.45M could not remember such transactions? And if, as claimed by Gov. Marcos, that the transactions were above board, they could easily prove that and show that the documents we have are spurious.

My thoughts:

Indeed, Elena Asuncion is solely responsible for Laoag’s missing funds, and her bosses don’t bear any accountability, if not direct participation, for the plunder. And the earth is the center of the Solar system. Maria Ozawa is a virgin. Elvis Presley is still alive. The Philippines remains a colony of Spain. Ilocos Norte Electric Cooperative is not corrupt. Hannah’s Beach resort did not ruin Pagudpud’s environment. And Leni Robredo did not cheat in the vice presidential race.

Rudy wins… and loses

photo from rappler.com

RUDY Fariñas is no doubt a brilliant lawyer and a skillful politician. He can amaze you with his analytical mind perfectly matched with his gift of gab. He can dazzle you with the wit and humor that go well with his good looks. This congressman, who loves to remind people that he is an Ateneo graduate and a bar topnotcher, can indeed make so-so lawyers look like total idiots.

I once wrote after his successful comeback to the national consciousness through the Corona impeachment trial that he should run for the Senate and that it will be a great disservice to the nation and a great injustice to his gifts if he doesn’t. And in another article after his glorious resurrection from political death, I sang my hallelujahs for the triumph of the human spirit. “You have seen the worst in me, now is time to see the best of me,” he said. And most of us believed him.

In 2010, he ran with Imee Marcos under the slate of One Ilocos Norte. Imee won as Governor. Rudy was elected congressman of the province’s First District. Such political union was short lived and in 2013, it was One Ilocos Norte no more.

But the rift between Rudy and Imee climaxed in recent weeks with the congressional investigations on the supposed misuse of R.A. 7171 funds. The House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability Committee, of which Rudy is part, alleged that some P66 million in funds intended for the welfare of tobacco framers were wrongfully used for the purchase of vehicles, and that there were obvious irregularities in procurement procedures.

I will leave the facts and legalities to the experts, for I am neither a lawyer nor an accountant. But let me give my two cents on who is winning in this political battle.

Rudy is winning. He has managed to keep six Ilocos Norte Capitol employees under detention for contempt. He has also thrice defied the Court of Appeals which is hearing the petition for habeas corpus filed by the detainees’ lawyers. I say “he”, and not the “Committee” or the “House” because, come on, we know that it is all Rudy’s orchestrations. The congressmen, afraid to lose positions and perks they enjoy if they draw the ire of the majority leader, will always toe the line. Although a political butterfly who gracefully fluttered his wings from the Yellows to the current administration, Rudy enjoys the trust and confidence, not only of the House Speaker, but President Duterte himself. And with all his feats, we can say, with just a little exaggeration, that Rudy Fariñas is master of the universe. Continue reading “Rudy wins… and loses”

Why Senator Miriam chose MMSU

 

TRANSCRIPT:

Last month, nag-usap-usap kami ng aking staff saan kami mag-inaugurate o mag-launch ng aming presidential at vice-presidential. Some suggested the North, some the South because I come from the Visayas, some wanted the rally or whatever event might happen inside Metro Manila, some outside Metro Manila. Pero bandang huli, dahil marami na masyado ang nagsasalita, ka’ko, dalhin niyo ako sa campus where I have always been most comfortable with an audience, but only a campus consisting of ordinary students. I want a campus with a high IQ.

(Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago at Mariano Marcos State University, Batac City, Feb. 9, 2016)

 

And, of course, the obligatory pick-up lines here:

=) =) =)

 

The Uncaring “Uncle”

Photo from the Uncle's Bar Facebook Fan Page
Photo from the Uncle’s Bar Facebook Fan Page

After the merriment that was the Parada Iloca-locana Halloween Parade on Oct. 31, some participants went to Uncle’s Bar in Brgy. 23, Laoag City. It had been a long and tiring week which they decided to cap with some cold drinks in the warm company of friends.

But the night ended in tragedy for Wayner Tulali and Lucky Gappi, both from Batac.  In a rumble that ensued a few meters from the bar, they were stabbed multiple times, each of them, as their group was about to go home at past 4:00 a.m. Another man from the opposing group was reportedly hurt.

A criminal case has been filed against one suspect (who was also hurt in the incident), and the victims’ friends say for now they are trusting in the process, though fears of a whitewash can’t be avoided as one of those who they allege was part of the mayhem is a son of an influential politician.

What adds to the anguish of the victims’ friends is the seeming lack of empathy on the part of the Uncle’s Bar management. One Facebook post by a friend of Wayner and Lucky goes:

“There is just one thing I would like to point out openly- what did the management of Uncle’s Bar do during and after the incident? If your customers have just left, about to board their car parked right in front of your establishment, wala na bang pakialam? Aren’t establishments like Uncles supposed to have security personnel? Both were rushed to the hospital na sobrang lapit sa Uncle’s, did they check on these two young men after the incident? Simpleng malasakit lang sana sa customer, kahit ‘yun lang!”

Indeed, dear karikna, that’s too much a lack of empathy, not to mention responsibility, for a business establishment, especially for one whose name refers to a close relative.

One wishes that their concern for clients in distress is as warm as an uncle’s hug, and not as cold as their beer.

That trip to Sarrat  

Going to Sarrat is usually fun and relaxing. We’ve had countless family picnics in the town’s charming river resorts, visits to President Marcos’ birthplace, or just strolls around the sleepy town. Each journey is memorable, but it’s the one we made on August 4, Tuesday, I will never forget.

That trip was the saddest I have taken in my whole life. Seated on my passenger seat was fellow writer and office mate, Reynaldo Andres. We were headed to the morgue to see the body of a slay victim Sir Rey would later confirm is his only child.

That morning in our office, Sir Rey looked worried and upset. He received a text message from his daughter Mai-mai, saying that she is in Cebu and that she needs money for her return fare. Sir Rey was surprised, for she thought his only child, a graduating student, was just working on a group project as she occasionally does with trusted classmates she has treated as sisters. The text message said money should be sent to a certain “Francis Domingo Ortega” with an address in La Union because her daughter’s identification card is not with her. She said they were in the Waterfront Hotel.

Sir Rey immediately went out of the office to send his daughter P15,000 through a money transfer outlet in Batac. That was around 9:00 a.m. I, too, went out of the office to attend my classes. When I returned for lunch at past twelve, Sir Rey was doubly emotional and nervous. When he called his daughter to say that the money has been deposited, the phone can no longer be reached.

Then came a phone call from another office in our university. The caller informed Sir Rey that she saw a Facebook post referring to her daughter: RIP. Sir Rey immediately went out of the door. After a few seconds trying to absorb the turn of events, I and our colleagues in the office–Ma’am Kat and Sharon–joined him. And thus our trip to Sarrat where radio reports say a body of a woman, with a bullet wound on her head, was found at dawn.

As it turned out, many already knew about the identity of the victim a couple of hours before Sir Rey was informed. Her classmates who earlier identified Mai-mai  at the morgue did not know how to tell Sir Rey, but they immediately gave their statement to the police.

The travel took at least forty-five minutes. I could have sped up so we can get there soonest, but I was extra careful as my knees were wobbly and I was feeling cold all over. Sir Rey, the tough guy and brilliant Ilocano writer Bannawag and Agriculture Magazine readers are very familiar with, was on my side weeping… weeping for her daughter and also for himself.

“She is the joy and hope of my life,” he said as he shared stories about Mai-mai: how the English language major was very good at writing poems and how proud she was about inheriting her father’s writing skills, how she dreamt of going to Law School, how her charming and jolly personality brought cheer to friends and family, and how happy she was turning nineteen just a few days ago.

Mai-mai was my student in Logic when she was a sophomore. Hands down the most stunning in class, she was also the most convivial. As her friends attest, she can brighten up a dark day with her ready smile and jolly disposition. But I only discovered only a year after that semester, that she is the daughter of Sir Rey, an institution in Ilocano literature and one of the country’s top science writers. The free-spirited Mai-mai was proud of her father but she wanted to establish her own name.

Sir Rey’s stories kept us all teary eyed. I would have cried with him, but all of us had to show some semblance of strength and hope. Maybe it was not Mai-mai. May be it was a mistaken identity. But then calls came one after the other. Some offered very clear clues. On the victim’s tattoo was the word “Jem” and Roman numerals that translate to July 28, 1996. Is that her nickname? Is that her birthday? “Yes,” said Sir Rey who was losing whatever hope he still held on to. “Nagulpiten ti tao..”, he said sobbing, wailing, and without propagating gender stereotypes, I say it struck me so hard to see a typical macho like Sir Rey weep unrestrained. He cried for justice even as the suspect was initially believed to be related to a powerful political clan.

Indeed, the trip to Sarrat was a crash course for me on the society we live in today: the value of family (Sir Rey narrated both the joys and hardships of fatherhood), the power and responsibility of the media and the Internet (and how Sir Rey, also a media practitioner, was among the last to know), the weight we give to education (Mai-mai was determined to graduate in April next year), our strong faith in God (“Dios ti makaammon,” said Sir Rey as he immediately called their church pastor who also immediately proceeded to the funeral home), and the impacts of politico-economic imbalances (that feeling of powerlessness when the suspect is believed to be influential).

When we arrived in Sarrat, we decided to go to the police first before proceeding to the funeral home. At the morgue, Sir Rey confirmed what we hoped was just a confusion, a bad dream, or just a distasteful joke. Jemima Keziah Andres, our beloved Mai-mai, is dead.

JemjusticeMangabat

What we know about the culprit so far.

The suspect, who is in his mid-20s, was initially named as “Francis Domingo Ortega” and was believed to be from La Union province and a relative of the provincial governor, but the name turned out to be an alias. Said to be charged with estafa and in running, he created a false persona for himself, creating a fake Facebook account.

When the suspect’s picture was widely circulated in social media, concerned Netizens revealed his true persona.

Victorino “Jay Ar” Mangabat Jr is his real name. Originally from Cauayan, Isabela, he has also lived in Gapan, Nueva Ecija. He has three Facebook accounts by the name Jay Ar Mangabat. One account indicated that he studied at the Ateneo de Manila University while two other accounts listed his schools as University of Sto. Tomas and Our Lady of the Pillar College, Cauayan City, respectively.

He is engaged and has a three-year old son. Mysteriously, his fiancé is said to have been missing for around a year now under mysterious circumstances.

The suspect, together with his son and mother, rented an apartment in Barangay Aglipay, Batac City on July 3. They hurriedly left the place at around 3:30 a.m. on August 4. A source said they stayed in a lodging house in Laoag City for three days in June.

He is driving a white Montero with a fictitious plate number.

Those who have met the suspect describe him as the silent type, haggard, had unkempt hair, and “lutang”, a term specifically used for drug users. He pretended to be rich, but it was not clear what work he did.

If you have any information leading to his arrest, please contact the authorities immediately. The NBI Laoag Hotline is (077) 771-3885.

May we, my dear friends, altogether pray for the eternal repose of Jemima, fight for justice, and work for a society where no person, man or woman, will have have to suffer the same fate, and that no father will have to take the same sorrowful trip to Sarrat or elsewhere.

*****

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Golden Epal

dela cuesta

We, the people of Laoag, will celebrate our golden anniversary as a city tomorrow, June 19, and I am glad that the scheduled activities are modest. I hope the event will be meaningful, and for good reason.

Indeed, there are a lot of reasons to be grateful and to celebrate. Laoag today stands as one of the finest cities in the country, having reaped various distinctions including those on, but not limited to, the environment, peace and order, governance, literacy, and the arts. All these were achieved not due to one person or two, but on account of our collective good work as a people.

However, a few weeks before the celebration, tarpaulin posters of a former politician have dotted the city’s public spaces. The posters bear the name and face of ex-councilor Melvin de la Cuesta (yes, that guy who could not make up his mind on who he really witnessed was the killer of Laoag City Vice Mayor Jimmy Chua in 2005) and in big print, “Thank you so much for your research!”

Almost all who see the posters are puzzled. What research? And who is thanking him?

Let me give a background. De la Cuesta authored the city ordinance mandating the anniversary celebration of Laoag City’s charter (RA 4584) signed on June 19, 1965 by President Diosdado Macapagal. The ordinance was the subject of controversy as other councilors, including Atty. Toto Lazo, insisted that Laoag’s cityhood must instead be celebrated on January 1 because RA 4584 clearly stipulated January 1, 1966 as effectivity date after its approval by the people through a plebiscite.

The research being referred to here is De la Cuesta’s very simple effort of going to the National Library, and maybe the Senate archives, to find details about Laoag’s Charter. In the advent of the Internet, that is something even grade school pupils can do. Only real “researchers,” especially those who immensely contribute to society– for instance, scientists who successfully discover cure for cancer or HIV/AIDS, develop a machine producing free and sufficient electricity, or invent an equipment swiftly detecting and exterminating epal politicians–deserve such grand show of gratitude.

But, who is thanking him?

It is very obvious that the tarpaulin posters are self-advertisements. It is De la Cuesta thanking himself. The city government could not have propagated those tarpaulins because, according to well-placed sources, the top city officials ordered the removal of those posters in the downtown. Those hung in the barangays are still abound.

At least four of the incumbent city councillors are barred by term limits to run again next year, probably a golden opportunity seen by De la Cuesta—who, after ruining his credibility due to the Jimmy Chua case, has perennially lost in elections in Laoag and Sarrat.

De la Cuesta made confusing testimonies on the death of Chua before implicating, and later clearing, then mayor, now vice mayor, Michael V. Fariñas. On account of the fickle-minded whistleblower’s recanting, the case was since dismissed by the Department of Justice due to lack of probable cause.

If there is anyone we should be thankful to hence, it is our beloved city Laoag who has nurtured us in the past 50 years and more–not some flip-flopping, self-aggrandizing politician. But if indeed we are in the mood to thank individuals, how can we forget Congressman Simeon Valdez, who sponsored the bill for Laoag’s cityhood? And how about Eulalio Siazon, our city’s first mayor, who earnestly campaigned for a yes vote in the plebiscite?

Today, there are no tarpaulin posters in their honor, but they deserve to be remembered by a grateful people.

Terrible Ilocos Norte hotels and resorts based on TripAdvisor

tripadvisorlogo

ILOCOS NORTE has definitely made a mark as one of the Philippines’ top travel meccas, given the province’s amazing natural, cultural, and historical attractions, plus fun activities to boot. But, given the influx, how are our hotels meeting the demands of guests?

Many tourists depend on Internet-reviews to check the quality of hotels, restaurants, and other travel-related establishments. The most popular site is TripAdvisor.com which allows reviewers to provide both quantitative ratings and qualitative information based on their actual experience. Guests rate the establishment on a scale of 1-5 based on the following criteria: location, sleep quality, rooms, service value, and cleanliness. The written reviews are very useful for people planning their trip. One would not pay a budget price and demand five-star accommodation, but would expect decent services and facilities. In the same breath, expectations and demands run high when the price paid is high. At the end of the day, value for money weighs heavily.

I will write about the best and average hotels next, but let me devote this post to the bad and the worst.

Continue reading “Terrible Ilocos Norte hotels and resorts based on TripAdvisor”

Not just a beauty pageant: A review of Miss Ilocos Norte 2015

from the Miss IN Facebook page
from the Miss IN Facebook page

The Coronation Night of Miss Ilocos Norte 2015 held May 9 at the Centennial Arena before a crowd of around 6,000 measured up to the hype it generated in the past weeks. One can argue that it is one of the best provincial beauty pageants in the country and, no exaggerations here, probably among the world’s finest.

I offer the following review.

A visual feast The set design by Ohm David, a resident in big Ilocos Norte events, was stunning as usual. The images on a giant HD screen were carefully chosen and animated, providing ambiance to the competition’s various parts. For instance, flashed for the long gown competition were the buttresses of the Paoay Church on a starry night. Miniature windmills and huge harps also accentuated the stage in succession. I am amazed by the organizers’ eye for details from the grand set to the flower arrangements on the judges’ table. The lighting was perfect, but, given the inherent acoustic limitations of the venue, the sounds could have been better.

All the production performers were good, but the background dancers during the swimsuit competition nailed it best. Wearing avant-garde costumes that fused Ilocano and Japanese elements, the dancers’ vogue movements were a joy to watch. They delivered a fresh presentation that did not steal the show from, but instead trained the spotlight on, the real stars: the 23 beauties. I have seen a lot of performances choreographed by Christian Espiritu, but that one, a total work of genius, is yet the best.

The gowns and costumes created by our local designers were mostly remarkable, some of them even world class. In the evening gown competition won by Miss Pagudpud in an Amor Albano creation, the work of Jaynny Lao perfectly donned by Miss Laoag was also a hit. I am really glad of the fabulous display of artistry and talent. But organizers says some of these designers already have attitude problems even before they make it really big. Our source did not elaborate. One wonders, by the way, why Windell Madis of Batac, the third fashion designer from Ilocos Norte to make it to a fashion-oriented reality TV show, did not make anything for anyone, not even for his own town. Something, dear karikna, is amiss here.

Continue reading “Not just a beauty pageant: A review of Miss Ilocos Norte 2015”

My dream summer workshop for 2015

phone workshopI am grateful to my parents for sending me to workshops–mostly held during summer when the young kid’s mind is idle and is potentially a devil’s, well, workshop.

I remember being in a theater company and starring in two one-act-plays–Dionisio Salazar’s Makapaghihintay ang Amerika and another play which title escapes my mind, but I do remember that it was one heavy, very meaningful piece where all of us actors wore black. I was, ehem, best actor in that one-night-only performance, and you can check with my fellow actors–Dennis Raquiza and Philip Zenon Diego, two of the most sought-after Ilocano creatives today–about this claim. The summer heat was intense but it was no match to the sizzling friendships I forged both with my fellow trainees and our passionate teachers.

If I were to bring back the proverbial hands of time to that part of my life when I had no responsibilities but to prepare myself how to be a productive member of society, I now have in mind what workshop to attend. Obviously, dear karikna, it’s on the poster that goes with this write up.

I can personally guarantee of the excellent artistry, craftsmanship, and versatility of the three workshop trainors: Ms. Jane, former manager of Samtoy Books, have conducted a number of successful workshops and exhibits. Ms. Marianne is one of Ilocos’ most sought-after photographers who has put together an amazing picture book. The 3rd member is Russel Andrew Villena whose expertise in digital photography and graphics technology is difficult to match.

I can entrust my own kids to them, only that I don’t have any yet.

 

 

 

Continue reading “My dream summer workshop for 2015”

Batac a genius… no loser!

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Judeleah Pucan, best female performer
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pictures from the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals Facebook Page/ Alaric Yanos, PGIN

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(This is the second of a series of articles comprising my critique on the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals 2014 held Nov. 29 at the Marcos Stadium in Laoag City. Read also the article Why I am proud of Laoag this time.)

Not a few people are concerned about Batac’s apparent downfall in their Tan-ok performances as shown by their skidding rankings. They were champion in the Festival of Festivals’ debut in 2011, 2nd place in 2012, 3rd place in 2013, and fourth this year.

It’s easy to believe in these numbers and hastily conclude that Batac is losing its artistic prowess, but I strongly contest this. They, in fact, won not just trophies, but even more for themselves and Ilocos Norte for doing what they do best.

The best thing about Batac folks is their healthy dose of insanity which I think is good because human civilization advances not because of those who blindly conform but on account of men and women who bravely challenge the status quo, and dare to be different. After all, this Home of Great Leaders is not known for people who remain comfortable with the world as usual.

Last Saturday, they landed only fourth, but did you, dear karikna, realize that Batac made history that night by staging the grandest musicale Ilocos Norte has ever seen?

On the Tan-ok stage where many of the contingents are still infected by the Visayan fever (ala Sinulog and Dinagyang), Batac dared enough to present something fresh, and excel in it. Let me discuss in detail my observations not only from the show but during some of their practices which I had the chance to watch.

Delicious story

The empanada was shown in response to the shifting tastes of the Spanish-era Ilustrados. Immersed in the lifestyle of their colonial masters, the tastes and preferences of these educated elite were strongly influenced by the West, but time came when their palates looked for something novel. They wanted a fusion between the Western way of cooking and rich native flavors. Thus, the Batac Empanada which is one reason why Ilocos Norte today is known as a gastronomic mecca. This was shown in the well-executed Kitchen Musicale where, in a party hosted by a Señora, Ilustrados refused to eat the usual fare (e.g.hamon, paella, lechon, embutido), moving the servant Indios to serve the Batac Empanada. Continue reading “Batac a genius… no loser!”

Why this time I am proud of Laoag

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All pictures, except the two below, are from the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals Facebook Page/ Alaric Yanos, PGIN

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(This is the second of a series of articles comprising my critique on the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals 2014 held Nov. 29 at the Marcos Stadium in Laoag City. Read also the article Batac a genius… no loser!)

It was the fourth edition of the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals, now considered as the biggest gathering of Ilocanos, having drawn almost 50,000 in the Marcos Stadium last Nov. 29 at the Marcos Stadium. Celebrating greatness in most creative forms, the show featured once more performances from each of the 21 municipalities and 2 cities of Ilocos Norte.

Tan-ok, arguably the most anticipated event organized by the province, has steadily led to a state of maturity, taking small steps since its debut in 2011.  Without blinking an eye, I’d say that last installment was the best ever. There were a lot of breakthroughs—not just steps but strides towards even greater planes for this phenomenon. Let me, dear karikna, detail my observations through this series of critical notes.

Truthful, clear stories

“Your stories are your wealth,” the judges posited during the debriefing meeting held the day after the competition. They expressed amazement over the clarity and richness of the narratives they saw unfold in most performances. Unlike the street-dance based festivals in the Visayas like the Sinulog and Dinagyang, the strength of Ilocano presentations indeed lies on our people’s tales.

Personally, I am glad that the stories presented this year were not only entertaining, but more truthful. Indeed, as confessed by Edna Vida Froilan, one of the country’s dance icons, who sit as one of seven Tan-ok judges coming from diverse backgrounds, judges are like “babies” who don’t know or know very little about the culture of the locality. They thus evaluate performances based only on what they see. The burden of determining authenticity, therefore, are not on their shoulders.

It was wise of the festival organizers headed by creative director Aian Raquel to hold a story conference prior to the big event. I am happy (and humbled) to have been invited to share my thoughts to choreographers and key people involved in drafting the storylines of every contingent. I would usually just write critiques after the show, just like this one. Interacting with our local artists early on was a welcome experience because it allowed me to talk more on the future, and ramble less about the past. During the conference, I already had a feeling that this year’s Tan-ok will be very different. That feeling was right, and it was very evident in the case of Laoag. Continue reading “Why this time I am proud of Laoag”

Notes on the 2014 Tan-ok: Spotlight on stories

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Tan-ok choreographers and tourism officers from around Ilocos Norte
Aian Raquel, Tan-ok Creative Director
Aian Raquel, Tan-ok Creative Director

It’s November and all 23 cities and municipalities of Ilocos Norte are in full swing with their respective preparations for this year’s edition of the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals happening on the 29th.

I highly anticipate this year’s Tan-ok as organizers have given premium on what I, together with well-meaning Ilocano culture advocates, have been wishing for in previous editions: faithfulness to the Ilocano story. Indeed, any self-respecting festival should have at its core the true story of its people who are celebrating greatness, be it of an object, food, event, or any phenomenon.

Last October 24, your karikna was invited by Aian Raquel, the event’s creative director, to serve as resource speaker in a story workshop participated in by choreographers from the various towns and cities. With the exception of a few who failed to attend, I was glad with the receptiveness of the participants.

I delivered a brief lecture on the history and culture of Ilocanos but not after making a clear caveat that everything that I was to say in the workshop was my own insights as a fan who happens to have some knowledge of Ilocano culture and history, and not of the Tan-ok management. I also said that they are not obliged to heed my humble recommendations.

At the onset, I stressed to the participants that artists like them are powerful personas. They, in fact, could even be more influential than politicians, for they shape their people’s consciousness, help them define their identity, and empower them to preserve their heritage while embracing evolution and change. Any artist who sees his value only by the trophies he has won is underestimating, even insulting, himself.

In the course of making the presentation entertaining and winnable, overeager choreographers either in the guise of claiming artistic license or sheer arrogance and plain ignorance, twist and alter the story to the extent that it is rendered unrecognizable by the people who supposedly own it.

Most notorious, of course, in fictionalizing stories is Laoag City’s Pamulinawen Festival. Ironically, it has, over the past four years, brought home 3 championship trophys, lording over the competition since 2012.  Over the years, Pamulinawen has been portrayed as blacksmith trade (2011), courtship (2012), and songwriting (2013). In the Mini Tan-ok Dance Competition last February, Pamulinawen was interpreted as cockfighting.

In terms of wealth, both in terms of financial and human resources, Laoag, the city I live in and love over and above any place on earth, arguably has the upper hand. I wish that choreographers will finally zero in on a proper story which will properly shape and define the Pamulinawen Festival which still badly pales in comparison, mainly on account of lack of consistency and character, to more established festivals across the nation. Unfortunately, Laoag was the only group which decided not to talk about their storyline during the workshop.

But why has Laoag consistently won? Continue reading “Notes on the 2014 Tan-ok: Spotlight on stories”

As self-aggrandizing ‘victims’ become dictators, Marcos is loved today more than ever

Portrait of Ferdinand Marcos(Note: This essay was originally titled, Loving Marcos as a right: in defense of historical revisionism)

It is sad when self-aggrandizing freedom fighters cry foul whenever anything good is said about Ferdinand E. Marcos.  To them, he is pure evil and that the youth must be constantly reminded about alleged misdeeds during his presidency. Students such as the Ateneans who joyfully had selfies with Imelda are criticized for having poor historical knowledge while artists like Chito Miranda who perform in Marcos-related activities are chided for glorifying the ‘dark side.’

These ‘freedom fighters’ consider Filipinos who recount positive personal experiences during the Marcos era as ignorant or stupid. Meanwhile, writers whose accounts of history diverge from what anti-Marcos folks believe to be Gospel truth are branded as revisionists and propagandists.

These are foul.

For how could you blame farmers who enjoyed strong government support in the 70s for loving Marcos?

How could you blame mothers whose children enjoyed quality education, and who had more food on their tables then for remembering the president well?

How could you blame artists whose respective crafts blossomed under Imelda’s patronage for dreaming for the same support?

How could you refrain people from wishing we have today a more stable power supply, a saner traffic situation, and an efficient transport system the way they were when Marcos was president and Imelda was Metro Manila governor?

How could you look down at our countrymen who wish we have today the same level of respect we enjoyed in the international community when Marcos was president?

And, how could you prevent Filipinos from feeling hungry for reform, and from rooting for the new society Marcos envisioned or something to that effect?

These “how could you’s” go ad infinitum. Point is, as a growing majority of our countrymen now realize that as our social ills have remained—and by all indicators have even worsened—in our post-1986 national life, Marcos is not the real enemy. If people feel they lived more decent lives during the Martial Law years, no historian or scholar or political analyst could contest that without insulting those who own that experience.

Continue reading “As self-aggrandizing ‘victims’ become dictators, Marcos is loved today more than ever”

No hope: When PAGASA can’t even count 1, 2, 3

pagasameme

I know typhoons pretty well, and my only credential is that I live in Ilocos Norte, a province most frequently hit by disaster. That and some gut feeling matched with common sense.

I have learned survival skills: keeping necessary supplies in the house (food, water, batteries), monitoring news on the radio, being alert all the time and not panic. Over the years, I have also learned one important survival mechanism: not to trust PAGASA, the Philippines’ official weather agency.

On Sept. 15, for example, PAGASA raised public storm warning signal No. 3, automatically cancelling classes in schools in all levels, and work in government offices as well. It turned out to be a fair and sunny day. Even malunggay leaves were still.

Last Friday, on the other hand, PAGASA raised only Signal No. 2 as Mario set its sights on Ilocos Norte. On Saturday morning, the people—at least those who were able to sleep—woke up to a great disaster. Trees have fallen, debris were scattered in the streets, many areas were flooded, and the province was enveloped in darkness. It is, by far, the strongest natural disaster to hit the province this year.

At mid-day, hundreds of families in in high-risk areas have been evacuated, some towns have become isolated, a number of roads and highways were rendered impassable (leaving thousands of travelers stranded), and agriculture has sustained millions in losses, even as Mario, by then infamously referred to as Super Mario, continued to intensify. PAGASA released at 11:00 a.m. another weather bulletin: it was still signal no. 2. Continue reading “No hope: When PAGASA can’t even count 1, 2, 3”

Some notes on Imee’s best SOPA ever

 

imee sopa 2014

 

Rosy but grounded. Ambitious but compelling. Elegant but inclusive.

By all indicators, Governor Imee Marcos’ 5th State of the Province Address delivered Aug. 25 at the Plaza del Norte Hotel located on a land area disputed by Laoag City and Paoay has been the best by far.

Riding on the notable transformation of Ilocos Norte in the past few years, the people’s very high morale and sense of pride, and the equally high levels of trust and confidence the governor enjoys from his constituents, Imee urged her people to dream bigger: Ilocos Norte as the country’s best province by 2020. The road map is creatively called IN2020.

More than just the usual detailing of the achievements in years past, the governor clearly spoke on the bright prospects of the future and what all sectors must do to help achieve it.

Let me quote some of the best parts of the speech that lasted 49 minutes and 49 seconds, interrupted 33 times by the audience’s generous applause:

On poverty alleviation

“Poverty in the coastal and mountain zones had climbed up from 21 % in 2003 to 24% in 2010. We responded aggressively—food packs in the lean months, 16,000 scholarships a year, barangay roads, fishing boats, tools, and new agricultural packages. 9.9% laengen ti nabati pay, nasapsapa ngem 2015 nga nagun-od ti MDG, nga mabingay iti marigrigat”

On good governance

“Hindi lihim na nakunsume ako sa sistema ng Capitolyo noon, nagngingitngit sa ilang empleyadong laging absent! Ngayon nagkakaunawaan na kami, at nakatutok ang bawat digital Ilocano citizen, sumbung nang sumbong ng text at tweet!”

On windmill developers abusing nature (and our hospitality)

“Going green is part of our provincial DNA. Last week, we constituted a multipartite monitoring team for renewable energy projects. Ironically, despite their mission to provide clean energy, wind construction sites have not always observed local ordinances on quarrying, coral preservation, and the protection of endangered plant and marine life. In Ilocos Norte, let it be known that even the country’s biggest companies have to comply with the law—the law of man and the law of nature.”

On transforming Ilocos Norte into a learning province

Let us take education beyond the classroom, beyond age and place. Let us convert Ilocos Norte into a learning province, so that every field and beach is a science lab, a Heroes Walk in Laoag or in Bacarra is a library in the park, and Sirib buses become learning movie houses.

On MMSU, garlic, and heritage conservation

Palagay ko panahon na ring pag-usapan ang MMSU.  Our premier educational institution has begun to rethink its role in a quickly-diversifying economy. Originally focused on agriculture and forestry, bigger enrollments are now found in business, engineering, tourism and computer sciences. Our farmers also await from MMSU research and innovation that will impact their lives— when can indigenous Ilocano white garlic be developed into weightier, sturdier, new and more productive varieties?

 The first conservation school in the country has been launched in Paoay CIT-MMSU, to revive the classic trades of carpentry and wood-carving, handloom weaving, bricks and stone masonry. NCCA, Spain’s Escuela Talleres, and the Betis, Pampanga workshops are behind us. We all watched with horror when the Bohol churches fell during the earthquake. Let us be mindful that after Bohol, our province has the most number of colonial churches. And only with long-term planning and fervent prayer can we safeguard them.

And, my personal favourite: On volunteerism

“In truth, 6 years is a very very short time to achieve all that we must IN2020. Government cannot go it alone, we need you to volunteer and assure help in continuing change and transformation. If we can set in motion a virtuous circle of generosity and volunteerism, awareness and participation will ensue, your volunteer work will generate savings for government, which will in turn fund more student jobs, more loans for women, work for tribesmen, fishermen and the handicapped. A virtuous cycle indeed!

“Sa ngayon, iilan ang nagvo-volunteer, mga suki ng kapitolyo sa barangay, Red Cross, ang Chinese Chamber. Lahat tayo ay abala sa trabaho at pamilya. Ngunit hindi ako naniniwala na ang Ilocano ay hindi matulungin. Dahil nakikita ko kayo sa barangay, naghihirap upang mabuo ang ating kalye, ang sipag-sipag ng mga magulang at titser tuwing Brigada Eskwela, at ang malasakit ng mga doktor tuwing kami’y mag-Capitol Epress. Damang-dama pa rin ang mga donasyon ng mga balikbayan sa bawat munisipyo, at maraming Ilocanong kasama kong tumulong sa Tacloban.

“Itan! Tapno awan ti maibati, awan ti maisiasi ken awan ti haan a maikkan iti tulong.”

I am glad that the governor urged the people to do their share in catapulting Ilocos Norte to the place where it should be. An extensive volunteerism campaign doesn’t also amount to savings but, more importantly, gives the people a sense of ownership of government programs. The are made to understand their roles not only as beneficiaries but as key actors in development.

*****

Other observations:

Language

There was a marked increase in Miss Imee’s use of the Ilokano language. Unlike before when Ilokano content did not exceed five percent of the entire speech, almost one-fourth of her 5,263-word 5th SOPA was in the vernacular. Here is the actual breakdown: 23% Ilokano, 33% Tagalog, and 44% English. Imee did struggle with speaking lengthy Ilokano, but its the effort to struggle that really counts. Mother tongue and plurilingualism advocates must be very happy with this development.

Attendance and seating arrangement

One thing that struck me was that some young people—youth leaders, provincial scholars, and other achievers—had even better seats than mayors.

Indeed, present were a lot of young people, including over a hundred collegians and some high school students who all looked their best. The oldest attendee was nonagenarian Magdalena Gamayo, the only master weaver of Abel in the country and a National Living Treasure. The audience was touched when the governor had a solo picture with her after the program.

Your karikna with some provincial scholars
Your karikna with some provincial scholars

The set was simple, nothing ostentatious, but very refreshing with a lot of plants in it. It is really green too as many of the stage props are reusable.

Fashion

The governor herself noted that in years past, some people gave more important to fashion than the speech itself. It was not true this year. There were no scene stealers, nothing outrageously good nor abhorrent..

I also noticed that more abel fabric has been used for the gowns. I particularly liked the uniform gowns of the ladies from the Provincial Tourism Office. It was designed by no less than their boss Aian Raquel (I always knew he is multitalented, but I never realized he knows decent fashion design as well). The sleek dress is multifunctional. Made of binakol, the top with structural paired sleeves may be paired with either pants or a short skirt.

Tourism abel

In contrast, a famous personality from Laoag City (not a politician) also wore an abel gown, but it really looked off. Done by a famous designer, the over-imposing top made the thirty-ish beauty look like a a cross between an overloaded ship and an old-fashioned spacecraft. In fairness, she still looked terrific regardless of what she wore. Still, the gown could have been better.

By the way, Imee’s blue gown is an Amor Albano creation. Its design makes a classic terno look contemporary with the play of silhouette and texture.

On a personal note, I wore a modest barong, actually a hand-me-down from my father, which Joel Dul-loog was so kind to repair on very short notice.

After-event food and refreshment

Attendees generally commented that food served at Plaza del Norte this year was slightly better than in past years. A group of provincial scholars remember enjoying the following: banana bread, cream puff, puding a kasla maja ti kolorna, bread a round a babassit nga adda meat idiay unegna, lechon baboy, and chicken a ‘dimi ammo’t lutona. 

A famous Ilocos Norte physician noted that of all the food served, it was only the lechon baka that he really enjoyed. It was unfortunate, he said, that before he noticed the roasted cow, he already had his tummy filled with forgettable pasta, pastry, and other meat dishes.

Me, I was so busog with Imee’s speech. And it was really all that mattered.

Soon to rise, finally: SM City Laoag

Brgy. Chairman Romulo Bartolome: Landowners have been paid by as much as 30 percent.
Brgy. Chairman Romulo Bartolome: Landowners have been paid by as much as 30 percent.
Tata Pedro shows the property where SM City Laoag will rise.
Tata Pedro shows the property where SM City Laoag will rise.
Along Nangalisan West Highway (right side leading to the airport)
Along Nangalisan West Highway (right side leading to the airport)
The view from the bridge
View from the bridge
View from north of the river
View from south of the river

From a city with small, homegrown groceries and department stores that close at 6:00 p.m., Laoag City in the past couple of years has built a reputation as a retail mecca, with big stores sprouting faster than you can say cheese.. or Sy.

In December 2009, Robinsons Ilocos Norte (San Nicolas technically but is geographically almost Laoag) was the first national retail chain to open in the Ilocos Region. It was followed by three others: SM Savemore in December 2011, SM Hypermart in October 2012, and Puregold in November 2012. Of the four, however, only Robinsons is a full-service mall with a department store, supermarket, cinemas, a food court, an array of shops, and an activity area. To many, the Ilocos mall scene will never be complete without a full, honest-to-goodness SM.

Even before Robinsons IN was built, there have been long-standing rumors that an SM Mall will rise in Laoag City. It has not, as you know, been realized. The search for a parcel of land big enough for the mall’s requirements took a long time. SM apparently wanted to have it in Laoag, not anywhere else, and, naturally, they wanted the place to be accessible. Conflicting pieces of information had circulated about SM having finally chosen a lot here and there, but nothing was credible enough to be believed, or at least for long.

In 2012, however, news spread that a land area along Brgy 51-B Nangalisan West (south of the river, road leading to Northwestern University) had been identified by SM Prime Holdings and that negotiations with various families that own the property were already underway. It was a difficult process, our informant (a Laoag City elective official) said, because of the usual process of having heirs of families, some of whom are based abroad, sign documents. SM also haggled with the families in terms of price. All of these went slowly but well, our informant said, and groundbreaking rites were expected as early as February last year, in time for the Laoag City Fiesta month. But then there was nothing.

The project hit a snag, our informant said, when officials of a national agency allegedly tried to extort Php 4-Million pesos from SM. Of course, this did not make mall executives happy, and they decided not to pay up. The project was thus derailed.

But all seems well now, says the informant. SM executives apparently sought the help of a top provincial official so they won’t have to lose millions to the alleged extortionists.

Indeed, the green light seems to be on and bright. Brgy. Chairman Romulo Bartolome of 51-B Nangalisan in an interview with this writer said the land developers sought two days ago his permission for the setting up of fences around the property where SM will rise. Furthermore, he disclosed that landowners have already received payments as much as 30 percent. According to Bartolome, the property measures around 9 hectares, 8 hectares of which is within his barangay while the rest belongs to nearby Nalbo. As Brgy. 51-B’s land area is only 28 hectares, over one fourth of the entire barangay will be occupied by SM. The people from the community seem upbeat about this development. Pedro de Lara, 70, a retired firefighter who is now a part-time tricycle driver says he expects a wave of progress in their barangay once SM City Laoag opens.

In the absence of another major snag, therefore, groundbreaking could be held in a few months and by then officials of Laoag City, which is now being increasingly known more for its malls than its sunshine, may finally sing with great joy, to the tune of the SM jingle, “We’ve got it all for you.”

P-Noy mentions Laoag twice in SONA but has never visited Ilocos Norte as president

laoag_cover

Then presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino in Laoag City, 2010
Then presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino in Laoag City, 2010

NOT ONCE but twice. President B.S. Aquino mentioned Laoag City two times in his State of the Nation Address on July 28 at the Batasan in Quezon City.
First is when he announced that NEDA (which, incidentally, is headed by an Ilocos Norte native and MMSU alumnus—Sec. Arsenio Balisacan) has approved the Laoag City bypass road; second when he illustrated the extent of national highways his administration has built: it can connect the cities of Laoag and Zamboanga four times, he said.

It is quite refreshing to note that Laoag City bears an imprint in the President’s consciousness, yet he has never come here since he became president. I am not sure why, but it could be two things: maybe he thinks Ilocos is hostile ground for him or, in reality, he doesn’t really care enough about this part of his kingdom. To her credit, Governor Imee Marcos has always spoken well about P-Noy, and would share stories about their experiences in congress—they being together in the opposition during the time of Gloria Arroyo.

P-Noy did come to Ilocos though when he needed our votes, and while he did not rank first in the polls here, with Joseph Estrada and Manny Villar besting him, it was not bad. Compared to her late mother who got zero in a number of precincts in the 1986 snap elections, P-Noy got from Ilocanos a good number of votes, and that included mine and, I guess, most of my colleagues in The Ilocos Times who bought his anti-corruption tack: Mitch Esmino, Steve Barreiro, and Jun-B Ramos.

Not only did I vote for P-Noy; I wore yellow for almost two months preceding the 2010 presidential elections. But I have not worn those shirts in a long while. It is odd that he mentioned Laoag twice regarding roads which connect us to the rest of the country while he has seemingly disconnected himself from us since we became part of the body he collectively calls “Boss.”

I may be P-Noy’s boss, but Nora Aunor is my idol. As a Noranian, I was deeply hurt when the country’s one and only Superstar was rejected by Malacañang as national artist. I hope it had nothing to do with Ate Guy’s glorious Ilocos Norte visit and her being declared as honorary daughter. Only a paranoid drug addict would do that.

Continue reading “P-Noy mentions Laoag twice in SONA but has never visited Ilocos Norte as president”

Iglesia moments ng hindi Iglesia

INC

Isang maalab na pagbati sa lahat ng mga kasapi ng Iglesia ni Cristo. Wow, ‘sandaang taon na kayo.

Lumaki akong ayaw sa Iglesia ni Cristo. Noong bata pa ako—nung grade school—tumatawag ako sa radio upang makipagtalo tungkol sa relihiyon at ipagtanggol ang Katolisismo laban sa Iglesia. “Best in religion” kasi ako lagi noon at champion sa mga bible quiz.

Isa sa mga kapatid ng nanay ko, si Uncle Erning, ay umanib sa Iglesia nang maging nobya niya si Auntie Meding. Tuwing family reunion at magluluto ng tinola si lola, nagtatalo ang mga tito ko kung ano ang gagawin sa dugo ng manok. Ibaon sa lupa, sabi ni ni Uncle Erning, sapagka’t iyon daw ang nakasaad sa banal na kasulatan samantalang ang iba pang mga uncle ko ay gustong ihalo ang malinamnam na dugo sa tinola, dahil ‘yun daw ang nasusulat sa cookbook. Hindi naman seryosong pagtatalo ‘yon, kantyawan lang. Hindi ko na maalala kung sino ang nasunod, pero naaalala ko na laging masarap ang native na tinola, may dugo man o wala, basta’t pinagsasaluhan ng pamilya.

Dati, parang kulto o sindikato ang tingin ko sa Iglesia. Hindi ko sila maunawaan, o baka simpleng ayaw ko lang talaga sa kanila. Ngunit noong fourth year high school ay dumating sa buhay ko si Rona, ang girlfriend kong mabait, matalino, maganda, at Iglesia ni Cristo. Isang mahabang proseso bago niya ako nakumbinsing sumama sa pagsamba. Sinubukan ko pang kumbinsihin siya na upang patas ay makikisamba ako sa Iglesia tuwing Huwebes at sasama naman siya sa’kin sa Simbahang Katoliko tuwing Linggo, ngunit ipaliwanag niyang ‘di talaga puwede.

Maaga kaming pumunta sa kapilya dahil bawal raw ma-late. Hiwalay ang upuan ng mga babae sa lalake at ginabayan ako ng diakonesa patungo sa aking upuan. Hindi puwedeng mamili, hindi tulad sa Katoliko na puwedeng dumiretso sa mga upuang malapit sa electric fan. Napansin ko agad ang kaayusan sa loob ng kapilya. Walang mga batang umiiyak o nagtatakbuhan. Walang nagbebenta ng kandila, at wala ring nag-aalok ng rebulto, popcorn o balloon sa labas. At maayos ang pananamit ng lahat; angkop ang kasuotan sa banal na gawain.

Noong magsimula ang pagsamba, napaka-solemn ng mood; talagang damang-dama ng mga kasapi ang pagkanta at pananalangin, mayroon pa ngang mga lumuluha at umiiyak. Hindi ko man lubos na naunawaan ang lahat, naramdaman ko ang alab ng pananampalataya ng mga miyembro. Hindi kami nagkatuluyan ni Rona ngunit hindi ito dahil sa relihiyon.

Continue reading “Iglesia moments ng hindi Iglesia”

When teachers lead the cheating

NAT jpgIn Philippine society, we look up to teachers as paragons of virtue. They lead us to the realm of wisdom, and let us distinguish right from wrong.

Teaching is arguably a most noble profession. I am sure you have heard of the story of various professionals, all of them Filipino, at the doorstep of heaven explaining to St. Peter why they deserve to enter paradise. “I served the people with all my heart,” a politician enthused. “I built roads, bridges, and buildings, including churches,” said an engineer. A doctor explained how she healed the sick while a lawyer detailed how he brought justice to the oppressed. Then a teacher came forward and proudly said, “Well, St. Peter, I taught them all.”

Impressive answer, indeed. I am not sure though whether heaven’s gatekeeper let the teacher in, for there’s a chance he may have wondered whether the chaos in Philippine society today—the massive corruption, the greed, the thoughtless bickering, and the lack of foresight, among others—are to be blamed on teachers. We already know how politicians betray us, how professionals like doctors and lawyers do not pay the right taxes, how engineers construct substandard structures, and how other professionals do society more harm than good.

This comes to mind after allegations of cheating in the National Achievement Tests hit the headlines earlier this year. Whistleblowers claimed that teachers themselves initiate, orchestrate, and execute the cheating in many creative ways. Cheating incidents have been investigated on by the NBI in some areas, although we know that these happen many place else, if not everywhere. Continue reading “When teachers lead the cheating”

Ilocos priest also ridicules unwed mothers

photo from the blog My Happy Thoughts
photo from the blog My Happy Thoughts

There was no video clip, no recording whatsoever, but Rose (not her real name) still vividly remembers the incident at the St. William’s Cathedral in Laoag a few years back.

There were three other babies to be baptized that day and the priest asked for the fathers to gather in front. When the priest saw that the young woman was alone with her son, he asked where the father was. Rose, a single mom, said there wouldn’t be anyone. Laughing sarcastically the priest asked, with the whole congregation listening, “Apay, awan kadi isuna idi inaramidyo dayta?” (Why, wasn’t he there when you did it?) The priest went on to publicly scold Rose, who was left by her boyfriend even before she knew she was pregnant. The young woman, made to feel ashamed of herself, was on the verge of tears while the priest, insisting that a father is needed to raise the child, did not begin the ceremony. It was then that Rose’s uncle stepped forward and asserted, “I’ll stand up for this child.”

This incident, dear karikna, is not an isolated case. I have personally talked to other sources who have confirmed this priest’s habit of shaming single mothers. And there are surely other members of the clergy who do the same and prefer judgment and condemnation over God’s overflowing grace, love, and compassion. One priest, also from the diocese, made another woman cry on a day that should have been her happiest moment. Impatient about the wedding running a few minutes late, the priest began the ceremonies even when the bride was yet to arrive. The bride cried a river and ruined her make up, and not because of joy.

As for Rose who felt the hurt rushing back to her upon learning that a teenage mom was similarly shamed in Cebu, she only wishes that no person would be subjected to the same public humiliation she went through. But because there was no viral video to upload and no outrage from the public, this priest who is currently assigned in a garlic-producing town in southern Ilocos Norte, remains unlike Cebu’s Fr. Romeo Obach who has publicly apologized, and even more unlike Pope Francis who finds no difficulty saying, “Who am I to judge?”

Tale of two Cebuanos: one good, the other despicable

Two Cebuanos are in my consciousness these days. One brings forth inspiration; the other, indignation.

Let’s talk first about the good one.

When I was growing up, my dad used to tell me that he is not particularly fond of the Sto. Niño. “Why pray to the child Jesus when you can pray to the adult one?” he asked rhetorically. My mother, a daily communicant, thinks otherwise. Not only does she have images of the child Jesus prominently displayed on our home altar, she actually had me dress up like a Sto. Niño during a novena mass at Church: I held a sceptre on my left hand and a globe on my right. I barely remember other details of that event, but I do recall my mom telling me that she prays that I may become a good boy like the child Jesus. From then on, Sto. Niño and I became faithful friends.

Me and mom: I was the smallest Sto. Nino.
Me and mom: I was the smallest Sto. Nino.

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That friendship was fortified when I attended college at San Beda where the community has a special devotion to the Sto. Niño of Prague. Dedicated to him, our annual college fair and frolics is highlighted by a procession in the Malacañang vicinity, and a grand mass at the football field. Even after I graduated and began working, I’d go back to Mendiola every third Sunday of January to join the Pista ng Sto. Niño sa San Beda. Also, I’d go to the feast of the Sto. Niño in Tondo where the family of my good friend Weng de Jesus lives. The Tondo fiesta is the liveliest I have been to, with processions, parlor games, and drinking sprees happening in every nook and corner of the district. I have also been fortunate to visit the Sto. Niño in Cebu and in Iloilo where the country’s grandest festivals are held.

It is always a joy being in the company of my beloved friend who constantly makes me feel loved and at peace. During times of great trouble, I visit him and feel comforted. I am assured by his gentle smile that everything is going to be okay; after all, he’s got the whole world in his hands.

Last week, as the pilgrim image of Sto. Niño de Cebu visited various towns of Ilocos Norte, I was amazed by the very strong devotion Ilocanos have for the child Jesus. The queues to the image were constantly long as people from all walks of life came to pay homage. At the St. William’s Cathedral, I was particularly struck by a couple who stood in line behind me: they are probably in their seventies. The old woman man walked very slowly while her husband was aided with a cane. They politely asked if I could take their picture. I took the camera and did as asked, the Sto. Niño smiling in the background. Then I asked them if I could also take their picture with my own camera, for I wanted to capture that touching moment, and probably share the story of their piety with others. They graciously agreed.

 

photo by Joel Dul-loog
photo by Joel Dul-loog

Both the old and young venerate the Sto. Niño. But why pray to the child when you can go directly to the adult Jesus? Our special affinity to the Sto. Niño is probably because we see the best qualities of humanity in childhood: that of innocence and purity, of carefree fun and adventure, of meekness and humility, and, ultimately, of pure and unadulterated love. Never mind that the cruel and oppressive Spaniards brought the historic image here and forced their religion to us. It is interesting to note that the image of a spiritual child runs across Oriental religions, specifically in Hinduism’s Krishna.

Now, let us talk about the other Cebuano, the despicable one. Continue reading “Tale of two Cebuanos: one good, the other despicable”

Ilokano language under attack (Ang panggugulo ni Almario; the mess of Joel Lopez)

JLo
KWF Chair Virgilio Almario and DepEd Ilocos Norte’s Joel Lopez

booklet

All Philippine languages are actually under attack, but Ilokano has become most vulnerable and is now at the center of a raging battle, no thanks to the treachery of one man and the fascist ways of a national artist.

The controversy has been raging since January, and the plot thickens day after day. It started when Dr. Joel Lopez, assistant division superintendent and MTB-MLE (Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education) coordinator of DepEd Ilocos Norte, singlehandedly introduced changes to Ilokano orthography or spelling system that will be taught in schools. He never conducted consultations with language stakeholders.

Professional Ilokano writers and Ilokano language experts in the academe were quick to object. Under the MTB-MLE Implementing Rules and Regulations, stakeholder participation is necessary in drawing up a working orthography for any and all Philippine languages. Various groups—including GUMIL and Nakem Conferences—wrote position papers and letters addressed to various levels of the Department of Education (from division superintendent to the DepEd secretary himself) and also to the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF).  Everyone opposed the JLo (abbreviation for Joel Lopez; with profuse apologies to Jennifer Lopez) orthography.

Continue reading “Ilokano language under attack (Ang panggugulo ni Almario; the mess of Joel Lopez)”