Why Senator Miriam chose MMSU



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:

=) =) =)


“Bigti na, friend!”

Each time I lectured in that classroom, I would stare at an empty chair, asking myself if there was something I could have done to save a life.

He was a freshman engineering student from a small town. His classmates said they never noticed anything wrong with him. His parents likewise observed no unusual behavior exhibited by their only child. Everything seemed normal and usual with this boy’s life until he was seen hanging on a nylon rope fastened on a wooden beam.

As a teacher, it was my first encounter with suicide by a student. And it was not to be the last.

By all indicators, suicide cases are on the rise in the Philippines. According to the National Statistics Office, the suicide rate from 1984 to 2005 went up by 1,522% among men (from 0.46 to seven out of every 200,000); and up by 833% among women (from 0.24 to two for every 200,000).

Noticeably, there is an increasing trend of suicide among the youth, particularly in the age group 5 to 14 and 15 to 24. Most of them kill themselves by strangulation. Other means are suffocation, poisoning, and exposure to chemicals and noxious substances. The common causes are depression, love problems, academics, low income, unemployment, and medical conditions.

It is easy to blame suicide victims for being weak. Others may even criticize them for being selfish—thinking only of themselves, and not of those they will leave behind. But what really runs in the mind of a person determined to take his life?

I have some idea, for I too seriously had thoughts of ending my life when I was a teenager. It was the end of my third year in college, and I was at the height of popularity in school. That semester, I was sent to international competitions, became the most awarded student leader, and was recognized as one of the top students. Everyone was so proud of me. People shook my hand to congratulate me for my achievements. I was, to many, a model student.

But something terrible happened, suddenly. I received a failing grade in one of my major subjects. It was unexpected and I was sure I did not deserve it. The professor claimed absolute right to manipulate how grades were to be computed. It was very clear to me that it was unfair.

My world crumbled. Because of the failing mark, I was sure that I would lose my scholarship, and would miss my chance to graduate with honors. Word about my failure spread quickly around the campus, and those who were just congratulating me a few days back began looking at me with pity, if not ridicule. I was up in the clouds one moment, and down to a very dark space the next.

Night and day, I locked up in my room, stared at the ceiling, deeply convinced that life was no longer worth living. I tried to justify suicide with philosophical musings. I also thought of the professor who gave me a failing grade, and imagined how guilty he would feel about my death.

Decided to commit suicide after five days of isolation, I went to Binondo to buy the most toxic substance I could ingest (a powerful pesticide whose mere vapor could make my lungs collapse). Before going home, I dropped by a Chinese restaurant for a last meal. When I arrived at the dorm, I lay down in bed again, stared blankly at the ceiling, and imagined my impending death one last time.

My suicide plan did not materialize, and, obviously, I have lived to tell this story. Three things kept the poison bottle unopened: thoughts of my family, the graphic images of hell on my mind, but what really saved me was a persistent knock on my door by a dormmate. He sensed that something was wrong, and urged me to talk about it. He convinced me not to push through with my plan.

In the next days, I decided to pick up the pieces and live with courage. I filed an appeal for my scholarship, and, after a long process, San Beda (which was apparently more compassionate than Kristel Tejada’s UP) decided not to revoke it. As it turned out, there was no explicit rule that barred those who had failing grades from receiving academic awards. And so I graduated with honors, although they had to change the rules after I graduated, making me the school’s one and only honor graduate with a 5.0 on his transcript.

A few years after graduation, I visited my alma mater and accidentally crossed paths with my professor—that professor who led me to the brink of suicide. He said he was impressed with one of my articles published in a national newspaper, and that he required his students to read my work. He said he heard that I was offered a job in Malacañang, and that he was proud of me. This picture of my professor smiling at me and tapping my shoulder in a show of approval was the exact opposite of what I imagined on my could-have-been death bed: a professor crying in guilt in front of my coffin.

Of course, not only young people commit suicide. Military generals. Politicians. Politician’s wives. Actors. Models. Teachers. Lawyers. Farmers. We hear of them claiming their lives, and the worse part is that we are getting used to it, or, at least, have become insensitive to the suffering of others. Suicide may be a very personal thing and one could even strongly argue that society must respect an individual’s choice to end his life. But what about those who only need a listening ear and some words of hope to make them realize, the way I realized then, that life can still be beautiful?

In social networking sites, the expressions “bigti na” (#bigtina) has become popular. It is offered as an advice, though made in jest, to people who have problems. There are several Facebook “Bigti na” pages, followed by tens of thousands, created for those who are romantically problematic. Thousands of “Magpakamatay ka na lang” memes have also been going around the web.

It is appalling that, to date, there seems to be an absence of a government-sponsored program to avert suicide cases in our country which surprisingly has, according to the World Health Organization, the highest incidence of depression in Southeast Asia. But it is more appalling that a growing number of our people are making fun of a phenomenon that has caused unspeakable pain to many. Amidst mindless laughter, we might be missing out on the soft voices of suffering around us. Or we might be pushing to total silence those who desperately need to be heard.

Bigti na, friend? That joke is neither friendly nor funny.

pakamatay na cuntapay pakamatay bigti na friend pakamatay bigti na skeleton pakamatay ipis


The Office of Student Affairs ofDe La Salle University has published a suicide first aide guide which helps one notice possible brewing suicide attempts by people around us. It is a helpful guide that could help you save a life. (http://www.dlsu.edu.ph/offices/osa/occs/suicide-1st-aide-guide.pdf)

A grade school reunion

It’s December 30 as I write this, and you would think that I have, as most of you have, gone to over a dozen get-togethers and parties this Holiday Season. You’re right.

And last night, I went to one of the most memorable. It was the first time I attended a reunion with my grade school classmates back at the old Divine Word College of Laoag located at the Cathedral compound.

After graduating from there in 1991, most of my classmates went to DWCL High School. I moved to another. This is the reason I did not get to meet them in a long time. They would constantly hold high school reunions that obviously I am not part of. But we thought this year, as a result of our scant conversations on Facebook, to meet up. The simple but meaningful gathering was graciously hosted by Laurel Paul Mariano who was recently promoted as a Full Lieutenant of the Philippine Navy. His spacious compound somewhere in Laoag’s Barangay Salet, which offered a view of the city’s skyline, was a perfect venue for the event which incidentally marked two decades from our grade school graduation.

There were ten warm bodies, which was not bad, as many of our classmates are either based in Metro Manila or overseas. The attendance sheet: Me, Paul, Bernard Manrique, Ashley dela Cruz, Michael Salud, Excellency Guiang, Laurel Paul Mariano, Juanito Compa, Jose Mari Mata, Angelito Masion, and Leslie Santella. Richie Cavinta, who stayed for one minute, excused himself to do an important task for the fiesta of San Nicolas Town where he works at the munisipio. But we went home at 1:00 a.m., and still no Richie. And no D.A. Bitancor either. D.A. promised to follow when we tried to fetch him at his convenience store. Still, I was really happy to see all of them. In fact, I may already have been bumping with some somewhere, but there are faces I needed a while to recognize.

I was excited to go, and it was not, of course, mainly because of SanMig Light which, by now, dear Karikna, you know that I love so much. In fact I could have, as Benard did, just drank water the whole night and still enjoy as much as I did. It was nice to revisit our childhood, remember our teachers (Is Ms. Menor still alive? Did you know that our old crush Ms. Fe Dancel is, to this day, still hot as hell? Where is Mrs. Pasalo?), the corporal punishment still prevalent at that time, our very physical games (Do children today still play bawang base?), the Christmas parties. (Because we had no girl classmates, we had to do the Nativity Scene with a boy Mama Mary. The Ilocos Sentinel publisher Excel Guiang, who now has two kids, was perennially our baby Jesus wrapped in white diapers.)

Ryan Cunanan must have a crocodile’s memory. He remembered two things which I already forgot. First, that I taught Karate to my classmates, and even administered exams for promotion to higher belts. (I really never knew Karate aside from watching my brothers who were doing Taekwondo). And second, that I played priest then and recited the mass for my classmates, complete with communion. (No, I did not collect offerings, the money for the bread and wine I bought from my own money.)

Ours was among the last all-boys batches at Divine, and Paul noted that it was quite a different experience from their high school coed reunions. Indeed, we openly talked about a wide range of topics, including masturbation, fist fights, and even youthful adventures with outlawed substances. I shared that I somehow regret not having tried Marijuana at all, and that I happen to be a strong advocate for the legalization of the weed. I conceded though that it seems too late and irresponsible to try now. When you are young, you somehow have a license to commit mistakes as you explore the world. The only rule is that you be careful so you can live to tell your stories, and the lessons you learned from them, to your children. Two of our batchmates did not have that luck; they went to the Great Beyond ahead of us. We remembered them fondly, though they were not exempted from our outrageous, many times irreverent, recollections of time gone by.

Today, all of us, including me I hope, are productive members of society and strongholds in our respective families. Psychologists contend that a human being’s personality is shaped mainly during childhood. Our school, teachers, and parents must have done something really, really good. And for this we are grateful no end. We thus raised our bottle’s of San MigLight, Excel’s glass of red wine, and Bernard’s pitcher of water to a wonderful childhood we hope we can soon again revisit.

Hear! Shame!

OKAY, I AM swamped with a lot of work this week so I do not have much time to write the usual full-blown essay.  Allow me though to share tidbits of my rikna and nakem in previous days. Under “Hear! Hear!” are things that made me smile, events that firmed up my belief in the future of our nation and of humanity at large. “Shame! Shame!” are those which furthered my hair loss and, consequently, the widening of my shining and shimmering forehead.


Hear! Hear! Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo saying, in reply to a question I asked during a presson, that he is strongly for the abolition of the Sangguniang Kabataan council, which I consider as a sticky phlegm on the nation’s throat .

Shame! Shame! I think his position is compromised as he is only for the abolition of SK Kagawads, not of SK Chairmen. While he also proposed that the age requirement be raised, e.g. 25, this does not respond to the problems of corruption, nepotism, ineptitude, and everything trapo that has hounded the political structure.


Hear! Hear! Secretary Jesse Robredo sounding sincere in his efforts to bring integrity in governance.

Shame! Shame! Robredo sounding weak to me. I doubt if he can really handle the big-bellied spoiled brats in local governments and among the ranks of the police. His realm is no longer just the fine city of Naga, but crazy Philippines.   I honestly feel that he will not last another year in the DILG post. Continue reading “Hear! Shame!”

Nang pitong araw na hindi nag-smile ang araw

NAMISS natin sobra ang maliwanag na sinag ng haring araw.  Kung dati ay panay ang reklamo natin dahil sa init ng panahon, ngayo’y ating napagtanto na di hamak na mas mahirap ang basang-basa at madilim na buhay.

 Nakalulunos ang pinsalang idinulot nina Ondoy, Pepeng, at ang pampagulong si Quedan.  Ilang buhay ang nasawi, mga bahay na nagiba, ari-ariang tinangay ng agos, at mga kinabukasang nawala na parang bula.

 Gayunpaman, ang trahedyang ito ay patunay na naman ng pagkamasiyahin ng Pinoy, ng ating kakayanang bumangon mula sa anumang pagkakalugmok, ng ating magaan na disposisyon sa buhay. Napangingiti na lamang ako kapag nakikita ko ang mga biktima ng mga pagbaha na panay pa ang pagkaway at pakyut sa likod ng mga reporter sa telebisyon.

 Marami akong mga kaibigan sa NCR na labis na naapektuhan ni Ondoy. Habang naglilinis sa kung anuman ang natira sa kanilang mga putikang bahay ay panay pa ang hagikhikan. Itong si Dennis, ang kaibigan kong nasa Amerika, bagama’t nalulungkot at sinira ni Ondoy ang kanilang bahay, kagamitan, at pati na rin ang bahagi ng kanilang kabuhayan sa Cainta, ay labis ang pagpapasalamat at wala namang nasawi sa kanyang mga mahal sa buhay. Natatawa siya nang ikuwento sa akin na ayaw pa sanang umalis ng kanyang tatay sa kanilang tahanan bagama’t napakataas na ng baha, subali’t napilitan din itong lumikas nang lumulutang na ang hinihigan niyang kama. Continue reading “Nang pitong araw na hindi nag-smile ang araw”

Romantic first pot

Reacting to the article ‘Legalize Marijuana’, my friend Mars of Kalinga Province, sent me this piece detailing about his first encounter with marijuana. ***kilig mode***

The summer vacation before school began for our fourth year in high school… Hector (a childhood friend) and I spent a lazy afternoon by the river. He was talking about the future – his future – and how impatient he was to get there.

I listened, like I always did. We were sitting on a rock, and our eyes were fixed on the rushing water below us, but I simply drowned out the sound of the shallow water as I concentrated on what Hector was saying.

I noticed that he was rather more focused that afternoon. Calm.

Then he reached into his pocket and brought out what then looked, for me, to be a crudely rolled cigarette. I asked what it was and he said “I smoked MJ for the first time this morning, and I thought I might share it with you… it felt good, and you might want to try it.”

I simply stared at the joint he was beginning to light with a match. Then, he brought the other end to his lips, palms forming an enclave around the stick. He inhaled. Deep. Eyes closed. Moments passed before he exhaled, and out went some smoke.

“That is, if you want to…” he said, as he opened his eyes and saw me watching intently.

Hector and I grew up together. We shared a lot of things, and he never even gave a damn that I was, well, “different.” Not wanting things to change (knowing that upon graduating from high school, we would grow apart as he would pursue a totally different field), I smiled at him, placed my hands over his, gently took the red-tipped joint from him, and recorded that day as the first time I smoked pot.

An hour later, we were still talking… with him gazing at the horizon… and me, studying the movements of the clouds above as I had my head resting on his lap.

Every time I transport myself back to that day and again feel what I felt then – river, rocks, clouds, future, Hector – I feel like I could write a book about just that episode.

Legalize Marijuana


So, Michael Phelps, that guy who won eight gold medals in the Beijing Olympics, the most in human history, was caught on photo in an apparent act of smoking pot.

The photo (which I am not posting here out respect for him) was met by mixed reactions of disappointment, dismay, and puzzlement.  For why would a legendary athlete, who has the world on his hands and history on his side, resort to Marijuana?

Michael did not disown the picture and in an admirable fashion atypical of real drug users (like the Philippines’ Alabang Boys), he says: Continue reading “Legalize Marijuana”