Uhaw sa Katapatan at Kagandahang-loob

I checked my blog statistics and noticed an increased amount of visitors led by google to my site while searching for “Mga Pilipinong nakagawa ng kabutihan sa kapwa”,  “Mga Pilipinong nagsauli ng pera o gamit”, “Larawan ng kagandahang ugali ng mga Pilipino”, or “Mga tapat na tao sa Pilipinas”. You will remember, karikna, that I wrote something about the topic last October: PITAKA NG PAG-ASA: Isang pagpupugay kay Leoncio Pagtama at sa lahat ng tulad niya.

Amid the televised senate hearings on corruption in government and abuse of power that feed our national consciousness today,  Filipinos seem to search for a ray of hope for this benighted land by looking for individuals who chose virtue over greed even in times of great personal need.

Matapat na Ilokano now has a name in Leoncio Pagtama.

My Favorite 2009 Calendar

trix-calendar3

Former UP Student Council Chair and now Ilocos Norte Sangguniang Panlalawigan Member Kris Ablan sent me 3 copies of this novel calendar.

More than the visual feast the calendar offers, it is my favorite because of what it represents.

Kris writes in his blog:

The project was actually conceptualized many, many years ago when my dad came out with calendars with his face as the main picture (like all politicians with calendar giveaways).  I thought to myself, “What if people didn’t want to look at your face every day.”  “What if they just wanted to see scenery.”

If a politician wants to be “remembered,” why doesn’t he just put his name at a corner of the calendar and put some worthy pictures instead.
You see, karikna, I have never been a fan of Kris’ father who has been my congressman for most of my life, and who seems every inch traditional and jaded.  But this bespectacled young man represents what a new breed of Ilocano leaders should be: thinking, sensible, sensitive, and virtuous.
I look at that calendar each day and tell myself: Yes, there is hope.

Burgis Conservation

photo courtesy of www.ivanhenares.com
photo courtesy of http://www.ivanhenares.com

OF COURSE, you’ve already read about the buzz created by conservationists regarding the construction of a mall in downtown Laoag. They claim that there are two Gabaldon buildings in the compound where it is to be built, and that the structures must be preserved on account of their historical and cultural significance.

It started when Ivan Henares—a travel blogger, heritage conservationist, and fraternity brod of Provincial Board member Kris Ablan—visited the province last December to deliver a lecture on blogging. Incidentally, he got wind of the issues surrounding the Laoag City Central Elementary School where the shopping monstrosity is to rise.

He immediately blogged about it at www.ivanhenares.com, and his post generated a moderate amount of comments. Here are some excerpts: Continue reading “Burgis Conservation”

isipin mo na lang meron pa, meron nga.

[Ngayong linggo sa aking mga klase sa pilosopiya, sinisimulan naming talakayin sina Heidegger at Sartre.  Tiyempong natsambahan ko ang kyut na tulang ito ni Joey Yusingco, na naging estudyante rin minsan ng bespren kong si Alona Ureta-Guevarra sa Ateneo. (Ang liit nga ng mundo!) 

Merong mga nagsasabi na wala daw kwenta ang pilosopiya, kasi naman, mantakin mo, pati ba naman ang wala ay pinagtatalunan pa.

Wala lang… haha]

Continue reading “isipin mo na lang meron pa, meron nga.”

Dear MMSU

mariano_marcos_state_university

Today, you turn 31.

The past year, one of your children was hailed one of  Ten Outstanding Students in the Philippines.  Also, a mentor bagged the coveted Metrobank Outstanding Teacher plum.

You have produced topnotchers and victors, and brought home a number of awards, but your greatest achievement lies in helping improve the lives of families and communities.  In 2008, you brought home the Most Outstanding Extension Program, besting all other universities in the country, proof that your excellence goes beyond instruction inside the classroom and extends to greater, nobler roles in human development.

mmsu-logo1

In 1978, you immediately built your reputation as the best university in the northern regions.  Today, you wow the nation with your feats.

Happy anniv, MaMaSU.  We love you.

Kampay!

I may have been too busy drinking gulping SanMig Light the past years that I failed to notice one good alak manufactured right here in Sunshine City Laoag.

Discovered it lately through a blog entry detailing  a tambay at tagay night held by YTRIP (a youth-led NGO that promotes sustainable local tourism and responsible travel) in the last quarter of 2008.  The group got several bottles of wine from parts of Luzon and tried, tasted, and drank the night away.

Their exhibits included:

Bugnay (Ilocos)
Basi (Ilocos)
Duhat (Ilocos)
Pineapple (??)
Camote with Pineapple (Banaue)
Tapuey (light) (Banaue)
Tapuey (toasted) (Banaue)
Lambanog (Quezon)
Strawberry (Benguet)
Grape (Benguet)

While they concluded that…

The night’s biggest favorites (the winners!!) were the Tapuey (light), Tapuey (toasted), and the Lambanog. And that the losers being the Strawberry and Grape wines.

duhat-wine4.., the Duhat Wine, according to three tasters, is “the closest to how wine would/should taste like”.

I agree.  Suabe ang guhit sa lalamunan. Sarap ng tama. It’s a bonus that it also offers all the health benefits that red wine promises, i.e. good for the heart, antioxidant, anti-cancer properties.  Yes, it is as good for the body as it is for the spirit.

The delight that is the Duhat Wine is actually a product of careful research and product development conducted by Cormel Foods with the support of the Department of Science and Technology and the Mariano Marcos State University (where I teach).

At  just 150Php a bottle, oh my, das leben ist gut!

Why Sachi should go to UP

(What follows is a letter-cum-essay that was published in the Youngblood column of the Philippine Daily Inquirer some years ago. I am not exactly proud of this. Looking back, I was rather insensitive and immature. But I am posting it here nonetheless as a tribute to UP who has served her country well in the past 100 years. This piece was reprinted in the UP Forum, official publication of the university community.)

DEAR Kuya Henry,

Allow me write this letter to you–a first in many years–as you exert influence on one of the most important decisions in the life of our beloved Sachi.

I have known that after a careful assessment, you have decided to send Sachi to xxU for college. While I receive this news with utmost respect, let me air my dissent and give you my thoughts on it.

I believe that xxU is a good school but I wish Sachi could go to the University of the Philippines because there, Sachi will grow among the best and the brightest, the future movers and shakers of our country. In UP, sure to open before Sachi’s eyes are doors of opportunities that graduates of lesser schools can only dream of. But above all, in UP, Sachi would continue to be the most promising person that she is by nature.
Continue reading “Why Sachi should go to UP”

Two Thousand and MINE

IT’S FIVE DAYS before the New Year, but, given the consuming revelry that goes with the holidays, chances are the reign of the Earth Ox would have dawned by the time you read this. I honestly hope, dear karikna, that you are holding this newspaper with all of your ten fingers intact and unbandaged.

When we were in high school, our teachers in English would greet us “Happy New Year” by requiring us to write formal compositions on topics like “How I spent My Christmas vacation” and “My New Year’s Resolutions”. (At siyempre, hindi pahuhuli ang mga guro sa Filipino. Sila man ay nagtatakda din ng mga komposisyon sa mga nabanggit na paksa.) With all due respect to Mrs. Editha Agdeppa and Gng. Rosita Felipe—my language teachers in high school, I never enjoyed writing those pieces. For one, I found them corny. Also, I thought the teacher had no business peering into my personal life and all the way into my inner psyche.

As fate would have it, however, I myself would become a teacher who loves to read his students’ self-reflexive essays. Also, as a mushy columnist, I have no qualms about sharing my stream of consciousness to the public. And yes, as you may have observed, I am occasionally corny, too. Oh, how things change.

Change, as the cliché goes, is constant. Sometimes predictable, many times not. If economic technocrats are to be believed, we will feel the full brunt of the global financial crisis this 2009. As today is difficult enough, it is both frightening and depressing to imagine what other plagues await us in the dim, dim tomorrow. More pain and suffering for Pinoys… Now, that’s predictable.

It should console us though that times of great struggle intensify man’s search for meaning, which should explain the marked increase in church attendance these days. I am sure Bishop Sergio Utleg is happy with this development, although I am not sure if the cash registers, er, collection bags, are smiling as well, given the impoverished parishioners’ perishing purses. (Huh, the underlined words make a good tongue-twister!)

In my case, karikna, I don’t resort to the religious opium. I spend part of my holidays thinking of what I still want to do. Note that this is not goal-setting, as I am never inclined to be hard on myself. A free spirit, my future is not carefully laid out, planned, and organized. This is not sweet lemoning either. Simply, what I do is just a dreamy inventory of reasons. For, as my favorite philosopher and soulmate Friedrich Nietzsche puts it, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how”.

So go my “why” lists, in random order:

Continue reading “Two Thousand and MINE”

Most Meaningful Christmas Greeting

My Uncle Erning, an Iglesia ni Cristo diakono, visited our home today. Conscious about being sensitive to the religious beliefs of others, I would usually say ‘Happy Holidays’–a greeting more safe. (For those who don’t know yet, INCs don’t celebrate Christmas.)

But when I kissed Uncle Erning’s hand, he smiled at me and greeted me with a voice most joyful and sincere: Merry Christmas, Anak.

So there. The warmest Christmas greeting I received came from a man who does not even believe in Christmas. Most INC members I know are very fiery in the expression of their beliefs. But there he was, my Uncle Erning, realizing that it was not about himself, but about our family’s happiness.

He greeted me… and it was not cliché.

Christmas accomplished.

What is happiness for you?


(These opinions were solicited through a survey board we posted outside our office.)

It is like a broadcast network where every data packet received matters – cmpcsi
It is when your fans ask for your autograph, then they hug and kiss you on your cheeks. -SG
Simply fulfilling your mission here on earth even when you experience ups and downs. -SG
When you forgive someone who hurt you. -Alessandra
When you reach self-actualization –xjoii 🙂
Food is my happiness -:)
No mangabak ti jueteng, aglalo no lima a limit -rayven
It is when other people are happy because of you -Erika Castro
Tong-its —?
When you reach success. Success is when you reach your highest potential with God in your heart. -Ryhenroke
Happiness is when you found your true love -Giselle
It is when you go to sleep, and still wish to wake up the next morning -abes 🙂
It is when my ex-boyfriend still cries for me -eigram
Ti ragsak ket imas, and vice versa
-gobilam
Happiness is like peeing in your pants. Everybody can see it, but only you can feel the warmth. -Cmsc
My Happyness is wrong spelling
-Bianca
Happiness is a matter, because it occupies space and it has weight in your heart and mind -lhairhobesboy
Which do you prefer? A very happy pig or a very lonely man? -crossbred pigman
Happiness is to be experienced, not to be intellectualized
-kaloy
It is the absence of loneliness and anger
-pilo
It is when I know I have loved and I am loved.
-eroschelle
It is brought about by vitamins. More energy mas happy.
-x
Happiness is being contented. It doesn’t mean everything is perfect. It just means you have learned to look past imperfections.
-anonymous
Ragsak kadi no nakaawatka iti regalo ken kwarta ngem… napukawmo daytoy kalpasan laeng ti maysa nga aldaw?
-drama boy
Happiness is having “uno” in all subjects -asa
Hapee is a toothpaste brand —Icalla

Feel free to add to the list..

“Heben” by bhonj

Rusngiit nga uray la gumigis
Arutittit nga sumaplit arigem palsiit
Ngem no talyawem iti aglawlawmo ikit
Awan sabali no di ni Johnny, inka masirit.

Kabayatan iti nagkaado a sagubanitna
Agsusukot, agtutupatop, agsasanga
Maalananto payla’t aggarakgak, agkatawa
Uray na la itangad-tangad, natnag gayam pustiso na.

Arak ti maysa nga inna pangliwliwa
Pammigat, pangngaldaw,pangrabii isu’t danumna
No kastigarem, pampaimas pangan kunaen na kenka
“Ket di mo paylang ilabay”, inka isungbat, ay sultakennaka.

Intunno makaadon, isaganam da bagin
Di mapugsatan ti sao, karyarenna amin
Dayta ni Johnny, katatao na’t managbabain
Ngem no makainom, Diyos ko, mangibabain.

Kiwar ditoy, pinggit dita, dayta’t inna iyul-ulo
Nalaing nga umanunsyo, uray pinagbulan ti baket a kubbo
Ipustananto pay amin a di mangan-ano
Ngem no naatap ni gasat, agtinnagton a tuyo tay adobo.

Awan la’t di awan, tila adda paylang inda masangsango
Siam ti nagsasaruno, adda pay ubba nga agsussuso
Di payen mapunas a buteg, agkaraiwara nga isbo
Ngem no simmangbay da rabiin, dayta manen Apo, otso-otso.

Kastoy ti kasasaad iti kaaduan a Pilipino
Nakakatkatawa a kunaem ngem isu’t pudno
Narway unay inda panagsarak ti rag-o
Sadanto laeng mautob iti nasayaat,
dimmagadanton ken dimmapo.

ARIEL “Bhonj_” AGNGARAYNGAY, is a native of Solsona, Ilocos Norte and a third-year Civil Engineering Student in MMSU.

Happiness is Man-made

(The following is Professor Rizal Javier’s take on happiness. Javier is an important figure in the local philosophy scene.)


HAPPINESS, according to one of the world’s greatest philosophers by the name of Aristotle, is a state of mind wherein one is at peace.

I agree with Aristotle and from him I think and believe that in order for man to be happy, man himself must find happiness first within himself and afterwards radiate it to others.

People very often, if not always, blame their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on this world are the people who get up, think and look for the circumstances they want in order to be happy and if they can’t find them, they have to make them. Do not wait for and expect anyone or anything to give you happiness. Create it. Make it. Simply do it. How?

Make yourself so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind. Speak of health, happiness, and prosperity to every person that you meet. Have all your friends become aware of the special qualities within them.

Look at the sunny side, although aware of the dark side, of everything and let your optimism or hopefulness work to make your dreams come true. Think, work for, and expect only the best. Be enthusiastic about the success of others as you do about your own. Cast into oblivion past mistakes and go on towards a greater future.

Always wear a cheerful countenance at all times, as a smile radiates warmth and love. Give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time left to criticize others. And, finally, be too wise for worry, too tolerant for anger, and too courageous for fear.

I end this piece with a line from an old English prayer: Take time to laugh—it is the music of the soul.

Let us be happy.

Enay didit mhaaaaayyy weeeyyh: Sedate that Videoke Monster

LET ME BEGIN by saying that I love my neighbors and I love singing.

I love my neighbors not only because the bible mandates it but because I really have fantastic kapitbahayan. At age five, I, with little help from my childhood buddy Dondon, burned our house by playing with fire (literally, I assure you). Our neighbors were quick to help, and our house still stands to this day.

I love singing. Being Filipino—kin to great singers like Lea Salonga, Charisse Pempengco, and, uh-oh, Manny Pacquiao—this needs no explanation. My favorites are Tayong Dalawa and Pangako by Rey Valera, songs by APO, and, when I am sober no more, Lead Me Lord.

No celebration is complete without a videoke machine. In a party where there are friends, food, and alcohol, the revelry is sparked by the magic of a microphone. Well, it’s a bonus that there’s a bit of sexiness, too. (You know, those bikini-clad videoke models who give you a sinful stare.)

A blogger-friend blurts out, however, “Whoever invented the videoke machine must be crucified”, complaining of losing sleep because of the unbearably annoying noise the monster creates. “It has made the world a less peaceful place,” he adds, and I can’t help but agree. Continue reading “Enay didit mhaaaaayyy weeeyyh: Sedate that Videoke Monster”

Embracing Humanity



WHENEVER Christmas time comes, newspapers are abound with preachy editorials lamenting that the true meaning of Christmas seems to have been forgotten. Capitalists are usually vilified for poisoning our minds with the gospel of commercialism. Even Santa Claus gets his share of flak.

But what is the true meaning of Christmas? And who dictates what it should be?

To a child, Christmas means having new toys; to a student, it means a long respite from the pressures of school; to an employee, bonuses; to the child of an OFW, missing a loved one; to a lover in despair, cold nights made even colder by the low temperature in December; and, to a security guard on duty, just another day at work. The list goes ad infinitum.

While Christmas is mainly a Christian event, it is an occasion that transcends the bounds of religion. It is humanity at large that we celebrate, the same humanity that Christ embraced in the lowly manger in Bethlehem and, later on, in the cross at Golgotha. How is it to be human? How is it to be not only in December, but at any given time? Only when Christmas has permeated our daily lives, be it in March, June, or September, have we experienced it at all.

Only when we have befriended love, joy, compassion, and also sorrow, anxiety, and suffering—and other emotions that characterize our existence have we unwrapped the present of all presents.

And only when we have gotten to terms with the reality that no two persons are exactly alike can we achieve the oft-spoken-but-perennially-elusive world peace.

To many, Christmas is about giving and receiving. But happier are those who appreciate what is already there, and which cannot be taken away—the chance to be human. To celebrate Christmas as an occasion is to be occasionally human.

Finally, an honest-to-goodness night market

THE LAOAG CITY NIGHT MARKET IS A BEAUTY TO BEHOLD. Anyone who has a clear pair of eyes and who has entered the city via the Laoag Padsan Bridge on a Wednesday or Friday night would attest to this. Well-lighted and symmetrically arranged, white tents flashing the trademark “sunshine city” logo seem like fairies welcoming you to newfound paradise.

Located at the sunset boulevard right across city hall and below the four-lane Padsan Bridge, Laoag’s is one of only two night markets that I take my hats off to, the other being the Marikina Night Market, which, incidentally, is also set up in the city’s riverbanks-cum-park.

It took a long journey before the night market finally found home. It started in 2002 in downtown Bonifacio Street, which was crowded and suffocating. On account of issues legal, it was later transferred at the vicinity of the city public market. Plagued by garbage problems and cold public response, everybody thought the night market had (almost) died.

But leave it to Mayor Michael Farinas and her tourism-genius-of-a-wife Chevylle to pull a magical string. They transformed, in the words of fellow writer Cristina Arzadon, “what was formerly a dark and decaying section of the Padsan river dike to a well-lighted boulevard complete with shaded structures for those spending time gazing at the majestic view of the Laoag bridge at night”. This now is home to the night market.

The existence of places like these where you can buy wallet-friendly commodities is a welcome respite for consumers like me who are already battered heavily by the global economic crunch. From clothes to house ware to fashion accessories, toys, trinkets, coloring books and more, the night market offers dirt-cheap joys.

Transcending the material, it is also heartwarming to see families, friends, and lovers celebrate the joys of togetherness while enjoying the scene. Cheerful Smiles. Friendly Embraces. Holding hands. Locked arms. The night market is certainly not just a market at night.

While there, don’t miss Gina’s Goto, atbp., a real gustatory delight. Always served hot, Gina’s goto is a mouth-watering antithesis to the December breeze. Their vegetarian pansit, matched with pickled kangkong stalks, is also a certified hit not only to our Muslim brethren, but to anyone who craves for something tasty, sans the guilt.

I was tempted to write about the night market in the middle of this year but thought to give it some time, given Filipinos’ ningas cogon attitude. I wanted to wait and see whether this beauty does not fade faster than I can say “Merry Christmas”.

Guess what? The night market is even more robust than when it reopened five months ago. With police and security personnel quietly looking after peace and order, and with both vendors and buyers maintaining the cleanliness that Laoag is so well-known for, the promise of paradise is kept.

Ayanmo, Paskua? –by Mickle Cris Peralta

Ayanmo, Paskua? –by Mickle Cris Peralta
Ayandan dagiti tagtagari
Rimrimat ti silaw a di mapundi
Aglalo no matungpal dagiti karkari
A mangted ragsak kadagiti umili

Ayandan dagiti agkerkerol
A maragsakan ken makaayat uray laeng no binting
Iti bulsada ket agkiling-kiling
Urnungenda nga pagay-ayam ti tatsing

Agawid ngata ni tata wenno ni nana ita a paskua?
Tapnon maarakupdakami a pamilyana
Umayda iparikna ti nagpaiduma a dungngoda
Uray nakagalutda iti ubra sadiay adayo a daga

Adtoyen ti panagkasangay
Tay naibaon nga umay mangtarabay
O pada a tattao, ikurimedtay pay lang ni liday
Umaykan paskua, ay, umaykan ala

Sagidem daytoy puso a maul-ulila.

Paskua Manen–by Marceos Ibasan

Ti rabii ket atiddogen
Pul-oy ti angin nalamiisen
Narimat dagiti naraniag a bituen
Sinyales dagitoy, paskua manen!..

Marnekka a maturog
Wen ta appayaunayen ti busbussog
Ngem no agriingka iti bigat
Gapu’t lamiis, agkursing ti lalat

Disyembre ket diak pulos isukat
a bulan daytoy a napnuan gasat,
Ngamin ni Apo Jesus ket nayanak
Isu a rumbeng nga inta’y agrambak..

Ngarud, panawen ti panagkaykaysa,
Panag-iinnayat, pinagkakadua,..
Lipatentayon iti gurang-gura,
Ngamin daytoy ti pudno a paskua..

Mom’s reaction

My mother’s reaction: You were very disrespectful to the bishops. You should respect them because they have sacrificed their lives. I am not going to buy any copy of the Ilocos Times anymore.

Herdy’s Riknakem: 1) I don’t think I was disrespectful. I was just offering honest observations; 2) Bishops live very comfortable lives. But yes, everybody has a cross to bear; 3) Thank you for bearing with me; 4) Okay, Mom, if you don’t feel like buying a copy, you can check the online version instead.

Kissing the hand but avoiding the ring

BISHOP SERGIO UTLEG sent me an email asking if I could meet him personally regarding my previous column [“Slap the Bishops: Support the Reproductive Health Bill (IT, Nov. 10-16)].

Initially, I was bent to shun the proposed meeting because I don’t exactly love being in awkward situations. Convinced, however, that what the bishop has to say deserves my ear, I obliged.

I thought of inviting the bishop to our place for dinner, but my mom, a daily communicant and church volunteer, strongly opposed. It was one of the rare moments she was not proud of me, she panicked at the prospect of the bishop discovering that I am her son.

So, on Wednesday evening, I asked my friend Angelica Salas to accompany me to the Bishop’s Palace to meet His Excellency. Putting her best foot forward, my usually vivacious Mareng Angge transformed into a “mayuming katekista” the soonest we stepped on palace grounds.

A blue barong-clad Utleg welcomed us at the Palace lobby and led us to his office. And when we were seated, he looked at my eyes and flashed a toothy smile for a few seconds that seemed to me like eternity. He began the conversation by asking why I wrote of him as a bishop “best known today not for anything spiritual”. He said he was curious to know, and wondered if it was because he is often seen bicycling. Continue reading “Kissing the hand but avoiding the ring”

A fellow Ilocano Bedan writes

Glenn George G. Cajigal, former Vice Mayor of Badoc town, writes via e-mail:

I READ your column on Ilocano Bedans and Red Lions Fans. I am a Bedan and I really love to watch the NCAA games, especially those that are played in by the San Beda Red Lions, the number one team in the league right now.

You were able to mention some Bedans in our province. Allow me to add to your list. I know a few like Vice Mayor Allan Nalupta of Batac, his brother Brgy. Chairman Thirdee Nalupta, and their cousin Charles Nalupta. There is also a certain Pinong of Batac who happens to be my classmate in CAS Batch ‘93. Then there’s Mr. Allan Lao of Laoag City, Atty. Angel Miranda Jr., and Elmer Rubio of Badoc. My family members also belong to the Bedan community: my dad Judge Novato Cajigal (San Beda Law), my brothers Marcus and Novato Jr. are sons of Mendiola, too.

Herdy, I like your idea about creating an organization of Bedans in our province. Just let me know and am very much willing to help and support you. Thanks and more power.

Herdy’s Riknakem: Looking forward to working with you, brother. Salamat for your support. Animo!

Debate!

NOVEMBER 20, THURSDAY—It’s three in the morning as I write this, and I, along with a team of student debaters, should be boarding a bus to San Fernando, La Union to join a regional debate championship.

Fate is not on our side, however, as Nestor Corrales, one of our debaters, had to be rushed to the provincial hospital due to severe stomach pains. Nestor’s absence paralyzed our team, and it was too late to change horses. We decided not to push through. So, here I am, yet again, glued in front of my laptop in consuming solitude.

The other team members, Jonalyn De Ocampo (BS Civil Engineering II) and Lester Toledano (BS Nursing II), already had their bags packed and were so excited to go. It would have been their first time to represent MMSU in a competition of such scale.

Quite interestingly, we are also holding this week our university Intramurals. And so, against a backdrop of athletes running, swimming, kicking and smashing, there we were engaging each other in training for what we consider as the “basketball of the mind”.

Elsewhere, COMELEC Commissioner Rene Sarmiento was so impressed at how debate has been made integral to the United States electoral process that he suggested a presidential debate for the 2010 Philippine polls.

Sarmiento said debates to be held in our country will “gauge the capacity, potential and eloquence of candidates.”

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines quickly volunteered to host the presidential debates. It seems odd to me, however, that the Catholic Church, an institution that mandates its faithful to always say ‘Amen’ in blind obedience, would offer to host an event that welcomes, respects, and celebrates differences in opinions. Their offer is good but it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Thanks, but no thanks.

Media organizations and civil society groups were also warm to Sarmiento’s move, and for good reason. Our people are exhausted of candidates who sing-and-dance their way to public office. But Romeo Macalintal, La Gloria’s election lawyer, readily opposed the holding of mandatory debates, saying that it is unconstitutional.

It will be remembered that, in 2004, La Gloria refused to join a presidential debate. Instead, her team staged something even worse than the musical cheap shots employed by politicians during campaign rallies. The administration party organized a ‘Gloria look-a-like contest, where the contender with the biggest facial mole and the most conspicuous set of teeth wins. (The capacity to lie straight-faced should have been the biggest criteria). Continue reading “Debate!”

Bishop’s Invitation

HIS EXCELLENCY SERGIO L. UTLEG, D.D., Bishop of Laoag, wrote via email to ask if we could meet personally re: my column last week.

I will, of course, oblige to the bishop’s invitation, although it feels awkward as this is my first time to sit down with a church official to talk about a serious issue.

The invitation to dialogue speaks something about this prelate who, despite espousing stances opposite to mine, has my respect. I feel humbled.

With healthy anxiety, I look forward to meeting the man and gaining from his thoughts.

Slap the bishops

I GREW UP KNOWING EDMUNDO M. ABAYA, D.D., yes, that bishop known for nothing worthy of notice, save his lavish birthday parties attended by politicians and society’s who’s who. So, I have never really been a fan of bishops.

No, not know, when we have a Sergio Utleg, best known today, not for anything spiritual, but for ardently supporting the construction of a mall that will displace a top-performing elementary school, and will, consequently, lead to the tearing down of heritage structures .

I vaguely remember receiving the sacrament of confirmation as a kid almost two decades ago, but, from what I can recall, a bishop gave me the ceremonial slap-on-the-face to initiate me to Christian maturity.

I am not sure though whether the Roman Catholic Church is exactly a bastion of maturity. Here we speak of the same church which persecuted Galileo Galilee for presenting his discovery that the earth revolves around the sun, and not the other way around. This is the very church which kept silent while millions of Jews were tortured and murdered during World War II. This is the church headed by Benedict XVI, that pope who triggered violence when he spoke careless remarks against Islam shortly after he assumed the papacy, and who is now bent on beatifying Pius XII, the architect of silence during the Holocaust. And, yes, you are right, this is the church that spanks Jueteng lords with one hand, and accepts “donations” from them with the other.

This is why in this religion that thrives on blind obedience, it is a breath of fresh air when well-meaning individuals dare to defy the bishops. This is what 55 professors from Ateneo de Manila University did when they issued a statement in support of a very important piece of legislation which, yet again, might just go down the drain, thanks to the influence of our bishops. Here I am referring to House Bill 5043—The Reproductive Health Bill, which seeks a national policy on reproductive health and family planning. Supported by development organizations and women’s groups, the bill aims to address maternal, child health, and nutrition problems, especially among the poor, by promoting modern methods of contraception and by providing age-appropriate sex education in public schools.Feeling the pressure from the bishops, Gloria Arroyo, known for doing anything and everything in the name of political survival, threw in a near-fatal blow to the bill when, in her last State of the Nation Address, she tried to win divine approval by sidelining modern methods in favor of natural family planning (NFP). Presidential allies in Congress, recipients of the many blessings that go with being chummy with the leader of one of the most corrupt countries in the world, are expected to follow their idol’s lead.

The group of Ateneo professors, which includes some Jesuit priests, came out with a position paper titled, “A Call of Conscience: Catholics in Support of the RH Bill,” that looked at the bill through various lenses — the social sciences, philosophy and theology. In the paper, the professors pointed out that “Catholic social teachings recognize the primacy of the well-formed conscience over wooden compliance to directives from political and religious authorities.”

“We believe it is possible for Catholics like ourselves to support HB 5043 in good conscience even as we recognize, with some anguish, that our view contradicts the position held by some of our fellow Catholics, including our bishops,” they said.

More than the arguments they set forth, what struck me with the position paper is the tempered manner by which the professors presented their views. Disappointed, piqued, and feeling insulted by the bishops’ pronouncements on a number of issues, I’m afraid I cannot do the same.

Contending that sex should be done only in the context of procreation, the church demonizes the use of modern artificial means of contraception.

But, of course, sex is not just for procreation. It is an act of intimacy meant to express feelings that words cannot make manifest, of making ‘the other’ feel loved in a way so passionate, of celebrating the joys and pleasures of togetherness. What do the clergy know about sex to begin with? (With due apologies to those who sired children and molested altar boys) They seem to believe that they are above it and so they embrace celibacy. And, by shunning sex, they have created a mystical image for themselves. From that mystique springs forth, or so they hope, their authority.

If you are an overseas worker who unites with your spouse only once in a long time, or if you are the wife of an abusive husband who demands sex anytime he wants it, or if, very simply, your menstruation is irregular and so you cannot rely on NFP, why should you avoid modern methods? The bishops seem incapable of respecting couples who in their “most secret core and sanctuary” or conscience, have decided that their and their family’s interests would best be served by using modern methods. These bishops intrude into your matrimonial bed, and you allow it?

The church says that the use of condoms and pills is anti-life. Sometimes, bishops would even entertain illusions of being science wizards and ridiculously link contraceptive pills with abortion. But who are taking them seriously anyway? Most Catholics I talk to favor modern methods of contraception and they do not feel guilty about their stance, which is why bishops, not content with grandstanding in pulpits, now want to bang the legislative gavels, too.

When we talk about life, we go beyond thinking about quantity, and deal with its quality. We wonder why the bishops are not disturbed about population growth. They say, “but the bible tells us not to worry because even the birds find something to eat.” (Matthew 6: 25-34) Beyond this lousy exegesis, however, four out of ten Filipinos complain of hunger, making the Filipino people, now numbering over 90 million, one of the top five hungriest in the world. Unemployment is depressingly high. And poverty stands at alarming levels. I am sure the bishops know these, unless Their Excellencies got so cozy living in, where else, but their Bishops’ Palaces.

Could it be that the Church wants the population to remain bloated so more could avail of its paid services? Last time I checked, the St. William’s Cathedral charges 300 to 600 pesos for baptism, plus 100 pesos for every godparent. And the church earns on death as much as it does in life. The thick piles of envelopes they collected last All Souls Day reveal this. And all you need is some saliva and holy water. Quite a profitable business, isn’t it? And to think that religious organizations are exempt from paying taxes.

Moving on, the bishops say that by teaching sex education in schools, young people are led to engage in premarital sex. This is outrageous. If at all, the culture of silence on sex leaves young people wilder and more curious. Because adults do not talk about it, they are forced to launch their own expeditions on a trial-and-error basis. This results to unwanted pregnancies, abortion, and even sexually transmitted diseases.

Ideally, it is the parents who should talk to their children about sex, but we concede that this is simply not the case in our culture. Parents wishfully think that their children will remain innocent forever and, on their part, children feel awkward discussing sex with mama and papa. A young man’s first source of information about sex, apart from media, is his peers, who, needless to say, are just as vulnerable as he is.

Part of the subject Sociology 1, I teach Family Planning to my students, and because I believe in choice, I present both the natural and artificial birth control methods. I am firmly convinced though that such education on safe and responsible sex must begin in high school for it is in the earlier adolescent years that the youth begin their explorations. When I graduated from high school, for instance, ten percent of the girls were pregnant. You can imagine how much more young women bear children while in college. It will be more shocking to know how many of them have undergone abortion, risking their own lives in the process.

So, what course of action do we take when our sense of good reason now defies the wisdom of the bishops? There are a few options. Best thing to do is dialogue with them and ask them to reconsider their stance. But reconsider they never will as their immense pride emanates from the infallibility of their big boss, the pope. For those who are unlucky (or lucky!) not to be educated in Catholic schools, the pope is always right when it comes to dogmatic teachings on doctrine and morals.

Another thing is to just stay in the church and ignore what the bishops say. This is what most Catholics do. I, however, am uncomfortable with this set-up. I cannot continue to be part of a church that considers my acts, born out of conscience, as anti-life, sinful, displeasing to God. I wish to live in a state of grace, not of apathy and hypocrisy. This now leads us to the third option: leave the church and find another group that respects your human sensibility.

Even after you leave the Catholic Church, however, the madness of the bishops shall follow you wherever you go in this country that is yet to recover from the nightmares of Padre Damaso and Padre Salvi. Given the immense pressure the church exerts on our government, Filipinos—Catholic or not—are deprived of help they rightfully deserve. Such is the case of H.B. 5043.

There are a few bishops that I admire though. One of them is Jacinto “Jack” Jose, Laoag’s pride and now Urdaneta’s treasure. But I admire him not because he is a bishop, but because he is a man of virtue. And virtue, of course, is no monopoly of men with cute purple caps.

Not all bishops are in heaven and countless souls who defied them are in God’s loving embrace as you read this.

It’s time for Catholics to mature. It’s time to ‘slap’ the bishops.

Barack Obama and the young man who asked, ‘Who wants to be a Filipino?’

AS I WRITE THIS, the American people are jubilating over the landmark electoral victory of Barack Obama. More than just the first black president, the 46-year old senator from Chicago, who captured a nation’s, nay, the world’s imagination, is a symbol of hope for humanity in crisis.

Speaking to a mammoth crowd representative of all colors, ages, creed, gender, and political affiliations, Obama began his victory speech with these powerfully historic words:

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”
Watching the television coverage of the US elections led me to envy and resentment. Envy because clean, peaceful, and honest elections—such as the one Americans just had—remains a dream for Filipinos, and resentment because the country of stars and stripes gave us democracy but failed to teach us how to conduct our elections well (makes me wonder if they did that intently so they can continue to manipulate our government).

In this state of envy and resentment, I was reminded of an essay I wrote when I was eight years more carefree and less bald. This piece, borne out of anguish over the chronic hopelessness and despair in this country that I love, gave me my twenty seconds of fame as a national kontabida. The response it elicited was huge—from the angry call I received from a Philippine president’s son to the thousands of mail I got from readers, some sympathetic, but mostly hostile.
If Obama were Filipino, how would he respond to this essay? Continue reading “Barack Obama and the young man who asked, ‘Who wants to be a Filipino?’”

Love sealed on a balikbayan box

“Roughly speaking, one loves not because one wants gifts, but because one wants their meaning.”

-Niklas Luhmann

PARALLEL to something big happening in Manila, the MMSU Graduate School organized recently a Research Forum on Migration and Development where this columnist was invited to speak.

There I presented a paper I co-authored with my ‘partner for all seasons’ Marjorie Pascual Garcia, also of MMSU, and Vangie Novero Blust of Green Mountain College, Vermont, USA. Bearing the title “Influences of Transnational Labor Migration on Ilocano College Students’ Consumption Behaviors, Value Retention, and Social Relationships”, the paper studied in detail the cases of fifteen college students whose parents are working overseas.

Allow me to share with you some insights from our work:

Migration is across all social classes. While it is true that poverty is the main reason for work overseas, many Filipinos go abroad for some other reasons (including whims and caprices). Note that most of the participants did not consider themselves economically poor when their parents were still home.

For one, no participant confessed to experiencing hunger in their pre-migration lives. When their parents went abroad, the increase in food was more on the variety, not on the quantity. One student puts it:

Nagbalin a sab-sabali tay ordinaryo ken inaldaw-aldaw a kankanenmi aglalo no agpao-it ni Mama ti door-to-door. (Our everyday fare became different, especially when we would receive our door-to-door package.)

Also, most of the participants now find themselves frequenting fast-food chains, which connotes deviation from Ilocano foodways. Continue reading “Love sealed on a balikbayan box”

Ang gurong ‘di nagpasalamat



NAIS KONG IBAHAGI ang isang karanasan ko nu’ng bago pa lang ako sa MMSU. Unang semester ko noon ng pagtuturo sa unibersidad.

Ako ay bahagi ng College of Arts and Sciences o CAS. Kapag faculty ka sa kolehiyong ito ay lilibutin mo ang iba’t ibang mga gusali para sa iyong mga klase. Itinayo sa mahigit sa isandaang ektaryang lupain, malawak ang MMSU at magkakalayo ang mga building kung kaya’t sumasakay kami sa tricycle madalas, lalo na kung sobrang init o umuulan, kapag gahol ka na sa oras, o kung pagod at tinatamad ka nang maglakad.

Minsan, mula sa CAS papuntang CBEA, isang kolehiyong may kalayuan, ay may nakasabay akong isang guro at isang estudyante sa pagbiyahe. Ako at ang guro (mga 40 pataas ang edad, babae) ay nasa loob ng tricycle samantalang ang estudyante naman ay nag-“backride”, sumakay sa may likuran ng drayber.

Tinanong ako ni Ma’am kung saan ako bababa. “Sa CBEA po,” aking tugon. At di na kami nag-usap pa.

Naunang bumaba si Ma’am sa isang mas malapit na gusali, nagbayad siya at sinabi sa drayber, “Duwakam ditoyen” (Dalawa na kami dito). Ang initial reaction ko e magpasalamat lalo na’t hindi pa ako sumasahod noon, pero bigla akong napatigil at tinanong sa aking sarili, “Sino ba ang inilibre niya? Ako ba o ’yung estudyante? Baka naman ‘yung estudyante kasi ay di pa naman kami magkakilala ni Ma’am.” Hayyy, ang hirap! Kapag nagpasalamat ako at hindi pala ako ’yung inilibre, mapapahiya ako at baka ganun din si Ma’am. Awkward ‘yung sabihin ni Ma’am: Ay, sori, haan nga sika’t impletyak, diya’y ubing (Sorry, hindi ikaw ang inilibre ko, ‘yung bata). Ngunit, kapag ako pala ’yung inilibre at hindi ako nakapagpasalamat, nakahihiya naman… at baka maipamalita pa ni Ma’am na “’yung bagong faculty e hindi marunong ng tamang asal”. Dahil ‘di ko malaman ang gagawin, hindi na lang ako nagpasalamat.

Pagdating sa CBEA, sinubukan kong magbayad. Kapag tinanggap ng drayber ang pamasahe ko, aba’y mabubunutan ako ng tinik dahil hindi naman pala ako ’yung inilibre. Ngunit kapag hindi niya tinanggap ang bayad ko, patay! Dyahe kay Ma’am.

Tinanggap ito ng drayber… kaya’t ako’y napangiti. Nu’ng paalis na ’yung tricycle, ipinaalala ko sa estudyante, “Ading, ’wag ka nang magbayad ha, inilibre ka na ni Ma’am”. Ang malaking ngiti sa aking mukha ay nalusaw na parang ice cream (ube flavor) nu’ng makita ko ang reaksyon ng bata: bakas sa kanyang mukha ang pagtataka at pagkagulat. Hindi pala niya kilala si Ma’am, at mukhang sa tingin niya ay hindi naman siya ililibre nito.

Sus! Malamang ay ako pala ang pinagmagandahang-loob. Ano ba’ng buhay ‘to? Nang dahil sa pitumpisong pamasahe ay nagulo ang mundo ko.

Alam kong magkikita pa kaming muli ni Ma’am kaya puwede pa sana akong bumawi, ang problema ay hindi ako matandain sa mga mukha. Malamang, ‘pag magkasalubong kaming muli e hindi ko siya mamumukhaan.

Ang solusyon? Nginingitian ko na lang lahat ng aking makasalubong. Hindi lang basta ngiti ha… Hindi ngiting pitumpiso… Kundi ‘yun bang smile ng batang ibinilhan mo ng pitong Happy Meal sa McDo. Ayun.

At mukhang epektib naman. Mahigit isang taon na mula noon e ‘di pa naman kumakalat na ako’y isang taong hindi marunong mag-tenkyu. Sa ating kultura pa naman, napakahalaga ng pagpapasalamat. Hindi naman dahil sa naghahanap tayo ng kapalit sa ating mabuting gawain kundi dahil sa kapag hindi mo na-appreciate ang kabutihang-loob ng iyong kapwa ay parang binale-wala mo na rin ang kanyang buong pagkatao. Sensitib tayong mga Pinoy dito.

Ang leksiyon: ang inyong abang lingkod ay malugod pa ring tatanggap ng inyong tulong, sa loob man o labas ng tricycle. Sana lang ay pakilinaw ha. Tenk yu. Siyanga pala, bakit naman ganun si Manong Drayber, tanggap lang nang tanggap?! At si backrider, nabagabag rin kaya ang kalooban tulad ko?

At sa iyo, Madam Mapagbigay, marami pong salamat. Hindi lamang sa baryang inyong ibinahagi, kundi pati na rin sa pagkakataong ako’y makapagnilay-nilay at masuri ang aking pakikipagkapwa. At dahil ‘di kita namukhaan kaya’t di ako makaganti. Sa aking muling pagsakay ay aalalahanin ko na lamang ang iyong magandang halimbawa. Sino man ang makasabay, ako naman ang taya.