Uncle Gerry Writes

[I ONCE WROTE a piece on Ferdinand Marcos and mentioned there my dear Uncle Gerry (Labayog), an anti-Marcos activist who later on became, and ironically so, a Marcos Loyalist. Here are excerpts from my favorite uncle’s email who has embraced Hawaii as his second home for almost two decades now.]

First of all, I want to tell you, I’m very proud of you. You have awakened the sleeping conscience of a lot of Filipinos.

I like your article about Marcos who, for me, is our country’s greatest President. When he assumed office, he inherited (from his predecessor Diosdado Macapagal) sixteen billion dollars of debt. When he left office in 1986, the loan was twenty-six billion. But, look at his accomplishments.

When I was a kid (Macapagal was still president), your Lola Amby used to take me with her to Dingras, Marcos, and Banna to barter canned goods with rice, fish, and vegetables. Those towns hardly had any electricity. The barrios didn’t have any. In the morning, kasla adda naibrush nga uring (it was as if charcoal had been brushed) just below our nostrils after inhaling the smoke of the kerosene lamp all night. Marcos initiated electrification from Batanes to Julu.

Also, your Uncle Fred used to take me with him to Bangui during their Fiesta celebration to sell RTW’s. We would leave at 5:00 a.m. and would reach Bangui at 3:00 p.m. The roads were so rough. Now, thanks to Marcos, you can be there in one hour or less. When Imelda was governor of Metro Manila, the nation’s capital was very clean. Flooding was minimized. The Marcoses built, among many others, landmark infrastructures such as the LRT, San Juanico Bridge, CCP, PICC, etc. During their regime, Philippine Heart-Lung-Kidney Centers were built. Now, the funds for these hospitals are corrupted.

For the agricultural sector, Marcos, in his early term, launched the Masagana 99. That is, to produce 99 cavans of rice per hectare of agricultural land. It was successful. We even exported rice to other ASEAN countries during his term. For her part, Imelda launched the Green Revolution. Planted in every backyard, vegetables were in abundance.

Under Macapagal, the illegal numbers game Jueteng was all over the Philippines. When Marcos assumed office in 1966, the very next day after he was sworn into office, Jueteng was no longer around. Whether we agree or not, Jueteng has corrupted a lot of politicians (including you-know-who). When Cory was installed as president (not by election), the very next day, Jueteng was around every corner.

When I was detained in 1972 (martial law), one Philippine Constabulary soldier hit me on the nape (pateltel). Of course, Marcos had nothing to do with it. It was the lack of discipline of those soldiers under Fidel Ramos that resulted to those tortures, but it was Marcos they blamed.

Why was Martial Law declared? There was already a threat. They blamed Marcos for the Plaza Miranda bombing where the opposing senatorial candidates were having their Miting de Avance. Until now, they insist that Marcos did it even after Victor Corpuz revealed that it was the plot of the New People’s Army to discredit Marcos.

They also said that he ordered the killing of Ninoy. But none among Cory, Ramos, or Arroyo have proven it, despite all their powers. I suspect that the killing was the work of somebody more powerful to prevent the Philippines from being under communist ideology which Ninoy evidently supported.

They say that Ninoy restored democracy. What democracy? From Cory to Arayko, ay, Arroyo, the country has been known as a topnotcher when it comes to corruption.

I used to say, if I could have 250,000 dollars, I would return and invest in the Philippines. I’ll put half of it in the bank and the interest alone will provide for my everyday needs. My money will work for me. Maybe I could do it now; I just have to sell the house that we purchased 6 years ago.

But, I have completely changed my mind. With the endemic corruption and the I-don’t-care attitude of people in government, the money that I would bring home to work for me might just go down the drain the next day after I come home to my beloved Philippines.

‘Til then, Herdy. Ingat. God bless our country.

PITAKA NG PAG-ASA: Isang pagpupugay kay Leoncio Pagtama at sa lahat ng tulad niya

BAGAMA’T KINORONAHAN NA ang Pilipinas bilang bansang may pinakatalamak na korapsyon sa bahaging ito ng Asya, ako’y naninindigang honest ang Pinoy.
Maniwala ka sa akin. Bilang certified burara, mahaba ang listahan ko ng mga pagmamagandang-loob ng aking kapwa. Marami na akong nawala… pitaka, cellphone, laptop, at kung anu-ano pang mga mahahalagang bagay, ngunit karamihan sa mga ito ay isinauli.
Tugma dito ang resulta ng isang pagsasaliksik na isinagawa ng Reader’s Digest (RD). Ayon dito, mas honest pa nga ang Pinoy kung ikukumpara sa mga mamamayan ng ilang bansang “first world”.
Noong nakaraang taon, nagpakalat ang RD ng tigtatatlumpung (30) cellphone sa tatlumpu’t dalawang (32) mga lungsod sa iba’t ibang dako ng mundo. May pagkakakilanlan ang bawat cellphone kaya’t maaari itong isauli ng makapupulot kung gugustuhin nito. Tinawagan din ng RD ang mga cellphone upang magbigay ng direksyon sa mga taong nakahanap kung paano maisasauli ang mga telepono. Continue reading “PITAKA NG PAG-ASA: Isang pagpupugay kay Leoncio Pagtama at sa lahat ng tulad niya”

Of weight loss and flimsy revolts: Resisting the BELOnization of Philippine society


JUAN DE LA CRUZ has always been portrayed as a frail man who is bordering on the malnourished, reflective perhaps of the plight of many Filipinos who have very little, if any at all, on their dinner tables.

I prefer however to imagine Juan as obese, one who cannot walk ten meters without panting, but who can run fast as a squirrel to the dinner table where bagnet, sisig, and adobong baboy are waiting to become part of his already multi-layered flab.

If I were to be appointed as Presidential Adviser for Weight Loss Affairs (if and when this post is created as obesity rates reach alarming levels), I would present the following proposal which, I hope, will merit some consideration: Presidential Decree 8888, A Measure Placing the Entire Nation under Calorie Preemptive Reduction or CPR.

In detailing this program (which I hope will not be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court), allow me to intersperse personal insights on my own journey to the medium-sized world. Continue reading “Of weight loss and flimsy revolts: Resisting the BELOnization of Philippine society”

Philosophizing the nurse, nursing the philosopher

ALL RIGHT, my students are bright, as we boast of having one of the finest nursing programs in the country. Their training is rigid, and the selection process very tight. But, at the turn of the semester, I feared that my students would take my subject lightly. I took pains in urging them not to treat philosophy as a “minor subject”, for there must be some reason why it is a curriculum requirement.

After a month, my students submitted their phenomenological reflections. My heart broke when I discovered that many of them wanted to pursue something else, but were forced by their elders, who finance their studies, to take up nursing instead. It is sad that our ailing economy kills the dreams of the young. Older people are infected with bitter pragmatism, and few of them are as supportive as the father in a PLDT commercial (“Kung saan ka masaya, anak, suportahan ta ka”).

Our class had an engaging discussion on Martin Heidegger, who posits that when man confuses being with having, the origin of desire is located in external possessions: money, gadgets, and whatnot become the source of happiness; deprivations lead to feelings of sadness and frustration. In this case, the human-being has identified her self with objects of passing significance, and has forgotten her own existence.

“At the moment, what essence do you find in your existence?,” I asked them. It is not very difficult to figure out: e$$ence. It does not take a sociologist to understand why. Our government is a joke, our economy a disaster, and only God knows what other tribulations await our benighted land. No wonder that many professionals are now taking up nursing—doctors, dentists, physical therapists and, yes, even lawyers. Some of them have been my students, older than I am, and resigned to this nation’s dim tomorrow.


Continue reading “Philosophizing the nurse, nursing the philosopher”

The Powerless Academic

I feel like a prostitute, used and not taken seriously, unimportant and powerless, paid for some passing need. This is how a few years in the academe has made me feel.

Thousands of Nursing students have attended my classes, and they have come in various shapes and forms: young, not so young, married, single, well-off, poor. They have one common goal: to leave this country as soon as possible.

Ask them why they took the course, and they are quick to tell you success stories of their relatives in other countries, and the dim tomorrow that awaits us in our own. These students are well-driven, and well-motivated. Charity begins at home. And so are apathy, resignation, and materialism. Any influence that I wield as an educator is very easily negated by the gospel of a world that is painfully real. Continue reading “The Powerless Academic”

Attn: Bedans and Red Lions fans. Let’s cheer and drink beer




“When I would approach the coliseum, my foolish heart would thump wildly. A loss could mean the campus would be in mourning. The heroes got to the mountain top.”

-Rene A.V. Saguisag
Former Senator, San Beda alumnus

Umpa! Umpa! Umpa! Umpa!
Beda Beda Beda Beda Fight Fight Fight!
Hey U Kim Kum Kawa!

I KNOW SO LITTLE ABOUT BASKETBALL. All my life, I have played hoops but once, and that was in freshman high school physical education. It was a fifty-second stint briefly punctuated by a traveling violation. I never tried again.

But then, in the past ten years, since I stepped in the hallowed grounds of San Beda, I have always been an ardent supporter of the Red Lions and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Even now that I am working, I would not think twice of taking a leave from work so I won’t miss an important game, the same is true with many of our alumni; PLDT/SMART Chair Manny Pangilinan would certainly agree. And, why not? Some people go to spa parlors to regain spent energy. We go to the NCAA games.

I still know so little about fouls, violations, and the rudiments of basketball. I usually wait for other Bedans to clap before I do. (Sometimes I cheer, by mistake, for the opposing team), but I have mastered the art of shouting “defense!”, have memorized every letter and note of our cheers and yells, and have also gotten used to going home with a heavy heart after watching the Red Lions lose in games that they could have handily won.

For twenty eight years since their victory over Ateneo in 1978, the Lions never won a championship. Those were decades of heartbreak and despair. But even the darkest of sagas do end. The story changed two years ago when lady luck smiled and the opposing team’s buzzer-beater shot failed. We won the do-or-die match by a balding man’s hair strand. We grabbed the championship. Our battlecry, End 28 at 82!, was prophetic. We ended 28 years of defeat in Season 82.

I was lucky to be at the Araneta Coliseum when it happened. For a while, I could not believe that we had actually ended nearly three decades of title drought. I only realized that we made it won when a stranger embraced me tightly and we both wept. Indeed, it was a night when you could embrace anybody in red.

From the coliseum, Bedans trooped to the Mendiola campus where a glorious feast was to happen. Food and spirits were flowing like manna and rain from the heavens. Now proudly hangs in my bedroom is the 2006 championship shirt signed that historic night by our heroic cagers, including the gentle giant from Nigeria—Sam “The Ekwelizer” Ekwe, King Lion Yousif Aljamal, Alex Angeles, Pong Escobal, Borgie Hermida, and fellow Ilocano Ogie Menor, who decided to play for San Beda, turning down (and rightly so) the tempting offers of La Salle. This experience is one of the most ecstatic in my life, and this I will keep on retelling until I fade in the sunset (not so soon, I pray, so I can cheer for many more seasons).

Last year, the San Beda Red Lions duplicated the same feat and, in this 84th season of the country’s oldest collegiate league, are gunning for a third-straight basketball title. With either the Letran Knights or the Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers (who are still battling it out in the semifinals as of press time) at the other side of the bench, the road to a glorious three-peat will not be a cakewalk. Letran, the league’s winningest, boasts of 16 championship victories against San Beda’s 13. JRU, for its part, is the league’s hungriest, having won their last championship 36 years ago, in 1972. So, the Lions can never be complacent, and neither should we, fellow supporters, if we really want to fortify our basketball dynasty.

Now based in the province, I can no longer see the Lions see action in flesh and blood. I will have to be content with watching the games live on television. But I need folks who will join me in believing. I do not want to commit the same mistake when, in a recent San Beda-Letran game, I turned-off the boob tube when there was less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter and Letran was up by 6 points. Forgetting the Animo! spirit, I was resigned to a defeat, only to find out in the news later on that San Beda had won by 2 points by virtue of a Hail Mary shot in overtime. San Beda’s neighbor in Mendiola, St. Jude, the patron saint of desperate cases, must have done his part as well.

And so I invite fellow Bedans and their families, Bedan-lovers, supporters of the Red Lions, and anybody whose life has been touched by San Beda, including our lawyers here who took the bar review in Mendiola (like my cousin Erme Labayog): Let’s gather together, cheer together, drink together, and, if we lose (God forbid!), weep together. Even if you are not from San Beda if you love good, intense, passionate basketball, please come… and don’t forget to wear red.

Once a Bedan, always a Bedan. Right now, I only have the following names: former Laoag City Councilor and Ilocos Publishing Corporation President Jay Ramos, National Youth Commission Chairman Richard Alvin Nalupta, K. Reyno, D.A. Bitancor, Badoc’s Atty. Philjer Noel Inovejas, Richard Co, Christianne Flores, Mr. Felipe of NCC, and my nephew Jerome Geronimo. I know that a young Fariñas, a son of former City Mayor Cesar Ventura, and a gorgeous varsity debater also attended San Beda but, alas, their names escape me. I am sure Manong Pepoc (Pastor) would also be glad to come had he not gone to the great beyond. He will be our prayer warrior up there, together with Raul Roco whose composition, the “Bedan Hymn”, we shall sing with pride, win or lose.

It will just be the beginning of a rediscovered brotherhood. I hope Ilocano Bedans can organize a group similar to UP Namnama, and contribute to the development of our locality. In the same breath, I hope our universities and colleges in the province can also fortify their sports programs and create an honest-to-goodness league where stars are born, and where school loyalties run deep.

The powwow can be held in my place or yours. It does not matter the venue for as long as we’re together (and there’s beer… and television, of course!). 09297793969 is the number to text or call.

Animo San Beda! Fight Team FIGHT!

Of strangers and family

KNOWN WRITER Mitch Albom posits that “strangers are family just waiting to be known”. My biggest push and best reward in writing this column is the opportunity to meet more of my family.

For instance, I now have new relatives in Texas. “Auntie” Tess (Perez) of Houston writes: Your recent feature “Provincial Bliss” really touched my heart. My husband (Orly) and I have been living in US and Canada for the last 32 years now, but there’s always that yearning of coming home. We came for a visit 2 years ago, and decided that Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte is going to be our next home. We came originally from San Fernando, La Union, but Pagudpud reminds us so much of our childhood environment, and I can’t wait to come home to the “Province”. My husband and I are products of DMMSU of La Union (formerly LUSAT). We are flattered that we already gained a “nephew” in Laoag. We’re very hopeful that we will meet you someday. Meanwhile, I will be very eager to read your weekly column.

Herdy’s rikna ken nakem: I learned that although Uncle Orly and Auntie Tess’ plans for retirement won’t happen in the next five years or more, they are already helping their future community. They allowed part of their newly-purchased land in Ayoyo, Pagudpud to be used as a community fishpond. This is in close coordination with the barangay chairman. In addition, they are supporting YCAP volunteers assigned in the barangay.

Sensing that the couple prefers to work silently and without fanfare in “giving back” to their adoptive community, I am crossing my fingers that they won’t mind my mentioning in this space their noble efforts. I just want you, dear readers, to feel inspired by their generosity of soul in the same way I was moved. Thrilled I always am to hear of folks who, blessed enough, are drawn to pay it forward… people who do good for goodness’ sake, unlike politicians. Their act—a modern-day, borderless bayanihan—exemplifies the best traits of the human spirit. Mabuhay!

Ananda, is Marcos a hero or a villain?


Dear Ananda,

On September 21, you will turn three. To us, your family, that day will always be a great cause for joy. You came to the world and brought color to our dull lives.

As a child, you are carefree, fun-loving and adventurous. Your cheerful disposition and ready smile makes you a friend to all, both young and old. Fittingly enough, your name means “Eternal bliss”.

But happiness is not what many Filipinos associate with the day of your birth. It is, at most, a day in question.

When I was still working in Manila, we would usually spend September 21 by vilifying Ferdinand Marcos, the iron hand behind Martial Law-—recounting him as a sinister dictator, a scary monster, a shame. The younger generation of Filipinos, apathetic they seemed to be, were admonished not to forget the lessons of Edsa and to value their freedoms.

When I moved here in Ilocos and taught at MMSU, the story was totally different. Everyone was lamenting at how Manila-based historians, academics, and opinion makers have been very unkind to Marcos. My colleagues, who conducted a research on how the common Ilocano recounts Marcos, attest that people here only have words of adulation on the greatness, sincerity, and visionary leadership of this great son of the North.

Was Marcos a hero? Twenty years ago, the answer was an easy NO. In 1986, Marcos was sent into exile and the nation heralded the dawn of a new era in Philippine democracy.

As I write this piece, it is September 11, the birthday of Henry Yumul—my kuya, your lolo. But it is also the birth anniversary of Ferdinand Marcos, and for which reason this day has been declared a special non-working holiday in Ilocos Norte by virtue of a presidential proclamation. Justifying the declaration, Malacañang said that it meant to “exemplify the leadership of the former president to be emulated by all leaders, youth and the future generation”.

You see, Ananda, yesterday’s villain could be today’s hero. Sociologist Peter Berger was right: the past is malleable and flexible, changing as our recollection interprets and re-explains what has happened.

This is also true in the case of Erap Estrada, an ex-convict. In 2001, he was booted out of office on allegations of corruption. Today, however, Erap sounds like a statesman when he speaks, and Gloria Arroyo makes it possible. With corruption many times more rampant and unabashed in the present presidency, Erap now looks like a saint, and our people begin to look at Edsa 2 as a big mistake.

Don’t get confused, Ananda, Edsa 1 is different from Edsa 2. In fact, we even had a third version. This is not unexpected in a country in perpetual search of a Messiah. When Cory Aquino assumed office, everyone was in high hopes. It looked like the rebirth of a new Philippines. Alas, Cory missed that chance. Our economy dipped further, and the nation was in for more darkness, not only because of the frequent power outages during her term but more because our people, failed with their expectations, felt like flies that jumped out of the pan and into the fire. The people thought Marcos was the enemy and that everything will turn out right without him. They were wrong.

Still, Cory Aquino, simply by ousting Marcos (thanks to a disloyal military, the church, and the US of A), has been extolled several times as a hero, landing in the cover of Time Magazine, and being listed alongside Ghandi, Mother Theresa, and the Dalai Lama as Asian greats. Never mind that the Mendiola massacre that killed militant farmers happened during her time, and never mind that a toothless land reform program resulted to the death of tenants in the Cojuangco family’s Hacienda Luisita.

Fidel Ramos came later and promised us the gateway to dream paradise that was Philippines 2000. The life and of Mang Pandoy (God bless his soul!) is a sad proof that we were, then again, just taken for a ride. Then Erap, then Gloria… until the next Messiah. The 2010 elections is just around the corner and candidates are now beginning to posture themselves as the hope, the answer, the future. I have a suspicion that Juan de la Cruz will again fall in the same trap of empty promises and blatant lies. Redemption remains elusive.

The Marcoses are back in power and in style. Imelda who, to this day, is innocent in the eyes of the law, remains graceful as a swan. She has bounced back in good form. The Marcos children and kin have returned to power as well. They have moved on.

But how about Cory? It escapes me, Ananda, why Cory Aquino, to this day, cannot find it in her heart to forgive the soldiers who were implicated in the assassination of his husband 25 years ago. We all know that those lowly soldiers, if indeed they participated in Ninoy’s murder (the solicitor general opines that they did not), were just pawns of still undetermined masterminds. These foot soldiers have languished in jail for over two decades, and their families have tremendously suffered as well. Cory has become president, her son Noynoy is now a senator, and Kris Aquino has long been torturing us with her annoying presence on television—what else could Cory ask for?

Meanwhile, the remains of Marcos remain in a refrigerated crypt. His being laid to rest still depends on public opinion and political alliances. Erap would have given a green light to a decent Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani had he not chickened out to public opinion. If only Erap knew that he would be ousted anyway, he would have done that one brave act. It appears that the Marcoses are now allied with the Arroyo administration, but the president from Pampanga has enough controversy to last for ten lifetimes, the least that she needs is another reason to be hated all the more. “It doesn’t matter the place anymore at this point in time. If you’re a bayani [hero], you are a bayani wherever you are,” intimated Imelda Marcos recently. You see, wisdom comes with age. Hey, don’t ask me about Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales. Of course, there are always exceptions.

Love is known to defy reason. It is enough to think that Marcos loved us Ilocanos dearly, and that it is but fit that we show our love for him in return. Marcos was no saint. Like everyone else, he too had his own share of excesses and shortcomings, but to say that all he did was evil sure sounds unfair. You will soon be aware that we, members of your family, also have our own share of follies. I am confident though that our love for each other is enough to help us see the best in each one. Be inspired by our feats but make sure you learn from our mistakes.

But let’s call a spade a spade. To me, at least, Marcos was an outstanding social architect. He knew just exactly what he wanted for our country and he had a blueprint on how things can get done. From infrastructure to participatory democracy to Cultural Revolution to educational reforms and values reorientation, Marcos did more than his fair share. One of my students at MMSU commented that Marcos was not a good leader because everything he did was only for selfish ends. It made me wonder if the student knew that his enjoyment of excellent education in the state university is due to the late president’s labor. It is either that his remark was born of ignorance or that his English professor needs to clarify what “selfishness” means.

What then is the truth about Marcos? “There are no truths, only interpretations”, says the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. To tell the truth is to tell a lie. We Ilocanos have every right to write our own version of history, but we have no right to brand other versions as lies. There are as many truths as there are many people who search for it.

You can only convince a person whose loved one disappeared for eternity (desaparecido) due to political reasons during Marcos’ time that Martial Law was a gift from heaven as much as you can make people, whose lives Marcos brightened, believe that his regime was a time of darkness.

But even people’s deepest convictions change. Uncle Gerry, who was a student activist during Martial Law, was incarcerated in the 70’s for joining the resistance movement against Marcos. Today, he is one of the staunchest defenders of the former president. You should only talk to Uncle Gerry about Marcos if you have at least five hours to spare, although I still doubt if such time would really be enough for his narrative on the greatness of the man whom Carlos P. Romulo extolled as “The quintessential Filipino”.

I am not sure, Ananda, how your generation would look at Marcos. But let me warn you: don’t believe everything that you read in books. All the more should you be cynical about the information you get from media. Remember that even popes commit mistakes. Yes, you should not even believe everything that I am saying here. As man’s search for truth is a lonely and painful sojourn, we can only provide you with tools of discernment. The world is unkind to the vulnerable and weak of heart.

You were born on September 21, a day of many questions. But when we see you play, hear you laugh, witness you explore the world, and watch you sleep soundly at night, we shed off our cynicism, forget about the painful crisis that besets our land, and begin to believe that, yes, there is still hope.

Ananda, you are an answer.

Happy 3rd birthday, dearest child. We love you.

Provincial bliss

MRS. MATIPO of our university library was the 50th person to ask me this question: “What made you decide to come home to the province and teach here?”

It was mid-June last year and I was meeting the librarian for the first time. She learned from her son, MJ, one of my treasured students, that I had taught in Manila schools before moving here in Ilocos.

“Many want to work in Manila,” she added, in an attempt to put her question in the proper perspective.

I had long wanted to stay in the province and it did not begin as an act of altruism. Nurturing no illusions of self-importance, it was not the “I want to go home to Ilocos and share my talents with my province-mates” sort of thing.

I first imagined working in Ilocos during one of those mornings in Manila when I was getting late for work and I still had to press my clothes (one of the things I do not enjoy doing). That morning, I was yet to eat breakfast, and my tummy was already rebelling. Food was usually something fried, something instant — something I was beginning to take with revulsion.

I was walking briskly to school when a decent-looking man approached and showed me something. “Bilhin mo na itong necklace, mura lang” [“Buy this necklace, the price is cheap”], he said. The piece of jewelry looked real and expensive, but it was broken. “Mamahalin ’to, kasi ’nung hinablot ko ’to, umiyak ’yung nurse” [“This is an expensive kind, because the nurse cried after I snatched it from her”], he added with pride.

That was the straw that broke the weary camel’s back. On the same day, I typed an application letter to the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU), the best university in the North. That was in March last year.

Only a few days were left before the start of the semester and a reply had yet to come. One more year of Manila then, I thought. That meant another year of missing the birthdays (including that of my Kuya Henry on Sept. 11 and of my Grandniece Ananda on Sept. 21), anniversaries and other special occasions of family and friends. Another year of bad food and bad air, of ironing my clothes (and losing them in the laundry shop), and of receiving frantic messages from my Mom each time the metropolis was stricken by terrorist attacks.

But the call for a demonstration teaching and panel interview came, and I was thrilled.

“Aside from teaching, what else can you contribute to the university?” I was asked in the interview.

Honestly, I wanted to just teach. In schools where I had taught, I contributed more than I should, and I wanted to be more relaxed this time. That’s what I told the panel members who, judging by their facial expressions, were unhappy with my answer. So I added that writing and debate are areas where I might contribute.
The most memorable question came from a senior faculty member: “For how long do you intend to stay here?”

“I can stay here forever,” I replied without batting an eyelash. If my 20/20 vision did not betray me, I thought I saw the professor’s eyebrows rise a bit and her academic forehead crumple a little. She was doubtful. No one knows for sure what Mother Destiny holds in the future, but I was sincere when I said that I could imagine myself working in the university until my hair is gray.

Shortly after, I was called in to work. I met my dean, and then I was led to my department on June 12, Independence Day. I was all smiles.

It has been fifteen months from that memorable day, and the smiles have not faded. I have even purchased a desk mirror so I can marvel at my face when I am smiling, which is a hundred times more often now than when I was working in the big city.

And, why not? Here, I live very comfortably. “Manang” Glory, our well-loved “kasambahay” [househelp], is so kind to pamper me. From food to clothes to cleanliness in my room, she makes sure that everything is A-OK.

Aside from our home in Laoag, which is better than my living quarters in Manila, I got a room at Coed’s, the university dormitory. My room in Manila was enough only for a bed and a table, had no window, and, if not for an exhaust fan, I could not breathe. In contrast, the well-ventilated and spacious Coed’s dorm gives me a fantastic view of the fields, which I could only imagine in Manila when I was stuck in traffic.

On top of material comforts is the immense joy that family life gives me. I have friends, and I have had friends who came and went and forgot, but my family has stood by me at all times, high and low. And, no, I would never exchange for anything the joy of coming home to my grandniece Ananda’s kisses and embrace after a long day at work, and finding out what new words or new tricks she has learned.

In the university, I am blessed to work with dreamy academics whose cognitive brilliance is matched by youthful idealism and cheerful dispositions. Our students, most of them children of farmers, are as competitive, even better, than many of their counterparts in Manila.

I had wished to just teach and relax and veer away from added responsibility but, when you are surrounded by people who breathe excellence, it’s difficult not to get infected and do your share. People might find fault in government for a number of things, but outstanding state-run universities such as ours are not among them.

Growing up with the belief that the only tourist attraction we have in Ilocos is the late strongman’s mausoleum, I used to find my province boring. But when my colleagues in Manila regaled me with stories of how they experienced a piece of paradise in Ilocos, my pride for my place was unmatched.

This is not to say Ilocos is heaven, and that I will forever be in bliss. I know that this is just the honeymoon phase. Difficulties and crises will come in my career and personal life, but given the inner joy and energy I bear, I will get by.

There are times when I miss the city, especially when I need something I cannot find in stores here. There are times when I long for the malls, their artificiality and the empty lifestyle they propagate. And, oh, yes, I miss the surprises of living in the nation’s capital, such as watching a movie and finding out after the lights are turned on, that seated just a meter away is Madam President and the First Gentleman.

At my young age, I have had the opportunity to work in various set-ups, from the seat of power in Malacañang to the corporate jungle of Ortigas and Libis to the marginalized communities in Metro Manila to the glistening world of show biz and mass media, and to the universities of the bourgeoisie. I have been blessed to travel to many parts of the country, from Aparri to Dumaguete to Cotabato, and have had the chance to visit other countries, too.

But I have never been happier than now, working in my province and in the university that captured my heart.

****
DONNA RIETVELD of The Netherlands writes via email: Hi, hope you are well.

Just want to say that I LOVE reading your column. Basta, nakaka-relate ako. The way you wrote about the 2 Glorias is really a work of art.

I am accessing Ilocos Times via the web so medyo late lagi ang column but I am going to check out your blog regularly from now on.

I am from Pasuquin but I have now adopted The Netherlands as my country. Thanks to you and the staff of Ilocos Times, I still get to update myself with what’s happening up north.

Regards and God Bless.

Herdy’s Riknakem: Thank you, Donna. You are one more important reason to burn the midnight oil to meet the every-Wednesday deadline in this publication. The consuming loneliness in writing is briefly punctuated by kind messages such as yours.

“Hindi mo makapa ang iyong nararamdaman; hindi lungkot, hindi saya, hindi bagot, hindi din naman balisa. isipin mo na lang na lahat ng nilalang, nahihimlay, nahihimbing at nananaginip nang nag-iisa. walang nagsusulat, dahil walang nagbabasa, walang bumabagsak dahil walang pumapasa. sa bawat bagong iyong natutuklasan, ika’y natututong kay rami-rami pa palang di mo alam.” – gary granada.

Jeans Cequina, my kindred: THE Quirkyalone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am different.

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

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

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

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

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

I am different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s my take on the world.

–jeanscequina (08-08-08).

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

Idi panagipasaanen iti paper, daytoy ti insurat daydiay ubing:

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

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

…ako ay nabagabag.

Blast from the past: Questions of a budding atheist

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

“Farmer son of Batac” writes

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

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

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

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

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

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

A tale of two Glorias

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

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

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

Pedaling our way through the crisis


“KAPAG MAIKLI ANG KUMOT, MATUTONG MAMALUKTOT,” goes a Filipino proverb. “Sir, nagakikid met ti ulesen, kasla labacara pay ketdin,” (Sir, the mattress is now as short as a face towel) quipped Christian Aguinaldo, one of my students in Sociology. I was about to dismiss the remark as a joke but there was seriousness in the young man’s voice, so I decided to give it a serious thought. Before I could respond, however, another student commented, “Kapag namamaluktot na at maikli pa rin ang kumot, putulin na ang paa!”.

Soaring prices of oil and other basic commodities, unbearable costs of basic services, and people who blurt out #%^&!$* when they read screaming headlines of more doom for this already battered nation. All these point to one thing: we live in very difficult times, and, no matter how the president paints a rosy picture of the economy in her SONA, the crisis seems posed to stay for the long run.

Turbulence notwithstanding, my faith in the resilience of the Filipino remains unshaken. His indomitable spirit allowed him to endure (and thwart) the rule of colonial masters, the regimes of abusive presidents, and the most destructive of natural and man-made calamities. Matiisin at maparaan ang Pinoy. Today, in an attempt to cope with the crisis, substitutes for rice are being proposed, energy-efficient measures are being promoted, and the everyman is compelled to resort to means, big and small, to cope. Going back to the basics is no longer just an option, but a matter of survival.

On this note, allow me to give my own piece on belt-tightening, something very close to my heart: Bicycling.

It is true that bicycling events are held occasionally to heighten awareness on the environment, on peace, and other areas of concern. Leisurely bicycle tours and competitive races are also organized from time to time. So little has been done, however, to make bicycling an integral part of our everyday lives.

In MMSU Batac where I teach, I know less than five students who ride a bicycle to school. (I am a brother to every cyclist, and so I know them by name. Among them are future civil engineer Richard Jay Cac and the Garcia brothers Ace and Mark.) In contrast, hundreds of motor vehicles crowd the parking spaces at any given school day. Majority are resigned to riding tricycles to, fro, and around the campus, even as another twenty-five percent increase in trike fare awaits. In Laoag, the number of folks who use the bicycle in going to work or in accomplishing their day-to-day errands is insignificant as well. In the case of most towns, one would pay as much as P100.00 on special tricycle trips to reach their remote sitios.

This is sad because by bicycling, we can shoot a platoon of devils with one stone (I would have said shoot many birds with one stone, but I’m a bird lover). Aside from affordable mobility, bicycling also offers benefits to health—ours and the environment’s. The fun and excitement it gives are a bonus. Yes, we should try bicycling as a major means of transportation, not just for leisure, here in Ilocos.

It is happy to note that both the governor and the Catholic bishop are sports lovers. Bishop Sergio Utleg is known to ride his mountain bike whenever he has time, even taking long routes like Ilocos to Isabela. His Excellency looks as good with a helmet as with a miter, the bishop’s cap. It is safe to assume that Governor Michael Keon, a patron of many sports, is supportive of cycling as well. Can you imagine what vibrant a bicycling culture we can nurture if both the church and the provincial government proclaim the good news of pedaling?

Around the world, many proactive cities have advanced the cause of bicycling. Leading the way in this initiative are Amsterdam and Groningen in the Netherlands, where an extensive network of safe, fast and comfortable bicycle routes has been developed. In these cities, where over 50% of inhabitants travel on two wheels, the road safety of cyclists has been intensified, a theft-prevention program was set up, and the number of bicycle sheds was increased.

In Copenhagen, Denmark, 32% of workers bicycle to work. In Berlin, Germany, where less than half of residents own a car, it has become downright common to ride a bike every day. Berlin officials pledged to work toward bikes comprising 15% of the city’s traffic by the year 2010.

Here in the Philippines, the City of Marikina has taken the lead. In a novel approach to solving the transportation challenges posed by rising gas prices, Marikina initiated several infrastructural changes to encourage 20% of the city’s residents to ride bicycles to work every day. Marikina has a program against bicycle theft, with 150 bicycle-riding patrollers roaming around the city. To promote safety, its City Bikeways Office (Yes, a government office dedicated solely for bicycling!) initiated a Safe Cycling Education program. In line with this, around 100,000 guidebooks for bicycle upkeep and usage were distributed to households.

Marikina, which has a cycling track in its sports complex, purchased 500 training bikes for those wishing to learn to ride. The city government conducts Saturday Bicycle Clinics to promote a “Bike-to-School” program. A Bicycle Loan Project is also in place for residents who want to purchase a bicycle. The loan, payable in twelve months, is without interest. Recognized by many organizations as an outstanding local government program, Marikina’s Bicycle-Friendly City Project is not only funded by the city coffers, but also by a million-dollar grant from the World Bank Global Environment Facility. Inspired by Marikina, other LGUs, including the Province of Albay, are following the lead.

They have done it elsewhere, we can do it here. The first order of the day is to encourage people to push the pedal, and urge motorists to respect bicyclers’ rights. Infrastructure can come later.

I concede though that bicycling is not for everyone. The caveat: you should AVOID bicycling if…

1. You suffer from inferiority complex.
In downtown Paris, London, and Seoul, men and women in business suits have no qualms about riding a bicycle to their offices. In the Philippines, however, it is potentially intimidating to park a lowly bicycle side-by-side flashy motorcycles and cars. When you drive a bicycle to work, some people make you feel that you are in the lowest rung of the system of social stratification in the streets. A few remarks are encouraging: Wow, healthy lifestyle, kakainggit!. But many throw the hello-ok-ka-lang look. To many, bicycling to work seems acceptable if you are a carpenter or a farmer, but not if you are doing a white-collar job.
Last semester, however, going around the MMSU campus and occasionally traveling from Laoag to Batac (and vice versa) on bicycle gave me savings of P5, 000.00. My pride costs much less than that, and so I bike.

2. You are the glutha-type-of-person
If you are the typical xenocentric Filipino who thinks that beauty is directly proportional to skin lightness, please don’t bike. This sport is not for the insecure. Of course, you already know that our skin’s melanin content (the substance responsible for skin pigmentation) protects us against the damaging rays of the sun, perfectly fit for those who live along the equator.
3. You do not want to get tired.
Never mind that bicycling heightens your endurance and builds your muscles.
4. You abhor getting sweaty.
Never mind that sweating is a major player when it comes to removing excess heat, waste materials, and accumulated toxins out of our system.
5. You do NOT love life.
How many motorcycle accidents have we heard of lately? One motorcycle brand has gained the reputation as “Killer Wave” because of the numerous mishaps its riders have suffered. In contrast, bicycle accidents are very rare and are generally not fatal. This is because with a bisikleta, you feel more in control. You tend to be more disciplined.
More than just a physical exercise, bicycling is something very spiritual for me. The slow, steady cadence of a bike is like a two-wheeled, human-powered sojourn to utopia. When I am on my bike, I feel so at peace with myself and with the world. I also feel most free when I am pushing the pedal, in stark contrast to my enslavement in front of a computer when I am writing for hours.

True, the bicycle does have some limitations. For instance, when the rains fall, you get soaked. But even biking on a rainy (even stormy) day could be a fun experience. I have tried it several times, and with great pleasure. But, if you are not as adventurous, a raincoat would always do the trick. For every excuse you can think of why you should not bike, I can give you two reasons why you should. But, if you remain unconvinced about cycling, try something even better: walking.

Children and grandparents, students and workers, paupers and businessmen, nuns and politicians—all of them bicycling day after day… that is my dream.

Ariel Ureta, a comic, was penalized in the 70’s for his parody of a Martial Law slogan: Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, bisikleta ang kailangan. Today, we look at Ureta as a prophet ahead of his milieu. Given the current crisis, it is time we take his joke seriously or the joke is on us. ###

***
Kablaaw: To the fifth year Mechanical Engineering students of MMSU: thank you for making the classroom experience a joy. Wishing you well on your continued search for meaning. // Happy birthday to my nephew Lord Jay and niece Sara Diane. May all of your dreams come true.

(e-mail: herdiology101@yahoo.com)

Agunit and the farmer wannabe





(This is my first article in the Ilocos Times. While columnists are expected to be men of notable knowledge, allow me to begin by writing about something I have no expertise on. “Wisest is he who knows he does not know,” says the enigmatic philosopher Socrates, and I am in the mood to believe him.)

NEVER HAVE I FELT MORE IGNORANT in my life than when I went to a farm. Having grown up in urban areas, I have never stayed in an agricultural community. The perpetually neglected ornamental plants in my bedroom terrace would be first to attest that planting is not my cup of tea.

Last year, I left my job in Manila to teach here in the province. Unlike in the nation’s capital where I taught sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie, most of my students here are children of farmers. Concerned that having kneel knowledge of agriculture made my teaching less relevant, I decided to embark on a self-imposed immersion in a farm. This happened when Albert Daguro, one of my former students, invited me on a weekend visit to their home in Brgy. Agunit, a farming community in Marcos town. He was apprehensive at first, saying that there was nothing much to see, but invited me anyway when he felt that it was something really meaningful for me.

Aboard a rusty jeepney, I then traveled to Agunit with the excitement of a groom and the curiosity of a child. Passing through the uninterrupted farmland bordered in the horizon by majestic mountains, I realized how little a part of the universe I was and how much space there is to explore. The experience was spiritual. Borrowing Rizal’s description of Dapitan, Agunit easily struck me as “picturesque and very poetic… without comparison.”

There I met Albert’s family. True to the Ilocano mold, his father, Tata Pascual, is known to be a very industrious man. At 68, this former barangay captain remains one of the most active farmers in Agunit. Far from the melodramatic tales of farmers in Sumilao and feudal haciendas, the Daguros are fortunate. With sheer discipline and guts, Tata Pascual and his loving wife started from scratch and gradually acquired parcels of land. Now totaling a few hectares, their farm is more than sufficient to provide their family a decent life.

The Daguros have eight cows, three carabaos, six goats, four pigs, and egg-laying ducks and chickens that were too busy running around their backyard to be counted. A miniature pond also produces fish for their consumption. Add to these the mango and avocado trees that diligently bear fruits. They have their own farm machines: a tractor and a kuliglig. To top these all, their sitio enjoys an efficient irrigation system that allows farmers to plant rice three times in a year. Given these blessings, I was interested to know whether Mang Pascual’s children are building their dreams around agriculture. Or, as with most families, do they see education as gateway to redemption?

Ronald, the eldest among the Daguro siblings, finished criminology and is now a newly sworn policeman. Albert is a civil engineering senior while Russell, the only female, is a nursing freshman. Six-grader Oliver, their youngest, tends their goats, but only Jhoan, the second eldest son, now works full time in the farm. After finishing a two-year technical course, Jhoan was requested by Tata Pascual to help him till their land. Being a good son, the former naturally obliged, although he occasionally resents being tied up to backbreaking work in the fields. Jhoan mulls of going back to school when his siblings graduate so he, too, can be a “professional”.

This reminded me of many students who strive in college, hoping they can eventually turn their backs on farming and do white-collar jobs. They subscribe to the belief that wearing a coat, working in an air-conditioned office, and speaking the language of colonizers are the main indicators of personal growth. Convinced that education is the best legacy they can leave behind, parents are quick to remind their children: do well in your studies, less you become just farmers like us.

I lament at how formal education is overvalued. Our present crop of political leaders proves that honesty, integrity, and unity—virtues that our nation miserably lacks—are legacies not guaranteed by a diploma. I do not say that children of farmers should not pursue other careers; everyone is entitled to see more of the world and discover new things as I do now. I was just wondering if they realize their sector’s worth and promise.

In MMSU, for instance, courses in agriculture register significantly lower enrolment compared to the health and business fields. This situation aggravates the already wide mismatch between our country’s human resource requirements and the graduates produced by universities, resulting to an increase in rates of unemployment and underemployment. Students taking up agriculture bear with people taunting them: mannalon ka la ngaruden, agriculture pay laeng ti innalam! They remain undistracted, however, as many of them have their dreamy eyes set, not in our own land, but elsewhere greener, like New Zealand. Meanwhile, queues for affordable rice now reach scandalous lengths.

In sociology, structural functionalist theory explains social stratification by assuming that positions essential to society’s survival are awarded more than those that are not as important. Of course, the “important” positions’ higher remuneration and prestige are justified by the long formal training and the skills acquired in the process. In this perspective, the lifetime training of farmers does not count because they don’t get any diploma for it. That small farmers are important for the population to survive is taken for granted, especially now that agriculture has become the milking cow of manipulative multinational firms.

In an attempt to convince his people that farming is a good a profession as medicine, Rizal himself became a farmer in Dapitan. Writing to his sister, Lucia, our national hero remarked: “We cannot all be doctors, it is necessary that there would be some who would cultivate the soil.” But who can blame farmers who wish they could do something else? Much is to be desired from government and society at large. While it is true, for example, that the prices of farm produce have skyrocketed, so have the costs of plant inputs. Hence, many farmers are buried in debt even as the “fertilizer scam” remains unresolved and is doomed, as many other scandals are, to be forgotten. The recent distribution of free sacks of fertilizers to farmers may sound commendable, but it is just another band-aid solution in the absence of a well-implemented and sustainable program to alleviate the plight of the mannalon.

When I left Agunit and went home to my place in the city, I felt a vacuum inside me. Aside from the breathtaking sights and subtle sounds of the fields, there were much more to my enchantment. I was drawn to the farm folks’ solidarity with nature, their spartan way of life, and their ability to appreciate the simple joys brought by simple things. I witnessed how members of farming families are tightly knit, how their neighbors are treated as family, and how belief in an unseen God is manifested in their day-to-day attempt at co-creation.

I went to Agunit so secure of myself, but left the place humbled at how little I knew about the more basic things in life. Unlike farm kids who, by taking care of animals and helping out in the paddies, have developed a sense of responsibility and stewardship early on, I was the bratty type of child. Our family has always had househelps who made life easier for us. Our domestic comforts, quite ironically, are brought by folks who come from agricultural families not as fortunate as Tata Pascual’s. Now in her fifties, Manang Glory, wife of a tobacco farmer, works in our household so she can help send her children to school.

With reasons now more personal than professional, I have included in my lifetime’s to-do list working as a full-time farmer, even just for an entire season. As an apprentice, I want to experience all the processes from pre-planting to post-harvest, and feel both the joy and despair that go with transforming nature and being transformed by it in turn. An employee under the tyranny of the Bundy clock, I am not sure how this can be possible. But just as a farmer has faith that the seeds will fertilize, I have high hopes this dream will happen in time. While most academics aspire for scholarships in top universities, I yearn for a semester or two in the farm. Hopefully, in my next visit, the Daguros would let me dirty my hands, and not pamper me the way they did during my first sojourn.

As I nurture this agricultural dream, news are abound that two monuments of materialism will be built in this province known for her people’s frugality and hard work. One mall will rise in the flourishing town of St. Nick while the other will be built in the middle of Laoag City, posing threats of more traffic, pollution, and an empty lifestyle—banes of urban life that Agunit folks are lucky to be spared from.

Each one of us is said to have a rightful place under the sun. I found mine inside the classroom, Tata Pascual found his in paradise. My classroom, however, need not always be four-walled, and I need not always be the teacher. ###

(herdiology@yahoo.com)

The Ilocos Times

A member of the Philiippine Press Institute, The Ilocos Times is the longest running community newspaper edited and published in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, Philippines over the past 46 years.

The paper was founded in 1920 although it came out irregularly until 1957 when it became a weekly with 90% English and 10% Iluko, the vernacular of Northern Luzon, Philippines.
The Ilocos Publishing Corporation, a family-owned entity having its own commercial printing facilities, publishes the paper.

The Website Edition (http://www.ilocostimes.com/) was constructed on October 2000 primarily aimed at catering to the local news and information needs of Ilocos Norte natives and other Ilocanos living abroad.