Now, the book

“Since reading Herdz’s 2000 essay on the problem of being ‘Filipino,’ I knew that a progressive radical writer was in the making, someone who would challenge the herd mentality of our time. The essays in this volume attest to a worthy successor of the great subversive Filipino intellectual, Isabelo de los Reyes, also nurtured in Herdz’s homeground. Accessible and provocative, Herdz’s writing is sure to blast open closed minds to the winds of change.  I welcome Yumul’s intervention into the bloody arena of our society undergoing tumultuous upheavals, hopefully advancing toward the day of national-democratic liberation.”  E. San Juan, Jr., Social Philosopher

Herdy Yumul  was one of my students—he is bright, brooding, and sensitive. I can assure you that he is not a fool.  I am glad we have young people like him who can write with tremendous courage. We may disagree with him, but we cannot fault the depth of his feelings.

Is this how we train budding sociologists in UP?  We train our students to be critical of their surroundings as well as to be responsible for their actions.  We want them to live with hope rather than wallow in despair.  If the boldness of our ideas is what it takes to remain hopeful, then I would encourage it – as I would encourage you very much to engage Herdy Yumul’s insights into the Filipino condition.  Randy David, Sociologist

Naghagis si Herdy Yumul ng tanong na ayaw marinig ng lahat.  Nag-umpisa sa isang article sa dyaryo, umikot sa Internet, umabot sa isang programa sa TV, at ngayon nasa libro. Binagabag ng simpleng tanong ang mga Pilipino.  Baka gusto mo ring itanong sa sarili mo.  Bob Ong, author, Bakit Baligtad Magbasa ng Libro ang mga Pilipino?

Komiks at mga tabloid lang dati ang binabasa ko, pero nang makabasa ako ng essay ni Herdy La. Yumul, naging fan niya ako kaagad. Seryoso ang mga topic niya pero nakakaaliw ang pagtatalakay.  Malalim ang mga kaisipan ngunit simple ang lenggwahe. Hindi man mataas ang pinag-aralan mo, puwede mo siyang basahin. Mararamdaman mong may paggalang at malasakit siya sa’yo. Para lang siyang nakikipagkuwentuhan sa isang kaibigan.  Feeling ko nga, bespren ko na siya.  Boy de Jesus, security guard

Herdy fits into the whole continuum from cool as in “Provincial Bliss” where he details his decision to come home to Ilocos, to furious as in “Brilliant Agca, Stupid Quezon” where he rescues a fledgling affronted.  Straightforward and unabashed, he shows unflinching courage to challenge authority and conventions, but within the parameters of dignity and taste.  The motorcycling Herdy with the mandatory helmet has, in the past ten years, hit the road to becoming the young Ilokano blood who wields trilingual writing prowess and finesse.  With The He(a)rd Mentality, he arrives, and with much success.  Alegria Tan Visaya, Chief, Center for Ilokano-Amianan Studies, Mariano Marcos State University

He was not simply teaching you the works of his idols, he was showing you what he thought about them. He was not only asking you questions on how much you know about the topic, but he also wanted to see how much you’ve thought about it. He thrived on thoughts and ideas, not only those of his inception, but also from everyone around him. He magnifies even the simplest of ideas, scrutinizes it, then arpeggiates it to the point where all nuances are validated or rejected, never shelved. That is his profound effect on me. That is the power the immutable Sir Herdy so generously brings to the He(a)rd.  Marc delos Reyes, an “immensely cheesy, beer-loving” former student of La. Yumul

I first took note of Herdy Yumul when someone forwarded a blog he wrote for the Internet, questioning the value of being a Filipino, and the logic of believing in God.  I was fascinated by the way he wrote, having journeyed along the same path during the early course of my life.  In a way I considered him a twin-soul.  Of him may be said, as Carlos P. Romulo once said of me when I was his age, “In the manner of the celebrated dramatist, Eugene Ionesco, he does not stop asking questions, a supreme quality which is characteristic of an engaging and living mind.  And in the questions he asks, we are able to perceive the glimmer of the significance of the human effort in our own society and time.”

I valued the quality of his mind enough to devote a series of broadcasts to answer the questions he asked, all in all, in 24 pages of text and three weeks of daily broadcasts on radio DWBR-fm and television UNTV, recently included in Chapter 8 of my latest book, Make My Day Book 25, Heaven and Hell.

I know for a fact that our dialogue which continued in subsequent telephone conversations, has profoundly influenced his mind (and mine) and made him a true believer in the destiny of the Filipino people, and in the existence and goodness of God. Hilarion “Larry” Henares, Jr., past chairman, National Museum of the Philippines

Sana’y puwede ako–at ang marami pang iba–na mag-enrol sa Herdiology–mukhang maraming mapupulot sa kursong iyon.  Jess Santiago, poet and songwriter

Yosi. Laklak. SanMig.  Epal.  Astig. Dedma.  As a Filipino living in the states for the past forty years, I would not have known what these words meant if not for one writer I have followed more than any other. Herdy Yumul—an eclectic mix of spunk and diplomacy, of the profound and of the profane—educates and reeducates me on my noble roots.  Lolita Chestnut, New Hampshire, USA

It is in his seemingly mundane everyday experiences that Herdy draws out a treasure trove of discussion points about Filipinoness. He needs no complicated quantitative analysis to draw out certain realities that make us who we are. His life is the big social experiment where what is commonsensical to many of us (in our haste to escape the moment) is magnified under his sociologist’s eye and stripped layer after layer to expose what kind of social animals we are. And in so doing, to render who he is in a dignified attempt at self-reflexivity.  Alona Ureta Guevarra, Department of English, Ateneo de Manila University

As a writer, Herdy’s loyalty is to writing itself.  The 55 essays in The He(a)rd Mentality will comfort and unsettle the author’s readers, order and re-order their beliefs and advocacies, and offer them a tentative perspective while they’re looking for one.  I expect the readers to find in his humor the highest level of thinking (In Herdy’s San Beda College it was called philosophizing) that is written in excellent prose.  Jose Ma. Arcadio Malbarosa, Department of Political Science, De La Salle University

Pinilit ako ng mga magulang ko na mag-enrol ng Nursing.  Ayaw ko talaga ng kursong ‘yun pero wala akong magawa.  Naging magulo ang utak ko at tinangka ko pang magpakamatay. Nu’ng mabasa ko ang mga sanaysay ni Sir Herdy, nabigyan ako ng lakas at pag-asa, sinunod ko ang tibok ng aking puso at nagpasyang maging malaya.  Naglayas ako at pumasok sa isang paaralan ng musika.  Op kors, nagalit at nag-alala sina ermats, pero naunawaan din nila ako, at ibinilhan pa nila ako ng astig na gitara. Sana’y marami pang mga kabataang tulad ko ang maalalayan ni Sir Herdy, and idolo kong bagama’t hindi tumutugtog, ay isang tunay na rakista.   Power to the pipol, mga kuto!  Rock and roll!  Vincent Jose, Musikero

Studies for our book cover

Here are nine studies finely crafted by fabulous Ianree B. Raquel for our book cover.

Would appreciate your inputs, folks.  Let’s please choose one.

Book

I FINALLY agreed, dear karikna, to pursue what well-meaning friends and readers have been prodding me to do:  write a book.

I made the decision the other week when I opened our refrigerator and saw my newspaper column wrapped around a bundle of Saluyot.  I asked mom why, she said it was, anyway, from an old issue.

Even with the amounts of time, and energy, and sanity that go with writing a regular weekly column, I have always known that yesterday’s paper is today’s junk, and there was no way I would have been so sensitive and felt offended.  Still, not unlike in a melodramatic soap opera, memories came flashing back because of that incident.  I remembered how many hours of sleep I missed to meet deadlines.  The cups of coffee downed, and the many bottles of SanMig Light I gulped to reward myself for articles that I was particularly happy with.

I recalled one time when I hit the keyboard while a nasty typhoon pounded the city.  Because my laptop ran only on battery, I had to adjust the screen to its dimmest, and to my eyes’ protestations, so that the power would last.  And then there were times when internet access would be faulty, and, aboard my good old bicycle, I would brave the rains or the scorching heat, to find a computer shop with a working connection so I can transmit my work.

But the most difficult part lies in determining what to write.  There were countless moments when I would stare blankly on the screen, trying to balance, not with ease, the varying interests of a wide range of readers.  There are those who would complain when I write about local issues, which they cannot relate to because they are not from Ilocos.  But then, how could I be significant as a writer if my essays are so not-here?  I see things in the locality, and I get affected by issues in the community.  How can I not write about them?

The big challenge, I realized, is in striking a balance, a synthesis.  The order of the day is to show how the issues we face as Ilocanos are  not remote and isolated, but are rather inevitably linked with the struggles of the Filipino people, and with the sojourn of humankind. Continue reading “Book”

When I die

I was motorbiking at Rizal St. in Laoag when I passed by this funeral carriage infront of the Aglipayan church.  Although the sun was sizzling hot, I just had to go back and take a pic of it.  I want to be in that vehicle when they bring me to to my grave.

I hope you do not find it morbid, karikna.  Death, they say, is the only sure thing in life.  While no politician is assured to win the election (unless unopposed), everybody is bound to die sooner or later.

When I die, I do not want any of those bands which will destroy the solemnity of my wake and burial.  Some bands even perform green, sex-laden songs during ‘last nights’ would you believe?  One song they performed at a wake I attended goes, “Sisid marino, naglaing toy nobyok, iyunana toy baba santo ngumato. (Marine dive. My boyfriend is so good, he starts down below then works his way up).

I also do not want those annoying speakers playing religious songs at my funeral march, I would have had enough of noise during election periods when I was alive.

My remains I pray brought directly to the cemetery, no stopovers at the church.  I would not want to make the church richer by my death.

I want all the Ilocano rituals and practices for the dead observed.  And please don’t call Atong King, no gambling please.

Continue reading “When I die”

Seeing through the poverty line

(This is an article written by Stanley Palisada of ABS-CBN.  Your karikna was interviewed as one of six resource persons across the nation.)

MANY FILIPINOS are really sick and tired of being poor in pocket, in spirit and in association. Presidential aspirants spouting off promises to end poverty should think twice about using campaign lines that patronize Filipino misery. To a growing number of voters, such a campaign is insulting and debasing, to say the least.

Beyond sympathy for the poor or association with poverty, provincial voters now look for substance from their candidates.

“Think twice,” says U.P. Visayas Political Science Professor Joseph Loot, who believes promises to ease poverty and coming up with concrete solutions to eradicate poverty are like night and day and provincial voters know the difference.

“Our candidates just keep filibustering on poverty but they are not acting on it,” says Loot. “None of the presidential or vice presidential candidates have really addressed it.”

Although we have not fully matured as an electorate, it now takes more than a promise to end poverty to get the votes. Poverty as a campaign thrust may even be a futile advertising exercise because voters already know that many of today’s presidential aspirants do not have a track record of alleviating poverty while they were senators or congressmen. “We’re basically looking at the same dogs wearing different collars,” says Loot.

Candidates have to come up with a better campaign line, especially those seeking re-election or aspiring for the presidency. Whatever it is– it should be refreshing and unique, if they are to spark renewed interest among the provincial electorate. Continue reading “Seeing through the poverty line”

Who is Bob Ong?

bakit-baliktad To say I have been asked this question over a thousand times is not an excess.

Eight years ago, the writer sent me an e-mail asking for my permission for the inclusion of one of my essays in a book project he was working on.

I said, “yes, go ahead”.  I was not aware then how big he was in the Internet and how phenomenal his first book, ABNKKBSNPLAko?!, has turned out.

Bob Ong was so thankful.  He said he had long been looking for me.

A couple of months after, BO e-mailed again to inform me that his book has been published.  He invited me to get my complimentary copy, and the rest is history.

“Sino ba talaga si Bob Ong?”, I always see a sparkle in the eyes of those who ask.   Continue reading “Who is Bob Ong?”

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”

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?’”

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. ##

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)