Sunday, May 31, 2009

Thoughts on going 46

Tomorrow, if the weather permits, I will be marking my forty and six summers in this war-prone, disease-stricken, poverty-ravaged Earth.

I will, if my stars don’t collide with each other—and if the Great Hand that hang them in the skies desires—still continue to be a witness to the beauty of God’s creation, notwithstanding the economic devastation wrought by the global financial crisis man-made by the Americans and the political confusion in my country aggravated by the idiotic and selfish ambitions of our purported leaders.

Birthdays, I suppose, however, are neutral and do not concern themselves with the politics or economic condition of the moment, but still, one cannot—and should not—withhold making known his views or comments about the general situation obtaining in his land of birth, particularly if that land is being torn apart by the dogs.

For this is what is happening in the land of which I am a citizen. One will say it may not be appropriate to make such an observation on the eve of one’s birthday, first, because such occasion generally should prompt a celebration; and second, one should ‘grow’ with age.


However, this orthodox thinking could only be true in a normally perfect world. Alas, our world is a badly-bruised world, hurting from a self-inflicted wound that pesters every passing day, birthday or no birthday.

Also, in my lexicon, birthdays are quiet rather than celebratory moments. As to ‘growing’ with age, because of my experiences, the wide-eyed discoveries, and the daily battles I have to wage and fight as a human creation, I have only become acutely, sharply aware that my life—borrowed as it is—must be lived in a way that it serves a purpose.

That purpose has been quite well-defined from the time Fate decreed that I should be a writer.

I can’t tell when that decree was issued. Memory has many twists and turns. Hazy, like cigarette smoke: now in writing my uncomplaining companion together with a cup of coffee, another docile friend.

Was it thirty years ago when, in high school, I began to scribble verses of poetry to impress the young girls in my class? Or was it only when I discovered that words, properly appropriated, sing together to produce a coherent idea that serves to provoke a whole range of emotions?

I am not sure. What is certain is that even if no one thinks of my birthday, the world’s problems and such unresolved questions of injustice, poverty, war and nuclear proliferation, environmental destruction, and graft and corruption in high and low places, will still be here.

Here. With us. Our twin.

I have read someone said that the world’s greatest and minutest problems have already been solved, and that the burden is to find where those solutions are.

This burden fully occupies me today. It is the burden that every pedestrian has to bear everytime he inhales the fumes that pollute every street corner of our cities. The same burden that the next president, whoever she or he is, will realize to be bigger than his or her campaign promises—and ambition; a burden that every birthday celebrant discovers after blowing out the candle on the cake, after the last guest has left, and after the last of the cutlery is cleaned and kept for use in next year’s celebration.

Nervous by nature, I felt that time is closing in on us, the inhabitants of a temporary habitat, that soon if not sooner, we shall be made to account for the singular sin of allowing our planet to degenerate into an inhospitable place.

This thought is mortifying. And why is that? Why would one entertain the morbid idea, and on the eve of his birthday at that, that because of man’s folly, we may soon have no place to carry out our self-destructive play? That soon, we may never have birthday celebrations?

The signs are there. Whether it’s the sea tide now rising to occupy once-before dry land in Sibale, or the fickle weather, or the drug-induced rapes and murders, or the squabbling that marks our politics, the signs point to the direction we are heading: Exit.

This is the world we have on the eve of my birthday. So what?

Over breakfast on his 75th birthday, I asked the late Blas F. Ople, then a senator, what he felt about reaching such a ripe and productive age. He paused, sipped his coffee, inhaled deep a cigarette smoke, and said: “Nicon, I have no regrets at all. I think all my decisions in life at the time I made them were right”.

What quarrel can I—Ople’s disciple—have with that statement?

And so, I resolved there and then to make sure that regret, if ever I come to the point of doing such, will be on the context of having made a right decision.

Capturing in writing these personal thoughts on the eve of my birthday may be a vain but, to me, a right step.

There are light, happy moments, alright. Last Thursday, my nieces and a nephew surprised me with a serenade barely a full week before my birthday. The occasion was our family’s get-together which the wife planned and which we held at a hot spring somewhere in the bowels of Mt. Makiling.

My brothers and sisters, except Erel who had gone ahead to her Creator two years ago, were there. My father, now 72 and hurting from arthritis, and my mother, 71 and with failing eyesight, were of course the ‘why’ of the reunion and were there, at the center table, happy but in deep thoughts. My big family being Seventh-Day Adventists, they prepared a program of which the serenade to me was a part. It was captured on-cam.

I can’t count my blessings. But if I were to account for every gift I have received during my four-decades-and-counting of existence in this universe, I’d say that the gifts of life in the persons of Lara and Lilac, my two beautiful and intelligent daughters, would be the ones I will certainly—and hope to—freshly unwrap every waking hour and every morning as I prepare myself for my daily battles.

I now write solely for them, believing that through what I write, the earth would become a little better place to live.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

In bed with Boredom, I licked Writer’s Block

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Concerto No. 21 is playing andante at YouTube while I am wrestling with two demons over what to write.

I am sitting in front of my computer, shirtless because of the heat, wiping off my brow then and now the sweat that, left on its own devices, would moist my eyes and clog the vision. Upstairs, Lara and Lilac are switching television channels. Their mother, I think, is asleep. It is a gloomy Sunday evening, with no promise of a tidy—even happy—Monday.

It is towards the end of May; summer is a memory; and the rains have come, but when it comes to what to write, I am predisposed to think that writing does not concern itself at all with the seasons.

There is one thing certain: the wedding month is on the verge of not letting the flower month complete itself, yet I still have to see my favorite flowers—rosal and ponograpo—which at this time of the year are in full bloom in Masudsud. That’s in faraway Sibale.

I think of Flores de Mayo and the nightly dances that signal summer’s exit; of the yinumakang pinungo splattered with blobs of margarine; and of the tinuyang pakoy from the patikyar it bobo that feeds the people of the whole village. I feel a certain kind of hunger that memory aggravates but cannot alleviate.

I don’t feel good. I’m missing something I don’t know what. The body to which the head and hands and feet are attached seemed to complain of tiredness. Inside is a murmur, heard through aching limbs and the smoker’s cough, telling me I should lie down. Rest. To this murmur, however, the writing mind disagrees. I have to write. Tony Macalisang, my publisher, is calling.

But what to write? That’s a question I always ask myself when a visitor, known in the village as Writer’s Block, comes through my front door without advance notice, not even the courtesy of a knock. No, I think she—my unwelcome guest is a female—comes through the window.

She came tonight, this familiar visitor. I quickly offered her coffee and biscuits hoping she would as just quickly leave to visit other writers, but she refused my hospitality and indicated she would stay by sitting right up on the edge of my writing table. I think she likes to watch me not able to write, delights in my torment of not being able to summon the usual companions in bed—the Words that are my truest friends.

Because she was adamant to leave, I ended up drinking the coffee and eating the biscuits that were for her. She tried to throw me off balance and out of focus by simply being there, intently eyeing me as I sit wordless—and thus, motionless—for what seemed an eternity in front of a blank, white screen whose only sign of life was the blinking bar for a writing guide. Her throwing me furtive glances forced sweat to form in my forehead and eyebrows. Her gaze was steady and penetrating. And I have nothing to write.

Over her long, unwanted presence, I had to put up with another visitor—his name is Boredom—by snatching Nadine Gordimer from the shelf and leafing through her essays collectively called “Living in Hope and History”.

Boredom is husband to Writer’s Block. The couple unsettles the writer and is happy to see him, well, unsettled.

If Boredom sends the writer—and the non-writers—to suffer bouts of restlessness, Writer’s Block renders him impotent. Their capability to spring surprise—coming as they do in unholy hours, when no one is looking, and when the mind is idle and therefore fertile to temptation, is one of those hazards writers try very hard to avoid, but nevertheless, face every day. In fact, every writing day.

Their power does not so much lie in their ability to stall the creative process as to their persistent effort to blunt the imagination, thereby stanching the flow of creative juices that is the writer’s elixir. Stalled and deprived of the power to imagine, the writer suffers from temporary paralysis. Writer’s Block and Boredom succeeding means they are able to transport the writer at will to a state of utter uselessness. If the writer succumbs, he is dead—as a writer.

Having arrived at this terrible conclusion, and fearing for the occurrence of such a debilitating condition, I tried to keep my eyes open, awake, by reading. Writer’s Block’s enticing proposition not to write and Boredom’s delectable allusion to happiness derived from being restless have an antidote: books.

Books inside whose pages are words that have been formed when Boredom and Writer's Block were not around, perhaps because they were visiting other writers’ houses. Paragpraphs after paragraphs of words that have flowed out of the imagination that the husband-and-wife team, helpless when the writer decides to write, was unable to stanch because the writer at the time of the creation of such words, such paragraphs, was more powerful—and wilful.

Unburdened and un-distracted by the presence of the team, he proceeds to the task, slowly at first, but determined and forceful until such time that he is unable to restrain himself because the dictates of the imagination was so overpowering that to stop now, here, will secede to the team a territory larger than the edge of the writing table they now occupy.

“In the beginning was the Word. “The Word was with God, signified God’s Word, the word that was Creation.”

Nadine Gordimer’s.

And that’s how I licked the demons called Boredom and Writer’s Block.

I began with a word. Word after word, paragraph after paragraph, until I get here, the end of this piece, when I decided to follow Jean Paul Sartre’s admonition that a writer should sometimes cease to write. For now.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Perversity for posterity

The uproar over the sex video tape involving a famous doctor and an equally famous film and television personality, who is known more for her voluptuous body rather than for her acting talents, had me scampering for the safety of Gunter Grass, the German Nobel literature laureate who, in his memoirs, “Peeling the Onion”, was so candid, literate and poetic about sex as a personal experience.

In this book, Grass described the need for sexual satisfaction as the second of three kinds of hunger, the first being the hunger for food and the third, the hunger for self-expression: one’s art.

As a World War II prisoner-of-war, he not only experienced severe hunger at the camps, but also, as a 17-year old, longed to satisfy his—which is mankind’s—desire for sexual intercourse, a most natural requirement for the preservation of the human race.

Describing his first sexual experience with a peasant woman’s sister-in-law, on a haystack along the road to a train station, Grass writes:

“Of course, the hay smelled sweet beyond compare. As I was too eager, because starved, she had to teach me not to rush, not to buck, to use my fingers, use them all and gently, the way she did. There was so much to discover. Moist and fathomless. All there, waiting to be touched. Soft and round. Yielding. The noises, the animal sounds we made.”

From a master story teller, this written description of the human act of copulation is so profound, so evocative, and so emotionally powerful that one can only ask if Haydn Kho, the doctor being accused of spreading in cyber space the visual record of his sexual conquests—three videos are circulating—so done in poor taste, is illiterate? Or a man with a twisted sense of pride?

Deranged is a more accurate description of the mind of the person who recorded the sexual tryst between Kho and Halili and a commercial model and another nymphet and . . . . The Philippine Daily Inquirer headlined that Kho has 40 videos of such perversity.

Yes, perversity because there is no word more apt to describe Kho’s libertine act of surreptitiously filming his inability to keep under the lid his libido and the sexual starvation of his partners who now, after realizing the magnitude of the viewers of their encounter in bed, and therefore, the magnitude of shame the videos must have inflicted on their persons, are crying “Wolf!” They said they were victims.

I agree. They were victims of their own naiveté; of their own hunger and insatiable appetite for sex that, naturally, relieves them of their body heat.

Ramon Revilla, Jr., an actor before he became a senator and whose sympathies unmistakably lie with Halili, said in a privilege speech that Kho is a pervert of the highest kind.

Of the highest kind? Is there a pervert of the lowest kind? What elevated Kho to that pedestal? Is it because Kho and his “victims” in the controversial videos are famous and moneyed? What are we to make of the drug-crazed ordinary mortals who record in videos their sexual drunkenness and peddle these in cyberspace? They are perverts of the lowest rank?

If Revilla has judged Kho as a pervert, then he is a pervert. Period. No wordy appendages to his name or adjectival narration of his action are necessary to illuminate us on what he did, which are graphic, yes, but neither poetic nor literate. One cannot call films of sexual moans and grunts signs of literacy.

And this is what I am driving at. This is not the first time, and certainly not the last, that a sexual video has whipped up a furor. Revilla knew that. The newspapers who feasted on the news because it was so commercially profitable knew that. We all knew that.

So, why are we so agitated? Why the extraordinary verbal nausea that, if it was water, could have already drowned Kho? Why the media frenzy about so basic a human act as tangling and entangling in bed? Was it because of envy that Kho had the gambler’s luck to conquer in bed so many women? Was it because the videos were grainy and the sound of poor quality that the shrieks and the animal sounds were barely audible?

It’s none of the above. The reason for the heat that the Kho videos generated is simply hypocrisy. Come on. Don’t peddle the moral angle because it will not wash. Philippine society’s sense of balance is so warped that it notices the speck of dust in other people’s faces, but completely ignores the mote in its own eyes.

If this is untrue, then, go to the Internet porn sites and see for yourself how Filipino women are being treated as sexual merchandise; see how the word Filipina, Bocaue, Manila, MILF, etc. are being equated with women cavorting in bed with lights and camera on.

Why hasn’t anyone raised hackles about this perversity of the “highest kind” which are present in many Filipino homes’ living rooms through the power of the Internet? Can Ramon Revilla and those who sympathize with Kho’s “victims” do something about this? Why single out Kho when he has millions of perverts in company stomping on unguarded grounds and preying on unsuspected women with their video cameras?

I sympathize less with Halili et al than with those whose privacy in their sexual feasts have been violated, but which violation—the invasion of privacy—had not been taken up as a cause by the moralists and non-perverts simply because they didn’t have a name; didn't have the money; and certainly, didn’t have a media to scream to their story.

But this isn’t a problem at all. Time is a great equalizer. In the next few weeks, we will all forget about Kho and his sex videos; forget Halili et al and their bed acrobatics; treat the episode as a normal course of business, for isn’t sex a normal habit like brushing one’s teeth? I am sure that in the future, we will remember this brouhaha as if it was just like a mosquito bite. A minor, but nonetheless valuable, distraction. For all we know, Kho had served us a plate: one full of perversity which could be a mirror for posterity.

I’ll go back to Gunther Grass.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Katipon and ayadon as strategies for development

One of the Philippines’s most well-known traditions is the bayanihan, which many painters have depicted in canvass in the form of a nipa hut being moved from one place to another, on the shoulders of a group of people working in harmony and unison.

This image of the tradition is what is etched in many Filipinos’—and foreigners’—minds, in addition to that of another kind of bayanihan—the one that’s the name of a Filipino group, the Bayanihan Dancers, famous for their artistic rendition of traditional dances.

Bayanihan has become rare, been lost. Nowadays, nobody relocates their houses anymore, perhaps for lack of relocation sites. Land has become scarce and besides, many houses are already built of concrete.

So, the tradition has died, but the word, or its spirit, has gotten another meaning, which is what remains. Bayanihan has evolved to mean neighborly cooperation, a demonstration of communal unity.

Bayanihan as a tradition of the Tagalogs has a strict purpose: to remove and relocate a house.

To the Asi, the bayanihan’s equivalent—the katipon and its twin, the ayadon—however, meant more than relocating a house. They mean getting the work done gaily and quickly through voluntary cooperation.

The katipon is an old Asi tradition. It involves calling the people to assemble in a certain day of the week, usually a Saturday or Sunday, to work together on a certain project, a building maybe, or a seawall, or a bridge.

Katipon is a noun formed from the prefix ka- which is the equivalent of the English article ‘the’ and the word tipon, interchangeably used in the Asi language as a transitive verb or an adjective. It means ‘gather’. Thus, literally, katipon means ‘the gathering’.

Like in the bayanihan, volunteers in a katipon are not paid, but they are fed. Like in the bayanihan, the atmosphere in a katipon is fiesta-like.

In Sibale, one of the most notable infrastructures built through katipon is the Sibale Academy, a private high school founded in 1964.

Some other landmarks in the island built through this voluntary cooperative tradition have already been destroyed, but those islanders who participated in the katipon when these landmarks were erected recall with a sense of pride and melancholy that the tradition is the highest expression of Sibalenhon unity. I agree.

The ayadon is another cooperative tradition, but smaller in scale. It developed from the philosophy that the Asi hates to be alone and prefers to work in company with others. Through ayadon, getting the work done, such as weeding out the farm, or building a house, could be much easier, quicker and less tedious for in this tradition labor is shared and volunteered.

Thus, in ayadon, an Asi would work in the farm of a neighbor and get paid in return by that neighbor also working in his farm after. It’s a kind of ‘work-for-work’ arrangement that the Sibalenhons have found not only to be efficient and fun, but also rewarding.

Neighborliness, friendships, and camaraderie are the instant benefits derived from these two ancient traditions. In the long term, katipon and ayadon instill cultural pride and reinforce the Sibalenhons’ roots and identity as Asi.

Now, while the bayanihan tradition may have been relegated to memory, katipon and ayadon are seeing a revival—resurgence, if you will—thanks to the effort of Sibale’s mayor, Lemuel Cipriano, to employ these traditions as major tools of development.

Do I see katipon and ayadon incorporated as strategies in the country’s Medium-Term Development Plan? Why not?

Cipriano, who does his work without fanfare but with maximum effect, has been conscious since day one of his election about the positive impact of communal unity and cooperation, and had been at pains on how to harness the Sibalenhons’ talents to push to a higher level their economic situation.

Shortly after Typhoon Frank devastated Sibale in June 2008, Cipriano, realizing the enormity of the challenge to quickly restore lost agricultural productivity and repair damaged infrastructure, did something that many local officials in Romblon hadn’t have the slightest idea of doing. He summoned the Sibalenhons’ communal spirit and rallied them to contribute their share in rebuilding the typhoon-ravaged island through the old tradition of katipon, albeit in a modified form.

“Instead of complaining while waiting for promises of assistance,” he writes, “the people of Sibale, ever resilient and resourceful, took the initiative by themselves in partially rebuilding their houses using available local materials.”

Cipriano’s practical values and serious work ethic led him to successfully implement a Food-for-Work Program. The program involved the distribution of food packs donated by San Miguel Corporation, matched in kind by the local government unit, to the Sibalenhons who volunteered to rehabilitate damaged electricity lines, repair houses, rebuild washed-out roads, clean-up coastal areas, and replant mangroves, fruit trees, coconuts, bananas and other crops.

“For every food pack containing rice, sardines, noodles, cooking oil, and laundry bar, we required the recipient to plant a minimum of ten coconut seedlings and 20 banana tubers in their own land,” he reported to the regional office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

“But most of them planted more than the minimum, and even today, they continue to plant not only coconuts and bananas but other crops as well,” the mayor added.

What caused the Sibalenhons’ sudden, mad-like fascination for planting? I guess it’s because they had been handed a tool to do it. “Empowered,” as the mayor says. Cipriano, early in his term, distributed hundreds of suyot, the Asi word for trowel, to the people. He is Sibale’s Suyot King and this title has a positive connotation. I love it. The Suyot King is over-matched to, say, a Huyot Queen. Any Asi would understand what I mean.

Through the months of July to September, the people, led by their hardworking chief executive, labored to get back Sibale back on its feet. The result was nothing short of a miracle. The Food-for-Work Program saw 7,000 coconuts and 14,000 banana tubers planted, apart from leading to the full rehabilitation of the island.

Mayor Cipriano’s estimates, however, are higher. “I think we have planted 10,000 coconuts and 20,000 bananas all over the island,” he said.

The Egyptians built their pyramids by holding slaves under the control of the whip. The Chinese erected the Great Wall through forced labor; the Aztecs, their Templo Mayor at Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, through thousands of lives offered to the Aztec gods. The Spaniards sustained the Galleon Trade by building ships through the indentured polo, another form of forced labor.

The Sibalenhons are building their economy through the katipon and ayadon, and they’re having some fun.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Wonder of wonders! I don't miss Mabel

It’s been a week since Mabel Sun Fon eloped with a grumpy taxi driver.

She was Chinese; the driver, Filipino. I’m already making a guess what nationality the law might bestow their offspring if their unplanned union is blessed: Tsinoy ringtone, if there is such a thing.

Also, their relationship will not last. You see, I was with Mabel when she ran away with the guy who I saw has another Mabel. It was a Nokia 1200. Nagpapamaroto sa ruhang suba.

A week is too short a time to erase from memory the good times Mabel and I had when we were still together. Our MU, I’d like you to know, went for over a year, and I am sure that if she can only express her mind she will say the same. She’s gone, though, and I also wonder if the driver is treating her well. Or has he sold her? Has he bartered her for a hipper version? I don’t know.

Honestly, my despair at Mabel’s disappearance lasted for only a day. I told myself: “Hey, Kulas, life doesn’t revolve around only one Mabel. They are aplenty in Quiapo and in Greenhills. In fact, with a slightly bigger budget, you can acquire a sexier replacement.”

Of course, I refused to give in to the temptation of replacing Mabel. I mean, I will dishonor her memory if I get another ‘companion’ even while the nine-day period of mourning hasn’t yet passed. “Give me time to grieve,” my right ear lobe excoriated the temptation of the left.

So, I have not replaced Mabel. I hope she knew of and appreciate my dogged loyalty to her.

Meanwhile, with her permanent absence, I reverted to using the old, reliable fixed-line phone in the office. I said “old” because I think this gadget has seen better days since its introduction during “pistaym”. That was, when, during the American Occupation?

You know how this phone looks. It’s big. It’s black like a crow, and it’s connected to a wall by a telephone wire that could strangle you if you are lying to the person you are talking with on the other end.

This fixed-line telephone is so unlike Mabel. It throws tantrums every now and then, just like today when I called up a friend and the gadget simply refused to cooperate. When I raised it and dialed the number, initially, I heard it sneeze. Z . . . z. . . z . . . z. No dial tone.

I tinkered with the wire attached to the phone’s butt and found it loose. I tightened it shut and dialed again. Still, I didn’t hear a sound except for a light, subdued sneeze. My phone has a cold, I thought.

I went to the wall where a small triangular cream box houses the other end of the wire joined to a much fatter wire which runs to thousands of kilometer—underground and above ground—all over Metro Manila and its suburbs. Nothing’s wrong there as far as my non-technical eye can see. I just fingered it.

And again, I dialed. It worked this time and I heard the phone’s friend was ringing. A hand picked it up. I said, “Hello . . . can I please . . . .”

The mouth of the body to which the hand was attached, responded, “Hello . . . sorry. Wrong number.” and slammed the phone down. Click.

Is there a ‘wrong’ number? I wanted to know because if there is, then we should avoid using that ‘wrong’ number.

(Later in the evening, I asked my daughter Lilac, the mathematician in the house, who said there is none as all numbers, except zero, are perfect. “But there’s such a thing as “not the number of your friend,” she told me. I am old. I remember that I dialed the number of the electric company.)

I finally got a connection after much struggle. Oh, I almost forgot to say that while I was talking to my friend, there were intermittent voices that crossed our line and distracted our conversation.

A voice I heard said, “Maligo ka na. Parating na ako,” while another was, I think, a bettor shouting to a collector: “Todohan mo na si Angela’s Star”, obviously a horse’s name.

Mabel did not do this to me: crossing and interrupting my phone conversation with static and garbage talk. This fixed-line phone, however, just did that I wondered if I have an unsettled debt with the telephone company that it decided to terrorize me.

Now I have recovered from the initial shock of being abandoned by a mobile phone.

In fact, apart from freeing my hands for other not-so-mundane chores (it’s only now the ubiquitous cigarette, lighter and writing pen that my hands are fumbling with), Mabel’s departure forces me to wake up early so I can go to the office to receive and make calls. This increased my productivity, but not the money in my wallet. Not yet. But I hope that comes soon with the savings I will earn from reduced telephone bills.

I know of some people who sleep with their mobile phones on, although they set them in silent mode. They even tuck their phones inside their underwear when going to the toilet, afraid to miss the telephone company’s constant egging for a special ring tone, or new wallpaper. That’s how inseparable humans and gadget have become, so that when someone loses a mobile phone, they can’t eat. In fact, they don’t eat at all to save money to be able to quickly buy a replacement. Slaves, these people are, of mobile phones.

In my case, even during the time that Mabel was still around, I didn’t bring her everywhere; didn’t develop a special, inseparable relationship with her. For example, I turn her off in meetings, in the church, in the movie house. Perhaps, that’s why I lost her.

And perhaps why, wonder of wonders, I don’t miss her.

“Hello, Mabel. Tell your driver he can have you till hell freezes over. Isaksak ka kamo sa baga niya. Bye.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tawak in Asiland: Pre-Hispanic remedy

Until today, in Sibale, there are islanders still whose traditions, for reasons that are unexplained yet, are eradicable.

These traditions, unique as they are, persist, thrive, and continue to command grudging—and whispered—respect not so much because they make sense in a globalized world, but because no modern invention dare to question these traditions merely on account of their antiquity: they ante-date 300 years of Spanish conquest.

Ismael Fabicon, who has made it his life’s calling to bring to the surface and propagate the Banto-anons’ (I am using this collective nomenclature for the peoples of Sibale, Simara, Calatrava, Odiongan and Banton, they being one tribal nation) cultural heritage proffer a reason behind the stubborn refusal of these traditions to fade away, to be forgotten.

He says the Recollects, who were the first Spanish missionaries in Banton, allowed the Banto-anons to retain certain traditions, beliefs and practices to make it easier to convert them to Christianity.

The Banto-anons were animists, the Spaniards found out upon setting foot on the “circular and mountainous” island. They planned and risked their births, marriages and deaths not upon Fate or Chance or some Supreme Deity, but upon the rocks, the stars, the sea and land creatures and the trees that not only enlivened, but rendered, their lives useful and meaningful.

Unfortunately for the Spaniards, the Banto-anons knew their land and their culture better. I strongly suspect they wore their personality with two masks: one for the foreigners—in this case, the Recollects—and one for their daily interaction with their kin and fellow islanders.

Which of the two is the true self of the Banto-anons remains a mystery. Over time, I think, we fused the two masks, thus today, we go to Church on Sundays, but when a family member gets sick, we call on the barrio medicine man to perform the healing ritual of pangupong or bawi.

This was so true to many natives during the Spaniards’ reign. When finally they were subjugated under the policy of bajo de la campana, literally “under the church bells”, for better policing and pastoral care, the natives—ordered to build their houses on a straight path that leads directly to the public square and under the gaze and shadow of the church and convent—every year transferred their houses without prior notice farther and farther away from the poblado so they would be able to practice their animist beliefs, until such time that the Spaniards would discover a pueblo’s population to have been diminished, already gone.

This led the friars to establish the visita, a chapel in the remote sitio of the pueblo—a pursuit strategy to recover lost souls. Notwithstanding the visita, however, the natives continue to worship in their own traditional way their animist gods at night.

That the Sibalenhons of today retain in their consciousness and way of life their ancient faiths, traditions and beliefs demonstrate to a large extent the failure of the Spaniards—with their Cross, Sword, and all—to fully conquer the Asi, which is how we call now the peoples sprung from the Banto-anons.

Tawak, for example, is one such pre-Spanish healing practice that continues in Sibale. Tawak is the traditional remedy for venomous bites—snake, dog, cat, bat, centipede, or scorpion bites.

Today, one who has been bitten by a poisonous snake, for example, is injected with anti-venom, or anti-rabies shot if it’s a dog bite. But anti-venom medication was only recent. Tawak is ancient, and based on the principle of bleeding the body to get out the toxin or poison out of the system.

Modern medical science may have given us laser-guided treatments, antibiotics, or some bitter pills, but the Asi rests his faith in the potent root of the manunggay as pang-tambay or in the tawak 'medicine man', not in some white-garbed doctor with a dangling stethoscope and a prescription pad given-away by a multinational pharmaceutical company!

Tawak is not performed by just anybody. There is a tawak an expert, for the treatment involves some ancient ritual complete with indecipherable incantation. I don’t know what it is, and no one among those I have asked for this article knew either. They said it is a prayer to the ‘lord’ of the culprit that bit the victim. Do snakes have a god or gods? Or a wandering spirit?

Anyway, the tawak technique, as I said, is to extract the poison out of the body. To do the tawak, the ‘medicine man’ uses a hollowed-out carabao horn and a very sharp-edged knife.
He asks the patient or victim to lie on his back and recite his prayer or incantation. With the knife, he makes a small incision on the body part which was bitten (if the bite is fresh) and presses on the open wound the narrow point of the horn. He sucks out the venom by his lips through the horn, which has a tiny hole in it, courtesy of a pin prick. He recites some more prayers. This remains for a few minutes, until he stops and ‘decides’ that the poison, venom, or toxin, has been extracted. The victim gets well. Everybody’s happy.

There are bite-victims who do not show any symptom at once (this is true in dog bites) so they postpone seeing the tawak practitioner. They only call for a tawak treatment when the effects of the poison manifest. In such cases, the tawak practitioner makes the incision in some other parts of the body, not on the bitten part.

Such was the case of Bel, my indefatigable house help. Bel narrates that she was bitten by an amamaga, a giant, black centipede, but did not at once fell ill after she was bitten. Later, however, she complained of dizziness and a faster heartbeat. That’s when her mother called on the tawak ‘medicine man’, who performed the above healing ritual by sucking out the venom through the carabao horn from a small incision on her back. Bel has never been healthy after the tawak ‘operation’!

Doctors may scoff at this remedy, but for every medical practitioner who will say that the first aid to a snake bite is the nearest medical facility, there will be ten Sibalenhons who will swear that is preposterous because the nearest hospital to the island is two hours away on a motorized outrigger. They will say that by the time the victim reaches the hospital, he might have already turned pale-blue, or worse, died.

So, why not call the tawak man? This is what we do in Sibale and, thank good heavens, I think no one in the island has left this world for another on account that he was bitten by a rabies-infected bat, or cat, and that the medicine man who performed a tawak on him was a leech or a quack.

Because of its efficacy, the tawak is a hallowed tradition in Sibale and its practitioners are revered citizens. There is only one of them now, however, and Sibalenhons are wondering if he has an heir apparent.

Warning: the tawak is no remedy for a human bite. Call Dracula’s doctor if this happens.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The end of opinions

A friend of mine, with whom I correspond regularly even if she is not ‘here’, yesterday sent a beautiful e-mail about how to survive in this highly materialistic, knowledge-driven, information-crazed world.

You know this friend—her name is Maria—pops up every now and then to send me new discoveries. I think her work is to rummage through the earth’s rich produce of books, religious tracts, inspirational magazines, and whatever it is written, pick up what she likes and what she thinks others—including this pen-pusher—will like and sends it to them, to us, through the wonders of the Internet.

She likes to prick everybody’s conscience by her God-given talent of picking up the most relevant and thoughtful quotes or words of wisdom coming from those who have ‘it’. All for free, except that you should devote precious time reading them.

I don’t have ‘it’—the wisdom—so I relegate myself today to what she found out. Drum roll, please. It’s Pastor Rick Warren.

You don’t know the guy? He is an inspirational writer-preacher and author of the blockbuster hit, “The Purpose Driven Life”. If you don’t have a purpose, at least get a life, will you? I am joking, of course, and at the same time not joking. Go figure that out.

Warren has an advice. He got it from the Books of Books:

“My son, be warned: there is no end of opinions ready to be expressed. Studying them can go on forever and become very exhausting!" (Ecclesiastes 12:12 LB).

I am warned. This quote hit me right in my gut. It’s seemed I received a Manny Pacquiao left hook that I almost got KO’d even while I am sitting. Relevant, this biblical instruction. Listen, or rightly, read.

“We live in the Information Age, where more and more people in the labor force are becoming "knowledge workers" involved in collecting, analyzing, organizing, storing, retrieving, or communicating information.

“Getting the right information is vital to your success. But do you ever feel overwhelmed by the information you're already bombarded with each day? You have good reason: We have produced more information in the last forty years than in the previous five thousand.”

Warren did the math. He said that within the U.S. alone, 50,000 books and 10,000 magazines are published each year. Researchers and scientists, he wrote, produce 7,000 new scientific papers and the average person is confronted with about 140 advertising messages a day, or about 50,000 thousand a year. I hope Warren included in these numbers the amount of trash mail that every American gets, from collection letters to credit card flyers to tourist promos that inundate the US postal service every single day. How about the garbage that passes through the Internet?

A friend of mine, a writer who doesn’t erase a single e-mail whether it’s a spam or a condom-marketing letter (but of course, he doesn’t read them) said that it’s harmless not to touch, open, and read something you don’t like. Good point. To senders of spam, die now from irritation. At least, one person doesn’t read you.

We are slowly degenerating from pollution as much as we are violently drowning from information overload.

Here in our country, we have only, what, 30-plus newspaper dailies in Manila alone, five or six television stations, over 50 radio stations, a couple of weekly and monthly magazines, and look where we are now. We are overly opinionated but at the same time pathetically ignorant. We get our news and information from text messages and from Boy Abunda, Joey de Leon, and the politicians, not necessarily in that order.

Daily, we are bombarded by opinions from opinionated people whose opinions are opined by more opinionated people whose opinions . . . ad nauseam. Walang binatbat ang mga Amerikano sa atin. They have 50,000 books, we have Lolit Solis. Really, there seems to have no end in sight to this kind of drowning. Can we shut up, please?

Truly, we are suffering from information-fatigue. In the Senate, for example, one can ask who among the senators read the three-inch thick Senate Journal from cover to cover everyday and chances are you will get a raised eyebrow. What’s that?

“In one day, we are bombarded with more information than a typical person in the sixteenth century might have encountered in a lifetime! What's more, it's getting worse! The amount of information available to you now doubles every five years; that means five years from today, there will be twice as much known in your field as there is today,” Warren writes.

He said that Solomon, whom the Bible called the wisest man ever, understood this problem, so he gave us the above quote.

The good thing about Warren is that he does not only give you a little problem, but the big solution as well. Here are the three skills he said that we need for surviving information overload:

“You need to know what's worth knowing and what isn't. Selection is the first key to survival.” Switch off the TV, please. I am reading Gunter Grass.

“You need to understand the meaning of what you know. This comes from seeing the big picture. Perspective enables you to see how things relate.” Well, Gunter Grass says life is an onion. “The onion has many skins . . . Peeled, it renews itself; chopped, it brings tears. Only during peeling does it speaks the truth.”

“You need to know what to do with what you know.” I write about them.

“When you possess these three skills it is called having wisdom! Wisdom is even more critical to your success than knowledge. Wisdom turns information into power.”

And how do we get more wisdom?

“First, ask God for wisdom. He wants to help you: "If any of you lack wisdom, you should pray to God, who will give it to you; because God gives generously and graciously to all” (James 1:5 TEV).

“Second, read the Bible and follow God's instructions: "But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does" (James 1:25 NIV).”

Thanks, Maria, for Pastor Warren’s advice. Now, I will go get that wisdom. And tell the politicians, too.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Politics comes full circle

The Senate’s decision to start a preliminary inquiry into the complaint of unethical behavior filed by Sen. Ana Consuelo ‘Jamby’ Madrigal against Sen. Manny Villar will have deep repercussion in the 2010 national elections and in the Senate itself, which is a collegial body thriving on consensus.

Expect fireworks in the Senate next week. Further, expect the fireworks to extend to 2010. Expect bitter exchanges in the media. In the backrooms of the Senate, expect nothing but business-as-usual.

The protagonists in this political, yes, it is political, conflict are two different and differing personalities.

Villar is a consummate traditional politician who had, as his propagandists continually harass our sensibilities with, built his political and material fortune on “sipag at tiyaga” or industry and patience. My perennial texter, a rat who is identified only by number and I suspect is also a political hatchet man of some bigger rats, had sent a message that said it was not “sipag at tiyaga” that sent Villar’s star up to a steep trajectory, but “siba at taga”. You know what that means.

On the other hand, Madrigal is already “built” before she landed, head first I am afraid, in the Senate. That’s perhaps the reason she is like that, a little off-balance, throwing tantrums whenever there’s an opportunity—or a media camera—so she would make it to the evening news. She is a consummate brat, in my estimation, whose family’s eminence in industry and commerce she had capitalized to earn a name—or a moniker—depending on where you sit. Ask the Senate media about Jamby. You will find in the Senate Press Office a reporter who crumples her press releases and turn it into a ball, with the waste basket as a hoop on a gloomy Friday afternoon.

This Jamby the Senator has visited Odiongan to campaign in 2001. I remember it clearly because I was the LDP candidate then for congressman, and I organized a huge rally for the national candidates in Odiongan.

Jamby’s staff, an idiot who thought Romblomanons will do his bidding at the mere drop of Jamby’s name, delivered in my campaign headquarters several boxes of her boss’s campaign paraphernalia and asked me with not even a ‘ni ha, ni ho’ to distribute it to the voters.

I asked him: “Where is Jamby’s budget for transportation and per diem of my campaign staff?”

The idiot said: “Walang ibinigay, eh.” Just like that.

I said: “OK. Leave it here.” In my mind formed the image of a politician who had no touch with the ground realities of Philippine communal politics; one who, I thought, when in the Senate will not remember the countryside, or Odiongan for that matter.

I was correct, as Jamby herself would prove later by her actuations in the Senate, where she likes to quarrel with anybody who doesn’t kowtow to her. She didn’t even see me in my campaign headquarters while she was in Odiongan. Lacson did. Angara did. Many others did.

Pa-importante ako? I threw Jamby’s boxes of campaign paraphernalia into the sea on my way to Corcuera. She lost in the election of 2001, but won in 2007 to the great misfortune of the Filipino people. I also lost. Hah!

And now, Jamby is pitted against Villar. Villar is running for president in 2010. Jamby may have moist eyes for the highest post of the land, but she knows her limits. Capacity? I am not sure. So, she is trying to bring down Villar with the aid of her co-senators in the majority.

I am not saying that Villar should not be investigated for misbehaviour, particularly in the controversial C-5 project, and generally, in his management of the Senate when he was its president. But Jamby pushing for the investigation? I can’t believe it.

Know her record of confrontation. Know her acid exchanges with Sen. Pia Cayetano and Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, and you will see her as not as lily-white as she thinks she is. Come on, do the math and it’s easy to answer one-plus-one. It’s all politics.

What will happen to Villar after the Senate investigates him? Nothing. Will it rebuff or censure him? Expel him? Nah!

They are all just playing to the gallery their little silly games of politics.

It’s called tsubibo. Catch 22.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A letter from 'Gado'

Sometime in January, I wrote about the undelivered office uniforms of the Romblon provincial employees, which according to my source, cost P1.2 million, the amount allegedly deducted in March 2008 from the employees’ clothing allowance for that year to the tune of P3,700 per employee.

I thought this issue has been resolved, and the uniforms have been delivered, considering that it is already May 2009. I said then that one year is already too long for the employees to wait for their uniforms to be sewn, and I wondered aloud what happened. I opined that another mysterious event has occurred in the Jojo Beltran-held capitol, and this one had no forthcoming explanation, just like the many other Beltran mysteries during the last two-and-a-half years.

I was wrong. Last March 31, I received a letter from a certain Salvador Hernandez, who shed a faint light—but still light—on the uniforms. I can’t remember if I know or have met the guy—the name seemed fictitious, or looks like he comes straight from the movies—but he wrote and that’s all that matters. I don’t know if he is the provincial information officer or Gov. Jojo Beltran’s spokesman. He seemed to be in the know. I am sharing to readers his letter, unedited:

“Dear Nicon:

I read your article regarding the uniforms of the provincial employees in our province of Romblon. Please be informed that not all of the employees had availed of the subject uniforms. More than 50% of the provincial employees opted to have it in cash.

So, only 439 provincial employees had their measurement taken. As of January 2009, more or less 180 sets of uniforms were already delivered which is roughly 41%. The tailoring shop which is Golden Moore sent a letter sometime late January 2009 to Governor Beltran explaining among other things the reasons behind the delay. A copy of the letter is hereto attached for your reference and perusal.

Should you have further query on all other matters, please do not hesitate to contact the undersigned on the email address as indicated.

Hoping that the foregoing may have enlighten you regarding the issue, and may you consider also publish or post the explanation in your blog.

Thank you very much. Best regards.


Well, thank you, ‘Gado’. How good of you to write. You are very so unlike your boss, who does not even answer his mobile phone.

I purposely did not reply to Gado’s letter because I planned to write about it. First, let’s do the math.

Gado says more than 50 percent of the provincial employees availed of the uniform allowance in cash, while 439 employees opted to have their uniforms in kind, or “to have their measurement taken”.

How many exactly, Gado, is “more than 50 percent?” Fifty-one percent? Fifty-two? I asked this because if I follow you correctly, 439 is certainly less than 50 percent of the total, right? If this is correct, then are we to understand that the provincial capitol has nearly a thousand employees? Susmariosep. Kargado ka kapitolyo! I will ask my readers: Do you really think the province of Romblon ought to have that many employees? ‘Tung klaro yang!

And how much is the clothing allowance of each employee? We don’t know, but we know that if P3,700 was deducted from the clothing allowance of each of the 439 employees, that could total to P1,624,300. My informant said it was P1.2 million, a discrepancy of almost half a million. The P1.2 million was allegedly given to one Raylin Famatiga. Do you know her or him, Gado?

Last January, Gado said 180 sets of uniforms were already delivered. That’s only 41 percent of the total. Maybe the uniform contractor has no machine, or has no employee, and so hand-sewn every uniform, that’s why it took her this long to deliver 180 sets.

Gado attached in his e-mail a letter of a certain Clairdale R. Collado, the proprietor of Golden Moore, the uniform’s contractor, to Gov. Jojo Beltran. Golden Moore’s office/shop address is right on top of its letterhead, at P21-01 7th Street, Villamor Airbase, Pasay City. It has no phone number, so I was not able to call to check the veracity of the letter.

Collado was very apologetic to the governor. She said the cause of the delay in the delivery of the uniforms was the “defects found in the embroidered provincial logo.”

Apparently, the uniforms bear the logo of the province, but when the staff of the governor inspected the uniforms, as Collado said, the defects were discovered and the staff rejected them. Because of the rejection, the supplier has to repair or re-produce the uniforms.

“Although the defects were minor, these cannot be easily repaired as these (sic) will damage the fabric,” Collado said, adding:

“Rather than delving into whose fault and culpable to the defects of the embroidery (sic), I am still committed to fulfill my obligation to complete the deliver(y) although I still maintain that the defects were brought about by miscommunication and (mis)understanding on the details of the specifications.” She promised full delivery between March and May 2009—which will bring the saga of the uniforms of the 439 provincial employees to a lengthy period of over one-year! Sa kasasampidaton nak kontratista kali-ong Golden Moore.

So, there’s the whole story, according to Gado. But wait, Mr. Hernandez, let me ask you a few more questions.

Who chose Golden Moore? Did it win in a fair and square, transparent bidding? Was bidding conducted in the first place? Was Golden Moore required to post a bidder’s bond? Why does it seem that it was paid in advance? Did the governor accept Golden Moore’s explanation for the delay? Who inspected the uniforms? Shouldn’t it be that a Golden Moore representative or its owner conduct official business in the capitol, it being a supplier? Why did it look like that somebody from the capitol went to Golden Moore’s office/shop to do the inspection? Who approved the specifications of the uniform, including the logo?

Lastly, who in the provincial capitol received a commission from Golden Moore for giving it an opportunity to do business with the office of Gov. Beltran? No one? Excuse me, I will puke.

To Gado and all the others, write me at

Monday, May 4, 2009


Ika-tatlong adlaw it kuwarenta, ruha,
ag tatlong tuig nak inibhanan

Nicon F. Fameronag
Kuwarentang uwak nak hiwak
ka nagkakakak
it kuman kag aga
sa plasa
it Sibale Academy.
Nagbabantay it mumo,
ag tura it alumni
it gab-i,
sa rinugos nak baylehan,
nak sa sonata’y kinuyang.
Imaw kali kag ika-tatlong adlaw—
it pag-inistoryahan, pagpisan
pag ginur-anan, pagkablitan
it mga Sibalenhong
Sibale Academy
ka ging busri-an
sa kina-ayaman.

Ruhang Sibalenhong ging gagaos
ag inapaka-huytok
ka nagpapanilhig
sa plasa
it Sibale Academy.
Ging pipiphi, ging sisipno
Kag mga likot ag kalat
nak memorya it alumni
it kag nakalipas nak panahon
sa malipay nak ragipon
nak indi-iy mapatuyaran
kung sa-uno ray.
Imaw kali kag ika-tatlong adlaw—
it pag inistoryahan, pagpisan
pag ngisli-an, pagkablitan
it mga Sibalenhong
Sibale Academy
ka ging ril-atan
it paghigugma-an.

Tatlong motor nak magkasunor
ka naglarga
it kuman kag aga
sa banwa.
Ambubong it istorya—ag memorya
it mga alumni nak naghalin ney kag iba,
nak nagririlag ka mata
it yuhang pay matikrag
sa kabuyong ag kasadya.
Nagsisimyat sa mga nabilin,
naghator, nag-abyay, nagbabay
naghinghing: “Kita’y kita ray”.
Imaw kali kag ika-tatlong adlaw—
ka Isla ay nabanhaw—
it pag-inistoryahan, pagpisan
pag hinayakhakan, pangintrimisan
it mga Sibalenhong
Sibale Academy
Ka ging busri-an
it pag inibhanan,
kuwarenta, ruha, ag tatlong
tuig giy ka nagligar.

Sibale Academy Grounds
7:35 A. M., 13 April, 2009

The joy of being ‘unreachable’

Yesterday, my mobile phone and I called it quits.

The parting was bittersweet.

It was bitter because the termination of our relationship was abrupt, unannounced, unexpected, full and complete. We will never see each other again.

It was sweet because right after we parted, I was liberated and felt exhilaratingly cool and free. I discovered the joy of being unattached—and unreachable. If you don’t believe it, try breaking-up with your mobile phone without notice.

I was scurrying up the stairs to my fourth floor office along Sen. Gil J. Puyat Avenue when I felt that my hands were light—the left was holding my ubiquitous lighter and cigarette case, but my right was swinging, along with my sling bag, as I negotiate the flight of stairs, panting.

I just alighted from a taxi, coming from a late lunch with Ismael Fabicon, Romblon’s primus cultural warrior, at the UCC coffee shop in Robinson’s in Ermita, when this unthinkable happened. Cold sweat suddenly materialized in my forehead.

Upon reaching my desk, I emptied all my things, scattering them like mahjong pieces, thinking I may have placed my slim Nokia 2610 inside. She (my mobile phone was a female) was gone. I fished inside the sling bag’s pockets. Nothing but coins and a lone door key.

I sat down, called Rommel, my able ‘secretary-general’ and asked him to dial my number. It was closed, he said. No ringing. No tone. Not even the recorded, static message that mobile phone companies embed in their phones as standard reply: “The number you dialed is unavailable.” For a second, I was frantic. My phone left me. Or did I abandon her?

When one loses something of value, the first thing that comes as a reflexive response to the loss is to think where you lost it. You play back in the mind the scenes of your past action or activity involving the lost property, hoping there would be a hint or indication that would lead to a recovery.

I did that, viewing, like a movie trailer, my lunch with Uncle Ish, the things we talked about, the coming and going of the waitresses, the other guests, even the manner I toyed with my cigarette lighter—and the phone, oh, my phone. Where are you?

Gone, even as I scoured my memory for the peripheral things I did after standing up from my chair at the coffee shop—the parting handshake, the promise to see each other again, the waving of the guard at the exit, and finally, my boarding a taxi that will ferry me back to the office. All these were clear except the part where my phone surreptitiously ran away for nowhere, never to be seen again.

Aha! Suddenly, it dawned on me that my mobile phone decided to end our relationship by going away with the taxi driver. She eloped with him, for reasons I can only now discern.

She must have thought I was an uncaring lot. You know how phones are. They need to be baby-sat. They need to be pampered.

I realized I had never bought my phone a case—a bed—where she can cozily hide when not in use. She must have envied other phones which are neatly tucked in purses, in beautifully-crafted cases with colorful strings tied around the neck of their owners to ensure that people—and other phones—see them in their full splendor. Well, in the first place, I thought people with phones hanging around their necks are weird. They look like albatrosses to me.

Then, I also realized that my phone must have reeled from the abuse I heaped on her when she was still around. You know, I just toss her over the sofa, or at the table, after each use and she must have resented this.

Also, I realized that when she’s low on battery, I wait until she fully empties up before I recharge her. Phones must be like humans who need energy, but this didn’t occur to me. She must also have resented the idea that I use other people’s chargers to power her up at times when I forget to bring my own charger.

The reality that I have no longer a mobile phone took a little while to sink on me. When it did, I bewailed the loss of company—the phone numbers of people embedded in the phone’s memory as well as the experiences associated with having a mobile phone, such as the text messages of sweet endearments of my two daughters when I am away, or the admonition of the wife when I am late for dinner. Gone, too, were the numbers of my business contacts.

Also gone is the gadget I used to light myself around the house when, coming home late, I don’t want to wake up the maids, or the wife who will dutifully ask me a question where the hell I came from. The flashlight that is the mobile phone already belongs to I-don’t-know-who. I’ll return to using my cigarette lighter to find my way. Hah!

Now, I don’t have a mobile phone. Good. It’s only one day since we parted ways, but I only slightly miss her because of a new discovery.

I found out that it’s nice not to have a phone, too. I slept tightly last night because I have no phone. There were no text messages to answer, no irritating blips, and no chargers to worry about. No calls. I’m unattached and I relish the freedom. I feel light and never been better.

I am ‘unreachable’.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Has the financial crisis hit Romblon?

“Obvious ba?”

This was the answer of my pare, Mike Faderogao, administrative officer of the Concepcion National High School, when I asked him a few weeks ago if the financial crisis that is slowly eating into the economic strength of the world has reached the shores of Romblon.

By his answer, he meant, “Yes”, and if I may hasten to add, “Very direly”.

My next question is directed to the province’s political and economic managers: “How do we know?”

Indeed, how do we know that the global economic crunch, which has seen millions of people tumble into the unemployment bracket, has already affected Romblon’s 280,000-plus citizens? How do we know that the financial crisis, born in the U. S. A. and which has led to the election of the first black American president, is also leading Romblomanons to the path of economic ruin and social destitution?

Is there any indication that we are also crisis-hit? Are there already laid off Romblomanons? Are there Romblomanons going hungry—not eating three times a day or living on a budget of an average of US$1 a day, the United Nations’ threshold of poverty? Are there Romblon business people whose businesses are going under because of a credit crunch, falling sales, or increased business expenses? Indeed, are there Romblomanons who find no hope in their present situation?

I hope we know. I hope the provincial government knows.

Yes, I certainly wish it is aware of the magnitude of the crisis and its effects on all of us because, firstly, it is its duty to know, and secondly, it is its obligation to help find a solution to it. It is surely the responsibility of the provincial government to tell us if we are also being trashed about; if the people are already in dire straits, so that, in the absence of government support, we, the people, are able to remedy the situation. Makakaisip it medyos.

“Absence of government support” is actually a mild term. More appropriate would be the “absence of the provincial government in our very lives.”

Now, you’re listening.

The fact is, I have been trying to find out what actually the provincial government has done to help us these past three years, or many years before Natalio Beltran II has become our governor, to help us tide the harsh and hard economic times. The more I think of it, however, the more I realize there is none. Except to give us frustration and a sense of foreboding.

Let’s see why. Illegal logging and mining continues in Romblon. Illegal fishing continues to thrive. Corruption now is worse. Our agricultural productivity is static. Our schools continue to crumble and our jobless are on the rise. We see no plan to bail us out, for we have a provincial leader who has become a dealer, “dealer” being the anagram of “leader”.

A leader is supposed to deal us in hope, but this one deals us in hopelessness and despair. We remain to have no food on the table, no paved roads, no livelihood, no healthcare, and not enough educational opportunities. Let me detail that in my next columns.

Remember Frank? This typhoon showed us how our provincial government was not prepared in calamitous times. Remember the provincial hospital deal and how our governor planned to sink us further into debt? Do you remember the uniform of the provincial employees costing P1.7 million? There are more.

Yes, there are more. Two weeks ago, we were let on in the plan of the governor to spend again more than P1 million in government funds to lull into stupor provincial government employees on an errant nonsense, an Employees’ Day in Boracay!

Wow! Here we are, in the midst of a global financial crunch and our governor is throwing away money to the beaches of Boracay for government employees? Here we are, with our people unable to buy enough medicines and enough food and unable to send their children to the university, while our provincial government employees are planning a Boracay holiday. What gives? Where is the morality of such a spending spree? Nadayon baga kina, Vice Governor Alice?

Kamo ra nak mga hina sa kapitolyo, asing waya kamo gi tutulay ag suplahon kali-ong inro gobernador nak kung nio-niong kabulastugan ka nagkakayog sa utok? Asing pay nagsusugot-sugot yang kamo sa mga programa nida nak kayado-yado sa bagusbos it namamanwa?

I’ll say something to Beltran through this column: Governor, an employees’ day is in the office, at work, not in the beaches. Why would you spend almost a million pesos for government employees who can well afford to swim anywhere in Romblon whose beaches are far cleaner and more beautiful than Boracay’s?

So, to go back to my question if the Romblomanons are affected by the global financial crisis, well, yes, but not so much by the visible signs of economic deterioration, such as bank runs, unemployment, bankruptcy, and economic inactivity that the crisis engendered.

They are being affected by a crisis more severe, more debilitating, and more locale—the crisis of ineffective leadership which no tenured economist or rocket scientist can cure, except by the people themselves and this is by kicking Beltran out from the capitol in 2010 and replacing him by a milder, kinder version.

What do you say, Vice Governor Alice?