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Monday, December 31, 2007

Book Review: Doing Theology in the Philippines

Book Review, doing-the.jpgsmagkachisaboy, 12.2007


Doing Theology in the Philippines


by Suk, John, ed. 2005. Manila:OMF Literature Inc.248 pp. PhP 250.00,971-511-901-8.


Indigenize! This seems to be the buzzword in our post-colonial world where a global resurgence of nationalistic goals – especially in many countries in Asia, South America and Africa – has pressed the need for “dewesternizing” local culture and for mainstreaming indigenous knowledge, skills and practices (IKSP) into the various facets of our society.


In the Philippines, this need has been heightened by the passing of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) and the earlier initial participation of the Philippines in international fora for indigenous peoples, recently highlighted by the ascent of Tebtebba Foundation Director Victoria Tauli-Corpuz to the chairpersonship of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII).


These developments have helped galvanize efforts at mainstreaming IKSP in local governance and at recuperating our natural and man-made resources for national development purposes.


Calls for indigenization have come not only from the political front, but also from the theological or religious front. Among many Catholics in the country, this call is largely an echoing of Vatican II’s far-reaching policies towards a more relevant church. To the Protestants and/or Evangelicals, it is simply an extended “sounding off” of certain Gospel principles.


Of course, attempts at contextualizing Christian theology is not new. The history of the Christian Church has been a show window of a religion adapting to various cultures. No doubt, the relationship between Christianity and local culture has at times been adversarial – like the Gentile-Jewish controversy that culminated in the so-called First Jerusalem Council in the first century, the Gnostic theological brawl of the 2nd, Constantine’s Christianizing attempts in the 4th, or the “frailocracy” issue in Spanish-controlled Philippines from the 16th to the 19th. However, a complementary kind of relationship has also developed between these two forces – like Paul’s accommodation to Jewish rites, Ulfilas’ Gothic Bible and his invention of the Gothic Alphabet, Matteo Ricci’s use of Chinese terms to explain Christian concepts, or Don Richardson’s work among the Sawi people in Irian Jaya.


In the Philippines, books have been written on this theme since the 1970s (p. 219). What makes Doing Theology in the Philippines “new,” however, is that it is a product of a purportedly “first truly ‘national’ gathering of Filipino evangelicals called together from all over the Philippines specifically to communally examine contextualization” (p. 219). The book is a collection of 14 papers presented during the 1st Asian Theological Seminary (ATS) Forum in 2005. Since then, two other ATF Forum books have been published – Naming the Unknown God (2006) and Principalities and Powers (2007).


Paper presenters include some of the ripest Filipino Evangelical scholars and successful missiologists today, like Melba Maggay and Ed Lapiz. This somehow assures the reader that the work does not come from some postulations of armchair theologians whose Euro-American worldview has not helped solve the clash between Western Christianity and Philippine Culture.


A quick look at the papers’ titles (e.g., “A Locus for Doing Theologies: Theological Stories at the Front Lines of Grassroots Missions Engagement,” “Chap Chay Lo Mi: Disentangling the Chinese-Filipino Worldview,” “Rule: Romans 13 for the Philippines Today,” “Using the Catechism for Filipino Catholics in the Evangelical Seminary Classroom”) impresses the reader of the book’s attempt at bridging the gap between denominational, theological, and cultural divides.


Filipinos acquainted with the writings of Lorraine Boettner, Anthony Pezzota, David Vincent Ang and other Evangelicals may initially view this book with suspicion as yet another Catholic-bashing propaganda material. This especially comes close after going through the first few papers that deal with or mention “Evangelical Faith” (p. 4) Luther’s Reformation (p. 28), or Folk Catholicism (p. 79) which seemingly uphold the supremacy of Evangelicalism over Catholicism in matters of Biblical rootedness.


However, in an apparent anticipation of and allaying such doubts, the papers included the work of at least one Catholic theologian, Jose De Mesa who discussed “The ‘Ama Namin’ in the Doctrina Christiana of 1593: A Filipino Cross-Cultural Reading” (pp. 150-158). Further, going beyond the usual anti-Catholic polemics of some Evangelicals, some papers delivered an even-handed discussion on some Catholic and Evangelical distinctives. Lapiz, for example, does this best in a hard-hitting write up – and, interestingly, the only paper in the book with the most use of the vernacular as a medium of communication – on “Pagbabalik sa Sarili: Pagsambang Likas at Hiyang sa Filipino.” Primarily, he argues for the need to “find a Christianity we can claim as our own” (p. 186) and links this theological search to the Filipinos’ search for a national identity (p. 175). Arguing that much of Catholicism and Evangelicalism in the Philippines have taken the form of a “western franchise” (p. 186), he urged adherents of both Christian traditions to recapture the beauty of native culture and mainstream the various aspects of this culture into the different avenues of Christian worship. In contrast to Reuel Almocera’s negative view of Folk Catholicism (p. 79), Lapiz argued that such form of Catholicism was actually a “subversion” of the repressive religious policies of the Spanish colonizers (p.182).


Aside from an attempt at a balanced presentation of the myriad issues surrounding Philippine Christianity, the book’s strength also lies in its extensive use and exploration of fecund Filipino terms like loob, sama, hiya, and kapwa as tools of inculturating theology. Several of the papers, like George N. Capaque’s “The Problem of Evil in the Filipino Context,” draw greatly from the works of F. Landa Jocano and others in their exposition of the said terms taking these into a a largely Evangelical missiological trajectory of discussion.


This book thus offers several perspectives on how to do theology in the Philippines, well-illustrated by real-time missiological cases in both urban and grassroots levels. Generally, it can be said that while dealing with some of the sensitive issues between Catholicism and Evangelicalism in relation to issues involving Filipino culture, Doing Theology in the Philippines does well in offering a non-confrontational approach to these issues.


With its cross-denominational theme, this collection of religious essays will go a long way – that is, if conscientiously applied by the stakeholders or interest groups concerned – in promoting a healthy interplay among our social, political, ecclesiastical and even economic institutions. It will go a long way in debunking the myths of Western-bred omniscience and infallibility so characteristic of many religionists in the country. It will go a long way in dispelling the dark clouds of sectarianism hovering above our religious horizon.


World-renowned evangelical theologian, Edward Fudge once wrote in one of his GracEmail notes:




“In time, I believe, we will discover that God is forming a Church which combines and incorporates the best of the major Christian traditions: (1) the Catholic/Orthodox/Anglican liturgical tradition -- with its mysterious and transcendent Father; (2) the Protestant or Evangelical gospel tradition -- with its message of Jesus Christ, God's Son, who fully accomplished the work which set sinners right with God; and (3) the Pentecostal/Charismatic renewal tradition -- with God's immanence through his personal, powerful presence in the Spirit.”



Doing Theology in the Philippines might well be an important contribution to this end.


Those of non-Christian persuasions can still make use of this work by appropriating its culture-friendly principles into their own “evangelistic” programs.


Students of language and literature can take satisfaction in the way some authors apply, say, a Sapir-Whorfian analysis of Christian theology and Philippine culture (p. 42) and of Noli P. Mendoza’s enshrinement of Gaspar Aquino de Belen’s Pasion in its rightful place in the patheon of both Evangelical and Catholic faiths (159-174). To a Gemino Abad fan, this book’s central idea of inculturation can be easily placed parallel to Abad’s literary “Native Clearing” – a space created by the Filipino writer resulting from appropriating unto his own personal experience, cultural background and literary style what used to be a foreign or borrowed language and context.


Owing to the dauntingly broad themes of theology and culture it attempts to cover, the book understandably does not exhaustively tackle all the implications of its title. It must be seen in part as an exploratory work from which can be launched further researches and dialogues. More studies, for instance, should be done on the indigenous cultures of Northern Philippines where native themes can also be used as effective contextualizing tools for the Biblical theme of salvation. A case in point is the bodong or peace pact system among the Kalingas, a potentially rich concept and institution some characteristics of which may be mainstreamed into Christian theology and practice.


Those who take great interest in religion, culture, language, and literature can profit much from this seminal work.





Of Swine and Men

A big white boar trudged mindlessly along the roadside in one of Baguio City’s busiest crossings, tailing its skinny master who is equally unmindful of the fumes and roars of cars as she led the animal by a thick, frayed abaca rope. The small lady was dressed in a faded white blouse matched with an equally faded and stained blue skirt. Her flip-flops went plak-plak-plak as she neared the crossing. The jeep I was in suddenly lurched forward as the traffic cleared and the two figures rapidly faded from view.


It was then that my thoughts turned to my mom’s piggery back home. The familiar dung scent slowly dispelled the sickening car fumes engulfing the seemingly World War II vintage vehicle. The coolness I felt was no longer that of the City of Pines, but that of a rural residential area in the lowlands shielded from the searing gaze of the sun by several old and leafy mango, caimito (star apple) and guava trees.


And there I was climbing over the padlocked iron gate of a pig sty with my oversized rubber boots, rusty dust pan and stick broom. As I crashed onto the slippery floor, the white piglets froze momentarily before scampering into all directions squeaking all the way. Some found refuge in the cemented feeding trough, the others behind me unsuccessfully tried to wiggle themselves out of the spaces between the iron bars of the locked gate, and still others cowered in the shallow canal where their dung was being swept into.


Naturally, cleaning their house meant being plastered with green ordure and, yes, at times being made to taste it as well when a wiggling piglet would make a flying kick at a mound of fresh dung followed by a back kick that can send bits of the tasty pie to your lips. It also meant having to smell like a pigpen when you go to school, even after scrubbing and soaping your body with Mr. Clean. Back then, we had not yet adopted the “new and natural” technology of hog-raising (or hog-feeding, more accurately) now being advocated by some of my neighbors in my province. Introduced by Japan to the Philippines in the ‘70s, it is gaining popularity among hog-raisers in our place only recently. According to friends, with this system there is no need to bathe the pigs, to do the usual messy janitorial job, and – best of all – to worry of the animals’ odor adhering to your skin. The secret is to feed the pigs with the usual darak (rice bran) mixed with pulverized banana stalks and a liquefied mix of microorganisms (whatever that is, I haven’t figured out yet). The result? No ordure odor. You can even make money out of waste matter, for in three months’ time, the pigs’ dung can be sold as feeds for – you guessed it – pigs!


But let’s go back to my previous line of thought. Even after getting off that dilapidated passenger jeepney, the images of the old lady and the boar as well as the piggery back home kept coming back. Days after that, my thoughts eventually found themselves inked on paper.


Let me then invite you to a “piggyback riding” and regale you with these pigsty musings…


Pigs can make your blood run high – for mirth or wrath. Mirth frequently for the litter trying to nibble at your rubber boots after getting more familiar with your scent, and wrath often for the hogs wanting to take a piece of your leg or butt presumably for trophy or souvenir. Anyway, you’d always have the last laugh at the latter when the partidor (butcher) comes.


But mirth or wrath, spending some time in the piggery is not simply a moronic exercise of bathing the animals and cleaning their dung. Mind you, the piggery is a fine school in itself not only for the pigs but for humans as well.


Having grown up watching my mom raise pigs (not a reference to my siblings in any way), I have come to learn that a piggery can teach us a similarity between pigs and people that goes beyond mere physical features or vital statistics; pigpens can showcase the different shades of human personality and social circumstance.


Even Mr. Webster himself must have grown up with pigs, for he calls, for example, the stubborn as “pigheaded” or the glutton and slovenly as “piggish.” And perhaps, one can brand the paranoid “piggish” too, for pigs are said to be very suspicious of humans especially during the Christmas season.


But to continue, in the pigsty you will readily see the Slob in the pig that can’t firmly decide whether its ordure is for the canal or for the feeding trough.


Or our society’s Snob and the Apathetic in that hog that would just drop on its wide belly, rest its chin on its front legs, stare ahead and wouldn’t budge even as you start your janitorial work.


Or maybe, the Self-Important Ones in society can be best pictured in those native “self-supporting” pigs roaming somewhere in the Cordilleras. Most of my fellow Igorots can readily picture those short, pot-bellied and long-snouted black creatures gingerly crossing the road unmindful of travellers’ shouts and honks. Although these can arguably be tastier than their commercialized and denaturalized kins who appear on TV, they can be quite a pest not only to travellers but to gardeners as well.


So I’d say that if the carabao is the undisputed “King of the Road,” those little kins of his must rightly be called “Regents of the Road.” In the human world, I believe the closest comparison to such relation is that of the patron and the bootlicker who may be found in our oh-so-august Congress or in a hallowed Church.


Then this school teaches you a bit on the art of diplomacy or interpersonal relations. It makes you aware that the “different strokes for different folks” principle applies to the swine quite well. Take the pigpen Bully, for instance. Usually, a gentle rub at the back of the ear or along the snout would assure you of its good behavior. Sometimes though, it may need a slap to the face. Or, a kick to the body.


You would also learn about Law(lessness) and Order. For they seem to calculate exactly when the arasaw (kitchen slops) is ready for serving, at which they would just burst into piercing chorus usually with all the four voices complete: bass for the boar, tenor for the litter, and alto or soprano for the sow. They usually vocalize in this manner in the wee hours of the morning, so you can imagine the havoc they create in the neighborhood.


But there is Law amidst Disorder too. It is an unwritten decree that the firstborn takes preeminence over its siblings in terms of food share – whether corn feeds or milk. Or, if the mother wants to have all the food for herself, the piglets will have to stand aside and wait for the leftover, if there is any.

So you see, if among some Kalingas who spill over their murderous adventures to a Matagoan Zone (Zone of Life) like Baguio lex talionis (Law of the Jungle or Law of Retaliation) still prevails, in the piggery the Law of the Snout (Greed) reigns forever.


Which reminds me of some of my provincemates using the bodong as a pretext for land-grabbing, leaving several hapless Ilocano or Igorot migrant farmers to the mercy of uncertainty. These unscrupulous binodngan (tribal members covered by the bodong) were reported to have spat on those they dispossessed: “Kukuayo ti titulo, bagimi ti daga” (you may own the land titles, but the land is still ours). They were said to have claimed that the land they grabbed in the flatlands of Tabuk City were simply portions of their lands in upper stream Kalinga swept down by the mighty Chico River during storms. Now, that’s piggy brain logic.


You can’t help seeing a variant of this greed among market vendors insisting to buy a porker at a live weight price cheaper than the regular price, but later selling the meat at a price higher than what the law of the market permits.


That is also true to small-time rice and vegetable farmers in these highlands whose labors are not well-compensated by the outrageously low price exacted on their produce by some middlemen.


Or better still, you see in this animalistic behavior a Politician filling first his belly and pockets with bills from the people’s treasury before flinging the coins to community projects. In the petty kingdoms they built, they have made themselves masters of their subjects’ economic destiny, and the captains of the community’s tiny royal treasure ships. And no doubt, it has become their custom to lull themselves to sleep by counting a hundred pigs while their pudgy fingers caress their bloated tummies. I guess it was fitting that “pork barrel” was added to our legislators’ vocabulary for quite a number of them have become greasy from head to toe.


The Bhagavad Gita tells us that Indra himself, king of the Hindu gods, was turned into a pig by a guru he disrespected. Hah! Would we love seeing the despicable pigs in the government acting like kings by divine right go through such a life-changing experience!


It need not be as long as seven years just as Odysseus’ friends suffered. I guess a few days would do. Why Mighty Nebuchadnezzar’s experience was short and quite different, but quite humbling for him.


Really, you’d get touched watching the altruistic and cultured hog in the heart-warming movie, BABE: Pig in the City. And despite my Chinese friends telling me the pig is the embodiment of selflessness, honor, abundance and so on, I would have to say, you still have to find a BABE in the pigsty. Even Chinese tradition says pigs are embodiments of our basic, animal nature.


On second thought, I would have to concede that the pigsty indeed depicts some very positive qualities. Fertility can be one (no explanations needed, except to note that some believe that the many “breasts” of Diana, goddess of the Ephesians, were actually representations of the boar’s testicles, in which case this patroness’ fertility would have been well-illustrated).


And intelligence too. Like the litter developing crazy maneuvers in outsmarting each other for their mother’s milk.


In passing, I would have to note that other cultures do have a high regard for the pig. The Nepalese have four swine-gods guarding the Kathmandu Valley, and Celts regarded pork as the most fitting meal for the gods (and their literature also tells of a sea god who had magic pigs which can be eaten in one day only to be resurrected for the following day’s meal.! Umm… that would have solved our economic woes, though perhaps multiplied our cholesterol troubles).


But again, let me continue. Maybe these and many other observations one might have on pigs and people could serve as proof that there is an unacknowledged kinship between swine and men which is far deeper than the simple likeness of the mice’s scurrying existence in the life of some farm workers poignantly described by Steinbeck.


For all you know, the pig stands somewhere in the supposed evolutionary development of the amoeba into modern man. Planet of the Apes was a fine start, but I suggest filmmakers should begin thinking of doing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Pigs. To this, famed cartoonist Pol Medina might say, “Hasta la vista, Baboy!”


But by far, the greatest insight from the pigpen is the value of labor. I have seen it in some Bay-yo women in Baguio City whose leathery, wrinkled faces dramatically reflect the harsh realities of life; whose daily routine of balancing on their heads cans of restaurant leftovers down Session Road wonderfully pictures out one’s grim yet graceful determination to survive; whose concrete houses and Lippad jeeps in Maria Basa or Tiptop sweetly signify or sound off the rich fruits of honest toil.


I had also learned this insight from my late father who, amidst the excruciating pains of old age, spent countless hours hauling off the arasaw from the restaurant, separating the food scraps from the cigarette butts and tissue papers, and enduring the heat and acrid smoke as he cooked the mixture in a large metal pot. I have seen it in my mother as she continues, way into her retirement days, to plant camote or ipil by the street or at a neighbor’s vacant lot for her pigs’ sake; as she extraordinarily musters the remaining strength of her frail frame (shrunk by two strokes) to feed her beloved animals túyo (rice bran) or some food scraps; as she limps towards the piggery and stand outside the gates one at a time and silently savor the satisfaction of seeing her pigs munch and squeal and sleep… and grow.


Yes, there is much to be learned from these show windows of life we call pigpens. And I am compelled to say, with Babe’s pals, “Thank the pig.”

Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Columnist's Woes



09.2007, Gurupress

She didn’t mean to be mean; she only meant to be frank. She was just being faithful to her character; she was only for freedom of self-expression bursting forth from her “ascerbic wit.”


This sums up (now ex-) Manila Standard columnist Malou Fernandez’ response to some of her readers’ reaction to her controversial article. Her statements of defense only whipped up some more waves of criticisms against her, though. So short of saying “Peace be still!” she apologized and resigned from the paper. But the waves continued to rage.


Having read the readers’ responses before getting the chance to skim over Malou’s write up, I first wondered what the hullabaloo was all about. The ABS-CBN report didn’t tell the whole story, so I had to surf the Net and download the columnist’s lines that got the goat chiefly of Mid-east OFWs.


There, tucked in her article, “From Boracay to Greece!” were these travelogue notes:




…I heaved a sigh, popped my sleeping pills and dozed off to the sounds of gum chewing and endless yelling of “HOY! Kumusta ka na? At taga saan ka? Domestic helper ka rin ba?” Translation: “Hey there! Where are you from? Are you a domestic helper as well?” I thought I had died and God had sent me to my very own private hell.




… I had to bravely take the economy flight once more. This time I had already resigned myself to being trapped like a sardine in a sardine can with all these OFWs smelling of AXE and Charlie cologne while my Jo Malone evaporated into thin air.



The first quote is part of her accoudubai-uae-map.gifnt of her trip to Greece with a fellow jetsetter in a cramped economy class UAE plane. The second is a remark on her return trip.


As it turned out, her passing remarks did not pass the approval of many readers who took them as yet another bourgeoise’ condescending jab at the lower classes.


Most of the print and online articles relative to this issue have substantially dealt with the charge of elitism and bigotry in media and the spirited reactions of our OFWs. In this essay, I will content myself with musing on (rambling about, my good, old – LOL – journalist friend Bani Asbucan might be tempted to say) the pleasures and perils of column-writing, or of writing in general.


The Pleasure. Writing as an art allows one to explore the limits of language, develop a pattern of communication that may at times reasonably challenge conventions of grammar and style, create images of personal thoughts in the public’s consciousness, carve out a niche in the readers’ hearts, and hopefully contribute to the betterment of society.


In other words, choosing writing for a career can be a way of satisfying the upper three levels of needs according to the oft-cited Psychologist Abraham Maslow: Social Needs, Esteem Needs, and Self-Actualization.


Forget the first two levels, Physiological Needs and Safety Needs – at least judging from my father’s writing career, anyway. He made a name for himself in his time as a newspaper guy, but he was never able to make for himself and his family a steel box loaded with as many jewels as one can name. Also, he got mugged once due to a report he made in a local paper.


Which leads us to the other side of a writer’s life.


The Peril. Few can be more horrifying to columnists than seeing their own articles riddled with typographical errors, grammatical slips, wrong information, logical inconsistencies and undeniably silly opinions – either due to the writer’s carelessness, the encoder’s mistake, the editor’s oversight, or even technology’s glitches. These blunders may not cost writers their lives, but may cost them their pride or reputation.


But yes, choosing to write about what others dare to speak only in whispers for fear of the powers-that-be can mean signing one’s death warrant. Or scribbling one’s epitaph, if you please: the past decades have been witness to the fact that bullets are indeed quicker than pens in writing epitaphs for journalists who would have wanted to “write 30” in the natural course of things.


The picture would have been different were writers as privileged as some Senators and Congressmen who could easily hide under the cloak of parliamentary immunity or behind a phalanx of bodyguards after delivering speeches riddled with inanities and falsehoods or tirades against their enemies.


Notwithstanding the risk, writers who are worth their salt cannot be beholden to anyone. Facts must see print, and truth must find voice with the pen as its megaphone.


Needless to say, this freedom of expression must be coupled with responsibility and accountability. Freedom, paradoxically, has its restraints. Lord Acton once observed that “absolute power corrupts absolutely; well, it’s the same for freedom — absolute freedom is absolute anarchy.


That’s why for those engaged in print, broadcast, and internet media, there is such a thing as a “Journalist’s Code of Ethics” to subscribe to. That’s why this Code says, among others, that a journalist “may not in any manner ridicule, cast aspersions on, or degrade any person by reason of sex, creed, religious belief, political conviction, cultural and ethnic origin.”


Easy to say, hard to do? You bet. For even the most realistic and fair appraisal of the goings-on in our communities may come across readers, especially those who have an axe to grind, as meant to ridicule, cast aspersions on and degrade others.


Writers like me can only hope that as we dress up our thoughts with printed words, we can make the picture of reality more real and beautiful. Or reveal without malice sensitive matters which should be brought to the open.


Or make readers more appreciative of our artistry. Or more forgiving of our lack thereof.





Of Givers & Friends

Real friends are bet identified in one’s time of great need. Their unspoken pledge of friendship is voiced out by their sacrifices for others. While some give wings to live by just preaching it, they create hands for it by reaching out to their fellowmen; while some talk of the law of love, they add to it love’s spirit; while others preach practicality, they show compassion; while some know love only by the flick of their tongues, they understand it with the beat of their hearts.


They don’t give for leverage or investment. They don’t give with an open palm paired to a clenched first. And they don’t give to the sound of the trumpet of vainglory.


These are the women and men who give hope o those who have lost it, who give light to those who have much of the dark, who show love even to those who only have hatred in their hearts, who rebuild faith in those who had lost it, and who unveil life’s beauty to those whose visions are obscured by life’s ugly pall.

Of Quacks and Quatrains

Unpurturbed by the great “Nostradamic flop” of 1999, Michel de Nostradame’s devotees are at it again painting apocalyptic snostradamus2.jpgcenarios at the dawn of the new year.


One of these cranks is a certain Dr. Michael Rathford who came up with a doomsday book, The Nostradamic Code: World War III 2008-2012 (see online advertisement @ http://www.nostradamusonline.com/).


I predict that five years from now his hair-raising prognostications will be on the garbage heap of failed predictions.


As most everybody knows, Rathford and his ilk are not the only quacks around. For one, there’s these “Left Behind” folks who have made quite a fortune with their “Text-twisting” ventures (see an interview with Barbara Rossing, author of The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation @ http://www.rutherford.org/; see also www.religioustolerance.org/ rapture.htm). No doubt, their mangling of sacred texts – their “quatrains” – have given ignorant fears and false hopes to multitudes of gullible readers, but at the same time have given more reasons for some other folks to leave Christianity behind.


Then there’s this religious group that screams THE END OF FALSE RELIGION IS NEAR! which is the title of their flyer a copy of which I recently found at my door. At the bottom-right section of the said page are three questions that the propaganda material purportedly seeks to answer:


What is false religion?


How will it end?


How will you be affected?


The inside and back pages unswervingly answer the questions with a hodge-podge of Bible verses and current facts designed to lead the reader to the “truth” that this particular sect is the One, True Church to which all religionists must seek refuge from the imminent destruction of false religion. It was clever for the publishers though not to have specified how near is “Near!” as they had mistakenly done in the past.


Frankly, having been familiar with the literature of this religious group and having recently forsaken an advocacy of certain sectarian causes, I took the headline with a ho-hum attitude. Their message of bold exclusivism and sensational prognostication is all too familiar and simplistic.


But no matter how loud we cry against these deluded book writers and religious lpicture_49_1_1.jpgeaders and institutions, there will surely be many more who will choose to be fascinated with or glued to these “high-octane” speculations on a mish-mash of obscure Scriptural passages; the cut-and-paste type of hemeneutics using various proverbial crystal balls and divine calendars drawn straight from the throne of God together with current newspaper headlines will continue to fascinate the gullible ones. And their method of proselyting that capitalizes on the fears and naivete of people will continue to serve as live ammunitions for those who oppose Christianity.


So let me just say to these self-assured seers:




Cry
the duped to the duped:

“God’s crystal ball we hold!


We see ‘tis mighty clear,


The world’s set end is near!”


 


Near is now and never;


Someday, soon and later;


Past, present, and future –


Our seers are all sure.


 


The world has indeed met


Its final, fiery fate


A hundred times over


Their mangled Texts declare.


 


Earth turns as torchbearers


Reveal there’s more beyond,


While quacks hide in chambers


And fault those “Left Behind”!


- smsaboy


Recommended readings:


Erdoes, Richard. 1988. AD 1000: Living on the Brink of Apocalypse. New York: Barnes and Noble Books.


Lapham, Lewis H. & Peter T. Struck. 1997. The End of the World. New York: St. Martin's Press.


Tabuk City



08.24.07, Gurupress


Tabuk’s Citihood: My Delayed Reflection



This subject may be moot now to many Tabukenians (or is it Tabukers? Tabukes? Tabukists? Tabukites? Tabukines? Tabukinos? Tabukians? Ah, whatever…). I suspect, though, that writing about the matter two months after the plebiscite may still interest some others who, like me, are either simply slow-witted to react quickly or so caught up with their daily survival concerns to give much thought to issues like this. Or who take too much time contemplating they can’t still figure out how to take this development.

It’s not that I am against Tabuk’s progress, it’s perhaps that progress in Tabuk has to me seemed so slow ever since I can remember. And so I met the news of RA 9404 and its subsequent ratification with an “At last…” minus the exclamation point, akin to the relieved expression of a Greenland bus rider back in the ‘80s who had just endured the torture of a 12-hour Baguio to Tabuk trip. You know, that guy crawling out of the bus with a dazed look and a disheveled, dusty hair, and with the last stench of his puke dripping from the side of his mouth.


At the same time, I was struck with the dilemma of whether I should view Tabuk’s new socio-political configuration with delight or dread: exultation over Tabuk’s distinction of being “the first matagoan city in the country” and “the second city in the Cordilleras,” or skepticism to Tabuk’s readiness for greater urbanization and to the political ambitions that could have fueled this citihood drive; gladness for the expected rise of fastfoods and malls, or despair for the certain loss of our ricefields and the barrio breeze; excitement at the creation of new jobs and industries, or apprehension over the rise of organized crimes and other social problems.


But I know that dwelling on the what-could-have-been or on the what-might-be won’t be much of a contribution to the issues we face. Silence is not much of a choice either – it wouldn’t be golden; it would be yellow. So here I am dusting off my pen (or keyboard, actually) to once again offer my two cent(imo)s with interested readers.


***


More exciting to me than our official proclamation of greater urbanization was the official presentation of new faces on our local political stage – most especially the rise of our first woman governor for whom I wish all heaven’s wisdom.


One big significance of this is obviously feminist in nature, given the highly patriarchal structure and conditions of our province’s indigenous communities. Another no less dramatic point is the very idea of a well-oiled and fearfully armored electoral campaign truck being stuck in the mud churned up by the changing political seasons.


Of course, changes like these should be translated into more practical purposes, and I still doubt quite a bit that these new faces can successfully concoct a potion for the total healing of a province that is still rising from its sickbed.


But they must be given the benefit of the doubt, and we must keep our fingers crossed while we watch the incense rise from our prayer bowls. Only time will measure their faithfulness to the golden nuggets of ideals they scattered along the recently plodded election campaign trail.


***


Religion has always played an essential role in the birth, development and decline of cities and nations. It has been a boon to societies whenever revelation is regarded as a friend of reason and a preserver of noble moral qualities; it has been a bane to the world whenever faith is equated with superstition and a tool of division and corruption.


It may do us well, then, to take another look into our own exercises of faith – or the lack of our exercise thereof. For the closer we live to the ideals of our respective faiths, the closer we are to making religion as our political institutions’ partner for development.


The sooner we rid ourselves of religious leaders who are more attracted to the smell of the wine rather than to the smell of their sheep, the better. The sooner we rid ourselves of rank sectarians who damn everyone else who do not belong to their little flock, the better. The sooner we rid ourselves of Bible-thumpers who place so much premium on reason as to make every jot and tittle in the Scriptures a matter of contention, the better. The sooner we rid ourselves of religionists who place so much premium on emotion and speculation as to make every symbol and ritual irrational, the better. The sooner we disabuse ourselves of the illusion of our omniscience and infallibility, the better. The sooner we get our pulpits to the fields and markets, the better.


***


Praises must be heaped on pioneering folks whose entrepreneurial passion and vision greatly shaped our socio-economic foundation and superstructure despite the intermittent peace and order problems Tabuk has been plagued with across the years. If we name all of them, we might fill out all the 26 letters of our alphabet. Here’s my initial kudos list partly drawn from my early childhood memories: Almora, Agtina, Bayle, Bravo, Calpito, Comafay, Dangwa, Domingo, Dong-as, Dulawen, Estrañero, Evangelista, Falgui, Gatbonton, Lizardo, Lua, Mamanteo, Maslan, Miranda, Omao, Orodio, Omengan, Oras, Pandico, Pangda, Patol, Purugganan, Quirino, Ryan, Soriano, Vargas, Viloria, Wangdali…


Each name bears an intriguing story of sacrifice and storing, spending and saving, setback and success, surrender and steadfastness, self-preservation and service, skepticism and surety.





Of Women and Peace

(02.2002, for a “Women’s Day” oratorical contest in Naga City)


We propose to work for global peace by waging a local war. We propose to chant “Peace on Earth,” by fighting for a just cause here on our little piece of earth.


For as a drop of one pebble on a pond’s corner eventually creates ripples across the whole water surface, so will the faintest cry of a woman here ultimately blend with the sweet chorus of a global struggle.


Countless women have dropped their pebbles somewhere into the sea of time and humanity much watered by women’s tears: Elizabeth Stanton demanded suffrage, and the United States trembled; Golda Meir whispered her wish for her people, and the world made way for her to found the State of Israel; Molly Blackburn silently stood in protest with her black sash, and South Africa cried out against apartheid; Nahid Toubia spoke in Sudan against female genital mutilation, and the African continent was incensed; Mary Daly lashed out at foot binding, and China listened; Chun-Hyung-Kyung recounted the horrors of Korean comfort women, and Asia was moved to tears…


Yes, these women made faint splashes, and eventually the whole sea gathered waves.


But lest we forget, these splashes were made not only on foreign shores: In 1868, nuns built in Naga City the first Philippine normal school for women, and Bicolanas got the envy of the nation; Margarita Roxas shared her fortune, and Spain put up La Concordia in Sta. Ana, Manila; organizers of the Associacion Feminista Filipina banded together in 1905 to fight for women’s welfare, and Congress granted mothers their maternity leave with pay; Pilar Lim lectured, Charito Planas took oath as Manila City’s first woman councilor, and womanhood was roused to ambition; June Keithly aired her daily broadcasts, and EDSA I swept Cory Aquino to power; Clarissa Ocampo faced off with the best lawyers Erap Estrada could summon, and EDSA II installed Gloria Arroyo to the Presidency…


Time indeed fails us to fully scan our roster of heroines. We can only do as much to tell the world that somewhere, some time a woman sowed, another watered, and we continued to reap the fruits of their labors.


These women refused to be cloistered within male-created walls, and in the open air stunned the world with feminine power. They realized that there could be no real peace when women would content themselves with the silence of a cemetery, while men enjoy the bustle of a city.


And they tell us that our struggle is not for one whose will crumbles at the slightest tremor, but for one who, amidst storms of abuse and rejection, stands gracefully like the stately bamboo. This is not to say that we just sway with the wind; it is to say that we harness the power of the wind that would drive our bamboo spears to the heart of injustice. Nor is this to say that we fight on the arid sands of physical warfare; it is to say that we battle on the fertile valley of diplomacy.


We henceforth pledge to continue this struggle for as long as girls are treated as sexual commodities, and wives as punching bags. We will not be silenced while men continue to use religion to trample upon our dignity as spiritual beings. We will keep questioning until men cease to believe that more children means more wealth. We will continue to work our way up while there is still a gavel to hold in the courts of law, or a helm to command in the halls of our government.


But, as the battle must be drawn into our own trenches, we will have to fight against our own. For as long as girls continue to fuel the flames of manly lust through vampish displays in posters, newspapers or televisions, and wives remain as silent partners of abusive husbands, this struggle will not be over soon among us.


And we will take to heart that swimming against the current does not mean heading towards the waterfall of disaster: that the wildfire of “patri-kyriarchism” cannot be extinguished by fanning the hot winds of “matri-natzism”; that gender parity cannot be paraded by duplicating the vices of men; that domestic abuse cannot be remedied by tearing the whole house down.


They say women are from Venus, and men are from Mars. But I wonder, can’t they be both from Earth? Must we collide Venus and Mars and so incinerate ourselves? Is it not possible for Eros to wield the golden bow and for Mars to supply the blazoned arrows?


Ah, yes, it is good enough to know one’s right, better to articulate it, and best to fight for it when necessary. But as Rome advises, in medio stat virtus.


Fellow members of huwomanity, in this war for peace we will be weary, we will be harassed. But we will march on, knowing that the smallest steps we take mean giant leaps for womankind. These smallest steps are taken when mothers rear their children well, when coeds make their parents and teachers proud, when women volunteers make refugees glad.


And so here as a woman I stand, I can do no other. I will not take as final answer that I am the weakest link in this game show of life! I can be as steadfast as the strongest link. I am an indispensable part of the long chain of life.


I will fight this good fight, I will finish my course, I will keep the faith in feminine power. And no one can just kick me goodbye!


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Call Centers and Racism



(Originally Published in the 15April issue of the Baguio Midland Courier, republished with minor modifications)




Months ago, I came across an article in the Baguio Midland Courier in which the writer, a former call center agent, vented out his rage at the rank racism in this particular outsourcing industry. Having worked briefly in the same work environment, I can understand how humiliating it must have been for him to get cussed or hollered at by irate callers several times. It is a wonder he came out of the industry still psychologically intact after two excruciating years! Toward the conclusion of his essay, he made a call to arms against the exploitative West.

Let me make my take on this matter.


One does not have to experience racism firsthand to know that this malady can cause emotional scars on its victim. Almost everyone has had the opportunity to read about or watch real-life stories of racism in its various forms.


It is altogether different though when one actually experiences it more than once. I should know. All the Filipino ESL teachers and nannies in mainland China whom I had lived with, met or talked to should know. All the other Filipinos elsewhere who bear marks of abuse by their racist employers should know.


And we feel – nay, even clap – for those who do muster the courage to speak out against this evil attitude or practice. We laud those who have fought hard to yank this disease off people’s system.


However, it is always best that crying out against an unfair treatment be taken with adequate care lest we unwittingly turn around and treat the issue or a group unfairly.


Which brings us to the issue of racism in our country’s burgeoning call center industry. Doubtless, there are many young call center agents who have been traumatized by their irate, condescending American customers. And yes, there must have been agents who have been insulted by certain Americans on the site.


But I guess, it is one thing to complain against racist remarks or behavior in call centers and quite another to give the impression that racism is rife and unchecked in this industry. For certainly, a lot of callers from the US have shown respect to Filipino agents not only through verbal commendations but also through cash gifts. I can point to the amiable American Chuck English, fondly called “Chuckie Tagalog” by some of his Filipino friends, as one on-site American call center instructor who has shown great respect for the Filipino. Although recent researches have shown a decline in our facility in the English language especially among the youth, the fact that this industry continues to thrive in our country is proof enough that a number of Americans out there do recognize our competence in this field. There are American managers in this line of work who do respect us for who we are.


It is one thing to rage against condescending Americans, and to make a sweeping generalization that all Americans are condescending. I suppose many of us have met here and abroad fine folks from the US who have regarded us as equals and, in some instances, their superiors in certain subjects or areas of expertise.


The unidentified American who was quoted to have said that Filipinos think of nothing but money and how they can take advantage of him is guilty of a sweeping generalization, all right, and should be ashamed of himself. We might as well conclude that all that Americans can think of is to devise ways to con smaller nations into getting sucked into the US of A’s great whirlpool of imperialism, simply because America’s foreign policy during this or that particular administration and toward this or that country undeniably sucks.


On the other hand, that misguided statement should not blind us to the fact that indeed, there are many of us who have acted like the Americans are our milking cows. I bet some of our churches here can attest to that.


But to continue, it is one thing to complain against egotistical Americans and quite another to single out Americans for racism. For all we know, many of our fellow Asians are more racist than some Americans. Our friends who tried applying for ESL jobs in South Korea or who have done ESL teaching in China can tell you pretty much how low we are in our neighbors’ estimation simply because we have the “wrong” passport or nationality, skin and eye color, or even accent.


But then again, it is one thing to damn those crooked and condescending Chinese and Koreans to hell and quite another to be blind to the fact that a great number of them are just as humble and hospitable as we can be.


We must concede too that some of us are racists in one form or another. Most of us may not have verbally insulted someone simply because of his country of origin, but certainly many of us have looked down on Chinese immigrants, Korean nationals, Afro-Americans and some others because of their “queer” culture or even skin color.


And while we are at it, why don’t we look around and point out the many verbal and non-verbal indications of racism’s kissing cousins– ethnocentrism or regionalism (e.g., the “highlander vs. lowlander” mindset) and sectarianism (e.g., you’re damned to hell because your church wears a different name). Let’s not forget to mix in “uppityism” as well (like a few Filipino supervisors or managers in call centers whose smugness makes their subordinate Pinoy “brothers” cringe).


Fight back? Why not? But I wish to see the youth fighting back and standing up to the jaundiced gaze of other people by being the best they can be in whatever (legitimate) career or profession they have chosen. I’d like to see more Manny Pacquiaos rising against and above unfair circumstances and earning their spot in the hearts of people from all stripes. (Although, I must hasten to add, I don’t like seeing a Manny Pacquiao allowing himself to be exploited by grandstanding politicos coming from every dirty corner).


Whether in a call center or not, successfully battling this and other kinds of human malady really depends on how we view and deal with them. Some go ahead and quit and find another “more decent” job. Others stay on and grin and bear simply because there is really not much choice in the face of our sagging economy and sordid politics. Still, others stay on and slug it out and eventually carve out their names into “western-style marble slabs” of fame and fortune.


So all these add up to a perhaps larger view of this issue, which includes a look at ourselves – our worldview, our work ethic, our learning strategy, our moral fiber.




Little Nebuchadnezzar (I)

Once upon a time, there lived an emperor named “Little Nebuchadnezzar.” He ruled a tiny kingdom over which he spread his two great political principles…


Public Office is a Cradle of Luxury, Not a Boat of Service


He sat on his swivel chair pondering the privileges of the powerful, a theme he almost endlessly discusses with other kings of neighboring empires. Indeed, these days he has found no time to chat with his subjects as he used to do. For he learned that animals of the same fur must flock together. Lions must run after deer or be in their company only during preying time. Then he remembered the pains he had gone through the last campaign season. How miserably thin his purse had been! Now, it’s growing fatter day by day: it’s payback time…


[Too bad, many were foolish enough to grab those dangling campaign sorties. Ah, how hard it is to see the hook in a bait! How hard it is to learn that the luscious apple is deadly to the bite!]


His thoughts turned to the kings of old. Did they not ride on golden chariots? he asked himself. He then concluded that since he is King, he should ride in a luxury car. A government vehicle must never be cheap! For after all, “government service” ought to be a special trip in and around the maze of power.


[But you know a good car can be bought half that price, and the savings could have added a few streetlights in barangay Kudkudrep or started the long overdue flood control project at sitio Malmalmes whose farming residents have seen hectares of their lands fall prey to the Great River that broadens more and more after each storm.]


And yes, he has to have a mansion – or a multiplicity of mansions – as imposing as his honorable position. Bah, a leviathan cannot live in a hut! Too, a traveler needs some rest houses in several places. So it was that his once miserable hovel rose to such a height that all his subjects would often turn their eyes to it with awe and, glancing at the blue heavens, curse the Fates for their injustice. Even the sheets of dust that rose from the rugged road fronting his palace seemed ashamed to get near those whitewashed walls.


He also remembered the unwritten custom that the rich and powerful must have worthwhile hobbies. So he decided to frequent the golf clubs and dump his mouth-watering bets in the casinos, cockpits or where have you. Hey, he needed some fun! A public office must never be as lonely as a cemetery.


And of course, he could not forget that Solomon had his 700 wives and 300 concubines, and the great emirs of old had their own harems. Certainly, those great rulers had keenly perceived that one privilege of power is the enjoyment of carnality. So it was that he took unto himself two other mistresses. After all, he further reasoned, the “extended family” setup has long been deeply entrenched in the Filipino home.


Thus, he savored at his fingertips the soft touch of Power’s blessings. He slouched, folded his immaculate hands on his bloated tummy, and in half sleep, counted a hundred pigs. Ah, what comfort!


[… wished the howling winds would blow down that Cradle just like in that nursery rhyme -- that the big, bad boar in the Cradle will come crashing down to pieces so that even the King’s men can never put this despicable creature together again.]


A Public Office is not Only a Cradle of Luxury, but a Throne of Glory


Suddenly, he opened his eyes and felt awed at the height of his status and at the extent of his authority.


It occurred to him that his bearing must match the dignity of his office. He sat upright, and squared his shoulders. His eyes must be sharp, his lips tight and his chin set parallel to the ground made holy by his feet. From the sparkle in his eyes, the ordinary citizen must see the need to bend the knee before his majestic presence.


And yes, his voice! – it must be lordly enough to shame the ignorant before a number of people, by way of setting an example to others who might wish to challenge his authority. He must always bear in mind that kings have always worn their crowns and wielded their scepters with grace and might.


But there is more. A number of these ancient monarchs, too, have often held the key to the treasury chests. So then, he must have his subjects know that he is the master of their economic destiny and the captain of the tiny empire’s treasure ship. So he made it a habit to delay the release of checks.


“At least, I’m humane enough,” he snorted. “Why, others strike quite a fortune from a three-month deposit of their subjects’ salaries, an evil design which I, in conscience, cannot do! Never mind the little hungry mouths most of these subjects have to feed – it’s their fault for having so many children or having a child at all whose needs they could not assure to provide. Never mind the debts they have to pay – they should have never dared borrow from anyone, in the first place!”


[To these breed of vultures applies these Shakesperean lines: “But man, proud man,/Drest in a little brief authority,/Most ignorant of what he ’s most assured,/His glassy essence, like an angry ape,/Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/As make the angels weep.!”]


After some time, a soft knock disturbed the silence in his office. The visitor appeared haggard. By the looks of her, one judges she’s one of those underpaid public school teachers. She just arrived from far away Buwaya to have her report signed, the report which moody Little Nebuchadnezzar refused to sign some days ago for no clear reason. Now, this bony teacher has come back hoping to reach the King in good mood.


But by this time, Little Nebuchadnezzar was already out on an “official trip.”


Epilogue


So it was that Little Nebuchadnezzar’s time in office meant an eternal torment for his people. But his subjects could not do anything. For what could their little power do? Crashing against a massive wall would only give them crushed shoulder bones. They will have to wait until Plato’s “philosopher


ilosopher-king” could rule the kingdom or head a high office. Or they will have to pray for a miracle, much like that great Babylonian ruler who was, for a time, turned into a beast who ate grass and drank the mo


rning dew. Then, and only then,can they live happily ever after.


Till then, they must always manage to laugh – only to keep themselves from crying.


mask.jpgmask.jpgmask.jpg


Abàng Tony

published in the ANI 35: The Pinoy as Asian (Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines, 2009)

Like a Sayote

The gnarled sayote vines gradually spiral up the rough wooden stakes and spread themselves over the lattice of aluminum wires. Like tentacled monsters, they crawl over from different parts of the framework, their brown and green lengths shooting out fresh vines and leaves and fruits until at last their collective greenery swathes the mountainside clearing. From afar, they no longer look like green monsters but fresh Bermuda grass carpets, casting to the viewer a moving coolness.


The seemingly harmless plant used to be a symbol of notoriety to me as a Citizens Army Training (CAT) cadet who was forced with the rest of my fellow “dumbguards” – considered among the “lowest type of animals in the high school campus by our growling trainers – to bite off and swallow chunks of spiked, unpeeled sayote. I had nothing but resentment against both our brutal masters and the subservient fruit as I felt the itch crawl down my throat.


But that was years ago. Now, I have nothing but fondness for the great sayote for it has taught me life itself. Consider:


The sayote is a symbol of survival. This is true to those who perpetually scrimp on their daily budgets not because of an excessive desire to hoard wealth, but because of real want. It is true to ordinary students and other common folks, who when they run out of money or supplies, automatically seek the generosity of the vine that has graciously crept by the side of the house to prepare itself for such emergencies.


Needless to say, the helpful plant is casually neglected – even torn down – when funds are high, or when eating the usual tinola can be avoided. Is it not fascinating though how these vines scramble back to reclaim fences after they have been slashed off? How they rise to life after being mowed down by a vicious storm, and continue to grow fruits and shoots even when seemingly no longer needed at all?


Such resilience, such will to survive, is personified in those who break their backs hauling jute sacks stuffed with sayote fruits from a valley to the roadside hundreds of meters up. It is found in those who have to painstakingly clear a mountainside and fix stakes and frameworks of bamboos, saplings and wires for the wire to crawl up or across; who manage to put up the latticework after a storm blows the structures away; who could muster the courage to plant anew after a blight transforms the green cover into a mass of shriveled vines, miniature fruits and crisp, brown leaves.


These hardy women and men know that the sayote thrives when it is watered, weeded, and watched over; they know that it can give more as people take from it. For cultivation is survival’s mate, and usefulness is productivity’s pal.


The sayote is also a symbol of prosperity. For the poor worker in the sayote field, the area may simply be a place of hardship the fruits of which are only appreciated by the middleman who buys the fruits cheap and sells them expensive. To others who started scratching out dirt and ended up reaping successful harvests of cars, houses, and estates from the area, the plantation is a veritable (green) gold mine and the sayote fruits are green gold nuggets in jute sacks – perhaps a little comparable to the marijuana plantations covering some mountains in the provinces of Kalinga and Benguet out of which many a folk has struck quite a fortune.


Obviously, the prosperity the sayote brings does not stem much from luck, but from sheer hard work; not accident, but by purposeful risk-taking.


Finally, the sayote is a symbol of our pretenses. Below the alluring green patches of leaves lies a soil bereft of green growth. Much like people masking their lonely hearts with a happy face. Or covering a barren life with fruitful charitable works. Or concealing a religion’s weak foundation and corruption with the colorful paints of elaborate rituals, towering structures, fine sermons, humanitarian works, and emotionalism. It looks well to the vine, but it looks funny to us who spend much time fitting and refitting our masks which are constantly blown away by the storms we ourselves create.


Now, the sayote looks quite different, doesn’t it?


Friday, December 28, 2007

Diana

She doesn’t have the fame and beauty of the lamented Princess of Wales nor the wealth of the adored goddess of Ephesus.

Instead of a temple with 127-bedecked pillars or a palace with a 20-hectare garden, she lives in a nondescript hut in a ghetto-like area just outside the tall walls of the town’s imposing cathedral.


Fame? She is known only to a few families for whom she works menial tasks. You’d hardly notice her as she joins the streams of people coming out of the cathedral some Sundays, except for her distinctive clothes: a faded yellow DECS-Kalinga coat, violet pants and blue Converse rubber shoes.


No one would envy her physique for she is less than five feet tall matched by a skinny figure – a far cry from Charlie’s rangy and shapely sweetheart. She doesn’t have the crimson lips of England’s Rose for she burns hers with a daily take of local cigarettes. I guess the only thing that brings her closest to the patroness of Ephesus is her skin color – a work not only of heredity but of the environment as well because of the nature of her daily toil.


She would nod whenever I remind her of the high cost of her vice on her pocket and lungs but she’d quickly defend herself by saying she just couldn’t help it. Once, she said, she joined a Charismatic group because she was told it would help her stop smoking. She managed to brush aside her yearning for the stick for some time, but not for long. And because she couldn’t quit smoking, she quit church.


But she is strong! Just think of her day-to-day bouts with mountains of laundry from house to house. She could not be too strong for her jobless husband though, who would berate and beat her most of the time she arrives home. Her husband’s daily serenade consists of the usual stanza of cuss words and a refrain of suspicions that she gets her money from selling herself to various men in town. These last few years, she has been a little dull of hearing, thanks to the battery of punches to the ear delivered by her often drunk mate.


And she’s fast too, having developed a running skill that can remind one of  Asia’s former sprint queen Lydia de Vega – again thanks to her murderously playful husband who twice chased her with a bolo. She escaped unscathed in the first attack because she was able to beat her husband to the street just in time for a tricycle. There was no tricycle to whisk her away from carnage the second time, but she got away anyhow.


Aside from her man, there are other extra baggage in that small house. One of her two children married a jobless lad just after high school and recently bore a sickly baby. Thrice did Diana tell me she wanted to leave her family for good, but what ties her leg to the post of their hut is the thought of being separated from the children. And, of course, the thought of being hunted down by a drunken man.


Thus, there was nothing else she could do but develop a nerve of steel so she can endure the ton of lead on her shoulders.


She has had a very limited geography. When I told her I married a Bicolana, she nodded but didn’t seem to understand. My sister explained that the only place she knew at the time was her beloved Kalinga, especially Lubuagan, Kalinga. When I took my wife to the province for a visit, Diana was not able to see her at our house, but she managed to catch us the last day to see us off at the bus terminal. She merely looked at my wife in long silence, unable to understand nor speak Tagalog. The only thing she said before our departure was, “Umayakto nga agawir ti anakyo!” (I’ll be visiting you to be your babysitter). She was only able to do so when she was tagged along by my sister for a December breather. That was about two years later when we moved back to Baguio from Naga. Her promised babysitting took only a little over an hour, but, at least, the visit meant for her a broadened geography – and an expanded Tagalog vocabulary.


I haven‘t seen her for a long time now, but every time I think of her I’d wonder how many more women out there have exercised a like faith and suffered a like fate. And, compulsively, I’d wish I could instantly offer her and her kind the world of Snow-whites and Cinderellas.


But I guess Diana does not need to live in Fairyland. Nor does she need to dwell in the Temple of Ephesus or in the Buckingham Palace, for she is more at home in a hut.


She just wanted a happy ending.

John Wycliffe

john wycliffe31 December 1384 John Wycliffe, “Morning Star of the Reformation,” dies. An Oxford professor and Bible translator, he gave the world its first English Bible. Recommended websites: http://www.wycliffe.org/, http://www.island-of-freedom.com/WYCLIFFE.HTM

Heroes

Spider-man… Too few characters out there flying around like that, saving old girls like me. And Lord knows, kids like Henry need a hero — courageous, self-sacrificing people, setting examples for all of us.


Everybody loves a hero: people line up for them, cheer them, scream their names. And years later, they’ll tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who taught them to hold on a second longer…


I believe there’s a hero in all of us that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride – even though sometimes we have to be steady and give up the things we want the most. Even our dreams…


- “Mary Parker,” Spiderman 2


Mary Parker’s hero is a romanticized and sanitized character, fit for a world where fresh kisses turn beasts into princes or grant life to the inanimate and where conditions are changed according to the wishes of the heart.


Spiderman is an idol creatively projected onto white screens, stamped on comic books, or brushed on painters’ canvasses. He embodies our manias and phobias, wishes and triumphs – much like Frodo Baggins and Harry Potter do. And, like any other form of diversion, fictive works based on these characters often lift us to the other-worldly where we are relieved from the hurly-burly of day-to-day realities – at least for a time.


And when we get back to the real world, we are either refreshed for our tasks or tasked all the more for being refreshed.


***


Mary Parker noted well though that we are all in search of a hero. Too often, it doesn’t matter whether that hero is for real or simply cosmeticized. What matters most is the inspiration that our hero or our pantheon of heroes provides us.


On a practical note, however, maybe it does matter whether those personalities and ideals we put on pedestals are valuable or worthless, genuine or fake, built naturally or blown out of proportion.




…whether Philippine History teachers extol the greatness of Magellan and damn the treachery of Lapu-lapu.


…whether christening our children with foreign-sounding names is a mark of erudition and using indigenous names is a sign of ignorance.


…whether the farmer’s callous soles evidence a lack of ambition and the accountant’s immaculate hands prove the blessings of a fulfilled vision.


…whether contractors of waiting sheds spell out the initials of an incumbent or leave out the initials of the carpenters who worked on the structure with their rulers and hammers.


…whether inaugurators emboss only the names of politicians on plaques placed at the prominent areas of a building and neglect to honor the names of laborers who actually put up the edifice.


…whether bombers of public utility installations are guardians of socialism and the security guards of these installations are guardians of fascism.


…whether salvaging activists is an act of justice and exposing the machinations of cheats is an act of treason.


…whether those who burn effigies and litter the streets with pamphlets show a desire for clean governance and those who wield the broomsticks are only desirous of cleaning the streets.


…whether exposing the failings of the present administration is a matter of integrity and exposing the failings of the past administration is a matter of dishonesty.


…whether questioning established religious practices is heresy and promoting sectarianism is orthodoxy.



So when you look for a real hero, forget a camera-loving, velcro-clad, and web-shooting demi-god. For he might just be that fellow who breathes in the stench of a patched-up hovel and sleeps with a flour sack around his body and cobwebs over his head.


QUOTE TO NOTE:





“Today, we need new heroes who can help us solve our pressing problem. We cannot rely on Rizal alone. We must discard the belief that we are incapable of producing the heroes of our epoch, that heroes are exceptional beings, accidents of history who stand above the masses and apart from them. The true hero is one with the masses; he does not exist above them. In fact, a whole people can be heroes given the proper motivation and articulation of their dreams.”



Renato Constantino, in “Veneration Without Understanding” (par. 53)