If This is A Filipino

Jose Rizal is the Philippines’ national hero. Some say he is an American-invented hero, but I still believe that the honors accorded to him are well-deserved. He died for love of country — which is probably a hell of a lot more that I can muster. He is a nationalist and a polymath and his work and whole life is something that a lot of  of his countrymen can emulate. Sad to say, they do not. (photo from Wikipedia)

 

Jewish writer and concentration camp survivor, Primo Levi once wrote a book called “If This is A Man”. The title came from this poem:

You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You who find, returning in the evening,
Hot food and friendly faces:
Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud
Who does not know peace
Who fights for a scrap of bread
Who dies because of a yes or a no.
Consider if this is a woman,
Without hair and without name
With no more strength to remember,
Her eyes empty and her womb cold
Like a frog in winter.
Meditate that this came about:
I commend these words to you.
Carve them in your hearts
At home, in the street,
Going to bed, rising;
Repeat them to your children,
Or may your house fall apart,
May illness impede you,
May your children turn their faces from you.

 

It is a heartbreaking poem, for it compares a free person from someone who is locked up in a concentration camp. The most powerful words in this piece are these: “meditate that these came about”.

***

Why am I writing about concentration camps and that archaic event called holocaust (which is being denied by a lot of people who disagree with Israel’s occupation of Palestine — holocaust did happen, my dears, which is not to say Palestinian occupation is a fiction, those two are not mutually exclusive; it is heartbreaking when victims close their eyes to the humanity of others.)

The Philippine president once said that it’s okay to kill drug addicts and criminals because they are not humans. It is an outrageous thing to say; but which Filipinos (or at least the 16 million who voted for Duterte, note: there are currently over 100 million Filipinos) totally love.

They love the president, despite his bad mouth, shoddy accomplishments, crooked and squabbling deputies, and his very vocal support for violence to solve the country’s problems (number one of which is drugs — according to him, whether that is supported by facts is another matter).

Filipinos love him — the recent survey shows over 80% approves of his presidency.

They love him and his policies enough to wish other fellow Filipinos who disagree  total ill will. For example, the social media is replete with Duterte supporters who will post statements that you deserve to be raped or killed or your family massacred if you point  out how morally wrong the president’s pronouncements are.

***

Which brings me to the title of this post: If this a Filipino …

…. would I want to be one?

…. would I be proud to call a country that produces such people as my own?

…. would I want to go back?

****

What is frustrating, what makes me feel more sadness than anger towards fellow Filipinos who voted for Duterte is how willing they are to dig their own graves.

Talking to them is like talking to an addict who consciously knows that it is ingesting poison — i.e. Duterte supporters’ willingness to sacrifice innocent lives for this so-called war against drugs — when someone loses one’s moral fiber by supporting a policy that reduces innocent human lives to collateral damage, that is poison. (And please, they are aware that not all who are killed in OPLAN Tokhang are drug pushers,  just like not all who were killed in the Marawi airstrikes were terrorists.)

Despite this, they are willing to ingest poison because the option of stopping (for them) would be more painful.

Oh well,  I know I have the alternative of leaving the Philippines if (when?) it gets fucked up; a lot of the 16 million Filipinos won’t.

And that probably makes me sound unpatriotic but, fuck, I am beginning to  disbelieve Jose Rizal and all those heroes that think our country is worth fighting for — 16 million Filipinos just showed that I am probably not a Filipino (insert sad emoji here).

Dreaming of Dictatorships

It must be my disposition, but I am vehemently against the notion of authoritarian rule. Which is (maybe) somewhat hypocritical of me, because I am now living, working in  and enjoying the comforts of a country with such a form of government (what can be more authoritarian than an absolute monarchy?).

democracy

Recently, my country has decided to elect as president a man who espouses his preference for a more “dictatorial” style of management. It has perplexed the “intellectual” segments of my country, we in our so-called ivory towers, who are removed from the daily toils and travails of the hoi polloi.

But hey, once upon a time (a little less than 6 months ago, in fact), I was part of the hoi polloi.  I was suffering the daily hell of MRT/LRT, the woes of Metro Manila traffic, the fragmented public health care system, the epal faces of politicians as pictured in those ubiquitous tarpaulins … Just six months ago, I was bemoaning all that was wrong with Pnoy’s government.

And then I left.

(And I found that I can’t vote in this country I have fled to because I was late for the registration — but that’s  another story.)

Deep in my guts, I knew it was only a matter of time that someone like Rodrigo Duterte would win as president of the Philippines. We are a country who elected Erap, after  all — and in a landslide win, at that.

We are a country who believes the social media machine of the Marcoses that is popularizing the revisionist idea that Martial Law was God’s gift to the Philippines. (ha ha, it was a gift that left me with a debt to be paid to foreign lending agencies until 2025!)

We are a country whose children do not know who Apolinario Mabini is, let alone that he was paralyzed.

We are a country whose people leave. That includes me, of course.

Once upon a time, in 1982 —   Marcos was still in power and Ninoy was still alive; when the peso was plummeting and the economy was in shambles; when thousands of would-be youth leaders have either been “salvaged”, tortured or disappeared,   a certain US Secretary of State was rumored to have said this: “The Philippines is a nation of 40 million cowards and one son-of-a-bitch.”

Well, George Schultz, it is now 2016, and the Philippines is a nation of 100 million people. I do not know if Mr. Duterte will prove to be a son-of-a-bitch (whatever that term may mean), but a lot of us are still cowards (or lazy … or deluded … or all of the above).

download

 

 

 

The OFW Life

Dear Auntie J,

Yes now I understand.

Now I get it, the things you had to go through, which my mother (your sister) thought so little of:

Image from plantingrice.com

Image from plantingrice.com… the confusion, the feeling of being lost in a sea of strangers …

… the confusion, the feeling of being lost in a sea of strangers …

Image: screengrab from youtube.com

… the language barriers, a wall so vast and deep because it is not only about words but more about history, culture and  things left unsaid …

al hajar mountains

… adjusting to a different climate whether too hot or too cold, looking  for your Goldilocks-zone and never quite finding it …

Image from gmanetwork.com

Image from gmanetwork.com

… having plenty of material stuff but not having enough, because “enough” meant having someone you love share all that plenty-ness with; unfortunately the ones you love are oceans of miles away …

… worrying and wondering about a distant land you left behind and dealing with the constant question “Did I  do the right thing?”  Leaving was a matter of survival, but still you have your doubts …

…. the feeling that your life is on hold. Because you are neither here nor there. You are not a tourist, but you are not a “resident” either.

Image from pinoyrepublic.info

Image from pinoyrepublic.info

I get it now. I get the allure of wanting to acquire citizenship in a foreign country to get a sense of belonging. Because eventually you feel that your own will not welcome you with open arms. Or the open arms are a sham, was only extended to demand something from you.

I get it now. Why you felt I was wasting my life back home. You see: I still think of it as home. I wonder, after all these years, how you think of it.

Image from minibalita.com

Image from minibalita.com

I get it now. The balikbayan boxes, the infrequent calls,  the seemingly superficial mails (because it really is hard to put into words this feeling of displacement, of  having betrayed something or having been let down, of not knowing who to talk to or how to talk about the deepest fears of your heart, of crying and feeling stupid because, hey, you have all this money, so why the tears?)

I get it now. And I am wondering whether to feel happy for us. Or sorry.

It is masochism, I know … but loving something frequently is.

And I know I love the land of my birth. Leaving was a pain. The pain was (is) palpable, and mostly felt in the wee silences of the morning or before sleeping when the routines of work are over.

Image from thefilipino.com

Image from thefilipino.com

It effing hurts to have left.

But I know … it would have hurt so much more to have stayed.

Sex and the RH Law

From slideshare. Dr. Darleen Estuart's slides: "Reproductive Health and Responsible Sexuality", presented at the Mindanao Young Women Leader's Congress, 2011

From slideshare. Dr. Darleen Estuart’s slides: “Reproductive Health and Responsible Sexuality”, presented at the Mindanao Young Women Leader’s Congress, 2011.

The wonderful thing about blogging is that after a draining day at work, you find a post that gets your blood pressure up again.

So Tito Sotto and Loren Legarda have made budget cuts against the Reproductive Health Law. Somehow I am not surprised.They will both claim “personal/religious convictions” and “prioritization of other more important matters” in their decision; but the truth is, they find it easy to undermine a law that would give more reproductive freedom for women because they have never been …

  1. A 35 year old multigravid with a pedicab driver for a partner who depends on free RH services at the health center to limit her pregnancies …
  2. A doctor/nurse/midwife who works as a frontliner in said health center who feels helpless when the multigravid comes to her and the only thing you can offer is “counselling on natural family planning” — which does not work, by the way; the 35-year-old-multigravid has tried it before ….
  3. A 16 year old teenager whose parents both have lover number 2; the teenager wants to leave the family house to live with her 18 year old “kargador” boyfriend who at least has a job ….
  4. A barangay health worker (BHW) who wants to help this teenager but is feeling very demoralized because the program for teenage pregnancy prevention will not take off because of lack of funds. Imagine, there has been a so-called Adolescent health program for years, but it’s all on paper. So BHW is embarrassed with the community because this program is just a bunch of crap …. because the policy makers wouldn’t put their money (which is actually not their money, but the people’s money) where their effing mouths are ….
  5. A 40 year old multigravid who wants a bilateral tubal ligation and (at the moment) can’t get it for free because the hospital says she has to buy this and that medication for the procedure. Ah yes, Philhealth did say BTLs are free — well Philhealth kindly have discussion with hospital regarding the definition of “free” ….
  6. A  nurse working for PopCom (Population Commission) who has just been told by the district health officer that no we are not offering  the very effective contraceptive implant at the moment because there are no supplies coming from the central office. Poor PopCom nurse, who has to explain this to the young mothers who just want to space their pregnancies and want to use a convenient way to do it.

…. etc etc

It can be very hard to empathize with women who want reproductive health services because hey, it wouldn’t kill them not to have sex, right? They would just have to abstain or use natural family planning methods or the withdrawal method. Yes I am being sarcastic. And by the way, the withdrawal method is not a reliable form of contraception, having a failure rate of more than 20%.

Seriously! Has Tito Sotto tried withdrawal before? Has Loren? Have they tried calendar, Billing’s, BBT;  and do they know how much commitment and effort is required of a couple who wants to use these methods?

I mean … is sex such a luxury in this country? If you are poor, better forego sex and be celibate if you don’t want to get pregnant?

I find it ironic: in a world where sex is so common (in television, in movies — commodities that we sell to poor women, and which they buy, because hey it is entertainment and some of us really need to be entertained to forget the drudgery of our lives), it is also a world that deprives women of opportunities to have freedom over their bodies.

If I am a girl ( oh fuck! I am one) I would like my government to help me achieve the maximum amount of freedom I can have with my body. A lot of people (mostly men) would not agree. They would say, reproductive health and all things related to sex are private that should not be meddled with by the government. But …. love and marriage are also private things, a compact between two people, but we all know the government has a lot to say about them.

 

A Continuing Past

“The past is not dead. It’s not even past.” William Faulkner, a dead white American novelist. From the novel, Requiem for a Nun.

“The past is past.” Bongbong Marcos, real-life son of a dead Filipino dictator. In an interview.

RequiemForANun

***

There should be a right way of remembering. Some protocol to acknowledge and/or forgive the past without bogging us down in grudges and arguments.

I say this because I live in a country that has never known how to use the past. We are like that rodent in the cage that keeps on going around in circles.

The son of a dictator insists that the past is the past and we must move on and leave it behind. How so Mr. Marcos? How does a nation that was robbed and mutilated  by your father’s regime do that exactly?

Maybe, for Filipinos, Martial Law is the equivalent of the Civil War for Americans. In many ways, it is a topic that divides us. There are two narratives of Martial Law in my country, and it depends on who is doing the remembering.

According to you and your supporters, it was a golden age when people were disciplined, the economy was great and the leadership was able and competent.

According to me and others who hold the same views: Martial Law was one of the worst things that happened to our country — when corruption was institutionalized; when Ferdinand, Imelda and the cronies robbed us blind; when people were killed by the thousands for expressing their views and when the country’s economy went down to the pits.

I wish for a time traveling machine, something like in that Michael J. Fox  movie that I was so fond of way back in 1989.

I wish to observe the past first-hand and have my friends who are pro-Marcos do so as well. We will go back to 1980, perhaps, the year  I was born and check the veracity of certain claims.

Like: presidential decree arrests, Imelda’s infrastructure projects, arrested and tortured activists, the so-called enforced discipline in the streets, the peace in the countryside, the corruption in the military, the desaparecidos, the food stability and the green revolution, the squatter  colonies and the rise of Smokey Mountain …

Can one narrative be completely right and the other completely wrong? Or are they both correct, different facets of the same prism?

How do we learn from the past if we cannot even agree on  what it consisted of?

If martial law was so wonderful ....

If martial law was so wonderful ….

 

... then why did the 1986 People Power happen?

… then why did the 1986 People Power happen?

 

 

***

Reading Lists:

http://www.fhm.com.ph/daily-reads/news/bongbong-marcos-family-elections-vice-president

http://www.spot.ph/newsfeatures/the-latest-news-features/64010/ferdinand-bongbong-marcos-mythology

http://www.slyejoyserrano.com/myths-about-marcos/

http://www.rappler.com/thought-leaders/12780-the-ghosts-of-martial-law?cp_rap_source=ymlScrolly#cxrecs_s

 

Words

I have never learned how to speak Bisaya.

Not surprising; since 99% of my life was spent in Luzon. There are over 150 languages spoken in this country that I call home. And I only know 2 of them! Shame on me.

We did have a culture before King Philip of Spain and Uncle Sam invaded our land. We were a hodge podge of many tribes; one of those tribes were the Tagalogs; and this was their ancient language called alibata. Blame the Spanish friars for eradicating it from modern society. How's that, Pope Francis! Another historical fact, the Catholic Church should say mea culpa for.

We did have a culture before King Philip of Spain and Uncle Sam invaded our land. We were a hodge podge of many tribes, not so different from the different Scottish clans before the English invasion. One of those tribes were the Tagalogs; and this was their ancient language called alibata. Blame the Spanish friars for eradicating it from modern society. How’s that, Pope Francis! Another historical fact the Catholic Church should say mea culpa for?

Once upon a time, when I was a student, the topic of National Language was an emotional and personal pet crusade. I would debate someone, anyone who would dare to malign Filipino and insist on English’s superiority as a medium of expression. Blame it on the university where I graduated. It insisted on equating “love of country” to “love of national language”.

I was (and still am) an expert Filipino speaker. My first articles and stories were in Filipino. The stories I love passionately (Edgardo M. Reyes and Lualhati Bautista’s novels; Gerardo Sicat and Genoveva Edroza Matute’s short stories, to name a few) and the poems that I used to emulate (Francisco Balagtas’s “Florante at Laura”, Jose Corazon de Jesus’s “Ang Pamana”, Teodoro Agoncillo’s “Republikang Basahan” etc.) were all in Filipino.

It was Mr. F. Sionil Jose that made me realize that the Filipino language (much as the Philippine’s official Language Commission would try to deny it) is actually the Tagalog language with some variations.

 

There is nothing inherently wrong with the Tagalog language. Half of my genes are Tagalog; that must be a reason for my affinity with it. However, I have been traveling to the southern parts of my country for several years now; and I found that a lot of people that I would consider my own, do not even understand me when I speak this language that the academics call “Filipino”.

I first read this book, the life story of a Manila high class prostitute when I was 19 y/o. Re-reading it for the 2nd time was week was an enlightening experience. I learned: 1. This book's values was terribly old-fashioned and Mr. Jose is probably a male chauvinist pig, but I love him anyway!; 2. This book's heroine should have been introduced to Anabel Chong, the pornographic performer who once held the record for the most men fucked in a gang bang; then this book's heroine would have learned something like "she doesn't have the corner on suffering in this world; 3. Virginity is overrated.

I first read this book, the life story of a Manila high class prostitute when I was 19 y/o. Re-reading it for the 2nd time last week was an enlightening experience. I learned: 1. This book’s values are terribly old-fashioned and Mr. Jose is probably a male chauvinist pig (but I love him anyway!); 2. This book’s heroine should have been introduced to Anabel Chong, the pornographic performer who once held the record for the most men fucked in a gang bang; then this book’s heroine would have learned something like she doesn’t have “the corner on suffering in this world”; 3. Virginity is overrated.

Traveling to Cebu, a city in the Visayas, I realized how woefully inadequate my so-called education was because I couldn’t adequately converse in Bisaya! I had to speak to taxi drivers and fishermen in Oslob beach in English!

(Nothing terrible with English … my blog is in English, for one. It is the world’s lingua franca at the moment, true. Scientific and medical journals are written mostly in this language. My favorite writers write in English!

But the roots of this language has nothing to do with my geography. And it is useful and fun and I love it but …

Sunrise in Oslob. Oslob is a southern town in Cebu island. And what's remarkable about it is that every morning, huge whalesharks would swim very near the beach and go so near the fishermen that they would feed them.

Sunrise in Oslob. Oslob is a southern town in Cebu island. And what’s remarkable about it is that every morning, huge whalesharks would swim very near the beach and go so near the fishermen that they would feed them.

Tumalog Falls. a very charming, very pretty waterfall, also in the town of Oslob.

Tumalog Falls. a very charming, very pretty waterfall, also in the town of Oslob.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.. but it is not … entirely mine.

And there is something heartbreakingly sad when a person from Kansas cannot converse with a fellow American from New York because they don’t have the same language, and they have to talk using German to understand each other.) 

***

So these are just words.

And someday, if I’m really bad, they will be forgotten.

***

By the way, the term “I love you” in Bisaya is “Ginihugma ako ha nimo.”

Okay, Cebuanos and other Bisaya-speakers  can shoot me now.

 

What Happened on February 25

people power 1

Image from http://www.revolutionrevisited.com. It is a very Pinoy thing to do revolutions prayer-rally style. See the image of the Virgin Mary in this picture? While I do not discount the power of prayer, I think it is high time that my people stop relying on a higher deity in doing the dirty work of building and maintaining a nation.

My baby sister was born!

Mommy delivered her at home; with the help of our neighborhood midwife, who happened to be the mom of my friend, Heidi. That time, home deliveries were still the norm and the Philippine Department of Health has not yet discouraged women against home delivery

Don't these sisters just rock!? It was 1986 and they were prating the rosary and were not afraid of being trampled amidst the millions that milled in EDSA.  Image from http://www.positivelyfilipino.com/magazine/2013/2/77-hours-the-behind-the-scenes-at-the-1986-edsa-people-power-revolution

Don’t these sisters just rock!? It was 1986 and they were praying the rosary and were not afraid of being trampled amidst the millions that milled in EDSA. A soldier was holding an armalite in front of them; and they were probably saying, “God bless you iho, now let’s do the Hail Mary.” And the soldier was reminded of his mom. Filipino males, soldier or not, are always afraid of their moms. Image from http://www.positivelyfilipino.com/magazine/2013/2/77-hours-the-behind-the-scenes-at-the-1986-edsa-people-power-revolution

My mom said that she considered my sister as the lucky charm of our family. Her pork business bloomed after Sister’s birth and she moved from  a D to a B minus (I am talking about social classes and not bra-cup sizes).

The Pinoy men at EDSA were not too shabby either. Here is a picture of several of them trying to do the impossible; which was to stop tanks using their bare hands. They succeeded. Image from http://desarapen.blogspot.com/2005/08/lasang-pinoy-1-yellow-confetti-pancit.html

The Pinoy men at EDSA were not too shabby either. Here is a picture of several of them trying to do the impossible; which was to stop tanks using their bare hands. They succeeded. Image from http://desarapen.blogspot.com/2005/08/lasang-pinoy-1-yellow-confetti-pancit.html

 

Were it not for February 25, 1986 ... Corry Aquino (the 1987 Time Magazine Person of the Year) would not have become president. Image from globalbalita.com

Were it not for February 25, 1986 … Cory Aquino (the 1987 Time Magazine Person of the Year) would not have become president. Image from globalbalita.com

***

“Girls are taught a lot of stuff growing up: if a boy punches you he likes you, never try to trim your own bangs, and someday you will meet a wonderful guy and get your very own happy ending. Every movie we see, every story we’re told implores us to wait for it: the third act twist, the unexpected declaration of love, the exception to the rule. But sometimes we’re so focused on finding our happy ending we don’t learn how to read the signs. how to tell the ones who want us from the ones who don’t, the ones who will stay and the ones who will leave. and maybe a happy ending doesn’t include a guy, maybe it’s you, on your own, picking up the pieces and starting over, freeing yourself up for something better in the future. maybe the happy ending is just moving on. or maybe the happy ending is this: knowing after all the unreturned phone calls and broken-hearts, through the blunders and misread signals, through all the pain and embarrassment… you never gave up hope.”

— Gigi, a character played by Ginnifer Goodwin (He’s Just Not That Into You)

 

In fairness to my countrymen (and women) and me … we have never given up hope 🙂

filipino spirit

***

Reading Lists and Reference:

http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/184772/why-filipinos-have-to-learn-mindful-parenting

http://opinion.inquirer.net/82708/democracy-the-great-experiment

http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2015/02/proud-society-provide-care-everyone.html

http://time.com/3716823/mars-one-space-travel-finalist/