The bigger-than-life woman outside


Almost everyday, right after I wake up, while I  do some stretching and five-minute reflections, I am always  greeted by the larger-than-life billboard of Marian River right in front the condominium where I am staying beside Boni Avenue.

I am not a fan of Marian River,a and I have not watched a single movie that starred her, so I am not in a position to judge her acting prowess. Basing, however, on some of her television soaps, I am wont to believe that nothing much can be expected of her as far as acting is concerned.

The billboard outside, on the other hand, is a different story. The woman outside is not the woman I once watched doing a failed attempt on giving a convincing role of a woman scorned, a mermaid wanting acceptance, or a woman victimized by fate. In fact, the reason her pictured endeared her to me is that unobtrusive presence in spite of the fact that her face is painted on a 20 meters by 10 meters tarpaulin blocking the already non-existent horizon bounded by the Ortigas skyline. Her pretentious smile is devoid of any trace of intention to please anyone.

The picture of Marian Rivera outside exists for its own sake. The billboard ad itself is even dumb, uninteresting, and not intellectually challenging. But these concerns are not at all important for the medium of the message becomes the subject.

Marian Rivera successfully transforms the drab and grey outline of the view outside my window and adds color to what is otherwise a boring panorama of abandoned warehouses, high-rise condominium, and early-morning smog. Something that the real-life actress of the same name failed to convince that she can be a believable Marimar, Dyesebel, or a woman taken from somebody else’s ribcage.

Today’s rain failed to dampen the glow of her stares at me.

Beyond virgin-whore dichotomy

In a country where a woman is both virgin and bitch, Nicole, the pseudonym of the woman in the Subic Rape Case, can fall from being an exulted symbol of virtue, justice, and salvaged national pride to a whore who sold her remaining self worth and identity in exchange of the American dream.


Her fight was a saga in the Philippine justice system. We got hooked on our television sets awaiting for the looming victory of a woman who wanted nothing but a guilty verdict against a man who devalued her womanhood, who used her like a prostitute, who did to her the ultimate form of insult: rape. The case of Nicole made us rethink of the Visiting Forces Agreement and how it places the Philippines, especially its women, to a disadvantage.


And after a long battle, Nicole got what she deserved. She won her case placing the entire country in euphoria for several days. Her victory represented that remaining trust the Filipino people have in its institutions. However, not so many weeks ago, Nicole issued a statement that sounded like a recantation expressing doubts whether she indeed was raped. This only foreshadowed the series of events that eventually led to the not-guilty verdict of the Appellate Court for Lance Corporal Daniel Smith. According to reports, Nicole is now in the U.S.

She is only a woman seeking for a better future for her family and her self. For what good it will bring her if she pursues her fight, win her case, but to continually live in the darkness of her past? What good it will bring her if she fights for the pride of a people who easily forgets its history? Nicole just thought that her family and her future are more important than the unimaginable concept of a Filipino nation.

Between the promises of the American dream and the life she will have here in the Philippines, Nicole chose the former. She chose the more rational of the choices. It might have been a difficult choice, but it was a choice whose conclusion is certain. For how can she choose to stick with a government that failed to protect her rights, with a justice system that betrayed her, with a people who thinks of her as a prostitute?

It was a sad rainy evening when I heard in the news broadcast on a television located overhead the driver’s seat in a bus plying EDSA that the corporal was not guilty because what occurred between them was “a spontaneous romantic episode”. Baloney.

It was sad because Nicole’s decision to give up her fight and embrace a better life in the U.S. are reflective of the sad state of our nation and the thoughts most Filipinos have. A decision that is difficult to make but whose conclusion is certain.

Many more Filipinos like Nicole make the same decision each day. They leave their families, their friends, their country because they know this country will not give them freedom, will not fight for their rights, will not provide them livelihood to live decently. Nicole’s decision is more than just a virgin-or-whore dichotomy. It seeps deeper into the depth of our nationhood and the capacity of our state to protect it people. Justice is not an empty entity; for Nicole, hers was empty justice, a sardonic verdict lacking any transcendental meaning.

Berso sa Metro

This afternoon while on my way to Ortigas from my condo in Boni, I took a snapshot of this Spanish verse translated in Filipino inside that MRT train. I smiled and said to my self: this can never be truer.


Concerns and the passion for the environment

Two years ago, I left for Germany because of my passion in saving the environment. At that time, I believed so much in the ability of the youth to create ripples of change that could help in finding solutions to pressing problems facing the world-melting of the polar ice caps, extinctions of wild life, deforestation-and in my case, mitigating soil erosion in my hometown, Polomolok, South Cotabato, home of Dole, Philippines Inc., the world’s biggest producer of fresh fruits and vegetables.


I joined the competition that time sponsored by Bayer and the United Nations Environment Programme because I wanted to go to Europe, never did it occur to me that I’d be enmeshed with my project and be more involved with the environmental issues Polomolok is confronting due to the presence of the big multinational company.

I cannot deny the benefits the people are getting from Dole. Cannery, a barangay that got its name from the fact the it is the cannery for pineapples harvested from the vast plantation surrounding it, is now lobbying to become a municipality because of the revenue it has amassed making it a good candidate as a second class municipality. Almost all the people living in the place are employees of Dole. In fact, my parents who are both teachers, decided to settle and raise their children in Cannery because of the opportunities awaiting them during that time. Some of my high school classmates are now employees of the company. Despite these good that Dole has brought to the place since it first started its operations in the 60s, the environmental degradation it is causing Polomolok as well as the municipalities of Tupi and Tamapakan is increasing at an alarming rate which may cancel all the gains of  Polomolok for having the company conduct it operations in the area.

The pineapple plantation being predominantly monocrop is placing too much pressure on the soil; soil erosion being one of the problems, aside of course from the resulting high acidity of the soil which will leave the soil virtually unusable in the event Dole Philippines decide to bring its operation elsewhere. The problem of soil erosion is observable in the area beside Dole Cannery Central Elementary School and Polomolok National High School; both are my alma mater. The width of the creek is growing at such a rapid rate that both schools have to build retaining walls along areas that used to be green grounds. Moreover, some houses were abandoned because of the dangers of flash floods. Whenever it rains heavily, the runoff carries with it portion of the topsoil and exposes the more vulnerable and less fertile subsoil. This process that is occurring for years is now slowly felt by the residents and the company. However, nothing substantial has really been done.


With the global financial crises and the slowdown in the demand for fresh products, the place will be hard hit if Dole halts its operation. I heard from a relative that two months ago the working days were temporarily cut by the company. This resulted to salary cuts, an event they fear was just a dress rehearsal for a more gloomy days ahead, or worse, Dole abandoning its operation.

The soil being unsuitable for rice plantation because of very high chemical level and thin top soil will be of no use to people. Here the people are confronted with the delicate balance between the environment and the people being tipped. Polomolok will be a sad case of an environmental disaster if these concerns are not carefully studied and given appropriate solution.

This Earth Day, I am reminded of that project I conducted almost two years ago. It was already a start but I stopped midway because I also had to face other life’s concerns. I seldom visited my hometown and I have no idea what have become of the trees we planted along the creeks or the students who listened to my lectures regarding soil erosion. Mine was a case of an aborted ripple that was supposed to cause tidal waves but disappeared in the middle of my oceans of concerns.

Still my passion for the environment has not waned; probably I am just awaiting for that day when I finally get tired pursuing all my banal pursuits.

A look at the Filipino definition of ‘integrity’

For a media practitioner in the Philippines, integrity is everything. This sentence needs to be qualified, however.

Ted Failon is now seeing the end of his career, that is how I see the recent case involving the primetime news broadcaster and how the different media organization covered the events. Any media personality, no matter how big the name is, who is pulled in this kind of mess is bound to go nowhere but in deeper abyss.


While the authorities are looking at the two angles of the story: that the wife of Failon, Trinidad Etong committed suicide; and that Failon has a hand in the death of the woman, is not anymore important. Wherever the evidence may lead, Failon is bound to be kicked out of ABS-CBN.

Although other media practitioners have been involved with wrongdoings such as corruption, extortion, bias and unethical practice of profession, they continue to be heard, read, or watched because they have not really lost their integrity in the qualified sense. In the Philippines, a person lost his integrity to practice his profession as journalist if it is proved in the court of law that the crime alleged was actually committed and that the story was broadcast that leads to a negative public opinion.

The first criterion is not very important if it is not broadcast. Unless the second criterion is met, the integrity of the erring journalist remains intact. However, even without being proved guilty, a journalist can be unfairly tried without actually facing judgment in the court. The tone of coverage and a different angling are all it takes to end a career.

Simply put, a journalist who is notorious for accepting bribes can still become the leading primetime news anchor and even go on to become the country’s president if none of his acts is made public. This does not say, however, that public knowledge of his crime does not exist. It does, but unless there is no formal news coverage of his crime he remains blameless and moral. Media in the Philippines has already replaced the role of the judiciary.

This kind of rule will be disadvantageous in cases involving high profile journalists pleading not guilty of the crime. He is already pre-judged, and more often than not, guilty is the verdict. For Ted Failon, he has already lost his integrity that took him decades to build.

Nonetheless, pseudo-journalists such as those handling showbiz news are not covered by this rule. In fact the more controversial and steamy their lives are the more their supposed integrity increases to report showbiz news.

Concepts such as integrity, truth, and justice are understood in an amorphous sense in the Filipino society. They don’t have form, they are not stiff, they can be molded according to the ones holding power, they may look solid and well-founded but are they constantly in a flux. Whether Tef Failon killed his wife or it was she who ended her life is already immaterial here. Failon has already been judged, no matter how hard his mother station does the damage control. The public has made its judgment, and so the ABS-CBN management will have to concede and will do the necessary step.

Failon has lost whatever ‘integrity’ he has.

Circumcision and becoming a man

This afternoon, while riding a jeep from Padre Faura to Espana under an afternoon temperature of 35 degrees Centigrade, something ordinary occurred that reminded me of a beyond-the-ordinary event that occurred around twelve years ago. That event gave me a sneak preview of what to expect as I entered the series of rites of passage a Filipino boy has to go through before becoming a real man.



A family of four rode the jeep when it passed by a government health clinic along Taft Avenue. The family was composed of a father sporting a proud, almost airy, expression; a mother with the undeniable know-it-all character most mothers have; and their two sons who are roughly ten to thirteen years old walking carefully and wearing over-sized shorts while holding the front portion of their shorts in an odd manner. In rural Philippines as well as in some poor areas of Manila, this sight of young boys wearing baggy shorts is common during the months of April and May when school closes therefore giving young boys enough time to recover from this simple surgery called circumcision but almost universally called in the Philippines as ‘tuli’.

I had mine when I was twelve years old; it was the summer of 1997. A week before the operation, my father advised me to clean myself, and if possible, spend time taking a bath by soaking myself in lukewarm water for half an hour everyday until the day. That day, my father brought me to a government clinic in the poblacion, around four kilometers from where we live. We were greeted by a market-like atmosphere of young boys with their father, sometimes also with their mothers, waiting in line for their turn to undergo an operation that will ultimately make real men out of them.

In the Philippines the operation is almost a routine in the general male population. While it is related with religion for Jews and some Christians, in the Philippines circumcision is a social activity that signifies the first step in the long process of becoming a man. Boys are made to feel the pressure by their friends and male relatives to undergo the operation. Although the benefits of the surgery have not been very convincing, a lot of myths have been made up to support the conduct of the surgery. It is said that boys will grow faster when they are circumcised; an uncircumcised man will not be able to impregnate a woman; circumcised men are more virile; etc.

The methods of the operation range from those conducted in private clinics in urban areas to the cruder and more dangerous ‘paltak’ where a village healer cuts the foreskin using a very sharp knife with just one blow, relying so much on a hit or miss.

It was an unforgettable day for me, and so was for my father. I am his eldest son, the first one he accompanied in this very important part of growing up for Filipino men. I tried as hard as I could not to show fear because I did not want to disappoint my father. But I knew I disappointed him when I went out of the clinic after my operation was done looking like I was about to pass out; I sensed it in the way he looked at me. He never talked to me during the entire time we were riding a tricycle back home. I eventually realized that it was my natural reaction whenever I lose an amount of blood. And whenever he told the story about that day he never failed to mention how I looked like I was about to faint.

I followed his advice on how to clean wound. He taught me how to gather young leaves of guava tree, boil them, and wash the wound using the water from boiled guava leaves. But I did not allow him to see my wound. I feigned independence in order to prove him that I was already a real man who could do things without his help. My wound got infected a week after, but I did not call his attention, instead I read the medical self-help book my mother bought on how to properly clean the area and how to use tincture of iodine as antiseptic. After a month and a half, I was completely recovered and healed.

It was an experience that caused a rift between my father and me. It took me a time to forget that look on his face that day when I almost passed out.

All those years, I was haunted by my father’s disappointed look that made me forget how proud he was that day bringing his first-born son to that small government health center in Polomolok, South Cotabato for his entrance to manhood and, most especially, adulthood.

I know I need not prove to him my manhood, nor to anyone else.

I smiled when I saw the two boys carefully avoiding the shorts they wore to touch their wounds from the circumcision; and their parents, with pride in their voice and saying it loudly for all the passengers to hear, advising them what do.

I smiled because I also experienced the same hard and painful process of becoming a man in the Philippines, and along the way understanding my own father.

Meeting old friends

Since I arrived in Manila, I have this odd feeling that I will be meeting old friends from UP and do some cheesy stuff as reminiscing what we’ve gone through in the university and asking each other as to what happened to our other batch mates.

The Batch 2003 in the College of Arts and Sciences of UP Visayas took the toll of decreasing number of enrolees then when most students who were entering college that time opted to take nursing. The enrollment went down for almost 30 per cent. Our small number, however, proved to be advantageous because it created a strong bond among us. We may not know each other’s complete name but we know with a glance if a certain student is a member of our batch.

Two years after graduating from college, what is left are a handful of names I have occasional contacts with.

It occurred a week ago while I was waiting for the train to arrive at Ayala station when I bumped on a familiar face. It was Ferlan, a Political Science student who studied a year in Bali and speaks fluent Bahasa Indonesia. We were together in the ROTC program which I quit after a week; he continued and later became the Corps Commander of the UP Visayas ROTC. We shamelessly talked in Hiligaynon while inside the train going to Cubao. His fluency in Bahasa almost made me feel ashamed of my rudimentary Tieng Viet.


He was on his way to meet his date, Mae, a block mate of his who also used to be my classmate in one of the general education courses. I felt I was intruding on the rare moment that they’re together, but they insisted that I go with them. While looking for a place to eat, the three of us talked about our plans for the future and the uncertainties we face daily. We complained about the myriad options before us making the act of choosing a truly difficult thing to do. We complained about our impecunious state. I didn’t dare calling it poverty because being poor is too strong a phrase to modify the current state of the three of us.

It felt good meeting Mae and Ferlan and hearing from them that they are also experiencing the same struggles I am facing this time. At least I know I am not alone and that we share the same burdens, dreams, plans, fears, and drive to transcend the limitations because of our age, lack of experience, and insufficient understanding of life itself.

Mae, Ferlan, and I are just three of the many twenty-something who continually go against the current in this time where alienation, globalization, specialization, and some other big-sounding words ending in the suffix -ion prevail. We dare to create our little marks in the vast desert of humanity for our families, our friends, our self, and our dreams.