The Red Stairway

“The Red Stairway” (1944)
Tempera on masonite, 16″ x 23 5/16″
Behn Shahn

Mag-isa akong kumain sa katabing fastfood ng gusaling tinitirhan ko, habang bumabagyo kahapon. Hindi ko alam kung mapapahalakhak ako sa mga senaryo sa harap ko: ang paggamit ng kandila ng mga crew dahil brownout, ang pagsandok ng iced tea dahil sa di pag-andar ng dispenser, ang mga na-stranded na pasahero na sumusilong sa kakapiranggot na atip sa ilalim ng estasyon ng MRT sa Boni, at ang nakapanlulumong pag-iisa ko na naman.


Isang linggo mula ngayon, aalis na naman ako papunta sa kung saan man ako dalhin ng aking wanderlust. Naisip kong para sa isang taong lumaki sa mga isla ng Pilipinas, likas na siguro sa akin ang pagkakaroon ng dugong lagalag kagaya ng siyam na milyong Pinoy na sa pagtantiya ko’y Antarktika na lamang siguro ang hindi pa nasasakop.

Ngunit ganito pala ang pakiramdam ng nang-iiwan. Akala ko dati, lahat pinapasan ng iniwan, lahat kargo niya; subalit ang hirap na parehong iniinda ng iniwan at nag-iiwan, magka-iba man ng batayan ay pareho nakasusugat at nakasasakit.


Ilang beses na akong umalis, at kadalasa’y di na bumabalik. Gustuhin ko mang pumirme, manatili, at magkaroon ng isang bahay na matatawag kong ‘bahay ko’ ay hindi maaari. Habambuhay na siguro akong di magpapati-anod sa agos.

May mga pagkakataong nalalasing ako sa pakiramdam ng kapanatagan, ng seguridad subalit paulit-ulit kong sinasabi sa sarili ko na ‘John, you’re leaving soon.’ May mga naging kaibigan na hindi ko na magawang iwanan subali’t sa huli’t huli’y hanggang estasyon lamang pala ng tren, pantalan, o paliparan magwawakas ang lahat. May mga minahal din ako sa mga paglalakbay na ito. Ngunit gaya nang kadalasang nangyayari, aalis din ako pagdating ng umaga. May iilang kung sana’y pinigilan ang pag-alis ko, buong puso akong mananatili. Pero nabuo na sa isip nila na hindi na ako matitigil, at natanggap na nila ang katotohanag ito. Isa pa’y di rin ako sigurado kung mananatili ako kung sakaling nakiusap sila.


Gayunpama’y ako’y lilisan pa rin, at tanging ako lamang ang makapagsasabi kung kailan ko na gustong tuluyang manatili sa isang lugar kung saan hindi na ako bababa papunta sa katabing fastfood upang kumain at matawa sa kandila o sandok na gamit, o sa mga taong sumisilong sa ilalim ng tulay habang hinipan ng malamig na hangin ng bagyo, o sa pagkain ko nang mag-isa.

All Dada posters from http://ericceledonia.blogspot.com

Pictures in black and white

A lot of events in our lives could’ve been forgotten had we not done something courageous to save them for posterity. In what seemingly ordinary day in Janiuay, Iloilo, aided by my digital camera, I captured moments with my grandmother two years ago in black and white.

My inability to sleep led to this unprompted task of editing these pictures that I fortunately saved in my laptop. So here I am at 2 o’clock in the morning amid the raging typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) outside imagining how my lola looks like after 2 years of not seeing her (would she be like the matriarch in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude who is transformed into a prune?). And wincing at the sight of my hair, thankful that the camera did not clearly capture and save forever the atrocious and unforgivable thing I did of dying my hair blonde.





Helping the victims of typhoon Ondoy


When I awoke this afternoon there was no electricity, the rain was pounding outside, and it felt so good to have this rare feeling of coolness until I realized I am living on the 11th floor. Until I realized that those living in low-lying areas of Malabon, Navotas and areas in Cavite are drowned in hip-deep waters.

If you want to help, please go to this site:




My immediate supervisor told me that the Indian head of our department wanted me to go to her office for an interview regarding a study she was conducting. I could sense the reason for this request. She does not know me; probably she only became aware of my existence through my boss’s report.

I said the perfunctory greeting of a corporate slave to his master. Physically, she reminded me of Grendel’s mother. In Beowulf’a universe the mother remains a nameless dragon, a bastard name attached to her son’s. Only that in my universe the role is reversed, I am an unknown bootlicker represented by an employee number attached to a series of statistics that they call monthly performance report.

She was typing something, probably one of her reports, looking straight at her computer monitor, but occasionally checking the letters in her keyboard, but she never bothered to look at me and check whether my nose and lips are anything different from the monotonic faces she meets everyday.

“So how are you coping with your job?”

“I have no problem with it. I’m learning fast, and even enjoying it at times.”

“How about the people you’re working with?”

“Well, I must admit that they’re a lot different from those in my previous job. We usually talk about things that are, for me, mundane. I understand because they have responsibilities to their families, and I don’t have. So it is rather difficult for me to empathize when they share to me their struggles to make both ends meet. But I am getting by.”

“I see. I hope you see yourself growing with the company. Well, at least give yourself at least six months, then decide whether your vision is the same as that of the company’s.”

I didn’t know if I was just hallucinating, but I saw her dark, full lips twitch.

“Yes ma’am. I am starting to love my job, and based on the report I received for the last three weeks, I am performing well.”

“Yes, I am aware of that as your manager already presented to me your status.”

My status? That time I was already starting to suspect that the department is raising a red flag on my status as there really is nothing to bind me to the company, nothing that will keep me from leaving and finding a different job. A tenured workmate related to me that he heard the department singled me out as the most likely to quit work.

I left her office after some discussion regarding work. Earlier that morning, my division chairperson at the University of the Philippines informed me that I’ll start teaching in the second semester of this academic year. Talking about aligning one’s vision with that of your employer’s, I cannot anymore bring myself to work for another week in my current job. I am set off for UP next month. There’s only one thing of paramount concern to me now:

How to write a smashingly well-written letter of resignation.

Joys of degradation

Orhan Pamuk

We all know the joy of degradation. Perhaps I should rephrase that: We must all have lived through times when we discovered that it was pleasurable, even relaxing, to run ourselves down. Even as we tell ourselves we are worthless – over and over, as if repetition will make it true – we are suddenly freed from all those injunctions to conform and from the suffocating worry of having to obey rules and laws, of having to grit our teeth as we strive to be like others. When others degrade us, we arrive at the same place as we do when we take the initiative in humiliating ourselves. Then we find ourselves in a place where we can wallow blissfully in our existence, our smell, our filth, our habits, the place where we can abandon all hope of self improvement and stop trying to nurture optimistic thoughts about other human beings. This resting place is so comfortable that we cannot help feeling grateful for the anger and selfishness that has brought us to this moment of freedom and solitude.

Orhan Pamuk, Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground: The Joys of Degradation. Other Colors Essays and Stories. New York: Vintage Books, 2007.

Going against the current? Certainly.

Student Activism


It was an exchange in this blog more than a year ago. Questions were raised. Some were answered; some will forever remain open for discussion. It was a moving debate we seldom have.  Several sides presented their arguments and counter arguments. A year has passed. And I did not expect a belated response.

I am not, however, writing this post as a response to a recent essay written by a Literature student at the University of the Philippines Visayas named Karlo Mikhael Mongaya that critiqued the essay I wrote entitled Decline of Radical Student Activism. I am of the opinion that nothing new was raised in his essay except for some additional quotes to support the claims made by students of the same persuasion as Mr. Mongaya.

When the essay was written, I was a student in Hanoi, the capital city of a country trying to embrace capitalism. It was an essay inspired by tangible observations gleaned from a former socialist state. Yes I know that I made a handful of generalizations, and reflected them in an essay that I have no intention of causing any furor among students of different persuasions at the University of the Philippines. But it did.

I am more practical than romantic. I try as much as possible to base my observation on what I see. Yes, I am a voracious reader, but I avoid as much as I possibly can to alienate my readers. Probably, the most apt description for myself would be unaligned. I have never tried associating myself to any political view. I remain true to my senses. I believe in infinite truths. Should somebody tell me the truth, I will, without any second thoughts, declare him a liar.

And such is the case of radical student activists in the Philippines, they are so preoccupied with their Truth that they have failed and refused to accept other realities outside the university that run counter to their ideals. I have a high regard for the academe, in fact it is the only place I believe I can thrive. But having lived outside its walls made me realize that the world does not work based on theories alone. Yes we can use theories to explain the social phenomena that we see and experience; it does not work the other way around, nonetheless.  Yes I’ve seen few activists who pursued what they believed in and started to effect the changes they believe this country needs. But I’ve also known former activists who decried the depraved system but who are now as rotten, or even more rubbish, than the system they used to rally against.

I always attempt not to make sweeping statements. I may be a bit cynical sometimes but I’ve never succumbed to pessimism. I believe in this country and its young people.

For what is the truth behind going against the current? It’s freeing one’s mind from the old, antiquated, outmoded thinking of the past decades. It is a struggle to free one self from the debilitating truisms that may have been true before, but have gone obsolete through time. Our age needs a new approach to tackle our present challenges. The lip service kind of activism that might have been effective in the 60s or 70s is definitely not what this age in the Philippine history needs.

How a boy wearing a shirt with watermelon-wedges prints changed my view on eating the tip of an ice cream cone

Michael P. Silva


Unless one is inside an air-conditioned room, one will not survive for more than 30 minutes the heat of a Manilan noon. Notwithstanding the torrential afternoon downpour because of the monsoon, the temperature on an ordinary day in the Philippine capital is still extraordinarily high. To alleviate the discomfort I often find myself crossing EDSA to Robinsons Pioneer just to buy ice cream, and this has become a routine of daily frequency.

It did not take long before I noticed something odd about this entire practice of eating an ice cream on a cone. Although I eat the cone together with the ice cream, I unconsciously leave the tip of the cone behind and discard it no matter what kind of edible cone the ice cream is placed, even those special cones with luscious and decadent chocolates that are meant to be saved for last. I either throw them away or crumple them until they crumble into powdery non-entities.

Ice cream cones


I could not to find a logical explanation for this until I remember a memory of a distant past while I was paying for a watermelon shake I bought in front of an ice cream stand.

When I was around five years old I had this classmate named Raul whose only memory I have of him are pictures of watermelon wedges printed on his shirt. It was recess then, between 10-11 o’clock in the morning in a small public kindergarten we both used to attend. Those five-year old students, me included, who went to school unaccompanied by an adult were falling in line for our turn to buy ice cream placed inside a wooden cart; these horrifying, multi-colored ice creams were being sold on cheap cones by a grimy and grease-drenched old man. Some of our classmates who went to school everyday with their mothers or nannies looked at us with envy.

Ice cream Vendor


Raul, who was with his aunt, was eating a sandwich that time. He approached me, and in his shirt with watermelon wedges prints told me, “Kamao ka kung unsang paagi nila ginabuhat kanang apa sa imohang ice cream?” (Do you have any idea how they make the cone of that ice cream you are holding?”

Interested with the answer, but more intrigued, I asked Raul how. We were both five years old then but he was more like an adult.

“Tan-awa ha, kanang luyo sa apa,” (Look at the tip of the cone) then he demonstrated it to me, “ilahang ginahulma paagi sa ilong anang gabaligya” (they form it using the two holes of that vendor’s nose as mold).

I did not know what happened, but the following week, out teacher then announced to the class that Raul was moving to a new kindergarten in the city. I have not heard about him since then, but that conversation about the tip of an ice cream cone 18 years ago got stuck in my psyche that I am still repulsed whenever I see people eating the tip of a cone.