I had dinner with a college friend the other night with our two other classmates – one who’s visiting Manila for a work-related conference and another who is reviewing for the bar exam – when our conversation over dinner went to the case of Vice President Binay. This classmate who’s writing news for a provincial paper argued that the Binays are wrongfully charged of corruption, or at least his daughter Nancy should be innocent. He hinted so many times that he’s established some sort of friendship with this senator who’s currently being pilloried. Of course, what’s with writing for a paper that proclaims itself to be the biggest daily in the Visayas. I argued that she can’t be that dumb not to know those shady deals made by her father.

This friend of mine with so much ire in his voice said/shouted: ‘Show me anyone who’s innocent.’

I almost fell from my seat.

I assumed his argument ran like this: Only in a country where everyone is innocent can plunderers or corrupt officials be put to jail. No one politician in the Philippines can be deemed innocent. Therefore, any calls for justice against the Binay is just so wrong.

And I kept quiet because it was a dinner not for a debate on politics but for a reunion with college friends that I had not seen for a while. But I cried from the inside because this friend cannot rightfully call himself a journalist, that at some point I felt ashamed for having a friend who thought like a moron. But I kept quiet because it wasn’t the right place to call a friend a moron in his face in front of two former classmates that I had not seen for years.

There is, after all, always a right place and time for everything.

The very fine art of critiquing

The critic will never find himself on the same level of the hierarchy of importance as the artist whose work is the subject of our critic’s dispassionate and thorough dissection.The existence of the critic is always dependent on the artist’s. Without the artist, a critic is a non-entity; this he knows oh too well. He accepts it as a given that he will always find himself a few notches below, on the lower wrung of the ladder relative to the artist.


He is someone whose opinions matter in only as far as they are relevant and timely. In the end, the work endures but the opinions of our humble critic dissipate until they crumble into fine dusts of oblivion. Probably this explains why he camouflages his rage with scandalous detachment and emphatic objectivity, a desperate act of giving a semblance of dignity to his unappreciated, cheap, and bastard art of critiquing.

Just recently, I became the object of scorn of my more senior colleagues because of a critique I posted in this blog and that which also appeared in a local paper. To cut it short, I gave unfavorable comments on their supposed creative works (Doesn’t this sound redundant? So instead of calling them ‘creative works’, which is rather verbose, ‘works’ will be used all throughout this essay.What these works are will not be specified here as I do not think information regarding their oeuvre is germane.)


And so there I was, as they might have imagined, looking meek and docile, unable to defend myself from their upbraiding of my humble person. I was not there to defend myself from their onslaught of invectives thrown at my name, and for this, thankfully, I spared myself from the hurt and aches those words would’ve inflicted on my vulnerable spirit, words that would have left me scarred permanently, for life.

Nevertheless, had I been given the chance to defend myself and the words I wrote in this blog and for that local publication, I would’ve been able to clear my name and make them understand that my review was devoid of malice, although I must admit it was a little bit sarcastic and left a bitter sting. But reviews are meant to have these characters.

If there is one thing I’ve learned about my experience in writing and which I’ve been teaching my students at the university, it’s being unabashedly unapologetic for whatever one writes so long as one did a thorough research, verified the information, or if writing a commentary, so long as it is judicious, fair, and well-written. With or without malice.

Malice is impossible to prove, and if proved, it automatically becomes defamatory, and a good critique is hardly, if ever, defamatory.

In fairness to the artist, the real one, I mean, he, most of the time, is impervious to critiques, favorable or damning. He does not mind what the critic says because he knows that his works are a masterpiece regardless of the contending opinion of the critic on them. For him, his works are not meant to be analyzed and dissected but felt and digested.

A critic does not figure in the universe of a real artist. Yes, he may read the critique of the critic but that’s just it, a pragmatic endeavor meant to pass time, like reading yesterday’s paper while defecating at seven in the morning.

But the sham artist, the artiste, the insecure newbie parading as a redeemer of the declining high art, is somebody the critic must handle with utmost care. His definition of art is anything so long as it is his art. Any critic’s opinion regarding art that runs counter his notion of what art is (which is, in this case, his art) is a declaration of war. And our poor critic who carefully drafted and phrased his review so as to maintain that air of objectivity and fairness is left in the mercy of the wrathful gaze and painful words spat by the up-and-coming artist, the noveau artist, our version of the equally pitiable noveau riche.


This noveau artist will definitely stoop to the level of the critic, or if need be, lower himself even further just to make a point and to put across the clear message that he is a true artist. Which of course will give a different message, that is, he is otherwise.

The critic, aside from exposing real art from sham, also exposes a true artist from a phony one. Critiquing is not an easy craft. Although not as prestigious as other high Art, it is as difficult to master. It takes one to have a very keen attention to detail, great finesse, a very stiff upper lip to fully master the very fine art of critiquing.

And the gall, if I may add.

Dirtily photoshopped

Prince Golez, a friend of the author who is a section editor at Panay News, is seen here taking a picture of the author. The sloppily done photoshop is by the author, of course. This photo was taken by their college classmate, Grace Pausa, using her camera phone.

A promise not kept


“I’ll write something about you and this meeting, ma’am, and will ask my friend to have it published on Monday.

“That is too much.”

“No, no, no, it’s nothing.”

I imagine her asking her maid to wake up so early in the morning today to buy the Monday edition of Panay News. Opening the part that contains my column, she will find an entirely different article, not the one I promised her.

The worst form of betrayal is not keeping a promise.

I met her a week ago in a local diner waiting for her breakfast. That time I was reading a local paper where I write a weekly column. I was writhing in shame because of the missing final letter s in the verb of my last sentence. This old woman coughed softly and gave her comment about the headline of a news about a socialite campaigning for her son who is running for congress against a powerful politician in one of the districts of my province. “Daw indi man ni sila taga-Iloilo, ano sagad nila kapadalagan diri haw?” (These people are not from Iloilo, why are they running for an elective post here?).

Feeling that I’ve not been appreciated as a writer, I showed her the column I wrote which moments ago I was already thinking of burning because of the missing s. She read my column like how my mother does. I think all teachers have this way of reading, same expression on their faces, same reaction especially if the writer of what they are reading is seated next to them.

She introduced herself and wrote her name using beautiful cursives on the back of an old business card given to me by a Macedonian friend. Mrs. Delfina Gerochi is a 76-year old retired grade one teacher who used to teach at Dawis Elementary School in the municipality of Zarraga. Sixteen years after retiring, she related that she does not find her life boring. She has chickens, a dog, and a cat in her house that she takes care.

“Kanami gali sa imo magsulat. Ako nagasulat man sang mga poems.” (You write beautifully. As for me, I write poems.)

I thanked her and suggested that since it is difficult to find a publisher for poems, unless you’re nationally recognized or you publish your own poems which can be very expensive, to open a blogsite and have her works posted there. I momentarily forgot that she’s 76 years old. I apologized for the gaffe and explained to her how blogging works. I did not know whether she was able to grasp the entire concept of this ‘art’. I told her to ask any of her grandchildren about blogs and that she wants to have her own, and they’ll know what to do.

“Had I had children as intelligent and accomplished as you at such a young age, I would’ve raised heaven and earth just so I could give them whatever they wanted.”

Although blushing is a talent I know I do not possess, I blushed when she said this.

I promised her to write about our meeting but I never did. Not until I woke up today and remembered that my column will come out today. And so I’ve caused an old woman so much of a disappointment. At her age, inasmuch as nothing so spectacular will bring her much surprise, a very small act of kindness and promise mean a lot. And I regret depriving her of those.


Note: Whoever knows Mrs. Delfina Gerochi, please leave your email here so that I may write a personal letter to her. And if it will not be so bothersome, have it printed and given to Mrs. Gerochi. Thank you.

Dinagyang: some thoughts from an Ati youth

The following article will appear in the Youth section of Panay News, Dinagyang Edition

The scenes in Iloilo City during Dinagyang remain the same–tourists pouring in, the city government getting revenues from the influx of people from other parts of the Philippines and abroad, men painting themselves with dark soot and wearing costumes exuberant with colors and perform on major streets with riotous revelry-all these making a perfect bouillabaisse dubbed as the best tourism festival in the country.

However there is an ingredient of this mixture that is so fundamental that all of us often neglect.


I am a member of a tribe of Ati living on the mountains of Barotac Viejo; I am not a pseudo-tribe member we only see during Dinagyang. And unlike any Ati (the only mental picture of an Ati most of the “civilized” world has) begging on the sidewalks along Atrium, I am a college student studying in one of the universities in Iloilo.

The portrayal of the Ati community during the festival has become convoluted as time goes by that most of us forget the real essence of the celebration and take for granted the dark and short people that inspired what we now called as Dinagyang. My people have become victims of tokenism whose role has been relegated to a meaningless symbol of an exulted point in the history of the city and the province.

We are people from the periphery being placed in a made-up center every last week of January annually, as if being given consolation for the discrimination we have to endure all our lives. I, however, will not objurgate the lack of any historical relevance of the event, for the lack of social justification is already enough to place under a spotlight the anomalous hybrid of Catholicism and pagan practices of Dinagyang and its snobbery toward the plights of the Ati.

During Dinagyang I see amused faces of both tourists and locals holding their breaths while the supposed “tribe” members perform their versions of an Ati dance and simulations of the founding of Panay while the real Ati, who are begging on the sidewalks, have to contain their hunger for as long as they can before someone pays them attention. The festival permanently established its mark in Philippine tourism for being the best in the country while my people remain nomadic, without any permanent dwelling, moving from one place to another leaving behind our ancestral domains to fate while we brave the dangerous, uncertain, and harsh city streets.

Such are the contradictions of the Dinagyang. And for most of Ilonggo community, I also am a contradiction, a deviation from the normal role compelled on me by the “more civilized” people living on the plains of Panay: to remain a mendicant all my life, to wallow in illiteracy, to forever be insecure with the color of my skin and the kinkiness of my hair.


But I beg to differ. I may be an Ati who is made hostage to constricting roles I have to play in the Ilonggo society but I will not let this identity keep me from realizing my potential as a human person. The Ati construct that the Dinagyang replays every year is flawed and farcical. The colorful costumes and fancy choreography are detached from what is the real life of an Ati. The colors, merry-making, and carnival atmosphere are taunting the life we live.

I am living a life of an Ati since I was born in the hills of Barotac Viejo twenty years ago, and since then my daily life is a panorama of discrimination, marginalization, and being treated as a second-class citizen, no, not even that, because for most of the time we are treated as sub-humans. If my voice is filled with angst it is because we were made to feel this way.

I only hope this Dinagyang will allow all of us to see the fundamental reason for the festival, to let our local officials transcend mere accumulation of revenues and tackle relevant social issues involving my people, the Ati.

I look forward to the day of celebrating the Dinagyang where the Ati like me are treated as real brothers of Ilonggos living in the vast plain of Iloilo and such equality will not be just for a day but even after the euphoria of what has been prided as the best tourism festival in the Philippines.

Lectures and lessons

I’m writing this time to celebrate the resurrection of the internet connection in my room. I almost thought it was hopeless and I would have to spend 15,000 VND every time I need to access wifi in internet cafe. My blogging halted for several days, and it caused me a lot of distress and anxiety.

The second clause of the sentence preceding this is not at all true, but just quite.

A college friend wrote a short article about me, which he said, will be published in Panay News, the news paper that claims to have the biggest circulation in the Visayas, which I used to worked with for a short time while teaching in the University of the Philippines Visayas. I shall be posting the article here after I’ve asked due permission from Prince Golez, the writer of the article.

For most of the time, we tend to look at something very shallowly. I just arrived from an English class teaching Vietnamese students. In one of the activities, I showed them pictures which they will describe, express what they feel when they see the picture, and make a rough generalization on the meaning of the pictures. I warned them, however, that some of the pictures might be quite graphic, violent, or could contain nudity. But of course I had to explain and, in some cases, demonstrate what each word means.

The act can be quite taxing on my knowledge and understanding not just of the structure of the language but most of the time its myriad subtleties – those that remain unsaid but is more important than the actual speech itself. Nonetheless, seeing satisfaction and understanding on my students’ eyes means I was successful in my attempt, or something close to that.

Vietnamese students are not very loquacious. They attend their classes expecting the teachers to do all the talking and thinking of themselves as sheer repository of knowledge, but I always remind them that learning should be interactive and a two-way process and for them to speak the language, they have to use the language.

Below are the pictures I showed them which I downloaded from the web.


Usain Bolt’s magic moment. The world’s fastest man donning a face only a victor can aptly express. The discussion was however very mundane. We differentiated the general word running from the more specific marathon running, sprinting, and jogging.


This Nike ad is a story on politics and the emergence of China as a force to reckon with not only in the economic sphere but in international political affairs.


This picture was the most disturbing for them: seeing a vulture waiting for an African child to die.


A picture during Vietnam War where a general from the south of Vietnam was about to shoot a spy. The face of the man about to be shot was so horrifying that people quetioned whether this one desrved to be printed on the pages of daily papers. It did get published.


The actor Tom Hanks in one of the saddest pictures I have seen so far. Sometimes I question the rationale of this activity. Showing them the best and the worst of humanity just so they use English in their work, in school, or in their careers in the future isn’t a reason enough to subject them to all these miseries.