Friday, December 14, 2018

Ang Apo ni Tasyo ay Atorni

Marahil kung ipunin ang bawat
minutong aking ginugol kapag
naghihintay tawagin ang aking
kaso -- dati nga nakatitig lang
ako sa dingding, hanggang natuto
na akong makinig sa huwes, tapos
naging alalay sa mga kapwa
abogadong kapos sa palusot,
at sa labis na ngang kabagotan,
inisip ko na lang na kunwari
isa akong preso, nagnakaw ng
motorsiklo, carnapping ang kaso,
trip lang ng barkadang paglaruan
ang Shakey's delivery, eh hindi
pala ako marunong mag-motor,
kaya tinakbo ko na lang, ayun!
Nahuli tuloy. Ngayong umaga,
sesentensyahan na raw ako. At
nasa dulo kami ng listahan.
May abogado rito na gusot
mayaman ang Barong, siya ay ngiting
asong nakatitig. Kung sana ay
ako kaya ang abogado at
s'ya ang preso? -- Malamang may sagot
na akong naisip sa tanong ko,
ang paghahatol ba ay tulad ng
delubyo nang wasakin ang bayan
ng Sodom at Gomorrah ng apoy
at asupre, o di kaya naman
nang magwika ang bayang Judea
ipako'ng anak ng karpintero
sa krus dun sa bundok ng Kalbaryo?
Ay naku! Magkaiba ang sagot! Kung ako
ang abogadong taga-usig o
ako ang inuusig na preso!

Monday, August 06, 2018

Home is not a place

Last night I dreamed I was back in Pola,
lying on the bed where I used to sleep,
in the old house made from trunks of Narra.
There were strangers who were welcoming me
“You’re finally home,” they said, “You’re the boy 

who was brought here when you were just three months
old.” Indeed, I recognized the same house 
by the sea, the sound my Grandma makes as 
she sweeps the street in the early morning,
the gentle rhythm that used to calm me.

But not last night in my dream as I was
restless. And I shouted at the strangers.
“Where is she? Take me to her! This is not
my home!” And I woke up and clutched your hand, 
thinking, my home is wherever you are.

Tango Celeste

You’d be surprised to know this tune
is about winning a horse race
Por Una Cabeza, which means
by a stallion’s head. It reminds

me how twenty one years after
we’re dancing to this beat, inspired
by Al Pacino. Taking turns
to lead and follow, trying not

to break the rhythm, laughing
”wide, wide, quick, side, slide, turn, again”
and being laughed at the way that

we normally do, when someone
has taken a thing seriously
like me tonight, tipsy on gin,
dancing like a Japanese pug.

The night that I asked you to be 
my wife, I almost missed, because
a meeting took too long, traffic
got in the way, you’ve been waiting.

You left, your patience expired
I caught you not a second late, 
Por Una Cabeza, I could 
be singing this song instead, me

alone, guitar in hand, childless
”wide, wide, quick, side, slide, turn, again”
”wide, wide, quick, side, slide, turn, again”
were it not for a stallion’s head.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Holy Iron

I was a teen-ager when my Grandma 
took me to task for this ministry of 
well-pressed pants. Why should I dislike, she asked, 
the long preparation to gather the
leaves of bananas, light the coals, set them in
the flat iron? 

To patiently wait as I fan them ‘til 
the heat is right, ready for the smoothing?
And there is a method to this ritual, 
she said: You start with the pleats
and pockets 

and make your way to the cuffs.
Follow the 
rhythm as you hold the pants 
on the board  — 
fold, press, back  to the dock, fold
press, and back 
again. If you mind yourself 
long enough, 
it resembles the sound 
on Good Friday 

of penitents passing. There is a small 
pail of water to soften the textile, starched, stiffened, and baked.
You dip your fingers 
a bit and bless the  fabric. She had more things to say: the scent of burnt leaves
reminds her of monks praying. The clothes make 
the man, I know, but Grandma taught, the soul, 
vain, reckless, is mastered in the pressing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Some deaths stay with us

Oh, I will never forget Palomo,
black-spotted Dalmatian who came every
now and then to bark and get some viand
leftovers before lunch as he goes to
market; he'd do a few tricks for us like

stand on his hind legs, pretend his human.
He's someone else's dog really but he
pays us a visit like the friend who comes
for coffee to share some thoughts on a bit
of politics, history,  relations,

except that he's a dog.  Until one day
somebody rushed to the house, "Palomo's
been poisoned!" Palomo walked to our yard,
he's making strange noises, his mouth dripping
with bubbles, and he looked at us as if

begging us to do something. Someone said 
make him drink Coke with sugar. My Grandpa
obliged, held Palomo by his neck and
poured the concoction on his mouth, but poor 
Palomo laid down sideways on the ground.

My Grandpa wept as he held Palomo,
who took his last breathe shortly. I touched his
soft fur to say goodbye. Wet eyes staring
on blank space.  Ah, this happened 40 years
ago; I sob like t'was this afternoon.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


Nung araw, nagtayo kami ng team
Iba’t-iba ang pinanggalingan:
Probinsyano, batang squatter, rich kids
Pandak, matangkad, payat, mataba
Problema lang, lahat kami point guard.
Pag-hawak ng bola, dribble, dribble, 
tuloy tira basta maka-shoot lang.
Ay! Walang panalo kahit isa.
Ngunit minsan dumating si Coach Jay.
Marami siyang itinuro sa’min.
Gumaling kami. Natatalo rin
pero iba. Kung baga sa pan de
sal, tinama niya ang mga sangkap
harina, tubig, pampaalsa at 
asin. Minasa ng katamtaman.
Kaya kami yumabong, nagbigay
ng lakas, ‘di lang sa amin mismo,
pati na rin sa mga kalaro.

Isang gabi bigla siyang hinuli 
ng mga sundalo, rebelde raw.
Isa sa aming dose rin pala
ang nagsumbong. Ang balita namin
pinatay siya sa bundok kasama
ng mga magnanakaw. Subali’t
anuman ang sabihin nila ay
pinagmamalaki namin siya at 
maski kailan ay hindi namin siya
malilimutan. Mula noon ay
palagi naming inaalala
sa kahit anong gawain, mapa-
laro, trabaho, o pagsasanay: 
Sino sa atin ang gaganap sa 
papel ng minamahal na Coach Jay?

Friday, June 08, 2018

Borong Borong

Let me tell you how I learned empathy.
I was probably three years old back then.
My parents were in Manila; I lived 
with my grandparents in Pola, small town,
by the bay, lush mountain, sweet bananas.

One day while playing on the street, I met
Borong Borong, a boy older than me 
by a few years. He had a scooter, which
was made of scrap wood and junk steel wheels,  which
he used to roam around town for errands.

Now, my Grandma asked him to come one day
To get some stuff from the market on his 
scooter; he asked me to come along with 
him. I gamely obliged riding on the
platform, while he stirred and pushed as we rolled.

So, Borong Borong got the stuff and we 
went back home to Grandma who was  waiting.
She was so happy when we arrived and 
she handed him a coin in gratitude. 
And I protested as she didn’t give me 

any, not even a poor “mamera.”
But Grandma told me Borong Borong was
an orphan, and the coin is for hot soup
for him when he gets hungry when there is 
no one to feed him and he misses his 

mommy. And I don’t know what hit me but
I cried so hard and pressed my face on the 
wall, surprised that Borong Borong, jolly 
fellow with the wooden scooter, had no
mommy or daddy. And until now I 

regret why I felt I wanted that coin.

Friday, April 20, 2018


Almost done with breakfast,
got startled as you shreaked
begged me kill the cockroach
under the table please.
As I stood, knife in hand
searched for the intruder
Stepped on the evil thing
smashed, squished, and crackled so
the sound of frying egg
“I killed it with a knife.
That’s truthful, isn’t it?
Misleading, but valid.”
I saw the insect’s kin,
the corner of the room,
A whimper, “You humans!
Your words hide cowardice.
By an assassin's Crocs
My dear daddy is dead.
My mother will be shocked.”

Monday, April 16, 2018

Prelude to a Fight

Said the white rooster 
to the red
“Don’t you tire 
of this pecking? 
Our beaks are sharp
our necks strong and flexed,
are we meant
to serve 
a higher order?”

And the red replied,
Bury your claws on 
someone’s throat.
To perish with 
bloodied combs,
no reason 
can be as great.

And the white
turned away,
flapped, jumped
and crowed in 
memory of a love, 
who laid,
with ketchup 
by her side.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Plato in Boracay

Charming island 
blue sails
where coconuts
grow on sand;
warm afternoons
on your cold floor
lured everyone to come.
Athens of the east
to all who search
and the few who find.
With you the hemlock 
is sweet 
escape from 
sophist souls.
Die if we must here.
Kant is a moron.
The truth is cradled on
your shores.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Foucault gets drunk on Good Friday

What knowledge can be 
more powerful than 
knowing that You are

A thousand different 
things I would do if 
I suppose I were 

I snap my fingers
Calvary would have 
turned into a crois-

Your trick turning blood
into wine but I 
prefer a Pinot

Pontius Pilate I 
would have turned him in
to crumbling cheese of

Yet two thousand years
ago, You knew that
the Word that made all

possible will end,
life lived well will meet 
a staggered humble

And I, contemplat-
ing this last bottle
shake my head as I

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Friday Night Rhapsody

What could be a better deal than this?
I give you my money
You give me in 

The spirit I can’t hear it.
No, I can’t see it. 
Only one way to do it

Smile when I smell it
Taste but no tether
it won’t give me in

I gulp and I'm done
I'm done and I'm gone.

This is how we live today
distracted by the focus
focused on distraction.


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Impeaching Sereno is a giant step backwards

A couple of years ago, I posted here that the appointment of then Justice Sereno is the most important defining moment of the PNoy Presidency. She was the only nominee who was insulated from powerful interests and  with a reputation for academic excellence, and integrity. Further, being the youngest nominee,  she could ensure that the Supreme Court would be stirred towards independence beyond the terms of succeeding presidents. And she proved PNoy’s appointment motives right when she herself voted against the PNoy Administration’s pathetic defense of the infamous pork barrel scheme known as Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). 

Is it therefore any wonder that the agenda of the Duterte Administration is the impeachment of CJ Sereno? Duterte wants things done and the last thing he needs is an indepenent court run by an academic with an apolitical leaning. He and his people have said many times that the drug addicts are not human and they don’t deserve due process. In his first State of the Nation Address, he grumbled about human rights, in the process revealing his authoritarian leanings. Duterte and Sereno stand in opposite poles of the political spectrum, one a despot who fashions himself as a spartan; and the other, a religious libertarian free of Vatican dogma.

I’m afraid CJ Sereno’s ship, which once stood as formidable, has been found to have holes. Her issue with her Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth is not a magnet that could rally thousands to oust her; but, since her predecessor stumbled on the same thing, it’s a legal excuse that the Senate and Congress dogs of Duterte can use to impeach her. Never mind if it’s not even a high crime as required by the Constitution.

I’m looking at the Senate line up whose votes would determine CJ Sereno’s fate. What would be their gains in voting for CJ Sereno’s acquittal? It doesn’t look good. If only CJ Sereno can rally people to her side; yet her pedigree is anathema to the ways of the morally-compromised politician that sadly is the proto-type of a Filipino leader. The people should realize that the impeachment of CJ Sereno is a re-establishment of the old order, a return to the ways of the “bata-bata” system that made it possible for Ferdinand Marcos to legitimize his cling to power in 1972. But nobody cares at this point. Duterte has the nation bewitched with several narratives that cut across interweaving interests; the Chinese invasion of Philippine territories, the tax TRAIN, the drug menace, the roll-out of  infrastructure projects, and the Dengvaxia vaccine fiasco, among others. 

What depressingly interesting times we live in. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Day 79: How do you like to spend eternity hazing?

And so it comes to pass that our law students are going through the old and barbaric system of hazing again to initiate a member into fraternities. Hazing is an eternal recurrence — nobody knows who invented it, for what reason, and why people engage in it. It is probably as old and as returning as an army of soldiers assembled to defend a king. 

With the recurrence of this foolish practice, I am reminded of the Doctrine of Eternal Return. It is said that what you do on earth, you will do in eternity. It is the phenomenon that follows from the cyclical nature of time. Thus, every event in the universe, in all its details and in its whole cosmic context, will recur an infinite number of times in exactly the same way that it has already occurred an infinite number of times in the past. 

 I’ve often used the Doctrine of Eternal Return as a tool for discerning my actions.  Before doing something, I simply ask myself — is this action something that I can do in all eternity? In the Philippines, I’ve heard declarations that mirror this Doctrine as, for example, the saying “Ang nabuhay sa baril, sa baril din mamatay.” (Live with the gun, die with the gun.) On a lighter note, I’ve heard men professing their love to maidens and say, “Pakakasalan kita sa lahat ng simbahan.” (I will marry you in all the churches.) 

But to go back to hazing, I ask each prospective neophyte and senior frat members to think about this before they find themselves in a hazing incident again. Is hazing something you are happy to do forever?  There is no escaping the curse of eternal return — it is as certain as the sunrise and the sunset — you will be the hazer or the hazed for all eternity. And each death that occurs in a hazing has and will be occuring in an infinite number of times. If you even try hazing with a promise that you will never do it again, you will be engaging in wishful thinking  — for like the others before and after you, hazing will forever be in your fate. It will haunt your dreams. The vision of this madness will be on endless repeat mode in the Youtube playlist in your minds. 

We are all on this earth only for finite number of years.  And whatever we do in these years we will do infinitely. Is hazing really worth doing forever?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Day 78: Hope

"Master, why do we repeat our mistakes?"
asked the pupil to the Master.

The Master shook his head.

"We're no different from a dog with a piano.
There is a chance
it can play Moonlight Sonata
even as it keeps pounding 
the same keys."

Monday, September 25, 2017

Day 77: Purpose

“Master,” the pupil asked,
”does anything happen by chance?”
And the Master made a frown,
“When the universe speaks to you,
it is never superfluous;
like the dirt in your dog’s paw,
is the message.”

Friday, September 08, 2017

Day 76. The Wisdom of a Rat

Asked the pupil to the Master,
"Master, why is life so difficult?"
The Master looked at him and smiled.
"Try asking that to a rat," the Master said.
"It would probably say it doesn't mind, 
but you with your big brain,
you pester yourself with silly questions."

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Bar Boys is a topnotcher

The danger in having a lawyer watch a film about law school is he might see things in the movie that aren’t there. Going through the maze of more than a  hundred years of law and jurisprudence while honing the legal 4Rs — reading, recitation, (w)riting, and (a)rithmetic, and being constantly subjected to an ultimatum, law or videogame cohorts, law or your girlfriend, law or your sick parent,  is an experience a lawyer is not inclined to repeat. There is a possibility that a film about law school will generate ghostly apparitions in the lawyer who went through the hard years and came out scarred but alive.

But I’d like to think I managed well, as I sat through Bar Boys, a film supposedly premised on the ultimate horror experience of law school, letting images and scenes trigger memories from the period in my 47 years on earth which I often describe as  being “on leave” from everything else. I was both laughing and teary-eyed at the shock of recognition upon being shown images of bundles of photocopied cases, markers, heavy volumes of law books, and the law school characters: the arrogant professor with a twisted-tounge, the violence of the frats, and the esoteric but crucial difference between the curve and the cut-off grading system. Indeed, Bar Boys delivers the authentic law school life. I have to check myself now — yes, all of those things were in the film.

Bar Boys is a story well told. It got an “A” rating from the Film Ratings Board, because  it is not a strung up gag show about law students, but a solid and coherent film about four young adults going through law school hell. 

There are at least four stories here finely woven into an easy running time of 71 minutes. Christian is the rich Harvard-bound looker with a perfectionist father and a displeased girlfriend. Toran is the fratman who becomes part of a hazing session that shakes his moral compass. Eric is the struggling son of a security guard who experiences the ultimate test of emotions, taking the bar exams while grieving the death of his father. And Joshua is the one that did not make it to law school; he probably ended up us the client.

The film is an adventure to the sub-realm of the legal world. In the process, the characters experience the heartless system that separates the elite group who makes it to the other side of the bar and those who are left to stay in the same side as the masses. The characters hurdle their own tests, often less about the law but more about themselves, and their friendship itself is tested at the climax of the film.  

Joshua, the non-lawyer among the leads, judges his friends, “mga nilamon na ng systema” (those who have been eaten by the system), reflecting the idealist lamentation of our lost hopes that we put on our lawyers and the legal system.  But what is the alternative to the legal system that we often complain about but the reckless and brutal authoritarianism and lawlessness of dictatorship? Hobbes be damned. The legal system centered on due process as an absolute is a great system. Oops, that one did not come from the film. Yet, Bar Boys pulls out Ranier Maria Rilke from the Book of Images  as a professor consoles the bar flunker close to the end of the film,  “The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.” So, fine,  we’ve been eaten by the system, but it is a damn great one.

I hope Bar Boys generates enough interest to break ground on a new film genre about the Filipino experience of the law. It is only through stories like these, well-told and entertaining, that we can reconcile with the alienation that most of us feel with the law and its disciples.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Day 75

Asked the pupil to the Master,
Is it good if the evil man
is killed by evil means?

And the Master replied,
Careful with your words.
To the eagle killing a snake,
the snake is the evil one;
to the snake,
it is the eagle.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Day 74: Tanong

May pilosopo ba
sa langit?
Kung nakita na ang
at ang diwa ng kataga ay
ngayon at magpakailanman pa man,
kung ang misteryo
ng pag-ibig at pagkasuklam,
ng tapang at takot,
ng meron o wala
ay nasagot na,
ano na ang gawain ng
dating pilosopo sa lupa?
Kung wala,
dito na lang ako.
Mas maligaya ako
sa tanong kaysa

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Day 73: The Face Bandit

She enters the room
silently as a cat does
and murmurs to me
the accomplice to this task
that she wants
Pares Sais.
In this place,
breakfast is our guise,
covert is our goal.
She finds a spot
in the corner,
her eyes on fire,
hunting her prey;
she unpacks 
the charcoal on the table.
A look to the left and
her victim she finds.
Without  noise 
nor haste, she scalps
the broad outlines
of his nape; in sharp glances 
she catches the meekness
in his eyes, the sparkle of light
that bounces off the 
bones on his cheeks.
As her meal arrives,
she munches a bit
and washes it down with 
tea, but her eyes never
leave him and follow
his every pace.
She worries that he does not sit;
rages when he stooped to pick
a wayward paper that he flicks
to the basket of waste.
Patiently, she watches 
as he finally settles on his desk;
she seizes the moment 
to mark the dots and lines 
on the space.
It seemed the paper 
always bore his face and 
needed only her hand to blacken off 
the excess light. 
Quick strokes here and there,  
then it is time.
I approach him 
like a game master at the conclusion of a show.
Poor guard about to end his shift.
Please come to her table, 
she has something for you.
He scratches his head, 
leaves his bag on his chair, 
and walks to her.
Meet Lecaroz, I say, 
thank you for being here.
The portrait is yours.
In a few years, you might become rich.
Who knows?
And she shakes his hand,
and they take a picture,
the artist, the subject, and her art,
little man in a little joint
caught by the face bandit
until she strikes again.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Day 72. From a Legal Memorandum

Respondent can find as a many contradictions as he pleases with the irrevocable special power of attorney and the Memorandum of Agreement, mostly imagined than real. As the philosopher Jacques Derrida said, there is never a moment in language where meaning is definite. Words, especially legal words, are subject to interpretations of subtexts and contexts. Even the meaning of social justice is essentially contested. Yet, Respondent by signing the Memorandum of Agreement is prohibited from exploiting this basic fragility of the legal language. He is in fact duty bound to try to supply these nuances and bridge the spaces where words fail. Yet, by insisting on not drafting the irrevocable special power of attorney himself and choosing to nitpick on why and which provision of the irrevocable power of attorney is inconsistent with the Memorandum of  Agreement, he has hostaged the Project. He has chosen to filibuster, and for that he is in bad faith. That should never be countenanced in any modern justice system. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Day 71. Karma is a hoax

One of the most fascinating songs of the Beatles is "The End" from their last album Abbey Road. The song is the last in a medley of sorts and is preceded by the Ringo Starr drum solo before the harmonized vocals sing, "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." John Lennon was proud of it as a sort of the group's contribution to philosophy, which he described as a cosmic equation. 

When I was old enough to understand it (which was really old), I realized it was about karma; you reap what you sow as the cliche goes. If you've been bad, bad things happen to you. To put it in a positive sense, if you've been good, good things happen to you. As John Lennon puts it, it is the mathematical equation of the universe. 

But it is not so if you're a Christian. Why -- because we didn't bring anything to the table. It's not equal; it's all God. And even if we've been bad, good things will still happen to us. In the same way that bad things also happen to the good people. God's forgiveness transcends our sense of morality. This helps explain the Parable of the Prodigal Son, which is revolting to the good people. Karma seems to come too late to the bad people, if at all. 

It's Good Friday today, a day when we commemorate the day when men executed the Christ. I put the Jesus Christ Superstar album on repeat in my Spotify playlist. No Beatles paganism today. Come to think of it, the mystery of Good Friday is we got away with it. Two centuries since the killing of Jesus Christ, God's Son, and humanity has not been abolished and continues to flourish. Karma is a hoax. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Day 70: Animal Talk

Is greed an emotion?
asked the bull to the monkey.
The monkey shook his head, saying
Why do you ask silly questions? 
The bull
munched on grass
and said, my apologies my friend,
I wanted to tame it
like my anger.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Day 69: Fashion Mishaps by Chuang Tzu

Well pressed shirt
with purple tie
dimpled at the
middle where
the knot is —
a perfection taking
years to master, then
your pen blots it all, 
a dark patch of ink
turning your outfit
no different from a rug.
Lesser men will have 
their hearts melted
But greater ones will call it 
unfortunate without stammer 
or hiccups in their voices.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Day 67/68 Nietzsche the Clerk

You should have 
told me a day before
if it was due
Power is
you with the bottle
of Scotch as I
miss dinner, tv, and
imposing on
my time
what you cannot
impose on

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Day 64/65/66: I missed a poem

yesterday, as I hopped from isle to isle
first stop Bulalacao, darling town of Mindoro; 
a thrilling ride on the hills overlooking the sea 
to be at a nestled resort haven for the peace-hungry;
my father of seventy declared how blessed he was to have lived to see this day, and we feasted on roasted pork crabs, and noodles. I sang John and Paul’s In My Life on the karaoke and rode the ship for Caticlan, gateway to the famous Boracay. At one hour past midnight I waited for dawn for my flight, Visayan chill I savored over ginger tea. My plane left as I looked
at the white and silver sands.  One of these days said I, I’ll be back and do more than see. In Manila, I arrived and joined the clan of hundreds, listened to Great Aristeo speak of Nanay Irene and Mamay Isko with ten children they lived with unsurpassed unity. Misty-eyed all who heard him speak and happy they came to hear and see. And I, who pledged in January to write verse everyday, I failed; all energy spent, no sleep for hours, and worried silly.  No poem can be as good as this day of revelry.  Life happens and we know love matters more, yes love matters more than all the poems, all the poems, that could ever be.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Day 63: Coffee Talk

We entered the cafeteria
unwelcomed by that smell of cow 
innards stewed in ginger.
You asked —  is there a 
difference in the conversation
over instant coffee vis-a-vis
the kind priced astronomically 
prepared in a French press
and served in pin-lighted 
polished wood interiors 
with tall chairs?
I’ve always thought musings
over brewed coffee are superior, 
you said — they’re better, relaxed,  
if not philosophical, compared to the cheap
fuzz-free sugar, coffee, cream
3-in-1, tit for tat.
As we stood to leave the table
finishing the quick in and out talk
over our cups
getting the business done in 
what is called short term 
give and take
I was ready to agree with you,
save for the fact that we never 
had it this good
in a coffee chain or 
hotel lobby which disproves
everything so far said.

Friday, March 03, 2017