Sunday, December 04, 2016

170. Letter to my 21 Year Old Self

You worry too much about the small things. The years ahead have so much to give you -- a career, a spouse and a family, friends and relatives who would support you, and wisdom only time and space can teach you. It is the hand of God cradling you every moment,  gently and constantly. You have been loved from the day you were born, and this love would stay with you especially in times that you need it most.

Ateneo Alumni Homecoming 2016, College 91 #TatakAsul

Your worst reaction to this love is fear and pride, the sins of your youth. Yet, what is there to fear when everything is given to you out of love? The unknown must be met with enthusiasm and hope like a baby learning how to walk. And the far extreme is to think these things are entitlements and not gifts, to compare what has been given to others to what you have received, and to fail to see through the eyes of others who struggle in the darkness and light of this love.  Receive this love with all humility and gratitude, and you would understand the greatness and splendor that is for all to share. But still, you would need time and space to understand these words. Soon, you would be happy -- far happier than you have ever been. Love is all there is. Worry not about the small things. God is all there is. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

169. Power to the People

Plato warned about tyranny. It is the inherent weakness of the democratic system that the people can be manipulated. He was right about that. But people can also be enlightened. When people realize they have been taken for fools, that their emotions have been pricked to advance an agenda far from the common good, and that they have been misled by rhetoric devoid of logic and full of fallacies  -- people learn and realize that they do not need a philospher king or enlightened tyrant, because they can be philosopher kings in their own right -- that Plato missed. And the first manifestation that they have been enlightened is when they go out on the streets -- bomb scare, rain and all -- to express their grievances against the powers that be, to remind them that the power comes from the people, and if power is abused, the people will take it back. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

168. Gen. Bato and the ideal police organization

I caught a clip of Gen. "Bato" dela Rosa weeping on national TV the other day after the testimony of Kerwin Espinosa who testified that Espinosa's been bribing high ranking policemen to maintain Espinosa's drug business all these years. If the allegations of corruption are true, I'm sure Espinosa is not the first, the last, or the only drug dealer paying off policemen for protection. And Gen. Bato would continue to weep at this ghastly thought that the police institution is corrupt. I think the mistake is in believing that the police organization, or any government institution tasked to enforce the law with the power of the gun, is ever going to be close to its theoretical model of being the protector of the people. Gen. Bato notes that the police are also human beings subject to temptations  and full of  needs and desires that may not coincide with their sworn duties. Thus, the institution, as in any human organization, is wired to be corrupt and bound to be corrupt. This brings us to the oft-quoted question, who will police the police? Assuming there is such police (sort of a super-police), will it not be as corrupt? Oh, there are more things to cry about, Gen. Bato. Yet, the problem of the Philippine police is not unique. Many nations suffer the malady of corruption in their police institutions; each corrupt in its own way, betraying the ancient precepts  of the warrior class, and  some more corrupt than others. And this is so not for any spectacular reason but simply because they are human beings. And if we begin to view the world of politics from the premise that every person who wields power is a human being, predisposed to corruption and bound to be corrupted, then we should be thinking twice on whether someone should wield power on the rest of us at all. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

167. MVP channels Mephisto

Manuel V. Pangilinan (MVP) is looking for a new president who will replace him in PLDT, known as the crown jewel of Philippine business. What is telling, however, is how MVP described his criteria. 

“He has to be ready to die for the job, give up his family. Those are my strictures. Work over family. Period. If I could see that in that person, you’re it. You know, there is always a price you pay for the life you choose," says MVP. 

I mentioned in a comment on a friend's Facebook page that this is a Faustian Wager. And the vacancy is perfect for the forty-something's known as Gen X who would have the experience and energy fit for the job. The compensation package is tops. If it's any indication, MVP has been donating buildings in his name to his alma mater and has bankrolled college basketball teams. He once brought the NBA all stars to play with the locals, even fetched Kobe Bryant on a jet for the games. In other words, it's the money dream. But the fun ends there; work over family is his number one criteria. There is no balance. I have no doubt many will be ditching their families for the MVP life, and at one point in my life I had the same mind set. But this Faustian Wager always ends in regret. The  legend goes that Faustus bargained with the devil Mephistopheles --  service from the devil on earth in exchange for service to the devil in the after life. Faustus is initially satisfied with his chosen life, but ultimately finds the emptiness of the powers of the world. Soon as the clock marks the passing  time, Faustus sinks deep into despair. The devil appears to take his prize and,  amid thunder and lightning, carries Faustus off to eternal damnation. I'm sure the PLDT job vacancy is not a Faustian Wager; somebody has to make the Philippine internet work. But when its outgoing president couches the job summary in those terms, you can be sure, he fell into it, which is probably why he's done a terrible job. 

Friday, November 04, 2016

166. Notes on Celeste Lecaroz's Portraits: #5 One Artwork a Day

During the heyday of the Beatles, each Beatle - or so the legend says - wrote one song a day. These songs, a lot of which could be crap, became the source of the 275 original songs that the Beatles recorded and released. It's basic math. They improved the probability of getting a good song done by populating the pool from which it would be drawn. When Celeste started considering the shift from adult coloring to full artist, I told her about this trivia from the Beatles. I challenged her to be the Beatle of art, "Do it. One artwork a day. Start now." What followed was an adventure of sorts. She geared up for it -- colored pencils, colored pens, water color, pastel, acrylic paint, oil paint, and coffee stains.


"Wait a minute," I told her as she painted the beautiful face of the young Susan Roces using coffee stains, "Why are using my coffee?" She told me a little story about how she overheard a comment from detractors (everyone has them) that the reason why she colors well is because she has expensive materials. "To prove them wrong, I'm using the most accessible and cheapest material any artist can get." And the resulting figure is this wonderful monochromatic image of the once and future first lady of the Philippines. "Fine, I said. That's still counted as one artwork." So. Celeste does it everyday. Paint, eat, draw, sleep, color, eat, sketch, sleep -- it's the rhythm of one artwork a day.  Sometimes, she does them in advance. And she is "getting so much better all the time." Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

165. Apocalypse Child

I once had a dinner with a film merchant who was responsible for bringing the world the old film, "The Last Emperor." And he told us, if you're making a film, you have to  answer the question, "What are you really selling?" And after watching the film, "Apocalypse Child", I can't help but second guess what the film makers might answer. 

There are three love scenes here: one as the film opens, another as the film hits a turning point, and the third, close to the end. But this is not porn. These love scenes would take you to the whole spectrum of emotions from excitement to moral indignation to outright disgust -- at least that's where they took me. The love scenes are not going to cater to  "prurient interest" as the American legalese for porn would put it, but they are going to badger people's  mind for answers for the rest of their lives-- (SPOILER ALERT) Can you get away with sleeping with your best friend's fiancee? Can you get away with  sleeping with your best friend's mom? Maybe we should turn the questions around. Can you get away with sleeping with your fiance's best friend? Can you get away with sleeping with your child's best friend? 

These things happen  -- and I'm still deciding whether I'd be lucky or cursed if it happened to me.  Ford is  a hot male who teaches surfing in sunny Baler, Aurora. He has this sexy girlfriend, smitten, conquered, and happy to be his playmate. But his boyhood friend comes home, now a congressman about to be married to this beautiful lady, who confesses that she had a child at fourteen like Ford's mom who had him at the same age. The beautiful lady knows Ford's story about being the rumored child of Francis Ford Coppola, who stayed for a long time in Baler shooting Apocalypse Now,  and she says she wants to learn to surf. That's fine, Ford says, he won't charge. And she tells Ford that her fiance  has predicted that she and Ford will end up sleeping together. Ford deflects it with a joke -- That's fine too, Ford won't charge. But already the bar is set, how does Ford  teach surfing to this beautiful lady without ending up in bed with her? What a fine mess these kids are going to make. 

This film has the sensibility of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. The narrative is smooth, some funny lines here and there, almost plotless, the conflict happening in the characters' inner lives, and it leaves you wounded for the rest of your life. Not everyone would be ready for this; but surely, at some point in their lives, people should watch this film. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Maximum Volume No. 2: #5 Woman of Sta. Barbara

Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell would have loved this tale, which is a variation of the Oedipus story. Held together by finely woven lyrical sentences, it races quickly right from the first paragraph, and it holds the reader until it goes back to where it starts. (Spoiler alert.) What happens when you find out your dead mom has a betamax X-rated film? This premise in the hands of an amateur is going to come out like a cartoon, but you have to hand it to the author for carefully navigating us through the story. We find out about the sad life of the sex starlet, who never quite made it, her affair with a married man, her child out of wedlock, unsupportive parents, and ever loyal accountant sister, whose apartment is the setting of this story. These are the side stories to the main Oedipus variation that carries the story through. Good work. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

164. Notes on Celeste Lecaroz's Portraits: #4 Communication of an Emotion

It was Leo Tolstoy who theorized that art is about the communication of an emotion. If the artist is able to convey the emotion that the artist felt when creating the artwork and the observer feels the same feeling upon viewing it, then the artwork is a success. Before Celeste painted the portrait of Fr. Jose Cruz, S. J., I told her of my one experience with the man.  It was my first day in Ateneo Law School, and the first part of the afternoon was a mass by Fr. Joe. My classmates and I came from various colleges, and we all had reasons why we wanted to become lawyers. Of course, most of us wanted the prestige and power of being a lawyer, especially an Ateneo-schooled lawyer who had a heyday in the post-Marcos legal landscape. We were going to be bar topnotchers, high profile corporate and litigation lawyers who would run the country in due time. We were going to be big shots. Fr. Joe gave us a general absolution before we started so all of us could receive communion. And then, when he gave the homily, he sounded differently. He began questioning our motivations to become lawyers,  berating us for our selfish goals, and asking us, "Is there a single drop of blood in your vein which is not motivated by an appetite?" I have never heard anyone ask that question before. He said it in this diction and voice characteristic of Ateneans of his era a la Raul Manglapuz. With this background, Celeste started her work on the portrait and when it was completed, I decided Tolstoy was right -- the success of an artwork is in the conveyance of the emotion. I see Celeste's Fr. Joe Cruz, S.J. and I reminded of what he asked that afternoon in Ateneo Law School, a question so profound yet so practical that it torments me everytime I think about it. It is a unique feeling. The man is looking at you, his eyes are piercing, he doesn't seem to be pleased nor pleasing, he's asking something, and you know he won't like your answer.  "Hey you,... big there. ..?"and I utter to myself, "I sure hope there is Father. I sure hope there is."

Celeste's Fr. Joe Cruz, S. J. and other iconic Ateneo teachers will be on exhibit at the Ateneo Alumni Art Fair from November 13-19, 2016. 

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Maximum Volume 2: #4 Totems by Catherine Torres

“Totems” by Catherine Torres had me rollicking in laughter and amazement at the middle-eighth, so to speak. And for anyone wanting to read this story, you have to stop now. A “totem” is a token that reminds one of his ancestry, and in this one, it is the “bolitas” – accidentally viewed by JR, the narrator, from a hidden tape of his late dad’s nocturnal adventures as a seafarer. JR turns his boring graduation film project about the parallel lives of OFW’s and Jose Rizal into a winning film called, “Bolitas: The Hidden Life of Filipino Seafarers.” Growing up as a teenager in the side streets of Project Two Quezon City, I’ve heard about bolitas, but I’ve never seen one and have always believed that the sexual powers that it provides are the stuff of myths and lies of the Filipino casanovas. This story had my long buried teen-age dreams and interest of bolitas rekindled, and it makes me wish that the prize-winning documentary that the story talks about is a Google search away. This is a well-crafted story. It grabbed me right at the first page, albeit there seems to be something missing in between pages 57-58 -- perhaps an editorial miscue, but nonetheless, there is enough to keep the story together splendidly

Friday, September 30, 2016

Notes on Maximum Volume 2: #3 Those Who Don't Build Must Burn by Brylle B. Tabora

It's 2050 and a corporation is peddling poems made by a machine called the Wellington Dollar-A-Poem Machine, which spews out 1,200 poems a day on demand. The hero, Eric Austria, ex-professor of poetry and author of a poetry book that flopped, is against it so he storms to the office of owner of the machine, Mr. Wellington, to plea for the case of the now-jobless poets. But Wellington faults the poets of 2042 for being incendiary,  writing poems that were anti-establishment which started riots and a pattern of kill, burn, kill, burn among the readers. And, Austria asks, "what about artistic freedom?" Wellington replies, "There is no freedom which is absolute." Austria replies, "But poetry, like everything, evolves---" Wellington says he'll have none of it. So, Austria sets a poem for a dollar machine on fire.  

This is the first science fiction in the Maximum Volume anthology (I don't know if there are other's as I haven't finished the book.) And it takes on the classic sci-fi theme of man vs. machine. It reminds me of the Infinite Monkey theorem, which speaks of the probability that six monkeys typing infinitely on a keyboard will churn out something shakespearian. The answer is one to infinity. But would the answer be the same with a machine, which is fed with everything that Shakespeare wrote? Will algorhytms be able to mimic the randomness and precision of human intentionality? Well, Deep Blue was programmed to speak the language of chess with a specific objective of beating its opponents. And Deep Blue beat Kasparov  in 1997. So, to reform the question, will people be able to build a machine that will conquer poetry, like Deep Blue which conquered chess? If it happens, let's take it from Prof. Austria who borrows a line from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, saying, "Those who don't build, must burn." Good story. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Notes on Maximum Volume 2: #2 Fly-Over Country by Ian Rosales Casocot

Fly-Over Country had me thinking which is the story within the story. There are four characters, Allan, Henry, Tony, and Yvette. Allan is the "you" of the story, an American writer who tends bars on evenings, shirtless, and he meets Tony who is a Filipino writer. They have a one night stand and as Allan flirts with Tony, Allan convinces Tony to put Henry, a fictional Filipino character in what Tony was writing. But Henry parallels Tony in Tony's writing. And considering that Allan is also a writer, Allan tells Yvette about Henry who Allan has appropriated in his own fiction. (If you've reached this far, you might need a pen and a piece of paper to keep track.) Yvette convinces Allan to kill Henry in Allan's story. Henry dies by the Asian malady known as bangungot after the brief one night stand with Allan. And in Allan's story, Yvette is the mother of Henry. So, which story is within the story, or for that matter, which story is autobiography? But Allan declares, "Everything is autobiography." and Yvette dismisses it because after a while, "it kinda becomes boring." Not in this one though,  especially because the metafictional premise is fleshed out in solid and clear prose with the second person viewpoint adding a layer of dreaminess, and the recurring image of the "fly-over country" mirroring the theme of the loneliness of the characters and their fiction as they resolve their issues of intimacy.  Allan declares in the key part of the story how the heart might as well be a kind of fly-over country, "like where you were this moment, the broken (hearts) knowing no destination, except this wilderness of so much  open spaces where no one looked, where everything was lost in some discarded cartography." You gotta hand it to the author for pulling this off. Absolutely brilliant!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

163. Duterte's Wager

Blaise Pascal must be turning in his grave. Duterte just mangled Pascal's wager and re-stated it to support the reimposition of the death penalty. "Let's impose the death penalty just in case there is no god." says Duterte. Yet, Pascal encourages us to take the win-lose nothing bet, which is -- there is a God, rather than the lose-lose nothing bet, which is the case if there is no god. The win-lose bet takes our interest to mind, as we win if we believe there is a god and act accordingly, and indeed there is a god, and lose nothing if there is no god, as all is lost anyway. The lose-lose nothing bet, which is there is no god, loses if there is a god -- "Oops! There is a god, damn" and loses nothing if there is no god -- "I was right but I'm still dead". But Duterte --  he's asking us to reconsider the lose-lose bet. And he's saying the lose-lose bet supports the death penalty. Jeez, non-sequitur. It's really another way of saying, there is no god, let the State kill if it wants, and never mind if it turns out that God exists. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

162. Notes on Celeste Lecaroz's Portraits: #3 They are not "portraits"

They are abstract art, she declares as I point out to her some lines of the face in her work which diverge from the reference.  To abstract from reality is to cut from the real world and paste it on the canvas. To expect that it is an exact graphic representation of reality is futile, because it is neither its intent (if it has an intent at all) or its means. Instead, this kind of art uses the language of colors, shapes, forms, and lines, which are pure abstractions. Thus, to appreciate Celeste's art, one has to expect the colors, strokes, lines, shapes, to speak louder than the image of the face, which does not have to be a perfect copy. But the face is central to her art. It is what makes the pieces accessible to the untrained eye, the shock of recognition that shows the subjects in colors which represent who they were, who they are, and who they would ever be. I read somewhere that it was a tongue in cheek blessing to tell someone,  "May you be painted by Picasso," as Picasso's paintings of faces have displaced eyes, ears, and nose. It takes a lot of education  to actually like a portrait by Picasso. But, it's abstract art -- just like a Celeste Lecaroz portrait, which a portrait it is not. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Notes on Maximum Volume 2: #1 "The Auroras"

Two gentlemen, Dean Francis Alfar and Sarge Lacuesta, venture in a project to publish the best Filipino fiction and they nail it. Rather than engage the blogosphere in the polemics of Dutertesism, why not engage these gentlemen and write about their fine harvest? Just a word of caution, every reading is an opportunity for misreading, but never mind as long as we enjoy it. 

1. The "Auroras" by Sasha Martinez is about arrivals, departures, welcomings, homecomings, lost loves, found loves, destruction, and reconstruction with a post-war historical cast of characters who lived through it all. I labored all afternoon, Google in hand, finding out the characters who had a modern-day online presence: Armi Kuusela, the first Ms. Universe from Finland who married a Filipino banker, Gil Hilario -- albeit Gil is not in this story as it ends just as Armi is about to go to Baguio where she would subsequently meet Gil in a blind date -- and, Colonel Manuel Nieto, the be-moustached aide-de-camp of Pres. Manuel L. Quezon, subject of teen-ager's crush and a sort of forbidden love by Aurora, the narrator, yes -- he's real too. Celebrated personalities come to an afternoon tea party to welcome Ms. Universe and I was fully convinced this is a record of the actual event. Just then, the unabashed congressman who declared himself the only one eligible among the Filipino gentlemen smitten by Ms. Universe, makes an appearance close to the end of the story. A few clicks and I learned this is the same guy who faked his war medals and looted the bureaucracy.

2. Of course, as a work of fiction, the story has to earn its merit without the aid of external elements — and it does so beautifully in a language that is often hypnotic. Yet, this is part of the fun in historical fiction, recognizing how the written points to the unwritten and delighting at how the written shows the world lurking beneath this lyrical tapestry. The story understates much of the historical detail, making it all the more intriguing. I'm particularly fascinated with Colonel Manuel Nieto's story about the bear, the last one in Luzon said to have hidden in a cave at the edge of Intramuros. The bear raged as the Spaniards partied and prayed each night. It is the story within a story, a metaphor for what was once native to the island, hopelessly and foolishly resisting the inevitable excursions of and intrusions to the Filipino soul. Yet, the bear is gone and Aurora, the narrator, declares herself to have become the woman of the world. Having married Jakob, the brother of Armi Kuusela, Aurora will bear children who "will be most assuredly blonde, and not improbably blue-eyed.” And close to the end, she muses about her lost love, the Colonel and his story about the bear with things having gone full circle. There are four Auroras here: the wife of Manuel L. Quezon, the flowers named by the hotel gardener after her, the narrator named Aurora, who leaves an old love and brings home a new one, and the Roman goddess of dawn who layers this fictive world, as it starts and ends, with the colors of a new beginning. Ganda! 

Thursday, September 08, 2016

161. Notes on Celeste Lecaroz's Portraits: 2. Spontaneous Realism

The first time I thought this project of large colorful canvas portraits by Celeste was worth a serious second look was when she painted Fr. Roque Ferriols, S. J., the well-loved professor of philosophy from Ateneo. The portrait captured that classic Fr. Roque stare who was my teacher back in the 90s. Known for his temper and tireless drive, coupled with his mastery of Plato, St. Augustine, and Teilhard de Chardin, he'd look at you at certain occasions as if saying, "I expect you to have done the right thing." which in those days meant studying and thinking; and you would melt, if you didn't. Yet, Celeste bathed Fr Roque's portrait in colored lights, and the effect is magical, if not, mystical. This is good art. What makes it so? It starts with this massive four feet by four feet canvas which is an imposing size for an artwork. It summons attention. Then, the under coloring on which the face is painted acts as the base where all the action happens.  The strokes, varied in size and twisting and turning here and there, seem isolated from one another at close range, and appear to be spontaneously assembled. But the mind assimilates these elements and recognizes the sum of all parts. Then, the seer notices the colors that seem to have no logical reference to reality save for shades and its values which are correponded with color.  But the mind is tricked into imagining that these colors are different lights beaming  at the subject. The effect is out of the ordinary. Of course, if you do this painting on some guy from the street, it might not have that same cathartic effect on the seer. But to someone who has known Fr. Roque Ferriols, S. J., especially during the crucial years of college education, this portrait is loaded with meaning. This is real as it can be -- Fr. Roque Ferriols, everything he has written and said, everything he stood and fought for -- in a beautiful picture. I told myself, I just gotta have this on my wall. 

Sunday, September 04, 2016

159. Davao

Every bombing is a repetition of another. In June 12, 1978, there was a fire at the market of Bankerohan, Davao City. As people came to help put out the fire,  a grenade exploded, killing a number of those who came.  This much we learned from Joey Ayala's song,  “Bankerohan,” which came out in his 1991 album, "Panganay na Umaga." In March 4, 2003, the airport terminal in Davao City was likewise bombed. At least 21 people were killed and another 148 were injured. Yesterday, I woke up to hear of another bombing in Davao, this time at the Roxas night market. I'm familiar with his place as often I stayed at the Marco Polo Hotel right across Ateneo de Davao, near the site of the bombing, which killed at least 14 people and injured at least 61. The logic of these bombing attacks were obscured, but I gathered it was often politically-motivated, a vicarious attack upon an authority channeled through  the helpless civilians, whose fault it was to be at the wrong  place at the wrong time. During martial law, the Light-A-Fire Movement was notorious for bombing several establishments. I found a book by one of its leaders, Ed Olaguer, in a book store, read some chapters, and set it aside for good, regretting the time I wasted reading that book. Olaguer was never made a hero of the Marcos years, even as Olaguer tried peddling his exploits. Digging further into our history with bombers and terrorism, Jose Rizal knew how history would judge terrorists like Olaguer. In Rizal's El Filibusterismo, Simoun's plan to bomb the wedding reception of Paulita Gomez and Juanito Pelaez was foiled by Isagani, Paulita's erstwhile love interest, who threw the lamp where the bomb was hidden to the river, after a tip from Basilio. Rizal could have changed the plot, and let the bomb explode instead, which would have been the first terrorism scene in Philippine literature, but he did not do so. Rizal knew it then as we know now,  the bombers are never endeared to the authority they seek to overthrow or to the society they seek to change, or to the human race for that matter. History would always be unkind. Nobody would get a monument for killing helpless innocent people, regardless if the bombers succeed,  and no matter the nobility of the cause. The means, not the ends, is how all will be justified. Every bombing is a repetition of another. But the bombers -- they never learn.

Monday, August 29, 2016

158. Notes on a Trip to Taal: #9 Mariano Aceron

My Aunt, EAV, sent a message after reading these notes and related the story of her dad, Mariano Aceron, who was born in Taal. My aunt said, 

"According to Papa, life was difficult then that Papa had to sell newspapers wearing "bakya" (wooden clog slippers) as they could not afford to buy shoes. They moved to Mindoro, as most Batanguenos did, to find their luck. Lolo Amboy (Pablo) worked in a farm.  He worked hard that he was able to buy the land where we get the copra share from his boss.  Masinop daw si Lolo.  Lola Abe (Isabel) was in her small panutsa-making business. Papa was telling me this when we were talking about diabetes, thinking that the panutsa was the reason why he had diabetes. Ulam daw nila at baon nya pa while they were studying in Manila to earn a degree.    Si Papa lang ang nakatiis that's why, he was the only one who earned a university degree." 

I am teary-eyed as I post this story. And I am imagining how it was for the young Mariano Aceron to be walking around Taal in wooden clogs selling newspapers as a kid. I am thus urging every Aceron descending from Mariano, let's honor Papa every year on his birthday, August 29 (today is his birthday), by walking the streets of Taal in wooden clogs, after all this is how we all began. It will connect us to Taal  as it will connect us to him, wherever he may be. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

157. Notes on a Trip to Taal: #8 Orosa

In the movie, Memento, Christopher Nolan's lead character wakes up without a memory of his past. I have often questioned the plausibility of this premise, because a man with no memory should have no words, for our memory lives on our words. At the doorstep of the Orosa ancestral home today, I tried to recall where I stood exactly forty years ago as a kid one late morning to join the Orosa reunion.

As I went up the stairway, I saw the picture of Agaton Orosa, who was the brother of Isabel, my great grandmother. 
Why did our side of the Orosas leave Taal? Isabel left with her love, Pablo, and settled in Pola. But why did we never come back? The geologist in our tour mused that the volcano, temperamental as ever, was a natural adversary of the Taalenos. To live in this place is to live in constant danger. The volcano was active every ten years except in the last fifty years, but no one could tell when it would erupt again. Pablo and Isabel established their home in Pola, a bayside town in Mindoro island far from the volcano and its tempers. They tilled the land and prospered. But, they never left Taal. They brought with them their language, traditions, food, and stories. These stories are what filled the gaps of memory that separated me from Taal and the house that Agaton built. And so unlike Nolan's lead, as I stood there at the exact spot where I stood forty years ago, I am fortunately a man who carries the memory not only of my past but also of my family's roots. 

156. Notes on a Trip to Taal: #7 Taal Church

Taal Church was originally built in 1575, destroyed by the 200-day eruption of the volcano on 1754, rebuilt in 1755, destroyed by the great quake of 1849, rebuilt anew on 1856, and completed in 1865. The church is known as the biggest church in southeast asia. We toured its rich baroque interiors and got fascinated with its great altar. 

The churchyard is charming too. There is a repository of water where fish swim and  buckets are placed for people to throw coins after making a wish. Rizal's Padre Salvi in Noli Me Tangere was Augustinian, a political snide remark against the friars who built this church, but it is the mark of the congregation's founder, St. Augustine,  that I could feel here in this massive basilica, a great love for God. Pio Goco said, the church's story is also the story of the town that prospered by the fruits of the fertile land, but was empoverished by catastrophes of the earth as well, a boom and bust, the human spirit dominaring the earth and being dominated by it, a monument to the human faith in himself and in God. 

155. Notes on a Trip to Taal: #6 Hai Bing

Hai Bing was a Chinese settler in Taal who once vowed to build a church for the virgin mother of Caysasay. After the Sangley Revolt, a time when the Chinese settlers rebelled against the oppression  of the Spaniards, the Chinese were rounded up, brought to Taal Lake, and massacred. Hai Bing was one of the victims; his body riddled with holes and his head almost decapitated. But the story goes that soon after Hai Bing appeared in Caysasay on the shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mother. The waters of the shrine were known to heal any ailment, and its waters flowed through Hai Bing's wounds. 

With his resurrection, Hai Bing continued his work in building the Church of Caysasay, which was subsequently completed.

 Hai Bing died later on by the thorns of his carabao, an undramatic ending to an otherwise amazing story, but our tour guide said, it was probably because he broke his vow and became a bad person. Nonetheless, this is the first time I heard the story, but apparently, it is a well-known myth and the kids selling candles at the shrine could tell it from memory. The massacre of the Chinese, which brought about Hai Bing's first death, was the reason why Taal's participation in the revolution was downplayed, the Taaleno's obtaining a reputation of being the Spanish Khmer Rouge. 

154. Notes on a Trip to Taal: #5 Backroom Heroes

Taal was home to revolutionaries who were second-tier leaders, the guys who did the janitorial work, figuratively-speaking, for the stars like Rizal and Aguinaldo.

A paragraph is too short to mention their deeds here, but their biographies are a Google search away. Nonetheless, we found ourselves in the house of Gliseria Villavicencio, the godmother of the revolution, in the words of Emilio Aguinaldo himself. She supplied the logisitical needs of Aguinaldo's army and her house was  a frequent site for revolutionary meetings. Proof of this was the escape hatch that we found in their dining room, which was supposed to lead to a network of tunnels in Taal.
We watched a film of Leon and Galicano Apacible, compatriots of Rizal.  Galicano was President of La Solidaridad once. We also saw the oldest house in Taal the 18th century home of the spouses Marcela and Felipe Agoncillo, known as the first Filipino diplomat. Marcela is one of the ladies who sewed the national flag. 

Pio said Taal was a major player in the revolution but something happened that hushed the town's participation, known as the Sangley revolt, which happened to be a significant story in our next stop. 

153. Notes on a Trip to Taal: #4 Lunch

Pio Goco prepared an excellent lunch buffet for everyone in the tour. Bulalo soup to get started. Appetizers: green mangoes and salted eggs with tomatoes. The main entrees were chicken adobo with turmeric, pork tapa (known as tapang taal because the normal tapa was made of beef), and sinaing na tulingan-- mackerel braised in vinegar. There was a side dish of vegetables known as "bulanglang".  

For dessert, they served us suman with chocolate, and ice  candy, a delight that brought memories of my childhood days.

Culinary-wise, I'm happy to note that I am well-connected to my Taal roots. I've been served this food in many family homes from Mindoro through the years, albeit the yellow adobo they serve in Pola was yellow due to annato seeds or food coloring and not turmeric, as I never came across turmeric in our kitchens before. 

152. Notes on a Trip to Taal: #3 The Gocos of Taal

As it turned out, Pio Goco is the brother of Robbie Goco, the famous chef who owns Cyma,  a batchmate from San Beda High School. Pio gave a short introduction to Taal's long history, how the Taal volcano's temper shaped the town (200 days of eruption, the longest ever, in the 18th century)  and shrunk the mythical Pansipit River, the ilog referred to in "taga-ilog" later known as Tagalog,  the language on which Filipino is based. Pio is the son of Raul Goco, erstwhile Solicitor General of the Philippines. The house exhibits Fidel V. Ramos's scribblings on a draft letter to Mr. Goco and follows it until it was signed by the president. 

I mentioned to a fellow tourist that this memorablia validates Fidel V. Ramos's reputation as a hardworking president. But aside from Mr. Raul Goco, the house shares the memory of an even older Goco, 

Juan Cabrera Goco, who happened to be the Katipunan's Treasurer. He built the house of the Goco's and it resembles the Aceron house in Pola, Or. Mindoro, in material, lay-out, and design. 
The Goco house feels a lot like the house of Pablo and Isabel, the Taalenos who brought Taal to Pola. 

151. Notes on a Trip to Taal: #2 The Road

The trip would take three hours. Our host, Pio Goco, said the Tagaytay route is under construction, so we had to take the Talisay route or the Nasugbu route. Further research and a Waze search made us choose a different route -- South Luzon Expressway, exit Lipa, Laurel Highway, through Cuenca, Alitagtag, Sta. Teresita, Taal- Bauan, Taal-Lemery, two lefts, and two rights, and then Taal. By 10am, we arrived at Lipa City. In the seventies, Lipa City was a good one hour away from the SLEX Tanauan exit. The Star Tollway shortened the trip with beatiful view of Mt. Banahaw. I put on my Spotify playlist of baroque songs (my wife complained my rock songs were too noisy), and was surprised as my data connection was seamless. Except for a few kilometers of patched-up asphalt roads, the trip was a smooth ride. It went a little windy from Lipa to Tagaytay. As we entered Taal from the Taal-Bauan road, a big sign by the gas station said, "Gutom ka na ga? Kumain ka na dine Itaalian food." Alright, that made me laugh. My wife pointed me to a billboard that said "Aseron Funeraria." That made me laugh harder. We arrived at the Goco House at around 11am. As Jose Garcia Villa wrote, "have come, am here." 

150. Notes on a Trip to Taal: #1. Homecoming

I am Marvin, son of Edmund, son of Mariano, son of Isabel, daughter of Basilio, brother of Guillermo and Santiago Orosa. I should memorize that to introduce myself to the Orosa ancestral house and its occupants in Taal, Batangas.  The first and last time I set foot there was in the seventies, a year before I even started going to school.  It was a grand reunion of the clan, a day of song and dances, food, laughs, games, and a dip in the lake in the cauldron of the volcano. I remember a big house that resembled the one in Pola, Oriental Mindoro, which my great grandparents, Pablo and Isabel built a hundred years ago -- big staircases, high ceilings, capiz windows,  majestic with the whiff of history in the air. I came to Taal then with my parents; today,  forty years hence, I'm going back to Taal with my wife and kids,  a repetition of an event, a return from a descendant of Isabel,  the one who eloped with Pablo to Pola.  But maybe, Isabel never left Taal or she probably took Taal with her, for here I am, a great grandson  and a century away, on the road, with  bare memories of a happy event, anticipating that it would be just like coming home. 

Monday, August 08, 2016

149. Libingan ng mga Bayani at Diktador

The dead deserve to be buried -- that much we learned from Antigone. Whether we label the cemetery as the burial ground for heroes is a matter that does not matter to the dead. Only the living are concerned about where to bury the dead, but the living would soon be dead, and so in the end, no one would remember whether the dead were buried in a place where heroes or villains were buried. It only matters that the dead were buried. In the case of Alabang cemetery, where a mall was erected, they even unburied the dead and buried them someplace else where the bones would not get in the way of corporate profits. They re-buried the dead nonetheless. So to the proposition that Marcos be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, I pose a qualified consent. Bury him in the ground, save us some electricity, finish this Antigonesque drama, but label it right. Call it Libingan ng mga Bayani at Diktador. And to the President who is advocating this move, pwede ka na rin dyan sir. 

Thursday, August 04, 2016

148. Drama

A man was felled by a bullet and his wife embraced his lifeless corpse. Drama? Let's do this again. 

Man shot; wife embraced dead body. Spousal relations too tragic? 

Man dead -- woman embraced body. Embraced too strong a verb? 

X dead. Y held dead body. "D" word too sensational? 

( X + Y) - X = Y. The minus sign still provocative?

  101100000001. Ayan, no more drama. 

Today, somebody is going to be shot again, and we should all speak about it in 1's and 0's, in order not to offend the powers that be, who refuse to acknowledge that when one dies, regardless if he's a crook,    a woman is widowed or  a child is orphaned. There I go again, putting drama in this government war on drugs. Indeed, the Government has delivered the numbers, but I am not ready to rejoice this early. Every war has two sides, and we haven't seen the other side respond. And while this war is happening, we will be driving on the streets, our children going to school, our family and friends doing things as if everything is normal. There would be casualties on all sides not just from the wagers but also from the bystanders. And soon, we will  remember this is the reason why we have laws -- so that people will not be killing each other casually as if they're buying stuff from the grocery. But that again is too much drama. I don't have the numbers to back me, but I still believe the way to win this drug war is to teach people how to be masters of their will. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

160. Notes on Celeste Lecaroz's Portraits: #1. The Face

NVM Gonzalez used to talk a lot about how the diachronic and synchronic characteristics of language could be the key to finding an endless resource of inspiration. The diachronic is the historical and mythological dimension of words whereas the synchronic is the declarative words of the here and now. It was NVM's  "trade secret" that allowed him to write as much as he could, the mind and writing hand hopping from the historical and mythical to the here and now and soon he accumulated a treasure throve of authentic Filipino literature that made NVM a National Artist. In visual art, if one were to look for the same spring of inspiration, the human face is probably one of the most fertile grounds to mine. In the human face, one not only finds a story of a generation, a race, or the entire humanity, but also a representation of a specific person with a particular historicity, color, and uniqueness. Thus, the human face has the history and mythology and the here and now, the perfect cross between the diachronic and synchronic. Yet, the peculiar thing about the face is that it means nothing unless it refers to a specific face of a person. An artist may draw a face, and with a mastery of the anatomy, achieve perfect symmetries on the eyes, nose, and lips; but, it could hardly be relevant to any one, except probably to the student of medicine studying the human species. To work and make the subject teem with meaning, the face as a subject of an artwork, must be the face of someone -- perhaps a great man like the Pope; a hero of a war, like Antonio Luna; a comic artist, like Dolphy; a beautiful soul, like St. Theresa of Calcutta; a sports icon, like Kevin Garnett; or someone close to home, like your mother. 

Sunday, July 03, 2016

147. Pres. Duterte, Pope Francis, and the Parable of the Prodigal Son

"Pu__ ___ __ Pope," oh my, I can't even write it. In November 2015, then just a mere prospect of a presidential candidate Duterte uttered the equivalent of the "F" word to the head of the Catholic Church. If this were the middle ages that would have spurred a crusade. But the cursing and iconoclast-thinking candidate out to make a point that decent is overrated -- and incompetent -- would not be denied his freedom of speech. He would speak his mind, curse the traffic and  the pope who caused it, condemned to hell if he had to, but no moral code was going to make him blip what his mouth wanted to say about the hellish traffic that Pope Francis caused when he visited the Republic in January 2015. Pope Francis seemed unmindful of the raucous. And  I could imagine the humble Pope even offering an apology for the incident had he been informed about it until -- bowed by the pressure of his handlers who were probably led by what could be imagined as septuagenarian members of the Catholic Women's League -- candidate Duterte wrote an apology to the Vatican and to the Catholic Bishop of Bacolod, and vowing to donate a thousand pesos to Caritas Davao for every curse word he said as an act of contrition.  The Vatican accepted the apology and said, "The Holy Father offers the assurance of prayers for you, as he invokes upon you the divine blessings of wisdom and peace."  That was April 2016, and the matter was settled once and for all by an overwhelming vote of the Catholic and non-Catholic majority in favor of candidate Duterte in the May 2016 elections.

("Bago" by Celeste Lecaroz, acrylic on canvas, 4 feet by 4 feet)

Still, I wonder if the Pope's prayers for candidate Duterte had a  hand in the elections -- after all candidate Duterte was the only one who had the benefit of papal prayers among the presidential candidates in spite of being depicted by the other candidates as a foul-mouthed murderous man. If so, it gave a hint of how that goody-goody brother of the prodigal son felt after the rich father gave the son a feast despite living a reckless life -- a parable regularly read in Catholic churches that sidelights an earthly phenomenon in which nice guys finish last and the bad boys have all the fun.

("Viva Il Papa" by Celeste Lecaroz, acrylic on canvas, 4 feet by 4 feet)

Nonetheless, if and when Pope Francis meets Pres. Duterte, it wouldn't be just them meeting, but the Vatican and this Republic, the nation states that they represent, no cursing or crusades expected. Wouldn't that be nice? But nice, like decency, is overrated. For ultimately, as in the parable, we find out that the key to  most everything is discarding our Manichean world view about being nice, decent, or of good behavior for it simply misses the point.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

146. President Rody

I have not known a 71 year old man with that much fire in the belly. Standing up to a regime whose words inspire but whose actions disappoint, he played the role of a rabble-rouser -- "Kill all drug lords" -- and the visionary -- "We'll fix this country in six months" -- thus rallying a great majority to his side on election day. He claimed he is the last card of the Philippines for true change to happen; and yet, he showed them all, he can walk away from this anytime. Upon his election, he bashed every institution in society, calling churchmen hypocrites and media corrupt, prompting an act of contrition from the church apologists and a boycott from the defiant press. But what he was really doing was horse-breaking, taming everyone of their wildness, showing everyone he was the wildest of them all, and knowing eventually what would happen to the beast once it's broken. There is no doubt he is energy, a fuel to ignite every Filipino's dream. No one can escape the polemics and apologetics that he would dictate for the next six years and beyond.  

("Bago" by Celeste Lecaroz, 4 feet x 4 feet, acrylic on canvass.)

One day we shall all be looking back to this moment: the 71 year old man with fire in the belly, rabble-rouser, visionary, horse-breaker, the energy, taking his oath to become the 16th President of the Republic, President Rody. He is the Philippines's last card  -- and we would know by then how the card turned out, maybe everything was a joke and we drew a pathetic six of flowers. But today, we trust and hope that what we have is the ace of spades. Good luck President Rody! Good luck to the Republic! 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

145. Gestalt in Law (Part One)

Gestalt is generally associated with psychology and the arts. The mind forms a whole and has tendency to organize what it perceives as parts into a whole. In  the arts, if you draw half a face, the mind recognizes it as a face, even if what is drawn is just an eye, half a nose, or half a  mouth. The mind concludes that this collection of face parts is actually a face. The sum is another of the parts. How does this relate to law? Gestalt is probably the only way at looking at the law  and how it operates in real life without going crazy. The serious anomalies in the practice of law (or should we say, "malpractice of it", to be more accurate?) is better understood if we accept that following the law is just part of the story. The innocent landing in jail, the guilty getting off scot-free, the rich getting a windfall, the poor losing what is left of them -- these law events do not tell the complete story. Law and other abstractions from reality cannot explain everything. Injustice is unacceptable but gestalt, the sum of all parts, can help us appreciate that what is written, uttered, and recorded in the annals of law have an underlying story that has been barely scratched and exposed. 

Let's get an example from a famous trial in history. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Counsel de Officio

I flew into General Santos City this morning to attend a hearing at the Regional Trial Court. I was pleased to find the court house neatly laid out like  a big "U" with the court rooms surrounding a garden. I told the guard who courteously   accompanied me to my branch that this is probably the best looking Hall of Justice I've seen in the country. I waited for my case to be called, and the local lawyers came in trickles. A fellow lawyer who turned out to be the IBP head of legal aid guessed I was new there, and warmly greeted me and asked me about my case. I told him a rough description of it and I mentioned the name of my opposing counsel, who turned out to be in Cotabato today and would unlikely be present for today's hearing. As the court staff started calling the cases, the room was filled with detention prisoners and about six local lawyers came in, greeted each other, and watched the proceedings. As it turned out, most of the detention prisoners would be arraigned and  without   counsel. The lawyer from the Public Attorney's Office was not around so the Judge decided to appoint each of the lawyers as counsel de officio for purposes of arraignment. I'm no stranger to this, but I got really amused that my fellow lawyers graciously accepted their appointment and did their jobs with enthusiasm. 

Arraignment is a crucial step in criminal procedure, but the importance of the process is betrayed if a counsel de officio merely advises the accused to make a plea of "not guilty". In Franz Kafka's "The Trial", Francis K's predicament was precisely that he was unaware of the charges against him and yet the trial continued to proceed. And I looked at the blank faces of the detention prisoners and I could tell, most of them didn't know what was going on. That's why a counsel de officio doing services for the arraignment should inform the accused of the charges, the potential penalty, and other relevant matters, so that the accused could properly decide what to plea. 

As the proceedings went on, I noticed the lawyers were doing their second round of duties already, and I had not been appointed yet. I looked at the small crowd in the courtroom, and it seemed they were wondering why this Manila lawyer in a blue suit was not doing what the local lawyers were doing. So, when my case was called, I told the Judge, "Your Honor, before we proceed, I noticed I am the only lawyer here who has not been appointed as counsel de officio, and I am getting embarrassed already. (Laughter from the lawyers and the court staff) So, please your Honor let me tell you I can do that work too, and I will stay a bit to help out the court perform its duties." After my case was called,  I got appointed as counsel de officio to help in the arraignment of two brothers accused of theft. I can't write anything further without breaching confidentiality, so I will stop here. I'm new in General Santos, but I certainly like the legal community here. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Notes on the Comelec Omnibus Rules on Campaign Finance or Why do we love to make rules we can't follow?

When Heaven Torres, my partner in the IT firm Aceron and Torres Automated Circuits, Inc., (ATAC), and I first read the Comelec's Omnibus Rules on Campaign Finance which was promulgated in October 2015,  we knew it would be controversial. Section 2 Rule 10 of the same rules declared in clear and unequivocal terms that the filing of the Statement of Contributions and Expenses (SOCE) thirty (30) days from election day (May 19, 2016) was non-extendible. This would be a big change from the past elections in which extensions were granted. 

Further, amendments were not allowed, and filings which contained errors would be considered as not filed. Already, I thought the Comelec was even stricter than the BIR, which allowed amendments within three (3) years from filing of a tax return or before a BIR audit takes place whichever came first. But the Comelec in promulgating these rules appeared to be trying to exercise its plenary powers in a grand manner (shades of Malcolm fans in there probably), and cared not for precedents of filings from other agencies like the BIR and the SEC, such that it ignored the possibility of anyone missing the deadline or filing an erroneous SOCE.

This became the premise of our software project,  Fearless Election Finance Software (EFS) that we designed (actually Heaven did the design by longhand and passed  it on to a programmer) -- to help candidates hurdle the rigid requirements of the rules and submit their reports within the deadline. To market the software, we embarked on a seminar roadshow in Luzon and Cebu,  and we realized that the rules had more serious problems than just the deadline and its prohibition on amendments.

First, the spending limits were too low. A candidate was only allowed to spend three pesos per registered voter. Yet, the average town had about 15,000 voters, so a Mayor, for example, could only spend Php 45,000 for the entire campaign. Anyone who would dare follow it would never win. For those without political parties, the limit was five pesos, and political parties had an additional five pesos. Still, the amount could hardly even cover the cost of gasoline or cellphone load for the entire campaign. 

Second, some provisions were impossible to enforce. Section  4 of Rule 6 provided that all campaign materials even those donated by voters should be authorized by the candidiate and would be counted against the expenditure limit. This was the offshoot from Ejercito vs Comelec GR No. 212398 ( in which a campaign donor of the Laguna governor   bought   airtime from a TV network amounting to more than five times the  expenditure  limit, thereby causing the ouster of Ejercito from the seat of the Province of Laguna. While clearly media expenditure was severely limited by the rules, other campaign propaganda like billboards, stickers, posters, and give-aways would be impossible to monitor not just for the candidate but also for the Comelec. How could they be counted against the expenditure limit then? Further, with the advent of social media (which carried the Duterte campaign), how could the Comelec quantify the money being spent on status messages, memes, tweets, and comments? And we're not even talking about illegal expenditures, such as money used to buy votes. The Comelec hardly spent time monitoring and catching vote-buying, which was a more serious and prevalent election offense, why would it spend time counting election expenses? Indeed, the Comelec was setting itself up for failure by raising the bar so high on this aspect of campaign finance.

Third, a lot of candidates did not care. They would do their reports the old way, cram, falsify, and challenge the Comelec's resolve to enforce its rules. While the Ejercito case set an unusual precedent of unseating an incumbent governor for violation of a Comelec rule, nothing else came out of the 785 cases on election finance pending with the Comelec from the 2013 elections. We wrote the Campaign Finance Office to clarify some matters on rules and we never got an answer, because none of its lawyers were available. It seemed, therefore, that Comelec's posturing on this grand rules to govern campaign finance would be melted by the realities of governance, the tyranny of the urgent and the overbearing demands of duty and the scarcity of time and resources to fulfill these duties. No wonder old time politicians would be the least bothered by the rules.

Thus, when the news broke out that the Liberal Party (LP), the party of the outgoing President, missed the deadline and asked for an extension, we were aghast at the incompetence of the LP leadership,  which jeopardized all its winning candidates as the same rules provided that the failure of the winning candidate or the party which nominated the winning candidate would result in the candidate not being allowed to assume office. The implications were disastrous: the Vice-President, five senators, hundreds of congressmen and local officials were LP candidates. If the Comelec rule would be followed, they would be barred from assuming office; and following the Maquiling ruling, their runner-ups would assume their offices. 

Yet, Romulo Makalintal and Sixto Brilliantes, two of the leading election lawyers in the country who should take credit (or be blamed) for the quality of elected officials we have, dismissed this view on the ground that the rules of the Comelec were unconstitutional. I told my friends that we got to hand it to these guys for playing with the hand dealt to their clients. To say it in the vernacular, "kung baga sa pusoy, buhaw na akala mo naka full house pa." (If this were poker, they have bad cards, but they're playing it as if they have full houses.) If the rules didn't work for their clients, the Constitution did. Well, these statements should have been uttered in October when the rules came out. The two gentlemen were just using the Constitution as an afterthought. 

But today, the Comelec blinked. Voting 3-4, the Comelec extended the deadline to June 30, 2016 and disregarded Section 2 of Rule 10 of their own Omnibus Rules on Campaign Finance, which stated, 

"Section 2. When and how to file the SOCE and its supporting documents. - Not later than thirty (30) days after the day of election, or by 08 June 2016, Wednesday, all candidates and parties who participated in the 09 May 2016 National and Local Elections, regardless of whether they won or lost, must file their Statements of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCEs) and the relevant Schedules and supporting documents. Filing of these campaign finance disclosure reports and statements must be done in person, whether by the candidates and/or party treasurers personally, or through their duly authorized representatives, before the offices listed in Section 3 of this Rules. Duly authorized representatives of candidates and parties must present a written authorization from their principals, using Form SPA-C in the case of candidates and Form SPA-P in the case of parties, before they can submit the campaign finance disclosure statements and reports of their principals. Submissions via registered mail, courier or messenger services shall not be accepted.

"The 08 June 2016 deadline shall be final and non-extendible. Submissions beyond this period shall not be accepted. COMELEC Resolutions Nos. 9849 and 9873, Minute Resolutions Nos. 13-0775 and 13-0823 are hereby repealed, insofar as they allowed the belated submission, amendmentand/or correction of campaign finance disclosure statements and reports and the imposition of late penalties for the 2013 National and Local Elections. [n]"

The Commissioners who voted to grant the extension might as well have eaten the paper on which their rules were printed. The question is which other provisions of this rule could be changed? The no amendment rule? The spending limit rule? They should change them now before another case lands on their desk that would force them to amend the rules again. 

I think it was President-elect Duterte who declared that the laws in this country are mere suggestions. He might as well be talking about the Comelec rules which governed the elections that he won. This might not be the first time that the Comelec reversed itself, especially in the enforcement of its own rules. And they could not be faulted or be singled out as the only agency which did  (think  of the Supreme Court and its flip-flopping in the cityhood cases) but the other question is why did they have to make their rules so hard in the first place? They only made it difficult for those who complied and submitted on time, and made it easy for those who failed, crammed, and challenged the Comelec's resolve to enforce its own rules. It's like being up early for the plane only to find out that some children of god who partied all night would be late and make everyone wait, the pilot gladly obliging a reprieve. Somehow one imagines those who benefitted from Comelec's reversal of their own rules are mocking everyone concerned about this fiasco of the SOCE,  and are saying to themselves, "What are we in power for?".

The Commissioners who voted for the extension claimed that they did not want their rules to have absurd consequences such that those voted in office would not be able to assume their functions. And I gave a deep bass guffaw as I heard the quote from the radio. Tell that to ER Ejercito,  I said. And I decided that all is well in this corrupt republic.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Home I Remember: A Trip to Pola, May 1976

May 1976

Our trip commenced with a jeepney ride to Plaza Lawton early in the morning before the sun was out. From Lawton to Batangas pier, the trip would take all of three hours. South Superhighway then was just a long road on a large ricefield. Things would get slow as the bus took the right turn to Tanauan and the two lane road all the way to Batangas pier would be obstructed by trucks, local jeepneys, tricycles, and pedestrians. The bus driver would also be happy to stop for an old man on the bus who needed to take a leak badly. The world was not too in a hurry in those days. People shared the road and tolerated each other’s gears and incontinence. 

Batangas pier welcomed us with that salty whiff of air on our faces. There’s a hint of smoky fish being grilled on the fastfood makeshift restos on the side. All around hawkers had something to peddle -- steamed white corn on a cob, sweet tamarinds, grilled tulingan, panutsa, peanut brittles, boiled chicken eggs and quail eggs, banana chips, banana cues, camote cues, maruya, boiled bananas, espasol, turones de mani, rimas, and  colorful drinks known as "samalamig" which were iced vanilla-flavored and sweetened water.  The varietly of culinary treats from the peddlers could fill up an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s. 

Not to be outdone were the porters who would race to their customers carrying heavy stuff from Manila. There were no big ships, which would be known as roll on - roll off or "ro-ro".  Passengers  had to take their belongings from the bus parking to the waiting ship, a good two hundred meter walk. If one arrived late, he had to make the trek under the hot sun, so the porters came in handy all the time. As soon as they got a deal from the travelling customers to carry off a heavy luggage or a box of personal stuff tied up with a piece of yarn and marked with the owner’s name and destination, “Pola, Oriental Mindoro”, the porters sped off to the waiting ferry boat, and I had to catch up with my eyes. I used to worry that  a porter might run away with our stuff or do something foolish with them, but in all those years, I never heard of any one losing their baggages to their porters. The porters of Batangas and Calapan and the passengers who made the regular ferry ride between the two ports had a good symbiotic relationship grounded on the strength of muscles and trust. We travelled with no worries.

The straight from Batangas pier to Calapan  port is the womb of many dreams, myths, and stories. The National Artist for Literature and a native of Mindoro, NVM Gonzalez, who was my teacher at the Ateneo, asked me to read his short story, “On the Ferry” about a father and his son who were coming home to the island aboard the ferry, because the father could no longer afford to send his kid to school in Manila. It is probably the finest story ever written about the trip from Batangas to Calapan or about any ferry ride for that matter. Inspired by his story, I submitted to him my own version of the trip, “Ayos!”, but this time it was the trip from Calapan to Batangas about a young ambitious  kid’s first encounter with corruption among the ship ticket masters. NVM was happy to read it and published it in  Katipunan, a newsmagazine for the Filipinos in Berkely, California. 

The best part of this trip was always the big island, Verde. Surrounding the island was this vast depth of the sea known to be the center of biodiversity in the world. From the ferry, I always imagined what life was on that island — the pristine beaches, that cliff that looked barren from afar said to have been the spot where a star-crossed lover leaped to his death, and that tip of the island known as the washing machine of the straight, because of the strong whirling currents that were equally beautiful and dangerous. 

A good three hours aboard the ferry boat of Viva Lines, which was usually named after a princess or a saint, would give travellers an occasion to catch some sleep. Back then air-conditiong was not provided and neither was it necessary.  We stayed on our chairs made of foldable woodwork and canvass, reading newspapers, comics, magazines, books, and a few pages pass, and we’re dozing off, snoring, dreaming, and the "tulo-laways" among us receiving the jeers from those who managed to stay awake. We had no GPS devices then but we knew we were near by checking the time and looking out to find the hill above the port of Calapan, which said “Welcome to Oriental Mindoro.”

As soon as the ferry docked, the porters of Calapan would inject a burst of energy to the boat whose passengers would be just waking from their sleep. The porters would be on the “andamyo”, the bridge from the ferry to the pier and would be calling out for deals, some whistling, some shouting, their eyes hunting for those big baggages and their owners. The “Taga-Polas” had a favorite porter, Arturo, a stout but muscular man. He was always the “Taga-Pola’s” "suki" for he was quick, strong, and never charged too much no matter how heavy his load was. 

Calapan in 1976 had a different and quaint air with its small pier, and rows of big jeeps and trucks. I knew I was in a different place just by the sound of the tagalog conversations. I heard it first from the kids in the pier who asked for coins for people to throw at the sea as they raced against one another to find the coin at the bottom of the sea.  "Dine, dine ka magtapon ikaw ng pera dine!" There were inflections, a sing-song, crescendo, and diminuendo in the speech, a lot of onomatopoeia. You hear similar tagalog words, but they sound like they are handled by masters of the tongue. Some Manila tagalog words are not even there.  The word “kasi”, for example, was hardly heard in a conversation, and instead, you hear, “gawa ng”.

In this trip, we took the old trusty passenger truck, a remnant of World War II overruns and surpluses with large wheels probably towering up to the shoulders of an average man, and the big chassis underneath which could be seen from afar. There were no doors and everybody had to enter the truck from the right side of each row. It had no paint and was barely covered by rusty GI sheets. 

While negotiating the curve overlooking the Naujan Lake, the old truck had a flat tire. It stopped and we were told to alight as the driver and his assistants took the reserve tire from one of the back rows to replace the flat one. I was lucky to have a front row view of the happenstance as the driver  worked on the jack, unscrewed the flat tire with a cross wrench, screwed in the reserve, checked if the screws were tight, and restored the tools back in place. In about fifteen minutes, we were back on the road. 

The long trip from Calapan marked a left turn in the corner of Socorro and Pola. It would be a short but dusty ride. The travellers' ritual when we hit this spot was to put on a head gear -- which could be a cap -- sunglasses for the eyes, and handkerchief or bandana to cover the face for protection against the dust as the road was not asphalted and the dust would animate the final stretch of the trip. Just a few minutes after we passed the bridge over the river in Barangay Pula, we would be greeted by mango trees and their large fruits dangling on the road and then Barangay Casiligan with its elementary school and the cemented basketball court. A few more minutes and we would see the splendor of Pola Catholic Cemetery. The town's founders were buried there and so were the educators, public officials, traders, fisherfolk, farmers, and common men. They each had a spot in the sprawling mountain of white and marble, proof that rich and poor alike were equal in death;  they bring nothing as they lay on the parched earth that they share. 

As we enter the town, our main stop was the house in Everlasting, Francisco Street corner Alikpala Street. But for lunch, we went up the house of Lolo Parminio and Lola Nita. I negotiated the wooden steps to the second floor and found a rocking chair. There was a room to the left where I used to see Baby Joan, Tito Rene's daughter in her crib, I remember they had left for Canada a few years back. To the right was the sala with the window where the May santacruzan processions were the regular spectacle in the evenings. Lolo Parminio and Lola Nita would be happy to see us as I kissed their hands. They would tell me how much bigger I have grown. We would have a lunch of fish and rice, and I would be teased over and over for something I said when I was three years old. They claimed I had once complained to them why they didn't cook chicken for a visitor like me, "Sa amin pag may bisita, nagpapatay ng manok." I had absolutely no recollection of the incident but I was happy to go a long and be the object of the teasing. 

From the window of the sala, I would often watch how a minibus would be parked in a crammed parking lot in front of Lolo Parminio's house. They called it the "Grace" bus, its name was inscribed in large letters on the body. The bus would  move forward and backward at least three times before it was safely parked. 

A few minutes after lunch, Lola Tindeng would be at the door. She found out that the boy, son of Edmundo, son of Mariano was in the house. She would offer her hand for me to kiss, and she spoke with the tabacco stuck in her lips and the ember ligthing up from inside. And I often wondered what kind of skill was it that this old lady had talking while puffing a stick of tobaco as it burned inside her mouth? How was it possible that she didn't burn her tongue? But she would pull  my hand and say, "Come you must see your Lolo Amboy."

And I would follow her as we got down the steps of Lolo Parminio's house. We crossed the street, and on the ground floor of the house, we would see a bench where a small group of people had gathered. We went up the second floor, a grand staircase in magnificent woodwork beckoned to be climbed. I would carefully take little steps and emerge from it to find a big bed on which Lolo Amboy was reclining. He held a fan with one hand and offered his other hand for me to kiss. Lola Tindeng would say "Ito yung apo mo, anak ni Edmund na anak ni Mariano." Lola Amboy would look at me and mutter something to Lola Tindeng as she handed to me a few coins that I carefully tucked inside my pocket. Lolo Amboy's voice was high pitched and a bit husky. He was probably in his 90s then and he would die a few months after I met him.

This was the home I remember. The cradle of the Orosa-Aceron family of Pola, Or. Mindoro. Lolo Amboy on his bed, Lola Tindeng beside him, the big house in Everlasting, Francisco corner Alikpala street, the house we now call Malacanang.  The memory of those days has stayed with me for forty years and every trip back to Pola is a trip back home. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

144. Unsolicited Advice to an Incoming President #8: Stop acting like John Lennon

You are so close to proclaiming yourself more famous than Jesus. John Lennon said that about the Beatles in the 60's. And now, John Lennon is dead and the Beatles is still famous but not as famous as Taylor Swift. And when the millenials take over the world, the Beatles would be something their silly parents and grandparents swooned over or some fancy, old, and tired Guitar Hero game. And you #Du30, you're not even John Lennon. You haven't sold a gold record, you just won an election. You haven't done a thing as President and you're telling Catholics to leave the Church and join your Iglesia ni Duterte. And what would people worship- the barrel of your gun? What would people believe in --  the discipline of an "eye for an eye"? How would you baptize people -- by making them shoot a hogtied criminal in the head? Nope, you're no longer the humble man from Davao that people cheered for as you whip the elitist Manila boys. You haven't even taken your oath, and you've acted like the brat who is stepping down. Fine, you're playing jester again, but all these nonsense about the church you're founding is a reflection that your head has swollen. There is never a good time to make more enemies -- most certainly not when you're about to change a lot of things as you had promised during your campaign.  Wisen up, yeah yeah yeah. All things must pass.

Monday, May 23, 2016

143. Unsolicited Advice to an Incoming President #7: You're a hypocrite too.

You said the Catholic Church is the most  hypocritical  institution. I'm fine with that, the Pope's infallibility is not to be confused with his impeccability. Pope Francis made this distinction by humbly seeking for prayers after being elected as Pope and asking for confession thereafter. But if you think the bishops are saints just because they're bishops, then you better ask your Benedictine mentors why bishops are not saints, albeit there were some bishops who became saints, like Augustine of Hippo for example, while a host of others are probably in the deepest circle of hell. But let me turn the tables on you, you're a hypocrite too. You like killing criminals, that's your addiction. The dopamine and other chemicals that get released in the brain when a human being kills another, that's a high no drug can beat, a well-documented fact by  novelists and psychiatrists alike. So, when you say you like to kill criminals, it's not like you're thrilled  because you are upholding the law or you're protecting good people from bad people. That's bullshit. Nobody gets a high by doing his job while thinking about some constitutional provision about upholding the law. You're thrilled because killing gives you that high. You say you'd rather go to hell, as long as the people you serve live in heaven, that's hot air. Killing is your heaven, like gambling is to gamblers, or meth is to drug addicts. You are a fake. You get to scratch your itch and tell everyone it's public service. The bishops and you, you'll find each other in hell, even if you're the  only who wants to go there. Mauna ka na Mayor. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

142. Unsolicited Advice to an Incoming President #6: Remember Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora were framed.

If you remember Lapu-Lapu of March 16, 1521,  surely you'll remember February 17, 1872. Three Filipino priests, Fathers Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora, were lobbying that the parishes be assigned to the seculars. Then, a revolt erupted among the workers in Fort San Felipe in Cavite, which ended in the massacre of most of the putschists by the Spanish army. To save himself from the government which was running after the perpetrators, Capt. Saldua volunteered to be a star witness against the three priests. The Spanish authorities believed everything Saldua  said and refused to allow the three to cross-examine Saldua, saying Saldua suffered from an ailment of some sort. It was a trial that thrived on rumors and happenstance. If you were a prosecutor then, you would have moved to dismiss. Yet, national security was an utmost concern; somebody had to be hanged, and the three vocal priests of the secularization movement matched the frame. On their day of execution, Zamora was driven to insanity, Burgos cried like a baby, and Gomez was resigned to his fate, saying, "Dear Father, I know very well that a leaf of a tree does not move without the Will of the Creator; inasmuch as He asks that I die in this place, may His will be done.”  Saldua, poor fellow, got hanged first. And Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora followed the same end. When they died, the heavens darkened as the people knelt and uttered the prayer for the dead. The death of the priests broke Rizal's heart and inspired him to dedicate the El Fili to the three. When Aguinaldo's army captured the towns of Cavite, they stormed the parishes seeking an affidavit from the Spanish friars to absolve the martyred priests, as if the event did not take place more than twenty years before. But such is the hunger of the people for the truth that no matter how long it had been, the memory of injustice would haunt them and embolden them to undo what was wrongly done, even with an inconsequential affidavit which had no legal bearing. Death could never quell the people's desire for the truth. Lately, you said you would bring back the death penalty by hanging. Many people would not be fine with that, but because you are the President, you can make it happen. Just remember Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora were framed. The Spanish did not get it right, they never did. And this nation, born of the blood of the three martyred priests, seeking the blood of those who disturb our peace, in spite of our learned judges, lawyers, and the men and women who work for justice, we know, we would never get it right one hundred percent of the time. No system would ever get it right all the time.  For no matter how hard we ponder and study the question -- "Should a criminal be hanged?" -- we would always miss a spot and be blind.  We would probably get it right most of the time, but in each time, an unsettling question would lurk in our hearts, are we hanging a Gomez, Burgos, or Zamora again, victims of the mob and the burning passions of their time, witnesses to the limits of our human faculties and ways, and icons of regret that would wound us for the rest of our days?

Friday, May 20, 2016

141. Unsolicited Advice to an Incoming President #5: Give the really rich some spanking

Your crusade against the criminals is welcome, but to be a true socialist as you say, you have to give the rich some spanking. They have made a lot of money through the years. They trumpet it every year, and they're taxed the same way as the rest. So, give the poor a buena mano hit. I pick two darlings of the business world to take it -- Smart and Globe, the telco duopoly. Hit them with the windfall tax. Windfall -- that's what they get every year. They have been raking in at least a billion a month each for so many years, and they give us shit. Dropped signals, no signals, garbled signals, and very efficient billing and collections. They never gave us a rebate for all the bad service they give, and they are proud of it. The Supreme Court even ruled once that a 100 million tax on Globe prescribed and never to be collected till kingdom come. Pres. Ramos broke the PLDT monopoly in the 90s, but through predatory practices, what was once a thriving marketplace of the telecom industry is now a Mutt and Jeff of telco comedy. Come on Mr. President. Be a true red-blooded socialist. Hit Smart and Globe with a windfall tax -- 80 percent of their filthy profits. Use the money to build more schools for children to teach them nobody makes that kind of money without deserving it. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

140. Unsolicited Advice to an Incoming President #4: Keep yourself humble.

I've been analyzing your discourse that set the tone of the campaign, and I think the key element that got you votes was humility. It manifested in many ways like self-deprecating humor ("I've been copying since grade one"), manner of dressing (maong jeans amidst the call for "disente"), public adulation for a rival in Miriam Defensor Santiago ("You will live forever"), and a cool and collected demeanor while waiting for the debate to begin -- highlighted by a joke on Mar Roxas's third visit to the toilet -- when it seemed that every candidate would die if he or she didn't win, you played the jester who's left your fate to the gods. I'm sure you've been humble for a long time, aware of your role in the world and the little space each one of us occupies in the universe, proclaiming no monopoly of the truth, moral righteousness, nor good intentions. This shouldn't be hard, humility. But the presidency has a way of going to people's heads. Just remember it is not a prize, but a duty. Humility. Humility.