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. 

139. Unsolicited Advice to an Incoming President #3: Cut your credit

No, blast it into smithereens. You don't owe anyone your position, not even the 15M voters that swept you to power. You owe it to the 100 million of us that keep this country together, including those that did not vote for you, the millions more to be born in your term, and the millions who died to build this republic.  Your donor, Emilio Aguinaldo, should declare bankruptcy for the billions he gave are now written off -- lista sa tubig. The polarities in your team that are now creating little fiefdoms like the Samar and Balay of the old should be busted. It's one team, the President's. No little presidents should emerge. You don't owe them. The guy who used to give you the answers to your math quizzes, the man who taught you how to shoot, the lawyer who got your marriage annulled, the doctor who treats your migraine, and the bishop who lends you his plane -- screw them all.  I asked an adviser of yours a week before you got elected if you are a philosopher  king, and he replied that you are a benevolent despot -- a reply not enough to swing my vote away from my loyalties for a despot doesn't look like anyone in Plato's ship of state. But the theater of the elections is over. The ship of state is now for you to steer. You can still be the philosopher king. Begin by declaring you are debt free. Let your creditors call you a scumbag, walang utang na loob. It doesn't matter what they say. There should be no paybacks, only thank yous. 

138. Unsolicited Advice to an Incoming President #2: Do Something Crazy

Do something crazy. Curfew, alcohol ban,  karaoke limit -- not crazy enough. You offered four cabinet seats to the left? It means nothing because the laws they are going to implement are capitalist creations and compromises. The three hectare retention limit of the Agrarian Reform Law, for example, used to make Jimmy Tadeo's blood boil; he wanted zero. You trash-talked Congress and their penchant for legislative inquiries? Oliver Lazano can do a better job. What I want is the most outrageous idea you can do with your mandate -- something to stress a point to its illogical limits. You hate rapists? Introduce the penalty of castration and whatever's removed are fed to the dogs in plain view of the convict. What a spectacle. That would make Michel Foucault turn in his grave. Plunderers and white collar criminals? Twenty years in exile with the Dalai Lama on the mountains of Tibet, costs of board and lodging charged to their loot. Murderers? One year inside a tomb beside their victims. That's just for the criminals. For transportation, we need a cable car across Luzon. What about a tunnel to connect Cebu, Bohol, and Negros Island? For Mindanao, tunnels, railways, cable cars, put them all there. Make it a showcase of development. You can even move the capital of the country to Davao and build a Malacanang of the South.  For the OFW's, slash the remittance fee rates into half. Bring the price down by making the postal money order system electronic. I'm sure these too are not crazy enough, but you get the drift. Do something crazy, outrageous, and wild. Be the imaginative President we never had. Create a Department of Imagination. Don't squander your mandate like the others did. Nobody get's to be president twice. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

137. Unsolicited Advice to an Incoming President #1

I never want to hear you say it's the outgoing President's fault. It doesn't matter whose fault it is, you're the President now. It's your problem now and you asked for this. You filed a Certificate of Candidacy for the Presidency, campaigned for five months (actually, evidence shows at least two years), burned a lot of energy and dough speaking to throngs of crowds that sent them to cathartic heights, and now you have it: the title, the chair, the seat, the power, the voice, the big fist. You have the treasury, the army, (even the enemy's army which might no longer be the enemy unless the RA's would have there way again), the international community, and you can command people power and electrify this nation. So man up, unsolicited advice that was shunned by your outgoing predecessor, don't blame him or any one before him.