Wednesday, March 30, 2016

That Thing Called Resilience

Previously on: Unbent

It took me a full hour to absorb the carnage. 

The plants under my care lay buried beneath their overturned plastic containers. The earth that held their roots were scattered all over the vinyl floor. The plastic tray that I used as the flower pots' elevated platform (with flimsy pillars to support it) had fallen over, bringing everything to the ground, including the makeshift pond underneath it. The islets of kiyapos (water cabbages) were all gone; even the small cuttings have shrunk, its fleshy branches pulped and could no longer be replanted. 

The sheer devastation could have reduced me to tears, especially after being able to make the plants thrive with very little sunlight. Had the vile creatures dropped the cylinder aquarium or clawed the turtle out of its shell, I would certainly cease bringing life unto the balcony and let the remaining plants die. 

The rats responsible for this mess have tested my patience long enough.

But instead of moping, I used the downtime at the side job to pick up the pots. I returned the soil and replanted the herbs with my bare hands. The pillars supporting the plastic tray have been reinforced, making sure it won't topple over even when the rats return and trash that corner all over again. Finally, a metal trap has been set, so that whatever critter finds itself caged would pay dearly for the destruction it did.

There is no other way but to rebuild.

*I can no longer count the years since the time I went back to pursue my hobby. Lots of plants have died, and only very few survived from the first cuttings. Over time, I've resigned to the fact that most of the herbs I would try to grow will die after a few years. Some plants would not even last a month. 

Maybe I don't have a green thumb like I thought. 

But growing herbs is not all about picking the leaves and using them to spice our food. I don't even know how to trim these plants. What I get from this pursuit is therapy; the thought that you can make some plants thrive when others won't is already a source of pride, it encourages you to acquire more herbs, with the hope that they would grow. But still, no matter what effort you give, some plants will not make it, and after seeing so many of them decay, get thrown away, and being replaced by new sprouts, you will learn that setbacks like a rat rampage can always happen. 

It is how you put back the pieces again, and letting the plants grow once more is what makes gardening a hobby worth pursuing.   

Friday, March 25, 2016

Worlds Of Discovery

Previously on Found

It is one of my most pricey acquisition to date: A black cotton T-shirt, I thought of buying on Teespring.

But it was no ordinary piece of clothing. The advertisement said - and this I saw on the NASA Twitter account - that a purchase of the shirt will help fund the research and education initiatives of the SETI - or the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. The SETI Institute is a research organization founded some 50 years ago, and whose aim is to understand and explain the origins and nature of life in the universe. It hopes, that by listening to radio signals from the stars, it can tell the world that advanced alien life exists on distant planets. When you watch movies that are about alien invasion (and how humans repel these attacks in different ways our storytellers could imagine) the scientists involved in the detection of approaching spaceships belong to this organization. For Hollywood filmmakers and the public-at-large, this is what the Institute was created for.

It has been half a century since the SETI was created, and by now, we should be hearing from these intelligent aliens given the proximity of the nearest stars. So what could have happened? I do not know for sure. Maybe the intergalactic muting was deliberate - like what I do when I dislike the posts of someone I follow on Twitter but could not remove that person from my list. Regardless of its aims, the search for intelligence must go on and I for one believe that we are not alone in the universe. 

And so I bought the shirt, which cost over a thousand pesos when the actual price is converted to local currency. It doesn't include the shipping expense whose charge amount to half of what the apparel cost. Feeling the pinch, I had second thoughts of carrying on with my purchase. The upper garments I used to buy fetch half the price I have to shell just to wear this "Worlds of Discovery" shirt. I can even search for a local T-shirt design maker and have one customized for myself. Then I would wear it in public, with only the nerds understanding what the shirt is all about.

But then, what about the scientific research and the promise to educate the kids about the wonders of Radio Astronomy?

I will have to bleed for it.

Two full months after the official printing commenced in the United States, a month after the actual package journeyed across the world (whose pause in Frankfurt made me envious) and after paying a hefty 500 PHP for the customs tax when the item lingered in the Lawton post office for weeks, the shirt finally reached me. Like the SETI, whose funding is always objected by politicians and scientists alike, this piece of clothing may have cost me a lot of money. 

But knowing it will be for the collective knowledge of the human race, I can live with the price and wear the shirt, beaming with pride.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Patronage Politics Of Jojo

At sumulat na rin ako kay Col. Jose Sta Romana, ang deputy chief ng Office of Detainer’s Affairs para hingin ang release ni Sammy. Sinagot niya ako na hindi maire-release si Sammy dahil naisampana ang kaso niya, PD 33 sa lalawigan ng Pasig kay Fiscal Rodolfo Mateo.

Sinabi ko ito kay Atty. Rene Sarmiento. Siya kasi ang sumusubaybay sa kaso ni Sammy at Agot. Pagkalipas ng ilang araw, sinabi niya na inilipat niya ang kaso ko kay Atty. Jojo Binay. Kilala daw kasi nito si Fiscal Mateo at classmate pa sa sabungan. Mula noon, kay Atty. Binay na ako nagpapa-follow up.

Inaamin ko na sa mga panahong iyon, may mga oras na napapagod din ako. May araw na ayaw kong kumilos. Pero ang asawa ni Agot, si Rose ang kumukulit sa akin. Kinukulit din kasi siya ng asawa niya. Kaya’t walang panahon na mapagod, na tumigil sa paglalakad ng release papers.

Pinayuhan ako ni Atty. Jojo Binay na pasulatin si Sammy at Agot kay Fiscal Mateo at umapela sila sa kanilang release for humanitarian reasons. Sumulat ang dalawa at sa impluwensya na rin siguro ni Atty. Binay, pumayag si Fiscal Mateo. Sumulat siya sa Office of Detainees Affairs na wala siyang tutol sa release nung dalawa upang magkaroon sila ng pagkakataon na maayos ang mga papeles nila sa kanilang kaso.

Sworn Statement,
Martial Law Recollections

Nothing but good words - I think - would come out of my dad's mouth if he were to talk about Jojo Binay and the ties that bound them. I would not even be surprised if he and the publishing empire that he had built would carry the mayor's name if he were still alive today. After all, my dad owes his freedom to this man, who used to be a little-known public servant before Cory Aquino installed him as the custodian of Makati. For politicians and constituents alike, he is still the same person who would use his connections and resources to grant favors to those who would approach him.

But first, let me assure you, dear readers, that I do not share my father's affinity with the old man. Not even in my subconscious do I believe in the sincerity of his words. The least I could offer is recognition, of how he has become part of the family lore. I would no longer go into details, but it is possible that he was the reason for my being. Beyond this begrudging utang-na-loob is my attempt at understanding; of why despite the corruption charges hurled against him, and his wily attempts to evade the accusations, Jojo Binay appeals to millions of voters who choose to ignore the truth and would still want for him to become the next President of this country.

The answer lies within our barest notion of Democracy.

I have always said that we never got past the idea of Feudalism. Sa probinsya man o sa lungsod, we are expecting politicians to provide for our basic needs. We think we are entitled to it. We let them become lords and princes in exchange for little conveniences that in time would appear like we owe it to them. And the former mayor of Makati is just a fine example of a leader spawned by this perverted social pact. His platform of governance, including the 5Ps and the reduction of taxes, assure that this system will be expanded beyond the peripheries of  his city. The grateful masses, in return, would perpetuate his dynasty. This is what happened when his daughter was elected a Senator despite her lack of experience in the government.

Jojo Binay would tell everyone that his city offers free healthcare for its residents. He also offers free education for its students. I do not know what else is free in Makati aside from the bland cakes, and school bags (with the Binay trademark adorning its surface) but my aunt, who is a surgeon, had sworn in our family talks that the city runs the public hospitals with the best medical facilities. How can you beat that? This augmented reality, obscured by the fact that it was Makati's small indigent population and a robust business and commercial district that afford them such privilege. This narrative passed on from word-of-mouth is what's making the elder Binay a favorite among the natives.

But can we blame them for believing this pipe dream?

Much as I would like to think that Jojo embraces a social system similar to socialism, the truth is that he practices a leadership style that allows for the politics of patronage to flourish. And when the people - from the village elders to the landed princelings hold their allegiance to that one family responsible for their well-being, the excesses of power, including the audacity to generate personal income through shady deals get overlooked and forgotten. It is only when determined rivals, aided by intrusive journalists unearth these secrets do the truth come out. This is the real Binay story. And given that he has been ignored for so long, he goes to great lengths (including the infamous no-shows at the Senate hearings) denying the accusations despite the damning evidence.

Meanwhile, the masa doesn't care. Forever swayed by politicians who "eat among them" and "dole out cash and goods when it's time to campaign," they see our political system as a sham; That no matter who you put in Malacanan, nothing will ever change. Hence, the solid 23% of the voting population remains and will carry him to the finish line.

I will never vote for him in any elections, but as long as the Padrino system goes on, Jojo Binay, and the likes of him will always have loyal followers, no matter where they peddle their lies.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Noble and Ever Loyal City

Previously: Sueños de Manila

Credit: Manila Nostalgia 

I was born and raised in Manila. This is home. I can look the other way and forget that its streets reek of human excrements, and in some unlit corners, await the riding-in-tandems who will take your purse and phone away. I have no problem accepting that our roads disappear when thunderstorms inundate the city, and no matter how the homeless turn the sidewalks into their open-air-bedrooms at night, or the trash piles when the garbage trucks forget to collect them in the morning, I still see a hidden gem that will forever make this place unique.



Forebears say this used to be the Pearl of the Orient. This is the city where seven mother churches crammed within the old walls of Intramuros; the place where expats came to conduct business in Spanish and broken English in Escolta; the port where tradesmen from China sold goods and services to the masses in Binondo and San Nicolas. When one needs to be seen, there is the Avenida, lined with fancy theaters showing silent films, or the waterfront promenade at Bagumbayan with its tropical breeze blowing from the sea. Never without a doubt that the sunsets then are as breathtaking as they are today. And at times when I yearn to romanticize the old days; when the calesas and tranvias still ply the routes now taken over by jeepneys and pedicabs; when the ordinary folks still speak in archaic Tagalog; and when it was still possible to hear mass in Latin at the Manila Cathedral, you can't help but feel a great loss for everything that could have made us prouder urbanites was gone forever when bombs start dropping and obliterated our city.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Miriam's Last Stand

Santiago’s antics during the Erap trial would already have shown how the provocation tends to lie completely with her. It’s a good reminder that her pretensions to brilliance, which is where she gets off thinking she has a right to lecture others on the finer points of law or ethics, are just that: pretensions. It’s neither borne by her legal nor political life. Getting a grade of 76 in the bar exams is not a masterful legal achievement, and I don’t know why the lawyers she waylays in the impeachment court do not demur by saying, “I’m sorry, Madame, but having gotten 77 in the bar exams, I do not see myself as needing your hectoring to pass this test.” And goading the unshod, or rubber-sandaled, masa to sugod-sugod Malacañang, and defying the authorities to arrest her afterward, gun on the table, only to turn to the other side faster than you can say “Brenda,” is not a sign of ethical behavior, let alone a sane one.

Conrado de Quiros, Contempt

When Miriam Defensor-Santiago had floated her Presidential aspiration last year, I knew it was motivated by some unfinished business. After all, among the candidates running for this national election, she was - if whispers are to be believed - robbed of the Presidency the first time she ran for office. In 1992, she lost to FVR by some 1 million votes. With rampant cheating prevailing during the last days of the canvassing, (including the Dagdag-bawas scheme done by some fixers in the Comelec) it is possible that she could have won that election.

Three years later, she entered politics again and ran for senate. Miriam was able to secure a seat in the upper chamber of congress. From being a graft-buster with a cabinet-level position during the first Aquino presidency, she became an elected official. A generation of voters would then know her as a Senator, and she is, without a doubt, will stay associated with being a lawmaker no matter the person sitting in Malacanang.

However, the trouble with Miriam is that her loyalty could be swayed by the wrong people. What is worse is that she would use the technicalities of the law to her advantage. This behavior was evident during the Erap impeachment trial when she sided with the president who had a hand (and probably more) on the Jose Velarde scandal. I remember how she fiercely defended Estrada, even voting against the opening of the second envelope that will further implicate the president. This has enraged the people as the evidence on that envelope contained information that will no longer be available for scrutiny. Within days, a revolution would take place in Edsa and Erap had no choice but to vacate Malacanang and hand over the Presidency to GMA. 

Miriam was undaunted.

Four months later, I remember seeing a grainy video recording of her, exhorting the protesters at Edsa 3 to storm the Palace and remove Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from power. It didn't succeed, and with her losing the Senate seat during the election of 2001, Miriam retreated from the public eye. She would only resurface three years later when she got elected to the Senate once more.


The Miriam narrative, as I would like to call it, is like a tale of a protagonist who had lost, and won admiration, only to lose it again for her habit of leaning towards the characters belonging to the perverted side of history. Her association with Erap, with Gloria, and now with Bongbong Marcos leaves you without a reasonable doubt that she can trade principles for political survival. But like any other person, she too has a soft side, and when she exposes this to the public, the nation responds with compassion. When her son committed suicide, after being humiliated by professors while being interviewed at the UP College of Law, public sympathy was with her. This sympathy would eventually lead to the partial restoration of her image. In 2004, and again, in 2010, she would be elected as a Senator of the republic. Even I, who has a historic distrust with the senator, would overlook the truth and put her name on my ballot.

Pero hanggang dun na lang.

Miriam will go down in history as one of the colorful characters to grace the Senate. I will always cherish her feistiness, her pedestrian language when interrogating witnesses during Senate inquiries, her social media savviness, her legal acumen, the laws she had authored and passed in congress, and many other things both good and bad. But her decision to run together with the dictator's son and her refusal to reveal her medical condition after declaring "victory" against cancer leave a bad taste when one contemplates whether to support her Presidential bid or not. There is simply too much at stake, and given her performance in the last Presidential debate, the fire in her belly is no longer there. It feels like she merely wants to run in search of validation. 

I have much respect for her supporters - both online and offline - for holding still. But by judging the outcome of the surveys, as well as how her campaign is going, I am seeing that this is Miriam's last stand.

There is nothing for her beyond this election.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Unfair Treatment

Taong 2004 nang magsimula akong mag-blog. Ito'y isang past time na nabuo dahil sa pakikiuso sa isang ka-tropa na minsang ipinagmalaki sa Yahoo Group ang kanyang Blogger page. Namangha ako sa kanyang blog. Ipanakita niya ang kanyang katalinuhan at husay sa pagsusulat. Bilang graduate ng Journalism ay hindi ako nagpatalo. Di ko man siya kasinggaling ay nakakita ako ng outlet, ng kalayaan ipahayag ang saloobin. Kaya gumawa ako ng sariling online journal at doon ibinuhos ang aking mga kuwentong pakikipagsapalaran sa buhay. Taon ang lumipas. Nauso ang iba't ibang mga blogs. Nagkaroon ito ng niche market - pagkain, paglalakbay, at pulitika. Pati erotika ay hindi pinalampas. Hindi man ako nakilala gaya ng iba, ngunit naging faithful ako sa craft. Pinaghusayan ko ito. Iniwasang makasira ng mga taong subject ng aking mga kuwento. At dahil doon ay ginantimpalaan akong makapagsulat ng maraming bagay na hinugot sa aking personal na karanasan. Nagkaroon rin ako ng respeto sa mga kasamahang bloggers, sapagkat kung hindi dahil sa aming collective effort, ang impormasyon na ngayo'y malayang kumakalat sa social media ay hindi mababasa ng mga readers noong panahong wala pang Facebook. Nito na lamang mga nakaraang taon, nang isa-isang nawala ang mga batikang manunulat ng mga kuwento ay nagsimula akong manamlay. Sanay na akong walang readers, at nang makita ko ang convenience ng paglalahad ng saloobin sa Twitter (kasama na ang swift gratification na nakukuha mo sa pag "like" ng iyong followers,) tuluyan na akong tinamad magsulat ng mahahabang entries. 

Nang lumaon ay huminto na rin ako sa pagblo-blog.

I would like to think that we are shaped by our time, and most of the bloggers I know who migrated on Twitter and Facebook are discerning and critical of the information they get from social media. We have this profound respect for the craft that we won't turn a blind eye while some paid hack uses this platform to spread lies and promote ignorance online. Gaya na lang ng screenshot na kalakip nitong entry ko. To write sweeping generalizations and get rewarded for it by hundreds of comments is a slap to the hard work bloggers did to publish credible posts.

Unfair din kay Mar Roxas.

And so I decided to go back to blogging, and in my own way set things straight now that the election is just around the corner. I will be fair to all candidates - even to Jojo Binay, who I despise the most. I won't mind if my entries won't reach its intended audience. After all, the entries are for my own pleasure. One thing is for sure, I will write well-thought entries. I will write what is right and just to my subjects. And I will write so as to finish what the "blogger" I mentioned didn't complete (he posted 4 trashy entries and he was gone).

These will not be paid posts. After all, this is my art.

Note: I was misled by the title and betrayed by the person who shared the entry above on his Twitter feed. Feeling cheated, I blocked that person and decided to leave social media for a week. It was simply too much for me. Born out of frustration, my creativity has been awakened. I may not be as prolific as I was before, but I'd keep my word and do what the blogger didn't finish. To readers who will find these entries, I'd promise to keep you informed the best I could. 

You will be the wise Pinoy voter.