Hot Mama

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All is fair in love and war.

Or it it?

In the blistering heat of a conflict, SOMEONE brought up my sex life. Uh, I mean my EX sex life, because boy have I been celibate for years. Anyone, oh, anyone who has known me for the past decade will know that I have always lacked child care support, I have lugged my daughter around with me to interviews, to coverage, while putting newspapers to bed…So anything in my life frivolous, juicy, delicious or hot enough to be worthy of gossip, has to have happened a really long, long time ago.

But according to someone, I’m a “moral threat” to family and society. Wow. This is not the first time I’ve been punished for having a sexuality. Makes me wonder why God created that little piece of nerves down there … was it meant to become like my appendix?

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ALL this hullabaloo over humping and similar matters brought to fore the hypocrisy of Philippine society when it comes to sexuality. All these uptight sexual mores — especially among the middle class — but in reality, heck, we’re 80+ million Pinoys and growing at a rate of 2+percent.

Somebody’s gotta be getting it every minute. You do the math. Pinoy’s concept of being a woman seems so outdated — almost like it stopped at 1898. It’s either you’re Ilaw ng Tahanan (The Light of the Home) — the ever-martyric mother who keeps the hearth, cries and suffers in silence, or Dragon Lady for women who get into power, or Tandang Sora, or Maria Clara … or a slut.

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The ideal Pinay is powerless and sexless. And always puts herself last.

Makes me think that the Spanish friars who first came were actually shocked and threatened by our tropical sexuality so they proceeded to vigorously wipe it out and make Pinoys ashamed of it. After all, those bulitas (penile implants) were so common in prehispanic Philippines, read the historian William Henry Scott. His source couldn’t be any more objective – dictionaries of Tagalog terms collected by the first Spanish priests as they tried to communicate with those they sought to evangelize.

You can be a Viva Hot Babe, or a Margarita Lebumfacil Romualdez, or a Mareng Winnie Monsod, or a Cory Aquino. But no no no, not all of the above. If you have brains, you’re sexless. If you have any sort of sexual passion in you, you’re Viva Hot Babe.

And where men are concerned, the Pinoy husband goes home to his “clean” wife who does the dishes, keeps the home, takes care of the kids, and goes to the beerhouse if he wants something any racier than what he gets at home. As my friends, college-educated, A-student, young Filipinas in their 20s, say — Why can’t the hubby just do that same things to the wife?!

And even where writers are concerned, Fiipina writers (in English) are so damned sanitized. Where’s the Filipina Erica Jong? Or playful Pinay Rimbaud? Or the female Dante full of gusto for life and all its offerings? Or the Filipino version of Shanghai Baby? Even Forbidden Fruit, the erotic book by women in the 1990s was a collection of careful offerings.

ImageTWAS this kind of society that has forced me into frigidity for the past years. At 26, I realized that I had something important to say; I had my own voice as a writer and an advocate, but at some point I realized I wouldn’t be listened to or taken seriously if I kept on as the free spirit that I was. So I just stopped being a sexual being. Cold turkey. Just like I quit smoking.

Now, 10 years later, I realize that this was tantamount to female circumcision.

I HAD this conversation of this sort once with my prettier and braver cousin, MMR, who has always been brave about being on the edge, doing in-your-face things that have made our clan frown or squirm. MRR, by the way, is also a mother and a Scrabble champion many times over. Image

“There is no tribal word for vixen,” she mused. Neither is there a word for salacious, wanton, bawdy, sensual.

Or, as my friend Christian notes, sex in the country was seen more as something that people HAD to do (propagate), rather than something that people would want to do.

I also found out once from my uncle that the punishment for the erring tribal woman — banishment from the tribe –which, in early days was almost the same as death.

Enough of this now. Just click on the links and make your own conclusions. And for my dear friend who dragged out the sexual skeletons from the closet, these images are dedicated to you.Image Here’s wishing you the best humping for the rest of your life! Image

http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2008/01/20/magazine/20080120_CIRCUMCISION_SLIDESHOW_index.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germaine_Greer

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simone_de_Beauvoir

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2002/08/18/IN237263.DTL

The father, the son, their unholy ghosts

Cleaning out a black leather handbag, sturdy of structure, much like that which a postman would use, I wondered a bit about the weight, and Nick Joaquin’s Collected Verses fell out of the outside pocket.

Oh that’s what he was last reading before he died,I thought to myself reflexively, thinking of his books, his music collection in 80s-circa cassette tapes, his papers, his work, his life. Then I think, perhaps this is the son’s – and Joaquin was what he was last reading before he made that hurried journey away, why so hurried, I still don’t know.

It’s the last batch of things to clean. I’m done. I’ve been through everything, systematically filing, sorting, putting away, partly in an obsessive crusade against the cockroaches – how I hate those crawling creatures, I imagine I can smell them meters away – but the task, which has taken weeks, has never been unpleasant. Always a new discovery, always a fresh temptation to dig, resisted successfully by a decade or so of self-denial. Eraserheads in the dad’s collection? James Ingram among the son’s CDs? A lot of duplication in both (am I surprised?).

Poems. Letters. Scribbles. Sketches. The native carabao whip. Historic porn. The red papers. Reader’s Digest. National Geographic. i magazine. Books. Books. Books. Ishiguro. Dostoyevsky. Norman Mailer. Joyce Carol Oats. Erica Jong. Vonnegut. Garcia-Marquez. A. S. Byatt. Umberto Eco. Filipiniana. Documents. Documents. Documents. Candle covers. Masks. Incense among his things, loving brought back from a memorable trip to the Holy Land. Incense among the father’s things.

Gravesite of Filipino writer and National Arti...

Image via Wikipedia

The music, the books, the love of learning. The sensual nature. The immense and melancholy longing, stoically suffered in silence, the great talent, the tumultuous journey. A touch of bitterness, too, I share with the father for a potential never fully realized. His early death is a constant reminder to seize the day, squeeze the lemon dry, savor the lemonade if lemons are all life has to offer. Yes, I will suck the marrow of life, I say. But I am speaking to ghosts. One so far away, the other so far gone.

Photograph of the southern Milky Way over the Owachomo Bridge, Utah, by Jim Richardson.

http://www.thecommentfactory.com/interview-documentary-photographer-jim-richardson-on-meaning-technology-and-kansas-1867/

I would like to say that my love for you is as eternal as the stars…however, as we both know, many of the stars we see now have long been dead… But you should know that you will always be the man whom I love unconditionally (yes, it’s possible). Happy Valentine’s Day.

Chili Peppers and Plane Rides

M–, my classmate in first year high school, used to have a collection of model airplanes that he assembled by himself and glued together so painstakingly. I was so awed.

Part of it was the fact that I was a poor kid from the province and everything about the Big City awed me: the neon lights, the fast food chains, the supermarkets, and the fact that I was in the national science high school, away from my dark childhood, something I had fervently wished for, quite literally, on the first night star, every evening since Grade 3.

The other part of it was that he was so much like my brothers: A nerd to the core, with an encyclopedic knowledge of things that caught his fancy. If my memory serves me right, he said something like “Don’t touch them!” — and his voice had the same impatient, reverent edge to it that my brother would have had over a new book, or about some chess endgame laid out on the board.

I was five or six when my brother DJ– would force me to play chess with him, and I really didn’t mind, because it meant the undivided attention of my favorite brother, who was 11 years older than me. Now I realize that he was my first hero. Of course, he would always make me win and would keep me playing for long hours by convincing me that the chess pieces were made of real chocolate and that I could actually “eat” the ones he sacrificed.

At another time, of course, he convinced me that sili labuyo was a sweet cherry, with devastating results. But even then I remember thinking that it was quite funny to be fooled so.

Another thing DJ– would let me do was take long, early-morning walks with him up the mountains surrounding the La Trinidad, Benguet Valley. His absentminded lectures about Buckminster Fuller, movies and Nietzsche — which always began with something like “Imagine that we are just fishes in a fish bowl and that fish bowl is inside another fish bowl, which is inside another fish bowl, that is being watched by God –trained me to think outside tradition and to extend my childishly short attention span. Well, that and of course, standing for hours picking out my 40+ year-old-mom’s white hairs.

Today my brother’s lectures form the core of my stock knowledge. More than anyone else, it was he who taught me to always think critically, or at least, to always try. In college, he got into an argument with his Philippine history professor who was teaching her class Otley Beyer‘s waves of migration theory. Embarrassed, the prof flunked him. This was in the 70s, after all, it was a Catholic school, and DJ was always ahead of his time.

http://www.jstor.org/pss/25075827

Of all the things my brother instilled in me, though, those I most value are, an imagination, and an unshakable sense of awe in all the world’s offerings. So of course I was awed by many things at Pisay. I think I spent my first year in a dream state, partly fomented by the muggy heat that I couldn’t seem to get used to, being the Baguio kid that I was.

The other thing that fascinated me, as a young in the city, was the bathtub in my classmate ML–‘s bathroom. Wow, she had her own bathroom! Wow, it was pink! Wow, you could waste all that water! As children, we were often called on to fetch water — though it never really felt quite like a chore but more like an adventure, with my brother-hero making it so by regaling us with all his interesting stories.

It was not the poverty, after all, that wounded us so much, but the unfaltering violence in our lives.

Watching Revolutionary Road with my dear, dear, friend R– made me appreciate how tough I actually am. Napaka-depressing naman niyan,he said, I can’t take it. And I thought, uhuh, that’s a two-hour taste of our childhood. Candy you can spit out. That was what our childhood was like. Every single frigging day. No exaggeration. Except that, unlike that movie where the adults tear each other apart, in our childhood, we kids, we were the tender morsels for the picking. Until we learned to pick each other apart, too.

Sophie’s Choice. Long Day’s Journey Into the Night. Prince of Tides. Those are some of the stories that come to mind when I think of my childhood. “My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call,” says Conroy, and I echo.

I think my older brother was destroyed by trying to protect us all. We were six younger girls after him, after all, and he must have collapsed under the great weight of thinking that it was his duty to protect us all. Especially so since he was brought up to believe that we were, like my mom, weak and helpless princesses. (We weren’t)

About 10years after M–‘s plane collection bowled me over, the man I still call The-Man-I-Loved-The-Most said wistfully that hobbies were the one thing that the poor couldn’t afford to have. I guess that was yet another reason why M–‘s plane collection fascinated me so.

The poor, with great effort, could excel in school, could learn new languages, could sing, could dance… But having a collection of something entailed a luxury of time, and meant spare cash — all indisputably part of middle class terrain. T-M-I-L-T-M was a farmer’s son who grew up with two or three books at home, but who was intelligent enough to end up with a full scholarship at The State University.

By this time, I was decidedly a National Democrat. I guess it was easier to focus on the “national issues” that were far less painful to dissect, and seemingly easier to solve. Of course it also provided a way for me to channel all that anger, and a way to befriend my shadow side.

Paradoxically, being a young activist also inspired me to bring out the best in myself, and to forever strive to become an evolved being, worthy of Darwin, Marx, Lenin, Bakunin, and Rosa Luxemburg.

And still, there is yet another reason why M–‘s model planes were so fascinating. My sister DT–, older by five years, once dreamed of being a pilot. She actually logged enough flying hours to qualify as a private pilot in the mid-80s. This she did while studying Aeronautical Engineering and working part time at McDonald’s, and part time as an assistant (then later instructor) at a flying school — and all the while living in some squatter’s shack in Leveriza Street (close to Mc. Donald’s Harrison), surviving on cigarettes, coffee and the one free McDonald’s meal a day. I often wonder how she did it, but she did it.

Some time in the 1990s, she applied as ground crew (airplane mechanic) for PAL, but wasn’t accepted. This, despite her intelligence and true grit, and definite willingness to get grease on her hands. PAL told her they didn’t accept women, but that same year it hired its first female pilot. The woman was actually applying as a stewardess, but PAL thought it was time to jazz up appearances and hire the lucky, good-looking dame. Oh, well, as I’ve said more than once elsewhere, we sisters, we look like our dad…

Nevertheless, I have had the joy of riding a Cessna 150 piloted by my own sister! It must have been the summer of 1989, and one of my sister’s rich-brat-kid-friends could afford to waste plane fuel, so she lugged me and my younger brother, and my three nieces and nephews, RR–, RDV– and GDV– down to the airport at Poro Point, La Union where we swam on the beach, pigged out on Chippy and Coke, and flew! We just went on the fly — like everything my sister did, at that time, which was quicker than life. She just went up to each of my harassed single-mom sisters (yes, that runs in the family, too, we’re allergic to men, but not to kids!), and told them she was taking the kids and would take them back before evening. Haha. We went sans swim suits, sans sunscreen, and knowing my sister, probably with just one-way fare and a few extra bucks on us.

I will never forget the look on RR–‘s face, at age five, seeing the sea for the first time. First, he squat and silently stared at the waves for a few moments, as if surveying the lay of the land. Then he yelled and tumbled into the water! Then, of course, the plane ride. The take off and the landing were smooth, unlike any ride in a car or in life, with my sister driving.

I remembered all these two days before New Year, with my money from a loan running out, I was close to broke, with my employer having suffered a sudden downturn, and putting us employees on a forced vacation. I was on my way to LBC Domestic to pick up a few thousand pesos from another dear friend (brother?) Andrei who sent me an emergency loan to tide me over.

The LBC office, it turned out, was inside the old domestic airport tarmac, and as I walked the stretch of the tarmac, the ghost of my sister, DT-the-pilot, came flashing back. Or bouncing back, as her chubby self did back then.

Oh no, my sister’s not dead, she’s just since reinvented herself. Where once her favorite pair of shoes (her only pair aside from school shoes, for heaven’s sake!) was a pair of earth shoes, she’s now into girl shoes. Where once she wore her hair, like mine, au naturel and yeah, bushy (even bushier), she has her hair now rebonded. Where once she spoke in short grunts like a guy, she’s now affected a Middle-class colegiala accent.  Can’t blame her, she learned her bitter lessons. But she’s a good mom. Impressive, in fact, considering where we’ve come from.

So that day, walking the length of the empty MIA tarmac (it was one of those not-Holiday, but not-exactly-working-day days) I saw her again, bouncing toward me in her earth shoes, jeans and trademark brown jacket with a cigarette burn on the collar. She could never leave home without that jacket, even on sweltering days.

When her days off coincided with my weekends, DT would drag me out of my comfortable home at the Pisay dorm to her uncomfortable rundown room in Leveriza, and we’d be at the MIA tarmac at the crack of dawn. We’d lie on some empty stretch of tarmac to watch the clouds and the planes. The Airlink guys (her friends and colleagues) were so welcoming of her eccentricities. At night, we’d watch the plane lights trail away.

Feb. 2 is my brother DJ’s 52nd birthday.

Feb. 14 was my Dad’s birthday.
March 6 is my sister DT’s birthday.
March 8 is my younger brother DI’s birthday. Happy Birthday folks. I’m choking on my water here. This is for you, and for that spunky little girl in the lost photos.

As another, dear, dear friend MRT said to comfort me once, “Lesser mortals would have crumbled.”

Atlas Fugged: Why Ayn Rand Is Making Me Boycott Lululemon

Excerpts from a lovely blog find; read the rest of it here: Atlas Fugged: Why Ayn Rand Is Making Me Boycott Lululemon

“Earlier this month, pricey yoga pant and cheesy sentiment pushers Lululemon started putting the phrase “Who is John Galt?” on their bags.

Then they posted a blisteringly insipid entry on their blog to explain how a quote from Ayn Rand’s epic heap of political science excrement, Atlas Shrugged, had become the new “drink eight glasses of water each day.”

Lululemon founder, Chip Wilson, an intellect who usually spends his time contemplating the deep philosophies of the Landmark cult apparently first read Atlas Shrugged when he was 18 and was recently inspired to dig into the greater meaning of the book. (This Ayn Rand Appreciation Trajectory, I would like to point out, is the exact opposite of any rational person’s.)

“Only later, looking back, did he realize the impact the book’s ideology had on his quest to elevate the world from mediocrity to greatness (it is not coincidental that this is Lululemon’s company vision)” writes lulu blogger Alexis (emphasis hers, sadly

Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand, born Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum, February 2 [O.S. January 20] 1905 – March 6, 1982) was a Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter. She is known for her two best-selling novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and for developing a philosophical system she called Objectivism.

enough).”

http://riskyfuel.com/2011/11/14/atlas-fugged-a-tribute-to-lululemon-and-ayn-rand/#wpl-likebox

Great Living Filipino Thinkers, In Their Own Words 4: The Psychology of Moral Certainty

Here’s the fourth installment in a series that, taken together, make up what I like to call Great Living Filipino Thinkers, In Their Own Words.

Today’s excerpts are from Sylvia “Guy” Estrada-Claudio, the current director of the UP Center for Women’s Studies. Claudio, a Professor at the Department of Women and Development Studies, UP Diliman College of Social Work and Community Development, is both a doctor of medicine and psychology.

Dr. Claudio is a much traveled resource speaker on activism, feminism, reproductive rights and sexuality. She began her life of activism in high school when she began organizing fellow students against the dictatorship of former President Ferdinand Marcos. After completing her medical studies at the University of the Philippines, she formed the Medical Action Group to organize health missions to treat injuries and psychological trauma in communities torn by counterinsurgency operations.

Together with Dr. Junice Melgar she founded Likhaan, an organization working with grassroots women on issues of reproductive health and rights. She is also Chairwoman of the board of the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights.

Her book Rape, Love and Sexuality: The Construction of Women in Discourse was published by the University of the Philippines Press as part of the UP Press “Read Up!” Campaign. These excerpts are from her blog, Pleasure and Subversion, from a post titled The Psychology of Moral Certainty.

“As a teacher, a nerd and a psychologist, I feel only frustration and concern. Yet another person who thinks that, ‘because my God (or my Marx) says so,’ is an acceptable form of engagement in democratic and secular society.

I am treading carefully here. Not all Marxists or religious people resort to this argument. Not everyone who has a religious or political belief finds it necessary to cling to the idea that his or her belief is the right one, regardless. I am not also certain that the young woman who had an exchange with me is one of these. I wish she kept engaging me, perhaps I could have known for sure.

But I am certain that the psychology of the ideologue permeates the views of the religious right that has gone all-out against the RH bill. This is also why, I get hate mail and hate tweets after each televised debate. The comments can be quite mean, making me wonder what it is that I have said, no matter how scandalous, would make them feel so threatened that they would lash out with such anger.

I have been challenged often too about my agnosticism. Even the nicest ones seem to think that being uncertain is some kind of a defect. But there is to me, a spiritual gain to be had by accepting ambivalence, ambiguity and uncertainty. For one thing, that is how things are. The truth about what those who believe in a God call “creation” is that it is ever-changing, immense and un-graspable.

Perhaps there is a Truth (yes, with a capital T) out there. But it is not something, little-old-me can ascertain. I remain humble about the presence and laws of what a horoscope writer I follow calls, “the Divine wow”. God is not my FB friend. I ask Her often enough if She is out there and She does not answer. When I die I may dissolve and lose the consciousness that will say that the atheists are correct . If I am wrong and I awake—ooohlala—I will have more questions than a curious 5-year-old.

But for now, I have no need for grand answers in order to lead a harmless, happy and hopefully meaningful life. It is a comfort to me that I do not need ultimate guarantees. I am not a high maintenance child of the universe. I have a brain and enough energy to keep on figuring things out as the need arises. I plod along and get by not having yet committed things like abuse, theft or murder.

On really good days, the idea that no one can know for sure when human life begins really makes me ecstatic.

The psychology of moral certainty is the psychology of fear and/or laziness. Maybe when they were growing up, the parents who nurtured those who are morally-certain-Dr. Claudio-is-wrong-on-RH (and therefore we will never yield her a point, besides she is a lackey of the big pharmaceuticals and the imperialist population controllers) laid down the law about what to do, what is right and what is wrong. That can be comforting when one is little.

Simple and unquestionable rules can be comforting while parents can control the external environment against the views of those who disagree or the harm brought by those who are mean or criminal. Perhaps the very young ones need not be asked for the courage to face the immense unknowable.

But those of us who are hoping to live happy lives in a just society must find it in us to face our limitations. Parents must change the parameters of what they teach as a child matures morally and intellectually. Children must be taught not to be afraid of heterogeniety, diversity and uncertainty. They cannot be afraid of difference. Fundamental differences.

If we are afraid to be unsure, to accept that perhaps we and our family, religion, tribe, institutions, science, political party can be wrong, then we will be unable to accept when we are defeated on twitter or we will lash out in anger against people we only see on television.

And I am frightened indeed by the man who is so angry at me because of what I have said on television that he takes the time to tweet me venom. My heart goes out the woman who cannot find the grace to end a debate she started with some decorum.

Perhaps someday, we will raise all our children with enough moral courage so that they can face profound uncertainty with good cheer. At least we can rejoice that there are enough brave and moral people out there such that the scientific surveys show that the RH bill has wide support.”

Watch her make a subversive presentation on TV.

Great Living Filipino Thinkers, In Their Own Words 3: Forging a New Social Contract

EVERYBODY knows Sheila Coronel as the crusading journalist, the 2003 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Journalism, Literature and the Creative Communication Arts, and the founding director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

Sheila-Coronel-by-Clark-Jones

In electing her to receive the award, the RMAF board of trustees recognized her for “leading a groundbreaking collaborative effort to develop investigative journalism as a critical component of democratic discourse in the Philippines.”

Since 2006, she is also the inaugural director of The Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism, and a professor at the Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

http://www.journalism.columbia.edu/profile/31-sheila-coronel/10

In a 2006 feature, Columbia Magazine described her as “one of the most tenacious reporters in the politically turbulent Philippines” (of the 1980s).

Yes, she has done all that, is all that, and more.

I report, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, March 2005

(Find our where you can borrow a copy of the book, Coups, Cults and Cannibals, here)

Of all her works, however, Forging a New Social Contract, her speech before the University of the Philippines School of Economics graduating class of 2006, is the piece I love the most because I feel it says–in the most straightforward manner–just about everything that has to be said about this country. It also makes clear, to many of us Filipinos, the reasons why we should still believe in struggling, every single day, to live well and do right–even if, despite.

Here are excertps from that speech:

“LET me take a break from all these economists talking and let me tell you about the face that haunts me when I cannot sleep at night. It is the face of Christian Alvarez, a frisky five-year old I met on the streets.

Christian lives in Plaza Miranda. He and his family sleep on milk cartons near the Mercury Drugstore in Quiapo. Plaza Miranda is his playground. That is also where he and his family eat breakfast everyday: a bowl of lugaw given free by the feeding center run by a Catholic charity in Quiapo church.

Christian’s parents, Rowena and Lawrence Alvarez, are street vendors who make P150 to P200 a day. They have eight children, three of whom — all boys — live on the plaza. Three others are in the care of relatives and friends because their parents do not earn enough to feed and house them. Another was entrusted to the care of an orphanage. The last one, a girl, then aged two, disappeared on the plaza one night when Lawrence left her to fetch water from the Jolibee outlet near Quiapo church.

Christian is at the Quiapo church feeding center with his entire family three times a day.

The day I went there, after the noon feeding, the boy shared with his parents and brothers their only real meal that day: three cups of rice bought for P5 each and pinakbet sold for P10 at the Quiapo market. So at 6 pm, Christian lined up again at the Quiapo church, for another bowl of steaming hot lugaw that will at least ensure that he will not go to sleep on an empty stomach.

Unless the situation of the Alvarez family is much improved, the future that awaits Christian is a life on the streets. Like his two other brothers, he will most likely go through two or three years of schooling at the elementary school nearby. He will likely drop out before the third or fourth grade — in fact, nearly 30 percent of all Filipino school children drop out before finishing sixth grade. After that, Christian will scrounge for a living on the streets — scavenging for recyclables, perhaps, or selling cigarettes and candies like his father, perhaps the occasional petty crime.

I wish I could say that the Alvarez family is a particularly special case. But it is not. In 2000, the proportion of the population not reaching the food threshold was 21 percent. One in every five Filipinos cannot afford to meet his minimum food needs. In current numbers, that’s 16 million people.

The numbers, if we look at them, are dismal. Over 30 million Filipinos live below poverty, earning less than the estimated P200 a day needed to keep a family of six clothed, fed, and housed. That is why many families now eat only one full meal — meaning rice and cooked food — a day. As marketing expert Ned Roberto found out in his study on the consumption patterns of the poor, ulam for many families in the lowest income strata these days are: patis, soy sauce, pork oil, sugar and even Pepsi. Many of these families can eat real food only once a week.

Let me give you more numbers. In the 1990s, we (PCIJ) wrote about the PEA-Amari case, billed as the “grandmother of all scams,” where close to P3 billion were paid in bribes and commissions to businessmen and officials — including, it was alleged at that time, the Speaker of the House and the Senate President.

In 2001, the Office of the Ombudsman alleged that Joseph Estrada accumulated up to P20 billion in cash and real estate in two-and-half years in Malacañang. Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos were believed to have amassed up to $10 billion in the 20 years they were in power. Recently, it has been alleged that P1 billion recovered from the Marcos wealth by the Arroyo government was used to bankroll the president’s 2004 election campaign.

To me, the scandal lies not so much in the scale of the thievery. The real scandal is that while all these officials were helping themselves to the national treasury, the country was going to ruin and families like those of Christian Alvarez’s were going homeless and hungry.

When hunger stalks millions not because there is a lack of food, but because the social system impoverishes the multitudes while enriching a privileged few, then there is something that is terribly wrong. We are not the Sudan, where millions go hungry in deserts ravaged by war and disease. We are a middle-income country rich in natural resources.”

Read the of the speech rest here 

More about Sheila here and here.

Great Living Filipino Thinkers, In Their Own Words 2: Time Travel On the Cheap

So you think the word ‘Filipina’ means maid? Well, think again. For all of you who reached this blog looking for  bargain Filipinas –whether Filipina maids or hot Filipina bodies at bargain basement prices — well, this is for you! You should also know that Filipinas/Filipinos are also among the world’s most efficient people — on the energy from eating really small pieces of fish and a cup of rice, we can spew out great thoughts! Ha!

Speaking of fish, here’s this personal piece, the next installment of a series that, taken together, make up what I like to call Great Living Filipino Thinkers, In Their Own Words.

Today’s piece is from Leandro Romero, who lectures on Geography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. His own personal journey to get there is the quintessential tale of the Filipino diaspora– poignant, bittersweet and riveting. And in his case, written in installments, like this one:

The Oblation is a concrete statue by Filipino artist Guillermo E. Tolentino which serves as the iconic symbol of the University of the Philippines. It depicts a man facing upward with arms outstretched, symbolizing selfless offering of oneself to his country.

Time Travel on the Cheap

Tuesday night I traveled back in time to 1989 or thereabouts.

The place: Balara behind UP Diliman, near the Narra Residence Hall, then UP’s most liberal dorm for men (and coincidentally, the most dilapidated and the cheapest).

The time: between midnight and three a.m.

Activity: eating ginisang sardinas at the all-night counter frequented by jitney and cab drivers and other vampires prowling the city in those unholy hours.

It is a college night like most nights I had back then: interminable, humid and expectant. Like you are waiting for something important to happen, some epiphany to strike you, some Big Truth to slap you in the face with its simplicity and elegance.

Meanwhile, the night is surprisingly busy in this corner of the university. Cabbies are just going off duty; still others are just about to take over. There is the stink of vehicle exhaust and cigarette smoke and rotting vegetables and the delicious aroma of street food. Some of the carinderia women have begun to prepare the ingredients for next day’s lunches. Kids are selling cigarettes, balut, sampaguita flower leis.

On such nights, you have finished carousing with your friends in one of those infrequent binges where you indulge in your favorite fermented drink and hope other baser instincts follow suit. Or, you have been obliged to stay and babysit some textbooks and notes, write term papers or solve sample problems, and you just need a quick pick-me-up. Or, you just made a connection with some other lonely collegiate soul and you just want to savor the strangeness of the Other, chew on the purity and innocence of it, before morning comes and shines on it the ridiculous light of day.

I assume that this night could have been any of the three, and alternate between options. Obviously, I am sober enough to bring myself this far on public transportation with no major damage to life, limb or property, so it’s all good. Whatever awaits me back at the dorm—math or physics or engineering
texts—they would wait patiently. There is no hurry, and I am where I need to be at this moment.

Meanwhile, the smell of fragrant frying garlic tempts my nostrils and my stomach growls a greeting in return. The chopped onions and tomatoes follow shortly, and soon I am witness to tomatoes melting in  the pan, sizzling and bubbling until you are certain that they have aggregately achieved Tomato Nirvana—that is, being one with the pan, the oil, the onions,  the garlic and the Universe.

The hot sardines make their grand entrance and are allowed a brief honeymoon with the fulfilled tomatoes. Meanwhile, the flame is switched off, and a raw egg, quiet and content until now, jumps in and joins the fun. The bored cook deftly mixes it in with the other ingredients and in a while, serves it in front of
me, hot, with fried rice.

As soon as the sardines cross my lips, I forget that Physics is my Achilles heel, that women (even those in college) are creatures with expectations and  demands that have to be dealt with in the morning, or that in a few short hours, it would be time to join the elaborate waltzes and tangos of university life once again. The combination touches off several centers of taste on my tongue and palate, and my brain registers an explosion of flavor.

I prolong each mouthful into a slow, sticky sojourn into my own personal paradise. Minutes later it seems,  but really more than a dozen years hence, I look up  from my plate and find myself alone in a house in  Sparks, Nevada, with no girls or physics texts waiting  for me in the morning.

Yesterday, I tried it again with some soto ayam  (Indonesian spicy chicken-and-vegetable soup) and I was brought back to Jakarta in 1990 (I think). But that is another story for another day.