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.

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.

Great Living Filipino Thinkers, In Their Own Words 1: Excerpts from the Diary of a Bargain-Book Addict

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!

As proof, starting today I am going to splice into my blog short pieces that together make what I like to call Great Living Filipino Thinkers, In Their Own Words. These are excerpts from, and links to, the personal blogs of Filipino thinkers who are living today.

Today’s thoughts are those of Romel Regalado Bagares, the Executive Director for the Manila-based Center for International Law, a non-profit engaged in strategic human rights litigation. Bagares  is one of the lawyers representing the families of 14 journalists who perished in the Ampatuan Massacre, said to be the worst single attack on press freedom in recorded history. The anniversary of the massacre will be commemorated on Nov. 23. Bagares also lectures on international law at the Lyceum Philippines University College of Law. Romel’s personal blog is at http://sanpedrostreet.wordpress.com/

Excerpts from the Diary of a Bargain-Book Addict.

“But perhaps, I digress. After all, we’re talking of bargain books here.
Still I think just as well of the famed library at the ancient city of
Alexandria which, in the grandeur of its time, was the scale against which
the intellectual wealth of other nations and races was measured. One legend
– almost surely false, notes Harvard Professor Stephen Jay Gould in his book
Eight Little Piggies: Reflections on Natural History (P215) – that the
library was still intact when Muslim invaders captured the city in the
seventh century. The library, built by descendants of Alexander the Great
about 2,000 years ago, housed the largest collection of books in the ancient
world – more than 700,000 volumes – including the works of Homer and the
library of Aristotle. Historians tell us that Euclid and Archimedes studied
there, as did Eratosthenes, the first mathematician to calculate the
diameter of the earth.”

Bust of Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a ...

Image via Wikipedia

“Or am I just taking my reading habits too seriously? There are times when,
having finished a book, I fling it to the floor, feeling exhausted and used
up. A certain guilt overwhelms me, indeed, a “complete distaste for words,”
all at the thought that in the end, knowledge becomes puffed up and the
wisdom of this world is mere vanity, “a chasing after the wind,” in the
words of Ecclesiastes. I open my Bible to the New Testament. “Where is the
wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age,” asks
the apostle Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthian Christians. “Has not
God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

“A certain mawkishness. The computer’s thesaurus lists the following
synonyms: sentimental drivel, mush, sentimentalism, maudlin act, gush,
affectation, exaggerated sentiment, excessive sentiment.
But no sooner had I promised myself not to indulge in yet another buying
spree than I’d find myself inside yet another Booksale outlet, poring over
the books it has to offer, wishing I have all the money in the world to
satisfy my cravings for words. It’s as if my day by day struggle with words
as a newspaper reporter wasn’t enough!”