Thursday, May 25, 2006

No trust despite promises of Enchanted Kingdom

HOME IS A SUPPOSED SANCTUARY—a place of peace and a place where one can rest from the personal wars one faces. Home in a more concrete sense for me is my house and my family. It’s not a war zone, it is quiet, but I think I’ll be lying if I said that the quietness didn’t come at a price. But this intricate personal issue is to be tackled in typed words on another day.

Today, allow me this moment of angst as I discuss our country—our common home, which is in no way a peaceful place, thanks to our supposed leader.

Yesterday, (Tuesday, May 23) Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (I think we can agree that the label “President” would be inappropriate) made a speech at the 27th National Conference of Employers held at the Manila Hotel. As customary to all presidential speeches (made by real presidents or otherwise), the talk of promise was big. Arroyo spoke of taking the Philippines to the Enchanted Kingdom of being a First World country.

This statement is an easy set-up. I’ll allow the wittiest among you take this one. Have fun while you’re at it. I’ll take a hack at the other statements, if you don’t mind.

“Your response is logical,” she said to the employers. “Survive, compete with the rest of the world and succeed.”

I got nothing for this statement. I agree with it. Those of you who know me already know about my sentiments about our Pinoy “escapists” looking for greener pastures in the world where brunettes and blondes rule. I give praise to the employers at the conference who have stuck it out here. I just included this statement because it brings to light some facts about (a) Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and (b) being a president.

Arroyo doesn’t lack in intellect. She could be a good president given a pure heart (which she doesn’t have) and a situation wherein she’s trusted (which is not the Philippines we’re living in).

That’s the simple truth.

Aside from Joseph Estrada, we’ve always elected presidents that had the brains to run this nation of ours. Their failures and downfall are due to their betrayal of our trust in them.

Ferdinand Marcos was supremely intelligent but we could no longer trust him. Estrada was dumb but the masa trusted him; he in turn betrayed that trust (whether the masa realized it or not).

It the same thing now with Arroyo.

Her administration holds on to power in the most obscene of ways (how many oppositionists and journalists have died in her term?). Then she goes to conferences like the one yesterday to make bold statements that she thinks affirms her administration. It’s a formula we’ve seen too many times before.

She went on to say yesterday that she agrees with the Labor Day rallies. She pleaded for higher wages for workers. Again, a solid presidential statement. But again, look behind what was said. Would any politician not appear to be fighting for the common worker in public? Furthermore, last time I checked, some of those Labor Day rallies were for her to step down. Why doesn’t she listen to those rallies, as well?

She even had the nerve to say yesterday that no time in Philippine history had there been lesser number of worker strikes. And “Our goal is to have a zero reason to have strikes by the end of my term in 2010.”

Arroyo should be wary of that last statement. Flat out: what makes her think that she’ll last until 2010? Lord knows she doesn’t deserve to. Furthermore, lessening the number of strikes doesn’t mean a satisfied citizenship. It’s most likely to mean a loss of belief in what having legal strikes can do. It could mean the loss of basic civil liberties. It could mean the death of democracy.

Intellectual statements and promises can serve as proof that Arroyo could steer this ship of ours. But not now. A prerequisite to the responsibility of leading is trust. She lost our trust. And there’s no way that she can get it back. Nor does she deserve a second chance.

Others argue that there’s no one else that we can trust. Now does that give us reason to just stick it out with Arroyo? No. Whether we can trust the future president remains to be seen and is a separate issue. We’ll cross that bridge once we get there.

One can agree with what Arroyo says sometimes (as I did with the “your response is logical” statement), but it’s all for not if Arroyo has lost her credibility. The only way she can redeem herself now as a “good leader” is do what a “good leader” would do in her current situation and step down. She has lost her mandate. And from what I’ve heard about certain wiretapping incidents, she never had a mandate to begin with.

5:15pm Wed 24 May 06

Friday, May 19, 2006


LAST THURSDAY, in the Classics Section of Fully Booked, which aligns the east wall of their Gateway branch, behind the Fiction Section, familiar names like Dickens, Hemmingway, Nabokov, Tolstoy, and Faulkner sit confidently—their names not needing the attention from a front aisle, their literary greatness confirmed by general neglect. The names don’t care. They will endure.

But then the silence is interfered.

Lost was highly rated last year. But Arrested Development was rated higher by the critics.”

The greats are used to this; pop culture references being spoken of in their presence.

The one with all the US television statistics sported a crew-cut. He was dressed in oversized jeans, an oversized faded black polo shirt, and black-framed eyeglasses. He was slightly overweight. They both are.

His friend was clad in all shades of khaki. He was wearing a small t-shirt and cargos rolled up midway up the shin with an ethnic green design over each pocket. His hair was a little longer and greased up with extra-shiny product.

The two guys hovered around the classics. They looked at the familiar titles, took out the books that they’ve heard about in movies (Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Breakfast at Tiffany’s). They spoke as if they’ve actually read some of these books. A pessimist would think otherwise.

They complained about how they wished they had more time to read. “Pagkatapos ng NBA sa umaga, sarap lang talaga magbasa, dude.”

“Ya. I haven’t been writing as much anymore, either. Too many distractions.”

“It’s all about work now, pare.”

They were apparently writers trapped in the yuppie world. A girl in checkered capris and a baby t-shirt, who was browsing nearby, walked away, perhaps annoyed by their accented Taglish.

The guys conversed about their writer-friend. He doesn’t write anymore, either. When he does have time, he just reads; the word-processor remains turned-off.

“At least he’s reading.”

“Oo nga.”

The guy in khaki made reference to a detective story he hasn’t touched in a while. “Ang gulo sa bahay e.”

At siyempre kailangan mag-internalize while writing.” The khaki-clad guy laughed but agreed with his friend’s interjection. “It’s bullshit but it’s necessary, diba? But there’s so many things to do at work.”


They went on to discuss storylines they’ve been playing around with. (A comedy written chronologically backwards?) Each idea was accompanied by an obligation that would deter them from pursuing the actual writing.

There in the middle of the Classics Section of Fully Booked, Gateway, young adult whining disguised a rant among frustrated writers. Some say writing can be cathartic. For these two, verbal griping was far more convenient.

I stood nearby the whole time, by the Non-Fiction Section to their right, pretending to read a book of published New Yorker articles about dance. Inspired by Tom Wolfe and taking my limited Creative Non-Fiction training to heart, I took mental notes, took more notes on my cell, which were all eventually transferred to a small notepad I carry with me in my back pocket.

As the two guys continued with their melodrama, I suppressed laughter, I listened on condescendingly. And as I walked out of the bookstore, realization hit: I’m just like them. My fellow Creative Writing students share in their frustration. All writers do. However realistic and “real-world” our words may be, just us choosing to write is as if we’re living in another world.

While many of our peers take up management courses in our campus’ newer buildings, with the hopes of making a lot of money when they graduate, we reside in converted classrooms that were once science laboratories in the seventies. We as Creative Writing students are met with skepticism from other students who assume that ours is a course on stylized penmanship. The extended classifieds of the Sunday paper tell us that if we’re not registered nurses, there will be plenty of call-centers waiting for us.

Coming from a corporate family living in this capitalistic world, and being apart of the small School of Humanities, I’ve grown accustomed to conventional skepticism. Because of that, I, along with the few that remain stubborn enough to take on the role of writer, have become more certain of what we want to do.

I graduate in two years. I honestly doubt that I’ll be happy with my job options. Reality tells me that I’ll likely end up like those two young guys in Fully Booked last Thursday. I already share in their frustration. But I’ll write on.

So here’s to those who choose the difficult path of the writer. Let our words entertain, and most especially, provoke thought amongst our richer peers. And in all our potential financial debt, let our words be read over and over again.

Fri 19 May 06

Thursday, May 11, 2006


I was glancing through the classifieds of the Inquirer today (Sunday, May 7), semi-looking for affirmation that there are jobs out there for Creative Writing majors like myself. The quick search confirmed the tough reality for writers. I was reminded of the hook to one of Jay-Z’s songs: it’s a hard-knock life for us, it’s a hard-knock life for us…

Then in bold, all-caps letters, I read: “THE SHORTAGE CONTINUES…” Then below it, just above the crease where the newspapers are folded in half: “FOR U.S. IMMEDIATE NEED OF…” The next line was in the largest font of the entire ad—all caps and italicized. “NURSES & PT’S!!!”

I’ve exhausted this topic already, whether through my writing, through conversation over lunch, or accompanied by a few bottles and expressed in a crisp Filipino that can only be induced with alcohol.

But allow me a broken-record moment…


I’ll save everyone the trouble. Just a few rhetorical questions:

1. Where’s the greater shortage? In the States? Or at home?
2. Who’s in immediate need here? The US? Or our country?
3. Can the culprits behind this ad be charged with treason?

I’ll end this by presenting a poem published in the same newspaper on the same day. Not exactly related, but nicely written, nevertheless.

Sa US Embasi
Ni Rommel Rodriguez

Dito sa US Embasi
Kinalawang ang aking mga matang
Tinuligsa ng mga imaheng nangangarap
Makakita ng nyebe; matandang naka-wheelchair,
batang amerasian ng karga ng kanyang ina,
mga young professionals na nagpa-praktis
ng English accent, mga nilalang
Na hindi ko matantiya kung
Anong puwersa ang sa kanila’y dito nagpadala

“Probably you’ll see snow there.”

Sabi ng consul sabay ngiti at tango ng mga Pinoy
Habang nakapila sa mahabang prusisyon ng
Patagong panunumbat.
Magdala kaya ako ng minatamis na saging?
O maglagay sa garapon ng mga sangkap
Ng haluhalong magpapangilo ng aking ngipin?
Pagtawanan kaya ako ng mga Kanong
Nagtatanong kung ang mga Pilipino’y
Sa puno pa rin nakatira
O kung kumakain pa rin tayo ng aso kahit hindi piyesta?

Matapos ang kaliwa’t kanang pila
At paghihintay na matawag ang numero
Upang hindi mapagkamalang mag-t-tnt o terorista,
Lalabas ng tarangkahang bakal
At aantabayanan ang pasaporte’y matatakan.
Puputaktihin muli’t muli ang isipan
Kung marapat pa rin bang
Iwan ang sariling bayan.

Thu 11 May 06
Happy Birthday, Lee!

Today’s the birthday of a good friend of mine. This entry is my gift to her. Weird, you say? Well, when I turned 19, she gave me a Friendster account…we’re just weird people. (By the way, Lee, I deleted the account. No offense or anything. I just got tired of getting requests from people from Belgium.)

Last Christmas, Lee-Anne gave me a bottle opener, and artistic one, at that (round, with intricately engraved designs). She joked that hopefully I would find it “useful.” I replied by guaranteeing its usefulness. Funny thing is, though, I was kinda serious.

What kind of a person gives a friend a bottle opener for Christmas? Well, maybe there’s not so much a problem with her. The previous Christmas, she gave me a shot glass; it appears that I’ve earned a not-so-desirable image from her.

As I write this, the bottle opener sits on the desk beside me (next to the rock I got from Kel’s debut). Above my computer is where the shot glass sits, next to the picture of my 2-year-old niece (daughter of my cousin who betrayed my family…long, bitter story).

Well, the good news is that the shot glass is empty, and it’s been awhile since I’ve opened a bottle with the opener (a week or so).

Despite the crate of empty bottles in our garage, and despite my favorite shirt being the green one with “BURP!” printed on it, I can still claim in temporary sobriety that I’m not an alcoholic.

(Sure, I’ve been known to down a few, but you can’t claim to be squeaky clean, either, can you Lee? Hehehe joke lang.)

So during this, her 19th or 20th birthday (yeah, I’m not sure…sorry), I’d like to greet Lee-Anne Tobias a very happy birthday! You’re the best! Cheesecake’s coming when I get the money to buy the ingredients (it’s a hard knock life for us…).

Oh…advance warning for MY birthday: I’ve always wanted a beer mug.

Tue 9 May 06

Thursday, May 04, 2006


IT WAS A SPONTENEOUS SIDE-TRIP that only cost P14. Well worth it, I thought. Having already exhausted myself in Cubao, but home feeling like a familiar foe, I went for it, surpassing unfamiliar stations in the longest LRT ride I’ve ever been on, finally ending at Recto Station, where every single person emptied out of the train.

I was nervous. It was my first time away from the familiar stops of Cubao and Katipunan on LRT Line 2. I’m a city dweller whose never been around the city that much, aside from where obligation and “A and B-class” fun had taken me. It was an unnerving feeling being in an unfamiliar area. But it was a good sort of apprehension—based on really opening my eyes to other parts of the city.

Recto Station was different. While Cubao saw a short walk to Gateway, and Katipunan was an underground station kept spotless, free of anyone who was not a commuter or an employee of the station, Recto looked like a converted parking lot in a mall. Entire levels of the station were deserted, some areas occupied only by a few food stalls. Hardly any of the escalators were turned on. Here, commuters in shorts, sandos, and tsinelas are more prevalent, while not a single passenger I saw was wearing office attire.

I walked out of the station onto the main street along where Line 2 passes. There’s an energy in this part of the city, as if everyone was living under a shared pulse, sharing the same oxygen because of the place’s density. It feels like you’re trapped in the trance of that pulse. LRT Line 2 shadows the main street from above. The buildings, though not tall, block off more light. But in between the buildings, the sun shines hard. The sweat, even the oil that quickly developed on my face, was thicker.

It’s really a youthful place. Mostly students brisk-walk along the sidewalks. And that’s the only way to go—brisk-walk—or else you’ll risk getting lost amidst the many pedestrians behind, in front, and beside you. The elderly tend to position themselves in a steady spot to their liking along the side of the sidewalks. They’re ambivalent to the place’s youth. They’ve had plenty more stories about the place than all the students combined. However outnumbered they are, they know that this is still their domain. The wrinkles on their faces, the dirt cemented onto their nails, the stains on their skin…they’re all proof of who runs the city.

The character of the buildings matches those of the elderly. All the buildings have seen better days. Perhaps the most striking of buildings are those of the Far Eastern University, which are brick stunners, comparable to that of Ateneo, only lighter in shade. But beyond that are gloomy structures, where human activity is manic, as if excited insects have infested dead carcasses.

Every nook and cranny of this place is a market. DVDs, clothing, accessories, food… There are even places where people can trade in their old pocket books for even older ones. Tattoo parlors are a plenty. A mall like Isetan is easily the Rockwell of these parts; everywhere else is too real to even attempt superficial fronts.

There’s a realness to the place. People go about doing what they want to do, sometimes inappropriate, but then who’s to say? You can’t take the hustle away from the area, either. Everyone’s trying to get the better deal, trying to walk ahead of the pack, trying to avoid pick-pockets, trying to get into the crowded jeepney, guys trying to get the attention of girls. And yet, there’s no pretense about it. It’s just doing what you have to do.

In all the stories we hear of deceit, petty-crimes, and what-not…well…they’re probably all true, but there’s an unapologetic energy to Recto that displays a higher level of sincerity and genuineness than many places I frequent. Everyone here is who they are, in all their strengths, and in all their flaws.

As I walked balk to the LRT station, I realized that I had only explored for less than a half an hour. It’s not like I wanted out, already. It’s just that the place provided me with so much to see, so many sensory stimuli, that I was overwhelmed—in a good way.

I’ll be heading back there soon. I’m not anywhere close to exhausting the place. There’s still the other side of the main street to walk by. And then there’s the side streets. Divisoria is close by, as well. And LRT Line 1 still awaits.

Thu 4 May 06