Sunday, February 24, 2008

A people’s betrayal

(2/22/08) I’m in the frigid Ching Tan Room at the University. A few rows ahead sits one-time senatoriable Sonia Roco; somewhere in the back sits Dr. Fernando Zialcita of the Department of Sociology & Anthropology. My program boasts of a pixelized photograph of the EDSA shrine above the words describing this whole event: An Intellectual Discussion. Former Bukidnon representative Neric Acosta, who is currently a teacher of mine, would later joke that the very concept of an intellectual discussion might’ve scared off a lot of the students from attending. Indeed, as I look around the room, I notice I’m one of the youngest—in fact 1 of only a handful of students.

“Both EDSAs betrayed us,” says Dr. Acosta. He’s 1 of the 4 panelists who are to discuss whether People Power was a success or a failure. He’s the only politician of the lot, but few politicians have the kind of academic understanding that comes w/ a doctorate degree in Political Science. Even while waiting for his turn to speak, Dr. Acosta briskly takes down notes like a student before a presentation or a teacher before a lecture (depending on how you look at it). In front of him next to his leather-bound planner are loose sheets of papers & today’s Inquirer.

He speaks of institutions breaking down, how based on global standards and indexes for good governance the Philippines is a “regressing democracy.” He says, “We failed in memory.” Earlier this year both GMA & Erap said that we should forget about EDSA; w/ this, says Dr. Acosta, the 2 presidents essentially called for the end of the fight for reform & for a government that works. True enough, Martial Law lives on in spirit under the Arroyo administration. And according to the PCIJ, there are only 11 new family names in Congress.

Having been in his class over the past semester, I know Dr. Acosta feels strongly about trust, his current bible being Francis Fukuyama's book about it. Today, he declares that social trust has vanished in our country. Exemplifications aren’t hard to find: NGOs and government act now like rivals instead of working together. The government is messed up, say the NGOs. The NGOs don’t know what they’re talking about, says the government. Civil society then chooses sides, or just ignores everything altogether—nation-building relegated to mere abstraction. Survival of the fittest: the only law held dear.

“There’s something sad & almost surreal about singing Bayan Ko again.” Dr. Acosta is alluding to the mass for Jun Lozada in La Salle Green Hills last Sunday. There’s something to be said here about what he calls “immanent victories”—that we failed in attaining them after ’86. Echoing Rizal, Dr. Acosta warns that if we don’t flush out the residuals of the system we disapprove, all those things about it we despise will come back. There was no complete cleansing after ’86; the ills have returned. (Or did they even leave us?)

Someone taps my back; I turn to see Meynardo Mendoza from the Deparment of History, a former teacher of mine. “Nagsalita na ba si Fr. Intengan?” “Opo.” The Jesuit had spoken earlier, delivering a talk entitled “People Power 1: Great Expectations, Scanty Harvest,” preceding a talk w/ similar views by Dr. Zosimo Lee of UP, who used the criteria of justice in proving EDSA’s failures.

Fr. Luis David, also a Jesuit, took on another perspective & received a lot of attention & quite a few raised eyebrows. Unlike the other panelists, he didn't even bother to ask if he may begin; he jumped straight into reading his paper w/ his accented English & the kind of laid-back disposition that can only come from confidence (because well-written papers need no extemporaneous explanations), quoting the likes of TS Eliot along w/ a myriad of political & philosophical minds. He insisted on how contestations & dissent are integral in a democracy. “I’d much rather have a politicized armed forces than a passive 1 w/c blindly follows authority.” He used Trillianes’ successful senatorial bid as exemplification. Trillianes was not noted for necessarily being a man with much sense; “sometimes it seems like he can’t put 2 thoughts together,” but his victory speaks of a dissent Fr. David considers healthy for a democracy.

Dr. Acosta weighed in using his naturally deep voice, saying the rallying, masses, & noise barrages we see today are “encouraging realities” w/ regard to expressing disapproval. But he had also said earlier that “maybe it’s not about the streets or the streets of EDSAs” anymore. He expresses the importance of the youth & their involvement in new technologies—cyberspace being the new streets thru w/c we rally.

Still, Dr. Acosta asserts a need for a return to concrete benchmarks for success based on clearly defined standards similar to how other democracies are assessed. The question remains for Dr. Acosta: “Where are we now 22 years later?” He calls for a return to paying attention to strengthening our institutions. “It’s not a matter about housekeeping but what kind of house we have.”

It had been an insightful discussion, but, you see, I get a little wary when moderators open floors up to questions from the audience, knowing that more often than not my fellow Blue Eagles make manifest the perception of apathy that clouds over us. After all, we are a student populace who have now elected a student body president who campaigned independently, insisting on more outward social involvement w/out sharing how nor realizing that, w/ regard to national issues, forces centripetal in nature is what will truly enliven this carcass of a student body. Thankfully, this audience in the Ching Tan Room is mainly from the adult intelligentsia, leading to more interesting points.

Fr. Intengan is asked to explain the involvement of the Church in all of this. He says that the Church had failed in using symbolic power in EDSA. He says the Church fumbled the opportunity to contribute to nation-building considering its wide reach. The Church could’ve led in developing a civil code of ethics accepted by all faiths & w/c encouraged unity; it didn’t.

“Many clergy went into miracle mode,” says Fr. Intengan. The intellectual substance of EDSA was lost. EDSA was secular; still, we insist otherwise. “Institutions monopolized the event,” making it Catholic. There was a “poor deployment of symbols,” says the Jesuit. Even today in commemorative celebrations, Fr. Intengan cannot quite understand the persistence of English liturgy & middle-class taste in entertainment. “Many poor people were for Cory.”

On an even more secular note, Fr. Intengan criticizes how politics too quickly became too pragmatic—missing a sense of purpose. A “national ideology” was never developed; the Church failed in aiding with this. “I hope the Church becomes more insightful.”

Another interesting question brought the concept of EDSA into today’s pressing concerns: “Do you think GMA has learned enough from the past to suppress an EDSA uprising against her?"
Dr. Acosta says that such speculation has been confirmed informally. Consider the fact that now you need permits from 3 separate government agencies to rally. Dr. Acosta admits to feeling torn between 2 stands: giving GMA credit but also realizing that she essentially bungled something like the Lozada incident at the airport.

In answering the question as such, I think Dr. Acosta brought forth the kind of stance we should now have amid a nation on shaky ground: we must be wary of & give due consideration to the complexity of our problems, but we must also be vigilant & intelligently aggressive in holding people accountable, seeking justice, wanting change. After all, it is this lack of vigilance that has allowed for intellectual discussions to still be centered on an event 2 decades now into our past. It is this lack of vigilance w/c has allowed for the intellectualized dissection of what should’ve simply been kept a romantic victory; still, we ourselves have allowed it to become a concrete symbol of betrayal.

* * *

Birthdays: Julio Julongbayan celebrated his yesterday w/ Yellow Cab Pizza & sisig. My cousin Kathy is currently celebrating w/ Gin. A very Happy Birthday to both!

Some said they never saw it happening; maybe it's in the clothes. (Photo taken during Heights open mic last week.)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hearts' Day '08

A mob in black & white chant outside campus, waving signs & banners for the love of country & a man called Lozada. Honk if you’re for the truth, a sign reads in Filipino as many of the mostly young spill onto the road. The cars do honk, though I can’t help but question if for truth or merely to say Get out of the way!

A smaller group looks on from the footbridge, where they hang similarly messaged banners while young couples walk quietly by behind them, hand-in-hand, between lovers of nation & a small girl in rags, who sits on the cement ground, legs spread to give room for dinner: crumbs of chips spilled from the blue plastic bag beside her right thigh.

Nearby at a coffee shop, I see a friend eating dinner alone. He waves to me while hiding sniffles, perhaps from allergies to roses on neighboring tables where couples dine, or maybe to the familiarity of an empty chair beside him.

A block away, a candidate student leader, running on the platform of love for art (while her name is used on her posters as an acronym involving awareness & social involvement), clumsily stumbles through the exit of a bookstore (& she doesn't seem to hear the chants from across the street).

When we speak of views, my friend at the coffee shop sees hands, flowers, & voids, while couples see projections for the future & yester-Valentines when this day hadn’t been as pleasurable.

The girl having dinner sees only backs when she looks up from her remaining crumbs. The candidate eyes the cracks on the ground her pointed heels must avoid.

The crowd by the road sees TV cameras, the abstractedness of words like justice, & their likeness in future retellings. The group on top see the temporal blacks & whites of unifying T-shirts as well as the blinding light of rush hour traffic.

When we speak of love, it’s to the idea of parallelism to heroes & martyrs past, the thought of feeling never loved, the feeling from the thought of having someone, something, to love.

On levels small & personal, it’s of things cheesy—like chips or the way cardboard hearts are ornamented. On the levels larger & most ignored, it’s of a love so small, if not missing altogether.

Evening of Valentines 2008
Katpinunan Avenue, Loyola Heights

* * *

Stick a fork in me

After a bit of talking/consulting w/ Larry, April, Cindy, Mia, Rica, & a lot of arguing w/ myself, I will be submitting the “nth” & final draft of my thesis academic paper tomorrow.

I thought this & a B in my latest Philo exam—giving me enough cushion for my likely finals failure (Philo in Filipino?!)—would guarantee my graduation.

Last Wednesday I missed toga fitting cuz I stayed home to work on the thesis paper.

Friday, the registrar’s office called, saying I’m way overdue for tuition payment.

Graduating still?

I can’t stand how you deny what you supposedly stand for

Attended the prom-themed Heights open mic on Friday, & I have a lot of shit to say about what ended up being a musikahan organized by the supposed literary org.

Authorities will be hearing from me soon.

(Yes, “signs of the times” could describe literature being nothing but an overlooked sideshow but there’s something to be said about advocacy here.)

(By the way, w/ regard to my Most Eligible Male Heightser Award nomination, did I win?)

How old am I?

Yesterday, after finally getting home at 7AM, & after working all day on little sleep, I attended 80th birthday party of Tito Bino in Tandang Sora.

Tonight, after working the whole day like a hermit in my room, I will have to actually shower & proceed downstairs where there will be a party celebrating Lola’s 90th.

Two nights, 2 parties. Eighty & 90.

Party animal ka na, Martin?

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Written on an afternoon a few weekends ago in Passi, Iloilo:

I’m sitting alone at a common area on the 2nd floor of the main house. Most are likely in Bacolod by now, where Tito Totong's cremation will take place. Lola is sleeping in the living room downstairs. Dad is asleep in our room a few paces from where I am. We’re packed; waiting to leave for the airport at 4:30.

Earlier, I saw a picture of a thinner, younger Dad, w/ a woman I would call Mom, from the early ‘80s in 1 of those albums downstairs. Though I can’t picture myself wearing such a tight-fitting dress shirt w/ wide cuffs & an even wider collar, I can’t help but see a lot of me in Dad’s likeness. Something about the smile—barely one at all. Perhaps it’s the hair, the way it seems haphazardly brushed after being blown all over the place. Something similar about our posture: relaxed but exuding confidence in the way we lean to one side, the plane of the left shoulder slightly higher than the right—groovy, they called it in his day; cool would be apt now.

“Villanueva na Villanueva gid.” I’ve heard that said many times over the past 3 days, by longtime friends & neighbors, relatives distant & not so—the lines are blurred in these parts.

After mass this morning, while Tito Totong was being loaded onto the funeral car, Dad's old yaya walked up & gave him a friendly slap on the cheek, followed by a kiss. Dad pointed to me. "Anak ko, yaya." She looked at me, then at Dad. She walked over & gave a similar greeting: a friendly slap on the cheek, followed by a kiss.

To encounter death is often an invitation to look back. Dad would recall the romance behind that old pic had I shown him. And it’s beyond just two people & the love they felt. I speak now of age, youth, vigor minus mid-life’s burdens: wife, son, family—I yet to be trapped & condemned to elusive grounds, like that of an old picture, sandwiched by a piece of cardboard & sticky plastic inside a dusty binder, placed in a corner where few rarely sit.

I imagine Dad looking at that picture now, how we would say that that version of him, like his older brother, has died—but only to himself in melancholic silence. I inherit that frozen moment in sepia now, & I live what is now Dad’s yesterday—my version of it in the moments that make up my next decade or so, my finest hour as I.

Perhaps youth is never lost but merely passed on, to one’s own blood, his own likeness. Perhaps such was the power of family, neighbors, friends, & even old yayas seeing me now in this old town-now-city, in a quaint little patch of an island they call Panay: that moment now in sepia, their young Toto Rene, reborn.

Monday, February 04, 2008


It's Super Bowl Sunday in the States. It's the Patriots versus the Giants, New England versus New York, or, as many non-football loving persons like to put it, playboy Tom Brady versus boy-next-door Eli Manning.

(For the record: I'm for the Patriots. People always like to pull for the underdog, which in this case is the less-favored Giants. But what's a bigger nemesis than perfection? What odds are greater to overcome than that of history? Go Pats go!)

Every year, Super Bowl weekend takes me back to a particular incident from my thankfully-now-distant past. It was Super Bowl XXX, back when the halftime festivities didn't matter as much, when Playboy bunnies didn't try to take a morsel of the ratings, and when the Super Bowl ads (at a gazillion dollars a minute) were the only sideshow worth talking about. Cowboys versus Steelers, Dallas-Pittsburgh, Aikman/Emmitt/Irvin versus I-don't-even-remember.

We were still living in Jakarta then, meaning football mattered because of all the American classmates I had at the International School. Cable was yet a prominent concept so coverage of the game was only available to the Americans via a military network hooked up to places like the American Embassy or the American Club, where many members of their armed forces worked and lived.

A classmate of mine invited me to his house for what would be my first and last Super Bowl party. I found myself in a living room full of military men and their families crowded around a then large TV. Buffalo wings aplenty. It was the first time I ever tried guacamole.

Coverage of the game was delayed a few hours so my friend and I walked over to the American Club park and tossed the football around. A hyped-up football fan, no more than 13, joined us from inside the club, where they had an advanced hook-up. The game had already ended. He told us who won.

After half an hour of quasi-shotgun plays and last second heaves, we headed back to the house where their hookup was only beginning its coverage. Innocently, I told the crowd who won, only to have grown, muscular white men with buzz cuts "playfully" throwing pillows at me.

My friend and I went up to his room where we hung out for a while. His brother joined us, asked who the spoiler was. I raised my hand. "That was stupid," he said.

In walked my friend's mother and the sermon began: "You know some of those men out there traveled from other cities to watch this game." She looked at me in utter disgust. I don't remember what else she said. I couldn't have been older than seven.

The next thing I remember was being told that my sundo was outside the house. They couldn't have been more thankful. As I stepped out of the bedroom and peeked into the living room, I heard the commentators on TV describing what was going on. The stadium crowd was quite boisterous. The military men and their families, on other hand, munched on chips quietly, not really watching at all.

Weeks later, I remember seeing my American friend and his father at the driving range. I was there with my own father. The only open slot was next to theirs so we took it. My friend gave me a wave; his father saw me but didn't say a thing.

I don't remember who won the game. All I remember was who lost.