Monthly Archives: May 2015

SPRATLY ISLANDS: ADIEU

spratly

There was a time when Philippine map proudly proclaims the so-called 3,100 islands comprising the whole nation.  And for a citizen to visit each island a day means spending more than 8 years of continuous travel all over the archipelagic wonder.  And just as we are basking at the thought of development, brick by brick so to speak, one remitted dollar after another from struggling OFWs scattered all over the planet, here we are pledging allegiance to a government which is not only tasked to sustain our political integrity but also our economic and territorial adherence.  We must not only embrace government but also protect if necessary every part, corner and bend of its terrain.

Scattered around the big islands are smaller islands and islets.  Those near the shore of bigger islands are virtually titled and occupied.  Those in the farther end are not inhabited except for some occasional visitation by nearby fisher folks.  Most islands and islets comprising the so called Spratly Islands is an example of a semi-inhabited area.  The bigger island christened Pag-asa has a number of assigned personnel of our Armed Forces.  They are not there as a military outpost but marooned to make it appear that it is a normal community.  If at all there is a semblance of military projection, a rickety and rusted decommissioned ship is parked and a number of green painted bamboos arranged in such a manner to feign as a bulky martial arsenal which from a distance may look like a state-of-the-art cannon.

The political pretension was broken when Chinese military vessel began to occupy systematically the islands.  And with reason.  China not only is convinced that it is theirs but moved in virtually to develop and use the area because there is nothing in it anyway.  And why not?  If indeed the Philippine government is the owner, how come it never develops, protects and even uses the area for its purpose.  I remember a playmate who cried some time past and another playmate responded loudly, “Pinabayaan mo ang tsinelas mo sa kalye tapos nung may kumuha at gumamit, nagwawala ka at nagsisisigaw na sa iyo yun!”

25 years ago, when I was the head of Iwahig Penal Colony, I challenged then Western Command (Wescom) Chief General Carlos Taniega if he could fly me through his chopper to the Spratly Islands so that I could propose to the Prison Bureau and the Department of Justice the transfer of some prisoners.  Spratly Islands then were barren pieces of estate which the Philippine government would rather ignore than cast interest on.   The good general dismissed my proposal as wishful thinking.  Prison population in my penal colony in my estimation at that time (and which came to be to date) would grow and I needed areas for a specific category of offenders, hence my interest on the islands.

25 years later, not only Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan are interested in the islands but China as well.  As a matter of fact, Chinese vessels, military commissioned ones, were not only active in patrolling the area, they have started to lay claim on them.  To prove their serious intention in their overt claims, China even issued their latest map indicating the islands as part of their official territory.  Even international bodies in charge of enforcing the observance of international laws were divided in their interpretations.  In my own humble way, I joined the fray by issuing a blog that the Spratly Islands can be used by government as a transit community for inmates about to be released.

I was not only ignored, although media made a noise along that line, but I was dressed down.  I should never think aloud or else I might complicate the relation of the country with China.  And so, I left it at that.  I kept quiet despite media hounding me to expound my ideas.  My superior in government probably was correct.

Several months later, my government is left to its own devise.  Their belief of ownership was shattered by the sight of the islands being developed one after another by a foreign power.  Local fishing boats were even shooed away.  Even planes of friendly allies were threatened not to fly over the islands.  China’s position was clear from the start:  constructive possession is ownership.  We seem to lose our islands by default.

When I was asked again what my reaction on this development since I was the only one submitting an active proposal, there was only one word I gave—-adieu!

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BIRTHDAY

birthday cake

When my father celebrated his 65th birthday, we had a small gathering. The food was simple, just enough for my parents and sibling to get by. It was lumpia ubod, pancit bihon, ice tea and the traditional chiffon cake.

It was not however the food that mattered, it was more of the reunion. I was in a provincial assignment but I took notice of the date and went to see my parents. My sister was also very busy then but took time to be with us.

The day was memorable. My father would have to bow out from public service and would have to face the future with only their savings as their fall back. My sister and I could not assure assistance then because we were still struggling in our respective work places and we had our own families to fill up and take care of.

After the ceremonial blowing of the candles, my father looked at the eyes of his guests, the three of us, mother, sister and I. He said, “In a few weeks, I would be receiving my retirement gratuities and I hope it could sustain your mother’s and my personal requirements.”

“But of course Father,” I immediately, replied.

 “Except when something happens which I fear most,” my father intoned.

“What is it Father?” my sister asked.

“What if I will not die and live more than a hundred, our savings would not last that long!” my father reacted sadly.

My father led an enchanted life. During the war (World War II) he was at the forefront of enemy lines. Not as a soldier though but as interpreter. He would save countless people from execution just by reasoning out with the Japanese Kempetai that the people they arrested are not enemies—in the language of the captors. He survived wartime heroically. Then after struggling and earning his spurs in government and academe, his body was wracked with various life threatening ailments—from cancer of the liver to internal organ complications. Each of the ailments could have cost his life but he survived it all. He was even a victim of crime, the same offense my mother succumbed, but he endured and outlived his tormentors. He even withstood a fatal vehicular accident, an unfortunate criminal case and a series of accidents. Such incidents would convince father that he would live a full and almost immortal life. And indeed, he sustained all situations that bore a threat. It was no longer luck that ruled his life; it was more of charm.

On that day, his birthday, he would recall everything that he went through. He was also practical despite providence. As early as he passed probationary period in his employment, he had his funeral and life plan paid out and prepared already. All his properties and assets were meticulously filed. Everything has been organized as if he was a terminal case. It is not surprising that fate had no interest in his early demise. He would outlast almost everyone in the neighborhood and his occupation in his later years would be to review the published obituary to check on familiar contemporaries whom he would outlive.

I would be approximating that period when I too would celebrate my birthday, except that my father, my mother and my only sister had crossed over. The same is true with my Uncle Greg (he who acted as my baby sitter), Uncle Ben, whose musical wizardly impressed my juvenile years, they have all departed. And of course, the mother of my wonderful children, Ritsu, Babyruth and Karlo; she passed away at a time when she could have enjoyed her retirement period with her chosen vocation. How I wish to have my family and more so, my dear friends to be around, except that Ka Romy (Chavez), my man Friday, my bosom friend since elementary Sonny (Miranda) Jun (Dee), Nestor (Concepcion), my errand Jojo (Viray), scores of subordinates in the prison service, they have all gone also to life hereafter. I have a handful left and I would rather not bother them for my date’s sake.

Birthdays are dates of remembering, of reuniting, of celebrating past and present accomplishment. But it is merely an option, more observed as a matter of pride. Civilization even made it a commercial vessel. Birthdays of senior citizens however are more ceremonial than jovial convocations. And if there is something that separates man from the rest of living things, sentient or otherwise, is the awareness of time. Man from the standpoint of the universe is the only creation given to observing dates like birthdays.

The common housefly lives only for 6 months compared to a turtle in Galapagos where a known specie lives up to 250 years. Our pet cat can live up to 40 years longer than our doggy, which is elderly already at 20 and dying at 25. Gorillas can live up to 55 and the closest relative to man, Chimpanzee up to 60.

We all share similar genes and anatomy but differ in lifespan. We cannot even be proud of intelligence because for the most, instinct is better than intellect although it is consciousness and how it is applied that makes man a ruler in the living cosmos.

So much ado about birthdays. It comes and it goes. What is important is that for once, a person was born and no matter how long he lived, it is a matter only for his family and friends to notify. Whether a person is aware or not, humanity gained something from his existence.

MOTHER’S DAY

nanay

(From right to left: my one-year old younger sister, Doris; then Nanay seated with opaque ribbon and two-year old Ven, author, in the company of my mother’s relatives)

 I lost my mother in a very painful way. Our house was breached (sometime in 1989) and at that time, she was the only family member left alone inside. She was in that instance very busy attending to the needs and requirements of workers my father tasked to renovate an extension of our dwelling place when she was held. Despite her assiduous concern, she was hog-tied, gagged and then stabbed 17 times. Worst, she was still then recuperating from her third stroke. Despite her condition though she was lively, although struggling with her speech, spritely and cooperative. She was only 59 years old at the time she departed.

My family definitely, a law abiding and conscientious member of the community, does not deserve such a fate. But that was how it came to be.

She was a very religious woman and during the time she was under siege by her criminal captors, she must have called her angels for succor. Heaven at that time was probably closed and those she would spend all her time praising and praying for must have been very busy elsewhere. There was no intervention when evil struck.   She died of multiple fatal stab wounds all of which were directed on her chest. A peace-loving, kindly, spiritual and honest lady passed away quite ironically in a violent way. Evil won that day. The good vanished by default.

I remember my mother as a very patient person. She was a very pleasant conversationalist too.  I never heard her voice rose even if alarmed. She was an epitome of serenity and calmness. She never even had any difference with the neighborhood. She would always be its observer and always neutral. Her wise counsel was the anchor on which her children would be raised. She was there to sacrifice and take everything unfortunate if only for her family to enjoy equanimity. She was however not a martyr for her loved ones; she was only trying to be a mother to us all.

After graduating at the top of her class in a course in Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education (in FEU), she already had her sights aimed at the apex of education. But she would rather gain organizational exposures first. So, she stayed for a while as executive assistant in a government agency. That would also be the time when my father, a laborer at that time (in the bureau of Posts)  and still struggling to complete his collegiate studies, courted her. Impressed at the audacity of the man, she dropped her career and became a surrogate to her beloved. After two years, a boy was born and the succeeding year, a daughter came. She never went back to the bureaucracy and indulged herself on purely maternal concerns. She had been a mother through and through.

Her man, inspired by her prodding and scholarship, went on to complete several degrees until he gained a number of professions—-all within the sphere of the academe, the very place where my mother’s heart belonged.

And her family, from husband to her children, would all think and breath as scholars.

For as all long as education is around, there lies my mother’s spirit. And where she is now, every time Mother’s Day is celebrated, it has always been an intellectual excursion for her loved ones here and now or in life hereafter.

‘TUYO” FOR BREAKFAST

dried fish

Americans and that includes local young executives would prefer pancakes or buttered bread and bacon for breakfast, well, anytime in the morning. Add brewed coffee if you may. And there are also Korean and Japanese treats for the early risers.

I tried to order for breakfast an oriental banquet “shabu-shabu” and I was completely overwhelmed by the multitude of condiments surrounding the meal. I barely touched the main spread and opted to ask the waiter to wrap for take-home what was left untouched. And I tell you, as I left the resto, I had the feeling that I went to buy from the grocery my whole week supply. I had almost three plastic bags full of food!

I had a full meal; my stomach was already bursting but of course to the detriment of my anaemic wallet!

The Chinese and the audacious Vietnamese have noodles with simmering soup to greet their day. Thai and Indian meals are lucrative in their curry and mouth punishing sharp taste as a result of too much pepper.

But for me, and this I only appreciated just lately although it has been a family fare for quite sometime, garlic rice and dried fish are a wholesome treat. Add tomatoes, a sprinkling of pork fat, a dash of 3 in 1 coffee overlay, a pinch of salt and egg, sunny side up, my morning has greeted my day as complete already! And I am not alone in this department. I had my whole neighborhood; the entire “dabarkads” salivating whenever our olfactory nerves would smell dried fish being cooked.

Sometime past, I used to see my father on weekends and his caregiver would always whisper to me in a manner of reporting that her client never had a bad appetite whenever she would serve fried salted dried fish for meal. And it has been a recurring theme also when I was still a juvenile running around our dining area during mealtime. The scent alone, never mind the time and those yelling voices, was a signal time to get into the proper position in the dining table.

I have virtually tasted the best foods in town either served in famous eateries or even in five star hotels but personally (and me thinks the Filipino palate is my company), I would rather enjoy only a full meal consisting of plain rice and tuyo.

THE WORLD IS GOVERNED BY PERSONALITIES

personalities

Admittedly, history is not actually about a series of events but how a particular person fitted in the event or to a certain extent, how the person made an event.

When Mohammad Ali ruled the heavy weight division in boxing, the sweet science was the most exciting sports event in the planet. It gave boxing a significant background in the history of sports. When Ali retired, boxing slid down in the consciousness of sports aficionado until the personalities of Pacquiao and Mayweather revived it.

Add crass commercialism and digital technology, every corner of the universe is gripped with excitement.

And there was Michael Jordan of NBA, the biggest caging event in the universe. He ruled the world of basketball for a decade and basketball not only became a favorite game, it nearly became a religion!

In the music industry, the Beatles virtually held the world’s emotional attention with its melodic rendition of pop music, a genre that was held by Bach, Mozart and Beethoven with a limited audience in the past.

Every field of study or in every science for that matter, it is their respective personalities that govern specific significance of their role in the consciousness of humanity. Without these personas, there is no state of awareness generated.

In science and technology we have Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Billy Gates etc.

In politics, there was John F. Kennedy in USA. In France, there was Napoleon. In Russia, there was Vladimir Lenin. In Red China, Mao Zedong, in Germany there was Adolf Hitler, in Britain there was Winston Churchill. We have also Asia’s Mahathir, Cory Aquino and Lee Kwan Yu.

In classic arts, there was Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt. In fashion there was Yves St. Laurent, Coco Chanel, Versace, Christian Dior….

In Philosophy, there was Socrates, Aristotle, Schopenhauer, Karl Marx, Hegel, etc.

In literature, there was Shakespeare, Kipling, Miguel de Cervantes, Dan Brown, Paul Coehlo, etc. In the Philippines, we have Nick Joaquin (Quijano de Manila), F. Sionil Jose, Jose Garcia Villa, Jose Rizal etc.

In crime, there was Mafia’s Al Capone and Jack the Ripper, they did not only make fun of law enforcement during their time but their stories even won the Oscars when it was made into a film. In the local law-breaking scene, there was Baby Ama, Nardong Putik, Ben Tumbling to name a few.

I just hope that in the local prison setting, my personality had in a way contributed to some kind of a positive event even if only in a parochial sense. Although I fear that my character might end up in the romance department!

F…K OF THE CENTURY

fight of the century

A friend of mine sent me a text message with lamentation, “I lost my P100 bet!” Another propelled me a message through facebook chat “Mayweather merely hugged and ran around the ring, then won!” There was even a political comment “Don’t tell me that you will blame President Aquino on what happened in MGM!” And this came in late but I hate it. Accordingly, since Mayweather used the bout to embrace repeatedly Pacquaio, he should be “GAYweather!”

The Mayweather vs Pacquaio boxing showdown could have gone done in history as it was hyped as “the fight of the century.” Well, it never was. It was supposed to be a fight between two fighters known for their pugilistic wizardly in their prime. Past their athletic period, they were mere shadows of their former selves. Nonetheless, there was still time to be reckoned if only for a face-off to be organized and it would sell just the same. And it sold quite well. It even exceeded expectations when tickets sold out a few minutes after it was issued at the tills.

The fight could have been a test of endurance and style, the tactical boxer versus the volume puncher, the boring pugilist and the aggressive one, between a cautious fighter against a reckless one. The elements. The works. The projections. It was indeed, the fight that is, destined to whet the appetite of humanity for a fair game.

And the day, May 2, 2015, lived up to the hype. There were basketball greats Michael Jordan and Karl Malone breezing through. There was Hollywood great Clint Eastwood walking through despite age. There were glitters of entertainment world with Michael Keaton (the first to revive Batman), Mark Wahlberg, Beyonce, Silvester Stallone, etc. Boxing greats Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins, Sugar Ray Leonard, etc. A number of politicians and businessmen were also spotted in ringside. The world through HBO and Pay-Per-View combined enticed everyone to watch. Truly, the event was something of a gargantuan show.

When the bell rang, hell did not break loose. It was more of a romantic flick that unfolded with Mayweather displaying Shakespearian embrace and Olympic style prowess in track and field.   Pacquaio was left fending for himself to project what boxing meant to the world. Even referee Bayless felt embarrassed forcing Mayweather from his expressive hug on his opponent.

At the end of the day, those at the compubox won having been given their bonus for tapping additional punches and even counting the number of cuddles Mayweather gave as points. Even judges forsook their listing system knowing that Pacquaio will never relent since he had a lot of pastors singing their halleluiahs in his favor already. It was big business for everyone, from ticket sellers to the promotional outfit. Who cares if there were lapses in adjudicating, it is not the world of fairness which is out there, it is crass commercialism.

Pacquiao on his own can still stimulate the tills no matter how poor officiating of his fights would be. But for Mayweather, it is everything where money can be squeezed. That is how capitalism works. Las Vegas is no Vatican, it is the capital of gambling planet. Where the mullah is, one can find one’s gods.

I heard it the first time, when Michael Buffer shouted at the onset of the fight, he yelled “Let’s get ready to TUMBLE!” And so the story goes.

AGEING PROCESS

ageing

I had my first taste of independence when I was allowed to spend summer vacation in our ancestral house in San Pedro, Laguna. It was the residence of my lolo and lola, both in their mid 50s.

It was also my first encounter, up close, with the elderly. I had a sheltered life like that of Gautama (before he was known as Buddha) who was also isolated by his parents from reality. Like him, I never knew what sickness was all about, what death was, what old age meant.

As soon as I joined my grandparents on the table for meal, I asked my lolo how old was he. He replied “I am 54 years old young man.” I remembered my response was “Ohhh, no wonder your skin is wrinkled, you had thick eyeglasses, your body is stooped and had difficulty breathing.” I saw in their reaction some kind of entertainment. Probably they were thinking that I grew up in Mars!

I never had a good sleep that day. I was asking myself how come there are old people and what made them old in the first place.

Right in their living room were stacks of photo album and I saw my father as toddler and how my grandparents looked like in their prime. My childhood impression was marked with superstitious concepts based on imagination. I thought that living in their house makes one gets older. I thought that spending a time in their house would likewise make me mature overnight. I thought that right after my summer vacation I would return to my parental enclave as an elderly already!

Well, it never happened that way. Actually, I came back to the embrace of my parents after a brief period with a pair of good sneakers courtesy of my tightwad grandparents. But the thought of getting old never departed my consciousness. I had these nagging mental episodes that ageing makes a person weak and vulnerable, prone to depression, too serious and has forgotten laughter. My grandparents were so sober that everything I would hear from them was a litany of lessons in life that I must reckon.   It is as if they were teaching me not to explore life, not to commit to adventure because I would merely encounter problems and that I must sit down reviewing life safely on their laps.

Years passed by and the memories of staying with my grannies were like spending a few days and nights in the school campus.

Years later and as I sat down to contemplate on life, I came to a realisation that at my age, I have already transgressed that period when I had my first vacation with my grandparents. Like them, I have grown old already. I had my fair share of gray hair, blurred vision and physical vulnerabilities. My only advantage was technology. My grandparents lived manually and were over stressed to determine what went on in the neighbourhood. In my case, life is assisted by automatic means and the world can be accessed digitally and in high definition. No wonder, I never have forgotten to laugh and nearly deleted the term depression from my system. Nonetheless, we looked similarly from the standpoint of physicality.

Well, everybody will eventually reach their twilight years and probably one day, science would be able to preserve thoughts and translate these in a continuous fashion much like books, which have been regularly annotated for purposes of updating. Except that death will be pushed aside and immortality will become the order of the day.

This generation may not be a witness of this development but we have made this as prognosis based on facts and not through fiction.

Ageing will soon be an issue of the past.

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