Wednesday, December 29, 2004

New Year - Facing Adversity

"Authorities across the region are running out of places to put the dead -- lining them up in schools and stacking them in the street ..."

Watching the images of the aftermath of the Indian ocean tsumani unfold on my TV set doesn't give me a lot of confidence that New Year would be great. On the one hand, I could say, "The quake didn't happen to me." On the other, how could I say it can't affect me at all?

I am all the more thankful that for whatever dire straits I think my life has fallen into, I am still on my feet ready to face another day. I may be down and out, broke, depressed, lonely, or what-have-you, but I have life, and that means something. I have still the chance to do something good that matters in someone else's life.

I don't think I could say there is a just God. Not today. But I'd like to believe there's a reason we can find someplace. There's a reason to be happy, and that is I live and exist to give happiness to others, as much as I can, when I can.

Happy New Year!

"There are two ways of spreading light - to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it." - Edith Wharton

Sunday, December 12, 2004

First Christmas, KSA-style

Our organization had its Christmas party last Friday. I was in the middle of the program when my eldest sister called, which was funny to me because I was at the podium at the time. I didn't want to host but then again, I was the only guy funny enough and hip enough (and stupid enough, to boot), I suppose, to do it. Thank God I didn’t have to do a Santa Claus. We had something like 70+ (maybe 100) people arriving. Lots of games, song numbers, and a bunch of idiots (nice idiots) lined up to join “You’re Da Man” that we channeled from MTB Ang Saya Saya! Needless to say, it was a rousing success.

For the Christmas reunion for the clan, the responsibility passed on to our family. The last time we hosted the gig was in 1997 and while it wasn't the best of parties, it was well-remembered. Needless to say, I was involved in it (Oh, don't you worry about modesty. I don't have any of it.)

I suggested that the family do something of an SCQ-TV Idol sort of thing for the children. I also sent them questions for a “Game Ka Na Ba?” simulation. I had plans to use this during our Christmas party but we did not have enough time.

Favorite song this week: “Que Sera Sera” by Doris Day. I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much” with Jimmy Stewart and Ms. Day and the song was prominently featured in the movie, one of Hitchcock’s better ones (shame I couldn’t get a copy of “Psycho”). It’s really dumb singing: “When I was a little boy/I asked my mother/what will I be?/Will I be handsome?/Will I be rich?/Here’s what she said to me” in the morning.

I hope the folks would find a good place for the reunion. The traditional place - the Teachers' Association assembly hall beside our house - is ghastly.

If I had Christmas gifts back from home, I would wish for an MP3 collection of the Beatles’ albums. If not the bootleg CDs of the albums or their Anthology series should be selling in Quiapo. Tough luck for any of that stuff to pass through Saudi customs and immigration. But I can dream of my old tapes of Green Day, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, and Guns and Roses, can't I?

On the other hand, I could go domestic and ask for a sewing kit to darn my clothes. (Damn, that washing machine is EVIL! A necessary one, anyway.) The weather has moved to the level of Tagaytay/Baguio-type cold, but not enough for me to want to wear a jacket yet. At least on a regular basis. I like the cold, anyway. It reminds me to wrap myself in a jacket and pretend I am hugging someone I love from back home.

Sunday, December 05, 2004


“The world may not always understand a person’s profession of faith but it can understand service.”

My thanks to Nicky Templo-Perez who gave me this apt greeting on World Volunteers’ Day, today… and to all the people who keep that torch of volunteerism bright, here’s a cup of the best Turkish coffee for you. And for those who have tried the real-deal Turkish coffee, you know what I mean that it’s a real pick-me-up on a slow day. Assuming you like it, of course.

There’s this grade-A mush (moosh) line in Pearl Harbor that goes “There’s nothing greater than a heart of a volunteer” (or something like that) mentioned by Alec Baldwin, but somehow to this day it still rings true.

Somewhere out there people are still doing their thing, volunteering whatever they can give, and here’s my note of thanks for them.

I somehow got untracked with my regular routine since I moved to a bigger apartment in the center of town last weekend. Don’t have a TFC connection yet (has its advantages and disadvantages), my refrigerator and kitchen utensils are not properly set-up and I have lost a lot of inclination to do my own cooking since all the good eating places are just a stroll away. When there’s a gaping hole left in my wallet I’ll probably start. At least I have my own bathroom but …. (go on to the next paragraph if you feel you’re not close enough to me, hehe) ….the toilet is in the Eastern style, so doing number two means having to squat. This is not so bad since one would really want to get out of the bathroom quickly as temperatures run into the friendly teens (Celsius) for the better part of the day.

Christmas here means a whole lot more to the kids and to those who have kids. I really cannot relate for the most part since I’ve stopped thinking about Christmas as a season a long time ago, starting from the time I started paying my own bills (a solid thirteen or so years running), and going without a steady relationship (except for SHARE, bless her) for about 80% of that time. I do reflect a lot on the whole meaning of Christmas these days, and try to get whatever spiritual nourishment I can get from meditation, prayer, singing a few hymns and occasional reading of contraband Bibles. On the last matter, such items normally belong to those who are either Born-Again or are part of avidly Christian groups with whom I have personal or ideological differences. It’s nice to have faith on a daily basis but some people can get to be a drag. Moving to an additional level of acceptance is not as easy as it was ten years ago, alas.

Classes in my literary writing clinic are winding down for the season since most families in our group are spending the Christmas holidays back home. Maybe if I stay here long enough I will probably find the opportunity to go home during December. I try to focus on the here-and-now as it is difficult to think about the might-have-beens back home and all the difficulties many of our countrymen are experiencing. We are organizing our own fund-raising efforts here for the families and communities ravaged by the succession of storms, but a number of us were affected. My boss, for instance, lost some P1M in investments on his farm in Mindoro following typhoon Unding.

I’m glad that for the most part everyone in my family is okay, though I do hear reports that one of my uncles is in failing health. While we are not on great terms, I sent my best wishes to him and pray for him as much as I can.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Eid Mubarak and Remembrance

Eid Mubarak!

Ramadan has officially ended. More or less we will be back in a normal groove for our schedule. Muslims all over are practically celebrating – legally there is no work but I go to work anyway – no one wants to be trapped “not celebrating” or making like a vegetable in front of the TV set.

For non-Muslims, the best analogue to Ramadan is like rolling Lent and Christmas all into one. While I’m not to criticize somebody else’s religion if it works for them, I just find it funny that instead of losing weight and reflecting on the words of the Prophet during this time, people actually eat more and end up being more vacant-eyed during the day.

As for me, eating in secret (especially if one finds great leftovers in the fridge) has always been a thing to do even during my days back home, so nothing is different. Hehe, but I do hate having to eat big meals instead of small snacks. It was difficult doing it during the entire month, but now I can munch as much as I want on my desk.

The days of remembering have just gone by. I said a prayer for the dearly departed before I went to bed and got to reflect on some life lessons.

Life does pass us by, and there’s rarely a relationship where there is finality – there’s always something you want to say that is left unsaid, there’s something you wish to do for that person, or to do together with that person, that remains undone. Obviously there’s nothing more to be done but to appreciate each moment – because just as that familiar letter-writing activity goes, saying “I love you” can never be done too many times. And ironically, we yearn to say these words when it’s already too late.

Hindsight is the most common form of wisdom. At the same time, I always remember that line from “The Matrix” which has been very instructive: “Knowing the path is different from walking the path.” You can add “Being the One is like being in love – you just know it, balls to bones.”

So now, back to life and living. There are days when I miss my father terribly, but since he is gone the only thing I wish to do is that I could do the same for my future family all the good that my father has made it possible for our family. I pray that I will be true to this promise. As to the bad… well, I wouldn’t have known the good if not for the bad.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The Burden of Memory

A remembrance for my father, dead these past eleven years.

Plea (Song for my Father)

I break the silence of my heart to cry.
I crave for the truth even as I lie.
Understanding that words are never enough
To express the warmth of dreams, the stuff
That allows visions to live and be true.
Oh, for the life that belonged to you!

Is it inevitability that laid first claim,
For no heralds call out to shout your name?
Or has weak human flesh denied us our fate,
For unearned wisdom that arrived too late?
Time has come for the toll of your bell . . .
When my memories fail what more can I tell?

In peace or oblivion goodbyes are so trite
However I wish, or will with all of my might
Even as I gasp out the very life of my breath
My love will never match the power of death.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Walking Down Old Paths

I opened up some of my old work and this poem struck me for its length - it was meant to be a closed-eye experience, called "autogenics" in our seminar-jargon so long ago. Fourteen years ago have not stained the freshness of the thoughts. I would tend to hate the construction, but what do I know? Dedicated to SHARE Batch 10, November 1991. Many thanks, Gina V!

Journeying Within The Self

The First Voice
I am the voice of your inner shadow.
Let your world escape from your mind.
Let the shadows be the expression of your being.
For in this shadow without your world's glitter,
The wholeness of your being takes shape.
For in this darkness nothing else would give light
But the beauty of your person...

Let it come forward! Let your self find its voice,
Among the din of wayward melodies
Which you call upon for your guidance.
Drop the pale figure of your everyday masks
For here they are nothing but ghosts
Insubstantial forms, nothing more
Like the shadows which encase your being...

The Second Voice
We wear these masks to protect ourselves
To hold off everybody we meet,
For they savor the glamor of the creation
And not the simplicity of that
Which comes from the heart.

We seek to protect that image
We carefully contrive for ourselves
So that we can keep what we can
To satisfy our petty whims and egos.
For this is our only safety,
To be secure in what we believe in.

But stop! For the shadows catch up
To tear away at your wrappings
And reveal all your confusions,
And wounds, and scars, and fears...
Which you try to overcome
By running away...but you cannot.

The Third Voice
You don't wish to recall
The time you felt so hurt, so empty,
So much draped in your loneliness.
You are alone here in this darkness,
With only your conscience for company...
Do you remember how does it feel to be alone?
How does it feel to see
All your dreams shattered,
All your aspirations dashed to pieces?
How does it feel to be imprisoned
By your own masks and lies?
Your empty shell breathes its hollowness,
And the silence becomes deafening...

You cannot run away from truth,
But you can start facing yourself...
For in this shadow comes your light
And it speaks to you, saying ---

The First Voice, softly
I am the beauty which is barely heard
Like some sweet melody
Which visits your ears in that moment
When you are at peace with yourself.

I am the inspiration which opens
Your mind to scale greater heights
And break down barriers
To reach your goal.

Come, reach for me...
Journey within that being you call
And find me there, waiting.

The Second Voice, imploring
Don't be afraid of pain
For in pain comes happiness.
But for loss, we will never understand gain.
But for smallness, we will never see immensity.
But for limitations, we will never grasp forever.
But for selfishness, we will never know sacrifice.
But for loneliness, we will never feel love.

The Third Voice, inviting
Let your soul begin this journey
To seek and understand yourself
To grapple with the darkness
And discover your inner light.

Let your mind find its peace
Among your life's wellsprings
This is the beckoning call of our search:
To find ourselves through service.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Buhayin Mo Ang Pangarap Mo

Dedicated to the students of the La Salle Greenhills Adult Night High School, who at one time enriched my life. Karangalan po ang paglingkod ko sa inyong lahat.

Buhayin mo ang pangarap mo.
Hindi tulad ng agos ng tubig sa dagat
Ang buhay natin sa mundo.
Kung mayroon mang katuparan
Sa lahat ng iyong inaasam
Kailangan nito ng iyong lakas
Sapagkat nasa iyong kamay ang bukas.
Kung pangarap mo'y magiging iyo
Huwag kang magpapalito,
Kung ika'y may hinahanap
Buhayin mo ang pangarap mo.

Buhayin mo ang pangarap mo.
Sa pagsikat ng araw mapapawi ba
Ang pangamba mo sa puso?
Kung mayroong mang paglunas
Sa sugat ng iyong damdamin
Kailangan nito ng pag-unawa
Sapagkat ikaw ang bubuo ng diwa.
Kung pag-ibig ay tataglayin mo
Himukin ang 'yong puso
Kung nais mong umibig
Buhayin mo ang pangarap mo.

Sa lahat ng araw na ginawa ng Diyos
Inilaan Niya ang pagkakataong
Matamo natin ang kanyang itinakda.
Hindi sapat ang pamarisan lamang
Natin ang nakaraan.
Sapagkat ang iniwan sa ati'y lubos
Para sa lahat ng panahon.
Hindi ba't inilaan Niya
Ang buhay para sa ating utang
At sandaigdigang kasalanan?

Buhayin mo ang pangarap mo.
Mapaparisan ba ng liwanag ng buwan
Ang ilaw ng iyong puso?
Mahirap mang paniwalaan
Ang ganitong katotohanan
Ikaw lamang ang makatatamasa
Sa kabuuan ng iyong pagnanasa.
Kung apoy sa puso'y mabubuhay
Huwag umasa't maghintay,
Kung ika'y may ninanasa,
Buhayin mo ang pangarap mo.

Buhayin mo ang pangarap mo.
Maitatago mo ba ang iyong damdamin
Sa lahat ng mga tukso?
Dayain mo man ang iba
Huwag lang ang iyong konsiyensiya.
Kung dala na paghamon ay pangangamba
Manalig ka at huwag mabahala.
Kung mayroong kasukat ang panahon
Ikaw lang ang may sagot doon.
Kung nais mo ang mabuhay,
Buhayin mo ang pangarap mo.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The Malpractice of Suing Malpractice

In reaction to the news raised by one of my doctor-friends

My .02 on this –

Medical malpractice law must be rooted first in the improvement of medical services. Rather than using the malpractice law as a goad to pinpoint accountability and assign blame, the key factors government should be considering are:

1. The state of the medical profession in the country
2. The professionalism and adequate preparation of medical professionals
3. Giving appropriate monetary and non-monetary rewards and recognition to medical professionals to prevent their exodus
4. Making basic medical care more affordable to the greater mass of the Filipino public.
5. Increasing basic public health awareness so that medicine will be more preventive than curative.
6. Putting more money in public health programs as a percentage of GDP.

The other obvious factors in developing a medical malpractice law are:
  • Creating and maintaining a largely incorruptible implementing mechanism. Who determines the degree of malpractice or neglect? How will they be selected? What is the nature of their involvement – paid or voluntary, temporary or permanent? How do you make them resistant to monetary or other forms of pressure? And most importantly – what makes you sure that making them cops won’t ruin their professional competence and/or judgment?
  • Ensuring that cases are adequately and expeditiously filed and decided upon. Who will report cases? Who will conduct preliminary investigation? How will you secure support from hospital administrators? Where will documentation support come from? Who will rotate the evaluation of cases? How many people will you assign eventually to the whole support structure? How will you ensure that cases of “justice delayed, justice denied” will not proliferate?
  • How can you protect doctors from wrongful filing or nuisance cases?
  • How will you educate doctors in the nuances of the law? And who will educate them? How do you assign levels of accountability – supervising physician, ER physician, head nurse, shift nurse….heck, even the freaking janitor – when a case comes up?
  • In the end, where will all the money come from to make sure this law is properly implemented?

I realize that there are a lot of holes in what I just mentioned, and/or somehow there are structures in place that will do some of the roles…

The government can’t implement a medical malpractice law, not with health care receiving less than 5% of total GDP! It’s f**king crazy if you ask me. The medical profession is best served by a better government program that is focused on developing better health professionals and delivering medical services where they are most needed, i.e. at the rural and barangay levels.

To do that, there are several directions, but the one that sounds best to me is to make internships and training more “organic,” i.e. assigning more interns to do more community work.

The real winners for any medical malpractice law in the Philippines would be the insurance and the medical supply companies, i.e. pharmaceutical manufacturers, medical laboratories, the whole kit-and-caboodle that support the medical profession, without necessarily translating into better medical services. Doctors will ask for more tests, more lab work, instead of doing some real doctor-ing. Yup, these “do-gooders” will have just ensured that medical professionals will seek work overseas, where at least their medical insurance bills would be covered by the higher standard of living of their patients and higher paychecks for them, too.

A law is needed, but lawmakers and public affairs people should first put the state of public health in the Philippines in the proper context.

That’s just about it. More if I think of something later.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


It's my birthday today. Shhh... I'd rather not hear the words, "Happy Birthday!"

I think I started hating my own birthday, subconsciously, when I was about five or six years old. My brother and I were horsing around in our backyard, where we had a basketball half-court. For some reason or another, the horsing around became a serious shoving match. Naturally, though my brother gave up a few pounds on me, he was older by two years, taller, and probably stronger. So my right eye received the business end of the concrete. I was glad I didn't lose any teeth (in other news, I did get back at my brother by loosening his tooth for him in another episode).

Anyhow, I bawled like the big crybaby I was and fell asleep. It was about five in the afternoon. Because of the fight, my parents chose not to wake me up. So they ate all the goodies prepared for that day and my brother ended up blowing the candles on my cake. Bummer.

Birthdays also often meant periodical exams in school so I never really enjoyed this time of year. Still, it was a bit of fun because two of my other classmates and I had back-to-back-to-back birthdays from the 3rd to the 5th.

Then there was that incident during the time of my 18th birthday when I was finishing some papers for my PoliSci class. It was the 40th day since my maternal grandfather had passed on. He was literally salt of the earth, a carpenter who loved making things with his hands until the last few months of his life.

So there I was, rushing to get some work done. It was 3:00 a.m. and I was writing like crazy to get the work done - no PC then and the typewriter would have been too loud (yes, I am dating myself impossibly here). To this day, I can swear that I heard some noises – first of a saw cutting its way through plywood, then the hammering of nails into wood.

My hackles rose and goosebumps broke out all over my body – but I ignored the sounds at first. It was only when I heard the tinkling of glass, as if my grandfather was pouring himself a shot of Tanduay on ice, that I finally gave up, left the kitchen and lay down on the couch. While I closed my eyes and blacked out the sound, I said a prayer for the repose of his soul. Whether or not that worked, I fell asleep anyway.

(No, I wasn't smoking weed that day. And I wasn't drinking.)

Then there are the specials called... the birthday break-ups!

(Pause... let me digest that line for just one more moment...)

This is the tenth year in a row when something has overtaken my birthday and I was not able to celebrate it with my family. If I can't celebrate it with them, then there's no reason for me to.

Still, a birthday is a chance to be thankful for the gift of life, and hard as it may be for some, life will always be precious. A birthday is a chance to say "thank you" to those who have given me life and nurtured me to become the person that I was. My life is a testament to what they have done for me, and though at times I would tend to blame them for living their life through mine, I'm oh so very glad that they bothered in the first place. Others aren't as lucky.

Happy birthday to me.

Saturday, September 11, 2004


It's been three years since the fateful events of this day occurred in New York.

I was still late at work rushing to get some papers finished for my boss at that time since he was traveling to Vietnam for the ASEAN Economic Ministers' Meeting as a private-sector representative, and later on to join the President in Japan.

We received a call just past midnight that the news was sprayed all over the broadcast media. The mighty towers had been hit. America took a sucker punch - before the day was over, there was reported loss of around 2,800 lives. I doubt if there was less, but probably there were more unreported deaths that day.

I'll spare myself getting worked up over the catchwords of violence, living as we do in a culture of violence.

It was also around the time that I left one of my previous jobs - one of a series of messy break-ups some people would call abandonments. In fact it was just my second day at my job when the attacks took place. While I was not meant to be with the good folks at the consultancy I left - I did learn one thing from them.

It was how to put a capsule of hope into a set of statements that will define who and what I am. It was not the first time I tried to put my beliefs and values on paper, but this was the first time I had mastered all the tools to make sure I can make these beliefs come true. In a sense, these were not only the things I stood for, but also the things I had always hoped for to achieve in this life.

On this day where the world remembers atrocity, I would like to remember those whose heart-wrenching stories I have not yet heard, because I have been too privileged to encounter them in this life.

And so I renew my stands:

I stand for truth, love, beauty and goodness.

I stand as a concerned citizen of the world, willing to contribute what I can toward making this world a better place.

I stand for a world that is moved by change, yet molded by the ideals I hold dear.

I stand for the cooperative work of all people, able to share peacefully in the resources of this world.

I stand as a unique and special individual, deepening and sharing my intimate relationship with my Creator.

I stand, open and waiting for the challenges that each day would bring me.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Defying Solitude

I cannot help but feel squeamish when I remember the time I recognized the stirrings of love. As the good poet Gibran says "Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself. Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; For love is sufficient unto love. "

But first, one must learn courage to defy solitude.

This piece is for Cherry and Bobby P., who provided the inspiration and worked in my contribution. They also had the grace in first performing it more than 15 years ago. Thanks to Randy Crawford, who lives on in "senti" songs designed for retreats. It's sad but Googling "The Competition" does not yield quick results as to who composed the soundtrack. It's not a riveting earthquake, but that soundtrack played a part in changing a lot of lives.

And for Bambi F. (the memory of whom awakens all sort of squeamishness in me). My voice as the Voice Alone first recognized itself because of you. This voice is older now, and even though I don't know the what-might-have-been's, it's still nice to think of you sometimes.

People are gathered in the dark, illuminated by candles. The voices call out in the darkness.

The Woman
I am not who I was.
I am not going to be who I was going to be.
You changed all that.

The Man
I am not who I was.
I am not going to be who I was going to be.
You changed all that.

The Woman
You are not who you were.
You are not going to be who you were going to be.
I changed all that.

The Man
You are not who you were.
You are not going to be who you were going to be.
I changed all that.

The separate paths we once took crossed
And suddenly became one.
Our lives are no longer yours nor mine alone.
We could never have who we are now
Without each other.

The Voice Alone
I am alone.
In my dreams I walk deserted paths.
In my life I hold forth that shell
With which I ward off everybody.
In my work I do my best to grab it all
And keep all the credit just for me.
In my hours of loneliness I clutch
At my security blankets, whatever's there.
And in my prayers I cry out loud, HELP ME!
But I hear only the passing darkness
. . . and I feel the swelling blackness.
Yes, I am alone.

I am afraid.
As I move closer to loving another person
I fear risking myself, and losing my love.
As I spend the hours in vigilance, alone,
I tremble to experience my own insignificance.
As I stand between the paths of taking and giving
I dread of doing the wrong thing
And end up doing nothing.
And in my soul again I scream, HELP ME!
But no one listens to my plea
. . .no one really cares for me.
Of this I am afraid.

I am confused.
Bewildered by my own universe
I can't understand my own self.
Puzzled by the feelings of others
I never really have felt a fullness.
Mystified by God's grace
I abstain from seeking my own soul.
Confused about my own course
I refuse to care about my life.
And there my spirit shouts, HELP ME!
But I don't see my own hand
. . . I can't help me see myself.
Oh, I...I don't know!

I am angry.
Why shouldn't I be angry
When this world gives nothing to me?
Why shouldn't I be resentful
When I share no love with another?
Why shouldn't I be hateful
When I've never known happiness?
Why shouldn't I be furious
When everything's been so unfair?
Yes, why would I cry, HELP ME?!
But no one really has,
. . .because no one can hear me.

For I am alone, and so unhappy.
I cannot be anything else,
And here I stand, in my empty shell.
I nurse my fears and feel my way
Alone, smoldering at my weakness.
I have failed to love, and so must
Failure come in my living life.
I am alone, my loneliness
Envelops me, and I am no more.

The Woman
What are you looking for?
What do you want to happen?
Aren't you satisfied with what life has to offer?
Will you ever be content?
Will you ever know?

The Man
Then I will sing a song of companionship;
I will show what alone must finally answer these.
I believe these are to find
our own ideal of human love
revealing it in you.
Therefore let me take you
somewhere you have never traveled.
For who but we should understand love
with all its sorrows and joys?
Who but we should be the creators of friends?

All Together
People alone may go very fast
But maybe not so far.
Playing alone is still solitaire,
People alone may reach for a love
But only half as well.
People alone may seem satisfied. . .
How can they tell?

Sunday, August 15, 2004


Adapted from my e-mail.

Happy birthday SHARE! Happy birthday to Marcial Soriano, one of the co-founders of SHARE (isn't he the coolest?)

I’m taking a little time off from “The Life of Otep” to say a few things ----

First, I am glad that we have continued to be in touch through our e-forum for airing out our views and sharing a little bit of our lives. I wish more people were more participative though.

I am glad that many people have continued to live the SHARE spirit in their lives even though we as an organization have not continued doing so. For those who plod on and try, kudos to you and I am behind you all the way even if I am all the way over here in KSA.

I am glad for the many friends that I have met through SHARE and even though at times I was not the best in my role to them (co-facilitator, center person, work colleague, or simply a person to hang out with), I am so grateful that so many have chosen to stick it out with me. One day I pray I will be given an opportunity to be there when I am needed.

I am glad for the education for life that SHARE has made possible for me and that I have learned so much more than I ever expected, received more than I have given, and blessed more than making it possible for others to be blessed through me. In some crazy way, I am humbled because I never thought I gave enough to the people we served and more importantly, to you the people that I have worked with for the 15 or so years I have been involved in SHARE before I left the Philippines.

I believe there is still room, what’s more, time for all of us SHARE people to move ourselves in a new direction if not a new ministry. I only wish that I had done more when I had the opportunity to do so back home.

Most of all, I believe in all of you who have lived, loved, learned with SHARE, have freely given, have shared joy and pain, blood, sweat, and tears all throughout these years. I pray that our guiding lights (the Brothers) will continue to be strong amidst the challenges and remain as inspiring to other youth so that they too, in their own way, blaze a path of, and to, service for youth at risk. I pray for everyone in this group (and especially those who are out of the loop) ... and even as I realize each of us has his or her own intentions, my prayer is for us to continue in the faith and that we continue to strive to put meaning in our lives and in the lives of others.

So goes another year in the life of SHARE. May we all have another year and much more together.

Happy birthday, SHARE. And... everyone, thank you.

(For those who don't but would really like to know, SHARE is the Service for Human And Religious Experience organization, founded in 1982 by graduates of La Salle Greenhills high school. Up until the year 2000, SHARE was active in administering retreats, recollections, and training seminars for Lasallian communities and in other apostolates.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Waiting on Robert Jordan

Dang that Robert Jordan! How could he create a compelling series with such great pace to begin with and then degenerate into nothing! I agree with those who say that with "Crossroads of Twilight," the tenth volume of The Wheel of Time Series, Robert Jordan has managed to sandbag the pace of the series to a halt with the number of plots and sub-plots.

It was really fun until "The Dragon Reborn" and despite the drop-off in volumes 4 and 5, volume 6, "Lord of Chaos" has one of the best magic and metal fight sequence. Now the series is pitifully dragging out, begging for an ending. Jordan should just finish the series and come out with separate books on the sub-plots.

Even one of the most verbose of writers, Stephen King, took a jab at Jordan in his auto-bio/how-to book “On Writing.” Jordan is simply not getting to the point. I loved the series all the way to “Lord of Chaos.” “A Crown of Swords” was the first indication that the series would start to suck, especially the darned ending.

Obviously, TOR and Jordan are milking the series for the cash cow it is. The complete novel “A New Spring” came out and now Jordan will complete a three-book series on how Moiraine and Lan came to the Two Rivers just in time to take the ta’veren in hand. What a sell-out. I would have been happier to see that Jordan wrote the story of Rand (a.k.a. Tyr/the Fisher King) as one whole and give Mat (a.k.a. Odin/Heimdall/Rig) and Perrin (a.k.a. Thor/Perrun) their own book series to complement Rand’s story. Hell, you can throw in one whole book each for Egwene, Elayne, and Nynaeve, the history of Aes Sedai, how the Seanchan became Seanchan, the rise and fall of Artur Hawkwing, and the War of the Shadow. The last I would have enjoyed had Jordan written it as a separate series instead of making footnotes or references to it everywhere in WoT.

But I'm sure once the next book comes out, I'll be among the first in line to buy it. I'm such a sucker. It's worse than being whipped by your woman, not that I would know anything of that right now.

Sunday, August 01, 2004


Maybe I should put down more of my "political beliefs" in this blog. NOT!

Other than the random rant, what more can I say that hasn't been said? I don't think it would be such a good idea for me to do anything of that sort, given the fact that I am steeped in cynicism. I did wave the placards once, got gassed and received volleys from the water cannon back in the day. Somehow that seems to be one feverish dream, as if all the anger for a formless, shapeless Establishment was drained away.

Where is the relevance of seeking more rights for the people? Where is the righteous indignation over the decline of the Filipino spirit? Or of atrocities occurring in Iraq? Or of the unjust hegemony of the United States? Would I really think about what would happen if G.W. Bush would win a second term?

If I had wanted a career in government, maybe I should talk more about injustice. But the cause for change shouldn't come from without, but from without. In pragmatic terms, drawing from Machiavelli, it doesn't really matter what a "statesman" or a government does, it is how it achieves its results. Power in itself is its own means and ends.

If, however, someone crows loudly about "might for right" just look back and see how well that he, she, or it, matches the stated aims with the procedure and the result. That will be the yardstick of success and credibility. Given the way things stand, it still pays to be in the good graces of the United States. Whatever governments/groups do in foreign policy to oppose or coalesce with the US, or to advance certain economic or cultural policies, it is because they see that it is in their interest to do so. The results may be disappointing to some, but that is the reality we have, and will remain so until parochialism of one form or the other will be replaced by a true Earth-based ideology, or "Earthism."

That will be the relevance I am aiming for.

Saturday, July 17, 2004


A theme song - not to end all theme songs, but from which there is a beginning

In 1988, I joined a retreat that said "YES" to Life - Search-In of La Salle Greenhills. In tribute, I would like to share this song, a mantra, if you would have it, written by John Klemmer. My oldest brother liked him so much he bought the cassette tape. It has since been eroded and lost, but up to this day I can recall the soulfulness of his rendition, the simple accompaniment, the texture of the song.

It's not heavy stuff, and I won't pretend it is. It opened my mind to new doors, doors which were hurtful to pass through, but gave my life meaning nonetheless. And so it goes:

Time to hear the ocean
Time to see the sky
Time to close my eyes
Just to feel
Just be real

A chance to run and roam
A place that I call home
A woman and child of my own
Just for me
Just be free.

A star to reach for
So little yet so much more
Something I can really hold on to
A love I take with me
A hand to lead me
All I ever wanted was my life.
All I ever wanted was my life.
All I ever wanted was my life.

Time to work and play
Time to think and grow
Time to search and know
Who I am
If I can.

A chance to find my soul
To understand my role
All I ever wanted was my life
Was my life
Was my life.

On Being Angelo de la Cruz

"We’re under the gun, man. We gotta fight.”

Just a classic line from “The Godfather.” We’re under the gun, and we have to fight.

I don’t know about you, and I’m not riding any bandwagon, but the recent decision of the GMA administration to cave in to terrorists’ demands raises the fear level of all OFWs here in Saudi Arabia. But this move does not surprise me in any way. We groveled to high heavens in the last two prominent OFW cases to hit the media, Sarah Balabagan and Flor Contemplacion. In one, the media coverage and the diplomacy helped; in the other, we had three biopics and still an unsolved case, if you believe the said movies.

And then there was the Abu Sayyaf.

Face it folks, we had this coming for a long time. Some people may say, “Conviction is best from one at the sidelines.” Again, I don’t know about you, but I live here in the Middle East, where a proverbial powder keg may explode any time. I’d like to be brave, but these days, I’d rather be ignorant.

But, in all fairness, let’s not ride Angelo de la Cruz ragged through all this. The guy had hard choices to make; he had the bad luck of being in a convoy that was bound to be attacked. He is neither saint, villain, nor hero. He’s just an ordinary guy, as ordinary as anyone can be.

And again,In all fairness, let’s not ride Mrs. Arroyo ragged through all this. She just moved heaven and earth to win the presidency and yet there still are clouds of doubt over her legitimacy as President of the Philippines. She just gave away our remaining shreds of decency to pander to the mob.

Through it all, here is poor OFW, asking for a place where he can work, where he can put his talent to some use, be some help to the family, wondering how he can live through this day and the next.

Folks, we’ve been wearing tattered shreds of self-respect for a long time. It’s just like that bold starlet who went to a publicity shoot wearing a paper dress crying foul that she is being pawned off to satisfy a politician’s lust and fantasies. Ummm… hello, did I just hear a sound of protest?

Hate it if we must, celebrate it while we can, the still-undecided soap opera of Angelo de la Cruz is just another sad and sorry episode of the life of every Filipino.

But hey, look at the bright side. This guy’s life can probably make a blockbuster movie. Bring out the popcorn and the tissues…

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Flaming Out


That movie brings to mind so many memories. How I loved Winona Ryder then, and even now I still remember the innocence with which I viewed relationships. Man, did I want to be Corey Haim, the lucky bastard.

Lucas was one of those last movies in high school that I remember watching with my brother – before the onset of the change that wasn’t a change. I think of him and somehow I am welling up inside with pain and pity. What a waste of a life.

There is neither reason nor design that I understand what has been wrought in my brother’s life. Could it be that God, in His infinite wisdom, doled out hardship to the innocent as well as to the guilty? One can say something about Job, he who dared to grapple the infinity of God, and succeeding, in his own way, to make God acknowledge him. Sure, the Lord restored Job to full health and gave him a new family to live the happily ever after.

But the book never did talk about the injustice or the deaths of Job’s older children.

Ah, Lucas, Lucas – I remember the locusts that were an integral part of the movie’s atmosphere. These were the 17-year locusts that wait all those years, experience a frenzy of growth, and then flame out. For my brother, he was 17 when he reached the height of who he could have been, and then he flamed out. How he has been since then, well, is just like being a 17-year old. On the verge of getting somewhere, but somehow not getting there…. on the verge of discovering himself, but somehow never achieving it.

That’s his life, that’s his fate. As much as I try to get away from that fate, we are bound by a common heritage and bonds that cannot be denied. Denial never does erase the sense of helplessness. I am not Job, still a Lucas who survived getting out of his cocoon, but still looking for a new place to take root.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Devoid of Inspiration... Removing Masks

One of my all-time favorites, written way back in 1991. The angst is dripping like venom. Today, I am devoid of inspiration and must go back to the memories. For Lonie P, who asked me to try.

Welcome to this masquerade!
Welcome to your daily world, children of God.
Welcome to your faces
Which you wear like clothes :
Different styles for differing purposes.

Voice out your greetings to everyone here,
For this is the side you present,
This is the profile you labor to show.

Welcome ! Welcome !
Don't be afraid of each other;
After all, everyone is hiding behind a mask.
What is there to fear?

Are you afraid that others will find
That you are not as strong as you seem
That you are not as cheerful as you pretend
That you are not as interesting as you intend
That you are not as you great as you dream?

Are you afraid that even with the mask
Others will find you unwholesome,
Or uninteresting,
Or a person below their notice?

You have the masks on,
So why bother to hide,
When the pretty image you present
Is what they too expect?

They expect that you'll be happy
When you're so torn up deep inside.
They expect that you'll carry on
When your soul cries out for rest.
They expect your cheerful countenance
When you want to cry and berate them.
They expect your willing hand
When it is all so bruised and broken.

And yet, these masks make you so happy,
Or is that how shallow you can be?

For your masks are like clenched fists
Which push through every obstacle
But punish every knuckle
With the pain of each hard strike.

Your satisfaction demands it.
Your self-serving wishes advise it.
Your blind expectations will it.
I will be what others want me to be,
Even if it hurts,
Even if it plunges me into self-hate!
I will lie to myself so I can lie to others...
I want to keep these smiles of companionship
So I will give them what they want
At the risk of being so utterly lonely inside...

Your yearning for truth asks for deliverance...
Must you always be what others wish for?
Can you not be yourself and thus be more?
More than that pale profile you must cast
Like an unseemly shadow in the world of bright light.

You are as bright as any illumination,
You are just like any star that shines at night
For every pain and hurt that scars your being
Is like the stroke of the blacksmith's hammer
That forges the sharpness of your spirit.
For every tear that you must shed
Is like the burden which hardens your sinews
That gives you the very power to stand.

Open your heart to yourself
As you open a hand to reach out...
This same hand that opens to its very palms
Can strike down any hurdle
A lot better than any clenched fist.

Yes, the pain would sear much further
For you do not have the protective wrappings.
All the better, for the pain which you dread
Is the very love which sanctifies your sacrifice.
The scars which would come forth from these wounds
Would be your trophies of growth,
As with seeds which must die in order to bloom.

You are what you are, your masks cannot change that.
Lies wrapped up in themselves fade away easily
Before that chance wind which breaks them all down...
You are what you can be, and yet you settle for less
When you can share in each other's pain
And give solace to each other's hurt
And pull down the walls of each other's fall
And reveal your true persons beyond the confusion.

Stop! And look at one another,
How ridiculous must people be to show beauty
When true beauty comes from the appreciation
Of each blemish and imperfection
Which you can change with the love of others...
Stop! Listen to the call of your souls...
Take the masks off, and take that risk...

On the Importance of Being Filipino

Before we take any pride in the thought that portions of the world would shut down if ever the Overseas Filipino Workers would disappear, I'd like to pause and think differently, just like a wise soul once said:

"We should stop kidding ourselves that we are important in this world. We are as ordinary as the Bangladeshis as they are as ordinary as the Americans. If we want to be recognized, we have to sweat it out like any other instead of making false claims. We should attempt to perform well as individuals. Let us feed our kids and send them to school. That we can do, and do greatly. Because as a race, we have been mixed up too much in the cauldron of opposing cultures. We are diluted as astreet hawker's buco juice in some aspect, and dense as Petron's motor oil in some others.

So, a world without Filipinos? I think the world might not even notice. Reality bites. So our recourse really is just to try to do well as individuals. If our kids notice us as good parents, well that's a greater reward."

If Filipinos were to disappear from Saudi Arabia, we would open the labor market to engineers from places such as India or Indonesia who are just as qualified but maybe not as skilled in communication or not as savvy in learning. The Saudis have done just as well with Indian surrogates for positions once held by Filipinos, and in the general labor market Filipinos have been overtaken by Bangalis (Bangladeshis) and Pakistanis. After all, the Saudis can live with the mediocrity of their citizens. They can live with the mediocrity of others less qualified than Filipinos.

Besides, many Filipinos who have been here a long time have become rather arrogant. I shared this thought with some of the veterans in this place: “Cast your net about in the Philippine labor market, and see where you do stack up. Better transform yourself into an entrepreneur, and you would be a bigger hero than you would think.”

I think the more important question is to focus on what can be done in the Philippines. We’re famous as a cautionary tale, and making the change seems to be an impossible task. I don’t propose any quick-fix solution within one post, or even thousands. We must however, as individuals, do our best to change our situation without hurting others. This is the best thing we can do insofar as our desire for “societal change” works, at least as a common denominator.

Putting forward a hypothetical situation:

"A Filipino (X) in Sydney toiled hard and saved about 50,000 Aussie dollars in 6 months. He plans to invest it in a house for his family. Then another Filipino (Y) comes along and asks to borrow half of that money for a business he would like to start up. Y promises to pay X back with 20% interest in 6 months. Meanwhile another Filipino (Z)wants to borrow the other half as his wife is sick.

If you are X, what would you do if you deem yourself a true Filipino?"

For me, there is no way on Earth I would lend that money out without a decent return on my money. I’d say to the guy to wait for another six months for me to lend him the cash. As to the other Filipino, if I don’t know him from Adam I’d say no. Sue me, life really sucks. I can always pass the hat for him and his wife in the office, where I’d give a normal share just like everyone would. But me to shell out 25 grand? Forget it. Making the exception means I would have to qualify the contribution.

As to this question gauging our Filipino-ness…. I’d like to add another (true) story just to drive home the point about where we are in terms of our civic responsibility:

A college professor asked his class of working students, mostly professionals in night school, this question:

“Do you really consider yourselves Filipinos?” The class said yes in the strongest terms.

“Would you do anything if you think it helps your fellow Filipinos?” The class, sensing the cheery note in his voice, said yes again.

He took a more serious mien and said, “Really, this is a serious question. You said that you consider yourselves true Filipinos? I’m asking again, would you do what you can in helping your community because you take pride in being Filipino?”

The class settled down, and after a while, all of them gave their assent.

“So let’s see… let’s just say your mayor and the city council call for a public hearing on re-zoning the place where you live, and let’s just say you attend because it is very important. The DENR, the MMDA, and the city council have come up with a study for a landfill to be built near your home. The studies point out that your location is ideal for logistics in setting up the landfill, and that in four to five years they will be able to build a recycling center near the landfill. They have also conducted a serious study in which the landfill will not contaminate ground water. It will essentially be a receiving area so that the recycling center could do its work.”

The professor paused and looked into the eyes of his students. Then he asked, “Would you agree even if it means you will have to live with garbage everyday?”

The class looked at him in stunned silence. Just then the bell conveniently rang, and before the class started filing out, the professor said, “Just a thought for all of you before you say you take pride in being a true Filipino.”

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Detroit Pistons, Dan Brown, and the State of Affairs


The Detroit Pistons win the NBA title!

I couldn’t agree more that the Pistons deserve the title. Great to see that Kobe “I Never Met a Shot I Didn’t Like” Bryant could be shut up about being compared to Jordan. Or Shaq could shut up about being “The Most Dominant Ever.” Bunch of overblown windbags.

As to Karl Malone, he is just unfortunate to be playing for another Finals losers. Might as well retire. He should take a cue from his buddy John Stockton, who apparently has no ego problem about not winning a title so his legacy is safe and secure. What a bad end for a guy who has redefined the power forward position and probably would be its benchmark for years to come (of course Tim Duncan would have something to say about that, but then again, I’ve always thought of Duncan as a center masquerading as a forward). As to Gary Payton, the guy shouldn’t have shown up in a Laker uniform with that kind of ego and without the game he has played until about two years ago.

Even during Showtime, I was never a Laker fan, excepting for the year the 76ers made it to the finals in 2001. Shame that Boston imploded and has not come up with a competitive team in the past few years. Go Pistons! Consider:

- Though the third pick in the 1997 draft (tops was Tim Duncan), Billups got bounced around through four teams (Boston, Toronto, Orlando, and Denver) before signing with Minnesota for two years, and then moving two years ago to the Pistons.
- Hamilton was traded by Michael Jordan for Jerry Stackhouse (?!) With the kind of game Stackhouse has and his recent injuries, and of course his lack of desire to part with the ball, that was such a DUMB decision.
- Ben Wallace was undrafted, and was part of the Grant Hill trade to Orlando (The others I think were Bo Outlaw- a well-traveled dude who's played for Phoenix and Memphis and should see another team on his resume anytime soon, Chucky Atkins – now with Boston because of the Rasheed trade, and another player named Derek Strong, who is now off the NBA map). This guy was cut by Boston because they were trying to make him a swingman (?!). He also got traded by Washington. Considering what a monster he is in the paint … no further comment.
- Joe Dumars passed up on drafting Carmelo Anthony and put his faith in Tayshaun Prince. Seems he is a genius for doing so, but only time will tell if Darko Milicic pans out.
- Rasheed Wallace was traded by Washington to Portland for Rod Strickland (it seems dumb now, but Strickland was one of the best point guards at the time), and of course was the NBA record-setter for technicals and DQs, and received the harshest penalty for a non-fight incident ever given by the NBA. Looks like Larry Brown is a genius in coaching ‘Sheed, though I am not a fan of Larry Brown.

Hmmm… three guys formerly from the Wizards. Should make them wonder. Oh, by the way, the Wizards let go of Chris Webber too. A bit of trivia: I only found out today that Grant Hill and I share a birthday. Some guys have all the luck (he got a whole of it, I should say).

There is a buzz about Dan Brown and his books being considered for a run at Hollywood adaptation (Best of luck, Dan…) Have heard good things about Da Vinci Code and it's refreshing to read him since I haven't picked up fiction in ages since I read a lot of HR books these days and am catching up on labor regulations and all that stuff.

Hope things are not too tense back home in the Philippines. The peso saw another slump and more investors are on “wait-and-see.” Both sides are spooking up their own conspiracy theories. Problem is, will the military side with either one or take the reins themselves?

Dan Brown is a slam-dunk in “Angels and Demons,” the first Robert Langdon book (it was published three years before Da Vinci Code). I picked up both books and passed on “The 48 Laws of Power” and “Dark Tower V: Wolves of Calla.” I also got a vampire story collection that was on sale but I have a feeling I've been shortchanged on this volume.

Dang... guess I could still go on forever reading from 6:30pm last night to almost 4 a.m. in the morning. The girl in the book was such a FOX. Who wouldn’t want to be Robert Langdon? I guess I have to spend a few hours in the swimming pool and get hormone shots, while of course fry my brain on reading and learning so I can be an art geek and an athlete at the same time while being able to pay my bills.

I suspect though, you would find the “Angels and Demons” verrry similar in treatment if you have read “The Da Vinci Code” but the stage is just as expansive. I won’t say more because it might be a spoiler to everyone still wanting to read the books.

For me, the key points that I think Brown is making in the books are:
  • There is no time in history than right now where our spirituality and faith will save the planet from implosion (internal decay) and explosion (wars and environmental destruction).
  • Everyone has a need to believe, even in the religion of science and the humanist philosophy. Otherwise there is no order on which we can base our conduct.
  • History is always written by the winners. But… it doesn’t always pay to win if you have a skeleton in your closet.
  • Keeping things in perspective is sometimes more important than finding out the hard truth. And as Frank Herbert said in Dune (I paraphrase him loosely): the way we see, understand, and accept the “truth” can very easily change if we acknowledge that “truth” can be very fluid.

O.K - Time now to remove the “book critic” hat and put on my “good office worker” hat – I used to love Saturdays but since we have a different schedule here, I have certainly learned to hate it.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Learning of Faith

I have said so much but want to commit so many things to memory - so that one day I can look back and see what I have done.

Just a short lesson for those out there not living the life in Saudi Arabia: The muezzin (mosque crier) makes the invitation to prayer or adhan (azan), which is called out five times a day. Small note: these guys are well-paid for their regular gigs. Oft-times, the mosque gets one of the young people to make the adhan, or if you are a convert, part of the lesson is to do this for around two weeks with your fellow students: "Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar." This means: Allah is the Greatest. (repeated four times).

This is followed by: "Ashhadu al la ilaha illa-Ilah. Ashhadu al la ilaha illa-Ilah." I bear witness that nothing deserves to be worshipped except Allah (repeated twice). I’d rather not repeat the rest of what they do in prayer. By the way, don't be too impressed, I've just cut-and-pasted most of this stuff. It makes for informative reading, don't you think?

The five Islamic prayers are named Fajr, Dhuhr, Asr, Maghrib and Isha. The timing of these five prayers varies from place to place and from day to day. It is obligatory for Muslims to perform these prayers at the correct time. They face in the direction of Mecca (this is called the qibla). Dammam is a coastal city on the Persian Gulf and we are about 776.68 miles or 1249.68 Km northeast of the Black Stone (or Kaaba) in Makkah (Mecca) and when people pray, they face southwest. The prayer times for any given location on earth may be determined mathematically if the latitude and longitude of the location are known. However, the theoretical determination of prayer times is a lengthy process (which used to be computed by the best of Muslim scholars). Now this tedium has been alleviated by using computer programs. There’s already a screen saver/alarm clock that precisely alerts you when to pray, and another program that tells you where Mecca is based on your coordinates.

Prayer times

  • FAJR starts with the dawn or morning twilight. Fajr ends just before sunrise.
  • DHUHR begins after midday when the trailing limb of the sun has passed the meridian. In other words, this is sometime before or right after noontime, or zawal. Dhuhr ends at the start of Asr time.
  • The timing of ASR depends on the length of the shadow cast by an object. According to the Shafi school of jurisprudence, Asr begins when the length of the shadow of an object exceeds the length of the object. According to the Hanafi school of jurisprudence, Asr begins when the length of the shadow exceeds TWICE the length of the object. In both cases, the minimum length of shadow (which occurs when the sun passes the meridian) is subtracted from the length of the shadow before comparing it with the length of the object. Asr normally happens beginning 3:00pm or so.
  • MAGHRIB begins at sunset and ends at the start of isha.
  • ISHA starts after dusk when the evening twilight disappears. In winter this is held almost as soon as Maghrib is over. When I arrived it was about 7:30pm, now it’s about 8:00. During the height of summer it may be as late as 8:30 or 9pm.

It is interesting that I still remember the old lessons from high school about the five pillars of Islam. Apart from the requirement of prayer, the four other pillars are:

  1. The Shahada or profession of faith (There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is His prophet)
  2. Abstinence from fermented beverages (alcohol) plus other dietary practices (such as eating only halal food and abstaining from pork)
  3. Zakat – or giving of alms to widows and orphans. Otherwise known as works of mercy. Because of this, orthodox Muslims do not practice usury and banks here charge little or no interest. Great especially if you have a credit card, where the APR is 2% per month. (On the other hand, the documentation for an expat Filipino to get a credit card is so frustrating so the effort is not worth it).
  4. Making a pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca at least once during adult life.

There is so much that I'd like to say but I had so little time to think in the beginning. Now all of these thoughts overflow like a river that has been dammed for so long. I hope the continuing discovery will keep me enthralled until I start growing roots here, because for one I don’t think I will be coming back to the Philippines for a long while except for vacations. But who knows? Things may change. For now, I am a willing exile, a stranger in a strange land, only to find that the strange one is ME.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Ablaze in Al-Khobar


The attacks last week in Khobar give me some room to pause. Two e-mails from a kababayan based near the center of the attacks tell it all

Circa 11:00am, June 29

Mga Kababayan,

Ngayong umaga umataki ang mga terorista dito sa Al Khobar Saudi Arabia. Tatlong westerner ang namatay basi sa latest briefing sa amin ngayong 10 ng umaga. Isang Filipino daw at dalawang Saudi na company security guard ang hindi pa tiyak kung nakaligtas sa tama ng bala.

Nakapasok sa Petroleum Center Building ang mga terorista dahil naka uniformi sila ng Saudi National Guard uniform so pinayagan ng guwardya na pumasok sa aming administration building. At simultaneous din na inataki ang housing compound na tinitirahan ng mga western expat dito sa kalapit na area.

Hindi pa kami makalabas at maka uwi sa aming familya hanggat walang clear signal sa autoridad at sa security team ng S. (his company, edit mine), dahil hindi pa tiyak kung nahuli or naneutralized na ang mga terorista. Bawat oras ang briefing sa amin to update on the what is happening and what to do next. Shut down ang company operation at possibling mag evacuate kami kung hindi ma clear ang security status sa alas tres ng hapon ngayon.

Wala nang putukan ngayon pero dahil sabay sabay ang ataki sa apat na location kanginang 7:15 ng umaga
malamang na marami ang miembro ng terorista.

Nag uulat sa Al Khobar...

Circa 5:20pm, June 29

Akala ko goodbye cruel world na, makauwi pa rin pala ako sa aking familya. Tumigil ang putukan at naghabulan ang mga terorista at pulis/national guard, kaso naka kuha pa ng police car ang mga terorista paglabas nila sa Oasiscompound. Hindi mo tuloy matiyak kung sino ang masama o alagad ng batas sa sumunod na laban nila. Napalayo ng kaunti ang action sa aming pwesto.

Hindi ko na alam kung anong sunod na info.....dahil naalis na ang police cordon sa aming building at makauwi na ako after 10 hours na tension!!

See you folks. I think I am safely on my way home now.

With that kind of reporting, I have nothing much to add. I was dumbstruck to think that our place could have been defenseless if we had been the target of an attack. Outside of the “kill zones” the rest of Saudi Arabian life went on with glacial slowness and sameness. Over the last few days, there have been reports of incidents in Riyadh and rumors in Jeddah, but they seem to dim with the boredom of repetition.

Americans and Westerners have much to fear from these attacks but most other nationalities I spoke with, especially the South Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangalis) just shrug their shoulders and say, “What’s new?” or even the Arabs from other nations (such as Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians, and Lebanese) just say, “So what? We’ve had this thing going on for as long as we can remember.”

I have to agree that the risks are everywhere and I could even wager that it is more likely for someone to lose a cellphone to snatchers and stick-up men in Metro Manila than it is to get killed in an attack while working for an Arab-owned company (as opposed to Western-managed or affiliated firms). At least we get paid (even if we don’t get laid as much as we would like, if at all, hehe) as well as we could imagine, given the current state of affairs back home.

Some other thoughts that come to mind:

1. There is no need to be lackadaisical with respect to the situation, but the situation does not demand an alarmist tone either. The general feeling particularly among those from countrieswhich have experienced periodic violence such as the Arabs or those inured in poverty such as the South Asians is that living here is a risk that is worth taking, considering what they have in their own countries. I would like to think that petrodollars and lack of opportunities back home are also the reasons why Filipinos come here.

2. The war on terror, in theory, and the unequivocal stand set by the Philippine government with respect to terrorism, are things with which I can sympathize. Just a thought, though - we must be realistic as to what kind of true contribution we can do for the war - sending troops abroad or addressing the source back home with a clear program that will reduce the effectiveness of extremists in recruiting among our dispossessed and especially the young into their fold.

3. The less-protected are more obvious targets in this kind of crossfire. Haven't thought about that in quite a while. OTOH, the extremists are eager to get support among their countrymen, so killing one of their own is not halal at all. When they start wising up that the key to end KSA government support for the US is to get to the Royals themselves or killing prominent Arab businessmen, then there will be a lot of trouble (that would be the time to really go back home at the first available opportunity). Still, that would make them pariahs everywhere.

4. There should be an interesting correlation between the zakat (the mandatory tithing for charities which is one of the five pillars of Islam) contributions of top businesses and terrorism. Contributions may actually end up in the hands of religious organizations fronting for al-Qaeda and similar extremist groups. I remember this embarrassing incident (for both the US and KSA) wherein the US security agencies traced an al-Qaeda link to a contribution fromthe wife of the Saudi ambassador to the US. It was hushed-up immediately, but that possibility remains.

5. There seems to be a streak of apologia in the statement of the attackers - in the rush to get to the kill they shot indiscriminately. But dead is dead, no matter the explanation.

6. Just like everywhere else, the root of the problem is the glaring inequity between the rich and the poor. In just my short time here, I have seen many examples of the glaring disparity in the rights and treatment of women and the all-too tangible lack of readiness (in experience, education, and attitude) of many Saudis to handle the challenges of modernizing their economy. There, too, is the existence of a double standard - "since I am rich, I can do what I want" mentality among the young and the bored Saudis, while just some distance on open ground in some industrial areas, some of their countrymen still live the same way as they did centuries before - in tents, without adequate food, water, or opportunity for improvement.

7. There too, is the pervasiveness of religion which has not helped this country. No offense to the devout ones out there, but without a humanist slant on religion (such as what the Protestants did in Europe, fueled by the Renaissance), I fear there would be little progress in changing many attitudes which have remained static for so many years.

In the end though, I can not trivialize a potentially explosive situation and I can't pass off another act of violence with indifference. To put things in perspective:

1. All in all, many Filipinos are a bit jittery, but not more so when thinking of how to pay off our loans, payments on the house, tuition for the kids, etc. A colleague's daughter was very sad that her friends (the children of the ones who work for the American companies) have not come back for school. Her father, just like others like him with families, are considering returning to the Philippines, at least to send their wives and children home, because of the potential risks. One of the victims (a Feliciano Dizon, if I remember his name correctly) just had his wife and daughter brought over to KSA recently, which is supreme irony and what a tragedy (it is still hard to stay dry-eyed thinking of what they are feeling right now). But we like the majority here are determined to remain. As for me, I could now identify with those who returned from Iraq but were determined to go back after things blow over. It's tough, but somebody's got to do it, for the sake of our families and loved ones.

2. Nothing much has changed with respect to the Philippine government policy on overseas workers - "the less maintenance they need, the better" is the kind of vibe I get (and shared by many veterans over here). Sad but true, and were it not for the agitation of OFW groupsmany changes would not have been made.

3. Back to 3, our best source to rely upon in protecting ourselves and fellow OFWs is to stay low, to keep informed, and most of all - to remain on the alert.

4. Many would really be happier if we could just get back home, myself included. Bullets don't
have eyes, and the most violent sometimes don't even bother to aim.

I'll go off-tangent a little... there are stories waiting to be told about the OFWs all over the world. And what kind of impact the diaspora has made and is continuing to make in Philippine society among the children - what kind of values they learn from the parents who are parenting in absentia.

That may be an interesting project to get into if I get any takers.

Tonight I'll say one more prayer that peace will find its way into the hearts of violent men. And women.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

To Doubt is to Have Faith

Musings on missing Catholic rites.

I haven’t missed mass all that much, I am reminded how many challenges there are to my faith. My cousin Ronnie (who’s a Mormon) just showed me why Catholics are at a big disadvantage here. Aside from the fact that we are already limited since we have no priests, we are especially watched here. Not that they have their eyes on us all the time, it’s just that if there is any proselytizing done around here. At least the Mormons can meet clandestinely with more ease – I am no longer wondering why Kuya Ronnie changed religions. With all the religion being practiced in our midst, it’s so hard to deal that one cannot be at worship at one’s own.

As to the proscription against alcohol, I intend to honor it, since it’s better for my physical and emotional health. Personally I wouldn’t mind getting a drink on occasion, but forking out money for stuff made from contraband stills doesn’t appeal to me. But stories abound about how millionaires were produced by moonshine “manufacturing.” Would you believe you can’t even bring in vanilla here because they suspect that to be used in making moonshine? There is even a specific proscription on oak and wood chips because they are also used in making moonshine more flavorful. Well, Filipinos do manage by using raisins, chewing gum, apples, dates, and even chocolate on occasion to flavor their homemade brews. Security guards in housing camps are known to be the chief smugglers of moonshine. Always a function of law – the nature and level of corruption are best determined by the things a society aims to suppress.

As for me, I wouldn’t be caught dead imbibing alcoholic beverages – and so far, I am doing my best to have a healthy and natural good time. The Filipino Channel (TFC to us bumpkins over here) is a big hit (the only hit, I guess) and I guess our kababayans lap it all up, though it was the same drivel I saw back home. Some Arabs subscribe to the stuff (for SR760 a year, one-time, but SR76/month on monthly payments) just to see women in bikinis for free when they can’t see the same with their own women. (I find that reality very funny in more ways than one, but it is not a laughing matter for us here…)

People say I seem well-adjusted and culture shock has not gotten me at all. On the other hand, what they don’t know is that I left all my “baggage” behind – meaning that I left what I must over there and prepared myself to be alone for this one whole year. If not, I will probably go nuts trying to look for what isn’t there – friends, family, my way of life – and never accept that I am living here. A lot have also said that coping with life here is more difficult if you have a wife/family or girlfriend back home. In some ways, yes, it’s true, because one can never witness the most beautiful moments when children grow up. However, I think for me it’s the reverse. Sometimes it’s so easy to forget you’re human over here – only the animal impulse of eating, sleeping, and even fornicating (heterosexually of course, since I haven’t “dropped the soap”) remains. I always found it easier to do things when there’s a higher reason or bond behind it. For now it’s for the dream that life would be made easier for my mother especially now that all of us would soon move out, but I wish there was something more.

There are days when I worry about what is happening at home but I know that is something I can no longer control. It would help if I can just pick up the phone and call to see if things are all right, but I also stop myself at times because I believe the less the people at home are reminded I am not there the more easily they can cope with my absence. Helps for me too. There were also times over the past few weeks, during “touching” moments in movies on the tube and I was reminded about how things are back home. It gives me more inspiration to do what I can here so I can succeed. Because for one thing, living here makes one a “spectator” and not a “cast member” in the story of my life. But anyway, there is a “script” over here that I have to write for myself. Hope it will have a good story and nice ending.

I am guided by this quote whenever I feel adversity: “My brethren, consider yourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way, for you know that when your faith succeeds in facing such trials, the result is the ability to endure. Make sure that your endurance carries you all the way without failing, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should pray to God, who will give it to him; because God gives generously and graciously to all.” (James 1:2-5)

It’s been a great “vacation” so far. But the shitty, crappy months are just ahead – when you can leave a fresh egg in your room for the day and then find it cooked or spoiled when you get back. Our company video demonstrates summer weather by driving a car into the desert and then cracking an egg on the hood. It literally cooked (no kidding)! It’s starting to get hot and then the days are starting to get longer. Prayer time will progressively start earlier and then end later at night as we reach the summer solstice. After that it will go down until more or less the days and nights are equal in length at the autumnal equinox (sometime in October-November). For those people with the so-called “broken schedule” i.e. their offices close for an equivalent of the afternoon siesta, the breaks can be dreadful if you have to travel back to your accommodation. At least we have a straight schedule, and I have gotten used to ten hours at the office from back home.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Earthen Vessel

Posting my thoughts I wrote down last night...

The TV has conked out on me (well, the only channel available has the display “Access denied”), so I am all alone here with my thoughts.

I no longer feel like a young man. I worry too much about the future. But then, what’s new? It’s not as if I want to be younger. Time to move on, fella.

I desperately need to be in love. But with whom? I know I have to go out and try to touch someone. Over here it’s almost impossible. Makes me want to muse that no one wants to become gay in this place, but it just happens. I guess I ought to accept Janew's invitation to join that SPA group. Otherwise the days would stretch on and on, without end.

I think about three girls at the oddest of times – I’d have admitted their names in my heart of hearts – but I just can’t let someone else read this journal and see their names (just in case). Let’s just give them aliases. The first is the Raven. She has been, and always will be, the kind of girl I’d want to bring home to my mother and my mother would approve, I bet. However it is obvious to me that I am not the kind of guy she would want to have in her life. It has everything to do with me, of course.

The second – let’s call her the Guardian. She would perhaps be the best fit, intellectually, as to who I am and how I express myself. Lord knows if she ever thinks I think of her – for all I know she has someone else. Besides, similarities may not necessarily make a whole lot of magic. As to the third girl, maybe she has something that I so deeply want but never could have. She is the Reaper – not because she has any resemblance to the Grim One – but because she is of the earth. In her simplicity she can dare to look and dream of the sky. Maybe I have scared her away. Serves me right for trying to impress her…

What am I doing? Two months and a week I am already cracking? I highly doubt it. I can still function, and that I am self-aware means there is no meltdown yet. Surely I didn’t sign up for one. Keep it together, buddy! At times I can get to be too self-critical, just an obsession for analysis and psychobabble. Storytelling helps, as I had been told once. Let it all hang out, and who knows? Something might happen. If not, I can safely say that there will be no regrets.

Like with another girl – the pain of her subtle rejection was drowned out by the fact that I let everything out on paper. Pouring out the feelings makes it easier for me to accept that sometimes I’m weak, though it doesn’t help if that so-called sensitive doesn’t sell. Aw, so long as I am not peddling bull, it doesn’t matter what they believe. I don’t have to sell anything. As long as I remain true to who I am.

But then, there are times when I should apply the brakes. I can look back with fond nostalgia at all those wasted opportunities. I am blessed that they came, and even if things didn’t pan out, I’m certain there will be more. Life has that kind of symmetry even if sometimes events and feelings go topsy-turvy. Fear has its purposes – for one thing, it instructs me that I must have courage. The courage to dream, to dare… still, it’s not the same as it was ten years ago. I no longer have the first flush of youth – and maybe I shouldn’t really indulge in teenybopper fantasies. Maybe romantic love is not in the cards for me. I prayed for more wisdom, but maybe I should have prayed for more patience.

Should I stop dreaming then? I am tickled pink by the thought of letting others read my thoughts (maybe I should, and I would) --- (and so I did). Maybe this will be the romance that will fill my life while I am away from my heart’s true home. Maybe my heart will learn to accept this place as the foundation of my life. If so, then I should paint on this blank canvas, for lack of a better expression.

If there is one more prayer I can say, it’s that He will allow me to become as honest with myself to a degree that I have never imagined. That He will allow me to become humble and brave to ask for help when I know I am in trouble.

Lord, grant me the strength so all of this would be made true. BY ME – or rather, BY YOU, THROUGH ME. Fill me with light so I can shine Your light to others. There is a night out there that must be filled with love and joy. I may be just a humble earthen vessel, liable to break, but until then, use me.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Quick Counts and the Elections

The world for the Filipino is all wrapped up in the drama unfolding with the election count.

The Sunday editorial of TODAY prods that Namfrel should complete its Quick Count and well as it should to provide a clear picture on which candidate actually won. However, the kind of implications that the piece puts forth should draw a stir from Namfrel people about how it really conducts its Quick Count. As a former volunteer, I am concerned over how the star of Namfrel has taken a bad hit.

While I have not been personally involved in this year's count (since I resigned from my post supporting Joe Concepcion and went to the Middle East late in March), such statements from the media denigrates the value of the work of the thousands of volunteers who put forth a massive effort to get the quick count going DESPITE the problems of Comelec officialdom and the massive confusion brought about on Election Day BECAUSE of Comelec failure to properly plan first, for automation, and then, switching back to the manual count.

1. The obvious strength and influence of surveys has again put into question what surveys are all about. For the better-informed, the science of surveys can be evaluated as to the quality of respondents (demographics), quality of survey-takers, construction and parameters of survey questions, and sample size. But to the viewing public, this is not well-understood. Media practitioners and of course political campaigners have their share of the blame why the survey issue as "trending" has been blown out of proportion.

Therefore, it is the selfsame media practitioners and established social scientists who should point out the fact that surveys are just tools. They are merely indicators and are not oracles.

What does this have to do with Namfrel? Everything and nothing. All Namfrel does is a parallel count. Volunteers get their results from the copies of the election returns. IF THE OFFICIAL COUNT is slow or delayed, definitely Namfrel's job is slowed. Bad weather and poor logistics slowed the count, while the new "matched-pair" system was done in by:

a) Delayed, and grudging accreditation by the Comelec, which hurt the usual timetable of Namfrel to organize and properly train volunteers
b) Technical difficulties encountered by the system during the first days of counting
c) Difficulties with securing ERs because BEIs refused to cooperate with Namfrel or gave the designated copy to other parties.

As to c), this has been nothing new since the Comelec historically has never had a good relationship with Namfrel. More on this later.

2. I have had both the privilege and the difficulty to have known Mr. Joe Concepcion for almost seven years and working directly with him for about four. The good man has been misunderstood and reviled for so many years. I cannot claim to defend him or vouch for him, because he has often shot himself in the foot with the way he talks (and acts). He has also on occasion, because of his willingness to help or get involved with the community, oversubscribed beyond his capacity to deliver on commitments. He has unfortunately shown that his politics are inconsistent (riding on the barometer of the occupant of MalacaƱang), and even more unfortunately, he has been associated with Mrs. Arroyo being her former boss at DTI.
However, he has been consistent in one thing: the nonpartisanship of Namfrel. Without the bullheadedness and determination of Mr. Concepcion, Namfrel would not have reached its current level. The organization has been trusted to serve in election-monitoring activities in 27 countries. That is the kind of integrity that cannot be lightly questioned.

Whatever the faults of Mr. Concepcion or of Bill Luz and MBC, they have not compromised on that, and have taken even greater pains to do so because of suspicions over their politics. I have had ideological disagreements with my ex-boss and sometimes with his attitude and methods, but he is solid on this point (which sometimes, again, hurts him more than helps).

The tragedy is that the times have created an air of cynicism that has tarnished the high ideals of volunteerism. Namfrel, thankfully, has not moved with the times in this respect. Public knowledge and approval of Namfrel, because of this cynicism, has noticeably declined, which is a shame.

3. Namfrel did not sign up for pollwatching activities because it has already recognized PPCRV as the primary pollwatching organization. I somewhat have to disagree over the declaration that "there has been no deliberate, massive organized cheating" by Mr. Concepcion but then again, why allege fraud if there has been no hard proof? Proof must be presented by those who allege cheating.

I have to agree that the energy of Namfrel in going after fraud has been a question mark. If there is a chink in the armor of Namfrel's integrity, is its current lack of alacrity (or perhaps resources) in the 2004 elections to go after electoral fraud.

4. I agree shutting down the OQC is a bit premature when there is less than 60% of the quick count completed. Moving the count to RFM must have its own attendant accessibility to media and the public at large. Whether Namfrel has adequate preparations for this I am not aware. If not, it has just given itself a mortal PR wound. It will never live down this kind of shot at its public image.

5. After all has been said and done, Comelec must take the blame for the difficulties in these elections. The Commissioners must be brought to account for the failure of the voter validation/registration, the generation of the voters' lists, and most especially, the way public money has been used on a failed and flawed automation project. If I were in Namfrel's shoes, prudent distancing from the Comelec should start NOW.

The Comelec-Namfrel relationship has been by and large a difficult one, as I think it should be. The raison d'etre of a Namfrel or similar EMO always brings into issue the efficiency, impartiality, and integrity of Comelec and our system of conducting elections. If the Comelec had a reputation for performance, what use Namfrel?

Part of the political maturing for us, methinks, is the evolution of demanding more from our electoral system. More than anything else, it is to safeguard the principle of "one-citizen, one-vote." There is more than enough reason to doubt its applicability for the Philippines, but that is another story.

6. No comment on the Brother Eddie thing. If the man has proof he has been cheated, he had better put his case together carefully but quickly. The window of opportunity for public perception to swing in his favor is fast closing.

Now to the editorial:

That’s what Namfrel chairman Jose Concepcion and his executive director Guillermo Luz will be -- criminals -- if they stop, before counting the very last vote out there, the Namfrel so-called quick count that seems less like it will take forever than that it is taking its sweet time until it gets returns it likes as opposed to those it fears.

Concepcion has made noises that Namfrel will stop its count at something like 75 percent -- and that in a baby’s butt-tight race where the remaining 25 percent definitely holds the secret of the true winner. And all the more so since Namfrel did not count the votes as they came but rather, it seems (and why are we not surprised?), as it felt like it. “Nope, not that batch; yup, that batch from Western Visayas. Nope, not those from Eastern Visayas, and, for God’s sake, not from that part of Mindanao. Give us rather those from Bukidnon.”

With that kind of suspected selectivity, Namfrel cannot arbitrarily stop a quick count it had the temerity to insist had to be exclusive -- fiercelessly and dishonestly battling and finally frustrating with the help of the Supreme Court the Comelec’s own proposed quick count, together with that of the now-gagged ABC 5. That second quick count would have swiftly put out a tentative total of the votes that would have deterred further cheating in the tallies and headed off at the pass the next stage of electoral fraud; to wit, the outright purchase of fresh certificates of canvass that are, for all intents and purposes, fraudulent originals.

But in fact, Namfrel has already folded its tent at La Salle Greenhills as of 12 noon Saturday, on the specious reasoning that its agreement with the Christian Brothers had expired. What about an extension? It’s not like La Salle has any use for the gym in the next two to four weeks; in fact until June 30, when the president and vice president will have been proclaimed, or the Senate president will finally taste the office however briefly. One utterly vivacious TV talk show host confidently declared that Namfrel is composed of people of integrity. Hahahahaha. Once perhaps, but people change -- and always for the worse.

In 1992, Namfrel was suspected of cooking the count to prevent the election of someone its members regarded as a lunatic. In 1998, with a landslide victory for the patently “unfit” winner, Namfrel did not stir. In fact, no one did, not even the losing administration candidate, because it was just so hopeless to even try to change the result. But now, in a race so tight that not a sliver of light seems able to slip through and it almost seems as if there isn’t the narrowest gap between the two candidates, it is imperative for Namfrel to finish what it started. And prevented Comelec and ABC-5 from doing parallel with it.

Given the fact that Namfrel’s credibility has been dented, the election watchdog must not only complete the count but do it in the open, in full view of the media and, more importantly, since the media have shown themselves to be biased and buyable, the opposition. If Namfrel does anything less than finish counting the very last vote -- whether faked or purchased -- our title would be fully justified.

Was it Namfrel executive director Bill Luz who said that the Namfrel volunteers are tired? But of what? Having taken their sweet time, why should they feel so harried? No, they have the energy to finish the count; unless they are saving it to save their hides if an ugly truth comes out. Sorry, boys, back to the bean counters.

Hang in there
Brother Eddie Villanueva, the charismatic preacher whose surprising ability to attract millions to his presidential candidacy was manifested in humongous crowds before the Quirino Grandstand that twice stunned his politically astute rivals and the jaded media, is under siege. He is obviously the target of a demolition campaign to force him to do what his conscience, not to mention good taste, forbids -- concede a race whose true outcome is still in doubt because of the methodical confusion of the elections and widespread allegations of rampant fraud that must be addressed first.

The attacks have gone so far below the belt that at least the latest one must have bruised Villanueva’s gonads. A patently planted or outright invented story in the press had it that several leaders of the Jesus Is Lord ministry are shunning him now because of his “irrational” decision not to concede. The Iscariots in his camp are said to be whispering it about that “something is wrong with the Master” because he must be hearing voices telling him not to concede when “he’s just a poor fourth” and not even the second placer. Excuse us, but no one at this point even knows who is the real second placer.

The story was pure invention, of course; Brother Eddie reiterated he is not conceding, citing as authority for his decision the painful patriotism of hanging in there to tease out the hard truth. Like Ping Lacson, he does not want to open the floodgates to more cheating by stepping aside for it.

For anyone to suggest, especially from the mouths of invented characters in a story that is pure fiction, that it is more Christian to concede than to stand by principle is to pose the proposition that Jesus should have listened to the Devil and let the cup of self-sacrifice pass from his lips. But if He did that, this season’s great movie of that passed-up crucifixion would not be called The Passion but The Fashion because he will have surrendered to the time.