Friday, December 29, 2006

a film to fly for

REALITY is brutal and it will kill you, make no mistake about it, but our tales, our creatures and our heroes have a chance to live longer than any of us.”

So says Guillermo del Toro, director-writer of Pan’s Labyrinth (''El Labirinto del Fauno''). I've just seen this, and del Toro's ode to the mythic and magical has left me reeling to the brink of breathlessness. Ought to kick myself, I know, but my toes are tapping in sync with the critics’ chorus of alleluias.

Shuttling his narrative structure between a young girl's vicarious world of fairy tales and the historical backdrop of fascism during the Spanish Civil War, del Toro takes the viewers through a romp that soars with the extravagance of his vision and the exuberance of his imagination.

With its fair share of enchantment and engagement, Pan's Labyrinth is an invitation to that almost extinct zone of innocence where military malevolence and ideological dead-ends coexist with fairy-eating ogres and a giant toad. Thus del Toro, in one of his interviews, affirms: "There is something vaguely embryonic about all the magic environments because I believe that fairy tales are ultimately about two things: facing the dragon or climbing back to our world inside.”

This film recently got nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2007 Golden Globe awards (it is also Mexico's entry in the forthcoming Oscar awards), and my vote is irrevocable. Sight unseen, del Toro's competitors look like chewing gum to this minotaur of a motion picture.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

when christmas carols make us cry

DECEMBER and diaspora don't jell well, if you ask families riven by the exigency of seeking greener pastures far, far away from home.

Against the chill of temporary separation, even a photograph sun-drenched with a missed smile becomes reason enough for a celebration. Yes, if only to assure us that all's well with the world despite everything that compels and entails distance to bargain for every dreamer's prayer for a picture-perfect future.

To my Wawa, all the way to the cold heart of America, from me and our children: Malipayong Pasko ug Bulahang Bag-ong Tuig! Till we kiss again.

Monday, December 04, 2006

payt, bay!

NO LESS THAN survival of the species, if not its spirit. That's what the language issue ought to be for those waging war against the marginalization of the mother tongue and its imminent extinction. For all true-blue Bisdak, here's my latest column in the opinion page of Sun.Star Cebu (5 December 2006 issue) :

Our Own Enemy

Like a cat giving birth to a puppy, something is out of whack when all that caterwauling about caring for the mother tongue gets the speakers wagging their tails in English instead.

Pastilan, the Bisdak spirit is willing but the tongue is weak. Or so those who stood up to speak at the symposium (a component of “Dalit Bisaya: A Celebration of Cebuano Culture” at the University of San Carlos) waxed awkward and apologetic for their fluency in “speaking dollars,” the currency of our educational system.

Victim of circumstance, thus one reactor explained her plight as she recalled and reminded her listeners what every school kid has learned all along: The vernacular is verboten in the classroom, and it means having to say you’re sorry after getting fined for speaking it.

And who can blame us, dear reader, if you opt to be an English patient as you recuperate in the act of reading me?

Talking on “The Future of Visayan,” Dr. Francisco Nemenzo (former president of the University of the Philippines) has an uphill way to go as he called on Cebuanos “to help promote, dignify and intellectualize the Cebuano language and to revive interest in the Cebuano culture.”

Licking ash, however, is not an option despite the givens of globalization and the politics in the policy of our national language. Swallow it all, we can. But that doesn’t have to entail vomiting out and casting aside what’s intrinsically ours.

True, aside from the obligation to reconcile ourselves with our historical and geopolitical circumstances, it behooves upon every Cebuano worth his birthright to be rabid with the responsibility to rage. Yes, against the dying of our umbilical words without which we Cebuanos might risk an orphan’s identity or consign to oblivion a vital aspect of ourselves “in the family of things,” as one poet puts it.

Tongue in cheek with our colonized consciousness, we have so much humble pie to digest. “The prevalence of colonial mentality in the age of globalization is the biggest threat to the survival of Visayan,” Nemenzo sighed. “If the Visayans themselves prefer to speak English to each other and use Visayan only for trivial chatter, our language is bound to die.”

Where does that leave the rest of us licking our lips while gloating over the ascendancy of the English language? “The world is changing so fast that English, perhaps the most worldly of languages, is struggling to keep up,” warns David Graddol, a British linguist and author of 'The Future of English?'
Indeed, it’s foolhardy to be complacent if we reckon how the erstwhile dominance of Greek and Latin did not spare the “lingua franca” from passing away.

No matter how convenient, English cannot replace other languages in the world. More than a communicative tool, language carries the signature of a particular race or culture. We may learn to branch out linguistically as citizens of the world, but no way can we uproot ourselves by displacing our language or facilitating its erasure. Of betrayal, Eugene Gloria’s poem In Language articulates it exactly: “It’s in the act/ of cleansing that we kill the spirit— ourselves; every culture’s worst enemy/ is its own people.”

Thursday, November 30, 2006

buffet a la bisdak

NATIVE SPECIALTY. That's what the University of San Carlos dishes out starting today as the Dalit Bisaya 2006: Cebuano Cultural Festival kicks off with an exhibit featuring slide shows, among others, at the Trade Hall of SM City.

Vicente Sotto's play Elena will also be staged as well as a free concert-- featuring Pilita Corrales, Dulce, Jimmy Marquez, local bands and USC's choir and dance troupe-- that will wind up the three-day affair.

But the most delicious part of the whole feast will be the Symposium on Cebuano Heritage on December 2 at 1:00 to 4:30 pm at the Theodore Buttenbruch Hall, USC Main. Slurp up to your ears, here are the papers to be presented:

1) "Ethnography, Blacksmiths : A Glimpse of Cebu’s Past” by Jocelyn B. Gerra, Executive Director of Cultural Heritage Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Inc.

2) “Cebuano Tangible Heritage: Issues and Concerns” by Arch. Melva Rodriguez-Java, Director of the Conservation and Heritage Research Institute and Workshop (CHERISH) of the University of San Carlos

3) “The Future of Visayan,” by Dr. Francisco Nemenzo, former President, University of the Philippines

4) “Bisaya in the Global Filipino Nation” by Dr. Jose V. Abueva, President of the Kalayaan College in Marikina City

Kitakita ta, Bay!

Puzzle-Dazzle in a Poem

HEFTY AND FEATHERY at the same time, here's an airtight evidence of poetry's power to encapsulate anything of epic scope. One of my favorite poems from the anthology 180 More: Extraordinary Poems For Every Day (edited by Billy Collins), the following piece written by R.S Gwynn is simply nifty in summing up some of Shakespeare's masterpieces, whittling down the formidable canon to the level of a playful puzzle: a deconstructionist's romp through the ramparts of the Elizabethan verse structure that often looms like an enchanted jungle to many an English Lit major. Who says one can't graze through the wilderness of a poem, chew the cud of its subtleties, and lick one's lips with a flourish of a grin after reading? Consider this:

Shakespearean Sonnet

A father is haunted by his father’s ghost.
A boy and girl love while their families fight.
A Scottish king is murdered by his host.
Two couples get lost on a summer night.
A hunchback murders all who blocks his way.
A ruler’s rival plot against his life.
A fat man and a prince make rebels pay.
A noble Moor has doubts about his wife.
An English king decides to conquer France.
A duke learns that his best friend is a she.
A forest sets the scene for this romance.
An old man and his daughters disagree.
A Roman leader makes a big mistake.
A sexy queen is bitten by a snake.

Monday, November 20, 2006

In Search Of The City's Soul

TO MAKE Cebu worth the tourists' winks, those calling the shot for the metro have been at sixes and sevens about hosting the forthcoming Asean Summit. But there's more than meets the eye, or so fancies my recent column in the Opinion Page of Sun.Star Cebu (21 November 2006):

Where’s the Way to Sugbo Cultural Park?

What dreams may come for this so-called Queen City of the South remains to be seen, but City Hall is all eyes for no less than the spectacular. Never mind if the city’s overseer has been losing sleep in preparation for the Asean Summit; what matters is he wouldn’t wind up a somnambulist after going deep in trance for his visions of development.

All perked up for the forthcoming arrival of foreign guests and tourists this December, the city has been looking slick all the way. See, the center isle of the city’ major roads where the summit itinerary goes has been spruced up with the sleight of the landscape artist’s hands. Yellow paint has streaked out the sidewalk’s eyesores, too. And direct from France, a “state-of-the-art lighting technology” made of aluminum and glass will soon take the breath away of passersby and motorists along Fuente Osmeña to the Provincial Capitol.

Prospects are bright, too, for the relocation Department of Tourism (DOT) in a Banaue Rice Terraces-inspired edifice slated to rise at Kawit Point in the South Road Properties (SRP). With Cebu getting the President’s thumb-up as part of the Central Philippines super region, tourism is expected to take the city and the whole island by storm.

Upbeat about blazing cool sights in the city, the Mayor also mulls over the blueprint for improving
Linot-od Falls in the mountain barangays of Taptap and Tabunan. Streamlining the scenery around it by putting up cable cars and other amenities would make it ideal as a picnic spot.

It’s a welcome possibility, indeed, in a city so short of parks and public spaces for recreation. So far, what comfort the city can offer to its denizens and tourists smack in its hustle and bustle (Plaza Independencia, Fuente Osmeña, Cebu Business Park in Ayala, and the Family Park in Talamban) is niggardly compared to the breezy vista of Luneta in Manila, for instance.

Now that City Hall is in the mood to set up landmarks that would raise the stakes for the city’s pride, why not aim higher and pave the way for a long-overdue oasis for Cebuano culture?

On this site will rise the Sugbo Cultural Park, or so this column wishes to see a billboard announcing soon its realization right in the heart of the city (perhaps somewhere in the SRP). Where green is the breeze whistling over the verdure and grass as the harvest of finest Bisdak sensibility gets celebrated. Where tourists and locals alike would gather not only to laze the hours away, but also to visit the park’s museums, art gallery, mini-theatre for a showcase of art films as well as poetry readings, play productions, concerts, etc. Where the trees would be renamed in loving memory of Cebu’s creators of literature, music, visual arts, dance, etc. (For example: Narra Vicente Ranudo, Acacia Martino Abellana, Molave Minggoy Lopez, or Mahogany Sandiego)

Beyond the cosmetic change of the city, indeed, there are more meaningful and enduring metamorphosis that would also spell its soul long after it has realized its dream for progress.

His Highness

HEAVENLY, this pose after packing a knockout punch: an oblation of hands inverting the "V" of victory, of eyes rapt with gratitude. Such gesture, such grace of humility before a higher power, would have been out of sorts for one who rules in a sport steeped in machismo and vainglory. But there he is, showing us the stuff true champs are made of. Alleluiah, indeed!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Dossier For The Dopey

SOME blogger got me tagged for a ride en route to that netherworld of self-indulgence. So, take it or leave it, here goes the buzz from my upfront dialogue with the rear-view mirror:

Which actor would best play you in the film of your life? Takeshi Kitano.

What would the title of your autobiography be? Still Grinning and Scratching My Head After All These Years

If you were a country, which one would you be? Italy by day, Japan by night

If your philosophy in life could be summarized on a car sticker, what would it say? Walking is better, but having a chaffeur is best.

If you could choose your own nickname, what would it be? Geez, this question’s Einstenian enough to rumple the remains of my hair!

If people used your name as a verb, what would it be for? For telling everyone not to take themselves too seriously

If you had your 15 minutes of fame, what would it be for? For Scarlett Johannson to tell the paparazzi that it was me who devirginized her through mental telepathy

If you could be a fictional character, who would you be? Peter Pan. Or if I’d grow up, Zorba the Greek and Odysseus.

What three qualities in a woman would be essential for her to qualify as the love of your life? Hey, wanna meet my wife?

Which TV character do you most identify with? The voice-over in the commercials

How would you describe yourself in a lonely hearts ad? Thrives well in solitude. Envious of lighthouse keepers, librarians, carpenters, chefs, gardeners and landscape artists, and directors of blue movies. Addicted to beer. A frustrated guitarist and symphony conductor. Lured but scared of the sea. And, yes, I have a lifelong crush on Nora Aunor.

If you could be an animal, what creature would you be? Pegasus

In what era do you belong? Way back where the air of innocence was struck with the soundtrack of such televised fares as Hawaii Five-O, Six-Million-Dollar Man and Superstar.

When someone asks you, What do you do? What would you like to be able to say? I aspire to be St. Augustine, thank you!

Which fashion designer epitomizes your sense of style?
Would you haul me off to the nearest nudist colony, instead, please?

What car would you be? I’d rather be a tartanilla hauled by Pegasus.

What season is most like you? Rainy, the sort that drives me and my kids outside in the downpour while my wife prepares arroz caldo or pancakes and hot chocolate in the kictchen.

Where are you in life’s swimming pool? In the deep or shallow end, floating, sinking, on the diving board or in the changing room?
Swimming pool? Get real, life is either an ocean or a sewer.

What song sums you up best? Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana because it sounds barbaric and heavenly at the same time

What flower would you be? Dama de noche, if not a nocturnal sunflower

What are your three best qualities? I remember. I celebrate. I believe. (Otherwise, I’d be damned!)

What three words would your detractors use about you? What three words would your friends use about you? Who do you agree with? Guess what? Reading the minds of my friends and foes alike is too presumptuous for my own comfort.

Which of the seven deadly sins are you most likely to commit? Lust and pride. (If not, I would be a saint.)

What famous person, past or present, would most enjoy your company? Bert “Tawa” Marcelo, because he laughed a lot whether he meant it or not. Plus the cool fact that
he used to be an endorser of San Miguel beer. Swell!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Happy Birthday, Aegan!

TOMORROW, 16th of November, my youngest son Raphael Gandalf will turn one. It's been a year, and the hours still soar to where bliss and magic loom eternal in the light of his presence in our lives. God bless my children (and their parents, too, who are nurtured by them and are grateful beyond measure!)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Adrenaline Overdrive, Anyone?

WHAT WAS that again about all that fuss that flushes up waste? Well, the go-getters for Cebu do appear like they know no better, headlong into their goal with horse's blinders on, about the Asean Summit this December. Here goes my rub again in my latest column in the opinion page of Sun.Star Cebu:

In the heat of the haste

If it would make them look better, they could try jumping down the river.

Surge and swell up. Or so the pressure goes for the metro’s movers and shakers, flexing themselves for the forthcoming Asean Summit and hoping their heads would be above the flow.

Even the Niagara would fall short of the ferocity with which our leaders have poured out their resources just so that our foreign guests would be swept off their feet. A multi-million structure suddenly looms into view, and roads suddenly get spruced up with yellows enough to cause jaundice while shanties along the visitors’ way get coated over with cool green until the tourists’ eyes turn mint.

Hey, aren’t we so up to the challenge of making ourselves look cozy with urban development? But couldn’t we have done this entire proclivity for preening a long time ago and save ourselves of the nail-biting groan and grind of making things happen, spic and span, in the nick of deadline?

Ah, this adrenaline rush to level up to expectation. This would have served us in good stead if this were harnessed for honest-to-goodness urban planning for the Cebuanos’ benefit to begin with, and not merely because we have foreign guests to please.

Then again, with our “fiesta” mentality, hardly do we mind if we drown ourselves with debts as long we’re riding the waves of goodwill from our visitors until they puke their guts out of the glut of our preparations for their satisfaction.

Foresight, however, is a factor marked with X here this island now stooping its stressed-out head down its soles so it can prove what our foreign guests are coming into is no backwater. Yes, even if garbage clogs up the corpses of our rivers that abruptly rise with the downpour until they gorge up and gobble away youngsters along the rapids.

What happens when the Summit is over and done with? Would we still be as obsessed about making our metropolis look first-rate? Could we sustain this overdrive to appear decent even if only our homegrown eyes would be left staring? Would law enforcement still keep up with its level of hunger to pounce on and make mincemeat of felons who are ever so galling with their cold-blooded appetite whether or not guests are coming to dinner?

Hopefully, this burst of momentum to make sense of our urban muddle won’t be momentary. Flirting with progress is fine, true. It’s another story, however, to rouse ourselves with a band and tidy up for transients, to wink at them so we can make the most of our time together in the heat of a one-night stand.

If that’s sorely the case, wouldn’t we be better off jumping down the rampaging river?
(7 November 2006, Sun.Star Cebu)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Unbearable Lightness of Being With Golli and Aegan

THIS IS just to say, against uncertainty and life's black humor, these are reasons enough for wingedness and wizardry: Gabriel Ollivan and Raphael Gandalf.

A toast to Arlaine, mother extraordinaire as well as my lifetime conspirator of all things worth conjuring. Tip my hat: all the ice-cold San Miguel Pilsen has never been warmer down my throat to my heart.

"Who travels for love finds a thousand miles not longer than one." - Japanese proverb

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Our Days Of Disquiet

FOR THE LIVING who are no better than those who rest in peace, here's my All Souls' Day column in the opinion page of Sun.Star Cebu:


If he were a ghost, his grimace seemed not enough to spook City Hall into action.

“I would like, at least, to have my complaints noted and my questions answered,” rues a certain Alvin John Osmeña who hopes for city officials’ attention so they can “address the recurring problem on noise.” All that sound—loud music played inside vehicles and highly sensitive car alarms—reportedly bothers him wherever he is.

Must he consign himself to wait until he’d be six feet under before he’d experience what it takes to be tranquil?

That his grievances have fallen on deaf ears is indication enough that City Hall ought to be reminded what Desiderata intoned so solemnly: “Remember what peace there may be in

But as its ears register nothing less than high frequency of the forthcoming Asean Summit, is City Hall up to the challenge for calm?

Isn’t its desperate need to live up to expectation or to prove that the city is no cemetery of progress a symptom of modern world’s neurosis?

It’s supposed to be a luxury, but taking things slow has become a liability. The go-getting mania has rendered it quaint to quell the cliché and, yes, smell the flowers. The quick and the dead, alas, have one thing in common: Too unconscious to find loveliness in their ornate funeral wreath.

Who has time to catch a whiff of grace as we reek of rage throughout our constant brush with rush hours, deadlines, quotas? Blessed are the departed, indeed, for having gone past the zone of discomfort Thoreau scoffed at: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Indeed, pity the taxpayer in dire need for an accessible refuge in the midst of the city’s hustle and bustle. Where are our public spaces with trees to sit under? Breezy does it, if you ask the dead in memorial parks from which real estate developers are literally making a killing.

Indeed, anguish is when we have to puncture our eardrums to the feet-stomping tune of “Let’s Get Loud” so that we get a kick out of the doldrums. Ah, doesn’t that explain our private emergencies to lull ourselves with our iPod so can we insulate our head and shut the hysterical world out of our ears?

Hear, too, the prognosis from the World Health Organization: Depression will soon be the second leading cause of disability in the world where suicide ranks as the third leading cause of death among dismally spirited adolescents.

“Quiet is going extinct,” says Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist who’s espousing a campaign on behalf of American parks called “One Square Inch of Silence” meant to protect a tiny spot of serenity from man-made sound. “I wanted to find a quiet place and hang on to it and protect it.”

Man, he’d better be dead than find himself fuming from both ears here this side of purgatory. (31 October 2006, Sun.Star Cebu)

Monday, October 30, 2006

To See Beyond The Surface

IT'S BEEN raining like crazy lately. And that might explain the certain dampness in my deadline-clouded view on such sunny matter as the Asean Summit in Cebu this December. Consider my recent column in the opinion page of Sun.Star Cebu:

Seeing Surgically

Facelift does it. Or so the City Governments of Cebu and Mandaue raise the stake for the self-esteem of both cities now in the craze for cosmetic tweaking.

So far, maddening has been the metro’s clockwork for extermination of all eyesores as the Asean Summit draws near.

Where have all the lunatics gone? Look, a monkey wrench has been flung at the idyllic lull of the city’s mountain barangays while City Hall goes on an overdrive to beguile the tourists and delegates who are set to come in droves for the December summit.

As reported recently in Sun.Star Superbalita, City Hall has been weeding out derelicts off the streets and dumping them at the city’s hinterlands. Some have been left to drift mindless through the farms and other deserted places, according to Sirao Barangay Captain Jesus Bontuyan who’s worried over any untoward tact his constituents might take against those wandering deranged in their midst.

What if the people, suspecting them either as burglars or ghouls, would gang up or hack them? “Motuo pa baya ang mga tawo diri sa amo anang mga ungo,” explains Bontuyan. “Mahadlok pud maglakaw-lakaw ang mga bata kon makakita anang mga buang.” (People here still believe in vampires and ghouls. The kids are scared to go out when they see the crazies.)

But for the summit’s host, nothing is more foolhardy than scaring our sightseers off their socks with the ghastly proofs of our Third World plight: the demented whose aimlessness might as well hold a mirror at the city’s desperate drive to wear the glamour of development on its tattered sleeve.

There’s something unhinged, indeed, about the obsessive slamming of doors against evidence of desolation while winking out the window for all the world to come over.

Pretty soon, in accordance with the suggestion of the president of the National Association of Travel Agencies, Cebu City Hall will deal with the beggars near the Magellan’s Cross “in a positive way” by letting the beggars wear original Cebuano costumes and putting up well-decorated horse-drawn carriages. Tourists who want to take photos will be asked to put some coins in a basket. “Even alms-giving can be given dignity,” he hoped.

Then again, would these frantic efforts to spruce up our surroundings be enough to make urban blight like water down the bridge?

Last we looked, the water crisis still screams while the flood threatens to get out of our garbage-clogged drainage in times of downpour. Roofs of squatters’ shanties in Sitio Paradise Island under the Mactan-Mandaue Bridge will soon be coated with green paint. But is this bright enough a prospect to wash away the fact of poverty staring in the face of tourists?

So far, criminality looks like it’s not letting up its mania to paint the town red despite the yellows layered on the city’s lampposts and sidewalk fences. And, sigh, it still takes a surreal imagination to daydream against the dearth of public museums or galleries and parks and spaces for promenade.

Unfortunately, no matter how earnest the energy to please our visitors, there’s no blinking away the myopia of our movers and shakers about urban planning and long-term agenda for progress. You bet, what our guests see is not what we get. (24 October 2006, Sun.Star Cebu)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Raising My Bottles Of Beer To Mary Oliver

Got drunk recently, my head still reeling from the rhapsodies out of Mary Oliver's Blue Pastures, featuring 15 nourishing prose pieces "of nature, of writing, of herself and those around her." Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, Mary Oliver regards this book as "biased, opinionated; also it is joyful, and probably there's despair here too..." I can only burp.

On being ruthless with one's commitment to creativity:

"It is six A.M., and I am working. I am absent-minded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be. The tire goes flat, the tooth falls out, there will be a hundred meals without mustard. The poem gets written. I have wrestled with the angel and I'm stained with light and I have no shame. Neither do I have guilt. My responsibility is not to the ordinary, or the timely. It does not include mustard, or teeth. It does not extend to the last button, or the beans in the pot. My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o'clock, rejoice If I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.

There is no other way work of artistic worth can be done. And the occasional success, to the striver, is worth everything. The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time."

On being voracious for the world's feast of paradox:

"... I have found the headless bodies of rabbits and blue jays, and known it was the great horned owl that did them in, taking the head only, for the owl has an insatiable craving for the taste of brains... I know this bird. If it could, it would eat the whole world... The world where the owl is endlessly hungry and endlessly on the hunt is the world in which I live too. There is only one world."

On the identity of the chosen:

Who are you? They called out, at the edge of the village.
I am one of you, the poet called back.
Though he was dressed like the wind, though he looked like
a waterfall

On the prerequisites of becoming a poem:

"The translation of experience into contemplation, and the placement of this contemplation within the formality of a certain kind of language, with no intent to make contact-- be it across whatever thin or wild a thread--with the spiritual condition of the reader, is not poetry. Archibald MacLeish: Here is the writer, and over there--there is "the mystery of the universe." The poem exists--indeed, gets itself written--in relation between the man and the world. The three ingredients of poetry: the mystery of the universe, spiritual curiosity, the energy of language."

On the in/significance of poetry:

"Now, of course, in the hives and dungeons of our cities, poetry cannot console, it carries no weight, for the pact between the natural world and the individual has been broken. There is no more working for harvest--only hunting, for profit. Lives are no longer exercises in pleasure and valor, but only the means to the amassment of worldy goods. If poetry is ever to become meaningful to such persons, they must take the first step-- away from the materially bound and self-interested lives, toward the trees, and the waterfall. It is not poetry's fault that it has so small and audience, so little effect upon the frightened, money-loving world. Poetry, after all, is not a miracle. It is an effort to formalize (ritualize) individual moments and the transcending effects of these moments into a music that all can use. It is the song of our species."

Are You Stupid, Too?

God must love the foolish so much he made more than we can grin and bear them. There may be mountains of Nobel prizes for acres of mental toil, but the headlines have been far more shaky with constant tremors of idiocy enough for us to bury our heads in the mud of our madness and shame. Here's a reprint from my latest opinion column in Sun.Star Cebu:

Damned by the dumb

Mindless and selfishly senseless. Or so goes the side of the aggrieved about the act of suicide.

When a barangay councilor in Alegria, Cordova thought it was a good time to die by drinking a bottle of cyanide last Friday morning, his family and friends must have deemed it unwise for him to prove his detractors correct. Reportedly, he was fed up by snide remarks from his fellow councilors and constituents. “Bogo” (dumb), they smirked. And now they have the last laugh as his state of mind now turns into a mere meal for worms.

If only his epitaph would be etched along the line of this piece of insight: “Seeing ourselves as
others see us would probably confirm our worst suspicions about them.”

If only he knew that stupidity is not solely his crown of thorns. He’s not alone, after all, where the dearth of discernment is concerned.

Last week, a barangay councilor in San Jose del Monte City would have been better off if he were drunk with cyanide. Yes, instead of cheap liquor with which he proved his intelligence by shocking the entire country, shooting to death a 12-year-old boy who probably fancied himself Spider-Man by climbing and playing atop an electrical transmission tower.

In fact, there’s a legion of them whose lack of intelligence, matched only by scarcity of conscience, has been flaunted as a factor for public consideration.

Then again, the self-negating act of the ill-fated councilor ought to be an example for many of our so-called leaders who are learned only in heaping their waste on their constituency’s heads. Consider how their intelligence has been proven only by their ingenuity in making mountains out of the molehills of their self-interests.

Indeed, if wisdom were a font so free-flowing here on these islands, we would have been spared from the sea of opportunities sucked back to our sewers.

Talk about one-upmanship, and there would be monuments rising everywhere out of our surplus of smart-alecks.

Who needs a superpower where supercilious self-consciousness is a tad larger than life?

Consider the cinematic revelation of a congressman from Oriental Negros who berated a Cebuano legislator: “Yawa, if he thinks he’s Batman, I’m Superman!” Never mind if he’s clueless that “a man begins cutting his wisdom teeth the first time he bites off more than he can chew.”

Nietzsche, bless his soul, could have been a comfort for the cyanide-thirsty councilor desperate for his head to stay above water of scorn. “Better to know nothing,” he sneered, “than to half-know many things.”

Friday, September 01, 2006

Bagdok Bisdak!

WINDING UP the "Buwan ng Wika" celebration, the Gawad Komisyon 2006 (sponsored by the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino) spotlighted Cebuano writing whose poets and fictionists took center stage with their counterparts in other languages from the Tagalog region, Ilocos and Pangasinan. Awarding ceremony was held at the Philippine Columbian in Manila last August 31, with guest of honor Vice President Noli de Castro.

Here's the complete list of winners in the Cebuano division: POETRY-- Michael U. Obenieta (1st), Ernesto Lariosa (2nd), Oliver Flores (3rd), Arlaine J. Obenieta, Gumer Rafanan & Angie Nellas (Honorable Mention) FICTION-- Dindin Villarino (1st), Gumer Rafanan (2nd), Marlo Geocallo (3rd), Gremer Chan Reyes, Tranquilino Udarbe, Fred F. Monternel (honorable mention)

> Photo 1: Modesty aside, yours truly (1st Prize, Poetry)

> Photo 2: With my literary "tatay" Ernesto Lariosa (2nd Prize, Poetry)

> Photo 3: With my good friend Dindin Villarino (1st Prize, Fiction)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Off-Limits, Anyone?

DISPLACEMENT doesn't need distance. It's an urban commonplace where estrangement and enmity happen with the frequency of a fire alarm or the screaming siren of an ambulance. Here's a reprint from my latest opinion column in Sun.Star Cebu (29 August 2006 issue):

Crash Hours

Thank the heavens we’re no planets, or we’d be on a collision course more often than we hear prophets of doom about the world’s end.

Long before scientists bumped off Pluto from the planetary clique, and whittled it down to size as merely a “dwarf planet,” our own world has been getting smaller. To the level of the trivial goes our trite tendency for turf wars and clan rivalries, after all. As if we were aliens among ourselves hardwired for each other’s invasion.

Why, here this side of the equator, even a parking space becomes a battleground. Or so it seems to the son of Cebu’s governor and the chief of the Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Bureau (CIIB) who were in the mood for Star Wars in front of the entrance of an uptown bar one recent night.

Hotheads of the world, unite; you have nothing to lose but your cool.

True, it’s getting cramped in here up to a choking point, and spitting fire comes breezy where there’s barely a breathing space for a handshake. We’d never run out of bones for each other’s contention, and going to the dogs seems to be the only way to push borders, if not to stretch our threshold of tolerance or patience.

Finding a place or even a day unbroken by the usual outbreak of hostility looks like a blind wager while astronomers now get more elbow room to redefine and render obsolete our notion of the solar system.

Talk about finding a place under the sun, and we might as well cover ourselves against ultra-violent rays with newspapers perennially stifling and blood-stewing from the prerequisites of conflict.

Space is of the essence, but that sounds as esoteric as astral travel where there are hardly public places to sit down awhile under a tree and to let the ill wind stirring in one’s head to scatter in the manner of dry leaves.

If looking for a parking space gets as dizzy as steering one’s way out of labyrinths, as motorists can attest, finding a park could be the fastest way to reach a dead end. Or, to rub elbows with lovers, licit or otherwise, whose threadbare intimacy and privacy are frayed at the edges by the invasion of the city’s derelicts and perverts bracing for their prey.

Spaced-out. That’s what one intuits while loitering through the heart of the metro where the homeless, beggars, and vendors might as well have raised their stakes in the sidewalks and overpasses. The bottleneck, clearly, is not only down the road where rage goes with the exhaust fumes.

Getting into each other’s way, unlike planets in their respective orbits, there’s plenty of time and lot of space only for breathing smoke down each other’s necks.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Bona Comes Back

C ited as one of the "Best 100 Films in the World" by the Museum of Tolerance (Los Angeles, USA) , Lino Brocka's Bona highlights the hapless plight of film archiving in the Philippines. Sadly, the country holds no copy of this gem of a film which has been acclaimed in various international film festivals like Cannes and Torino. There's hope, however, that the present generation would still have the chance to see it.

From a recent private screening of Bona, Ateneo professor and anthropologist Tito Valiente takes a second look at one of the most celebrated Filipino films (shown in 1980) in his recent column in Business Mirror (3 August 2006). Here goes the reprint:

Native Returns

At the lobby of Studio 1 of ABS-CBN, a table draped in a wide swath of cloth cradled flowers. Around it were posters of a film copied from old newspapers. A man in business clothes was standing still beside one of the photos. That was the closest they could get near the horizon of a person called Nora Aunor. That night, a copy of Bona, the movie produced by Aunor and directed by Lino Brocka was going to be screened, the copy provided by Cinematheque Française, a film institution in France that archives excellent cinema. (Bona will have its cable television premiere in the Sunday Cine Premiere block of Cinema One on August 20 at 8 pm.)

As with the other guests filing in, people were there with similar purposes. There were the young cineastes who may have read the reviews of Bona in various film journals and web sites and blogs, for Bona is one of the most dissected Filipino films. These people may have cited the film as one of their favorite works even if they had not seen it previous to this evening. The sheer presence of the film in the minds and essays of writers and critics was enough to convince them that they were dealing with a work that was benchmarked and graded according to accepted international aesthetics. But there were also middle-aged men moving as one, looking like pilgrims about to approach the inner sanctum of the shrine. They were so quiet that you could feel through their movements the grace of many a Nora Aunor cinematic outings. These are people who could utter word for word, grand inflection for grand inflection, the dialogues that their idol—in the sense of worship and reverence—gave voice to on the silver screen.

It was not merely a voice coming from a body. Nora’s voice in many films, including those that were sinfully trivial and fun, slithered and sauntered out of the screen and into the domain of the popular, the populist, the political. The lines, as well as the characters, from which those meanings sprung transcended the instrument of cinema and became part of the collective yearnings of a mass audience who saw in Aunor not just an actor but someone equipped with a divining rod that could trace the fault lines of a group of people even as it would direct them to the wellspring of their neurosis and salvation. Aunor’s much-documented celebrity was going to go through a reassessment that night, to check if the books—and essays and poetry—written about her icon were really truthful valuation of her person and her genius and not simply the ranting of academics trying out new theories about popular culture.

Seated as I was at the orchestra, surrounded by fans, I could sense the undertow of nervousness in those faces upturned to the screen; there was also sadness and longing. Most of the people there, I believe, were perched at the edge of their seats, the gurgling in their hearts pushing them almost to the edge of a sweetly welcomed nervous breakdown. Again that night, some simply ceased to be film viewers and moved on to be witnesses of an apparition.

A history of tastes

The metaphor of the sacred, the discourse of power, and the narrative of dispossession apply to the audiences of Bona as well as to the film.

The film opens with the male-dominated procession of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo. Men are throwing their shirts and towels onto the carriage of the Christ icon, to be wiped against the body of the icon. Then the face of Aunor, as Bona, is shown, lost in the crowd, but not lost in the ritual. The next scenes bring us to what preoccupies Bona (other than a religion in display). She is seduced by another faith, as she displays to us an almost reverential and awe-stricken admiration for a bit-player, Gardo. Critics use the word “obsession” to process the relationship that brings Bona to Gardo. But viewing the film again gives us other words. Like irrationality. Like lust and love.

You know, of course, the story. How, one night, Gardo comes home and tells Bona that he is leaving for abroad, and she should just go home. Then how Bona looks at the boiling pot of water. And the rest is cinematic history. Part of this history is that Bona the film and Aunor as Bona have become guideposts for the evolution of film-viewing and re-viewing in the Philippines. Go and run to the nearest library and catch the writeups of that period, when Bona was first screened commercially, and you will see how so much of the appreciation of the film went beyond and behind the cinema.

Reporters then wrote how Aunor had to produce the film to convince people that she could act. And yet, Bona was produced in 1980, a full three years after Aunor thundered through the screen in Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos, and went on to win the Urian for Best Actress that year.

The screening answers many questions but also opens up many more. Given how the screenplay displays an almost reckless disregard for coherence, one could ask now if Brocka really enjoyed Aunor in the film. The film looks like it is meant to showcase another talent, that of Phillip Salvador, thus bringing some critics to describe the film as his film. One could even wonder why Brocka and the writer chose a bit player as the object of Bona’s adoration. This preoccupation with Salvador, however, becomes the bane of the movie.

At the end, Bona is indeed Nora Aunor’s work. Bona is Aunor looking, with a bit of melodrama and masochism, how she, an unknown, has become the object of many people’s adoration, the actor becoming the icon.

The power of the tragedienne/icon in Aunor is that she is able to weave a character into a full functioning tapestry of nerves and magic. Even then, you cannot blame those who genuflect before her when they cite the many gems in Bona. There is Aunor running away from her father, the speed of her escape as frantic and funny as it was demented. Aunor looking from the fence into her home where the wake for her father is taking place, fear and love and anxiety etched in a shot that merely shows one half of her face. Aunor peeking from the kitchen, tension personified, the rigid figure melting into the loneliest of embraces with her mother, played with brittle tenderness by Rustica Carpio. Then, there is that scene—when she throws the boiling caldron of water onto Gardo’s body, the wretchedness on her face a troubling chemistry of dementia and despair, and a rage that seems to travel from her scarred soul, in a nuanced form that only Aunor could summon.

You can look for more, but at the end, there is one lesson: Nora Aunor is second to none and no one follows after her. Not yet, anyway. I knew this when I stepped out of the Studio One into the lobby once more. The table that held the flowers was shrouded in black, more like in mourning for the passing of good films that we used to make, and for an actor like Aunor, whose genius might as well be dead in our dreary landscape of commercialism and bad taste.

*** Photos culled from the blogs of Willi Pascual and Jojo de Vera as well as the archive of the International Circle of Online Noranians (ICON) e-group.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Let There Be Flight

Houdini hours. That's what I call those spells of wonder at the edge of awareness when words soar above the hubbub between sleep and death, striving for a consciousness uncaged.

That happens when I morph into a figurative fugitive after being caught up in the sundry details of insignificance with which the days pass us by, as if everything were merely a matter of happenstance. Yes, hapless ever after like dust in the heels of us carelessly passing through.

Still a fledgling in Poetry after 12 years so far of pursuing the birdcall of this "most sullen and solitary of art," I have been at a loss over some of my pieces too elusive to stay, resisting to be gathered as keepsakes of my greenhorn flights of fancy. As if they refused to be caged or be fixed like dead butterflies framed up on a wall. Where have all those poems gone?

Painstakingly, and even if a lot of my literary attempts often leave me flushed in the face while I wince and squirm under my skin, I have plucked out some that have refused to be towed out of my reach, stuck somewhere where I tucked them pell-mell, gathering dust and the smell of forgetting.

For better or for worse, I intend to keep these as mementos of those moments that stretch eternal out of "the white walls of silence," when my cowlick fluttered cloudward as I ventured my own version of being an escape artist out of the fetters-- tritely does it-- of merely skimming over the surface, in search of meaning and its presences.

With your indulgence, allow me to invite you to my new blog for my poetry in English: Flickers of Flight ( Ayu-ayo!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Viva Bisdak!

GO KICK me with this shamelessly indulgent tidbit, and I don't mind at all if you take it with a lemon-twisted grain of salt.

It doesn't happen all the time, anyway: one's blog being chosen Cebu Site of the Fortnight (July 15 - July 31, 2006).

Bitaw bay, Wa'y Blima! Cebu (the leading web portal to Cebu) has singled out Beso Bisdak-- my online cauldron of creative writing in Cebuano-- "selected from the Cebu Web Directory on the basis of criteria such as quality of content, design, and relevance."

And all the while I thought only a stray cat gives a rat's tail of a chance to bother about anything that reek of Cebuano.

Therefore, allow me in gratitude to pay the previlige forward by recommending another site by a fellow who rocks and rolls with his Bisdak identity.

He needs no intro, my colleague Insoy whose band (Missing Filemon) has been at the rears and flanks of this tsunami in the local music scene. "Bisrock," it's called. Right off the bat, that's the talking point as Insoy's blog Insoymada launches a new section in Q-and-A format.

It's where Insoy keeps "important "conversations" with people and friends whose opinions matter, and those whose opinions are so trivial that they matter." For the maiden interview, my friend Januar Yap (who coined the word Bisrock) takes the bloglight. Na hala, padayon, labyog Bisdak!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Amen To Ambiguity

(A reprint from my column today in the opinion page of Sun.Star Cebu)

When one’s value judgment shakes in the wind of controversies now threatening to pummel one’s faith cold, certitude has become such a lonely word.

So what’s the last word about a former parish priest in Danao town who has been sneaking under the shadow of his dalliance with a young lady? Or, about the case of another local priest—now circulating again in the Internet— who’s still under the pall of accusations by two altar boys he allegedly slept with some two decades ago in the United States.

In spite of all that, however, the faithful is still coming in droves, filling up the pews every Sunday here in this so-called Cradle of Christianity; our minds stubborn over matters too smeared for headlines and scoops to gloss over. Only the heavens know. Or so we seem to say, our eyes shut in prayer so that what remains of our faith won’t be frayed any further.

For those waiting for moral certainty, up goes the dare to be detectives. And, yes, to be hawk-eyed while hoping for discernment. Consider the point raised by Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel: “The cardinal issue— Why does the God of justice and compassion permit evil to persist— is bound up with the problem of how man should aid God so that his justice and compassion prevail.”

As if raising smoke out of the burning issue these days, John Patrick Shanley’s acclaimed play titled “Doubt” couldn’t be timelier. Brought to Cebu by Little Boy Productions, Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work deftly dramatizes how tricky the matter of truth can be. As an opportunity for soul-searching, Shanley suggests, nothing beats ambiguity.

Set in a Catholic school in Bronx, the conflict in the play is kicked off with the suspicion of the rigidly no-nonsense principal Sister Aloysius (in a fiery performance by Cherie Gil). Wary of Fr. Flynn, the boys’ basketball coach, she has sensed something fishy between him and the school’s only black boy.

What ensues unravels like a witch-hunt until the nun’s conscience gets wracked with her white lie triggering the priest’s resignation, casting a dark spot on Fr. Flynn’s claim of innocence. But up to the end, Shanley leaves the viewer with no clear-cut proofs of either the nun’s moral ascendancy or the priest’s guilt. Evidence remains inconclusive, the sense of disquiet dares the audience to go back and wrestle with the words of Fr. Flynn's sermon at the start of the play: “What do you do when you are not sure?”

That’s a challenge many of us had to confront head-on in this season so rife with confusion.

~~~ 000 ~~~

From my inbox, here’s a bit of reminder or reality check about a God who does not discriminate about who he uses. The next time we shake our heads in uncertainty, here are characters from the Bible who seem up to no good:

Noah was a drunk. Abraham was too old. Isaac was a daydreamer. Jacob was a liar. Leah was ugly. Joseph was abused. Moses had a stuttering problem. Gideon was afraid. Samson had long hair and was a womanizer. Rahab was a prostitute. David had an affair and was a murderer. Elijah was suicidal. Isaiah preached naked. Jonah ran from God. Job went bankrupt. John the Baptist ate bugs. Peter denied Christ. The disciples fell asleep while praying. The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once. Timothy had an ulcer. And Lazarus was dead!