Sunday, December 20, 2009

Kimi’s Sense of Snow

My Sunday is complete. My inbox today contains a longish letter from my eldest daughter Kimi Fernandez who is enjoying the first winter of her life with her sister Ida and my Valdellon cousins in the US. As a mother, I am happy my girls are having the time of their young lives. At the same time, I am grateful for having had a grandmother like Telesfora Lolarga who ensured that family ties remained strong despite geographical distances. Cousin Telly said a few weeks ago how lucky we were to have had a lola like ours who instilled a profound sense of family throughout all the Christmases and Baguio summers of our childhood and teen years. Here are excerpts from Kimi's letter:

Hi Nanay! Sorry I only got back to you now. Tita Telly drove us to Virginia Wednesday afternoon. We had lunch at the Philippine Bread House in Jersey City, then went to Red Ribbon to buy ensaymada and empanada. We passed by Delaware to buy a tax-free Macbook, then went straight to the hospital in Maryland where Tita Nini was confined. She looks good, no longer as pale as Tita Telly described her the last time she saw her during Thanksgiving. We said a prayer for her with a priest before leaving.

We went to Rotonda in McLean and had pizza takeout dinner. Tita Allyn arranged the den as a pretty guest room and even placed welcome gift envelopes on our pillows! Kakahiya nga eh! She also gave us some jackets we can wear when we go out.

The next day, she drove us to the post office where she mailed her Christmas cards and I got stamps for my postcards. Then we went to Office Depot to pick up the Netbook that Tita Telly helped me order online. It's an HP Mini 311-- what I'm using now. We went back to the condo and met up with Cousin Dean who took us to Marshall's. I bought a long- sleeved golf shirt and golf tool kit for Tita Telly and books that we can give as gifts to our titas in California. I got Dog Miracles - Inspirational True Stories of Canine Heroism and A Dog's Life, a book of dog quotes for Tito Fort, then cookbooks for Tita Thelma and Tita Lucy (Toast It, Delicious Wraps, and Comfort Food). Hindi ba corny?

On Friday, Tita Allyn drove us around DC and showed us the museums. She dropped us off at the Air and Space Museum where we met up with Dean again. The museums are awesome. They're free and just walking distance from one another. They’re not crowded unlike in summer when the museums can get jampacked! We also went to National Art Gallery, Sculpture Garden, Museum of American History (we saw Julia Child's kitchen and Dorothy's red shoes!!) and Museum of Natural History where we watched an IMAX movie, Wild Ocean. It was great!

We took the Metro at the Smithsonian. Tita Allyn picked us up at the West Church Hill station. Tito Rudy and I get along pretty well because we talk about IT and Internet stuff! At around 9 p.m., Tita Allyn called me to the lanai because it was starting to snow! The cars and roads were already covered in white!

When we woke up today, everything was white! It was snowing hard. The snowstorm was all over the news. There was a blizzard because it was also windy. Tita Allyn said it was the first time they experienced snow this thick here in the Rotonda. And to think that it's still autumn! At around noon time, she lent us their ski suits, glasses, etc. All four of us went out, up to the gazebo and the pond. Snow is fun! It's powder soft and doesn't stick much so we weren't able to make a snowman. Ida and I threw snowballs at each other! We lay down on our backs and made snow angels! Tito Rudy took our pics.

It's still snowing hard right now and the snow on the ground is getting thicker! I think there’s three feet of snow already! The snow plowers come every hour, but the roads are easily covered with more snow. I see people walking on the snow-covered roads. Not much cars today. It's gonna snow through the night.

It's all white outside, really pretty!! We wish you could've stayed behind so you could experience snow with us! We already miss NYC and Tita Telly's condo. But we're also enjoying our stay here in VA! Different state, different experiences! I still can't believe we're able to go to all of these places!

I miss you and Tatay and the Pasig people! But I'm not a bit homesick. Ha ha.


Photo of Kimi from ERLINIE VALDELLON MENDOZA's iPhone

Saturday, December 5, 2009

My First American Thanksgiving

On board a Northwest Airlines plane, I tried to read myself to sleep without success. The words of an American humor columnist reverberated in my head—he wrote that Thanksgiving was celebrated only once a year because the minute one sets eyes on one’s family members, you realize the reason you have to meet them infrequently.

When Nov. 26 dawned, the voice of my sister-in-law Emily F. Marquez could be heard outside our guest bedroom door. She was up bright and early for a communal breakfast buffet awaiting us at The Marriott Hotel in Torrance, California. My family members were still stretching in their pajamas; Emily was ready to drive out of the driveway and couldn’t wait for my eldest girl Kimi to step out of the shower and dress. We got a severe five-minute scolding about American promptness and observance of schedules. Then she paused, unclenched her hands on the driver’s wheel, turned to us and said, “By the way, Happy Thanksgiving!”

The hotel was about half a mile away. When we reached the garden terrace, nephew Chico Fernandez announced that we just won the early-bird prize. Hurray for Filipino time.

And then the waves of Fernandez sets and sub-sets arrived, and Michelle Fernando Kanor’s cackle rose above the din of excited conversation. The tiny adorables shook hands solemnly or bussed the aunties, uncles, grandaunts and granduncles some of whom they were meeting for the first time.

My assignment was to organize games—the first I could think of was a quiz on the odd nicknames of my spouse Rolly and his six other siblings. Tig is Lucy Fernando, Kithel is Thelma Martin, Tasio is Maxlen, Aki is Emily, Nano is Nani, Banong is Willie and Rock is Rolly. The last operates under the illusion that he must’ve gotten that name from ’60s “Pillow Talk” heartthrob Rock Hudson. Maxlen the oldest brother dashed this illusion, saying Rolly the youngest was such a hungry child, he would even eat darak (duck feed).

It was a good sign that the second generation knew enough family history to answer my questions correctly. The prizes, Subic t-shirts from Nani and wife Nancy, who developed Moonbay Marina at the Subic Bay Free Port in Zambales, were disposed of quickly.

The preschoolers in the group like Joshua F. Bandy and Kamea F. Miranda read the words on their new shirts. If the US economy improves, Subic is the next destination of another grand Fernandez reunion five years down the road. Next year is too soon. Willie said, “Magkakasawaan agad (We’ll tire of each other too soon).”

A cousin on my side once sent a card that read: “Familiarity breeds contempt, but look what yours bred.” And it showed dozens of brats.

We had none of that familiar contempt on the Fernandez side. Kith and kin here imbibed in some way the example set by the formidable matriarch, Justiniana Beltran. Psychologist April Desiree Fernando, the eldest grandchild, articulated these lessons well in her recollections of her late Lola Uste whom she addressed as Nanay:
• It’s okay to feel things deeply and articulate colorfully;
• Be thrifty but have a generous spirit;
• Being strong can sometimes be confused with going about things alone;
• Silence can be both painful and healing, but you have to sit with it long enough to figure out what is happening.

Her Uncle Maxlen recalled the heroism of the patriarch who died in a vehicular accident. Liberato Fernandez sent many youth to school without his family’s knowledge. In one of their walks, Maxlen asked his Dad what he would do if Maxlen jumped into the raging river below them. The older man said he would save his son even if it meant giving up his own life.

In a video showing the Philippine-based siblings talking about their parents, Nani said he wished his mother had lived longer to see her children to be the successes that they are. He added that he has tried to keep his father’s own lesson to heart: to remain ever humble no matter how high a station in life he reaches.

It was a sister-in-law, Chingbee Fernandez, who summed up the ties that bind this family together in the lyrics to the song entitled “We Are Fernandez Family”: “Wherever we may be we are family / When times are hard / We’ll always have each other …/Sing to the world / We are Fernandez family.”

By the time the evening of speeches, games, dancing, singing, drinking and laughing ended, the littlest ones had gone up to their rooms while the male adults repaired for more sharing at a bar.

Someone said Thanksgiving should be renamed thanks living. I totally agree. It didn’t matter that there was no leftover turkey for sandwiches the morning after.

The children of Liberato and Justiniana Fernandez and their spouses in a photo taken by KIMI FERNANDEZ

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bawdy Broads

It speaks a lot about us that when the first volley of picture taking took place, we automatically grouped ourselves near the dessert end of the buffet table. I refer to High School Batch 1973 of St. Paul College, Quezon City.

We met last Saturday at the Hathaway Estates home of Celia in Los Angeles for a reunion that took months in the planning.
Almost half of the 17 Paulinians flew in from the East Coast, three of us from the Philippines. The rest were California residents.

I recognized everyone on sight, but hesitated when I faced Angelica, a pediatrician from Bakersfield. Still soft-spoken, she re-introduced herself. Yes, she seemed the most angelic among us, laughing soundlessly at our selective recollections and later, the tales from the nurses among us.

Marilou recalled the English-speaking classmate who pronounced the word diaphragm “dia-fragem.” No one could recall who it was, but that was good for a guffaw.

Lucy talked about her first years at a US hospital and how a Pinoy colleague was asked by a patient to look for her pocketbook. The nurse asked, “What is the title?” The patient repeated, “I want my pocketbook!” The nurse again asked, “Who is the author?”
Later, she and Lucy found out that pocketbook was a synonym for purse. Or bag, as we called it in the Philippines.

Someone asked who among us was still menstruating. There was still one who said she still had regular periods and how she impatiently looked forward to menopause. Marilou couldn’t hold back an envious, “You mean you’re still lubricating?”

Somehow the talk moved on to penis sizes, and Lucy swore that the men with the longest ones were the Puerto Ricans. She peeked beneath the sheet covering an anesthetized patient and saw a penis that stretched just above the man’s knee. “And that’s not even at an aroused state,” Lucy said.

Marilou said, “Wow! Pity his lover. She must have a lacerated vagina!”

Pinky cried out, “You know why Miguelito Cotto just lost? Because he had to drag around a penis that long and that heavy so he couldn’t avoid Pacquiao’s blows.”

All that talk about phallic sizes made us hungry again. Before long, someone wished aloud for Vigan longganisa with omelette and fried rice. Her wish was Celia’s command. So past midnight, we had an early breakfast while the rest of the City of Angels slept.

At the last round of picture taking, when the chill was in the air, Celia yelled at the guys clicking away with the digital
cameras, “Hurry! Our clitorises are freezing!”

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Missing the Marapait

Perhaps the unwanted visitor named “Pepeng" delayed the much-awaited appearance of sunflowers. Their yellow blooms cover the vacant lots of Baguio that haven't been overbuilt yet. I hope it is just a delay, not a no-show. In the meantime, I’ll content myself with my friend Toottee Chanco-Pacis’s version of the last-quarter sunflowers. She calls this piece "Love the Sun." A fellow flower lover says give them two weeks; they'll come out. Yes, the green stalks are still very much around like cock-eyed optimists.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Waters of September & the Aquarelles

The boys, as we call Roland Bay-an, Norman Chow and Patric Palasi, went down to Manila on the evening of Sept. 25 , bringing with them in Tam-awan Village’s old Volks Combi large-size framed watercolors (minimum size of 18” x 24”) for the Sept. 26 opening of “Baguio,” the first Metro Manila show of the Baguio Aquarelle Society (BAS). Before noon, they had taken down the previous works hanging on the French Corner’s walls and installed the new watercolors.

Meanwhile, the other members of the year-old group were on the road that fateful Saturday, eager to make it to the 5 p.m. opening. Jennifer Cariño and Merci Javier Dulawan found themselves stuck to their seats in separate buses for more than double the six hours it normally took to traverse the distance between Baguio and Cubao. Somewhere in Bulacan, as they neared the Balintawak exit, the traffic ground to a halt.

The concern of a few others (Baboo Mondoñedo, Toottee Chanco Pacis, Fara Manuel and myself), who made it down earlier, was the torrential rains were making the streets, roads and highways leading to the Alabang venue impassable. The text message reached us around noon: opening moved to Oct. 4, Sunday, 5 p.m.

Now and then I’d check the Facebook home page and grow alarmed at the calls for help. After assurances from friends through SMS that they were safe, except for some seepage in lower parts of their houses and soaked documents, things would be better in the morning. Or so I thought. The last image in my mind before I slept was of Brenda Fajardo, my former professor in modern art, ready to clamber to the roof of her house because her first floor was completely flooded.

As soon as the skies cleared on Sept. 27, I took a cab from Kapitolyo, Pasig, to the Victory Liner terminal in Cubao. The cab’s floor was wet, the seat damp and the cabbie’s eyes swollen from lack of sleep. He had spent a harrowing 12 hours stranded somewhere in Pasong Tamo, Makati. His last passengers, en route to the domestic airport to pick up a returning relative, paid him P350 out of P500+ fare. He said it took them close to six hours to cross EDSA from Cubao to Pasong Tamo. When the waters rose rapidly, the passengers, who expected their balikbayan relative to pay the balance of the fare after pick-up, decided to head home in the MRT, leaving the cabbie stranded with his vehicle.

I never thought I’d write and paint myself to irrelevance, but apparently I just did. It has been difficult to put on a mask of normalcy each day and night I continue my routine, little things like attending classes, doing my minimum load of housework, eating a meal with my family. Anyone who survived the worst environmental disaster in Metro Manila is wracked with a form of guilt and must be moved to do his/her bit in the huge rehabilitation work that lies ahead.

Just the same, the Baguio Aquarelle show must go on. "Baguio" opens today, as earlier mentioned, at the French Corner on Commerce and Filinvest Avenues, Westgate Center, Filinvest Corporate City, Alabang. Part of the proceeds from sales made will go to the cause of the Ondoy victims/survivors.

Photo shows the Aquarelles safe under an Ifugao hut minutes before they felt Typhoon Kiko's fury (Photo by EV ESPIRITU)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Odette, Lola O, O.A.

The Benito sisters, Nieves and Lourdes, the eternal Odette who liked to refer to herself as the Black Swan, were not only tall and willowy, they were the perfect hosts, each in her own fashion.

Where the more cerebral Mrs. E (the name by which Nieves B. Epistola was called by her students and proteges in the ’70s) selected her own society that hung around her porch on M. Viola street at the UP Diliman campus, Odette, the queen of hearts, flung open the doors of the old Heritage Art Center at its original location in San Juan to all and sundry. She was its moving spirit when it changed location to Cubao. And when it burned down and moved to another location, her Blue Ridge home acquired a democratic gravitational pull of its own, attracting artists, chess players, ideologues and environmentalists.

Mrs. E liked to tell stories about her kid sister: how she gifted her with Benjamin Spock’s book which became Odette’s bible in raising her four sons; how bored Odette was with being a corporate banker’s wife and how she went into a rice-selling business, to Ate Nievs’ chagrin. Mrs. E thought of giving Odette an art book this time and that started her on art dealing. The sideline turned into a main line until Mario Alcantara and sons took over the business.

Even when she was the doyenne of that mini-cultural center, venue for book launches, concerts, bazaars and plays, including Miss Rita Gomez’s unforgettable performance of The Human Voice under Anton Juan’s direction, I intuited that Odette’s heart was not into the day-to-day running of a business, even if it allowed her to interact with her kind of crazy wonderful people.

Her office opened to a balcony where she’d be seen with nose buried in a book or bent over a chessboard while a heated argument went on at the Manansala Café below. Once, I saw Mario looking totally pissed off because Odette suddenly jumped into a car with a bouquet of flowers to meet Miss Gomez somewhere and left him to handle a gallery full of visitors. It was a quintessentially Odette gesture to give artists a sense of their importance in her, and by extension, the community’s, life.

Famed for her punning, this talent of hers found a creative outlet when she and some friends formed the core of Los Enemigos. If humor could help bring down a more than 20-year-old dictatorship, Los Enemigos should share part of the credit.

It was as an environmentalist, however, that Odette hit her stride. As she said, “This is a rainbow coalition where the left, right, center can come together.” Sometimes her alliances with whoever was environment secretary at the moment, from Fulgencio Factoran to Victor Ramos to Angelo Reyes and Lito Atienza, would make her friends flinch. But if it could increase the country’s forest cover, she would’ve wined and dined the Devil itself.

She wasn’t anyone’s patsy, though. On his first day of office at the vital Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Atienza turned up wearing his signature Hawaiian shirt unlike the outgoing Reyes whose military training made him dress more formally to give importance to the office.

Odette described the incoming secretary’s shirt as “kukur couture.”

I asked, “How’s that again?”

Kukurtinahin!” she gasped and laughed.

Her commitment was so total that she turned around the awful garbage situation in her exclusive subdivision. Blue Ridge became a model community where members learned composting and waste segregation. Troops of schoolchildren would fill her sala where she, actor Roy Alvarez or her other amigas/amigos in the cause would lecture and demonstrate how easy cleaning up the environment is. There was always a feast of suman and other kakanin and juice afterwards so the children would get a firsthand exercise on how to dispose of biodegradable banana leaf wrappers in her backyard by burying them.

At one of Gilda Cordero Fernando’s parties in the mid-1990s, wary that all that would come out of Odette’s mouth would be another mini-lecture on garbage (a joke that went around was: “There’s nothing in Odette’s mind but basura!”), I made small talk, wondering aloud what the key to longevity was.

Her answer came quick: “I’m going to live long because I’ve decided to take on toxic waste. Ridding the planet of it will take forever!”

Illustration is Odette as I see her now: from black swan to green butterfly

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

‘One Brain Between You’

Based on the repeated ovations they received from last night’s audience at the Cultural Center of the Philippines main theater, the Alban Gerhardt-Cecile Licad tandem can, in all probability, expect a comeback on these shores, hopefully under a more hospitable administration.

It was not the first time they performed together, but the team work and the chemistry between the German cellist and the Filipino pianist were pitch perfect that they indeed played (I use “played” the way a child would) as though they had "one brain between" them. This term we borrowed from an enamored fan, Lex O’Brien, a jazz musician, who saw the duo perform in Maryland, USA.

We hope to see and listen to more of the same, live performances of works by Chopin, Beethoven, Janacek and Shostakovich, in other places of the country outside the Center.

Our fervent hope doesn’t end there. My personal prayer is that the prodigies who grew up to be world-class musicians will not be held down by someone invoking the pull of utang na loob to a former patron, and they will not live to again see the day when they will be trotted out like “a carnival of animals,” as one pundit referred to the tribute to the Imeldific One. These musical and performing artists are not indentured servants.

The CCP management will do the country a service by reviewing the clause in a visiting artist's contract that disallows her/him from doing provincial engagements before a CCP show.

Tonight’s performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26, with Ms. Licad as soloist under the baton of Oscar Yatco, is worth the wait. Writer Pablo Tariman quoted the pianist’s mother, Rosario Buencamino Licad, who “compared the energy needed by the concerto to a couple making love. ‘When your partner is about to reach a climax, you can’t let that energy down. You have to sustain it. Otherwise, everything about this piece will just fall flat on your face.’”

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Woman Who Would Not Be Dame Vanessa

Today I'll do a Frank Cimatu by posting a photo and a short paragraph, barely a story. Just follow these links:

"If I think of a woman of truth, of loyalty, of integrity, of passion, of compassion, a woman with a great heart and a woman of all elements, I think of Vanessa Redgrave."--Ralph Fiennes in presenting Harper's Bazaar's Women of the Year award to Vanessa Redgrave

Suffice it to say I've followed her from Camelot to Evening and all the pictures, teledramas, news items and films in between. How she met up again with her ex, Franco Nero, is straight out of the lyrics of "If Ever I Would Leave You."

Somewhere in my files and unopened boxes is a photo of her marching on a London street and taking up the Palestinian cause. I can't think of an actor who comes close to her. Magic Meryl maybe?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Heavensent on a Weepy Sunday

From my Facebook inbox comes this Sunday gift, perfect reading for rainy weather that’s keeping most of us indoors. The letter comes from Heather O’Hara of The Watermark Poetry Group which anyone signed into FB can join:

One of our members, Joan Wheaton, recently sent me an email with a most beautiful message for poets… I have just posted it on our discussion board and want to make sure that all of you have an opportunity to read it—it is exquisite!

TOPIC: An Exquisite Moment That Breaks Boundaries of Thought

Also, my dear friend, Rick Beneteau—co-founder of Ten Million Clicks for Peace—is looking for poetry on peace to add to a newly created peace blog. If any of you have poems about world peace that you would like to submit to Rick for consideration you may send them to me or directly to Rick via his Facebook email.

Wishing you all a magnificent weekend!

Warmest Regards
Heather K. O’Hara
Co-founder, The Watermark Poetry Group
HEAVEN #3211 An Exquisite Moment That Breaks Boundaries of Thought, September 9, 2009

God said:

How you seek poetry in your life. No matter how hardened you may be, you seek poetry. The sun shines for all. The stars sparkle for all. Apple trees blossom for you. And you seek more than the eyes can see. You seek that which you don't quite remember, and yet you seek it. You may seek you know not what.

Whatever you seek, you are seeking poetry. You are seeking an exquisite moment that breaks boundaries of thought.

Poetry has you jump from one word to another with a remarkable jolt. From one world to another. How you want to jump out of daily life and enter the world of poetry. No matter how obscure a poem may be, it makes your heart leap. For a moment a metaphor carries you over a river from one bank to the next. For one moment a metaphor takes you from one galaxy to another.

A metaphor is the magic carpet you ride on. A metaphor switches you from one subway to another in midstream. One moment you were lollygagging along, and the next you are transported.

Everyone wants elves and fairies to exist. The staunchest realist in modern life wants to be surprised. No matter how close to the ground someone stays, he also wants to take flight. Everyone has had enough of the mundane.

It is not so much that you want to escape the dailiness of life. It is more that you want to return to an escapade you were in the middle of and yet seemingly forgot all about. Just as a name stays under the surface and you cannot remember it, the name stirs within you, and one day it pops to the surface.

Is it a metaphor that the sun is your heart, or that your heart is the sun? Is it a metaphor that your cheeks become roses? Is it a metaphor that you sail across a sea of life? Are metaphors perhaps more true than that the grass is green and the sky is blue?

Facts are details, and you seek Wholeness.

More exists than what you have seen, and you seek that more. You are entitled to it. You are supposed to have it. Your life is more than the stew cooking on top of the stove.

You not only seek to see wonders, you seek wonders to perform. However illusive that which you seek may be, it is Truth you are seeking. The greatest-seeming exaggeration has more Truth than the most staggering fact.

The cow did jump over the moon, and your heart does leap over ordinary life.

Ordinary life has its wonder, and ordinary life is good. And yet ordinary life is not all there is. There is an indefinable more. It cannot be defined, and yet it can be located.

Your heart is a garden. Your mind is a pool. You leap from one to another and back again. But, oh, the leap, beloveds. Oh, the leap.

You are one who transcends the mundane. The mundane is simply not enough for you. No matter how wonderful, no matter how fulfilling, there is that within you that seeks a greater horizon. You seek a greater horizon because you are bound to have it. If you must be bound, be bound to that which is boundless. Break boundaries. Break even the boundaries of words.

There is a blaze of light in your heart. There is something in your heart that you are leaping over. Your heart must be the moon even as it is the sun. Impossibilities become true. You are a leaper, and now you leap. You are a reaper, and now you reap.

Permanent Link:

"Resthouse," watercolor by Babeth Lolarga. (Photo by IAN DAUIGOY)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Government Friendly to Criminals, Especially RAPISTS

I received this new toe-curler and hair-raiser in one from my in-box today, enough to strengthen an old conviction that men and the patriarchal system they represent are the enemies. If you find a nurturing partner or father, not to mention a rarer fellow who is not threatened by your innate strength and unique voice, consider those creatures the exemptions. Otherwise, proceed like they are the enemies. Don't hold them up like idols, don't give them slack, or else you set yourself up for heartbreak...or worse, as a lot of rape and domestic abuse survivors have found out. In the case of rape, the criminal is usually someone known to the woman or child, often someone trusted. Even if these crimes are reported and the criminals hauled to court, don't expect much from this old boys' club called the Philippine government.

Statement from Women's Groups:

Is this Government Really Criminal-Friendly?

We, women’s groups, are outraged by the impending transfer of convicted rapist Francisco Juan “Paco” Larrañaga to a penal facility in Spain to serve the remainder of his life sentence for the rape and murder of the Chiong sisters in Cebu in 1997.

Not many Filipinos are aware that a RP-Spain Transfer of Sentenced Persons Agreement has been signed by our government in May 2007, and supported by a domestic law that became effective in January 2008. The local law was authored by Rep. Antonio Cuenco (Cebu, 2nd District).

First, may we ask the responsible legislators as to why they prioritized the country of Spain for this treaty? In November 2007, while this bill was being deliberated on, the Chiong family already expressed objection to the passage of the RP-Spain TSPA for favoring Larrañaga. During the same period, Larranaga was appealing his conviction to the Supreme Court.[1] Is it pure coincidence that the rapist is a “scion of the powerful and wealthy Osmeña clan of Cebu”[2]?

Second, why prioritize Spain when 128 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are languishing in Kuwaiti jails compared to seven (7) detained in Spain? Then Executive Director Ed Malaya of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) Legal Affairs Office commented that the law will benefit Filipinos serving their sentences in other countries. The Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur reported that the most number of Filipino detainees is found in Malaysia with 1,600. DFA itself reported that as of June 2007, there were 4,770 Filipinos languishing in jails in 63 countries and territories. Following Malaysia was Japan with 734, with 130 in the Osaka area; Qatar, 554; U.S., 406; Abu Dhabi, 198; Saudi Arabia (Jeddah only) 161; Hong Kong, 127.[3]

Let us not forget the cases of Romeo Jalosjos, Claudio Teehankee Jr., Chavit Singson and other criminals who got executive pardon for financial and political reasons. When government favors convicted rapists or simply “reprimands” its appointed officials accused of wife battering, who all come from the elite, where do ordinary citizens turn to for justice? Yet, we must remain vigilant and pursue perpetrators of sexual crimes against women, even as they may be protected by this government itself.

We stand in solidarity with the family of the victims. Justice must be served to the end.


Jean Enriquez, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – Asia Pacific (CATW-AP) and World March of Women - Pilipinas

Marlene Sindayen, Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL)-Women

Atty. Cristina Sevilla, WomenLEAD and ECPAT-Philippines

Lotlot D. Requizo, KAISA-KA

Ana Maria R. Nemenzo, WomanHealth, Philippines

Liza Gonzales, Bagong Kamalayan Collective, Inc. (BKCI)

Monina Geaga, Sarilaya

Mercedes Fabros, Welga ng Kababaihan

Anna Leah Sarabia, Kababaihan Laban sa Karahasan Foundation

Yuen Abana, Task Force Subic Rape (TFSR)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Baguio We Know

Coming soon at a National Bookstore (NBS) or PowerBooks branch near you: The Baguio We Know, a collection of essays by 15 writers, most of whom are residents of this highland city. Edited by drinking pardner Grace Subido, this Anvil book features reminiscences, vignettes, historical accounts, recipes that define a Baguio that is evergreen in everyone's minds. Unlike the template volume that came before it, The Manila We Knew, this one, the editor insisted, must carry the verb in its present tense. And we agree on that score.

No matter how visitors disparage the city for having lost the scent of pine and its hill-station charm, longtime residents like Cecile Afable, Nonnette Bennett, Merci Dulawan, Priscilla Supnet Macansantos, Baboo Mondonedo, Padmapani Perez, among others, will stake a pair of kitschy gigantic wooden spoon and fork in defending Baguio's indisputable place in their personal and the country's affections.

The book will be lauched on Sept. 2, Wednesday, at 6 p.m. at the NBS branch in SM City Baguio.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Perfect Timing

On July 26, 1984, a singing quartet serenaded a newly married couple, one Babeth Lolarga and one Rolly Fernandez, at their reception at Nielsen Tower on Makati Ave. The musicians just rendered two songs: "Bayan Ko," which moved their godfather Armando J. Malay to stand up and raise a clenched fist all throughout the singing, and "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree," a lighthearted ditty that took the edge off the first song.

Forward to the same day and month 25 years later. There were more than 25 songs sung that evening at Cafe Juanita. Days before, the fretful newsman in Fernandez worried that GMA might just spoil everybody's plans, including ours, by declaring a state of emergency at her hopefully last SONA. His fear never came to pass. But six days later, the death of Mrs. Aquino began galvanizing Filipinos again to unite against injustice, corruption and the assorted excesses of GMA. And once again I see yellow ribbons wherever I turn--around pine trees, at the Volante Pizza parlor's posts, etc.,--and the cheesy song about receiving a letter telling me I'll soon be free is so very in again.

One of our anniversary singers, journalist Vergel O. Santos, once winked at our First Draft group of women writers, saying: "Don't you just think that getting married is all about perfect timing?

These poems from Edel Garcellano's blog do not quite follow the line cuts he did. My stubborn computer refuses to follow the cuts and stanzas that Edel used to fashion these three verses. So they appear here like prose poems (sorry about that, Edel):



In a cafe, 
they are all smiles
 as she confides 
over the microphone
 she & her groom 
leave well enough 
each other alone – 
neither too near
 nor too far –
 unlike igneous rocks 
that upon close contact 
spark a fire.
elective affinity of desire? 
the secret of the feast
 that stood the text 
of their own conjugal times.
 & If the merrymaking 
among friends,
 who open doors
 for the bride’s flair,
 tells a story 
for all to learn,
it must have been
for a bonding
 to steer clear
 of short-lived passion,
embracing instead
 the cool danger
 of reason.
 Gold medal
 for him 
visible with ascetic grin?
 Applause for her 
who collates goodwill
 of kith & kin?
 A toast to hearts 
who beam
 at the fairy tale
worked out 
with delicate precision.


At 11pm 
the celebration 
was almost 
 but the singers 
were still belting out 
as if they had 
just begun
 to feel the heat
 of fun.
 Outside Cafe Juanita
 of post American
with old world air
 & yellow lights
 from lamps 
wrapped by 
silk gowns,
the rain had stopped,
emitting a scent
of late-night 
& after the formal
 settling of the bill,
 rearranging of chairs,
plucking of wine bottles 
off the tipsy tables, 
the couple 
would drive home
 a few blocks away, 
as if overwhelmed
 by love’s 
strange declaration.


They came,
singly or in packs, 
to be with the couple
 despite the heavy 
 They, who stood 
through thick & thin 
of accounted years:
 laughed at the same
 tried jokes;
 exchanged warm toasts;
 heard the chorus
 of ersatz troubadours 
that drew 
the night to a close.
What is there
 to expect 
after the celebration 
of beatitudes?
 Another 25 years
 of magical struggle
 & passionate hope.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

August Moon

I’ve always had a distaste for politics, but I love my liberal, libertarian, socialist and communist friends. Long ago, too, I learned that the act of writing is already a political act in itself. One cannot hide behind the journalistic code of objectivity all the time. In the end, you have to make a choice: are you on our side or on the enemy’s? Whether in the home with the threat of domestic violence hanging on one’s head or out on the streets where cruel traps are laid, we face the challenge of choosing, of making a stand.

Dying is easy; it’s the living that’s hard, so a wiseacre said.

Today how I can pose like a placid fence-sitter while I await former President Corazon Aquino’s casket to pass by, not too far from the lobby window of the Manila Diamond Hotel? I’ve been here since 12 noon. People with yellow shirts or yellow ribbons tied around their arms have been lining up the sidewalk since the sun rose.

I’m on a comfortable seat; my need to constantly pee has kept me from joining them. Yellow banners with the silkscreened image of Sen. Aquino festoon the street lamps. Manila is Cory City, Mayor Lim, whom she endorsed as her presidentiable in 1998, has seen to that. Suddenly, Dirty Alfred Lim smells clean

My partner Rolly and my friend Anna Leah Sarabia rushed out, he with an umbrella and still-intact power of observation, she with her camera and feistiness, to await the six-wheeler truck carrying the casket.

We never thought we’d make it this far—Rolly, Anna, me. We had other plans for the day. Rolly wanted to get back to Baguio to be in time for his pet dog’s dinner and his 7 a.m. class tomorrow at the University of the Philippines there.

Anna was supposed to give me a pep talk and repeat her old line about women’s rights being human rights. After which I was scheduled for a 2 p.m. meeting with Anvil Publishing’s Gwenn Galvez to map out the launching of The Baguio We Know, a two-year-in-the-making anthology of essays by Baguio’s finest, timed for the Sept. 1 celebration of the highland city’s centennial.

But all good plans were thrown in the waste basket. We decided to bear witness today. As we ate a hurried lunch at a nearby Vietnamese restaurant, memories of the August 21, 1983, assassination of President Aquino’s husband Ninoy came back vividly. So did the anger at the current lying and thieving Presidency. At one point, Anna thought aloud, “Gosh! GMA makes Marcos and Erap look like saints!”

Rolly tried to be facetious to deflect the tension. Perhaps, he surmised, the Filipinos are just longing for a happening like today’s march. No, I said, they had been waiting for the right time and occasion. Anna agreed, pointing out that we are moving towards a full moon, a lunar eclipse is going to happen. The moon, ah, for me who swears by its inconstancy, is what moves the masses. The sun represents the leaders, the moon moves the masses. Expect something to happen to an awakened people.

It was the same Anna who said, around the time the Marcos’s star was dimming, that the Filipino is like a carabao—hardworking, patient, etc. But once pushed to its limit, it gores its own master.

Two months ago, another friend said, half in resignation, half in bottled-up exasperation, that people were thinking, “Gloria (Macapagal-Arroyo) has a year to go. They just want to ride it out instead of protesting. Maybe change will come after the 2010 elections.”

Apparently, we’re near breaking point like the time Sen. Aquino was treacherously “salvaged,” to use Sen. Saguisag’s so very apt word. I never thought the line “Tama na, sobra na, palitan na” would resonate again with such vibrant, refreshing beauty, rid now of its cliché quality

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Unrestrained Ranting in Behalf of a Pianist

We haven’t buried the heroic widow yet. Nor have we gotten over the proclamation of Carlo Caparas, Cecile Guidote Alvarez and ilk as National Artists. Suddenly my email inbox is filled with the diplomatic exchange of correspondence between pianist Cecile Buencamino Licad and certain Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) officials, outgoing and incoming.

The gist of this latest controversy, all reflecting how this country is run, is this: The CCP artistic program committee refused to honor Ms. Licad’s commitment to do a provincial outreach concert at Holy Angel University in Pampanga scheduled in the first week of September.

On what grounds, you ask?

The CCP, or Sentrong Pangkultura ng Pilipinas, from whose reclaimed land visual, musical, dramatic, cinematic, literary and other artists should ideally branch out and share their talents/skills/training with the rest of the regions and provinces scattered across our archipelago, claimed first or proprietary rights over Ms. Licad.

Raul Sunico, its newly appointed vice president and artistic director, a pianist in his own right, wrote that her planned Pampanga concert, would preempt her CCP performance with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO) in mid-September, 15th and 16th to be specific.

Translation for this blogger: that ticket sales for her CCP concerts with visiting German cellist Alban Gerhardt and the PPO would be affected.

Hello, CCP public relations office, ticket sales, perhaps a third of it (and we’re being modest here), were made possible due to the almost one-man sales pitch freelance writer Pablo Tariman has been doing through his articles and music magazine since early June and through the unofficial texting brigade we started around that period. And we paid for our own tickets, take note. My four orchestra right tickets on those two nights I paid for from money earned as a freelance writer. I deposited my payment in the BPI Family account of the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines, the beneficiary of the Licad-Gerhardt-PPO concerts.

Ms. Licad is a thorough professional; she honors commitments and never makes promises that she can’t keep. More than this, she knows who and what she is, where she came from, how to acknowledge debts of gratitude and up to what point payback time is kept, her contributions to this benighted country, especially in deodorizing its bad image abroad.

In the latter, my encounters with some Fil-Ams and foreign creatures go something like this: “What, Cecile Licad is a Filipino? You have a world-class pianist, and she can afford to make New York City her base? I thought Filipina was synonymous with a maid in the US, Saudi and Europe? Sorry, ha, no offense meant.”

But here is Ms. Licad, who didn’t need to but had to explain herself to these idiots sitting in power at what it supposedly the country’s center of culture:

“I still don't believe my performances in the provinces will pre-empt the impact of the PPO concert. As earlier mentioned…, my provincial and two Metro Manila engagements last year didn't pre-empt the impact of the PPO concert; they actually sold out the CCP concert as reflected in the big revenues shared by the CCP and the Buencamino Foundation last year.

“Let me point out that I am doing the CCP program in the provinces for purely artistic reasons: this is my first performance of the Prokofiev C Major Concerto and I wanted to get to know this piece inside and out not just with technical rehearsals but with live audiences interacting with me. If I were doing Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff concertos, there is no need for provincial try-outs. I always try out new pieces many times in various places so I get the maximum result. That's the way I have worked in the last forty years of my career.

“I can see that the program committee's main consideration is the CCP investments and very little for my artistic needs; I noticed that all my points for doing provincial concerts were totally ignored.(italicization and emboldening of lines by blogger) If I may say so myself, I have given CCP and its audiences what they deserve in the last 40 years of my performing life. In this phase of my life and career, I expect no less from the CCP management.

“But your decision is well taken and I will honor my commitment. I am just sad that I cannot share my creative process with my countrymen in the provinces who have very little access to my performances. Since the CCP is financed by taxpayers' money not just in Metro Manila, I thought music lovers in the provinces need not be excluded from the CCP festivities on its 40th anniversary.”

Let’s ask ourselves: Is this any way for CCP officials to treat such a one as Ms. Licad? She is probably the best pianist of her generation internationally. Argentinian great Martha Argerich thinks so, so sure is she of Ms. Licad’s greatness which, I must add, is accompanied by humility and respect for authority.

By its gesture, the CCP has made it loud and clear that provincial engagements that come before a performer’s scheduled presentation on its stage cannot be done under its latest rules (rules conveniently dangled before Ms. Licad when no one, not even her, was aware of them).

I have just overheard an episode of the TV series “Scrubs.” One black woman character railed against a white woman who said something to the effect that classical music cannot be universally appreciated. The black woman said just because she (the black) wasn’t born in Vera Wang diapers doesn’t mean she can’t understand classical music.

Ms. Licad, I will say the words for you because you are a decent person, a darling of a musician, and everyone I know knows I'm neither of those, especially when sufficiently provoked: the current crop of CCP officials, supervisors and an underling, a certain Becca Jose, PPO manager, have not been toilet trained. That said, enjoy your visit to the motherland.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

How We Were Before

I'm composing this in Room 940 of the Peninsula Manila where my one & only husband of 25 years Rolly Fernandez & I are holed up to compose ourselves before we face loved ones at our little gathering at Cafe Juanita in Barangay Kapitolyo, Pasig City, today. In typical couple fashion, Rolly is mesmerized by ESPN's coverage of the New York Yankees versus Oakland Athletics game (no matter that it is a replay).

Last night we had dinner with Rolly's mentor, Enrique "Pocholo" Romualdez, and his wife Lita at Mikey's on Diosdado Macapagal ave., Pasay City. Every couple of minutes, Mr. Romualdez would turn to me and repeat a variation of this same question: "How do you put up with this guy?" The implication was, Rolly hasn't changed all these years: talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place. Is it any wonder Rolly's siblings call him "Rock"? He is unmoving, unchanging. The upside of this is he's reliable, dependable & nice to come home to wherever my inner-outer journey takes me. But I don't think Mr. Romualdez, the epitome of the hardboiled newsman, would like my answer so I kept it to myself.

Mr. Romualdez also shared a wonderful insight. During his and his wife's celebration of their golden anniversary (they're on their 61st year this year), people gave Lita a standing-ovation and the applause went on and on. People were on their feet cheering her for putting up with Mr. Romualdez, the last of the shouting editors. Then he winked at us, saying, "Kung alam lang nila. Ako ang tunay na martir dito!" Rolly laughed heartily; he could connect with that remark.

Following is a background about Rolly's & my relationship:

He & I went steady for five years: 1979-1984. It wasn't all moonlight & roses; Rolly pretty much left me to myself after we
officially were "on." It's because work is his wife; I'm the mistress. I appreciated it then & appreciate it now--he gave me lots of space & wouldn't call or date me for weeks on end. So I had a rich single girl's life that included going to art exhibitions, plays, movies & concerts on my own.

Which is what I miss now because there's not much of a cultural life in sleepy Baguio for all the number of visual artists & musicians per square meter. I miss ballet, contemporary dance & orchestral performances which are infrequent there.

About our preparations for the wedding 25 years ago, Rolly & I agreed that we would have a stark, simple one, aware that a wedding is just for a day or an evening but marriage is a commitment.

So he had his outfit for the occasion done by his Daily Express colleague Danilo Franco who headed the art department and was apprenticing with the great Ben Farrales. I was just gonna wear a shirt & skirt from my closet, not a gown (Jeez! The thought of wearing one still gives me the creeps), but when my mother heard Rolly was having barong & pants made pasadya, she had a nice dress made for me.

At that time, I had just returned from Mindanao where Jerry Araos & his comrades sent me on an exposure-immersion trip that had me shuttling from Cagayan de Oro to Butuan to Davao City & to a forest in Agusan del Sur where I lived with armed rebels for 10 days (not sure exactly how many days but it was long enough so I could appreciate their life). In the jungle I remember recording revolutionary songs in a portable tape recorder Rolly lent me.

When I returned to Pasig, I lost so much weight. When I was having my fittings with the dressmaker, I was probably down to 105 lbs. because food in u.g. life was strictly budgeted. I did not complain because we always had a balanced meal of fish, rice, vegetables & fruits whenever I was in an urban place. In the forest it was rice, siling labuyo, salt. Skyflakes crackers were a treat & rationed.

When the dress was finally done & I got into it, it was tight. By that time, my old appetite had returned with a vengeance; I was
eating 4-5 pieces of pan de sal at breakfast. So the dress had to be refitted & dyed a shade of tan because it was white.

I didn't like to wear virginal white. I wasn't a virgin. Rolly & I were avid practitioners of premarital sex with proper use of contraceptives. (Jerry said in his book The Garden of Two Dragons Fucking, which I edited in 1992, that parents who can declare openly that they had practiced premarital sex ought to be congratulated. So congratulations to Rolly and me!)

My original plan was to wear my office clothes: pleated, rainbow-color skirt with matching top.

Jerry called me at my old Raya Media Services office in United 1, Paranaque, & was surprised to learn that I was still working on technically was the eve (morning) of my wedding. The wedding was set at 6 p.m. on July 26, 1984. He asked what my plans were after our Baguio honeymoon. I told him Rolly & I would go our separate ways--he to his apartment in Makati where he lived with his medyo sickly mother & I back to my parents in Pasig. Jerry said, "Ang suplada mo talaga, Babeth! You should
live with your mother-in-law because eventually she will die. After that, it's all silence ."

But Rolly was the one who discouraged me from living with him for as long as his mother was there. She was the empress
dowager type, but he knew how to kowtow to her. As for me, my attitude has always been, if you don't like me, well, the feeling is mutual. Tapos ang usapan.

So Rolly & I continued to behave like a young couple still going steady. We would meet on his day off from work, usually mid-week. We'd watch a movie, catch an art show or a baseball game at the Rizal Stadium & have a nice dinner after. When the house in Antipolo was finished, we'd go there on weekends, but he would leave for work after lunch & I'd be left alone spinning records or reading a book. Our two children were conceived there. Jerry made our matrimonial bed & some furniture which are now in Baguio.

An important detail about the wedding: of all my many friends, I chose Jerry to be present at wedding. He kept it secret from everybody else, especially the Hiraya Gallery crowd of the '80. Only he & Gigi Duenas knew that I had gotten married. Before my wedding, Gigi told me, "Babeth, ang nag-aasawa lang ay yung may balak maghiwalay." But eventually Gigi got married too & even uses her French husband's name.

There must be a lesson or two here somewhere.

Photo shows old married couple at a book fair, University of California in Los Angeles, 2008.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

For Public Consumption: A Rave for Floy Quintos' "Atang"

What is worth a six-hour trip from Baguio braving fickle weather and the possibility of losing my balance along the way due to an old ear infection? Gilda Cordero Fernando’s workshop on creativity in the classroom is one. But that deserves a story on its own.

Another worth any trouble/hassle is the last run of the musical “Atang” at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater at Palma Hall, UP Diliman, held July 18. The theater was filled to capacity with a very responsive audience of young and young-once alike. Even without much publicity in traditional print and broadcast media outlets, word got around fast through Facebook, SMS, email and new, vital media. Reservations were assured as soon as these were placed. As for the queue a few minutes before curtain time, it was orderly.

I brought Jun Calamba, our family’s occasional weekend driver for my escort, and ensured he’d take a front-row seat while I took the seat behind him. “Sige, Jun, dyan ka. Ingat ka lang na hindi ka matalsikan ng laway ng mga aktor,” I told him. Gentle Jun just smiled and sat upright.

With an audience as keyed up as this one, Ayen Munji-Laurel as Gia Almonte had us at hello. Young, tall and on the mestiza side, Gia is immediately cut down to size by an aging, trembling, hunched Atang (magnificently played by Frances Makil-Ignacio). Constantly referred to in the two-act play as unang superstar ng bayan, Atang/Frances is uncannily interchangeable; Jun actually thought Frances and Atang were one and the same person. She gives Gia her first lesson on perfecting one’s art.

On learning that starlet Gia, who is about to embark on the role of her life ( playing Honorata de la Rama in a biopic on her life) knows music by ouido (by ear) and does not take lessons from a voice teacher, Atang gives her this pointer: it is her duty to herself to better her god-given talent.

Second lesson: the entertainment industry has a short memory. In time Gia’s having worked with Bernal or Brocka and her Best Actress statuettes will be forgotten.

Third: Pursue your heart’s desire. Atang’s older sister wanted her to study pharmacy and to open a botica later. These—becoming a pharmacist and running a drugstore—were the approved jobs for women of that period. Music (voice and piano) lessons were allowed in her youth only as hobbies, not as a vocation. Atang would have none of that; pharmacy for her was like mixing poison.

Fourth: Wherever she performed the song “Nabasag ang Banga” (words by Hermogenes Ylagan and music by Leon Ignacio), Aeta, Igorot and Bagobo audiences, not just the Tagalogs, were all delighted and got the double entendre. So, Gia, never underestimate your audience.

I should stop at the fourth lesson. From my brief stint in corporate communications at San Miguel Corp. 20,000 years ago, Winston Marbella and Art Cariaga taught me to stop at three points. Why? They’re easy to communicate and easy to remember if you stop at three.

But I will insist on a fifth point connected to the relationship of Atang and Amado Hernandez: that what is more important is not romance but understanding. Amado insisted on bayan muna (country first) but with Atang, who found it hard to love a hero, by his side at all times.

That said, I shout “Bravo!” again to the wonderful cast who worked with the equally wonderful director Alex Cortez.

Alex crossed the fingers of both hands, wishing that the production of “Atang” would have a move-over engagement at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in November. Hear that, Mr. Nes Jardin?

For cultural workers like Gia who learned from Atang, it is necessary to create one's story, to cultivate one's own mystery.

Photo courtesy of Frances Makil Ignacio, from her Facebook profile

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Her Name Is Bianca , and She's 7

Below is a composition by my seven-year-old niece Bianca, daughter of my sixth sibling Pinky and her husband Rod. Bianca was seen by my daughters this week typing away on this very laptop where I am composing this blog.

She's on Facebook because she likes the games there (Pet Society being one), but her Internet access is timed and for a limited period only. Why? Because she is a schoolgirl, a child and must enjoy the outdoors on sunny days like today.

She's also listed as a public figure in FB at the rate she appears in my blog and my daughters', nephews' and nieces' Multiply and FB accounts. Ida, my youngest and a child development and education grad of Miriam College, is of the opinion that Bianca's fan page should be shut down. We haven't figured out who is the fan page's administrator. But if it were me, no way. We'll watch Bianca grow through the years that way.

This aunt almost failed to mention that Bianca is serious with her piano lessons, and she agreed to escort me to the Cecile Licad concert in September at the Cultural Center. On condition that she and I take a long siesta before the evening performance/s.

Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrreeeee's Bianca in her own write:

My name is Bianca Ysabel. I live at 45 Oriole st., Francisville subd.,
Antipolo City.

My mother’s name is Genevieve.
My father’s name is Rodolfo.
My brother’s name is Juan Paolo.
And my sister’s name is Margarita.

My birthday is on April 28.
I was born in the year 2002.
My birthday day is on a Tuesday.

I study at Assumption Antipolo.
My best friends are Lianna Margarita Manlutac and
Marian Juliet Manrique.

My lolas’ names are Mama Mermaid and Lola Ines.
My lolos’ names are Lolo Endong and Lolo Daddy.
My titas’ names are Tita Babeth, Tita Embeng, Tita Suzy, Tita Gigi, Nanay Mely and Tita Carol.
My titos’ names are Tito Junic, Tito Dennis , Tito Eric, Tatay Boyboy and Tito Sonny.
My cousin ninang is Ate Kimi and my cousin ninong is Kuya Carlo.

My cousins are Kuya Christian, Ate May, Kuya Rex, Ate Sara, Kuya Justin, Kuya Daniel,
Kuya Ted, Ate Ida, Ate Carla, Ate Monet and last cousin Kuya Marc.

My niece and nephews are Paopao, Myah, Miko and Marcus.

I love you all, my families and friends.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Other Writer in the Family Speaks Up

From cousin Enrique L. Romero Jr. in sunny California comes this letter, post-haste, after he viewed Maalala Mo Kaya's episode on his godfather, Dr. Enrique C. Lolarga Jr., a.k.a Uncle Junior. Enri, as my cousin is known to us, is father to Rica and Dino and husband to Trina "Pem" Jacob:

I am probably one of the last to see the movie since I had no access to The Filipino Channel. My thanks to Junic for providing the internet link after my frantic e-mail. Still, due to my un-techy-ness, it took numerous clumsy attempts nights thereafter before I finally got it. I hope that Junic could still send me a clear DVD copy once available so that the rest of us can watch it.

Whatever controversies certain dramatizations in the movie may have spawned, rest assured that those of us who knew him know better, and we believe that the movie achieved what we hoped it would--a lasting tribute to your father.

It bothered me whenever I hear that there were some who mistook his shyness and quiet ways as aloofness and arrogance, and I was always quick to rectify these mis-impressions when I catch them. I felt I knew him well enough to do so.

In the eighties when he was our company physician at Trans-Pacific Properties, we saw each other regularly and always retired to my office after the employee consultations to share stories and jokes. Perhaps, because we shared the same name, two seemingly serious individauls found themselves unabashed by their openness and laughter.

We also had our solemn moments, such as the time when Pem, Rica, Dino and I went up one weekend to Baguio following Lola's operation. Entering the hospital room, we found Uncle Junior alone gingerly attending to Lola. Later in the hallway, his shoulder drooped and his voice cracked when he told me that it was a quick open-and-close procedure because it immediately became apparent that the cancer has spread beyond cure and that only a few months were left. We were pleased that he rode with us that weekend back to Manila, and we stopped by Vilmar in Tarlac so that he can have what Pem distinctly remembers him saying as his favorite--tortang alimango. That ride home was pleasant, but there were some moments when Uncle Junior could not seem to find peace in the thought that through the years he always did the best he can for Lola.

Our most endearing moment with your father came after Dino, barely 3 years old, fell and hit his head on our bedroom floor one evening, and shortly therafter started vomiting and felt sleepy. We took him to the emergency room of GSIS hospital on East Avenue and later wanted to transfer him to St Luke's but were strongly advised not to by the resident physician. Anxious that this might be worse than anticipated, I phoned Uncle Junior to consult him but instead he insisted outright, despite the very late hour to take a cab and come. None of us slept that night because we needed to ensure that, until the x-ray results cleared him, Dino did not sleep, eat nor drink. And to partly quench his thirst, Pem will always remember your Dad for showing her how to moisten Dino's lips with her fingers and a wet towel.

Uncle Junior and I reminisced about a lot of things that night on the balcony. It is during these rare moments that you appreciate the depth of his emotions, the vastness of his heart, the kindness of his soul and his dedication to his calling. My anxieties were long gone by then because I felt what my mother did whenever we got sick as kids, how quickly these disappear by his mere presence, reassuring voice and untiring attention. I brought him back to Barrio Kapitolyo at daybreak, hugged him tight and, in near tears, thanked him and Auntie Nene. As always, he expected nothing, even detested any thought of it. His unselfish ministration always was his reward.

It was this bond and friendship that kept me going to the Heart Center each of those nights of January 1992. I could almost feel then his pain each time he had seizures, and my heart would quiver each time the doctors brought him back numerous times. On that Sunday, I remember my Mommy, who already arrived from Virginia, and I returning home from the hospital only to receive a phone call. We rushed back and still found him in his room with the attendants who had already wrapped him in white linen. I remember Mommy and I sobbing, calling his name and embracing him. A part of us left with him that day.

I have read all the e-mails and am so glad at the outpouring of affection for Uncle Junior. These are rare glimpses that otherwise would have remained unspoken, something often felt but seldom verbalized. We are able to finally express the tributes we could not utter in our grief at the time of his passing.

Looking back at my 57 years, I can only find a morsel of good decisions I have made. One was in 1979 to request your Dad to be our Ninong at our wedding. It was a role he played earnestly in the years to come, and it drew us closer to him as much as he already was to us, and probably to countless others, some of whom we may never know given the many he heeded to. I realized later on how extremely happy my Mommy was that the brother she admired and loved so much became our Ninong.

Our appreciation goes out to Auntie Nene and family for allowing, even enduring, your Dad's unending desire to pursue his laudable calling. Indeed, he was a blessing to many.

Warm regards,

Photo shows Enri as a boy in Baguio (first row, right) with his older brother Sonny and sisters Rose and Toots, his mother Pacita Lolarga Romero, his aunt and my mom Gliceria D. Lolarga and me.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Their Uncle Junior, Our Uncle Celso

From Lolarga cousins in the Philippines and an aunt in the US come these reactions to the “Maalaala Mo Kaya” episode last Saturday aired over ABS-CBN. These are mainly recollections of our Daddy, Enrique C. Lolarga Jr., known to them as Uncle Junior and Manong. Manang Nene is my mother, Gliceria D. Lolarga. My relatives' letters make me feel I’m sitting at his wake again, listening to these lovely memories

From Jocelyn “Jing” Lolarga-Deco, our cousin and daughter of Celso C. Lolarga and Josie Geslani:

Alam mo we really felt so proud watching your dad's story at MMK last Saturday. My kids know Kimi and Ida, but they never knew Uncle Jr. Kako yun binabanggit na Celso is their Lolo. They were both really there for each other. Your dad was always around when Papa got sick or was hospitalized.

“We can really attest to Uncle Jr.'s service. It was as if he and Papa made it their commitment to make an impact on and improve the lot of those barrio folks.

“Wish though we were able to document those services, pati yung mga pag improve ng park and kalsada. Well, it's their legacy that counts here.

You should have seen your dad at work whenever he went to Canan Sur. The barrio folk somehow know that he has arrived with free medicine. And they would come in droves, and he would start treating them. No fanfare, no ceremony. To them, he was their lifeline to treatment of their illnesses. He would just quietly work away, examining each man, woman and child. He would calm and softly assure them they will get well.

“It was obvious he was really enjoying it because he would have so much medicine with him, yet he would take the bus to Dagupan.

“I hope you can give me a copy of the DVD. I intend to give them copies there of the show para sila rin, MAALALA rin nila si Uncle Junior.”

From Jose Mari G. Lolarga, Jing’s older brother:

“Like Jing, I was so proud for you guys, having Uncle Junior (who is my ninong sa binyag ) featured on TV. And MMK pa!

“I texted my friends, carpool and office mates to watch it. Several of them did, in fact! Our HR manager, who is a Hamada from Baguio, asked me Monday if I was related to Uncle Junior. And to think hindi ko siya na-text to watch it! He was elated to know relative ko pala yung na-feature.

“There were a lot of revelations while watching the show. I didn't realize he was almost run over by a car. But it did bring tears to my eyes , that scene with him in the living room came, about medicine being his 'calling.' A very simple mission in life, rare in these times we live in.

“I felt so much longing for them, Papa and Uncle Junior after. They were really close. I even texted our tenant-farmer who watched it. Kilala niya si Uncle Junior. I hope I can get a copy so I can give one to the people in Canan Sur. They benefited from your father's generosity. “

From Auntie Josie, mother of Mari and Jing Lolarga, comes this letter. She is now based in Roseville, California. The manong (elder brother) he refers to is Dr. Lolarga:

“Thanks for conjuring up the memories we all share of Manong. His precious quiet trips to Canan Sur in Malasiqui, Uncle Cel's little fort, were welcome treats for his little brother and the rest of the barrio folks who received his full medical attention free of charge. They would trek to our nipa hut to have their blood pressure checked and linger on to chat with the doctor, asking a lot of simple questions pertaining to their medical issues. They could not afford to make trips to a doctor who charged fees.

“I remember that after he had saved enough drug samples to bring, he would take the bus to Dagupan and excitedly hop into our jeep for the rugged ride home. He spent his last New Year there, playing tong-its with Uncle Cel and Julius. He came out mostly winning!

“The story was not only a tribute to him but also to Manang Nene for rallying behind Manong and you, her children, so that you could get education for your own eventual use.

“When I go back to the Philippines and Malasiqui to retire next year, let's picnic in Canan Sur and plant a fruit tree in honor of Manong Junior, a testimonial to his ‘rooted-ness’ to his principles and mission.

“In behalf of my three munchkins, Mari, Jing and Julius and their children, I send each one of you my love and prayers.

“Honestly, I would have wanted to post this in your blog, but I don't know how to. This is an ooops moment for a senior citizen, no matter how computer literate I claim to be."

Photo shows the Lolarga family of Pepin street, Dimasalang, Sampaloc, Manila. Uncle Celso stands far right on the second row; Daddy stands second from left on the same row. Complete tagging/caption to follow in my Facebook. Photo shared by ERLINE VALDELLON MENDOZA from her IPhone

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Naalaala Nila si Uncle Junior

From the cousins (Lolarga side) scattered in North America came these reactions to "Diary," the recent episode of the ABS-CBN television program "Maalala Mo Kaya," based on the life story of Enrique C. Lolarga Jr. He was better known to them as Uncle Junior. The Lollikins referred to are his wife and children.

From Erline Valdellon Mendoza of McLean, Virginia:

"MMK was recently added to our ‘must know’ set of acronyms. Rudy and I and Mommy and Beng drove to Maryland to watch MMK last Saturday at Nini’s house since they subscribed to TFC.

"Maalaala mo kaya…Opo, naalaala ko ang kabaitan at kagandahang-loob ni Uncle Junior.

"Naalaala ko, the mornings when he came and checked on our Mommy after Papa died. Pinky reminded me when she visited us last May - when she and her siblings quietly and patiently waited in their car parked outside our gate in Little Baguio – before being dropped off at school when Uncle Junior came to see Mommy with his doctor’s bag – checked her blood pressure, etc.. Later, our Ninang Ening also consulted with him. Naalaala ko that those morning visits were very assuring and comforting to me as a young teenager.

"Ako – naalagaan din niya – can you imagine being almost 18 years old, starting college in UP, being more independent and taking care of my own hot bath and falling whole holding the caserola of hot water to the banyo – second (maybe third) degree burns on my face and neck – Eby rushed me to Trinity Hospital – before I knew it – Uncle Junior was there. Naalaala ko when he carefully put the dressing on my face and neck with the medicine and when he carefully removed it later. In his soft manner, he assured me that I was going to be ok. Naalaala ko, I did not even think of being concerned about my face. I started my freshman year in UP two weeks late and wore a scarf over my neck.

"Ayan, your Daddy, Kimi’s 'Lolo Daddy,' our Uncle Junior, so beloved, not only by family and friends but also by others not known to us.

"Maraming salamat for sharing your Daddy with us.

"Maraming salamat, Lord, for dear Uncle Junior.

"God bless the Lollikins! Our warmest regards to your Mommy!

"Take care always."

From Telly Lolarga Valdellon of New York City:
"yes, maraming salamat.

"the MMK episode was truly a tribute to uncle jr. & whoever watched it will learn something. no matter how life is there is something we can share to others. and that it'll make us happy.

"all of us (lolargas) have been under his care for a long time. from birth till we were working. no need for health insurance. we could always rely on uncle jr & no matter how sick we were, he was always calm & assured us we would be ok. home service pa.

"pinky & i studied in baguio together in lola's care, and i don't recall nagtigas ulo siya. hmmm? aside from uncle jr., im also proud of lola. she took care of us, too. alam ko na kanino nagmana si uncle jr. kay lola. i'm proud to be a lolarga.
as erline has said, thanks for sharing ur dad to us, lollikins.

From Ramon L. Romero Jr., better known to us as Sonny, comes this email from Windsor, Ontario, Canada:

Today is Sunday 4:30pm . Yesterday at noon Baby and I had lunch before we watching the tele-movie about Uncle Junior’s diary. As we were having lunch, I told Baby that I'd bet that it wwould be about the vow that he took after medical school that he would help the sick and those who would ever need his services. Baby reminded me about Uncle Junior’s letter which had written us when Junic lived with us briefly in Windsor. Baby remembers how touching it was and how appreciative and sincere his words were which ended with 'Thank you for taking care of my Junic.'

"As we began to watch the movie, the scene where he said what would be happier than to fulfill life’s mission brought a tear to my eye. There were more scenes like that until Baby and I emptied Nanay’s box of tissue. The scene where they were playing mahjong, I still remember as a young boy. Now I understand.

"I have always respected Uncle Junior and Auntie Nene, how they were able to raise a big family, and I admire them more for their forgiveness and the sacrifices they made.

"I called Junic after watching the movie and told him the scene when he got home was probably when he was out with Ferdi and Melito. Uncle Junior did not have a moustache, and he was better-looking than Christopher de Leon, but kidding aside he did us proud in his portrayal of our Uncle Junior.

"I will watch the movie a second time. It will be a few days before I feel normal again. We did not have a MMK party here in Windsor, but I felt like we had one.

"Love and regards to all,


Response from Daddy's pet, my youngest sibling Gigi:
Dear Cousins,

"Thank you so much for all your kind words about Daddy. I'm sure wherever he is, he is at peace and overwhelmed by the thought that he was able to touch our lives in many ways.

"At a young age I already knew that Daddy was not ours alone. That we share him with other people, too. Sometimes it was difficult to understand, but as MMK creatively put it in one of Christopher de Leon's lines: 'Hindi na niya kailangang ipaalam kung ano ginagawa ng kanang kamay sa kaliwang kamay.' He never owed us any explanation; what he left behind said it all.

"Maraming salamat sa pag-gunita sa lahat ng kabutihang ibinahagi niya sa inyong lahat. Life is short indeed. It is never enough to fulfill one's aspirations. But all the kind words, the sharing of one's gift of talent and love shall sustain the lives of other people he left behind.

"Again thank you and may we never forget Daddy's legacy to us, his children...and that definitely includes all of you, dear cousins. May we learn to live following his example, even in our own little ways.

"Love & prayers,


Inset photo shows Eric and Pinky Lolarga with our Lola Purang (Telesfora C. Lolarga) at the old family residence in Lower Brookside, Baguio City, in the 1960s.

Top photo is the last taken of Dr. Lolarga alive (in striped shirt and dark glasses) and together with his children, grandchildren and sons-in-law taken in Pasig City, July 1991, after he survived his first heart attack.

Pahabol from Rose Romero de los Reyes, the oldest grandchild of Lola Purang and Daddy's oldest niece on his side; she is based in Ontario:

"Uncle Junior introduced me to a hobby of caring for love birds. He encouraged me to raise love birds, which i did. I was able to come up with 16 different colors of love birds which I later sold to pet shops in Manila. Your Dad really loved pets and nature. this is why I miss him."

Monday, June 29, 2009

I'm a Bipolar Bear, and I'm Lovin' Every Minute of It

Some members of my immediate family are reacting (expectedly) in a hostile fashion to the airing of our family's story in Maalaala Mo Kaya’s Father’s Day episode “Diary.” Tell me about it, I can hear you saying.

One sister said, how come there are twists here and there bordering on fictional story-telling? There are other variations of these comments, and I’m just about ready to literally throw the new books on creative non-fiction and old volumes on New Journalism at these persons.

What I haven’t counted on is the outpouring of congratulatory text and Facebook messages. Although my dear kid brother Eric’s condition was handled sensitively, my own private hell from early childhood to adolescence, all the way to mid-adulthood was not tackled. But then I’ve long ago promised and submitted my essay on the family disease—bipolar disorder—to Dr. Margarita Holmes. She has it in her files to be put out in a volume someday.

Just so to appease these family members who think I haven’t come clean with my own occasions of mania and depression, here’s my daily maintenance dosage (how more open can I get about this?):

Depakote Sodium extended release, 500 mg.;

Rivotril, 2 mg. ;

And for the nights when I twist and turn, I take Dormicum, 15 mg.

Again I have to thank my father, Enrique C. Lolarga Jr., M.D., for seeing me through difficult phases in my life. He it was who brought me to Dr. Leonardo Bascara in college when the first waves of seemingly overwhelming depression left me floundering. To these other psychiatrists, I owe a debt of gratitude that can never be fully paid: Dr. Elizabeth Rondain, Dr. Lourdes Vera Lapuz and currently, Dr. Gilda Manalo Wong of the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center.

Also being part of a twice-a-month Sufi mediation group, an aquarelle society and a Saturday prayer group led by Oscar and Toottee Pacis have helped calm me.

Happy now?

My consolation after the MMK episode is this message from writer Gilda Cordero Fernando: “Anyway, all the bipolars I’ve met are much more interesting than the normals.”

Photo shows Dr. Lolarga leading his kids in singing the theme from The Sound of Music

Sunday, June 21, 2009

I've Never Sung Enough for My Father

Going through my friends' Facebook notes about their own fathers today, I couldn't stop the tears from filling my eyes.

I realized that yes, my previous piece on Tatay Rolly, the father of my daughters Kimi and Ida Fernandez, now reads like an exercise in evasion although I took great pains to wake up early this Sunday to compose it.

Being the firstborn of eight children and the one on whom Daddy lavished the most attention, I find it difficult to identify with those who rebelled against male authority figures in their families.

Whatever rebellious streak and unmanaged anger I still have has my Mom and all she stands for (traditional Roman Catholic piety, conformity, holding down a steady job, being beholden to one's employer no matter how much sh_t is thrown one's way, being fussy about neatness and order in the house, a judgmental character, etc.) as its focus.

So when my beloved Dad died, I felt like I lost both an arm and a leg. Baldado talaga. Mahirap na nga mabuhay sa mundo, mawalan ka pa ng kakampi.

So here's to you, Dad, and all the tenets you lived by: keeping your head low and out of the limelight, kindness to those who have less in life, a pared-down lifestyle, rage at any form of injustice (call it a return to your original Protestant faith). You and your mother, Telesfora Cariño Lolarga, are, and will always be, my heroes.

Photos show Babeth at age two being held by her father, Enrique C. Lolarga Jr., in 1957 and at one month in 1955

Timeless Reminder for Tatay

It is 5:40 a.m. on a quiet Sunday in Baguio. Strangely, there is no rain but a faint buzz in the air. All I can hear in our room is the turning of the pages of a book and a gentle tapping on the keyboard. Another Sunday in the lives of Rolly and Babeth. He gets up to check the Major League Baseball schedule and on learning the next game isn't until 7 a.m., resumes reading Asuncion David Maramba's Beyond the Classroom: Essays on Living.

Journalist Yvonne Chua, whom Rolly supervised when she was a young reporter at the now defunct Philippines Daily Express, once asked me, "Does your husband have a life already?" Her question is quite revealing. She took the words right out of my mouth.

But our children Kimi and Ida do appreciate Rolly for his steadfast devotion to his editing and mentoring duties. So much so that when Kimi was about to turn 24 on June 10, I texted their Tatay to please find it in his heart to surprise his eldest daughter by turning up in Pasig on her birthday. And he did, bright and early on that day. Kimi was so thrilled and happy she declared that she would treat the four of us (Tatay, Nanay and baby Ida) to a fab lunch at Claw Daddy at the Shangri-la Plaza Mall and dessert afterwards at her and her sister's fave froyo (that's frozen yogurt, Tatay) place.

So here's another one of my reminders (bordering on nagging) to the man my children declared many years ago "The Best Tatay in the World." Go get a life, Rolly. On the other hand, we like and accept you the way you are.


Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant- they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are a vexation to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.

But let this not blind you to what virtue there is: many persons strive for high ideals and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself, especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love for in the face of all adversity and disenchantment, it is perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.

YOU ARE A CHILD OF THE UNIVERSE. No less than the trees and stars, you have a right to be here and whether or not it is dear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be and whatever your labors and aspirations.

In the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham and drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful, strive to be happy.

And with the permission of poet Jose L. Lacaba, another hard-working tatay, I am reposting his translation of the poem above to Filipino. This version can be found in his book Sa Daigdig ng Kontradiksyon. He also did a salinawit of this poem, but he feels that the version below remains truer in spirit to the original poem in English.

Salin ng tulang "Desiderata"
Ni Max Ehrmann


sa gitna ng ingay at pagkukumahog, at alalahanin
ang kapayapaang maaaring makuha sa katahimikan.

Walang isinusuko hanggat maaari, pakitunguhan
nang mabuti ang lahat ng tao.

Sabihin ang iyong katotohanan nang tahimik at malinaw;
at makinig sa iba, kahit sa nakayayamot at mangmang;
sila man ay may kasaysayan.

Iwasan ang mga taong mabunganga at palaaway,
sila'y ikinaiinis ng kalooban.

Kung ihahambing mo ang sarili sa iba, baka
yumabang ka o maghinanakit; sapagkat laging
may lilitaw na mas mahusay o mas mahina sa iyo.

Ikalugod ang iyong mga tagumpay at saka mga balak.

Manatiling interesado sa iyong hanapbuhay,
gaano man kaaba; ito'y tunay na ari-arian
sa pabago-bagong kapalaran ng panahon.

Maging maingat sa iyong negosyo; sapagkat ang daigdig
ay puno ng panlilinlang. Subalit huwag maging bulag
sa kabutihang makikita; maraming nagsisikap
na makamit ang mga adhikain; at sa lahat ng dako,
ang buhay ay puno ng kabayanihan.

Maging tapat sa sarili. Higit sa lahat, huwag magkunwari.
Huwag ding libakin ang pag-ibig: sapagkat sa harap
ng lahat ng kahungkagan at kawalang-pag-asa, ito'y
lagi't laging sumisibol, tulad ng damo.

Tanggapin nang mabuti ang mga payo ng katandaan,
buong-giliw na isuko ang mga bagay-bagay ng kabataan.

Pag-ibayuhin ang lakas ng loob at nang mayroon kang
pananggalang laban sa biglaang kasawian. Subalit
huwag ikaligalig ang mga haka-haka.

Maraming pangamba ang likha ng pagod at pangungulila.

Bagamat kailangan ang sapat na disiplina, maging magiliw
sa sarili. Supling ka ng sandaigdigan, tulad din naman
ng punongkahoy at bituin; may karapatan kang manatili rito.
At malinaw man sa iyo o hindi, walang dudang
ang sandaigdigan ay bumubukadkad na tulad ng nararapat.

Kung gayon, pakisamahan ang Panginoon, anuman
ang pananaw mo sa kanya, at anuman ang iyong
pinagkakaabalahan at minimithi,
sa maingay na kalituhan ng buhay,
pakisamahan ang iyong kaluluwa.

Sa kabila ng lahat ng pagkukunwari, kabagutan
at gumuhong pangarap, maganda pa rin ang daigdig.

Mag-ingat. Sikaping lumigaya.

Jose F. Lacaba