Thursday, March 31, 2011

Reposting Marye's Letter to Kimi's Daughter

Marye Panganiban is one of my daughter Kimi's dear friends. Like Kimi, she is a geography graduate of UP Diliman. She, Kimi and their friends from college regularly vacation at our house in Baguio on the way to somewhere else or when they need a break from the humdrum of this world. They even go on adventures abroad together.

Marye, just a year older than Kimi, offered safety, succor and shelter to my daughter at a difficult phase in her pregnancy. My gratitude to people like Marye and the assurances of my daughter's other friends that they are 100 percent behind Kimi's decision to be a solo parent is boundless.

While she was between jobs, Marye came to my aid in the summer of 2010. I needed a research assistant for a project. Together we searched for copies of old reportage and personal essays at the Lopez Memorial Museum in Pasig. She encoded the ones I had written from pre-Internet years as we tried and succeeded in meeting the deadline for a book for a university press. Once that book is out, that will be my youngest baby on my 56th year.

That Marye is only turning 27 and Kimi 26 belie the fact how wise these two friends have grown. They're two old souls teaching their elders how to evolve further into humane human beings. Brava, Kimi and Marye. International Women's Month is made for you.

I once saw a poster in, of all places, a toilet. The message was: "Be an angel. Do random acts of kindness."

If there are angels among us, Marye must be one of them.What a wonderful world, indeed.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Dear Mykonos,

Any day or minute from now, you might already show up, kick your way out into this wonderful world. And when you do, your momma, her relatives and friends will also be there to welcome you. Do not be surprised how much people will be cramped in a room, eager to see you.

With everything that's happening in the world right now - the earthquakes across the world, particularly the one in Japan, the Libyan revolution, Atom and Patty's breakup, etc. - you might think it's quite an inappropriate time to be born. No. There's no such thing as appropriate or inappropriate time when it comes to giving birth. Your mother carried you in her womb for almost 9 months now, she made a choice, and that choice is you. There's nothing untimely about that.

I want to tell you that it has not been an easy road for your Nanay. The first few months was an emotional roller coaster where hormones were not even to be blamed. She must have cried like she never cried before, spent many nights drifting from one place to another to protect you and herself from unkind thoughts and words. But despite the stress, all the negativity emanating around her, your mother chose to be strong and happy for your sake. This you must always remember: your welfare will always comes first. Priorities have shifted. You are now on top of that list.

In a time where it's easier to give in to adversities and hate, your mother has stood her ground, remained strong, kind and forgiving. So, do not be surprised if you find out that a lot of people love your mother. Your Nanay Kimi is one of the kindest and most generous persons I've known in my life. I am lucky to have her as a friend. Imagine how lucky you will be, too, to have her on your side at all times.

When you're ready to come out, I hope you won't give your mother a hard time. I wish you a swift and easy passage from your little watery world to the arms of the doctor. I hope you cry as loud as you can, move your feet and hands as if there's no tomorrow.

Oh, the anticipation, the excitement of your coming is making us all antsy. Little-mango-no-more, I can't wait to meet and spoil you.


Tita Marye

Photo of Marye posing by my daughter's swollen belly taken by JUNE TAGUIWALO

Original post can be found at

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

High School Class of 2011, Part 1

These three student writers were enrolled in this blogger's creative writing class for the academic year of 2010-11 at the Community of Learners Foundation (COLF). It's an hour-long enrichment course ("elective" is what we used to call it in college) held every Wednesday.

They are graduating in April. Their second to the last activity this fourth quarter is to do ekphrastic writing. This is based on a pre-existing work like a painting, a drawing, a film, a piece of ceramic, etc. Since the blogger found it cumbersome to haul a work to class, she asked them to first do their own drawing or painting, then write about it after.

To Amaris, Miggy and Gerry, the graduating seniors in my class of 17, have a great time in college or wherever the kind winds bring you. See you at the COLF Christmas bonfire that gathers not only current students but the school's alumni.

This class is where the teacher felt that she learned more from the students than they from her. Truly. Thank you for the trust, kiddos!


A simple piece of painting
Hardly even anything is there
Nothing but a stem
A stem that is on its way to the ground

It is the dawn of summer
In another part of the world
Fall is about to enter
This is the first stem that fell
To welcome fall

The sun is shining
But the day is coming to an end
Everyone is watching the sun fall
The colors bring a smile on the faces of viewers

It may just be a stem falling
But it means the start of a new season
It may mean a new beginning for others
Whatever it may mean
I know it will bring peace to you



Love is in the air
Love is everywhere
Love is in the atmosphere
Love is romantic
Love is comedy

Love is good
Love is bad
Love is peace
Love is war
Love is static

Love is delicious
Love is voracious
Love is undeniable
Love is pleasurable


A house is nice. It is comfortable, and you can go move in it comfortably. A house is also affordable when the bill for water and electricity comes. The costs of these depend on how much you consume.The house owner has lesser fees to pay.

A condominium building is also fine, and it is solid because it is built with concrete. It hardly breaks when a storm hits it. The building stays still, and the condominium can be comfortable.

The difference is the condominium is more expensive to maintain, but the security is better. You're safe from robbers. But in a condominium, there are more rules to follow, and the things you can do are limited.

Whatever they are, depending on who lives in it, a house or a condominium can become a home.--GERRY GAMBOA

A Book for Those Who Love Cats

How does a pet lover grieve when a cat in his menagerie passes away?

It was the wrong question to ask of a pet lover like Victoria Rico Costina, author of the recently launched book Those Who Love Cats and a literature professor at the University of the Philippines Baguio.

Costina looked away, her eyes filling up with unshed tears, paused for a few minutes before slowly answering, "Someone once said that when cats die, the place to bury them is in your heart."

She had taken leaves without pay and a sabbatical to attend to her manuscript, find the right artists to illustrate the cover (Czarina Calinawagan) and inside pages (Rishab and Costina's husband Ruel).

She is not above declaring that her late cat Ziggy was her soul mate along with another cat, Chico. She has a "heart connection with them that is maybe stronger than what I feel for my husband," she says with a laugh.

The book derives its title from a verse by poet Francis Scarfe: "Those who love cats which do not even purr,/ Or which are thin and tired and very old,/ Bend down to them in the street and stroke their fur/ And rub their ears and smooth their breast, and hold/ Their paws, and gaze into their eyes of gold."

The professor in Costina cannot help but discourse on the flyleaf's inscription, saying, "It refers to cat lovers who're drawn to the scrawniest, dirtiest cat they can find on the streets, and yet they get to see the cat's eyes of gold that are its quintessence."

The book also carries a strange dedication. It's normal for an author like Costina, an only daughter, to dedicate her first book to her mother Nenita, but a cat book to a dog named Hubert?

Costina explains that Hubert, a long-faced mixed-breed dog with a gash on his leg, was adopted by her family after it hung around their gate waiting for the scraps of her cats.

When Hubert became part of the family, the cats would sleep on him or lie on top of him. He was with them for 10 years until his death.

Costina has divided her slim book into four parts: 1) personal essays of "a life spent on cats;" 2) profiles with matching pictures of special cats in her life, including those who have moved to cat heaven; 3) a review of assorted books of cats, including children's books by Filipino authors and illustrators, May Sarton's The Fur Person and Marge Piercy's Sleeping with Cats (the last two being full-length creative non-fiction about the esteemed writers' co-habiting with cats); and 4) "Basic Cat Care for the Filipino Home" where she persuasively argues for euthanasia for over-aged, incontinent or seriously ill cats who can no longer eat or drink.

She writes: "…(T)he humane thing to do is to have it put to sleep by your vet. This is a very difficult decision to make, but is likewise the more merciful option to prolonged suffering for your cat…Stay with your cat. Caress its coat, speak its name, your love and thankfulness, to the very last."

To Those Who Love Cats is also a revelation of what a fine essayist Costina is. Our favorite of her essays is the first, "Three Homes in Baguio," which follows the odyssey of her family in the small city of Baguio.

The first cats in the young Costina's life were the ones inherited from a Spanish mestiza neighbor who used to feed the hungry child strawberry jam and butter sandwich to which she became addicted. She became a fixture outside the neighbor's door, waiting for her sandwich ration.

When said neighbor had to leave, Costina writes, "Mrs. Ryan's legacy was one of kindness to a little girl and a spread of cats."

As she matured, Costina acquired the solitary habit of taking walks that took her to the boundary dividing Baguio and La Trinidad. She writes with such vividness, "A long line of cats followed me each time, lifting their paws in the tall grass. I would stop where the afternoon breeze was strongest, overlooking the hills much farther off. Then we would head back home, the cats taking their time, smelling the air."

She narrates the under-handed schemes she has done to rescue mistreated cats that are tied, mishandled, underfed. She has already rescued one such cat under the nose of a police sub-station.

What Costina has done with her life and her book is to follow the instruction in the Book of Job which she quotes as saying: "Ask the beasts to teach you, the birds of the air to tell you. Who among them does not understand that behind all this is God's hand?"

Photo shared by IAN DAUIGOY

Reprinted from VERA Files/Yahoo Philippines. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Blessings This Lenten Season

Email message received today. I wish I know to whom I can attribute this quote. It resonates deeply.

“I am proud to be at an age where I measure my success not by the approval of others, but by the peace I gain from knowing that I used my blessings for the purpose that they were given to me.”

That's me at the opening of my fifth solo exhibition, "My Romance," which is dedicated to my oldest child Kimi who will soon give birth to my first grandchild. The show is one of six by other artists on view at Nineveh Art Space/Jonah's House of Prayer in Villa Silangan, Sta. Cruz, Laguna, until April 10.The work near me is entitled "Mother, I Have Something to Tell You."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Last 20 Seats Left for Tenor Lemuel de la Cruz's Intimate Concert in QC

Tenor Lemuel de la Cruz, pianist Mary Anne Espina and soprano Jade Riccio are the featured performers on March 27 at Kiss the Cook Gourmet (KTCG) in its fifth intimate concert with dinner at 6 p.m.

Only in his 40s, de la Cruz has just sung a tenor role in Magic Flute in Singapore and guested in the recent anniversary concert of the Singapore Lyric Opera. De la Cruz, who has sung the role of Gaston in the Singapore production of La Traviata, has played Pong in Turandot which he learned in less than three months. He was the mad scientist in Tales of Hoffman staged in Nice, France.

He graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a Bachelor of Music degree under Maestra Salvacion Oppus Yniguez. He went to the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts and finished his professional diploma in Opera Studies with distinction. He has sung in numerous operas, including Basilio and Don Curzio in The Marriage of Figaro, Count Almaviva in The Barber of Seville, Gaston in La Traviata, Alfred in Die Fledermaus, Ruiz in Il Trovatore and Remendado in Carmen.

He was named one of the Outstanding Manilans in the Arts last year.

Meanwhile, Jose "Pete" Lacaba's Pilipino song translations of such favorites as "Memory" from the musical Cats and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" will have its first program debut at the KTCG concert.

Riccio has been tapped to sing Lacaba's translation of "Memory." A soloist of the internationally acclaimed UST Singers, she will sing a special duet with de la Cruz from Phantom of the Opera.

This event seeks to raise bail for a detained cultural worker and writer in Western Samar arrested for illegal possession of firearms.

Menu for Sunday's dinner concert:

Roasted Tomato Soup with Pesto Croutons
Tuscan Shrimp Salad
Pistachio Crusted Fish Fillets with Parsley Aioli
Cranberry Almond Couscous
Mushroom and Bell Pepper Ragout
Cardamom-spiced Panna Cotta with Honey

Call tel. no. 748-4152 or 0906-510-4270 for reservation or free ticket delivery.

Photo above shows Lemuel de la Cruz.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fairy Tale for a City (with apologies to an esteemed fiction writer)

Edited version

Disclaimer: This wasn't written by the blogger but by someone else. The blogger just edited it as best as she could given the limited time given her.

Wilfredo “Willie” Fernandez and Bettina “Chingbee” Mangcucang were truly meant for each other. He first met her, a management graduate of the University of Santo Tomas (UST), when she was asked to pinch-hit for a job in a travel agency, one of several companies owned by him.

He recalls, “I just arrived from the States. While enjoying the luncheon meeting and briefing session with my executives, one of them told me about the presence of this attractive, smart temp. They suggested that I drop by the office so I could personally interview her. My curiosity was aroused. When I reached my office in Manila, I noticed this beautiful young lady at the front desk. She was answering phone calls. I knew it was she so I rushed towards her.”

Amused at his recollection of their first meeting, Chingbee says, “The office was buzzing that day. Everybody seemed to be in a frenzy, uneasy and pretending to be busy. The office was also unusually spic and span. I wondered what the commotion was all about. Later, I learned that the man who just walked in was the company owner. He was looking at me, but I looked away.”

Willie says, “While interviewing her, I found out that she was a rare combination of beauty and brains. At 21, she struck me as a very confident lady.”

Chingbee received the UST Rector’s Award when she graduated magna cum laude. She was also the valedictorian of her graduating class.

Willie, now a top public relations practitioner, confesses that he has “a soft spot for smart women so I immediately transferred her from the travel agency to my Makati head office. I saw that she was better than most of my managers, so I kept promoting her. ”

Chingbee’s quick ascendance in the company became the talk of the company until she became the object of envy and intrigues. Once, before he left for a business trip to the United States, he gave her a huge bag of chocolates, and said, “Bring this home and share it with your family.” Every day, he called her from the States.

When he returned several weeks after, he asked her to arrange dinner at his house in Ayala Alabang Village, Muntinlupa City, for some Japanese businessmen. She did as instructed.

Willie says, “I was impressed. She certainly knew how to arrange things tastefully at such short notice.”

The new girl in the company also created waves in his circle of friends. When a politician friend invited Willie to his birthday party, his friend asked Willie to bring her to the party.

Chingbee recalls, “I honestly told him I could not join because I had no formal clothes for that party. He matter-of-factly instructed the cashier to release funds for me. I ended up buying a ready-to-wear outfit.” She laughs at the memory.
When Willie inaugurated his Cebu office, he brought members of his staff, including Chingbee. Gradually, she became his constant companion in business meetings, even in his travels abroad.

On one of her birthdays in July, he sent her 12 dozens of roses in the color of peach. He had written on the card, “To my Superwoman, Happy Birthday!” But the sender’s name was not signed.

“I didn’t presume that the roses came from him,” she says. Chingbee later found out who the mysterious admirer was when Willie admitted that the bouquet came from him.

Not long after, he took her home to her pad in San Juan, Rizal, but during one of those regular trips, he took a detour and brought her to a jewelry store. He gave her a one-karat diamond ring.

She says, “By then, I understood what he was trying to say. I accepted the ring.”

The hardest part was dealing with her parents, Antonio and Florefida, who were conservative and strict Catholics as some folks from a province like Marinduque are. They were disappointed that their youngest daughter, on whom they pinned their high hopes, was seeing a much older, still married man. They knew that there was no divorce in the Philippines. After discussing the situation with them over long,lingering Japanese lunch, Willie made clear his honorable intention to marry their daughter after settling legal stumbling blocks.

Claudine, Willie and Chingbee’s daughter, was born in 1990. Five years after, his marriage annulment papers arrived. Not long after, on November 23, 1995, which fell on the American Thanksgiving Day, Willie and Chingbee exchanged marriage vows in a garden wedding in their home in Alabang. Mayor Toting Bunye solemnized the wedding. The principal sponsors were mostly friends. Claudine, then five years old, read the special prayer. Congressional Rep. Eduardo Zialcita was the designated wedding singer while his lovely wife, also named Claudine, sang “One Love” during the wedding march.

For her wedding, Chingbee wore an Inno Sotto gown in the color of milk. She had a bouquet of flowers in many colors from Rustan’s designated florist. El Comedor catered the intimate dinner reception for friends and family members. Heny Sison’s elegant cake served as the centerpiece.

After the wedding, the couple resumed working, he acting as the president and chief executive and she, assisting him by being his trouble shooter, representative at meetings with clients, brainstorming projects, among other duties.

They had their share of business problems. Willie says, “This was about the time of the Asian crisis. We had a cash flow problem, but that period was brief. What we did was consolidate our resources, sell some of our companies and streamline the operations of the flagship company to allow better financial control.”

In 1997, as friends approached him, seeking help with handling the media, the couple decided to put up their own public relations company. Today, that company, Concept, is known for its expertise in crisis management. Willie, the company head, consults with Chingbee on all facets of the job. “But it is he who has the final say,” she clarifies.

Willie says, before breaking up laughing, “She used to address me ‘Sir.’ Now, I call her 'Ma’am.'”

He says of this second marriage, “It is made in heaven. We are soul mates, and we are inseparable as the best of friends. We constantly communicate as we are together twenty-four hours a day. On the few times when we are apart, we miss each other so we burn the phone lines talking.”

From her parents’ marriage, Chingbee says, “I learned that once you are married, you are married.” Willie says of his own parents’ relationship, “I saw how happy my father, Liberato, was with my mother, Justiniana. That’s why I value my marriage to Chingbee. A man deserves to be happy.”

It is a unique marriage filled with lessons that they have learned over 20 years. She says, “If you love a person, you decide to be with that person. You fight for that decision. I was the youngest in our family, and my relationship with Willie from the start was not what they had expected. In the end, they learned to accept him because I stood by my decision. Willie proved himself by being a good husband to me and a good father to our child. To illustrate how our daughter immensely felt his love, on one occasion when her aunt advised her to look for a future partner better than her Dad, she answered quickly, ‘There can be no one better than my Dad.’” Claudine was only 10 then.

She continues, “In hindsight, I believe my father can actually understand my choice. When I was younger, I remember he always prodded me to befriend older people as I would learn more from their experiences. I guess I am a good listener. I chose Willie.”

Willie affirms that their marriage is a success because “we give and take. As we are partners in watching our company grow, we enjoy the fruits of our labor. What is the point of keeping our money? I believe in giving my child a good education to prepare her for life. I don’t believe in giving money. After all, I built my own fortune. My father did not leave me a single centavo. Instead, he inculcated in me the value of good education and hard work.”

Chingbee agrees, saying, “My husband and I are determined to send our daughter to the best school we can afford.”

Claudine has done well in her academics so far. She first went to the British School Manila before she moved to the US for college. She is now at Princeton University in New Jersey where her major is operations, research and financial engineering. A talented young lady, she also dabbles in graphic design.
Willie and Chingbee travel frequently and almost always in the company of Claudine.

Willie recalls, “When our daughter was growing up, we brought her to Disney World and Universal Studios in Florida every year. That was practically her playground. We also went a lot to Europe because we thought that would prepare her for her eventual studies in the United Kingdom, but as it turned out, she preferred to go to Princeton.”

Chingbee and Claudine are very, very close. The mother says, “She once called to ask permission to go on a date. I kept quiet while she cried, perhaps due to the uneasy silence on my side of the line. Then I emailed her a long letter, reminding her how we worked hard to be where she is now. No one can serve two masters at the same time. I wrote in bold letters that she is in the US primarily to study. For some reason, she did not pursue the subject and she never brought the intended date to any gathering in or out of school.”

Willie has learned from Chingbee, too. He says, “Values and traits like understanding, patience, compassion and treating people well. I used to be very arrogant until she came into my life. She provides the balance in my life, keeps my feet firmly planted on the ground, a good influence.”

On weekends, they stay home, relax and sleep. They love to laugh, share funny stories or make fun of themselves. Occasionally, she whips up some of her specialties for Willie from the most ordinary pasta with fresh red tomato sauce to the more sophisticated caviar pie or the more complicated roast turkey.

She says, “He eats anything while I try to stick to vegetables, seafood and brown rice. I drink a lot of fruit juice, too.” Her diet is what keeps her slim.

During Christmas, she prepares the holiday fare where she shows off her culinary skills. Since they were married on Thanksgiving Day, they always celebrate that occasion whose date changes every November, depending on what Thursday it falls on.

She continues, “We are homebodies/home buddies in the sense that we enjoy decorating our home together. We buy knick-knacks together and go to the grocery together.” They also like to listen to oldies’ music, watch movies and television, read the newspapers and root for the same basketball team, golfer or tennis player.

“We enjoy doing things together, even going to the salon,” he says. They go to church on Sundays, while “she goes alone on Fridays,” he adds. Chingbee is a devotee of the Santo Niño and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. When Claudine was a baby, she brought her to church on Fridays.

The couple like working out in the gym, but Willie spends more time playing golf. On the rare occasion when a non-golfer can tag along, Chingbee accompanies Willie for a round of golf.

They shop together for personal items, “I want him to see what I buy,” the wife says. “He happily carries all the shopping bags and packages for me.”

About her love for shopping, Willie says, “I used to travel light with barely any luggage. Today we always have excess baggage.”

He does his best to make her happy. Theirs is a relationship forged in fire, in a manner of speaking, and they have emerged triumphant. The fact that Willie is older than Chingbee by 18 years has proven to be a blessing and an advantage. He, in a way, plays the role of Pygmalion to her Galatea. He has shaped her into the sophisticated woman that she is today.

Chingbee looks back on her life, saying, “When I was young, I did not ask for anything specific. I just prayed for a better life. Now I see that Willie is the answer to my prayers.”

Willie feels very much the same way about her, saying, “I have always sought happiness. When Chingbee walked into my life, I realized that I had found what I was looking for.”

The greatest blessing that they share is their daughter Claudine whose academic success reflects the upbringing that they have given her. Willie and Chingbee look forward to many years more years of happiness together as they continue to pray that their dear Claudine will find her place in the sun someday.#

Saturday, March 19, 2011

'Care Divas': A Play Depicting the Agony of OFWs

The turmoil in the Middle East was not in the picture when the play dates for “Care Divas” were being planned but the harrowing stories of Overseas Filipino Workers fleeing Libya provide a gripping background to the musical comedy-drama mounted by the Philippine Education Theater Association (PETA).

“Care Divas” is about gay caregivers in Israel.

“The term diva has been used to refer to glass-breaking female singers or extremely demanding and fussy celebrities,” PETA explains in a statement. “However, independent and wildly talented gay men (a.k.a. transvestites) can be divas, too.”

Written by Liza Magtoto and with lyrics and music by Vincent de Jesus, “Care Divas,” despite its show-stopping cabaret revue numbers, holds up a mirror where Filipinos can see themselves as they are: a scattered people who leave family and other loved ones behind to toil for the almighty dollar that would pull up from dire straits almost the entire clan through monthly remittances.

It is the story and fate of gay care givers Chelsea (ably played by Melvin Lee), Shai (de Jesus), Kayla (alternately played by Ricci Chan and Jerald Napoles), Thalia (Dudz Terana and Jason Barcial) and Jonee (Phil Noble and Buddy Caramat) who tend for the sick and elderly Israelis (played by Paul Holme in repertory manner) in the daytime.

At night, these five caregivers turn into transgender performers, complete with wigs, slinky women’s clothes and platform heels.

“Armed by their aspirations (and their pointed stilettos), their true spirits and creativity shine through their performances,” PETA said. “They dream of going big time divas and encounter a few problems along the way. But it is through their journey of being a small-time group of singers that they are able to share valuable experiences and friendships that bind strangers in a strange land.”

Even if their punch lines bring the house down, one flinches from the truth in their songs. “Oy Vey” (Oh woe) talks about how care givers (or domestics stationed abroad) care for other people’s elderly and infirm while leaving aging, just as sickly, parents at home.

Chelsea sings:

Naku, naku, naku, ano ba’ng nangyari dito?
Inaalagaan ko’y hindi ko kadugo
Samantalang ang sarili kong ina
Saklay lamang ang umaakay
Dahil ang kanyang anak may inaakay na iba.
Naku, naku, naku ano ba’ng nangyari dito?

For a gay man like Shai, his situation feels like “walang anak pero maraming pasanin (childless but with many responsibilities).”

While interacting with his grumpy employer, Shai hears the voice of his demanding termagant of a mother who is critical of his homosexuality, among other issues.

Central to Chelsea’s character is his unquestioning love for a Palestinian illegal worker in Israeli territory. It is doomed love from the start. But for the Palestinian attracted to Chelsea, it is a realization that behind his seemingly macho exterior, there lies a hidden gay man willing to accept Chelsea for what he is.

Veteran actress and ranking PETA officer CB Garrucho plays a minor role — that of the typical Jewish mother who is strict with money, conservative in thinking and ready to betray to the authorities an illegal employee who lacks the proper papers.

The play acts out columnist-blogger Jessica Zafra’s theory of world domination by Filipinos through far-reaching influence of yayas and care givahs. Chelsea teaches his employer the folk ditty “Bahay Kubo;” another care giver teaches a one-eyed, Yiddish-speaking employer, who was hurt in the Israeli-Palestinian skirmish, the meaning of the parol (Christianity’s Christmas lantern).

Based on a real-life story, “Care Divas,” surprisingly is written by a woman (Magtoto) and directed by a woman (Maribel Legarda) with great sensitivity.

Somehow, the pain that migrant workers go through as they adjust to different climes and cultures is couched by the colorful sward-speak (the most dynamic language in the Philippines without a doubt.

The musical raises in viewers the hope that the country’s leaders will realize the economy can be held up by OFW remittances up to a certain point only and that exposing Filipinos to wars and similar societal upheavals does not speak well of any administration.

Originally published by VERA Files/Yahoo Philippines, March 10, 2011

Image from “Care Divas” poster, sourced by VERA Files.

Painting Tita Lulu

Tita Lulu (Lourdes Almeda Lopez Sarabia) has been part of my life since the years when her eldest daughter Anna Leah still had a de Leon appended to her name. Like Anna, I'm a Daddy's girl so it was easy for me to relate more with her father Injun than with Tita Lulu.

Tita Lulu is a larger-than-life figure (she's taller than the average Pinay of her generation, women born in the late '20s or '30s). Injun was handsome, charismatic, an activist, an unconventional thinker but most of all, a doer. He deserves a full-length piece so I'm not bringing him into the picture yet.

Tita Lulu used to frighten me at their old house on Maranaw street, La Vista Subdivision, Quezon City, partly because she reminds me so much of my mother (formidable and intimidating). So it was Injun I became barkada with. I sometimes made small talk with Tita Lulu in their living room when she was present. Once I looked at her comfy-looking sandals and asked, "They look nice and comfortable. Where'd you buy them, Tita?"

She stretched out her legs to their full length and barked at me (she was a heavy smoker then so her delivery of lines was not only blunt but gruff): "Ten dollars in New York!"

Once, Anna left her very young daughters in their lola's care. One of them wouldn't stop wailing. What Tita Lulu did (she was a hospital administrator then) was to make the child swallow a Valium pill. That stopped the crying. But can you imagine the reaction of the parents' child? I still get a laugh when I remember that.

Well, Tita Lulu is not in the best of health these days. Before she became ill and weak and attached to an oxygen tank, she'd drive to work from her Sikatuna Village townhouse to Gota de Leche building on Lepanto Street, Sampaloc, Manila, and work a full day. She kept that charitable organization that feeds malnourished children going after her own mother, Natividad Almeda Lopez, died in the '70s.

Anna recently asked me to do her mom's portrait. I gave many excuses why I couldn't do the job, and I only relented when she accepted my terms so it could be finished fast and presented to Tita Lulu at the hospital: that the brushes, canvas and a set of basic paints be provided, that Anna's grandchild Raya Sidhi be involved in the initial sketching and that I bring in Norman Chow, my painting teacher in Baguio, to help me with the face because I really don't do honest-to-goodness faces unless it's a caricature or cartoon you're talking about. Raya and I worked feverishly at the Araos residence at the UP Diliman campus one Sunday.

Norman was quite pleased when I brought up the unfinished canvas last week during a brief Baguio visit, and he was sympathetic even if Tita Lulu remains a total stranger to him. He has been care-giver to many family members, lately his mother. He lost his wife Frances and favorite daughter Cezanne to cancer.

On Monday evening, Anna, her daughter Sinag, Sinag's daughter Raya and I went to a hospital in Quezon City to make the presentation. Tita Lulu gave a faint smile. A trace of her old self was there. She pointed at my head and asked me in that blunt fashion of hers: "Why are you wearing a hat?" I just said my head gets cold easily which is God's truth.

And that's the story of Tita Lulu's portrait which now hangs on the wall to the right of her hospital bed. Thank you, Jerry and Melen, for the space, the light and refreshments, thank you, Norman, for your infinite patience with a slow student (as far as realistic portraiture is concerned). Thank you, universe, for letting Tita Lulu continue to touch our lives.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

'My Romance'

This fifth solo exhibition of Babeth Lolarga is borne out of the challenge Mr. Louie Sevilla hurled at her in May 2010: that she is ready for Nineveh Art Space.

The title of the show comes from a song written by Richard Rodgers. The painter's original intention was to present a series of still life of bric-a-brac that have personal meaning in her life.

In October 2010, Babeth's eldest daughter confided to her that she would become a grandmother around the time her exhibition would open and run. Her child, an adult of 25, will bear Babeth's first grandchild sometime late March or early April.

On the fourth day of the New Year of 2011, the painter suffered an accident, slipping in the bathroom of a rented room and breaking and shattering part of her right elbow, thus compromising her painting arm. Undaunted, she assured Nineveh of her commitment, and by February, with her arm still weak but healing naturally and not requiring orthopedic surgery, she finished the four works included in the show. The act of painting, moving her iright hand up and down as she colored the canvas with paints and prayers, hastened the healing of the injured arm which she can now fully extend without pain.

The romance referred to in the title she chose immediately took on a different meaning.

"My Romance" now speaks of a romance fulfilled: that of her daughter's. In a short span of time, the subject has metamorphosed from the painter's persona as represented by the bric a brac surrounding her life to her daughter in the beautiful bloom of a romance fulfilled.

The painter acknowledges the assistance of her art teacher, Norman Chow, himself a new grandfather, who unselfishly gave much of his time and knowledge in seeing to it that his longtime student fulfills her vision and is able to reach her goal of dedicating a show to one of two beloved daughters.

Photo shows detail from "Mother, I Have Something to Tell You," acrylic on canvas board, 2 x 3 feet, 2011. Not for Sale

Nineveh Art Space is at Villa Silangan in Santa Cruz, Laguna. Simultaneous shows open March 20 and end April 10.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Baritone Andrew Fernando at Kiss the Cook Gourmet

Mark your calendars, particularly this date, the 13th of March, a Sunday. The Intimate Concert Series resumes at the restaurant/alternative art space Kiss the Cook Gourmet at 65 Maginhawa st., UP Village, Quezon City.

Featured artist for the evening concert that begins with a dinner first at 6 internationally acclaimed baritone Andrew Fernando who was triumphant at the Philamlife Theater in a landmark concert with tenor Arthur Espiritu, soprano Rachelle Gerodias and the Manila Symphony Orchestra last year.

Fernando is the first Filipino first prize winner of the prestigious Loren L. Zachary National Vocal Competition in the United States and an alumnus of the world-renowned San Francisco Opera Merola Program.

He is also a prize winner in the Metropolitan Opera National Auditions in the Los Angeles district and in the Pacific region, The Palm Springs Opera Vocal Competition, a recipient of the Opera Buffs Inc. scholarship grant and the Grand Prize winner in the Pasedena Opera Guild Vocal competition in 2004 and a grand finalist in the Licia Albanese Puccini International Vocal Competition held in New York in 2003. He was Opera Pacific’s resident baritone from 1999-2002 where he worked constantly with internationally acclaimed conductor John De Main.

His March 13 program includes Mozart’s "Se vuol ballare" (from Le Nozze di Figaro), Donizetti’s "Bella siccome un'angelo" (from Don Pasquale), "Kennst du das," , "Being Alive," from Little Women, "Some Enchanted Evening," "Impossible Dream," among others.

Concert comes with full-course dinner. Menu: Beefy mushroom and barley soup, Tropical Chicken and Mango Salad, Fish Fillet in Piripiri Sauce, Brown Rice and Corn Pilaf, Asparagus and Mushroom Saute, Watermelon, Melon and Honeydew with Honey Min

Call tel. 748-4152 or 0906-510-4270 for details. Kiss the Cook Gourmet (KTCTG), with tel. no. 434-3700, still has a few tickets left at their location.

This fourth concert is personally meaningful to me. It's a make-or-break thing. We are raising bail money for a cultural worker unjustly jailed for illegal possession of firearms in Western Samar.

KTCG's Waya Araos Wijangco has been sympathetic in lending her venue and arranging a full-course dinner at a loss in order to get more donations to the kitty. If there are enough kind hearts to enable us to pay the performing artists Andrew Fernando, his accompanying pianist Mary Anne Espina and the piano rental, the detainee has a chance to start afresh and be reunited with his family while the intimate concert series can hope to continue with its classical music outreach on a shoestring.

The concert organizers, Pablo Tariman and myself, are NGIs (non-profit individuals), and it would be great if we can increase our ranks so concerts for worthy causes can continue at KTCG and similar intimate venues where audience and artists can interact.

Photo shows Andrew "Drew" Fernando.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Scarfing Food at Our Faces

It seems my body clock perks up as the working week winds down as this weekend's photo documentation shows.

The food trip began Friday night after I learned that Daisy Langenegger was hosting another seafood extravaganza at her Maginhawa Street digs in UP Village where I am a temporary transient. Her Facebook profile had her seafood night advertised with photos of curry crabs, paella, oysters three ways, oysters on half shells, grilled prawns for a very reasonable price.

My partner Rolly still refers to Daisy as Crazy Daisy after her former restaurant in the Timog area in the 1990s where he used to go at its closing hour after he was done layouting a newspaper's front page. She is now Green Daisy because the woman has gone organic (even her rat poison is organic) and yes, her place is lush with greenery and art.

I would kill for oysters (Lady Macbeth would understand). And if flown directly from a source in Aklan, how more fresh can they get? I took a pic of old friend and my former editor at Today (I was an occasional contributor) Francine Medina looking like she's about to eat my orders (yes, I had oysters three ways and on half shells).

Yesterday. Saturday, was medical checkup for a number of family members beginning (by age) from my sister Suzy, my youngest daughter Ida and my grand-niece Machiko Skye who had her ears pierced. I decided on where we would eat immediately as I didn't want to go to the Medical City's fast-food court. Mary Grace at the neighboring Rockwell Business Center, it was decided, hands down, for its pasta and toasted, sugarless ensaymada and brandy-infused prune cake.

As for today, Sunday, even God knew when to say it was all good and He rested. Burp!

Photos by Babeth of Tablea Chocolate Cake served at Green Daisy (topmost), followed by Oysters Three Ways set across journalist Francine Medina, Bianca Ysabel Susi with classic spaghetti and meatballs and Ida Fernandez with her velvet cake and apple cinnamon tea at Mary Grace

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Murder, Treason in the Hands of Anton the Terrible

Shakespeare's Macbeth has never been so grippingly, rivetingly staged until Anton Juan's "Screen: Macbeth", a centennial production of the University of the Philippines department of English and comparative literature (UP-DECL) with the World Theater Project.

No one else but Anton Juan, once the enfant-terrible of Philippine theater, can agitate, provoke, move his fine assembly of actors the way he has done in this second production of the UP-DECL, which is marking its centennial this academic school year, and inspire them to heights of their abilities.

The soliloquies are all too familiar, like ancient siren songs, but the actors' ability to make the hair on our arms stand and let a chill creep on our back--these sensations are new.

And to be awed by the awful truths unveiled and struck by fright, how current the issues raised by the 17th-century Bard--these are the workings of Anton's genius in combustible combination with Judy Ick's dramaturgy, the dramatic lighting by Meliton Roxas Jr. that made available-light photography during the staging a joy, the costumes by Lhenvil Paneda that seemed straight out of an early Mel Gibson "Mad Max" movie, the set design by Ohm David that played on variations of black and red, and yes, the touch of 21st-century technology, Winter David's video design all conspired to make this new production the best we've seen, almost obliterating film versions/ adaptations like Akiro Kurosawa's "Throne of Blood" and the opera "Macbeth" once bravely staged by Repertory Philippines.

While Repertory could be credited for well-meaning bravery in mounting that opera, this production that is having a limited run at the University's Media Center on the grounds of the College of Mass Communication reeks of audacity, flaming creativity and chutzpah, qualities Anton Juan has plenty of.

In an age of Senate investigations where flagrant lies are passed off as truths, when those in exalted positions assume they are not accountable to the people, when feudal politics in the South leads to the massacre of scores of journalists, "Macbeth" sounds a fatal tolling bell that says things have not changed since an ambitious, dominatrix type of a woman, as Ick played Lady Macbeth, unsexed herself and pushed her husband (played by Teroy Guzman) to the dark side to claim what is not theirs.

See it for yourselves and feel justified in thinking that the production must, under the new administration of UP President Alfredo Pascual, be brought to other campuses as a new, engaging form of conscientization. At the very least, the production has proven that the classics have a place in contemporary lives. We have the people behind "Screen: Macbeth" to thank for that.

Screen: Macbeth runs till March 6. Showtime is 7 p.m. with 3 p.m. matinees on March 5 and 6.

Uppermost photo shows fight scene between Macduff (Jamie Wilson) and Macbeth (Teroy Guzman); middle photos show Lady Macbeth played by Judy Ick; and the director Anton Juan receiving his applause.