Saturday, March 31, 2012

Reminders from Not Salmon (not sermon either)

I just realized that I’ve been flooding this blog with too much—how do they call them these days?—long reads. Shift time, and while Butones is taking her afternoon nap in Baguio,I stumbled on a site called, the website of Karen Salmansohn who offers help to those who wouldn't be caught dead browsing through a site for self-help.
She describes her “work” as “to offer easy-to-absorb insights and advice to help you bloom into your happiest, most loved, highest potential self – and have fun in the process – because I use playful analogies, feisty humor, and stylish graphics to distill big ideas (from the latest scientific studies to ancient wisdom) into short, easily-digestible, life-changing tips. Basically, because my books and programs are created to be fun, you’ll absorb methodologies for creating a happier more successful life with total ease – including ideas from: Aristotle, Martin Seligman, Viktor Frankl, Bertrand Russel, Jung, Freud, biology, Buddhism, cognitive therapy, Darwinism, Neuro Linquistic Programming, neuroscience, positive psychology, sociology, quantum physics, western philosophy, Zen of Bazooka Joe – and then some.”

Zen of Bazooka Joe, now THAT this grandma likes. Here are samples from that website’s freebies, welcome reminders of what Lent is about and how it ends with Easter which, to this believer, is better than Christmas.
O, di ba?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Our Winged Self

In the place where I work part-time, I have learned another "r" to add to the three "r's" in the environmental cause: reuse, reduce, recycle AND refuse. 

From my inbox this morning came a message from a friend. We have been discussing, back and forth, in our emails the issue of guilt that women get saddled with and makes them capitulate to the pressure of others, whether it's family, friends, colleagues. She wrote that guilt has been used, by men especially, as a way of making women feel less worthy as wives, as mothers, than what they are. She ended her note with a cheerful "This season, let's make this our chant: take no sorrow, give no sorrow."

On the third hour of this morning, while going about cleaning my files, I found this old composition, dating, by my estimate, to sometime in '08 or '09, about the time I was enrolled in an introductory course in print-making.

In my middle age, prayer has morphed into something else. To my mother’s grief, I have stopped attending Catholic mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation.

In childhood, Sister Gemma of the Cross, SPC, our music teacher and glee club conductor,  told us heartfelt singing has double the power of spoken prayer. That lesson stayed.

Through the years, as I watched the Bolshoi, Alice Reyes  (she dances “with libog” in the immortal words of Lino Brocka), Myra Beltran, Ligaya Amilbangsa, Judith Jamison of the Alvin Ailey troupe, actors like Adul de Leon (before cancer claimed her) and Emily Watson, who channeled cellist Jacqueline Du Pre in a biopic, passionate pianists Cecile Licad and Lang Lang, equally passionate violinists like Alexandru Tomescu, cellist-conductor Mtislav Rostropovich, my godson Diwa de Leon going into a trance as he plays his compositions, my seven-year-old niece Bianca drawing with deep concentration figures on scratch paper or playing a simplified version of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”—then and now, I am convinced that artists have that ineluctable  link to the Force.

In the past five years that I’ve been doing fine arts studies and taking private art lessons, I’ve also felt an eerie feeling come over me when I’m painting, working on a collage and, lately, a rubber-cut. Not only am I in the moment, any form of distraction is unwelcome—a chatty classmate, a buzzing cell phone, a chore that needs doing and nagging me at the back of my head.

When a piece is done, no matter how faulty, I go: “Gee, did I really do that?” I can never call these latest products of my hand “work.” The writing, the editing, yes, that’s work,  work I like doing and was trained to do to enable me to earn some pin money for the occasional Starbucks treat or rum Coke at a bar. 

Painting and other modes of visual art expression have become a form of prayer. The rare remuneration that comes out of it is, for want of a better phrase, accidental grace.

Here is the poet Khalil Gibran ( 1883-1930 ) on the subject of prayer:

You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.

For what is prayer but the expansion of yourself into the living ether?

And if it is for your comfort to pour your darkness into space, it is also for your delight to pour forth the dawning of your heart.

And if you cannot but weep when your soul summons you to prayer, she should spur you again and yet again, though weeping, until you shall come laughing.

When you pray you rise to meet in the air those who are praying at that very hour, and whom save in prayer you may not meet.

Therefore let your visit to that temple invisible be for naught but ecstasy and sweet communion. For if you should enter the temple for no other purpose than asking you shall not receive:

And if you should enter into it to humble yourself you shall not be lifted:

Or even if you should enter into it to beg for the good of others
you shall not be heard.

It is enough that you enter the temple invisible.

I cannot teach you how to pray in words. God listens not to your words save when He Himself utters them through your lips.

And I cannot teach you the prayer of the seas and the forests and the mountains.

But you who are born of the mountains and the forests and the seas can find their prayer in your heart,

And if you but listen in the stillness of the night you shall hear them saying in silence,

Our God, who art our winged self, it is thy will in us that willeth.
It is thy desire in us that desireth.

It is thy urge in us that would turn our nights, which are thine, into days which are thine also.

We cannot ask thee for aught, for thou knowest our needs before they are born in us:

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all.

Boots Anson Roa: A Life of Service Is Meaningful

Is the prim and proper Maria Elisa "Boots" Anson Roa for real?

For a fleeting moment she paused, then answered the question obliquely in the refined and measured tone that people have grown familiar with from years of hearing her on the radio, seeing her in the small and big screens or watching her emcee countless programs.

"What you see is what you get," she said. "The nuns at Assumption taught us that if you want to know what is real about a person, catch her when she is alone. How do you behave when you're alone, when you know that you won't be found out? That's you."

Now the president of the Movie Workers Welfare Foundation Inc. (Mowelfund), chair of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) cinema committee, NCCA executive committee member, host of "Boots Talk" aired over ABS-CBN's radio station DZMM, among other involvements, she cannot imagine herself, even at age 58, ever retiring and becoming a woman of leisure.

"I never will be one. I guess it's what the nuns in school inculcated. If by a woman of leisure, you mean watching television whenever I want, going to parties, playing mahjongg, taking off for a vacation anytime, I'll probably feel guilty. I want my life to be more meaningful rather than just seeking my own comfort and satisfaction," she said.

This speech and drama major of the University of the Philippines left school without completing her thesis, but she managed to complete certificate courses in basic journalism, public and media relations at Georgetown University in Washington DC and television production at Media General Cable Network. Today she still finds time to teach broadcast management at the Ateneo de Manila University every Wednesday morning, and film and TV at the UP College of Mass Communication in the afternoon, going out of her way to give her students photocopies of the required readings.

She admitted, "I'm service-oriented. My orientation from my school days is other-oriented. It has always been that way. I don't see myself retiring. If service has always been your life, not doing anything deprives it of meaning. I don't think I can bear that."

Her husband Pete has told her many times whenever she is home, feeling restless and in search of an activity, "When you're looking for something to do, you'll really find something to do."

It was he who wanted to return to the Philippines after his entire family moved to the United States in the 1980s when Ms. Anson Roa was appointed press attaché, cultural officer and special assistant to the Philippine ambassador to the US. She handled media, community and cultural relations.

Their stay in the States lasted 11 years. It entailed selling houses and lots in the home country bought from their savings so they could finance their children's private school education. They had to close their family enterprises like the Boots ready-to-wear line and OAK (one-of-a-kind) handpainted men's shirts. Eddie Baddeo, now a renowned name in haute couture, got his first break while fresh out of school by working for the Roas.

Anson Roa said, "We didn't want our kids in US public school because we were after the character education offered by private schools. Even when we could afford to send them to school fulltime, we still told them to work."

This was nothing new to the Roa children who were working students already in the Philippines. During their summer and Christmas breaks, they did odd jobs in the office and shop like joining the delivery boys in unloading stocks at the department store outlets, buttonholing or sticking labels on the clothes.

The eldest, Leah Roa Cuevas, was on the dean's list of George Washington University where she earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry. She is now the assistant to the dean of the Marymount University Graduate School of Education in Arlington, Virginia.

The second, Joey, went to the Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, Virginia, took up some banking subjects at the American Institute of Banking in Washington DC and TV production also at Media General Cable in Arlington. When his father suffered a stroke in 1997, Joey took it upon himself to take care of Pete fulltime.

Third child Chiqui Roa Puno, a familiar face on Philippine television as a sportscaster of PBN-4 and IBC-13, graduated magna cum laude with a B.S. Psychology from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

The youngest, Ben, was also on the dean's list at the same university where he got his degree in business administration. He is still in the US, working in an information technology firm.

It was Chiqui who gave the mother an eye-opener about the direction she would take.

Anson Roa recalled, "She struck a chord when she said on her senior year in college, 'When I graduate, I'll just work fulltime to save money and gain experience. But I'm going home because I want the Filipinos to benefit from what I have learned. Why should I make America richer? If I can contribute something to the Philippines, why not?"

The mother told herself that Chiqui was right. "My God, we were contributing to the brain drain! Pete always felt that we were just statistics, part of the population count among the minority. We faced a glass ceiling." Besides, his parents were in their 90s, and he wanted to be with them in their last years of life so he went home ahead.

Anson Roa was left in the US to wind things up. She had their house sold, held garage sales and finished the administrative duties at her office.

She rued, "I was happy with our quiet life and so fulfilled. I thought that I had faced my challenges well." After four years in the embassy and with the change of administration in the Philippines in 1986, she worked for a time as a telemarketing supervisor of Public Interest Communications, then a subscription representative of the Kennedy Center, guest services officer of Hyatt Regency Hotel before becoming a secretary and later executive assistant of the senior vice president for operations of the Citizen's Bank of Washington. She worked her way up and was sent on a banking scholarship that she was unable to finish.

She said, "My American bosses were amazed at my perfect English, the accurate way I spoke. They called me a wordsmith. I did their correspondence, even the ones in Spanish. When I made paalam and gave them three months notice, they asked why. I said, 'My husband wants me home. I want to keep the family together.' It sounded strange to them that I had to follow Pete out of sheer obedience. I sacrificed my career in the States to accede to his wishes."

Her colleagues and supervisors gave her a memorable send-off party, presenting her with a solid gold bracelet and a gold-plated clock. She recalled, "Most heart-warming were the words of my boss who said, 'I want to thank you, Boots, for introducing a new work ethic in the bank.' Everyone stood up and applauded. In my mind were the words, 'Puwede na akong mamatay.' That standing ovation made the occasion doubly meaningful."

She was not at all regretful. "God is good although we had a reentry adjustment. We had to rent a house for two years and move around in a secondhand car we bought from Chiqui's husband and which we paid for in installment for ten months. The good karma (I earned from the sacrifice I made) produced results. My manager Bibsy Carballo spread the word to producers that I was coming home."

Even before she left the US, she already had assignments waiting in the Philippines. She did three movies at the same time and commercials for Silver Swan, Master Sardines and Avon. Out of seven TV shows offered to her, she did three: a drama anthology for RPN-9, a sitcom for GMA-7 and the family-oriented "Pamilya" anthology which she, her husband and their friends produced.

"Tuloy-tuloy. I was never without an assignment," she said. Before long she was able to buy a townhouse, two condominium units and a modest house in Kamuning, Quezon City, the cost of which Anson Roa shared with her sister.

Leah, Chiqui and Ben, meanwhile, have given their parents eight grandchildren. Joey still lives with his parents, caring for his father. The older Roa can walk with a brace and a cane or even without a brace for short distances.

Anson Roa, the daughter of actor Oscar Moreno and Belen Cristobal, once a chemistry professor at the University of the East, was pleased with the fact that the awards she has won for acting are fewer than her citations and awards for services within and without the entertainment industry.

She expressed concern that Mowelfund's funds have been drastically cut. The organization used to receive 60 percent of the amusement taxes earned from the Metro Manila Film Festival, but now the percentage is down to 35.

The members number 4,500. Their head said, "They're the obscure ones, the stunt men, the supporting actors and actresses who are not active anymore, the makeup artists, utility men and crew." Of the more famous names in need of help, she mentioned Dely Atay-atayan and Metring David.

These members are entitled to P7,000 for hospitalization, P3,000 for medicine, P12,000 for surgery and upon death, the surviving family members receive P25,000. Anson Roa said it was not good practice for the members to passively wait for these benefits. Under her, Mowelfund introduced livelihood training (hair cutting, reflexology and computer literacy) "so the members would find a greater sense of fulfillment because they work for their money."

The feedback she has received from those who finished these short-term courses is heartening. They have started working in their neighborhoods, offering home service and earning at least P200 a day.

She noted, "How proud they are of their diplomas! You can see that a sense of self-worth is so important."--Elizabeth Lolarga

First published in Planet Philippines, 2003.

Photo of Boots Anson Roa from

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Take Back the Night

 Don't blame the women, blame the abuser
April 3, 2012
6 p.m., Mendiola Bridge

“Mary Magdalene Contemplating the Crown of Thorns” by Michelangelo

This Lent, the Filipino women are being doubly persecuted with the impending passage of an anti-women bill. Women are poor, too. Why leave them out as criminals in this amendatory bill?

For nine years, women’s groups, survivors and advocates have been pushing for an anti-prostitution bill that will shift the accountability away from the bought and onto the buyers as well as the profiteering business.  Thus, for legislators to pass a bill simply amending the Vagrancy Act, keeping women in prostitution criminalized, while all other actors are decriminalized, is sheer callousness and misogyny.  It is nothing but early and crass electioneering in the guise of being pro-poor.

PAALALA:  Magsuot po ng kulay puti at magdala ng kandila upang ilawan ang labing-apat na istasyon ng krus ng mga kababaihan sa prostitusyon. Mga kontak: Clydie Pasia (4342149), Jean Enriquez (0917 8235326).

Alliance of Progressive Labor • Ateneo Human Rights Centre • Bagong Kamalayan • Buklod • CATW-AP • Center for Overseas Workers • Development Action for Women Network • Development Through Active Women Networking • EnGendeRights • Focus on the Global South • Ging Cristobal • IMA Foundation • Lawig Bubai • LUNA Legal Resource Center for Women and Children • Pagtinabangay Foundation • PKKK • PREDA • La Proteccion de la Infancia, Inc. • Rainbow Rights Project (R-Rights), Inc. • Renew Foundation • SARILAYA • SAMARITANA • Sidlakan • Talikala • Tisaka • Transform Asia • WomanHealth Phils. • Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau • Women’s Crisis Center • Women’s Media Circle Foundation • Youth and Students Advancing Gender Equality • World March of Women

Geraldine Javier’s passion: To paint, sew, mend life’s little wounds

Would the Philippine contemporary art world be poorer had Geraldine Guillen Javier been so dutiful a daughter that she became more Florence Nightingale than her true self after she passed the nursing board exams and landed in the Top Ten? The answer is not “perhaps” but “certainly, definitely bereft.”

A middle child, the fifth of eight, Geraldine was born to parents who wanted their children to be in financially stable fields. Her mother is a retired public school teacher, who once dreamt of being a nurse, and her father, a doctor of medicine, whose own father died young so he never got to practice his profession but instead managed the family farm.

With much of the family’s land falling under agrarian reform, the Javiers stay home in Candelaria, Quezon, where they putter around the garden. Sometimes, they visit Geraldine and her brother, who stay at the family’s city house in Sampaloc, Manila, when it is time for their medical checkup. Or she’d visit them in the province that she calls “a sanctuary, a place where I can be me. Whenever I need a reality check, that’s where I am.”

While enrolled for her first degree in nursing, Geraldine used to ask her parents every semester if she could shift to fine arts. But she’d get the adamant response to continue her studies in nursing as it would translate to a sure-fire job. She recalls, “I found it hard to explain to them that there was no need for a fallback job if I was determined to excel in what I wanted to do.”

Even when she passed the board and decided to sign up for another degree, this time her heart’s desire: fine arts. She had no regrets. Her months involved in an allied medical profession at the Philippine General Hospital taught her “a holistic approach to problems, to empathize, not just sympathize, with a patient. Community service helped in my maturation.” She even used to buy medicine books for the sheer pleasure of reading them.

Perhaps her parents gave their grudging “yes” this time. By her senior year at the College of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines Diliman, Geraldine was already active in group shows along with her batch mates Mariano Ching, Yasmin Sison, Keiye Miranda, Wire Tuazon. When she left school with a few units of electives undone so she could give her all to her calling, again her parents insisted that she finish the course on grounds that in case a full-time career was not feasible, she could be an art teacher.

She showed them…and how! With her works fetching good sums not just in her home country but abroad, her family has realized that a regular job she could report to is not all that necessary to survive, prevail with elan and contribute to the growth of Philippine art and culture.

She says, “My family is not only proud of what I have become, they are prouder of what I have not become—a monster!  At least, I’m not one yet. They fully understand how important my work is for me. They do their best to support me. Dad keeps a scrapbook of articles about me and my work. Often, I consent to interviews and features just so Dad would have a steady supply of materials, ha ha. Super Mom makes sure that I eat right and take care of myself. She tries her best to make life easier for me.”

In the process of doing the work she truly loves, she discovers that the trait of empathy, honed in nursing school, remains strong. She can pour herself, her emotions even into an object, not just a person, she is painting.

As her work developed from collages to combining photography and painting, then moving on to large-scale works, she brings in other things she loved from childhood like embroidery and crafts.

She says, “In grade school, I was always the first to finish projects in practical arts and would often do my other classmates’ works. I was not aware that I was being creative. It was pure enjoyment then. Now, I'm happy to incorporate this passion for thread work in my paintings and hope someday they can stand on their own, without the painting, and be accepted as art.”

Here is where she arrives at an insight. “After all, it is only ideas that separate art from crafts,” she says convincingly.

When asked if embroidery induces her to fall into a contemplative mood the way women’s “crafts” do and if it is a way to mend whatever it is she is hurting from, she replies, “I have many wounds. I love life so much that in my naivete, I oftentimes embrace it with total abandon. All I wish is for me to be able to always muster enough strength, courage and humility to accept the hits and blows with equal grace the way I do when I am receiving blessings.

Mindful not to let success get into her head but instead share her blessings with others, she collaborates in her embroidery with “angels” who were originally hired as house help.

She noticed that before noon, most of their duties were done. During their idle hours, Geraldine trained them in embroidery. “They had no knowledge of it at all but now, go to my next solo show here and you’ll see for yourself.”

Apart from their salaries, the angels in her life earn much more from embroidering. Two are studying. Their employer is arranging a schedule so eventually, all will be in school. She says of their courses, “Nothing ambitious; more on practical courses.”

She calls Myra Tocayon, Cherry and Jennifer Sulad “angels” because the previous strings of household help gave her nightmares and wore her out. Myra, Cherry and Jennifer she considers God-sent. She says, “They have good heads, are very sensible and nurture ambitions. I wouldn’t call them art associates yet. Maybe, when they start contributing ideas (I will), but I don’t treat them as just workers. I sometimes take them to exhibitions, tell them art-related issues that I’m concerned with. I discuss with them the ideas behind the works we’re making to impress on them the importance of hard work and putting out quality pieces. I do not give sermons. We just exchange stories.”

She applies herself with the same consistent discipline that enabled her to go this far. After rising for breakfast with her brother and kasambahay, she exercises in front of a video, a combination of aerobics and weight lifting. Her typical day is “working from morning till evening. I paint in the daytime, embroider at night,” lifting her head now and then to watch a DVD movie.

She says of her viewing face, “I watch light films and TV series because they’re easier to follow. Highly recommended is Weeds, a brave series about a single mother forced to sell weeds to support her dysfunctional family. Another is Numbers where the FBI enlists a mathematician to solve crimes. It’s very interesting but not recommended while sewing because one needs to focus all brain power to understand the theories.”

As part of her research for a group show that has elements of horror and suspense in it, she has been viewing again what she calls “the creepy children series” like The Shining, Children of the Corn, Pet Sematary, Amityville, The Exorcist. She is seeing them as an adult and checking if these movies “still have the power to scare me. The Shining is still powerful, especially the scene where blood gushes out of the walls. I can only watch The Exorcist if I have company. This is by far the scariest for me. If there’s anyone who wants to see this movie, feel free to join me.”

She rues, though, that she misses “the days when reading was part of my daily routine. There are so many things to do, and I don’t want to scrimp on sleep because it’s part of the discipline. I can only paint well if I have enough untroubled sleep. I’m reading Karen Armstrong’s book In the Beginning, a contemporary interpretation of The Book of Genesis. What makes this a great book are the insights. The Bible has always been a scary book for me because I get confused with the ways of both God and men.”

She was thinking of returning to The Bible to research for another show to find out “the many ways I can use trees and birds to illustrate stories, but I was hesitant to read it.” She discovered Armstrong’s book. It was “like experiencing epiphany. Everything made sense. She explains in simple terms why humans act the way they do, and they do after a rift with God. She’s not preachy. When she talks about creativity (she’s not referring to art), it’s how it can be used as a tool to overcome a conflict with God.”

Geraldine also enjoys historical fiction and is amazed “how writers can create a tapestry of stories and incorporate this in historical events. My faves are Alice Walker, Mo Yan and Anchee Min and lately, Orhan Pamuk. Someday, when I can read at leisure again, I want to reread books that fascinated me as a teenager—Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, Darwin’s Origin of the Species.” 

Her dream project is to interpret Boticelli’s “Primavera,” a work she admires for the way the artist painted the trees and blooms. I like the story of ‘Primavera’ because I love nature. I’m in awe of Boticelli. I’ll know when it’s the right time to do a particular work like ‘Primavera.’ It’s not yet time. This work is steeped in mythology, and I need a good story to make a contemporary interpretation of this masterpiece.”

What she plans on doing is to combine intricate embroideries with painting. She does not compromise with her materials even if she pays through the nose to order online assorted Italian threads to achieve different textures.

When she starts a work, she does not do preliminary sketches. “Drawing is not my thing,” she says. “My real talent is weaving together found images and creating a story. Often, the story comes first and I wait for the right images. Intuition comes into play in many of these works.”

Apart from the artists she admires, among them Frida Kahlo, the people in her milieu who influence her art-making are “great friends with great minds who also happen to be some of the most hardworking, passionate, intelligent people I know, not to mention the craziest.”:

Among them is Raymond Lee whom she calls “the Mother Lily of indie films, an award-winning scriptwriter, an art addict who is very dear to the art community here. I have collector friends whose bonds with me go beyond getting works from me. One is like an uncle, brother, friend, adviser, stylist. They keep me not only well-informed but grounded.”

The products of her early struggles, training, dreams, imagination and grace-filled life are being seen in places as near as Makati and as far as Singapore and Milan.

Despite the enviable life of a single successful woman, it isn’t one that is devoid of pain. She says, “When I embrace it, I don’t mean ceaseless, meaningless activities. Of course, I derive pleasure also from shopping, eating, enjoying the company of friends and family. However, life and art for me are inextricably linked. I do everything with passion. I work harder, love deeply, risk more and as a consequence, I tend to get hurt deeper when things fail to live up to expectations. I learn from these experiences. It’s not easy to continue living (when I’m hurt), but I don't withdraw. I embrace life again, and again, and again.”

It took some detours to arrive at what she wants to do with her life. But as a poet once said, it’s not the destination but the journeying that matters.-- Elizabeth Lolarga

A version of this article was first published in an issue of Contemporary Art Philippines, 2010.
Top: Ella Amo Apasionadamente Y Fue Correspondida
Bottom: "Blackbird Singing
Photos of Geraldine Javier's works from


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Do We Need Stories? by Tim Parks | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

Do We Need Stories? by Tim Parks | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

Pool time for bibi

The April Borns

birthday poems for Butones Fernandez & Bianca Ysabel Susi 
written to Mahler's Adagietto from his 5th Symphony in C sharp minor

march marches out
with a loud stomping
of the pachyderm's feet
the wails of the mournful
the lifting of night

welcome now
the hours of morning
the promise of ice cream
a stifled scream over
a child's mess
an outburst of giggles
echoing through a
valley of green

welcome now
the perplexed look on
a little one
while new shoes in
the hue of tenderness
are fitted on her
for her first step
followed by two
three  four
a hundred  a thousand
as calendar pages
are cast off

welcome now
the harp  the violins
that sear the heart
as white lilies
turn purplish
in the easter  sun

--Babeth Lolarga

Photos of Bianca and Butones by Gigi Lolarga and Kimi Fernandez

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The departed

Letters of sympathy are the hardest ones to write. It is a pitiless endeavor. Give this blogger a note of thanks, a birthday or get-well-soon-you're-missed message to dash off anytime. The family's personal flag of mourning has been flying half-mast for sometime since the death of Chiqui Barretto Server early this month. It seems it will continue flying that way till past Easter. This morning  my brother called from overseas to tell us his wife's 16-year-old nephew just  passed on to the next life. Cause of death: leukemia.

As is my wont these days, I'm on this cleaning spree (deleting messages to free up space for incoming and outgoing mail). The exercise has proven therapeutic. But half an hour ago, I chanced upon this note I had emailed to my godmother and cousin Jane Pearl Server-Banzhaf. We were exchanging letters. She just lost her husband Hans.  Two years later, she left us exactly 19 days after she turned 63.

If the thought isn't too irreverent, I can use this as template for similar letters that have to be written with more frequency as death is accepted as the living's constant companion. Meanwhile, hearts go on beating, a reminder this season that those who're left behind must keep on toasting in this manner: "Here's to life!"

Thu, Mar 16, 2006 at 4:25 PM

Dearest Ninang Jane,

First of all, it's okay to cry and cry. I remember suppressing my tears when my Dad died in January 1992, trying to put up a brave front before my siblings and Mommy, and it wasn't till June of that same year, on Father's Day, when my article on him came out in the old Daily Globe, that an avalanche of tears fell.
I must have been in sixth grade when Hans came into our lives. I remember you and he standing on the lawn, you introducing each of us to him, and we went up shyly to shake his hand. He looked dazzlingly handsome, and you did make a fine pair. 

Through the years I would see him striding in that determined way of his and learning how to drive in Manila's traffic and being as barumbado as the worst truck driver. I think he picked up some Filipino cuss words, too. 

He was the one, at one post-Christmas reunion at Shorty and Lita's home, who yelled, after hearing the roll call of names of our nieces and nephews (Jongjong, Klengkleng, etc.), "Isn't there a Pekpek?" And Chiqui repeated the question while everyone roared in laughter. 

I remember him as moody and sometimes masungit, too, but we all have our days. Like I said in my previous email, the man I married is in many ways like your dearly and recently departed (Hans ran the Banzhaf residence with German efficiency). My pursuit of fine arts wouldn't be possible without Rolly taking upon himself the bulk of housekeeping chores that I must confess bore and depress me, if I have to do them all the time. 

I know the coming days and weeks will be difficult, but your friends and relatives will keep in touch through text and email to comfort you. Besides, you have all those beautiful children and grandchildren to remind you of what you and Hans had brought forth to this world.

 Photo of Jane from the collection of one of her three daughters

PEN calls for release of poet Eric Acosta

From the inbox

The PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists) International, a world association of writers, appeals for the immediate release of Filipino poet Ericson Acosta. Please visit links at

PEN International
PEN American Center
International Freedom of Expression Exchange

The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International is seriously concerned about the prolonged detention of poet, journalist and activist Ericson Acosta, who has been held without trial since February 2011. PEN International fears that he may be targeted for his legitimate human rights activities, and calls for his immediate and unconditional release if held solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed under Article 19 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, ratified by the Philippines.

According to PEN’s information, Ericson Acosta (39) is a poet, songwriter and activist. He is a former editor of the student publication Philippine Collegian, and chairperson of the student cultural group Alay Sinin. He also worked as cultural writer for the Manila Times, and has acted in and directed a number of theatre plays. On 13 February 2011, Acosta was arrested by the military, in San Jorge, Samar, east of the country, on suspicion of being a member of the New People’s Army (NPA). At the time of his arrest, Acosta was said to be unarmed and conducting research on human rights and environmental issues in the area. He was reportedly held incommunicado for three days, during which he was ill-treated, tortured and threatened with death. On 16 February 2011, the charge of illegal possession of explosives was filed against Acosta at the Regional Trial Court Branch 41 in Gandara, Western Samar. Under Philippine law, this is a non-bailable offence. Acosta remains in custody pending action by the investigating prosecutor. Under Philippine law, the time limit from an arraignment to trial is set at 180 days by the Speedy Trial Act (RA 8493). However, over one year after Acosta’s arrest and arraignment, the prosecutor has yet to file a formal complaint to the court.
Acosta is currently detained at the Calbayog sub-provincial jail, which is a civilian detention facility. Since Acosta’s arrest, there has been a constant presence of officers from the 8th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army outside the prison, who reportedly intimidate his family and other visitors. His defense team filed a complaint about this matter before Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights (PCHR), but has received no response. In September 2011, Acosta filed a petition for the review of his case before the Philippines’ Department of Justice (PDOJ), alleging irregularities and rights abuses; however, despite the 60 days deadline to respond to the petition, the PDOJ’s decision remains pending.
While in prison, Acosta has continued to write and to give press interviews. For further information on his case, see Amnesty International’s statement; check the campaign site for his release where you can also read some of his recent poems, and the Free Ericson Acosta facebook page. The Philippines PEN Centre has been active in supporting his case.

Please send appeals:

Expressing serious concern for the prolonged detention without trial of poet, journalist and activist Ericson Acosta;

Calling for his immediate and unconditional release if held solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed under Article 19 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, ratified by the Philippines.

Send appeals to:
His Excellency Benigno Simeon Aquino III
Republic of the Philippines
Malacanang Palace
Fax: +63 2 735 6167

Hon. Leila M. De Lima
Secretary, Department of Justice (DOJ)
Padre Faura Street
Ermita, Manila, 1000
Fax: +63 2 523 9548
Email: /