Penman No. 18: My Own QC Memorial

Penman for Monday, October 29, 2012

BECAUSE OF the timing of this current trip to the US, I failed to attend the awarding ceremonies two weeks ago for Quezon City’s Gawad Parangal, which I was honored to receive this year among other sons and daughters of the city. So by way of publicly thanking the people who gave me that distinction, let me offer up my own memorial to that city which I now call home.

“Now,” I just realized, goes back almost 45 years, except for a couple of stretches we spent in Pasig and San Mateo. The Dalisays—my parents and their five kids—might as well have been gypsies in our childhood, moving around Manila at least a dozen times while we were growing up, everywhere from Pasay and Singalong to Boni Avenue and Pasig (not just one but three barrios in Pasig—Malinao, Bambang, and San Nicolas). Childhood and adolescence were to me a series of moving trucks carting increasingly smaller loads of furniture, appliances, and sundry effects from one apartment or rented space to another.

But it’s Quezon City that’s accounted for most of my life, since the early ‘60s when we found ourselves on Liberty Avenue—peppered by grainy-sweet aratiles—before our Pasig interlude. When I qualified for the Philippine Science High School in 1966, we moved back to Quezon City, to another apartment on Mahiyain Street in Teachers Village, where we ran a small and luckless poultry business in the backyard; I learned to smoke here, and I remember looking up at the tracered sky one New Year’s Eve and sighing, “It’s 1970!”

We were paying P160 a month for that apartment, but even that proved too much, and we had to move again, to what amounted to a lean-to that my father built on the side of a house on Tandang Sora; here we kept a pig in the bathroom and performed our ablutions under his watchful eye. I walked from this happy hovel to my classes in UP; the happiness ended, at least for me, when I was arrested in this same place under martial law in January 1973.

Within a year I was out of prison and married; my young bride Beng and I moved briefly to an apartment on Bignay Street in Kamuning, and then to Project 6, before settling in with Beng’s folks in Barangay Marilag in Project 4. In 1978, my parents decided to amortize a small house and lot in Modesta Village in San Mateo, so, being the good son, I took the house next to theirs, and paid that off over 15 years, even when we lived elsewhere. In those carless days, commuting to work meant leaving very early and coming home past dinnertime, so we eventually moved back to Project 4, and then to Sorsogon Street in West Triangle, Masikap Street in Barangay Central, and finally (for now) to Juan Luna in Barangay UP Campus.

It’s been a hectic but exciting journey, in the course of which I grew up, and more; I first met my wife-to-be in Quezon City; I lost my innocence (and more) in Quezon City; I received my college degree in Quezon City; my daughter went to school, had her debut, and got her first job in Quezon City; my father died in Quezon City; I’ve written most of my books in Quezon City.

I’ve often asked myself why—given how wide Metro Manila has grown and how many choices of places to live we middle-class working stiffs have—I’ve kept coming back to QC the couple of times I’ve strayed from it. It’s hardly the prettiest place on earth—although it has green fringes, like Diliman, especially where it overlooks Marikina Valley, that make you forget or want to forget its drearier swaths.

But the wonder of Quezon City is precisely its variety and mutability. A pious president lived on sedate Times Street, not too far from Timog Avenue in its raucous heyday. (And the younger me remembers, with an unrepentant grin, that Manila, Makati, and Pasay had nothing on QC in the nightlife department, back in the day.) Some neighborhoods might verge on the hoity-toity, but few approach the opulence and pretentiousness of the new upper class in Manila’s newer suburbs.

Indeed, if anything, Quezon City is staunchly middle class, my comfort zone, one that stretches from Farmer’s and Ali Mall in Cubao to SM North and Trinoma and the restaurants of Matalino Street and its pedestrian-friendly environs. A perfect Sunday for Beng and me might begin with a morning walk around the UP Academic Oval, a light lunch at Via Mare, then a P250 foot massage at Ton-Ton on V. Luna in mid-afternoon, a half-hour’s browsing through the “new” arrivals at the ukay-ukay next door, an early dinner of chicken mami and siopao in our favorite noodle place in Trinoma, capped by a movie around 7 pm.

The older we get, the less inclined Beng and I are to roam too far from our nest on the UP campus (unless it’s to some exotic destination reachable by budget fare), knowing that, in our corner of QC, everything we need is a 15-to 30-minute drive away: groceries at Rustan’s or Shoppersville, medical check-ups at your choice (or maybe not) of the Lung, Heart, or Kidney Center, certificates of all sorts at the NSO and licenses of all manner at City Hall. And, of course, there’s my workplace-cum-backyard, the University of the Philippines, where I’ll likely stay until they kick me out when I reach mandatory retirement not too long from now.

How I got there is another serendipitous QC story in itself. I’d been working, albeit as a college dropout, at the Manila and then the Makati offices of the National Economic and Development Authority in the late ‘70s when our boss, Gerry Sicat, decided to move our unit to the NEDA office on EDSA, near GMA-7. Being that close to UP, I thought I’d re-enroll and take some units when I could, and I did—and left NEDA to teach in UP.

It was probably just fitting that the person who informed me of my Gawad Parangal was another friend from NEDA days, former Budget Minister Manny Alba, who’s worked for Quezon City for many years now as City Administrator and Senior Adviser to the Mayor. After telling me the happy news, Dr. Alba shared his own reminiscences of UP:

“I note you live on Juan Luna St., UP Campus. So, did I, from 1961 (when the area was still cogonal), until 1983. I was Minister of the Budget for two years then but I left (though I did not want to), because I was feeling guilty paying just about P300 a month and displacing other deserving faculty members.

“I was on leave. In fact, I was on leave for most of the time I was working with the government and it was easy for me to go back to UP after martial law. I was on a status called ‘faculty on government service’ or FOGS (I was one of several original ‘foggies,’ which included Gerry Sicat, Cesar Virata, Jimmy Laya, Tony Aguenza, and OD Corpuz. OD himself concocted the idea of the FOGS, when he was UP President.”

And in my own odd way, that’s what and where I am now—an aging fogey killing time on the fruit farm most people call the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City.

Penman No. 17: Another October, Another Michigan

Penman for Monday, October 22, 2012

LIKE I mentioned last week, I’m in the US to visit family and to participate at the International Conference on the Philippines (Icophil), which is taking place Oct. 28-30 at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.

Dealing with all aspects of Philippine Studies, Icophil happens every four years, and it’s been held around the world—mainly in the US and the Philippines, but also in Australia and the Netherlands; the upcoming conference in Michigan will be the ninth. Icophil’s international reach reflects not only the global Filipino diaspora, but also the growing interest and engagement of non-Filipino scholars in Philippine affairs. While most participants still come from the Philippines, a significant number of speakers and panelists come from foreign universities.

Icophil also provides scholars an opportunity to assess the state of Philippine Studies around the world, in a roundtable organized by Prof. Belinda Aquino of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, who is Icophil’s founding chair. Convenors for this year’s conference are the eminent scholars Dr. Roger Bresnahan of MSU and Dr. Bernardita Churchill of UP.

Aside from us Filipinos, this meeting will bring together Filipinists from the US, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, France, Russia, Spain, and the Netherlands. By institutional affiliation, the confirmed Filipino participants will include Jose Buenconsejo, Marilyn Canta, and myself (UP Diliman)); Filomeno Aguilar, Jr., Czarina Saloma-Akpedonu, and Lisandro Claudio (Ateneo de Manila); Paul Dumol and Clement Camposano (University of Asia and the Pacific); Raymundo Rovillos (UP Baguio); Teresita Ang See (KAISA); Nick Deocampo (Center for New Cinema);  Genevieve L. Asenjo (DLSU); Hope Sabanpan-Yu (University of San Carlos), Kristian Cordero (Ateneo de Naga); and Prisciliano Bauzon (University of Southern Mindanao).

Icophil 2012’s keynote speaker will be an international expert on climate change, Dr. Rodel Lasco, Senior Scientist and Philippine Program Coordinator of the World Agro-Forestry Centre (ICRAF) and Affiliate Professor, UPLB School of Environmental Science and Management. A recipient of the Outstanding Young Scientist Award in 1997, Dr. Lasco has been a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change since 1999. In 2009, he was elected to the National Academy of Science and Technology of the Philippines.

Trailers for two new and interesting documentaries will be shown: one by MSU Prof. Geri Alumit-Zeldes on the two Filipino nurses who were wrongly convicted for murdering their patients in Ann Arbor, Mich. in the mid-1970s, and another, by filmmaker Sonny Izon, about the “Manilaners”—Jewish refugees from the Nazi Holocaust who found refuge in Manila through the intercession of President Manuel Quezon. Filmmaker Nick Deocampo will also be showing a documentary on American influences on Philippine cinema.

The panel discussions cover a predictably broad range of topics, from indigenous peoples, the Pinoy diaspora, and peace-building to economic relations, modernization, and popular culture (one of my early favorites on the program: “Automats, Supper Clubs, Drive-ins, and Quarantined Carinderias: The Contradictions of Restaurant Culture in Post-War Manila” by Peter Keppy of the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation).

I expect to be ruffling a few academic feathers with my chosen topic, which just happens to be one of my recent areas of expertise: “The Commissioned Biography: Confessions of a Hired Gun.” I’ll be speaking less as an academic than a professional writer, and I’ll try to keep it light, but I’ll be dealing with some serious ethical and academic questions raised by the practice of biographical writing from a sympathetic point of view, as opposed to the independent and critical stance expected of the unpaid scholar. Aside from payment for the writer and PR for the subject, can there be anything to be gained from the commissioned biographies that have appeared in recent years on Philippine shelves? Can they be of any service to the academic historian, political scientist, and litterateur? My provisional answer is yes, but I’m going to have to prove my case.

I tacked on the official part of this trip to my annual vacation so it’s not costing UP anything, but I have another personal reason for going to Icophil. I’m a proud graduate of Michigan State’s archrival, the University of Michigan (MFA ’88), but it was MSU (the “other” Michigan) and East Lansing that hosted me for more than two months on my first visit to the US (and my first trip abroad) in 1980. I’d never been away from my home and family for so long, and it was here that my 30-year-plus relationship with America took off. I would even write about that first autumn—about a foray into the yellow forest in my backyard called Sanford Woods—in my first novel, Killing Time in a Warm Place (1992):

“Sandbar, Sandfar, Sanford. Sanford Woods. In the shock of autumn, the first of my life, I took a walk in Sanford Woods with Estoy. Estoy himself had arrived in the United States just the previous year to take a Ph.D. in Development Economics on a fellowship, and I took the train up to Michigan the first chance I got to leave the conference in New York. I had never stepped into a forest of red and gold before, and for the first few minutes I trod carefully on the layered ground, as though disturbing it would hurtle me back in a swirl of pretty leaves to prison camp. We let ourselves be taken in and covered by that new season: we watched the squirrels shimmy up the trunks, and, coming into a patch of pure, delirious yellow, I persuaded Estoy to pose for a snapshot he could send home to his wife Marie. He stood stiffly against the color, hands in his jacket pockets, and he muttered an oath about the cold, but his grin was true. On the way back we observed how fat the squirrels were. In Manila, Estoy said, they’d be roasting on a spit, if they ever got that big. I said that there probably was a law preventing people from doing that in this country.”

That fellow “Estoy” was based on a real character, a friend who passed away a few years ago, whose life was marked by both blinding brilliance and consuming darkness. I barely told his story in the novel, and it will be a moving experience for me to retrace our steps into those woods, in another October more than three decades after.

More comic is the memory of my first kitchen disasters in that new country: of how I walked miles to the nearest Asian food store, craving food from home, and then eagerly frying a panful of dilis in my dorm room, only to have people hammering on my door, asking where that awful smell was coming from; and of stashing bottles of Coke in the freezer and forgetting about them, to be greeted by a ragged waterfall of black ice upon opening the fridge.

I’ll have a thing or two to say in East Lansing, but I’m really looking forward to more private conversations with the squirrels and sugar maples of Sanford Woods.


















Flotsam & Jetsam No. 11: Pen & Inkwell

ALMOST AS soon as we landed in New York, Beng and I ran off to one of our old haunts, the Sunday flea market on the Upper West Side. These were my two neat finds: a Waterman 412 1/2 PSF fountain pen in silver filigree from 1915 (still a bargain at $150), and a brass inkwell, in dire need of restoration but a pretty piece (at a pretty price–$10!).

Penman No. 16: Promises to Keep

Penman for Monday, October 15, 2012

AS YOU read this, Beng and I should be in the US, on a sem-break visit to family (my mother, daughter, and sister, and Beng’s sister). I’ll also be attending and speaking at the International Conference on the Philippines in East Lansing, Mich., about which you’ll hear more from me next week.

This trip’s an annual pilgrimage we all look forward to, despite the sacks of loose change it entails. The two or three weeks Beng and I spend every October in the States virtually guarantees penury at year’s end, but we’ve learned not to mind. For me, the whole point of working my butt off is to save enough so we can buy time together, which is never a waste of money. I’d rather have a trove of happy memories than a hefty savings account, and Beng absolutely agrees, so we’ve been blithely footloose and spendthrift. Curtailed by the fact that we’ve never had enough to be truly extravagant, we’ve had great fun scouring the antique malls of San Diego, feasting on hotdogs in Coney Island, and hunting for bargains in the thrift shops of Virginia.

The eating part of this trip has always been a highlight for me—and you could have seen it in my stocky frame—but this time around, my Stateside folks are in for a surprise. A new Butch is coming to town, less 35 pounds of excess baggage mainly around the waist, and with worn-out walking shoes in his luggage. He won’t be sneaking out to Walgreen’s for a six-pack of Coke or Coors and a gallon of ice cream; ridiculously—if you knew him at all—he’ll be sipping tea and munching carrot sticks, doing his gritty darnedest to resist the lure of the steaks smoking in the backyard.

This visit’s going to be a test of my new resolve—which I manifested a few weeks ago, after being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes—to lose weight by eating right and exercising as the doctor ordered.

Like I said then, I knew I had it coming. Writers lead notoriously, pigheadedly unhealthy lifestyles. Not only are we bound to our desks most of the time; we’re tethered, physically and psychologically, to bottles of beer and packs of cigarettes.

T. S. Eliot was a chronic smoker and eventually died of emphysema; so was Dylan Thomas, who also loved booze and drank himself to death (famously telling a friend after a binge: “I’ve had 18 straight whiskies. I think that’s the record”—and it probably was). The death wish appeals to the romantic in us, to our inner Poe (who, doctors now say, may have actually died of rabies and not alcoholism). Here at home, I’ve had writer-friends who openly flaunted that death wish; they lived on the edge, and died there.

Me, my days as a devilish Dylan are over. I used to smoke four packs of Marlboros a day—count them, 80 loaded pistols, with an open pack in my shirt pocket and another one in my pants, the easier to grab a stick when you needed one—until Beng and I decided to quit, cold turkey, about 17 years ago. I haven’t had one puff since, although I still get the occasional craving, and wake up feverishly from a dream (a most pleasurable one, I must admit) of having smoke curl through my parched lungs. I still think it’s one of the smartest decisions I ever made, next to marrying Beng, but quitting smoking came with a downside—I regained my appetite, which morphed into another monster, and somewhere along the way I ballooned from about 160 to nearly 220 pounds.

Also, until recently, I could and did drink up to ten bottles of beer in one sitting, proudly if foolishly remaining amiable and ambulant after the fact. In between beers, I tanked up on Coke—about three cans of the sweet syrup a day, to go with snacks and meals. It’s funny how I could write of other people having death wishes, when I was effectively living through one myself.

Well, I haven’t had a Coke in three months, and only about four or five bottles of beer in that same time. Stranger still, my food cravings are gone. I take a brisk 3-to-6-kilometer walk around the UP Academic Oval once or twice a day, and when my stamina flags, I just try to think of every pound lost as another day saved to spend with Beng and Demi. (The incorrigible techie, I use a free Nike app on my iPhone to track distance traveled by GPS, and to count calories burned.)

I still go on my poker all-nighters, but now I use the time between hands to surf on my phone and keep up with the news and discussions on the diabetes and dieting sites. (My newest discoveries: eating 2,000 calories or less a day will enable weight loss; exercising before breakfast is good, because it burns fat rather than carbs, which your sleeping body nibbled on all night; don’t skip breakfast after working out; you also need carbs for serotonin, which keeps you smiling.) I’ve learned to chew my food, manage my portions, count calories, and read the labels.

I had the deepest, sweetest satisfaction the other day when I sent over six pairs of my khaki pants with 40-inch waists to the neighborhood tailor for alteration, down to a smarter 36. The repairs cost me P450, but I’d gladly pay thousands more if I had to send them back after a few months to be trimmed by another couple of inches.

I know I’m far from being out of the woods, and of how easy it is to backslide. Anyone can lose weight fast—and naturally that became my early obsession—but keeping it off and feeling good about it is going to be the bigger struggle. (You know you’re not alone when you type in a search term in Google and it auto-completes the form three words away from finishing what you had in mind. Some time ago, I punched in “lose beer belly…” and something like “lose beer belly fastest way” came up, as though the machine had read my mind.)

But if America has burgers and Slurpees, it also has miles and miles of wooded walks, and that’s what I’ll be going for this time. Although he meant going to the woods in another sense, Robert Frost might as well have written these lines for me: “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep / But I have promises to keep / And miles to go before I sleep…”

ON ANOTHER note, I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of two friends in the arts. The first was a shocker—Nonoy Buncio, a passionate art collector and a Botong Francisco connoisseur, was shot by unidentified gunmen while on duty as a Quezon City official tasked with clearing up the chronic congestion on Commonwealth Avenue. If they only knew how deeply Nonoy, a committed socialist, loved his country and his people.

The other friend who passed away was celebrated film director Marilou Diaz-Abaya, for whom I had the privilege of writing a script (for the 1994 movie that came to be retitled “Ikalabing-Isang Utos: Mahalin Mo, Asawa Mo,” which I’d somewhat more sedately but perhaps uncommercially called “Sylvia, Susan, Soledad”). Among the many directors I’d worked with, Marilou was the most methodical, approaching every sequence not just with technical but philosophical questions. Years ago, we also worked together on two abortive projects—a docu-drama on the EDSA 1 revolt and a film biography of Joseph Estrada, before he ran for president.

I wish we had enough time to finish everything, but there never is, and that’s why I’m in America, visiting those dearest to me.

Penman No. 15: Nerds and Nationalists

Penman for Monday, Oct. 8, 2012

THIS WEDNESDAY, the fraternity I’ve belonged to for over 40 years will be celebrating its first half-century.

I joined Alpha Sigma almost as soon as I stepped into the University of the Philippines in Diliman as a wet-eared freshman in 1970. It was one of the three things I wanted to be a part of in UP, an ambition I’d nurtured over my high school days at Philippine Science—the Philippine Collegian student newspaper, Alpha Sigma, and an activist organization (which turned out to be the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan, via the Nationalist Corps).

They were indeed all of one package: I looked up to Alpha Sigma because the Collegian was then being lorded over by fraternity members like Vic Manarang and Tony Tagamolila, both editors in chief, and Gary Olivar, who wrote a column. It seemed to be the frat where all the cool and brainy guys were, but more than that, it also attracted a strong core of dedicated activists—people like the then-imprisoned Nilo Tayag (one of the original founders) and a quiet but intense young fellow named Benny Tiamzon, now reputed to be the supremo of the New People’s Army.

I can imagine how strange this must sound to many readers who think of writers and academics as deskbound people who should have better things to do than gather around a campfire like cavemen, chug beer, and thump their chests, literally and figuratively. Indeed, in this age of Facebook, NGOs, and Rotary Clubs, fraternities can be seen by people as something of an anachronism, a throwback to feudal privilege and the days of Big Men on Campus. Frankly, I can’t blame them. Just about the only thing most of us hear about frats today is when they haze poor, hopeful neophytes to a bloody pulp. And as far as I’m concerned, frats that do that deserve to be treated like the criminals they are—punished in court and summarily outlawed.

I’d be the last to deny that there’s a lot of childish and sometimes fatal stupidity you can associate with this kind of alpha-male bonding. But to be just as honest, at least back in the day when I was a 17-year-old looking up at the Oblation, there were worse choices I could have made than to join up with this happy bunch of nerds and nationalists.

Alpha Sigma’s founders established it in UP in 1962 precisely to go against the grain of traditional fraternities, which seemed to be interested only in beating each other up, in finding cushy jobs for their alumni, and parading their cars around campus. The initials “AS” may have been suggested by the frat’s base in the College of Arts and Sciences, but they soon stood for “Advocates of Scholarship” and “Alay sa Sambayanan.”

Since then, the fraternity has produced a long line of brothers who have distinguished themselves in nearly all fields of endeavor—not just in the usual categories of business and politics, but also in the arts, in engineering, in public health, and, of course, in public service.

To name just a few, they include the likes of Smart Communications founder Doy Vea, sociologist and journalist Randy David, legal scholar and professor Raul Pangalangan, and the late playwright Boy Noriega. Dodo Banzon runs PhilHealth; over in Seattle, Oying Rimon manages the public health portfolio of the Gates Foundation. I could go on and on with this list, but you get the idea.

We have many brods in mainstream politics—Sen. Gringo Honasan, Cong. Miro Quimbo, and former GMA men Mike Defensor and Gary Olivar among the most prominent of them. But the Left can also count Alpha Sigmans among its most revered figures; aside from the aforementioned Nilo Tayag, Tony Tagamolila, and Benny Tiamzon, they include Billy Begg and Joey Calderon who, like Tony, heroically gave up their lives in the fight against the dictatorship.

Like blood brothers, we have differences, disagreements, and debates within the fraternity, which is a healthy thing. If I thought a brod was doing wrong, I’d consider it my duty and indeed the best thing I could do for him to tell him so. I’ve never believed in a culture of silence and secrets, nor in blind obedience. I do appreciate the opportunity that the fraternity has provided for people from opposite sides of the political fence to meet and to argue civilly without fear of being bashed or punished—something I wish we could do more of in our society at large. I can’t forget that on the run during martial law, many of us found shelter and succor with the brods.

And for the young men who come to UP like I did many years ago and who find their way into our brotherhood, I have a standard set of messages waiting for them. Build up both your mental and physical strength, I say, but eschew violence—it has no place in the university. Value scholarship and service; develop your talents, so you can serve the people better. Be an example for others to emulate.

When a resident brod enrolls in my class and introduces himself to me, I tell him that I will expect more from him than from his classmates, and that he had better be ready to recite on demand, because I don’t ever want it said that I gave a brod a free cut or went easy on him. That’s how we can maintain high standards of behavior and performance within the fraternity, and guarantee that it won’t decline into irrelevance.

If you’re an Alpha Sigman and would like to reconnect with 50 years of a glorious tradition of excellence and service, join us in our grand reunion this Wednesday evening, at the Shangri-La Makati. Please email me for more details.

Penman No. 14: Free Ericson Acosta

AcostaPenman for Monday, Oct. 1, 2012

LAST MONDAY, I wrote about recalling the horrors of martial law, which had been declared 40 years earlier. That same day, I had a chance encounter with a young woman named Kerima Tariman Acosta, whose husband Ericson has now been languishing in a Samar jail for a year—a political prisoner under a new regime four decades after martial law.

My interest in the case was piqued not just because of the obvious irony, but because Ericson was a former editor of the Philippine Collegian and a poet—in other words, a brother-in-arms as a writer.

Ericson was arrested on Feb. 13, 2011 by soldiers of the Philippine Army near San Jorge in Samar, without a warrant; Kerima says that he was carrying only his laptop, a cellphone, and some money, having been conducting human rights research in that militarized community on behalf of a peasant group, Kapawa. Later, however, his captors produced a grenade, which they claimed Ericson had in his pocket; they would later charge him with illegal possession of explosives, which Ericson vehemently denies, saying that the grenade was planted to link him to the New People’s Army.

Upon his arrest, says Kerima, Ericson was interrogated for 44 hours, tortured, and forced to admit that he was an NPA member. He was moved from detention in a military camp to the Calbayog sub-provincial jail, but soldiers from the local infantry battalion were sent to camp out in this jail to guard him.

Meanwhile, his case has been crawling through the courts. Prominent legal and artists’ groups have rallied behind Ericson’s release—including the National Union of People’s Lawyers, which has taken on his defense, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, and International PEN, among others—arguing that he was arrested illegally to begin with and was tortured, and that the charge against him was manufactured on the spot. Still, he remains in prison, despite an urgent plea from his family for his release, or at least for an opportunity for him to be seen by a doctor, because he had been sick with renal and prostate problems even before his arrest.

I’ve been a firm believer in President Noynoy Aquino’s “Daang Matuwid” campaign, but something like this makes me wonder how well we’ve truly exorcised—if we have, at all—the demons of our martial-law past, particularly in terms of reining in the abuses of our military, and of educating them (and thereby ourselves) on the value of respecting human rights.

We’ve let convicted murderers and child-rapists go free, although PNoy’s men can say that that was under a previous and truly morally abominable administration. Ericson Acosta was arrested under PNoy’s watch. What’s worse, it turns out that Ericson is hardly alone. When human rights activists tracked him down in Catbalogan, they found five more political prisoners in the city jail. These activists estimate that more than 350 people still languish in Philippine prisons because of their political beliefs.

The President can reclaim the moral high ground not just by remembering what Marcos and his military did to his father—as he did on the 40th anniversary of martial law—but by acting differently and speedily to bring justice to these cases, as he would have wished someone did for Ninoy, and not simply fall back on the old Palace excuse of “Let the military do its job.” Experience shows that when you do that, you let the butchers loose on the people. I haven’t lost hope in reform within the military mindset, but it takes a Commander in Chief to set the tone and give the orders.

If the government thinks that the evidence against Acosta is strong and irrefutable, it should prove its case, and prove it quickly. Otherwise, it should free Ericson Acosta and the others like him—arrested for patently political reasons 40 years after martial law—to put that era squarely in the past.

* * * * *

ON A happier note, I’d like to mention a new book whose author exemplifies the best of what a Filipino can be and can achieve internationally. Dr. Jojo Sayson is a Fil-Am physical therapist and motivational speaker, a UST graduate who has done pioneering research work for NASA and who heads a foundation that helps children with cancer and other debilitating diseases.

His biography, Springboard to Heaven: The Jojo Sayson Adventure (Image Workshop Press, 2012)—co-authored and edited by biographer and film director James Riordan—chronicles the journey of a poor Manileño boy who leaves to work in the US with $170 in his pocket and who goes on to become a scientist engaged in finding solutions to the problem of lower back pain—not my back or yours, but that of the NASA astronaut, who has to endure weeks if not months of microgravity in space, which puts unusual stresses on the body. To understand this problem more thoroughly, Sayson himself went through microgravity training, and out this came a landmark paper published in Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine in 2008. Jojo must have enjoyed the experience, because he subsequently applied to join NASA’s astronaut corps as a mission specialist for 2013.

To quote from the book: “Astronauts report that the ‘fetal tuck or cannonball position,’ with knees-to-chest, relieves their back pain. The article presents research and references to describe the possible reasons for this relief, their clinical consequences and the rationale of the numerous proposed exercise countermeasures suggested for astronauts to perform in space to increase spinal loading. (These countermeasures also may prevent herniated disks which can occur post-flight.) The authors also suggest the possibility of employing, in conjunction with the countermeasures, a harness designed by Sayson to stimulate spinal compression and reduce disc expansion.”

That’s heavy technical stuff, but what’s more interesting and important for most of us Pinoys is to see another kababayan opening new doors abroad not just for Filipinos, but for humanity itself.

The book is now available at National Book Store, Powerbooks, and Bestsellers.







Doy, vic manarang, nilo tayag
gringo, mike defensor, gary olivar, miro quimbo, oying rimon

Randy david, raul pangalangan