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Friday, October 09, 2015

Before you complain

Nobel intentions

WILL a Filipino win a Nobel Prize for Literature in my lifetime? We don’t know. The best bet, according to bettors, are Sionil Jose or Frankie Joe and Virgilio Almario or Rio Alma. But we don’t know if there are Swedish translations of Frankie Joe’s novels or Rio Alma’s poetry books; because even if you have a sizable collection of works, it all depends if there were any translated in Swedish. A small group of Swedish literary academicians decide on who is the 113th Nobel Literature laureate (that’s for next year) and if you have no book in Swedish you’re gone. An online paper said that Frankie Joe had a 1:50 chance of making it. He is now 91. Once you’re dead, you’re out; unless you were chosen on the year of your death.
So Philip Roth and Haruki Murakami were this year’s frontliners. And yet again, it was someone we didn’t know who won: Svetlana Alexievich of Belorussia won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature. My first reaction was: who the hell is this poet? Google, google. OMG She is a journalist! And one of her works is handed free in the Internet so far.
And Alexievich wasn’t a surprise, it turned out. A London betting establishment said that she is actually the third favorite, after Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Murakami. And the accolades came fast, even among my  friends.
Wilfredo Pascual, one of the more famous creative nonfictionist said, “Noong mid-80s at kasisimula pa lang ilaunch ang career ni Jaclyn Jose sa mga bold movies ay nanalo siya kaagad ng Best Actress. Sa mga nabasa kong interview ay nag-iyakan daw ang mga bold star. Huhuhu, iyak nila, "Pwede rin palang maging best actress ang isang bold star." My feeling about nonfiction writer Svetlana Alexievich winning the Nobel.”
Alexievich, herself once said, “Reality has always attracted me like a magnet, tortured and hypnotized me, and I wanted to capture it on paper. So I immediately appropriated this genre of actual human voices and confessions, witness evidences and documents. This is how I hear and see the world—as a chorus of individual voices and a collage of everyday details. In this way all my mental and emotional potential is realized to the full. In this way I can be simultaneously a writer, reporter, sociologist, psychologist and preacher.”
New Yorker, champion of long-form journalism and creative nonfiction, immediately came to Alexievich’s rescue (as if she needed rescuing). They immediately revived Philip Gouveritch’s essay, “Nonfiction Deserves a Nobel” about Alexievich and why it’s high time she wins.
“Alexievich builds her narratives about Russian national traumas—the Soviet-Afghan war, for instance, or the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe—by interviewing those who lived them, and immersing herself deeply in their testimonies. But her voice is much more than the sum of their voices,” he said.
He mentioned a surreal reportage called “Zinc Coffins” by Alexievich in an old Granta quarterly and fortunately I have it. It was later turned into a book, Zincy Boys about the Russian soldiers who fought in Afghanistan and came back dead.
Her first book translated in English is “War’s Unwomanly Face.” It was described as: “Alexievich’s debut gives a voice to the thousands of Soviet women who participated in the Second World War alongside the men, from nursing the injured to killing the enemy themselves. Alexievich visited over 100 towns to record these women’s stories, and uses their heart-wrenching personal accounts to form a damning denouncement of fascism.”
The third book is “Voices from Chernobyl” which someone sent me only last Thursday.
Here is one passage which immediately struck me: “A policeman is walking alongside a woman who carries a basket of eggs. He walks with her to make sure that she buries the eggs in the ground because they are radioactive. They buried milk, they buried meat, they buried bread; it was like an endless funeral procession for inanimate objects. Thousands of soldiers sliced off the top layer of the soil, which had been contaminated, and they buried it. They took ground and they buried it in the ground. And everyone who was involved turned into a philosopher because there was nothing in the human past that enabled us to deal with this situation.”
How strange! From this alone, I think I am optimistic about the Nobel again. 

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Undies for your water

Vicsyd, Chito and El

Former Abra Gov. Vicente “Vicsyd” Valera was convicted last week by Judge Roslyn Rabara-Tria of Quezon City RTC Branch 94 for the murder of Abra Rep. Luis “Chito” Bersamin on December 16, 2006. Judge Tria in her decision said that Valera together with his co-accused were part of a grand conspiracy to eliminate Bersamin.  
Yet almost ten years ago during Bersamin’s burial, his was the name that cannot be mentioned.  That day on December 27, 2006, about 6,000 residents of Abra joined the funeral procession of their beloved congressman who was gunned down while attending the wedding of his niece in Quezon City.
The name of the alleged mastermind was only implied in metaphors. “No to Tyranny," "Huwag magdeny. Bistado Ka," and "Aray Abra (in reference to the province's festival, Arya Abra). Ania ti Basol Ko (What is my Sin)?" were among the placards carried that sunny day.
"Abra, wake up. You know the face of Agum (greed) and Apal (envy)," said then Court of Appeals Justice Lucas Bersamin, Chito’s brother, during the necrological service at the Abra High School. "I ask you to spit on whatever he stepped on," he said in Ilocano.
Ten years ago, the name of then Abra Gov. Vicente “Vicsyd” Valera was only said in whispers. He was the political kingpin of Abra and a feared one at that. He wanted to be known as Kaballo (Horse) and was often seen in town riding a white horse. He wore his hair in a pompadour complete with sideburns. It was interesting to note that he maintained his pompadour during his conviction last week although it was obviously dyed black.
Prior to the murder of Chito Bersamin, the murder of three opposition mayors were linked to him. During that burial march, the faces of Tineg Mayor Clarence Benwaren (shot dead in November 7, 2002 inside a church in Laguna), Tubo Mayor Jose Segundo (shot dead in his town in December 27 2001) and La Paz Mayor Marc Ysrael Bernos (shot dead in his hometown in January 13, 2006). Bernos, who was 32  at that time, was the leading opposition leader against Valera when he was shot at close range while watching basketball.
The murder of Bersamin was the last straw for the otherwise patient and long-suffering Abrenos. As Vicsyd would later say in his defense, he would not conspire with anyone as the Bersamins were close relatives. He said that their mothers were close relatives and that their ancestral houses near the Bangued plaza were even connected by a wooden bridge.
The bridge was cut days after the murder to signify the rift between the two families. Even as he maintains his innocence up to now, Vicsyd went into hiding after the murder of his cousin and surfaced only when he was arrested in 2009.
So why would the unmentionable do the unmentionable? It was ironic that the suspect in the murder of Mayor Bernos, Freddie Dupo (who was his vice mayor at that time) was the one who pinned Valera for political conspiracy.
Dupo, who became state witness, said that Valera met with him in La Union to arrange the murder of Bersamin because he reneged on his alleged promise not to run for his third term so that Valera’s wife, Ma. Zita Claustro Valera would replace him. The gunman, Jerry Turqueza, remains at large.
During the 2010 elections that followed Bersamin’s murder, “Agam ken Apal” became the campaign slogan of Valera’s enemies. Eustaquio “Takit” Bersamin, a sheriff in Los Angeles, California, went home to become the governor. Lagayan Mayor Ma. Cecelia Seares-Luna, who openly fought Valera and was almost killed in an ambush during the campaign, replaced Bersamin in the Congress. She was later replaced by Jocelyn Valera-Bernos, the widow of Marc Ysrael. Charito Bersamin, Chito’s daughter, became Bangued councilor and is now Abra’s Vice Governor.
“We were saddened but justice has to prevail as a crime has to be paid even if we are relatives,” said Gov. Bersamin about the conviction.
"We are satisfied with the decision but how can we share it with our Dad. He is already dead," said Chari Bersamin, who became the head of the family after Chito’s wife, Evelyn, died months later after his death due to cancer.
A day after the conviction, Chari went home from Quezon City to Bangued and had a selfie with her family at her father’s tomb. “Justice is Served!,” she wrote on her Facebook wall. “May you rest in peace Papang ko #mailiwkamiunaykenka (we miss you so dearly)”


OCTOBERIAN is a Filipinized term meaning “graduating during the semestral break”. It meant that the student might have some units left after the regular academic term and so has to finish them off in the first semester.

That term, however, will soon be a retronym, meaning it has become obsolete because of the present shift in the academic calendar due to pressure from World Bank and the ASEAN integration. So, the usual “Octoberians” are now “Decemberians.”

There are still a few schools on a holdout over the academic calendar shift but eventually there would be no “Octoberians” left.

So should we put that term to the dustbin? Apparently, no.

If we have to still use “Octoberian”, we have to shift its meaning as well. In the Philippines, at least for this year, it means a Filipino prepping up for candidacy. The Commission on Elections in its regular en banc meeting last March said that October 12 to 16 would be the dates for the filing of certificates of candidacy for the 2016 elections. The party list groups would have until May 8 to register, however.

So there. October is the time when the usually callous and insensitive people you call your politicians would suddenly be gracious, respectful and courteous to you. At the start of the month, you might have noticed them smiling at you and reaching out their hands. If your loved one died starting this month, expect them at the wake, telling all the guests how good the dead was even if six months earlier, these politicians wouldn’t have cared less who the dead was.

Yes, the new Octoberians are these hypocritical creatures trying to win over your heart and soul. It is apt because by the end of the month, October 31, they would be in full force already. They would become your vampires, ogres, shape-shifters aka the balimbings and other monsters. Only they, like Batman said in a masquerade, would not be able to disguise themselves any longer. That’s them, alright.

October is also the time when “strange bedfellows” would join together to form a party. For the rest of the year, they hated each other and wanted the other dead. But on this month, they would be “coalescing” to form a “united” party. They are like aswangs who decided to stay still for the registration period so they could become one. And like aswangs, they unite because they want your votes. After that, they want your heart and your internal organs. Just kidding, they only want your money.

So from now on, the Octoberians would no longer be the failing graduate. It would be the failures in terms of honesty and integrity now trying to be decent and respectful. Well, puera delos buenos, who constitute a minority. The rest are Halloween creatures. Would you vote for them? It’s your call. Or better yet, call the Ghostbusters.*

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Remember us

There is a place in Kiangan called the Million Dollar Hill. It is not actually a hill but a raised barren mound. It used to be a hill, old people there said. Seventy years ago, to be exact. It used to be a forested hill until American planes bombed it into submission. So the hill became a mound. The Americans bombed it with; you guessed it, a million dollar worth of bombs. That's the Kiangan joke for you. Maybe the source of the Kiangan humor.
The Americans bombed it to force the Japanese into submission. It was the last true stand of the Japanese forces in the country as the rest of the Japanese forces were just remnants.
After Kiangan's Million Dollar Hill, Yamashita and his men were brought to Baguio and made to sign the surrender papers. The place of the signing is the present Ambassador's Residence inside Camp John Hay. Tables were dispatched to form the long table for the signing papers. Some of the tables in the area as well as those in Brent School were used. Clean sheets were set and the signing was done at past noon in September 4, 1945.
Present there were Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, fresh from the prisoner’s camp, and other military officers including British Gen. Arthur Percival whom Wainwright gave the privilege of having Yamashita surrender to him as years before, it was Percival who surrendered Singapore and Burma to Yamashita.  
The Ambassador’s Residence was Yamashita’s headquarters during the War. Bedroom Number 5, facing the road, was his bedroom so he was familiar with the bullet-riddled mansion then. He surrendered his sword as well as the swords of his other officers. Days after, he was hanged.
Seventy years ago, 19 year old Pvt. Sabas Hafalla was recuperating in Mankayan as he was hit by grenade shrapnel. Nineteen year old Graciano Clavano was in Negros Oriental, providing security to the Americans, not knowing that at that noon, the war has ended.
Seventy years ago, they are beside US Ambassador Philip Goldberg in the same spot where Yamashita surrendered. Above them is the Amorsolo painting of the same scene.
In Kiangan, Challanao Maguiwe, 101 years old, recalled how he helped defend Banaue from the Japanese. He was the squad leader of his group. “Remember us,’ was all he can tell the present generation.
In this time when balikbayan boxes, the symbol of the present Filipino heroes, the OFWs, are being forcibly opened for reasons only the government knows, isn’t it about time we open this valiant chapter of our history.
Without these soldiers, our ancestors, we cannot imagine what became of us.
“This is not a celebration but a commemoration of a solemn and central event in the history of our two countries,” Goldberg said. He said that we continue to benefit from their sacrifices.
Or are we? Did our soldiers not die in vain? This is a balikbayan box that needs to be open for debate. But the biggest lesson is what the squad leader from Ifugao said: remember us.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Month of the hungry ghosts or hungry men?

FRIDAY, August 14, is the start of the Ghost Month. If we go by the Taiwanese version, it means that ghosts will haunt the Philippines with the first day of the month marked by the opening of the temple gates (a.k.a. The Gates of Hell!). Never mind that Dan Brown in his novel, Inferno, referred to Manila as the gates of hell. During this Ghost Month (which ends on September 12), incense and food are offered to the spirits (to discourage them from visiting our homes) and spirit paper money burnt as an offering. Also during the month, people avoid surgery, buying cars, swimming, and going out after dark. It is also important that addresses are not revealed to the ghosts.

There are more caveats regarding this ghostly month (Please see our centerfold in this week’s issue of the Baguio Chronicle). But the greater question in this world of flesh is: Should we be afraid of the ghosts or the men?

We brought this to forth because August 13 is this year’s Earth Overshoot Day or EOD. This means that last Thursday is the day when humanity’s resource consumption for the year exceeds the Earth’s capacity to regenerate these resources. The EOD is also known as the Ecological Debt Day. This started in 1987 by the Global Footprint Network or GFN to draw on the Earth’s very finite resources and how fast we are overshooting our consumption.

The GFN also came out with an equation to calculate this year’s EOD which is: World Biocapacity divided by the World Ecological Footprint multiplied by 365. In 1987, the WEOD was December 19. In 1990, it became December 7 then down to November 21 in 1995. By 2010, it was August 21 and last year, the deceleration slowed down to August 21. Last year, it was August 19. Now it is August 13.

What did you do last Thursday? Probably, nothing if you are in Manila because it rained and the rains flooded the roads and traffic put us on a standstill. In Baguio, there was nothing much to do because school in the college just started and students were just getting to know each other. This is the dead season for tourists so there were a few of them in the city.

If ever there was a celebration, it was The Big Bang in Tianjin, China last Wednesday night when a series of explosions from a warehouse of dangerous chemicals killed at least 50 people and injured more than 400.

It is said that all of humankind now needs 1.6 Earths. The Philippines needs 1.9 Philippines to consume within this year, almost the same as that of the United States. The United Arab Emirates needs 12.3 UAE to support its residents, Japanese need 7 Japans and Chinese need 2.2 Chinas.

All of us here on Earth would need two Earths by 2030. Is that why we are trying to colonize Mars and why we are reconsidering Pluto?

We wonder how many Baguios Baguio residents need for its consumption. We would expect a lot because that is what BLISTT is trying to remedy already. It’s been decades and nothing’s happening on that concept. But eventually, we would be outpacing our resources as well.

Let us try to go on the old-fashioned ways to tip the balance to our favor or advantage. Let us plant more trees and other greens, use renewable energy and, most of all, moderate greed --- our never-ending and insatiable greed!

Are you with us?*

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Wedding in the burial cave

LAST month, a couple from Manila decided to have their honeymoon in Sagada. Nothing wrong with that as Sagada has become a favorite honeymoon destination for many Filipinos, especially after the movie “That Thing Called Tadhana” came about.

What made the couple famous, however, was when they recreated their wedding in Sagada, posing in the now-famous Kiltepan sunrise spot, the rice terraces on the northern side of the town, and in Lumiang Cave. The cave is an old burial cave and the couple decided to hold their post-nuptial shoot among the wooden coffins.

The photoshoot passed quietly in the Internet until it made it to a Sagada Facebook page. That’s when the issues came out of the cave. The reactions we saw at random in some of the comments include crazy, what were they thinking, desecration, shameful, ignorant, death wish, disrespect and stupid. Some called for the heads of the photographers, the newly-wed couple, tour guides, owner of the inn where they stayed, tourism officer and tourism committee. Almost all were angered by the photoshoot while some took a sardonic view saying that maybe they wanted a corpse wedding theme and the guides turned their hanapbuhay into a hanap-patay.

The biggest victim of all these, of course, is Sagada. Not only the place but the idea of Sagada. Even before “That Thing Called Tadhana” came about, Sagada has been turning into the city it was long compared to: Baguio. It has always been said that Sagada is Baguio fifty years ago, and then the time comparison was pushed to thirty years ago then twenty years ago.

Now Sagada is fast catching up with Baguio. On any long weekend, some of those who go to Baguio proceed to Sagada. The Kiltepan sunrise, once the secret of the town, has become a wide open secret. Three hundred would converge there on sunset, a far cry when only the movie couple had their “hugot” dialogue there.

Now this. After the photographers were condemned for their audacity, the fingers were blamed on the tour guides. The inn where they got the guides was identified. The inn said that the guides, mostly students, knew what they were doing and were not the ones.

The “real” guide was later identified but the old issue of the rival tour guide associations was again brought up. Also their inadequacies on some of the histories of the places in Sagada were discussed. As it turned out, only a few of the guides and residents were able to watch the Tadhana movie so how could they respond to the tourists’ requests for the “Tadhana” tour. There were talks about the tourism officer and how he is also the executive secretary so how can he fully do his specific job since budget is limited? If we call for the heads of all these people, will the problem cease?

A wedding photographer, especially with the scale of what the couple had, is not alone. Or a couple, as their business name implies. At the least there were five including the ones in charge of the klieg lights, because the cave was flooded with lights. So a production as major as that was not noticed by the people near the caves? Was it so hush-hush that no one in Sagada knew until it came out in the Internet?

If Sagada has to learn from Baguio, it has to learn not from its success but from its mistakes. Does it equate tourism success with the number of tourists? Then by all means, stuff the caves with people. Let the tourists do what they want to do. They are always right, you know. Have fast food franchises everywhere. Build parking lots and multi-level parking spaces. Build a shopping mall. Let the tourist pose with the hanging coffins right there in their inns.

But if the Sagada residents value their culture more than the tourists, then this is the right time to do what’s right. It has to acknowledge the limits of hospitality. Taboos of the forefathers had their reasons that are not be thrown away like heathen idols. In fact, it is these “heathen idols” that made Sagada Sagada. If you again look at the post-nuptial  photos, look at it semiotically: that it means marrying commercial tourism with the death of the culture.    

A sort of a dap-ay should be formed to address the invasion of tourism in Sagada. Get lessons from other tourist areas in other areas of indigenous peoples as guides. It has become easy to come to Sagada with the good roads but it doesn’t mean we have to make it easy for them. Let them learn your culture and know what’s appropriate or not. Let them appreciate Sagada for what it is not what they want it to be. You should not build bungee jumping sites just for them to touch the hanging coffins.

Where do broken hearts go, goes the blurb from the Tadhana movie. Maybe it is in Sagada. But the broken hearts should not be the hearts of the Sagada residents.*
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