Saturday, July 16, 2016

Moms Don't Think

We used to tease my mother-in-law for her preferred mode of weekend entertainment. It consisted mostly of watching movies with little to no dialogue, but brimming over with blood, gore and broken limbs. For, she explained, she did not care to think in her moments of repose, which would have been the case if she were to watch fiction of the verbose sort.

While, in the interest of maintaining my digestive peace, I still question her choice of genre, I no longer wonder at her reason. I understand her now. After a week of slaving over soul-crushing cubicle work that is the demand of necessity rather than interest, and dealing, in a personal and professional capacity, with the mind-boggling angst and nonsense of a constant stream of bipeds in arrested emotional maturity, it is too much to require additional strenuous mental exercise on a rest day.

I understand her even better because I find myself in the same situation, stretched so thin by the demands of full time employment and parenthood that I refuse to use my brain a second over Friday's sunset, by which time I demand my inalienable right to nonsensical rest and recreation.

In my case, I find my comfort in my trove of books, but while my younger tastes leaned towards the likes of Poe, Kafka, Fitzgerald and Dostoevsky, I now find myself in need of much, much lighter fare, so utterly bereft of depth that I am ashamed to admit the crime of reading them, and am therefore constrained to hide the evidence in the bowels of a nondescript eBook reader.

But even then, the lack of spare brain cells to process even my dumbed down diversions requires me to reread sentences thrice before I comprehend their import, an affliction first manifested by my own mother, who, paradoxically, has a degree in English Literature. This has led me to the conclusion that mothers aren't, by nature, slow or uncomprehending. We're just tired!

(Thanks Rocky for sharing this. >:D)

Now the question is, shall this be the permanent prevailing state of affairs? To that I say, I refuse defeat. After two months with my eBook reader, I have been forcing my grey matter to gradually migrate, cell by cell, back to its usual haunts: Tolkien, Dickens, Eliot, Chekhov, Hemingway... God help me.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Comelec Tales: The Return of the Dead Voter

It’s almost election season again, a time for cripplingly long lines and tall tales. Sadly, while most of us will probably be forced to marinate in candidates’ assorted vats of lies, not all of us will be given the privilege to cast our votes for our preferred liar. “No bio no boto” stands.

I almost didn’t make it though, and it was partly my fault.

I do not do anything at the last minute. I am, moreover, so anal retentive that I quadruple check anything I’d already done, which is why it came as a surprise to me that I decided to depart from my usual insanity.

For some inexplicable reason, I trusted in the system. I registered years ago, and in my voter’s certification, they printed my signature, thumbprint and the face of the first functional zombie on earth.

I was therefore quite distressed to find my name among the list of voters without biometrics a week before the deadline for voters’ registration.  I suspected that it might have been my otherworldly beauty that may have led Comelec staff to doubt that I was human.

Regardless of the reason, I made up my mind to line up the following day to show my certificate of proof that I am a voter in possession of a face. This is despite the fact that, with very little time left to registrants, the lines would likely redefine despair, patience and fortitude all in one day.

By the way, can anyone remind me why do we do this? Why do we voluntarily subject ourselves to such a painful inconvenience when we always end up electing officials who torture us with inane or corrupt governance anyway?

I do not know why. I suppose Filipinos are simply eternally hopeful that eventually we’ll hit the mark. Unfortunately, the last time we did this, we mistook PNoy’s shiny pate as the bullseye and missed by a mile entirely.

So, armed with a dose of determination and a layer of hope imbibed from listening to Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing on perpetual loop, I marched to the registration area the next day, only to discover that there were no separate sets of numbers for inquiries, new registrants and registered voters without biometrics. We all had the same queue and the last priority number had been given at 6 a.m.

Those of us who persisted in inquiring, gathered like lost sheep at the exit, united in our mutual cluelessness. With the seasoned tutelage of Manong Guard, our self-appointed shepherd who had hitherto been intent on making sure none of us went over his imaginary fence, we eventually devised a fishing game to reel in passing Comelec staff to gang up on (with the meekness of a gang of sheep of course). We appointed official bait who we threw at our prospects.

Two catches later and our group had grown considerably smaller, with most of the sheep marching home sheared… err, verified. My situation however, had gotten murky. Our first catch declared that my certificate was enough proof that I had the all clear to vote for my choice of clowns in next year’s cirque de gobierno. Our second catch however, said I had no biometrics despite the printed proof to the contrary.

Manong guard had a word of sage advice for us few remaining disconsolate sheep: We should line up at 2 a.m. the next day so we could be the first in line for priority numbers at 6 a.m.

I could almost hear Heneral Luna hollering his now immortal question in my ear, “Bayan o sarili?! (Country or self?!)”

Such a difficult question. Can I use a lifeline please?

The predominant feeling was disappointment, but I have, these past years, been decidedly dissuading myself from the immediate urge to complain about public service. First, because it isn’t always the public servants’ fault. In this case, we were given 18 months to sort ourselves out, but many chose to do so only at the last minute. Second, because not all government employees take one hour to finish their 15 minute breaks while queues simmer in high blood pressure. There may have been flaws in the local systems they chose to adopt, but the local Comelec staff clearly worked seriously and diligently.

With no solution in sight, I trudged home defeated, and in a twisted attempt to relieve my disappointment, I took to Twitter to bask in the despair of other voters. Fellow blogger, Vic ended up tagging Comelec’s James Jimenez in a tweet I made in reply to one of his. Naturally, I thought nothing of it. You simply do not expect people of consequence to take notice of little people (although technically speaking, years of stress eating has made me anything but little).

To my utter shock, Jimenez asked for the details of my problem and had Ms. L from his office call me long distance from Manila. I was astounded. It was as if I was in the middle of a bizarre late night telenovela where everything was so absurd that nothing made sense. Someone from up the top was personally trying to help me.

Succeeding referrals from Ms. L to Ms. M and Ms. H of their local offices finally revealed the reason behind the discrepancy in my records. Apparently, my file had been deactivated due to death. More importantly, it wasn’t my fault, Ms. H said. It was involuntary manslaughter on their part.

My husband rejoiced at the news because it meant I never had to pay taxes again --- I was dead after all. To his dismay, I opted to rise from the dead with the help of Ms. H who had restored my biometrics.

And I lived happily ever after… I wish. I might still end up with a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, voting for loonies we’d end up suffering under for the next six years, again.

But really, the highlight of this story is Jimenez. This should teach me not to lose faith in our public servants. Hallelujah! There are still some good ones out there. Here’s hoping that next elections, we put more of them where they can help.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Half of It

It happened one bright afternoon when vendors were setting up their stalls for the weekend flea market. She had expelled copious amounts of undigested matter, soft projectiles so formidable, they sent one stall owner and her kin running for the hills, leaving me with the unenviable task of demonstrating my inadequate cleaning skills in front of oddly delighted spectators.

It happened again in a posh upscale mall. This time it was the youngest who had deigned to enhance the tiles of beige and cream with his ecru-hued dinner. At least his color combination was impeccable. By this time, my cleaning prowess had elevated to ninja level; I had to wipe the mall restroom too when his digestive tract decided it had more to share to the world.

Halfway there

My mother assured me I hadn’t seen the half of it. I wondered what worse things I’d done as a child to make her say that. I have no recollection of having made her acquainted with the byproducts of failed digestion. But then, our adventures together may have been of a more extreme nature.

There was that time I slept at the car’s back seat and downed a lungful of carbon monoxide. Senseless and, according to her, looking possessed and grinning like the devil, I very nearly crossed over.

Then there was that unique swimming episode when I plunged into the mouth of a dead volcano that had been converted into a water reservoir, with my salvation in the hands of a man, who himself, did not know how to swim. I swear my mother’s agitated gesticulations during and after my Olympic worthy dive could have won her the championship at a hip hop dance contest. 

Multiply all my other escapades by six (my siblings) and you’ll arrive at the conclusion: No wonder my mom is one crazy tamale.

I strongly suspect though that I am fast approaching the point of “seeing the half of it” or at least reaching my mother’s level of insanity. I have, after all, carried an unconscious 25 lb asthmatic boy for three hours because the ER had no beds left, and I have held vigil and cleaned after a bloody food poisoned little girl. And yet, that really is just part of the half of it, because they’ll grow up and there’ll be more frightening things to look out for, like prom dates and abominable teen fashion.

This isn’t intended to scare. If anything, this is really an exhortation to be kind and forgiving of the people who’ve raised you. Ruling out some detestable exceptions, many parents do the best they can with their limited skills and understanding and despite their frustrated dreams. The best of us expect no other reward than the memories of little arms lovingly wrapped around our abdominal spare tires and soft grateful kisses on our raisin faces permanently wrinkled with worry.

Cheers to all parents past and present who have seen and survived the halfway mark.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Interstellar Mini Movie Review

I’ve been emotionally compromised. I couldn’t stop thinking about Interstellar days after I’d watched it, and I’ve had to rationalize my prolonged teary-eyed state as distress over more mundane concerns (paying my annual income tax, for example), when in reality, I wanted to weep for Cooper.

My husband got a copy of the movie because he liked it but felt he needed another go to fully absorb the story. His brains apparently fell off a cliff midway. That was fair warning that I needed to watch the film in an isolation chamber for comprehension purposes. That’s just what I’d expect from Christopher Nolan whose films are beautifully crafted marvels that require audiences to take anti-inflammatory medication.

If all you remember of high school physics is your teacher’s superb skills in making you cry, then the movie’s dialogue, liberally seasoned with discussions about singularities, wormholes, relativity, gravitational waves and time dilation will leave you feeling like a fart capsule exploded in your brain. The only way to connect with the story is to pare down some of its mind numbing concepts.

In Summary

The earth and the human race are about to go kaput. Cooper, a former pilot, is recruited by NASA’s professor Brand to take a ship with a group of scientists, including Brand’s daughter Amelia, into a wormhole to gather data from three possibly habitable planets orbiting a black hole. Brand reveals he is working on an equation that will allow them to launch space stations that’ll take humanity to a new home. In the event that this fails, Brand’s plan B is to use frozen embryos, which the scientists take with them, to jumpstart the human race.

Cooper leaves behind his broken hearted 10 year old daughter, Murph, but is determined to one day return. It is later revealed that Brand lied about there being a plan A, having secretly solved his equation and deemed plan A to be impossible. From the start Brand intended Cooper and company to execute plan B with no hope of ever returning.

After discovering that two of the planets are inhospitable and after a series of unfortunate events (i.e. after all the supporting cast have been killed off), Amelia and Cooper are the only ones left of their company. Low on fuel, Cooper detaches himself from their ship and launches into the black hole’s singularity while propelling Amelia and her embryos into the third planet. (Talk about becoming the mother of the human race! That is if she manages to survive her first ten toddlers.)

While in the black hole, Cooper finds himself in a five-dimensional area compressed into a three-dimensional space from where he transmits data to an adult Murph. She uses the data to solve the equation that will allow mankind to launch space stations, thereby saving it from extinction. Cooper exits the blackhole and is back where he started. He is later reunited with Murph, but because of time dilation, Cooper has hardly aged, while Murph is now elderly and dying.

The Bottom Line

You don’t need a PhD in constipated Hollywood plots to be able to relate to Interstellar. Nolan’s message is simple. Unfortunately, this is also where the story goes a little wishy washy. After all that convoluted mental acrobatics, all Nolan wants to say is: Love is that all mysterious force that binds us, draws us together across time and space and conquers all. In the end, Nolan takes us back to the inexplicable.

I don’t begrudge Nolan though, because he reminds us that we don’t always need rigid proof to experience something powerful, real, true and comprehensible. Matthew Mcconaughey portrays Cooper as your average Joe which makes it even easier for us to stand in his shoes. If you’ve ever loved another being with fierce depth, you will understand Cooper’s despair at parting and his anguish at later realizing that he has missed irreplaceable years in his child’s life.

For countless Filipinos the world over, Cooper’s experience should resonate on an even more personal level. We have, after all, our OFWs who, because of love, must part for prolonged periods of time from the people they care for.

So is Interstellar really just a touchy feely movie masquerading as an abstruse pop quiz in astrophysics? If the story strikes a chord with you, I don’t think you’ll bother analyzing what it is or is not.

Just for laughs, here's Interstellar's Honest Trailer .

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Reading Guide: Ten Questions Filipinos Should Ask after the Mamasapano Clash

The botched police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that led to the brutal deaths of SAF troopers has left a potent cocktail mix of emotions in me. Forty-four brave sons for the head of international terrorist Marwan. I knew none of the troopers personally, and yet I grieve in this awful state of anger, devastation and frustration. If you love this country, you will understand why this has left a bitter sting on my consciousness.

Of course I am saddened for the bereaved families, but there is an overarching awareness of another loss. The Fallen 44 were among the best and bravest who would have constructively contributed through their work and character to the task of reviving an ailing nation. We need people like them. We’ve already lost too many of our brightest minds, artists, athletes and workers to foreign shores because our government has neglected to nurture their dreams.

As if this loss wasn’t enough, the incident has had a ripple effect, touching and exposing a multitude of sensitive points, ranging from doubts about the soundness of government leadership to fears about the outcome of peace talks with the MILF. This is what some of us fail to see even as thousands have already freely expressed their sentiments.

The problem is not that we all have an opinion. It’s that many have opinions formed on the basis of digestive gas, and social media gives us the license to throw out incomplete or misguided thoughts like bits of fecal matter on an already gangrenous situation.

If you must have an opinion, you should at least read a little, analyze and ask questions. If you don’t know where to start, here’s a reading guide:

1. Who was Marwan and why were they after him?

Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, was an engineer trained in the United States. He was believed to have headed a Malaysian terrorist organization and was a member of the Jemaah Islamiyah. He is suspected of having had a hand in the 2002 Bali bombings, killing 202 people. Local media suggests he had ties with the ISIS.

Wanted by the FBI: Zulkifli Abdhir
'High likelihood' suspected Bali bomber among dead in Philippines clashes, official says

2. Who was directing the operation against Marwan?

Suspended PNP chief General Alan Purisima has denied having directed the operations, declaring that his role was limited to providing the intelligence packet. If you listen between the lines of Aquino and Purisima’s statements, the blame seems to be pointed at a smaller goat, relieved SAF chief Getulio NapeƱas, Jr. 

Is it acceptable that none of the top brass seem eager to take responsibility for what happened?

Incidentally, Aquino was in Zamboanga when the slaughter happened. Can you honestly believe he was just there by chance?

‘Purisima planned it all’
Purisima denies hand in Mamasapano operation
Aquino’s February 26 speech after Purisima’s resignation

3. Why was the military unable to provide reinforcements?

PNP OIC General Leandro Espina and AFP chief-of-staff General Gregorio Catapang knew months ago that there were plans to arrest Marwan, but they had not known of the exact details of the actual January 25 operation. Espina’s request for military reinforcement was made only during the actual fight.

Bitter ampalaya balls have been thrown between the PNP and the AFP but again, it’s important to read statements carefully. It seems clear that the operation was kept so tightly under wraps that coordination became difficult during the actual encounter. It has been suggested however, that secrecy was crucial for the success of the operation.

The Mamasapano operation: He said, he said, he said
SAF chief: I am responsible
AFP chief sheds tears for fallen PNP-SAF cops

4. What could have happened if the military got involved?

The situation was complicated by an existing ceasefire agreement between the MILF and the government. If the military got involved, could they have endangered peace talks with the MILF?

Where were the military troops?
Why the military did not reinforce SAF

5. If there is a ceasefire agreement, why was the MILF involved?

The forces that clashed with SAF troopers included members of the BIFF, MILF and private armies. The BIFF is a splinter faction that separated from the MILF in 2010 over disagreements in the peace process. Only the MILF has a standing agreement with the government.

Notwithstanding the agreement, MILF Chariman Murad Ebrahim said that in reality, once there is a common enemy, everyone joins in. Moreover, the MILF and BIFF have members who are either relatives or friends, making it difficult for one group to completely sever ties.

BIFF on MILF unit: ‘We’re all family’
MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim – watch 2:18

6. If the BIFF and the MILF have close ties, what kind of peace will there be in Central Mindanao?

This remains to be seen if the Bangsamoro Basic Law is passed and takes effect, but you can just imagine…

7. If the MILF are eager to shake hands with the government, why did they allow a known terrorist to roam freely in their area of influence?

Marwan lived in Central Mindanao for twelve years, taking three Filipino wives and forming ties with a number of terrorist groups. The key word here is “ties”. If the MILF tried to aggressively ferret him out, would they have stepped on certain relationships that were not in their best interests to run over?

Marwan’s ties that bind: Aljebir Adzhar aka Embel
Marwan’s ties that bind: Ren-Ren Dongon

8. Why are the authorities being faulted for not coordinating the MILF if they felt they had good reason not to?

The implementing guidelines of the ceasefire agreement stipulate the need for government forces to coordinate with the MILF for planned operations in their area. Former GPH Peace Panel Chairman Jesus Dureza however, said that this excludes operations against high priority targets. The current government peace panel has labeled Dureza’s statement as misleading.

Wait. What?! The term “required” is a little disturbing. Areas occupied by the MILF are still under Philippine territory. We are a sovereign nation. Can’t the government enforce the law in its own territory without the requirement to coordinate?

SAF did not have to inform MILF
Govt panel: Coordination with MILF required even in pursuit of high-value targets
Lacson’s supposed opinion on sovereignty – paragraph 6 (source unverified)

9. Is everything okay now that Marwan has supposedly been neutralized?

Marwan’s cohort and fellow bomb maker, Abdul Basit Usman is still at large. Marwan also reportedly trained 300 bomb makers in Central Mindanao. Moreover, the government now has the BIFF, who have threatened to launch attacks, to contend with.

Marwan leaves behind 300 bomb makers in Mindanao
BIFF vows more attacks

10. Will passing the Bangsamoro law finally bring peace and put an end to the troubles plaguing Central Mindanao?

Much depends on whether the MILF can police their ranks and contain those who are relatives with or sympathetic to the BIFF who are in turn sympathetic to suspected terrorists.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, because the Bangsamoro Agreement is still up for debate. Constitutional expert, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago says that creating a substate, which the Agreement suggests, is unconstitutional. Moreover, the existing ARMM is mandated by the constitution and cannot simply be abolished to give way to the Bangsamoro law.

My Opinion: The constitution is the supreme law. If we cannot respect it, no law is sacred.

Already, we are seeing vestiges of this substate. In the video shared in #5, Ebrahim said that if any of the MILF fighters involved in the Mamasapano clash are found in the wrong, they will not be turned over to government authorities, but will be tried in their own courts.

It’s worth noting though, that all out war doesn’t seem to be an easy alternative to a questionable peace agreement. According to GMA News research, armed conflict in Mindanao has lead to the deaths of 120,000 people from 1970 to 1996 and to physical and cultural displacement.

The effects of armed conflict go beyond Mindanao. There will be economic consequences that will affect the rest of the country.

Miriam: Bangsamoro Agreement Unconstitutional
Bangsamoro law cannot abolish ARMM, says ex-solon
Armed conflict, malaki ang epekto sa kalidad ng buhay ng mga komunidad

The SAF 44 did more than fulfill their mission. Their deaths pushed more Filipinos into seeing the bigger picture--- the enormity of the difficulties and issues facing Mindanao and the rest of the country.

Knowing our government’s track record, I do not expect that the brave Fallen 44 will ever be given conventional justice. The best justice we ordinary citizens can give them is to pay better attention to the events that threaten to push our country into a deeper pit and to become more involved. Our nation’s future depends on our decisions. Let’s start by picking leaders in 2016 who have our country’s best interests in mind and the skill to steer us out of this quagmire we’re in.

Rest in peace Fallen 44. May we do justice to your sacrifice.
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